Edward Kissi, USF, Dept. of Africana Studies

I have read the summary of  the US experts' Africa Report produced under the sponsorship of the National Intelligence Council. I have printed out the report to peruse it in detail later. We have been on this road before and the so-called experts always get it wrong. On  Africa, they have been twice as wrong as they are more likely to be now. I do not know who those experts were. But a little knowledge of the diplomatic history of Africa, most especially the history of  US expert reports on Africa could have helped the experts to put their doomsday perceptions in historical context. But I don't blame them. They may have derived their prognosis and predictions from some of the doomsday prophets in our midst.

In a US Intelligence Report of  3 January 1956 entitled "Africa: a special assessment" [to be found in Record Group 273: Records of the National Security Council, Meeting Minute File 335, Tab D, in the US National Archives],  similar doomsday predictions were made about an Africa that was emerging out of colonialism. It was a period when Washington warned African nationalists not to seek "premature independence." The fear was that an independent Africa disgusted with foreign control might not be submissive to Washington's dictates and might align itself with Cold War enemies. The 1956 report was a sad and sullen assessment of the strategic value of Africa for US policymakers,  and even the political potential and intellectual ability of  Africa's new leaders to build viable nation-states. As it is today in Washington, so was it in 1956 that the only place US officials held some hope OR RESPECT for an Africa that could be like the West was South Africa. The grounds for the experts' hopes were not so much the economic viability of  South Africa, but rather its peculiar social history. In the 1956 report, the hopeful prospect the Washington experts on Africa held for South Africa was rooted in their nuanced admiration for an Africa ruled by people with historical and institutional ties to the West. This observation was supposed to shape a positive Washington attitude towards the apartheid regime and  to discourage official Washington statements in support of  decolonization in Africa. We all know that decolonization was not stopped by observations in a report.

  Many of the predictions contained in the 1956 report were based on game theories and policy predictions and strategic calculations. None of the document's key predictions came true----a sober realization that human actions cannot be accurately predicted and those who predict human behavior for a living ought to worship at the altars of  modesty and caution.

I plan to read this newly-issued US expert mapping of sub-Saharan Africa in its entirety. When I am done, I plan to write a "dialogue" comparing some of the conclusions and observations of this new report with the January 3, 1956 report, which I have mentioned above, and another CONFIDENTIAL US expert report on Africa prepared on 27 July 1966 for the Johnson Administration entitled "Review of Development Policies and Programs As Directed by the President."  That comparative study of US intelligence reporting on Africa might reveal some enduring patterns, obscured motives, continuing cultural assumptions and other things when Africa is discussed at the halls of diplomacy in Washington.

Many of the assessments of the 1956 and 1966 reports were based on faulty intelligence, lame analysis and pure emotional disgust with particular leaders and developments on the African continent. A pattern that emerges from both reports is that some of the ingredients of  the 1956 and 1966 reports were provided by African experts on Africa living in the United States. I should think that the same may apply to the 2005 report.  

The 1956 Intelligence Report, for instance, concluded, among other
conclusions, that:

  "Expanded economic development programs [SUPPORTED BY THE WEST AND US  caps mine], however, can enlarge the opportunities for constructive action; without such expansion, it is certain that extremist groups seeking shortcuts to security through violence will increasingly dominate the African scene."

Any serious and objective analyst of political developments in Africa since 1956 will conclude that that expanded economic development programs from the US did not come to Africa as statistics on  US Aid programs in Africa, from 1956 to the present,  indicate. And yet, without such economic aid, "extremist groups"---whatever manner one may define such groups---have not and do not dominate Africa. The report was based, in part, on a fantastic chaos theory. The chaos predicted in that report was far more extreme and disheartening that what actually happened or has happened. In the 1950s, "extremist group" was the phrase for what one would call "terrorists" today.  Yet, in this January 2005 Intelligence Report, the US experts on Africa discount the possibility of an Africa dominated by terrorist groups, organizations or such extremist bodies. So in 1956, they made a false prediction. Furthermore, the 1956 report was not hopeful about strategic partnerships with Africa. The report dismissed the entire continent as marginal to US concerns. Africa's importance to the United States was seen, as some continue to see it today, as mainly "humanitarian."  Of course Washington did not want to disclose the important strategic partnership that Washington had with Ethiopia, then, at Kagnew, now part of Eritrea. That strategic partnership did not merit disclosure in an evolving Cold War period in an Intelligence Report.

The Confidential US Report on Africa of  27 July 1966 reveals what official Washington has always thought about Africa:

"Our relations with Africa are not of the same nature as our intimate historic ties with Latin America, our significant strategic interests in Asia or our concentrated oil investment in the Near East. Africa, for the most part, has been outside the main arenas of U.S. attention and actions in the world. Our concern with Africa has been: a) to lay the groundwork for a future viable Western relationship commensurate with the potential of the continent; and b) to prevent events in Africa from complicating a search, largely conducted elsewhere, for solutions to the problems of war and peace, or from interfering with our central strategic preoccupations on other regions."

So the idea of  Africa as a sideshow to overall US foreign policy and an irritant in American strategic conceptions of war and peace continue to preoccupy some minds in Washington. But that idea is often overstated out of arrogance or pure ignorance. When one reads the 1966 Report, one can conclude, with the benefit of hindsight, that either the analysts could not foresee the strategic industrial resources and the oil that the Congo and Nigeria later provided the United States or, for some ideological reasons, they refused to state the fact. Today, some analysts even claim that Nigeria provides more oil to the United States than Kuwait does. And, today, the fact remains that Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa, is a key strategic partner to the US  on the War on Terrorism.

So I am not worried about  the contents of the 2005 report. It is good that we know about it. But there is a diplomatic  history of  US expert predictions and reports on Africa, although not well-known to many. Many of them have turned out to be wrong---an indication that their writers never paused to assess the history of such predictions.  Perhaps,  Washington may have to change the body of experts it consults on Africa because those experts since 1956 have not often served Washington well.

I hope to write again about the Report. Until then:

Be Not Afraid
For this path hath we trod before
Be of Good Cheer
And May thy Enterprises Thrive!