France has granted citizenship to 28  African soldiers who fought in the Second World War. The veterans from Senegal aged between 78 and 90 were given their citizenship certificates by President Francois Hollande who told the press during the ceremony that the French owed the soldiers “a debt of blood’’.

“France is proud to welcome you, just as you were proud to carry its flag, the flag of freedom,” President Hollande told the veterans at the Elysee Palace in Paris the BBC reported.

The citizenship comes with a number of benefits including full pensions. The veterans  previously found it difficult to travel, and with the reward of citizenship, it will ease movement between France and their native country.

For many years France never fully recognized, nor compensated the African war veterans, who gallantly fought during the war.

Rights groups have over the years fervently campaigned and petitioned the French government to recognize soldiers who helped France during the battles against Nazis, where many African soldiers fought and died.

Senegalese soldiers fighting during the World War Two. Photo: Wiki Commons

Poor treatments of WWII African veterans

African troops, mostly from Senegal were recruited, some forcibly by the French colony to fight under the French flag around the world. The soldiers fought in the desert of North Africa, in Germany against Hitler, in the jungles of Burma and against Italian Fascists troops. Many were killed and few survived the deadly battles.

Read: The all but forgotten contribution of African soldiers to the Allied victory in World War II

But the French treatment of its veterans of African origin has been a thorny subject for many decades. After the second World War, many of these soldiers were denied their rights, as they were demanding equality while their French counterparts were rewarded for the same contribution during the war.

According to Richard Fogarty, a Historian of Modern France at the University of Albany in New York, there was racism, and exploitation which included violence when African soldiers advocated for equality,  better treatment and pay.

Read: Ghana Honours Three WWII Veterans Who Sparked the Fight for Independence

About 400 soldiers who demanded for better treatment were mercilessly killed by the French troops when they mutinied over unequal pay and pensions in 1944, and no apology has ever been made by the French government.