John F. Kennedy photo

Statement of Senator Kennedy on "Education for African Freedom," Washington, DC

September 21, 1960

Senator John F. Kennedy, chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, describing the gathering of free Africa's leaders for the U.N. meeting in New York as the most important such meeting ever held in this country, today proposed that it be made the occasion for the launching of an American program of "Education for African Freedom."

Recalling his June 1960 proposal for an African Educational Development Fund, and similar proposals in June and October 1959, Senator Kennedy declared that events in the Congo demonstrate that the problem has become even more urgent in these intervening months. "The timetable for change in Africa," he pointed out, will not wait on the outcome of the American election."

"In consultation with the African leaders," the Democratic presidential candidate said, "we must undertake now a comprehensive program mobilizing all our resources for a full attack on Africa's desperate need for education at all levels. As chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa, I therefore propose that, regardless of which administration assumes power in January, the United States pledge itself to carry through such an undertaking with the free nations of Africa."

"If Africa's need is to be met without further loss of valuable time," the Senator continued, "the State Department must be instructed to inform the African leaders now assembling in New York of this undertaking and invite them to join in presenting to us a statement of their most pressing needs and overall requirements."

Senator Kennedy stressed that such a program of "Education for African Freedom" can only be undertaken in partnership with the African nations and that consultation among the African leaders is an essential prerequisite. "Equally important," he declared, "there must be full cooperation with the United Nations in mobilizing the resources of all countries who are ready to assist."

"For my part," said Senator Kennedy, "I pledge that if elected I will make available the full resources of my administration to meet what I regard as this most basic requirement for stability and progress in the new nations of Africa. Specifically, I would propose to convene in Washington in January 1961 a working conference of American officials and leaders of private groups working in international education to consider a program of African educational requirements in light of the proposals to be made by the African nations."

Senator Kennedy emphasized that he visualized not merely an expansion of present educational exchange programs, but a utilization of the entire arsenal of education resources, pointing out that the greatest unmet need in Africa is for the creation of an adequate educational system within these countries, at all levels, particularly the training of primary and secondary school teachers.

The Senator pointed out that American missionary groups and private foundations have long made remarkable contributions to African education. He declared, however, that U.S. Government efforts have been far from adequate and that only a full mobilization of all American resources, governmental as well as private, can hope to provide resources adequate to the immensity of the African challenge.

The Senator listed these points as indicative of the urgency of the situation:

1. Although the crisis of African education which is now upon us has been clearly visible for many years, U.S. Government programs for educational exchange have not responded to the need. According to the best available data there were studying in the United States during the past academic year less than 1,500 African students (excluding the U.A.R.), and of these only 200 were receiving U.S. Government aid.

2. In some of the most critical countries, where U.S. educational exchange programs have been subordinated to European colonial policies, our efforts have been virtually nonexistent. For example, from all of French, Belgian, and Portuguese tropical Africa, an area containing roughly 75 million people - about half the population of tropical America - there were in this country last year only 8 students, all of them under private auspices. At the same time, there were several hundred students from these same areas in Soviet bloc universities.

3. The appalling nature of this neglect is underlined by the fact that when the Congo achieved independence it had only a handful of college graduates, and virtually none trained in the skills necessary for self-government. Furthermore, not one of the few Congolese college graduates was educated in the United States.

4. By contrast, the Soviet Union, its satellites, and Communist China are making Africa a major target for educational and propaganda activities. Soviet bloc educational exchange programs for Africa are doubling almost every year. Their greatest success is in precisely the areas where we have done the least. In addition to existing programs, the Soviet Union is now opening a new university in Moscow, solely to serve students from the underdeveloped areas, with red-carpet treatment and all expenses paid, and with a planned capacity of 3,000 to 4,000 students.

5. The failure of the Republican administration to grasp the immensity of the African challenge is illustrated by the administration estimate, made only 2 years ago for a study group reporting to a foundation, that the Government's total need for African specialists for the next decade can be met by no more than 250 trained people. The inadequacy of this 10-year forecast is highlighted when we remember that by the end of this year alone there will be 25 independent African nations, with many more likely to gain independence in the next few years.

Amplifying his proposal for "Education for African Freedom," Senator Kennedy pointed out that his call for an African conference on educational needs and for an American program tailored to African specifications follows closely the tested and highly successful techniques employed in the Marshall plan and the Colombo plan.

"To be successful," said the Senator, "we must meet these conditions:

"1. This must be a partnership undertaking tailored to African needs and priorities, not a unilateral American plan based on the insistence that 'America knows best.'

"2. It must be a plan which makes coordinated use of all American resources. Although, by the very magnitude of the effort, the major part of the financial burden must necessarily fall on the Government, the program cannot succeed unless it is undertaken in the true spirit of partnership between Government and private groups such as universities, church groups, and foundations with their valuable assets of experience and background.

"3. This program must look to the establishment on a permanent basis of an educational system in Africa, for Africans, and sustained by Africans. It cannot be confined to educational exchange programs, although these are important, and it cannot consist of a few isolated show-place projects.

"There is no question of what needs doing or of where to begin," the Senator concluded. "Our job is simply to shake off inertia and get started. If the urgency of this need is accepted by both parties and if the administration will now take the first step, we can make a real beginning on Africa's most pressing problem, a problem that should have long since been tackled with this degree of urgency."

John F. Kennedy, Statement of Senator Kennedy on "Education for African Freedom," Washington, DC Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Simple Search of Our Archives