Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Frank Gerits's "The Ideological Scramble for Africa"

Frank Gerits is an Assistant Professor in the history of international relations at Utrecht University, a research fellow at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa, and an external fellow at Shanghai University. He is the coeditor of Visions of African Unity.

Gerits applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, The Ideological Scramble for Africa: How the Pursuit of Anticolonial Modernity Shaped a Postcolonial Order, 1945–1966, and reported the following:
Page 99 appears to the reader at a time in the book where Ghana’s use of propaganda to protest the French atomic bomb tests in the Sahara of 1959 and 1960 yields results. As Algeria was fighting for its independence, France tested its nuclear devices in the Sahara which angered African nationalists. After all, what did independence mean if empires could still use their formerly colonized territories as a testing ground? Ghana took the lead in the anti-bomb campaign because it had become independent on 6 March 1957 under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah. His vision of pan-African modernity and African unity clashed with the French neo-colonial plan of continued presence on the continent. When a second device detonates on the first of April 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower feels pressured by Nkrumah and is compelled to implore French President Charles de Gaulle to stop these tests. In his conversation the U.S. president claimed the tests were driving African leaders to the Soviet Camp in the Cold War. Nkrumah’s actions also had some unintended consequences. By highlighting his message of African unity, international peace activists such as Bill Sutherland who had flocked to Accra to support the cause of peace became disillusioned. He felt Nkrumah had misused the peace movement to advance his own political cause.

Readers opening the book on page 99 would thus be introduced to the key theme of the book: the importance of African agency in the international relations of the 1950s and 1960s. It is a clear example of the ability of African leaders to break old alliances in the North, project their message of anticolonial modernity abroad and shape international relations through ideological struggle. Postcolonial African leaders did not simply play off the Cold War powers against each other to extract as many benefits as possible. Rather, they projected their own model of anticolonial modernity. What is a bit more difficult to grasp from one page is that the actions of Nkrumah were part of an ideological struggle that erupted after 1945 between Liberationists Imperialists, Communists, and Capitalists who were locked in a battle over the meaning of European modernity and the Enlightenment values. Decolonization did not only germinate modernity but also increased modernity’s complexity. In revolutionary centers in Accra, Cairo, and Dar es Salaam, an idealized “authentic” image of the past, such as the “African Personality” or Ujamaa, was held up as an important corrective to European dominated progress. The ‘rise of the Rest’ therefore has a history that predates the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and influenced diplomacy. It is that history that The Ideological Scramble for Africa attempts to capture.
Visit Frank Gerits's website.

--Marshal Zeringue