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  • The Abongo Abroad: Military-Sponsored Travel in Ghana, the United States, and the World, 1959–1992 by John V. Clune
  • Christian Ruth (bio)
The Abongo Abroad: Military-Sponsored Travel in Ghana, the United States, and the World, 1959–1992. By John V. Clune. (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2017. Pp. x, 268. $55.00 paper; $9.99 ebook)

John V. Clune's new book, The Abongo Abroad, explores the stories of Ghanaian military personnel who took part in transnational military travel during the twentieth century. Clune is part of an advancing wave of foreign relations scholars who are taking a long view of development and modernization theory during the Cold War. The [End Page 137] Abongo Abroad shows how military sponsored travel, particularly the International Military Education and Training Program (IMET), was a way to modernize and internationalize generations of Third-World soldiers. These men would gain relevant knowledge and experience in the United States and other nations, and would then go back to their home countries and create Western style political and economic institutions.

Clune's book is split into four chapters. The first provides a basic overview of modernization and development theory and its pervasiveness in U.S. foreign policy during the early 1950s through the end of the Vietnam War. In the post-Vietnam era, modernization theory declined heavily in favor of cheaper, more easily managed foreign policy paradigms, but Clune's unique argument is that military travel in the form of IMET was a special holdover from otherwise disappearing modernizing programs.

The second chapter shows the surprisingly international development of military education in Ghana, which created its various military branches with British and Canadian expertise. There was an important separation, Clune shows, between the experiences of the Ghanaian soldiers who went through training at home and abroad and the soldiers of other nations who came to Ghana. Ghana itself adopted a Pan-Africanist outlook, hosting and training soldiers from African nations even as they sent their own troops to the United States.

The third and fourth chapters provide greater detail into the lives of many Ghanaian troops and the IMET program itself. Rather than learning Western systems and transporting them back to Ghana, soldiers used their travel for their own benefit, buying commodities and land for their families back home or taking advantage of the travel to avoid political oppression and to escape the Cold War systems they were stuck in. The IMET program received increasing criticism due to its ineffectiveness at promoting Western modernization reforms, since few of its intended lessons truly took hold, but it survived by being relatively cheap and by providing a strong point of contact for US-Ghanaian diplomacy. [End Page 138]

Clune's theoretical framework is a fresh departure from established studies of modernization theory that focus on large-scale economic development. Clune is at his strongest when discussing the intersection between African military systems and the diffuse nature of modernizing ideology. He successfully joins a growing field of scholarship on African studies that steps beyond the immediate post-colonial moments of the 1950s and 1960s, and persuasively argues for a longer view of modernization theory using military travel. Somewhat disappointing, however, is the lack of depth regarding the greater African context for the book, which does not provide enough detail about the Ghanaian, or even African, story of decolonization and militarism. Due to the chaotic archival system that many post-colonial administrations had, finding rich primary sources can be problematic. Clune's sources focus mostly on a few select memoirs to describe the IMET program in detail, alongside an admittedly impressive variety of U.S. based archival material, and there is a serious lack of Ghanaian archives present. These problems are perhaps unavoidable given the topics being discussed. While it would be easy to press Clune for more information and a more diverse source base, it would be unrealistic to seriously expect it. The Abongo Abroad, despite that most obvious flaw, is an excellent intervention into the literature of both African military history and U.S. foreign relations.

Christian Ruth

CHRISTIAN RUTH is a PhD student at the University at Albany, SUNY. His research focuses on the intersection...


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