360. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs (Williams) to Secretary of State Rusk0


  • Contact with African Nationalist Leaders

The difficulties which we are now having with the leaders of the new Algerian Government must recall to the President’s mind with particular force the following sentence in his 1957 Senate speech on Algeria: “Instead of abandoning African nationalism to the anti-Western agitators and Soviet agents who hope to capture its leadership, the United States, a product of political revolution, must redouble its efforts to earn the respect and friendship of nationalist leaders.” There can be little doubt that our current difficulties stem in part from the fact that this Government at the insistence of the French Government for a considerable time cut itself off from anything other than covert contact with the leaders of the Algerian independence movement.

Our Algerian experience shows that covert contact is not enough. Nationalist leaders seek overt, public association with us as a means of bolstering their position at home and abroad. If we deny them this support, they are the more grateful for—and the more swayed by—the public backing they receive from the Communists.

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The recent decision that Holden Roberto should not be received at USUN or the Department has moved me to place before you once again the AF view of the critical importance to long-range U.S. interests of maintaining effective contact with nationalist leaders in the remaining African dependent territories. Whether self-determination or independ-ence is to come early or late to these remaining dependencies, nationalist movements have come into being in each of them. The hopes and beliefs, attitudes and intentions of the adherents of these movements will be influenced by the contacts of their leaders during the formative period. If we cut ourselves off from these leaders, the result can only be, as the President said in 1957, to abandon them to anti-Western agitators and Soviet agents.

This may be particularly true with respect to the Angolan nationalist movement. Roberto, the leader of the UPA, has sought to remain aloof from the Communists. The leaders of the other major group, the MPLA, admit to connection with the Communists. By turning our back on Roberto, we may force him to an accommodation with the MPLA and thus ease the way for the expansion of Communist influence throughout the Angolan nationalist movement.

Our policy of aloofness may also prevent our acquiring some influence with the MPLA. The newly chosen head of that group, Agostinho Neto, has recently let it be known that he would like to have overt contact with our Embassy in Leopoldville. If we could establish relations with him, we might be able to counteract Communist influence in his group.

The Portuguese, of course, tell us that Roberto is a terrorist, and it is true that Roberto’s group stimulated the insurrection in northern Angola. It is clear from the record, however, that today’s terrorist is tomorrow’s statesman, and much as we deplore the use of violence to obtain political ends, we cannot in our own interest refuse to deal with nationalist leaders because they resort to violence.

The problem of contact with nationalist leaders has been with us since the beginning of the Republic. With occasional exceptions (e.g. Algeria), we have traditionally kept our doors open to these leaders despite the displeasure of the established authorities. The Administration has until recently adhered to this traditional position, but it now seems to AF that the doors are closing. Thus to deny our heritage in this last stage of the dissolution of the Western colonial empires would, I believe, seriously damage our position in much of the free world. I [Page 562] would like very much to have an opportunity to discuss this difficult problem with you and other interested officers of the Department at your convenience.1

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 770.00/10-2362. Secret. Drafted by Mathews on October 19. Copies were sent to Ball, McGhee, and the Bureau of European Affairs.
  2. On November 5, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs George McGhee responded to Williams’ memorandum, noting that the Secretary had been preoccupied with Cuba. McGhee stated that he did not believe that Williams should at that time press for review of U.S. contacts with African nationalist leaders and reminded the Assistant Secretary of the importance of the current U.S. negotiations with Portugal, which had given rise to U.S. commitments regarding contacts with Portuguese revolutionary leaders. The Under Secretary argued that Williams should accept those commitments for the time being and not keep raising the subject as AF repeatedly had done. (Memorandum from McGhee to Williams, November 5; ibid., 770.00/11-562)