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The Federation of Mali

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The brief union of Senegal and the Sudanese Republic (formally French Sudan) founded on 4 April 1959, and which lasted only until 20 August 1960.

Background to the Federation
In the period just before independence, Afrique Occidentale Française (French West Africa) was made up of a federation of 8 colonies, termed Overseas Territories, which acted as a single administrative entity under the control of a high commissioner (Haut-Commissaire de la Républic). French Togo was a trusteeship territory and governed under a different set of conditions.

Three communes (Dakar, Rufisque, and St. Louis), all found in present day Senegal, were centers for white and black French citizens in French West Africa. They participated in the political and electoral life of the colonies. Outside these three communes people were considered to be "colonial subjects" with little say in the region's governance. (Less than 1% of the indigenous population was entitled to a vote.)

Towards the end of the second world war a conference held at Brazzaville (La Conférence Africaine Française, 30 Jan to 8 Feb 1944) nixed any hope of independence for the French West African colonies. What it did promise was a limited participation in 'the management of their own affairs'. In 1945 five deputies were elected to the French Constituent Assembly – these included the lawyer Lamine Gueye, and the poet Léopold Sédar Senghor, and Felix Houphouët-Boigny. With the creation of the Fourth Republic in France, African colonies gained a couple of concessions (ending of forced labor and the granting of citizenship) but the door remained closed on the prospect of independence.

Initially political parties in French West Africa were merely offshoots of major political parties in France, such as the Rassemblement du People Français (RPF, Rally of the French People), Mouvement Républicain Populaire (MRP, Popular Republican Movement), and the Communist Party. In 1946 several African deputies called for a conference to be held in Bamako in October. While France applied heavy pressure to halt the conference, and delegates from French Equatorial Africa were 'unable to attend', the conference was hailed as a success with the creation of the Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (RDA, African Democratic Rally) with Felix Houphouët-Boigny as its leader. The RDA represented various African political parties active in the anti-colonial struggle, and it affiliated with various communist groups (the Groupes d'Etudes Communistes / Communist Study Groups) in the French Constituent Assembly.

France tried hard to suppress the RDF in the early 1950s, but rising calls for independence and nationalism in Africa were taking their toll. In 1956 the French National Assembly passed the Loi Cadre, a law which provided for universal adult suffrage for all African subjects in French colonies. It represented one of two paths to independence -- the other was to turn French West Africa into a grand federation of states, which would have the economic strength to develop in parallel to France. Houphouët-Boigny was against the creation of a federation, Léopold Senghor (of Senegal), Modibo Keïta (of French Sudan), and Sékou Touré (Guinea).

Independence for West Africa
The Algiers crisis in 1958 pulled African independence to the forefront of French politics. France's Fourth Republic shattered, and a new Fifth Republic emerged under the leadership of Charles de Gaulle. De Gaulle supported federation, but Houphouët-Boigny had convinced others to join his ranks against it. In the end it was only Senegal and the République Soudanaise (Sudanese Republic, formed on 25 November out of the old Soudan Français or French Sudan) who joined together. The new Federation of Mali was formed on 4 April 1959 within the Communauté Française (French Community) as a semi-autonomous state (internally self-governing, but matters of defense and international diplomacy went to France).

The Federation of Mali became fully independence from France on 20 June 1960 (after an agreement on power transfer signed on the 4th of April), but the cracks were already growing. Disagreements between Modibo Keïta (French Sudan) and Léopold Sédar Senghor (Senegal) became to great, and the federation was dissolved on 20 August. A new Republic of Mali was created on 22 September 1960. (Senegal uses the date 4 April 1960, which was the date independence for the Federation was agreed with France.)

The Federation of Mali, Africa's only true attempt at 'Pan-African' unity, had failed.

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