208. Memorandum From the President’s Deputy Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Komer) to President Johnson 1

Outlook in Africa. Aside from the looming black-white issue already on us in the southern third of Africa, our African affairs are moving along quite well. Military coups like those in Ghana and Nigeria are not really a matter of civilians vs. military, but of a dynamic educated element of the new African societies getting fed up with the ineptitude or posturing (or both) of the original leaders of these young countries.

Telescoping the historical experience of the older nations of the world, the new nations of Africa are ending the first phase of their modern [Page 323] history. It was one of great popular euphoria—sparked by the end of colonialism and the beginning of independence. Hopes and aspirations were high.

The military coups of 1965–66 in Algeria, Dahomey, Upper Volta, the Central African Republic, Nigeria and Ghana signal the beginning of the second phase of modern African history. This latest phase is born of frustrated hopes and aspirations, and disappointment with the performance of the independence leaders. While most of the coups, especially that in Ghana, are a distinct plus for us, there are dangers too because the military coup has left something of a political vacuum in each of the affected countries. The officer corps may in many cases be unable to meet a payroll any better than their predecessors.

So it is premature for the US to clap its hands in glee. Nor is it safe to assume that opposition to pro-Communist leanings on the part of leaders like Ben Bella or Nkrumah played a central role in their overthrow. In every case it was primarily internal conditions that caused the coups.

In a real sense, this new phase in Africa is a healthy one, because the dreams and myths which accompanied independence are being replaced by the realization that austerity and hard work are required for survival. The problem is to get this notion across to the masses of African people without dashing their faith in their new leadership.

Our interest is to encourage internal political stability and enough forward movement in Africa to keep it from becoming a Moscow or Peiping playground, while limiting our own investment in favor of other more critical areas. This seems to me quite feasible, provided we don’t get caught on the wrong side of the Rhodesia, Portuguese, and South Africa issues which will essentially determine African attitudes toward the great powers over the next 2–5 years.

R.W. Komer
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Haynes Files, CHRONO (Haynes), 3/1/65–6/15/66. Confidential.