In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The US and Africa

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Online and Digital Resources
  • Development and Democracy
  • Domestic Influences on US Policy toward Africa

International Relations The US and Africa
Terrence Lyons
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 July 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 August 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0130


Scholarship on America’s engagement with Africa is a relatively young field, since the majority of diplomatic relationships went through European colonial powers prior to decolonization in the early 1960s. (For the purposes of this essay, Africa is defined as sub-Saharan Africa, as is consistent with general academic practice.) During the Cold War, the United States perceived Africa as a place to challenge the Soviet Union and to seek influence in the newly independent states. Washington had confidence that economic modernization and strong leadership could keep the continent stable and pro-West. On a few occasions, a high-profile humanitarian emergency such as the Biafran civil war in the 1960s or the Ethiopian famine of the 1980s generated interest outside of the Cold War framework. White rule in Rhodesia and especially South Africa are further key exceptions to the pattern, as both became matters of concern to US constituencies and advocacy networks. As the Cold War ended in the early 1990s, Washington played an important role in the negotiations surrounding South Africa’s withdrawal from Namibia and Cuba’s withdrawal from Angola and promoted conflict resolution in the Horn of Africa and southern Africa. In 1992 state collapse in Somalia led to a humanitarian intervention that then to a hasty withdrawal following the “Black Hawk Down” incident where US soldiers were killed. In part as a consequence, Washington did little to stop the genocide in Rwanda or to end the civil war in Liberia in the mid-1990s. New domestic constituencies advocated for US action in support of resolution of conflict in Sudan that later evolved into a call to label conflict in the western Darfur region as “genocide” and to push for the arrest of Lord’s Resistance Army commander Joseph Kony for war crimes. Following the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001, Africa became an arena in the “Global War on Terror.” As during the Cold War, global concerns trumped policies to engage the specific challenges of the diverse continent. Support for Ethiopia in Somalia and counter-terrorism assistance to states in the Sahel region were motivated by concerns regarding Islamic extremists without much regard for the impact on local politics or conflicts.

General Overviews

There is no single volume that provides a comprehensive overview of US-Africa relations. Schraeder 1994 and Bender, et al. 1985 may come closest but were written in the early post–Cold War years. The edited volume Rothchild and Keller 2006 and Schraeder 2003 include some early thinking about US-Africa relations after the Cold War. Harbeson and Rothchild 2013 provides chapters on key themes and cases written by experts. Clapham 1996 and Khadiagala and Lyons 2001 emphasize the context and processes through which African states develop international policies. Taylor and Williams 2004 is a comprehensive set of essays that examines Africa’s place in world politics.

  • Bayart, Jean Francois. “Africa in the World: A History of Extraversion.” African Affairs 99 (2000): 217–267.

    DOI: 10.1093/afraf/99.395.217

    Bayart is a leading French scholar of Africa. In this article he traces the many ways in which Africa is a core part of the global system rather than marginal to it. Africans and local dynamics played key roles in the relations between the continent and the rest of the world. He suggests that both democratization and armed violence are aspects of a more general pattern of extraversion.

  • Bender, Gerald J., James S. Coleman, and Richard L. Sklar, eds. African Crisis Areas and U.S. Foreign Policy. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.

    This edited volume brings together leading African scholars to argue that US foreign policy should recognize the local, regional dimensions of African crises in contrast to the dominant concerns of US diplomats centered on countering the Soviet Union. A final section examines the debate on the degree to which “regionalism” (i.e., local drivers of conflict) and “globalism” (i.e., Cold War concerns) best explain African crises.

  • Clapham, Christopher. Africa and the International System: The Politics of State Survival. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511549823

    This is the classic text on African international relations. Clapham emphasizes how domestic imperatives of African states drive their relationships with the international community. The focus is on the political logic of African policies rather than US-African relations, but Clapham provides an excellent starting point for understanding the perspectives of African leaders.

  • Harbeson, John W., and Donald Rothchild, eds. Africa in World Politics: Engaging a Changing Global Order. 5th ed. Boulder, CO: Westview, 2013.

    Serves as a good starting point for those seeking a comprehensive and topical guide to the most critical developments on the continent. The focus is on Africa, not US-African relations, but the contributions are well researched and written by preeminent scholars.

  • Khadiagala, Gilbert M, and Terrence Lyons, eds. African Foreign Policies: Power and Process. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2001.

    This edited volume emphasizes the processes through which African foreign policies are made. In particular, it asks how new, post–Cold War actors within Africa perceive the risks and opportunities originating in the international community.

  • Munene, Macharia, J. D. Olewe Nyunya, and Korwa Gombe Adar, eds., 1995. The United States and Africa: From Independence to the End of the Cold War. Nairobi, Kenya: East African.

    This volume collects a series of papers presented at a conference organized by the US Information Service in Kenya. It includes a number of thoughtful papers by African scholars, notably the editors. The contributors consider how the end of the Cold War has led to a reconsideration of US interests in democratization and human rights.

  • Rothchild, Donald S, and Edmond J Keller, eds. Africa-US Relations: Strategic Encounters. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2006.

    Uses US-African cases to reflect the debate between traditional state-centered security and more novel approaches to human security. It therefore touches on a broad range of issues, including terrorism and peacekeeping but also health, environmental degradation, and economic relationships. Rothchild and Keller serves as an excellent introduction to the post–Cold War strategic dynamics. Schraeder’s chapter (pp. 187–205) updates his 1994 monograph and provides some ideas on how US-Africa policy is likely to change in the post–Cold War era.

  • Schraeder, Peter J. United States Foreign Policy toward Africa: Incrementalism, Crisis and Change. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511598784

    This is the best single-authored study on US policy toward Africa. Schraeder has a theoretical framework that emphasizes the fragmentation of policy influence in Washington with regard to African policy. The book uses many primary interviews with policy makers. While conceptually rich, the book reflects the early years of the post–Cold War era when key themes relating to humanitarian intervention and terrorism were less apparent.

  • Schraeder, Peter. “Sapphire Anniversary Reflections on the Study of United States Foreign Policy towards Africa.” Journal of Modern African Studies 41.1 (2003): 139–152.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0022278X02004184

    This literature review frames the relationships between the United States and Africa broadly and includes Shraeder’s thoughts on traveler’s accounts, general interest books written by journalists, and books that focus on African American relations with Africa. The author touches on some forty books but seeks to uncover overarching themes and trends rather than a comprehensive literature review.

  • Taylor, Ian, and Paul Williams, eds. Africa in International Politics: External Involvement on the Continent. London and New York: Routledge, 2004.

    This volume includes a number of outstanding essays that emphasize Africa as part of the international system rather than a politically marginalized outsider. Taylor and Williams have an excellent introduction that reviews and criticizes the literature for focusing on crises and foreign policies of key strategic African states rather than on how Africa both shapes and is shaped by global economic and strategic processes. Thomas focuses on nonstate actors in Africa’s international relations, and Hentz provides an overview that explores how American policy has been framed by specific US interests and/or delegated to others such as the European powers to manage.

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