On the side of the G8 summit about Africa, here's a subject not so present in the media which may put things into perspective - how former European colonial powers see their past role in Africa.
As we discussed before on our blog, here and here, a controversial law demanding that teachers at schools all over the country and textbooks emphasise "the positive role (played by) France overseas, especially in the Maghreb region, in North Africa has infuriated a lot of people, including history teachers in France who signed a petition against it, as well as leaders in Algeria. The French association of history and geography teachers dismissed the law as "a call to write an official version of history."
What is interesting though is that how France reconstructs its own past based on the old assumption that their colonial system brought mostly positive things to Africa and Asia. In fact, if you ask them, a lot of people (mostly the old generation though – those like Chirac) will say ‘privately’ that “things were not so bad back then and that Africa was better off under the colonial regime – at least they had food on their tables and did not kill each other”. Some would even say that the current situation in the African continent proves their points, going as far as saying that they are incapable of keeping things right. But because it is a not a politically correct thing to say, most would not be too vocal about it.
The new law may make those people more at ease to express their opinions about the positive role of the colonies, but most historians would disagree. In this article,
Historian Marc Ferro, author of "Le livre noir du colonialisme" (The Black Book of Colonialism), an uncompromising account of European colonialism, noted that France has always insisted on describing its own colonial practices as "humane," while dismissing British or Spanish colonialism as ruthless and inspired purely by the aim of economic domination.
"But in practice, the differences between French and English colonialism were not as clear-cut as the official French version would like them to be," Ferro told IPS. He added that French colonialism came to an abrupt end after World War II, provoking a new national crisis after the catastrophe of France's collaboration with Nazi Germany.
Meanwhile, British rule in Africa and Asia went, with the clear exceptions of India, Kenya, and Zimbabwe, through a smooth transition from colonialism to co-operation within the Commonwealth.
"We can say that if French cultural intentions were perhaps more humane than Britain's, France's political practices in the colonies were actually more restrictive and repressive, in part because colonial France wanted the indigenous peoples in the colonies to become French. Britain never thought of transforming Kenyans or Indians into Englishmen," Ferro added.
Even though there is not much to worry about after all. It is likely that no history teacher is going to change their teaching. But this new trend is also taking grasp in other European countries:
In Britain, historian Niall Ferguson has for years conveyed a revisionist view of colonialism, describing British colonial rule in Africa and Asia as "nation-building."
Whereas in France an attempt to erect a stele to the glory of the O.A.S. - Organisation de l’Armée Secrète, a short-lived French right-wing terrorist group formed in January 1961 to resist the granting of independence to the French colony of Algeria) was countered by the regional prefect.
All this means that the old guard is trying to change its legacy. The good thing is that they will soon be gone .