[:en]When the US president met Africa’s independence heroes[:]

[:en]When the US president met Africa’s independence heroes[:]


In our collection of letters from African journalists, Sierra Leonean-Gambian author Ade Daramy mines an archive of images that includes US President John F Kennedy, who set the template for US relations with Africa.

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Earlier than Kennedy turned president in 1961, his nation had made little try to know the speedy modifications that Africa was present process.

By the point he was assassinated in 1963 the image had radically modified.

In his brief time in workplace, Kennedy had acquired on the White Home both the chief of each impartial African state – numbering greater than two dozen on the time – or its ambassador.

President John F. Kennedy greets President of Senegal Léopold Sédar Senghor

Senegal’s President Léopold Sédar Senghor, a key determine within the anti-colonial motion in Francophone nations, flew into Washington in November 1961

A yr earlier than he turned president, 17 African nations had gained independence from their colonial masters, and conscious that the world was altering, Kennedy knew {that a} new relationship wanted to be cast.

That relationship was based mostly on supporting the brand new African nations.

It was a international coverage outlook that primarily survived, given the occasional tweak, till President Donald Trump’s efforts to exchange it together with his extra transactional method.

It was reported that Mr Trump infamously used derogatory language when speaking concerning the continent, and Kennedy’s predecessor, Dwight D Eisenhower, had his personal adverse views.

He informed Togo’s President, Sylvanus Olympio, that the rationale the US shared one ambassador between Togo and Cameroon was as a result of he didn’t need his diplomats to “should stay in tents”.

President John F. Kennedy speaks at arrival ceremonies for President of Togo, Sylvanus Olympio

Togo’s President Sylvanus Olympio was greeted on the airport by Kennedy in March 1962

Through the 1960 election marketing campaign, Kennedy repeatedly criticised Eisenhower’s administration for “neglecting the wants and aspirations of the African individuals” and confused that the US must be on the aspect of anti-colonialism and self-determination, not on the aspect of the colonialists.

As soon as in energy, Kennedy invited African leaders for state visits and laid out the pink carpet.

Accompanied by first girl Jackie Kennedy, he would greet every of them – together with Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie and King Hassan IV of Morocco – after they arrived within the nation.

There have been additionally guards of honour, lavish dinners and visits to the ballet, the theatre and locations of historic curiosity.

President Kennedy hosting a state dinner

Félix Houphouët-Boigny, Ivory Coast’s first President, and his spouse, Marie-Thérèse Houphouët-Boigny, have been invited to a proper dinner throughout their go to in Might 1962

The visits have been all highlighted within the media and the general public was inspired to return out and cheer.

Kennedy and his friends can be pushed by means of streets festooned with welcome banners and cheering crowds and, climate allowing, in an open-top automobile.

After all, there was a component of realpolitik in all this. The Soviet Union was making related overtures to African states looking for to distance themselves from former colonial masters.

On assuming workplace, Kennedy knew he needed to act rapidly to make pals with the rising African nations.

President John F. Kennedy delivers remarks at arrival ceremonies in honour of President of Guinea, Ahmed Sékou Touré.

Guinea’s President Ahmed Sékou Touré, who in 1958 led the nation to independence from France two years earlier than most of its different African colonies, was in Washington in October 1962

Within the Oval Workplace, he informed the Nationwide Affiliation of Coloured Girls’s Golf equipment: “I consider that… if we stay as much as the beliefs of our personal revolution, then the course of African revolution within the subsequent decade will likely be in direction of democracy and freedom and never in direction of communism and what might be a much more severe type of colonialism.”

A month after his inauguration, he requested Vice-President Lyndon B Johnson to go to Senegal to satisfy President Léopold Sédar Senghor, who he noticed as a key ally in attempting to get Francophone nations on-side.

Then one other month later, Kennedy launched the Peace Corps – which despatched younger Individuals throughout the globe – and in August 1961, invited to the White Home the primary set of volunteers on the point of head to Ghana and Tanganyika.

The assassination of Congolese independence hero, Patrice Lumumba, with suspected CIA involvement, three days earlier than Kennedy took workplace is a reminder that Chilly Battle battles with the Soviet Union have been additionally being performed out on the continent.

President John F. Kennedy meets with William V.S. Tubman, President of Liberia

William Tubman, the president of Liberia, the capital of which is called after former US President James Monroe, sat down with Kennedy in October 1961

However I’d argue that Kennedy was genuinely within the improvement and development of the continent. African leaders who fought onerous for independence weren’t naïve and took Kennedy at his phrase: that the connection might be mutually useful.

His premature demise was keenly felt in Africa – particularly as his successor, Johnson, didn’t share his drive for cementing relations.

Now, 60 years on, President Joe Biden is beginning to form his coverage in direction of Africa.

In a press release earlier this month, he mentioned the US was able to be Africa’s “accomplice, in solidarity, help, and mutual respect”.

Biden’s phrases echoed Kennedy’s dedication – now we’re ready to see if the actions match the rhetoric.

Extra Letters from Africa:

Observe us on Twitter @BBCAfrica, on Fb at BBC Africa or on Instagram at bbcafrica

Images by Robert Knudsen, Cecil Stoughton, Abbie Rowe, White Home images, John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

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