Peace Corps Writers
Being First (page 2)
Being First
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Cable Traffic
As reported in Shriver’s memo to the President, there were four potential Peace Corps programs as of late March 1961: Chile, Colombia (in cooperation with CARE) ; Tanganyika (a modest request from visiting President Nyerere for some road-builders); the Philippines (Warren Wiggins’ favorite as originally proposed in “The Towering Task”).
     However, by mid-April no country agreements had been signed and the enabling legislation was just beginning to work its way through Congress. Ed Bayley remember: “The Peace Corps was a precarious idea and we felt that it would be much less precarious if it were a living body instead of just an idea. The risky thing was that Congress might resent this, however. The second risk would be that something bad would happen in the first months that would let Congress say, ‘It doesn’t work.’ But against that was the gain of momentum and the feeling that in the first hundred days we did have the power to do things. Shriver was itching to go.”
     And go he did.
     Accompanied by Bayley, Wofford, and Franklin Williams, Shriver began a quick tour through Africa and Asia in late April. He was a worldwide salesman for a product whose design had not yet been established nor whose production facility had been built. Peace Corps application questionnaires were not available until the end of April and the first Peace Corps Qualification Examination was not given until May 27. However, there were thousands upon thousands of letters of eager interest from potential volunteers that were being sorted through by a thoroughly confused and overworked Washington staff.
     But Shriver pressed on. His first stop was to be Accra, Ghana, where he hoped to be able to meet with Kwame Nkrumah, the President of Ghana. On April 18 the U. S. Embassy in Accra had cabled about his visit:

[The Embassy] welcomes the opportunity discuss PC with Shriver and introduce him to key GOGhana officials. Have requested appointment Nkrumah morning April 24. Reaction GOGhana unpredictable.

Unpredictable, indeed.
     Several days later, on April 22, the Ghanaian Times had an editorial headlined, “Peace Corps: Agency of Neo-Colonialism.” A cable to Washington and Shriver quoted the editorial:

As world told on paper, and as Mr. Sargent Shriver will want us believe, PC meant offer voluntary aid to so-called needy countries. Under it, USG will send scores young yankee graduates to Africa and Latin America as teachers, social, and industrial technological workers and the like. We reject all twaddles about its humanitarianism and declare this nothing short of agency of neo-colonialism, instrument for subversion less developed countries into puppet American economic imperialism.

That same day Nkrumah urgently requested a meeting with the U.S. Ambassador, Francis H. Russell. The Ambassador would cable Washington after his meeting:

Nkrumah said he deeply regretted editorial attacking PC. Agreed would be desirable receive Sargent Shriver and hear his explanations PC. Nkrumah commented press often got out ahead of the government and made unauthorized statements. He would be happy to receive Sargent Shriver. Added obviously nobody had to accept Peace Corps if he did not like it and whole question should be judged on its merits.

This ambivalence about utilizing Peace Corps assistance continued throughout the two years of Ghana I’s service.

Shriver Meets Nkrumah
On April 24 Shriver and Kwame Nkrumah finally did meet face to face.
     Ed Bayley jotted down notes of the meeting which would become an interesting snapshot of what was to happen to the Ghana I project: “Nkrumah — splendid idea / teaching schools /electric & water engrs & sanitary / Shd be subject to Ghana Govt direction /Need 270 secondary teachers.”
     A follow-up cable reported:

[The Ghanaians] stressing desperate need secondary schoolteachers in science and mathematics. Need 270 secondary teachers by next September. Stressed importance August arrivals for orientation prior September school opening.

On May 1, 1961, Ghana formally requested Peace Corps Volunteers and set two conditions:

  1. Peace Corps was in Ghana at the invitation of the government and will be responsible to government of Ghana and take their instructions from its ministers.
  2. Ghana expects Peace Corps members to accept and carry out operational and executive duties in the field, and not regard themselves in the role of advisers.

Neither Shriver nor Wiggins could have given a better description of how Peace Corps was going to be different from previous U.S. foreign aid programs.

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