The Consul at Dakar (Ferguson) to the Department of State

No. 200


  • Some Thoughts on International Cooperation in Africa Arising Out of the Dakar Conference on Defense Facilities1

The Department will by this time have received the official report on the African Defense Facilities Conference which took place at Dakar from March 11 to March 19, 1954, prepared by the United States team of observers headed by Brigadier General John P. Doyle, USAF.2 The following observations of a more general nature are submitted separately since they may be of more particular interest to the Department than to the Defense Establishment and since they are not confined strictly to the actual working of the conference. The preamble to the agreed Report of the Dakar Conference is enclosed in reproducible form and the entire document in single copy.3

The Department may have noted from the official report that the Conference largely achieved what it set out to do, that it took place in an atmosphere of great cordiality, and that most of the countries involved considered it a success. The essential questions, in the Consulate General’s opinion are, however, (a) what did they want to achieve? and (b) what factors make for a “successful” international conference on African affairs? The answers I fear are fairly obvious: (a) little, if anything of a specific nature; and (b) as few positive commitments as possible. This may seem a little brutal but it is believed that an objective study of the various conference documents attached to the official report will bring most readers to the same conclusion.

Before pursuing this general train of thought further, it might be well, at the risk of duplicating certain portions of the official United States report, to review the attitudes of the various countries represented as shown in committee meetings throughout the eight day conference:

[Page 109]

1. France

The French seemed the most conciliatory and open minded of all the delegations although this impression no doubt arose in part from their desire, as host country, to have everything sweetness and light. Furthermore, the French having prepared the agenda in advance with the British knew that little was apt to be proposed to which they could reasonably object. However, the French position probably is, in fact, capable of more flexibility than the narrow self-interest of the Portuguese and the Belgians on one hand and the broad desire for something positive in Africa on the part of the British and South Africans on the other. The French do not feel that any sort of Pan-Africa is either necessary or desirable but are willing, if the others are, to go along with Africa-wide technical, sanitary, military and other non-political arrangements. If the others desire an agreement on certain very broad platitudes such as were agreed upon in Dakar, they have no objection and similarly, they in all probability would have gone along with a more forceful and positive commitment up to a certain point. The latter contingency the French at Dakar never had to face since it was clear from the outset that neither the Portuguese nor the Belgians would conceivably agree to any document that in any way infringed or gave the implication of infringing on their sovereign rights in Africa. Possibly their awareness of this may have accounted for some of the broadmindedness exhibited by the French delegation.

The French did have one favorite project they attempted to put through with somewhat lukewarm results, namely to establish some sort of link to NATO but had to be content with the curiously worded paragraph 8 of the Report of the Conference which provided that the participating countries would be obliged to consult with each other in advance before communicating to an “Atlantic Regional Defense Organization” any information other than objectives and general results. While a statement like this unquestionably can be all things to all men, the French were apparently satisfied that a link, however tenuous, to NATO was included while the Union of South Africa, a non-NATO country was equally satisfied that the provision really meant nothing and could not be construed as extending the influence of NATO to the African continent.

Aside from the above consideration and a few minor arguments of a technical nature in the subcommittees, the French throughout the Conference sought to conciliate—to compromise—to make everyone feel happy and were successful to a rather remarkable degree. The administrative arrangements for the meeting were admirable and the senior members of the French delegation, particularly M. Jean Mons its chairman, were extremely competent negotiators.

[Page 110]

2. The British

The large British delegation included every conceivable sort of expert and apparently hoped for a more tangible, if still generalized, result to the Conference although realizing full well that this was probably impossible. The head of the delegation, Sir Harold Parker, Permanent Undersecretary of the Ministry of Defense, showed some impatience from time to time at the endless quibbling of the Portuguese over what did or did not constitute a threat to the latter’s sovereignty. Sir Harold was particularly annoyed at Portuguese insistence that all fixed installations built by one party on the national territory of another automatically became the legal property of the latter with the nation providing the facility “allowed” to use them on a temporary basis. Some satisfactory wording (Paragraph 2(j) was at last found to get around this point, but Sir Harold made no attempt to conceal his irritation at the whole thing.

In the work of the subcommittees, however, the British position more often prevailed than otherwise principally because their technical experts were more qualified than those of the other participants, with the possible exception of the French, and such positive agreements as were obtained were in great part the result of British (and occasionally South African) persistence. In the broader field, of course, nothing could be done nor was much tried to alleviate Portuguese (and Belgian) suspicion and determination not to let their African territories become a base for anyone else’s operations or, for that matter, a subject of anyone else’s interest.

3. Portugal

The general attitude of the Portuguese delegation has already been indicated. They made no attempt to conceal the unwillingness of their Government to enter into any concrete agreement nor to extend facilities to other African powers except under conditions which they, and they alone, would determine. The members of the delegation were all highly competent negotiators, they were extremely well prepared for the meeting, and they had a fairly substantial advantage over most of the other delegations, in that most of them spoke both French and English fluently. In most of their objections, the Portuguese were successful. They resisted the creation of a central information pool; they blocked the creation of a permanent secretariat; and they repeatedly made the point that all arrangements concerning the facilities to be accorded another power would be decided at the time they were requested.

4. The Belgians

With the exception of the Liberian delegation, the Belgian representatives had less to say than any other country represented at Dakar. [Page 111] This was due in part, according to the delegation’s chairman, Mr. René Van Ros, Belgian Consul General at Dakar, to the fact that the Portuguese were saying so much with which the Belgians agreed that there was no real need for them to press home their own points. It was also due in part, again according to Mr. Van Ros, to a lack of preparation on the part of most members of the delegation who were given only very brief notices of their appointment and no clear instructions. The Belgians did occasionally serve a useful purpose in several of the Committees in alleviating unjustified Portuguese suspicions. One got the impression, however, that most of the Belgian delegation was more interested in having a good time than in really working out an agreement on African defense facilities.

5. The South Africans

The South Africans had a small but able delegation headed by Mr. H. Cuff, Permanent Secretary General of the Ministry of Defense. Possibly more than even the British, the South Africans seemed to hope for some really tangible results of the conference. They had a tendency to quibble over minor matters such as drafting and were most active in putting forward new proposals, few of which were accepted.

6. The Liberians

The Liberian delegation seemed to have little conception of the purpose of the conference and played an entirely negative role throughout. They gave the appearance, however, of being willing to go a long way in cooperating with the colonial powers in Africa and they conducted themselves with dignity and reserve. I am inclined to question the wisdom of an American adviser in uniform sitting with a foreign delegation in meetings of this sort. Colonel Randall, the officer concerned, however, sought and obtained guidance from General Doyle on the extent to which he should participate in the discussions.4

When one considers the conflicting interests of these six powers (I have included the nominally separate delegation from the British West African Territories for the purpose of this report in the overall British representation), it is really not surprising that nothing very startling was achieved at the Dakar conference. Where one is forced to be critical, however, is in discussing the attempt made to make the conference appear more important than it actually was. As indicated in the official American report, rigid security regulations were imposed on everything [Page 112] connected with the Conference with the result that the local press (and presumably the press elsewhere) was able to speculate darkly on military secrets being exchanged behind locked doors. I do not know, of course, that this security was designed to create the impression of great achievements but the assumption that this was the case is hard to escape. Another factor may have been a reluctance on the part of some of the conferring powers, particularly the British, to let it become public knowledge that they were agreeing to commitments for the distant future for areas such as the Gold Coast which they may no longer control. In the opinion of the American military personnel attending the conference, there were no military grounds for this excessive security and probably a combination of several factors made the convening powers decide to proceed in an atmosphere of secrecy.

One feature of this Conference, or indeed any international conference on Africa which follows the same policy, which may lead to trouble in the future was the exclusion of indigenous leaders. True, Liberia as a sovereign nation was represented but in light of their oft proclaimed intentions of leading their African peoples towards self-government, it seems a bit strange that neither the British nor the French included any native leaders in their delegations, even if only for appearances’ sake. The French did, in fact, have one or two African technicians sitting in the background but they were there solely to provide purely technical information on such matters as the port of Dakar. The British, despite the size of their delegation brought no Africans with them.

Turning to the actual document agreed on at the Dakar meeting, it will be noted that it closely follows the Nairobi Report of 1951, the principal differences having been noted in the official report of the United States observers. For the purposes of this discussion, the technical appendices may, I believe, be ignored since they are of somewhat limited interest and are, in any event, of a fairly obvious nature. The meat of the report is in the preamble and it was in preparing this document in the Steering Committee that most of the arguments arose.

Paragraph 2 (c) which states that information called for in the technical appendices should be made available within a reasonable time is a far cry from the South African request for an information pool and it seems from the amount of heat this subject generated that the determination of what constitutes a “reasonable time” will vary markedly between the participating countries. Similarly Paragraph 2 (d) provides that any further information must be obtained through diplomatic channels merely confirming an existing situation.

Paragraphs 2 (h) and 2 (i) typify the type of language the Conference found it necessary to employ to obtain agreement. While there is [Page 113] nothing particularly wrong with these paragraphs, such phrases as “it is desirable,” “wherever possible,” and “should be a matter for determination between the countries concerned” all tend to give the document an air of vagueness and lack of direction which seemed to characterize the conference as a whole. The commitment regarding the greatest possible use of local labor resources was the result of a strong stand by the Portuguese who showed themselves firmly opposed to the concept of the introduction of both skilled and non-skilled labor from other areas in Africa. This stand may arise from the facts that the Portuguese still conscript labor in their territories, that Trade Unionism has made little or no progress in Portuguese Africa in comparison with British and French Africa and that labor from other areas, particularly British, might carry nationalist doctrines with it.

The Department’s particular attention is called to Paragraph 2 (l) which for the sake of convenience I shall quote in full:

“The practical application of recommendations made by the Conference and accepted by the Governments should, particularly in regard to facilities, be subject to prior agreement between the countries concerned.”

I have read and reread this provision and, although I am convinced from the discussions that led to its drafting that it was not deliberately so designed, I cannot see how this is anything but a complete escape clause. The British and South African delegations were opposed to this particular clause but finally accepted it with some grumbling rather than have the Conference bog down on this point. The inclusion of such a provision in an agreement of this kind would appear to negate the entire work of the conference. Paragraph 2 (n) is cut from the same cloth:

“It should be within the discretion of each participating country to decide when the occasion and the circumstances are of such a nature as to justify the grant of any facilities desired.”

While possibly even more generalized in its provisions, the Nairobi Report of 1951 contained no such qualifications.

Paragraph 3 was included at the insistence of the French delegation which thought that the Conference at least ought to go on record as encouraging improvement which could be made in existing facilities in the future. The French here would have preferred a more positive commitment on the part of all concerned to accelerate work on their respective facilities but they did not make an issue of it. Paragraph 4 repeats verbatim a similar provision of the Nairobi Report and was so worded at both meetings because of strong objections by the Portuguese and others to any sort of permanent organization. Paragraph 5 [Page 114] is identical with a similar provision of the Nairobi Report and requires no comment. Paragraphs 6 and 7 are self-explanatory, and paragraph 8 has been mentioned earlier when discussing the French delegation.

It is hoped that the comments set forth above will not be regarded as unduly critical or carping. Any conference of African powers which can in eight days time agree on a rather long document of this nature must be regarded as a success. What is clear, however, is that the interests of the powers concerned and their general policies with respect to their African territories are so varied that agreements of a concrete nature are virtually impossible under any circumstances at the present time. This need not necessarily be regarded as something wrong or reprehensible in itself. The French in West Africa are wont to point out what they feel is a common American failing in lumping large geographic areas together and expecting a common policy to fit the assembled mass. They do not believe that a common policy is any more desirable for all of Africa south of the Sahara than for, say, the “Middle East” or “Southeast Asia” and, while they are willing to cooperate in many fields with the other African powers, they certainly have no intention of following the policies of the others, particularly the British, merely for the sake of working together.

As far as military facilities are concerned, it is doubtful that anything more specific than the Nairobi and Dakar Reports can be expected on an Africa-wide scale. The major African powers, the British and the French in this area, can be expected to continue bilateral cooperation as they have been doing for some time. It may be worthy of note that no provision was made in the Dakar agreement for any future conference of this nature nor was any mention ever made in the various meetings of any further gatherings of this nature. Further international work on military matters in West Africa, at least, will in all probability be done quietly and with fewer participants.

Regardless of the actual achievements of the Dakar Conference, the impression has been given that the six powers were able to assemble together in a cordial atmosphere and plan for the future. This impression alone, I believe, justifies the Conference and the obvious cordiality in which it took place may encourage further meetings on other subjects. We may conclude that although agreements on specific policies are unlikely in the foreseeable future in West Africa, the powers concerned realize that there are areas in which they can work together and they may attempt to do so more often with the passage of time.

C. Vaughan Ferguson, Jr.
[Page 115]

[Enclosure 1]

Draft Report of the Dakar Conference on African Defence Facilities5

The representatives of the Governments and of the various Administrations of Belgium, British West African territories, France, Liberia, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the Union of South Africa (hereinafter referred to as “participating countries”) with the United States of America and the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland present as observers, have met at Dakar for the purpose of securing an agreement in principle on the facilities that would be required in time of war or international emergency for the movement of troops and military stores on the lines of communication from south to north and from west to east, across the western part of the African continent south of the Sahara. In drawing up its recommendations the Conference has been guided by these terms of reference, as set forth in the invitations6 of the convening Governments and has assumed that the facilities envisaged will be granted on a reciprocal basis.
The Conference recommends that:
Participating countries accept the recommendations contained in the reports of the Committees on Land Transport, Air Transport and Meteorology, Sea Transport, Telecommunications and Postal Facilities, and the Movement of Personnel and Stores, as set out in the Appendices A to E respectively.7
The Governments of the convening Powers enter into consultation with the Governments of participating countries in order to work out with them the necessary procedure for putting into effect the recommendations of the Conference.
Information specified in the Appendices A to E of the Conference should be made available within a reasonable time by each participating country to all other participating countries.
Any participating country desiring additional particulars of existing or proposed facilities in the territory of another (within the geographical limits of this Conference) should consult such other country directly, through diplomatic channels, indicating the nature of the information desired.
Any information of general interest supplied by one country to another under the terms of (d) should also be conveyed to every other participating country.
Any classified information supplied under the terms of the foregoing should continue to be treated as such by all receiving powers.
In considering the conditions governing the grant of facilities, distinction should be made in particular between:—
the use by any participating country of existing services and installations in the territory of another;
the improvement or extension of existing services and installations in the territory of a participating country at the request of any other country or countries;
the establishment of new services and installations in the territory of a participating country at the request of any other country or countries.
Participating countries should accept in principle the obligation to bear the cost of all existing facilities made available to them in the territory of another participating country in accordance with financial arrangements to be settled by agreement between the countries concerned. It is desirable that these agreements, wherever possible, should be negotiated in advance.

Where one participating country requests the improvement or extension of existing facilities or the establishment of new facilities for its use within the territory of another participating country and the latter country agrees, the financial, technical and other terms governing the provision of such facilities should in each case be a matter for determination between the countries concerned.

In respect of labour the greatest practicable use should be made of local resources.

In the negotiation of any agreement for the extension of existing installations or the establishment of new ones it should be open to a host country to propose the incorporation in the agreement of such arrangements as may seem desirable to it in regard to ownership and ultimate user.
As it may be necessary for certain facilities to be made available prior to an international state of emergency or a state of war, it should be open to any country which so desires to enter into direct negotiation for this purpose with another country.
The practical application of recommendations made by the Conference and accepted by the Governments of participating countries should, particularly in regard to facilities, be subject to prior agreement between the countries concerned.
Other participating countries should as far as practicable be informed of the opening of negotiations between participating countries and of their outcome.
It should be within the discretion of each participating country to decide when the occasion and the circumstances are of such a nature as to justify the grant of any facilities desired.
The Conference considers as desirable any improvement that can be made to existing logistical resources in its geographical area.
It would be open to the convening Governments to retain the services of the Conference Secretariat on a provisional basis.
The Conference points out that certain of its recommendations contemplate action necessary in time of war which might not be completely in accordance with international conventions governing such matters, to which the participating Governments are parties. The Conference, however, assumes that the participating Governments will give such consideration as may be required to the legal problems which may arise from any undertaking in the above recommendations involving a derogation in time of war from obligations accepted under international conventions.
The Conference agrees that the Governments of France and the United Kingdom, as convening Governments, should submit this report to the participating Governments for their consideration. The Conference considers it of great importance that the participating Governments should communicate their decisions on the Conference recommendations to the convening Governments at the earliest possible date, and expresses the hope that all interested Governments will accept its recommendations.
As soon as the recommendations of this Conference have been approved by the Governments concerned they will become applicable to the territories of participating countries. They will also be applicable to the territory of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland after approval by the Government of the Federation.
That the participating countries should consult one another before communicating to an Atlantic regional defence organization any information concerning the conclusions of the present Conference and their implementation other than those regarding the aims and general results of the Conference.

President of the Conference

Leader of the French Delegation

J. Mons

Vice President of the Conference

Leader of the United Kingdom


Harold Parker

Leader of the Belgian Delegation

Van Ros

Leader of the British West African Territories Delegation

A. N. Galsworthy

Leader of the Liberian Delegation

N. T. Milton

Leader of the Portuguese Delegation

Vasco Lopes Alves

Leader of the South African Delegation

H. J. Cuff

  1. Regarding the conference, see also the note of Jan. 18, 1954 from the British Ambassador to the Secretary of State, p. 90 and despatch 2138, Feb. 18, 1954, from Paris, p. 94.
  2. No copy of Brigadier General Doyle’s formal report on the conference has been found in Department of State files.
  3. Only the preamble” to the formal report of the conference was attached to the source text; regarding the text of the report as a whole, see footnote 5 below.
  4. On Feb. 17, 1954, the Liberian Chargé Wilmot David urgently inquired on behalf of his government whether the U.S. Government had any objection to having Colonel Randall, Head of the U.S. Military Mission in Liberia, serve as adviser to the Liberian Delegation at the Dakar Conference. (Memorandum of telephone conversation by Feld (AF), Feb. 17, 1954; 770.5/2–1754) No additional documentation on the issue has been found.
  5. The entire conference report entitled “African Defence Facilities Conference. Dakar—Mar. 1954” and comprising 41 pages in typescript was included as enclosure 2 to despatch 200 from Dakar. The entire report, with the preamble no longer designated “draft”, printed and issued by the British Ministry of Defence in June 1954, is filed separately in Department of State files. (770.5/3–1854) This latter printed version, in the final page of the preamble and following the list of delegation heads, bears the dateline “School of Medicine, Dakar, 18th March, 1954”.
  6. For the text of the note from the British Ambassador to the Secretary of State, Jan. 18, 1954, see p. 90.
  7. None printed here.