Assignment 2: French Assimilation of Africa

Craig, Alexandra


‘The Hostage School’

In Senegal and Mali, French Governor Louis Faidherbe opened the Ecoles des Otages (Hostages Schools) in 1855. The sons of notables and chiefs were forced to attend the schools whose avowed objective was to teach them French culture and values in order to transform them into colonial auxiliaries. Their presence at the school was also aimed at preventing their families from any rebellion. Most parents secretly sent their domestics’ children instead of their own.

The French occupation of Africa began in Algeria in the late 19th century. The “Scramble for Africa”, the competition between European countries to colonize Africa, lead to this conquest and the search for new resources and land. The French claimed that their motivation was to spread the French culture, and “civilize” the Africans. Their attempt to “civilize” the people of Africa was to be accomplished through assimilation, or “The process by which a person or persons acquire the social and psychological characteristics of a group”. To achieve this goal of assimilation, the French stated that the Africans could be considered French citizens and posses French rights if they followed certain conditions. However the strict conditions set foreword to become a French citizen “made it virtually impossible for most colonial subjects to become French citizens.” (The Colonization of Africa).  To become a French citizen, the native Africans were expected to “speak French fluently, to have served the French meritoriously, to have won an award, and so on.” (The Colonization of Africa). However, the French did not administer an “educational system to train all its colonized subjects to speak French” (The Colonization of Africa) and failed to “establish administrative and social systems to employ all its subjects” (The Colonization of Africa). Therefore, the goal of the French seemed to be less interested in achieving actual assimilation, and more interested in “imperialist political and ideological posture than a serious political objective” (The Colonization of Africa).

This warped goal of assimilation had great impacts on the African society. Many different “forms of political control” (Africa: French Colonies) emerged throughout the continent, “all of which were, to varying degrees, authoritarian and aggressively imperialist.”(Africa: French Colonies). This ideological change and divide, created great cultural turmoil and violence. Traditional African cultural practices and beliefs were wiped out because they were not allowed to practice their religious practices, or because their children were sent to French schools and assimilated. Even if France’s goal of assimilation had good intentions (which I doubt it fully did, there were definitely economic and political influence behind their facade), it failed miserably and created great social change throughout Africa.


“Africa: French Colonies – POLITICAL ORGANIZATION OF FRENCH COLONIES IN AFRICA, ASSOCIATION AND ASSIMILATION.” – Colonial, France, African, and Soldiers. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Sept. 2014. < articles/pages/5923/Africa-French-Colonies.html>.

“The Colonization of Africa.” The Colonization of Africa. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Sept. 2014. <>.

Image Reference:

Louis Léon César Faidherbe, Le Sénégal; la France dans l’Afrique occidentale (Paris, Hachette et cie., 1889.) General Research and Reference Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.