Africa: World War I – the ‘Black Army’ That Marched in From Africa

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Photo: Deutsche Welle
Nigerian soldiers fought on the side of Britain in World War I

Two million Africans were killed when the continent was drawn into the conflagration of World War I. The war and its aftermath wrought seismic changes in Africa that remain at the root of conflicts in many countries.

With World War I raging in Europe, African soldiers were forced to fight for their colonial masters between 1914 and 1918. France recruited more Africans than any other colonial power, sending 450,000 troops from West and North Africa to fight against the Germans on the front lines.

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As part of its events to mark the centenary of WWI on Sunday, the presidents of France and Mali inaugurated a new monument in the city of Reims, northeast of Paris, to the so-called “Black Army” — West African soldiers from France’s former colonies.

200,000 African soldiers fell

During the war, around 30,000 Africans died fighting on the side of France alone. As France and Mali remembered those African troops on Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron paid tribute on Twitter to the “200,000 African soldiers from the colonies” who were among “the youth of the whole world who fell 100 years ago in villages whose names they did not know.”

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“Today, we honor our heroes,” said Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, speaking at the inauguration of the monument. Keita’s great-grandfather reportedly died in 1916 at the Battle of Verdun in northeast France.

Clemence Kouame, an African student at the ceremony, told DW that “it hurts” to think about Africa’s involvement in the war.

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“People from Senegal, Ivory Coast and Mali died for France. It’s true that France colonized them, but it wasn’t their choice. You could almost say they died for nothing, at least not for their countries,” she said.

The original monument to the “Black Army,” set up in Reims in the 1920s, was removed by the Nazis during World War II and never resurfaced.

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