Continent in a Hurry

The most striking international challenge of 1960 is that of emergent Africa. The old Hollywood-style image of the continent as a vast game park peopled by savages and kindly Colonial Servants must make way for a new one that will emphasize the changes of the last fifteen years; for by the end of this year, more than half of Africa's people will be citizens of independent and self-governing states.

The new picture would show Africans eager to run their own affairs, to govern themselves, develop their economies and achieve international recognition for their efforts. It would show people friendly to outsiders, but wary of alliances; committed to ideas of group freedom, but untested on their loyalty to individual liberty when used against themselves. Above all, it would show a continent in transition.

American communications media have been singularly inept or indifferent about covering this story in depth; the New York Times is the only newspaper with full-time correspondents south of the Sahara. Television has recently been making a significant effort on Africa: NBC-TV has covered the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland and will soon cover Ghana; CBS-TV plans a feature on Nigeria next month. And while other universities have advanced understanding, Harvard has shared the general somnolence about Africa.

Considering the general ignorance and lack of interest that still prevail in this country, it can be no surprise that the State of the Union message contained no mention of Africa, and only the vaguest ideas relating to underdeveloped countries generally.

Regrettably, this inattention reflects the fuzziness of official Washington's policy on Africa. With a few exceptions, of whom Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Joseph C. Satterthwaite and Senator Hubert H. Humphrey are notable, no one in Washington has much conception of the size of the job to be done in Africa.

The extent of the Communist threat varies widely in Africa, and is often exaggerated. But even if the widespread Soviet and Chinese interest were absent, the United States still should have a broad sympathy and friendship for the people of Africa as they seek freedom. This country can make an effective contribution to the development of African freedom if it will make the effort. Necessarily that effort will involve money, and we may hope the next Administration will recognize this. But more than money, it will require imagination, energy, and manpower. Technical aid, trained advisers, and a friendly interest are more important than the simple injection of dollars.

One of the wisest ways to spend money on Africa would be through scholarship programs, for trained manpower is Africa's greatest need, and in many fields American universities are singularly well-qualified to help. And by playing host to African scholars we can demonstrate that our friendship has depth and thus improve our image in Africa.

But if, for once, we are to be alert to a growing problem before it becomes a series of crises, we do not have much time. Africa is a continent in a hurry, and if the United States wishes to exercise an important influence on its development, immediate and massive attention is essential.