Thursday, August 28, 2008

Seven Questions Interview: Q&A Nr. 5-2

U.S.-Africa relations after the end of WWII

A good overview of the history of United States foreign policy toward Africa from 1945 onward is provided by Dane F. Smith, President of the National Peace Corps Association, in a lecture he presented to students at the University of California – Santa Barbara in June 2008. The 58-minute video, The Making of US Foreign Policy toward Africa, is available at

The U.S. State Department-sponsored website published a feature article in June 2007 titled “50 Years of U.S.-Africa Relations” written by Gregory Garland (Chief of Press and Public Affairs, Bureau of African Affairs). Following are excerpts from that article:

50 Years of U.S. Africa Relations by Gregory Garland, 06/25/08
President Richard Nixon and U.N. Under-Secretary Ralph Bunche Saw the Future of U.S.-Africa Relations

The Eisenhower administration’s creation of the Bureau of African Affairs half a century ago signaled a bold step away from what had been a Eurocentric, quasi-colonial policy view of Africa.

Far from being a decision made in a bureaucratic vacuum, the birth of the State Department’s Africa Bureau resulted from the interplay of three of the great forces of the mid-20th century: the civil rights movement, the Cold War and decolonization.

Ralph Johnson Bunche of the State Department and Richard Nixon, who served two terms as Eisenhower's vice president before becoming president, exemplified these forces and, in a very important sense, are the intellectual godfathers of the Africa Bureau. These towering and very different men of the mid-20th century embodied the many, often contradictory threads of U.S. foreign policy toward Africa. Their paths rarely crossed, but the power of the ideas and interests they personified to a large extent determined and help explain the course of America’s relationship with the continent for decades to come.

Interestingly, both men hailed from early 20th-century Southern California, a kind of post-frontier open society far from the racial castes of the segregated South and the class tensions of the industrial North. Both rose from humble backgrounds with the aid of academic scholarships to college.


By the 1940s, Ralph Bunche had established himself as a pre-eminent political scientist, a Harvard doctorate who built an African studies program at Howard University in Washington. He grasped acutely the intimate connection between institutionalized racism in the United States and colonialism in Africa. “As African-Americans,” he wrote, “we are not permitted to share in the full fruit of democracy, but we are given some of the peelings from the fruit.”
This professional Africanist [a specialist in African Studies] had a far broader outlook, however. In 1941, he joined Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal’s team as it conducted a Carnegie Endowment-funded study of American race relations. Bunche wrote much of the groundbreaking work that study would produce, An American Dilemma (1944), which provided the blueprint for the next two decades of the civil rights struggle. He also understood the full implications of the Atlantic Charter, the 1941 U.S. and British document that proclaimed the freedom of all peoples as a central objective of the allied war cause.

After Pearl Harbor, Bunche briefly worked for the Office of Strategic Services -- precursor to the CIA -- as an Africa specialist. He then joined State’s Bureau of Near Eastern, South Asian and African Affairs as the resident Africanist, before moving to the newly established United Nations in 1945. There he focused on decolonization when he wasn’t inventing international peacekeeping or serving as the U.N.’s premier troubleshooter, winning the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize for mediating the 1948 Israeli-Arab cease-fire.

In 1949, President Truman offered Bunche a job as assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern, South Asian and African affairs, but Bunche turned it down. After having taught at Howard University and served in the U.S. government in World War II, he refused to ever again live in a Washington ruled by Jim Crow, or to work in a department where Africa was, at best, a professional afterthought. As he explained at the time, “It is well known that there is Jim Crow in Washington. It is equally well known that no Negro finds Jim Crow congenial. I am a Negro.” (Jim Crow refers to Jim Crow laws enacted in the United States between 1876 and 1965 that established segregation in public facilities based on race with supposedly "separate but equal" treatment for African-Americans.)

He spent the rest of his career and life at the United Nations, where he deserves considerable credit for the organization’s leadership in pushing ahead with an early timetable for decolonization in Africa. As the organization’s ranking American, he provided crucial behind-the-scenes encouragement to Washington to pressure Europeans to accelerate the independence of their African colonies. And it is here that Bunche’s career intersected with that of Nixon….

Africa did not rank high on the White House’s list of favored parts of the world in the 1950s. As for the State Department, it treated Africa functionally as an adjunct of Europe -- which, politically, it was. The Bureau of Near Eastern, South Asian and African Affairs encompassed not only the African continent but the whole colonial world. Until Ghana gained its independence in 1957, there were only three sovereign countries in sub-Saharan Africa: Liberia, Ethiopia and South Africa.

The rest of the continent consisted of colonies possessed by our Western European allies. There were U.S. consulates scattered around what would eventually become national capitals but, as such, they reported to and took instructions from U.S. embassies in London, Paris, Brussels and Lisbon. These colonial powers were the heart of NATO, and it was the security and reconstruction of Western Europe that mattered most to them and to Washington. No ambassador to a NATO member-state was going to advocate placing support for African decolonization ahead of completing reconstruction and containing communism.

Ever the realist, Nixon saw the stakes differently, particularly after a 1957 trip to Africa awoke his strategic imagination. There he witnessed firsthand the dynamic changes under way and recognized Africa’s potential: support for decolonization meant cultivating potential allies against communism, or at least deterring communist expansion.

It was during that trip that he and Bunche literally crossed paths for the first time. Nixon was representing the United States, and Bunche the United Nations, at the ceremonies marking the independence of Ghana, the first British colony in sub-Saharan Africa to win full independence. However, there is no record of any conversation between the two high-ranking Americans. A charismatic third American, Martin Luther King Jr., attracted the lion’s share of attention from both the media and Ghanaians themselves.

Nixon’s trip report recommended a new and assertive Africa policy of universal presence, economic development assistance, support for education, vibrant and visible cultural and information programs and the creation of a Bureau of African Affairs headed by an assistant secretary. His approach offered a coherent vision of partnership with the region, a vision that today has become the hallmark of U.S.-Africa policy…


In the 1950s, Eisenhower and Nixon also faced the changing landscape of racism back home. They saw clearly that segregationist policies were undermining America’s credibility as the world leader for freedom and democracy. Those policies stood in stark opposition to the principles of the Atlantic Charter and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the seminal human rights document of the post-World War II era.

Africans perceived this contradiction more acutely than anyone. As the rhetoric of the Cold War heated up, the Soviet Union took full advantage of segregationist laws to win African hearts and minds. Africans didn’t have to be reminded that white Europeans had built up their empires on the backs of black men, leveling or co-opting their pre-European institutions in the interest of imperial stability and profit while keeping them subordinate within the colonial system. Soviet propaganda had only to add that white Americans had built their own prosperity on the back of black descendants of Africans, and kept them subservient under Jim Crow laws. Marxism offered the easy answer of an ideology that categorized racism as capitalistic, promising that the dictatorship of the proletariat would eliminate all such prejudices.

End excerpt___ Note: links to external online resources added by post author

We can see from this viewpoint written by a U.S. Department of State press and public affairs officer that the U.S. Government made some major changes to their relationship with emerging African nations from the 1950’s through the 1970’s. With the creation of the Bureau of African Affairs and the US Agency for International Development, a significant shift in U.S. strategic policy occurred not only toward Africa but for the whole of the developing world.

In the fall of 1961 the U.S. Congress passed the Foreign Assistance Act which “reorganized the U.S. foreign assistance programs including separating military and non-military aid. The Act mandated the creation of an agency to administer economic assistance programs, and on November 3, 1961, President John F. Kennedy established the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

USAID became the first U.S. foreign assistance organization whose primary emphasis was on long-range economic and social development assistance efforts. Freed from political and military functions that plagued its predecessor organizations, USAID was able to offer direct support to the developing nations of the world. “

(Source: History of USAID)

The U.S. Agency for International Development website provides a good overview of how U.S. foreign assistance policy evolved after the success of the Marshall Plan to help Europe rebuild after the near total devastation of WWII. After the Marshall Plan ended in June 1951 the U.S. Government went through a 10-year period of planning, analyzing, and debating different ideas and policies until they came up with a new strategy for long-term foreign assistance on a country-by-country basis. The Office of the Historian at the U.S. Department of State provides yet another view of America’s emerging relations with newly independent African countries during the period 1945-1960 before President John F. Kennedy took office. Here is an excerpt from their work on the subject:

U.S. Department of State - Bureau of Public Affairs – Office of the Historian
Foreign Relations of the United States series (updated to January 20, 2001)
Timeline of U.S. Diplomatic History
Decolonization of Asia and Africa, 1945-1960

Decolonization of Asia and Africa, 1945-1960 (U.S. Department of State)

Between 1945 and 1960, three dozen new states in Asia and Africa achieved autonomy or outright independence from their European colonial rulers. There was no one process of decolonization. In some areas, it was peaceful, and orderly. In many others, independence was achieved only after a protracted revolution. A few newly independent countries acquired stable governments almost immediately; others were ruled by dictators or military juntas for decades, or endured long civil wars. Some European governments welcomed a new relationship with their former colonies; others contested decolonization militarily. The process of decolonization coincided with the new Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States, and with the early development of the new United Nations. Decolonization was often affected by superpower competition, and had a definite impact on the evolution of that competition. It also significantly changed the pattern of international relations in a more general sense. The creation of so many new countries, some of which occupied strategic locations, others of which possessed significant natural resources, and most of which were desperately poor, altered the composition of the United Nations and political complexity of every region of the globe…

While the United States generally supported the concept of national self-determination, it also had strong ties to its European allies, who had imperial claims on their former colonies. The Cold War only served to complicate the U.S. position, as U.S. support for decolonization was offset by American concern over communist expansion and Soviet strategic ambitions in Europe. Several of the NATO allies asserted that their colonial possessions provided them with economic and military strength that would otherwise be lost to the alliance. Nearly all of the United States’ European allies believed that after their recovery from World War II their colonies would finally provide the combination of raw materials and protected markets for finished goods that would cement the colonies to Europe. Whether or not this was the case, the alternative of allowing the colonies to slip away, perhaps into the United States’ economic sphere or that of another power, was unappealing to every European government interested in postwar stability. Although the U.S. Government did not force the issue, it encouraged the European imperial powers to negotiate an early withdrawal from their overseas colonies. The United States granted independence to the Philippines in 1946.

However, as the Cold War competition with the Soviet Union came to dominate U.S. foreign policy concerns in the late 1940s and 1950s, the Truman and Eisenhower Administrations grew increasingly concerned that as the European powers lost their colonies or granted them independence, Soviet-supported communist parties might achieve power in the new states. This might serve to shift the international balance of power in favor of the Soviet Union and remove access to economic resources from U.S. allies. Events such as the Indonesian struggle for independence from the Netherlands (1945-50), the Vietnamese war against France (1945-54), and the nationalist and professed socialist takeovers of Egypt (1952) and Iran (1951) served to reinforce such fears, even if new governments did not directly link themselves to the Soviet Union. Thus, the United States used aid packages, technical assistance and sometimes even military intervention to encourage newly independent nations in the Third World to adopt governments that aligned with the West. The Soviet Union deployed similar tactics in an effort to encourage new nations to join the communist bloc, and attempted to convince newly decolonized countries that communism was an intrinsically non-imperialist economic and political ideology. Many of the new nations resisted the pressure to be drawn into the Cold War, joined in the “nonaligned movement,” which formed after the Bandung conference of 1955, and focused on internal development.

The newly independent nations that emerged in the 1950s and the 1960s became an important factor in changing the balance of power within the United Nations. In 1946, there were 35 member states in the United Nations; as the newly independent nations of the “third world” joined the organization, by 1970 membership had swelled to 127. These new member states had a few characteristics in common; they were non-white, with developing economies, facing internal problems that were the result of their colonial past, which sometimes put them at odds with European countries and made them suspicious of European-style governmental structures, political ideas, and economic institutions. These countries also became vocal advocates of continuing decolonization, with the result that the UN Assembly was often ahead of the Security Council on issues of self-governance and decolonization. The new nations pushed the UN toward accepting resolutions for independence for colonial states and creating a special committee on colonialism, demonstrating that even though some nations continued to struggle for independence, in the eyes of the international community, the colonial era was ending.

End excerpt___

Some important keywords in the articles referenced above are as follows:
“Soviet Union”, “communism”, “European”, “colonies”, “imperialism”, “natural resources”, “afraid”, and “threat”. FEAR was a number one concern of the day.

At the dawn of the Cold War between the East and the West, emerging nations in Africa found themselves caught in the middle of a complicated geo-political nuclear game. International support for a progressive development toward democracy and sustainable economic development for people in Africa was traded off for strategic interests and political influence, access to critical resources (oil, gas, and minerals) in the battle for political allies to help fight the spread of communist (and capitalist) ideologies and hegemony. The effects of misguided foreign policy decisions and acts of aggression during the long Cold War era were simply disastrous for many developing nations around the globe.

Whatever good intentions were behind setting up USAID and other foreign assistance programs from various U.S. government agencies and departments the whole effort was being held captive by a very tense and dangerous military standoff between the communists (China and the Soviet bloc countries) on one side and the Western allies (U.S.A., Western Europe, Canada, Australia, Japan, South Korea) on the other.

So what did the new political leaders in Africa do? Which side did they choose and why? Did they even have a choice to stay out of the fight? What impact did their foreign policy negotiations and decisions have on their newly independent country’s economic and social development? These important questions require answers in order to better understand how some African countries were able to move forward while others did not or in the worst cases began their slide toward the abyss.

The Soviet Union and China’s leaders aggressively sought new allies in Asia and Africa and in the Americas for their ideological wars with the West. As revealed in the 2003 speech delivered by Russian scholar Sergey Mazov to the Wilson Center several post-independence leaders in Africa played active roles in helping the Soviets rollout their influence and dreams of hegemony on the African continent. The consequences of this game of playing one superpower against the other for personal and political gain were disastrous for the ordinary African. What were the African leaders who sided with the communists thinking? Did they think that Western powers were just going to stand by and watch Africa’s plentiful resources, land, and people (markets) go to the rising communist powers in the East?

While many Africans had died fighting for independence and freedom from their European colonial masters in wars of national liberation, some African countries transitioned relatively peacefully to independence from 1957–1975. Yet what followed over the next decades in sub-Saharan Africa was beyond anyone’s worst nightmare at the time. The Cold War policies of the Soviet Union and “the West” helped fuel many of the conflicts and outbreaks of violence in African countries during the latter half of the 20th century opening the door to an array of non-state players (crooks and gunrunners) who took advantage of the chaos of civil war to exploit resources (blood diamonds and timber) in exchange for cash and weapons.

Innocent men, women, and children died by the millions under the repressive rule of a long series of brutal dictators, autocrats, kleptomaniacs and “lords of war”. They died not only from bombs, bullets, and machetes but from disease and hunger; they died from the shock that follows long term suffering, loss and neglect. Today in the Democratic Republic of Congo five years after the last peace agreement was signed between the ruling government and warring militias in 2003, civilians are still dying from disease and poor health due to a near complete lack of public healthcare and transportation infrastructure. Today in the 21st century Congolese civilians are dying at a rate of 45,000 people a month! 5.4 million Congolese have perished since the outbreak of Africa’s deadliest conflict (the Congo Wars). Let that factoid sink into your brain cells for awhile because the number of innocent people who continue to die in the DR Congo is just mind-boggling.

It is a crisis that should be totally unacceptable for caring citizens of a civilized world but the world community feigns helplessness in bringing this long suffering to an end. According to news reports there is not enough support ($$$) from UN member countries for the UN Congo mission and there have been serious complaints and charges of sexual violations, resource exploitation, and gunrunning by some of the UN peacekeepers. There is not enough money to build the urgently needed clinics and hospitals to help mass rape victims and the injured and sick, not enough money to buy medicines or pay the salaries of doctors and nurses. And yet the UN mission to the DR Congo (MONUC) has a yearly budget exceeding US $1 billion dollars with the lion’s share of funding coming from the U.S.A. (Note: according to 2006 figures the U.S. Government funds roughly 27% of the MONUC budget plus contributes an extra US$ 100 million per year in health care and humanitarian assistance to the DRC). Half of the 2006 MONUC budget (US$ 550 million) was used to buy fuel and service the 100+ aircraft of the UN MONUC fleet, the largest airline fleet in Africa.

The independent journalist and blogger Mvemba Phezo Dizolele who served as a fellow at the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting wrote an editorial about the state of the DRC crisis for the Hoover Institution magazine (Stanford University): “How to end the deadliest war in Africa” – Hoover Digest, issue 3 2006. Readers can also read Mvemba’s articles and watch his documentary work at the Pulitzer Center website and visit his personal blog Eye on Africa. The UN Mission for the Democratic Republic of Congo maintains a very informative website ( and MONUC has a video channel on YouTube.

What should have been a Golden Age for emerging democracies and developing economies in Africa instead turned into an Age of Horror filled with unending wars, wholesale death and destruction, the forced displacement of civilians, crumbling public institutions and infrastructure, a rapid spread of disease and hunger that costs the lives of millions of people. A dark cloud of hopelessness and despair descended over much of Africa during this period and remained in place there for decades. In the West some described this period in African history as the Age of Afro-pessimism. Many critics of foreign aid to Africa point to these many years of political instability and social upheaval as the major hindrance to the effectiveness of development assistance with the best intentions. Only recently has this viewpoint begun to change in the minds of some as exemplified by this Center for Global Development event: Governance Matters: De-bunking the Afro-pessimism Myth (Nov 28, 2007).

In my opinion those past 50 years were a pivotal period in world history, a time where key leaders of the newly independent African nations along with their American and European counterparts made some disastrous foreign policy decisions. The ordinary hardworking people of Africa and people in developing countries throughout the world paid the price and they paid dearly. In reality we have all paid the price when we look back and are honest with ourselves. People in Africa still suffer from the devastating effects of civil war and conflict, poor political leadership, economic mismanagement and corruption, theft of state funds and natural resources, an acute lack of public health care and inadequate public education of youth, poor transport capabilities and non-existent public facilities and infrastructure.

Then there is the issue of dubious foreign aid and economic assistance: the loans and other financial transactions between donor nations and African governments which indebted Africa to the hilt. Recent G8 debt relief initiatives combined with economic reforms is finally helping to alleviate some of the heavy debt burden on a number of the most impoverished African countries. There is still a long way to go in Africa to help bring endemic corruption under control, in demanding transparency for government contracts for the extraction of natural resources and construction deals, increasing export trade abroad and encouraging more cross-border trade in Africa. As Africa’s people gain a stronger voice in choosing leaders that practice good governance, leaders that exercise smart fiscal management and lookout for the public welfare, partner countries such as the U.S.A. will be in a much better position to leverage official development assistance and economic aid so that it has a greater impact on the lives of ordinary citizens in Africa___ and not be used to further enrich the political and business elite or line the already bulging pockets of despots, tyrants, dictators and corrupt public officials.

The People’s Republic of China, which until recently has not been a major contributor to Africa’s economic development is stepping in with new dubious loans and shady financial deals of its own. Despite the praise from African capitals and business leaders and international financial institutions i.e. The World Bank and IMF for China’s new economic assistance to Africa, the aggressive nature of investment by China in Africa’s oil, gas, and minerals, the awarding of low-bid state contracts for construction of new public roads and infrastructure to Chinese state-owned and state-financed companies, and the literal invasion of African domestic markets with Chinese labor and goods both angers and worries many people in America and Europe___ and in Africa too. It remains to be seen if this so-called Win-Win approach to development assistance for Africa turns out to be the winning strategy that China proclaims. Or will it be just another form of colonialism and natural resource exploitation leaving Africa weaker and economically worse off than ever.

Link to Seven Questions Interview: Q&A Nrs. 5-3 (next page), 5-1 (previous)
Link to Seven Questions Interview: Q&A Nrs. 1, 2, 3, 4

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1 comment:

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Does it seriously matter that much what color the guy is or does it matter wheather he does his job or not?