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American Policy in Africa

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The United States is far freer from commitments in Africa south of the Sahara than in any other region of the world. Everywhere else American policy operates in a setting of old-established friendships and understandings, supplemented in the postwar years by a network of alliances such as those creating NATO, CENTO and SEATO; and American bases are scattered about the globe. In Africa to an unprecedented degree the United States is not bound by established positions or traditions, by fixed agreements or vested interests. While in any given situation it may find itself hemmed in by extra-African considerations and by the particular circumstances of the case, it still has a unique freedom, indeed a necessity, constantly to create policies to meet the issues presented by what for American diplomacy is virtually a new continent.

Although the United States has long been associated with some parts of North Africa, it is very much a newcomer to sub-Saharan Africa. The American interest in Africa-emotional, intellectual and political-has grown monumentally in the last years, but concrete and identifiable American interests are sparse. Although the United States is now being pilloried as the leader among the neo-colonialists, seeking to exploit the newly independent peoples, the actual American stake in Africa is relatively slight. In 1960 the whole of the continent, including the U.A.R., took only 4 percent of the exports of the United States and supplied only 3.7 percent of American imports. An impressive list of minerals and other raw materials of which Africa is a major supplier can be drawn up, but one is presumably still justified in maintaining, as did Andrew N. Kamarck of the International Bank in 1958, that "We could get along without African commodities and African markets with an imperceptible ripple in our standard of living."

On the score of private investment the story is much the same. In round figures it is estimated that of the $30,000,000,000 which Americans have invested abroad less than $850,000,000 has found its way to Africa-again, speaking of the entire continent. This contrasts with an American investment of over $10,000,000,000 In Canada and more than $8,000,000,000 in Latin America. While it is true that American investments in Africa are increasing, the increase is slow; political instability and the tendency toward a leftward drift cannot inspire great confidence among foreign investors. Furthermore, much of the investment which Africa most gravely needs, and which would prepare the way for other investment, has no charms for the private investor since it concerns such non-profitable spheres as education, health and sanitation, housing, and transport and communications.

From a military standpoint the United States appears to attach no great importance to Africa-save, of course, in terms of the negative consideration that in the cold war era no piece of real estate can be lightly allowed to drift into the hands of the enemy. American bases have been established only in Morocco (whence they will soon be withdrawn in compliance with the request of the Moroccan government), Libya and Ethiopia, and none exists south of the Sahara. For the foreseeable future the continent is unlikely to be equipped with significant military forces, and the manpower on which the imperial powers have drawn for their recent wars will no longer be available to them. Apart from its material resources, what Africa primarily has to offer is strategic depth for America's European allies-granted that its vast expanses remain in relatively friendly hands.

Of other specific commitments there are almost none except the old-standing attachments to Liberia. These date from the origin of the country as a depository for freed American slaves and have, in a somewhat fitful fashion, been maintained ever since. American economic interests play a large role, and in 1959 a defense agreement was signed under which the two countries pledged themselves to consult if Liberia were attacked or threatened by attack.

For the rest, American commitments in relation to Africa are couched in the general terms of assurances of good will and support for legitimate aspirations. We have also repeatedly asserted that we back the right of self-determination for all peoples ready and able to assume its responsibilities, and have promised assistance in the drive for development. The scale of American aid to Africa has so far been trifling in comparison with our largesse elsewhere, but as the number of independent African states multiplies, the American aid program expands.

The United States is, of course, involved with Africa in a number of other ways but not in such fashion as to create further commitments or vested interests. American missionaries have been engaged in Africa for decades and continue active there. African students have been coming to this country for many years and in 1960-61 the number rose to 2,831 in American colleges, a gain of 44 percent over the previous academic year, but even this figure represents only a small fraction of the 53,107 foreign students reported as enrolled here. In the reverse flow, American researchers, students and travellers have been flocking to Africa in unprecedented numbers of late. The establishment of embassies in newly independent countries, and the expansion of consulates elsewhere, has brought a great increase in official contacts with Africa, which finds its counterpart in the recently opened African embassies in Washington.

In human terms by far the most significant American involvement with Africa is the fact that one-tenth of the population of the United States traces at least some part of its ancestry to Africa. The interaction of Africans and American Negroes is of long standing, and the emergence of Africa into the headlines in the last decade has inevitably enhanced American Negro interest. In the flood of American visitors to Africa, many have been Negroes, some in search of their identity in a world which still only grudgingly acknowledges their right to an equal share in it.

It needs no underlining that the domestic racial difficulties of the United States curtail the possible success of American policies in Africa. Little Rock has entered into the international vocabulary. While only a few Africans, ranging from ambassadors to students, have direct experience of the American practice of racial discrimination, almost all are exposed to the news of it which rapidly spreads around the world. So long as men's lives are prejudiced by the color of their skins the American standing in Africa will rest on shaky foundations.


Two large and familiar features of the international scene impinge so sharply on American policy as to deserve special mention.

The first is the fact that the imperial powers which carved up Africa among them remain the principal allies of the United States. NATO, embracing these powers, is the cornerstone of the coalition which the United States has shaped to meet the Communist challenge, and Britain and France are our closest friends. The effect on American policy is to introduce a note of uncertainty and ambiguity. We can neither wholly deny the claims of friends and allies nor turn our backs upon the Africans at the bidding of the present or former colonial powers. The acceptance of the end of colonialism by the powers other than Portugal has blurred the sharp lines of controversy, but the white settler areas remain as trouble centers, and disagreements can easily break out over differing views of Africa's proper future and the role that outside countries might play.

The general rule must surely be that decisions on African matters should rest on a consideration primarily of American and African interests and not those of third parties. Since the American national interest, however, involves other matters than African independence and well-being, cases will inevitably arise in which the urgent demands of an ally will force a decision different from that which African considerations alone would dictate. An alliance has its obligations no less than a devotion to freedom from colonialism. If the cherished concerns of one partner were thought to be cavalierly overridden, the effectiveness of an alliance might be seriously impaired, if not wholly cancelled out.

Furthermore, if the direct American interests and commitments in Africa are slight and amorphous, this is by no means true for America's allies who continue to have very extensive and even vital African interests of many kinds. Some measure of resentment seems unavoidable as the United States intrudes itself on what were their private preserves, including the suspicion that one of the American purposes is to squeeze the Europeans out, leaving the field clear for American enterprise and political supremacy. In some instances the American interest reaches embarrassingly beyond the category of support for an ally's needs; examples are the direct strategic value of the Azores to the United States, despite Portugal's African shortcomings, or the need for de Gaulle's collaboration in the Berlin crisis, despite the bloody battle at Bizerte.

Obviously, head-on clashes should be avoided wherever possible, by the fullest private consultation on questions of significant concern to our allies. Quiet work behind the scenes-of a kind which is in fact constantly being undertaken-is likely to be far more useful than outright public opposition. But it must be recognized at the outset that, whichever way the game is played, Europeans or Africans will find themselves disaffected where the United States takes sides or refrains from taking sides, thus perhaps offending both.

The second feature which conditions American policy is the existence of the Communist bloc, so short a time ago much more remote from Africa than even the United States and now beginning to establish itself as a major rival to the West. Anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist, uninhibited enemies of colonialism and self-proclaimed protectors of all underdogs not within the Communist orbit, the U.S.S.R. and China have an inescapable appeal to non- white peoples in process of breaking loose from the domination of white capitalist empires. Although they have still not spread themselves as widely as has the United States, the members of the Communist bloc are also in full swing of establishing embassies in Africa, furnishing aid, sending out and receiving missions, propagandizing and drawing African students to their universities.

By turns the Soviet Union puts itself forth as representing the polar extreme of everything characteristic of America and as being the true champion of the ideals which the United States pretends to stand for. Thus American democracy is a democracy of fraud and oppression as compared with the real article in the Communist countries; independence granted under American or other Western auspices is a sham to conceal continued domination -although here the Chinese position is more militant and rigidly orthodox than that of Moscow; and the Western pretense of aiding economic development only masks an exploitation which is up to the same old tricks.


It has been said with considerable justice that American policy in Africa is marked by its moderation and responsibility, but regrettably, even when their existence is acknowledged, these are not virtues which necessarily endear the policy to those affected by it. Thus Africans have accused the United States of exercising moderation primarily in the restraint shown in backing African causes and of assuming that its responsibilities ran rather to its European allies than to African states and peoples, while the imperial powers have deplored the irresponsibility with which Americans have encouraged African nationalism.

A summary comparison of the Communist and American positions in relation to Africa brings into sharper focus where the United States stands. American policy has the earmarks of moderation and responsibility in that it seeks an orderly transition from colonialism to independence, stable governments promoting development, and the maintenance of friendly ties between the new states and their former colonial rulers. The Soviet Union, with everything to gain and almost nothing to lose in Africa, urges self-determination as a means of bringing about the revolutionary overthrow of the imperial authorities, and concentrates on widening the breach between Africa and the West. Save where their friends are in power, the Communists back continuing revolution in Africa confident that they will be the ones to pick up the pieces.

A specific example of how the two positions diverge may be found in a trivial episode. When G. Mennen Williams, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, visited East Africa early in 1961, he created two mildly embarrassing situations for himself. In Nairobi, then engaged in a hotly contested election, he declared that America stood for "Africa for the Africans." When this was greeted with professions of shocked surprise in London and by the white community in Kenya, he retreated to the explanation that he had, of course, not meant that Africa should be only for the black Africans but for all its inhabitants, whatever their color. In Uganda, soon thereafter, he warned the Africans that when independence came their way they would not want to exchange one tyranny for another. The warning against the new tyranny which might follow independence caused no difficulty, but Mr. Williams felt it necessary to issue prompt assurance that he naturally had not meant to characterize the existing British rule as tyranny. In both instances the second version was more acceptable than the first and more properly represented the moderate and responsible American position; but is it conceivable that in either instance a Communist spokesman could have withdrawn from the original statement? He would have said "Africa for the Africans" and "tyranny" and stuck by it.

It was characteristic of the two countries that in 1960, when the General Assembly debated the declaration on colonial independence, the Soviet bloc went all out for immediate freedom for colonies while the United States backed and filled, and ultimately abstained in the company not only of its NATO allies but also of Spain, Portugal, South Africa and the Dominican Republic. Here, if the reports which circulate are correct, was a splendid example of the fact and the folly of yielding to the pleas of an ally. The Kennedy Administration would presumably have taken a different line; Africans noted with appreciation that the new United States delegation did in fact line up against Portugal on the Angolan issue. But their fears that the New Frontier might after all represent no fundamental change were fed by such things as the Portuguese use against the Angolan rebels of NATO arms supplied from the United States, the American abstention in August in the Assembly vote on Bizerte, and by the Cuban invasion fiasco.

The traditional American hostility to colonialism has lost its vigor just at the time that the attack upon the colonial system has become most universal and successful The undiscriminating damnation of colonialism, expected as a ritual matter of course by the Africans, comes harder to Americans, in part because they are beginning to have second thoughts on the subject in the light of actual events, and in part because the demands of ordinary courtesy make it difficult to denounce as wholly evil what their allies are inclined to point to with pride.

In a broader setting, the softening of the attitude toward colonialism is only one phase of the general American turn toward conservatism in world affairs. In its least palatable aspect this has brought the United States into alliance with right-wing dictators and authoritarian régimes around the world, provided they were prepared to proclaim their anti-Communism loudly enough. President Kennedy has occasionally singled out the revolutionary element in the American tradition as one to which we should return, but, given the present situation at home and abroad, it is dubious that the United States can or will actively embrace his proposal His Administration has adopted a more positive and flexible policy toward Africa, and Africans have expected great things of it, but the basic American positions remain unchanged. Where the Communists boast of violent revolution, we currently Incline to shrink from it. In so far as we support self-determination we are associated with revolutionary forces; but we are conservative in our effort to preserve what we find good in the colonial régimes and the heritage they leave behind them.

Beyond that, the United States may still be held to be revolutionary in the example it sets as the most successful practitioner of the modern rationalized society and economy. In place of the old order everywhere, it promotes the substitution of a new and dynamic economy and a political system which accepts the distinctive identity of the individual, runs by the rule of law, and has at least a reasonable facsimile of democracy in it. The American past and present contain legitimately revolutionary elements such as these, but, in a transformed world, the radical liberalism for which the United States stood has been elbowed over to a position on the right where it is likely to be regarded in contemporary terms as conservatism. American enthusiasm for a free-enterprise economy, the backing for established and respectable elements in society and government, and the insistent harping on the sins and dangers of Communism all tend to remove the United States from meaningful identification with the new forces rising in Africa.


Another significant reason for a conservative American attitude is that the over-all balance in the countries of tropical Africa now tends to be favorable to the United States, while any marked change in it is likely to represent a slipping away toward the left, which would be at least potentially disadvantageous to the West. The United States will probably have to run fast to stay in as good a position as it holds now.

The present favorable position derives not only from the accumulated store of popular good will toward Americans but also from the fact that the transition from colonial rule to independence has in so many cases been made on the basis of amicable agreement. This has meant that with few exceptions the first heirs of empire have been men of temperate views who looked on the West in tolerant fashion, or at least without overt hostility, and were prepared to enter into some sort of collaborative relationship with the former colonial power-particularly, no doubt, while it continued as a source of economic and technical assistance. The readiness of the African leaders to work with the West, and the United States in particular, differs from time to time and place to place, but in the large the record is impressive, if allowance is made for the necessity occasionally to denounce colonialism and the threatening intrigues of the imperialists.

In the brief span since 1957 when the Gold Coast started the landslide toward African independence, only Ghana, Guinea and Mali-the three sub- Saharan members of the Casablanca group- have moved far toward curtailing their attachments to the West. None of them, however, has made anything like a formal entry into the Communist bloc, nor would it make any sense to write them off as lost. Elsewhere the extent of friendly intercourse between the Western powers and the ex-dependencies is, if anything, greater than could reasonably be expected, considering how profoundly colonialism is detested. All the African countries have exhibited a greater or less drift toward neutralism, but in the first stages at least, this has usually been a neutralism shaded in favor of the West.

The prospects for the future must be accounted less cheerful. The United States has already experienced a not inconsiderable loss of standing with many Africans, a disillusionment deriving often from the ambivalence of the American position. The unhappy affairs of the Congo contributed markedly to this, and in particular the assassination of Lumumba for which many held the United States responsible. In the eyes of most Africans, Lumumba was the chosen national leader of the Congo and the defender of its unity, but the United States was clearly on the record as opposing him and backing Kasavubu; it was accused of collaborating with Belgium and condoning Katangan separatism.

The decline in American stature was reflected in the strongly anti-American tone of the third All-African Peoples' Conference, held in Cairo in March 1961, and attended by some 70 delegations from 35 or more African countries. Far from being hailed as the great and good friend of African freedom, the United States was attacked as the ringleader of the neo- colonial conspiracy which, while bowing to the inevitability of recognizing national independence, tries, as a key resolution put it, "to deprive this independence of its essence of real independence . . . through economic and political intervention, intimidation and blackmail. . . ." Observers from the United States were dismayed to find that they were shunned even by their friends among the Africans at the conference. It may be contended that no great importance should be attached to this conference because of its failure to reflect currently dominant African opinion. Undoubtedly it was too heavily weighted on the left, the more moderate parties and movements being largely absent or silenced. None the less, I believe that most recent observers of Africa would agree that the conference reflected the mood of many of the rising younger forces in Africa which will take over in the years ahead.

If it is necessary, as I fear it is, to be pessimistic about the immediate future of at least some of the African societies, overwhelmed by problems beyond their grasp, then the likelihood is that the position of the West will progressively deteriorate. Judging from experience elsewhere and in the light of actual African conditions, one can only assume that in a number of instances the brave hopes for economic development will dwindle away and that such fruits as are produced will go to the few and not to the many. Some of the new African governments seem sure to decline into lethargy, corruption and nepotism, as similar governments have so often done in other parts of the world. Where such backsliding occurs the prospects are that it is the Communist bloc which will profit rather than the West.

It is easy to talk of a leftward drift in Africa, but more difficult to determine whether the standard categories of "left" and "right" are meaningful in the African connection, and if so, what it is that they signify. From the American standpoint the one matter of paramount importance is that Africa in its parts and as a whole be preserved from ending up in the Communist camp. A question to which Washington should be essentially indifferent is the extent to which African countries move toward a mixed or a Socialist economy; the presumption must be that, for both ideological and highly pragmatic reasons, governments will play a very large role in the economic sphere. In other words, there is a large margin of leftward drift, in the conventional use of the term, which we should not only not oppose but should actively assist if we want to keep in touch with the vital realities of Africa.

Wherever possible the non-Communist left is surely to be dealt with as a friend and not rejected as an enemy, but much of what may be categorized as the "left" sets off with a chip on its shoulder as far as the West is concerned. To many of the rising young people of Africa, the capitalist, NATO-oriented United States represents, or can easily be made out to represent, the old world of colonialism, oppression and discrimination, whereas the U.S.S.R. and China, themselves underdeveloped peoples thrusting vigorously forward into the modern world, seem new and inspiring champions of the underdog, breaking the chains of the old order. The furor which exploded in Ibadan over the incautious Peace Corps postcard can be taken as a good demonstration of the resentments and frustrations which are building up and of the suspicious antagonism to the West which smolders under cover, where it has not burst into open flame. The "progressive" Casablanca group has its adherents everywhere, and is, on the face of it, more likely to enlist the enthusiasm of the young than its more moderate Monrovia counterpart, although it should be added that the line between the two contingents is by no means fixed and stable. It would be amazing if in the near future some of the ex-French territories did not try to end or diminish their present dependence on France and open their door to the Communist bloc's trade and aid.

Two countervailing, and perhaps decisive, items should be borne in mind. In the first place, there is no faintest reason to think that African leaders or peoples want to abandon their newfound independence in favor of control by either or both of the Communist giants. Having thrown off colonialism they want to explore the whole expanse and variety of what the world has to offer; there is much in the Communist experiments to interest them; and they want to pass up no benefits which may come their way, particularly if those benefits also bolster them against their former colonial masters. But to sacrifice Africa and Pan-Africanism to Russian or Chinese domination is a very different matter. Secondly, the U.S.S.R. and China can also make mistakes and by their miscalculations and their heavy-handedness alienate those whom they seek to win. The U.A.R and Iraq, to name only two, seemed to teeter on the edge of the Communist abyss, but they pulled back, leaving Moscow far from happy at the impermanence of the gains it had made and at the opportunities it had muffed.


The central question is whether Africa's leftist revolution and the United States of the twentieth century can mix. Serious barriers unquestionably block the way.

Precisely what has been described as the moderate and responsible character of American policy-its critics will find less flattering adjectives for it- may prove to be its greatest handicap. It is a policy which has its admirable features since, at its best, it proposes that Africans, having achieved their legitimate freedom, should be aided to build on what is already available in order to advance by orderly and peaceful stages to more adequate governments and more prosperous economies. But the cautious and hesitant way in which the United States moves toward these goals and the partners in whose company it travels inhibit intimate collaboration with the emerging leaders of the African countries.

In Africa, and elsewhere as well, a peculiar dilemma plagues American policy. The paramount American concern is that Africa be preserved from falling into Communist hands, but this is a concern which has little or no appeal to Africans and even alienates those whom we are trying to win. Africans sense no urgent threat from Moscow or Peking; they resent American attempts to rescue them from an unfeared fate and consider it an effort to embroil them in a remote international conflict of which they want no part. They are aware of many burning issues with which they must deal, but anti- Communism is not one of them. Sékou Touré has protested that Africans should not be asked whether they adhere to East or West, but that East and West should answer up to the question, "Yes or no, are you for the liberation of Africa?"

The United States agrees that Africa should be spared involvement in the cold war. In its private dreams it sees the happiest means of attaining this end as the banning of the Communist bloc from the exercise of influence in Africa. In the real world it must accept the fact of constantly intensified Communist competition, and seek to counter it, not by preachments about its horrors, but by aiding to strengthen African societies to stand solidly on their own two feet without needing to yield to blandishments from either side. The fundamental American aim is the negative one of curtailing Communist encroachment on Africa. We can reach it only by positive action which succeeds in identifying us with aspirations acknowledged by the Africans as their own.

A further point of adjustment to African realities is essential. Americans may be intellectually persuaded that neutralism must be accepted and worked with; but they still find it very difficult to stomach concrete instances of a neutralism which turns against them. The conviction lingers that our stance in the world is so totally right as necessarily to render immoral a neutralism which avoids making distinctions that seem to us obvious and essential. As far as aid is concerned, despite repeated reappraisals of the situation, we have generally avoided taking the position that it shall be rendered only to those who overtly support our cause. President Kennedy appeared to modify this approach after the Belgrade Conference, when he said that in allocating aid special attention should be given those nations which embrace our view of the world crisis; but he later interpreted this to mean only that we should back those countries interested in maintaining their independence. The latter version-the one which has in fact prevailed for some years-sits far better with Africans.

If the present African leaders are not to be discredited and pushed aside by more radical successors hostile to the West, they must be able to produce results which will meet the expectations of their people; but the potential successors must also be won over as far as possible from a sense of alienation from the West. These things in turn rest upon the successful achievement of economic and social development within the framework of African independence, giving to the peoples of Africa a sense that they are masters in their own house and that it is a house whose standards of living are rising.

It is to be hoped that the United States can abstain from being drawn into every African issue and every dispute between African states and the European powers. If anything, the United Nations already forces too large an intermixing of everybody in the affairs of everybody else, but it is certain that the United States cannot be disinterested in any major aspect of the fate of Africa even if it can avoid entanglement in more local issues. We have the hard choice between playing God and holding aloof when we should accept some measure of responsibility.

Certainly it is not the business of the United States to dictate what governments or kinds of governments Africa should have, but it is a very real American concern to aid in the establishment and maintenance in power of popular régimes, ready and able to devote themselves to the integration of their countries and the laying of sound political and administrative foundations. Without these prerequisites, no development program is worth the paper it is written on. Aside from sympathetic political and diplomatic support, the essential American contribution must be in helping to meet the virtually unlimited need for trained manpower and in providing technical and economic assistance.

It is almost beside the point to inquire whether Americans have an interest in African development for its own sake. Whether they do or not, it is the stark reality that either there is development under the aegis of Western aid or African governments will progressively disintegrate and thus extend an invitation to the Communists to apply to them their drastic totalitarian discipline.

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