The Consul at Accra (Cole) to the Department of State

No. 157


  • Discussion with Head of Volta River Preparatory Commission

The following summarizes information obtained from Commander R. G. A. Jackson, Special Commissioner of the Volta River Preparatory Commission during a conversation I had with him on May 28.

Commander Jackson, who arrived in Accra on May 5, said that he is still busy getting organized and has not really settled down to business yet. He expects that the Commission will spend most of the first year of its existence in a “fact-finding” capacity. He explained that the Commission will have to do a substantial amount of research into the Gold Coast economy before endeavoring to prepare estimates of the cost of the various aspects of the project and to offer a definite opinion as to whether it is in fact feasible. In Commander Jackson’s view accurate estimates are essential, since, if mistakes were made then the [Page 283] whole economic justification of the scheme would be destroyed. He had in mind a number of other large projects initiated since the end of World War II where the ultimate cost greatly exceeded the original estimates. His task is therefore essentially to answer the question: “Is the project feasible.” It will, he believes, be 18 to 24 months before the answer to that question can be ascertained.

Commander Jackson said there was another reason for beginning his work with a considerable period of fact-finding before proceeding to recommend details of a Master Agreement between the parties to the project in compliance with the British White Paper on the Volta Project. He did not want the subject to become a “political football.” He therefore thinks it wise to defer submitting recommendations about the project until after the question of further constitutional changes in the Gold Coast has been thrashed out. In other words, he would rather have the project agreed to by the Africans after they are further advanced on the road to autonomy, since he feels there will in those circumstances be less likelihood of opposition to the Agreement as an instrument of “economic imperialism.” Moreover, initiation of the Volta Project must await development of port facilities at Tema.

With regard to the fact-finding phase of his work, Commander Jackson expressed great interest in the Private Investment Survey which he understands is to be undertaken here by MSA. In his opinion information which would be developed by such a survey would be useful in connection with his planning for the Volta Project.

The membership of the Preparatory Commission is not yet complete, since the resolution of the Gold Coast Assembly advocating the addition of two members to be nominated by the Assembly remains to be dealt with. Two eminent persons in the engineering field have been mentioned. One of these is Arthur Morgan; formerly chairman of the Tennessee Valley Administration. The other is a Mr. Savage1 who, I believe, is a Canadian. Jackson said the Prime Minister, Nkrumah, had recently written to Morgan on this subject without informing the British or the aluminum companies of what he was doing. They took a rather poor view of Nkrumah’s unilateral approach, and Jackson feels part of his job will be to urge the need for coordination among those concerned. In any event, the desire of the Assembly to nominate two members may well be countered by requests to add other members from the aluminum companies and the British Government. Jackson feels that a Commission consisting of seven or more persons would be too large.

Details regarding the financing of the project are not yet available. [Page 284] In Jackson’s opinion capital for overseas investment would not be too readily forthcoming from the United Kingdom Government. The latter would be quite happy to have the Gold Coast increase its prospective share of the total investment required, in accordance with the expressed desires of certain African politicians. Jackson has discussed the question of financing with the World Bank, which evidently may make some contribution. He also opined that it would be a good thing if “private venture capital” from the United States and Canada should interest itself in the project. He thought it a mistake for government to have to bear the entire financial burden of such large scale ventures. However, when he discussed the matter in the City (London) the reaction of financiers there was highly discouraging. There [their] main concern was evidently with possible future political instability in the Gold Coast.

Commander Jackson expressed the hope that the progress of the Volta Project would not be marred by the vagaries of Gold Coast politics. He has discussed with Nkrumah the possibility of forming a small committee to consider various aspects of the project on a “bi-partisan” basis. The group, which would meet occasionally with Nkrumah, would include certain Assembly “back-benchers” and members of the “opposition.” Jackson doubted, however, that the Convention Peoples Party would view such an idea with favor. He said he had stated his position in such matters to all concerned: he didn’t pretend to understand local politics but considered it his job to act on behalf of the best interests of the Gold Coast in the course of his work here. Since the project is obviously of great importance to the colony, he wishes to proceed carefully and take all steps necessary to assure its success.

I may add that Mr. R. H. Saloway, Minister of Defense and External Affairs, told me recently that Nkrumah had not followed through on his expressed intention to ask that the British Government approach the United States about a loan or grant for use in the Volta Project (my despatch No. 112, March 25, 1953).2 Mr. Saloway said that he thought that Nkrumah’s request would be well received, if and when put forward. He added, however, that Nkrumah frequently expressed such thoughts in an impulsive way, only to forget the matter amidst his other concerns.

William E. Cole
  1. He was referring to John Lucian Savage, a Wisconsin-born civil engineer.
  2. Not printed; it summarized an interview with Nkrumah concerning the Volta River project. Cole indicated that the United States had not taken a definitive position with regard to a possible loan application from the United Kingdom to help finance the undertaking. Nkrumah expressed interest in such support in the hope that it might expedite the project and as well help to discredit “silly” stories that he was a Communist. Detwiler was too small a man, he thought, to perform such a role. Cole surmised that the Prime Minister coveted the loan, in part, to counter assertions he was submissive to British “economic imperialism”. (845K.2614/3–2553)