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

No. 77


  • ConGen’s Despatches No. 76, October 1, 1957,2 No. 6, July 3, 1957,3 No. 129, December 3 [November 30], 19564 and CA–2548, September 28, 19555


  • Summary of the Political Outlook in French West Africa, with Policy Recommendations

In the despatch referenced above the Consul General has discussed the principal political developments in French West Africa during the past twelve months. The present despatch summarizes briefly the political outlook in this area and submits certain policy suggestions.

For the sake of brevity, any discussion of current political problems or any detailed account of meanderings of African politics and politicians has been omitted from the summary. This despatch is an effort to look further ahead, to crystallize for the Department the pattern of the emerging French West African State of the near future. The conclusions listed below are those of the Consul General, but they are derived from discussions with many of the leading French administrators from the High Commissioner in Dakar down to District Commissioners deep in the interior, as well as from interviews with the African Premiers of seven of the eight Territories and Togo, and with other African political leaders of every party in French West Africa.

During the past year it has become apparent that French West Africa will before long become, like Ghana, an independent state.
This new status of sovereignty and independence will be achieved within 18 months at the earliest and 5 years at the latest. The most likely time is between late 1959 and early 1961.
The future (French) West African nation will be a federal state.
It will be strongly decentralized, and will be composed of the present eight Territories and ultimately may include Togo.
To start with—and perhaps permanently—this new (French) West African State will remain within the French economic and cultural orbit.
It will become, and may possibly continue to be, a member of the proposed French “commonwealth” which is expected to be set up soon by a change in France’s constitution: whatever the legal formula, in fact this commonwealth will have to be a loose confederal union if the emerging states are to remain within it.
Economically, the new West African State will at the beginning have to lean heavily on France.
Politically, on the contrary, it will not necessarily remain completely within the French orbit: it will not always follow France’s foreign policy anymore than, say, India always follows Britain’s.
The future independent state of (French) West Africa will associate itself closely with the other Territories of Black Africa which have become or are about to become independent.
It will take an active part in the efforts—likely to be lengthy—to form a West African federation, and ultimately a federation of all Black Africa.
It will be strongly influenced by Islam, but it will not be dominated—at least not at the beginning—by Arab policies.
It will maintain close and friendly relations with the new Arab states of North Africa and will be inclined to support the foreign policy of these North African states whenever their foreign policy does not conflict with its own economic interests or national aspirations and independence.
The future (French) West African State will be Socialist; but its socialism will neither be that of the Soviet Union nor that of the British labor party, nor will it be an imitation of French socialism; West Africa—and for that matter Black Africa as a whole—will develop its own form of socialism, strongly flavored by its ancient tribal traditions.
This socialism will not be belligerently anti-capitalist—at least not to start with; it will genuinely endeavor to encourage large scale investments by French and other foreign capital in the area.
It will be prepared to make business-like arrangements in order to encourage this influx of indispensable foreign capital, but it will drive hard bargains with all forms of big business: it will expect foreign business firms in particular to contribute with ever-increasing “generosity” to raising the standard of living, not only of the organized workers but of the African agricultural peasants out in the bush who constitute the great mass of Black Africa’s millions.
The new West Africa will “play along” with the European Common Market scheme and with the Eurafrican concept just so long as it believes that this European combine will substantially increase financial grants to and other capital investment in the area; but it will not long submit to any Common Market projects intended to exploit rather than to enrich West Africa.
If the new state can successfully conclude profitable business deals with the Western world on this basis, it will quite sincerely wish to remain in the Western camp; but if such profitable (to the Africans) arrangements on a big enough scale are not concluded soon—or if they should break down—the new West African state would feel no compunction whatever in turning to the East and especially to Soviet Communism for economic aid and financial support.
The new (French) West African State will have all the stage props and elaborate trappings of modern Western democracy: universal suffrage, more-or-less-secret ballot, legislative assemblies, governments responsible—in theory at least—to these elected assemblies; but it will be at least a generation—perhaps a century—before Black Africa achieves real democracy even to the imperfect extent to which it has been attained in America and Europe.
The Africans in what is now French West Africa are not ready to shoulder the responsibilities and problems inevitably implied in the attempt to set up the kind of West African State described above. There is a tiny handful of well-educated, able leaders, and a very small group of half-educated “évolués”; but the illiterate millions of half-savage people who live in the desert and the jungle are still generations if not centuries away from responsible self-government.
Despite this unreadiness the Black Africans today are feeling the full force of the world tide of “nationalism”: it could not be arrested and it is extremely doubtful whether ft could even be delayed without the same tragic consequences which are now visible in Algeria; “for better for worse”, therefore, the political evolution after the pattern outlined above is bound to come—and come quickly—in French West Africa, and the West will have to make up its mind to be patient with—and to help pay for—a lot of the “worse” as well as some of the “better”.

Conclusion: On balance, therefore, the future (French) West African State (or states—it is probable that the same pattern will be followed with minor variations in French Equatorial Africa and the Cameroons) will from the point of view of the United States be a “policy risk” which, on a straight actuarial basis, might not be justified; but under existing world circumstances and in the face of the overriding fact that it is contrary to United States security and [Page 178] national interest to allow Africa to fall under the domination of the Soviet Union, the risk is one which we cannot afford not to take.

Policy Recommendations: United States policy toward this new state, both before and after its emergence into complete self-government, should be one of positive friendliness but not aggressive interference—of sympathetic helpfulness, but not sentimentality. The United States should endeavor to operate indirectly in Africa if at all possible, and should encourage the European countries—France, England, Belgium and Portugal—to move ahead rapidly towards granting self-government to the area, and to take the lead in providing financial assistance for the economic development of this African area.

While the United States should expect to share in the benefits of this economic development and should be prepared to contribute to its cost, American participation should only be secondary. We should expect and if necessary insist so far as practical that our European allies in NATO bear the bulk of the financial burden which will be involved. The United States should not refuse in advance to contribute our minor share to sound proposals of economic aid on an international basis; but we should regard any such proposals with a very realistic eye.

The basis of United States economic policy in this area should be to encourage American business firms who have the capital reserves, the technicians, and the know-how, to take part on a far-sighted but nevertheless business-like basis in the development and exploitation of the potentially rich natural resources of this African area.

A European Monroe Doctrine for Africa:

The Consul General believes that there might be very substantial psychological advantages as well as certain actual policy gains to be derived from the launching of a “European Monroe Doctrine for Africa”.6 The basis of this idea would be American recognition that Europe today should occupy the same position vis-à-vis the new emerging and independent states of Africa which the United States earlier occupied vis-à-vis the now independent countries of Latin America. The Monroe Doctrine it will be recalled, was not simply a unilateral declaration by the United States, though allowed to take that form; it was essentially a joint undertaking in which Britain and particularly the English fleet played a very major part.

[Page 179]

Just as the basic point of the Monroe Doctrine was to prevent any European or Asiatic power not already established in Latin America from gaining a potentially dangerous foothold there, so our object in proposing and promoting a European Monroe Doctrine for Africa would be to prevent either Soviet or Asiatic Communism from gaining a dangerous or dominant position on the African continent.

Just as the United States thereby fostered and encouraged the achievement of independence and sovereignty by South American states in the last century, so Europe (under the aegis of NATO and the Common Market, etc.) would foster and encourage the emergence of independent states in Africa by undertaking to preserve the new states from domination and exploitation, directly or indirectly, by the Soviets.

Just as England in the case of the Monroe Doctrine made the success of this policy possible by agreeing to use its fleet to help us prevent any other power from intervening in Latin America, so the United States would play a similar role vis-à-vis Africa, and would stand behind Europe’s promise of protection for the emerging African states.

Finally, just as the United States reaped certain indisputable economic advantages from its pre-eminent position vis-à-vis the Latin American countries, so the principal powers of Western Europe would be allowed to reap certain primary economic benefits from the responsibilities which they would undertake. But, just as Europe has shared freely and fully in trade and commerce with the Latin American countries, so the United States should expect and demand a fair share—although not a major share—in the development of international trade with the new and emerging African states.

Incorporation of these basic ideas (which in fact do not differ very radically from the Eisenhower Doctrine in the Middle East) into a “European Monroe Doctrine for Africa” would have the advantage of making it plain in dramatic and fairly easily understood form that the United States: (a) has no imperialist aims or ambitions in Africa, since it thereby excludes itself as well as Russia and Asia from future “colonization” of any kind in Africa; (b) it specifically acknowledges the natural pre-eminence economically of the Western European powers in the development of Africa; (c) it puts us on record as prepared to support—not the maintenance of the present colonial domination by the European countries—but the early emergence and continued independence and prosperity of the budding states of Black Africa, free from the fear of Soviet Communist imperialism.

W. Mallory Browne
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751T.00/10–157. Confidential. Repeated to Paris, USUN, Abidjan, Lagos, Accra, and Yaoundé.
  2. In despatch 76, Browne reviewed political developments in French West Africa over the past year and judged the outlook for the future. (Ibid.)
  3. In despatch 6, Browne presented the psychological background of the existing political situation in French West Africa. (Ibid., 751T.00/7–357)
  4. Document 41.
  5. See footnote 2, ibid.
  6. Holmes wrote Palmer on October 18 following his visit to Dakar, to praise the substance of despatch 77 except for the concept of a European Monroe Doctrine for Africa, which did not seem “very practicable.” (Department of State, AF Files: Lot 64 D 358, Survey of U.S. Operations in Africa—Julius C. Holmes & Charles N. Manning 1957–58) Regarding the Holmes–Manning African trip, see footnote 1, Document 53.