The Perils of Missionary Diplomacy: The United States Peace Corps Volunteers in the Republic of Ghana

By Amin, Julius A. | The Western Journal of Black Studies, Spring 1999 | Go to article overview

The Perils of Missionary Diplomacy: The United States Peace Corps Volunteers in the Republic of Ghana


Amin, Julius A., The Western Journal of Black Studies


Abstract

Based on primary and secondary sources, this paper assesses the impact of the Peace Corps program on the development of Ghana during the 1960s. In doing so this essay examines the broader motives behind the creation of the Peace Corps, and concludes by evaluating the volunteers' overall performance in Ghana. It is hoped that this study will add to the understanding of the role of the Peace Corps in the Cold War, and its influence on the nature of US-Ghanaian foreign relations. The study will also add to our understanding of the role of "people to people" diplomacy in the conduct of American foreign relations.

Introduction

In April 1961, Sargent Shriver arrived in Accra, Ghana to promote the newly created Peace Corps agency to President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. A leading nationalist and Africa's most vocal critic of American foreign policy, it was believed that Nkrumah's acceptance of the Peace Corps would encourage other nations to do the same. Accompanied by Franklin Williams and Harris Wofford, Shriver anticipated problems from Nkrumah: "We have come to listen and learn," Shriver stated upon arrival at the Accra airport (Wofford, 1992, p. 269). Nkrumah emphasized his reservations about American foreign policy especially its neocolonial practices towards Africa. Notwithstanding his suspicion, Nkrumah accepted the Peace corps, and requested that volunteers arrive in his country by the beginning of the school year in September. On August 30, fifty-two American Peace Corps volunteers arrived in Accra. Ghana became the first Peace Corps recipient nation in the world. Nkrumah's decision encouraged other nations to consider the Peace Corps agency as genuine. Despite the significance of Nkrumah's endorsement of the Peace Corps in the midst of troubled US-Ghanaian foreign relations, few studies have examined the role and performance of the volunteers in Nkrumah's Ghana (Koffman, 1998; Mahoney, 1983; Nkrumah, 1965). This study attempts to fill that gap. This paper assesses the impact of the Peace Corps program on the development of Ghana during the 1960s. In doing so this essay examines the broader motives behind the creation of the Peace Corps, and concludes by evaluating the volunteers' overall performance. It is hoped that this study will add to the understanding of the role of the Peace Corps in the Cold War, and its influence on the nature of US-Ghanaian foreign relations. The study will also add to our understanding of the role of "people to people" diplomacy in the conduct of American foreign relations.

Nkrumah versus Eisenhower and Kennedy

Kwame Nkrumah had pan-Africanist dreams. Nkrumah had a vision to liberate Africa from imperialist nations, and then create a United States of Africa. Following his education in the United States and England, he returned to Ghana where he initially became a member of the United Gold Coast Convention, a political party designed to obtain independence through more conservative means. Disgruntled with the party's tactics, Nkrumah abandoned it and formed the Convention People's Party which eventually secured independence for Ghana. In 1957, Ghana became the first African nation south of the Sahara to obtain independence. That was not enough for Nkrumah. He vowed not to rest until all European powers were ejected from Africa. Speaking in 1960 he reiterated his position: "Ghana's independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of Africa and with the projection of the African personality in the international economy" (Nkrumah, 1967, p. 5). But his dream for a united Africa drew much criticism from western nations. Repeatedly, he warned that the tide was changing in Africa: "Unity is the first requisite for destroying neocolonialism," he thundered, adding that, "primary and basic is the need for a Union Government on the much divided continent of Africa" (Nkrumah, 1967, p. 16). To the critics Nkrumah responded: "This is not an idle dream. …

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