ODA files, lot 62 D 225, “US Representative in the Trusteeship Council”

Memorandum by the United States Representative on the Trusteeship Council (Sears) to the Assistant Secretary of State for United Nations Affairs (Key)

  • Subject:
  • West Africa

This memorandum will report some of the reactions and impressions received during a recent visit to West Africa.

My journey began at Leopoldville in the Belgian Congo and continued on through French Equatorial Africa, French and British Cameroons, Nigeria, French and British Togoland, and finally the Gold Coast. The hospitality which was extended to me by representatives of the British, French and Belgian Governments was beyond all expectation.

My principal impressions were as follows:

Although I have travelled and spent considerable time in many places throughout Asia and Europe, the people of West Africa appear to be by far the most cheerful and happy lot I have seen. One gets no feeling whatever that these people are being restrained or in any way repressed by the white man.

I was very much impressed by the amount of construction and development which was taking place on every side. Low cost, sanitary housing on a large scale is to be seen in all countries, while everywhere one goes the white administrators are engaged in building new roads, new schools, new universities and new factories. The atmosphere is charged with progress.

Progressive political advancement is also much in evidence—most of all, of course, in British areas. And there seems to be no consciousness of a color line anywhere.

Under the circumstances the term “colonialism”, as generally understood, should be replaced by a new and more accurate description of the progress which is taking place in this part of Africa. I could find no sign of economic or racial exploitation in any field. In fact, it is the reverse which is the case. The atmosphere is one of emancipation from [Page 1384]ignorance and from uncivilized customs which have largely disappeared. Progressive measures of all kinds are being fed into the West African system as fast as they can be absorbed and one hates to think what would be the situation if the European administrators were withdrawn tomorrow. If this were to happen, and Communist organizers given a free hand, the whole area in time would undoubtedly become a vast industrial slave camp, in every respect as bad as the days of the African slave trade.

The basic problem so far as I could observe centers around the wide divergence between British and French development policies. Both countries are sincerely and successfully promoting the welfare of the people under their administrations and both aim ultimately to establish political freedom according to trusteeship obligations. The trouble comes because British policy endeavors to develop among the Africans a hard corps of responsible political leaders, while French policy concentrates on assimilating the Africans into the French cultural system and—in a sense—to develop them into the best possible Frenchmen. This is a basic policy difference which gives rise to a number of complications which will sooner or later have to be adjusted. The British, of course, emphasize self-government and from their point of view they would like to see it come as soon as possible. On the other hand, the French, although by no means laggard in developing self-governing institutions, do not place so much emphasis on it as the British do. This raises the question as to what the political repercussions will be when the Gold Coast and Nigeria become fully independent and by free choice sovereign members of the British Commonwealth, while the French areas are still in a dependent status. It is my opinion that the French are very realistic administrators and that if and when it becomes apparent the the British policy is working successfully they will raise their present sites [sights?] so as to speed progress toward self-government in such a way as to keep political disturbances at a minimum.

So much for general impressions. The remainder of this memorandum will touch briefly on political and economic affairs in the various French and British areas.

French Cameroons. The French High Commissioner provided his personal twin-motored airplane and two of the best informed officials so as to permit me to see as much as possible during my short stay in their country. I was accompanied by M. Georges Becquey, Chief of External Affairs, who was also Special Representative of the French Cameroons in the Trusteeship Council, and by M. Réné Tirant, Delegate of the High Commissioner for the North Cameroons. We travelled from north to south. In the north we visited the civilized and conservative Moslems as well as some of the most primitive people that it is possible to see. In the south we saw pagan and Christian peoples which are much more politically active than their neighbors in the north. Although I visited many of the traditional Mohammedan leaders, called Lamidos or Sultans, and was called upon by the paramount tribal chief in the south who happens to be President of the Traditional Chiefs Association, I was unable to observe any outcropping [Page 1385]of nationalism even though it unquestionably exists. The French, however, did tell me that they were aware of no desire on their side of the border for any sort of unification with the tribes in the British Cameroons.

British Cameroons. I spent a number of days at Buea with Brigadier Gibbons, who is the chief administrator of the territory. While there I had several talks with Dr. Endeley, leader of the Kamerun National Congress. In the elections of last December his party won all of the 13 seats allotted to the Southern Cameroons in the Eastern Nigerian House of Assembly. This has given him a government without a minority, which in the end may spell his downfall. At any rate, the main political fact of life in the Southern Cameroons is a widespread fear of the Ibo people who inhabit the adjoining Eastern Region of Nigeria. The Ibos are said to be the most politically aggressive people in West Africa. They are led by Dr. Azikwe and are many times more numerous than the people of the Southern Cameroons. In consequence, the politicians in the Southern Cameroons feel that if they join in any way with their neighbors in Nigeria they will lose forever all political identity. On the other hand, the Moslem people of the North are as one with the Northern people of Nigeria. This puts Dr. Endeley in a difficult position. At present he admits that because of the French policy of gradual assimilation into the French way of life, there is no immediate prospect of independence for the French Cameroons. This means that since he cannot, as a nationalist leader, advocate the placing of his people under French control, and since he is unwilling to join the Ibos to the West under Nigerian control, he has no alternative except to let the North go its own way, while he asks the South to remain under British control. His people would thus represent such a small fragmented group as to raise the question of whether he can get the necessary backing from any source to accomplish such a limited purpose.

On the other hand, Brigadier Gibbons intimated that before the next elections, two years from now, it was not impossible that a minority might develop in the Southern Cameroons which could lead to the ultimate association of the entire Cameroons as a federated part of a new and independent Nigeria.

Nigeria. This huge country of some 35,000,000 people is the largest remaining British colony in the world. Population-wise, it is about as large as Egypt and the Union of South Africa combined. It is divided into three regions, the Northern region, the Western region and the Eastern region. As a result of the recent constitutional conference with the British Colonial Office, each of these three regions, if they so desire, may become self-governing within a loose Nigerian federation by 1956 or shortly thereafter. This would make Nigeria a sovereign nation, and a nation which would presumably choose to become [Page 1386]a member of the British Commonwealth. On the other hand, as I understand it, the British do not wish Nigeria to be divided into fragments and do not propose therefore to permit the creation of a sovereign state until such time as all three regions agree to it. This means that if the Northern region, which is composed largely of Moslems and is very conservative, does not choose to end their association with Great Britain, the Eastern and Western regions will become self-governing areas within Nigeria, but not sovereign.

I had the pleasure of visiting the Emir of Kano and asked him how he felt about self-government for the Northern region. In reply he emphasized the word “ripen”. He would not commit himself beyond the statement that his people needed time to “ripen”. I was told that he is a very strict and conservative Moslem and is a disciplinarian in his administration.

I also had an opportunity to talk with Dr. Awolowo, who is the Chief Minister for the Western region. I asked him what his attitude would be in the event that the Northern region balked at self-government by 1956 and thus delayed independence for Nigeria as a whole. His answer was that he would seriously consider the question of “secession”.

I did not have the privilege of meeting Dr. Azikwe, who is the Chief Minister of the Eastern region, but I understand that he is the most ambitious political leader of them all and is the chief advocate of a Nigerian federation over which he would like to become the first Prime Minister.

The Governor of Nigeria, Sir John Macpherson, was kind enough to discuss with me on a number of occasions the political progress which was taking place in Nigeria. He emphasized that it was impossible to predict what would develop within the next two or three years. He used the term “fluid” to describe the situation.

French Togoland. I stayed for a number of days in Lomé with M. Pechoux, the Commissioner of French Togoland. I got the reaction that he ran what the Navy would call a “taut ship”. There is, however, no question about his expectation that the trust territory will be self-governing one day, although he did not seem to feel that there was any particular hurry involved. The most interesting thing he told me was that they had recently discovered very extensive phosphate deposits in the territory and that this would have revolutionary economic results. On the political side he told me that the nationalist leader, Mr. Olympio, had lost much ground and was no longer of any real influence. He appeared to me to be a very competent but conservative administrator who was determined to do his best to provide for the development and the welfare of the people under his charge.

Because I expressed an interest in seeing as much of the native customs and way of life as possible, the French administrators were good [Page 1387]enough to take me to call on the chiefs of a number of fairly large towns. In every case these traditional chiefs showed us the greatest hospitality and all kinds of honors, including exhibitions of dancing and drumming and gunpowder salutes. To a man they spoke of a desire to be left alone so that they might develop peacefully under the present French administrators. Every one of them expressed annoyance over the fact that during their lifetime they had gone through four or five changes in foreign administration. They told me they now wished a period of calm. Although the nationalists in French Togo-land bombarded the American Consul at Accra in the Gold Coast with requests for an interview before I left British territory—on the ground that they would not be allowed to speak with me on French soil—I could detect no effort on the part of the French to restrain any political leaders from having an interview if they so desired. In Palimé, as a matter of fact, a delegation of three nationalist leaders conferred with me, but they had little to say.

While travelling through French Togoland, it was my privilege to be accompanied by Mr. Apedo-Amah, who was the very effective, Special Representative of that Territory at the last session of the Trusteeship Council.

British Togoland. Under the new Gold Coast constitution, on June 15, there will be an election in British Togoland, as well as in the Gold Coast, to select representatives to the new Legislative Assembly. The issue in Togoland will be whether or not to vote for candidates who favor joining the Gold Coast and ultimately becoming independent along with that country, or uniting themselves with French Togoland, even though this would entail a further period of remaining under trusteeship administration. The political parties involved are the C.P.P. (Convention Peoples Party) under the leadership of Prime Minister Nkrumah of the Gold Coast, and Mr. Antor who heads the Togoland Congress Party which favors unification of the two Togo-lands. Delegations from both parties came to see me to explain their position. To each I replied that the United States was only one of 60 nations in the United Nations and that our principal interest was that all people at the appropriate time—the time best suited to their interests—should have an opportunity to assert their ideas regarding self-determination. The only thing I emphasized was that American public opinion trusted that all campaigning would be conducted by the various leaders on an honest basis. In this connection I received a very poor impression of Mr. Antor. He made definite asssertions which I knew personally to be untrue and I am quite certain that political morality is a subject which holds for him no interest whatever. I should judge that with him, as in the case of other less prominent nationalist leaders, the motivating force was a desire to be a large frog in a small pond rather than no frog at all. The people in the Northern [Page 1388]part of British Togoland will, of course, vote to a man to be joined with their families and neighbors across the Gold Coast border. This means that there is every likelihood that not more than one or two seats in British Togoland will be held by representatives who oppose joining with the Gold Coast. In the meantime, the issue of Ewe unification has reached into the background in view of the mechanical and political impossibility of devising a formula that could unite these people which are spread over Southern areas of the Gold Coast as well as across both French and British Togolands.

The Gold Coast. Under the new constitution which was published during my stay in the Gold Coast, the new cabinet is to be made up entirely of African ministers. The only vestige of British authority to remain will be in the reserve powers of the Governor. Inasmuch as these reserve powers, which involve the right to intervene in such matters as security and external affairs, but have seldom if ever been used, the Gold Coast, for all intents and purposes, is now self-governing.

I had a long interview with Prime Minister Nkrumah and, as I understand it from him—and this of course can be checked against the pertinent documents—the Gold Coast Legislature can at any time from now on declare itself independent and apply for membership within the British Commonwealth. On this point Mr. Nkrumah expressed some concern about the position of Dr. Malan, the Prime Minister of South Africa. It appears that Dr. Malan has recently issued a statement to the effect that he would endeavor to block the admission of the Gold Coast into the British Commonwealth. Prime Minister Nkrumah informed me that he had not yet come to a conclusion on how to handle this situation, but he intimated that he thought the question was one which should be determined between the Gold Coast and the British Government directly, and not between the Gold Coast and the various members of the Commonwealth. I found Nkrumah to be a very friendly and a very earnest, and I should suppose, a very astute man. He has spent fifteen years in the United States, five of which were during World War II, so he is well acquainted with the attitude and capacity of the American people. I also believe that he is fully appreciative of the tremendous responsibility which lies on him to introduce and lead his people successfully in their first stages of independence.

It seems to me that the British deserve the greatest credit for the way they are cooperating and assisting the government and the people of the Gold Coast to assume the responsibilities of nationhood.

Conclusion

West Africa is an extraordinary area of contrasts between very backward people and really advanced people, as well as between conservative Moslems in the interior and progressive Bantus along the coast. [Page 1389]Involved also are the complications arising out of the absence of a common language. There are literally hundreds of different tongues. As far as I could make out, the principal mediums of intercourse are pidgin English, and French, and the Housa language of the North. It is, however, a very thickly populated part of Africa which has no remnants of old-fashioned colonialism and where there are large territories which will almost certainly have sovereign independence within a very few years. It is an area where both British and French administrators are doing a splendid job to advance the welfare and happiness of the people. As such, it seems to me to be a part of the world which we should do everything we can to encourage, by drawing public attention to the capabilities of its people and its success in adjusting itself to the impact of modern civilization.

In conclusion it should be emphasized again that from an American point of view, West Africa is in no proper sense a “colonial” region, because in this part of the continent the seeds of self-sustaining freedom are most certainly beginning to bear fruit.1

Mason Sears
  1. Sears attached a note to this memorandum indicating his desire “to show a copy of this to the British, French and Belgian Reps on the Trusteeship Council”. In a letter dated June 7, 1954 (drafted by Gerig), Key responded in part:

    “As to your question about giving copies to your French, British and Belgian colleagues on the Council, I can see some advantages and also some disadvantages. On the whole, I incline toward not making it available to them, at least at the present, for the following reasons: First, the report is a very intimate and frank document which was undoubtedly written for the eyes of American officials and therefore contains some information which perhaps should make it a classified document; then, too, your rejection of the term “colonialism” as no longer applying to that area might lead them to, expect a more marked change in United States policy than may actually take place; and finally, some of your comparisons between British and French policy, somewhat to the disadvantage of the latter, might be badly received by the French who are particularly sensitive just now in view of what we are urging them to do at Geneva and elsewhere. However, if you feel strongly that you would like to hand it to them, we might look at it again, or perhaps you might wish to eliminate one or two paragraphs.” (ODA files, lot 62 D 225, “U.S. Representative in the Trusteeship Council.”)