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Africa Awaits the Aftershock After Defying President Trump in the United Nations General Assembly

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President Trump’s recent defeat in his effort unilaterally to alter the status of Jerusalem in defiance of international law highlights the nature of the relationship between the United States and African countries. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations let it be known before the vote on the General assembly resolution that Donald Trump will take personally any opposition to his policy on Jerusalem. The President himself has made allusions to countries that take American billions and then do what they like. In effect, the United States is monetizing loyalty to President Trump.

American frustration with the United Nations is not new. There were similar immoderate reactions to resolutions that went against State Department policy in the 1960s when Burkina Faso (then called Upper Volta), Nigeria, Ghana and Guinea, four of the thirty-six African countries that voted for the resolution to uphold international law on Jerusalem’s status (outnumbering African abstainers and no-shows combined) showed independence of thought from the United States. Then, as now, American money had been wrongly assumed to guarantee deference to the State Department. [1]

Among the many issues in contention in the 1960s were i. admission of Communist China to the General Assembly, ii. African arms proliferation, and perhaps most important of all, iii. régime-change in Congo by the removal of Patrice Lumumba, Congo’s newly elected leader in favour of his opponents backed by Belgium, the UK and the United States.

During the Congo crisis, the U.S paid a substantial proportion of the cost of the UN peace-keepers in Congo (40% according to David N. Gibbs and 50 % according to Secretary of the Treasury, Robert Anderson) and  grew increasingly disgruntled with its inability to dominate the situation.[2]

“Secretary Herter said he had the strong feeling that our interests have not been advanced by the way the UN operation in the Congo had been conducted. In response to a question from the President, Secretary Herter said both the Secretary General of the UN and Dayal, the UN Representative in the Congo, were responsible for this situation. […]

“The President said one of our most serious problems soon would be the determination of our relations with the UN. He felt the UN had made a major error in admitting to membership any nation claiming independence. Ultimately, the UN may have to leave U.S. territory. (Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961–1963, Volume XX, Congo Crisis, Document 4, Editorial Note.)[3]  

U.S. policy towards the UN became aggressive. The Administration felt itself to be in a strong enough position to demand staff changes at UN Headquarters and to determine the composition of United Nations Operation, Congo (UNOC) in order to attain its objective of dictating political developments in that country. Having encouraged Congolese Chief of State Kasavubu to denounce elected Prime Minister Lumumba in a radio broadcast, resulting in Lumumba’s seeking refuge under UN military guard, American officials became concerned that Special Representative of the UN Secretary General to Congo, Rajeshwar Dayal, was in favour of Lumumba’s reinstatement (UN troops had blocked four attempts to abduct Lumumba by Congolese troops loyal to the opposition.)

Meanwhile African countries in favour of reinstating Lumumba attended a conference in Casablanca and discussed withdrawing their troops from UNOC in protest of Lumumba’s treatment. In a telegram to the U.S. mission to the UN dated January 12, 1961, the Department of State said:

“You should approach SYG [acronym for UN Secretary General] soonest with view obtaining his full assessment current situation in Congo. In course discussion you should make following points:

U.S. greatly concerned that situation in Congo has seriously deteriorated despite fact UNGA [United Nations General Assembly] has accepted Kasavubu authority and UN has nearly 20,000 troops stationed in Congo. Pro-Lumumba elements, with outside support contrary to UN resolutions, extending their influence to substantial part of Congo territory. We are especially disturbed at reports, as yet unconfirmed, that participants Casablanca Conference secretly agreed there should be coup d’etat in March in which their troops would be used outside UNOC framework to assist in restoring Lumumba to power, confronting UN with fait accompli. We believe SYG should be reminded strongly that if Congo falls under Communist domination while UN sharing major responsibility for security of country, the results in U.S. public and Congressional opinion likely to be extremely damaging to UN. We therefore request he consider taking all necessary steps to rectify situation. Following are concrete suggestions we hope he will consider urgently:

+ Replace Dayal soonest (emphasis added). As result series of incidents, we have no doubt Dayal’s sympathy for return Lumumba and that his conduct of UNoperations reflects this bias. We believe his removal too long delayed, and that Dayal’s activities have contributed substantially to deterioration of situation in Congo.

+ Now that Guineahas requested withdrawal its troops from UNCommand, we believe SYG should consider encouraging withdrawal of those other contingents who have proved most unreliable and who threatened withdrawal anyway. In particular, Ghana, the UAR and perhaps even Morocco.

+ To fill future requirement, believe SYG should again consider urgently requesting troops from more reliable countries, such as French-African States, Latin America, etc. and increasing contingents from reliable countries already furnishing forces.”[4]

During this time the U.S. reconsidered its relationship with the UN. It was uncomfortable with the new African membership which displayed a trait of voting independently of the American position. More than ten African countries attained independence in 1960 alone.

“The President said one of our most serious problems soon would be the determination of our relations with the UN. He felt the UN had made a major error in admitting to membership any nation claiming independence. Ultimately, the UN may have to leave U.S. territory. (emphasis added)”[5]

By the time the National Security Council (NSC) was being told this, the Department of State together with the Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. ambassador to Congo, Clare Timberlake had established contact with one Colonel Joseph Mobutu, commander of the Congolese army loyal to the administration in Leopoldville. Mobutu, not yet a strongman in 1960, had witnessed an abortive attempt by President Kasavubu, coached by the U.S., to unseat the elected Prime Minister of Congo by means of a parliamentary vote of no-confidence. Mobutu approached the CIA Station in Leopoldville and expressed his determination to keep Communism out of Congo. As a result, he was co-opted as the U.S. main contact in Congo eventually gaining Western support for his palace coup and going on to rule for thirty-two undemocratic and resource-draining years.

Newly independent African countries were recognized as a matter of course, as and when they gained independence. Two types of leaders are discernible to U.S. officials; the ‘moderate’ or ‘pro-Western’ or more accurately, the amenable to U.S. promptings and proposals and the ‘irresponsible’, ‘radical’, ‘xenophobic Nationalists’ who insisted on political positions in their own domestic, pan-African and Afro-Asian interests and not necessarily the U.S. national interest.

By January 1960, President Eisenhower had already reconciled himself to the possibility of working with dictators “although we cannot say it publicly, […] we need the strongmen of Africa on our side.”[6] The advantage was that through them he could side-step the Pan-African movement and the Afro-Asian Bloc in the UN.

Among the ‘responsible’ was President Houphouët-Boigny of Ivory Coast who was not only merely neutral in the Cold War but positively anti-Communist. He was also anti-pan Africanist Kwame Nkrumah who he portrayed as having illusions of grandeur, (“He believes that he is descended to earth to liberate the African masses.”) and Lumumba (who he described as being ‘changeable’ by reason of his limited education and inexperience). He undertook to counsel them both as well as Sékou Touré of Guinea (another country out of American favour) and assured American officials they could all be brought back to the fold.

Boigny pledged to keep his country free of Soviet influence but said this would need to be facilitated by the U.S. An arrangement is described under which Boigny was to be accompanied to the UN General Assembly by several Entente economic experts to demonstrate the Western support he enjoyed. Boigny planned to develop an African Front to oppose the Afro-Asian Bloc.

In return he was promised,

 “the United States will extend sympathy and material support to him personally (emphasis mine) and to the four associated states [likely Dahomey (now in Benin), Niger, Upper Volta (Burkina Faso) and Togo which were forming an entente to be led by Boigny]. “We hope thereby to strengthen one of the most staunchly pro-Western African leaders to continue his guiding influence on the future not only of these states but of others in the region.”[7]

Mali and Guinea on the other hand were judged to be slipping (towards the Sino-Soviet Bloc.) Liberia, at the time America’s only true satellite in Africa, was not strategically important on the same level as Ghana, Nigeria or Congo but the state of its capital city was said to be an embarrassment to the U.S., requiring urgent cosmetic enhancement.

Support for military and other African dictators solidified as American foreign policy through the 1970s. President Nixon’s Bureau for African Affairs justified the supply of arms to military dictators on the basis that they were unlikely to be used to attack neighbours and that they were necessary to maintain internal order, i.e. to keep the régime in power.[8]

It should be noted that despite Ivory Coast’s long history of neo-colonial collaboration with America and France under Boigny’s long tenure as President (he doubled the life expectancy of the average Ivorian), UNICEF economic indicators for the 21st century show that country’s human development outcomes to be at par with poorer, landlocked countries and countries that followed a different path. Life expectancy there is lower than in most countries and a good five years shorter than in Ivory Coast’s neighbours.[9] This is because while Ghana’s Nkrumah, Senegal’s Dia, Congo’s Lumumba, Togo’s Olympio and others sought aid to develop their countries, Boigny like Mobutu sought and received financial support for himself. Both built multi-million dollar monuments to themselves (Boigny: a basilica in his hometown surpassing St Peter’s in the Vatican in size and Mobutu’s Gbadolite palace complex (airport, hotel and cinema included), again in his home town built and furnished with materials imported from Italy and France.

Relations with other African Leaders

Prime Minister Abubakar Balewa of Nigeria visited President Eisenhower a week after his country gained independence.[10] Balewa was an avowed anti-Communist. However he was clear that while he wanted to emulate American-style democracy and institutions he had no interest in joining any ‘power bloc.’ He said while some smaller nations were turning to the Eastern Bloc for assistance, Nigeria would not. He then requested bilateral aid arrangements which Eisenhower agreed to consider. President Eisenhower assured him, “…we put great interest and stock in Nigeria…we will be depending on Nigeria heavily.” before describing the type of infrastructural loans Nigeria could expect from the UN Special Fund for Africa.

Nigerian development and U.S.’ voting positions in the UN General Assembly are discussed in the same conversation and the same exchange – they were one and the same thing; one was unlikely to be offered without the satisfaction of the other.

Later in the conversation in answer to Prime Minister Balewa’s question, President Eisenhower stated that should Nigeria vote in favour of Red Chinese representation at the UN it would “constitute such a repudiation of the U.S. that we would be in a hard fix indeed.” [11] In the event Nigeria did vote against the U.S. position and the U.S. began to doubt whether Nigeria could be relied upon to champion another matter important to them: an arms limitation agreement governing African countries.

“It has been suggested that Nigeria might be the most suitable country to provide African initiative for the exploration of this possibility. However, the behavior of the Nigerian delegation in the current General Assembly now causes some doubt in this regard.”[12]

The bluntly-spoken Prime Minister Sylvanus Olympio of Togo said in his deliberations with U.S. officials that he preferred multilateral aid to avoid the “power politics and trouble” that he believed came with bilateral aid.

In a courtesy call to the White House in 1960, President Dia of Senegal expressed willingness to have close relations with the U.S. saying he had no anxiety about political, economic, cultural or ideological domination by the U.S. He then made arrangements for a technical assistance programme to be drawn up by his aides who were to remain behind in Washington for the purpose. [13]

Recently Senegal has voted twice in support of international law governing Palestine. In 2016 together with three other non-African countries it moved a Security Council resolution that Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.”

If President Trump carries out his threats, Senegal is likely to face the type of ‘power politics and trouble’ Togo has been anxious to avoid since the 1960s. In December 2017, Togo was the only African country to vote with the USA and Israel. Benin (Dahomey), once part of the Boigny-led entente, abstained.

With current voting patterns, it remains to be seen whether backing dictatorial régimes on the African continent will remain viable as U.S. foreign policy. While the potential availability of American development assistance did not prevent most African countries from standing on their own principles in the 1960s, the active promotion of dictatorship undermined and eventually killed the pan-African movement. However, the entry of China as a new development partner may free African leaders to govern independently of Western (and hopefully Chinese) domination.

Uganda, one of the remaining strongman states is a major recipient of American military largesse and host to American military personnel. But Uganda also collaborates closely with China and abstained from the vote. Rwanda and Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Lesotho and Malawi also abstained. The no-shows, which arithmetically at least, are as good as abstentions, were all African and included Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, and Zambia. All, except Swaziland have deep economic ties with the People’s Republic of China.

Notes.

[1] Other African supporters of international law were Algeria, Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Cape Verde, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Dijbouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Tunisia and Zimbabwe.

[2] At the 456th meeting of the NSC.

[3] See also Foreign Relations 1958-1960, Volume XIV , Doc. 29, Report of the Conference of Principle Diplomatic and Consular Officers of North and West Africa[3], Tangier, May 30-June 2, 1960.

[4] FRUS, 1961–1963 Volume XX, Congo Crisis Doc. 5. Telegram From the Department of State to the Mission to the United Nations, Washington, January 12, 1961, 8:22 p.m.

[5] FRUS, 1961–1963 Volume XX, Congo Crisis, Doc. 4.

[6] See FRUS 1958-1960, Africa, Vol. XIV General Policy, page 75, Doc. 21, Memorandum of Discussion at the 432nd Meeting of the National Security Council January 14, 1960.

[7]FRUS 1958-1960 v.14 Newly Independent States, Doc. 65 Memorandum from Secretary of State Herter to President Eisenhower, August 5, 1960.

[8] FRUS, 1969–1976 Volume E–6, Documents on Africa, 1973–1976, Document 4, Memorandum From the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs (Ross) to the Under Secretary of State for Security Affairs (Tarr), Washington, April 10, 1973.

[9] UNICEF, http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/

[10] FRUS 1958-1960, Africa, Vol. XIV General Policy Doc. 38, Instruction from the Department of State to Various Diplomatic Posts and Missions, November 25, 1960.

[11] FRUS 1958-1960 v.14 Newly Independent States Document 77, Memorandum of Conference with President Eisenhower, October 8, 1960.

[12] “Nigeria had voted against U.S. positions regarding Chinese representation, the allocation of the Cuban complaint to the Political Committee, and the Ethiopian resolution against nuclear weapons. (Memorandum from Herz to Kellogg, November 7; Department of State, AF/AFI Files: Lot 69 D 295, Arms for Africa”

[13] FRUS 1958-1960 v.14 Newly Independent States, Doc.88. Memorandum of Conversation, December 9, 1960.

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Mary Serumaga is a Ugandan law graduate who has worked in public sector reform and spent several years in advocacy, and as a volunteer care worker for asylum-seekers. Her essays have been published in Transition (Hutchins Press), The Elephant, Pambazuka News, Foreign Policy Journal, Africa is a Country, the Observer (Uganda) and King’s Review. The Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debt website carries her articles on debt.

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