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Africa Today 48.4 (2001) 144-145

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Nwaubani, Ebere. 2001. The United States and Decolonization in West Africa, 1950-1960. Rochester, N.Y.: Rochester University Press. 338 pp.

Decolonization in Africa was one of the major turning points in the history of the postwar world. Historians have cited the activities of African nationalist leaders and unfolding developments in postwar Europe as the two primary driving forces behind the ending of European colonial rule throughout the continent. European and African interests apparently coincided to initiate and execute a generally peaceful transfer of power. By 1960, most of Africa was independent. Yet the process was considerably more complex than Europe simply walking away from Africa, and numerous forces and players were involved. A neglected aspect of this unfolding drama has been the role of the United States in the early years of the process, especially in West Africa where decolonization occurred relatively early and smoothly, compared to other parts of the continent such as the Congo and the white settler colonies of southern Africa.

In this book, Ebere Nwaubani proposes to focus on America's role during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations in the decolonization process in West Africa, and particularly in Ghana, the first nation in sub-Saharan Africa to achieve independence in 1957. He seeks to add to the growing scholarship and debate on decolonization in Africa by examining the motivations and activities of American foreign policy makers and their impacts on decolonization. However, the author concentrates almost exclusively on developments in Ghana with a brief consideration of Guinea. While these two countries and their first national leaders, Kwame Nkrumah and Sekou Toure, certainly deserve attention, they cannot be considered representative of West Africa. In addition, Nwaubani often loses sight of the American foreign policy angle, and resorts to retelling the familiar story of African nationalists and their interaction with the colonial powers. [End Page 144]

According to Nwaubani, Americans were reluctant anticolonialists, owing to their concern for the rejuvenation of postwar Europe. The interests of Britain and France superseded those of Africa. The United States had little economic or strategic interest in the continent and was willing to play a secondary role. Washington considered the continent in the European sphere of influence and endorsed the cautious moves of the colonial powers toward independence in Africa. The United States relied on its Western allies to withdraw their political control while maintaining economic and diplomatic ties and preventing Soviet influence in the region.

The author begins with a solid discussion of the meaning and significance of decolonization in Africa and the formulation and articulation of American foreign policy toward the process. He argues convincingly that little distinguished the policies of the Truman and Eisenhower administrations because neither viewed the region as strategically or economically significant. Western European interests were paramount, and the United States opted to have the colonial powers take responsibility for foreign aid to the continent. American interests existed elsewhere, mainly in the containment of Soviet influence in Europe, Asia and Latin America. Communism initially appeared to pose no threat in Africa, and certainly not in West Africa with its close links to Britain and France.

Nwaubani uses Ghana, formerly the Gold Coast, as a case study. Most of the book actually focuses on the Ghanaian example rather than West Africa generally. The author deals correctly and extensively with the role of Kwame Nkrumah in winning independence, but the story only peripherally touches on America's interaction and perceptions of Nkrumah. Nwaubani delineates well the gradual estrangement between the Western powers, including the United States, and Nkrumah, who increasingly turned to socialism and state intervention in the economy. Nkrumah's support of Patrice Lumumba in the Congo crisis further worsened relations between the West and Ghana. Western participation in the Volta Dam project, which the author discusses in a separate chapter, was primarily an attempt to curtail Soviet influence in the country and in the region. Nwaubani's consideration of Guinea, the only other case study, and its radical leader Sekou Toure, is rather cursory and not...


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