Prof shines light on Africa’s darkest hour

A UNIVERSITY of Manchester professor has written a  book which throws new light on one of colonial Africa’s darkest hours.

‘The Killer Trail’ reveals casual attitudes to extreme violence and the use of psychology to cover up and excuse deliberate brutality.

According to Professor Bertrand Taithe, the 1898 French Government implicitly gave two junior officers carte blanche to crush the resistance of local people by using extreme violence.

During the Voulet-Chanoine mission, thousands of people were killed, leaving a trail of destruction and slaughter in its wake.

The unimaginable horrors still haunt  the region, blighted by the killing of children, women, systematic destruction and looting between 1898 and 99.

But according to the historian, the West still needs to learn lessons from the massacres perpetrated by the French colonialist soldiers, which were the result he said, of ruthless cost cutting.

A war fought on the cheap, he argues, risks the deterioration of standards and the use of unacceptable violence.

Professor Taithe said: “The Voulet-Chanoine mission was sent to Central Africa to unify French territories – but by any means necessary.

“And it’s clear the horrific events of 1898 were not the consequences of a few soldiers who went astray or became insane – which is how the French Government and press described it – but a calculated effort to pacify the population cheaply.

“When the killers were exposed, the authorities covered up their actions by calling them ‘monsters’ and ‘psychologically damaged’.

“But there was no fundamental exposition of how such inhumanity could come about and therefore nothing really changed.”

The mission left Dakar, Senegal in 1898 for the centre of Africa and the region of Lake Chad to establish effective borders between the French and British empires while ‘pacifying’ the ‘belligerent’ people who lived there.

Their journey eerily foretells Conrad’s classic book ‘The Heart of Darkness’ and the 1979 Francis Ford Coppola film ‘Apocalypse Now’.

Though it advanced slowly, the Voulet-Chanoine Mission was in the process of accomplishing its goals when stories of terrible outrages reached Paris in 1899 and led to a public uproar. A second mission was dispatched to investigate.

Eventually, on 14 July 1899, the two missions met and confronted each other: Voulet and Chanoine allegedly declared their independence from France only to be themselves murdered by the African soldiers under their command in a violent mutiny.

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