Review of ‘Fifty Years of U.S. Africa Policy’

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In 1958, the U.S. Department of State created the Bureau of African Affairs. It joined the other geographic bureaus within the department which are charged with managing day-to-day diplomatic affairs with various parts of the world, marking the first time that relations with African countries were handled directly rather than through colonial capitals in Europe.

Fifty Years of U.S. African Policy edited by Claudia E. Anyaso, a former State Department official, uses files from the archives of the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training (ADST) and essays from former State Department officials dealing with African affairs to give the history of the first 50 years of US foreign policy relating to the African continent. I received a free copy of this book from the editor.

The essays, many from those who served as Assistant Secretaries of State for African Affairs – officials responsible for day-to-day policy for the region – show the ups and downs of American official attitudes toward Africa, ranging from the early days when many senior officials in Washington, in the administration and congress, had more sympathy for white regimes in Africa than the fledgling independent black states, to the turmoil of having to deal with disease, poverty and violence – and during the past two decades, terrorism – that plague too many African countries.

This is not, as one might assume from the title, a scholarly book. It is a view from the trenches by the senior Foreign Service Officers and political appointees who were charged with managing affairs directly, often having to deal with opposition within our own government as they strived to conduct diplomacy. In some cases, as in the case of our ambassador to Kenya in 1998, having to conduct diplomacy and deal with a tone deaf Washington bureaucracy as her embassy was blown up by terrorists, readers will get an intensely personal look at what it’s like to represent the world’s greatest power in a region that is little understood by the powers that be in our capital.

This is a book that is highly recommended for anyone who wants to understand how U.S. foreign policy is carried out in those areas of the world that seldom make the front page of American newspapers, and only appear on the evening news when there is a crisis.

I give this four stars.

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