French Withdrawal from West Africa

Wind of Change

Sub-Saharan Africa 1960.0626

French Withdrawal from West Africa

Africa after World War II, African independence (26 June 1960)

Historical Map of Sub-Saharan Africa

Having accepted the end of its colonial empire, France granted independence to its remaining West African colonies between April and November 1960. However, many of these countries remained within the French Community and retained close ties with France.

Main Events

Gerboise Bleue

The French government conducted its first nuclear test, Gerboise Bleue ("blue gerboa"), detonating an atomic device near Reggane, French Saharan Region (now part of Algeria). The test had a yield of 70 kilotons and made France the fourth nuclear power, after the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom. Two additional tests, Gerboise Blanche and Gerboise Rouge ("white" and "red" for the other colors in the French flag), were conducted soon after.

Sharpeville massacre

In the late morning of 21 March 1960 as many as 7,000 unarmed protesters demonstrating against South Africa's discriminatory pass laws gathered around the police station in Sharpeville, Transvaal province, where they were soon faced down by around 200 police and four armored cars. At 1:15pm clashes occurred and the police opened fire, killing 69 people and injuring a few hundred more in the space of a few minutes. The massacre provoked unrest across the country and international condemnation; nine days later the South African government declared a state of emergency and arrested anti-apartheid activists.

Independence of Togo

On 27 April 1958 a United Nations-supervised parliamentary election was held in the Republic of Togo, at the time a French-administered UN Trust Territory. The election was won by the pro-independence Committee of Togolese Unity, making its leader Sylvanus Olympio prime minister and encouraging the French to announce that they would grant Togo independence. Two years later, on 27 April 1960, Togo became fully independent as the Togolese Republic.

Union of Central African Republics

Representatives of the French territories of the Central African Republic, Chad, and the Republic of Congo met at Fort Lamy, Chad, to sign a charter to form the Union of Central African Republics. Gabon also attended but declined to sign. The Union provided for a united foreign policy and defence, but guaranteed each participating nation its autonomy. However it soon collapsed, with the Republic of Congo leaving in early July and the other republics gaining separate independence.

Independence of Mali Federation

On 13 December 1959 French President Charles de Gaulle visited Bamako, initiating negotiations for the future independence of the Mali Federation. Talks with France lasted until March 1960, during which it was agreed that the federation would remain within the French Community and retain French military bases in its territory. On 20 June, the date agreed, the Mali Federation became fully independent under the presidency of Modibo Keïta.

Independence of Madagascar

French reforms in Madagascar in 1956 helped the island's peaceful transition to independence, especially after the proclamation of the autonomous Malagasy Republic on 14 October 1958. On 2 April 1960 the Franco-Malagasy accords were signed by French Prime Minister Michel Debré and Malagasy President Philibert Tsiranana, agreeing to the nation's full independence. Following the Malagasy parliament's unanimous approval of the accords, the Malagasy Republic became an independent country within the French Community on 26 June.

Independence of Somaliland

On 26 June 1960 the British Somaliland protectorate was granted independence as the State of Somaliland. The following day the newly convened Somaliland Legislative Assembly approved a bill that would allow for the new state's union with the neighboring Italian-administered Trust Territory of Somaliland upon its scheduled independence on 1 July.

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