ABSTRACT

During the protracted process of decolonization after the Second World War, colonial structures often influenced the shape that postcolonial states took, particularly with regard to their coercive institutions. However, local individuals and groups with different experiences of colonial rule were important actors in determining how the colonial state became a postcolonial one. This chapter examines the role played by former colonial soldiers of the French empire – Africans who had served in the French army – in the building of the national armed forces and postcolonial political systems in Guinea, Ivory Coast and Upper Volta from 1958 to 1973. French recruitment of African soldiers began with the conquest of colonial possessions during the nineteenth century. Conquered African forces were often included in the French army, and African soldiers became important actors in the expansion and maintenance of the French empire. 1 Altogether 170,000 of them participated in the First World War, and a further 200,000 participated in the Second World War. 2 Later, in the 1950s, African soldiers fought against nationalist movements in Indochina and Algeria. Most African soldiers, however, served in West Africa, where their main task was to maintain order and guarantee the flow of African labour to European plantations and companies. 3