What: Algeria gains independence from France after 132 years
When: 5 July 1962
Algeria’s war of independence against colonial France, which had occupied the country for 132 years, began on 1 November 1954 and was led by the National Liberation Front (FLN). The guerrilla warfare adopted by the Algerians to end France’s torturous presence lasted nearly eight years and shook the foundation of the unstable Fourth French Republic which would be replaced by a fifth republic in 1958 lead by President Charles de Gaulle.
During 1956 and 1957, the FLN began hit-and-run tactics aimed at military targets, army patrols, military encampments, police posts and colonial transportation and communications facilities. They were encouraged by the call from the FLN headquarters in Cairo for all Algerians to join in a national struggle for the “restoration of the Algerian state, sovereign, democratic and social, within the framework of the principles of Islam.”
The French responded with a campaign of counter-violence in an attempt to crush the insurgency before it could gain momentum. For the French it was unfathomable that Algeria could secede from France given the country had been carefully integrated into the republic of France.
France’s use of hard-line tactics of violence and torture against Algerians won mass support for the insurgency of the FLN and criticism internationally. Though slow in gaining the backing of the Algerian nation in the beginning, the FLN was soon able to gain control in the Aurès, the Kabylie, and other mountainous areas around Constantine, the south of Algiers and Oran where they were able to run a military administration.
By its end, the war began to be a matter of which side would wear down the other first with the nationalism of the Algerian people, enhanced and broadened by the violent actions of France’s military, spurring on the nationalist side to win the war.
By Charles de Gaulle’s presidency in 1959, withdrawal from Algeria was looking like the only solution. The fifth republic lead by de Gaulle accepted the self-determination of the Algerian people which would later be cemented by a referendum on independence. De Gaulle’s speech of Algeria being Algerian and belonging to Algerians was words that would mark the beginning of the end of French colonial rule in Algeria.
What Happened next?
Following major demonstrations calling for independence, the UN would call for a resolution in 1960 recognising Algeria’s right to independence. This would lead de Gaulle to open a series of negotiations with the FLN who categorically refused any loose association with France and refused to end the fighting without achieving full independence. Eventually the Evian Accords were signed in March 1962 and the war was brought to an end.
A month later, a referendum was announced with the French electorate approving the Evian Accords and Algerians voted, 91 per cent were in favour of the ratification of this agreement with another referendum in July showed that 99.72 per cent were in favour of independence.
The war resulted in catastrophic casualties for the Algerian nation whose fight for independence came at a painfully high price. Some 1.5 million Algerians perished in the fighting with millions displaced. Fifty-five years later, France has still failed to recognise its genocidal past in its former colony and Algeria is still coming to terms with its bloody history and how it should shape a country that so many sacrificed their lives for.
Maqam Echahid, a monument for those martyred during the war, was erected in 1962 in the capital Algiers to mark the 20th anniversary of independence. It is fashioned in the shape of three palm leaves which shelter the “Eternal Flame” underneath and can be visibly seen in Algiers’ skyline. At the edge of each palm leaf there is a statue of a soldier.
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