When Britain and France declared war on Hitler’s Nazi Germany in September 1939, their African colonies were once more drawn into a European conflict that was not of their making. Fascist dictatorships had been established in Italy, Germany, Portugal and Spain in the 1920s and 30s. Fascist political parties believed in the seizure of power by force, the denial of democratic freedoms and the racial inferiority of subject peoples (all reminiscent of certain aspects of European colonial rule in Africa). Fascists were particularly dedicated to the destruction of all aspects of socialism and communism. In May 1940, German armies overran Holland and Belgium, invaded France and drove the British army out of northern France. With German victory in sight, Mussolini, the fascist dictator of Italy, brought his country into the war on the side of Germany on 10 June 1940. By then, the militarist government of Japan had already joined the so-called ‘Axis powers’. By the end of June, the German army had occupied northern France and installed a puppet government at Vichy in southern France. Charles de Gaulle, a French colonel, formed a ‘Free French’ government in exile. This division into ‘Vichy’ government in France and ‘Free French’ government in exile was to have an important impact on France’s African colonies, as we shall see below.
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