President Reagan’s sweep of 49 of the 50 states in the November 1984 elections set in motion mutations within both the Republican and Democratic Parties that have substantially affected U.S. relations with Africa.

The mushrooming of groups and individuals in the coalition known as the Free South Africa Movement is ascribed by its founder, TransAfrica’s Randall Robinson, to a post-election assessment that a very daring gamble was the only hope of keeping anti-apartheid activism alive in the face of another four years of "constructive engagement." On another front, the congressional leaders of the shattered Democratic Party seized upon apartheid as the most promising issue for drawing Jesse Jackson’s constituency and other blacks sidelined during the campaign back into the party’s mainstream. The 35 Republican congressmen who dispatched a sharply worded letter of protest against Pretoria’s racial policies to South African Ambassador B. G. Fourie in December 1984 were at least partially motivated by a new belief that it was historically and practically shortsighted for the Republicans to concede the black vote and the civil rights constituency as a given to the Democratic Party.

The introduction into Congress between January and September 1985 of 41 separate bills, amendments and resolutions dealing with South Africa is indicative of the extent to which legislators with their fingers on the public pulse recognize the importance of having gone on record on the apartheid issue before they face their electorates in 1986 or 1988. An executive order of September 9 imposing limited sanctions on South Africa achieved its intended effect of sidetracking the congressional steamroller (at least temporarily), with the additional irony that the invoking of sanctions by President Reagan personally was a greater psychological blow to the government of President P. W. Botha than stronger congressional actions would have been.

In another of the ironies that puzzle foreign observers of America’s Africa policy, a major battle of the Potomac throughout 1985 was the offensive launched by the conservative wing of the Republican Party against what it views as the Administration’s "soft line" on communism in southern Africa. The attacks, directed primarily against Secretary of State George Shultz and his assistant secretary for African affairs, Chester Crocker, began in December 1984 and reached a crescendo during the September visit of President Samora Machel of Mozambique as the invited guest of President Reagan. By November the focus was on Angola, where the objective was to activate either overt (congressionally mandated) or covert aid to Jonas Savimbi’s antigovernment movement, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), on the grounds that the United States supports "anti-communist freedom fighters" in Nicaragua and Afghanistan, and should do the same in Angola.

The various conservative groups and individuals that sometimes publish their messages to President Reagan as full-page newspaper advertisements under the rubric "National Coalition of Americans Committed to Rescuing Africa from the Grip of Soviet Tyranny" are convinced of the continuing validity of the passage, which some of their number submitted, in the Republican Party platform draft of August 1984: "Africa faces a new colonialism. The tripartite axis of the Soviet Union, Cuba, and Libya has unleashed war and privation upon the continent."


Does this apocalyptic view reflect the contemporary African realities? The facts about Soviet interests, priorities, operational objectives, influence and constraints in Africa in the mid-1980s are more complicated than perceived by conservative critics of constructive engagement’s regional dimension.

In the category of interests, a constant since the 1960s has been Moscow’s resolution to establish a presence and influence in Africa appropriate to global-power status, and to ensure that the continent does not revert to a purely Western sphere of influence. On this point, Soviet spokesmen are quite explicit. Their basic argument is that both the United States and the U.S.S.R. (as well as France, Britain, the two Germanys and any other external actors now involved or likely to be involved in the affairs of the continent) have a "legitimate" interest in relations with any of Africa’s sovereign states. On the other hand, they also press the point that neither the U.S.S.R. nor the United States has a "vital" interest in a continent so far from the borders of either.

In terms of global priorities, the evidence is clear that Africa continues to reside somewhere below Europe, East Asia, the rimlands south of the U.S.S.R., and the Middle East. Within Africa, the Horn and North Africa, because of their proximity to the Middle East and Asia, are accorded—as is the case with the U.S. valuation—higher geostrategic value than southern Africa.

When one moves beyond these relatively fixed points of reference into operational objectives, the pattern is less predictable, in part because of a fairly high incidence of trial and error. During the Khrushchev era, Soviet theorists were inclined to believe that "African socialism" could and would evolve into "scientific socialism." Over time, however, African socialism went into decline, and Moscow suffered a number of other disappointments in Africa.

The most traumatic of the reverses occurred in Zimbabwe, where Joshua Nkomo, the nationalist leader supported militarily by the Soviets during Rhodesia’s long guerrilla war, was soundly defeated in the 1980 pre-independence elections by the rival party led by Robert Mugabe. This disappointment was preceded by the dissolution, at the host country’s initiative, of a number of other significant Soviet patron relationships—with Ghana in 1966, with Jafar al-Numeiri’s Sudan in 1971, with Anwar al-Sadat’s Egypt in 1972, with Somalia in 1977, with Equatorial Guinea in 1979, and with Guinea over a period of years beginning in the late 1970s. Although Mozambique’s signature of the Nkomati Accord with South Africa in 1984, followed by its decision to join the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), left intact the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation signed with Moscow in 1977, the orientation of President Samora Machel’s regime was clearly more westward in 1985 than at any time since independence.

Even the declaration that the new Workers’ Party of Ethiopia is to become "the sole instrument to effect the realization of communism" in that country is viewed by some leading experts as a transitory phenomenon. As an old Ethiopia hand observed in March 1985, there is more continuity than change in the Mengistu Haile Mariam era:

The rhetoric of Marxist ideology is generally directed to international issues. Just as Haile Selassie, to facilitate entrance into the League of Nations, issued decrees in French and English abolishing slavery, but not in Amharic (to avoid disturbing traditional thought on the subject), Mengistu has been known to issue several versions of a speech—one containing anti-American diatribes in Russian, a more benevolent version in English, and a version delivered in Amharic for home consumption that ignores the whole irrelevant subject. . . . Although the new party . . . was given the trappings of a communist party, it is run by the army.

Unlike the early 1960s, when Soviet operatives talked ebulliently of Africa’s potential for socialist transformation, in 1985 no African state received a higher ideological rating from Soviet analysts and spokesmen than "socialist-oriented." Another trend is the greater attention being given by Moscow to cultivating relations with all manner of African states, including those which are outright capitalist in orientation. Indeed, Soviet officials make a considerable point of the fact that the U.S.S.R.’s three largest economic project involvements in Africa have been in capitalist Nigeria (the steel industry), Morocco (phosphate), and Egypt (the Aswan Dam). And although their anti-Pretoria rhetoric is unremittingly strident, Soviet analysts and policymakers speak of the changes that must come in South Africa’s unjust society as a "long-term" and "internal" process. The Nkomati Accord and other setbacks to the exiled African National Congress are rationalized on the grounds that these setbacks could over time "harden and solidify" the strategy and discipline of the ANC as an internal political force.

The conservatives’ case for U.S. intervention in Angola is grounded in a set of basic assumptions, including (or culminating in) the conclusion that failure of the United States to intervene to aid Savimbi’s UNITA could mean "handing over all of southern Africa to the Soviet empire." Analysts more familiar with patterns of Soviet behavior in Africa cite several reasons why U.S. intervention would more likely increase rather than deter Soviet activity in the region.

In view of the major political embarrassment suffered by the Soviets in the region in 1984 (Mozambique’s signature of the Nkomati Accord with South Africa), can it be expected that a rejuvenated Soviet leadership under Gorbachev would be inclined to tolerate an "under the gun" reversal in Angola? Presumably as determined as his predecessors to assert the Soviet Union’s status as a fully global power, will not Mikhail Gorbachev—at the very least—need to phase, delimit and rationalize any losses? In the case of Angola, such face-saving would logically include stressing South African concessions (preferably on Namibia) while putting a positive twist on Cuban withdrawals.

In response to the argument that there are limits to how many resources the Soviet Union and Cuba are willing to pour into a country located in at least the fourth tier of Moscow’s geostrategic priorities, it must be noted that Angola has "cost" Moscow and Havana very little. Angola uses upward of 50 percent of its oil revenues of over $2 billion annually to purchase Soviet arms and to maintain 25,000-35,000 Cuban troops and technicians. Since the military sector is always the Soviet Union’s strong suit in the Third World, a decision by the United States to play to it in Angola must be taken with eyes fully open to the fact that the price will be heavy and the risks high. The military realities of Angola will not be altered by a few tens of millions of dollars of military, let alone "humanitarian," aid.

Recent developments in the Soviet relationship with Libya’s Muammar al-Qaddafi are also instructive. As The Sunday Times of London phrased it, Qaddafi and Gorbachev "had a humdinger of a row" when the Libyan leader visited Moscow in October. The argument is said to have included a disagreement over Qaddafi’s virulent anti-Israeli line at a time when the Soviets were considering renewal of diplomatic relations with Israel as part of a general broadening of their options in the Middle East. The Libyan leader’s shopping list reportedly included requests for Soviet help in building a nuclear reactor at Tajura that could be converted for military purposes, more military spare parts and arms, an agreement that the Soviet Union would double its purchases of Libyan oil to 250,000 barrels a day, and the signing of a friendship treaty between the two countries, first discussed during Qaddafi’s last visit to Moscow in 1983.

The Soviets apparently agreed to help with a nuclear reactor—but one that could be used only for power generation and would not be convertible to military purposes. They were said to have referred the arms requests to a "commission" for study and to have pressed for payment of monies still owed for previous purchases. A deal was struck on the purchase of additional oil, for reexport to Yugoslavia. No treaty of friendship was signed, but rather a "long-term program for the development of economic, scientific-technical and trade cooperation" patterned on similar agreements with a range of Third World countries. Qaddafi showed his irritation in several ways, including boycotting a major diplomatic reception in his honor.

Yet in December Libya confirmed that it was acquiring Soviet SA-5 antiaircraft missiles. The SA-5 has a range of about 150 miles and is capable of shooting down relatively high-altitude aircraft, as well as surveillance aircraft well within the airspace of neighboring states or over the Mediterranean. Defensive rather than offensive, the newly acquired missiles are of uncertain military significance, for all their symbolic import. Some analysts speculated that Moscow might have decided to make the missiles (and necessary Soviet support personnel) available on a rush basis to placate Qaddafi in the wake of his less than satisfactory October visit.

In a December 27 speech at a Kremlin reception, Gorbachev said that the Soviet Union was committed to "essential progress" in 1986 on regional issues. In remarks to foreign ambassadors broadcast in full on the evening news, he warned against viewing local conflicts "through the spectacles of East-West political or ideological confrontation." Observing that it "is shortsighted and dangerous to build policy on erroneous concepts," he underscored the point that conflicts are more apt to "grow out of the local social, economic, and political soil." Gorbachev’s specific mention of southern Africa (along with Afghanistan, the Middle East, the Gulf region and Central America) may help to explain the new round of meetings between Dr. Crocker and senior Angolan officials that began in Lusaka in late November.


New heads of state took office in five of Africa’s 51 independent states in 1985—three by nonideological military coups and two in national elections associated with the voluntary retirement of the incumbent. The three coups (which brought the total number in Africa since 1957 to 73) occurred in Sudan, Nigeria and Uganda.

More difficult to categorize was the "return to civilian rule" in Liberia on October 15. General Samuel K. Doe (who, as an obscure master sergeant, led the bloody 1980 coup that ended 133 years of oligarchical civilian rule) was proclaimed the victor in a national election marked by pre-election intimidation of opposition candidates, controversial poll-counting procedures, and post-election arrests and bloodshed. As The New York Times observed in an October 26 editorial, the Liberian travesty was a special embarrassment to the United States:

Liberia, founded 138 years ago by freed American slaves, now receives more American assistance per capita than any other country in Africa. Aid levels have been quadrupled since [Doe] seized power in 1980. Last year’s $83 million covered fully a third of Liberia’s budget. What did the United States wish in return? The first genuinely free multi-party elections in Liberian history. The elections were held last week and both Liberian voters and the American taxpayers have been defrauded.

Sudan’s President Jafar al-Numeiri was in Cairo en route home from a visit to the United States when a group of army officers led by his minister of defense, General Abd al-Rahman Siwar al-Dhahab, made a radio announcement early on the morning of April 6 that they had assumed control of the government with the object of conveying power to the people after a limited transitional period. The news that the increasingly erratic Numeiri had been ousted brought an estimated million celebrating Sudanese surging into the streets of Khartoum and ended a general strike that had been preceded by three days of riots over food and fuel price increases.

The new military committee suspended the constitution, dismissed Numeiri associates from government, dissolved the Sudanese Socialist Union (established as the nation’s sole legal party by Numeiri in 1972), and announced that its main sequential objectives were maintenance of law and order, early negotiations with all political parties, including those of the south, and restoration of multiparty democracy in Sudan by April 1986.

As 1986 approached, the Siwar al-Dhahab regime was still speaking positively about April elections and the prospects for achieving "constructive dialogue" with all political elements, including southern Sudanese leaders. Emissaries who talked in Addis Ababa with Colonel John Garang, the U.S.-educated leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, came away with the view that the exiled southern leader was prepared, under specified conditions, to participate in negotiations for a new democratic constitution. One of these conditions is that the dialogue must focus on the need for a new structure of political relations between Khartoum and all regions, not just the south. Garang was only one of the many variables, however. For example, December counts of the number of political parties or factions active in Khartoum ranged up to 40.

Challenges facing the transitional government in the area of foreign affairs were as labyrinthine as the domestic scene. With U.S. aid to Sudan in Fiscal Year 1985 exceeding that to any other sub-Saharan African state, there was good reason to keep relations with Washington on an even keel. But this priority had to be balanced against the Sudanese public’s perception that the deposed Numeiri was an American client. Tensions also arose from the fact that the U.S. embassy in Khartoum remained, as of late 1985, under the command of an ambassador who was perceived to have played a key role in controversial events (notably the transport of Ethiopian Falasha Jews via Sudan to Israel) and to have worked closely with political personalities now in disrepute.

A further source of stress between Khartoum and Washington was the decision of the transitional government that regional political and geographical considerations called for mending relations with neighboring Libya and Ethiopia, both of which were in a position to undermine efforts to achieve a national consensus. In this connection, scheduled Sudanese participation in regional military exercises involving the United States, Egypt and Somalia was quietly called off.

The critical economic and other links with Egypt have survived Cairo’s unwillingness to extradite Numeiri for trial, but there is (for the present at least) a downplaying of several integration plans highlighted during the latter years of Numeiri’s rule.

In Nigeria, even the label "palace coup" may be an overstatement of the August 27 shift of the presidential reins from the hands of Major-General Muhammadu Buhari to Major-General Ibrahim Babangida, chief of army staff. There was no bloodshed, no opposition, no confusion: Buhari was quietly taken into custody. His principal deputy, Major-General Tunde Idiagbon (in Saudi Arabia on pilgrimage at the time), subsequently returned voluntarily to Lagos despite the knowledge that he would be placed in detention.

Since independence in 1960, Nigeria has had nine years of civilian rule (October 1960 to January 1966, and October 1979 to December 1983), and six different military heads of state. A foiled mid-December countercoup (this one a broadly based conspiracy organized by senior army and air force officers reportedly dissatisfied with Babangida’s overly "democratic" governing style, his economic policies and a 15-percent cut in some military salaries) would have been among the bloodiest of Nigerian coups. One of the two alternative plans that have come to light called for the killing of Babangida as well as the top five members of the ruling Military Council.

In Uganda, history was replayed on July 27 when President Milton Obote was removed from office by military coup for the second time. In 1971, it was Major-General Idi Amin, then army commander, who led the coup that overthrew the elected government that Obote had headed since independence in 1962. After neighboring Tanzania sent in an expeditionary force in 1979 to help oust Amin, Obote returned from exile and eventually emerged as president again in a hotly contested four-party 1980 election. The new Military Council headed by 71-year-old Lieutenant-General Tito Okello has been no more successful than Obote in restoring the rule of law to Uganda. The dimensions of the continuing crisis are manifest in an Amnesty International report estimating that "tens of thousands" of cases of torture and another 300,000 killings have occurred in the half-decade since Amin’s reign of terror ended. The tragedy of Uganda can best be summarized if one recalls that Churchill called this once verdant and peaceful land "the pearl of East Africa."

The main note of optimism in 1985 was that the government of neighboring Kenya, acting as "honest broker," midwifed an agreement eventually signed on December 17 between the Military Council and the National Resistance Army, a southern-based guerrilla group founded in 1981 by former Defense Minister Yoweri Museveni. The agreement calls for the demilitarization of Kampala, complete disarmament of all military factions within and outside the national army, formation of a new military establishment under the supervision of a multinational Commonwealth "monitoring/observer force," and "free and fair general elections . . . as soon as practicable to return the country to parliamentary democracy." It was agreed that Okello would remain head of state and chairman of the Military Council, while Museveni would become the council’s vice chairman. Whether the agreement would hold, and what countries (besides Kenya and Tanzania) would be willing to assist in the restructuring of the military, remained uncertain at year’s end.


With the 1985 retirement of Presidents Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Siaka Stevens of Sierra Leone, only three heads of state in power at the founding of the Organization of African Unity in 1963 were still in office: King Hassan of Morocco and Presidents Félix Houphouët-Boigny of Ivory Coast and Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia.

In Tanzania, 92.2 percent of the more than five million voters who went to the polls on October 27 cast "yes" ballots for Nyerere’s handpicked successor, Ali Hassan Mwinyi of Zanzibar. Since Mwinyi is 60, only three years younger than Nyerere, and since Nyerere will remain chairman of the country’s single political party, the passing of the torch to a new generation has only begun.

In Sierra Leone, as in Tanzania, the sole political party (the All-People’s Congress) followed the retiring president’s guidance in choosing his successor. Major-General Joseph Saidu Momoh, the British-trained commander of the country’s armed forces since 1971, was officially credited with 2,784,591 of the 2,788,687 valid votes cast in a nationwide election held on October 1. While West Africa magazine reported some doubt about the authenticity of figures that represented an overwhelming turnout of registered voters for an uncontested election, it joined other observers in concluding that there was genuine excitement in the country about a change of leadership after the economic decline and political stagnation of the latter part of Stevens’ 17 years in power.

Other elections in 1985 noteworthy as indicators of continuity included the turnout of 3.2 million Ivory Coast voters on October 27 to return President Houphouët-Boigny to office for his sixth five-year term; the September 30 reelection of Manuel Pinto da Costa for a five-year term as president of São Tomé and Príncipe by the island nation’s newly elected National People’s Assembly; and Gabon’s two-round legislative elections in February and March, which (according to government statements) reaffirmed the primacy of the country’s only party, the Gabon Democratic Party, and reinforced the case against the political pluralism demanded by the banned National Reform Movement (MORENA).

In Zimbabwe the parliamentary majority of Prime Minister Robert Mugabe was strengthened in elections held on June 27 (white electorate) and July 1-4 (black electorate). Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front took 63 of the 80 "common roll" black seats for which nine parties competed, while Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union representation was reduced from 20 to 15. Former Prime Minister Ian Smith’s Conservative Alliance won an unexpected 15 of the 20 seats reserved for whites in the 1980 constitution.

In Lesotho, the first general election in 15 years, scheduled for mid-September, was cancelled after all five opposition parties refused to participate in protest against alleged procedural irregularities having to do with access to voters’ rolls. Since this boycott left candidates of the ruling Basotho National Party as the only nominees for the 60 parliamentary seats, Lesotho’s chief elections officer declared the BNP candidates victorious.


By mid-1985, the term "constructive engagement" was rarely found in the texts of Administration speeches or congressional testimony on southern Africa. Assistant Secretary Crocker’s 1980 contribution to the language of diplomacy had taken on a life of its own, and was being employed pejoratively by Administration critics of widely differing opinions. Viewed through the prism of the Free South Africa Movement and other advocates of isolating South Africa, "constructive engagement" was assessed—and deemed a failure—by the single criterion that not enough anti-apartheid leverage had been brought to bear on the government of South Africa. While Soviet spokesmen continued to use "constructive engagement" interchangeably with "the U.S.-South African alliance," the ruling establishment in Pretoria evidenced increasing resentment of Washington’s pressures.

The right wing of the Republican Party focused its media blitz on the soft-on-communism dimensions of "constructive engagement"—notably the growing warmth of the Administration’s relationship with Mozambique, the ongoing dialogue with the Soviet-supported government of Angola, Crocker’s continued efforts to achieve a negotiated settlement in Namibia on the basis of U.N. Resolution 435, and such South Africa-related developments as Secretary of State Shultz’ counsel that Pretoria should "signal" its willingness to search for political compromise with the black majority by freeing Nelson Mandela, the long-imprisoned leader of the banned African National Congress.

The somber implication of this cacophony of discordant voices (and the less publicized infighting over southern Africa policy within and between departments of the executive branch) was that U.S. credibility and therefore effectiveness as an agent of change in South Africa and of reconciliation in the region will dwindle unless some degree of sustainable consensus can be reached on realistic guidelines for U.S. policy. Contrary to the popular image, U.S. corporations and banks have emerged as pacesetters in establishing a record of positive consistency in southern Africa—both in their anti-apartheid pioneering within South Africa and in the nonideological criteria they have followed in developing mutually rewarding interests with the critical neighboring states of Mozambique, Angola and Zimbabwe.

Within South Africa, it became evident in 1985 that the time had passed when white-dispensed reforms might have enabled a government of flexible "modernizers" to move gradually toward a society based on class rather than race. Revolution in the sense of total destruction of the prevailing order is not a likely scenario in the near or medium run—because the potential revolutionaries lack arms, external bases and most of the other standard building blocks of twentieth-century revolution, while the government has the force at its disposal to impose a far more repressive regime than anything known to date in the country. But a gradual slide into endemic violence and economic stagnation must be viewed as a possibility.

If the cycle of violence is to be broken, some kind of genuine negotiations on a post-apartheid South Africa must get under way. There is growing doubt among whites, including significant figures in the inner circle of the ruling National Party, that President P. W. Botha is the man to guide the ship of state into these uncharted waters. These doubts deepened after Botha’s "Rubicon" speech to a National Party congress in Durban on August 15—which friends and foes both at home and abroad had been led to believe would call for bold reforms—instead turned out to be a defiant assertion that the South African government would not be pushed into hasty concessions by outside pressure.

The question, as the Reverend Allan Boesak told Washington Post columnist William Raspberry in a Cape Town interview late in the year, is "not whether the government will do what is necessary to bring political change—and peace—to South Africa," but whether the Botha government "can do it." It would, to use Raspberry’s phrase, "take a major Sadat-like leap of faith" for Botha to accept the conditions necessary for negotiations with black leaders who would be widely accepted as "authentic." At a minimum, a growing number of whites in South Africa now acknowledge, this would probably mean the unconditional release of Mandela and other political prisoners, the legalizing of the ANC and other political groups, and the return of political exiles.

Moderate but "authentic" black leaders, both in the country and in exile, are increasingly concerned that the longer the present impasse continues the closer South Africa will move to the Lebanon phenomenon—with a generation of children who become politicized and brutalized in repeated encounters with police and thus come to view violence as the norm rather than an option. Township schools have become microcosms of the larger confrontation with white authority; nearly 40 percent of black students in urban areas boycotted final examinations in October-November, despite anguished counsel from parents and political leaders that "unlearned children cannot rule." As one township businessman phrased it: "The children are running the townships. When they tell you to close down, you close."

What in retrospect could be one of the most significant political milestones of 1985 was the launching at the beginning of December of the largest primarily black labor federation in the country. This new Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) consists of 34 trade unions with some 500,000 members and is committed not only to achieving better wages and working conditions but also to playing an active role in the struggle against apartheid. At COSATU’s inaugural rally, the leadership challenged President Botha to lift the state of emergency that was imposed in one-eighth of South Africa’s magisterial districts in July 1985, to abolish "within six months" the laws that require blacks to carry passes, and to withdraw troops from black townships.

The new federation will address itself initially to organizing workers in key areas of the economy into some 13 industrial unions. If the leadership can keep its feisty constituent unions on track, and establish a working relationship with the two "black consciousness" federations that declined to bring their 250,000 workers into a movement committed to nonracial ANC guidelines, COSATU could put black workers in a position to invoke their potentially most powerful anti-apartheid weapon—a national strike. Until now, "stayaways" from work have been attempted only on a regional basis, and have had limited impact because of confused planning, unclear objectives and weak coordination.


Africa’s persistent economic slippage was documented in 1985 updates from the World Bank and other international agencies, but a few tentatively encouraging breakthroughs injected some shafts of light into the gray horizon.

In the bad news department, it was reconfirmed that more than 29 of the world’s 34 poorest countries are African; that Africa’s population is growing faster than anywhere else on the globe (3.2 percent per year on average, but over four percent in Kenya); and that some three million Africans are currently refugees displaced from their countries of birth by famines, wars or oppression. The pace of urbanization (seven to ten percent per year overall, but up to 13 percent in some states) is resulting in mushrooming shantytown slums crowded with unemployed; the sub-Saharan region’s trade deficit, some $7.9 billion in 1984, is continuing to rise; and, while sub-Saharan Africa’s total foreign debt load (perhaps $80-85 billion at the end of 1985) is moderate in volume by comparison with that of major debtors in Latin America, even interest payments have become a major hardship.

In October the International Monetary Fund revised downward its estimate of growth in 1985 for all developing nations from 4.5 to 3.5 percent, and lowered its 1986 projection from 4.5 to 4.1 percent; African nations tend to cluster at the lower end of the Third World range. And although by December 1985 the Food and Agricultural Organization’s list of nations facing severe drought-related famine contained 18 fewer African states than the FAO’s January 1984 compilation, six were still placed in the emergency category: Angola, Ethiopia, Cape Verde, Botswana, Sudan and Mozambique. The U.N. Office of Emergency Operations in Africa, noting that resumption of rain does not bring immediate results in food production, added Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger to the tally of countries that will still need emergency aid in 1986.

While not attempting to gloss over the dimensions of the continuing economic crisis, some analysts, even in the U.S. banking community, venture to predict that 1985 may one day be viewed as the year in which fundamental, positive changes began to take place. Particular importance is attached to attitudinal changes on the part of both Africans and non-Africans.

At one level, the change in the United States has been a heightened awareness. The graphic human misery of tens of thousands of emaciated famine victims conveyed day after day on television focused a new genre of attention on the continent. A series of unprecedented fund-raising efforts—among them Band Aid, U.S.A. for Africa, and Live Aid—channeled some $100 million in donations into private voluntary organizations providing food for immediate famine relief, inputs for farm rehabilitation, and long-term agricultural research. U.S. government emergency relief totaled some $1.3 billion in Fiscal Year 1985, and allocation choices were made primarily on humanitarian rather than the ideological/geopolitical criteria that carry significant weight in regular aid programs. The famine relief efforts, along with steadily mounting media and public concern with the issue of apartheid in South Africa, have made more Americans aware of Africa than ever before.

In a related development, Reagan Administration policy on multilateral agency aid in Africa underwent a major shift in the latter half of 1985. In 1984 the seventh International Development Association replenishment was held to $9 billion largely because of U.S. refusal to contribute more than $2.25 billion ($750 million per year). And in early 1985 the Administration blocked congressional adoption of a $250-million contribution to a special World Bank facility of $1.2 billion. But at the annual World Bank/IMF meetings in Seoul in October, Treasury Secretary James Baker unveiled a U.S. proposal for a five-year, $29-billion program to help the Third World cope with its debt and development problems; $9 billion would come from strengthened World Bank and IMF programs, and $20 billion from increased private lending.

Private bankers expressed skepticism, but acknowledged that they probably would have to go along. The IMF directors, by contrast, immediately voted to use a $2.7-billion trust fund (comprising repayments on existing facilities) to help the poorest countries; since China and India announced their willingness to forgo using the trust funds, most of the money could be earmarked for Africa. The program pledges assistance to countries "implementing economic programs designed to promote structural adjustment and growth in a medium-term framework"—that is, countries willing to undertake policy reforms.

Another encouraging passage took place at Addis Ababa in July, when heads of state who were gathered at the annual Organization of African Unity summit took note of the extraneous factors affecting their economies that are beyond their control ("the deteriorating terms of trade and the consequent reduction in export earnings for debt servicing, unprecedented rise in interest rates, sharp exchange rate fluctuations, deteriorating terms of borrowing, and the reduction in the flow of concessional resources, the combined effects of which result in net capital outflow from most of our Member States"), but focused primary attention on Africa’s own miscalculations. Acknowledging that the primacy accorded to the state has hindered rather than furthered economic development, the summit’s economic declaration affirms that "national development plans and annual budgets of most African countries have tended to perpetuate and even accentuate the dependency of our economies through reliance on foreign resources (financial and human) and has led to the misallocation of domestic resources through reduced shares for such high priority areas as agriculture, manpower, industry and massive expenditure on foreign consumer goods and nonproductive investment projects."

Whether prodded by outsiders or acting on their own, many governments are removing price controls and subsidies. In a number of countries, notably Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia and Zimbabwe, increases in producer prices toward free-market levels have resulted in substantial improvement in food production. Zimbabwe’s maize harvest in 1985 amounted to two million tons (an increase of 167 percent over 1984, a drought year), enabling the country to export food again. Many governments saddled with unprofitable and unmanageable state-owned enterprises are seeking ways to close, rehabilitate or sell them to private investors. The list includes Congo, Guinea, Mali and other countries that have experimented with Marxist economic policies and organizational structures. The process is complex and risky, however, because it is hard to find private-sector purchasers (or original pre-nationalization owners) interested in taking on what are often unprofitable enterprises, and also because of political problems generated by influential sinecure-holders, charges by political opponents that the government is "giving away" national assets, and trade union wariness about possible job cutbacks in the name of efficiency. Most African governments have also tried to rationalize their international economic relationships. During 1984 and 1985, Uganda, Zambia and Zaïre experimented with foreign exchange auction systems intended to allocate scarce hard currencies according to free-market principles.

The IMF has continued to link its short-term financings, designed to help member countries through temporary balance-of-payments difficulties, to stringent conditions controlling foreign exchange rates, foreign borrowing, imports, deficit spending and expansion of the domestic money supply. Some nations, including Ghana, Ivory Coast and Zaïre, having adopted the IMF prescriptions, could point by 1985 to improvements in overall economic performance; Ghana, for example, enjoyed an economic growth rate estimated at 6.5 percent for the year. Others, including Sudan, Uganda and Zambia, found themselves struggling to meet their external obligations despite strenuous efforts to comply.

In Nigeria, where negotiations with the IMF have been a domestic political problem for three successive governments, the new head of state, Major-General Babangida, seemed to be in favor of reaching an agreement when he came to power in August. He then waffled and opened the issue up for public (i.e., media) debate in response to a public outcry, and on December 12 announced a decision had been made that "for now, the path of honor lies in discontinuing negotiation with the IMF." Nigeria had been told by its creditor nations and banks that agreement must be reached with the IMF before its trade debt of more than $5 billion could be renegotiated. In his New Year’s Eve address to the nation, Babangida said that Nigeria will allocate no more than 30 percent of its export revenues to debt service in 1986.


Although seldom acknowledged by U.S. military strategists or the American media, any significant change in the role crafted for France in post-colonial Africa by de Gaulle and his successors would necessitate a major reevaluation of conflict potential in the two thirds of the continent north of Zambia. In North Africa as well as below the Sahara, the French still constitute the largest single foreign community in most of the countries formerly under France’s rule. As of 1985, some 300,000 French citizens were doing business or serving in a wide range of advisory, technical and educational roles.

The 12th French-African summit, hosted by President François Mitterrand in Paris in mid-December, was attended by the heads of state or other senior representatives of 16 former French colonies and 19 other African states—a total of some two thirds of the membership of the Organization of African Unity. (Although Burkina Faso’s president, Captain Thomas Sankara, pointedly declined to participate in the gathering for the second year in a row, he subsequently qualified his position. A December 13 Agence France-Presse dispatch cited "informed French sources" as saying that Sankara has "frequent letter-writing contacts" with President Mitterrand, and a senior Burkinabe diplomat told AFP that Sankara would quite possibly visit Paris soon and did not rule out future attendance at French-African summits "if the subject matter [is] changed.")

Contrary to many predictions, the French military role in Africa has not diminished since the Socialist government came to office in 1981. The new Rapid Action Force—a highly professional unit of 47,000 on standby to be dispatched on presidential order anywhere that French foreign policy dictates—is based in France near Toulouse. Some 7,300 other military personnel are positioned in French bases in Senegal, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Djibouti and the Central African Republic. Most other former sub-Saharan colonies have defense agreements with France that could be invoked in cases of external—but ostensibly not internal—threat. When exiles based in Angola launched invasions into Zaïre’s Shaba region in 1977 and 1978, France played a leading role in the international interventions that turned back these challenges to the then shaky regime of President Mobutu Sese Seko. And in 1983, on Mitterrand’s watch, France responded to a Libyan military move into northern Chad by sending in troops and aircraft to protect the government of President Hissène Habré.

The sub-Saharan economies that are in the least trouble include most of the 14 African members of the Franc Zone, whose common currency, the CFA franc, is linked to the French franc and freely convertible. All members deposit at least 65 percent of their foreign currency holdings in a special franc-denominated Ministry of Finance account in Paris. The ministry’s regional role, which has been compared to that of the IMF, has enforced a degree of economic discipline that has effectively limited the inflation and drastic currency devaluations experienced by many other African countries.

There is no pretense that the attention France gives to Africa is purely altruistic. The historic French commitment to the mission civilisatrice serves well France’s energetic commercial penetration of the continent (which extends to such non-francophone countries as Nigeria, now France’s third-largest African market after Algeria and Egypt). Each of the Franc Zone members conducts between 40 and 60 percent of its trade with France. And there are security dimensions. As a former U.S. ambassador to Morocco and Algeria, Richard B. Parker, observed, "North African real estate . . . has vital implications for French security. The basing of a Soviet fleet at, say, Mers el-Kebir in Algeria, or Tangiers, would pose a direct threat to the French fleet, and require significant changes in military dispositions taken for the defense of France."

There are uniquely French nuances in the interplay of military and diplomatic instruments in President Mitterrand’s orchestration of African policy. Whatever use a future government with a different party base might decide to make of the Rapid Action Force, Mitterrand has demonstrated in Chad and in his persistent dialogue with Libya’s Qaddafi and other North African leaders that he regards his military backup as an adjunct of diplomacy, not an end in itself. It is of no small importance that, like his predecessors, Mitterrand has the authority to commit French troops to African missions without prior knowledge or consent of parliament.

Although the confrontation with Qaddafi over Chad has elicited strong criticism of Mitterrand within France, it has not shaken the African view, expressed succinctly by Ivory Coast President Houphouët-Boigny in the late 1970s, that "France is the only Western country on whom we can rely in times of trouble." Tunisia’s Prime Minister Muhammad Mzali underscored the point in 1985 by contrasting Washington’s ambivalent position following the October 1 Israeli air raid on the Tunis PLO headquarters with the "unequivocal" attitude of France regarding this "act of international terrorism."


As the 535 members of Congress began to filter back to the Capitol following their end-of-the-year break, the most controversial Africa-related question awaiting early 1986 action (or shelving) by the Washington policy community was whether the war in Angola should continue to be regarded and dealt with as a potentially negotiable regional issue or, alternatively, regarded as one of the critical battlegrounds of the globe where "the march of Soviet expansionism" must be stopped. In the last days of December, the New Right was intensifying its campaign to gain White House, bipartisan congressional, and public support for its case for U.S. aid to Savimbi’s UNITA. Why, asked former U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick in her syndicated column of December 23, does the State Department refuse to acknowledge a clear interest in Savimbi’s struggle when Soviet determination to incorporate Angola’s mineral riches, its location vis-à-vis southern and central Africa, and its deep water port astride Atlantic sea lanes into the "socialist world system" is so clear?

Taking the opposite position in a Senate debate on December 10 was Senator Paul Simon (D.-Ill.):

Angola buys more American goods than all but two or three countries in sub-Saharan Africa. No American citizen or property has been touched by the Government. . . . Angola is by no means a democracy; yet criticism of the Government is not only tolerated but widespread. . . . There are few political prisoners. In both of these respects the Angolan Government is far more tolerant than its larger neighbors to the south and north, South Africa and Zaïre.

As Senator Simon and a number of other unlikely supporters of Administration policy pointed out, there are clear signs that U.S. relations with the rest of Africa will be significantly affected if a policy decision is made to provide either overt or covert aid to UNITA in amounts and under terms that implicitly or explicitly equate the situation in Angola with that in Nicaragua or Afghanistan. The government of José Eduardo dos Santos is recognized by every member state of the Organization of African Unity, as well as all major Western nations except the United States. While the continued presence of Cuban troops and Soviet and East German advisers troubles some of Angola’s neighbors, especially Zaïre, there is a broad acceptance of Luanda’s position that the costly Cubans will be phased out when and if there is a settlement in Namibia under which South African troops return to the Republic and no longer pose a security threat to Angola. Moreover, given UNITA’s close ties with South Africa, there is no escaping the fact that a major U.S. commitment to Savimbi would be widely perceived throughout the continent, and in much of the American body politic as well, as a military alliance with Pretoria.

In sum, U.S. policy toward southern Africa (and, by extension, toward Africa as a whole) was traveling on two tracks as 1986 began. Which track is closed down, and how, is likely to be determined more by 1988-related domestic political factors in the divided Republican and Democratic Parties than by the broad Africa-centered conceptual guidelines that dominated the policy process from 1981 to 1984.

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  • Helen Kitchen is Director of the African Studies Program at Georgetown University's Center for Strategic and International Studies.
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