The Chargé in Liberia (Reber) to the Secretary of State

Diplomatic No. 47

Sir: With reference to the Legation’s despatch No. 10 of September 10, 1930, and subsequent telegrams I have the honor to supplement the information contained therein concerning the sanitation program and the work of the Chief Medical Adviser in Liberia.

It will be recalled that on August 29th the Liberian Secretary of the Treasury sent a cable to the Fiscal Agents accepting the offer of the Finance Corporation of America to advance funds for sanitation. At that time verbal assurances were given to the American Chargé d’Affaires by the President that when funds were available ample authority would be provided the Chief Medical Adviser for the continuance of his campaign. In view of the difficulties which had been experienced by Dr. Smith in carrying out his earlier program it was then felt that certain provisions which would insure more effective measures of control and the enforcement of the sanitary regulations should first be accepted by the Liberian Government prior to the release of these funds. Discussions looking toward this end were inaugurated between the President and the Financial Adviser, and on September 26th the former approved a program submitted to him and expressed his desire to have the sanitation work continued in accord with its stipulations. In this connection reference is made to the Legation’s despatch No. 20 of October 9, 1930,14 and its enclosures.15 The main features of the sanitation program to be adopted were:

extension of the terms of the Memorandum Agreement with the Government of the United States;
appointment of a Judge to hear all cases of violation of the sanitary regulations;
investment of sanitary inspectors with police authority pertaining to matters relating to sanitation;
appropriate legislation to be urged upon the next Legislature for the creation of a service of Public Health and Sanitation;
arrangements to be concluded whereby from time to time allotments from this sanitation fund were to be made direct to the Chief Medical Adviser and accounted for by him to the Liberian Treasury.

[Page 437]

Inasmuch as no funds had been made available by September 18th, the Chief Medical Adviser in accordance with instructions from the Surgeon General sailed on a trip of inspection of quarantine control in other ports of West Africa and was absent from Monrovia until November first. Although during this period the Legation on several occasions requested information from the President regarding the fulfillment of this program and the extension of the Memorandum Agreement, none was forthcoming as the President stated it would be necessary to wait until the details of this and other reforms had been submitted to the Legislature. It was considered, however, that, as assurances had been given to the Legation that ample authority would be provided the Chief Medical Adviser for the furtherance of his work as soon as funds were on hand, it would be advisable to refrain from exerting further pressure until it could be definitely ascertained that the first advance of funds had been made.

This same decision was reached in conference with the British Chargé d’Affaires with regard to the proposal of the British Government that joint representations should be made on the subject of Liberian sanitation. It was felt in both cases as the question of funds and authority had been so intimately associated that it would be difficult to insist upon one without the other and that it would be well to withhold joint action for the moment in case it might later be more urgently required. In this decision the German Consul General and the French Gérant concurred.

On November 15th two weeks after the return of Dr. Smith to Monrovia he informed the Legation that as no money had been yet made available and as no evidence of a change in the Liberian Government’s apparent lack of interest and unwillingness to cooperate in the sanitation work had been manifested to him in spite of the recent promises, he felt constrained to cable the Surgeon General that further time here on his part was wasted at the expense of the American Government. At that time it was believed in view of the forthcoming termination of the Memorandum Agreement on December 21st it might also be well then to attempt to reach a more conclusive arrangement for the purpose of insuring the continuance of the sanitation work than that provided merely by the President’s acceptance of the Financial Adviser’s suggestions regarding proper sanitary measures. The Legation’s telegram No. 159 was therefore despatched.15a

On November 25th when the Legation had been informed that the Liberian Government had accepted the terms of the Finance Corporation’s offer subject to the conditions agreed upon by the President and that the sum of $2,000 representing the first allotment had been placed at the disposal of the Chief Medical Adviser, I took advantage of an interview with the President to remind him of his assurances that Dr. Smith would be given the desired authority and once more [Page 438] referred to the program of September 26th, stating that without the execution of such some [some such?] measures it might again be necessary to call to his attention the fact that the terms of an agreement with the Government of the United States had not been complied with. Although he replied that he considered that the Executive Government did not have the power without legislative sanction to proclaim such measures, he promised to consult with Dr. Smith in regard to them when I said it was my understanding that the Sanitation Act of 1927 granted the President power to proclaim such regulations as shall be considered necessary for proper sanitary control in Monrovia. Under the provisions of this act Dr. Smith had previously been operating.

Three days later Dr. Smith reported that the President told him he did not feel he could issue the necessary Executive Orders to put the new program into effect although he had agreed with the Finance Corporation to do so. Dr. Smith has added in a report to the Legation that:

“In view of this additional failure of the Local Government to comply with its agreements, and in view of the fact that the funds were to be advanced with the specific understanding that this additional authority would be granted to the Sanitary Department I do not feel that I am justified in undertaking further sanitary activities or expending on sanitation activities the funds now available until the Local Government sees fit to comply with its part of the agreement.

“To begin anew the sanitary operations without the support of the Local Government and their fulfillment of the agreement as promised by the President would, I feel, be unjust to the parties advancing the funds. In addition to this, experience here in the past has shown that to attempt any sanitary program without the authority necessary to enforce the sanitary regulations is futile.”

The Legation then informed Dr. Smith that it was in complete accord with and approved of this decision which it is considered is justified by the past attitude of the Liberian Government and people and is now further strengthened by recent political developments. Within a week of making this declaration the President was forced to submit his resignation owing to pressure from his political adversaries and manifest opposition to his reform program.

The complete lack of interest and in many cases open hostility to the work of sanitary and yellow fever control has been repeatedly demonstrated by officials of this Government and private citizens. It has also been established that this hostility has been in part due to the feeling that it was a measure primarily adopted for the safety and security of foreigners here resident, as the average Liberian both in Government office and in private life has never seen the advantages of proper health control nor been educated as to its necessity. He merely perceives the inconvenience and personal discomfort caused by what he considers the bother and expense of it all. It would thus [Page 439] appear very doubtful whether any successor to the former President will be desirous of adopting and furthering an unpopular measure of this nature when his predecessor was forced from office by the opposition to reforms, among which sanitary control was numbered, and when anti-foreign and anti-white sentiment seems daily to be growing stronger. This feeling is not confined to a single political group but seems to be shared by all Liberians but not the natives.

Although Dr. Smith was able prior to the first of June to complete a preliminary campaign of yellow fever control and of cleaning up the most unsanitary features of Monrovia, the long interval which has lapsed since its termination has effectively destroyed the value of his work and conditions now may unquestionably be said to be returning to a state similar to that existing before activities undertaken last spring were begun.

A summary of the results of the Memorandum Agreement shows that while Dr. Smith was able to complete his survey of health conditions, effectively to reduce the death rate during the months when he was actually engaged in operations, and to prepare the recommendations called for by the terms of the agreement, he met with constant opposition and none of his recommendations have yet been put into effect. Moreover on May 26th Dr. Smith was informed that there were no further funds available for salaries or operating expenses, although expenditures up to that time had amounted to less than $5,000 of the sum of $18,000 originally appropriated. In addition the Liberian Government has apparently failed to comply with its promise to the Finance Corporation on the strength of which additional funds were advanced, and to carry out the suggestion for “the establishment of a permanent sanitation program with sufficient authority and means for making this program effective,” which was made by the President of Liberia in his note of September 30, 1930 to the Secretary of State.

Within a relatively short period the danger of another yellow fever epidemic will again menace the lives not only of the citizens and subjects of foreign nations, who reside in Liberia, but of its own peoples, for it has been conclusively proved that the Liberian although possessing a greater degree of immunity from this disease is not altogether free from its perils. The question now arises as to how long will the continued existence of these unsanitary conditions be permitted by other countries, whose possessions border on Liberia, whose vessels call at its ports and whose nationals are subjected to the risk of their lives by Liberia’s failure to comply with its promises to other governments or to accept offers of assistance from abroad.

The British Government has already on two occasions indicated its desire to insist upon improvement along these lines and to work in cooperation with the United States to this end. The Chief Medical [Page 440] Adviser has reported to the Legation that on his recent tour of inspection of West African ports he was informed by the Governor of the British Colony of Sierra Leone that while the colonial government of Sierra Leone was not in the least interested in the internal politics of Liberia, it was however deeply concerned by the lack of sanitary conditions existing in this Republic. Over 12% of the Sierra Leone budget is annually being spent for the control of yellow fever and other communicable diseases, and this official added that the colony could never feel secure as long as the present absence of sanitary control in Liberia was permitted to exist. Similar views were expressed to Dr. Smith by the Governor of the British Gold Coast Colony. The German representative in Monrovia has recently informed me that his Government desires him to take any steps which may here jointly be determined upon to insure more effective control, and the French consular agent has received similar instructions.

It would therefore seem that the four Governments interested should again concert either directly or through the League of Nations to insist upon immediate and definite steps being taken to set up a proper sanitary organization under the direction of a competent foreign medical officer who shall be given full and adequate authority, such as in part envisaged by the program of September twenty-sixth, as well as control over the expenditure of funds for this purpose. Such officer should be appointed by these nations or by the powers signatory to the International Sanitary Convention of Paris,16 to which Liberia has already adhered, should be responsible jointly to the President of Liberia and to powers naming him, and should have complete supervision over all sanitation work for a period of not less than five years.

It is felt that without some such international cooperation for the effective solution of this problem or the extension of foreign control over activities in Liberia, no assistance or anything save unenforceable promises, never carried out, can be had from the local government.

Respectfully yours,

Samuel Reber, Jr.
  1. Ante, p. 358.
  2. For enclosure printed in this section, see p. 432.
  3. Ante, p. 434.
  4. Signed at Paris, June 21, 1926; Foreign Relations, 1926, vol. i, p. 177.