Memorandum by the Consul at Leopoldville (McGregor)1
At a dinner in the home of the Acting Governor General, M. Cornells, last Monday evening, an opportunity was afforded to exchange views regarding the usefulness of the United States Information Service in the Belgian Congo. After dinner the Principal Officer and Mr. G. Huntington Damon, Area Director for NEA of USIA, on a visit in Leopoldville, were engaged in a conversation which turned quite naturally to a discussion of this general subject matter.
Mr. Cornells had been referring to the fear prevalent in the Union of South Africa of black domination and remarked that the same fear would become prevalent in the Congo if the white population should exceed a few hundred thousand. As it is, the proportion of white to black in the Congo (70,000 versus 12,000,000) gives no basis for the [Page 415]fear prevalent in the Union where the proportion is 2–½ million to 8 million. I took that opportunity to say that during the past few days Messrs. Damon, Alberts (PAO at this post)2 and I had discussed quite frankly the usefulness of an information service directed toward the relatively insignificant number of white persons in the Congo. Mr. Cornells, without any prompting, interjected that the Belgian Congo Government would have no objection to our information activities being directed toward the native population. (Note: As the Department and USIA are aware, the major objective of USIS since its inception in the Congo in May 1952 has been to establish among government, business and newspaper leaders a feeling of confidence in USIS operations and, therefore, no effort has been made to direct programs to native audiences.)
Mr. Damon asked Mr. Cornells for an appraisal of existing dangers to stability in the Congo, as viewed by the Belgian authorities. Mr. Cornells replied that in order of their importance, he would list the following three dangers:
- Indian penetration
- The extension of Islamism
With regard to the first, he replied to Mr. Damon’s observation that Communism could not be a particular menace at this time, that “there is more Communism activity than you know”.
With regard to Indian penetration, Mr. Cornells referred to the fact that the Indian High Commissioner in Nairobi is also accredited as Indian Consul General in the Belgian Congo. He said that he was delighted to know that this dignitary was being transferred,3 because he considered him a dangerous man. He said that the danger of Indian penetration is due to the fact that wherever the Indian plants himself in Africa, he breeds amorality. He did not enlarge upon the danger of increased Islamism.
Mr. Damon asked for a definition of the words “immatriculé” and “évolué”. Mr. Cornelis said that the first is higher than the second and means “assimilated” in the English language. He did not give numbers in either category. He said, however, that the Belgian Government is so dedicated to the principle of the evolution of the native toward the acceptance of political responsibilities that it would have no objection whatever, if the properly qualified person were available, to having a black Governor General in the Congo. He added that this remark was made in order to emphasize the policy of the Government.
Mr. Damon suggested that insofar as United States Information activities directed toward the natives was [were] concerned, it might [Page 416]be better for this to come to the native indirectly and through the Belgian Congo government’s information service. Mr. Cornells agreed. He said that there was an identity of interest between the United States and the Belgians and he described this identity in somewhat the following terms:
The Belgian Government intends to establish Western civilization in the Congo and to base it squarely upon the principles of the dignity of the individual, equality of opportunity and freedom of expression. He said that these terms are used traditionally to describe the American system or way of life. In fact, he said that it was exactly the American way of life that the Congo Government would like to have described to the native as being a target he could shoot toward and that the Belgian Government had every interest in assisting in carrying this message to the African. He said, however, (and several times he repeated this as a caution) that the merits or demerits of Western civilization as described above should not be questioned or subjected to discussion; that it should be accepted as fact and stated as such.
He went on to say that specifically he felt much could be done with programs centering around the theme of the development of the American Negro and cited the usefulness of stories connected with Negro universities, their inception, their struggles and their realizations. He said this because the Congo Government is about to establish the first native university near Leopoldville.4 Mr. Alberts joined the discussion at this point. I asked Mr. Cornells how he would suggest that our Information Service begin a program designed to reach the educated African in the Congo. He replied that the Government intends to create the position of Information Officer in Charge and that the individual selected had been selected after very careful screening and is trilingual, speaking French, Netherlands (Flemish?), and English; that he would be named within a matter of a month or so and that this whole matter could be discussed with him. He agreed with Mr. Damon’s observation that it would be best to work closely with the Belgian Information Service not only because it has the means to get any message across, but also because American material would require some adaptation in view of Congo conditions. He added that one of the programs being worked on intensely here is the supplying of electrical power to native communities on a wide scale. This will increase radio reception and give opportunity for more intensive information activity.
In the broader sense of American interest in the Congo, Mr. Cornells did not dissent from my observation that looking at the Congo from a purely selfish point of view, the United States is vitally interested in the continual flow of mineral products from this area; that any interruption in this flow, whether in consequence of an economic [Page 417]crisis or political factors, was of paramount importance. It was to our interest to have a stable, evolutionary Congo and that insofar as our information activities could implement and support this vital interest, it would be useful and successful in the Congo.