A. Adu Boahen/Introduction

The Role of African Student Movements
in the Political and Social Evolution of Africa from 1900 to 1975

A. Adu Boahen. Introduction

The papers collected in this volume were written for a symposium on “The Role of African Student Movements in the Political and Social Evolution of Africa from 1900 to 1975”, which took place in Dakar (Senegal) from 5 to 9 April 1988. The holding of such colloquia on a specific theme has been an integral part of UNESCO’s project for the preparation of an eight-volume general history of Africa which has already appeared in the English version. The papers and reports of such discussions are published in a series entitled ‘The General History of Africa: Studies and Documents’ for the information of the general public. To date, eleven such reports have been published. For financial reasons, however, the Dakar symposium organized in connection with the preparation of Volume VIII was cancelled; it was decided none the less that, as the papers had already been prepared, they should be published in the series. Hence this volume.

The theme chosen for the symposium had hitherto not attracted the attention of many scholars and research students. Indeed, until the student upheavals starting at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1964, the study of student movements was virtually unknown, even in Europe and the United States. As one of the pioneers in this field, the American scholars. M. Lipcet, put it in 1968: — Ten years ago, hardly anyone devoted himself to research on students and politics. It was from 1964 onwards that scholars began to lend serious attention to this, and in 1968 Daedalus, the Joumal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, on the occasion of its tenth anniversary, devoted an entire issue to the subject. The editorial stated:

« … There is a certain appropriateness in the second decade of Daedalus opening with an issue devoted to ‘Students and Politics’. The topic is novel, as scholarly inquiry into such matters was almost unknown a decade ago. Those who write for the issue are almost all young themselves; it is to be expected that they will persist in their enquiries and continue to make a considerable contribution in a field which was until recently largely unexplored. »

The inquiry continued in Europe and the United States and a host of articles and monographs have appeared since then.

In Africa, on the other hand, such studies are few and far between and have not gathered the necessary momentum. Following Gariuki’s study of the West African Students’ Union (WASU), published in a single article in 1953, no work on student movements in West Africa appeared until S. A. Amoa’s study entitled University Students’ Political Action in Ghana in 1979 and Olusanya’ s study ofW ASU in 1982.

Similarly, nothing was written about the relatively active student movements in former French Africa, including the most powerful of all, the Fédération des Etudiants d’Afrique Noire en France (FEANF), until Sékou Traoré published his book on that association entitled La FEANF (Paris, L’Harmattan, 1985). Indeed, there is as yet no synoptic survey of any region in Africa, let alone the whole of the continent, and it is clear from the papers in the present volume that the role of students in many African countries has not been examined either. It is no surprise, therefore, that the subject attracted the attention of the International Scientific Committee for the drafting of a General History of Africa. Unfortunately the collection of papers in this volume is not as comprehensive or as balanced as one would have wished. While as many as four papers are devoted to WASU and two to FEANF, only four deal with individual African countries (Cameroon, Ethiopia, Madagascar and Tunisia). There is one paper on North Africa but none covering the other regions — none on Central, Southern, East or West Africa. Particularly regrettable is the absence of papers on Egypt, Somalia, South Africa and Sudan, countries in which students are believed to have played particularly active roles. These omissions were, however, never intended; papers were commissioned but were never delivered.

African student movements, 1900-35

The history of African student movements falls into three distinct phases:

  • 1900-1935
  • 1935-1960
  • 1960-1975

During the first phase, very few movements existed on the continent of Africa itself. There were none in former British Africa, only one in Ethiopia, which, according to Kille Selassie, was active from 1925 to 1935, and none in Madagascar, for, in spite of F. Ramiandrasoa’s contention, the Vy Vato Sakalika (VVS) was not really a student movement but rather a nationalist one in which students admittedly played an important role (see General History of Africa, Vol. VII, pp. 245-7, UNESCO, 1985).
Nor could there have been any in former Portuguese or Belgian Africa during the period. It was only in former French Africa, and especially North Africa, that student movements appeared at that time. According to our survey, the very first student movement, the Association des Anciens de Sadiki, was formed in Tunis in 1905 by the students of the Sadiki College. The second, the Association des Elèves de la Grande Mosquée de l’Olivier (AEGMO), was created in Tunis in 1907. Another was formed in Algiers in 1919, the Association des Etudiants Musulmans Nord-Africains (AEMNA), which operated in all three Maghrebian countries. The Amis de l’Etudiant was also formed in Tunis in 1931 and similar associations appeared in Algiers, Constantine and Tlemcen at that time.
It was rather in the metropolitan countries, mainly in London and Paris, that a significant though still relatively small number of student movements emerged. In London, for instance, there were only four:

  • the Union of African Descent (UAD) founded in 1917
  • the Gold Coast Students’ Union (GCSU) in 1924
  • the Nigerian Progress Union (NPU) in 1924
  • the West African Students’ Union (WASU), the most important of all, in 1925

An Ethiopian movement, the Association Mutualiste des Etudiants Ethiopiens en France (AMEEF), emerged in 1920, while another, the Association des Etudiants d’Origine Malgache (AEOM), appeared in France in 1934. Again, it was students from the Maghreb who formed the majority of such movements in France. Among them were the Association des Etudiants Musulmans Nord-Africains en France (AEMNAF), formed in Paris in 1927, and the Association Française des Etudiants Nord-Africains (AFENA), formed in 1931.
That student movements were so few both in Africa and the metropolitan countries before 1935 should cause no surprise. In the first place, until the Ethiopian crisis and even until after the Second World War, there were very few secondary schools and almost no universities or institutions of higher learning in Black Africa.
It was only in North Africa, as M. Chenoufi has pointed out, that there existed a number of higher institutions, some of very great antiquity, such as Al-Karawiyyin University in Fes. It is not surprising, then, that the first student movements were founded mainly in North Africa, nor is the limited nature of the student movements in the metropolitan countries difficult to explain. During the period under review, the number of African students studying in Europe, even in France and the United Kingdom, was very small.

As S. I. Nyagava points out, a single Tanganyikan was educated in Europe, and this for one term only, in the inter-war period, while there were a mere 150 West African students in the United Kingdom.
In 1931 there were only 152 Muslim students from the three Maghrebian countries in France, 119 of whom came from Tunisia and only 11 from Morocco.

What were the typologies, objectives and strategies of these early student movements formed in Africa and in Europe, and particularly in London and Paris?
Those based in Europe were of two categories: territorial, i.e. composed of students from a particular African country, and regional. Typical of the first were AEOM, AMEEF, AEMA, and GCU, while the second included AEMNA, grouping students from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, as well as WASU and the Association des Etudiants Ouest-Africains (AEOA), founded in November 1933 and headed by Léopold Sedar Senghor.

However, whether based in Africa or in Europe, the objectives of the early student movements were above all social and cultural rather than political. The main concerns of the Africa-based associations were to achieve better conditions for students and, especially in Muslim countries, modernization of the educational system and curricula. According to M. Chenoufi, the demands of AEMNA “were concerned with the status of Arabic in education, the reform of religious education and the education of Muslim women. It was only later that aspirations for Maghrebian unity appeared in AEMNA meetings.”

The main concerns of those based in Europe were the acquisition of hostels and accommodation, the organization of holiday camps, employment, scholarships, student welfare and, above all, the ending of racial discrimination and the education of Europeans in African history and culture to counteract prevailing racist views about the inferiority of the African. They were primarily mutual aid organizations. Only a few, such as WASU and AEMNA, lent a political dimension to their campaigns; their demands were almost exclusively moderate and conservative, like those of such contemporaneous nationalist movements in the colonies as the National Congress of British West Africa (NCBWA).

Student movements aimed at revealing the wrongs of the colonial system and campaigning for their reform, while pressing for the integration of the educated elite into the colonial system. Only a small number such as AEMNA called for independence in the 1930s. The strategies that the students adopted to attain their objectives at the time consisted of publishing books, periodicals, journals, newspapers and pamphlets; organizing meetings, congresses and conferences; holding symposia, debates, lectures and seminars; and, finally, organizing rallies, demonstrations and strikes.

Among the early journals were WASU, Le Maghreb (the voice of AEMNA), and Al-Hilal (published by the Zaytounian students). AEMNA published a book entitled Tempete sur le Maroc which “had a bombshell effect in colonialist circles and opened the eyes of the French public at home … to the revolting acts perpetrated by the settlers who held power in Morocco”.
AEGMO organized a strike, demonstrations and public meetings in Tunis in 1910. AEMNA held seven annual conferences between 1931 and 1937. WASU too organized meetings, lectures and symposia and published books such as United West Africa or Africa at the Bar of the Family of Nations (1927) and Towards Nationhood in West Africa (1928). On the whole, then, in their objectives and strategies, the African student movements of the first period were very similar to the nationalist movements of the time, reflecting the mood of what has been described as cultural nationalism in Africa African student movements, 1935-60

In the second phase, African student movements underwent a revolutionary change in terms of numbers, territory, typology and ideology (goals and strategies).
The period, especially after the Second World War, was marked by a huge increase in the number of student movements, firstly in Africa and then in Europe. As has been pointed out already, studies of former British colonial Africa are few in number, but we know from other sources that nearly all the British colonies in Africa saw the formation of one or two student movements or unions by students of the new university colleges that were created at the time.
Typical examples were the Tanganyika African Welfare Society founded by the students of Makerere College in Uganda and the National Union of Ghana Students (NUGS) formed in 1959. In Madagascar the Teachers’ Union (SECES) and the Union of Secondary School Students (SEMPA) were formed. It was however in former French Africa, and especially North Africa, that there was a proliferation of student movements during the period under review.
These included:

  • the Association Générale des Etudiants de Dakar (AGED), formed in 1950 in Dakar, and which became the Union Générale des Etudiants d’Afrique Occidentale (UGEAO) in 1956
  • the Association Générale des Etudiants Francais en Afrique Noire (AGEFAN), founded by French students in Dakar in reaction to the formation of UGEAO
  • the Association Musulmane des Etudiants d’ Afrique Noire (AMEAN) and the Association Musulmane des Etudiants Africains (AMEA), formed in 1953 in Dakar to cater for the interests of Muslim students and oppose the colonial regime’s prejudice in favour of the “Christian religion and its members”.

In the Maghreb, the Comité de la Voix de l’Etudiant Zaytounien (CVEZ) was formed in Tunisia in 1949, changing its name to the Voix de l’Etudiant Musulman de Tunisie (VEMT) in 1955, while, for its part, the Union Generale des Etudiants de Tunisie (UGET) was set up by the authorities in 1952, while the Union Générale des Etudiants Musulmans Algériens (UGEMA) was formed in Algeria in 1955.

More numerous still were the movements created in Europe, especially in France. In the United Kingdom WASU continued to be active in the 1940s and early 1950s but went into decline and finally disappeared in 1958. The 1950s also saw the formation of a growing number of territorial student movements, for example, the Ghana Students’ Union or the Nigerian Students’ Union, most of which were WASU splinter groups.
In 1958, the Council of African Organizations (CAO) was formed, mainly through the efforts of Kwame Nkrumah; it sought to unite all the African student unions in the United Kingdom to fight for independence and African unity and propagate the ideology of pan-Africanism. The Association des Etudiants Ethiopiens en France (AEEF) was formed in Paris in the 1950s. According to B. Kifle Selassie, this was “the first association of Ethiopian students set up in Europe following the liberation of 1941”.
The Association des Etudiants d’ Origine Malgache (AEOM) also continued to be active during the period. Yet it was really in France, and especially in Paris, that student movements proliferated and intensified their activities at this time. The Groupement d’Etudes Politiques Africaines (GEPA), which was set up in Paris after the Second World War, was replaced in 1947 by the Groupement Africain de Recherches Economiques et Politiques (GAREP), under the direction of Abdoulaye Ly; it ceased to exist for all practical purposes in 1951. In parallel to this unofficial student political group there emerged the Association des Etudiants du Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (AERDA), which was granted legal status on 23 October 1950.

It was at this time (1950) that FEANF was formed by students from French-speaking Africa and this became the most important and active black student movement in Africa.

Mention should also be made of the Association Générale des Etudiants Africains de Paris (AGEAP) and the Association des Etudiants Togolais (AET) or Jeune Togo, formed in 1946, the Association des Etudiants Dahoméens en France (AEDF) and the Association des Etudiants Camerounais (AEC) in 1948 and the Association des Etudiants Guinéens en France (AEGF) in 1950.

Seven more such associations were created in France between 1951 and 1956, bringing the total to fourteen and covering all the countries of former French West, Central and Equatorial Africa.
Equally numerous were the movements formed in France by students from the Maghreb during the second period. Those in Paris included the Union Générale des Etudiants de Tunisie (UGET) in 1952 and the Union des Etudiants Algériens de Paris (UEAP) in 1953 and the Union Générale des Etudiants Musulmans Algériens (UGEMA) in 1955.

It is clear from the above, first, that far more student movements emerged during this period than in the previous one; secondly, that more of them were formed in Europe than in Africa; and, thirdly, that there were more of them in France than in any other country.

The primary reason for this huge increase in numbers is the major growth in facilities for higher education in Africa. Thus, while the British after the Second World War established university colleges in many of their colonies, such as Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Sudan, Tanganyika and Uganda, the French for their part created the Institut des Hautes Etudes and the Ecole de Medecine in Dakar in 1950, and the lnstitut Ben Badis in Constantine (Algeria) in 1947. The creation of universities led to an increase in the numbers of students. Moreover, the flow of African students doing higher studies in Europe grew, especially after the war, and continued throughout the 1950s. The number of Algerian students in France, for instance, rose from 206 in 1949-50 to 600 in 1954-55, while those from Tunisia leaped from 300 in 1953 to 700 in 1956.

What is even more interesting is the nature or typology of the movements that emerged during the period. As usual there were those formed in Africa, such as the Tanganyika African Welfare Society and AGED, and those formed in Europe, such as AEEF, FEANF and AGEAP. Those founded in Europe, particularly in France, fall into four distinct categories:

  • academic associations such as the Groupement Africain de Recherches Economiques et Politiques (GAREP), which numbered twenty by 1959
  • territorial associations (fourteen by 1956)
  • political and cultural associations, such as FEANF and AEOM
  • purely political ones, such as the Association des Etudiants du RDA (AERDA)

The large increase in the number of territorial student movements is due to the fact that the 1940s and 1950s were the decades of the fight for independence, which was waged mainly on a territorial basis, so that regional or pan-Africanist organizations such as WASU or even FEANF were gradually abandoned and replaced by territorial groups.
Furthermore, the formation of competing politicial parties in each colony, and the opening of branches in the metropolitan countries, meant that some students were attracted by such parties away from regional and pan-Africanist student movements.

One further interesting development during the period was the fact that some of the movements formed in Europe, such as FEANF and UGEMA, opened branches in Africa and held some of their congresses and meetings on both continents.

Divided as they were between these categories, African student movements all had practically the same objectives during the period, becoming increasingly political rather than cultural. Indeed, most of them, especially those in French-speaking Africa and France, became exclusively political and highly radical in the 1950s, their aim being the total overthrow rather than the mere reform of the colonial system.

Nothing could better illustrate this trend than the objectives of both WASU and FEANF. While WASU had hitherto been advocating the reform of the colonial system, its memorandum of 6 April 1942 to the Colonial Office used these terms for the first time:

« In the interest of Freedom, Justice and true Democracy, and in view of the lessons of Malaya and Burma, as well as the obvious need for giving the people of the Empire something to fight for, WASU in Great Britain strongly urges the British Government to grant Internal Self-Government Now, with a definite guarantee of complete self-government within five years of the end of the war. »

When it was formed in 1950, FEANF aimed to pursue purely social aid cultural objectives in accordance with Article 4 of its constitution, which specifically states:

« The Federation shall subscribe to no political party or group and shall not take part in any event organized by any political party or group. »

However, at the Congress at Toulouse in December 1953, only three years after its formation, FEANF took a political turn, the students having come to believe that the political struggle was indissolubly bound up with the cultural struggle. From then on at international meetings, FEANF forcefully “denounced colonial oppression and exploitation, racism, and all other forms of injustice in Black Africa”.
At its Eighth Congress, held in Paris in December 1957, FEANF finally resolved that “having regard to the specific nature of French colonialism, independence has to be gained not so much through the piling-up of illusory reforms as by the revolutionary struggle of the African masses”.

Similarly AGED, which had initially concentrated in Dakar on social and cultural issues, especially the reform of the university, changed its name to UGEAO in 1956 and began to demand full independence. The Dakar-etudiant of 10 March 1958 published an editorial by UGEAO that spoke of “doing away completely with the colonial system, even when patched up with the aid of such hypocritical devices as the Outline Law (loi-cadre), the Union Française, the Franco-African community and so forth”. Before that, in 1956, the Union Générale des Etudiants Musulmans Algeriens (UGEMA), the radical Algerian student movement, had advocated “solidarity with the victims of repression, recognition of the Algerian nation and the right of the Algerian people to sovereignty and negotiation with the true representatives of the Algerian people”.

It is important to emphasize that the student movements in former French Africa and in the Maghreb continued with their radical demands and militant action following the violent repression of the radical political movements in French colonial Africa between 1947 and 1950, which were years of “bloody riots, assassinations, machine-gunnings and massacre” by French colonial forces.
In the British colonies, on the other hand, the student movements, with the exception of WASU, did not play any role in the struggle for independence. Indeed, students showed what S. A. Amoa has termed a “low degree of politicization” throughout the period. To take the case of Ghana, only a single student movement —NUGS— was formed there during the period under review (1959). It is true that students from the three secondary schools in Cape Coast went on strike in 1948 to demand the release of the six Ghanaian political leaders detained by the colonial government, thereby giving some impetus to the liberation movement, but they did not do so as members of any student group.
In any case, students withdrew completely from the Ghanaian political scene following the events of 1948 and, as we will see later, the first confrontation between students and government did not occur there until 1964. This picture is probably true of the students in most, if not all, of the British colonies in Africa in the 1940s and 1950s.
Why did students in the former French African colonies and the Maghreb at that time play such a key role in politics when their counterparts in the former British colonies did not?
Though this question is not directly confronted in any of the papers in this volume, it should be faced here.
First of all, African politicians, intellectuals and students were in a state of shock following the invasion of Ethiopia by Fascist Italy in 1935. As C. Ake bas pointed out: “The outrage of the Italian invasion brought home to Africans a heightened appreciation of the threat of racism and imperialism and elicited an unprecedented show of solidarity.”
Secondly, the impact of international communism and the communist parties of France and the United Kingdom on African students and political leaders was very real. The Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Third International proclaimed the “right to independence of all colonized and dependent peoples without exception”, and this message certainly affected students and political leaders in French Africa far more than those in British Africa.

At the Anti-Imperialist Conference in Brussels in 1927, Black Africa was represented by Lamine Senghor and Jomo Kenyatta.

Moreover, throughout the 1950s, student movements in French Africa and Paris maintained close relations with the International Union of Students (IUS) based in Prague (Czechoslovakia) and the World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY) based in Romania.

Even more direct and crucial was the impact of the French Communist Party.
As early as 1943, French communists had created study groups in Abidjan, Bamako, Conakry, Dakar and Yaounde which influenced the elite and the students. More important still, almost all the political leaders of French-speaking Black Africa had strong ties with the French Communist Party. Indeed, the first party formed by Felix Houphouet-Boigny, the Parti Démocratique de la Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI), was structured on the pattern of the French Communist Party (PCF), while the Rassemblement Democratique Africain (RDA), which embraced all of French and Equatorial Africa, was closely allied to and influenced by the PCF.
Between 1945 and 1949, therefore, the RDA and the students demanded not just the reform but the overthrow of the colonial system. None of the British African political leaders, with the possible exception of Kwame Nkrumab, I.T.A. Wallace-Johnson and Jomo Kenyatta, not to mention the students, ever came under the influence of international communism or the British Communist Party.

But what made French-speaking African students so radical and militant was the historic volte-face of 1950 when Félix Houphouet-Boigny announced the separation of the RDA from the Communist Party, and was followed in this by almost every leading Francophone African politician.

As one would expect, this came as a shock to many students and intellectuals like Cheik:h AntaDiop, who thereby became even more radical and militant. It is not surprising that the students of the RDA seceded from their parent body in protest and that FEANF and other student organizations became progressively more radical from 1953 onwards. No British African political leader ever made such a dramatic about-turn and thereby aroused the conscience of his student followers.

The third factor was the brutality with which the French suppressed radical movements, frrst in Black Africa, then in VietNam [then Indochina] and finally in Algeria and Tunisia.
Such methods could not but fan radicalism and militancy among young students. Apart from the suppression of the Mau Mau uprising, the British never went that far in their reaction to the liberation movements in their colonies. Besides these three factors, for Muslim Africa a fourth ingredient should be mentioned: the impact of militant Islam. The modernization policy of Mustapha Kemal in Turkey, the revolutions in Iran and Egypt and the propagation of fundamentalist ideas by bodies such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt also greatly influenced the intelligentsia and students in Muslim Africa.

During the early part of the period, the strategies adopted were virtually the same as before. However, as the objectives became increasingly radical and the approach more militant, so too did the strategies. Strikes and street demonstrations became a frequent weapon, both in Europe and Africa. AGED, for instance, organized strikes and street demonstrations in Dakar that were often joined by the masses and the pupils of the lycées and other secondary schools. The Zaytounian students in Tunis called a warning strike with a big demonstration followed by a general strike of forty-eight hours in Apri1 1950 in support of their demand for the reform and modernization of the university. In May 1956, UGEMA called for an unlimited general strike, and was joined by all Algerian Muslim students in France, Morocco and Tunisia. Often the students also resorted to boycotting examinations and classes. A very common strategy used by the associations was the holding of annual congresses at which resolutions covering all sorts of questions were passed. The students also organized special congresses, such as the one held by WASU in Manchester in 1945, where the call for the independence of the colonial territories became louder and clearer than ever. In addition, students frequently attended international conferences and congresses such as the Bandung Conference and those organized by IUS and WFD.
Many movements worked in close liaison with existing political parties and youth movements. AGED, for instance, co-operated with the Conseil de 1a Jeunesse du Senegal and the Rassemblement de la Jeunesse Démocratique Africaine (RJDA), a youth wing of the Union Democratique Senegalaise (UDS), while UGEMA became a more or less integral part of the Algerian Front de LibérationNationale (FLN). Some of the associations, in fact, joined the army on the field of battle, and their members “died with their arms in their hands”. A typical example is the way UGEMA assisted with the administration of the liberated areas in Algeria.
The last but most widely adopted strategy was what B. Kotcby terms the students’ “explosive and iconoclastic journalism”. Nearly every movement had its own newspaper. M. Chenoufi has listed thirteen periodicals published by Tunisian student organizations between 1927 and 1970. Among the books published by the students was Nations nègres et culture by Cheikh Anta Diop.

The second phase of the student movement in Africa was by far the most radical, militant and successful in its history.

African student movements, 1960-75

The final period examined in this study corresponds to the first fifteen years of independence of African states; the circumstances of those years bad far-reaching effects on student movements, especially in the former French colonies in Africa. In the first place, at no time in the history of the continent bad there been such a phenomenal expansion in the field of education. Not only were large numbers of elementary, secondary and technical schools opened, but almost every independent African country had set up one or more universities on its soil.
The number of university students in Algeria increased from 1,372 in 1962 to 19,213 in 1970 and 24,048 in 1972, while in Morocco the figure rose from 6,847in 1962 to 10,136 in 1964 and 12,726 in 1970. The number of university students in Ghana rose from 90 in 1948 to 4,286 in 1965/66. Nor was there any decline in the flow of students to the metropolitan countries for graduate and professional courses. By 1965/66 there were 3,410 Ghanaians studying abroad, of whom 1,991 were in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Despite this phenomenal increase in student numbers, it does not appear that there was a corresponding increase in the number of student movements, either locally or abroad. In Ghana only one movement was formed in the 1960s: the National Association of Socialist Students’ Organizations (NASSO), the student branch of the ruling Convention People’s Party, in opposition to NUGS.

Similar national student unions and rival groups must have been set up in the other former British African colonies. New student movements appeared in Madagascar, the Union des Etudiants et Stagiaires Malgaches (UESM) and the Syndicat des Elèves de l’Enseignement Secondaire (SEMPA).
All these student unions and the teachers’ union (SECES) made up the FAEM. In Cote d’Ivoire, the Union Nationale des Etudiants de Côte d’Ivoire (UNECI) was created in January 1960 to replace the former Association des Etudiants de Cote d’Ivoire (AECI) and the Union Générale des Etudiants de Côte d’Ivoire (UGECI); the Union Nationale des Elèves et Etudiants de Côte d’Ivoire (UNEECI) was set up by Houphouet-Boigny in July 1964 with a branch in France, to be replaced by the Mouvement des Elèves et Etudiants de Cote d’Ivoire (MEECI) in 1966.

Similar associations, created by the government to compete with FEANF, were set up in the Central African Republic, Dahomey (now Benin), Gabon, Mauritania and Senegal in 1967.

Following the establishment of the Common Afro-Mauritanian Organization (OCAM), the Mouvement des Etudiants de l’Organisation Commune Africaine et Malgache (MEOCAM) was set up in France that year, primarily to eliminate FEANF
It was formed to operate both in France and in Africa, but folded in 1971.

The Ethiopian students formed the Association des Etudiants Ethiopiens en Europe (AEEE) in December 1960, followed by the Ethiopian Pan-Socialist Movement (EPSOM) and the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP) in 1968.
In Tunis, the Neo-Destour Government established the Federation Nationale des Etudiants Destouriens (FNED) in 1964 as a challenge to the long-established UGET with consequences that are closely examined by M. Chenoufi.

Typologically, there were no fundamental changes in the student movements that emerged during the period; all were of a national or regional nature and were formed in Africa and Europe.
What is of interest are the main objectives of the student movements during this later phase. It would appear that in former British Africa, there was a lack of political radicalism among students until the mid-1960s. The case of Ghanaian students is quite well documented (seeS. A. Amoa, University Students’ Political Action in Ghana, 1979). Following independence in 1957, there was no confrontation between the students of the universities of Ghana andNkrumah’ s government when NUGS passed resolutions condemning the dismissal of the Chief Justice and protesting against the deportation of six members of the academic staff of the University of Ghana. The students of the University of Ghana followed these up with a demonstration on the campus. The government responded by closing the three universities for seventeen days and by forming a rival student association, the Ghana National Students’ Organization (GNSO) to replace NUGS. No such student action was to reoccur until after the overthrow of Nkrumah. Not even the tragic death of J.B. Danquah, the “doyen of Ghanaian politics”, in detention in February 1965 could move the students to act. This apathy continued until 1971, when there was a further direct clash between the students and the government caused by NUGS’ demand that Members of Parliament should declare their assets as provided for in the Constitution. But nothing came of this either. At no time, as S. A. Amoa points out, did the students come out openly to challenge the whole political system.

S. A. Amoa attributes this failure on the part of Ghanaian students to become actively involved in national politics to “their low degree of politicization”; this, he claims, was due to the repressive and dictatorial regime of Nkrumah and “the influences of certain elements in the university system and the macro-socio-economic system”, that is, “achievement orientation, insulation from societal strain and guaranteed occupational future”. From 1971 onwards, however, Ghanaian students became increasingly politicized and certainly played no small role in the overthrow of Busia’s civilian government in 1971 and Acheampong’s military government in 1978; they have been active in politics ever since.

This low degree of politicization, or lack of political activism, among Ghanaian students before the end of the 1960s, and their increasing involvement from the 1970s onwards, seem typical of almost all students of the former British African colonies, especially Kenya, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

But while these students of the former British colonies remained politically conservative in the 1960s, those in the former French colonies and Ethiopia grew increasingly radical and militant then and in the early 1970s. Treating independence as a sham, FEANF and its territorial sections stepped up their campaigns to overthrow the leaders so as to achieve true independence for most of French Africa. FEANF advocated “total and unconditional independence” and the severance “of organic and institutional ties with the ex-metropolis and the imperialist countries”. A resolution at FEANF’s Nineteenth Congress (Paris, December 1966) also called for a union between the workers and the peasant masses for “the creation and reinforcement of avant-garde organizations, essential support for an effective anti-imperialist front for the true liberation and unification of Africa”.

It was mainly to counteract this increasing radicalism of FEANF and its associated unions that the new leaders of Francophone Africa created between 1963 and 1967 a whole host of dissident student movements, such as UNECI, UNED and, above all, MEOCAM with its territorial sections, and banned some of the existing more radical ones. These new movements helped to weaken FEANF, leading to its final demise in 1980.

In Ethiopia, too, the students intensified their radical political activities, especially after the abortive coup d’etat in December 1960. As B.K. Selassie has shown, their rallying cry of “The land to those who till it” grew louder and louder as the years went by until the fall of Haile Selassie and the adoption of a radical agrarian reform bill by the Revolutionary Council in 1975. The Ethiopian student movement became particularly radicalized and militant with the emergence of two rival Marxist-Leninist groups, the Ethiopian Pan-African Socialist Movement (MEISON) and the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP), between 1968 and 1970.

In Madagascar the students continued to voice opposition to the government at home, while AEOM called for genuine independence at its Tenth Congress in 1961.
In order to undermine AEOM, the government established a rival student movement, the Union des Etudiants et Stagiaires Malgaches (UESM). The medical students went on strike in 1972, their action partly contributing to the resignation of the government in May of that year. AEOM welcomed the change of government but then dropped its radical stance.

In the Maghreb, UGET in Tunisia lost its radical character after independence, following infiltration and repression by the Neo-Destour Government.
UNEM in Morocco continued its militant activities during the period, demanding more freedom, the democratization of institutions and the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country. At its Tenth Congress in 1966, UNEM’s rallying-cry was “The land to the peasants, the factories to the workers, education for all and true democracy”, and the students resorted to strikes and demonstrations between 1967 and 1970.
In Algeria, UGEMA changed its name to the Union Nationale des Etudiants Algériens (UNEA) but remained a national organization of the FLN. Relations between the two, however, became strained after the coup d’etat of June 1965 against Ben Bella and continued thus until the 1970s.

It is quite clear from this survey that African student movements played a significant role in the political and social evolution of Africa between 1900 and 1975.
However, by the latter date most of them, such as WASU, had faded from the scene, while many of those that were still active, such as FEANF, had lost their spirit of militancy or, like AEOM and UGET, were now marginalized. There are several possible reasons for this rather unexpected turn of events. Some are given in the papers that follow, especially those by A. A. Boahen and F. Ramiandrasoa. WASU collapsed partly through lack of finance to support its activities, partly because the emergence of ethnic and territorial student associations in the United Kingdom weakened the pan-Africanist ones such as WASU, and partly because of the death of L. Solanke, its principal founder.

Those in French-speaking Africa, Ethiopia, Madagascar and the Maghreb either collapsed or became marginalized as a result of various factors:

  • the attacks on them through infiltration
  • the creation of rival student movements
  • assassinations and outright banning by the newly independent African governments, which proved to be just as intolerant of opposition and student radicalism as the colonial ones
  • the opportunism displayed by some of the students
  • the ideological and strategic differences within particular movements

What, then, is the real impact of these student movements?
That question is answered in some of the papers presented here, particularly in the chapter by A. I. Sow
The answer lies above all in the legacies left behind by these movements, as well as in their precepts or ideologies. Socially, through their publications, newspapers and resolutions, they informed the people of the metropolitan countries of the baselessness and falsity of the prevailing racist doctrines and views. Again, in the Maghreb and in Senegal, they certainly played a leading part in improving and modernizing educational institutions and curricula, while also modernizing and strengthening Islam.

It is in the political field that the legacies of the student movements are most evident. It was they that first radicalized the anti-colonial movements and called for total independence in many countries. It should also be emphasized that the radical streak introduced in this way bas remained a permanent feature of the political life of countries such as Algeria, Benin, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal.
Their books and journals won moral and even material support for the liberation movements in Africa. In countries like Algeria and Tunisia in particular, and in the 1940s and 1950s in French Black Africa, the student movements played a crucial role in the drive for liberation. Another valuable legacy was the training that student movements gave to future political leaders in Africa. Indeed, throughout French-speaking Black Africa and in the Malagasy Republic, there are few political leaders, senior civil servants, ministers or even heads of state of the new generation who were not at one time either FEANF militants or directly or indirectly influenced by the movement.
In spite of A. I. Asiwaju’s scepticism, the same may be said of such leaders of former British colonial Africa as Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta and Milton Margai. In the same vein, those movements that worked in co-operation with secondary-school pupils and teachers and with the masses, as was the case in Algeria, Madagascar and Tunisia, certainly inspired national and political awareness among young people, thereby preparing them for the future struggle. Again, as M. Chenoufi points out, by refusing to accept the drift towards dictatorship and the one-party system started by the political leaders of the newly independent Africa, and by denouncing the fraud that consisted of replacing the old direct colonialism by the new neo-colonialism, these movements upheld the cause of true democracy and genuine independence in Africa. As M. Chenoufi puts it:

With independence and the rise of the new generations, the struggle continued, but with a new ideology: in refusing to become subservient to the party in power, in trying to impose a new legitimacy in the name of marginalized groups, the student movement helped to call in question the hegemony of the State Party with a view to the emergence of a pluralist and democratic society, to replace a “rigid” and “crisis-ridden” society.

Finally, the African student movements, especially WASU and FEANF, also strengthened and diffused the spirit of pan-Africanism, first in Europe and subsequently in Africa: its transfer to and practical application in Africa can first be seen in the attainment by Ghana of independence in 1957.

Naturally these African students’ movements, which were at the forefront of the struggle for independence, were a source of concern to the various colonial administrations (see J. R. de Benoist’s article for an account of the attitude of the colonial authorities to FEANF). The movements were also concerned to express their views on the different problems facing their particular homelands (see the article by N. Bancel and J. Devisse, who scoured the newspapers published in France between 1943 and 1960).

In his conclusion, A.I. Sow maintains that the African student movements, particularly after 1954, played a role of the very first importance in the political climate of the period. They certainly participated actively in, if not initiated, the cultural and anti-colonial movements of the time by injecting them with an element of mass participation and radicalism and thereby hastening the downfall of colonialism.

But they bequeathed an even more important legacy: the need to fight neocolonialism, establish genuine democracy and mass participation in decision-making, and achieve African unity and pan-Africanism. This legacy has yet to bear fruit.


Bienvenue dans mon monde d'exploration et de découverte ! Je suis Ingrid Allain, une voyageuse passionnée avec une curiosité insatiable pour la riche tapisserie de la culture africaine. Pour moi, l'Afrique n'est pas juste une destination ; c'est une fascination de toute une vie et une source d'inspiration. Des rythmes vibrants des cercles de tambours d'Afrique de l'Ouest à la perlerie complexe des artisans Maasaï, chaque coin de ce continent détient un trésor de traditions à découvrir. À travers mes écrits, je vise à partager la beauté, la diversité et la résilience des cultures africaines avec le monde. E-mail: [email protected] / Linkedin
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