98. Letter From the Ambassador in Belgium (Burden) to the Under Secretary of State (Dillon)0

Dear Doug: I returned from the Congo on April 1 to find your very helpful letter of March 15.1

I am delighted that you can find a top notch Ambassador. My recent trip to the Congo and preliminary conversations upon my return here have served to strengthen my conviction that this is of the first importance.

On this subject and others, my trip to the Congo was of immense value to me. I had a long talk with Minister de Schrijver and Minister Scheyven2 on my return, during which I discussed some of my conclusions with them, which has an important bearing on a number of points which I would like to report to you.

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1. Ambassador for the Congo

Minister de Schrijver informed me that the Russians will definitely have an Ambassador in Leopoldville July 1 and thinks it very desirable for the new American Ambassador to be there at the same time. This is reported in our telegram No. 1158 dated April 5, I960.3 My own feeling is that this is very important, not simply as a question of competition with the East, but also because the problems facing the new Congolese State will be of such magnitude and difficulty that it will be very important for our Ambassador to be on the scene just as soon as he possibly can.

De Schrijver told me that if the elections go smoothly, in the sense that one coalition has a working majority, there should be a provisional Congolese Government in being by June 15, which could o.k. the agrément for our Ambassador. Whatever the possibility in this regard, I am convinced that we must proceed with our planning on this basis.

2. Delegation for Independence Day

I agree with you that Bob Murphy is an excellent choice for the head of the delegation and I do hope you can get him. de Schrijver said it has been definitely agreed by the Congolese Executive College in Leopoldville that the main Independence Day ceremonies will take place in Leopoldville. There may be a brief ceremonial visit to Luluabourg by the foreign delegations but this will not involve staying overnight. Independence Day ceremonies should last only two or three days, which will make it easy on the delegation.

3. Economic Aid for the Congo

I must say that I did not fully realize the difficulties involved, or the importance of, an economic aid program for the Congo until my trip.4 It seems to me this problem falls under three general headings: [Page 268]


It is very important that the United States demonstrate its interest in the Congo and its friendliness towards the new Congolese Government in a concrete way as soon as possible. This should be done by a few projects which are themselves economically sound and contribute to the well-being of the new Congolese state. My first suggestion in this line would be that the gift of one or more complete technical schools, with staff, would have an enormous impact, in addition to being very badly needed by the Congo. Everyone to whom we spoke on our trip, Congolese and Belgians alike, brought up the necessity for more and better technical education as their first point and asked for United States aid in this field.

Similarly, scholarships in the United States would meet a real Congolese desire and immediately demonstrate United States sympathy and interest without requiring lengthy project preparation or great cost. In the few meetings we had with groups of Africans, the most frequently asked question was “What is the United States going to do to provide scholarships for us to study in the United States?” I suspect that one explanation of this is the fact, which I discovered in Bukavu, that Radio Moscow’s announcement of a “free university” for Africans in Moscow has received very broad currency even among the ordinary people in the eastern part of the Congo. The announcement of perhaps two hundred American scholarships at the June 30 celebrations would have an immediate and salutary impact throughout the Congo, with keen competition for every scholarship.

The Congo also desperately needs improved communications. This could take one of two possible lines: either aid to the present radio-broadcasting service, the power of which is now quite inadequate, or help in installing an improved telephone service. Technical and programming aid to the Congolese radio service would permit the presence of American advisors with obvious advantages. Some Congolese have already asked me for such aid. It seems significant to me that Russians are operating the Guinea radio system and Ghana is greatly strengthening its radio set-up. So far as the telephone service goes, the present Congolese system, which is by radio, is most unsatisfactory, being limited to a few hours every day and providing very poor service. My suggestion would be to pick up the proposal in the new Belgian ten-year plan for a coaxial cable linking the principal cities. A microwave system might be a better technical solution, but in either case improved telephone service would do much to tie the Congo together and reduce divisive influences.

While on this subject, I might mention that Voice of America broadcasts to the Congo, and I suspect most of Africa, appeared to be quite inadequate from a technical and content point of view. The only stations bringing international news clearly to the Congo are Brazzaville [Page 269] (twice as powerful as the Leopoldville radio), Radio Cairo and Radio Moscow. I will take this matter up with George Allen, but I am mentioning it here for the sake of completeness.

I do not know what the cost of the above projects would be. My thought is that the ICA Survey Team, which I am going to discuss below, should turn its attention to this type of project first because of the time factor involved, with the hope that an announcement of one or more American projects along these lines could be made at the Independence Day ceremonies on June 30.

Since time is very much of the essence I hope that funds for the above could be obtained from the President’s Contingency Fund. Although I do not know the status of the Fund at this time, it is my impression that there is usually money available at the end of the fiscal year. I hope that you will keep our problem on this in mind, since there may be the danger of having whatever is now in the Fund obligated for other less urgent and perhaps less worthwhile projects. Can you see that around $5 million is set aside for the Congo for such projects, pending justification by the ICA Study Team, so that we are sure of having an amount on hand?


In addition to the one or two projects for immediate announcement which I have discussed above, the main purpose of the ICA Study Team will be to discover, examine and approve various technical aid projects. On this subject the Governor General and the Congolese Executive College at Leopoldville should issue a formal invitation to the ICA Survey Team around April 11. de Schrijver and Scheyven emphasized to me the necessity of the team arriving just as soon as possible, thus abruptly adopting a position we have been trying to get them to agree to for quite some time now.

It is our hope that the team will leave Washington around April 15, spend several days in Brussels and arrive in Leopoldville around April 21. We hope that they will first examine and approve one or two projects of the type discussed in the previous section, which would give us time to make the necessary financial arrangements before Independence Day. In addition to these projects, we suggest that they go more thoroughly into the fields of technical training, teaching of English and agriculture.5

de Schrijver and Scheyven also told me, for the first time, that the general economic situation in the Congo is very much worse than we had had any reason to believe. Apparently, the situation has been growing more serious for some time and has now reached the point [Page 270] where the Belgians will be completely unable to meet the Congo extraordinary budget or even the deficit in the ordinary budget for the year 1960. In addition, there is a very real possibility that the Congo will start its life as an independent nation with a completely empty till and heavy debts. This aspect of my conversation is reported in considerable detail in our telegram No. 1159, dated April 5, 1960.6 Although I am not yet in a position to give you complete facts and figures, we are in the course of obtaining complete and honest documentation as rapidly as possible. The situation looks bad to me and I want to alert you to the fact that a long-range economic problem of considerable magnitude exists, which may call for American aid.

4. Vice President Nixon

I have heard it reported that Vice President Nixon is keenly interested in African economic and political problems. Is this true and has he been taking an active part?

5. Cleveland

Many thanks for your timely and successful help on this matter. He is invaluable here due to his detailed knowledge and contacts.7 Sincerely yours,

  1. Source: Department of State, AF/AFC Files: Lot 65 D 261, Official—Informal Correspondence with Other Posts. Secret; Official—Informal.
  2. Not found in Department of State files.
  3. Raymond Scheyven, Minister without portfolio responsible for economic and financial affairs in the Congo and Ruanda-Urundi.
  4. Telegram 1158 reported a conversation with de Schrijver, who estimated that 30 Congolese students were in the Soviet Union, predicted that Lumumba might become the first Prime Minister, and asserted that Lumumba had contacts with Communist agents and was well supplied with funds. (Department of State, Central Files, 755A.00/4–560)
  5. Ambassador Burden had met with Governor General Cornélis in Léopoldville on March 8. According to the memorandum of conversation by Cleveland, Cornélis “made it clear almost immediately that he was not enthusiastic about the US doing very much in the technical assistance field here.” (Despatch 1196 from Brussels, April 29; ibid., 755A.00/4–2960) The Department inquired in telegram 1076 to Brussels (240 to Léopoldville) as to Belgium’s willingness to accept and cooperate with limited U.S. aid programs in the fields of education and public administration. (Ibid., 755A.5–MSP/3–960)
  6. A three-person ICA survey team visited the Congo, May 1–20. Telegram 395 from Léopoldville, May 21, summarized its recommendations, which emphasized educational and agricultural projects. The team estimated the cost of the recommended programs for fiscal year 1961 at about $2.2 million. (Ibid., 611.55A7/5–2160) The team’s report is ibid., AF/AFC Files: Lot 65 D 187, Summaries and Assessments–June 1961.
  7. Telegram 1159 reported that Raymond Scheyven had made a strong plea for prompt and substantial U.S. economic assistance for the Congo to relieve a grave situation which might engender undesirable political repercussions. (Ibid., Central Files, 855A.00/4–560)
  8. Hare discussed the matters raised in this letter with the Ambassador on April 28, when Burden was in Washington for consultations. Burden was told that Clare Timberlake, who was currently serving as Counselor in Bonn, had been selected to be Ambassador to the Congo. (Letter from Hare to Burden (not sent), April 28; ibid., AF/AFC Files: Lot 65 D 261, Official—Informal Correspondence with Other Posts)