The United States and Decolonization in West Africa, 1950-1960

Robert L. Tignor, Ebere Nwaubani
2002 Canadian Journal of African Studies  
THE 1950s was a decade of momentous political change in (West) Africa which led to independence. More often than not, independence is used interchangeably with decolonization. But the working premise here is that decolonization involved not just independence, but a redefinition of center-periphery relations to allow for the integration of the African political elite into the colonial network. The redistribution of power at the global level after World War I1 meant that this redefinition was
more » ... edefinition was occurring within an American-dominated world system. On this score, America's involvement in Africa in the period beginning from 1948 was an integral part of its post-1945 striving for "a preponderance of powern in the international arena. This ensured that, as elsewhere, Washington's major objective in Africa was to be the arbiter -or, at least, to influence the process -of political change. This broad rubric included ensuring a pro-Western orientation by Africans, and therefore warding off countervailing influences such as MCommunisml' and nonalignment. Of greater importance, however, was Washington's interest in raw materials extraction. These were needed to help in the rehabilitation of Western Europe and for the United States' strategic stockpiling program. Closely related to this, was the goal of securing access to markets and investment opportunities for American private capital. But given the expansive nature of its global responsibilities and given that Africa was peripheral to the Ifnational security" dimension of those interests, the U.S. devoted rather slim resources in Africa. In effect, this meant that Washington opted for an essentially symbolic, augmentative role and relied on the Europeans to project its hegemonic interests in Africa. PREFACE IN January 1951, Secretary of State Dean Acheson wrote Defense Secretary George Marshall requesting his cooperation "in a review of American interests and policies in the whole area extending from the eastern Mediterranean to India." Acheson had observed that "Over the past four years in an unplanned, undesired, and haphazard way American influence had largely succeeded French and British in that part of the world." Still, he was not envisaging the substitution of U . S -power for Europe's in the region: Acheson stressed that the "primary responsibilityv for the security of the Middle East was Britain's.' This episode was symptomatic of the structural redistribution of global power in the aftermath of World War 11. The war had finally seen to the geopolitical shrinkage of Western Europe' and the simultaneous rise of the United States to globalism. President Harry Truman was later to recall that "Most of the countries in Europe were bankrupt, millions of people were homeless and starving, and we were the only nation that could come to their help . . . . We were witnessing the transformation of the United States into a nation of unprecedented power and growing capacity.t1' This scenario was accentuated by the U.S.-Soviet competition for global dominance. ' Dean Acheson, Prssent a t the C r s a t i o n : My Ysars i n the S t a t e
doi:10.2307/4107417 fatcat:ekmywm3rxbgtjoppgofgpakwhi