Moyen-Congo - World War II
The central figure of French Equatorial Africa during the period of World War II was Felix Eboue, the Guyanese governor of Chad who became governor general of AEF.
Tropical helmets, which, according to a theory that persisted until about 1940, were mandatory for Europeans to fend off death by sunstroke, projected authority if worn with the uniform of a colonial officer. According to his biographers, Felix Eboue, the black West Indian administrator who became Governor-General of AEF during the Second World War, wore his helmet as a young man, so that Europeans would not mistake him for a 'native' and subject him to abusive behavior and the tyranny of the African legal code, the indigenat. Writing to his family in Cayenne, he noted that "some Africans would not obey him since he was a black man, but their attitude improved when he wore his peaked cap and braided uniform."
Brian Weinstein in his 1972 biography of the Afro-Guyanese colonial administrator Felix Eboue noted that "Becoming more French was what the progressives of the time wanted; their conservative enemies in France were trying to deprive black men in the colonies of the possibility of integration into the French nation. No one talked ofindependence"(pgs. 22-33).
The village council and chieftancy structure would have been the logical forerunner to modern local government. The most articulate plea to the French Overseas Administration in 1942 to preserve local native institutions in the colonies as an essential foundation to the development of a modern society was made by the Governor General of Sudan, Felix Eboue, himself a Guianan turned Frenchman.
"By administering against the chiefs, we will end up by compromising the institution of the chief to the point of being obliged to administer more and more directly. The African official left alone in the bush, has only the fear of prison as a brake on his action, and temptation is often so strong that the brake no longer works. The chief, on the other hand, is restrained by custom, by invisible sanctions and by the feeling that he is the master of his people... A chief may administer his people badly, but it is rare that he is blind enough to destroy them."
After the Franco-German armistice of June 1940, Governor General Pierre Boisson placed AEF under the authority of the Vichy regime of occupied France. Boisson was then transferred to Dakar, capital of Senegal, by the Vichy government and named high commissioner for all French territories in Africa.
For Vichy, the Empire offered a means of illustrating the continued grandeur of France, and the colonies (unoccupied by the Germans) were the sole areas of 'French' territory where Vichy was in absolute control. The Vichy authorities vaunted the importance of the colonies, while simultaneously retreating from the (largely illusory) promise of assimilation that the despised Republic had offered to its 'natives'.
Felix Eboue was the native colonial governor of French Equatorial Africa who stood with the anti-Nazi resistance against the Vichy regime's capitulation to Hitler. On August 26, 1940, Eboue declared the allegiance of Chad to the Free French government of Charles de Gaulle. Three days later Free French leaders in Brazzaville took control of the local government without bloodshed, and the next day de Gaulle loyalists gained control in Oubangui-Chari. Gabon, however, did not follow the lead of the other AEF territories. Free French forces besieged Libreville and finally brought about capitulation.
After the fall of France, the Empire represented a major opportunity for both Vichy and the Free French. The rallying of French Equatorial Africa to De Gaulle's cause gave the Free French a base from which to operate, and they put great efforts into gaining the support of the population.
When Eboue was named governor general for AEF in November 1941, he not only set about to lead the federation in making a contribution to the war effort, but, even more significantly, he devised a new approach for colonial policy and was influential in initiating its implementation. Concerned about the disintegration of the traditional African social structures, Eboue sought to devise policies that would strengthen African institutions, improve living standards, and develop a genuine African leadership that would not be so Euro-peanized as to be alienated from the masses. These ideas, though revolutionary, were not oriented toward the development of African nationalism.
The social policies espoused by Eboue had an important bearing on the recommendations prepared by the Conference of Governors of French Black Africa held in Brazzaville in early 1944. Although the conference took special care to condemn the concept of self-government for the colonies, even in the remote future, it did mark a political and social breakthrough for the Africans.
The conference proposed that the colonies send representatives to the French Constitutional Assembly when it convened after the war and that the colonies be granted political representation in a future federal assembly. Furthermore, the conference recommended that local customs be respected and safeguarded, that arbitrary punishments be abolished and a common legal sy; instituted, that health and educational facilities be improved, and that labor conscription be ended. A number of these recommendations were later embodied in the provisions of the Constitution of the Fourth Republic.
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