882.01 Foreign Control/841

The British Ambassador ( Lindsay ) to the Secretary of State

No. 200

Sir: I have the honour, under instructions from His Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, to inform you that His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom have given earnest consideration to the situation which has arisen in Liberia owing to the refusal of the Liberian Government to accept the Plan of Assistance drawn up by the Special Committee appointed by the Council of the League of Nations. It is clear that, since the Liberian Government have maintained their obstructive attitude, no effective action is possible by the League of Nations to improve administration in Liberia and to ameliorate the treatment of the native tribes. His Majesty’s Government have, it is unnecessary to state, always desired to act in concert with the Government of the United States of America in the Liberian question; and they are anxious therefore now to ascertain the views of the United States Government, and to explain their own, in the very unfortunate situation that has arisen.

You will doubtless recall that it was in consequence of charges of slave trading in Liberia made by certain American travellers that the present question first arose. In June, 1929, the United States Representative at Monrovia addressed a strong protest to the Liberian Government18 which drew attention to the “development of a system [Page 799] hardly distinguishable from organized slave-trade …19 in the enforcement of which the Liberian Frontier Force and the services and influence of certain high government officials are constantly and systematically used.” Mr. Francis’ note also indicated that the Governments of the world might have to consider “some effective affirmative action …19 to terminate the situation” and drew attention to the “historic special interest of the United States in the welfare and progress of Liberia”. The Liberian Government repudiated the Charges and asked the League to investigate the position. Accordingly the Christie Commission was appointed, consisting of a United States citizen and a Liberian with a British Chairman.20 The Commission reported that the Charges were fully borne out by the facts and recommended in broad outline the reforms necessary to prevent the recurrence of the evils indicated. Thereupon the Liberian Government declared that their financial position was such that they could not carry out reforms of that character without the assistance of the League. The Council of the League then, with the approval and encouragement of the United States Government, appointed a Committee to consider what financial assistance could be given to Liberia and upon what terms. At a very early stage of the enquiry it became clear that there was no hope of any financial assistance to Liberia unless the American Firestone interests, already engaged in a large scheme of Liberian development under which extensive control of Liberian finance had been at one time granted to them, were prepared to collaborate. The Committee were further convinced that it would be improper and useless for the League to make itself in any degree responsible for assisting Liberia unless the administration of the country were put on a footing which afforded a guarantee of decent administration especially of the native tribes. Accordingly the Brunot Commission was appointed21 to advise the Committee in detail as to the administrative and financial changes in Liberia that were necessary in order to carry out the objects in view. Throughout it was insisted by the Committee that no assistance to Liberia could be recommended unless she agreed to and carried out the reforms regarded as essential to secure decent administration. If she rejected these reforms she could have no assistance. What steps would then be necessary to enforce compliance with the obligation that rests on all members of the League to “secure just treatment of the native inhabitants of the territories under their control” was left over for later consideration. The Committee, on which a representative of [Page 800] the United States Government sat, drew up a plan of assistance largely based on the recommendations of the Brunot Commission. Its main feature was the proposal to appoint a white Chief Adviser with certain assistants to supervise the essential administrative reforms. At the instance of the Firestone Company supported by the representative of the United States Government, the authority of the Chief Adviser was emphasised, it being rightly thought that unless he was put in a position to insist on the execution of the reforms there was little hope that anything effective would be done. On the basis of this Plan the Firestone interests expressed their willingness to give considerable financial assistance to Liberia.
During the course of the enquiry in the autumn of 1931 trouble arose in the south of Liberia in which certain of the Kru tribes were concerned. On the excuse of the alleged nonpayment of taxes, what can only be described as a punitive expedition was despatched from Monrovia to the Kru coast. The reports which reached His Majesty’s Government of the doings of this expedition were such that they not only addressed strong representations to the Liberian Government, but, with the concurrence of the United States, French and German Governments, despatched one of His Majesty’s Consular Officers to the Kru coast in order to obtain an independent report. The effect of this report was to indicate that the Liberian forces had been guilty of grave excesses which resulted, not merely in the wanton destruction of villages coupled with the driving of the tribal population into the bush, but in the slaughter of nearly 150 human beings—men, women and children. There had also been considerable fighting between the various tribes which threatened to extend over the Grebo country still further to the south. At the instance of the Committee a League Commissioner22 visited the district.
His visit, which was facilitated by the resources of His Majesty’s Government, resulted, in the autumn of 1932, in the conclusion of a series of truces between the Liberian Government and the tribes on the one hand, and between the tribes themselves on the other, an arrangement which was accompanied by the collection of arms from the tribes and their deposit in Monrovia. These truces expired in the course of last year, and their expiry has been followed not only by the recurrence of inter-tribal feuds, which must be expected so long as fair and humane administration is withheld, but more recently by the despatch of another Government force from Monrovia, which, [Page 801] according to reports which His Majesty’s Government feel compelled to credit, is conducting itself in a manner not dissimilar from that adopted in 1932. Meanwhile the arms of the tribes have not been returned to them. The especial urgency of the situation lies in these facts.
To sum up. Greatly to the regret of His Majesty’s Government the League’s attempt to assist Liberia has not been successful. Liberia rejected on the financial side the not ungenerous terms obtained for her by the League from her chief foreign creditor, the Finance Corporation of America. Indeed, she has, I understand, repudiated most of her obligations to that body. On the administrative side she made reservations which, if accepted, would render it impossible for the white officials, who were to be appointed under the League Plan, to secure any serious administrative reform. In these circumstances the League Council have felt impelled to withdraw the plan of assistance offered to Liberia and His Majesty’s Government feel that the whole situation must be reconsidered. They feel that it would be a dereliction of duty to civilisation if the misgovernment of the native tribes by Liberia were to be allowed to continue, resulting, as it would infallibly result, in the encouragement of such evils as slave trading and the slaughter and maltreatment of the two million natives by the corrupt and inefficient oligarchy of Monrovia. At the same time His Majesty’s Government cannot believe that the pressure of public opinion or even the threat of exclusion of Liberia from the League, if that should be practicable, will be adequate to create any real and lasting improvement in Liberia. They are aware of the deep interest which the United States Government have always taken in the fortunes of this State, which indeed owes its foundation to American enterprise and philanthropy. On the material side, Liberia is rendered dependent upon the United States Government by the extent to which her financial machinery is already in American hands and organised in conformity with a contract entered into between the Liberian Government and an American corporation. His Majesty’s Government cannot therefore doubt that the United States Government have been as much perturbed as have they themselves by the course of recent events, and they would be grateful for an indication of the policy which the United States Government would in the circumstances recommend. For their own part His Majesty’s Government are ready to cooperate to the utmost of their power in any well-considered measures which the United States Government may consider appropriate to the occasion.

I have [etc.]

R. C. Lindsay
  1. See telegram No. 5, June 5, 1929, to the Minister in Liberia, Foreign Relations, 1929, vol. iii, p. 274.
  2. Omission indicated in the original.
  3. Omission indicated in the original.
  4. See proclamation by President King of Liberia, Foreign Relations, 1930, vol. iii, p. 345.
  5. League of Nations document C.469.M.238.1932.VII.
  6. Dr. M. D. Mackenzie, who arrived in Monrovia on June 26, 1932, and remained in Liberia for over two months. See League of Nations document C.662.M.319.1932.VII.