John F. Kennedy photo

Speech by Senator John F. Kennedy, City Hall Square, Bowling Green, KY - (Advance Release Text)

October 08, 1960

It is a long way from the troubled streets of the Congo to this peaceful lawn in Kentucky. But it was a great son of Kentucky - Henry Clay - who first taught us that, however great the distance, our future was bound up in the future of the world around us.

More than any man of his time, Henry Clay understood the vast potential of the American continent. It was his efforts in the Congress which finally opened up the West to settlement.

But Henry Clay also knew, what few men of his time could understand - that it was not enough to build our own strength alone - to conquer just our own frontiers. For our security and the security of freedom depended on the strength and friendship of other nations. Thus, as Secretary of State, he sought to draw all the nations of the Americas closer together - triumphing in this effort when he was finally able to send the first American delegate to the first Pan-American Conference.

Today, one of Henry Clay's dreams has been achieved - the western frontier has long been conquered - the land cleared and the dangers overcome. But Henry Clay's other vision - the vision of an America bound in strong and enduring friendship with all the nations of the world - that vision was never in greater danger than it is today in the vast and restless continent of Africa.

When the crisis in the Congo recently erupted across the front pages of our newspapers it dramatized not only the dangers we face in Africa - but it also dramatized the failures of American policy which created those dangers.

It was only the intervention of the United Nations which prevented the immediate establishment of a Soviet satellite in the heart of Africa. Yet assembled here on this lawn is enough talent and skill, knowledge and education to have saved the Congo from chaos and confusion - permitting an orderly transition to independence - and halting the threat of Communist subversion without intervention.

But the Congo did not have the skills of the people assembled here. Instead the Belgians left behind them a country of 8 million people with less than a dozen college graduates - a country with only a single 21-year-old Government officer with a degree from a European university - a country which had never been given the education needed to run a nation. The result was inevitable - and it happened - we are still paying the high price on our failure to educate the people of the Congo.

To understand these failures - we must understand modern Africa.

In 1776, the year of the first successful revolt against colonial rule, Tom Paine wrote that "A flame has arisen not to be extinguished." Today that same flame of freedom burns brightly across the once "Dark Continent," creating new nations and driving old powers from the scene - kindling in men the desire to shape their own destinies as freemen.

Each of these newly emerging nations has, in varying degrees, the same problems, the same needs, and the same dangers as now beset the Congo. And in each of them wait the same tireless and implacable agents of communism watching for the opportunity to transform poverty or hunger or ignorance into revolt and Communist rule.

The new African nations are determined to emerge from their poverty and hunger. They are determined to build a modern and growing economy with a constantly rising standard of living. They are determined to educate their people - maintain their independence - and receive the respect of all the world.

The only real question is whether Africa will look West or East - to Moscow or Washington - for help and guidance in this effort.

This choice may well determine the course of the cold war - whether the world shifts toward communism or toward democracy - toward freedom or toward slavery in the years to come.

I believe that Africa will look to the West - that it will choose freedom.

For it was the American Revolution - not the Russian - which began man's struggle for national independence, individual liberty and freedom from colonial rule. When the African National Congress in Northern Rhodesia called for reform and justice - it threatened a "Boston Tea Party" - not a Bolshevik bomb plot. African leader Tom Mboya invokes the "American dream" - not the Communist manifesto.

And in the most remote bushlands of central Africa there are children named Thomas Jefferson and George Washington - but there are none named Lenin or Stalin or Trotsky. And those ties of history and spirit are strengthened by our common goals. What we want in Africa is what the nations of Africa want for themselves. We want an Africa where the standard of living is constantly increasing - where the economy is moving forward - where malnutrition and ignorance are disappearing.

And this is what Africa wants.

We want an Africa where there is a community of stable and independent and protected countries and where men are given the opportunity to choose their own national course, free from the dictates or coercion of any other country.

And this is what Africa wants.

We want an Africa which is not a pawn in the cold war or a battleground between East and West.

And this, too, is what the people of Africa want.

Yet - despite these powerful bonds - America is losing ground in Africa: The newly independent country of Guinea has moved steadily toward the Communist bloc - importing Soviet technicians, borrowing Soviet money, and signing trade agreements with Eastern Europe.

The newly independent country of Ghana has moved away from the West - and recently the President of the nation sent troops to the Congo by Soviet jet. In the strife-torn, newly independent country of the Congo one of the most powerful factions - that of Premier Lumumba - is pro-Russian and anti-American. And throughout Africa there is growing uneasiness about America's role and American motives.

We have lost ground in Africa because - in the past 8 years - we have neglected and ignored the needs and aspirations of the African people. We failed to foresee the growing importance of Africa. We failed to ally ourselves with the cause of independence and freedom.

We failed to help the Africans develop the stable economy and the educated population on which their growth, stability and freedom depend. These were failures of vision, of leadership and of will.

Although by 1952 it was obvious that new African nations would soon be a growing force on the world scene - our State Department did not establish a Bureau of African Affairs until 1957 - and, that same year, we sent more Foreign Service officers to Western Germany than to all of Africa. Even today less than 5 percent of all our Foreign Service officers are in Africa - and there are five newly independent nations that have no State Department representation at all. One reason that communism succeeded in Guinea is that we didn't bother to send an Ambassador there until 8 months after independence. However, the Soviet representative arrived on Independence Day.

Although the emerging nations of Africa desperately need the development capital which is essential to the creation of a growing economy - through the end of 1957 we had granted Africa less than two-tenths of 1 percent of our total foreign assistance. And as late as 1959, Africa was receiving only 5 percent of all our foreign aid - and only 2 percent of all the money spent by the Development Loan Fund - a fund which was specifically created to help the underdeveloped countries.

Although there are only a handful of college graduates in many African countries - and less than 1 percent of all Africans entering the primary grades ever finish high school - we are doing almost nothing to help educate the African people. Today our Government is aiding less than 200 African students in this country - and yet this is the largest number we have ever helped. Nor are we supplying the books and the technicians which could help the Africans train themselves - less than 5 percent of our technical help is allotted to Africa south of the Sahara.

This Republican record of neglect and indifference - of drift and failure and retreat - has resulted in a steady decline in American prestige in Africa - and a steady growth of Soviet influence.

If we are to create an atmosphere in Africa in which freedom can flourish - where long - enduring people can hope for a better life for themselves and their children - where men are winning the fight against ignorance and hunger and disease - then we must embark on a bold and imaginative new program for the development of Africa.

First, we must ally ourselves with the rising tide of nationalism in Africa. The desire to be independent of foreign rule - the desire for self-determination - is the most powerful force of the modern world. It has destroyed old empires - created scores of new nations - and redrawn the maps of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. It is vital that we unequivocally place ourselves on the side of man's right to govern himself, because those are our historic principles - because the ultimate triumph of nationalism is inevitable - and also because nationalism is the one force with the strength and endurance to threaten the integrity of the Communist empire itself.

Second, we must make the United Nations the central instrument of our energies and policies in Africa. With limited resources and personnel, the United Nations has accomplished wonders in Africa - not only in the Congo, but in Togoland, and the Cameroons and Ruanda-Urundi and Tanganyika. The U.N. has eased the transition to judependence for many African nations - and has won the support and confidence of most of the African people. By centering many of our activities in the U.N. we demonstrate that our principal desire is to build a strong and free Africa - rather than to use the African nations as pawns in the cold war.

We will cooperate fully in U.N. economic aid and technical assistance programs. We will send first-rate men to staff our own U.N. mission - and encourage talented Americans to work for the Secretariat.

But it will take time to establish effective United Nations programs over the delays, harassment, and opposition of the Soviet Union. And Africa's needs will not wait.

Third, to meet the need for education, we must greatly increase the number of African students - future African leaders - brought to this country for university training. And we must establish a multination African educational development fund. This fund - in which the African states would be full partners - will map the long-range educational needs of Africa, helping to build the school systems and universities which will ultimately permit Africans to educate their own people.

And while Africa builds its own educational system we will send a stream of experts and educators - engineers and technicians - to train Africa in the tools of modern production and modern agriculture and in the skills and knowledge essential to the conduct of government.

Fourth, we must help provide the development capital which can transform the resources of Africa - the least productive area of the world - into a higher standard of living for the African people. We should establish a multilateral development loan fund - a fund directed by Western and African nations - a fund whose expense would be borne by all the Western allies - a fund which would make the long-term capital loans necessary to develop the roads, the power the water, the hospitals, and all the other public needs which are vital to an industrial economy.

Fifth, we must stimulate private investment in Africa. For the capital needs of Africa are far too great ever to be met by government alone. Therefore we must expand our consular services - and use the resources of the Development Loan Fund to educate private industry to Africa's enormous economic potential.

With this program we can begin to reverse the disastrous errors and neglect of the past 8 years - we can begin to rebuild the strength of the cause of freedom in Africa - and we can begin to restore our historic ties with the people in Africa.

In a recent American film, "The Defiant Ones," two men, a white man and a Negro chained together, fall into a deep pit. The only way out is for one to stand on the shoulders of the other. But since they were chained - after the first had climbed over the top of the pit, he had to pull the other out after him - if either one was to be free.

Today, Africa and America, black men and white men, new nations and old, are bound together. Our challenges rush to meet us. If we are to achieve our goals - if we are to fulfill man's eternal quest for peace and freedom - we must do it together - and together we can and will succeed.

John F. Kennedy, Speech by Senator John F. Kennedy, City Hall Square, Bowling Green, KY - (Advance Release Text) Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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