1. Memorandum From the Secretary of State’s Special Assistant (Holmes) to Secretary of State Dulles0


  • Report on Africa1

I have done my best to make this brief, but Africa is a large place. I have attempted to deal here with what I count as basic elements but I have covered the separate territories in extensive oral briefings both within and without the Department. These are impressions gained from one trip and limited prior study.

It is risky to generalize about Africa. Some overall observations may be made but their validity and applications vary. It is useful to bear in mind some of the broad divisions in which the Continent and its problems fall, even though these divisions are by no means precise. The first of these is the difference between the Arab-Berber area of the Mediterranean coast and the territory south of the Sahara. Another division is the differences between the colonial policies and administrations of Great Britain, France, Belgium, and Portugal. A third category is represented by the two independent countries, Liberia and Ethiopia, which have never had the material benefit of colonial rule and where progress, in terms of human welfare, is at the lowest level. A fourth division is between the colonial territories where there is a large white population and those areas where there is not. In this connection, the Union of South Africa represents a separate problem.

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By taking the foregoing into account, it is reasonably safe to record certain general impressions. The movement toward self-government and independence by Africans is a strong one and is accelerating. It is a real and powerful phenomenon that is not always well-reasoned but is daily gaining momentum. A few thoughtful African leaders are aware that there is too much haste and too little preparation, but their moderating influence is slight, and they are themselves often the captives of their own political actions, declarations, and ambitions.

A relatively advanced degree of self-government has been granted in the French and some of the British territories which in most cases seems to whet local appetites for faster progress and to stimulate confidence in African leaders in their ability to manage their own affairs. Resistance to the increasing pressures for self-rule is strong in the Belgian Congo and much stronger in the Portuguese territories and these colonial powers, in the order named, will probably be the last to acknowledge the inevitability of acceding to these pressures. I am convinced that in the long term all of the colonial and trust territories and in Africa will achieve either complete independence or independence qualified only by voluntary but equal association with the metropolitan powers. Everywhere I went in black Africa, I found varying expressions of “better the ragged shirt of independence than the warm blanket of colonial protection”.

This movement toward self-government is being carried forward within the framework of Western Europe political systems and social and economic advances are based on concepts which Europeans have developed over the centuries and which are suited to them and expressive of them. There is grave doubt that these systems and concepts will turn out to be valid for Africa. It may be that eventually there will evolve political, social, and economic systems consistent with and expressive of the African personality which still preserve the essentials of democracy and individual liberty. But before such a happy result can be achieved, I foresee a very difficult and probably long period of uncertainty, bad management, retrogression and conflict with a strong chance of violence in some areas. There will be plenty of troubled waters for Communist fishing.

In my opinion the most difficult problem in the modernization of Africa, and the greatest factor making for instability, is detribalization. This vast, primitive population is largely illiterate, more than half Pagan, and is practically leaping from the Iron Age into the 20th Century. Africans are being pulled away from a long-accepted way of life toward a more complicated existence for which they are, in the mass, almost totally unprepared. The change to modernity involves the abrupt abandonment of ancient folk-ways which provided a sense of social, economic and even religious security and an attempt to take [Page 3] on a new set of rules of life, little understood, and for which the African is not yet fitted by education or experience. This swift transition is uprooting him violently from the old, long before he is fitted to cope with the new. Even with the African elite of the most highly educated and most sophisticated, modernization has had limited success. This state of affairs will be bound to continue for a long time and will produce instability and upheaval with the accompanying danger that the population will be exploited by unscrupulous and little qualified African leaders from within, or by noxious influences from without, or both. By and large the Nationalist movements are in the hands of moderates and it behooves us, as well as the colonial powers, to be sympathetic to their desire for independence and to gain their confidence in order effectively to counsel continued moderation and patience. These moderate leaders will be expected by the people to produce tangible results in the form of economic and social improvement. By assisting in these fields, we can lend important support to their leaders. This can be done through our aid programmes and by the encouragement of investment and development by private enterprise.

The French Territories.

The Loi-Cadre of 19562 has been applied in French West Africa, French Equatorial Africa and Madagascar. In Cameroun and Togo separate administrative measures applied to this basic law granted these two Trust Territories an increased degree of self-government. Elections were held in all of these territories in the spring of 1957 and were followed by the formation of territorial legislative assemblies and Councils of Ministers. Most of the powers of local government are now in the hands of native authorities with French officials acting as advisers and with reserved powers being exercised by French High Commissioners. The more important of the reserved powers are those affecting foreign affairs, defense, and fiscal matters. The system seemed to be working well, especially in French West Africa for which, in fact, it was designed through the influence of African members of the French National Assembly led by Felix Houphouet-Boigny, an African of the Ivory Coast and a Minister in the present3 and recent French governments. It is working less well in the other territories where there are fewer native leaders qualified to cope with a sudden and substantial grant of power. The Loi-Cadre has been considered in [Page 4] Paris to be an organic act establishing the relationships between France and its African possessions for the indefinite future. In Africa, it is viewed only as a step toward complete self-government.

A serious problem in the political evolution of the French African territories is that neither the French nor the Africans can foresee the shape of their eventual relationship with the metropole. This is because no one really knows what the French Union is and much less what it is likely to become. The status of British territories after independence is clear; membership in the Commonwealth. Even though no one has been able to define the Commonwealth membership, it is an accepted goal.

African leaders in all the French territories were unanimous in their attitude that they wanted to arrive at a close relationship with France—a “Franco-African Community”, but one which would be determined by mutual agreement between equals and not by dispensation from Paris. The French West Africans would like to see the French Union changed into a “Confederation” in which the Republic would be one unit; French West Africa, a second; French Equatorial Africa, a third; Madagascar a fourth and probably Cameroun and Togo a fifth and sixth. There is also talk of eventually including Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. They foresee these territories as being all equal with the “Confederation” having only those powers arrogated to it by the constituent units. There is a good deal of dynamism behind this idea and we may see some interesting developments when it encounters ingrained French centralism and basic conservatism. It would be a remarkable political phenomenon if pressure from black Africa should bring about a revolutionary change in the French constitutional structure. I should not hazard a guess as to the outcome of this contest, but I am bold enough to state the opinion that either the French Union will be changed to permit substantially the same degree of autonomy for its African territories as that enjoyed by members of the Commonwealth or those territories will break away entirely and become separate, independent states. In either contingency, there is a strong likelihood of fragmentation of the eight territories of French West Africa and the four of French Equatorial Africa.

The British Territories.

It is less easy to generalize about British territories where there is no scheme of overall applicability such as the Loi-Cadre. However, there is the declared policy of HMG to lead dependent territories toward self-government as rapidly as they are capable of accepting that responsibility. Progress varies widely from that in Nigeria which will probably become independent in April 19604 to the High Commission [Page 5] territories of Swaziland, Basutoland and Bechuanaland where much remains to be done and where the situation is complicated by the fact that the first two are islands of British rule in the sea of the Union of South Africa and three-fourths of the boundary of the third is with the Union.

The presence in some British areas of white settlers in substantial numbers who sooner or later will become minorities in states possessing large African political majorities creates a situation of utmost seriousness. Although some progress has been made by the Federation of the Rhodesias and Nysaland in the plan of “Racial Partnership”, this progress is very slow in comparison with African aspirations. Many expect that the Federation will become an independent member of the Commonwealth, soon after its constitution comes up for revision in 1960. If so it will be white independence and the racial problem will remain unsolved.

I found in all the British territories an enlightened, progressive attitude. There were a few individual exceptions but by and large there was a desire to improve the lot of the natives and to prepare them as rapidly as possible for self-government. There was a realistic recognition of the magnitude of the task and lack of funds to carry it forward was universally deplored. There was also a sense of urgency and fear that there is not enough time for orderly preparation. I share this concern and think that we must be prepared to deal with African states which will get independence long before they are qualified to govern themselves.

The Belgian Congo.

Belgian colonial policy has always been paternalistic beginning with the acquisition of the Congo as a personal domain by Leopold II. Authorities in the Congo have followed a programme of wide-spread elementary education, vocational training and improvement in the standard of living. They have gone in for a very limited amount of secondary education and none at the college level until a year ago.

I got the impression that the Belgians were being jolted a bit from the self-satisfaction that their programme was successful and that the Congo’s population was politically docile. The virus of self-government has reached the Congo and there appeared to be a rather recent realization on the part of Belgian officials of its potential strength, coupled with a new sense of urgency to do something about it. There was substantial evidence of African self-assertion which will increase in volume and power in spite of anything the authorities may do.

The Congo has always been ruled from Brussels with all political power in the hands of the Governor General. The first move toward self-government, for either Belgians or Africans, was made in December when municipal advisory councils were elected from a common [Page 6] roll for Leopoldville and Elisabethville, with elections in other cities to follow. This is a small concession to African political aspirations, but it is a beginning.

The Belgians will be slow to move but I believe that they will move in an effort to preserve their economic position and political influence. They will be stubborn, but Belgians have a way of looking out for their equities.

Portuguese Territories.

The Portuguese insist that their African territories are not colonies but overseas provinces of Portugal and the authoritarian political system of the metropole is applied with even a stricter degree of control. They have done little to improve the lot of Africans and forced labor is still openly practiced.

The Portuguese show adeptness in the exercise of their rigid control, somehow producing the appearance of lack of severity. They are very alert to any evidence of African self-assertion and quick to suppress it. There is constant vigilance to insulate the native population from outside influences but there is a break in the insulation in Mozambique resulting from Africans numbering into the hundreds of thousands returning from contracted labor in the mines of the South African Union. In Angola, the Congo district represents a similar but smaller breach of the insulation.

The Portuguese will probably be the last to give in to African self-rule but sooner or later they will have to do so.

The Union of South Africa.

There will be a general election in April which will return a parliament with a five year mandate. Everyone with whom I talked predicted that the Nationalist Party will remain in power probably with an increase in seats resulting from gerrymandering, but with a reduced, possibly minority, popular vote.5 The Nationalists, which include 80 to 85 percent of the Afrikaner population, are determined to carry out their policy of apartheid.

This is a dead-end policy. Lip service is given to the theory of generous but separate programmes of improvement for the Africans within their own reserves, but need for black labor in white areas and lack of appropriated funds have prevented progress.

In spite of harassment by the Government, there is growing confidence of the African, Asian and “colored” leaders. In this they are encouraged by the great surge for self-government outside the Union [Page 7] and unfortunately by Communists and pro-Communists within. There is being built up on the basis of envy and resentment a burning hatred for the whites; the atmosphere of sullen hostility was very apparent in Johannesburg. I am afraid that if there is no change in the present attitude of sitting firmly on the boiler it will one day explode and I saw little evidence of any disposition to alter present policies although I did hear some expressions of concern and fear for the future. No doubt the existing situation can be controlled and continued for some time to come, but one day a change will occur, probably through economic boycott and general strike but violent revolt in the Mau Mau6 pattern cannot be ruled out. Ten million Africans, 400,000 Asians and more that a million “colored” will not submit forever to discrimination, lack of opportunity and humiliation. I am not qualified to predict when the change will come but I am convinced that the European South Africans haven’t as much time as they think. Some observers say not more than five to ten years.


Islam has a natural appeal to black Africans: its permits polygamy; the brotherhood of Islam is real; it is something to join with a new kind of hat to wear; it is adaptable to African customs and even superstitions, and it is not the religion of white Europeans.

In West Africa there is a great band of Mohammedanism in the savannas and desert areas, back from the coast, from Mauritania in the north swinging in a broad arc down to the Belgian Congo. This population is largely composed of Hamitic, and Nilotic tribes, consciously differing in race, language, religion and mores from the Negroes of the coast. Mauritania, Senegal and the French Sudan are about 100% Moslem and the northern regions of the other territories are largely Mohammedan. In Nigeria, for example, there are approximately 16,000,000 Mohammedans in the Northern Provinces out of a country-wide population of 34,000,000. Increasing numbers of coast Negroes in the West African territories are being converted to Islam.

With the discretion imposed by my limited time in this area, I made inquiries about Egyptian influence. I found that it was less important than I had expected and the consensus of informed opinion was that there was no great danger that this black Moslem population would ever follow Nasser or any other Arab leader. One reason given was that the memory of Arab slave traders was too green. However, I think that we should be alert to the emergence of another black [Page 8] Mahdi7 whom they might follow in an Islamic nationalist movement. These are warlike folk, numbering 25 to 30 million, and if such a movement were to develop it might well upset the political structure all along the West Coast from Mauritania to the Congo.

On the East Coast there are large Islamic populations from Egypt south through Zanzibar and into Tanganyika. However, the situation here is different. The rate of conversion of Pagans to Mohammedanism is slower. There are rather stable non-African Islamic communities, especially in Tanganyika and Kenya, principally Ismailis.8 The Sudan, excepting the pagan South, the Somalias and somewhere near one-half of the Ethiopians are Moslem. Here the Egyptians through Radio Cairo (the Voice of Free Africa), school teachers, and other means have made some progress. However, there is evidence in both Somalia and the Sudan that their heavy-handedness has limited success. We shall be able to form a better opinion of the effectiveness of these Egyptian activities when we can assess the power of Mohammed Hussein, a Nasser disciple, who attended the recent Cairo Afro-Asian Conference9 and who has recently been elected President of the Somalia Youth League. There will be general elections in the Sudan next month, in which the Egyptians will meddle, and the results will allow us a better judgment of Egyptian influence there.

Black Versus White.

The black African’s attitude toward the white man shades from universal envy through mistrust and fear to burning hate. That is a sweeping statement, but I believe it to be true and of such importance that we should have it constantly in mind as background to our actions and decisions as the evolution of Africa proceeds.


The Soviets have diplomatic missions in Libya, Ethiopia and the Sudan with an additional one to be established in Ghana. Aside from these, Communist penetration of Africa has been through trade unions, youth organizations, the subversion of students in Paris and London and trade arrangements. A considerable number of African political leaders, especially in West Africa, have been avowed Communists or fellow travellers, some Moscow trained. Most of these have renounced their Communist affiliations and have switched their activities to Nationalist movements.

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The permanent organization set up by the Cairo Afro-Asian Conference will be a new instrument for penetration and such penetration will be more difficult to combat as dependent territories become independent. Soviet money and management will make this instrument a formidable one. More formidable still if they use the Egyptians with skill, avoid the appearance of competition with Egypt and keep Communist objectives hidden under the cloak of Nationalism. I see no way to meet this threat except by concerted action with other Western powers, especially those having possession in Africa. This will require an understanding on their part of our objectives, and a higher degree of confidence in our motives in Africa, than now exists. The genuine danger with which we are all confronted should make this possible, for it is clear that if Africa is lost to the West, Europe will be so weakened and out-flanked as to make its defense impossible.

Libya, the Sudan and the Horn of Africa.

Next after Algeria these seem to me to be the immediately critical areas to which we should give special attention and where we should very substantially increase our political, economic, and military efforts. I consider that Libya, the Sudan, Ethiopia and emerging Somalia should be strengthened and secured in their ties to the West in order to protect Africa. These are all very primitive countries, much has to be done that will cost large sums, but I feel that the money would be well spent.

Relations between Ethiopia and the Sudan are excellent and their common interest in the Nile is a strong bond. The Sudan, and especially its able Prime Minister,10 ought to be used in bringing about settlement of the Ethiopian-Somalia border; a problem which we should make it our business to see settled before Somalia’s independence on January 1, 1960.

Libya is weak, disunited, and very vulnerable to Egypt. The only element of political strength in that country today is the power and prestige of the king.11 If he should die suddenly, there would be a breakdown of central authority, a possible separation of Cyrenaica and Tripolitania and conflict between the two must not be ruled out. In any event, without strong intervention from the outside, Libya could under these circumstances fall easy prey to Egypt. British influence is very important here and we should do all we can to encourage the UK to continue its active support. This brings me to North Africa.

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North Africa.

Behind Libya lies frightened Tunisia, war in Algeria and all the troubled relationships of France with these two and Morocco. It is not necessary to recite the dangers of the situation. But I want to express the opinion that France cannot win with present attitudes and methods. Unless there is a change and some form of negotiated settlement is reached, the French position in North Africa will be lost with the grave danger that the area will be lost to the West as well. I believe that before matters get worse we should attempt, with British concurrence, to persuade France to change its attitude and should that attempt fail, to serve notice that we propose to do what we can to save the North African littoral in the name of Western security.


That the Sudan be included in the area for which the Bureau of African Affairs is to be responsible.
That a programme for strengthening our position in Libya, the Sudan and the Horn of Africa be developed without delay.
That the quality and quantity of our personnel in Africa be given a high priority, especially in those territories where we shall be obliged to establish Embassies in the near future. These will include Somalia, Nigeria, and possibly Cameroun and the Federation of the Rhodesias and Nyasaland by the end of 1960. We should anticipate Missions in Uganda, French West Africa, French Equatorial Africa, Madagascar and Togo within the next three to five years.
That, because of climate, unhealthful conditions, remoteness of many posts, and lack of available facilities, a special buildings program for Africa be requested of Congress. (This proposal will be submitted separately.)
That AF together with the planning staff, and Mr. Dillon’s office, study the advisability of developing a multilateral aid programme for Africa, taking into account the development fund of the European Common Market, the Foundation for Mutual Assistance in Africa South of the Sahara (FAMA), and the possibilities of the Pella Plan.12 There are many advantages to such a programme which should include African states. I understand that African Affairs will shortly submit a proposal in this sense.
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Final Recommendation

My final recommendation is the most important. Events are moving very rapidly in Africa and the pace will quicken. Let us plan ahead, anticipate problems, and avoid the need to engage in expensive and inefficient rescue operations.

I am sure that what Pliny wrote will be increasingly true over the next decades: “Ex Africa semper aliquid novi”.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 770.00/2–658. Confidential. Sent through the Executive Secretariat (S/S). A handwritten note on the source text by Dulles reads: “Read with interest.”
  2. Holmes had embarked on a 10-week study tour of Africa in behalf of the Secretary on October 6, 1957.

    On January 23, 1958, Mason Sears, U.S. Representative on the U.N. Trusteeship Council, sent a memorandum incorporating his estimate of developments in Africa over the next 5 years and his recommendations for action to Henry Cabot Lodge at the United Nations. Lodge passed his report on to Under Secretary of State Christian Herter. Sears, who had recently visited Africa, spoke strongly for a policy more responsive to the changes in Africa and less sensitive to the need to accommodate the European allies. (Ibid., 770.00/1–2458)

  3. The loi-cadre of June 23, 1956, and the decrees implementing it essentially conferred semi-responsible government on the individual African colonies.
  4. He was Minister of Public Health in the government of Felix Gaillard.
  5. The actual date was October 1, 1960.
  6. The Nationalist Party increased its representation in the House of Assembly by 9 seats over the 1953 election results and its percentage of the popular vote from 45.51 percent to 48.90.
  7. A rebellion in Kenya largely involving the Kikuyu, which led the British to proclaim a state of emergency in that colony from late-1952 until 1960.
  8. Reference is to Muhammad Ahmad ibn Abd Allah, who had proclaimed himself the Mahdi in June 1881 and whose followers subsequently captured Khartoum, killing British General Charles George “Chinese” Gordon in the process.
  9. Followers of the Aga Khan.
  10. The Afro-Asian Peoples’ Solidarity Conference met December 26, 1957–January 1, 1958.
  11. Abdullah Khalil.
  12. Idris I.
  13. Italian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Giuseppe Pella had devised a plan for a Middle East Development Fund.