Drum Magazine, May 1963: Are Kennedy's Peace Corps Spies?

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Are Kennedy's Peace Corps Spies?

Drum Magazine, May 1963

The U.S. Peace Corps in Nigeria Have Been Called Spies. A Sinister Charge – But How True?

Sam Uba Reports

The largest contingent of President Kennedy's Peace Corps anywhere in the world is based in Nigeria. Altogether 300 members of the Peace Corps have been billed by the White House to serve in Nigerian schools, colleges, and universities. Already 285 members of the Peace Corps have arrived in the country and have been assigned to educational institutions in the three regions of the Federation as follows: East 102; West 92; and North 85 – while 16 have been allocated to colleges in Lagos.

This means that almost every institution of higher learning in Nigeria today has at least one Yankee on its teaching staff. Little wonder then that President Kennedy's Peace Corps are so much in the news in Nigeria and that a large number of Nigerian intellectuals resent their presence in the educational institutions which had hitherto been dominated by the British.

Spear-heading the opposition to the retention of the Peace Corps is the handsome, American-educated, Mr. O.C. Ememe, an NCNC radical member of the Nigerian Federal Parliament. Mr. Ememe, whose words are as biting as they are penetrating, has been attacking the Peace Corps at every opportunity—in speeches in Parliament, at the United Nations (where he served as a member of the Nigerian delegation), in newspaper articles, and at press conferences. He has been saying that the members of the Peace Crops are Kennedy's spies and charges that the United States government has employed them “to fight the spread of communism.”

“We in Nigeria,” says Mr. Ememe, a Marxist-Socialist who has visited Moscow several times in the last two years, “would not have been concerned about this objective of the Peace Corps except for its implied conception of the American government that Africans, especially Nigerians, must be saved from Communism.

“It is assumed that we are not capable of resisting any dangerous ideological propaganda because we succumbed quite easily to the Western propaganda. This is why the Western man does not trust us. With this objective in view, the American capitalists have formed a cold-war army of teachers whose duty is to be our guardian angels.”

Mr. Ememe (he comes from the same division in Eastern Nigeria as the sharp-tongued Mr. Jaja Anucha Wachuku, Nigeria's foreign minister) does not stop at the expression of nationalistic sentiments as were contained in the speech quoted above. He accuses the Kennedy Administration of turning Nigeria into a dumping ground for America's unemployed and, in the process, creating unemployment for Nigerians in their own country.

Says he: “The Peace Corps gives President Kennedy an opportunity to export his country's unemployed to Nigeria. Ninety percent of the Peace Corps personnel are unemployed boys and girls who otherwise could not find employment in the USA.”

“This is why most of them are inexperienced in teaching. They are not trained teachers; no trained teacher in the USA is unemployed. The question is: Do we want the Americans to come and fill the few vacancies that exist in our colleges?

“If the United States Government is so interested in Nigerians, why can't it assist our government to train more of these unemployed?”

The November 1962 riots in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, which led to the temporary closure of the university and the dismissal of 18 students by the university authorities, provided Mr. Ememe with good material for the furthering of his campaign. He blamed it all on the activities of the Peace Corps personnel, charging that “the deep seated cause of the trouble was the students' protest against the policy of the university authorities which encouraged American subversion in Nigeria's higher education.”

Mr. Ememe's grumblings are shared by many Nigerians, and students of Nigeria's five universities seem to be behind him. But it will be wrong to conclude that Mr. Ememe's views, especially in view of the prominence given them by the Nigerian Press, represent Nigeria's informed opinion on the subject.

To the defence of the Peace Crops have come, for instance, well known academicians, like Dr. Kalu Ezera. Who like Mr. Ememe, is an NCNC front-bencher in the Federal Parliament and a senior teacher in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and Mr. Tai Solarin, a much read newspaper columnist who has become famous for his advocacy of radical changes in Nigeria's educational system which he thinks is too pro-Western and is doing little to project the African to the African and in the world.

Dr. Ezera dismisses Mr. Ememe's charges as “reckless and uncharitable.” The Nsukka University authorities asserts Dr. Ezera, appreciate and value the services of the Peace Corps personnel and want them to remain “even if in Mr. Ememe's jaundiced eyes that policy smacks of subversion”

Mr. Tai Solarin says he is very satisfied and happy with the members of the Peace Corps—four of them—who are working with him in his Mayflower School in Ikenne. He says that those who always attack the Peace Corps personnel “are academics or semi-academicians who are very jealous and are afraid of their prestige if those people (Peace Corps personnel) are around.

“They know that if the Peace Corps personnel are increased their prestige might soon be cheapened by the increase. Our B.A.s and M.A.s like to be looked upon as kings and semi gods and if these people increase they know they would be kicked out soon.”

The Nigerian Federation's Governor General, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, who is founder and Chancellor of the University of Nigeria as well as a Visitor of the Ibadan University, Mr. Aja Nwachukwu, the Federal Minister of Education and his regional colleagues and the Northern Nigeria Premier, Alhadji Sir Ahmadu Bello, have all publicly stated that the presence of the Peace Corps members constitutes no threat to Nigeria's security and that the Peace Crops members are not agents of neo-colonialists or ideological infiltrators. Yet, the controversy goes on.

Who actually are the members of the Peace Corps and how useful are they and how much does Nigeria need them?

When President Kennedy conceived the idea of the Peace Crops, he told the United States Congress in a special message on March 1, 1961, that the Peace Corps would be “a pool of trained American men and women sent overseas by the United States government or through private organisations and institutions to help foreign countries meet their urgent needs for skilled manpower.”

The President observed that throughout the world the people of the newly developing nations are struggling for economic and social progress which reflects their deepest desires. America's own freedom and the future of freedom around the world, the President pointed out, depend, in a very real sense, on the ability of the peoples of these new nations to build growing and independent nations where men can live in dignity, liberated from the bonds of hunger, ignorance and poverty.

And he rightly noted that “one of the greatest obstacles to the achievement of this goal is the lack of trained men and women with the skill to teach the young and assist in the operation of development projects—men and women with the capacity to cope with demands of swiftly evolving economics and with dedication to put their capacity to work in the villages, the mountains, the towns and the factories of dozens of struggling nations.”

Significantly, President Kennedy declared in the course of that historic speech: “Our Peace Corps is not designed as an instrument of diplomacy or propaganda or ideological conflict. It is designed to permit our people to exercise more fully their responsibilities in the common cause of world development.”

This declaration should have cleared away all suspicions and misgivings about the motives and intentions behind the setting up of the Peace Corps. But incidents involving members of the Peace Corps since their arrival in Nigeria have not helped to promote an atmosphere that can create that confidence necessary for the success of the scheme.

Instead—and this in spite of the commendable efforts of the Nigerian leaders to ally public misgivings—they have gone to increase the wildest fears of those nationalists who are haunted by the ghost of neo-colonialism.

The often-cited Miss Marjorie Michelmore incident of October 1961, which resulted in students of the University College, Ibadan, demonstrating violently and demanding the recall of the member of the Peace Corps comes readily to mind.

In the postcard to a boyfriend in the United States, which to her apology to the students before she left the country she described, as “thoughtless,” Miss Michelmore made the significant confession that “with all the training we had had, we really were not prepared for this squalor and absolutely primitive living conditions rampant both in the city and the bush. We had no idea what under-development meant. It really is a revelation and once we got over the initial horrified shock, it has been a very rewarding experience. The university is great fun and it is something to be a foreign student anyway and especially in an all-African university. I just hope that they do not repeat last year's Lumumba riots. Please write soon. We are very cut off here from the rest of the world.”

This honest admission by Miss Michelmore, if no other thing, strengthens the charge that the type of men and women being sent to Africa by the Peace Corps are not emotionally and mentally fitted for the great task their idealistic President expects them to perform. This is the strongest sting in the attacks on the Peace Corps programme and it would be fatal not to give it serious thought.

Perhaps the point made by a Nigerian academician at the last conference of Principals of Secondary Schools and Training Colleges in Lagos about sums the whole thing up. He said: “Though Nigeria, like all emerging states, needs teachers in every field, what is actually wanted is trained and skilled professional men who will satisfy the country's long term needs. The Peace Corps teachers, because they are not trained and skilled professionals, cannot minister to this need.”

“They provide only a temporary easing of the situation which, in the long run, would imperil the country's planning because it might be discovered too late that the main problem—that of training men to man permanently the country's growing educational and technological needs—is still unsolved.”

Talks of members of the Peace Corps being spies and agents of neo-colonialism can be ignored as the rantings of over-sensitive nationalists for, as Tai Solarin puts it, “these people can't possibly be spies.”

President Kennedy's Peace Corps Programme could be of tremendous assistance to Nigeria in her gigantic £670 million Six-Year Development Plan only when skilled men and women—and not youthful adventurers out for excitement or young graduate teachers who have no idea what under-development means—are recruited into the Peace Corps.


This article was transcribed from an original copy of DRUM. The article also included photographs of Dave Hibbard, an unnamed female PCV, and students at Tai Solarin's Mayflower School.

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