Memorandum of Conversation, by the Director of the Office of African Affairs (Bourgerie) and the Second Secretary of the Embassy in France (Lloyd)1


Subject: General Review of Problems in French Africa below the Sahara

[Page 1559]
Participants: French: M. de la Tournelle, Director General of Political Affairs, Foreign Office
M. Binoche, Director, Afrique-Levant, Foreign Office
M. Monod, Chief, African Section, Foreign Office
M. Francfort, Assistant Chief, African Section, Foreign Office
M. Charpentier, Director General in charge of Economic and Financial Affairs, Foreign Office
M. Wormser, Economic Affairs, Foreign Office
M. Clermont-Tonnere, Ministry of Finance
M. Delteil, Deputy Director of Political Affairs, Ministry of Overseas France
M. Torre, Deputy Director of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Overseas France
M. Vorss [Vaurs?], Economic Affairs, Foreign Office
American: Mr. McGhee, Department of State
Mr. Bourgerie, Department of State
Mr. Utter, Embassy, Paris2
Mr. Lloyd, Embassy, Paris
Mr. Gordon, ECA, Paris3

The conversation reported below took place at the Foreign Office on the afternoon of September 25, 1950.

M. de la Tournelle opened the discussion by welcoming Mr. McGhee to the Foreign Office. He then reviewed the points to be taken up, and mentioned that fact that at the Foreign Ministers’ Conference earlier this year the French had proposed a plan dealing with the development of Africa,4 which, he believed, had been well received.

Mr. McGhee replied by thanking M. de la Tournelle for his welcome and stated that he and his associates came not in a critical mood, but as friends seeking a better understanding of French problems in Africa, and animated by a desire to assist in solving these problems. The interest of the United States was motivated by two considerations: (1) our obvious strategic interest in the African continent and (2) our desire to see the French overseas territories, by their economic development, assist in the strengthening of metropolitan France. Mr. McGhee said that he believed that the Foreign Ministers’ meeting and other conversations had gone a long way toward dispelling suspicions which may have existed regarding the critical attitude of the non-colonial powers toward those having African possessions. He added that the great strides which France had made in the development of its overseas territories were fully appreciated.

There were, nonetheless, continued Mr. McGhee, a few questions which he would like to ask. The first of these questions concerned Communism in Africa. Mr. McGhee said that he realized that this was not yet a major problem, since Africa is now one of the most stable areas of the world. He felt however that it was a potential menace in certain strategic areas of Africa, which led him to inquire what plans the French had for countering this threat.

In reply, M. Francfort made the following statement regarding Communist activities in Black Africa:

The basis for a Communist movement in French West Africa is fundamentally weak, since the section of the population on which Communism usually relies most heavily for its recruits, i.e., the industrial proletariat of large cities, is of little importance in Africa. The [Page 1560] peasantry, on the other hand, does not offer a fertile field for Communist propaganda, since it is still in a more or less primitive state and, of course, very backward from the political point of view. The Communists have, therefore, sought an outlet through nationalistic groups, a manoeuvre which they have used with success in other parts of the world. Especially since 1947, the Communists have attempted to capture the RDA (Rassemblement Democratique Africain) by their usual methods of infiltration. The RDA, on the other hand, has found it advantageous to associate itself with the Communist Party, since its representatives in the National Assembly (11 members) constitute too small a group to exercise much influence when acting independently. There are, nevertheless, Socialist members of the RDA who can be counted on to support the Government.

The serious incidents in the Ivory Coast last year served to open the eyes of some of the less fanatical elements of the RDA, who are now seeking to escape from Communist domination. As a result, certain of the more virulent Communists have been eliminated from positions of influence within the RDA. There are thus signs of a healthy housecleaning in the ranks of this party, but so far only a beginning has been made in this direction.

This recent evolution of the RDA and the signs that it may well proceed to clean its own house of Communist influence has made the question of exerting pressure on the RDA an extremely delicate one. Such pressure from the government might serve only to crystalize anti-French feeling, interrupt the progress now being made and thus play into the hands of the Communists. The central government has, therefore, considered it preferable to leave to the governors of the various African territories the task of persuading RDA members to adopt a broader attitude toward French aims in Africa.

With respect to Communist influence in the labor movement, it may be said that although no labor union in Black Africa is at present entirely dominated by the Communist Party, a great many of the union leaders are Communists. The situation is therefore potentially dangerous and should be closely watched.

The two most important personalities in Black Africa known to be closely associated with international Communism are d’Arboussier and Dialou, both RDA leaders. The former, the son of an ex-French governor and a native woman, has made frequent trips to Moscow and is most active in the “Peace Partisans” movement (Stockholm Appeal),5 a movement which has not, however, made much headway [Page 1561] in Africa. Dialou is active in the international Communist labor movement and is a vice president of the WFTU.

All programs of agitation by the Communist party have been conducted in the name of Nationalist aspirations. Thus, while all Nationalists are not Communists, they can frequently be led to act along the same lines as Communists. This is the most disturbing facet of the situation.

The Nationalists are now convinced that the only answer to their aspirations is complete independence. It does not seem, however, that this would be an acceptable solution since (1) the trend internationally is now in the opposite direction, i.e., association on a regional or world-wide scale, and (2) the dependent areas, if given complete independence, would be inclined to adopt an attitude of neutrality in the present ideological conflict and thus open the way for the same type of blackmail in Africa as is now being practiced in the Far East.

M. de la Tournelle, in turn, summed up the situation in the following manner:

The Communist movement in Black Africa has only recently assumed any importance and is closely tied in with Nationalism.
The African adherents to the Communist philosophy, like those of the Soviet Union, repudiate any form of international cooperation.
International Communism probably considers the African continent as its second objective, after Asia. The center for its African campaign seems to be located in Ethiopia.
The most effective way to counter Communist tactics in French Africa is to persuade the native groups (a) that their aspirations for self-government be realized within the framework of the French Union, and (b) that their best interests, materially and otherwise, lie in close cooperation with France.

Mr. McGhee asked whether the Communists were making a special effort to operate through the labor unions. M. Francfort replied by saying that although Communist action in the labor unions was limited in scope at the present time, the administration fully realized the potential danger of such action and was keeping a close watch on the situation.

Mr. McGhee referred to Mr. de la Tournelle’s statement that the headquarters of Communist activity in Africa was believed to be located in Ethiopia and stated that information available to the Department of State regarding the size and activities of the Soviet Mission in Ethiopia indicated that an exaggerated idea may have been built up regarding the importance of Addis Ababa as the center of Communist propaganda in Africa. He then asked whether the French considered the Ethiopian center more important than the RDA as a means of furthering Communist aims in Africa.

[Page 1562]

M. Francfort replied that the activities were on different planes: the Communists sought to work through the influence which could be exercised by outstanding personalities in the case of the RDA, whereas the Ethiopian center handled the details and the day-to-day business of the program. The two types of activities were designed to complement each other and thus any statement of relative importance would be difficult to formulate.

Mr. McGhee asked what was the attitude of the French Government regarding the RDA.

Mr. Francfort replied that the RDA is a legally constituted, political party represented in the National Assembly. The tactics of the Government were, therefore, to attempt to win over, individually, the more influential members of the RDA rather than to attack the party itself. Whenever illegal action occurs, as was the case in the Ivory Coast incidents, the Government will act with promptitude and vigor. In the meantime, the Government will do everything possible to throttle Communism in the overseas territories by acting through local administrations. The French Government, however, does not contemplate taking measures which would be in violation of French law or France’s international undertakings.

Mr. McGhee asked whether the Communists were concentrating their efforts in any particular areas.

Mr. Delteil said that there were no indications of special concentration except that afforded by the Ivory Coast incidents. He added that the Communists suffered a serious set-back in this their one attempt at direct action.

Mr. McGhee inquired whether the Communists were organized well enough to carry out extensive sabotage of the war effort in the event of hostilities, and if they were making any definite plans along these lines. He referred, in particular, to reports that the Communists Were planning, in the event of an armed conflict, to instigate an uprising along the 14th parallel.

M. de la Tournelle said that he did not think the Communists had worked out any definite program of sabotage and that their major effort seems rather to be concentrated on undermining French influence in Africa. M. Francfort said that the French were aware of rumors that the Communists were planning disturbances along the 14th parallel and that they probably have attempted something in this direction. He felt, however, that any such attempt was doomed to failure, since the inhabitants of the region concerned are for the most part fanatical Moslems and as such are likely to resist Communist ideas. On the other hand, the Communists might be instrumental in inciting a holy war in this area and this is believed to constitute the only real danger.

[Page 1563]

Mr. McGhee asked if the French cooperated closely with the British, and with Liberia, in the surveillance and control of Communist activities in Africa. M. Francfort replied that the cooperation with the British was very close in this respect. As for Liberia, M. Francfort mentioned the matter of arms smuggling into Guinea and the Ivory Coast via Liberia, which, he said, was causing the French some concern.

Mr. Bourgerie stated that the Department of State had investigated this matter and had discovered that only small caliber firearms and ammunition of a hunting type were involved thus far but that the Embassy at Monrovia had been instructed to keep a close watch over the situation.

Mr. McGhee brought up the question of African students in France and asked whether the Communists were very active in seeking to influence these students and whether the French Government encouraged African students to come to France. Mr. Francfort said that while he could cite no particular cases of Communist work among the African students, such work was certainly going on. The French Government, he continued, encouraged African students to come to France, as a means of acquainting them with French life. There are some 3,000 African students in France at the present time. Naturally there was some danger that these students would come under the influence of French Communists, but the Government felt that the advantages in bringing them to France far outweighed this disadvantage. Experience has shown, in fact, that relatively few go over to the Communists and that the majority, many of whom return to occupy important administrative posts in the overseas territories, support the Government.

Mr. McGhee asked whether the Africans could be brought to realize that Communism would impose a far worse form of imperialism than that now existing. M. Francfort did not believe an effort in this direction would prove fruitful, and pointed out that the African native is far too backward politically to grasp a concept which a great many Europeans find it difficult to understand.

McGhee asked if there were any anti-Communist political organizations. M. Francfort replied that there were other political parties, but added that what was important in the situation was not the existence of anti-Communist parties, but the presence in the overseas territories of a French administration determined to suppress any overt action by the Communists, and prepared for any eventuality in this respect. The greatest bulwark against Communism in these territories is the French Administration. When the French feel that they have the comprehension of other powers in their task, they will be willing to act with even more confidence and vigor.

[Page 1564]

Mr. McGhee asked whether, in view of the importance of the RDA, it was not necessary for any West African with political ambitions to join that party in order to get ahead. M. Francfort answered that the RDA is the most important political outlet for the Nationalist movement in all of West Africa but that there are other local political parties representing separate territories. There is for instance the Progressive Party (Parti Progressiste) in the Cote d’Ivoire, home of the RDA. Personal and sectional rivalries must also be taken into account.

Mr. McGhee asked whether an effort was being made to offer a means of expression to non-Communist Nationalists. Mr. Francfort replied affirmatively and said that the Government was attempting to persuade the bona-fide Nationalists that the answer to their aspirations could be found within the framework of the French Union. This is of course a long-term matter and the principal difficulty is that of convincing the Nationalists of the necessity for a gradual evolution toward greater self-government.

M. Binoche added that in this respect France was confronted with a dilemma: the Government was eager to see the native populations advance as rapidly as possible toward self-government and would like to accelerate this evolution. On the other hand, the Government feels that the premature relaxation of certain controls would play directly into the hands of the Communists. This situation makes it difficult to persuade the peoples of Africa and other nations as well that France is actually moving in the right direction.

Mr. Monod introduced the subject of social developments in the French territories of Black Africa. He stated that reports on this matter had been submitted to the UN, but that there was one aspect of this question which he desired to stress, namely, the work of the Commission de Cooperation Technique en Afrique (CCTA).6 M. Monod reviewed the development of this organization from its beginnings in 1945, outlined its organizational structure, and gave a resumé of its work by listing the various conferences held, which included those on veterinary medicine, tse-tse fly control, medicine, education, nutrition, commerce, transportation, and soil erosion. M. Monod stressed the fact that the CCTA was not intended to compete with the specialized agencies of the UN such as the FAO, but rather to cooperate with these agencies in the fullest possible measure.

Mr. McGhee asked whether the natives were informed of what was being done by the CCTA. Mr. Monod replied that they were and that [Page 1565] the delegations sent to meetings of the Commission and of the local working organizations always include African members.

Mr. Bourgerie said that we were following the activities of such organizations with interest and would welcome the opportunity to participate, as observers, in some of the meetings of the CCTA.

Mr. McGhee asked whether the CCTA worked in close cooperation with the OEEC. Mr. Monod replied that such cooperation was planned for the future but that the CCTA was still too young an organization for much development to have taken place along this line.

Mr. McGhee said he understood that the ECA has had more funds for the assistance of such programs than have been utilized, since the demand was not so much for dollar exchange as for local currencies. He then asked Mr. Monod whether he thought the demands for ECA funds would be greater in the future. Mr. Monod replied that since the work under the CCTA program consisted largely of studies in the social field, large sums of money were not required. The important question was not one of funds but rather of methods and organization.

Mr. Bourgerie asked whether the CCTA had definite programs for each territory. Mr. Monod replied that programs for each territory existed but that these programs had been drawn up by the specialized technical bureaus rather than by the Commission whose purpose was one of coordinating effort.

Mr. McGhee asked if there was a parallel program in the economic field. Mr. Vorss replied that there was and that the economic program had been developed and was being carried out with three general principles in mind: (1) to raise the standard of living of the natives, (2) to increase the economic potential of the French Union, and (3) to increase the military potential of the French Union as a member of the Atlantic Pact. Mr. Vorss suggested that, in view of the complicated nature of the question, the discussions be carried on in accordance with the following outline:

Public investment policies, under the Four and Ten-year plans
Private investments (a) French; (b) Foreign and notably American
The strategic material program under ECA as a practical example of what can be accomplished by cooperative effort between France and the United States.

Mr. Torre gave an account of the French program of public investment which is summarized as follows: The idea of extensive development of the overseas territories is not a new one and did not start with the 10-year plan of 1946. There was, for example, the loan of 1931, whose proceeds went mainly into railway and port development, although agricultural programs in Africa and Indo-China were also [Page 1566] undertaken. This work continued up until the war. At the end of the war, the situation of the overseas territories was found to be very difficult because of the deterioration of material and equipment during the war years. The situation with respect to transportation was particularly grave. The central Government therefore, decided to work out an overall, coordinated plan for the re-equipment and development of the overseas territories. The result was the Ten Year Plan (Plan d’Equipment), set forth in the law of April 30, 1946.

Two unexpected difficulties, however, prevented the Government from carding out the Plan as originally conceived: (1) the production objectives had been set immediately after the war when there were scarcities of almost all colonial products. Economists were convinced that these scarcities would continue over a long period and production goals under the Plan were set accordingly. It soon became apparent, however, that the scarcities would not last and that, in consequence, the marketing possibilities were not as great as had been expected. This was particularly true in fats and oils where the saturation point was quickly reached; (2) the disagreeable discovery was soon made that public works in Africa would actually cost far more than had been estimated when the Plan was drawn up.

Thus, important modifications had to be made in the Plan with respect to production goals and credit ceilings. It was for this reason that the Plan was never published in full. Beginning in 1947, it was decided to go ahead with a series of limited 4-year plans drawn from the “legal” Plan.

The amount to be spent on these plans is estimated at 200 billion francs. Fifty-five percent of this amount is to be supplied by metropolitan France, the remainder by the overseas territories. It is planned to devote 104 billion francs from this total to public investment, 44 billion to production and 40 billion to the social program. Investments by private capital will probably amount to an additional 20 to 25 billion francs.

Progress is being made under the plan in the following fields:

Scientific Research, which is being carried out entirely at the expense of the central Government.
Basic Utilities. No new railroads have been constructed, but the existing ones have been re-equipped. The principal ports have been improved and re-equipped. Most important, a vast road program is now being carried out using modern machinery and methods.
Social Program. Education is being stressed with emphasis on technical instruction in order to create a supply of locally-trained skilled workers.
Production. The Government is attempting to promote production in every way but at the same time to leave complete liberty of action to private enterprise in this field. Several public work programs aimed at promoting increased production, such as the Niger dam, have been carried through to completion. A mining bureau has been set up not only to engage in prospection of minerals but, in association, with private enterprise, to exploit mineral deposits as well. As a result of the disruption of the money market immediately after the war, and the consequent inability of some companies to obtain private financing, the Government, to encourage industrial development, had joined with a number of private concerns to form “mixed enterprises” financed by both private and public capital. Examples of such mixed companies in West Africa are a textile concern and an edible-oil company.

Mr. Torre concluded his exposition by saying that ECA aid had been of enormous assistance in carrying out the Plan, since counterpart funds applied in metropolitan France had enabled the Government to allocate more of its general funds to African development than would have otherwise been possible. The amount of direct ECA aid to Black Africa was estimated to be in the neighborhood of 17 billion francs.

In connection with the last point, Mr. Vorss pointed out that the question of finances in general was much more important than that of dollar exchange, insofar as the Plan was concerned, and said that the French would like to raise the question of the utilization of ECA unallocated funds for purchases outside of the United States.

Mr. McGhee asked whether the standard of living of the natives had been raised as a result of the operation of the Plan. Mr. Torre replied that it was still too early to make a positive statement on this matter.

Mr. Vorss introduced the subject of American investments in French overseas territories by saying that there seemed to be considerable misunderstanding on both sides, for while there was a widespread conviction in the United States that enormous difficulties were placed in the way of such investment, French public opinion had become somewhat apprehensive over an imaginary “invasion” of French territories by American capital.

Mr. Clermont-Tonnerre then gave the following resumé of the situation with respect to foreign investment in the territories under consideration:

The French Government, in principle, authorizes and guarantees the transfer abroad of the profits of foreign investments, and since September 1949 has permitted the repatriation of the total amount of the investment at any time.
In some rare instances, the French have refused to permit the transfer of profits of foreign investments but only in the cases where enterprises of doubtful economic value to the territories concerned were making enormous profits with a very small initial investment.
In spite of these favorable conditions, relatively little American capital has been invested in French overseas territories. The reasons behind this situation are probably the following: (a) the more liberal laws are of a recent date and are not widely known; (b) the territories themselves are not well known, have not been thoroughly prospected and hence present a large element of risk for potential investors, and (c) the American capitalist, unlike his European counterpart, has possibilities for superior investments in his own country which would entail less risk than investments in French overseas territories.

Mr. Bourgerie asked whether foreign capital could enter French overseas territories on the same basis as French capital.

Mr. Clermont-Tonnerre replied that this was so in all fields except mining enterprises, in the case of which the law required that the majority of the stock be held by French nationals.

Mr. Bourgerie then brought up the question of the American petroleum companies with storage facilities at Conakry and Douala and pointed out that the French were insisting that these facilities, as well, have majority French control.

Mr. Torre stated that this was a special case. The market possibilities of the territories in question were so limited that the construction of additional petroleum storage facilities would not make economic sense. The result was thus a de facto monopoly controlled by foreign companies.

Mr. Bourgerie replied that incidents of this sort, nonetheless, were not conducive to encouraging American investments in French West Africa.

Mr. McGhee suggested that the question of the American petroleum companies operations in French West Africa be discussed by the Embassy and the Foreign Office at a later date. He added that he hoped all the present difficulties would be settled and that more American capital would find its way into French overseas territories.

Mr. Bourgerie, in turn, called attention to the success and mutually beneficial results of American investments in Liberia and the Union of South Africa.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Mr. McGhee expressed his appreciation for the full and frank discussion, and stated that he was impressed by the effort which the French Were making in their overseas territories.

  1. The meeting recorded here was one of several held between Assistant Secretary of State McGhee and his party and French officials in Paris, September 25 and 26. Regarding these meetings, see the editorial note, p. 1550.

    The memorandum printed here was apparently drafted by Second Secretary Lloyd on September 25 in Paris and was completed and probably amended by Director Bourgerie in Washington on October 23.

  2. John E. Utter, Second Secretary of the Embassy in France.
  3. Lincoln Gordon, Director of Program Division, Office of the U.S. Special Representative in Europe under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1948.
  4. Regarding the meetings of the U.S., British, and French Foreign Ministers in London, May 11–13, and the preliminary tripartite meetings thereto in late April and early May, see the editorial note, p. 1541.
  5. Documentation on the so-called Stockholm Peace Appeal of May 1950 is scheduled for publication in volume iv.
  6. Regarding the Commission for Technical Cooperation in Africa South of the Sahara, see footnote 4, p. 1516.