Hot Off the Press: "The Unexpected Anticolonialist" by Lydia Walker

August 29, 2023

Hot Off the Press: "The Unexpected Anticolonialist" by Lydia Walker

Lydia Walker photo and cover of the book, The Anticolonial Transnational

The Unexpected Anticolonialist: Winifred Armstrong, American Empire, and African Decolonization,” by Lydia Walker, Chapter 10 in The Anticolonial Transnational: Imaginaries, Mobilities, and Networks in the Struggle against Empire, a new Cambridge University Press volume edited by Erez Manela and Heather Streets-Salter, draws upon nearly thirty interviews the author carried out with Armstrong from 2015 to 2021.

It uses them to explore the types of intersections and affinities that may not be officially documented, but which shaped how two powerful entities – the US government and AMAX mining company – navigated the process of decolonization on the African continent, and the role that an individual without official power can play in processes of global transformation.

Winifred Armstrong (b. 1930) was an African affairs consultant for Senator John F. Kennedy and political economist for the American Metal Climax mining company (AMAX). In 1957 at the age of twenty-six, she carried out a self-funded, self-instigated, two-year trip up and down each coast of the African continent, traveling to fourteen countries. On her return to the United States, Armstrong was considered an ‘Africa expert’ because there were so few Americans before the 1960s with her experience and connections.

From her arrival in Ghana to celebrate the country’s independence in March 1957 until she left her position as a political economist focused on Southern Africa for AMAX in 1975, Armstrong operated inside organs of American empire – a term neither she, nor her colleagues, would have used. At times, she served implicitly or explicitly as an advocate for nationalist claimants as well as a conduit for American-oriented civil society, government, and corporate interests – spheres that did not neatly align, but also did not necessarily contradict each other as much as it might appear from outside, public presentation.

Here is a set of excerpts from Armstrong’s interviews with Walker, filmed and edited by Brandon Perdomo, that refer to themes and episodes explored in “The Unexpected Anticolonialist.”