Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Ungrateful savages [essays]

In response to my essay on Africans and the D-Day remembrances, bobochan recounts a very interesting story: Bobo and his wife have lived in various parts of central Africa.

I wanted to comment on this but I have not been able to find anything about it on the web. I was having dinner at a restaurant in N'Djamena [capital of Chad] when a group of Legionnaires came in. They had their dinner and then the whole group started slowly singing a song that I was told was the "Ballad of the African Soldier." It was incredibly sad, saying how they would fight for France but that their sacrifices would be forgotten. I used to run into old men on the streets of Bangui [capital of the Central African Republic] with medals from Dien Bien Phu. The African soldiers have been forgotten, but I think it is almost sadder that they seem to have expected it.

Bobo's story underlines one of the ironies of empire.

African nationalist movements who were agitating for independence, or even the more modest home-rule, were often denounced as selifsh. They were considered a bunch of ingrates who didn't recognize the brilliant munifence of French or British culture that colonialism generously decided to share with the savages, in true selfless Christian spirit.

The real ingrates were, of course, the Europeans. Not only did the colonial subjects fight and die for the freedom of their subjugators (any incidental benefits colonialism brought to the colonized was far outweighed by crass exploitation and the methods used to enforce foreign domination), but the liberated didn't even have the decency to properly acknowledge this contribution.

It's even more ironic that after helping liberate the French from their imperial Nazi oppressor, African soldiers were later used to suppress the nationalist ambitions of other peoples rising against imperial domination, most notably in Indochina and Algeria.


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