It should come as no surprise that a book on US-African relations makes for a relatively slim volume. However, United States Interests and Policies in Africa serves as an excellent primer for the new student of US-African affairs.
The editor of the book, Karl P. Magyar, who wrote three of the book's seven chapters, states in the introduction: "Generally, the shifts over time in America's perceptions of the African continent reflect great initial apprehension of the importance of Africa's emerging state entities whose potential role in the Cold War was very uncertain." This "apprehension" could be the hallmark of any era when changes occurr on the global scene. As a fledgling nation, the United States, seemed mostly concerned with North Africa (due to shipping interests in the Mediterranean Sea) and the slave trade off West Africa. The United States generally kept a distance from matters involving the eastern, southern, or interior regions of the continent, which were the domain of the European powers.
Delving into more recent history of US-African interaction, Mohamad
Z. Yakan describes the relationship between the nations of the Mahgreb
and the United States quite clearly. His historical overview is enlightening
and solid. His finding that geopolitics (protecting Europe and the transport
of oil) will continue to determine the nature of American policy regarding
North Africa is spot on. Additionally, Yakan's treatment of US-Egyptian
relations-as an example of the exception to the rule in US-North African
relations-is as concise as it is thorough.
Essentially the same indifference by US policymakers regarding the western part of the continent is repeated in both the east and the center regions of Africa. Aside from the adventure earlier in the 1990s in Somalia, US policymakers have been content with letting events take their course in eastern Africa. In Sudan, for example, where famine and inter-religious warfare have killed countless numbers of people, the US remains disengaged-if not disinterested. While the US has enacted modest measures here (as well as in Rwanda and Burundi), Washington D.C. has not made any serious overtures indicating their willingness to actively involve themselves in helping bring the conflicts to a close or better the lives of the citizenry of these nations.
Magyar, in his chapter about southern Africa, controversially states that this area of the continent has received more attention in the US due to the number of caucasians who live (and once ruled) there. Even so, with the threat (real or not) of a Soviet takeover eliminated, the US, Magyar says, will most likely limit its activities in the region.
In his closing remarks, Magyar writes that it will take an "unprecedented
global commitment" to address the many needs of modern African
nations. This statement however, amounts to little better than wishful
thinking, since he does not reveal how such involvement would increase
the bottom line for the developed world. Overall though, United States
Interests and Policies in Africa is an excellent starting point
for understanding the origins of modern American policymaking with regard
Sean Patrick Murphy is a Consulting Editor for Current History magazine and an International Affairs Researcher for the Foreign Policy Association.