When the US president met Africa’s independence heroes

President Kennedy with Kwame Nkrumah

President John F Kennedy met Ghana’s first President and main pan-Africanist Kwame Nkrumah on the White Home in March 1961

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

Short presentational grey line

Brief presentational gray line

Earlier than Kennedy grew to become president in 1961, his nation had made little try to grasp the speedy adjustments that Africa was present process.

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

In his quick time in workplace, Kennedy had obtained on the White Home both the chief of each unbiased 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 12 months earlier than he grew to become 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 interchange it along with his extra transactional method.

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

He informed Togo’s President, Sylvanus Olympio, that the explanation 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

In the course of the 1960 election marketing campaign, Kennedy repeatedly criticised Eisenhower’s administration for “neglecting the wants and aspirations of the African individuals” and harassed that the US needs to 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 crimson carpet.

Haile Selassie being greeted by President Kennedy

Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, one of many founders of the Organisation of African Unity in Could 1963, was welcomed to Washington by first girl Jacqueline Kennedy and the president in October of that 12 months

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 – once they arrived within the nation.


Haile Selassie being driven through Washington

Haile Selassie was pushed by means of the streets of the US capital

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, had been invited to a proper dinner throughout their go to in Could 1962

The visits had been all highlighted within the media and the general public was inspired to come back out and cheer.

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

In fact, 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 Ladies’s Golf equipment: “I imagine that… if we stay as much as the beliefs of our personal revolution, then the course of African revolution within the subsequent decade shall be in the direction of democracy and freedom and never in the direction of communism and what could possibly 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 People 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 had 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, whose capital is known as 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 could possibly be mutually helpful.

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

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

In a press release earlier this month, he stated the US was able to be Africa’s “companion, in solidarity, assist, 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:

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


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