851T.00 R/1–1951:Despatch

The Consul General at Dakar ( Plakias ) to the Department of State

No. 156

Subject: Notes of the Consul General on ECA Inspection Trip to French West Africa, December 6–19, 1950

As the Department is aware, at the invitation of the ECA Mission to France, the Consul General accompanied a four-man ECA inspection party* from December 6 to 19, 1950 over some 5,000 kilometers of their trip through French West Africa. The principal points of interest visited included the capital and principal port of French Guinea, Conakry, its environs and a trip inland by rail to Kindia and return by road; the new port of Abidjan, the capital of the Ivory Coast, with side trips to Dabou, the ports of Bouet and Grande Bassam; Bobo-Dioulasso in Upper Volta from where we motored through Koutiala to Segou for a visit to the Office of the Niger. We returned to Dakar through Bamako, the capital of the Soudan. In effect, the trip described a circle which took us from Dakar southwest to French Guinea and [Page 1212] the Ivory Coast, North to Upper Volta and the Soudan, and Westward to Dakar.

Commercial air transport was used between distant points such as Conakry, Abidjan, Bobo-Dioulasso, and from Bamako to Dakar; while the shorter distances, side trips and local visits were often effected by American pick-up trucks.

The ECA aspects of the trip were interesting and instructive but as the ECA group will submit a report on these phases, this occasion was taken by the Consul General to pay particular attention, during the brief and cursory visits, to the following points:

Gain a general impression of the area visited,
Establish contact with the governors and ranking officials in the territories, and
The political scene.

I General Impressions

The newcomer on a short visit cannot fail to be impressed by the vastness of French West Africa; the distances between population centers; the primitiveness of the bulk of the native population; the variety of areas, ranging from the desert brush to tropical forests and vegetation; and the amount of effort, time and investment which it will take to develop this area in a material sense. FWA is, and for some time to come will continue to be, an area dependent upon agriculture. Mineral resources discovered to date are limited. Water power is generally at a distance from points of use and requires development; and the distances and terrain make transport an ever-present problem.

Despite these handicaps, developmental projects are in evidence, plans are being implemented and FWA is on the march. The present emphasis is, for the most part, on agricultural development and improvement of cultivation methods; the enlarging of certain ports such as Dakar, Conakry and Abidjan; road building; and the development of some mineral resources such as iron and bauxite in French Guinea. Progress is being made, though at times slowly, but then the financial and material resources and skilled manpower are also limited, and the physical and climatic difficulties are great. It will also be recalled that the beginning of the development of French West Africa dates from only the turn of the century, and that in 1946 the status of French West Africa changed from a colony to that of a member of the French Union with the rights of French citizenship conferred on the native African. Political consciousness is therefore scarely five years old, and the rights, privileges and responsibilities which citizenship entail are new to the African people.

Building was in evidence in all the capitals visited and the number of schools and public buildings under construction was impressive.

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II Contacts Established

This trip gave the Consul General an opportunity to meet the governors of three territories, the ranking members of their cabinets and services, and to meet the directors and other officials of governmental and private organizations which are responsible for much of the important administrative and developmental work which is taking place in the territories visited. These personal contacts can but lead to better understanding and valuable sources of information with which to follow the development, progress and events in French West Africa.

III Political Scene

In each capital occasion was taken to have private visits with the respective governors and/or their chief subordinates for discussions of the political situation in their territories. Specific questions were raised on the importance, activity and danger of Communism which in French West Africa is carried on primarily through the RDA Party. In general it can be stated that all officials with whom these questions were discussed reported that the political scene was quiet. The RDA is said to have been losing members and strength for some time. The governors of Guinea, Ivory Coast and the Soudan indicated that in their territories the situation was under control; but that they were maintaining a careful watch over developments. They were unprepared to express opinions as to the manner in which the publicly announced disassociation of the RDA with the Communist Party in France would affect the local political scene, or whether this break was real or a political manoeuver. The situation as to the rapprochement between the RDA and the IOM was too fluid and uncertain to be judged, with no definite results having as yet become evident.

The distinct impression was gained that the governors are alive to the danger of Communism and are prepared to deal with the situation. Their efforts and manipulations appear to have been effective in reducing the predominance of the RDA in their territories in the last two years. While their methods have varied somewhat they have, in the main, encouraged opposition parties to the RDA which have shown membership gains and grown in importance and activity.

In summary, the political scene is quiet, with the authorities watchful and prepared to institute counter-measures to combat Communist activities.

The net influence of Communism in the territories visited appears to have decreased in the last year and Communist activity is quiescent.

The travel and other arrangements made by the French West African and the Territorial Governments for the group to inspect points of [Page 1214] interest were on the whole well done and permitted the group to see the maximum in the limited time at their disposal at each place. The receptions accorded us everywhere were cordial and every effort was made for the comfort and convenience of the party, within the means available to the local authorities.

From the standpoint of this Consulate General, it was most useful for the Consul General to have the opportunity to visit and obtain firsthand knowledge of a part of the vast territory which is included in this Consular district. It was of great benefit to have the occasion to meet personally the governors and ranking officials in the areas which were visited. There is no question that more frequent and personal contacts should be effected between officers of this Consulate General and the governors and officials in the territories within its jurisdiction.

John N. Plakias
  1. The ECA party was composed of Messrs Gordon, Head of Mission, and Saxe of ECA/F, and Messrs Clemens and Hendricks of OSR. There were attached to the group Mr. Combier, of the Ministère d’Outre Mer in Paris, Mr. Bolle, Diplomatic Counselor to the High Commissioner of French West Africa, and the Consul General. [Footnote in the source text.]