38. Despatch From the Consulate General in Dakar to the Department of State2

No. 43


  • Department’s CA–1535 August 23, 19553


  • United States Policy in Africa South of the Sahara, with Particular Reference to the French Areas4

The Department’s CA under reference invited comment by the addressee posts on an enclosed paper prepared in the Department on United States policy in Africa South of the Sahara.

This paper was circulated to all officers of the Consulate General and the following comments may be regarded as a collective point of view. In the first place, we all feel that this is a truly first class paper and one that honestly faces the realities of the situation. We were particularly pleased with the statement on page #2 that “the southern half of the continent is so diverse that policy designed to include the entire area may poorly fit the requirements of a particular locale”. All too often Americans, particularly in journalistic and military circles, have insisted that our policy should be a uniform, rigid thing—a glove tailored to fit many diverse hands. We must have a “Middle Eastern Policy”, a “Latin American Policy”, etc., in which sweeping rules are set forth to apply to large areas regardless of the varieties of countries and [Page 150] peoples contained therein. While it is true that certain general considerations can often be valid for large areas such as Africa South of the Sahara, the varieties here are so great that any rigid policy for the whole area is virtually impossible.

If we cannot, then, make too many plans for the area as a whole, the problem arises as to how properly to compartmentalize it. There is clearly no pat solution in view of the multitude of different races, tongues, economic potentials et cetera, but for the next generation at least it might be advisable to have separate but coordinated policies for each separate major political entity. In other words, a policy for the French Area, the British, the Belgian, the Portuguese and the Independents. Even these might have to be subdivided when the Metropolitan power itself follows varying policies within the area such as the British in East Africa as compared with the British in West Africa. The Department’s paper recognizes the fact that the Metropolitan powers will continue to dominate the scene, this does not seem an illogical arrangement. Furthermore, it is only too likely that from time to time our policies towards the various dependent areas will have to be tailored to our overall objectives vis-à-vis the Metropolitan power concerned. This will in all probability remain true at least as long as the NATO organization exists and it appears that, where Africa is concerned, we must face up to the fact that the area is, as the Department’s paper admits, of little interest to our military planners and we are not therefore always in a position to make an issue of African affairs with our NATO partners. If we cannot take a stand vis-à-vis the French in North Africa, it is not easy to see how we could take one in the areas to the south.

Granted then that our policies must to a certain extent at least be influenced by our broader policies with respect to the Metropolitan powers, in what ways can we make our influence felt without tangling with the landlord? This office can only form an opinion on the basis of French West Africa and the smaller units within its consular district. On this basis, however, two possible courses of action seem to outweigh all others. These are capital investment and educational exchange. The United States, so far as the French territories in Africa south of the Sahara are concerned, has drawn an absolute blank in both of these fields and basically for the same reason—the French are frightened of American “anti-colonialism.” They fear that the introduction of American capital will mean the introduction of American ideas of too rapid self-determination. They fear American capital installed in the area will raise the standard of living for its employees to such an extent as to cause political unrest. They fear that African students educated in the United States will return ardent nationalists and point always to [Page 151] the Gold Coast in confirmation of this theory. Much of this is nonsense but it is sincerely believed in important circles. It appears to the Consulate General that our approach in the past has been a little too negative and at too low a level. When the French have made their several vague approaches about attracting American capital, we have been a bit severe with them saying that they must create a favorable climate but without offering them any really practical suggestions. We have put an appreciable amount of money into this area through FOA programs but only when hidden in the overall French program with the result that political benefits here have been absolutely nil. Surely, it might be better to help the French attract private capital which could have a direct impact and would cost the United States Government a great deal less. Rather than engage in elaborate Technical Assistance and other Governmental projects which might well be resented, it might be better to see if there is not some practical way in which American private industry can be introduced in the area with most of the political advantages and few of the political drawbacks that an official aid program would entail. As far as French West Africa is concerned, the Consulate General doubts that the objective set forth in Course of Action 2 (d) on page 8 of the Department’s paper is attainable. While much progress has been made towards local self-government here, it has not reached the point where either the elected African legislatures or the French administrators could agree to official American economic programs independently of France. This is also admittedly true where private investment is concerned, but we believe that the obstacles are fewer.

Turning to educational exchange, this office as recently reported has made repeated efforts to arouse some interest here with a total lack of success.5 Despite this, ignorance and misunderstanding here regarding the United States are so deep rooted that we feel a serious attempt should be made in this direction. The Consulate General doubts that anything can be done locally and believes that it should be taken up in Paris at the Government level. This misunderstanding of the United States arises from several sources, but is due primarily to our reputation, which the French do nothing to discourage in the local schools, for racial discrimination. For good measure, the aborigines in the United States are not forgotten and the comparison is drawn between “the only good Indian is a [Page 152] dead Indian” and the enlightened policies of the French in Black Africa.

In an article entitled “Racism, Factor of Division” in the latest issue of Traits d’Union, the quarterly published by the Government to promote the various Centres Culturelles throughout French West Africa, the author, an African, has this to say about the United States:

“…6 racism is also an American phenomenon. Racial segregation exists in America between the Whites and Blacks. The Blacks have not only their own quarters but also their schools, their hospitals, their churches, their cafes and restaurants and the hours during which they can enter stores.”

“… Colonization has created a form of racism—a colonial racism. The shape of this racism is known—for example the American Indians were penned up by the Americans and destroyed.”

“Equally well known is the condition of the American Negros. The Americans wonder if they should not be sterilized or dumped en masse on some part of the African continent. In the meantime, despite a recent law, the Blacks of America are regarded as a menace to the white race. They cannot even be buried in the same cemeteries as Whites!”

“… The pure race which is the basis of de Gobineau and of Hitlerism and of Americanism does not exist. …”

From this it can be seen that we have quite an educational job to do. We can counter this to some extent with information programs on the spot but this can never take the place of personal observation. A mere handful of African students returning from the United States could spread the word far and wide and could have much more influence in the long run than any amount of films, radio broadcasts, publications and the like.

The other side of the coin could see a marked increase in Americans visiting the area and they need not be confined to students. One very helpful program might be the sending of Negro organizations, such as musical groups, athletic teams, etc. This would not only be immensely popular but could serve to show that the American Negro is not always as downtrodden as the African in this area has been led to believe. There have been a few American scholars here on Fulbright, Ford Foundation, etc. grants but they have for the most part been specialists and have spent their time investigating such things as the life and habits of the Guinea worm and have measured heads in Upper Volta. The impact of such specialists is negligible. American students would have more long range interest [impact?] if their interest were more general and if they mixed more with the rank and file of the population.

[Page 153]

As regards some of the other courses of action recommended by the Department, we believe that most of them while useful as parts of the whole, cannot by themselves be too effective. We should definitely increase our information program, particularly films, but we should be careful not to defeat our own purposes by arousing suspicion on the part of both Africans and Europeans. If we go too far, our motives are suspect and anything that has an air of “propaganda” will rebound against us.

As regards United States representation in Africa, we cannot agree, as far as this post is concerned, with the suggestion that officer strength be increased over the course of the next five years unless, and only unless, a drastic revision in the amount of money available for local travel is made. At the moment, this office is adequately staffed for the amount of work that we can do in Dakar and any increases not only would be unwarranted but would make both French and Africans wonder exactly what we were up to. We are twice the size of the next largest Consulate General, the British, and everyone knows that we have only a limited amount of routine consular work to perform. Over and above this, the theory that American objectives are more easily obtained by sending into a given area a large number of officials whether or not they can do constructive work is questionable. This has marked much of our policy since the end of World War II and the undersigned, for one, has serious reservations about it.

More to the point, might be drastically to revise current administrative and fiscal practices so that a given Foreign Service post will not need so many officers and more can devote themselves to substantive work. The fact that this Consulate General with an authorized complement of only nine Americans and a similar number of locals has to have a full time Disbursing Officer is ridiculous but present accounting practices leave the Department no choice in the matter. The enormous amount of administrative work, much of which to us in the field seems senseless, also unnecessarily requires personnel who might be better employed elsewhere or in other fields.

One of the more serious problems with regard to official United States representation in this area is continuity. The present practice is for each officer and employee to serve here two years and then be transferred. The Dakar consular district comprises an area more than half the size of the United States and contains an interesting melange of many different peoples and political and economic interests. It is impossible, even with the best will in the world, to obtain much of an understanding of the area in two years, and, when we begin to understand the area a little, we are transferred. The process then starts all over again. Unfortunately there is no remedy at hand. [Page 154] No officer or employee in Dakar in recent years, the undersigned included, has been willing to serve another tour at this post after only two months of home leave. The British Foreign Service in this area follows the practice of eighteen months duty followed by five months of leave and then another eighteen months. The policy of the French Government for its administrators here is virtually identical although the eighteen months tours can be repeated indefinitely. By this policy, the French and British both have a continuity which we lack and at the same time, are able to keep their people reasonably content by this generous leave policy. Obviously there is no legal way in which the Department could follow suit and such long leaves are contrary to American practice and tradition. It is also expensive but one wonders if it is, in the long run, much more expensive than our practice of paying differential allowances which, while attractive, do not achieve the continuity which might be obtained by a more liberal leave policy. The undersigned is inclined to question the basic soundness of the differential system and to wonder if the answer will not eventually be leave, rather than cash, benefits for hardship service.

It might be well at this point to leave the overall question of broad policies for the entire area and to examine the French territories of tropical Africa in particular and see whether or not they can be fitted into the area picture as a whole.

This office is competent to discuss only French West Africa and Togo and is without any particular knowledge of French Equatorial Africa and the Cameroons. However we understand that in general they compare sufficiently for certain patterns to be true for them all. One primary consideration must, it is believed be kept in mind. While the French are not repressing the peoples of the area who are, in fact, progressing towards some sort of self-determination, they are not going to haul down the flag in the foreseeable future. Recent disasters to one time French colonies elsewhere and the present unpleasantness in North Africa have made the French determined, that, come Hell or high water, L’Afrique Noire Francaise is going to remain in the French Union. Unless we are prepared for still another crisis in Franco-American relations we will have to work here in most cases through the French and in no case in opposition to them. This does not leave us much room for maneuver.

Fortunately the Consulate General believes that unless there are changes not easy to anticipate now in the broad lines of French policy, we can support the French without prejudicing our position in other areas. As far as this area is concerned, this will not, except in a few isolated areas, weaken our position vis-à-vis the Africans. Much has been said about the divergent policies followed by the [Page 155] British and French in West Africa but in the final analysis they may not be so divergent after all. The British are proceeding with schemes for the virtual independence of the Gold Coast and Nigeria but presumably within the framework of the British Commonwealth. The French are increasing the powers of the various elected assemblies and envisage a still undefined system with the various territories having full local autonomy within the tighter framework of the French Union. Both are faced, however, with the complex problem of the lack of a governing class. While a few leaders exist who can hold down ministerial or semi-ministerial positions, the large rank and file necessary to carry out the routine day by day tasks of Government is lacking. Until this problem is solved real independence of the white man is unattainable despite the legal status of the territory itself.

Our point in raising this is to emphasize the fact that there seems no reason why we cannot, with perfect impunity, support both the French and British. Their approaches are admittedly different but their end objectives are similar and their problems are much the same. One point which must not be overlooked in considering the development of the various parts of Tropical Africa towards self-government is the fact that true self-determination requires the ability of an area to support itself. There seems to be a real possibility that the Gold Coast and Nigeria can do this but in the French area only the Ivory Coast and the Cameroons seem to have the remotest possibility of ever being able to live without European largesse. At the moment, except for the two trust territories, French possessions in Africa South of the Sahara are lumped together in geographical groupings that can only be described as absurd. French West Africa, for example, contains eight territories all supposedly politically equal ranging from the potentially rich Ivory Coast to the desert wastes of Mauretania. They are all handled as if they were the same and herein, we feel lies one of the great weaknesses of French policy in this part of the world and one on which we might in the course of time be able to exert a little pressure.

For reasons difficult for an American to understand, the French insist that those groupings and boundaries, which were arbitrarily put together in the European scramble for African real estate in the nineteenth century, are sacred. This obsession conceivably in the course of time can cause trouble and it represents an economic, administrative and political monstrosity. Rumblings are always being felt and a number of speakers in the course of the current session of the Territorial Assembly of the Ivory Coast, including it must be mentioned Frenchmen, have bitterly accused the Metropolitan and Federal Government of using the Ivory Coast as the “Milch Cow of [Page 156] the Federation”. There has, admittedly, been much talk in Government circles in Paris about “decentralization” but nothing whatsoever has been done about it and we doubt that decentralization as discussed in Paris actually means very much. There are some areas within the French zone of Black Africa which are unquestionably capable of a highly advanced degree of self-government but there are others which are so totally lacking in both human and economic resources that they can never get by without the direct administration of a major power. Here again is another argument for not tying ourselves to a rigid, area wide, policy. Where possible we should encourage the continued progress of those territories capable of running their own affairs and use our influence with the French where we appropriately can not to stifle these areas by tying them to those that are economically and politically sterile. We should probably concentrate the courses of action outlined in the Department’s paper in the former areas.

We realize the fact that the Department’s paper was specifically designed for the area as a whole and avoided all considerations of a particular nature. Admittedly, in the immediately preceding paragraphs, the Consulate General has strayed from the terms of reference but the temptation was strong and no regional policy can, we believe, be prepared without consideration of the particular problems of its component parts. Reverting to an area-wide perspective, the Consulate General would like to make a few uncalled-for observations on the subject of colonialism.

Colonialism in the past ten years has been used to denote the political control of disconnected and often undeveloped area by a non indigenous power. It has been roundly denounced in many quarters as wrong in itself without any thoughtful consideration of the fact that it varies enormously in many parts of the world. British colonialism in India, for example, clearly was an anachronism and could not endure in the mid twentieth century. The same applies to other areas where there was some traditional concept of nationhood and where there had been substantial progress towards modern civilization. In Africa, we are faced with an almost complete historical void, with an infinite variety of totally different peoples, with civilization as we know it only in its birth pains. Some areas, as indicated above, are much nearer the point where they can manage their own affairs than are others but very few can get by without some support from the West. If we damn colonialism in the abstract without considering the actual facts of present day life in Africa, we are doing ourselves, the Africans and the colonial powers a disservice. In much of this part of the world, whether we like it or not, the people simply are not yet capable of managing their own affairs. Tribal allegiances are still too strong, education is only beginning to [Page 157] make itself felt, the concept of responsible Government for the good of the whole people is virtually unknown. The process can unquestionably be hastened but there is such a long way to go that it cannot be done overnight.

While the United States should, of course, continue to make known its sympathy for colonial peoples and its desire that they be led along the road of orderly development to the point where they can govern themselves, it should avoid sweeping indictments of all colonial regimes and should judge each area in the light of its particular problems and limitations. In our current distaste for colonialism in all its forms, we Americans sometimes forget that it was not so many years ago that we were singing “Beneath the Starry Flag, Civilize ’em with a Krag”.

C. Vaughan Ferguson, Jr.7
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.70/9–655. Confidential. Passed to Paris, London, Leopoldville, Accra, and Lagos.
  2. CA–1535 transmitted a copy of Tab B of Document 7 to various diplomatic and consular offices concerned with Africa. (Ibid., 120.1470/8-2355)
  3. French West Africa consisted of Dahomey, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Sudan, and the Upper Volta. French Equatorial Africa included Chad, Gabon, Moyen Congo, and Ubangi Shari. The French also ruled the trust territories of Cameroons and Togoland, in addition to Madagascar and Somaliland (Djibouti).
  4. Despatch 40 from Dakar, August 29, reported that the French did not want any students from their colonies in Africa to be educated in the United States where they might be imbued with nationalism. (Department of State, Central Files, 511.51T3/8–2955)
  5. All ellipses are in the source text.
  6. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.