Report Prepared in the Department of State 1


Political and Economic Problems of Africa

Prior to convening the diplomatic and consular conference on Africa, to begin February 27 at Lourenco-Marques under the chairmanship of Assistant Secretary McGhee, the Department called into consultation a panel of American experts on African affairs, to undertake an exchange of views on the items of the conference agenda. The panel included prominent experts in the academic field; representatives of commercial, philanthropic, and religious interests in Africa; and experts on UN affairs.2 Although the panel discussion was primarily [Page 1504] focussed upon the area of Africa south of the Sahara, during the course of the discussions the major political and economic problems of the entire continent were taken into consideration.

Policy Considerations and Policy Problems—Department officials, characterizing the forthcoming conference as an opportunity to lay the foundations for a restatement of American policy towards Africa, emphasized that for the first time we have available the tools with which to work towards implementation of our objectives, in the form of ECA funds which can be expended as a part of the overseas territories program of the ERP, and funds which may be forthcoming under the Point Four program.3 Our representatives referred to the dual approach which the nature of the African problem imposes upon us, because of our desire to utilize our assistance to further the aspirations of the African peoples towards economic betterment and development, and our desire to assist in the development of mutually profitable economic relationships between the European countries and the African colonies. It was further pointed out that implementation of our African policy not only involves our relations with the metropolitan powers, but also our participation in the UN, where we occupy a middle position between the metropolitan powers and the non-colonial powers which are pressing for early self-government for the colonial peoples. On the one hand, our traditional policy towards dependent peoples impels us to see that their economic, political, and social welfare is taken into account and that they move in the directions outlined in the UN charter. On the the other hand, we have an important interest in seeing that developments in the area take place in an orderly and stable manner because of our deep interest in the metropolitan powers and their interests in Africa. Moreover, because of the extensive development schemes which the metropolitan powers are themselves undertaking or planning for Africa, it will be one of our major tasks to determine how these various programs can be effectively coordinated, in view of the diverse channels through which [Page 1505] assistance reaches Africa, and the diverse lines of authority affecting Africa.

Economic Plans and Problems—Our representatives observed that the formulation of the Point Four principles, which places emphasis on the problems of the under-developed areas themselves, and the developing problem of balancing Europe’s dollar account, which tends to stress the contribution which the dependencies can make to European recovery, stimulated formulation of ECA’s overseas development program. With the regular funds available through ECA to assist the African dependencies, the special overseas development fund established in the spring of 1949, the Point Four program, and the large-scale development programs contemplated by the metropolitan powers, the opportunity exists to assist both in making Europe self-supporting and in the economic development of Africa for the benefit of its own peoples. It is presently estimated that during the four-year period of the Marshall plan, the increase in exports of dollar earning and dollar-saving commodities from the European dependencies as a whole will be approximately $700,000,000, of which more than $400,000,000 will come from Africa. Our representatives stressed the necessity of developing new relationships between the European and the African, since most of the assistance programs contemplated require a degree of cooperation which cannot exist in an atmosphere of suspicion. They also called attention to the administrative difficulties confronting colonialism in the twentieth century, referring to the inadequacies in numbers and in technical skills among the colonial administrators and the need to develop skills among the Africans if governments are to deal competently with the many problems which arise in a developing society. They referred also to the deficiencies of the metropolitan powers in developing their planning on a continental or inter-regional basis with respect to Africa. The basic economic facts of Africa, particularly the low level of production and consumption, together with the low but rising level of trade, were given special attention. In the latter connection it was pointed out that, since Africa exports to the ECA countries in Europe half as much as the US, a relatively small increase in African production would be of great significance towards improving the dollar deficit position of the Western European countries. However, the increase in exports, which has taken place in certain products such as strategic materials, has been accompanied by a shift in Africa from a cereal exporting basis to a cereal-importing basis in recent years.

Political Problems Presented by Consultants—It was pointed out by the non-governmental experts that Africa is a relatively malleable area, more susceptible at present and for some time to come to outside determinism than any other large area of the world. Accordingly, it [Page 1506] is the last large region in which outsiders can continue for a time to do very much as they please, because of the limited economic and political powers of the African peoples, their lack of cohesion and solidarity on a continental scale, and their helplessness except through the medium of world public opinion. This situation imposes upon the Western nations a special burden of self-discipline, voluntary high order planning, and wise action. The US is in a position of great influence to determine the actions of the Western nations with regard to Africa, because Africa contains no resident powers possessing sufficient strength and historical and ideological acceptability to gain pan-African predominance; because we are effectively allied with all of the governing powers except Spain, which are in a high degree dependent upon us; because many Africans look upon American institutions, influence, and support as desirable; and because of their recognition of our sympathy towards and contribution to the rapid indigenous development of all peoples. Accordingly, of all the nations having access to Africa, the US is in the best position to influence for good the entire continent, and the required development of Africa can only be achieved in desirable depth and speed with broad American cooperation. In the light of our lack of knowledge of Africa, therefore, a greatly strengthened governmental and private effort is required, both to inform America about Africa, and to work out with colonial and other powers and with the African peoples a progressive program to assist the latter towards self-development, self-government, and participation in world affairs. It was further emphasized that we must proceed cautiously and in an orderly manner in our activities in Africa, seeking to differentiate between Communist infiltration and the justifiable political ambitions of the native population; seeking to dispel the suspicion that we may be planning to establish spheres of influence or new monopolies; and seeking to resolve the conflict between our desire to foster self-determination and self-government and that of maintaining our close relations with the nations which have joined us in the Western European defense arrangements.

Factors Affecting Formulation of US Policy—Analyzing the general problems of Africa with specific reference to economic assistance, the non-governmental consultants proceeded on the basic assumption that the ECA and Point Four programs should be closely related to basic US policy with regard to Africa and the colonies. It was stated that formulation of US policy must take into consideration a number of factors, such as our important strategic and economic interests in Africa; our relations with the colonial powers and the non-European independent states of Africa; the traditional sympathy of the government and peoples of the US with the aspirations of colonial peoples, and the need to preserve the reservoir of good will [Page 1507] which we have built up with the African peoples. Another important factor is that of the cold war and the propaganda which is a central instrument therein. In this connection Soviet propaganda, which concentrates considerable attention on imperialism and colonialism, has been provided by the colonial powers with powerful arguments particularly because of the extreme positions which these powers adopted in Committee Four of the last General Assembly. Another major factor is the struggle going on within the UN in interpreting the principles and objectives of Chapters XI, XII, and XIII of the UN charter, which refer to non-self-governing peoples, international interest therein, and the international trusteeship system. This is a struggle of interpretation, in which the colonial powders adhere strongly to the line of strict construction of Chapter XI to the end of minimizing any international concern for or intervention in colonial affairs. A further factor is that of the developing nationalist movements and aspirations in the African territories, particularly in North and West Africa, which is capable only of being retarded but not checked. Although the African peoples are lacking in resources and skills, the leaders of such movements are in no sense deterred by these deficiencies. This factor raises the question of standards to be applied to peoples to determine whether they may be ready to stand on their own feet economically and politically, and the observation was made that some of the peoples of Africa are perhaps as advanced as certain UN member states. This situation represents a dilemma for the UN, which as an international organization must put the brakes on nationalism while at the same time it has taken action towards the creation of new states. Finally, we must take account of the trend of world opinion towards anti-colonialism, which is not confined to those states which have just graduated from colonial status but, as the proceedings of the last GA show, applies to the Latin American states and others.

Recommendations of the Consultants—Against this background, it was recommended by the non-governmental experts that there be a reformulation at the highest levels of US policy in Africa and of the colonial question generally. It would be most useful to have a clear definition of US policy in this regard, since the positions which we took in the Fourth Committee were to some extent tactical rather than policy positions, from which it is difficult to extract a definition of US policy. Second, any US economic aid should be carefully formulated within the framework of US political policy towards Africa and colonies in general. Third, on a long-term basis any such US aid should place less emphasis upon European recovery than upon the development of the African territories for themselves and for the good of the peoples therein. Fourth, US policy should be based upon abroad [Page 1508] understanding with our Western allies who are colonial powers, and, to this end, consultations should be undertaken at a high level, in an attempt to obtain maximum agreement on the broad aims of colonial policy and on a reasonable acceleration of the economic and political development of the African peoples. This is regarded as essential to any effective program of economic or technical assistance, since such aid is unlikely to be acceptable to the colonial powers if the US is in serious disagreement with those powers regarding the broad bases of policy or if our representatives in the UN oppose the positions taken by the colonial powers with regard to broad political interests and objectives. Moreover, the US aid program should be geared as closely as possible to the program which will develop in the UN, in the interests of the US and of the African peoples. In addition, a bold new approach with regard to technical assistance should be coupled with at least a “moderate boldness” in affirming our political policy on the broad question of colonialism. Finally, it is axiomatic that, from the long-range viewpoint, any sound policy with regard to Africa should find its main reliance on the interests and well-being of the African peoples. The observation was made that there are three ways in which American ideals can be made clear to the peoples of the world and to the metropolitan powers, first, to define those ideals precisely and openly; second, to show preference to those governments which display a willingness to give consideration to those ideas; and, third, to give special consideration and priority to Liberia, because it presents our sole opportunity to strengthen a nation on the African continent which is built on the American pattern, to serve as a demonstration of the success of a “planted ideal” and of the capability of the African to govern himself.

Economic Problems Raised by the Consultants—Africa was characterized by the non-governmental experts as the most impoverished of the continents, because of its unfavorable combination of unproductive soil and adverse climate. Accordingly, most of tropical Africa, and some non-tropical areas, have had great difficulty in developing agriculture, and have rapidly passed from the stage of marginal productivity to the stage of deterioration, soil erosion, and the destruction of the surface both on the slopes and on the lowlands. It was further pointed out that, despite the potential unproductivity of the continent, there is no evidence that the metropolitan powers have been discouraged by these considerations to the extent of withdrawing and, in fact, they are centering more interest upon Africa than before. It was suggested that agriculture is the foundation of society from the physical and material standpoints, and that any effectively organized economy consists of a pyramid in which agriculture forms the base. However, the economy which Europeans have instituted in Africa [Page 1509] has inverted this structure, with the pyramid resting on the minerals and particularly upon the exportable minerals. It was also pointed out that, as a poor continent, Africa has historically suffered both from underinvestment, in a general sense, and over-investment with respect to certain phases of production, notably strategic materials. Moreover, as a result of Western investment and the application of Western concepts of technical development, a serious labor shortage and a tremendous dislocation of labor forces has occurred, producing both overconcentration of population in certain areas and the reduction in those conditions which make for human welfare. It was urged that we recognize that a society must be equipped with a measure of certain skills among the indigenous population to warrant independence under modern conditions, and that therefore it will be necessary to cooperate with the metropolitan powers rather than to put our weight behind the independence movements until the societies have become richer in skills. The consultants emphasized the attitude of suspicion with which the African peoples regard the entire ECA concept and operation, both because of its short-term nature and because of fear that we propose to establish monopolies or spheres of influence. They warned against the dangers of rapid development which would lead to rapid deterioration, and urged that attention be given to a really effective organization even though it would take longer to develop. Special attention was given to the question of improvement of domestic surf ace and air transportation within the colonial subdivisions and areas in Africa, as a means of enabling the indigenous population to improve its living standards, its health and social standards, and to facilitate the development of grazing and agricultural operations in the inland areas.

  1. This report of a meeting held at the Department of State on February 6 was presumably prepared in the Bureau of Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs. The text was subsequently included in its entirety in the Report on East–West African Regional Conference of U.S. Diplomatic and Consular Officers at Lourengo Marques, February 27–March 2 (regarding the Conference and the Report, see Assistant Secretary of State McGhee’s memorandum of April 12, p. 1514). A close paraphrase of the report printed here was also included in the February 22, 1950, issue of Current Foreign Relations, the classified, weekly review of major foreign policy events and issues prepared in the Department of State and circulated within the Department and to posts abroad. For a summary evaluation of the meeting of February 6, see the memorandum of February 17 from Mr. McGhee to the Secretary of State, p. 1509.
  2. The 11 nongovernmental panelists participating in the February 6 meetingwere as follows: Dr. Emory Ross, Executive Secretary of the African Committee of the Foreign Missions Conference of North America; James A. Farrell, Jr., President and Director of the Farrell (Shipping) Lines, Inc.; Dr. Robert G. Woolbert, Director of the Social Science Foundation. University of Denver; Dr. Derwent Whittlesey, Professor of Geography at Harvard University; Dr. Cornelius W. de Kiewiet, Acting President of Cornell University; Dr. Mark H. Watkins, Professor of Anthropology at Howard University; Dr. Ralph Bunche, Director of the Department of Trusteeship of the United Nations; Dr. Channing Tobias, Director of the Board of Trustees of the Phelps-Stokes-Foundation; Dr. John Morrison, Professor of Geography at the University of Maryland; Juan T. Trippe, President of Pan American Airways; Ogden White of the Filatures Tissages Africains. The following oflicers of the Department of State took part in the meetings: Assistant Secretary of State McGhee; Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs Raymond A. Hare; Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for United Nations Affairs Durward V. Sandifer; Director of the Office of African and Near Eastern Affairs Burton Y. Berry; Director of the Office of Public Affairs Francis H. Russell; G. Hayden Raynor, United Nations Adviser to the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs; Arthur Z. Gardiner, Special Assistant to Assistant Secretary of State McGhee; Norman Burns, Officer in Charge of Economic Affairs in the Office of African and Near Eastern Affairs (ANE).; Samuel K. C. Kopper, Officer in Charge of Northern African Affairs (ANE); Leo G. Cyr, Officer in Charge of Southern African Affairs (ANE). Representatives of the Economic Cooperation Administration and the Department of Commerce were also present.
  3. In the fourth point of his Inaugural Address of January 20, 1949, and in a subsequent message to Congress on June 24, 1949, President Truman called for a broad new program to provide technical assistance to underdeveloped countries. For documentation on the establishment of the machinery for the Point Four Program in 1950, see vol. i. pp. 846 ff.