“An Ever Delicate Issue”: The Debate over Granting/Recognizing French Citizenship in Colonial Senegal
Foremost among the questions raised by the 1916 law was whether it had granted French citizenship to the communes’ inhabitants or merely recognizeda citizenship status already in existence. For Senegalese men and women in the communes, this was not a minor distinction: it carried weight for their long-standing claims to a political and cultural status unique among Africans in the French empire and raised questions about the perceived validity of their own interpretations of their history.
In this paper, I examine the responses to, and interpretations of, the citizenship law of 1916, arguing that even at a moment when the citizenship status of the communes’ inhabitants appeared to be settled, the meaning and historical implications of that status remained a source of contention, a space of negotiation, and a motive for political mobilization. This debate illuminates France’s efforts to maintain control over its citizens, its subjects, and the consequences of its own laws, as well as the ways that individual subjects and citizens navigated the meanings of citizenship in one colonial context.
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