199. Memorandum From Robert W. Komer of the National Security Council Staff to President Johnson1

Our African Affairs. This responds to your request via Bill Moyers.2 First off, we’ve recovered a good deal from the low point of the Congo paradrop last fall. The back of the Congo rebellion has been broken, though cleaning up may go on for months. More and more African states are beginning to do business with Tshombe. Meanwhile, a surprising number of countries are adopting a more pro-Western stance—Kenya, Guinea, Mali, Uganda, Sudan, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, and now perhaps Algeria. Our biggest problem at the moment is the backlash from Vietnam and Santo Domingo, although our parochial African friends are not too responsive to Communist propaganda on these affairs.

Problems on the Horizon. Looking ahead, what will mostly agitate Africans over the next few years will be the “liberation” of the southern third of Africa, which the new African countries regard as their chief unfinished business. In Southern Rhodesia, the Portuguese colonies, Southwest Africa, and South Africa itself white minority governments are sitting repressively on volcanoes.

These issues will provide the chief test of outside sympathy for African aspirations in 1965–70. So I’m convinced that the stance we take toward them will have greater weight in determining our African image and influence than any “Marshall Plan for Africa” or similar grandiose schemes. The Soviets and Chicoms have a big advantage in this competition; they preach violent revolution while trying hard to pin on us guilt by association. This is true in a way. The Azores base makes us chary of seeming too anti-Portuguese, and we and the UK have major investments and trade ties with Rhodesia and South Africa. So we do have assets we could lose.

Proposed US Stance. The more we can stay ahead of the game on southern African issues, instead of being dragged reluctantly toward the inevitable, the better we will get along with Africa. In any case we want to press the intransigeant white regimes to modify their repressive policies before there are explosions which the Communists will exploit. Ideally, we want evolution not revolution, which will minimize the [Page 307] likelihood of violence and of risk to our assets in the area. The way to start is by a more forthright declaration of US policy, initially in general terms. This can come best from the White House itself.

US Aid Policy. Soapy Williams and our country teams all tend to see the African problem too much in terms of US aid. We are already investing about $145 million in economic aid and MAP, and $150 million in food. I don’t see us going up very fast. Nor do I think we’d buy much. The new African countries are mostly in such a primitive state of development, and are so hipped on internecine quarrels that I doubt whether even a massive US investment now would show a commensurate result. In any event, there are more profitable ways to spend our aid money. So I’d argue for only a gradual increase in US aid, with concentration on such dramatic impact projects as the communications satellite idea (if it proves feasible).

Tactical Disengagement from the Bad Guys. Our Africanists tend to run too fast after the radical Africans. They overstate the risks to us from a degree of Chicom or Soviet influence in certain countries. Our experience to date has been that most African states which have tasted the fruits of Communist support in the first flush of independence have tended to get a stomach ache (Morocco, Guinea, Mali and Kenya are cases in point). So I’m against rushing in too fast to bail out radical regimes in trouble. Let’s keep a foot in the door everywhere, and let’s be decently responsive where opportunity offers, but let these wayward countries come to us rather than courting them too eagerly.

The above is the bare bones outline of what I see as a sensible new policy toward Africa. I’d lay heaviest stress on deliberately showing greater sympathy for the remaining independence movements, even if it breaks some crockery. A few rousing speeches will buy us more than $200 million in aid.

R.W. Komer
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, McGeorge Bundy, Vol. 11. Secret. A June 21 covering memorandum from Bundy to the President states that this summary of the African problem was worth reading. Bundy added that his only reservation concerned the memorandum’s endorsement of “Presidential noisemaking” about the Portuguese and the South Africans, commenting, “I think we have to be very careful with this and speak much more in sorrow than in anger.” (Ibid.)
  2. See Document 198.