Understanding Diplomatic Training from the Global South: Transnational Networks and (Post)colonial Connections

In: Diplomatica
Jonathan Harris Department of Geography, King’s College, London, United Kingdom

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Ruth Craggs Department of Geography, King’s College, London, United Kingdom

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Fiona McConnell School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, United Kingdom

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Modern diplomacy is a Western and colonial project.1 Nevertheless, as a growing body of work is demonstrating, diplomacies and diplomats of the Global South have had a distinct influence on the development of global international relations through the second half of the twentieth century.2 Biographical studies of Global South diplomats from newly independent states have focused on how “diplomacy in the context of decolonization entailed intense political, emotional and intellectual labour, and this labour shaped foreign policy.”3 However, while the lives and experiences of early diplomats in the postcolonial world have started to become the focus of attention, their training has more or less been overlooked.4 This is surprising, given the importance of training spaces for diplomatic socialization and knowledge production in the formative years of diplomats’ careers.

As colonized peoples fought for independence across the globe, many initially relied on untrained diplomats, drawn from the anti-colonial movements, and especially their elites educated abroad, to present their arguments in the international arena. Alongside this, the second half of the twentieth century saw the diplomats of newly-independent states receiving training at universities and international organizations based in the Global North. In this essay, we use the Algerian example to argue that a focus on the learning experiences of Global South diplomats around the time of national independence creates a new vantage point from which to understand global diplomacy and the politics of decolonization. Drawing on the records of the French National Archive and oral histories from three of Algeria’s earliest diplomats,5 we highlight the ways that colonial entanglements shaped their training both before and after independence.

The first section of this piece briefly describes the role of Algerian diplomats in securing victory in the war of national liberation. The second, longer part of the essay focuses on the aftermath of independence, and on the training of Algerian diplomats in Paris. We argue that while a focus on Algerian diplomats’ success during the war is suggestive of both the value of diplomacy in securing the independence of Algeria, an examination of the training received by diplomats in the years following decolonization allows a more complicated and ambiguous narrative to emerge.

“War Diplomacy”

Algeria’s history of colonization and path to independent statehood sets it apart from the many other African states that emerged from European colonial rule in the 1960s. While transfers of power at decolonization were often contested and involved violent unrest, Algeria’s independence was achieved only after a bitter war of national liberation waged over eight years, which cost hundreds of thousands of lives and required the full mobilization of the French armed forces. Although unable to achieve military victory, the Algerian Front de Libération Nationale (fln) were successful in internationalizing the question of Algerian self-determination and pursuing what has since been termed a “diplomatic revolution.”6 Noureddine Djoudi, who was the fln’s representative in London at the outbreak of the war in late 1954 and would later serve as ambassador to several African states and the African Union, recalled:

We were facing one of the most powerful armies in the world, and we had very limited means to lead the fight … What we did then, was to approach various young people, all around the world, and to open what we called the representations of the fln. I was appointed in London, we had people, even in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, even Japan. So, these were the first elements of our diplomacy, what wed call a war diplomacy.7

Many of these young people were drawn from the Union Générale des Étudiants Musulmans Algériens (ugema) owing to their university education and situation abroad. For example, the ugema sent two delegates to Bandung in 1955 for the youth conference: Lakhdar Brahimi and Mohammed Benyahia. They did not return to their student activities however – the fln assigned them as representatives in Jakarta and New Delhi respectively.8 Though they formed the core of the fln’s foreign service, these students did not receive any formal diplomatic training. Djoudi described how they

had to learn [the subtleties of diplomacy, the rules of the game and various conventions] directly on the spot.… We were assigned as diplomats, and none of us had to come through a school of diplomacy. We learned how to talk to people during the liberation war, and then we had to learn how to be a diplomat, once our country was free.9

European cities like Paris and London were familiar spaces for anti-colonial nationalists like Djoudi, and served as a key site of learning, exchange and radicalization.10 Recalling his time representing the fln in London and giving talks to student societies in the 1950s, Djoudi said: “through the other students, I learned a lot about other African countries, particularly South Africa and Zimbabwe. I started to discover that there were other areas in the world where they were living through the same will of getting independence.”11 The agency and creativity of these pre-independence diplomats is evidenced in their use of student status and university spaces for international exchange and circulation, and as a springboard for formal diplomatic relations.

Despite operating under severe material and political restraints, the diplomats of the fln managed a coherent international campaign characterized by translocal/global connectivity and Third World solidarity.12 As early as 1958, fln leader Krim Belkacem wrote that “there is no need for any intermediary (however well intentioned) to negotiate with the French. We have all we need for this. All that is needed is to find the right forum. The UN might help us here. The method and the means are purely diplomatic.”13

Belkacem’s apparent confidence turned out to be well-placed. In 1962 he and a group of other fln negotiators would sign the Évian Accords with the French government, thereby bringing the conflict to a close and opening the way to independence. The fln had pursued a coordinated foreign policy strategy focused on lobbying UN member states to table motions supporting Algerian self-determination and condemning France’s counter insurgency at each UN General Assembly, seeking external recognition through the establishment of diplomatic missions in key countries, and waging a propaganda campaign designed to isolate France from its nato allies.14 Therefore, unlike many of the other African colonies granted independence by France in the preceding years, Algeria had developed a proven team of diplomats over several years prior to independent statehood.

Yet despite the apparent autonomy of this fledgling Foreign Ministry, the Évian Accords contained a clause whereby it was agreed that France, the former colonial power, would provide training for the diplomatic personnel of the new Algerian state. That this was included in the peace accords underlines the power and influence inherent in diplomatic training.

Continuity and Familiarity in Postcolonial Diplomatic Training

As a result of this clause in the Évian Accords, the Centre de Formation de Fonctionnaires et Magistrats Algériens (cffma) was opened in Paris on October 24, 1962. Only a few months after the end of a conflict which had seen repeated violence against Muslim Algerians on the streets of Paris,15 roughly two hundred students would study in the city for the purpose of forming the backbone of an independent Algeria’s new civil service. Of this group, the vast majority were trained in general public administration. Two more specialized courses were provided for 28 diplomatic and consular trainees, and here we draw on our interviews with two of these trainees, Rafik Bensaci and El Hocine Yacef. Both had joined the fln’s insurgency during the war as young students, and had proven themselves in the face of torture and imprisonment. Bensaci would go on to administer Algeria’s military aid to southern African liberation movements before moving into domestic politics, while Yacef would join the foreign service before making his career in media and journalism. What can we learn from focusing on this training and the experiences of those enrolled in it? Frantz Fanon, who himself acted as the fln’s ambassador to Ghana, wrote that “decolonization is always a violent phenomenon,” which “never takes place un-noticed, for it influences individuals and modifies them fundamentally.”16 With the presence of such recent physical, moral and psychological violence in the decolonial moment, the apparent banality of the training – from the point of view of the archives and the oral histories – is striking.

Institutionally, the French training provided for diplomats in newly independent Algeria differed little from that offered by the Institut des Hautes Etudes d’Outre-Mer (iheom), which trained the civil servants of all other French former colonies. The cffma course consisted of almost the same lectures, seminars and readings – on diplomatic history, international law, international organizations, economics, and English – given at the iheom diplomatic course, delivered by many of the same professors.17 Despite this institutional closeness, the fact that the cffma was established as a standalone institution is indicative of France’s institutional thinking about Algeria at the time, while also reflecting Algerians’ view of themselves. Prior to independence Algeria had been formally part of France and its highest officials had been trained at the prestigious Ecole Nationale d’Administration (ena) alongside their counterparts from mainland France. With Algeria’s independence, enrolment of its officials at the ena was no longer possible. However, a cffma note explaining the decision to create a new centre clarified that the Algerians did not want “the feeling of getting a ‘second-rate’ qualification” from the iheom.18 Our interviewees stressed the similarity with the ena training: Rafik Bensaci recalled having little engagement with the iheom, only going there to use the canteen, but insisted that his course was “exactly the same as the courses given at the ena and French grandes écoles at the time.”19 The choice to set up a new center is also indicative of a desire to separate, physically and institutionally, Algerian trainees from other African students at the iheom. One cffma note from 1962 cites “psychological reasons” for this segregation,20 referring to the implicit racialized colonial hierarchy as well as a concern that the revolutionary Algerians might have an unwelcome influence on the other African students.

How, then, was the course experienced by Algerian trainees? When asked about their training, our interviewees focused on their desire to learn and to take as much from the course as possible to support the independence of Algeria. Bensaci recalled that what interested his cohort at the time “wasn’t affirming our own personality or our Algerianness, it was to try and acquire practical knowledge from a country that had a very long diplomatic tradition.”21 Similarly, Yacef underlined that they “were there to learn things, not to take revenge or show that we were better than them or anything – I’d call that the complex of the colonized. We didn’t have this complex.”22 The interviewees instead described the underdevelopment of their country, ravaged by decades of colonization and years of bloody struggle, as a key motivation for them to acquire what knowledge and assistance they could to aid its recovery. In many ways these former trainees echoed the discourse of Charles De Gaulle who, in a speech to the 1962 iheom cohort, said “the young states that have sent you here, of which you will be the administrators, magistrates, diplomats of tomorrow, these young states need you, they need your training.”23

What emerges therefore is a discourse – articulated both by the French trainers and Algerian trainees – that framed the training as an apolitical exercise in benevolent technical cooperation. The foregrounding of the technical value of the training over any political concerns in the accounts of our interviewees is striking, especially given that they had been selected because of their prior engagement as freedom fighters, where they had faced torture, privation, prison, and death at the hands of the French authorities. Nevertheless, at a more senior level, these courses were treated with caution – Noureddine Djoudi who had represented the fln abroad during the war of liberation, explained that while the Algerian foreign service “accepted what France could give us as a sort of compensation,” this was not accepted naively. The graduates of the cfmma appear to have taken up relatively low-grade posts, with key positions going to more experienced pre-independence diplomats like Lakhdar Brahimi, Mohammed Benyahia, or Redha Malek.

The relatively positive narratives of the Algerian trainees about the course is also surprising given the events some of them experienced while studying. On February 4, 1963, French gendarmes came to the cfmma student accommodation in Villemomble, and arrested Rafik Bensaci as a result of his historic role in the liberation war. Bensaci’s recollection of events highlights the legal and political entanglements of studying in the former colonial metropole, and the agency of fellow trainees in securing his release and amnesty. As he told us:

When I joined the insurgency, I was judged as being a radical vis-à-vis the French authorities. I was condemned by a French military tribunal to I don’t know how many years in prison, but finally when I went to France [for training] I was arrested by the French gendarmerie who said “Your arrest and your escape to Tunisia means that a French military tribunal handed down a penalty that is not subject to amnesty by the Evian accords.” So, I was arrested by the gendarmes, but I was released quickly afterwards. All the trainees who were over there, around 300 of us, said “if it’s like that, if the amnesty only concerns a few people, we’ll stop immediately and return to Algeria. We’ll stop everything.” That’s how I was liberated.24

He ended his recollection by saying that the whole episode “was totally undiplomatic.” The repressive colonial apparatus that had operated for so many years to marginalize Algerian Muslims, what Bensaci termed “the old reflexes,” was still present in Paris.

Bensaci was not the only cffma student to be arrested that year – another trainee was also arrested for an historic case of desertion. These cases were deeply concerning to cffma director Francois Luchaire, who immediately contacted the public prosecutor to have Bensaci released. Luchaire’s concerns centred on the impact of such arrests on the relationship with the trainees, and with independent Algeria more broadly. As he recorded in a report to the Prime Minister’s office:

Owing to the psychological consequences that the affair could have on the whole cohort of trainees of the cffma … it seemed particularly desirable that Mr. Bensaci not be kept in detention.25

It is worth pausing on the recurrent use of the vocabulary of (racial) psychology in the discourse of the time. It is well-known that Fanon wrote extensively on the psychological violence of colonialism, but psychological analogies were also widely used in contemporary international education and training discourse concerned with bringing “modernity” to Africa.26 Luchaire and the other trainers saw their role in this “civilizing mission” outlasting the formal end of empire and taking place in the training institutions created by decolonization.27

In many ways, then, our example reinforces the argument that decolonization is a contradictory process. French legal and security apparatuses maintained tight controls on the Algerians, hindering the French diplomatic community’s attempts to build a new “clean slate” international relationship, while technical training continued the civilizing mission. Algerian diplomats navigated these contradictions in the tumultuous aftermath of independence.


Algerian diplomacy at independence was autonomous and non-aligned. It sought to be technically proficient, and effective at meeting the nascent state’s goals. However, a focus on the way its diplomats were trained highlights complex and historically-determined entanglements with colonial institutions and practices that outlasted the colonial empires themselves. Lengthy discussions about financing the construction of new buildings to house the cffma underline the fact that French officials assumed that they would play a long-term role training officials of France’s most important former colony.28 However the cffma’s first cohort would be its last, with training moving to Algeria from 1963 at the insistence of the Algerian government. Nevertheless, connections continued and cffma staff would be involved in designing the new course in Algeria, and teaching on it during its first few years.

Thinking about diplomatic learning enriches our understanding both of diplomatic practice and of the politics of decolonization. Algeria’s diplomats first learned ‘on the job’ and from their anti-colonial contemporaries – many while studying at metropolitan universities at the heart of colonial empires. Formalized training formed part of the peace treaty signed to bring about decolonization, and was delivered in France, the former colonial power. Colonial legacies shaped this training both through its institutionalization, and the experiences of its students at the hands of the French police. While the Paris-based cfmma was short lived, a focus on these moments of transition can tell us much about the legacies of empire that continued to shape the experiences of diplomats from the formerly colonized world long after decolonization. The experiences of Algerian diplomats were not unusual; many diplomats of newly independent states, especially in Africa, received training in Europe around the time of decolonization, and some still do today. Diplomatic training continues to be shaped by colonial legacies, and this continues to inform diplomatic practice, and its study, in the twenty-first century.


Constantinou, C.M. On The Way to Diplomacy (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996).


Opondo, S.O. “Postcolonial Diplomacy.” In The Encyclopaedia of Diplomacy ed. G. Martel (New York: Wiley, 2018); Nayudu, S.K. “‘India Looks at the World’: Nehru, the Indian Foreign Service & World Diplomacy.” Diplomatica 2 (1) (2020), 100–17.


Guyot-Réchard, B. “Stirring Africa towards India: Apa Pant and the Making of Post-Colonial Diplomacy, 1948–54.” International History Review 44 (2022), 892–913.


See: Bugnon, E. “Voyage d’études de futurs diplomates des pays émergents en formation à Genève: Une opportunité pour la Suisse de s’exposer.” Traverse 25 (1) (2018), 172–79; Bugnon, E. “La formation de jeunes diplomates des pays nouvellement indépendants à Genève dans les années 1960: une collaboration entre la Dotation Carnegie et l’iuhei.” Relations Internationales 177 (1) (2019), 99–110.


Interviews were conducted by telephone. Interviewees gave informed consent to be named and quoted. Djoudi spoke in English, while Bensaci and El Hocine spoke French. Their words have been translated by the authors, as have any cited documentary sources written in French.


Connolly, M. A Diplomatic Revolution; Algeria’s Fight for Independence and the Origins of the Post-Cold War Era (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).


Noureddine Djoudi, interview by Jonathan Harris, June 30, 2022.


Henry Moore, C. Combat et Solidarité Estudiantins: L’ugema (19551962) Témoignages (Alger: Casbah Éditions, 2010).


Djoudi interview.


Goebel, M. Anti-Imperial Metropolis: Interwar Paris and the Seeds of Third World Nationalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015); Matera, M. Black London: the Imperial Metropolis and Decolonization in the Twentieth Century (Vol. 22) (San Francisco: University of California Press, 2015); Yusuf, A.A. “The West African Students Union and its Contribution to the Anti-Colonial Struggle.” Africa Quarterly 38 (4) (1998), 101–24.


Djoudi interview.


Sajed, A. “Between Algeria and the World: Anticolonial Connectivity, Aporias of National Liberation and Postcolonial Blues.” Postcolonial Studies 26 (1) (2023), 13–31.


Harbi, M. Les Archives de la révolution algérienne (Paris: Jeune Afrique, 1981).


Mameri, K. Les Nations Unies face à la ‘question algérienne’ (1954–1962) (Algiers: Société Nationale d’Edition et de Diffusion, 1969); Pervillé, G. “L’insertion internationale du fln algérien (19541962).” Relations Internationales 31 (1982), 373–86; Malek, R. L’Algérie à Évian: Histoire des négociations secrètes 1956–62 (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1995).


Stora, B. Ils Venaient d’Algérie (Paris: Fayard, 1992).


Fanon, F. The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove Press, 1968), 30.


Paris, Archives Nationales de France (hereafter anf): 20050323/27 Centre de Formation des Fonctionnaires et Magistrats algériens: Programme des cours, Section Diplomatique 19621963 & 20050323/19 Institut des Hautes Etudes d’outre-mer: Programme des cours, Section Diplomatique 19621963.


anf: 20050323/27 Note relative à la formation des Administrateurs et Magistrats algériens.


Rafik Bensaci, interview by Jonathan Harris, May 10, 2022.


anf: 20050323/27 Note relative à l’utilisation des salles de cours par le Centre de Formation de Fonctionnaire et Magistrats Algériens.


Bensaci interview.


El Hocine Yacef, interview by Jonathan Harris, March 11, 2022.


anf: 20050323/15 Discours prononcé par le Général de gaulle à l’I.H.E.O.M. le 29/05/62.


Bensaci interview.


anf: 20050323/27 Note pour Monsieur le Secrétaire d’Etat auprès du Premier Ministre chargé des Affaires Algériennes.


Gerits, F. “Hungry Minds: Eisenhower’s Cultural Assistance to Sub-Saharan Africa, 1953–1961.” Diplomatic History 41 (3) (2017), 594–619.


anf: 20050323/27 Luchaire, F. l’Europe et les pays en voie de développement (Cours au Centre Universitaire de Nancy, 19631964).


anf: 20050323/27 Note sur l’hébergement des stagiaires du centre.

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