469. Action Memorandum From the Director of the Office of Central African Affairs (Brown) to the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs (Palmer)1


  • Belgian Aid to the Congo

You will meet with Belgian Foreign Minister Harmel at 1600 hours on May 19.


There is currently considerable strain on Belgo-Congolese relations centered in the negotiations in Brussels over the financial settlement between the two countries reached in February 1965. The Congolese delegation led by the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister has made charges of insulting behavior by Belgian officials and presented what the Belgians consider unacceptable proposals for reopening and revising the settlement. This action, preceded as it was by financial measures detrimental to Belgian interests in the Congo, could create a public and government climate unpropitious for the continuation of Belgian assistance to the Congo at present levels.


We are inclined to regard President Mobutu, Prime Minister Mulamba and Foreign Minister Bomboko as still basically pre-Belgian and favorable toward continued Belgian assistance to the Congo and the role of Belgian enterprises in the country’s economy. If this is true, the current strain between the two countries can be expected to subside, whether or not present talks on the financial settlement are broken off or pursued to a satisfactory conclusion. Therefore it would be unfortunate if the Belgian Government, acting on the basis of the present atmosphere, were to revise its plans for assistance to the Congo in the economic, technical and military fields.

The Belgian Government’s position in the Congo is an extremely influential one. Despite momentary lapses, Belgian military advisers to General Mobutu and Prime Minister Mulamba are among the most influential in the entourage. Similarly Belgian economic and other advisers [Page 688] throughout the government play significant parts as counselors and usually have the confidence of their Congolese principals. The Belgians have no reason to expect a change in this situation on the basis of events to date, since in most cases—but not all—they are aware of the necessity of not playing too obvious a role in Congolese internal affairs. Nevertheless the Mobutu regime is undergoing a spasm of nationalist feeling tinged with xenophobia which expresses itself in outcries against foreign influence, insistence that foreign enterprises must become Congolese entities and emphasis on the “Congolization” of government and business. This campaign is presently carried on mainly at the highest level, although it is beginning to be translated into agitation for the replacement or effacement of Europeans in various areas and positions. Since complete “Congolization”—like nationalization of large industries—has never been a characteristic trend of the Congolese scene, there is no cause to expect that the process will be other than steady and gradual, but recurring difficulties are likely.

Mr. Harmel will probably note the recent deterioration in Belgo-Congolese relations and place the blame on the Congolese. He will explain that recent Congolese demands for reopening the financial settlement issue are largely unacceptable and even extreme. He will, however, probably indicate that the Belgian Government is not planning a serious revision of its policy toward assisting the Congo, although Belgian public opinion and certain large mineral exporting corporations in the Congo are experiencing disillusionment as a result of the Brussels negotiations and recent rises in taxes on exports and business operations and increases in the minimum wage levels in the Congo.


I recommend that you urge Harmel to continue official Belgian assistance policies and aid levels toward the Congo, and carry out actions discussed and agreed to in last February’s U.S.-Belgian bilateral talks, especially the increase in Belgian military instructors and cadres, technical experts and administrative advisory teams in the Congo. The Belgians also agreed to contribute 100 million francs for purchases of military hardware through the Tripartite Logistics Group in Leopoldville with the possibility existing of increasing this amount next year. They also agreed to approach the Italian Government to urge the latter to continue the Italian military pilot training program in the Congo and to seek ways to eliminate frictions which have developed between the Belgian and Italian military missions in Leopoldville. Since the Italian Government is in the final stage of decision-making concerning President Mobutu’s request for the Italians to continue their training program, [Page 689] the Belgians could perhaps indicate at an appropriate high level their strong belief that this training should continue in the Congo.2

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, AF Files: Lot 69 D 118, Box 3828, POL 7 Visits, Meetings, 1966, Harmel. Confidential. Drafted by Canup.
  2. No memorandum of conversation recording Harmel’s talks with Harriman and Palmer on May 19 has been found. A May 23 memorandum from Schaufele to Palmer states that Harmel said he did not understand the sudden deterioration in Belgian-Congolese relations. The memorandum states that the talks were very harmonious and that the Belgian and U.S. views of the Congo situation seemed very close. (Ibid., POL 2–5 Information Summaries 1966)