American University
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Africa and Liberia in World Politics: An Analysis of Liberian Foreign Policy During 20th Century

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posted on 2023-09-07, 05:14 authored by Chandra R. Dunn

This dissertation analyzes Liberia’s puzzling shift from a reflexive allegiance to the United States (US) to a more autonomous, anti-colonial, and Africanist foreign policy during the early years of the Tolbert administration (1971-1975) with a focus on the role played by public rhetoric in shaping conceptions of the world which engendered the new policy. For the overarching purpose of understanding the Tolbert-era foreign-policy actions, this study traces the use of the discursive resources Africa and Liberia in three foreign policy debates: 1) the Hinterland Policy (1900-05), 2) the creation of the Organization for African Unity (OAU) (1957-1963), and finally, 3) the Tolbert administration’s autonomous, anti-colonial foreign policy (1971-1975). The specifications of Liberia and Africa in the earlier debates are available for use in subsequent debates and ultimately play a role in the adoption of the more autonomous and anti-colonial foreign policy. Special attention is given to the legitimation process, that is, the regular and repeated way in which justifications are given for pursuing policy actions, in public discourse in the United States, Europe, Africa, and Liberia. The analysis highlights how political opponents’ justificatory arguments and rhetorical deployments drew on publicly available powerful discursive resources and in doing so attempted to define Liberia often in relation to Africa to allow for certain courses of action while prohibiting others. Political actors claimed Liberia’s membership to the purported supranational cultural community of Africa. After the widespread use of the rhetoric of the independence struggles of the 1950s and 1960s, including “Africa for the Africans”, a discourse that had previously been marginalized within Liberia’s public space now began to be used to yoke Liberia to the new African states. The national discourse of an African continental identity became part of the Liberian rhetorical landscape in the 1970s; newspapers and other publications frequently exposed Liberian audiences to the African nationalist discourse of the anti-colonial independence movements taking place at their borders and across the continent. However, the discourse of traditional Liberian conservatism also competed for prominence in shaping policy. Liberia as an African state, that is being, belonging to and fundamentally connected to the land and peoples of Africa, that can be traced to the beginnings of the polity in debates and discussion in the US during the 19th century. Liberian state leaders justified their policy choices in the early 1970s by asserting Liberia’s African identity. This move also simultaneously served to recast Liberia as an African state, which in turn had implications for Liberia’s allegiances, alliances, alignment, and actions in international politics. Thus, Liberia was nested within Africa; this new identity produced certain foreign policy actions and produced Liberia in its new manifestation as an African state. The study argued that the shift in Liberian foreign policy can be adequately explained by the Liberia’s claim to be an African state, specifically part of a supranational community called “Africa” with associated commitments and responsibilities any member of a community would presumably have. Without the specifications of “Liberia” and “Africa” that became salient in the 1970s but originating from those earlier debates, Liberia might not have implemented the more autonomous, anti-colonial, and Africanist foreign policy that it adopted. Since these terms, with their contemporary discursive significance, were rhetorically deployed specifically to legitimate Liberia’s new policy direction, without those cultural and discursive resources such actions would seem to have been unlikely.







Degree Awarded: Ph.D. School of International Service. American University


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