This thesis argues that given Africa’s continued relatively low foreign policy priority for the United States, Washington’s assessment of and approach toward the continent derives from its broader foreign policy and geopolitical concerns, allowing the changing external environment globally to shape perceptions of African realities and consequently, policy. This thesis also argues that the United States’ paradigmatically-driven policies in Africa affect the interests of African citizens and the United States through their impact on the development (or lack thereof) of capable and accountable domestic political institutions. Where capable and accountable domestic political institutions exist in African countries, the interests of African citizens and the United States are generally positive, and vice versa. However, understanding how and why capable and accountable institutions developed in some countries that were sites of Cold War rivalry but not in others with similar East-West competitive histories requires an analysis of how domestic factors combined with immediate post-Cold War US foreign policy. Investigating two case study countries that possessed similar Cold War experiences yet diverging post-Cold War trajectories is instrumental in this process rooted in historical institutionalism.
The Experiences of Ghana and the Democratic Republic of the Congo
An analysis of Ghana and the Democratic Republic of the Congo/Zaire is ideal given a variety of factors. Both countries had achieved independence by 1960 and featured prominently in the United States’ Cold War paradigm. As non-aligned, Pan-Africanist leaders refused to uncompromisingly cater to the pro-Western camp, Washington perceived them to be Soviet pawns and therefore threats to American interests. The application of this paradigm and the paranoid, misguided assessment that followed, engendered American support for coups in both countries, undermining the nascent development of political institutions. In Ghana, the initial coup precipitated decades of political instability which caused Ghanaian and American interests to be undermined, while in the Congo, a series of coups resulted in entrenched autocratic and kleptocratic power for decades, to the detriment of mutual interests. Throughout the Cold War, the ramifications of these coups and continued application of America’s anti-Soviet-obsessed foreign policy hindered the development of capable and accountable institutions in both countries.
When the Cold War ended, largely domestic factors in Ghana precipitated a process of building state capacity and accountable democracy. In contrast, the ramifications of the intensity of the Cold War paradigm in Zaire, in tandem with domestic factors such as elite reticence, doomed the democratic state-building project from taking hold, leading to decades of instability and conflict that persist today. Therefore, during the paradigmatic eras that followed the Cold War, these disparities in political institutions, notably with respect to their capacity and accountability, engendered different experiences for the two countries and the United States. In Ghana, when favorable domestic factors combined with US policy aligning with—or being mitigated by—the existence of capable and accountable institutions, Ghanaian and American interests were largely served. In the present era of the great power competition paradigm, however, the United States risks undermining the existence of capable and accountable domestic political institutions in Ghana, which could witness a reversion to the negative impacts—for both Ghanaians and the United States—that were evident throughout the Cold War era.
In the DRC, outcomes for Congolese citizens and the United States have remained largely negative, as US policy paradigms have caused Washington to directly undermine or broadly fail to assist the development of capable and accountable institutions, even when some support was provided for such ends. The application of a great power competition paradigm to the DRC only risks further undermining the development of capable and accountable domestic political institutions in the DRC, and engendering the disastrous consequences for Congolese citizens and the United States, as experienced during the Cold War.
Using the Past to Inform the Present
Through exploring the determinants and impacts of US foreign policy toward post-independence Africa over the last 65 years, these findings provide useful insight for US policy toward Africa amid great power competition with China. First, the Cold War era demonstrates that a US foreign policy paradigm focused almost exclusively—or at least primarily—on countering a geopolitical rival undermines the potential existence of capable and accountable political institutions in African countries, which negatively impacts the interests of African citizens and the United States. Second, the development of capable and accountable institutions in Ghana in the post-Cold War era highlights how such institutions positively serve mutual interests, offering a blueprint for US policy toward Africa moving forward, including in the current era of great power competition with China.