Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity: Métis and Claims to/of French Citizenship in Twentieth Century Colonial Francophone Africa

Arts Building, Danford Room (Room 224)
Monday 19 March 2018 (17:00-18:30)

Please join the SLAFNET project and the Department of African Studies and Anthropology for a keynote lecture by Professor Rachel Jean-Baptiste 

This lecture is part of a two-day workshop on ‘Slavery, Post-slavery, and Gender Violence in Africa’ taking place at the University of Birmingham on 19-20 March, organised by Dr Benedetta Rossi and the SLAFNET project. Please see the attached programme for more details.

All are welcome!

Speaker biography

Rachel Jean-Baptiste is Associate Professor of African history at University of California Davis and Director of the France Study Center for the University of California.  She is the author of the book Conjugal Rights: Marriage, Sexuality, and Urban Life in Colonial Libreville, Gabon. (New African History Series: Ohio University Press, August 2014).  Her articles have appeared in The Journal of African History, The Journal of Women’s History, The Journal of the History of Sexuality, Cahier d’Ètudes Africaines, and in edited volumes.


Afounding and enduring myth of French colonial rule in West and Equatorial Africa was that of bringing French republican ideas of liberty, equality, and fraternity and French civilization to Africans.  Shattering this myth was that the legal status of the vast majority of Africans was of “native subjects” and not “French citizens.”  Yet across francophone Africa in the 1930s, the colonial state passed legislation that allowed for the legally unrecognized métis, mixed race persons born of mainly non-marital relationships between African women and French men, to apply for the recognition of French citizenship.   With the recognition of métis as “French,” legal assimilation into French society would result in the “disappearance of the category of métis.” From the 1930s through independence, hundreds of métis Africans, mostly men but also a critical mass of women, received the legal status of French citizen with this law.  However, individuals and métis self-help associations throughout French Equatorial and French West Africa articulated varied conceptualizations of personhood and the right to and of French citizenship. Historical actors claimed alternative interpretations of what citizenship meant and conferred in terms of social, legal, and economic entitlements and changed the very French concepts of liberty, equality, and fraternity.  I consider how this case study can help inform analyses of slavery, violence, and gender in African history.