Florence Parly

France should apologize for colonialism in Algeria

Algiers, Algeria  – Algeria is waiting for an apology for France’s colonial occupation of the North African country, the president said, expressing hope that French President Emmanuel Macron would build on recent conciliatory overtures.

France’s 132 years of colonial rule in Algeria and the brutal eight-year war that ended it, have left a legacy of often prickly relations between the two countries.

In what has been seen as a thaw in ties, Algeria on Friday received the skulls of 24 resistance fighters decapitated during the colonial period.

The skulls will be laid to rest in the martyrs’ section of the capital’s El Alia cemetery on Sunday – the 58th anniversary of Algeria’s independence – according to media reports.

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune said an apology from France would “make it possible to cool tensions and create a calmer atmosphere for economic and cultural relations,” especially for the more than six million Algerians living in France.

The number of official apologies from European colonial powers is small and often involves discrete events. Germany is in the process of apologizing (without any compensation) for its role in the Herero and Nama genocide of Namibia between 1904 and 1907. The Netherlands has apologized to Indonesia for mass killings during the war of independence. Belgium, on the other hand, never apologized for King Leopold’s bloody rule over Congo, while Britain refused to make amends for the massacres in colonial India.

To this day, the Algerian war of independence (fought between 1954 and 1962) remains highly controversial in French politics. The French military’s human rights abuses, terrorism on both sides and the eventual defeat and return of nearly 800,000 French citizens from Algeria — all of which have left lasting divisions in French society.

The mass exodus of workers from the former colony to power France’s industrial miracle in the 1960s only exacerbated the problem. There are currently about 7.3 million French who have at least one immigrant parent, including about 1 million of Algerian descent.

In December 2019, Macron said “colonialism was a grave mistake” and called for turning the page on the past.

During his presidential election campaign, he had created a storm by calling France’s colonisation of Algeria a “crime against humanity”.

United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has urged countries to make amends for “centuries of violence and discrimination”.