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Moyen-Congo - Colonial Policy

Relations between the French colonizers and the African population varied according to time and place. The nineteenth century principle of cultural assimilation, often described as the making of Africans into Frenchmen, had almost no application in AEF. Instead, the atmosphere of French-African relations was set by the concessionary regime together with the accompanying programs of forced labor and the alienation of the African from his land.

By the end of teh Great War, the relationship between France and its colonies was based on the concept of association. This policy affirmed the dominant position of the French in the colonies and was the basis for the separate systems of laws and institutions for those who were French citizens and those who were colonial subjects. The Africans were allowed to preserve their own customs to the extent that they were compatible with French interests. Education was limited to primary levels, with some secondary training given after 1935 to provide functionaries for the civil service.

From 1935 to 1940 the colonial administration made increased efforts toward economic and social development. Emphasis was placed on agricultural and social progress, but the implementation of related programs was brought to a standstill by the outbreak of World War II. Some of the roots of Congolese nationalism that found increasing expression in the period following World War II can be discerned in two related African movements that originated during the interwar period. Kimbanguism, a religious movement with strong anticolonial and nationalist sentiments began among the Kongo of the Belgian Congo in 1921 and spread across the river to the Kongo peoples of the French colony. The colonial administration's attempts to prohibit Kimbanguism failed to destroy its influence, and it continued as a semisecret society.

The most important African movement of the pre-World War II period was the social association founded in 1927 by Andre Matsoua, a former catechist of the Roman Catholic Mission. The movement, called the Association of Natives of French Equatorial Africa (Amicale des Originaires de l'Afrique Equatoriale Francaise), began in Paris as a type of mutual aid society for French Equatorial Africans who were living in metropolitan France. Stressing education, cooperation, and the elevation of Africans to equal status with French citizens, the Amicale movement spread to the federation where it gained wide attention among the Kongo, and their Sundi and Lali subgroups. In the Brazzaville area the movement took on strong political overtones that brought about repressive measures by the French authorities, and eventually Matsoua and other leaders were arrested and placed on trial. The decision of the administration on April 3, 1930, to exile Matsoua to Chad incited a series of riots, particularly among the Lali, and workers in Brazzaville went on strike.

The deportation of Matsoua and the resulting alienation of the Lali peoples from the administrative authorities had an important effect on later political developments. Several Amicale leaders were executed in 1940, and Matsoua died in prison in 1942. Rather than destroying the movement, the exiling and death of Matsoua made him the center of a religious mysticism. Large numbers of the Lali came to believe that Matsoua was in Paris negotiating with General Charles de Gaulle and would return as a savior to liberate them from French rule.

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