41. Despatch From the Consulate General at Dakar to the Department of State1

No. 129


  • Dept’s CA–2548, September 28, 1955,2ConGen’s Despatch No. 127, November 30, 19563 and ConGen’s Despatch No. 104, November 5, 19564


  • Survey of the Changing Situation in French West Africa—Conclusions and Policy Recommendations

A. Summary Abstract of Political Survey of French West Africa (Despatch No. 127)

1. Over the past twelve months, the political evolution of French West Africa which previously ambled along at a leisurely rate, has suddenly been precipitated and is now proceeding at a rate which is not merely rapid but which is constantly accelerating.

2. Evidence has continued to accumulate during the year that the Consul General has been in Dakar that, just as events in North Africa came far sooner and moved more quickly than was anticipated, so in Africa South of the Sahara, political developments are unfolding with a rush of speed which is at once dizzying and dangerously intoxicating to these primitive African peoples, who for the most part are completely unready for the responsibilities of democratic self-government.

3. The French face in French West Africa a familiar dilemma: if they make concessions to the Africans too fast, the whole nationalist anti-colonial movement may get completely out of control; and if they apply the brakes too abruptly, they run the risk of falling into the equally dangerous trap of “too little and too late”.

4. The problem is intensified and in fact dominated by two outside influences: the pressure of pan-Arabism on the predominantly Moslem populations of several Black African Territories; and the [Page 162] increasingly active exploitation of African anti-colonial sentiment by Communist agents operating chiefly in and through the labor unions.

5. So far, despite these external pressures, most mature African political leaders have remained mainly loyal to France. They want as much freedom and self-government as the French will continue to pay for; but they do not now ask for full independence which they know they could not afford. The present African political leaders are probably prepared to settle for the relatively modest degree of local self-government which they are about to receive under the “loicadre”.5 But these more mature leaders are beginning to be hard-pressed by a rising tide of younger African “évolués”, mostly anti-French extremists strongly stamped with Marxism and/or Moslem Nationalism.

6. Thus in Africa South of the Sahara, the Niger of nationalism and the Congo of anti-colonialism are steadily rising and will before long be flowing in full flood. So far, the tam-tams of open revolt are silent; but they are increasingly taut in the heat of flaming conflict further North. In a very few years—perhaps even in a mere matter of months—the rapid current of events is likely to bring about a new and potentially dangerous situation in French West Africa.

B. Reassessment of United States Strategic Interest in Africa South of the Sahara

7. Thus, as a result of the changes and current developments in North Africa and the Middle East, and in view of the accelerated pace of political evolution in Tropical Africa, a reassessment of the United States’ position with regard to the latter area is clearly called for. Hitherto our strategic interest in Africa South of the Sahara has been confined almost entirely to our preoccupation with access to certain strategic raw materials, such as uranium. If the present trend of events in North Africa and the Middle East continues, however, it appears likely that the primary emphasis of our strategic interest will necessarily shift, giving greater priority to two other factors, one geographic, the other politico-psychological.

8. The geographic factor resides in the fact that, if hostilities develop on a bigger scale in the Middle East or in North Africa the whole of French West Africa will immediately assume major importance as a rear staging base and line of air communications; while Dakar itself, perched on the western-most point of Africa, constitutes [Page 163] the nearest African deep water port, naval base and air base to the Western hemisphere (see Despatch No. 1286 for specific strategic suggestions).

9. The political factor results from the fact that, faced with the threat of massive Soviet penetration in the Middle East and in Egypt, the United States will no doubt seek to revitalize the North Atlantic Alliance and particularly to improve relations with France and Britain. An important aspect of this strategic problem will be to remove the bitter resentment and suspicion which the French in particular—and to a lesser extent the British—feel toward the United States because they blame us as partly responsible for their ejection from Indo China and North Africa. Regardless of how far away from facts this French interpretation of our role in Indo China and North Africa may—or may not—be, we cannot afford to ignore the cumulative bitterness and distrust which has grown out of it. As of now the French are fearfully convinced that we the United States are preaching anti-Colonialism in tropical Africa primarily for the purpose of displacing them and replacing them as the dominant economic power in the area. Until we can at least diminish this suspicious resentment, any American effort to aid in the development of this sadly underdeveloped area will quickly arouse fresh fears and put additional strains on the North Atlantic Alliance and especially on our relations with France.

Re-Definition of American Policy Objectives in the Area

10. Outside of the strategic sphere, United States interests in Africa South of the Sahara are almost exclusively economic. We have, it is true, a very vital interest in making sure that this portion of Africa does not fall under the control or domination of Soviet Communism. Neither would we wish to see it become a sphere of influence of Asia (through an extension of the already large Indian minority in the area). But these political objectives are in fact negative aspects of our strategic objectives. They are of the greatest importance, but they are composed of what we do not want to have happen in Africa South of the Sahara. Thus, while one of our important political objectives is to gain the confidence of the Africans and to develop friendship and close contacts between Africans and Americans, our purpose in so doing is not to extend our hegemony or even our influence over them but to prevent them from falling under the domination of powers which would be a [Page 164] threat to their own freedom and well-being as well as to our security.

11. Our economic interest in the area, on the contrary, is positive and vigorous. It is not so much actual (except in the case of strategic raw materials already mentioned) as it is potential. We seek to share freely and fully in the future economic development of this underdeveloped area, and we are prepared to contribute to and aid in this development. But we most emphatically do not aspire to any economic pre-eminence over the Africans. Nor do we seek to displace or replace any European nation already established there. What we ask economically is simply that Africa evolve gradually but without undue delays toward an “open door” policy which would give to all countries an opportunity to trade freely and equitably.

D. Policy Recommendations

12. Against the background of the grave and growing Communist menace in the Middle East and North Africa, and in view of the increasingly rapid rate of political evolution in French West African and other Territories South of the Sahara, the following policy suggestions are submitted for possible consideration by the Department:

The United States should openly favor and fearlessly—though not aggressively—advocate the early accession of all the tropical French African Territories to genuine and complete local self-government within the French Union.
The United States should support, tactfully but firmly, the right of these Territories to the attainment of complete independence as soon as they have demonstrated their readiness to assume the responsibilities which complete independence necessarily entails.
United States policy toward Africa South of the Sahara should be guided constantly by the long-range objective of achieving for the African continent an established order roughly comparable to that which exists in Latin America: i.e., the ultimate attainment of independent democratic statehood by each of the various units under conditions which exclude the domination of the entire continent by any one state, and more particularly, which exclude the conquest or domination of any of the areas by any foreign power not already established on the continent.
In working toward this objective the primary role which in Latin America was assumed by the United States should in Africa be shouldered by Britain and France (and to a lesser extent by Belgium and Portugal). The United States would thus, in effect, be sponsoring and encouraging the proclamation and establishment of a “Eurafrican Monroe Doctrine”. The United States would thereby be assuming a vital role which, in our own Monroe Doctrine, was played by England and especially by the British fleet. It was this agreement on the part of England to keep out of South America and to help the United States keep out any other foreign power, that [Page 165] made the Monroe Doctrine a possibility and a success early in the 19th century.
The United States should not merely reiterate its own “hands-off” policy, completely devoid of any Territorial ambition or desire for economic domination in the area; it should also pledge its support to Britain and France, Belgium and Portugal, in helping to promote the economic and financial progress and development of the peoples in the area, as well as its readiness if necessary to back up Franco-British military action designed to prevent any violation by Soviet or Asian Communism of the “Eurafrican Monroe Doctrine”.
The United States should require in return—and in fact should insist upon in advance as an indispensable preliminary-—that the French and British, Belgians and Portuguese agree to move gradually but at a reasonably rapid pace toward the opening up to normal international trade and economic development of those areas in Tropical Africa which now remain under their control, with as our objective the achievement of “most favored nation” status in our commercial relations.

W. Mallory Browne
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751T.00/11–3056. Limited Official Use. Repeated to Paris and USUN.
  2. In CA–2548, the Department requested that each of the principal officers at 19 African posts and missions provide a short despatch surveying the situation a year after their arrival at post and then a more detailed despatch prior to their departure. (Ibid., 120.201/9–2855)
  3. In despatch 127, Browne expressed the view that French West Africa was moving inevitably toward self-government. He reported that nationalism south of the Sahara could still be influenced from without, but the critical question was whether the East or the West would intervene more effectively. (Ibid., 751T.00/11–3056)
  4. Not printed. (Ibid., 123–Martin, Doyle Vernon)
  5. The loi-cadre or enabling act became law on June 23. The loi-cadre, followed by specific implementing decrees in April 1957, conferred semiresponsible government on the individual African colonies. Territorial assemblies were enlarged, universal suffrage mandated, and the elected African vice-presidents of the respective assemblies became, in effect, prime ministers in waiting.
  6. In despatch 128, November 30, Browne recommended that the United States proceed gradually to seek permission from France to establish a naval base in Dakar and an airbase in the Dakar area. (Department of State, Central Files, 751T.00/11–3056)