393. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The Congo


  • United States:
  • W. Averell Harriman
  • Wendell B. Coote
  • William L. Eagleton, Jr. (Interpreter)
  • Congo:
  • Prime Minister Tshombe
  • Albert Kalonji, Minister of Agriculture, Water, and Forests
  • Joseph Kabemba, Chargé d’Affaires, London

After an exchange of greetings and reference to his last meeting with Governor Harriman in Geneva in 1961, Tshombe turned to his recent departure from Leopoldville where he had seen an American negro leader, Mr. Farmer.2 Mr. Farmer had come to the Congo with distorted impressions but had quickly seen that he had been mistaken. Tshombe had invited Mr. Farmer to visit towns in the interior.

[Page 568]

Governor Harriman referred to the problem of aid from certain African states to the rebels which originated in the Soviet Union. Tshombe replied that several things could be done about this problem. One was the diplomatic offensive in which the U.S. had been helpful. Next were Tshombe’s contacts with the King of Burundi who had promised to influence Parliament to change the government. It was bad luck that the Prime Minister was killed just as he was about to normalize relations with the Congo. The new Prime Minister, however, has already seized a large quantity of rebel armament. Next were Congolese efforts among the southern Sudanese who were willing to fight rebel arms traffic. They had already been helpful.

In reply to a question about Uganda, Tshombe said he was trying to work with that country; but in any case if he could move his troops to the frontier quickly the frontier could be closed. Tanzania presented a more difficult problem because it was difficult to control traffic across the lake. If the Congo had more military material traffic on the lake it could be controlled.

Governor Harriman asked what could be done to contribute to the diplomatic offensive. Tshombe replied that U.S. could be helpful with its friends as could the UK which had influence in Commonwealth countries. Tshombe observed that there could not be peace in Africa if rebel activities continued. If he wanted to, he said he could himself cause trouble in Uganda.

Governor Harriman asked Tshombe’s opinion of his ex-Ambassador to London, Thomas Kanza. Tshombe replied that Kanza was known as a thief in the Congo. He had taken advantage of contacts made as a Congolese diplomat in order to aid the rebels in East Africa.

Governor Harriman stated that Gbenye and Kanza had won a diplomatic victory over him in East Africa and urged that Tshombe should make contacts with the three East African countries which were now opposing the Congo but were perhaps still amenable to persuasion. He also stressed the importance of a Congolese effort to influence the OAU Ad Hoc Committee which is now meeting in Nairobi to discuss the Congo. In reply to Governor Harriman’s question on why he had not sent a high level representative such as Leguma, he replied that Leguma had declined because he was afraid for his personal security. Instead, Tshombe had sent a bright and dynamic young student from Belgium, Jean Gouza. Governor Harriman commented that he should not have been fearful of Leguma’s safety as the rebels would have done themselves irreparable damage if they had killed an Ambassador.

Governor Harriman asked whether Tshombe personally knew East African leaders such as Obote Kenyatta and Nyerere. Tshombe had only met Nyerere once but knew Kenyatta well. In reply to a question he said his government was about to send an Ambassador to Tanzania. [Page 569] With regard to the Commission meeting, Tshombe did not know what would happen, but he did not expect much with countries such as Algeria and the UAR participating. Nigeria, he said, had sent a good representative with firm instructions but the Upper Volta, while not opposing the Congo, was influenced by radicals, such as the Algerians, who did all the talking.

Governor Harriman suggested that Tshombe should spend more effort himself and send special ambassadors to make contacts with African countries which could be influenced.

Tshombe said his efforts in French Africa had been very successful. The real problem was in English speaking Africa, but he was encouraged by indications that Nkrumah was beginning to modify his position slightly.

Governor Harriman inquired regarding the Congo’s military forces. Tshombe replied that the morale was good but there was a shortage of material. The T–28’s sent by the United States had been a great help but they were not enough. More air power was needed to prevent the kind of ambushing of Congolese forces that had occurred recently. There was also the problem of Belgian officers who were needed for training and whose contracts would expire in three months time. He would discuss this in Brussels. Governor Harriman stated that it was better for the Congolese to get their volunteers from Europe rather than South Africa. Tshombe replied that he was trying but it was difficult to find qualified Europeans. Many of the French, for example, were working under better conditions for the King of the Yemen. The Congo had an office in Brussels and the Belgians were not interfering with recruiting but only small numbers were volunteering. In reply to a question Tshombe said he needed 1,000 volunteers. This would permit him to station some of them in agricultural and mining areas to give confidence to the people and insure security. Governor Harriman referred to the fact that some volunteers had left the Congo claiming they had not been paid. Tshombe replied that this was true and that malicious propaganda had been circulated among them.

Governor Harriman inquired about plans for the election. Tshombe said he was determined to hold them between the 15th and 31st of March. They would be held province by province so as to insure they would be well regulated and held in a secure atmosphere. Governor Harriman urged that observers and journalists should be invited from other countries to observe the election and Tshombe agreed. He went on to mention his invitation to Diallo Telli who had not come to Leopoldville because of ill health.

In reply to Governor Harriman’s question regarding Holden Roberto, Tshombe explained that their relations were now good but that Holden Roberto was having trouble with rival groups backed by the [Page 570] Algerians and UAR who were demanding that he leave the Congo. He was also having difficulties with some of his soldiers who were not well paid. Tshombe had told him that he should discuss these problems with him so that he could help to solve them.

Governor Harriman inquired regarding the Congo’s relations with Brazzaville. Tshombe replied that Chinese influence there was very strong and rebel camps were in existence there. In reply to the suggestion that President De Gaulle might exert some influence in Congo Brazzaville, Tshombe noted that the French were having troubles there too. He did not consider Massamba-Debat to be a real communist but the Foreign Minister Ganao was an out-and-out communist. Tshombe agreed with Governor Harriman that President De Gaulle had not served his own or African interests by recognizing Communist China. The Chinese, said Tshombe, were a greater danger to Africa than the Russians because they were more formidable in numbers and because they used a simple approach that appealed to Africans.

In response to Governor Harriman’s suggestion that he present his views re the Congo. Tshombe made the point that the Congo was a particular problem because of its geographic and economic importance. The Congo could be strong and stable under a strong government. Because the people had suffered greatly under communism, they now represented a positive anti-communist force which could be useful in Africa. The Congo could be saved and the Congo’s friends should see to it that it did not fall.

Governor Harriman returned to the suggestion that Tshombe should make an effort to establish useful contacts in East Africa. Although no mention was made of negotiating with the rebels, Tshombe raised this subject. When he had become Prime Minister he had invited rebel leaders to Leopoldville. He had even gone to Bujumbura to see the entourage of Soumialot but he had found no representative person to talk to. There was a Congolese public opinion which held Gbenye and others responsible for massacres. How could such persons come to Leopoldville?

Governor Harriman stressed the importance of the Congo’s obtaining a victory in the current OAU Ad Hoc Committee session in Nairobi. The Congolese Government’s position, he noted, was the right one and if they made the effort they should be able to establish the responsibility of the OAU to contribute to Congolese stability. It would be a tough fight but Tshombe had the skill to do it and he also had friends. World public opinion could be brought to his side if elections were held and outsiders invited to observe them. (At the present time President Kasavubu represented the legitimacy of the Congolese Government. Until he won an election, Tshombe had his position only from Kasavubu.) It was felt in Washington, he said, that President Kasavubu [Page 571] should write more letters to chiefs of state and make public statements more often. Tshombe replied that he agreed that greater efforts should be made. He noted, however, that it was difficult for President Kasavubu to write letters to persons who did not answer the letters or even read them.

Governor Harriman commented that the Emperor of Ethiopia would answer his letters. He observed that the Congo had a good friend in Mr. Spaak and that Belgium could be helpful in ways not open to the U.S.

Governor Harriman asked whether it would not be possible to enlist African military help to replace white volunteers whose presence offended public opinion. Tshombe replied that the only countries in Africa with real armies were the UAR and Algeria. When asked about the soldiers recently released by the French, he said he was continuing to make efforts to enlist them and that he had some encouragement in Upper Volta, but many of these countries were afraid of the outcry of the OAU.

Governor Harriman closed the conversation by assuring Mr. Tshombe that the U.S. wished to help him and the Congo achieve stability and prosperity. Tshombe expressed his thanks and said he very much hoped his friends would not abandon the Congo since its stability and economic progress were essential to the peaceful development of Africa.

At this point Governor Harriman asked Secretary Rusk and Senators Fulbright, Hickenlooper and Jackson to come in. They were introduced to Prime Minister Tshombe and the other Congolese. After an exchange of greetings the Secretary assured Mr. Tshombe of the deep interest of Americans including the President in the well-being of the Congo. He also said he hoped every effort would be made to improve the Congolese image in Africa and the world. Tshombe replied that he agreed entirely with the need for a great effort and he welcomed U.S. support in this regard.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 23–9 THE CONGO. Secret; Limited Distribution. Drafted by William L. Eagleton, Jr., First Secretary of Embassy. Approved in M on February 3 and approved in S on February 8. The conversation was held at the Ambassador’s residence.
  2. Civil rights leader James Farmer.