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Citizenship between Empire and Nation: Remaking France and French Africa, 1945-1960

Citizenship between Empire and Nation: Remaking France and French Africa, 1945-1960

by Frederick Cooper
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"With its exhaustive research, clear and persuasive argument, and boldly original questions, this book is nothing short of magisterial. It is quite simply the best comprehensive study that I have read regarding the final stages of France's empire in Africa. There is nothing like it in depth, scope, or analytical acuity."—Alice L. Conklin, Ohio State University

"This is the first book to provide a much-needed exploration of the time and space in between empire and postcolony in sub-Saharan Francophone Africa. Cooper expertly navigates between African and French perspectives, bringing to life the negotiations over the future of Africa. Timely and significant, this excellent, wide-ranging, and original book uses dazzling research to elaborate a completely new and compelling argument."—Eric Jennings, University of Toronto

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691161310
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 07/21/2014
Pages: 512
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Frederick Cooper is professor of history at New York University and has been visiting professor at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, the École Normale Supérieure, and the Université de Paris VII. His many books include Colonialism in Question and Empires in World History (Princeton).

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Citizenship between Empire and Nation

Remaking France and French Africa, 1945â?"1960

By Frederick Cooper


Copyright © 2014 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4008-5028-0



World War II created a situation of uncertainty in which African political activists, among others, could work to pry a small opening into a larger one. All concerned were inventing new political forms as they went along. But they were well aware that the starting point for rethinking France was the concept of empire: an unequal and composite political structure. The politics of metropolitan France were also uncertain; the relative strength of different political formations and their projects for reforming French society remained to be seen. But, after the disastrous period of defeat and rule by a collaborationist, antire-publican regime, the French political elite assumed that—in the metropole at least—the new order would be governed by legislative bodies elected under universal suffrage. That a new constitution would be required for a new Fourth Republic meant that there would be single forum at which the reorganization of political life would be debated. The question was not only how far such a debate could go but who could take part in it, not least the people of France's empire who did not have the status of citizen.

The initial propositions that French leaders made in regard to citizenship in overseas France were conservative, stopping well short of extending the category of citizen across the empire. But the issue was on the table as early as 1943. Most participants in the discussions were aware that one could not go back to colonial business as usual, and African voices were making themselves heard, in Dakar as well as Paris. In this and the following chapter, we look at a dynamic process by which African leaders succeeded by October 1946 in inserting themselves into the debate over the place of empire in the new Republic and used that place to insist on a new vision of citizenship.

Toward a Postwar Empire

What distinguished the first phase of thinking about changing the status of colonial subjects was the absence of the people most concerned. The colonial establishment slowly came to realize it had to take into account the fact that Africans might want to shape their own future. But if the colonial subject purportedly had no voice and the republican citizen an equal voice, there were no evident criteria for deciding just how much voice overseas peoples would have.

The war was still raging when leading administrators gathered in Brazzaville, in the French Congo, in January 1944. Charles de Gaulle himself addressed the gathering. The conference was largely inspired by Félix Éboué, Governor General of French Equatorial Africa (AEF), the highest-ranking man of color in the colonial service. His refusal to submit to Vichy had made him the symbol of the patriotism of overseas France, but Éboué's vision of colonial rule was in its own way a conservative one.

The conferees—all of whom were administrators—wanted above all else to preserve the empire, and they accepted that in order to do so, they had to identify colonial rule with progress—for the colonized as well as the colonizers. But the "evolution" of African people, they argued, should take place within the framework of "traditional" societies. The Brazzaville delegates deplored past French policy for overtaxing peasants and subjecting them to forced labor. But Africans still had to be taught about the value of work, and their labor was needed to expand production. So the officials gave themselves five years to wean colonial Africa from forced labor. They pushed the idea of "a planned and directed economy," but insisted that Africa's vocation was to remain predominantly peasant; industrialization would have to be "prudent."

Africans, they agreed, had to have a say in how they were governed. Those best educated in French terms could join the discussions of postwar policy, but not too many of them. If "notables évolués" (members of the educated elite) might vote in legislative elections in each colony, most of the "population non-évoluée" would be represented by their betters.

Officials of the Colonial Ministry, in several documents prepared for Brazzaville, warned of the "danger of too much liberality in the concession of 'citizenship,' even local, for the future of our still coherent native societies." It was important "to avoid the rush toward 'citizenship' and in consequence to preserve from disaggregation those autochthonous cadres that are still solid and capable of being perfected." Access to citizenship should continue to be an individual affair, limited to people who could prove their personal merit. In the distance lay the possibilities of a more federal France—in which the diverse components of overseas and European France would exercise a degree of autonomy and share in the exercise of overarching authority—but that could be only "the long-range goal of our imperial policy." For now, a vague promise of "the most generous status" was offered to Africans, whose cultural integrity would be protected from too hasty an impact of France's individualistic, progressive, and republican society. And without question, officials insisted, "our national sovereignty over our colonies must remain intact."

Despite the theoretical possibility for individual subjects to be accepted into the category of citizen, very few West Africans actually were. Between 1937 and 1943, only 43 people were considered for elevation to citizenship by "plein droit"—as an entitlement stemming from having won a Legion of Honor or other award or marriage to a French woman in certain circumstances—and 30 received that status. Only 233 applied for "voluntary" admission to citizenship—by convincing the administration that they deserved it—of whom 43 were accepted and 63 rejected, while 127 dossiers were classified as "without result." No wonder few applied. But those who did reveal some of the pathos of the citizenship process. Olympio Abdul, a clerk in the post office in Dakar, declared that he lived "in a European manner," could read and write French, and had been awarded a "colonial medal." Léonard Adotevi, an "auxiliary doctor," had served ten years outside his territory of origin (Togo). Tobie Gaston Ateba, from Cameroon, wanted to know the fate of his application made five years earlier and was told it was refused. Few Muslim names appear among the files of applicants in 1945–46; among those, Boubakar Diallo was refused and Saliou Diallo was still waiting, as he had been since 1940. A note in the file explained that delays were caused by the need to have the governor of the territory sign off, in addition to inquiries by the police, demands for proof of schooling, military service, and professional accreditation, and testimony about moral and political conduct.

Yet citizenship categories could be adjusted—if doing so would foster state interests. Shortly after Algeria was liberated from the Nazis, de Gaulle decided to "attribute immediately to several tens of thousands of French Muslims their full rights as citizens, without implying that the exercise of these rights can be prevented or limited by objections based on personal status." The Ordinance of 7 March 1944 applied to former military officers, holders of certain diplomas, active or retired civil servants, current and former members of chambers of commerce or agriculture, certain councilors, holders of various civilian and military honors or medals, members of councils of indigenous cooperatives, and several categories of auxiliaries to the administration. Such individuals did not have to give up their personal status under Islamic law in order to exercise the rights of the citizen. The number of people concerned was small, perhaps sixty-five thousand of Algeria's nine million Muslims, but the ordinance, without saying so, extended the Senegalese model elsewhere in the empire.

The relationship of empire, government, and citizenship was even more uncertain in Indochina. With Indochina under Japanese control, the Colonial Minister of de Gaulle's government declared on 24 March 1945—with more theoretical than actual effect—a new configuration for the empire:

The Indochinese Federation forms with France and other parts of the community a "French Union" whose external interests will be represented by France. Indochina will enjoy, within this union, a liberty of its own. The inhabitants of this Indochinese Federation will be Indochinese citizens and citizens of the French Union. In these terms, without discrimination of race, religion, or origin and given equality of merit, they will have access to all federal positions and employment in Indochina and in the Union.

The French Union would not acquire a juridical basis until the finalization of the new constitution in October 1946 and the meaning of the declarations about citizenship and federation were far from clear or generally accepted. But a new name for empire had been introduced, the formula of federation had been invoked, and the possibility of an inclusive citizenship had been put on the table.

In Algeria, as the cloud of Vichy repression dissipated, political movements among Muslims emerged with new militancy. They had for some decades been asserting the existence of an Algerian nationality, complicated by assertions of connections to wider left-wing and trade union movements on the one hand and to Islamic and Arab nationalist movements on the other. At war's end, French officials were trying to figure out with whom, if anybody, they could cooperate. Dr. Mohamed Bendjelloul was willing to work within French institutions to push for extending citizenship rights to all Muslim Algerians, but it was not evident how much support he had. Against the militant nationalist Messali Hadj, some French officials hoped to attract the "federalist" Ferhat Abbas. They worried that the new resolutions from Abbas's "Amis du Manifeste" (1943) dropped earlier calls for "a federative system under the aegis of France" and simply demanded an Algerian parliament and government. But, officials thought, the followers of Abbas were "sincerely attached to France." Given the divisions among Algerians, France might find allies. At the same time, the Governor General worried that "relying on repressive methods" might alienate "the last sympathies that remain for us in the Muslim milieu." In the margins of the letter in the National Archives (stamped "read by the General") somebody wrote in pencil, "this is what a governor general signs!" Here was an indication how uncertain the government in Algeria felt about its own authority.

The Algerian situation soon took a turn for the worse. A demonstration at Sétif in May 1945, beginning with a peaceful march by Algerian political organizations, turned into a massacre by police, military, and settlers, plus killings by the other side. French officials lumped the Abbas faction with more radical elements and blamed them for an "insurrection," while the atrocities perpetuated against Algerian Muslims took much of the ground away from advocates of a middle position between federation and secession.

Some of the people most concerned were already in metropolitan France at the time of liberation—some sixty-five to eighty thousand Muslim North Africans, three-quarters of them Algerian. French leaders sought their labor to contribute to reconstruction. Officials interpreted the Ordinance of 7 March 1944 as implying that Algerians as French nationals had the right to come and stay. In European France—but not in Algerian France—Algerians came under ordinary French law and were entitled to the same identification cards as French citizens. Moroccans, with their own nationality, had the status of a foreign worker, but they could enter on a "simple passport." People were moving about imperial space, taking their nonequivalence with them.

Some officials wanted to assert that the concessions made in Indochina or Algeria had been taken "without pressure or bargaining but in light of the full sovereignty of France, which understands and accepts this responsibility." More realistic were the reflections of Henri Laurentie, a high official in the Ministry of Colonies. He recognized the signs of nationalism in Vietnam and saw that they could develop elsewhere, but in a form that "is not necessarily virulent or exclusive." The problem lay in France:

Given conditions as a whole, taking into account that France now finds itself almost entirely deprived of its navy, its air force, and, one could say, its army, without speaking of its economic means, which have become quite feeble, it is a question of knowing if we will be able to resolve the contradiction: populations' aspirations for independence, on the one hand, and on the other hand the weakness of France that permits it with difficulty to lead, with continued authority, a liberal but progressive policy.

Here was an expression of French weakness as frank as one is likely to see from a government official.

Laurentie leaned toward the inclusive rather than the repressive pole of empire. Evolués needed to be turned from a threat into an asset—" a means of our action, as well as an absolute necessity of our future." It was also necessary to appeal to the "masses"—from which elite nationalists were often distant—and social reform was necessary to reach "a population that is evolving rapidly from traditional institutions that were unique to it to modern forms of collective organization." The distinction between citizen and subject was an obstacle; former subjects had to be integrated into a political and social fabric. He asked his colleagues to accept that "the liberty of colonies will be considerably augmented in the coming years" and maintain "a durable equilibrium" among elements of society. "Our old colonial privileges" had to be given up.

Laurentie's perception of weakness proved all too accurate when Ho Chi Minh declared the independence of Vietnam on 1 September 1945, shortly after the Japanese surrender. France would now have to recolonize the territory in the face of a movement that had laid claim to the state and possessed a popular following and armed fighters. The government tried to find a way to convince Ho's regime that it could take its place within the Indochinese Federation and the French Union. Ho was not a likely candidate for such a role, but as the negotiations dragged on into the spring of 1946, the impasse was used by politicians opposed to reform to emphasize the need for a strong French hand.

Events in Indochina and Algeria would shape the debate over extending citizenship to Africans, but in contradictory ways. The conflicts led some to conclude that French control had to be more rigorous and others to emphasize the need to make overseas subjects feel included in an imperial community. Sub-Saharan French Africa, where conflict seemed muted, offered an opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of imperial inclusion. In the early postwar years, however, most members of the government wanted to approach the restructuring of empire in a comprehensive way, as a reconfiguring of all its parts.

Rethinking was going on not just behind ministerial doors, but also before a wider public, with government officials intervening to shape a political agenda. The journal Renaissances, based in Algeria after it was taken over by the Free French, published a series of articles beginning in November 1943 calling for "a politico-administrative reorganization of our empire." Up to that point, the editorial noted, an individual "inhabitant of the empire" could become a citizen depending on his degree of "evolution"; it was imaginable that "at a perhaps quite distant date" all of them would be able to do so.

An influential Governor, P.-O. Lapie, spelled out the case in terms that would shape debate for the next seventeen years: turning empire into federation. He argued that it was necessary that "France brings the colonies into a French federal system, following in this respect the international movement toward federation that is particularly well illustrated by the British Empire, Soviet Russia, and, in one form or another, by North America and China." The federal idea sprang from a concept of empire—and Lapie was still using that word—as something more complex than a dichotomy of metropole and colony, as a political entity with multiple components, each with a distinct relationship to France. He wanted each colony or group of colonies to have more "initiative" and "autonomy" while Paris would still exercise a measure of "control."


Excerpted from Citizenship between Empire and Nation by Frederick Cooper. Copyright © 2014 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations vii

Preface ix

Notes on Language and Abbreviations xv

Introduction 1

Chapter 1 From French Empire to French Union 26

Chapter 2 A Constitution for an Empire of Citizens 67

Chapter 3 Defining Citizenship, 1946-1956 124

Chapter 4 Claiming Citizenship: French West Africa, 1946-1956 165

Chapter 5 Reframing France: The Loi-Cadre and African Federalism, 1956-1957 214

Chapter 6 From Overseas Territory to Member State: Constitution and Conflict, 1958 279

Chapter 7 Unity and Division in Africa and France, 1958-1959 326

Chapter 8 Becoming National 372

Conclusion 431

Bibliography 449

Index 467

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