133. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Africa Food Crisis


  • The Secretary
  • Senator Jack Danforth (R., MO.)
  • Alvin Drischler (Congressional Relations)
  • Frank G. Wisner (Bureau of African Affairs)

Senator Danforth opened the conversation by informing the Secretary that he wishes to visit Africa in late March, together with several other Senators to involve themselves in Africa’s food crisis and [Page 518] to think through a strategy to deal with African hunger.2 Danforth reminded the Secretary of his involvement in a similar humanitarian undertaking in 1979 when he involved himself in the Cambodia refugee and food crisis.3 Africa’s problem is more deeply rooted and requires a long term strategy. The United States should be involved and Danforth wishes to spearhead American involvement. The United States should be committed since dealing with the food problem will save lives, is consonant with U.S. ideals, would improve African and third world perceptions of the United States and would benefit the President domestically.

Danforth added it is also important to deal with domestic hunger. The Secretary asked him if he had a domestic program, like the food stamp program, in mind.4 Danforth replied he favored private sector voluntarism and cited the recent example of General Motors, matching gifts of food for hungry Americans with corporate funds.5 Danforth admitted he was treading on unknown ground but he hoped the Secretary would consider the wisdom of putting the African food crisis on [Page 519] the US-Soviet strategic agenda. Could funds saved from the retirement of a missile system be put in a Soviet-American trust fund for food development? Danforth paused and then completed his remarks with the observation that he did not want to become involved with African food crisis without the support of the administration or without having worked out a relationship with the administration.

The Secretary thanked Danforth for his thoughtful remarks and allowed he shared the Senator’s view that the African problem is a long term one—an issue which requires careful planning. Africa is not Southeast Asia where progress would come quickly in the absence of war. Food production is a good priority for Africa. Helping in this field appeals to our purposes and ideals; it saves lives, especially those of children. The Secretary assured Danforth we are ready to work with him; there is no divergence of views on the importance of the issue.

Our agenda for Africa is a long and important one. We are seeking independence for Namibia and peace in Angola. We are establishing ties with pro-Soviet Mozambique and drawing it away from the Soviet Union. We have an active diplomatic effort but we do not have the resources we need to get the job done. Africa’s food requirement is enormous and our ability to generate resources is limited. We need help in the Congress and greater understanding of what we require to reach our objectives. We have come close to striking out with the recent heavily earmarked supplemental.

Danforth noted how generously the Congress had responded to Cambodia. The Secretary warned that the issues are different. Aid must be given in this instance in a manner that does not undercut local food production. Our approach must be carefully planned and provide incentives. Danforth agreed that the strategy must be smart but he doubted AID would produce such an approach. He and Senator Bellmon6 had been badly let down in Egypt by AID. Danforth wanted the Secretary to understand he was willing to involve himself on a sustained basis. He regards the Africa food crisis as a “mission”. He hoped to start by traveling to Africa but would need the Secretary’s help in identifying a “coach”. The Secretary promised our support but urged Danforth to look also to AID’s Pete McPherson who is very thoughtful and has good ideas.

Danforth pledged he would be a catalyst for a serious program but he would need logistical support for his eight day trip, a good itinerary and an able advisor. The Secretary promised we would find someone “who cares”.

[Page 520]

(Following the meeting, Frank Wisner called Danforth to propose AF Deputy Assistant Secretary Lyman serve as the Senator’s advisor. Danforth agreed).

Frank G. Wisner 7
  1. Source: Reagan Library, George Shultz Papers, Official Memoranda (01/17/1983); NLR–775–27A–17–6–7. Limited Official Use. Drafted by Wisner; cleared by Klosson and Hill. The stamped date “FEB 14 1983” is in the top right-hand corner of the memorandum.
  2. Danforth’s proposed trip to Africa that March did not take place. In telegram 60589 to Ouagadougou, March 4, the Department indicated that Danforth “has cancelled his trip to Africa proposed for the upcoming congressional recess.” (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D830122–0714) Danforth did travel to Africa to investigate famine conditions in January 1984. In telegram 347023 to multiple African diplomatic and consular posts, December 7, 1983, Lyman indicated that Danforth planned to travel to Africa January 4–18, 1984, and visit Somalia, Kenya, Mauritania, and Mozambique. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D830721–0135) Upon his return, Danforth recommended “that the administration spend $200 million in additional aid to combat food shortages” in Africa; the President directed McPherson to expedite emergency food shipments to Africa. (Storer Rowley, “Quick food aid ordered for 20 nations,” Chicago Tribune, January 20, 1984, p. 16) Also see footnote 14, Document 192.
  3. Danforth and Senators Max Baucus (D–Montana) and James Sasser (D–Tennessee) traveled to Thailand and Kampuchea in late October 1979, at the request of President Carter, Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd, and Senate Minority Leader Howard Baker, in order to visit refugee camps and also convince Vietnamese-supported Kampuchean officials to allow trucks from Thailand to deliver food aid to starving Kampucheans. At a news conference in Phnom Penh on October 24, Danforth said “There is absolutely no reason why hundreds of thousands of people should be condemned to their death because some central committee doesn’t act.” (Henry Kamm, “Senators Press Aid On Wary Cambodia: Regime Tells 3 Visiting Americans It Will Consider Offer of Large Supplies of Food Relief,” New York Times, October 25, 1979, p. A5) Documentation on the visit and U.S. efforts to provide additional relief is in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XXII, Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
  4. The Food Stamp Act of 1964 (P.L. 88–525; 78 Stat. 703–709), which Johnson signed into law on August 31, 1964, authorized a Food Stamp Program (FSP) to provide eligible households with nutritious foods. Recipients received a coupon allotment and used the coupons to purchase foodstuffs from retail food establishments approved for participation in the FSP.
  5. On January 6, General Motors (GM) and the United Automobile Workers of America (UAW) announced a nationwide food drive to last 8 weeks. GM had designated $2 million in matching funds for contributions by its employees. (“G.M. and Auto Union Seek Food for Needy,” New York Times, January 9, 1983, p. A24)
  6. Former Senator Henry L. Bellmon (R–Oklahoma), who served in the Senate until January 3, 1981. Bellmon was Governor of Oklahoma during the 1980s.
  7. Wisner signed “FG Wisner” above his typed signature.