Academic journal article Michigan Academician

G. Mennen Williams and Rhodesian Independence: A Case Study in Bureaucratic Politics (1)

Academic journal article Michigan Academician

G. Mennen Williams and Rhodesian Independence: A Case Study in Bureaucratic Politics (1)

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

November 11, 2005, marks the fortieth anniversary of Rhodesia's Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI), the first and only time since the American Revolution that a British Colony declared its independence from the authority of the Crown. However, the issue of Rhodesian independence during the 1960s was not simply a matter of bilateral interest between the governing parties in Britain and Southern Rhodesia. The multidimensional nature of the problem was clearly illustrated by the interest of the United States, whose Rhodesian policy was determined by a variety of factors that did not always sit comfortably with one another. For example, the desire to counter Communist subversion and infiltration in southern Africa conflicted with the need to assuage U.S. domestic opinion on the sensitive matter of racial discrimination. Such conflicting objectives were reflected in extended bureaucratic contests that illuminate the process of policymaking in the administration of President Lyndon Baines Johnson. This article examines the policy-making process from the perspective of G. Mennen Williams, a former governor of the state of Michigan with a strong record on civil rights, who was assistant secretary of state for African affairs between 1961 and 1966. (2) The article demonstrates that Williams argued a consistent case for greater U.S. involvement in the Rhodesian problem for strategic and moral reasons, but that he was ultimately unsuccessful due to implacable opposition from the highest levels of the Johnson administration.

THE PROBLEM OF RHODESIAN INDEPENDENCE (3)

In 1953 the British government established the Central African Federation, which has been described as "the most controversial large-scale imperial exercise in constructive state-building ever undertaken by the British government." (4) The federation consisted of the territories of Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia, and Nyasaland. The Europeans in these territories constituted a tiny minority of the population (8% in Southern Rhodesia, 3% in Northern Rhodesia, and just 0.3% in Nyasaland) but their social, economic, and political dominance stimulated the growth of African nationalism. Racial tension increased throughout the federation and in January 1959 there was widespread rioting in Nyasaland. By the middle of the following year, the British government concluded that the federation in its original form was no longer viable. New constitutions were authorized for Nyasaland (July 1960), Southern Rhodesia (February 1961), and Northern Rhodesia (February 1962), which anticipated the formal dissolution of the federation on January 1, 1964. (5)

Southern Rhodesia had since 1923 enjoyed a somewhat anomalous status as a "self-governing colony" that was not a Dominion. The Constitution of Southern Rhodesia reserved to the governor, and therefore to the British government, the right to veto legislation that concerned native affairs. However, this theoretical mechanism of intervention was never exercised and by convention all legislative proposals, including those relating to native affairs, were left entirely in the hands of the government of Southern Rhodesia. For the next forty years, Southern Rhodesia was ruled by governments drawn from wealthy farmers and plantation owners who looked after the interests of their fellow Europeans. The 1961 Constitution further diminished the reserve powers of the British government and put in place a new electoral structure that held out the prospect of African majority rule at some point in the distant future. Many Rhodesian Europeans felt that this was a sound enough basis for independence but the prime minister, Edgar Whitehead, recognized that the British government would not permit independence unless there was a genuine improvement in the social and political rights of Africans. He therefore introduced a legislative package that accorded Africans universal elementary education, greater access to agricultural land, and a gradual increase in political representation. …

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