published the 12th march 2016
Who now remembers the tribes asphyxiated by smoke in Sbeah or walled in in Ain Meran ? These are just two examples of France’s often inglorious record of conquest in this vast stretch of North Africa. The local tribes had long sought refuge from danger by barricading themselves into caves. Pelissier’s idea was copied by several other military leaders, with equally tragic consequences.
The colonisation of Algeria was a vicious, pitiless process overseen by General Bugeaud, now only remembered for an army song about his camel-hair cap. A third of the Algerian population died in the bloody conquest. Questioned by the French parliament about the French army’s conduct in Algeria, Bugeaud’s reply was :
I consider that following humanitarian rules runs the risk of extending the war in Africa indefinitelyFrench settlers may subsequently have brought improvements to the country, but it was still pretty tactless of French politicians to talk of the virtues of colonisation in recent years, given that the process cost hundreds of thousands of lives.
Abd el-Kader was the Algerian military leader who led the struggle against the French for fifteen years. He was taken prisoner in 1847 at the age of 39 and sent into exile in Amboise, on the banks of the Loire. The castle where he was held prisoner for nearly five years now has a memorial to him in the gardens.