Reasons For Adoption Of Policy Of Assimilation

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Reasons For Adoption Of Policy Of Assimilation In French West Africa

Indirect rule is the system of government in which a colonial power makes use of the traditional institutions of the local people in the administration of a territory.

Margery Perham in 1934 defined the policy as “a system by which the tutelary power recognizes existing African societies and assists them to adapt themselves to the functions of local government”. The indirect rule policy permits the traditional ruler to continue to exercise executive and judicial powers under the guidance and supervision of colonial officials.

Lord Lugard was the architect of the indirect rule policy in Nigeria having previously tested it in Burma and Uganda.

Why Policy Of Assimilation Was Adopted

The policy of assimilation was introduced for two main reasons.

Firstly, the policy was introduced to enable the French export their civilization, which by the early 19th century had reached its highest level. The French Revolution of 1789 had emphasized the triple principles of liberty, equality and fraternity and the French people believed that they had a duty to export these democratic ideals or principles to other countries.

In this vein, the assimilation policy was a comprehensive colonial policy designed to transform the colonial territories and influence the lives of the people so as to make them part of the French civilization.

The second reason was economic. The French could only achieve maximum economic benefits if they linked the French African colonial territories directly to France. The colonial pact which ceded the overseas territories to France for example, stipulated that the countries must export their agricultural products to France and in return buy manufactured goods from France.

In other words, the territories could only, trade with France even where there were better or more profitable markets elsewhere. But while the agreement compelled the colonial territories to sell to, and buy from France, it did not oblige France to buy from her colonies.

Ironically, France determined the prices at which to buy from the colonies, if need be. So it was a one-sided agreement, which fosted a master-servant relationship on both parties.

The adoption of the policy of assimilation was therefore self-serving to the French.

Reasons For The Failure Of The Policy Of Assimilation

There are severe reasons that constitute the failure of the French policy of assimilation. They are:

  1. Dual citizenship
  2. Culture
  3. Traditional rulers
  4. Indigenat policy
  5. Education
  6. Political parties and associations
  7. Centralised administration
  8. Superior / Inferior
  9. French culture
  10. Financial burden
  11. Force labour
  12. Absence of assemblies
  13. Power of traditional chiefs
  14. Opposition
  15. Indirect rule
  16. World War II
  • Dual citizenship: Assimilation produced 1st class and 2nd class citizens. Some West Africans were made citizens and others remained subjects.
  • Culture: France did not regard the culture of the people.
  • Traditional Rulers and Chieftaincy Institutions: This was one of the failures of the system. The existing institutions were dismantled and France had to set up the ones that suit its whims and caprices.
  • Indigenat policy: It was an obnoxious policy, that received world condemnation. West Africans could be arrested and detained for two years without trial by the French administrators.
  • Limited right to education: Right to full education was only given to those living in any of the four communes. Non-citizens have no right to full education.
  • Political parties and associations: Formation of political parties and associations was not allowed or permitted.
  • Centralised administration: It makes the French administrators authoritarian and high-handed by centralising so highly the administrative machinery of the federation. People cannot criticise or contribute towards the issues of govemment. People started calling for its abolition, which was in contrast to what the French government was hoping to give to the world after the French revolution (equality, freedom, liberty, etc). However, the policy of assimilation was abandoned and in its place was adopted, the policy of association.
  • Love for their culture: The love the people of West Africa expressed or demonstrated for their culture contributed to the failure of this policy.
  • Adoption of French culture: The policy of assimilation expected Africans to adopt French culture wholesale.
  • Financial burden: The policy equally placed financial burden on French citizens who therefore resisted it.
  • Indigenat policy and forced labour: This obnoxious policy of the French colonial administration imposed on African subjects also created hatred in the minds of these subjects for the French people and thus contributed to the failure of the policy.
  • Absence of Local assemblies: There were no local assemblies for Africans in their various colonies.
  • Reduction in the power of the traditional chiefs: This is one of the factors or reasons for the failure of the policy of assimilation.
  • Opposition: The French intellectual and merchants were opposed to the policy that would create equality between the Frenchmen and Africans.
  • Indirect rule system: The success of indirect rule in Nigeria motivated the need for a change of the French policy so as to make the system flexible.
  • World War 2 and its aftermath: The effects compelled the French to abandon assimilation.
  • Replacement of assimilation with association: The rise to power of President Charles De Gaule of France and his determination to replace assimilation with association.
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