Betting on the Africans: John F. Kennedy's Courting of African Nationalist Leaders

By Philip E. Muehlenbeck | Go to book overview

5
Kennedy,Julius Nyerere, and
Self–Determination in Southern Africa

On March 15, 1961, UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson shocked the diplomatic world when he cast his vote in favor of a Liberian resolution calling for reforms progressing toward independence in Angola. In voting against its Portuguese ally, the United States sided with the Soviet Union and against the Western majority of the UN Security Council (Great Britain, France, nationalist China, Chile, and Ecuador). Although the resolution failed to pass, it marked the first time that the United States had voted for African interests in opposition to one of its European allies. The vote symbolized the break between Eisenhower and Kennedy administration policies in another way as well. Less than three months before, the Eisenhower administration had not only supported Portugal in the UN on the colonial issue, but also backed Lisbon as a candidate for a seat on the Security Council instead of Monrovia. Now, the Kennedy administration was voting in favor of a Liberian resolution and condemning the African policies of Portugal. For Liberians and Africans more generally, this must have starkly highlighted the divergence in US policy. The vote fulfilled a Kennedy campaign promise to “no longer abstain in the UN from voting on colonial issues, we shall no longer trade our vote on other such issues for other supposed gains. We shall no longer seek to prevent subjugated peoples from being heard.”1

The New York Times hailed the vote as “in a very real sense, a new declaration of independence” and “a major shift in American foreign policy on the part of the Kennedy Administration.”2 In the Washington Post, Walter Lippmann wrote that if the United States would have abstained from the vote it would have been perceived that NATO supported colonialism, “and the Soviet Union would have stood out as the only great power in the white man’s world which took the other side.” He wondered whether this vote meant that “the development of Africa has now taken priority over the consolidation and

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