A glance back at the different wars that France has fought right from the first world war in 1914 to the Indochina wars and Algeria’s fight for independence in the 1950s and 1960s, will uncover African soldiers fighting for France alongside their own particular citizenry.
The vast majority of these African warriors being referred to did not fight these wars enthusiastically. France often forcibly recruited African men from its various African colonies to fight its wars around the world.
In the end, hundreds of thousands of Africans soldiers fought under the French flag. More than half of French forces in Italy and France between 1943 and 1944 came from African colonies, and at least 40,000 died.
At the time they were called tirailleurs, or sharpshooters. These names were intended to mock the little or no training that the African troops had even as they went into battle.
On April 15, decades after the wars have been fought, some of these former African soldiers were finally recognised- they were given French citizenship.
President Francois Hollande said at the ceremony in the Elysée Palace in Paris that the country owes the men a debt of blood. He said;
“France is proud to welcome you, just as you were proud to carry its flag, the flag of freedom,”
Twenty-eight of the former soldiers aged between 78 and 90, most of whom came from Senegal, were the recipients of the French citizenship. An increased activism over the issue of remunerations for actions carried out during colonial periods may have helped us get to this point.
Activism on behalf of the African soldiers has been on the rise
In 2006, for instance, activism took the form of a French film called Indigènes, about a group of North African soldiers in France during World War II. In it, the actions of colonial soldiers in France’s liberation was dramatised. Following the film’s debut, then president Jacques Chirac promised to do something to honour these soldiers.
To that end, in 2010, France granted full military pensions to 30,000 surviving colonial veterans from Africa. All these moves may not fully cover or make up for the past actions of France but they are definitely a start.
Aissatou Seck, a deputy mayor of a suburb of Paris who has been campaigning for the rights of African veterans, says there are currently hundreds of citizenship applications that Hollande has promised to process.