Speech source: Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files. Series 12.1. Speech Files, 1953-1960. Box 910, Folder: "Luncheon in honor of African Diplomatic Corps., Washington, D.C., 24 June 1960".
View related documents here:
AMERICA AND AFRICA
These first few weeks of summer are a historic time for Africa and for the United States. Between June 20th and July 1st four new African states - containing more than ten per cent of Africa's people - will become free and independent. And three days later - on July 4th - the United States will celebrate the 184th anniversary of its own national independence.
During the turmoil and struggle of that first successful revolt against colonial rule, Tom Paine wrote that "a flame has arisen not to be extinguished." And today that same flame - ignited by a small group of Americans in 1776 - the flame of freedom and equality and progress - burns brightly across the entire continent of Africa - kindling in men the desire and the will to shape their own destinies as free men.
We the people of the oldest nation ever founded on revolt from colonial rule welcome the nations of Africa - our newest partners in man's centuries-old struggle for individual freedom, national independence and human dignity. And we welcome them in the knowledge that the battle which we began 180 years ago will not be won until every land-mass - from Africa to Asia to Eastern Europe - is occupied by men who are their own rulers, by nations which are free to pursue their own goals, by governments which are founded on the consent of the people whom they govern. This was the American dream in 1776: it is now the African dream - and together, Africa and America, the newest free nations and the oldest - must dedicate themselves to fulfilling that dream for all mankind.
Much in Africa today is the same as America of 180 years ago: Africa has new and independent governments - courageous and resourceful people - and the determination to build strong, and stable, and prosperous states. But, although much is the same - much is different. For in the last half century the struggle for freedom has assumed a new dimension. The enormous advance of science and the rise of industrial societies has resulted in what Arnold Toynbee has called the most revolutionary fact of the modern world - not the hydrogen bomb or space satellites - but the spreading knowledge and hope that the benefits of modern society and technology can be made available to all men.
This is the most important fact that distinguishes Africa from the rural, agrarian America of 1776. The people of Africa are determined to emerge from the poverty and want which now blankets much of that vast continent. They intend to accomplish the modernization of their society - to create a growing economy - in a small fraction of the time it took to build modern America and Europe. They hope to compress the history of the last two centuries into a few decades. And America - with its fast growing industrial society - has done more than any other nation to stimulate these desires and arouse these hopes.
The satisfaction of African aspirations for rapid material progress is not merely a goal - it is a necessity. For stable and free governments - in Africa and throughout the world - can only exist on a framework of economic advance. National freedom is meaningful only when it brings freedom from poverty and want. Political independence cannot exist without economic independence.
Thus, just as America provided the spark which helped bring freedom to Africa - we must also do our part in helping to create the economic conditions which are essential to freedom's continued existence. We must do this, not because we wish to use the African nations as pawns in the cold war - not because we wish to make them our unquestioning instruments in the fight against communism. We must help Africa because the ultimate survival of the Free World depends upon our ability to help construct a community of stable and independent governments - where human rights are valued and protected - and where people are given the opportunity to choose their own national course, free from the dictates or coercion of any other country. And we must help Africa because - as the richest and most advanced nation in the history of the world - we have an obligation to help the hungry and poor of all lands achieve the freedom from want which is the ultimate basis of human dignity.
What, then, is America's role in Africa?
It is unwise to generalize about a continent as vast and as varied as Africa. But it is clear that three basic, urgent necessities underlie all of Africa's hopes for economic development.
The first is the need for education - for educated men to man the factories, run the schools, staff the government and form the core of the educated electorate on which the ultimate success of democracy depends. Today little more than a quarter of all Africans receive even a primary school education. The number of college graduates is pitifully inadequate to fill even the top positions of public and private responsibility. America, with its ideal of free and universal education as the privilege of every citizen, has provided the standard for Africa's future - and now it is our opportunity and challenge to help Africa move toward that goal.
Second is the need for food. Almost three-quarters of African's people struggle to survive on subsistence farms. Although famine is rare, malnutrition and its consequent diseases are not, and the effort to provide adequate supplies of food is ceaseless. Increased and diversified agricultural production is essential both to the health of Africa and to its economic development - and America, with its amazing farm technology and food surpluses, can be of major assistance.
The third basic need in Africa is the need for development capital. By themselves the African nations cannot hope to generate the basic investment which is essential to the creation of a modern and growing economy. Africa today is the least productive area in the world - yet it possesses a vast, virtually untapped reservoir of manpower and abundant resources. These raw materials can be translated into a higher standard of living for Africa's people only through a constant flow of capital investment.
As Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on African Affairs, I have, many times in the past, had the occasion to suggest the ways in which the nations of the West could cooperate with the nations of Africa in meeting these urgent needs. And I stress the word "cooperate". For just as we do not seek to impose our political forms on the new African nations, we must take equal care no to impose our patterns of economic development on those same nations. Africans must assess their own needs --determine their own basic goals - and share in the programs designed to help them - if those programs are to be effective.
Thus, if we are to meet the overwhelming African need for education, we must not only greatly increase the number of African student - future African leaders - brought to this country for university training - but we must establish a multination African Educational Development Fund. This fund - in which the African States would be full partners - would plan for the long-range educational needs of Africa, helping to establish the school systems and the universities which would eventually allow Africa to educate its own people. And while Africa builds its own educational system this fund would send a vastly increased stream of experts and educators - engineers and technicians - to train Africans in the tools of modern production and modern agriculture, and in the skills and knowledge essential to the conduct of government. This fund would also bring modern methods of agricultural production to Africa, meanwhile using our own food abundance to meet immediate problems of hunger and malnutrition.
The job of providing development capital must also be undertaken by the West in full partnership with the African nations - and by the government in cooperation with private business. For the capital needs of Africa are far too extensive ever to be met by government alone. Without a vastly increased flow of private investment into the potentially rich markets of Africa, efforts to achieve rapid economics development are doomed to failure. The job of government is to provide the economic conditions and the long-range plans on which a sound program of attracting private investment can be built. An international development fund - directed by Western and African nations - can provide the capital necessary to construct the basic elements of economic advance-- roads, railways, power, water supplies, hospitals and all the other public needs which are vital to the establishment of an industrial economy. This fund can establish local Development Banks - such as we have already set up in Tunisia - to aid local businessmen to expand and modernize. And --perhaps most important - such a fund would also provide the technical assistance with which African nations can establish long range programs of economic development - to plan the best use of their resources, to assess their potential markets-- and which can also help educate private industry all over the world to Africa's enormous economic potential. You at this conference, today, have properly made the objective, of building Africa's economy, your own vital concern.
But these measures of economic and technical and educational assistance are not enough. To meet the challenge of the new Africa - to turn our common dream of freedom and equality into a reality - we have to work to do here in America. For our struggle to achieve racial justice at home is part of a common world problem of human integration - the problem of integrating many different races and nationalities in a world community in which the great majority of people are colored. Progress here will help promote a democratic solution of the problem in the rest of the world, just as the rise of Africa is helping to quicken the pace of change here.
Again, there are great differences - but the essential aim is the same: a society in which no man has to suffer discrimination based on race or creed, in which no man has to suffer domination by another, in which no man has to suffer segregation or apartheid or any other form of human indignity.
For a century and three quarters we in America had a framework of law in which to work out this problem peacefully - the framework you, too, have now. And we have developed our economy to great heights as you will do in time. But 184 years after declaring these truths to be self-evident - we are still unable to rest on our achievements. Our progress in achieving this promised land - in which human dignity is secure and equal opportunity is enjoyed by all - has been remarkable progress indeed - just as progress has been remarkable in Africa. But our efforts must go on and increase - to achieve equal access to the voting booth, to the schoolroom, to jobs, to housing, and to public facilities, including lunch counters.
Whatever economic, political or international considerations are involved, this is essentially a moral issue.
It calls for moral leadership - for effective, peaceful action by people and by governments.
Such action inevitably involves some unrest and turmoil and tension - part of the price of change. But the fact that people are peacefully protesting the denial of their rights is not something to be lamented. It is a good sign - a sign of increased popular responsibility, of good citizenship, of the American spirit coming alive again. It is in the American tradition to stand up for one's rights - even if the new way to stand up for one's rights is to sit down.
And the fact that the Supreme Court in this country in one area after another is upholding the constitutional right of all Americans to equal treatment and is requiring far reaching changes is also a sign of national vitality.
What remains is for the other parts of our government - particularly the Executive Branch - to do everything in their power to make good the guarantees of the American Constitution. If the law of the land as interpreted by the Supreme Court - the higher law of equal justice - is to be faithfully executed, then the high office of the Presidency must be used, to provide strong, creative, persuasive leadership.
With large scale cooperative programs to stimulate the growth of Africa - with an America which is a living example of freedom to all the world - America and Africa can work to preserve their common heritage of freedom. For both America and Africa, the coming decade will be filled with challenges to that heritage. The revolution of 1776 now goes on in every corner of the seething world. The Spirit of that Revolution now fires the hopes of all mankind. And the forces which would crush freedom and destroy independence in 1960 are as strong and implacable as they ever were.
In the 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 inextricably linked. Our challenges rise formidably before 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.