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

By Philip E. Muehlenbeck | Go to book overview

7
Kennedy, Felix Houphouët-Boigny,
William Tubman, and Conservative
African Nationalism

John F. Kennedy was not only interested in progressive leaders but he also made efforts to connect with many of Africa’s more conservative presidents. Men such as William Tubman of Liberia and Felix Houphouët-Boigny of the Ivory Coast were considered valuable assets to American foreign policy, chiefly because they were unfalteringly loyal to the West and fiercely anticommunist. Under Eisenhower, the United States had aligned more closely with conservative Africans who were wholeheartedly committed to the Western camp, and it distanced itself from more radical pan-Africanist Africans who espoused Cold War neutrality. Kennedy, however, took a different approach. While he made an attempt to retain the friendships of Tubman and Houphouët-Boigny, he placed far less emphasis on courting conservative Africans and he instead focused on winning the allegiance of radical or nonaligned African leaders. Congressional critics and conservative Africans complained that this was favoring the “bad boys” over the “good boys.”

Kennedy’s preference for a closer affiliation with radical leaders stemmed from more than just winning neutralists to the West’s side in the Cold War; it was also symptomatic of his view of such men as the wave of the future and of his view that Africa’s older, more conservative, leaders were relics of the past. Kennedy believed that the pan-Africanist-minded radicals were Africa’s future, and he wanted to position the United States to be a part of that future. To Kennedy, the primary value of relations with men like Tubman and Houphouët-Boigny was as a sounding board for Washington’s potential policies toward Africa, as well as a source of information on African issues and on fellow African leaders.

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