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Toasts of the President and President Olympio

March 20, 1962


I am sure that you all join me in welcoming our distinguished guest. And to his distinction, there is no question his reputation has preceded him. His country is small. I suppose most Americans are not familiar with it, and yet he has played a most constructive and influential role in the development of affairs in Africa; and upon his good sense and judgment and responsibility I believe rests much of our great hopes for Africa.

Mr. President, I think you know--in fact, we were talking about the failure, really, of most Americans to know more about your country--and especially Africa. There were in 1955, I think, more Americans working in the Embassy at Bonn than in all of Africa. More students' scholarships were given in the first 3 or 4 months of the Congo's difficulties than were given in the whole year before for all of Africa.

I was chairman of the subcommittee on Africa of the foreign Relations Committee. I had never been to Africa, and neither had at least half the members of that Committee. That has changed, and in the last 3 or 4 years there has come tremendous emphasis and recognition of the importance of Africa, of our desire to assist Africa through this most extraordinary revolutionary period. In days when everything is unsettled, I think that it should be a source of the greatest satisfaction to look at what has happened in Africa, that countries have become independent-that in many of the countries very few are educated--they have had no administrative experience--no professional class, no middle class--but the desire for independence united everyone. And suddenly they were independent and faced with staggering problems.

And yet with perhaps one or two exceptions-and even there the final story has not been written--these countries have maintained their independence, they have built closer regional cooperation in various organizations, of which the most recent was in Nigeria. I think we should take great satisfaction in this, I think it is a most impressive record--and due to men like our guest of honor who had the qualities to lead the fight for independence and do the hard work that is now necessary to maintain that independence.

I think all of us ought to be encouraged, and concerned, and interested--and devote our efforts and our interests to binding Africa and the United States closer together. We have a great advantage in the number of people who came here from Europe, and one of the great assets we have in the United States is the great number of Africans who came here; and as the influence and prestige of our country increases, this has an effect on Africa. It is a source of understanding between us as we meet our responsibilities.

So, Mr. President, you may feel that it's a long way to come to call on us, but this is another opening of the horizon for us. Your visit makes people go to the maps--you live in far-off places--we learn something about Togo and learn something about the problems of Africa, so that this is a voyage of discovery for us. We hope it is a useful voyage for you.

We want you to know, also, that we welcome the members of your government who face these staggering problems. You yourself have and will live through a most difficult period, yet you were kind enough to speak generously of the efforts we made, and I hope that this is the beginning of a very close and fruitful association.

I can assure you, gentlemen, that we have a most distinguished guest here today. He went to the London School of Economics in the twenties and came out a free man. We are delighted. And having been to that university, I recognize the accomplishment.

We want you to know that we are delighted to have you here. We want to extend the hand of friendship to your people, and I hope, gentlemen, that you will now join me in drinking to the people of Togo, to the Government of Togo--and to their President, President Olympio.

Note: The President proposed the toast at a luncheon in the State Dining Room at the White House. In his response President Olympio referred to the' fact that Togo had become a mandated territory, the first step toward independence, as a result of a concept of Woodrow Wilson, and that it had advanced to trusteeship status under Franklin D. Roosevelt. "Now today we have achieved independence," he added, "and as you said quite rightly, the real battle now begins."

"... After all, what we are looking for is not so much getting rid of a foreign ruler as to improve our standard of living, working for a better life. We always accuse a colonial regime of keeping us down, not giving us an opportunity to develop as we should do. So now the foreign ruler has disappeared and we must now actually prove to our people that we can have a better life from now on. That we all admit is a very difficult problem. And we can only solve it, or achieve the result, with the help of experienced, friendly nations.

"The whole of West Africa today is simply boiling with development projects in every part, but these can only yield results, as I have said, if we have the help of experienced, friendly nations.

"And we are proud to count the United States among those nations who have come to our help."

John F. Kennedy, Toasts of the President and President Olympio Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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