Research Articles

Revisiting the French devised Code de l’indigénat and its aftermath

 

 

Author:Ritankar Mallick

GCTC

 

Is withdrawal of troops an ongoing sudden nationalist in-vogue trend or a hasty measure for the appeasement of the domestic populace? As Western powers prepare to leave their grounds in Asian and African regions, to whom will these outcomes benefit? Quite a few questions hover around as the world begun to slowly fuel its engines, preparing to kickstart in the post-pandemic situation, as the current international events shape the upcoming global timeline.

Previously the occupational therapy that the colonial powers used to provide to their dominion outposts were labelled as “civilizing the uncivilized ” or “making them westernized”   or something almost similar.  With the United States preparing to leave the Afghani ground by September 11 of this year completely1 marking the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the French President on the other hand, has been vocal about reducing the troops from the Military Operation Barkhane in Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger.

President Macron has expressed to be committed in the Sahel region but he voiced that a “profound transformation”2  being on its way and the military operations won’t be the same anymore. With this recent move,  let’s trace back to a time in African history to revisit the regime de I’indigenat of French colonization in Africa.

The French pronouncement on Algeria for nearly 135 years led to the code of nativity (Code de l’indigénat) being an integral part of their colonial policy from the beginning. They imposed similar laws in the other parts of Africa as they annexed territories across the continent. The French invasion ceased the Algerian slave trade and piracy but it instead summoned aggression against the resistance towards colonization resulting in bloodshed and inviting more.

The French devised a way where it relied upon its subjects to maintain their colonialism in their lands. The policy was demographically divided into three categories which were called communes. The communes with a significant amount of French people elected their administrative bodies and were the self-governing3 parts of the colons (colonies). The native Muslim communes elected some but had a grand chieftain who was selected to head the elected council. The communes with more uninhabitable or uninhabited places were under the military’s jurisdiction. This began after the implementation of the Royal decree of 1845 in Algeria.

But as a de facto ruler tightens its grip and becomes a colonial power, a small group of natives, those who exercise certain influence over the settlers come in handy for the occupiers. The small group of French-speaking indigenous influential elites formed during this time mainly consisting of the Berbers, mostly Kabyles. Therefore, it resulted in a loving attitude towards the Kabyles. Almost about 80% of the indigenous schools were constructed for the Kabyles. Similarly, the French government favoured them in the local positions and vice versa.

The Code of the Indigénat categorized the citizenship of its population and subjects into two: the French citizens (with metropolitan descent) and French subjects, namely black Africans, Malagasy, Algerians, West Indians, Melanesians, etc. The code of the Senatus Consulte deprived them of most of their freedom and political rights; among the people, they only retain their own religious or customary descent identity.

A method of promotion was laid for the assimilation of the African people or the “civilizing” people. On July 14th, 1865, king Napoleon III in the first clause of the Senatus Consulte of full citizenship allowance4 request made it clear that though a Muslim or a Jew indigenous is French, even after that if he or she wants to enjoy the rights of a French citizen he or she will have to admit it, to be a subject to the French political and civil laws. It established specific penalties for the indigenous and organized lawful dispossession of their lands. But this wasn’t where it ended, as these establishments went through further improvements (1874, 1876, 1877, and 1881) as more offences went on getting specified and enlisted since then. Since the 1860s several changes were made in the upcoming years. The laws on exercising public movement and assembly turned more restrictive for the indigenous people. Punishment for the natives included fines or penalty of a demotion other than the prevailing sequestration.

The attempt towards naturalization that the French government tried to carry out was very depressing. In 1865 the first clause of the Senatus Consulte highlighted the requirement of naturalization that was expected to happen for healthy assimilation to take place. This initiative didn’t turn out well as in a country of millions they received less than 200 naturalization requests from the Muslims and nearly 160 requests from the Jews and other groups. This reaction wasn’t satisfactory at all for the French government back then.

The French administered the whole Mediterranean region of Algeria5 as an integral part and departement of the nation from 1848 till independence. When the French entered, only 1.5 million Algerians lived and when they gained independence it was more than seven times of it.

From 1825 onwards, fifty thousand6 French people moved to Algeria within the next 22 years. The confiscation of communal or tribal lands benefitted these Frenchmen on the Algerian lands as the application of modern agricultural techniques became easier and therefore increased the amount of arable land. Thus, the number of  Europeans settling in7 increased so much that they formed the majority in the cities of Oran and Algiers by the early 20th century. The improvements of the code eventually went on widening the difference between the thought processes invested, separately for the indigenous and the French settlers from Europe. The true harsh identity8 of the code of the nativity was becoming visible as in 1881 some specific offences were codified, which were to be distinguished from the crimes or acts committed in violation of the French law.

Since 1887, different colonial powers started implementing such similar kind of codes in their respective colonies. The implementation of the native Algerian code acted as an inspiration for most of the then contemporary European colonial powers behind the implementation of such similar kind of codes in their colonies. The code made colonialism shine again and enabled the brewing of more injustice and inequality for a several more decades as the 20th century arrived.

 

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