Nationalist Movements In French West Africa

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There was a late development of nationalism in French-speaking West African countries.

At a time when the educated elites in British West Africa were challenging colonial rule, and demanding self-government, the elite in French colonial territories were busy struggling for accommodation within the system. Many Africans were elected as members of the French Parliament in Paris.

The first political parties in the French West African colonial territories were formed in the 1930s, several years after the formation of the first political party in British West Africa. These parties were nevertheless, largely ineffective because of the oppressive policies of French colonial administration.

However, two major parties emerged immediately after the Second World War and, they later played important roles in the struggle for the independence of these countries. The two parties were the “Independant d’Outre Mer” (MIO) and the “Rassemblement Democratique Africain” (RDA).

The RDA was a mass organization with branches in all the territories. It demanded equal opportunity for Africans. The RDA collapsed in 1958 but some of its branches in French West Africa remained active. The “Parti Democratique de Guinea(PGD), or Democratic Party of Guinea, a former branch of the RDA, was the dominant party in Guinea, and it was the party that mobilized the Guineans against the French in the 1958 referendum.

It was the party of former President Sekou Toure. On the other hand, the MIO was elitist and contained mainly African members of the French Parliament. The party demanded for independence for the colonial territories within the French Republic.

Reasons For The Late Development Of Nationalism In French West Africa

There was a late development of nationalism in French West Africa because of the following reasons:

  • Policy of Assimilation

The aim of the French policy of assimilation was to make Africans imbibe French culture and turn Africans into Frenchmen. With the introduction of this policy, the more an individual acquired the French culture, the greater his opportunities. As French West Africans received French education, they were absorbed into the civil service. Some were also elected as members of the French Parliament.

Africans from the four Senegalese communes and others who had acquired higher education were treated as citizens. They were exempted from forced labour and other inhuman treatment. It was therefore convenient for the educated elites to cooperate with, rather than challenge the French colonial master.

  • Lack of Educational Facilities

It would appear that there was a deliberate attempt by the French colonial government to restrict access to western education in the territories. For a very long period, the Ecole Normale William Ponty in Dakar remained the only institution of higher learning in the whole of French West Africa. This was quite different from the situation in British West Africa where the colonial government gave great attention to the development of education.

  • Unpopular Colonial Policies

The innumerable unpopular policies of the colonial government also hindered the early development of nationalism in French West Africa. There were severe restrictions on the right to own and publish newspapers and the “indegenat’ ensured that all those who disobeyed or resisted French rule were subjected to arrest and imprisonment without trial. All these policies had the adverse effect of stifling initiative and discouraging political activism.

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