29. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Exchange of Views on Africa


  • French Participants
    • M. Maurice Couve de Murville, Foreign Minister
    • M. Hervé Alphand, French Ambassador
    • M. Charles Lucet, Director-General, Political & Economic Affairs
    • M. Jean V. Sauvagnargues, Director, African-Levant Affairs
    • M. Jacques Basdevant, Director, North African Affairs
    • M. Claude Lebel, Minister-Counselor
    • M. Guy de Commines, Counselor for African Affairs
  • United States Participants
    • The Secretary
    • The Under Secretary
    • Mr. J.C. Satterthwaite, Ass’t Sec’y, AF
    • Mr. J. Graham Parsons, Ass’t Sec’y, FE
    • Mr. C.V. Ferguson, Jr., Director, AFS
    • Mr. W. J. Porter, Director, AFN
    • Mr. R. H. McBride, Director, WE
    • Mr. L. J. Saccio, Deputy Dir., ICA
[Page 129]

The Secretary opened the meeting by saying we had the general objective of exchanging views with the French on African problems in order that each of us might know what the other was doing in its various African programs so that there would be no lack of specific information on the part of both.1 He said we had discussed this problem among ourselves and would cooperate to the fullest extent in our objective of consulting fully with the French. He suggested that there should be at least weekly Franco-American meetings on African matters in Washington. In response to Ambassador Alphand’s inquiry as to the level of these meetings, the Secretary indicated that they could be at the Ambassadorial level when some policy matter was involved but that he would think of them as being normally at a lower level when it was primarily a question of exchanging information. He would envisage such exchanges as covering material which was made available from the African posts and as including material in a wide number of different fields. He noted this should be a mutual exchange. He added that we, for our part, intended to make known to all of the interested agencies of our Government that this program for consultation with the French on African problems existed in order that we might be kept fully informed and thus, in turn, keep the French informed. The Secretary emphasized the need for secrecy if these discussions were to succeed.

M. Couve de Murville said he thought the United States approach was a most helpful one. The Secretary added that of course contacts between our two Ambassadors in the various African posts in the field should continue. Couve thought this would also be helpful.

Couve then turned to a discussion of African problems per se noting there were two separate Africas and the French so bureaucratically divided them in Paris, though he knew Africa was handled as a single bureau by us.

He said that all of Africa South of the Sahara was in a state of great ferment with emphasis at the moment on the Union of South Africa but with the turn of the Portuguese areas coming next year. Couve pointed out that independence is the order of the day and although none of the African states are ready for it, it is a fact that the West must accept. He said that the Belgians were acting foolishly but he believed that they had no other choice under the circumstances. He said he expected early independence for the territories of East Africa such as Kenya and Tanganyika. The Foreign Minister went on to say that this radical transformation of Africa must not be opposed. While [Page 130] the metropolitan powers cannot keep ahead of it, it is essential that they keep even and this is what the French are trying to do in the Community.

In describing the present concept of the Community, Couve said that the original concept became outmoded immediately after its adoption and the French are, therefore, engaged in a radical transformation of Community structure with no idea whatsoever of opposing African demands.

Couve then defined French policy towards these new states as being predicated around the necessity of defending vested French interests and preventing chaos and Communism. He said he believed that European influence would be extremely helpful in any defense against both chaos and Communism. Couve then mentioned the agreements just concluded with Mali and the Malagasy Republic in which the French recognized the full independence of these two states.2 He said this independence would not be qualified and that the new states would be full members of the United Nations although remaining in the Community. He said that the Community would probably develop into a sort of commonwealth with the important difference that the President of the French Republic would automatically be President of the Community although without specific powers.

M. Couve de Murville said that the agreements would provide for the organization of diplomatic services for Mali and Malagasy although the French will represent them where they have no embassies. Mali and Malagasy have, he said, undertaken to consult with the French on important questions of foreign policy and defense in order to reach a common position. He said that each state will have a small national army of about 4,000 men for which the French will pay. Both Mali and Malagasy have asked the French to participate in their external defense although no formal alliance has been signed. Couve then mentioned that the French would either own or continue to use key strategic bases in both republics.

In the economic field, Couve said that Mali and the Malagasy Republic would stay in the franc zone and that France would continue to pay for essential requirements as in the past. French expenditures would be for economic development, budgetary support and technical assistance.

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The Foreign Minister went on to say that the French Government is now asking Parliament to ratify these agreements which means they will also have to amend the constitution since the latter document as it now stands does not provide for the Community’s becoming an association of independent states. Couve said that similar arrangements are now open for the rest of the Community states. He pointed out that several of these states are undecided about the degree of association there should be among themselves. They are mostly, he explained, too small to survive alone but not yet ready to abandon newly won perquisites of power. He said they are still thinking it over although they understand they will have to amalgamate in one way or another. Couve said he envisaged this amalgamation as taking the form of the four states of former French Equatorial Africa getting together in some form of federation or confederation; some regroupment among the non-Mali states of former French West Africa not presently capable of being defined; and Mauritania going it alone, since Mauritania has little affinity with the Negro states of the south.

M. Couve de Murville then said that the emergence of these states raises problems in US-French relations similar to those in North Africa, particularly Morocco and Tunisia. He said that obviously these new states would have full relations with the United States thus creating a problem of competition between the two countries. He said that this is always a difficult problem with the differences in language, consciously or unconsciously, at the root of the trouble. Couve said that he thought some of our differences arose from United States policy of associating aid with over-all strategic policy. He said that he thought the best we could do at the moment was to keep each other informed and try to work together avoiding the impression that one state is taking the place of the other. Couve promised that France would continue to give all aid to the Community states sufficient for their needs and he called attention to the vast number of French Civil Servants not only in the Community but also in North Africa and even in Guinea. Couve recapitulated by saying that France would provide the Community’s basic development needs through development loans, budgetary support and the common market.

The Secretary asked if in the agreements just signed with Mali and Malagasy the French had undertaken to furnish absolutely everything those states required. Couve replied that no long-term commitments had been made in advance and aid to these republics would be handled on a year to year basis. He said that France would provide all the two republics would need within reason but possibly not all they themselves might feel they need.

The Secretary said that he wished to assure the French that the last thing the United States wants to do is to remove the skills and culture which an African state has learned from the Mother Country. [Page 132] He said that the principal concern of the United States was whether Africa is to become another battle ground between the West and the Communist world. The Secretary expressed particular concern over Chinese Communist influence as seen in Guinea. He went on to say that the African states themselves will try to see how much aid they can stimulate by playing with both worlds.

Couve replied that this was the main reason for the French attitude towards Guinea. Guinea, he said, is a Communist state. At the time Guinea refused to join the Community, the country was already under Communist leadership and, therefore, the French were obliged to cut all ties because of the impact of Guinea’s neighbors. Couve said that French friends in Mali, etc., have become more and more conscious of the fact that Guinea is a danger to them and most Community leaders are well aware of the dangers of Communists, Russians as well as Chinese. He then described a meeting in Paris between Khrushchev and a number of the Community presidents in which the latter attacked Khrushchev hard and the peril to Africa imposed by Chinese expansionism.3 Couve said that both he and Khrushchev were very surprised at this approach. Couve said that this showed the degree of awareness of the Communist danger on the part of the Community leaders.

The Secretary asked Couve whether he could estimate how the Algerian situation is developing. Couve said it was difficult to respond, that basically it was a matter of the French cease-fire offer not having been accepted. On the military side, Couve said, the situation was better than a year ago, in fact it had been transformed in recent months. Couve added that this was not a solution to the political problem of Algeria, however, even though it helped to have a sounder military situation. He said that the FLN position had become more and more rigid recently on the non-acceptance of a cease-fire. He referred to the recent FLN call for volunteers and said that closer contacts between the FLN and the Red Chinese had probably been motivated by the desire to impress the United States. Couve said it was not desirable at all that the Algerian war should continue, but there was no effort by the FLN to end it. He thought there had been a real chance to end the war some months ago at the time of the cease-fire offer in September, but he noted that the FLN had never at any point made an attempt to enter into discussions with the French on that basis.

The Secretary asked if there was some change in the September program of General De Gaulle in the light of Prime Minister Debré’s speech earlier in the week when he spoke of partition of Algeria. The Secretary thought this was the first time this concept had been referred [Page 133] to openly. Couve said that the idea of partition had been mentioned in De Gaulle’s September 16 declaration and had been discussed at that time by the FLN.4

Couve then asked for the United States evaluation of the situation in South Africa. The Secretary replied that South Africa has been a volcano for many years and it is amazing that it has not exploded sooner. The Secretary said that he saw no sign of any amelioration of the situation and felt it would affect all of subsaharan Africa. Couve expressed the opinion that he did not believe events in South Africa would have any serious repercussions except in the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland and possibly in Kenya.

The Secretary then briefly mentioned the serious problem imposed by the sudden emergence of the Belgian Congo which finds itself with serious financial problems at the very moment of independence. Mr. Dillon added that costs in the Congo have risen sharply in the last few months. Couve replied that this was true but the Congo is a relatively rich territory. Couve said that the problem is compounded by the fact that with independence, governmental control often breaks down with many Africans assuming that there is no longer any need to pay taxes. He then asked whether the United States has any programs in mind for aid to the Belgian Congo or Mali. Mr. Dillon replied that the basic concern of the United States is to see the African territories develop in freedom and stay in the free world. He said that in view of the heavy responsibility which the United States has elsewhere, it does not wish to do anything it does not have to and, therefore, hopes that the rest of the free world, particularly the former metropoles, will continue to carry the major portion of the burden of aiding Africa. Nevertheless, Mr. Dillon said, the new African states clearly want some sort of connection with the United States as a symbol of their independence. In this connection, Mr. Dillon asked what the French attitude would be toward any American technical cooperation in economic development problems. He said he realized that the Belgian Congo was a different case, since the Belgians had specifically asked us to come in. He said Prime Minister Debré had told him that the Community states would want something from the United States and it would, therefore, be useful if we could coordinate our programs, although it appears to him that French plans were fairly inclusive and the United States did not wish to push in on them. Couve agreed that independence for African states involved consideration of United States aid programs but pointed out that there were existing organizations such as the common market which could also play a major role. Mr. Dillon said that he believed technical education should have first priority throughout Africa, to which Couve replied [Page 134] that the problem of language was a very serious one. He asked that United States officials keep in touch with the French on any programs which might envisage this field.

The Secretary called attention to the contrast between the French policy and that of the Italians in Somalia and the Belgians in the Congo, where these two metropoles appear desirous of unloading everything on the United States. He said that he feared this might create a precedent which will impel the leaders of the Community states to feel they should be entitled to United States aid simply because other African countries are receiving it.

Mr. Saccio called attention to the Special Program for Tropical Africa for which money has been requested from Congress for raising technical skills throughout Africa. He pointed out that no decision has been taken as to how to divide this fund between English and French speaking areas.

Couve again called attention to the language difficulty and said it would not be easy for the United States to carry out educational programs in French speaking areas. Mr. Dillon replied that there is an intense desire to learn English throughout Africa and pointed out that because the United States had not been able to move quickly in Guinea, the latter had engaged Russian English teachers. Mr. Dillon said the United States is now prepared to send English teachers to Guinea without a technical cooperation agreement. Mr. Satterthwaite expressed the opinion that it was extremely important that English and French be maintained as the major languages in Africa South of the Sahara. He stressed the point that the United States does not wish to appear to compete with the French nor to displace the French language.

Mr. Satterthwaite said that in considering the Community, the United States hoped that France would encourage the various republics to stay in as large units as possible. He said that the United States realized that they probably all desired United Nations membership but that we hoped the French could encourage them to group themselves into a maximum of three units. Couve replied that the French agreed with Mr. Satterthwaite’s point but that it was a very delicate question and one in which the French had lost their power to intervene directly. Mr. Satterthwaite asked concerning former French Equatorial Africa, wondering whether it would apply for UN membership as a single state. In reply, the Foreign Minister said that that is the idea of the Equatorial Africans at the moment, but that they may have some difficulty in obtaining acceptance by the United Nations if they do not actually represent a single government or a single state. He doubted that this area would become independent before next year in any event and said that the capital of whatever federation that they be would be located at Pointe Noire.

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Mr. Satterthwaite referred to the question of arms control and said he assumed that France would only support internal security forces in the Community republics. Couve answered that this was indeed the case and that France had agreed to supply and equip an army of 4,000 men each in both Mali and Malagasy. Mr. Satterthwaite pointed out that the United States is not anxious to supply arms to this part of Africa. The Secretary said that the only alternative to the equipping of these forces by the former metropoles would be smuggling and Couve agreed that the latter was very hard to control.

M. Couve de Murville then expressed concern over developments in the horn of Africa particularly with regard to the concept of a greater Somalia and said that France was worried lest the dispute between Somalia and Ethiopia come before the Security Council. The Secretary said he believed that this problem would soon arise. Couve said that the question of the boundary with Ethiopia was far from settled and that there could be trouble even in northern Kenya where there is a substantial Somali population.

The Secretary then said that before concluding the meeting, he wished Mr. Parsons to have the opportunity to express the Department’s opinion concerning the problems of the new African states and the Chinese question. Mr. Parsons said that it is clear that France and the United States share a common concern regarding Communist China and that it is very useful to have talks such as this. He said the question is becoming particularly urgent in view of the appearance of the several new African states and said that the Chinese Communists would make an extra effort: (1) to be invited to the various independence ceremonies; (2) to claim diplomatic recognition; and (3) to obtain African support to vote against the moratorium in the United Nations.

Mr. Parsons went on to say that the African states are not fully informed concerning the moratorium and he believed it would be helpful if the opportunity could be seized to explain this issue to them well in advance of independence. On the question of recognition, Mr. Parsons found the attitude of the Cameroun excellent and said he felt that we had the opportunity to follow this most useful formula in Togo. He said that he hoped new African states would all understand that any premature decision with regards to recognizing Communist China may not be wise and might have repercussions on other states while not directly affecting the African states themselves. Couve replied that he understood Mr. Parsons’ points and said that he doubted that the Community republics would establish embassies in either Peiping or Taipei. Mr. Satterthwaite asked whether the French believed that in the long run the Chinese Communists represented a greater danger in Africa than the Russians since they can claim to be non-white. Couve replied that he believed that this was in fact a real problem. Mr. Satterthwaite said that there was also a danger that [Page 136] Chinese technicians in Africa would prove to be more competent than the Russians. In reply, Couve said that there was no question but that the Chinese Communists represented a very real danger to Africa.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.70/4-1560. Secret. Drafted by Robert H. McBride, C. Vaughan Ferguson, and William J. Porter. Approved in U on April 29 and in S on May 9.
  2. In January 1960, Prime Minister Debré had suggested that the United States and France coordinate their African policies more closely. In response, the United States suggested that informal consultations be held in Washington. (Telegram 3528 to Paris, February 23; ibid., 611.51/2–2360)
  3. These agreements were concluded, respectively, on April 2 and April 4, 1960. The French Constitution was shortly thereafter amended to permit continued membership within the Community subsequent to a declaration of independence. Mali, which was the name Senegal and the Sudan selected when they merged in April 1959, became independent on June 20, 1960, followed 6 days later by Madagascar or the Malagasy Republic.
  4. Khrushchev visited France, March 23-April 3, 1960.
  5. Documentation on North Africa and Algeria is included in volume XIII.