239. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to President Kennedy0


  • The Volta Project

Since Clarence Randall returned from Ghana in early November, there have been further developments in Ghana about which you should know. You also have received letters from Prime Minister Macmillan and Senator Gore on the subject,1 and, in addition, CIA has prepared a memorandum on the Volta project and a special intelligence estimate on the future prospects for Ghana.2 A summary and discussion of these developments immediately follow.

The Situation in Ghana

The Queen’s visit went extremely well. Sir Robert Jackson has told us that Nkrumah is “greatly inflated” by the success of the visit; counting on your approval of proceeding with the Volta project and Khrushchev’s visit (probably after the Berlin problem is less sharp) to restore his momentum. Jackson also reported that, following an hour-long conversation between the Queen and Nkrumah, it had become clear that “if a decision were made within the next three or four days to proceed with Volta, the situation here would be most receptive.” He said that if the U.S. wanted to obtain more detailed assurances from Nkrumah on the genuineness of Ghana’s non-alignment in the months ahead, he was likely to be more receptive and forthcoming in the immediate afterglow of the Queen’s visit. Jackson told us following the Queen’s departure that Nkrumah’s present mood was to proceed with the Volta dam regardless of the outcome of negotiations with the U.S. and the World Bank, and that he had just authorized an Italian firm to acquire a third dredge. Jackson said the leftist clique had moved in fast following the Queen’s departure to bring greater pressures to bear on Nkrumah—one demand being Jackson’s early departure.

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Komla Gbedemah, formerly Nkrumah’s Minister of Finance and Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, but now Nkrumah’s leading opponent, has told a U.S. official in London that, despite all the drawbacks, the U.S. must go through with Volta financing; that to withdraw at this time would only play into the hands of Nkrumah and his intimates who would use the incident to go all out for socialism, for withdrawal from the Commonwealth and for closer ties with the Bloc. However, Gbedemah emphatically insisted the U.S. should condition any agreement to proceed on the project upon the understanding that funds only will be made available in proportion to the extent Ghana is able to meet its commitments to the Volta authority. Such a procedure would, he said, place the blame for any financial failure of the Volta project directly on Nkrumah. With regard to the effect of a possible U.S. withdrawal upon other African countries, he only repeated the widely expressed view that “another Aswan would result.”

The West Germans have informed us that they will follow through on their plans to finance a road from the port of Tema to Accra (a small project) only on the condition that the U.S. will follow through on the Volta project.

A group of British African experts which has just concluded talks with the Department stressed that Nkrumah is “balancing” between East and West and despite occasional evidence to the contrary they believe Ghana must be placed in a neutral category and will remain there unless pushed in another direction. They felt it would be a mistake to withdraw from the Volta project; that such action would lead to the withdrawal of Ghana from the Commonwealth and heavy damage to the western position not only in Ghana but elsewhere in Africa.

Other miscellaneous items of interest are that Ghana voted with the majority at the UN in the appeal to the USSR against further nuclear tests in contrast to Cuba which voted with the Bloc and Mali which abstained; a large representation of the top Ghanaian leadership appeared at the Soviet Embassy’s November 7 reception although their presence at other national receptions is rare; and trade union leader Tettegah, who is on Nkrumah’s personal staff, opened the Soviet-Ghanaian Friendship Association in Kumasi with a speech full of praise for the USSR.

Throughout the period persons having moderate or pro-western views have been steadily removed from positions of influence with radical elements gaining increased power. The trend toward a totalitarian state also has continued with Nkrumah’s Convention People’s Party pressing a campaign to establish branches in business and professional firms, churches and Sunday Schools; accompanied by increasing fear on part of people to criticize the regime.

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Intelligence Estimates

The most important conclusion reached in a Special National Intelligence Estimate on “Prospects for Ghana”, dated November 16, is that Nkrumah is counting heavily on U.S. aid for the Volta project. After more than four years of negotiation and several surveys, he firmly believes the U.S. has committed itself to give assistance. Should the U.S. withdraw at this stage, Nkrumah will react violently and turn even more to the Bloc. He might take actions against U.S. operations in Ghana—USIA, the Peace Corps, the modest technical assistance program.

The Estimate also concludes that even if the U.S. should back the Volta project, Nkrumah will not significantly change his present policies. He will continue his attempts to reduce the dominating influence which private western interests have in the Ghanaian economy and will continue to develop close ties with the Bloc.

An intelligence memorandum on the “Likely Consequences of various U.S. Courses of Action on the Volta Dam” concludes that most African and Asian leaders believe the U.S. is morally committed to proceed with the Volta project. Recent U.S. uncertainty, together with U.S. displeasure with Afro-Asian neutralism, have made the project seem a test of U.S. willingness to give aid without political strings. African moderates, though they would like to see Nkrumah chastised by not getting the assistance, would be fearful that a negative decision might indicate a reluctance to contribute substantially to African developments.

The memorandum examines three contingencies:

U.S. implementation
U.S. withdrawal
A moratorium

If the U.S. implements the project, Nkrumah’s political standing would be much enhanced, particularly with the moderate elements. His policies would not change significantly and he would continue to reduce private Western influence and to develop closer Bloc relations. Afro-Asians generally would be pleased at U.S. tolerance of neutralism. Neutrals would still suspect U.S. motives; radicals would conclude that extremist policies do not preclude U.S. aid; and moderates in other African states could be pressured by radical elements to follow Nkrumah’s example. Leaders who have cooperated with the U.S. would resent aid given to an uncooperative leader.

If the U.S. withdraws from the project, Nkrumah would denounce the U.S. for its political strings and move even closer to the Bloc. Ghana’s current domestic political balance would soon tip in favor of the radicals. Communist influence in all Africa would increase. Although they would exploit U.S. withdrawal as evidence that the U.S. does not intend to help African nations, they would not immediately take over the Volta project [Page 368] but delay until the extent of aid needed to further their aims was determined. Liberia, Nigeria and most of the French-speaking nations would sympathize with U.S. motives but be reluctant to openly support our decision. Most critics would say the U.S. is punishing an African state for not following acceptable policies, remind people of our withdrawal from the Aswan Dam project, and refuse to consider as valid any economic reasons given for the decision.

If the U.S. called for a moratorium, reaction would be similar to that of a withdrawal and be expressed more vehemently. Nkrumah would regard delay as an attempt to blackmail Ghana into complete surrender to American interests, and he would be supported not only by Communists but by many neutrals. The U.S. could not convince Nkrumah or other African leaders of the economics of the problem and our influence would be more disastrously affected by a delay than by a complete withdrawal.

Macmillan and Gore Letters

You will wish to read both of these letters.

The Prime Minister’s letter strongly re-states the long-standing view of the British that the U.S. must proceed with the project.

Senator Gore, however, feels that your decision should be to withdraw. In order to clarify some portions of his letter, we have attached a brief comment following the letter. The section of the comment dealing with tax aspects may not be fully accurate and may have to be revised.

McGeorge Bundy3
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Ghana, Vol. I, Volta River Project, 1961. Secret.
  2. A copy of the November 16 letter from Prime Minister Macmillan to President Kennedy is in Department of State, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 66 D 204, Prime Minister Macmillan’s Correspondence with President Kennedy—1961. A copy of the November 13 letter from Senator Albert Gore of Tennessee to President Kennedy is in the Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Brubeck Series, Summary of Volta Project Documents.
  3. The intelligence memorandum, entitled “Likely Consequences of Various U.S. Courses on Action on the Volta Dam,” November 16, is in the Central Intelligence Agency, Office of National Estimates Files. The SNIE is printed as Document 238.
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.