French Policy in North Africa

By Peter Ibbotson —

Mauritius Times 60 Years Ago – 3rd Year No 80 – Friday 17th February 1956

 * La prière faite pour un autre est toujours plus féconde que celle faite pour soi-même. — Dr A. Carrel

French Policy in North Africa

 Over and over again, Monsieur le Baron of Mallefille Street sighs for “La Belle France”. Perhaps he sees, in the attitude adopted by the French settlers in Algeria, the kind of action he would wish to be adopted in Mauritius by the whites against the Indians?

By their actions in Algeria, the French settlers are proving the truth of the saying that the French are the worst colonists. (The United Nations know well difference between British and French Cameroons). While the spirit of the present, post-war, age is the weakening of colonialism, the breaking of the shackles of imperialism — however slowly such weakening or breaking comes about, the spirit of French settlers in France is the spirit of N.M.U., the spirit of Bourbon France, the division of the people into two, Rulers and Ruled, Quality and Commonalty, Haves and Have-nots… with great gulfs fixed between the classes, a great gulf across which none shall pass.

By attempting to maintain by force colonial rule in Algeria, the French settlers are attempting to stem the tide of human progress. They are attempting an impossible task — like Mrs Partington who tired to dry up the Atlantic with a mop and bucket, or King Canute who bade the waves obey him… Elsewhere in Africa, we see colonies achieving self-government or marching irresistibly thereto. Gold Coast, Nigeria, Libya, Sudan… even France has announced a more liberal regime for Spanish Morocco. But France, oh not France — or at least the settlers — denies advance to Algeria. The settlers there are like the white settlers in Kenya — in blinding themselves to the legitimate aspirations of the indigenous people, they are building up trouble for themselves. They are sowing a wind to reap a whirl-wind.

One lesson that history teaches us is that history teaches us nothing. Just look back over only forty years. Ireland wanted self-government: the British Government was prepared to give it. But the dissident Tories didn’t want to see Ireland having Home Rule and they engineered a rebellion in Ulster. The result? The partition of Ireland, and ever since, a big bone of contention between the U.K. and the Republic of Ireland. Anglo-Irish relations have been bedevilled by the armed Tory rebellion in Ulster more than by anything else since Oliver Cromwell.

Or don’t go back quite so far; only to 1924. In that year Whitehall ordained that there should be a common voters’ roll in Kenya for Europeans and Indians. This angered the whites who were at once up in arms. Their immediate reaction was so violent that plans were formed for kidnapping the Governor (Sir Robert Coryndon) and holding him prisoner in a fishing camp until the objectionable order should be withdrawn. The Governor had only a battalion of King’s African Rifles at his command — with white officers; and his successor, Lord Altrincham, has suggested that these white officers were sympathetic to the rebel settlers.

Denial of self-government by armed rebellion in Ireland. Denial of political rights by the threat of unconstitutional action in Kenya. Trouble in Ireland down to this day. Trouble in Kenya — the Mau Mau down to this day. The French settlers’ attitude in Algeria is similar and will surely have equally bitter results.

In recent years, the Nationalist movement in Algeria, as in the rest of French North Africa, has been put down with vigour. And, be it noted, with as much horror as during the war characterized the Nazi occupation of France and other countries. Decent Frenchmen, such as Francois Mauriac, are appalled at the tortures adopted by the French administration against the Nationalist movements; they point out that the Gestapo in France had only 10 tortures whereas the French “Gestapo” in North Africa uses 13. The methods adopted against Algerian Nationalists in the last two or three years have, indeed, been utterly revolting. They were described in the Algerian newspaper La Voix du Peuple; they are the tortures of the bath; of the plank; by electricity; of the hose; of the inner tube; of the broom handle; of the wax taper; of the candle; of the top; by whipping; of the jet of water; by hanging; and of the bottle. Only to read the details of the tortures inflicted by the representatives of the nation sometimes said to be the most civilised and cultured in the world makes one feel physically sick. One dare not let one’s imagination run too far… And what is done in Algeria in the name of France is not far from what has been done in Madagascar, also in the name of France.

The irony of the suppression of civic rights and political emancipation in North Africa becomes more apparent when one considers the past glorious history of France. Mauriac has written: “We are Frenchmen, sons of France the best of whose people have for generations understood and practised the Sermon on the Mount better than others. We belong to the France which declared the Rights of Man in defiance of an enraged Europe.” And now the heirs of the France of Tom Paine and the Rights of Man seek to suppress those rights and to deny human progress and dignity.

Among those who have protested against the horrors of the French suppression of nationalism in Algeria is the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Algiers who recently recalled the Papal Encyclical on the Exercise of Justice in a pastoral letter to all churches to be read from the pulpit. Everyone, whatever his creed, will join with so influential a person in denouncing the methods adopted by the Algerian administration against nationalism. After all, the Algerian nationalists only want what more enlightened colonial powers than France have conceded.

None the less, despite the fact that the disturbances in Algeria are caused by settler resistance to enlightened progress, the world press will soon be condemning not the settlers, but the nationalists. Be it not forgotten, however, who has caused the fresh wave of disturbance; especially when N.M.U. starts his jeremiads – which surely he will start — about rioting and unreadiness for self-government.

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