Montpellier and the future of France- Africa
By Benoit Ngom, President of the African Diplomatic Academy (ADA).
The Africa-France Conference which was held on October 08, 2021 in Montpellier, France had the objective, according to the will of President Emmanuel Macron, to “redefine together the fundamentals” of the relationship between France and Africa. In this perspective, there has been much discussion of a direct debate between the French President and young Africans from Africa or belonging to the diaspora. This meeting in form and in substance suggests some questions and reflections.
A French President and young Africans
Can the question of the fundamentals of the France-Africa relationship be entrusted to the sole appreciation of African youth, when their governments in more than half a century have not been able to make them evolve?
Can we imagine changes in this relationship without the French youth whose discretion during this summit left us doubtful?
Finally, would the difficulties in the relationship between France and Africa not result more from the passive or the memory deficit, from the repressed and the buried of colonial history more than from certain economic questions? In this regard, in this painful passive, it seemed useful to us to relate, if only briefly, the story of the Thiaroye massacre in December 1944.
THIAROYE 44 A NON-CLEAR MEMORIAL PASSIVE
On December 1, 1944 at dawn, the Senegalese riflemen returning from the prison camps of Nazi Germany were regrouped in order at the Thiaroye camp in the suburb of Dakar, the capital of Senegal. These soldiers who were returning from distant European lands thought by going to respond quickly to this meeting that they were going to receive their reminder of pay which they demanded from the military hierarchy.
Instead of the pay they expected, under the pretext that they had staged a mutiny, the army for which they had fought, opened fire on them. Many skirmishers were killed or wounded. It was the Thiaroye massacre.
Such was the bloodthirsty reception reserved for its return to Africa, by the French army, to the first contingent of Senegalese skirmishers liberated by the Allies. This dark page in the colonial history of France was quickly closed and thrown into the dustbins of colonial history. So to this day, no one knows who the victims are and what the exact number of killed and where they were buried.
After the efforts to unearth this story by the brave Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembene with his film, Thiaroye 44, and the many publications by intellectuals including the French academic Armelle Mabon, we had to wait for President Hollande’s visit to Senegal in October 2012 to take a step in this direction by opening part of the archives and recognizing that it was a massacre and not the repression of a mutiny.
In this regard, in the logic of his remarks, it seems important to us that President Macron do what is necessary to help bring this painful file to a close by declassifying all the archives concerned and by creating, in cooperation with Senegal, a Committee of ‘experts for this purpose.
In rereading the French national novel, it should be a duty, a moral requirement to recognize the singularity of the inhuman treatment suffered by these Senegalese skirmishers as has just been done for the harkis.
THE REHABILITATION OF THE HARKIS, A PROMISING WAY
As a distant echo of the Thiaroye massacre, French President Emmanuel Macron considered that France “has failed in its duties towards the Harkis, their wives, their children. The French President made a point of recalling on this occasion that more than 200,000 Harkis had worn the colors of France during the Algerian war, but the reception they received in France was unworthy of the country. Indeed, he added, half of the Harkis were parked in camps.
President Macron maintained that for these and their families “it was an abandonment” on the part of “France which has turned its back on them”.
In consideration of all this, President Macron, on behalf of France, asked forgiveness from the Harkis. This posture, resulting from an uncompromising analysis of a painful reality, undoubtedly marks a turning point in France’s attitude towards its colonial liabilities.
Indeed, the refoundation of an African diplomacy of France necessarily requires a recognition of the liabilities and a rectification of the memory deficit thanks to a shared rereading of colonial history.
ERIC ZEMMOUR OR FRANCE WITHOUT AFRICANS
Africa must know with lucidity that the rereading of the colonial history of France comes up against and will come up against for a long time to come an old and transgenerational resistance which today has as figurehead Eric Zemmour, a cultivated man who knows how take advantage of the naivety or ignorance of certain French people to broaden their audience by flattering their egoism or their nationalism.
The colonial history of France, it should be remembered, has always been marked by the desire of the central power to obscure historical reality by denial and sometimes by negation which prevented the French population from knowing reality.
This ignorance of its colonial history has generated in a part of the French population an atavistic contempt, condescending towards everything that concerns Africa and this can be observed in all fields and in all circles. Thus, for many French people, at all times, Africa cannot bring anything to their country.
For Zemmour’s school, Africa, which will continue to bend under the weight of galloping demography, will never develop. From then on, France to which it cannot report anything must be firm and protect itself against its invasion by the hordes of African immigrants and refuse to ask forgiveness for a civilizing colonial past which has rather brought a lot to this continent. However, this position is far from being shared by a large part of French society.
Emmanuel Macron and France’s new African diplomacy
The French President in his various initiatives seemed rather to want to invite French politicians, or even the entire population, to a more human and more pragmatic rereading of the history of France, in the light of the values that he sought. to universalize, that are freedom, equality and fraternity.
Emmanuel Macron, whose various speeches reflect a great culture, is aware that France’s position in the world is intimately linked to the history of its former colonial empire and that to mobilize Africa, courted from everywhere by the Powers of all the continents, it is necessary to touch the hearts of its people thanks to the positive evocation of its History shared with France.
In this sense, Emmanuel Macron has taken many initiatives that should be welcomed, the most recent of which are the drafting of the report entrusted to Professor Achille Mbembé which can be a source of inspiration for the new generation and the “Summit”. of Montpellier ”.
But before that, in 2017 during a trip to Algeria, he declared that the colonization of this country by France is a crime against humanity. Elected President on the 70th anniversary of the landing in the provinces, Emmanuel Macron magnified the blood pact that linked France and Africa and invited the Mayors of France to do everything possible to perpetuate this relationship through strong symbols in their various localities. . In the process, he entrusted Benjamin Stora with writing a report on the colonial past in Algeria and Bénédicte Savoy and Felwine Sarr with the task of writing a report on the restitution of African cultural heritage, the recommendations of which are in the process of being implemented.
Associate the French Youth
However, if President Macron wants to achieve the desired revitalization of the relationship between France and Africa, he must persevere in his actions to re-read the history of France by giving himself the means to interest and involve in it. French youth. In this regard, the fund planned for democracy could rather serve to bring together young people from Africa and France.
The French President must make his youth and his people understand that some of these young Africans he had in front of him are descendants of his brave indigenous soldiers who made up the first “black army” called “Senegalese tirailleurs” who, under the authority of Louis Faidherbe, Governor of Senegal, laid the foundations of the former colonial empire without the existence of which we would not speak today of France-Africa relationship or of the Francophonie.
It was these same Senegalese skirmishers, decades later, who died for “France, mother country” at the Chemin des Dames before facing the forces of Nazi Germany less than a quarter of a century later for the liberation of France. France.
FOR A MEETING OF AFRICAN AND FRENCH YOUNG PEOPLE
President Macron had wished to hear African youth on his desire to redefine the terms of France’s new African policy, which was expressed before him.
So that this debate is not unilateral, Macky Sall, President of Senegal, France’s first settlement colony in Africa, could legitimately take the initiative, during his next mandate at the head of the AU, to meet in Dakar young French and African people in order to continue to re-read their common colonial history.
These young Africans belong to a new globalized and connected world. They are very well informed about what interests them and they live at the same pace as the youth of Europe or America with the same grids for interpreting reality.This youth from Africa has been the spokesperson for peoples who deserve consideration and respect.