Before the main commemorations for Armistice Day on November 11, French President Emmanuel Macron and Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita honored African troops who fought for France in World War I.
On November 6, the French and Malian presidents inaugurated a monument and laid wreaths at the Parc Champagne to honor the African troops.
Keita’s great-grandfather fought and died in the Battle of Verdun in eastern France.
Until now, France has been accused of ignoring the contribution of the nearly 200,000 African soldiers from all over West Africa who were referred to as “Senegalese tirailleurs” (French for “riflemen”).
It is estimated that up to one-quarter of those conscripted died on the battlefield, and thousands more died from cold and illnesses that their bodies were unaccustomed to.
Most African were conscripted into service from 1915–1917, but were eventually promised benefits, such as passports or pensions.
Those military pensions were much lower than for their European counterparts, and passports were rarely delivered.
African troops were the subject of a recent photography exhibit in a Paris suburb intended to address the French public’s “amnesia” about their service during World War I.
Macron has called France’s colonialism “a crime against humanity,” including such historical injustices as abuses by French troops in the Algerian independence struggle.
Sources: News24, Sunday Times (South Africa)