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French friends with benefits: African war veterans finally get to go home

Ousmane Sagna, Oumar Dieme, and Guorgui M' Bodji, (left to right) African war veterans who fought for France, near Paris in 2016.
Ousmane Sagna, Oumar Dieme, and Guorgui M' Bodji, (left to right) African war veterans who fought for France, near Paris in 2016. Copyright BERTRAND GUAY, AFP
Copyright BERTRAND GUAY, AFP
By Heloise Urvoy with AFP
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Nine African war veterans finally return to their home countries with the insurance to get their full pensions. Aged between 85 and 96 years old, the ex-soldiers who fought for France had to reside there at least half the year to receive their benefits - until this year.

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Nine former Senegalese soldiers who fought for France during 20th century wars have gone home.

The war veterans previously had to reside in France at least six months per year to get their French retirement benefits.

That is until earlier this year, when French authorities gave their approval to let them live in their home country all year long. Veterans and their families welcomed the decision, following years of battle with the French state.

Now retired, the Senegalese, Mauritanian or Malian men concerned by the decision were born under French colonisation. Their countries were also under French rule when an approximated 220,000 of them were recruited to fight for France in World War II, the First Indochina War or the Algerian War.

Most former African colonies and territories gained their independence in the 1960’s. Since then, French authorities have decided that those former soldiers are foreigners – even if they were born under French rule and fought for France. As such, the obligation to live in France at least six months a year to receive their pension applied to them.

Until decolonisation, all African soldiers fighting for France were known as Tirailleurs sénégalais, or ‘Senegalese shooters’, as the first African infantry was created in Senegal under Napoleon III.

Upon getting on a plane on April 28 to leave France, 87-year-old N’Dongo Dieng told French press agency AFP he was happy to finally go back to Senegal for good: “it was hard for our relatives to go back and forth, and because of our age too…”. 

The French state also decided on an exceptional financial aid to pay for their return journey and moving fees. Many won’t get to benefit from the landmark decision, as the veterans are well into their 80’s and only an estimated 40 of them are still alive. For now, nine of them will get to spend their old days at home.

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