From Colonies to Client-States: The Origins of France's Postcolonial Relationship with Sub-Saharan Africa, 1940-1969

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This dissertation examines the transformation of French mentalities regarding France's role in Africa, beginning with World War II and continuing through the end of Charles de Gaulle's presidency in 1969. Despite the political independence of France's African colonies in 1960, many of them quickly transitioned from colonies into client-states. Since then, France's relationships with its former colonies have enabled a variety of underhanded dealings on the continent. In tracing the roots of this transformation, I focus on French politicians and colonial administrators, and their gradual ideological shift away from traditional conceptions of the French colonial mission.

I argue that the events of World War II, which split the empire and placed France in a greatly disadvantageous international position (first with respect to Nazi Germany and later vis-à-vis the Allies), led to a formidable shift in how France viewed its colonies and other Francophone territories in sub-Saharan Africa. French insecurity, precipitated by its fall as a major world power, required new ways to maintain influence internationally and in its empire. This mentality, while shaped by the postwar environment, was not the product of any one political ideology; it was shared by colonial administrators in both the Vichy and Free French regimes, and by politicians on both the left and right of the political spectrum after the war. At the same time, French officials grew increasingly wary of British and American efforts to broaden their respective standings in Africa. This renewed concern about the "Anglo-Saxon" threat, along with the increasing need to preserve influence in Africa in a postcolonial age, were powerful undercurrents in the formation of French policy on the continent leading up to and after decolonization. The result was increasingly cynical support of despotic regimes friendly to French interests, in an effort to maintain political influence in Africa after decolonization.