Analysts and contemporary participants alike typically foreshorten the historical record in their quest to understand more recent African affairs, more especially as the continent continues to wrestle with severe political, economic, and social problems. Yet the condition of postcolonial Africa has not always been bleak. In 1960, a year typically referred to as “the year of Africa,” when seventeen nations in the continent obtained independence, leaders of those nations embarked on an urgent task to modernize the economies of their countries. During the next two decades, economies of some of those nations did generally well, but by the third decade they experienced a major hangover, as they were hit by one economic recession after another. Progress of African nations in the immediate aftermath of independence resulted from an influx of foreign capital. Abou B. Bamba’s African Miracle, African Mirage: Transnational Politics and the Paradox of Modernization in Ivory Coast is a thoughtful and well-researched study of those trends in Africa. Utilizing Ivory Coast as a case study, Bamba discusses the country’s post-independence prospects, challenges, and efforts to modernize. Ivory Coast experienced an economic boom during the first two decades after independence. Working with organizations such as the Office de la recherche scientifique et technique outre-mer (ORSTOM), le Fonds d’investissement pour le développement économique et social des territoires d’outre-mer (FIDES), and others, development in postcolonial Ivory Coast came in the form of construction of bridges, schools, airfields, and hydro-electric power schemes. The bulk of the capital and experts for those projects came from foreign sources. A particularly significant contribution of this book is Bamba’s discussion of repeated tension between the U.S. and France in their dealings in Ivory Coast. Though they were Cold War partners and members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, France remained suspicious of America’s intentions in Ivory Coast. A former French colony, the author’s argument is quite persuasive about France’s unwillingness to fully disengage from Ivory Coast. Like other former French colonies in the region, Ivory Coast remained important in the calculation of France’s economic interest and great-power status. The country is strategically located in West Africa, and its progress gave France bragging rights about its economic policies in the former colonies. At the beginning of the 1960s, Ivory Coast gained additional importance in the United States’ and France’s calculation. Prior to independence, like other former French territories (excluding Sékou Touré’s Guinea), Ivory Coast, a member of the French Community, entered a series of agreements that gave France the authority to intervene in the country’s internal affairs at will. Félix Houphouët-Boigny, the country’s first president and one of the region’s leading strongmen, resented France’s neocolonialism and sought to counter it with more U.S. involvement in his country. In addition, elites in Ivory Coast had a deep admiration for U.S. programs such as the Marshall Plan and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). For example, the Ivorian lawyer Kouamé Binzème contacted Marshall Plan administrators directly to “enlist their active support for what he anticipated would be the effective modernization of his country” (48). But at every turn French administrators sought ways to block any American intervention in the country. Even in cases when American officials respected and recognized France’s historical role and influence in Ivory Coast, the French were always skeptical of America’s intentions. French diplomats, the author noted, “kept a close tab on American involvement” (128) in Ivory Coast. French officials blocked America’s attempt to open a consulate in Abidjan, resisted efforts by the U.S. International Cooperation Agency (ICA) for more involvement in Ivory Coast, attempted to thwart U.S.-funded Kossou Dam, and much more. Despite real and apparent obstacles, American businesses secured several business contracts in the country, including Pickands Mather and Co. and International Systems and Controls Inc. (124). The Development and Resources Corporation helped to promote a TVA-style philosophy in Ivory Coast. America’s involvement was first and foremost designed to serve its interest and not that of the Ivorians. Critics of the Ivorian road to modernization sounded a similar note. They lashed out at the dubious role played by France and America in the quest to develop the country. Indeed, Ivorian leaders underestimated the power of the Western capitalist machine, misread the intentions of those two Western nations, and bought into the façade. They confused self-interest with philanthropy. All the foreign loans, capital, and experts failed to mobilize and reconstitute the socioeconomic structures of Ivory Coast. Houphouët-Boigny’s tactic to silence and jail dissenting voices stymied the creation of local and productive ideas. By the late 1970s it became clear that the Ivorian “miracle” was over. The country turned to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) who responded with austerity measures. IMF’s policies were a recipe for further economic hardship. Here, the author’s argument is most persuasive that Ivory Coast economic downturns resulted from “addiction to foreign credit money to finance development, political clientelism, and the undemocratic management of national resources … [and] continued faith in a capitalist, if inequitable, world system and its mirage of progress” (181). From the mid-1980s the country began to deal with problems typical of other countries in the region: labor strikes, non-payment of workers, corruption, chronic unemployment, social decay, and an increasing resistance to strongman rule, something that gained additional momentum following the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Bamba’s book is important and will stimulate similar studies of other countries in the region. However, the book would have been strengthened by a discussion of the broader nature of U.S. policy toward the entire region rather than just toward Ivory Coast. U.S. foreign policy ideology was consistent with the one pursued for other countries in the region. While creating a free-market system and capitalist expansion were important calculations in this policy, President John F. Kennedy and his successors were equally motivated by Cold War considerations. The creation of programs such as the Peace Corps (Ivory Coast received Peace Corps Volunteers in 1962) and the reorganization of the ICA into the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) were designed to promote America’s Cold War interest in the region. Surprisingly, the author does not contextualize France’s foreign policy toward Ivory Coast to that country’s larger goals in the region. Given the role of race in shaping the United States’ and France’s foreign policy toward Africa, it would have been helpful to show how perceptions of the local people impacted their actions in the region. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press.
The American Historical Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Feb 1, 2018
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