Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy at Student Convocation, Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, February 12, 1960

Perhaps no area of the world deserves more of our knowledge and attention while getting so little as the great, throbbing continent of Africa. If we were to ask a group of politicians or college students in Africa about the United States, we would for the most part receive such stereotyped replies as: "America is rich," "America is free," "There is race prejudice in America," "Americans hate Russia;" and then a query, "What do your people think of our people?"

Ask the average American about Africa, and he would probably reply in terms of a jungle (though in fact there is very little jungle, there are more plains, mountains, deserts, savannah and bush); or he might speak of primitive black people -- though the two hundred million people of Africa include both educated and uneducated persons of European, Asian, Middle Eastern, Arab and a variety of African descents.

But regardless of what Africa has been in truth or in myth, she will be that no longer. Call it nationalism, call it anti-colonialism, call it what you will, Africa is going through a revolution. Or, as a special African issue of The Economist put it so well, ". . . Africa is at one and the same time undergoing an agricultural revolution, an industrial, technological and urban revolution, a social revolution and a political revolution; it is passing from a feudal and indeed, in places, still pre-historic age into the atomic age in a matter of decades. It is recapitulating the history of the last five centuries of European society in fifty years."

Africans want a higher standard of living. Seventy-five percent of the population now lives by subsistence agriculture. They want an opportunity to manage and benefit directly from the resources in, on and under their land. They want to govern their own affairs believing that political freedom is the precondition to economic and social development. Most of all, they want education -- for education is in their eyes the backbone to gaining and maintaining the political institutions they want. Education is the means to personal and national prestige. Education is, in truth, the only key to genuine African independence and progress.

I believe that most Americans are sympathetic to these desires of the African people. After all, it was in our schools that some of the most renowned African leaders learned about the dignity and equality of men, and saw in practice the virtues of representative government, widespread education and economic opportunity. These are the ideas and ideals that have caused a revolution -- a largely bloodless revolution, but no less far reaching for that.

But having been the catalyst to many of these changes, do we see the implications to ourselves? We cannot simply sit by and watch on the sidelines. There are no sidelines. Under the laws of physics, in order to maintain the same relative position to a moving body, one cannot stand still. As others change, so must we, if we wish to maintain our relative political or economic position.

The African peoples believe that the science, technology and education available in the modern world can overcome their struggle for existence. They believe that their poverty, squalor, ignorance and disease can be conquered. This is their quest and their faith. To us the challenge is not one of preserving our wealth and our civilization -- it is one of extension. Actually, they are the same challenge. To preserve, we must extend. And if the scientific, technical and educational benefits of the West cannot be extended to all the world, our status will be preserved only with great difficulty -- for the balance of power is shifting, shifting into the hands of the two-thirds of the world's people who want to share what the one-third has already taken for granted. Within ten years, for example, African nations alone may control 25 percent of all United Nations votes.

To thus extend ourselves will require a political decision. But such a decision will take economic and educational forms. For what Africa needs and wants first is education, to know how to develop the resources and run the industries and administer the government; and second, capital, for without the initial capital -- to develop the resources and spur the trade -- they will never generate sufficient capital themselves to provide for expanding services and development. An initial injection of capital, personnel to train others and scholarship opportunities is necessary to start this spiral on its way.

As Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa, I would like to make the following proposals: First, I propose that we in the United States establish an Educational Development Fund, emphasizing particularly the exchange of students, teachers, and trained personnel --making available our technicians and specialists in a number of fields where they are most needed, while simultaneously opening our college doors to several times as many African students as now come over.

Secondly, I propose that, in cooperation with many nations, there should be established a multi-national economic development fund for Africa, to provide effective financial help for investment, development and personnel, in which African, European, American and other nations could cooperate. Such a plan should and could be initiated by the African states themselves -- and they would participate on a basis of complete equality -- as givers as well as receivers.

I first made this proposal last summer. Since that time the Administration has invited several European nations and Canada to cooperate with the United States in developing investment programs in Africa. This is a step in the right direction. But to have a truly representative and effective regional economic organization, we must admit the African nations themselves to full partnership -- and we must increase our objectives.

Such an organization would spread the economic load, substitute cooperation for competition and decrease the sense of dependence of one nation toward another which is certain to lead to resentment. Such a regional organization would also be more likely to base its decisions on proposed projects on objective rather than political standards. But whatever final method is used, sound, orderly economic development for Africa must be on the priority agenda of this session of the 86th Congress.

If African progress falters because of lack of capital and education, if these new states and emerging peoples turn bitter in their taste of independence, then the reason will be that the Western powers, by indifference or lack of imagination, have failed to see that it is their own future that is also at stake. As economist Barbara Ward stated it, "The profoundest matter at stake in Africa is the quality and capacity of Western society itself." Will we accept this challenge -- or will it be that some future historian will say of us, as of previous civilizations, that "where there is no vision the people perish."

Source: Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files, Box 906, "Stanford University convocation, Palo Alto, California, 12 February 1960." John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.