After decades of asking for an increase in their pensions, African soldiers who fought for France were recently told that their payments would soon increase. On the heels of this announcement, some of these soldiers share their stories about fighting for the former colonial power.
While serving as a soldier for the French Army during the first Indochina War, Alioune Kamara was taken prisoner on May 12, 1954 with the rest of his unit.
There were originally 24 men in his all-African unit, says Kamara. But by the time he was released, only eight were still alive.
Kamara recalls these memories of serving for the French Army as he sits in his office in Dakar, Senegal. The Senegalese citizen was called to serve in the French army in 1949, when Senegal was still a French colony.
More than 50 years later, he serves as Senegal's director of the Office for National Former Soldiers and Victims of War. Kamara is one of the many men who worked for years to convince France to increase the pensions of the Africans who fought for their former colonial power in two World Wars as well as the Indochina Wars.
Kamara explains that the pensions of Senegalese soldiers who fought for France were frozen after independence in 1960. Until recently, France was paying these former soldiers as little as one tenth of what their French counterparts were receiving for their pensions.
But that is scheduled to change by January, when the French government says it will increase the pensions of the African soldiers who fought for the European country.
Last month, French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared an end to unequal pensions during France's Bastille Day celebrations in Paris.
Another Senegalese who fought for France, Diadie Ba says he fought alongside the border of France and Germany at the end of the war. He was there – and fought for – the liberation of France.
Ba was injured during his service, when he was shot in the leg. Today he rests outside the office for former soldiers and talks with other men who served in the French army.
He says he will be happy if their pensions are increased in January because he has waited a long time.
As he sits on a bench in Senegal's capital, Dakar, he shows his military identification – the picture of a young man smiles out from the faded card.
At that moment, a pedestrian walks by and leans over to a seated Ba and another former soldier to hand them the charity of a few coins.