Most of the African countries have at one time of another been engaged into warfare, either as a struggle for liberation from the colonialism or as a response from the bad governance which has characterized most parts of this continent. I believe that some of these struggles are justified since they led to liberation of the masses. For example the fight to draw away the colonialist was a noble cause since it brought independence in this region. The colonial powers were only up to satisfy their greedy appetite for resources from Africa leaving the continent bare with depleted resources.
They were determined to milk Africa dry and perhaps this explains why they clung to the colonies for so long such that they had to be thrown away either through armed struggles or through international pressure. Some of the colonies were determined to make African countries their overseas territories so that they can continue oppressing the Africans. One such rule was the French government which wanted to extend their unwelcome stay in Algeria culminating into a struggle which had massive effects some of which are still felt today.
One of the countries in Africa where the struggle for independence was quite remarkable and will for ever be in the history books is Algeria. In this paper I will attempt to explore the causes of this war that brought hope to the Algerian people and changed the course of their history forever. I will explain the course of the war analyzing the events which took place, and finally look at the effects of this struggle both in Algeria and France. (Windrow, M and Chappell 1997 5) This country was colonized by the French who occupied it for since early 1830s. They ruled this country for close to one hundred and fifty years.
By 1954 the Algerians had become tired, weary and fed up by this occupation. They have had enough and they were ready to liberate themselves. In 1954 they waged a war which went down to the history as one of the fiercest in the history of independence struggle. This was the climax of their aggression and humiliation they had undergone for the last one hundred years. They were so determined such that nothing would have turned them back. The forces were ready, they enjoyed massive support form the international bodies more so from their Arab neighbor who also wanted to see one of their neighbor redeemed from the chains of colonization.
This conflict erupted exactly fifty years ago, despite being an independence struggle; a war is a war, something which leads to loss of life and destruction of property. It was an ugly war that dominated the world press to almost the same extent as other wars that have been fought in the world in the recent past. (Windrow, M and Chappell, M 1997 p3) The war ended with a win for the French side but the situation in Algeria had changed, despite the win they had to grant the people of Algeria the freedom they had been yearning.
A question crops up, what could have happened if the Algerians won the war? Would they have tried to extend their territory beyond the curved borders? These are pertinent issues whose answers can not be direct. For one it would have been almost impossible for the Algerian freedom fighters to win given the level of the armies for the two sides. The French ha d a well coordinated force while Algerians only depended on militias who were not properly coordinated. Again the issue of weapons comes up; the French had access to modern and sophisticated weapons which Algerians could only have dreamed of.
This war had many unique features; it was a three- and finally four-edged struggle between the French government, the European colonists and the Algerian nationalists and finally Charles de Gaulle. All these parties to the contest were pursuing different interests. The war left Algeria deeply bruised as a nation. It had some serious implication that no one could have imagined, its effect were not only felt in this North African country but also way back in France. (Shields,J 2007 27) Causes of the War
To understand the real causes of this conflict it is important that we try to get a real situation of Algeria at that moment and in the past. This information will shed some light on why the Algerian people wanted to be free. Windrow and Chappell argue that the conflict was purely economical and social “some seventy five percent of the Muslims population were illiterate and they suffered chronic unemployment”p3. Therefore for these people to be liberated from the serious problems they were facing they had to get rid of the forces which they felt that were undermining their efforts to lead a better life.
By the time the war was erupting Algeria had been under French occupation for close to a century where the territory was being reoffered to as a French overseas province. Windrow and Cappell observed that only a small percentage of the Muslims population in this country enjoyed the French citizenry rights where one was privileged to own property. By this time the Muslims population had rose to eight millions. This population could not have survived under the conditions that prevailed in Algeria where the economy was not performing well and then their condition was not all that good.
This level of poverty which has been described as abject greatly contributed to this conflict. I believe that when a society is subjected to conditions which are inhuman they will rise up and demand what is rightfully theirs. This is exactly what happened in Algeria. The people were generally tired of being subjected to suffering by foreigners, they wanted to live a decent life, though they wanted to solve things in a peaceful manner conflict could not have been avoided since the French government was adamant and they wanted to continue with the occupation of this resource rich country.
(Shields, J 2007 28) The Algerians were dissatisfied with the treatment by the French government as second class citizens. They felt that this being country and they had every right to live in it and more so like any other person. In my research I have gathered that this is a problem that existed in all the African colonies where African faced serious discrimination. They were treated badly and subjected to unimaginable sufferings. Most of these people did not enjoy the privileges which the other races were entitled to.
They were regarded as low class who should be civilized though the process of assimilation. When people are treated in such a horrible manner as happened in Algeria, eventually they will be fed with the situation and demand what is rightfully their. This is what the Algerians did; they were tired of such an environment where they could not enjoy full rights like anybody else. They had to look for a way to solve their problem, they did not foresee a situation where for the French colonial government would grant them independence through a silver platter.
They were determined to go all the way and ensure their freedom. Algerians were determined to pursue their independence; it is in this struggle that nationalism and its elements are shown. The Algerian War was started mainly revolting Algerian mobilization which sought freedom on the premises of bad polices which segregated the people especially those cultures which did not speak in French. (Nehma, A and Zeleza, P 2008 56) During the Second World War, Algerians were actively involved both local and those of the European descent, they fought for France.
In return they were supposed to be handsomely rewarded for their efforts. This is a promise that the French government never kept. These world war soldiers were disoriented since when the colonial government did not keep its promise. They felt betrayed; they had to find alternatives so that they can survive the hard time that ensued. They were easy target for the recruits because of their hostility to the government that never kept its promise. These soldiers were actively involved in the freedom struggle for Algeria, perhaps to punish the French colonial government for neglecting them.
This something that happened all over the continent, Africans were enrolled to fight for foreign countries and in the return they were to get some favors from the colonial governments. In Kenya the freedom fighters who were popularly known as the Mau Mau were mostly soldiers who had been recruited to fight for British overseas. On return they were supposed to be given land. Just like the French counterparts in Algeria the British colonial government did not honor its promise. The soldiers formed the group to fight for the freedom in that country and also to teach the colonial government a lesson (Windrow, M and Chappell 1997 5)
My argument is that nationalism played a big role in the struggle for independence in this country. The Algerians were motivated by their desire to maintain cultural freedom and also reversion of the state to the rightful owners, who were the Algerian people. When the French people set their foot in this land they were determined to get this country. they used all manner of tactics to subject the indigenous people to their rule. Rapes,killings and many other barbaric acts were committed to the Algerians in the name of conquered the country. The French army burned harvests emptied granaries and many other unfortunate things.
This caused great resentment between the two groups, this hate grew reaching climax during the freedom struggle. Algerian resistance was vigorous though it was only for a short time; they were not prepared to fight foreign forces who wanted to take what is rightfully theirs. When it came to the freedom struggle they had learnt their lessons and were more determined than ever to ensure they were left free to rule their country as they wished. From the resistance which was mounted during the colonization period an insurgency which will later come to liberate the country was born.
There arose some cultural tension between the Muslims and the French people a type of resentment that lasted until this period and later came to yield to the type of aggression witnessed during the independence war. (Nehma, A and Zeleza, P 2008 58) Course of the war In the wee hours of 1st November 1954 the group called National Liberation Front was ready to start the liberation struggle, they launched massive attacks in different areas of Algeria They targeted the military and police posts, public areas among other crucial areas controlled by the colonial government.
The group called on all the Muslims in Algeria to rise up against a regime that was oppressive and bring back sanity own their country where all people especially the indigenous Africans could be treated with respect. What would have happened if the people of Algeria did not rally behind this call to liberate themselves? I believe that the colonial government was very much determined to retain this country. Once it is rich in oil resources among other minerals. Therefore by granting independence or ceasing power would transfer control of these resources to the Africans.
Settlers would not have liked the idea since they had grown to, like the country and what they were getting from here. (Williams, N et al 2007 78) The government responded with massive force against this insurgency from the people who were labeled as terrorists. Would people who were fighting to liberate the masses be labeled as terrorist? In my opinion the FLA fighters were not terrorists rather they were group of people who were responding to an oppressive regime. Many leaders have been labeled as terrorists but times have proved them right.
One such leaders was the former freedom fighter from South Africa who later became the President and one of the most popular and respected men in the world. Nelson Mandela was a terrorist according to the apartheid rulers of South Africa but to his people he was a hero. The same case applies the freedom fighter in Algeria the French government declared these people as terror agents but to the Algerians they were heroes who can be relied on to make their motherland free once more. (Williams, N et al 2007 79)
As the FLN spread their activities across the country, many European farmers in the country side were forced to sell their farms and belonging and shifted to the capital where they sought refuge. Here they pressured the government to take a stern action against the militias. The colons started organizing their own form of retaliation where they grouped some militias whom would attack the FLN members allover the country especially in Algiers. The Europeans called on the government to declare a state of emergency so that it can deal with the situation properly.
(Williams, N et al 2007 78) The war took an ugly twist when the FLN fighters started to attack the civilians. This happened way back in August 1955,a great massacre of the civilian was reported near Phillippeville,the attack was carried out by the freedom fighters. Intially the group had an operation tactic where it was only targeting the military and government properties. Now with the direct target of the people they were supposed to be fighting for complicated the matter. Perhaps this happens in every war. The civilians who in most cases are innocent get bruised.
This killing was largely condemned and it prompted the French government to step up its effort on the war. Innocent lives had been lost including those who were not involved inn the war, the children and women. In response to this attack the government claimed to have killed more than one thousand guerillas. FLN gave some conflicting reports by claiming that more than twelve thousand Muslims died on retaliatory attacks coming from the French colonial government and the colon vigilante groups. (Alexandar, M and Keiger, J 2002 78)
By 1956 it is estimated that the French government had already commission more than 400,000 troops to help crush the resistance that was mounting in this colony. They realized that it would not be an easy task to fight the groups that were coming up more so when they were using guerilla tactic and applying terrorism methods to fight the French government and its supporters. In the freedom fight there were Algerians who supporting the government . There were close to one hundred and eighty Muslim Algerians who were in the French forces and most of them were fighting as volunteers.
In my opinion I believe that these people were supporting the government because they wanted the status quo to remain. They were already benefiting from the system and changes where freedom will be granted their normal lives will be affected. Most of these volunteers have been assimilated into the French system and have been accorded full French citizenship. To them they were fighting for their country but to the rest of the Algerians they were traitors, who had betrayed the noble cause to liberate the country. In 1956 and 1957 the violence escalated, it took a complete new dimension where the civilians were not spared by two warring sides.
The military arm of the FLN used the tactics of hit and run where they recorded huge success. They avoided direct attacks or confrontation with the French troops. I believe that the group did this to avoid a situation where they would be overwhelmed by the French might. It is a known fact that the French troops had superior weapons than the militia groups. The war was proving to be complicated affairs for the French troops since the adoption of the hit and run tactics. It was becoming hard for the forces to get them since they were mixing with the civilians once they have launched an attack.
This tactic has been used by many fighters who believe that the enemy has the power and the might to defeat them. To their advantage they rely on the expertise of their fighter’s training them on the tactics which can be described as terrorist like where they attack the enemy in the areas where attacks are least expected. Kidnapping was also used, those commonly targeted were the collaborators especially the officials and those civilian who refused to support the revolutionary movement were not spared either, they were murdered. (Alexandar, M and Keiger, J 2002 79)
The fact that the revolutionary group was forcing people to support them clearly shows that not all the Algerians supported the war as a means to get what they wanted. They are those who believed that there are other avenues which could have been employed and the ugly situation that prevailed at the moment could have been avoided. To some extent I tend to agree with this group which preferred peaceful means to the struggle against freedom, may be the destruction that was being witnessed at this moment would have been avoided. So many lives had been lost and yet freedom had not come by this year.
Would it have been possible for the French government to enter into the negotiation with the so called militias? Perhaps this seemed like a mirage but eventually this happened later. The use of coercive methods on the fellow countrymen shows that the group had not inspired the whole Muslim population to rally behind them in the course. The group continued to gain ground by having control over region which were previously government controlled. In these regions they instituted some temporary authorities where they were able to collect taxes and also recruit fighters. The groups had to do this so that it can get some revenue to support itself .
This was very vital for their survival. (Alistair, H 2006 18) French troops were forced to go back to the drawing board and come up with the new methods of fighting. In 1957 French General instituted a system where the country was divided into the sectors. Each sector was allocated a troop which had a role of suppressing the rebels’ activities. This method proved to be effective since the revolutionaries activities were greatly reduced in some of the areas. Barriers were also placed in the borders so that the fighters who were coming from the neighboring countries could not gain access.
Morocco and Tunisia being close neighbors to this North African country were hosting some of the fighters and even helping the revolutionary groups’ finacially. This type of help has been common in every part of Africa. There are wars which are financed by the neighboring countries when they have some vested interest. For these two countries they were obliged to help since a friendly Muslim community needed liberation. (Alistair, H 2006 18) The French military started to ruthlessly attack those areas that they thought had been supporting the rebels.
They applied the principle of collective responsibility where all the villages cooperating with guerillas in any way whether sheltering or paying taxes to them were bombed. Those villages which were unreachable remote areas were raided through the air. A supervisory system where these villages were put on all time surveillance was instituted. This was to prevent the villagers from helping the rebels inn whatever way. There were areas especially in the mountainous region of Algeria where close to two million people were removed and transferred to the plains.
This shows the determination these forces had to completely finish the revolutionary movement. If the French government was so determined to see to it that resistance has been crashed would they have used less time and resources negotiating with the so called rebel group? I believe this is an option that they were not ready to explore since they wanted to continue calling the shots in this country and again they would have been seen as a weak country entering into negotiation with a weak group-so they thought. In my observation France was afraid of repeating the same mistake as was in the Indochina war.
They did not want to be seen as a though they were losing their grip and hence their position in the world political arena. They had to fight this war till the end and losing to them was not an option. (Yasher,F 1989 98) Back home in France there was a feeling that the situation has to be brought in to contol. Many were calling for the return of Charles de Guella return to power so that he can sort out the situation to the favor of his motherland and avoid a humiliation that will bruise the image of this mighty nation. (Hurd,E 2007 55).
Charles was seen as the only figure that would rally the nation and give it the proper direction. Indeed his return was greeted by many as a good sign where the hostilities would be ended. His return was perhaps greeted with almost the same jubilation Americas president elect Barrack Obama got when he was elected the forty forth occupant of the white house. The Muslims in Algeria were now tired of this warfare which had destroyed most of what they had. They wanted a break from this ugly situation. And the man occupying the top seat in France was the solution to their problem.
(Yasher, F 1989 98) By the 1958 the rebels had been pushed to the wall, the French army was gaining grounds. They had won the military control in almost all the regions in the country. In the preceding year’s pressure was mounting on France to grant Algeria its independence. Charles was determined towards this course but he was getting some opposition from the settlers who felt that he had betrayed them. They even attempted unsuccessfully to topple him. Talks with rebels were instituted paving way for a free nation. The aftermath
Algeria’s people dream to be an independent nation was finally granted. But I would ask was it worth this much? Many people had died in the course of this war. Both sides suffered heavy casualties. This is a situation that could have been avoided if men and women had let reason to prevail but man being a selfish animal who is determined to destroy had to do all that he can to ensure he is not humiliated. France was fighting for her position in the global politics,on the same hand Algeria was fighting for recogniton in the world map as a sovereign nation.
Their course was the same only that one was being denied by the other a chance to fulfill its course. (Hurd,E 2007 55) One conflict gave rise to another,it is funny how we solve one problem and in the process antoher crops. No wonder one philosopher said “ man lives to solve problems without them life has no meaning”. The problem in Algeria was deepened by the crisis which engulfed the movement that was very vocal in the freedom struggle. Ahmed Bella was becoming very popular and in the process he wa challenging the leadership of the prime minsiter Ben Khedda.
He later came to be elected the premier in an electionwhich was described as one sided. He announced that Algeria was not going to support any side as far as the world politics were concerned. He made friendship with Kennedy,Castro and many other leaders. This was in the an aim of consolidating his power and at the same time make Algeria a daring to those countries who could have provided aid. In an African style he did not last long he was desposed and put in a house arrest. This dispostiton was masterminded by the elements who were not happy with the Algeria’s progress.
They are the vestigial elements that were left by the colonialist. Most of the problems being experienced in this nation can be traced way back to the algerian war and colonisation. The determination of the FLN government to hold on power and the oppositon mounting fromm the muslim fundamentalst groups have made this nation to be at war. (Hurd,E 2007 55) William ,N et al(2007) describe the Algerian war as nastier than the vietnam independence war(p44). Algeria as a french department had a lot instake. It was home to milions of settlers from europe who wanted to protect their intersts at all the cost.
They felt betrayed by the man many thought would bring a solution to the algerian problem. They were not ready to enter in to the negotiation or yield to any demands made by the Algerians. French government which has beeen described in many occasssions as half hearted reform did not convinvce the people of Algeria otherwise. The analysis of the situation indicate that algerians were more determined than ever,the repression directed to them by the french forces only gave them more energy to continue with the struggle. The situation in Algeria threatened to break France as anation .
A couple was planned where a regime that was seen as incapable of handling the situation was to be replaced. The situation was saved by Charles de Guella who was called upon to rescue the nation. French positon in the global positon was in an all time low. (William ,N et al 2007She has been humiliated again,she was losing her colonies in a very horrible way. Her ego had been seriously bruised. This greatly affectred the nation pride,even Charles government was not soared either despite his popularity. He was facing more problem than one could have imagined.
He was losing colonies,immigration and unemployment was rising. Voilent strikes broke out in paris,this was a common thing from know on. These events can be traced back to the aftermath of the Algerian war which left the nation image seruios injured. Perhaps this was more serios than the defeat frace suffered during the Pro-Russian wars. (Hurd,E 2007 55) Conclusion The Algerian war represents the African struggle from the oppressive colonial regime but a question crops up when I look at the situation in most of the African countries.
Some of them are in a bad shape than they were during the colonial time. What happened in this countries is that colonialist were subsituted by dictatorship. A good example is Zimbabwe,the county is on its knees due to the years of misrule,many other nations are in the near blink not because of the foreign domination but from the mismanagement which has characterized these nations for along time. It is high time that africa as a continent wake up to reality,rise up and embrace the true democracy. the one which will end the civil war in algeria and many other parts of Africa.
The solutions lie within,pressure from the outside world can only bring temporary solution but the bigger picture lies within the continent to come up with solution that will bring conflicts to an end. The solidarity exprewssed by the people of algeria and the determination to gain independence should serve as an example to all those nations experiencing chaos.
Windrow,M and Chappell,M. Algerian War 1954-62,Osprey Publishing co. (1997).
Shields, J. The extreme Right in France,Routledge(2007).
Nehma,A and Zeleza,P. The Roots of African Conflicts,The cause and Costs,Ohio University Press(2008).
Williams,N,Berry,O ,Fallon,S and Catherine,N. Algerian War,Lonely Planet(2007).
Alexander,M and Keiger,J. France and Algerian War,Taylor and Francis (2002).
Alistair,H. A savage War of Peace:Algeria 1954-1962,New York Books(2006).
Yashir,F. The Mediterrenen:Prospects of a New Intergration,New York,United Nations University Press(1989).
Hurd,E. The Politics of Secularism in international Relations,Princetown,Princetown University Press.
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