106. Despatch From the Consulate General at Leopoldville to the Department of State 1
- Activities of the United States Government Personnel in the Congo
In the reference despatch on the above subject, Mr. Sprouse reports a conversation in which M. Jacques Delvaux de Fenffe, Director General of Political Affairs in the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, asserted that the Consulate General at Leopoldville was giving the impression of encouraging independence or liberation movements in the Congo as a result of contacts of United States Government personnel with political leaders of the three political movements known as Conscience Africaine, Abako, and Royaumedu Congo.4 [Page 315] M. Delvaux stated that these contacts between United States Government personnel and these political movements were of a nature to demonstrate a marked interest in these independence movements and represented definite encouragement thereof. M. Delvaux charged that our Public Affairs Officer, Consul Gilbert E. Bursley, had been particularly active in contacts with the leaders of these political movements and expressed the hope that he would not return to the Congo at the end of his home leave. These are serious allegations, which, if true, would reflect very adversely on the Consulate General and on me personally.
This despatch sets forth a detailed record of the post’s contacts with Africans since my arrival here in late October 1956. It is hoped that this record will prove useful in further conversations to be undertaken with the Belgian Government on this subject. If the Department approves, I shall use this record in a future conversation with the Governor General or the Vice Governor General here.
So far as we are able to determine, there is no substance whatever to the allegations made by M. Delvaux. On the contrary, as the record below shows, my colleagues and I have been so conscious of Belgian sensitivities and so determined to avoid any suspicion of exactly the kind of activities described by M. Delvaux that we have refrained almost entirely from contacts with Africans, with the result that our reporting on developments in the Congo has been impaired.
[Here follows a detailed account of contacts with Africans by the Consulate General’s staff.]
- The foregoing record shows that American employees of the Consulate General, with the exception of Vice Consul Bearce, have had only a minimum of contacts with Africans, whether political leaders or not. It must be concluded, therefore, that this latest protest in Brussels is based on either a misunderstanding of the facts or a misinterpretation of them. On the principle that one might as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb, my colleagues and I are now inclined to regret that we did not do more in developing contacts with Africans!
- The new protest obviously reflects once more the extreme sensitivity of the Belgian authorities about anything done or said by Americans with regard to the Belgian Congo and Ruanda-Urundi [Page 316] and, in particular, to anything done or said by the American personnel at this post. Our personnel has been urged to be even more circumspect than ever in their activities here, especially in relation to Africans, and to report to me any contacts with Africans.
- The new protest probably reflects an increasing anxiety among Belgian officials, in both Brussels and Leopoldville, over the beginning of political activity and unrest in the Congo. After 75 years of relative tranquillity in the political sphere, the Belgian Administration is now being confronted by an ever increasing number of évolués who are conscious of events elsewhere in Africa, critical of one or more aspects of life in the Congo, and ambitious to participate in the government of their country. The Belgians are probably unhappy about these developments and anxious about the future; and, being human, they tend to blame anything unpleasant on someone else. In looking for a scapegoat, they quite naturally regard the United States as a leading candidate. As Mr. Sprouse rightly points out in his despatch, the Belgians are beginning to fall into the same state of mind as the French did concerning Morocco in the early 1950’s.
- As Mr. Sprouse suggests in his memorandum for use in a conversation with the Belgian Ambassador in Washington, one wonders whether any évolué can be said to be politically active or inactive. However, even though the Consulate General has made no special effort—as charged—to seek out the politically active évolués, the Consulate General will certainly have to make sure in the future that its contacts include Africans in all walks of life and with non-political as well as political interests. It should be noted that among the fairly large group of évolués—a term that has only economic and social connotations—there is a small group of African immatriculés who have a legal status giving them all the rights and privileges of Europeans.5 What few contacts we have had with Africans, have been almost entirely with the immatriculés, who are legally “Europeans”. It is quite clear, in connection with the present issue and with many others, that the Belgian authorities are trying to do two contradictory things at the same time—to turn the most advanced of the African évolués into Europeans but to continue to treat them as Africans.
- The Consulate General is grateful for the response made to M. Delvaux by Mr. Sprouse and warmly endorses the memorandum proposed by Mr. Sprouse as the basis of a conversation with the Belgian Ambassador. It would suggest only one addition: the Belgian Government might be asked to be more specific and name the persons we are alleged to have seen too frequently.
- The Consulate General suggests that the Belgian authorities be asked for specific suggestions as to how our personnel here can keep in touch with local leaders in the Congo, as do our consular offices as well as diplomatic offices elsewhere in the world, and report the views of the African leaders on political, economic, and social developments. If the Consulate General is to refrain even more than it has in the past from developing contacts with African leaders, its reporting to Washington will become even more inadequate in this regard than it is at present. It has been our hope that during the next year or so the post could submit voluntary reports on such political subjects as the implementation of the Statut des Villes6 and the development of the advisory councils, which obviously have a direct bearing on the whole future, including the economic future, of the Belgian Congo. We also hope to report on several subjects that have political implications, such as the growth of an African middle class, the present status of African education, and a required basic report on labor. None of these reports will be complete unless the officers concerned can talk with African leaders as well as with Belgians. In fact, Vice Consul Gross proposed six months ago that he prepare a report on the African middle class; but I discouraged him because it would require too much direct contact with Africans.
- There are two minor adjustments that might possibly be made here,
quite independently of any consultation with the Belgian
- First, in view of the evident sensitivity of the Belgian authorities to USIS activities, perhaps it would be wise to soft-pedal those activities somewhat for the next year or so. Rather than eliminate any single function, it might be advisable to decrease the staffing pattern from what it was earlier this year. Originally USIS had 2 officers and 1 American assistant; then, for a long period, 1 officer and 1 assistant; and more recently, beginning last February, again 2 officers and 1 assistant. With the departure of Public Affairs Officer Bursley, it is recommended that for the present the USIS staff [Page 318] consist of Consul Stephen and 1 capable, French-speaking assistant. Alternatively, if a second officer is to be appointed he should be a young, French-speaking, junior officer, preferably a trainee, without a consular title. Either arrangement would have the additional advantage of reducing our number of consular titles. Furthermore, the English classes could be continued on a more modest basis, even though there are some 350 applications pending, and with a special effort being made to include Belgians as well as Africans.
- Second, the literal translation of American Information Service is Services Americains d’Information, which in French can mean American Intelligence Service. This awkward translation, which presumably has created difficulty in other French-speaking countries, probably creates some confusion in the minds of the public here and perhaps even among the officers of the Administration. (The Administration, however, uses the title Service de l’Information for its own agency.) Mr. Bursley mentioned his concern about this matter several times. After his departure for home leave, I substituted in the new Consular Corps list the phrase Relations Publiques for Services d’Information. It might be advisable for USIS gradually and quietly to change its signs and letterheads to Relations Publiques, and next year to make the same change in the local telephone directory.
- In conclusion, I must say that I am surprised and disappointed that the Belgian Government should have raised this issue—as well as the immatriculation issue, discussed separately—with the Embassy in Brussels, before allowing the local Administration to discuss it with me here. When I completed my conversation with the Vice Governor General last May in response to the earlier protest of the Belgian Government about the size and activities of the post, he said that he would talk to the Governor General and communicate with me further if necessary. In the absence of any further communication, I had assumed that they were satisfied with the explanation I had made.
In accordance with the stated desire of the Belgian authorities for full and frank understanding of our common interests and problems, it would seem more appropriate for the local Administration to call me in first whenever they are dissatisfied with the activities of the post. If I cannot either remedy a particular situation or provide a satisfactory explanation of it, then they would be fully entitled to raise the matter in Brussels or Washington. In the future, I shall try to see the Governor General or the Vice Governor General more regularly, although they are both extremely busy men, and give them an opportunity to raise such matters if they wish to do so. I shall also ask them periodically about political developments, [Page 319] explaining that I am aware of their desire that the post not undertake too much political reporting among the Africans.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 122.536H3/8–2757. Confidential. Also sent to Brussels and repeated to Elisabethville, Luanda, and Yaoundé.↩
- Not printed. (Ibid., 122.536H3/8–257)↩
- Telegram 27 requested the Consulate General’s views on the Embassy’s suggestions, conveyed in despatch 132 cited in footnote 2 above, that the Belgians should be told that any U.S. official who encouraged a Congolese independence movement would be recalled but that the Consulate General could not conduct its business without dealing with Congolese. (Ibid.)↩
- A second complaint made by M. Delvaux, to the effect that the Consulate General refused to comply with Belgian requirements for immatriculation of its non-officer personnel, is being treated in a separate dispatch. [Footnote in the source text. The despatch referred to is not printed.]↩
- There are three terms used to describe the more advanced Africans: évolués are those who have had enough education to speak French; holders of the Carte de Merite Civile are the more advanced évolués, whose children may attend a European school; and immatriculés are those who are found, by careful examination by a committee, to dress, live, and eat like Europeans and who are legally granted the status of “Europeans”. They report to the Population Blanche rather than the Population Noire on all official matters. [Footnote in the source text.]↩
- A municipal reform effective March 26, intended to give Africans a means of taking part in urban administration. The African and European quarters of Elisabethville, Jadotville, and Leopoldville were to be integrated into a new administrative unit or ville.↩