CARTOGRAPHERS who attempt to keep the political map of Africa up to date during the next decade will find it a busy and frustrating task. Four new nations--Libya, the Sudan, Morocco and Tunisia--have already appeared across the northern belt of Africa, and the former Italian colony of Eritrea is now federated with independent Ethiopia. Next in line for similar changes is the middle belt of tropical Africa which includes not only the Gold Coast, Nigeria and Uganda but also the seven diverse trust territories administered by the United Kingdom, France, Belgium and Italy under United Nations supervision.

The speed of this political transformation provides new perspective on a wide range of problems, and it raises anew the question of whether Africa is going too slow or too fast. Too slow or too fast for what? Too slow to satisfy African aspirations? Or too fast to create economically viable and politically stable states? How can the principle of self-determination be effectively applied in a continent so varied that its peoples speak 800 languages? To what extent will irredentist and expansionist movements arise among peoples separated from their kinsmen by arbitrary boundary lines? How far will Communist influence spread when the restraining power of colonial governments is no longer available to curtail it? And what can the West do to ease the transition from the old Africa to the new? Questions like these reveal the need for a United States policy that looks ahead and beyond the end of colonialism in Africa.


The plebiscite supervised by the United Nations in British Togoland on May 9, 1956, was an unprecedented first step toward the achievement of the final goal of the international trusteeship system in leading colonial peoples to self-government or independence. It prepared the way for British Togoland to join the Gold Coast when it becomes the independent state of Ghana on March 6, 1957. Barring the unexpected, this precedent will soon be followed in the British Cameroons, which will join the new Nigeria when the regional quarrels now retarding Nigeria's advance to independence are settled or at least temporarily compromised.

The two neighboring trust territories, French Togoland and French Cameroons, are also moving rapidly toward self-government although their future status is not as clear, partly because of the changing views of their peoples and partly because of the bad relations between France and the U.N. General Assembly on the colonial issue. It is still uncertain whether the Togolanders and Cameroonians will be willing to achieve self-government in a new form of association with France or whether they will ultimately insist on complete independence. At the moment, however, it seems that a majority of Togolanders prefer autonomy within the French Union to either independence or trusteeship status. In a complicated referendum on October 28, 1956, they were given the opportunity to vote either for (a) a new Statute giving them greater self-government within the French Union, and the end of trusteeship, or (b) the maintenance of trusteeship. Valid ballots were cast by 315,532 voters for the new Statute and the end of trusteeship, while only 22,266 voted for the maintenance of the trusteeship. It should be noted, however, that an opposition minority boycotted the referendum, and that the loaded wording of the questions may have influenced some voters to choose the first alternative even if they had no objection to trusteeship; a voter who chose the second alternative, the maintenance of trusteeship, had no way of expressing approval of the political reforms in the new Statute.

The General Assembly will no doubt refuse to terminate the trusteeship agreement at present, despite the wishes of a majority of the inhabitants, because of the arbitrary character of the French procedure. In sharp contrast to the British in their Togoland plebiscite, the French denied the United Nations a voice in framing the questions and shaping the plebiscite arrangements. Although France requested the Trusteeship Council to send observers to the referendum, the Council rejected the invitation because of this arbitrary behavior.

Africans in the three trust territories on the eastern side of the continent have far less training and experience in government than those of the West Coast. By an oddity of history, however, Italian Somaliland is none the less to become the independent state of Somalia on December 2, 1960, under the terms of a unique trusteeship agreement between Italy and the General Assembly which set a ten-year time limit for the achievement of independence. Tanganyika and Ruanda-Urundi may therefore be the only trust territories left in Africa after 1960. Moreover, a much faster rate of political change is about to supplant the slow pace of the past in Tanganyika, and a series of notable policy statements by Belgian parliamentarians, intellectuals and churchmen during 1956 foreshadows political innovations in the Congo and Ruanda-Urundi.

The seven trust territories in Africa contain about 20,000,000 people or 10 percent of the continent's population and 802,744 square miles or 7 percent of its area. Six of them were German colonies for a generation before the First World War, and it is not uncommon today to hear Africans speak favorably of German rule, a roseate image of the past that is in part a subconscious protest against their present rulers. All seven territories have thriving urban centers with many Western-educated Africans, as well as underdeveloped hinterlands inhabited by many diverse tribes of non-literate farmers or herdsmen. The annual discussion of their problems in the Trusteeship Council and the General Assembly enables the outside world to influence the policies of the colonial Powers not only in trust territories but indirectly in other territories as well. Each year it brings to light a mass of detailed information from reports of the administering authorities, reports of the Trusteeship Council's Visiting Missions, thousands of written petitions from trust-territory inhabitants, many oral hearings of Africans, and regular discussions in the Council and Assembly. Observers who have kept up with this continual flow of information for the past decade have had a fine opportunity to watch year by year the remarkable political, economic, social and educational progress of the trust territories.

In the political field, these annual reviews have revealed a steady increase in the number of Africans holding responsible government posts; the widespread development of local government through municipal, district and provincial councils; an increase in the powers of local legislatures; a tremendous extension of the right to vote; and the mushrooming of political parties. Let us examine these political changes territory by territory.


British Togoland, a narrow strip of land about 320 miles long and averaging 40 miles in width, had in mid-1954 an estimated population of 423,000, divided among 23 tribal groups. Its early achievement of self-government is made possible by British policy in the Gold Coast, for British Togoland is administered as an integral part of that territory and has shared its rapid constitutional advance since 1950. It was the scene of intense political excitement during 1956 when the voters, under a system of universal suffrage with secret ballot, twice assembled at the polls. On May 9, in a plebiscite supervised by a United Nations Plebiscite Commissioner with a team of 23 Secretariat officials, 93,095 Togolanders cast their ballots in favor of union of their country with an independent Gold Coast, while 67,492 voted for separation from the Gold Coast and continuation of trusteeship for the time being. A majority in the predominantly Ewe-speaking south, however, voted against union with the Gold Coast. Reassembling on July 19 for the country's second general election (the first was in 1954), the voters reaffirmed their desire for union with the Gold Coast by an even greater majority.

In his detailed report to the United Nations, the Plebiscite Commissioner relates that the voting was featured by "good order and high sense of responsibility, and people literally flocking to the booths at the early hours of the morning." Since a majority of the voters were illiterate, the unionist and separationist groups each campaigned by publicizing a colored symbol to identify its views. When a properly registered voter appeared at a polling booth, he was given a ballot paper with an official mark on it, and his thumb was marked with ink to prevent him from voting again that day. He then took his ballot paper behind a screen where he found two sealed ballot boxes and dropped it, in secret, in the box marked with the colored symbol of his choice. According to the Plebiscite Commissioner, there were practically no "voting offences," which were punishable by £ 100 fine or one year imprisonment and included attempts "to influence the voting by oaths, fetish or gong-gong."

The meaning of the complicated questions was explained to the people in the energetic campaigning of new political parties. The territory's four political associations are largely the outgrowth of a decade of agitation over the Ewe and Togoland unification problem. The All-Ewe Conference was founded in the Gold Coast in 1945 as a cultural organization to campaign for the unification of the Ewe-speaking peoples of the Gold Coast, British Togoland and French Togoland. In 1951, the Togoland Congress was organized to campaign for the unification of the two Togolands. The other two parties are Togoland branches of Gold Coast organizations: the Convention People's Party of Prime Minister Nkrumah, and the Northern People's Party.

During the past decade politics in French Togoland has also revolved around the Ewe and Togoland unification movement. With 50,000 square miles (larger than Pennsylvania) and over a million people, divided among 28 tribal groups, French Togoland has about two and a half times the area and population of its British-administered neighbor. It is also poor, however, and the Trusteeship Council's 1955 Visiting Mission considered that the territory's future progress would be best assured by its association with a larger unit. An "autonomous republic" within the French Union since August 1956, French Togoland has become a pilot project for the implementation of the Overseas Reform Act adopted by the French Parliament on June 23. Although numerous legislative powers are still reserved to the French Parliament, Togoland now has an African Prime Minister and a Legislative Assembly to be elected hereafter for five-year terms by direct, universal suffrage. French territories, unlike the British and Belgian colonies, also elect a small number of representatives to the metropolitan Parliment.

The number of registered voters steadily increased for a decade under a unique system in which the vote was granted to persons having any one of 13 (later increased to 16) qualifications, including mothers of two children who are living or who "died for France." Under the repeated urging of the Trusteeship Council, however, universal suffrage was granted in the 1956 reform. Four political organizations have sprung up in the south and one in the north. Two of them are anti-French in their political orientation while one in the north and one in the south wish to maintain an association with France. A fifth group seeks to achieve a balance between the opposing forces. Bitterness between the rival parties in French Togoland has on several occasions erupted in violence.

British Cameroons, with an area about the size of Maine and a population of 1,460,000, consists of two strips of territory which are geographically separated as well as quite different from each other in peoples, languages and historical traditions. Just as British Togoland has shared in the Gold Coast's march to independence British Cameroons has benefited from similar political changes in neighboring Nigeria. In accordance with its request as expressed at a constitutional conference in 1953, the Northern Cameroons is becoming a part of the Northern Region of Nigeria, while the Southern Cameroons is developing a separate regional government with its own House of Assembly as well as representation in the Nigerian Federal House of Representatives.

A 1954 Order in Council extended the franchise to all British subjects or British protected persons over 21 who pay taxes and who have a residency qualification in, or are native of, a constituency. The excitement of new political opportunities has inspired the establishment of four parties in the Southern Cameroons. The dominant party is the Kamerun National Congress which has 17 members in the Southern Cameroons House of Assembly. With one of the smaller parties, it favors federation with Nigeria, while the two remaining parties want to secede and ultimately amalgamate with an independent French Cameroons. Thus, the Togoland unification movement has inspired a similar effort in the Cameroons, although the latter shows no signs of attaining the strength of the Togoland movement.

The French Cameroons is a triangular area larger than the State of California, with a population of 3,200,000, including such peoples as the Christianized Bamiléké in the south, the pagan Kirdi in the mountainous center, and the Islamized Fulani in the north. Its political evolution after a relatively slow postwar start has picked up new speed in the last 18 months. The 1956 introduction of universal suffrage will increase the number of eligible voters from 757,000 to an estimated 1,500,000. Among the many political organizations that have sprung up since 1946, the Union des Populations du Cameroun is the best known, not because of its numerical strength, which is small, but because of its extremism. Its leaders appear to get their inspiration if not their orders from French Communist Party headquarters in Paris, although its followers are probably motivated more by nationalist than Communist sentiments. In May 1955, riots precipitated by the U.P.C. resulted in a number of deaths and the party was subsequently outlawed.

Shortly after the adoption of the Overseas Reform Act in June 1956, however, a new Governor amnestied the U.P.C. leaders. Meanwhile, Mr. Soppo Priso, President of the Territorial Assembly, who was formerly considered a moderate by the French, had already begun an attempt to unite a number of parties in a national union movement, possibly to forestall the revival of the U.P.C. As a rallying point, Soppo Priso surprisingly launched a campaign against the Overseas Reform Act and called for a special assembly to negotiate a new political settlement with France. As in other revolutionary situations, politics in the Cameroons continues to move to the left. In the past, France has controlled its African territories partly by its ability in educating a small élite with a high degree of French culture. As education spreads, however, the large number of half-educated Africans are unlikely to develop the same attachment to France.


In eastern Africa, Italian Somaliland is an arid country of 50,000 square miles and 1,270,000 people, about 70 percent of whom are nomadic or semi-nomadic pastoralists whose fights over water holes for their cattle have been among the matters of concern to the Trusteeship Council. Its meager resources, barring the possible discovery of oil, seriously limit its future. In recent years, about half its revenues have come from an Italian subsidy, and both the United Nations and the Somali leaders are now worried about the territory's financial position when it becomes an independent state in 1960, as provided in the trusteeship agreement between Italy and the General Assembly.

Italy has pushed rapidly ahead to train Somalis to govern themselves, and the 1954 Visiting Mission was much impressed by the "high degree of political party activity throughout the territory." The most striking political development in 1956 was the election in February to fill the 70 seats in a new Legislative Assembly with power to make the territory's laws. In 45 municipalities the people voted directly for their candidates, while in 616 shirs or tribal councils 772,183 voters elected delegates who cast their votes for the candidates in a secret ballot on election day. The next Legislative Assembly will be chosen in 1958 entirely by direct elections with male suffrage. To head this new political system the Italians have appointed a Somali Government of six ministers, including 34-year-old Prime Minister Abdullahi Issa, who has appeared on numerous occasions in the Trusteeship Council and General Assembly as an oral petitioner.

Intense interest in politics has produced 20 political parties and groups, although six of them recently united in the Somali Democratic Party which won three seats in the 1956 elections. The dominant party, winner of 43 seats, is the Somali Youth League, a cultural organization which went into politics at the end of the war. The 1954 Visiting Mission felt that the concern expressed by political parties over specific problems, their intense desire to see development measures get under way, and their desire to collaborate with the administration to this end have made parties "a highly useful means of introducing and fostering measures for political, social and economic development." Of considerable interest as a possible foretaste of things to come in Africa's emerging states is a recent request to the Trusteeship Council by 25 Somalis for help in persuading the Italian administration to authorize the establishment of a "Moslem Somali Communist Party." A Somali irredentist movement is also in the cards since one of the main principles of the Somali Youth League is the unification of all the Somalis now living in Ethiopia, Kenya and the three Somalilands.

British-administered Tanganyika tops all the trust territories in both area and population. More than 8,000,000 people inhabit its 362,000 square miles (the size of Texas and Arizona combined), but it has vast arid spaces along with pockets of population and productive land. With a total European population of 22,500, it is the only trust territory whose problems are complicated by the presence of European settlers, about 3,000 of whom hope to maintain permanent homes in the pleasant highlands of the interior. Race relations in the territory, which also contains 90,000 Asians, have thus far been relatively good, partly because Tanganyika does not yet have political campaigns and elections like those of the West African territories. The Legislative Council is composed of 61 members, all of whom are either government officials or are appointed by the Governor. The Governor relies on 31 of them to support government policy, and the remaining 30 are appointed on a controversial "parity" formula--ten Africans, ten Asians and ten Europeans. The Government is attempting to develop the territory along inter-racial lines and has explained that while parity is not a permanent feature it was designed to last for a considerable period and is a necessary transitional provision based on the contribution each race can make to the development of Tanganyika. Most United Nations Members, however, believe that Tanganyika should be developed as a "primarily African state," and they continually urge the administering authority to increase the number of African representatives in the Legislative Council.

Political advancement has been slow in Tanganyika for a variety of reasons, including the benevolent paternalism of an administration which believes that slow and steady progress is a sound principle. A new era, however, has already dawned in Tanganyika politics. In April 1956, the Governor announced that in 1958 direct elections on a common roll would be held for certain seats in the Legislative Council, presumably still under the parity formula. While this decision is only a small beginning, it has given new life to Tanganyika political organizations. The Tanganyika African National Union, which organized 29 registered branches between January 1955 and April 1956 (six others were refused registration), is rapidly growing. Its President, Julius Nyerere, is another of the increasing number of oral petitioners who have come to the United Nations. Its hopes were raised by the 1954 Visiting Mission which expressed the belief, with one of its four members dissenting, that self-government was "within the reach of the people of Tanganyika much earlier" than the 20 to 25 years the Mission had suggested for Ruanda-Urundi. Its chief rival for African allegiance is the United Tanganyika Party, a multi-racial group which the Government evidently hopes to build up as a counter-attraction.

The most densely populated territory in all of Africa is Ruanda-Urundi, whose more than 4,200,000 inhabitants live in an attractive highland area smaller than the State of West Virginia. Belgian policy has achieved notable successes in economic and social development but, in sharp contrast with British and French policy, has withheld political rights and experience from the inhabitants and has kept them away from higher education. In Ruanda-Urundi, this authoritarian system is facilitated by an indigenous society in which a small aristocratic class, the tall Watusi high-jumping warriors of movie fame, seeks to preserve its privileged position. Thus far the Belgian system has worked relatively well. The real test of its quality, however, may lie in the future. If pressure for political advance pushes the Congo and Ruanda-Urundi into self-government much earlier than the Belgians anticipate, the indigenous peoples will have had far less training and experience in modern politics and government than the Africans in British and French territories.

Partly as a result of pressure from the United Nations, however, the Belgians have begun to appoint Africans to responsible government posts and to reform local government. They have also opened two universities in the Congo, which is linked in an administrative union with Ruanda-Urundi. Moreover, a remarkable evolution in Belgian and Congolese thinking about the political future came to light in 1956. In February the Social Christian Party concluded that the time had come for Belgium to start the political education of the Congolese, and a member of the faculty of the University Institute for Overseas Territories at Antwerp published a booklet proposing a plan for the political emancipation of the Congo in 30 years. At the end of June a special congress of the Socialist Party endorsed eventual autonomy for the Congo and Ruanda-Urundi. And on July 1 a declaration of Catholic bishops expressed general approval of the right of the inhabitants of a country to take part in the conduct of their public affairs. At the same time, and quite startling for the Congo, a small group of educated Congolese published in an African periodical called Conscience Africaine a manifesto calling for a plan for political emancipation. Finally, in August, a cultural association of the Bacongo people named the Abako criticized the Conscience Africaine manifesto for its moderation and urged the development of African political parties.


Although the political excitement in the trust territories is a part of the general awakening of postwar Africa, the United Nations is responsible for intensifying this agitation. Six of the African trust territories have been toured three times by Visiting Missions of the Trusteeship Council, and Italian Somaliland on two occasions. These visits are great events in Africa and they convey to the people, as the League could never do, the idea that the outside world wants them to advance. The Missions are deluged with many thousands of oral requests and written communications, and thousands of other complaints are sent directly to the Trusteeship Council. The full enormity of this mass of petitions became apparent to the Trusteeship Council at its spring session in 1956 when an estimated 35,000 communications from the French Cameroons arrived in New York, and the Council was informed by the Secretariat that the normal processing of these documents would be such a vast undertaking that it would be almost impossible to recruit the staff required.

The United Nations has also stirred up political activity by granting a growing number of African requests for oral hearings before the Trusteeship Council and General Assembly. By mid-1956, 22 African organizations had sent petitioners to the Trusteeship Council and 47 to the General Assembly. Although the petitioners rarely get what they ask for, their trips stimulate much excitement at home and often pay the petitioners handsome political rewards. Two of them have since become prime ministers and others have built up large political followings. They were also quick to learn that they have more protagonists in the Assembly than in the Council, and practically all of them now come to the Assembly where they can tell their stories to representatives of 79 nations instead of 14.

A decade of trusteeship has highlighted many problems of both Africa and the United Nations. Perhaps the best illustration of these problems is found in the history of the Ewe and Togoland unification movements, a baffling issue that has gone through three stages in the United Nations and has graphically demonstrated some of the limitations on the application of the principle of self-determination.

First of all, the movement which originated as an effort to unify the Ewe-speaking peoples of the southern sections of French Togoland, British Togoland and the Gold Coast has been so volatile that it has dramatized the meaning and extent of change itself in Africa today. Togoland is in such a state of flux that the people themselves, to say nothing of the United Nations, do not understand all its implications. When it became clear that a majority of Togolanders opposed Ewe unification, the Ewe leaders found it expedient to join forces with a new movement to unite the two Togolands. Then the attraction of Gold Coast independence began to pull British Togoland westward, thereby nullifying the Togoland unification movement. The confusing experience of the United Nations with the problem is one of the factors that has dampened its interest in the budding unification movement in the two Cameroons.

Secondly, the Togoland experience has illustrated the complexity of a variety of problems common to most of Africa. It has revealed the differences between the ambitious educated leaders of the coastal regions and urban centers and the more conservative tribesmen of the hinterland. It has made the United Nations begin to reflect on the problem of financing the development of small countries with meager resources. And it has jolted the anti-colonial Members with the discovery that universal suffrage can produce unexpected results in non-literate societies. When the right to vote was limited to an educated electorate of only 8,000, an anti-French party dominated French Togoland politics. When the electorate was expanded to bring in the hinterland peoples, the pro-French party rose to power.

In the third place, Togoland developments are significant because of the precedents they have set for other territories. When neighboring Dahomey heard about the new status granted French Togoland, its Territorial Assembly adopted a resolution in September 1956 asking for the same concessions. In the Gold Coast, the Mamprusi paramount chief, objecting to the projected incorporation of the Northern Territories into an independent Gold Coast, reminded the Governor that the people of British Togoland had at least been given "an opportunity . . . to decide their own fate by means of a plebiscite." When plebiscites under United Nations supervision are held in other trust territories the impact of this precedent will no doubt spread.

A fourth lesson the trusteeship experience has emphasized is that Africa is loaded with potential unificationist and irredentist movements. All over the continent arbitrary political boundaries cut across ethnic and linguistic lines. As Togoland shows, unification movements sometimes set frustrating and unrealizable goals that produce rivalry and bitterness and even bloodshed among Africans. By providing a forum in which unificationist demands can be publicized and win the support of at least a few Members, the United Nations helps to incite such demands.

Finally, a decade of controversy over colonial questions has revealed the depth of the emotions which divide the colonial and anti-colonial Powers, and has weakened the United Nations by shaking the confidence and coöperation of its Members. The colonial Powers now regard the United Nations as a "necessary evil" and they fight any extension of its activities as a slippery slope to something worse. The controversy has also exposed the mixed motives of the anti-colonial Members: a sincere desire to help colonial peoples; a deeply emotional resentment of the "Daddy-knows-best" paternalism from which they recently suffered themselves; a carefully calculated plan, abetted by certain officials in the United Nations Secretariat, to extend the colonial machinery and functions of the United Nations as far as possible without arousing the administering authorities to boycott the machinery; and a vicarious enjoyment in using the symbol of colonialism as a stick with which the underdogs of the world can beat the top dogs over the head.

The emotional and sometimes intemperate partisanship of many United Nations Members has led some observers to call for a return to the idea of impartial experts embodied in the Permanent Mandates Commission of the League of Nations. It is an impractical idea, however, because it disregards the profound changes in the composition and political climate of the society of nations since the days of the League. Impartial experts would be unable to insulate themselves from this new political climate without being ignored. Moreover, even if the recommendations of the Mandates Commission experts were less resented than those of the Trusteeship Council politicians, it does not necesarily follow that they were more effective. The occasional biting edge in trusteeship recommendations provokes emotional reactions, but it has an indirect psychological effect in provoking the colonial Powers to move faster, if only to show that criticisms in the United Nations are often unfair.


The depth of these conflicting emotions on the colonial issue is partly responsible for the dilemma that confronts the United States in shaping a policy toward Africa. Our present policy is highly frustrating because it dissatisfies the American people, disappoints our friends in the Arab-Asian-African world, and irritates our European allies. It is condemned by some critics as no policy at all, and by others as a "crisis" policy that goes into operation only on the eve of disaster. Although seldom specific as to what they have in mind, these critics often plead for a "dynamic" policy. They seem to assume that because our present policy pleases no one, a better policy must be available.

The United States does have an African policy, or at least a policy on colonialism, tortuously elaborated since 1950 in statements by Secretaries of State Acheson and Dulles, and three Assistant Secretaries of State in charge of African affairs. As one of the outstanding and constantly recurring issues of foreign policy, the colonial question is under continual examination at lower government levels and more and more frequently at the top. The policy which has come out of these deliberations is veiled in ambiguity and expressed in generalities that have lost their glitter, but its essence is that the United States supports the goal of self-government or independence for all peoples who have the desire and the capacity to maintain it. In government circles this is called a balanced or middle-of-the-road policy of constructive moderation. The public calls it fence-sitting. There is an element of truth in both descriptions.

Whatever it is called, it is certainly not "dynamic." But it is a definite policy, even if ambiguous, and extraordinarily difficult and painful to carry out. It seeks to maintain a balance between our interest in supporting the traditional principle of self-determination and our interest in defending the free world against the threat of Soviet imperialism. Both are moral goals even if they sometimes conflict. The facts cited in this article indicate that the pace of Africa's advance toward self-determination is already phenomenal, at least in certain territories. If Africa were static, the argument for faster progress would carry more weight. As the social anthropologists are continually pointing out, however, African society is in a state of transition in which the restraints and disciplines of the old social order are breaking down. What is now needed in much of Africa is not faster political advance but a still greater effort to build economic and educational foundations for the social cohesion necessary to make freedom meaningful.

A policy with this objective will not win the United States much popularity but it is at least worthy of respect. In any case we cannot win the support of the Arab-Asian-African world simply by abandoning the middle of the road on the colonial question. The issues that divide the West and the non-Western world are far deeper. The West would still be white and industrial and relatively rich, while the non-Western world would still be colored and agricultural and poor. This is a dilemma we must learn to live with. As long as the United States is the richest and most powerful country in the world, it can win few popularity contests, to say nothing of the enemies it makes on issues like Israel and Suez.

The above considerations would still be valid even if the United States did not need military bases, strategic materials and a strong Western defense in Europe. But we do need these things, and the European colonial Powers are still our most valuable allies against the Soviet threat despite our break with them over the Egyptian crisis. Moreover, their belief in the superiority of their own methods of liquidating colonialism is so emotional that their solidarity with us against Soviet imperialism would further weaken if we pushed them too far on the colonial issue. The United States cannot effectively exercise the leadership that history has placed on its shoulders if it ignores or runs roughshod over an important element of its following.

The outmoded colonial relationship is rapidly coming to an end in Africa, and the timing of the transition will be little affected in any case by American policy. Obviously, however, this is no time for complacency. Within the limitations outlined above, there is ample room for improvement of our African policy on three fronts--at home, in Africa and in the United Nations. At home, we must try to develop the right general attitude toward Africa. Both government and private organizations should improve their knowledge of Africa and expand their machinery for dealing with African affairs. Our approach to Africa would be more effective if the American people could be made to realize that Africans are not inferior, but only different. We must also learn that the future of Africa will be shaped by the Africans, either in coöperation or conflict with their European rulers, and that our power to influence the course of events is limited. We must expect surprises and learn to roll with the punches, and to understand that today's policy may be out of date tomorrow. And we must reconcile ourselves to the fact that Africa's emerging states are unlikely to be very democratic or even politically stable. Finally we can enhance our prestige in Africa and the Arab-Asian world by a more vigorous fight against racial discrimination at home and a more systematic effort to advance our own territories to self-government, including statehood for Alaska and Hawaii.

In Africa, the two best opportunities for the United States lie in the expansion of economic aid and technical assistance, and in the further development of educational exchange. In addition to helping African colonies to the fullest practicable extent, we should explore the possibility of a dramatic program of economic aid and educational exchange for Africa's growing number of independent states. We should not be deterred by the fact that financial aid is not always fully appreciated by its recipients. Educational exchange also has outstanding potentialities. The more Africans there are who know Americans as personal friends, the more difficult it will be for Africa to conjure up an impersonal image of the United States as a financial octopus. The exchange-of-persons program should be expanded not only by the Government but through private efforts by philanthropic foundations and by organizations like the People-to-People movement launched in September 1956.

In the United Nations, the United States should have the imagination and generosity to channel a larger proportion of its economic aid through U.N. organs despite their limitations. On the heated colonial issue, the Government should do everything possible to establish and maintain a policy that is not only moderate and constructive but "independent," that is to say, a policy that sets us apart from both the colonial and anti-colonial blocs and, in particular, keeps us from being stereotyped as a supporter of colonialism. At the same time we should try to judge each issue more on its merits and less on the desire either to court popularity or to pose as the arbitrator and compromiser of all colonial disputes. An effective step in this direction was the recent United States proposal for the establishment of intermediate targets and dates for the political advancement of trust territories, a proposal which aroused angry protests from our European allies but helped to reëstablish our independent position without really damaging their legitimate interests. A more clearly delineated and better recognized independent policy would also give the United States more flexibility to adapt itself to future surprises. As Africa has already proved, American policy must be geared for quick change.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • VERNON McKAY, Professor of African Studies, School of Advanced International Studies of The Johns Hopkins University; formerly Deputy Director of the Office of Dependent Area Affairs, Department of State
  • More By Vernon McKay