By Laurent Jolly
This article analyses the social profile of the French army recruits in East Africa during the colonial period. The analysis uses a sample of over 1 311 individual records of soldiers who had all voluntarily enlisted, unlike soldiers in other parts of the French Empire. The statistical study was supplemented with a field investigation in order to reconstruct individual life courses. A cross study of the statistical and personal data shows the regional migrations and the reasons for these voluntary enlistments. Voluntary service illustrates not only the social actor’s agency, but also the weight of ecological, social and political hazards in this part of Africa, as well as the role of identity factors.