What is the French policy of ASSIMILATION about, what did scholars like Leopold Senghor mean by the term Negritude as a strategy for countering that French policy and what is the place of the two in the methodology of ethnic conflict management?
The trajectory of this paper is within the purview of Conflict Resolution and Management. However, it traverses a historical path that takes us back to the era of colonialism in Africa, the Afrocentric Movement leading to independent African states and how this all coalesces into a formula of how to (or rather how not to) deal with differences that have the potential to dynamically incinerate conflicts, both ethnical (or racial) and otherwise. To this end, an exposé of the Policy of Assimilation employed by the French in governing French African colonies shall be succeeded by an analysis of Negritude. The foregoing would then be placed on the stage for examination of how it performs as a methodology for managing ethnic conflicts wherever they may occur.
A cursory search for a definition will qualify assimilation simply as “the social process of absorbing one cultural group into harmony with another.” This definition well covers the basics of the concept of assimilation even as it is insufficient for our purposes. Assimilation, as is to be understood here, was an ideological basis of French colonial policy in the 19th and 20th centuries. At variance with any other colonial ideological foundation, the French sought to homogenise their colonies in such a way that by the latter’s adoption of French language and culture, they were eventually going to became French. It was a policy designed to make the Africans in their colonies rid themselves of their indigenous customs, mores, values, culture and language and become more French through education. In the end, these colonies were going to be much more than outposts of French mercantilisms but extensions of France. Thus, as schools opened to teach and espouse French language and culture, the French also hoped that an adoption of this social straitjacketing was going to make their subjects more complacent to French rule. The attempt was as physically intrusive as it was social. French structures and lifestyle were injected into the fabric of the society to create an ambiance sometimes rivalling the Riviera. Boulevards, beautiful landscapes, sea-side resorts, cafes, gorgeous gardens and well-manicured lawns dotted the main cities of these colonies in as much the same way as it did in France. Known to be tastefully fashionable, the French endeavoured to foster that fashion consciousness on their subjects as well. Subjects of these colonies, by implication, were to be considered French nationals and citizens of France. As long as the French language, culture and social customs were adopted, the natives of the colonies were due the rights and privileges of French citizens and were supposed to perform similar roles (including military responsibility) as French citizens in Paris, Toulouse or any other French cities in mainland France. In the colonies where this was adopted, French laws applied regardless of distance from France, the size of the colony, the organisation of the society, the economic development, race or religious beliefs of natives. However, all this was theoretical. In actual practice, the attempt at eliminating differences by assimilation to make Africans French in everyway except for the colour of their skin turned out differently. When the common native endured the rigours of literacy in French culture and language, with the pensive hope of attaining equality with colonial French nationals as a ticket to making a good living and earning well enough to cater for himself and any dependants, he found his goal elusive. The “BlackFrenchMan” found himself increasingly alienated by the French and socially alienated by his immediate environment. This...