G. Mennen Williams Goes To Africa – Meet The Press – 1961 – Past Daily Weekend Reference Room
When Assistant Secretary Of State for African Affairs G. Mennen Williams returned from a month-long tour of sixteen African nations, he returned with a suitcase full of mixed messages. His remark “Africa for the Africans” took to mean many different things to many different people – to our allies, who were also colonial powers, some still hanging on in Africa, it was clearly not met with enthusiasm. To the newly independent nations themselves it meant aid from the U.S. in support was forthcoming.To the White House it meant getting involved in a situation we weren’t entirely clear on. But there was clearly a consensus of opinion that it was either us or the Soviet Union, who would be supplying aid along with hearts and minds to these burgeoning new world powers.
This aspect of the Cold War was the popularity contest. Who could gain the biggest influence in how short a time. The Soviet Union had been supplying Arms, food, Advisers and money. While the U.S. was also busy supplying Arms, Food, and Advisers. Some of these nations saw the good that could come out of playing both sides of the competition and some, like the former French Colony of Guinea were getting the best of both worlds, Guineas first independent leader, Sekou Touré saw the advantage both could provide – and the popularity contest was on.
So when G. Mennen “Soapy” Williams, six time Governor of Michigan, was appointed by President Kennedy to the position, it was his first line of duty to improve relations with these new countries and to try his best to win hearts and minds in the process.
This Meet The Press episode comes one week after Williams returned and was getting ready to present his findings to the President.
A fascinating look at the independence movement of the late 1950’s/early 1960s and how it was taking shape in Africa, a continent few really knew about, but which would become the focal point for many East-West squabbles in the coming years.