John F Kennedy: When The US President Met Africa’s Independence Heroes

In our series of letters from African journalists, Sierra Leonean-Gambian writer Ade Daramy mines an archive of photos featuring US President John F Kennedy, who set the template for US relations with Africa.

Before Kennedy became president in 1961, his country had made little attempt to understand the rapid changes that Africa was undergoing.

By the time he was assassinated in 1963 the picture had radically changed.

In his short time in office, Kennedy had received at the White House either the leader of every independent African state – numbering more than two dozen at the time – or its ambassador.

Senegal’s President Léopold Sédar Senghor, a key figure in the anti-colonial movement in Francophone countries, flew into Washington in November 1961

A year before he became president, 17 African countries had gained independence from their colonial masters, and aware that the world was changing, Kennedy knew that a new relationship needed to be forged.

That relationship was based on supporting the new African nations.

Another leading pan-Africanist Julius Nyerere, who was prime minister of Tanganyika at the time, went to the White House in July 1961, five months before independence from the UK

It was a foreign policy outlook that essentially survived, given the occasional tweak, until President Donald Trump’s efforts to replace it with his more transactional approach.

It was reported that Mr Trump infamously used derogatory language when talking about the continent, and Kennedy’s predecessor, Dwight D Eisenhower, had his own negative views.

He told Togo’s President, Sylvanus Olympio, that the reason the US shared one ambassador between Togo and Cameroon was because he did not want his diplomats to “have to live in tents”.

Togo’s President Sylvanus Olympio was greeted at the airport by Kennedy in March 1962

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