Courtesy Reuters

Africa: Crisis of Confidence

It has not been a dramatic year in the annals of modern Africa. There have been no superpower confrontations, no new civil wars, no major racial or ethnic upheavals. There have even been some encouraging political signals-an election here, a peaceful handover of power there, and more abortive than successful coups. But, by no means has it been a happy year. A feeling of deep frustration has swept over the continent, caused by the inability of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to hold its annual meeting, the failure to resolve regional disputes, and a quite alarming economic decline. And it coincided with an activist if lopsided American policy that was, as the year drew to a close, far from achieving its declared goals, and thereby added to African suspicions and frustrations.

Searching for a theme in such an arbitrary period as 12 months is neither easy nor necessarily productive, but if there was a common thread in African events during 1982 it was a loss of confidence. African states have lost confidence in their ability to regulate their inter-territorial conflicts as well as in their capacity to develop their economies and cope with growing socioeconomic problems. They have also lost a measure of faith in the ability of the West, particularly the United States, to help them finish the work of decolonization and bring stability to the southern end of the continent.

The failure of the OAU to hold its annual summit meeting for the first time since its formation 19 years ago was a blow for practical and symbolic reasons. The organization had never been adroit in grappling with the numerous disputes that arose from Africa's artificial boundaries-in spite of its members' theoretical adherence to the golden rule that colonially inherited borders should remain inviolate-but it had at least provided a forum for discussion and compromise. The symbolic value of the OAU has even greater importance. The organization has always been greater than the sum of its parts, which are individually weak

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