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Decolonization of North Africa by France

This map is part of a series of 14 animated maps showing the history of Decolonization after 1945.

French North Africa consisted of three separate territories: the protectorates of Morocco in the west, Tunisia in the east, and between the two, Algeria, which France had divided into several departments, as part of its mainland. However, the European residents, who were mostly French, represented a minority of Algeria’s population.

Following World War II, the Istiqlal Party in Morocco and Neo Destour in Tunisia called for independence. In the beginning, France refused all suggestions of emancipation and preferred to use force to counter these nationalist movements.

But, instead of quelling these rebellions, these moves only encouraged greater resentment. To avoid having to deal with a bloody conflict in both countries, and the possibility that the unrest would spread to Algeria, the government decided to change its policy.

In Carthage, France’s Prime Minister Pierre Mendès-France signed documents recognizing Tunisia’s autonomy on 31 July 1954. Two years later, independence was granted to both Tunisia and Morocco.

In Algeria, on 8 May 1945, during demonstrations at Sétif and Guelma to celebrate the Allies’ victory over Nazism, the partisans of independence raised Algerian flags. France countered all demands for change with ferocious repression.

A few timid legislative reforms were introduced in 1947, including the establishment of an Algerian Assembly and French citizenship for the Muslim population. However, despite the introduction of equality, the Algerian opposition was still denied freedom of expression.

On 1 November 1954, FLN (the National Liberation Front) launched a wave of violence that marked the beginning of the Algerian War. 

In 1956, the French government sent additional troops, including conscripted soldiers, but, despite military superiority in the field, was unable to negotiate a truce. Meanwhile, a growing number of Muslims joined the ranks of the FLN, partly by conviction, partly because they were afraid of reprisals.

In mainland France, public opinion was divided, and calls for negotiations grew louder. On the international level, and with United Nations condemnation, France was increasingly isolated.

On 13 May 1958, Algeria’s French nationals launched protests and called on General de Gaulle to return to power as a way of resolving the crisis. After a period of hesitation, he finally confirmed the Algerians’ right to self-determination.

Despite desperate attempts by Algeria’s French population, with support from some factions within the army, to change this decision, independence was formally accepted as part of the Evian Agreements. These were signed in March 1962 and came into force on 3 July 1962.

Fearing reprisals by the FLN after the scorched earth policy launched by the OAS, an organization of secret far-right nationalists, nearly 500,000 French residents fled Algeria during the summer of 1962, leaving all their possessions.

Meanwhile, the Harkis, Muslims enlisted in the French army, were abandoned and many were hunted down and killed after independence.