19. Memorandum of Conversation0

SUBJECT

  • The French Community and the West

PARTICIPANTS

  • The President
  • Mr. Felix Houphouet-Boigny, Prime Minister of the Ivory Coast
  • Mr. Herve Alphand, French Ambassador
  • Mr. J. C. Satterthwaite, Assistant Secretary, AF
  • Marcel Van Essen, AFS—Interpreter

After mutual greetings and welcome by the President, Mr. Houphouet-Boigny said that before his departure for New York (where he is acting head of the French Delegation to the U.N.), President De Gaulle and his African colleagues unamiously agreed that he should try to meet the President of the United States. He then described to the President the heavy responsibility he had had in the formation of the Community, since at the time the new French Constitution [Page 69]was being drafted, General De Gaulle had invited him to be a member of the drafting Committee which eventually wrote the new French Constitution. He recalled that since 1956 he had been a Cabinet Minister in the various French Governments which succeeded one another until the proclamation of the Fifth Republic.

Mr. Houphouet-Boigny then explained in detail to the President the workings of the Community and the advantages it brought to the former French African Territories. One of the principal advantages of belonging to the Community, he said, was that it was under the protection of the French Army (in which the African states participate) and that, therefore, the African states’ meager resources did not have to be tapped for defense purposes. Another great advantage was that in belonging to a larger entity its economic and social development would proceed within a Western framework. Communism is excluded from the Ivory Coast, said Mr. Houphouet-Boigny, and even badly-needed technicians sent by France are not admitted if they are Communists.

Mr. Houphouet-Boigny continued by saying that this evolution from colonialism to the Community had been achieved—and must continue to be achieved—by a gradual abolition of the French superiority complex together with a corresponding abolition of the African inferiority complex. If the French and the Germans are able to bury the hatchet and work together after a series of bloody wars, there is no reason why Africans and French cannot do the same thing.

With reference to Pan-Africanism, Mr. Houphouet-Boigny said that such a concept was Utopian and only a useful propaganda device. He stated that his principal fears lay in the so-called Afro-Asian bloc because Asia has nothing tangible to offer Africa in its quest for social and economic improvement. The future of Africa is with the West, Mr. Houphouet-Boigny emphatically stated. Asia with its overpopulation is attempting to solve its economic problems by utilizing its masses. On the other hand, Africa, which is underpopulated, cannot follow this path and must rely on machines and tools. It is looking for the means to finance these needs and, therefore, turns to France, Europe and the West. Without them Africa would be isolated and the prey of economic and ideological submission to Asia. France has done and is still doing a great deal, but assistance must come from other areas of the West as well. Therefore, he and the other African members of the Community are looking to the United States to help keep Africa with the West.

The case of Guinea is an example of the meaning of his appeal, said Mr. Houphouet-Boigny. Communism is trying to get established in this country through Russia and the Satellites and thereby to make Guinea a showcase of communism in Africa. Although he completely understands the motives of the United States in granting aid to [Page 70]Guinea, Mr. Houphouet-Boigny asked that the United States not lose sight of the larger aspects of the Community, which is Western-minded.

In replying to Mr. Houphouet-Boigny both during and at the end of the conversation, the President agreed wholeheartedly with him that the larger entities in Africa cooperating closely with the West were far preferable to a series of small independent states; the President also agreed that continent-wide federations could not be achieved at this time.

With regard to United States aid to Guinea, the President explained that we did not want to see that country entirely committed to the communist bloc and be made a showcase for communism. With regard to Western aid to Africa, the President recalled his conversations last July with President De Gaulle, Chancellor Adenauer and Prime Minister Macmillan1 during which it had been agreed that one nation alone should not carry the burden to help develop newly independent countries. All must cooperate, the President said. The President said that although France has a direct interest in the Community and although America’s interest in Africa is somewhat scattered, he wanted to assure Mr. Houphouet-Boigny that whenever feasible and practical the State Department would consider with the greatest sympathy any problems of the Community.

In closing, the President congratulated Mr. Houphouet-Boigny on his determination to keep communism out of Africa, his broad outlook in preferring a close association between Africa and the West, and for his inspired personal leadership. The President also recalled with appreciation the gift of the baby elephant which was presented to him some time ago in the name of the Community.2

  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, International File. Confidential; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Marcel Van Essen of the Office of Middle and Southern African Affairs. Enclosure to a memorandum of November 20 from John A. Calhoun, Director of the Executive Secretariat, to the President’s Staff Assistant Andrew J. Goodpaster, which transmitted it to the White House.
  2. Reference is to conversations during Eisenhower’s visits to the German Federal Republic, the United Kingdom, and France between August 26 and September 4. Documentation is scheduled for publication in volumes with the compilations on relations with those countries.
  3. The President met with the Prime Ministers of the countries of the French Community during his visit to Paris in September.