The recent arrangement with the Negro Republic of Liberia, whereby America will undertake certain administrative duties and will grant a loan for the development of that rich and backward portion of the coast of Guinea, has introduced a new and startling feature into the administration of Tropical Africa—new in the sense that America is strengthening the somewhat nebulous relations she has long maintained with that portion of Western Africa, and startling because, for the first time, she is seriously undertaking administrative responsibilities in a continent from which, except for the previous agreement with Liberia in 1911, she has studiously held aloof.
When I wrote my book, The Germans and Africa, at the beginning of the war, I was much criticized, on both sides of the Atlantic, because I suggested that the time was not far distant when the United States would be compelled by economic necessity to accept responsibilities in a portion of the world which, hitherto, had been regarded as peculiarly the domain of European enterprise. What I then wrote was as follows:—
There remains one great and powerful nation that as yet has taken no part either in the regeneration or exploitation of Africa—a nation that sooner or later will be compelled to obtain new sources of tropical supplies, and to extend her influence over other portions of the globe than those now under her sway. The future of the United States as a plantation power has so far scarcely been considered. The entry of America upon the African continent would involve a reversal of traditional American policy, though not so great an upheaval as would have been the case before the Philippines, some of the Samoan Islands, Porto Rico, and Cuba had come under the American flag or had fallen under American influence. Yet even were America desirous—and there is no present evidence of such a desire—of undertaking fresh responsibilities (in Africa), and even were Great Britain anxious to assist, it is hardly probable that such assistance would be forthcoming without some substantial compensation in the form of a reorganization or exchange of territory. But such a possibility may well occur within the present or next generation. America, if she is to continue triumphantly in the future along the paths of progress she has trodden in the past, can hardly afford to deny herself the opportunity of acquiring tropical possessions, from which she might gather the products that will be needed for her own enterprises. The vast stores of rubber, cotton and other fibres, vegetable oils, copra, tea, coffee, and other tropical products that are consumed by her population or utilized in her factories will doubtless, if her progress is to be assured, be obtained from American territory outside the boundaries of the United States.
While it is by no means suggested that what is essentially an economic arrangement between the most powerful Republic in the world and probably the weakest independent state outside Europe necessarily involves the territorial absorption of the latter, it is evident to those who are conversant with the processes of economic expansion that, by obtaining a commercial foothold in Africa, the American people has entered upon the first step that leads to direct economic, if not political, control.