When analyzing France’s influence in Africa and its role as a colonizer, it is paramount to look at the timeline in which its policies became prevalent. There are two phases or periods that mark France’s legacy in Africa as a hegemon and world power. The first colonial empire lasted until 1814. The conquest of Algiers in the 1830s marked the second empire, and it ended with the wars of Indochina and the Algerian Revolutionary War of 1955. After the 1960s, France changed its “posture” to a more peaceful transition while granting independence to sub-Saharan regions.11
France was the second colonial power on the verge of WWI after Great Britain. Nevertheless, there was an ongoing struggle for new markets and establishing a balance of power in international relations. Deep Africa, especially the sub-Saharan region, became a zone of interest for France, Great Britain, and Belgium.12 France spread its influence in almost all the three major continents; Asia, Africa, and the Americas. A cursory evaluation of the French colonization practices shows another account from previous colonial systems. It was not quite a mercantilist system such as Spain and Britain. French colonialism was a mere political adventure that the third Republic under Napoleon the III undertook to expand beyond France's territories. The enterprise was an ideological trope, and it became evident that the expeditions to Africa were a calculated political move. The occupation of Laos, Vietnam, the protectorate of Morocco, was none other than enslavement and dehumanization of the indigenous people under the guise of civilization and the promulgation of human rights. From a historical perspective, French colonization and expansionism as a process comprised two phases: During the first phase, France embarked on one of the essential missions of modern History: The conquest of the New World. Thus, the first phase took place right during the Renaissance.13 The first settlements in the Western Hemisphere were Bay du Saint Laurent, Acadie, and Quebec. Later on, the French founded the Louisiana, Saint Domingue, Martinique, and Guadalupe. After claiming their territories in North and South America, the French expeditions sailed south of the Atlantic Ocean, down the coast of Africa, and claimed two other parts for the crown. Ile de France and Ile Bourbon.
The colonization was always a debate that had fueled the political circles. The clergy also sought colonization as a way to convert people into Catholics and expand their influence. The first phase of French colonization was more or less a competitive race between two other world powers in this historical adventure: Great Britain and Spain.
With the Manifest Destiny platform, the United States started to aggressively expand the territory by pushing the indigenous population either West or placing them in reservations. France was struggling to keep the settlements in North America. Thus, Napoleon Bonaparte sold Louisiana to the US in 1803. Quebec and others colonies were lost to Canada, and Haiti declared independence in 1804. In 1830, France sent troops to conquer Alger, marking the beginning of the second phase of the French colonial experiment. However, due to clashes with local resistance, the fall of Algeria under French rule did not happen until 1847.14
As the elected President of the III Republic, Napoleon the III solidified his intentions as one of the most expansionist presidents in France's modern history. His presidency marked a prosperous period due to the annexation of new territories, such as New Caledonia, and the occupation of Cochinchina (Vietnam). The Third Republic finalized the new colonization phase with the signing of Morocco's protectorate status, the occupation of Congo, Sudan, Niger, Ivory Coast, and Mauritania. Meanwhile, the competition between France and Great Britain to conquer more territories in Africa became fierce. As a result, France funded two major territorial federations, AEF Afrique Equatiorale Française and AOF Afrique Occidentale Française made of eight states. In the Far East, Annam became a protectorate, and Laos remained occupied.
Jules Ferry15 was the most prominent figure of this Republican Imperialism. Ideologically, the left-wing at the time (the mid-1800s) promoted imperialism under the idea of Universalism or Universal Humanism. According to this belief, the values held by the French Republic- must be expanded outside France's territory. Jules Ferry believed that matters such as universal humanism, secularism, and the modernism of the Western world are necessary to civilize cultures he deemed inferior. The right-wing was against the expansion of the Republic and promulgated the use of power and resources against Germany - especially after the loss of Alsace Lorraine (Prussia) in 1871.16
The conquest of the African continent marked a rivalry between world powers in exploiting vast land, territories, human and natural resources. Great Britain and France were among the pioneers of claiming land under the "course au clocher" (steeple race), the race against the time in the mission of acquiring territories.17 However, as we saw, France had a long experience with colonialism before the scramble for Africa. It had already built and then lost parts of a great empire to Canada and United States. Moreover, France - long before the revolution- had emerged as a civic nation. In 1539, François le Premier (Francis I) declared French the official language.18 His intentions, apart from consolidating the state, were also expansionist ideas.19