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“Paying a blood debt” or “Liberating Africa”? The postcolonial fragmentation of French political and military memory frames during the Operation Serval in Mali (2013–2014)

Publié le 23 mai 2023 Mis à jour le 1 février 2024

New contribution by Antoine Younsi in Memory Fragmentation from Below and Beyond the State: Uses of the Past in Conflict and Post-Conflict Settings, 204, London, Routeldge 2023

Abstract: This chapter analyses the ways in which French political leaders and the military have selectively used the colonial memory to justify and to organize Operation Serval in Mali launched in 2013. In a context marked by tension within the colonial memory of French society, it shows that President Hollande and his government consciously chose the world wars' “blood debt” narrative in order to legitimize the military intervention while taking care to avoid pronouncing on the morality of French colonial rule. Unlike functionalist approaches to war studies, which claim that French military ‒ the arm wing of the state – are professionals coldly used as a tool by political leaders, the proposed analysis demonstrates the interest in focusing on the social frameworks that shape the experience of these practitioners. Indeed, trained and accustomed to referring to memory, the French military autonomously used a set of specific colonial references to make sense of their deployment. Although these framings did not undermine the government's memorial framework, colonial memory and know-how were still assumed and produced concrete effects on the ground. Consequently, this study of the memorial framings will have made it possible to objectify the existence of divergent but not necessarily competing postcolonial registers within French state institutions.

More information: Routledge - Taylor & Francis
le 23 mai 2023