AFRICAN STUDIES QUARTERLY

Volume 9, Issue 3
Spring 2007

U.S. Policy in Postcolonial Africa: Four Case Studies in Conflict Resolution. F. Ugboaja Ohaegbulam. New York: Peter Lang, 2004. 280 pp.   

This book is one of many books that have been directed at the American foreign policy in Third World Countries. It attempts to give its readers clear accounts of the U.S. foreign policy in Africa since the end of colonialization. The central objective of the United States foreign policy is to protect the United States’ national interest. Ohaegbulam demonstrates that although the U.S. had no interest in the continent prior to the 1940’s, the threat of the Soviet Union, and the influence that the Soviet Union could wield in the decolonizing African states, was pivotal in how the United States advanced its foreign policy on the continent. Therefore, the U.S. involvement is seen as a response to the Soviet Union’s actions in the African continent.

Ohaegbulam maintains that although the U.S is not the primary sponsor of conflicts in Africa; some of its policies have helped to permeate these conflicts. The exigencies of the United States and former Soviet Union’s contention during the Cold War, and the inefficiency of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), now African Union (AU), in conflict resolution, according to the author, exacerbated most of the African conflicts. The book contains ten chapters. The first, which introduces the U.S. role in global politics, provides a conceptual definition of U.S. national security, which is tied to U.S. national interest. Chapter two is an overview of African conflicts since the demise of colonial rule. Ohaegbulam laments the various internal crises that have left Africa in a state of dilapidation.

Chapters three and four address U.S policy in Africa by proxy, as evident in logistical support of America to its European allies who were the colonial powers in Africa. According to Ohaegbulam, the aim of this support through the colonial powers was to suppress “the struggle for national liberation”(51). However, the events of the Second World War had greatly weakened the economic powers of these colonial countries, such that they could not maintain their grips on their colonies. The Soviet Union and the U.S emerged as the two superpowers produced by the Second World War.  The fear of the Soviet Union spreading its communist ideology to Africa, and the fear that Africa might become the Soviet Union’s area of influence; made Africa one of the central focuses of U.S. foreign policy. This was the beginning of the colossal rivalry between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in Africa. The U.S. strategy shifted from logistically supporting its Western allies to becoming physically involved in Africa. For instance, one of the first U.S. involvements in Africa was in Ethiopia, in the Horn of Africa. The U.S. marveled at the “Ethiopians’ valor in the Korean War and decided to provide the Ethiopians military assistance. Moreover, the U.S. saw the proximity of Ethiopia to the Middle East as strategic to its interest in the region (55).

In chapters five through eight, which provide the main substance of the book, Ohaegbulam uses four case studies to illustrate the U.S. policy in Africa, with a chapter dedicated to each case study. The case studies are: “U.S. Role in Conflicts in the Horn of Africa”; “ U.S. Role in the Western Sahara Conflict, 1975-2003”; “U.S. Role in the Angolan Conflict, 1975-2002”; and “The United States and the Genocide in Rwanda, 1994.” The succinct presentation of each case by exploring their historical and political themes is the strength of this book. Each of the cases presents a different cultural and political aspect into the evolution of their problems. Ohaegbulam demonstrates that in all these conflicts, the U.S. was a major supplier of weaponry. Most exceptional is the Genocide in Rwanda. As the most powerful nation on earth, the U.S failed to stop the act of genocide from happening partly because of its bureaucratic policy decision- making structure, and largely because of the traumatic experience of the Somalian saga where eighteen U.S. marines were killed in the early 1990s.  The picture of the marines that were killed in Somalia haunted the Clinton administration and prevented action in the case of Rwanda (213). In the remaining case studies, the author gives insight into how the U.S. supplied the weapons that were used in these conflicts. 

Together, these case studies demonstrate the negative impact of the U.S. involvement in these conflicts on the socioeconomic status of African countries more than a decade past the end of the Cold War. The countries profiled in these case studies are some of the problematic situations that still threaten security in Africa. Chapters nine and ten deal with the formation of an African security force, (African Crisis Response Initiate) inspired by the Clinton administration after the Rwandan failure, to perform peacekeeping mission in the region because it is believed that Africa’s problem would be best solved by Africans.

For political science graduate students, the first chapter of this book can be skimmed over because the message it conveys has been brilliantly done elsewhere (See Wittkopf, Kegley, Jr., & Scott, 2003). This book provides its readers with intrinsic compilation of issues that surround both the internal and external influence on the conflicts in Africa. For its positive contribution to the study of American policy in Africa, Ohaegbulam’s book is somewhat limited by its focus on only the security aspect of the U.S. policy in Africa, thereby ignoring other aspects such as diplomacy and economics.

Another weakness of this book is the occasional repetition of certain ideas. To be fair, in many instances, this weakness is the consequence of the similarities of the U.S. policy in each study. This book might not be the most thorough analysis of U.S foreign policy in Africa, but the author shares with his readers a clearly written review of U.S. involvement in Africa, from an African perspective. In sum, Ohaegbulam’s book contributes nothing new to the study of the U.S. policy in post-colonial Africa, but it offers its readers a reminder of the U.S. over-all policy of self-interest in Africa.

Lekan Badru
University of Louisville, Kentucky

Reference:
Wittkopf, R.E., Kegley, Jr., C.W., & Scott. (2003). American Foreign Policy (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth Inc.