Many of the war veterans are Senegalese and between the ages of 78 and 90. "France is proud to welcome you, just as you were proud to carry its flag, the flag of freedom," said President Hollande.
Advocates have long lobbied for the veterans, many of whom are residents of France, to be respectfully and appropriately recognized for their contributions. Deputy mayor of a Paris suburb and the granddaughter of one of the soldiers, Aissatou Seck, has been a lead campaigner for African veterans' rights. Until 2010, they received lower pensions than their French counterparts.
More naturalization ceremonies are expected to follow.
Mohamed Toure, a newly minted citizen of the country for which he risked his life, said the gesture will go some way towards healing old wounds. "President Hollande did what none of his predecessors ever imagined. And that repairs a lot of things," he said.
The veterans have long been struggling for recognition and equality in France. According to BBC Africa editor, Mary Harper, the ambiguity in which they exist is troublesome, since they lacked access to certain benefits and sometimes found it difficult to travel.
In recent years, Hollande acknowledged that French soldiers were responsible for killing their African counterparts in 1944, when they protested over unequal pay and pensions. Many war veterans are still demanding a full apology.
- Countries: Africa