December 24, 1958
Contribution of Algeria to the Construction of Africa
Born on the Caribbean island of Martinique, a French colony, Frantz Fanon (1925-1961) fought with the Free French Army in 1943-1944 in North Africa and Europe. In 1945, he was repatriated. After shortly working for Aimé Césaire (1913-2008), a famous politician and author who helped found the négritude movement in Francophone literature, he moved to France to study psychiatry. In 1952 he wrote the first text that would make him a worldwide leading postcolonial thinker; originally his dissertation, Peau noire, masques blanches (Black Skin, White Masks) analyzed colonial conditions’ mental effects on colonized subjects. (Another text, for which he would become even more famous, was the 1961 Les Damnés de la Terre [The Wretched of the Earth].)
In 1953, Fanon agreed to become the head of the psychiatric hospital at Blida-Joinville, in French Algeria, for principally professional reasons—but got involved with Algeria’s Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) mere months after it started the war of independence in November 1954. His hospital treated both FLN fighters and Frenchmen and -women, including security personnel whose violent counter-insurgency work, including torture, had destabilized them. In 1956 he resigned, and in early 1957 fled to neighboring Tunisia, which had become independent in 1956. Moving up the FLN’s civilian command structure, he helped run its principal organ, El Moudjahid, and in 1958 became the ambassador to Ghana of the FLN’s Provisional Algerian Government.
In 1957 Ghana had become the second British African colony, after Sudan, to gain independence. Its leader, Kwame Nkrumah (1909-1972, r. 1952/1957-1966), was a known pan-Africanist who continued efforts reaching back into the late 1800s, including the Fifth Pan-African Congress that he had co-organized in 1945 in Manchester. He believed true independence was possible only if African countries unite their energies. To this effect, his government inter alia organized conferences. The earliest one, the first Conference on Independent African States, took place in Ghana’s capital of Accre in April 1958; Ghanaian, Liberian, Ethiopian, Moroccan, Tunisian, Libyan, Sudanese, and Egyptian/United Arab Republic (UAR) delegates inter alia emphasized that they form one African family, whether they are Arabs or sub-Saharan Africans. Moreover, as Jeffrey Ahlman has shown in “The Algerian Question in Nkrumah’s Ghana, 1958-1960: Debating ‘Violence’ and ‘Non-Violence’ in African Decolonization” (2010), when the FLN arrived at the conference and, with UAR support, asked to be heard and accepted as Algeria’s voice, Nkrumah felt forced to consent. He did so although he was advocating decolonization by nonviolent means, which had worked in Ghana that, unlike French Algeria, was not a settler colony and not unified with the metropole. Differences between the FLN’s approach and Nkrumah’s, which was shared by some other Africans like the Kenyan Tom Mboya (1930-1969), showed also in the December 1958 First All-African People’s Conference (AAPC), to which the FLN was invited.
The text printed here is an English translation of the rendering, in El Moudjahid, of Fanon’s talk, in French, to the AAPC. It framed Algeria’s violentdecolonization experience as the model for Africa. The AAPC indeed was an important landmark in African discussions about the means of decolonization, and it was after this conference that Fanon became influential also outside the FLN.