Remembering the French massacre of black soldiers at Thiaroye camp, 75years on.
Today, December 1st, 2019 marks exactly 75 years after the grand massacre of African colonial soldiers who fought to liberate France during the European Tribal war also known as the Second World War. As part of EYEGAMBIA’s effort to keep on honoring African heroes, we chose to remember our African commandos who fought to liberate France but were later paid back with painful deaths for demanding what rightfully belongs to them.
During the second world war, a team of African soldiers, referred to as the Tirailleurs Senegalese which translates as “Senegalese sharpshooters” were recruited not only from Senegal as the name suggested, but from a combination of African countries like, Togo, Guinea, Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Chad, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Central African Republic and Benin, mostly against their will, to be part of a multi-racial army to liberate France from the German forces.
Black soldiers formed a larger part of the entire French army relative to the number of French soldiers involved. They were used to fight in Italy and along the Mediterranean Coast. During the heat of the war, 17,000 black soldiers who were part of the General De Gaulle lead French army reportedly lost their lives in attempts to resist the Nazi invasion with the remaining members captured as prisoners of war and locked up in a racist German Camp.
After the hard work, numerous deaths and massive contribution by the African troops, a grand propaganda scheme was set-up to exempt all black soldiers from the final team that will liberate Paris.
Getting an all-white French troop to lead the operation became difficult because, out of every French unit, there was about 60% black soldiers. The only French formation from which they could recruit a 100% white team was an armored division stationed in Morocco. They were transported to France on 1st August 1944 after numerous deliberations and were made part of the lead soldiers for the invasion just to sideline the contribution of black soldiers and create an avenue for French troops to headline the liberation.
After this painful exclusion from the glorious moment, the black soldiers were sent back to Africa without pay and held in a demobilization camp in Thiaroye- Senegal. To worsen everything, the payment structure set to reward the soldiers was discriminatory and actually favors the white soldiers than the black. All these treatments attracted a protest during which they allegedly held a French General captive to help drive home their demands that they fail to listen to. The soldiers demanded among other things, an equal pay with their European counterparts, better treatment and also the release of their salary arrears.
This protest was termed a rebellion against the French power and in return, French soldiers opened fire on these un-armed black soldiers who were only protesting for their rights. According to war veterans, about 300 to 400 of them were reportedly killed on the first of December 1944 with the few survivors imprisoned but the French recorded only 35 deaths in official documents after using deadly weapons like armored cars, machine guns as well as a US army tank.
This grand massacre was carried out at the blind side of the unsuspecting general public. In 1987, a film was released by Sembene Ousman, a Senegalese producer and writer detailing the story. However, the film was banned in France for 17 good years for obvious reasons.
Painfully, the French government in attempts to bury this inhumane man massacre down history, reportedly implored several mechanisms to justify the mass shooting including the creation of an impression that, the tirailleurs fired a gun at them first. In addition, they equally claimed that, the tirailleurs were under German influence. They have equally failed over the years to own up to this crime and apologize to the entire African continent, especially the generations of the victims.
As new generation of Africans, it is our duty to unravel every single crime committed against our people but hidden deliberately for justice to be served. Whether France recognizes this or not, we will let the whole world know our ordeal and give much respect to these gallant soldiers for their contribution towards the liberation of France whom turned around to pay them back with painful deaths. May their souls rest in peace.