June 3, 1941 is the date on our French West African banknote, colonies of France.
June 3, 1941, is just about one year after Germany began to effectively “colonize” France in 1940 with its invasion at the commencement of WW2. And it’s just about 3 years before June 6, 1944, D-Day, when the Allied invasion in French Normandy commenced, leading to the Independence of France from its colonizers.
Our banknote is a glimpse into French West Africa, during the time that its colonizer was being colonized.
The back of our banknote illustrates a weaver at his trade in French West Africa, There is a glorious tradition to the craft worldwide, and Africa is prominent.1
Our banknote is a relic of the sins of the past. It is testament to changing sensibilities that the story of this banknote would stun many in our modern word. But, none the less, that same story, represented by this banknote, haunts a billion people to this day.
French West Africa, or, in the French language of our banknote, Afrique Occidentale, is the name of the late 19th century and early 20th century administrative grouping of African states under French colonial rule.2 A common currency was utilized through much of this period.
European political and economic rivalries led to what has come to be known as The Scramble for Africa 3 in the concluding decades of the 1800s. With the advances in the Age of Industrialization, the formerly challenging logistics of transportation and communication and resource development became simpler, and consequently, more far reaching. Nations vied with one another for resources and safe trade routes and secure lines of communication. Military bases were sought to secure those routes, such as Britain’s to its colony in India. In addition to such hard assets, politicians coveted colonial possessions for prestige on the world stage and as negotiating chips in the world game. To avoid war over territories, Bismarck of Germany, prompted by the Portuguese and supported by the British, called a meeting of interested nations to resolve differences and competing interests. This became known as the Berlin Conference of 1884. 4
The Berlin Conference delineated procedures by which nations could claim territory in Africa as their own colony. In addition to recognizing several historic colonial claims, the Principle of Effective Occupation 5 was promulgated which was to have rapid impact and lasting effect on the continent. Essentially, it would be henceforth considered insufficient to simply place one’s flag on the coast and claim an entire continent for the King as had been done by nations in the 15th and 16th centuries. Under this Principle, it was necessary to have established some form of administration, treaties with inhabitants, policing force and other elements of occupation.
With the establishment of the Principle of Effective Occupation, the Conquest of Africa having already accelerated in the previous decade, now intensified into the Scramble for Africa. Expeditions were launched into the interior, treaties were established and often coerced from the natural inhabitants, and settlements were established. Within a short time essentially all of Africa was subdivided into colonial territories under European control. 6 New boundary lines, enforced by European politics, crisscrossed the continent. These new lines had no connection to history, traditional hunting grounds, migration routes, sacred burial grounds.
European colonialism of Africa collapsed following WW2, but the colonial boundaries remain. The generation of leaders in Africa arising with the post war independence movements, generally adhered to the established stated boundaries in hopes of avoiding new conflicts among the peoples. The boundaries, though, have no regard for traditional separations or commerce of the local ethnicities of the natural inhabitants of the land. This is one significant reason for separatist movements in Africa. 7
The region formerly known as French West Africa, is today occupied by the following countries: Ivory Coast, Benin, Mali, Guinea, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Togo and Nigeria.