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L’ombre de l’Éducateur : institution scolaire et mission civilisatrice ?

Triangulating between Church, State, and Postcolony

Coopérants in Independent West Africa
Triangulation entre Église, État et postcolonie : les coopérants dans l’Afrique de l’Ouest indépendante
Rachel Kantrowitz
p. 219-242

Résumés

Après la décolonisation, les coopérants sont allés en Afrique de l’Ouest pour y enseigner sous l’égide de la Coopération, un programme français de développement. L’investissement français dans le domaine de l’éducation — profondément lié à celui de la culture — montre comment les liens ont été resserrés entre la France et l’Afrique de l’Ouest au moment où beaucoup parlaient de les rompre, ou du moins de les desserrer. Si les chercheurs ont souvent étudié les relations franco-africaines à travers une approche diplomatique ou officielle, cet article démontre comment ces relations étaient produites par les négociations quotidiennes entre coopérants, enseignants locaux, clergé, et organisations catholiques, autant qu’elles étaient influencées par les décisions des gouvernements français et africains. Les coopérants ont joué plusieurs rôles : ils ont été la monnaie d’échange d’une nouvelle culture française technocratique, des représentants religieux de l’Église, des experts putatifs, et des enseignants indispensables dans des pays qui n’avaient pas assez d’enseignants locaux. Le tournant pris par les enjeux des relations franco-africaines et l’histoire à grande échelle des écoles catholiques missionnaires dans l’Afrique de l’Ouest une fois traduits par le biais des coopérants — autant les catholiques que les non catholiques — aboutissent à une constante triangulation entre l’Église, l’État Français, et la postcolonie. Le cas des coopérants explique comment la présence française à l’étranger après la décolonisation est liée à celle de l’Église, même dans les pays majoritairement musulmans et multi religieux comme le Sénégal et le Dahomey. L’engagement français et la présence des coopérants ont eu des conséquences importantes concernant l’éducation dans la région. Le fait que le français demeure la langue officielle de l’enseignement et la place importante qu’un grand nombre des établissements auparavant financés par la Coopération ont gardé aujourd’hui en sont les meilleures preuves.

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Texte intégral

  • 1 Dakar DNEC 3 S 27. Délégation catholique pour la Coopération (Service national). Rapport relatif au (...)

1Father Marguet left France on May 4, 1970 to spend twelve weeks in Francophone West Africa1. He went to cities and small towns to visit French nationals teaching in West African Catholic schools. Though Father Marguet’s trip occurred ten years after West African countries gained political independence, the number of French nationals teaching in the region had continued to increase. Known as coopérants, these recent high school and university graduates worked for the French government under the French development program called Cooperation.

  • 2 For statistics on the number of coopérants in each region, see Figure II. On the Maghreb, see, for (...)

2Examining the role of coopérants in West Africa brings into focus both continuities and ruptures from the colonial to the independence period. It also illustrates how a range of actors deepened ties between France and West African countries at the very moment when many officials, both French and African, spoke of severing or loosening them. Recent work has begun to demonstrate the significance of Cooperation and coopérants. These studies, however, concentrate on the administrative apparatus of Cooperation and on the Maghreb more than on Subsaharan Africa, the latter of which in fact hosted more coopérants than any other region during Cooperation’s tenure2.

  • 3 For more on the Church and French decolonization, see E. Foster and G. Chamedes (2015) and D. Fonta (...)

3Coopérants and various Catholic organizations affiliated with the schools blurred the line between Church and state in West Africa—a multi-religious and largely Muslim region. Coopérants themselves were not necessarily practicing Catholics. However, most Cooperation-funded schools were Catholic. Father Marguet’s visit demonstrates how the French presence in early independence West Africa was increasingly entwined with the Church’s. Both secular accounts of African nation-building and an emphasis on French laïcité have partially obscured such Church-State linkages3. Coopérants demonstrate the primacy of French culture and language in the postcolony as part of the nexus between Church and State.

  • 4 The other quotidian point of contact for coopérants was with students and their families. While the (...)

4Scholars often look at Franco-African relations from an official, diplomatic—and therefore predominantly secular—angle. This article instead demonstrates that though these relations were shaped by French and African governments’ decisions, Franco-African relations were a product of everyday negotiations among coopérants, local teachers, clergy, and Catholic organizations as much as they were shaped by decisions of French and African governments4.

5These everyday negotiations took place in a context where both French and African governments perceived a need for continued French involvement in education. Without formal political power in independent West Africa, French officials sought to maintain influence through French culture and language. The cultural landscape of newly independent West Africa was as uncertain as the political one: it was not clear whether Francophone ties would decrease as the region sought to strengthen affinities with an Arabophone world, especially in the case of Senegal. Schools were one of the main venues for the French government to exercise its influence.

6African leaders, many of whom attended metropolitan or French-funded schools themselves, were often partial to the French educational system, and needed coopérants because they faced a dearth of locals who were adequately trained pedagogically while also possessing sufficient French language skills. Two African leaders with quite different relationships with France both received coopérants in their countries—Senegalese Leopold Senghor, agrégé in France, and Beninois Mathieu Kérékou, a Marxist who rejected much of French influence. Far from being a comprehensive consideration of all African leaders’ viewpoints, their example nonetheless suggests that African leaders accepted coopérants for a diversity of reasons and helps explain why their presence endured.

7This article examines how coopérants in Catholic schools fulfilled a range of roles in the postcolony: as the cultural currency of a newly technocratic French culture, as putative experts, as “good youth of value”, as representatives of the Church, and as indispensable members of the educational system. Coopérants—whether Catholic or not—were constantly triangulating between the Church, the French state, and the postcolony. With administration thin on the ground, coopérants’ daily interactions with West Africans were crucial. They—in concert with African officials and clergy—reconfigured Franco-African relations. Rooted in a deep history of Catholic missions, reinforced by mutual expediency for French and African officials alike, coopérants’ prominence in West African education was the result of a concerted effort. Yet it gave rise to its own reality. Coopérants became central to the functioning of a particular cultural, religious, and educational landscape which they helped create: the continued prominence of French-style, French language education in independent West Africa.

The Origins of Cooperation

8Cooperation was an old organization with a new name. After the Second World War, French officials attempted to reform their empire in order to save it. As part of these reform efforts, they created the Investment Fund for Economic and Social Development (fides) in 1946. It retained this name until 1959—one year before most West African countries became independent from France—when the government created the Ministry of Cooperation. fides funding for France’s overseas territories went towards a range of infrastructural projects: from bridges to hospitals, from irrigation schemes to schools. For a variety of linguistic, cultural, and financial reasons, French officials chose French missionaries to run the majority of fides and Cooperation-funded schools.

  • 5 There are a few notable, manuscript-length exceptions to this temporal focus on the colonial period (...)

9Schools had long served as a way to imbue West Africans with French linguistic and cultural values. Yet the cultural stakes of education became particularly high with the trend towards universal education. No longer would education be the exclusive domain of elites; French officials aimed to educate all West African children of school age. Organizations like unesco championed this idea after the Second World War, and the international impetus of education for all continued in the postcolonial era. The students of these fides- and Cooperation-funded schools were part of a large generational shift where many more children received an education than in prior eras. The creation of fides was thus a turning point for the history of education in Francophone West Africa. Despite much excellent, relatively recent work on colonial-era models of French education in West Africa (Capelle 1990; Jézéquel 2002, 2003, 2005; Barthélémy 2010; Duke Bryant 2015), French-funded education in the region after independence remains understudied by scholars, especially historians5.

  • 6 CADN Dakar Ambassade 403 Série ACT. Mission française d’aide et de coopération. Évolution des effec (...)
  • 7 CADN MCAC Dakar 355. Fiche signalétique du Sénégal. Ministère de la Coopération. September 1976.

10Greater numbers of children in schools required a correspondingly greater financial commitment from France. Indeed, French investment in education in West Africa increased after independence, accelerating a trend underway since the creation of fides. In Senegal, for example, the number of coopérants in education (the majority of which would have been teachers) went from 594 to 983 between 1961 and 19666. During this same five years, educational personnel went from being 36% of the overall number of Cooperation personnel to 68% percent (See Figure I). Education across West Africa generally received a larger percentage of funding than the total combined spending on health, overall administration, and infrastructure. Further, education was the only sector to increase in this time period. In Senegal by 1976, there were 1,073 people working in education, out of a total of 1,373 coopérants in the country7.

11In 1959, the same year fides changed names to Cooperation, the Debré law passed in the French National Assembly, allowing public funds to be allocated to Catholic schools (Bauberot 2004). Yet what was new in metropolitan France had long taken place in West Africa. Historians have already demonstrated that laïcité did not hold for France’s empire but have only just begun to consider what this meant for the period after independence (Daughton 2008; Daughton & White 2012; Foster 2013). fides funding drastically increased the number of missionary-run schools and therefore the overall missionary presence. Already embedded in communities, long trusted with educating the local elite before state-run schools existed, the missions were a convenient choice. With missionary societies paying as much as half of the salaries and operating costs, they were financially attractive as well. Each school employed a mixture of European and African clergy and multinational, lay teaching staff.

12The fides policy of funding missionary schools laid the religious, intellectual, and infrastructural groundwork for the network of coopérants and the continued presence of Catholic schools in West Africa after independence. Histories of the early independence period that emphasize secular, nationalist movements may miss the necessarily transnational religious networks that circulated within and beyond former French imperial boundaries as well as across newly established national ones.

  • 8 CADN Dakar Ambassade Série ACT 403. Mission française d’aide et de coopération. Évolution des effec (...)

Figure I: Evolution Of Number Of In Technical Assistance Personnel In Senegal8

Figure I: Evolution Of Number Of In Technical Assistance Personnel In Senegal8

French Cultural Currency

13In the aftermath of decolonization, French officials maintained their support of schools as a cornerstone of France’s cultural policy. As formal sovereignty ceased to exist, cultural policy and other forms of soft power only grew in importance. Both French and African leaders found this domain of influence to be more politically acceptable than other forms of assistance or intervention. It is worth keeping in mind that standing French armies in many West African countries and the creation of the cfa, the West African currency tied to the French Franc (and now tied to the Euro), were other ways France exercised influence, if not control. Yet, in examining cultural influence, another type of currency was at work besides the cfa, similarly pegged to French standards.

  • 9 CADN Cotonou Ambassade 14. Section titled “I. Les Caractères originaux de la politique française de (...)
  • 10 Ibid., p. 3. Section titled “Chapitre IV: Enseignement et Formation”.

14Coopérants became a prominent part of the cultural currency in the region—both as the medium of investment and the metric for measuring France’s cultural reach. France’s “fundamental preoccupation”, according to the Secretary of State in Charge of Foreign Affairs of Cooperation in 1966 writing to the French Ambassador in Dahomey, was to preserve its “cultural capital” in Africa9. In the context of the Cold War, officials hoped that Catholic schools would also help stymie Communism. Many French officials believed that primary education had degraded to a point where it was not certain whether French would prevail. The Secretary of State wrote “[t]he Africa that yesterday was French is not yet truly Francophone today”10. It was unclear whether West African countries would belong to a greater Francophone world, an Arabophone one, or something else entirely. For French officials it was imperative that West African schoolchildren learn in French.

  • 11 Dakar DNEC 3 S 27. Délégation catholique pour la Coopération (Service natio nal). Rapport relatif a (...)
  • 12 Ibid. Emphasis in the original.

15Catholic schools and a host of Catholic organizations ensured that coopérants had a venue for exporting their cultural currency. The Catholic Delegation to Cooperation (dcc), founded in 1968, streamlined and formalized linkages between Cooperation, education, and the Church. The dcc facilitated the recruitment, training, and placement of coopérants in West African schools, attempting to standardize what was a more ad hoc process under fides. It was as part of this Catholic network that Father Marguet journeyed to West Africa. Upon his return to France, he lobbied Catholic officials to expand the role of the dcc, pending approval from the National Council of the French Episcopate11. French officials, both Catholic and not, took their role as a given and were chiefly concerned with the quality of their involvement in West Africa. The dcc Secretary General Father Boissonnet firmly expressed this stance in declaring: “Cooperation is a fact. It is even a human necessity. But what Cooperation do we need to carry out? The ‘why’ appears to be answered by everyone, albeit with different nuances. What is left is to specify the ‘how?’”12. As cultural currency, then, coopérants were neither entirely certain of what cultural values they were to export, nor to what end.

  • 13 Ibid., p. 11.

16French nationals teaching in West Africa were a heterogeneous group of older clergy, young seminary students, and coopérants—some of whom were born into the Catholic faith but were not necessarily observant. Regardless of their degree of adhesion to the Church, they were all in a delicate position in two respects: first, they were in majority Muslim or multi-religious countries, and second, they did not always agree with African clergy. This affected the day-to-day workings of the dcc. Father Marguet relayed the opinion of certain dcc officials, who were none too pleased with African clergy: “Certain posts are occupied by perfectly inefficient African priests. In these cases [the ministry of Cooperation] has no competent interlocutor to discuss problems of Cooperation and the dcc13.

  • 14 Ibid., p. 4.
  • 15 Ibid.

17African clergy tended to be more conservative than many of the coopérants, seminary students or not, who ascribed to more liberal interpretations of Catholicism14. African and French clergy who were more senior (both in rank and age) often agreed more with each other than with the younger generation of seminary students and coopérants15. Though there were certainly nationality—and race-based fissures, here the differences were generational. Coopérants often found that the schools reflected what they viewed as a retrograde version of Catholicism. Coopérants came to West Africa to work in French Catholic schools at the very moment when the Church was reevaluating its role both within and outside of Europe.

“Very Technical Assistants”

  • 16 CADN Cotonou Ambassade 14. “La Coopération internationale”, n.d. [1972?], p. 1.
  • 17 This is consistent with F. Cooper’s (1996) argument about labor and decolonization. A. Conklin (199 (...)

18A changed Church reflected a changed Europe and French officials sought to shape the new post-imperial order. When they re-baptized fides as Cooperation, they at once embraced the model of a mutual partnership and jettisoned all explicit reference to their own responsibility for economic and social development. Indicative of these changes was the fact that coopérants were also known as “technical assistants”, or, in the words of one Dahomean official, “very technical assistants”16. This nomenclature registered a recalibration in French official thinking. Culture, in effect, was reduced to a specialized ingredient the French could provide, rather than the expansive idea of la mission civilisatrice or even mise en valeur, which in previous eras of French colonialism motivated more comprehensive attempts to transform African society17.

  • 18 For a look at Peace Corps volunteers, missionaries, and other Americans who taught abroad, see J. Z(...)
  • 19 Here I chiefly refer to T. Mitchell (2002). However, the literature around experts and development (...)

19French officials and organizations maintained their expertise, hosting symposia and conferences on a range of issues related to education in Africa. However, this was largely in a theoretical or academic context, or at the highest of ministerial levels. The impact of these circles on the daily lives of students and teachers—both French and African—is difficult to trace. The foot soldiers of Cooperation were the coopérants who taught. They were the opposite of experts. Somewhat akin to the American Peace Corps volunteers, they were young, generally recent graduates of high school, university, or seminary with little to no professional training18. Prior to departing for Africa, coopérants often had no exposure to the region, perhaps only having read about French West Africa or the French Union in textbooks as schoolchildren. Therefore, they were experts only insofar as they possessed French passports and spoke French as their native language. Their status as non-experts does not fit easily with existing studies that emphasize the role of experts in development projects19.

20French Cooperation officials abandoned larger infrastructural projects from the colonial era not only because they were costly, but also because, unlike schools, French culture was not an essential ingredient. Presumably French officials were as good at building bridges as they were schools, but schools could be sustained with cost-effective, non-expert coopérants and would better ensure the future of French culture and language than bridges would. This suggests that despite the designation of coopérants as “technical assistants”, technical expertise itself was neither France’s unique post-independence niche nor priority. What France could uniquely offer was its language, culture and pedagogy.

21Coopérants were a part of broad debates about France’s role and aims in West Africa. They helped repurpose colonial-era ideas of la mission civilisatrice and of economic and social development into concepts of “technical assistance” and “cultural cooperation” that were more palatable but no less central to Franco-African relations.

“Good Youth of Value”

  • 20 CADN Dakar Ambassade 403 Série ACT. “Télégramme-Départ” Diffussion: Secret. Destinataire: Diplomati (...)

22In a confidential telegram to Parisian officials in 1966, the French Ambassador to Senegal quoted French President Charles De Gaulle and the Prime Minister as saying that technical assistance “should not last ten years, or twenty years, but one hundred years because history has demonstrated that without a long impregnation, the influence of a country quickly disappears”20. The Ambassador noted that De Gaulle had even drawn a historical parallel between technical assistance in the postcolony and the Roman legions in Gaul, stating that Roman influence had survived there because they had occupied the area for several centuries.

  • 21 CNAEF 63 CO 9. “Note d’information sur la délégation catholique de la coopération”, n.d., p. 2.

23De Gaulle’s military reference to the Roman legions was actually quite apt, since coopérants teaching in West African schools were often doing so to fulfill their military service. Officials’ debates about these particular recruits demonstrate a heightened sensitivity to how motivations and spiritual background might correlate with locals’ perceptions of Europeans in West Africa. French officials concluded that everyone, whether military, civilian, religious, or layperson, needed to embody a “real missionary spirit” before going to West Africa21. This significant blurring between religious and lay personnel proved to mirror the place of Catholic schools in West Africa itself. While deeply imbued with religious values and run by reli gious personnel, they also performed a civic function, and served a majority Muslim population in some regions.

  • 22 CNAEF 63 CO 3/1. “La délégation catholique pour la Coopération (D.C.C.)”. Abbé André Boissonnet, Ge (...)

24dcc officials attempted to ensure that those coopérants chosen were Christian enough for the institutions awaiting them. Officials admitted that this was a challenge, noting that since “[t]he missions have not ‘evolved’ as fast as the mentality of the French youth, the absence of regular religious practice is a real obstacle to sending good youth of value to missions”22. If, as shown in the previous section, these coopérants were to be technical agents of French culture, then the dcc was the agency that helped monitor the content of such culture, screening potential coopérants for the right “spirit”, providing them with a pre-orientation, and priming them for what to expect or think of their work in West Africa.

  • 23 CNAEF 63 CO 3/1. “La délégation catholique pour la Coopération (D.C.C.)”, Abbé André Boissonnet, Ge (...)
  • 24 Jean-François Brière, interview, Albany, NY, 3 June 2015.

25One subset coopérants known as vsna, the French acronym for Volunteers for Active National Service, attracted special attention. The vsna worked in schools, hospitals, and as engineers23. They had access to military facilities in West Africa such as the hospital and the supermarket on the base, and were paid a lower salary than civilian coopérants24. The care dcc officials took with the vsna reveals a central ambivalence about how the motives of coopérants could affect their work in West Africa. The French Army Vicariate and the Catholic Committee of French Friendship in the World was initially in charge of this special category of coopérant. After 1968, the task of overseeing the vsna fell to the dcc, which was partially created for this very purpose.

  • 25 CNAEF 63 CO 9. “Jeunes enseignants en mission. Compte-rendu de la Commission ‘Coordination, Statut, (...)
  • 26 Ibid.

26French officials had reservations about combining the two groups of people: those who came to fulfill their military service and those who volunteered for other reasons. In a 1966 meeting, officials asked, “Should we mix the civilians and the military? [This could be] dangerous, because the problems are very different ([in terms of] duration, spirit)”25. The officials elaborated: “[There is] danger in mixing those who go out of generosity, and those who go to cut down on their military service. Should we send members of the military to teach in Catholic schools if they go because they cannot do anything else?”26.

  • 27 Jean-François and Eloise Brière, interview, Albany, NY, 3 June 2015.

27While it was certainly a concern that some taught in West Africa merely to avoid military service, this formulation oversimplified a divide between those who went for “pure” reasons and those who went for less pure ones. For many vsna, Cooperation was a way to enhance their careers while also being of use to African countries. Jean-François Brière was a vsna who worked as a teacher in Senegal starting in 1970. With a bachelor’s degree in history, he saw teaching as more useful, and more related to his studies, than serving in the military27.

  • 28 CADN Dakar Ambassade 608. “Questionnaire concernant les volontaires du Service national en service (...)
  • 29 Dakar DNEC 3 S 27. “Rapport relatif au voyage en Afrique francophone du Père Marguet au sujet du Se (...)
  • 30 Jean-François Brière’s “livret individual” shows that he deferred his military service from 1965 to (...)

28A 1969 survey found that almost half of the vsna were in Senegal partially or entirely to avoid military service. Some of the other teachers and missionaries at schools in Senegal complained about the vsna, saying they were not well trained and implying that they were disrespectful of older, more seasoned teachers28. However, another report found that with time, the other teachers and staff viewed the vsna in a more positive light. Coopérants—whether vsna or not—were unfortunately sent back to France just as they were starting to learn enough to become really valuable to the schools they were serving29. Indeed, educational officials in West Africa such as Mr. Clerici, in charge of teaching, complained to officials at the dcc that once vsna finished their service, they abruptly left, disrupting the institution where they were placed30.

  • 31 CNAEF 63 CO 9. Letter to Monsieur le Secrétaire général de la DCC, from Monsieur CLERICI chef du se (...)

Illustration I: Jean-François Brière’s French army “livret individuel”31

Illustration I: Jean-François Brière’s French army “livret individuel”31
  • 32 Ibid., p. 9.
  • 33 CADN Dakar Ambassade 609. “L’Assistance technique française” 1972, p. 8.
  • 34 Ibid.
  • 35 On France’s decolonization process in West Africa as “successful”, see T. Chafer (2002).

29The authors of the 1969 survey thus demanded that more supplementary contracts be granted to the vsna so that they could serve in the same school for a minimum of two years. However, these supplementary contracts cost more and were often not financially feasible32. When the vsna learned they did not receive their supplementary contract, some officials reported that they made less of an effort in their work thereafter. They concluded that the vsna were “in essence ephemeral and passing through”33. This was not good for students, who were “tossed every year between different teachers and different methods”34. Concern over the motives of vsna and coopérants makes sense in a context where their numbers were so significant: more went to West Africa than any other world region. (See Figure ii). This numerical reality had to do with a set of factors: insufficient numbers of locally trained teachers, the perceived need for French-speaking teachers, a relatively “successful,” non-violent decolonization, and the long history of French missions and teachers in West African schools35.

Figure II: Numbers of Teachers, Technicians and Doctors sent by the DCC since its creation in January 1968 to third world countries and French Departments and Overseas Territories

1968

1969

1970

1971

1972

1973

French West Africa Foreign regions:

286

292

280

293

281

182

North Africa, Latin America, Near, Middle and Far East

175

159

117

113

92

71

French Departments and Overseas Territories

55

74

59

57

44

46

Total of Coopérants fulfilling their National Service

516

(147 S/

85 R)

525

(87 S/

91 R)

456

(109 S/

90 R)

463

(82 S/

75 R)

416

(42 S/

47 R)

299

(43 S/

24 R)

Spouses that obtained a post through the DCC

21

32

75

94

72

63

General Total of personnel

537

557

531

557

489

362

  • 36 CNAEF 63 CO 3/1 “Annexe 1, Effectifs en enseignants, techniciens ou médecins envoyés par la D.C.C. (...)

S = Seminary students R = Clergy36

Representatives of the Church

  • 37 Dakar DNEC 3 S 27. “Rapport relatif au voyage en Afrique francophone du Père Marguet au sujet du Se (...)

30Coopérants were charged with representing the Church as well as France. French governmental and Catholic officials alike worried that a negative perception of the vsna would reflect poorly on the missionaries and on Catholicism. One report from Senegal stated that when locals saw a white person, they assumed that this person was Christian. Hence, the reputations of the two were linked37. Here the reputation went both ways: the French government wanted coopérants to represent France positively, while at the same time coopérants often had to contend with French missteps that preceded them.

  • 38 Dakar DNEC 3 S 27. Délégation catholique pour la Coopération (Service national). Rapport relatif au (...)

31Officials’ reservations about the vsna notwithstanding, they continued to be sent to West Africa in significant numbers. Indeed, in discussions about recruitment needs for the Catholic schools, the vsna came up in a different light: officials needed a constantly rotating set of the vsna to replenish and staff the schools. In the 1970s there were signs and rumors that the funds for the vsna to serve as coopérants were to be reduced. Perhaps this is one reason why Father Marguet—whose trip to West Africa for twelve weeks in 1970 opened this article—was sent to examine the state of Cooperation and coopérants. After his trip, he and other French officials urged that the dcc be granted more authority in recruiting the vsna as well as civilian coopérants should the numbers of the vsna be reduced38.

  • 39 Junior seminaries, or petits séminaires, are for younger children, and are where aspiring priests w (...)
  • 40 Cotonou Archévêche. “Abbé Georges Hounyeme à Monsieur l’Abbé Boissonnet, Délégation catholique pour (...)

32Sometimes the dcc received requests on behalf of individual schools for teachers qualified to teach specific subjects. In May 1969 for example, Father Georges Hounyeme, the National Director of Catholic Education in Dahomey, wrote to Father Boissonnet of the dcc to request teachers for specific subjects at several junior seminaries, middle schools, and high schools39. At the end of his letter, Hounyeme implied that Boissonnet had gone over his head in initiating direct contact with these institutions. Hounyeme said that while this was the dcc’s right, he preferred they went through him first, because he may have a better sense of the needs of individual schools40. Thus the dcc both empowered local missionary groups and clergy while also at times superseding them.

  • 41 CNAEF 63 CO 9. “Pre-DCC” letter from C.F.J.E. Comité pour la formation des jeunes enseignants pour (...)
  • 42 Ibid. Emphasis in original.

33The dcc’s contact with coopérants often began before they arrived in West Africa. A dcc committee composed of about fifteen religious organizations trained the young teachers41. They designed a course for students in their last year of high school and for university students who were getting their bachelors degree. The goal was to better cater to the needs of missionary organizations who sought pedagogically and spiritually prepared teachers. The curriculum they offered covered catechism, information on missionaries, an introductory course on Africa, and another on pedagogy. The registration form for the course informed prospective teachers: “Africa has a need for teachers, but especially for trained and qualified teachers, an accelerated training is indispensable42.

  • 43 CNAEF 63 CO 9. Interservice. Programme de la session de préparation au départ. Poissy, 19-25 August (...)

34Through these training courses in France, the dcc served a central role not only in coordinating and recruiting teachers, but also in facilitating transmission of certain ideas about Africa, Christianity, and teaching. European and African priests ran sessions organized by Interservice, one of the organizations that worked with the dcc43. Thus the dcc and the Catholic organizations that were a part of it provided a platform for learning about Africa through a decidedly Catholic lens. In some courses, African priests taught about Africa and shaped this lens.

  • 44 Dakar DNEC 3 S 27. “Rapport relatif au voyage en Afrique francophone du Père Marguet au sujet du Se (...)
  • 45 CADN Dakar Ambassade 609. “Assistance technique française”, 1972, p. 7.
  • 46 Ibid.
  • 47 Jean-François Brière, interview, Albany, NY, 3 June 2015.

35French officials considered those coopérants recruited via the dcc to be more committed to their jobs and to rural development than those recruited otherwise. In his report Father Marguet praised those who, in their spare time after school, ran sports clubs, adult literacy classes, and other activities. Yet officials in West Africa questioned the efficacy of such pre-departure training44. Another report, written around 1972, asserted that having a week of intensive training “only brings fragmentary information without lengthy practice”45. The authors suggested that these trainings should instead present the real problems that the vsna would encounter depending on the country to which they were assigned46. Still many coopérants received no pre-departure training at all, as was the case for Jean-François Brière47.

  • 48 See, for example: Archévêché Cotonou. To Father Boissonnet from Father Superior Michel Durif, Direc (...)
  • 49 CADN Dakar Ambassade 608. January 1969. “Questionnaire concernant les volontaires du Service nation (...)

36Despite its training workshops and decision making role in France, the dcc had little to no presence on the ground in West Africa. Thus the coordination, from the ideological to the practical, largely ended on French soil. The individual schools were generally responsible for paying, housing, and providing for the teachers once they arrived48. In the case of the vsna in Senegal there was a Welcome Committee that offered training sessions. One such session held in Dakar for a week in 1968 consisted of a series of presentations by Senegalese administrators and teachers on history, geography, administrative organization, the constitution, educational problems, rural development, touristic sites, and health and hygiene in Senegal49.

37The case of the coopérants and the dcc demonstrates that despite the history and reputation of centralization for both France and the Catholic Church, exchanges between coopérants, Cooperation officials, African and French clergy, and others reveal a highly decentralized landscape and a shifting sense of purpose. Individuals and local factors largely determined administrative boundaries and educational responsibilities.

“An Essential Element” or “A Dangerous Complicity?”

  • 50 CADN Cotonou Ambassade 14. “La Coopération internationale”, n.d. [1972?], p. 1.

38Despite their minimal training, French coopérants were crucial staff for West African schools facing a shortage of locally trained and qualified teachers. Thus African officials generally disputed the terms of Cooperation, but not its existence. In not disrupting the status quo, coopérants served elite African interests as much as French ones. This demonstrates that the axis of shared interests between elite Africans and the French government forged under the colonial period did not disappear after decolonization. Dahomean leaders in the early era of Mathieu Kérékou’s Marxist revolution often preferred coopérants to local teachers due to what some thought was an inferiority complex. Coopérants were, in the words of one official, “hypocritically courteous and calculatingly docile” and thus leaders often preferred them to African teachers who may have wished to challenge authority or air different opinions50. Though this view perhaps oversimplified a divide between the political beliefs of coopérants and African teachers, it is nonetheless instructive. Some West African leaders may have feared insurrectionism from their own, local workforce more than the ramifications of the continued presence of French nationals.

39Even if West African leaders wanted to do without coopérants, to completely replace them would have been an enormous task. A secret telegram from 1966 quoted the President of Senegal, Leopold Sedar Senghor, as saying:

  • 51 CADN Dakar Ambassade 403 Série ACT. Télégramme-Départ. Sécret. From: Ambassade de France, Dakar. De (...)

“We are still [...] a young nation and we cannot dream of renouncing technical assistance on a military level or on the level of education and economy. We cannot fly with our own wings, before a long time, at least a generation. It is therefore essential that French technical assistance in Senegal [...] and other Francophone African states be planned and organized for over twenty years”51.

  • 52 Highest level of qualification, “cadres supérieurs”, was classified as one of the following: cadres (...)
  • 53 Mid-level of qualifications is cadres moyens. Dakar DNEC 8 R 8. “Commission du plan: Rapport de la (...)
  • 54 SMA Paris. “Statistiques”, Église de Cotonou, 1967, p. 19.

40Senghor’s sentiment reflects a numerical reality of dependence that would take time to overturn. In 1960, Senegal counted 330 secondary school teachers. Of those who held the highest level of qualification, 33 were Senegalese and 153 were coopérants52. Of those with midlevel qualifications, 66 were Senegalese and 78 were coopérants53. In Dahomey, the numbers were similar54.

  • 55 Dakar DNEC 8 R 8. “Commission du plan: Rapport de la commission technique de l’enseignement de la f (...)

41From the very first Senegalese educational plan after independence, written by the Technical Commission of Education and Formation of Cadres for the years 1960 to 1964, officials reported that they should orient their educational system towards training enough locals to replace all of the coopérants. They estimated that they would need to train approximately 1,600 students to do so. Yet they also mentioned that due to the duration of their schooling, these students would likely not enter the workforce until at least 197055. Well-educated Africans often opted for more remunerative jobs than teaching, thus exacerbating the teacher shortage. The fact that coopérants earned much more than their local peers likely contributed to this problem.

  • 56 Dakar DNEC 3 S 27. “Rapport relatif au voyage en Afrique francophone du Père Marguet au sujet du Se (...)
  • 57 Jean-François and Eloise Brière, interview, Albany, NY, 3 June 2015.
  • 58 Ibid.
  • 59 CADN Dakar Ambassade 822. “État d’esprit des Coopérants”, Mission française de Coopération à Dakar, (...)

42Despite the higher wages that coopérants enjoyed, their life was far from easy. Father Marguet reported on the hardship and isolation that many coopérants experienced, which he believed could and should be mitigated56. Outside of urban centers like Dakar where coopérants socialized often, coopérants in rural areas had little outside contact57. Father Marguet concluded that the dcc should make regular visits to appraise the moral, material, and financial conditions of the coopérants58. For their part, coopérants believed their standard of living could be improved if there were better facilities to school their own children, more generous housing allowances, improved housing conditions, and more support from the Ministry of Cooperation for their workers’ union.59

  • 60 The dearth of trained locals was despite the Africanization policies put into place beginning in th (...)
  • 61 CADN Dakar Ambassade 403 Série ACT. “Le Problème de l’assistance technique française aux États de l (...)
  • 62 Ibid., p. 3.

43African leaders faced a dearth of locals to assume jobs previously held by fides workers in the colonial era60. Similarly, French officials lacked an entirely new pool of people to be coopérants: many upper-level officials had also worked under fides. Officials wondered whether they could use former functionaries from the colonial service to work in independent West Africa. Indeed, as Julien Meimon (2005a) has shown, many of the fides personnel worked in similar positions for Cooperation61. French officials believed that West Africans rejected the principle of the former overseas administration rather than the individuals that comprised it. Those who went to Africa after decolonization needed “a different etiquette”62.

44Coopérants thus sought to distinguish themselves from others serving abroad. In a letter written sometime after 1966, coopérants deplored rules limiting their length of service:

  • 63 CADN MCAC Dakar 772. “Groupement des Agents de l’assistance technique en service au Sénégal”. Le bu (...)

“Your department [Cooperation] seems to ignore that the place of French teachers in Francophone Africa is not at all comparable to that of their colleagues who serve abroad traditionally. We do not represent, in effect, a means to diffuse French culture among an elite, but we are, and have been for a long time, an essential element for national education for African countries and Madagascar. We certainly believe that Franco-African Cooperation needs reforms and adaptations, but there is no doubt that the way the measure was announced will only slow down the necessary reforms [...]”63.

45Here, the coopérants offered two main arguments: that they were different from others working abroad and that they fulfilled an essential role, serving African countries as much as they were serving France. They also were careful to state that they were not merely catering to the elite. This was in keeping with the idea of universal education. Further, coopérants’ distancing from elites may have reflected the viewpoint that while elites were more capable of handling matters themselves, most Africans still needed French assistance.

  • 64 CADN MCAC Dakar 772. “Réflexions critiques sur la coopération culturelle”, November 1976, p. 2.

46Yet still others pointed to coopérants’ central role as a reason that French officials should radically rethink Cooperation. In one report representing the more extreme end of these views, the author deplored the high number of French teachers in African schools as propping up something that was not functioning well and could not be sustained. This report starkly compared Cooperation to a noose: “We sustain the [educational] system like the noose sustains the hanged, in providing half the professors (except in primary schools) and a third of the budget of the University: at this level, and by the results, it is no longer cooperation, but a dangerous complicity”64.

  • 65 CADN MCAC Dakar 772. F. Wibaux, Minister of Coopération to the Ambassador of France, No 037567, 11 (...)

47Still other officials cautioned that the problem lay in the fact that aid that had not changed over time, with African leaders having little say over where the aid went. The Minister of Cooperation wrote to the Ambassador of France to Senegal in 1976 and asserted: “The modalities of our aid in the cultural sector have only slightly changed for many years [...] Certain forms of this aid that were justifiable ten or fifteen years ago, today have an anachronistic character that does not escape our partners”65. It is important to note the reference to African countries as “partners”, in line with the rhetoric and orientation of Cooperation. The Minister’s statement reflects an acute awareness of the temporal rupture of independence alongside simultaneous continuities that undergirded the two eras—a central tension of Cooperation.

  • 66 CADN Dakar Ambassade 609. “Réflexions sur l’évolution et les perspectives de l’assistance technique (...)
  • 67 This was also a result of the failures of rural schooling initiatives in the interwar years, which (...)

48Some officials critiqued what they saw as coopérants’ role in perpetuating an educational system ill-adapted to the needs of the country. One report on Senegal noted that the economy was mainly agriculturally-based, and yet the schools were graduating students without agricultural skills, with few employment options66. French officials provided coopérants for a French-style, literary education, not a technical or agricultural one67. France’s sizeable influence on and presence in education in the West African postcolonies, then, delayed and in some cases hindered a more radical or comprehensive reconceptualization of the educational structure and curriculum aligned with the needs of these newly independent countries.

Reconfiguring Franco-African Relations

49African historians have established that decolonization was not a clean break politically nor economically. The case of the coopérants proves that the same was true of culture. Exporting language, culture, and pedagogy had long been a part of the French empire, and this exportation increased—largely via coopérants—after independence in West Africa. The continued presence of French nationals has had important consequences for the educational sector in West Africa: the French-style curriculum, the fact that French remains the language of instruction, and the prominent place many fides—and Cooperation-funded Catholic schools maintain today. This French-style education, in turn, shaped a key generation of schoolchildren, many of whom went on to hold prominent posts in their countries. Independence meant not only that African leaders and clergy had to adapt to a new relationship with France, but also that the French government and Catholic organizations had to adapt to new conditions in West Africa. The Franco-African relationship was a product of everyday negotiations as much as it was a consequence of decisions made in Dakar, Paris, or Vatican City.

50The fact that Catholic organizations were some of the primary motors driving Cooperation sheds light on the ways in which the French presence abroad, even after 1960, was intertwined with the Church’s reach—a durable cultural legacy that the local population inherited and repurposed. As Africans replaced foreign-born teachers, administrators, and clergy, French culture became embedded in institutions that West Africans made their own. While French coopérants triangulated between Church, state, and postcolony, African Catholics were part of all three of these nodes. Indeed, they point to a different triad—Francophone, African, and Catholic—that was increasingly at play within and beyond the educational realm. Independence presented an opportunity for African clergy and African-based Catholic organizations to realize their own visions of an independent West Africa.

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Notes

1 Dakar DNEC 3 S 27. Délégation catholique pour la Coopération (Service national). Rapport relatif au voyage en Afrique francophone du Père Marguet au sujet du Service national dans l’Enseignement catholique 4 mai-14 juillet 1970. Paris, 7 October 1970, p. 1.

2 For statistics on the number of coopérants in each region, see Figure II. On the Maghreb, see, for example, B. El Mellouki Riffi (1989), C. Visier (2003), J.-R. Henry & J.-C. Vatin (2012). On Cooperation from an administrative angle, see P. Cadenat (1983), J. Meimon (2005a, 2010: 53-65), R. Banégas, R. Marchal & J. Meimon (2007). Notable exceptions that look at education and other cultural aspects of Cooperation include A. Bourgi (1979), S. Mesli (2013), O. Goerg & M.-A. de Suremain (2014).

3 For more on the Church and French decolonization, see E. Foster and G. Chamedes (2015) and D. Fontaine (forthcoming).

4 The other quotidian point of contact for coopérants was with students and their families. While these relations were mutually impactful on an individual level, coopérants were not directly accountable to these groups and thus they figured less into their overall strategies. On the student experience, see R. Kantrowitz (2015).

5 There are a few notable, manuscript-length exceptions to this temporal focus on the colonial period, including E. Lanoue’s (2006) work on Catholic schools in Côte-d’Ivoire and P. Bianchini (2004).

6 CADN Dakar Ambassade 403 Série ACT. Mission française d’aide et de coopération. Évolution des effectifs du personnel d’assistance technique du Sénégal.

7 CADN MCAC Dakar 355. Fiche signalétique du Sénégal. Ministère de la Coopération. September 1976.

8 CADN Dakar Ambassade Série ACT 403. Mission française d’aide et de coopération. Évolution des effectifs du personnel d’assistance technique du Sénégal.

9 CADN Cotonou Ambassade 14. Section titled “I. Les Caractères originaux de la politique française de coopération avec les États africains et malgache”, p. 1. Dahomey is present-day Benin.

10 Ibid., p. 3. Section titled “Chapitre IV: Enseignement et Formation”.

11 Dakar DNEC 3 S 27. Délégation catholique pour la Coopération (Service natio nal). Rapport relatif au voyage en Afrique francophone du Père Marguet au sujet du Service national dans l’Enseignement catholique 4 mai-14 juillet 1970. Paris, 7 October 1970, p. 6.

12 Ibid. Emphasis in the original.

13 Ibid., p. 11.

14 Ibid., p. 4.

15 Ibid.

16 CADN Cotonou Ambassade 14. “La Coopération internationale”, n.d. [1972?], p. 1.

17 This is consistent with F. Cooper’s (1996) argument about labor and decolonization. A. Conklin (1997: 23) translates “mise en valeur” as “rational economic development”.

18 For a look at Peace Corps volunteers, missionaries, and other Americans who taught abroad, see J. Zimmerman (2008: 22) who finds too, that teachers after the Second World War were more likely to consider their impact on local cultures. This puts the French postwar shift into a broader context.

19 Here I chiefly refer to T. Mitchell (2002). However, the literature around experts and development continues to grow (outside of the discipline of history) with more recent works such as W. Easterly (2013).

20 CADN Dakar Ambassade 403 Série ACT. “Télégramme-Départ” Diffussion: Secret. Destinataire: Diplomatie - Paris, 5 July 1966.

21 CNAEF 63 CO 9. “Note d’information sur la délégation catholique de la coopération”, n.d., p. 2.

22 CNAEF 63 CO 3/1. “La délégation catholique pour la Coopération (D.C.C.)”. Abbé André Boissonnet, General Secretary, 8 May 1974, p. 6.

23 CNAEF 63 CO 3/1. “La délégation catholique pour la Coopération (D.C.C.)”, Abbé André Boissonnet, General Secretary, 8 May 1974, pp. 1-2.

24 Jean-François Brière, interview, Albany, NY, 3 June 2015.

25 CNAEF 63 CO 9. “Jeunes enseignants en mission. Compte-rendu de la Commission ‘Coordination, Statut, et Session’, Réunion du 9 février 1966, 14 h.,” 9 February 1966, p. 2.

26 Ibid.

27 Jean-François and Eloise Brière, interview, Albany, NY, 3 June 2015.

28 CADN Dakar Ambassade 608. “Questionnaire concernant les volontaires du Service national en service au Sénégal”, January 1969, p. 8.

29 Dakar DNEC 3 S 27. “Rapport relatif au voyage en Afrique francophone du Père Marguet au sujet du Service national dans l’Enseignement catholique, 4 May-14 July 1970”, [letter dated] 17 October 1970, p. 5.

30 Jean-François Brière’s “livret individual” shows that he deferred his military service from 1965 to 1970. It also details how he worked for Cooperation as a teacher in Senegal, departing by boat on 5 October 1970.

31 CNAEF 63 CO 9. Letter to Monsieur le Secrétaire général de la DCC, from Monsieur CLERICI chef du service de l’Enseignement et de la formation — secrétariat d’État aux affaires étrangères chargé de la coopération. 18 June 1971.

32 Ibid., p. 9.

33 CADN Dakar Ambassade 609. “L’Assistance technique française” 1972, p. 8.

34 Ibid.

35 On France’s decolonization process in West Africa as “successful”, see T. Chafer (2002).

36 CNAEF 63 CO 3/1 “Annexe 1, Effectifs en enseignants, techniciens ou médecins envoyés par la D.C.C. depuis sa création en Janvier 1968”, “La délégation catholique pour la Coopération (D.C.C.)”, p. 6. Abbé André Boissonnet, General Secretary. 8 May 1974.

37 Dakar DNEC 3 S 27. “Rapport relatif au voyage en Afrique francophone du Père Marguet au sujet du Service national dans l’Enseignement catholique 4 May-14 July 1970”, [letter dated] 17 October 1970, p. 8.

38 Dakar DNEC 3 S 27. Délégation catholique pour la Coopération (Service national). Rapport relatif au voyage en Afrique francophone du Père Marguet au sujet du Service national dans l’Enseignement catholique 4 mai-14 juillet 1970. Paris, 7 October 1970, p. 6.

39 Junior seminaries, or petits séminaires, are for younger children, and are where aspiring priests went before attending seminary.

40 Cotonou Archévêche. “Abbé Georges Hounyeme à Monsieur l’Abbé Boissonnet, Délégation catholique pour la Coopération”, 14 May 1969.

41 CNAEF 63 CO 9. “Pre-DCC” letter from C.F.J.E. Comité pour la formation des jeunes enseignants pour l’Afrique, n.d [1966/7?].

42 Ibid. Emphasis in original.

43 CNAEF 63 CO 9. Interservice. Programme de la session de préparation au départ. Poissy, 19-25 August 1967.

44 Dakar DNEC 3 S 27. “Rapport relatif au voyage en Afrique francophone du Père Marguet au sujet du Service national dans l’Enseignement catholique 4 Mai-14 Juillet 1970”, [letter dated] 17 October 1970, p. 6.

45 CADN Dakar Ambassade 609. “Assistance technique française”, 1972, p. 7.

46 Ibid.

47 Jean-François Brière, interview, Albany, NY, 3 June 2015.

48 See, for example: Archévêché Cotonou. To Father Boissonnet from Father Superior Michel Durif, Director of the Petit Séminaire of Parakou, Dahomey “Demande de personnel pour la rentrée scolaire de septembre 1973”, 10 November 1972.

49 CADN Dakar Ambassade 608. January 1969. “Questionnaire concernant les volontaires du Service national en service au Sénégal”, pp. 4-6.

50 CADN Cotonou Ambassade 14. “La Coopération internationale”, n.d. [1972?], p. 1.

51 CADN Dakar Ambassade 403 Série ACT. Télégramme-Départ. Sécret. From: Ambassade de France, Dakar. Destinataire: Diplomatie Paris, 18 April 1966, p. 3.

52 Highest level of qualification, “cadres supérieurs”, was classified as one of the following: cadres supérieurs, agrégés, certifiés or licenciés.

53 Mid-level of qualifications is cadres moyens. Dakar DNEC 8 R 8. “Commission du plan: Rapport de la commission technique de l’enseignement de la formation des cadres et de l’information. Première période quadriennale du Plan 1960/ 1964”, p. 17.

54 SMA Paris. “Statistiques”, Église de Cotonou, 1967, p. 19.

55 Dakar DNEC 8 R 8. “Commission du plan: Rapport de la commission technique de l’enseignement de la formation des cadres et de l’information. Première période quadriennale du Plan 1960/1964”, p. 10.

56 Dakar DNEC 3 S 27. “Rapport relatif au voyage en Afrique francophone du Père Marguet au sujet du Service national dans l’Enseignement catholique 4 May-14 July 1970”, [letter dated] 17 October 1970, p. 12.

57 Jean-François and Eloise Brière, interview, Albany, NY, 3 June 2015.

58 Ibid.

59 CADN Dakar Ambassade 822. “État d’esprit des Coopérants”, Mission française de Coopération à Dakar, n.d.

60 The dearth of trained locals was despite the Africanization policies put into place beginning in the postwar era (Pinto 2013).

61 CADN Dakar Ambassade 403 Série ACT. “Le Problème de l’assistance technique française aux États de la communauté. Unsigned and n.d., p. 2.

62 Ibid., p. 3.

63 CADN MCAC Dakar 772. “Groupement des Agents de l’assistance technique en service au Sénégal”. Le bureau de la section “enseignants” à Monsieur le Secrétaire d’État aux Affaires étrangères chargé de la Coopération. Document written by secretary C. Ferte, p. 1.

64 CADN MCAC Dakar 772. “Réflexions critiques sur la coopération culturelle”, November 1976, p. 2.

65 CADN MCAC Dakar 772. F. Wibaux, Minister of Coopération to the Ambassador of France, No 037567, 11 October 1976.

66 CADN Dakar Ambassade 609. “Réflexions sur l’évolution et les perspectives de l’assistance technique au Sénégal”, 5 July 1974, pp. 1-2.

67 This was also a result of the failures of rural schooling initiatives in the interwar years, which H. Gamble (2009) discusses.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure I: Evolution Of Number Of In Technical Assistance Personnel In Senegal8
URL http://journals.openedition.org/etudesafricaines/docannexe/image/18964/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 156k
Titre Illustration I: Jean-François Brière’s French army “livret individuel”31
URL http://journals.openedition.org/etudesafricaines/docannexe/image/18964/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 368k
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Auteur

Rachel Kantrowitz

Department of Education, Brown University, Providence, RI, États-Unis

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Droits d'auteur

© Cahiers d’Études africaines

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