Vol. XII, Issue 1 (Winter 2005): US Foreign Policy and Africa



Gloria Emeagwali
Chief Editor

Walton Brown-Foster
Copy Editor

Haines Brown


Olayemi Akinwumi

Zenebworke Bissrat

Paulus Gerdes

Mosebjane Malatsi
(South Africa)

Alfred Zack-Williams
(Sierra Leone)


Tennyson Darko
Asst. Dir. ITS, CCSU

Peter K. LeMaire
Professor, CCSU

Website Maintenance

Nana Poku


For more information concerning Africa Update
Prof. Gloria Emeagwali
CCSU History Dept.
1615 Stanley Street
New Britain, CT 06050
Tel: 860-832-2815

Table of contents



 In this issue of Africa Update,  Dr. Fitzroy Andre Baptiste examines various dimensions of U.S. Foreign Policy in the post-1945 era. He is concerned with the decolonization process in Africa and the Caribbean and the shifts in U.S. policy after 1941. The Suez crisis of 1956  and the  evolving Cold War,  heightened some of the fears.  Dr. Baptiste notes that the initial U.S. support for independence  movements in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean shifted. NATO and the United States  went against any government  that was perceived to be anti-communist even when this implied independence from colonial  terror.

 We have included in this issue of Africa Update a discussion  by Harold Smith, a senior British civil servant, resident in Nigeria 1955-1960. He was sent to Nigeria on the eve of  its independence. With moral indignation Smith refused to participate in a scheme to rig that election and consequently was  thrown into retirement at the age of 33, without pension or benefits. We are not in a position to verify all aspects of Smith’s account, but in many ways his commentary is important primary material for historians and social scientists concerned with voting behaviour and the transition from colonialism to independence. 

Smith’s account complements aspects of Baptiste’s discussion. The common thread linking the two discussions is the decolonization movement in Africa and the Caribbean in  the late 1950’s and  1960’s. We get a glimpse  of British foreign policy  and  its intersection with that of the United States. Smith’s discussion takes us to Nigeria’s military coup of 1966 and the immediate aftermath, whilst Baptiste concludes with  the aftermath of the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. In the course of discussion he takes us to landmarks  before and after the independence of various African and Caribbean states. Baptiste’s scholarly discussion assists us in understanding the decolonization process in two regions.

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Dr. Fitzroy Andre Baptiste, History Department, University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica.

US  Policy towards Decolonization in the Caribbean and Africa  in the post-World War II Period

Leader of the Grand Coalition or the United Nations that defeated Germany, Italy and Japan in World War II, the United States played a vital role in settling the “Post-war Order”.  In retrospect, foreign policy had to navigate between two tensional poles: that of the country’s anti-colonialism vis- a -vis Europe in Asia, the Pacific, Africa and the Caribbean and the realities of the Cold War and the ICBM age of warfare.  The Atlantic Charter of August 1941, signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill on a warship off the coast of the United States and Canada, apparently held out a promise of freedom for colonized peoples in Asia, the Pacific, Africa and the Caribbean, on the part of the United States and Britain. Article 3 stated:

They (the two countries) respect the right of all peoples, to choose the form of government under which they will live; and they wish to see sovereign rights and self-government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them.

Influenced by the above declaration, the Roosevelt State Department established a Committee on Colonial Policy (CCP) in the fall of 1943 and charged it to formulate an overall policy relating to non-self-governing territories. The Committee produced a three-point policy as follows: (1) dependent peoples desiring independence should have the opportunity to attain that status; (2) nations responsible for the future of colonial areas should fix, as soon as possible, dates upon which independence would be granted; and (3) the establishment of an international trusteeship system.

By 1945-1953, however, a shift to “realities” had taken place in US policy on the “Colonial Question”. One index of this was the United States’ blindness to the “Challenge to the Colonial Powers” enunciated by the Pan-African Congress in Manchester 1945. It called on those Powers to concede immediate FREEDOM to the colonies in Africa and the Caribbean especially, in keeping with the Atlantic Charter. Another index was that the San Francisco conference that founded today’s world body, the United Nations, barely discussed colonial issues.  Research has shown that the delegates of the United States and of the European Colonial Powers saw to that happening. But the “reality” above else that forced the shift of the United States on the “Colonial Question” was the advent of the Cold War and, with it, of the missile age of warfare. In retrospect, the indices of the onset of the Cold War between the North Atlantic and USSR blocs included, by 1947 to 1953, the Communist threat to France, Italy and Greece; the coup d’etat in Czechoslovakia in February 1948; the Berlin blockade in June 1948; and the offensive in China, Indo-China (today’s Vietnams); Korea; Malaya; and Indonesia.  The responses of the United States-led Western alliance were the so-called Truman Doctrine, calling for a “crusade” against the evil of Communism; the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Central European Treaty Organization (CENTO) and the South East Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO) as shields against the USSR and China; the launching of the Marshall Plan for economic aid to Western Europe and its Asian equivalent, the plan for the economic recovery of Japan; and the formation of the Central intelligence Agency (CIA).

A new arms race began, as NATO and the USSR equipped themselves with Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) for warfare.  On May 11, 1949, President Truman signed a bill authorising the expenditure of US $75 million to begin the testing of a 3000-mile ICBM system from Florida, astride the archipelago of the Caribbean and to Ascension Island in the South Atlantic.

The corollary of the above was a shift by the United States to “enlightened self-interest” on issues pertaining to colonial “self-government” and/or “self-determination”, everywhere.  The expression “enlightened self-interest” was that of Henry A. Byroads, Assistant Secretary for Near East, South Asian and African Affairs in the State Department.  He used it in an address entitled  “The World’s Colonies and Ex-Colonies: A Challenge to America”, which he gave before the World Affairs Council of North California at Asilomar, California on October 31, 1953:

The policies of the United States Government towards colonial questions have not always been clearly understood. -Our basic policy, however, is relatively simple.  We believe in eventual self-determination for all peoples, and we believe that evolutionary development to this end should move forward with minimum delay.  Our Government must approach colonial questions in terms of the enlightened self-interest of the United States. We recognise that the disintegration of the old colonialism is inevitable-We recognise that self-determination will not always be exercised in the form of national independence. Some people may choose voluntarily to unite or associate themselves, on a free and equal basis, with the nations which have governed them in the past-


There are regions where human beings are unable to cope with disease, famine, and other forces of nature. Premature independence for these peoples would not serve the interests of the United States nor the interests of the free world as a whole.  Least of all would it serve the interests of the dependent peoples themselves-The withdrawal of foreign influence from a territory not yet capable of independent exercise does not mean that the area will simply disappear from the world community.  Instead, there will be created a power vacuum, an area of weakness which invites internal disorder and external aggression-let us be frank in recognising our stake in the strength and stability of certain European nations which exercise influence in the dependent areas. These European nations are our allies. They share many common interests with us. They will probably represent, for many years to come, the main source of the free-world defensive power outside our own. We cannot blindly disregard their side of the colonial question without injury to our own security. In particular, we cannot ignore the legitimate interests which European nations possess in certain dependent territories. Nor can we forget the importance of these interests to the European economy which we have contributed so much to support-

In sum, Byroads said that United States policy on decolonisation, in the realities of the Cold War and the age of ICBM warfare, had to be developed globally.  Moreover, such policy had to balance values relating to anti-colonialism in the Atlantic Charter and the declaration of the Manchester Congress, against factors such as the attitude of the Colonial Powers, including the United States herself, to decolonisation; recognition of the economic and other value of colonies to metropolitan Powers; and recognition of the imperative to maintain the security of NATO (and related mechanisms), in the face of the threat posed by international Communism as well as the impingement of that threat on the colonial world.


The Attitude of the Colonial Powers to  Decolonization 

As Byroads noted, US “enlightened self-interest” on decolonisation everywhere could not ignore the attitude of her Western and NATO allies in the era of the Cold War.  Though he did not mention it in his address, the United States herself was a Colonial Power in the Caribbean and in the Pacific.  For this and other reasons, Washington decided to adopt a flexible approach to the decolonisation issue.  There were tensions at times between the United States and the old Colonial Powers in Western Europe on specific issues.  However, there is some evidence that United States representatives collaborated with those of the European Colonial Powers in order to plan strategy at the United Nations relating to the so-called “emancipation debate.”  This was done partly to offset expected attacks on the Western/NATO Powers by the Communist bloc countries and some of the non-Communist, non-aligned countries in Asia and Latin America. 

French intransigence on post-World War II decolonisation is almost legendary.  This intransigence led France to refuse to acknowledge the declaration of the independence of Indo-China (Vietnam), made by communist-inclined nationalist forces under Ho Chi Minh by 1944. France tried to turn the clock back by force.  The result was the Indo-China (Vietnam) involvement of France.  France also took a hard stand against the generally non-communist independence movement in Muslim North Africa, especially in Algeria. How and why should the United States react?  

Up to about 1954-55, Washington decided to support France in both Indo-China and in French North Africa (the Maghreb).  However, a shift in US foreign policy occurred as a result of the Suez Crisis of 1956.  The crisis was precipitated by the action of Gamal Abdel Nasser in expropriating the Anglo-French Suez Maritime Canal Company.  Then, as now, the crisis was linked to the Israeli-Palestine conflict in the Middle East.  The crisis escalated when Britain, France and Israel attacked Egypt.  This raised the spectre of a wider conflict in the oil-rich Middle East between NATO and the USSR, supported by Muslim states and the nationalists fighting the French in North Africa.  A National Security Council (NSC) document of August 22, 1956 spelled out the dilemma that faced the United States:

The war-making potential of the NATO powers would be seriously affected by the interruption of the movement of vital raw materials through the Canal.  It is militarily unacceptable to the United States and NATO for this movement to be controlled by a power which is hostile or potentially hostile to the Western Powers.  If Egypt closes the canal, the movement through the Suez Canal of raw materials for Western use will have to be rerouted with resultant delays, increased shipping costs, and a demand for ocean freighters and tankers which exceeds the current availability.  If the Suez Canal, the Trans-Arabian pipelines and Iraq Petroleum Company pipelines were closed, but crude oil from the Persian Gulf continues to be available, it would have the following implications to the Western Powers:

a.                    Necessity for the introduction of national and international controls on petroleum consumption.

b.                    Crude oil production would have to be increased in the United States and Canada by 1.3 million B/D, the Caribbean by 200,000 B/D, and the Persian Gulf by 500,000 B/D to maintain Western Europe’s present demand.

c.                    The United States and Caribbean could meet the increased crude oil production for the first 90 days; beyond that point doubt exists if this increased production could be maintained for an extended period. In any case, serious depletion of Western Hemisphere oil reserves would result.

If the Suez Canal, Trans-Arabian pipeline and Iraq Petroleum pipelines were closed and no crude oil was available from the Persian Gulf there would be an immediate shortage of approximately 3.1 million B/D to the Free World, particularly Western Europe, which can be met only partially by rationing and additional production from other sources.  Military action by either the United Kingdom, France, or United States will probably require a withdrawal of forces from NATO commitment and thus temporarily weaken the military posture in Western Europe.  However, this is considered of small consequence when compared to the long-term economic effect on NATO and the loss of Western prestige and influence in the Middle East.  If Nasser emerges as the apparent victor in his contest with the West, the following consequences may be anticipated:


a.                    The resultant decrease in Western prestige could result in the loss of U.S. bases in the Middle East and North Africa and ultimately in other areas such as Iceland, the Philippine Republic, Spain and the Azores.

b.                    The rebellion against the French in North Africa will gain new impetus.  The governments and leaders of Middle East countries who have identified themselves with U.S. policies will be seriously weakened.

c.                    Other Moslem governments would come under increasing pressure to expropriate Western investments in oil fields and pipelines. Concessions to the USSR on the part of nations concerned would be a logical corollary to such acts of expropriation. Were these granted, the result would be an acceleration of Soviet expansion and a consolidation of Soviet power throughout the Middle East.

d.                    The likelihood of Arab military action against Israel would be considerably increased and vice versa. Iraqi participation in the Baghdad Pact might become so slight that the Pact would be seriously weakened

The United States solved the dilemma by backing Nasser against Britain, France and Israel. She also threw her weight behind the nationalists in Algeria. Britain, France and Israel were angry. However, history shows that the West and NATO were the beneficiaries. Egypt and the nationalists in Algeria were brought under the influence of the United States and, indirectly, NATO, and the fall-out from giving Nasser his victory over the West in the Suez Crisis was avoided.

In a balancing act, however, the United States decided to let France have her way in settling the “Colonial Question” in her colonies in sub-Saharan Africa and in the French Caribbean.  Under the 1956 Constitution of the Fifth Republic, the French Caribbean (Martinique, Guadeloupe and French Guiana) and French West and Equatorial African remained tied to France in a neo-colonial relationship called the “French Community”. It was similar to  “The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico” status which the United States settled on Puerto Rico in 1952; and “The Kingdom of the Netherlands Act” of 1954, which declared the Dutch territories of Aruba, Curacao and Surinam in the Caribbean to be parts of the Netherlands.  The Constitution of the Fifth Republic, however, was to be adopted by a referendum in France and the overseas territories.  Martinique, Guadeloupe and French Guiana in the Caribbean voted “Yes” and became “Departments” within the French Community.  However, French Guinea voted “No” and for independence from France.  The French Government reluctantly acceded to Guinea’s wish. Within two years of Guinea’s independence in 1958, all of the other French colonies in sub-Saharan Africa had gained independence, with the blessing of France.  The United States played a decisive role in effecting this process rather smoothly; and in keeping the new states in Francophone Africa within the Western and NATO sphere of influence

In a balancing act, however, the United States decided to let France have her way in settling the “Colonial Question” in her colonies in sub-Saharan Africa and in the French Caribbean.  Under the 1956 Constitution of the Fifth Republic, the French Caribbean (Martinique, Guadeloupe and French Guiana) and French West and Equatorial African remained tied to France in a neo-colonial relationship called the “French Community”. It was similar to  “The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico” status which the United States settled on Puerto Rico in 1952; and “The Kingdom of the Netherlands Act” of 1954, which declared the Dutch territories of Aruba, Curacao and Surinam in the Caribbean to be parts of the Netherlands.  The Constitution of the Fifth Republic, however, was to be adopted by a referendum in France and the overseas territories.  Martinique, Guadeloupe and French Guiana in the Caribbean voted “Yes” and became “Departments” within the French Community.  However, French Guinea voted “No” and for independence from France.  The French Government reluctantly acceded to Guinea’s wish. Within two years of Guinea’s independence in 1958, all of the other French colonies in sub-Saharan Africa had gained independence, with the blessing of France.  The United States played a decisive role in effecting this process rather smoothly; and in keeping the new states in Francophone Africa within the Western and NATO sphere of influence

The same was true for the new states in the Anglophone Caribbean and in sub-Saharan Africa.  Of the European Colonial Powers in the Caribbean and in Africa, Britain turned out to be the one that was most committed to decolonisation there. Churchill had charged that paragraph 3 of The Atlantic Charter addressed the restoration of sovereignty to countries in Europe under the yoke of Nazi Germany, and not to the colonies Africa, the Caribbean and Asia in a famous or notorious speech of 5 October, 1941 in the Guildhall Office of the Lord Mayor of London.  However, Clement Attlee, the leader of the Labour Party and Churchill’s deputy in the wartime Government of National Unity, had contradicted Churchill in remarks before the West African Students’ Union in London just before Churchill’s Guildhall speech.  He had stated that his party, if victorious in the first post-war election, would honour the decolonisation pledge in the Charter.

Labour won that election.  However, there developed a certain convergence in the policy of the two major British political parties, Labour and the Conservatives, concerning decolonisation in the British Empire.  As shaped by the British Colonial Office, the approach, following the grant of independence to India and Pakistan in 1947-48 under a degree of US pressure, was to spread out the process for the rest of the colonies in the Empire over 10-15 years.  The United States went along with this. One reason was to afford Britain to rebuild her parlous economic and fiscal position coming out of World War II, by continuing to exploit colonial wealth and trade.  Time was also needed for Britain to negotiate continuing, neo-colonial benefits and protections for British and western investments with “acceptable” political leaders in the new states.

The initial British preference was for “conservative” leaders over the “Pan-Africanists” of the Manchester Congress of 1945.  To this end, the Colonial Office summoned a conference of Governors of the British colonies and protectorates in sub-Saharan Africa in late 1947.  It followed up with an African Conference in 1948.  The meeting was attended by carefully-selected “conservative” forces in existing non-representative

Legislative Council in West, East and Central Africa.  In attendance, also, were “observers” from the Union of South Africa; Southern Rhodesia; the High Commission Territory of Basutoland; Belgium; France; Portugal; and Sudan.  The “conservative” option for decolonisation included reform of existing “indirect” and Crown Colony rule-systems and “federations” in the African territories.  These reformed rule-systems were to have built-in majorities of “conservative” forces in, for example, Nigeria and in the white settler colonies in East and Central Africa. 

The “Pan-Africanists” such as Kwame Nkrumah in the Gold Coast  (today’s Ghana), Nnamdi Azikiwe in Nigeria and Jomo Kenyatta in Kenya would have none of it. Azikiwe and Nkrumah led mass protests in Nigeria and in the Gold Coast between 1948 and 1950; while Kenyatta unleashed “Mau Mau” terrorism in Kenya against native chiefs and white settlers who had disposed peasant farmers. 

Recently released documents show how Britain and the United States discussed the situation in Africa then in the context of the Cold War, and concluded that independence under “Pan-African” leadership was the better way to protect their interests.  The British Foreign Office feared that too rapid a move to independence might “expose these volatile and unsophisticated peoples to the insidious dangers of Communist penetration”. Intransigence, however, might provoke the “Pan-African” leaders “to turn more readily towards the Soviet Union” and, thereby, create opportunities where “sooner or later the Russians will make a major drive against our positions in Africa”.  Africa was too important strategically to allow this to happen.

Nkrumah was summoned from prison and invited to become Leader of Government Business in 1951 by Sir Charles Arden-Clarke, the British Governor of the Gold Coast.  He cooperated with the British in the decolonisation process and gave Ghana the distinction of being the first country in Black Africa to gain independence.  The historic year was 1957.  This was the pattern that was followed in sub-Saharan Africa. As the British Foreign Office concluded:

Pan-Africanism, in itself, is not necessarily a force that we need regard with suspicion and fear. On the contrary, if we can avoid alienating it and guide it on lines generally sympathetic to the free world, it may well prove in the longer term a strong, indigenous barrier to the penetration of Africa by the Soviet Union. 

Washington concurred with this view. Accordingly, as Henry Bretton argued, the Nkrumahs, Azikiwes, Kenyattas and Nyereres who emerged as “Fathers of Independence” in sub-Saharan Africa by the 1960s were brought into the decolonisation process by the British, in collaboration with the Americans, and anointed as successors. In order to inherit the new “Political Kingdom” in Black Africa against internal challengers, these “Fathers of Independence” had to bow to the realities of power in the Cold War and accept the “Economic Kingdom” of neo-colonialism as part of the independence package. 

The same was true for the British Caribbean: with the exception that the Bustamantes, Manleys, Adams and Williamses were not directly involved in the articulation of the decolonisation declaration of the Manchester Pan-African Congress.  However, they can be said to have endorsed them or to have paid lip service to them. Also, the dictonomy of “conservative/Pan-Africanist” in the leadership in sub-Saharan Africa after 1945 made no sense in the British Caribbean, in the view of the author.  The constant for British Africa and the British Caribbean was that decolonisation was managed by Britain, in collaboration with the United States. 

In the British Caribbean, this management was done at four levels: (1) the grant of internal self-government to the various British colonies through adult franchise and the introduction of elected representatives into the political institutions over 15 years, beginning in Jamaica in 1944; (2) the Four-Power Caribbean Commission; and (3) the experiment of the Federation of the British West Indies, to be linked to the British Commonwealth; and (4) the grant of independence to constituent units of the Federation, after its demise in 1962.  I shall say a word about the second and third. 

The Anglo-American Caribbean Commission was established in early 1942 during World War II, ostensibly as a mechanism to promote “economic democracy” in the words of Charles Taussig, one of the key figures in the decision-making in the United States.  In reality, however, security was the imperative, given the devastating German U-boat offensive against United States and Allied shipping in the Western Atlantic and in the Caribbean then.  By 1944-45, the membership of the Commission had been broadened to include France and the Netherlands, the two other major European Colonial Powers in the Caribbean.  The stated rationale was that the four Powers would mount a concerted regional onslaught on the problems of chronic underdevelopment in their colonies in the Caribbean.  However, a Caribbean perspective is that the Four-Power Caribbean Commission pursued policies and programs that barely touched the problems of underdevelopment in the region and, instead, locked the region into greater dependency with the metropolitan centres.  Moreover, there was a heavy official representation in the institutions of the Four-Power Caribbean Commission.  From a Caribbean perspective, this appears to have been engineered in order to break the pace of the emergence of any “Pan-Caribbean” nationalism after 1945.  If the British objective was to foster the evolution of this nationalism through the simultaneous experiment of the Federation of the West Indies (which the author doubts), then the Four-Power Caribbean Commission cut across this and was really a “divide and dominate” device by the Colonial Powers in the region, including the United States. 

The history of the experiment in the Federation of the West Indies between 1947 and 1962 was that Britain, the external architect, was searching for a construct that would balance the complex plural elements there and which would ensure neo- colonial influence. However, security was the major rationale.  This was an imperative for the United States in the Cold War. As the author has shown, several studies done by the United States up to 1960 concluded that the Federation of the West Indies could only be viable economically, if Britain, Canada and the United States were prepared to underwrite it with massive aid.  They were not prepared to do so. Notwithstanding, the United States supported the project as an ally of Britain and in the overall security interests of NATO. The Caribbean, as Africa, were locked into the macro-NATO system against the USSR bloc in the Cold War. Like Africa, the region also housed strategic resources that were vital to Britain, the United States and NATO.  Coming out of World War II, Britain tapped the strategic and other resources of her colonies in the Caribbean and in Africa to rebuild her economy and finances and, thereby, to enable herself to make a more effective contribution to NATO and its related mechanisms across the globe.

Colonies in Africa and the Caribbean as Resuscitators of the Weak Economies of Britain, France and other European Colonial Powers in the period after World War II.

Western Europe (including Britain) alone of all the areas in the world has the industrial base to support large modern military establishments.  From it more than any other area must the United States receive help in checking the threat of Soviet expansion.  It more than any other area has constitutional traditions which favour the maintenance of free institutions.  The American interest in keeping Western Europe democratic is even greater than the interest in rebuilding its military potential.  A powerful but anti-democratic Western Europe would be as much of a threat to American security and American liberties as a powerful and free Western Europe would be a bulwark. Its revival must be the first object of an American foreign aid policy which goes beyond merely alleviating human suffering.

One cannot find a better rationale for the US Marshall Aid Plan to revive the weakened economies of Western Europe, including Britain, in the first decade and more after the end of World War II. To aid the process of revival, the United States concurred in the strategy of the European Colonial Powers of exploiting the wealth of their colonies. 

Britain, for example, ended World War II with her gold and dollar reserves severely depleted and with a deficit in her trade accounts, especially vis--vis the United States. According to Allister Hinds, Britain’s accumulated sterling balances stood at L3,567 million at the end of 1945. Her trade deficit was also substantial. It was calculated that Britain needed to increase her exports by at least 50 percent above the pre-war level, merely to eliminate the deficit in the current account. The British economic situation was worsened by financial crises in 1947 and 1949. 

During World War II and after, Britain decided to link development of colonial resources (commodities, minerals etc.) to her wider post-war strategy to combat her declining dollar and gold reserves. The result was generally beneficial for Britain by the early 1950s. By September 1949, British reports revealed that:

Between 1946 and 1948 the Colonies have enormously increased their direct dollar earnings and these were running at an annual rate from $600 million to $800 million during the first half of 1948. At the same time, expenditure by the Colonies in the Western Hemisphere has been curtailed. It fell in spite of higher prices and the necessity to increase purchases of certain equipment for development, from $500 million in 1947 to an annual rate of $473 million in the first half of 1948

The colonies aided Britain’s post-war revival by exporting more to Britain and, thereby, reducing her bill for imports from hard currency sources.  Colonial exports to Britain rose from 5.4 percent in 1938 to 9.4 percent in the first six months of 1947 and to 10.2 percent one year later France, Belgium, Portugal and the Netherlands also adopted the strategy of reinforcing the position of their Colonial Empire as an appendage of the metropolitan economy after World War II, with similar beneficial results. In 1945, France’s economic and fiscal situation was as bad as or worse than that of Britain. The situation got worse in the years following 1945. The French colonies used up nearly billion of the US dollar reserves of France in the period between 1946 and 1950. By so doing, they contributed 15 percent of the total deficit of the French Franc currency area with the US dollar area. Additionally, the war in Indo-China cost France US $1 billion in 1951 alone. By then, however, a recovery was in sight. French or Franco-American companies were exploiting bauxite in French Guinea in West Africa and in French Guiana in South America; manganese in French Morocco; and rutile or titanium oxide in the French Cameroons. Moreover, US companies had secured rights to prospect for all minerals in the French Cameroons, except uranium and petroleum. They had also expressed interest in securing petroleum concessions in Morocco. All this and more reinforced the policy to maintain France and the Empire one and indivisible for as long as possible. 

The fact was that the minerals of Africa and the Caribbean especially and the oil of the Caribbean played a role in the victory of the Allies in World War II, that exceeded the level of their economic development. Before the war, Africa produced the following percentages of the world’s supply of commodities and minerals.

asbestos* 14.8%      gold            57.8%      palm oil*         76.8%     

chrome*   17.0%      graphite*    7.5%        phosphates*    40.9%

cocoa*      68.9%      groundnuts 22.4%      platinum*        13.0%

copper     22.1%       manganese*12.7%     tin*                    9.5%

cotton        8.7%        olive oil* 11.6%       wool*                10.0%

In addition, Africa was a producer of other materials of great strategic importance to the world’s Powers: rubber, sisal, hides, bauxite, cobalt, industrial diamonds, Pyrethrum, radium, uranium, vanadium and wolfram. 

During the peak years of World War II, Africa supplied about 17 percent of the world’s cooper; 19 percent of the manganese; about 24 percent of vanadium; 39 percent of the chrome; 50 percent of the gold; close to 90 percent of the cobalt; 98 percent of the industrial diamonds; and all of the uranium.  The United States was a major importer of these materials. The author has highlighted the place which Caribbean oil and bauxite had in the war effort of the Allies during and after World War II. 

On 1949-50 data, colonies produced the following percentages of the non-Soviet world supply of materials: 21 percent of copper; 26 percent of chrome ore; 40 percent each of tin and phosphate rock for fertilizer; and 50 percent each of bauxite, manganese ore and rubber. In addition, they produced a very large percentage of specialised agricultural products, such as cocoa beans, copra, groundnuts, palm oil and kernels and sisal. 

These bold statistics speak to the value of colonies in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia to the North Atlantic Powers in the early period of the Cold War. The NATO Powers were the old and new Colonial Powers. Though the economic policies of Britain, France and the other European Colonial Powers were directed against the United States to some extent, the view in Washington was that the security interest of the United States and of NATO would be “fostered by the colonial contribution to the economic health of Europe.

The Place of the Caribbean Region and Africa, including Atlantic Islands in NATO’s Security System in the Cold War.

As noted already, maintenance of the security of NATO by not just the United States but also her Western allies in the face of the threat posed by the USSR bloc emerged as the key planks in their foreign and military policy in the Cold War. This is evident in a host of Operation Plans of the United States Military Establishment from 1947. For example, General Emergency Operation Plan No. 47 of the United States Atlantic Fleet, dated 10 September, 1947, stated:

The U.S.S.R. is the world power whose political and economic objectives conflict in the greatest degree with those of the U.S.  As the U.S.S.R. is the most probable enemy of the U.S., it is possible that war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. can be precipitated because of an incident or as the result of a premeditated military action by the U.S.S.R. to achieve her national aims.  The satellite countries of the U.S.S.R. will contribute their economic and manpower resources.

In light of this, the priority mission of the United States and member states of NATO was to deploy air, surface and underwater (ASW) forces to defend the North America, the Atlantic-Caribbean and Western Europe, especially Germany.  By the 1950s, the US-NATO strike forces included the Strategic Air Command, warships and submarines increasingly armed with nuclear ICBMs.  Overall command in the Atlantic Ocean was assigned to the US Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet and his forces. Their specific mission was: 1. to defend the United States and Western Europe against attack through the Atlantic Ocean; 2. to control the sea and secure the airways through the Atlantic except otherwise assigned; 3. to support the U.S. and NATO forces in Europe and in the Mediterranean; 4. to support the forces of the Northeast and Caribbean Commands; and 5.to support U.S. and NATO policy within the scope of his command responsibility.

The Atlantic Fleet was to be assisted by the Caribbean Command under the Commander-in-Chief, Caribbean. The area of the Caribbean Command was defined as “the Caribbean Sea and those land areas which enclose it, namely the Greater and Lesser Antilles, Central America and the northern South American countries of Venezuela and Colombia”. The area was further defined as “strategically important” to the United States and, by extension, NATO:

(1)   As a source of vital raw materials the more important of which are:

Oil: Venezuela

Bauxite: Surinam

Sugar: Cuba and Puerto Rico

Hardwoods: Central America.

(2)  As an area through which vital sea and air routes of communication pass,including:

The Panama Canal, handling all shipping between the east and west coasts of the United States, and the majority of world shipping in the western hemisphere between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

The Air Terminals in Panama and the Canal Zone, forming the hub of practically all air traffic between the Americas, the Caribbean Sea, water route for transportation of vital materials from South and Central America to the United States and for support of Central and South America from the United States.

(3)   As an area, dominated by the United States-controlled Canal Zone, from which the military interests of the United States in Central and South America can best be administered and supervised.

(4)   As a base area from which hostile attack on the Continental United   

States might be launched.

In turn, the zones of the Atlantic Fleet and the Caribbean Command overlapped with zones on and off the Atlantic coast of Africa.  The strategic importance of Africa south of the Sahara was stated in document #5818 of the US National Security Council as follows:

`The strategic value of Africa south of the Sahara stems principally from the area’s geographic location athwart alternate air and sea routes to the Far East, and from its strategic materials.  In the event of war or loss of Western access to sea and air routes through the Middle East, control of sea and air communication through Africa South of the Sahara would be extremely important. Recent events increasingly jeopardize our sea and air lanes through the Middle East, thereby increasingly the strategic significance of Africa South of the Sahara.  From bases in certain areas of Africa South  of the Sahara, the Communists could pose a serious threat to communications in the Atlantic, the Indian Ocean, and the Red Sea, as well as to our important North African strategic facilities, the Mediterranean littoral, and the flank of NATO.  Therefore, under these circumstances, our primary strategic       interest is to deny Africa South of the Sahara to Communist control.'


Reinforcing the strategic importance of the Caribbean and Africa South of the Sahara, the first generation of US and NATO ICBMs were tested over a Long Range Proving Ground (LRPG) from Florida through the archipelago of the Caribbean to Ascension Island in the South Atlantic, from 1949 (see Chart in Appendix 1).  A component of the ICBM system was LORAN. Started during World War II, LORAN was “a method of long-range position finding, suitable for surface ships and aircraft”.  It was entirely different from previous radio direction finders; did not operate by taking bearings; and was not subject to the errors and range limitations which characterised then direction finders. The initial range of operations was about 700 miles in daytime and 1,400 miles at night.  From 1945, LORAN was improved; fitted into the NATO ICBM system; and came to have a global distribution. Countries in the Caribbean and in Africa, including islands off its west coast, formed integral part of LORAN before 1960 (see Appendix 2: The Circum-Caribbean, Atlantic Islands and Africa in the NATO-US LORAN Installation Plan, 1957).

One reason for this overall system was to ensure a safe flow of strategic materials to the NATO Powers and, related, to defend them from enemy attack and sabotage. Stockpiling of strategic materials became a feature of the policy of NATO countries, including the United States. For example, in 1955 the National Security Council (NSC) had before it a document entitled “Areas Considered Accessible in Calculating Long-Term Stockpile Objectives”.  The document stemmed from a Presidential memorandum of April 14, 1954 to the Director of the Office of Defense Mobilization (ODM). Paragraph 1.a. of the President’s memorandum stated in part that long-term stockpile objectives should reflect “no wartime reliance on the sources of materials outside of the United States, Canada, Mexico and comparably accessible nearby areas as defined by the National Security Council”. The ODM defined “nearby areas” as “the countries of Central America, those Southern American countries bordering on the Caribbean and the Islands of the West Indies”.  It went further and refined the definition to include Guatemala, British Honduras, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, the West Indies, including “British, Netherlands and French Guiana”, Colombia and Venezuela.  This is not surprising as Jamaica and the Guianas (British, French and Dutch) were major sources of bauxite; while the oil resources of Colombia-Venezuela-Aruba-Curacao-Trinidad then ranked as high as those of the Middle East (see Appendix 3: United Nations World-wide Petroleum Supply Program, 1945-1946: Data for the Caribbean, United States and the Middle East).

From 1948 onwards, a number of reports from US agencies addressed the question of the protection of the oil installations in the Eastern Caribbean from enemy sabotage and/or attack: Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), “Necessity for Developing Additional Supplies of Oil in the Western Hemisphere for Hemispheric Defense”, February 1948; “Petroleum Reserves in the Western Hemisphere”, February 1948; “Emergency Plans for Defense of the Venezuelan Oil Fields,” May to September 1948; and “Security of Venezuelan Oil Production Area”, December 1948 into 1949; Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), “Vulnerability to Sabotage of Petroleum Installations in Venezuela, Aruba and Curacao”, April 1948; Office of Intelligence Research, State Department, “Political Factors Affecting the Oil Supplies of the United States and Friendly States”, April 1948; and NSC, “Security of Strategically Important Industrial Operations in Foreign Countries”, August 1948. Similar reports concerned themselves with the protection of bauxite and alumina from Jamaica and British, Dutch and French Guiana. Needless to say the concern peaked in tandem with highest Cold War crises such as the Korean War; the crisis in British Guiana in 1953; the one in Guatemala in 1954; the Suez Crisis of 1956; and the long-standing one occasioned by the rise of Castro in Cuba from 1959.  The later impinged on hemispheric countries in Central America and in Grenada in the Caribbean, as well as on African countries such as Ghana, Congo, Angola and Southern Africa from the 1960s to the end of the Cold War in the 1980s. These were areas which were proximate to sources of strategic materials to, and/or that supplied the United States and NATO with such vital strategic materials (see Appendix 4: US Imports and Reserves of Selected Metals and Minerals, 1983).

Given the place of the circum-Caribbean and Africa in the security system of NATO, it follows that NATO generally and the United States particularly developed a “ground zero” tolerance to any government or organization there that was “pro-Communist” in their view.  This policy of “ground zero” tolerance was expressed well in the 1953 assertion of John Foster Dulles, the US Cold War Secretary of State that “non-alignment is immoral”.  The stance is similar to the so-called “George W. Bush Doctrine”, arising from September 11, 2001, that it would be immoral for countries not to join the US in the “war against international terrorism”.  To return to the Cold War, however, the preoccupation of the United States and NATO with “Communism” in the Caribbean and in Africa in the period before the advent of Castro’s Cuba is indexed by reports entitled “U.S. Policy Regarding Anti-Communist Measures which Could Be Planned and Carried out within the Inter-American System”, June 1948; “Communism in the French West Indies”, June 1948; “Communist Involvement in the Colombian Riots of April 9, 1948”; “Communism in the Caribbean”, March 1952; “U.S. Policy in the Event of Guatemalan Aggression in Latin America”, “Present Honduran-Guatemalan Situation” and “Plan for Military Support of Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance” concerning the Guatemalan situation), May-June 1954; “Communist Cold War Efforts in Mexico, Central America and Caribbean”, March 1958; “Evaluation of the Cuban Military Forces”, December 1959; and, for Africa, “Survey of Communism in Africa”, February 1949.

Of some interest, the report of March 1958 on “Communist Cold War Efforts in Mexico, Central America and Caribbean”, done by the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), said the following about Fidel Castro: “There is no evidence of definite ties between the Communists and the current revolutionary movement led by Fidel Castro”. Within a year, however, the report “Cuban Subversive Activity in the Caribbean Area showed the turn-around in the policy of the United States and NATO to Castro’s Cuba: a policy that persists to this day, despite the end of the Cold War in the 1980s.

Actions matched reports. Hence in the period before the rise of Castro’s Cuba, the United States subverted the “communists” and Independistas in Puerto Rico, especially after their alleged terrorist attempt to assassinate President Truman in Blair House, Washington, D.C. on November 2, 1950.  The United States also engaged in a covert operation to overthrow an alleged “communist” regime in Guatemala in 1954.  Before this, in 1953, the United States lent support to the British action to remove the alleged “communist” regime of Cheddi Jagan, Janet Jagan, his wife, and Forbes Burnham and their Progressive People’s Party (PPP) in bauxite-rich British Guiana.  

The interventions and covert operations escalated with the rise of Castro’s Cuba in 1959-60 and its impact in the 1960s through to the 1980s. The geopolitics of the Cuban Revolution astride the Caribbean and Africa in this period is the subject of studies such as The Caribbean Challenge: U.S. Policy in a Volatile Region, edited by H. Michael Erisman. The study makes use of some primary records from the US archives. However, most of the records for this period are still under “national security” restrictions.  

Every now and again, however, there are disclosures that provide us with rich insights concerning the impact of the Cuban Revolution in the Caribbean and in sub-Saharan Africa.  Examples include an Internet document entitled “Covert Action in Africa: A Smoking Gun in Washington, D.C.” Dated April 16, 2001, the document consists of prepared statements made by scholars and others before US Congresswoman, Cynthia McKinney, in the House of Representatives. One prepared statement was by Janine Farrell Roberts, author of the book, Blood Stained Diamonds, which throws light on the activities of De Beers in Africa and its influence on US foreign policy. Farrell Roberts also referred to the work of Maurice Tempelsman, The Convergence of Policy and Profit in Private. Tempelsman, she revealed ,was a US covert operator who had a hand in the attempted overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana in a military coup d’etat in 1961.To quote Farrell Roberts:

In the late 1950s democracy arrived in Africa with the election of President Nkrumah – who thought Africans should not have to sell diamonds to an apartheid company –so took Ghana’s diamonds from the cartel. A short while later, the State Department wrote a furious letter to Maurice Tempelsman saying that his office, by using an unguarded phone line, had betrayed the identity of the plotters against Nkrumah and the identity of the CIA Head of Station. The plotters seemingly were communicating to the White House via Tempelsman’s office (Memorandum for the President from W.W. Rostow, 24 September 1961). Tempelsman clearly had advanced knowledge of this coup attempt. Shortly afterwards President Kennedy decided not to “downgrade” (his word) Tempelsman for this error.

The failed overthrow of Nkrumah was followed soon after by the success against Patrice Lumumba, his radical partner in Pan-African politics in the Cold War in the era of the Cuban Revolution. Farrell Roberts had this to say about the downfall and assassination of Lumumba:

When Lumumba, Congo’s first elected leader, spoke of using the Congo’s resources to benefit the Congo,  De Beers feared it would lose access to one third of world’s diamonds supply in the Congo – as would also  Tempelsman. Shortly after this, the CIA facilitated Lumumba’s assassination. Evidence of this came before the Church Intelligence Commision. Immediately after umumba’s death, the Acting Prime Minister of the Congo, Adoula announced support for a very major Tempelsman diamond deal, telegramming this to President Kennedy. The historian Richard Mahoney claimed that the Adoula regime was receiving funds from Tempelsman. A State Department memo headed “Congo Diamond Deal” stated “The State Department has concluded that it is in the political interest of the US to implement this proposal (2 August 1961).  Immediately after Mobutu came to power, Tempelsman became an even bigger player in the Congo – recruiting his own staff from those CIA staffers that Mobutu most favored that put him in power. Mobutu also at this time gave Tempelsman, as a “Christmas Gift”, rich mineral reserves.

According to Tempelsman’s staff we interviewed, they had a wonderful time helping to run the Congo.  One of the first acts by Tempelsman was to facilitate the return of the Oppenheimers to the Congo and to secure funding for Mobutu. He succeeded in persuading the White House to secretly buy a vast number of diamonds for the US strategic reserve at a time when Administration officials were protesting that the reserve was over full. The reason for this deal given in secret US government memos was to support Mobutu and his partner Adoula.  This Tempelsman plan made much profit for him and for De Beers.


A State Department Cable of 23 December 1964 warned about the need of secrecy over this Mobutu diamond and South African uranium deal because “it could outrage the moderate Africans we are trying to calm down.” It suggested  South African Minister Muller would  understand the need for secrecy since the US was “doing a job” in the Congo that South Africa could not do. This covert support for Mobutu gave the US a gross excess in the strategic diamond stockpile that was still being sold off in 1997.


In 1967 the State Department reported: “Tempelsman is playing an increasing role as GDRC (Congo’s) technical advisor and mediator.” But these deals and other deals  done throughout the following decades with a corrupt Mobutu government left the Congolese people in absolute poverty.

Responding to appeals from anti-Mobutu elements in the Congo and to the nationalists fighting against the Portuguese in Angola and Mozambique and the South Africans in Southwest Africa (Namibia) and in South Africa itself, Cuba sent in forces, using a project for a new airport in Point Salines, Grenada, as a stepping-stone to Africa. (Appendix 5:International Campaigns: Cuban Presence in Africa [1983-1984]).  In control in Grenada was the “Marxist” regime of Maurice Bishop and Bernard Coard. The regime was removed in a so-called US “rescue mission”, really military intervention. This followed a bloody internal putsch by a faction led by Coard, that accounted for the death of Bishop. Simultaneously, on the African side, the CIA financed and armed Savimbi’s UNITA against the Soviet-Cuban-backed MPLA in Angola. Its surrogate and that of NATO to stop what was considered a domino of pro-communist regimes coming to power in Central and South Africa was the apartheid regime in South Africa. The Reagan Administration embraced apartheid South Africa in “constructive engagement.” Then Congressman Dick Cheney in 1986 voted to keep Nelson Mandela in prison and opposed sanctions against apartheid South Africa in defence of “constructive engagement”. The writing was on the wall for Africa and the Caribbean, as the Cold War was ending. 

This paper emanates from a public lecture delivered at CCSU during Black History Month. The event was sponsored by the Africana Center and the African Studies Club.

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British-Nigerian Relations, 1955 to 1966

Harold Smith  

On 1 October 1960, the day Nigeria became independent, the British Government had reason to be proud. Years of election rigging and gerrymandering had culminated in an alliance between the North and the East under the leadership of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. Sir James Robertson had pleaded necessity as an excuse for this. Cicero had experienced it long ago.

'There are no acts of treachery more deeply concealed than those which lie under the pretence of duty or under some profession of necessity.'

And Livy adds, 'Treachery, though at first very cautious, in the end betrays itself.' But not if that once great newspaper, the Guardian, has anything to do with it, for over many years they refused to publish the story of the British Government's betrayal of democracy in Nigeria. A freebie trip to Nigeria was a different matter and in October 1960 Lagos was full of Fleet Street editors, most of whom did not know where Nigeria was when the invitation to an all expenses paid jamboree dropped on their desks.

 Independence was obviously a good thing and on arrival in Lagos they set out en masse to acquire some local colour. The Lagos bars and brothels did good business. Balewa's Independence Day speech was remarkable because he had just accepted a knighthood from the British Government. The British official who wrote his speech undoubtedly caught faithfully Balewa's own sentiments.

He said, 'Time will not permit the individual mention of all those friends, many of them Nigerian, whose selfless labours have contributed to our Independence... All our friends in the Colonial Office must today be proud of their handiwork...'

The alliance between the North and the East which was the result of considerable effort by the British Government, was to be referred to by Sir David Hunt, the Deputy High Commissioner, after it had come unstuck, as a state of 'happy stability.' My old friend and colleague Francis Nwokedi was head of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and working closely with his British counterparts. Francis was trusted and regarded as a good friend of Britain. When the plot came unstuck Francis would be denounced by his old friend Sir David Hunt as being too clever by half, but in those early days there was a euphoric feeling in the air. Only the Western Region which had been ganged up on and isolated felt it was out in the cold. Awolowo was getting his come-uppance for being disloyal, uncooperative, and, so rude to the British administration.

Sir David Hunt had more than a passing acquaintance with the British Government's machinations before Independence because he was Head of the African Department in Whitehall. After Independence he was in Lagos and, with Lord Head, exercised enormous influence over Balewa, the Prime Minister. Yet in his memoirs he asks why the cheerful, prosperous and fairly democratic Nigeria of 1960 turned into the military dominated Nigeria of 1966, as if he were totally ignorant of his own role in the British Government's machinations which brought Nigeria to the brink of total destruction.

Awolowo was not stupid. He had seen the behaviour of the British administration during elections in the North, and he knew who was behind the pact between the North and the East. Nevertheless in 1961 he made contact with elements of the NCNC in the East to try and break the stranglehold which the North had over the Federal Government. This move came to nothing but may have alarmed the ruling clique who already feared him. It has been suggested that Awolowo's success as an Opposition leader in the first year of Independence and his popularity throughout Nigeria gave the Northern/Eastern coalition no alternative but to counter attack and adopt some highly questionable tactics. Akintola, Awolowo's lieutenant, was persuaded that he could lead the West and join the coalition. Rich rewards were on offer. Following stage managed disturbances in the Western Parliament, the Federal Government intervened and, following a judicial enquiry, Awolowo was sentenced to ten years in jail for treason.

The legitimacy of the Federal Government was highly dubious. Since they had been the willing beneficiaries of British treachery, it was ironic that those politicians should have thrown in jail a political leader whose belief in democracy was without question and whose personal probity was never doubted. Awolowo most certainly did anticipate that his enemies were intent on destroying him and his Party, and made plans for defensive measures. A train of events had been set in motion which was to lead to near anarchy and civil war. Sir David Hunt and the British were friendly, as he admitted later, with Easterners like Nwokedi who occupied the best places in the public service.

'They might be ruling Nigeria today,' he exclaimed bitterly, 'if they could have restrained their tendency to go too far!'

The British had not complained when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with Nwokedi as its Permanent Secretary had given the Russians a very hard time when they wanted to establish diplomatic relations. Francis had probably not forgotten being snubbed by the Russians when he attended an ILO Conference in Geneva before Independence. The Russians had not forgotten his role in the Enugu shootings when many Nigerian mineworkers were killed. Now the Russians found that they had considerable difficulty in obtaining even car permits for their diplomats. Russian diplomatic staff were limited to ten. No restrictions were placed on the British and Americans. The Russians were allowed five diplomatic car plates. The UK and the USA got one hundred each. Nigeria did not open an Embassy in Moscow until 1962. The British had before Independence banned the importation of communist literature and banned communists from employment in the public service.

This anti-Communist activity was not a marginal interest for the British, though it often seemed totally irrelevant and farcical to Nigerians. It was central to and almost the driving force of British policy in Africa. Macmillan saw the whole of British foreign policy in terms of the Cold War. To fight “ the reds,” it was necessary to ensure that Nigeria was ruled by a  regime prepared to act as a British satrap. To achieve this, democracy was cast aside. As democracy was the distinguishing feature which raised the freedom-loving Western powers above the base totalitarianism of the Iron Curtain countries, Macmillan had surrendered the moral advantage. But only if he was found out! I had reason to know the lengths to which he was prepared to go to keep that secret.

The massive power of the North rested on the census figures produced by British officials in the early 1950's. All attempts to confirm those census figures since have proved a failure and this has become the most bitterly contested issue in Nigerian politics. After the census in 1962 it was found that the Northern Region no longer had a numerical majority over the rest of the country combined. The NPC leaders found these results unacceptable and cancelled the results. The 1962 census returns were never officially published. In a fresh census in 1963 the North improved on its 1962 figures. If Southerners had thought that the new figures would end the North's  majority they were to be bitterly disappointed. It was little wonder that Awolowo commented bitterly that for himself and his party 'the twilight of democracy and the rule of law in Nigeria is changing into darkness.'

The role of the Federal Government and its  politicians in destabilising the Western Region Government and jailing the Action Group leader, Awolowo, began to alienate the majority of the educated elite. Another factor was the failure of the Government to pursue a vigorous anti-colonialist foreign policy. Because democracy failed in Nigeria, British commentators have tended to question the attachment of Nigerians to the democratic ideal. In truth, however, it was a lack of commitment by the British which was to plunge Nigeria into rule by the military. Nigerian politicians had been brought up in a colonial situation which assumed that those in Government could wield power as they pleased. The colonial regime used its power to jail opponents. The colonial example not only influenced Nigerians. It probably explains the lack of commitment to democracy by the British. Nigerians believed that Balewa took his orders from his friends the British. The jailing of Awolowo was in line with a British tradition rather than an example of Nigerian tribalism.

The military coup led by the six young majors in 1966 was greeted with rapturous support by the Nigerian masses. They were not seeking to destroy democracy but were affirming their belief in it. Democracy had been a force in Nigeria almost since its inception, in a form seriously flawed by the British. If the British were unprepared for the coup of 15th January 1966, they must have been blind. The British Prime Minister seemed to enjoy the customary close relationship with Balewa, who was still after six years extremely pro-British. Indeed a Commonwealth Conference was held in Lagos days before the coup. Did the British civil servants not warn Harold Wilson? Did they not warn Balewa? Harold Wilson was extremely embarrassed and very angry that the large MI6 staff in Lagos had failed to report that a coup was imminent. However, it is inconceivable that they had not so advised the Foreign Office. The truth was that British Intelligence suspected that the British Prime Minister was a Russian agent and were involved in treasonable activity against him and his Government. They would not have been unhappy to put his life at risk by sending him to Lagos at the very time a military coup had been planned. It was a very remarkable coincidence. As it happened, the six majors postponed their coup for a week to let Wilson and the other Commonwealth leaders get away from Lagos. The coup took place the day after the Conference ended.

This was the first Commonwealth Conference to be held outside London. When Rhodesia declared unilateral independence, Nigeria was persuaded by the British to discourage other African Governments from taking reprisals against Britain. In return Harold Wilson agreed to hold the Conference in Lagos and to devote a major part of the agenda to the Rhodesian question. Dr Azikiwe was in London ill. Awolowo was in prison. The British High Commissioner was Sir J. Cumming-Bruce. An indication that his role in Nigeria was rather more than diplomatic was revealed by his attendance at Cabinet meetings in Lagos after the coup of 15 January.

The British did not plan the military coup of 1966. They simply made it inevitable. And they signed Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa's death warrant.

1.      Harold Smith was a Senior British Civil Servant, resident in Nigeria 1955-1960. Nigerians regained  their independence from British colonial rule in 1960.

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