The third year of the Carter Administration saw a quiet but marked change in the tone of American diplomacy toward Africa, with a waning of its "activist" role in the search for negotiated settlements to the racially explosive issues of southern Africa. Administration initiatives in the region continued to run up against the limits of American power to shape events there-an underlying reality which had begun to emerge in the previous year. In addition, the conservative mood sweeping across the United States was beginning to have its own impact on American official thinking about Africa. A congressional shift to the right coupled with President Carter's own growing preoccupation with Soviet expansionism served to revive the globalist approach former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had taken toward the continent. Kissinger himself was by mid-year publicly assailing the Carter Administration for leaning too far toward Africa's "ideological radicals" and thereby impaling the United States on "the horns of a dilemma where our rhetoric is out of step with our capabilities; our stated objectives out of tune with our public opinion."1

The main question as the year ended was whether the architects and proponents of the Carter Africa policy, including Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young,2 were losing out to the "globalists," led by National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who emphasized the centrality of U.S.-Soviet competition in regional affairs. Since mid-1978, the State Department "Africanists," and even President Carter himself, had found themselves fighting on the defensive in their effort to align American interests more closely with black Africa than with the "pro-Western," white-dominated regimes of southern Africa. Since the Administration's Africa policy had explicitly rejected a cold war competition in Africa, and took majority rule as its central tenet, a return to the globalist approach would represent a fundamental shift, with possibly widespread negative repercussions in black Africa.

Administration moves late in the year to supply counterinsurgency arms to Morocco and to obtain access to military facilities in Somalia each stemmed from an impulse to "counter the Soviets" or "show U.S. resolve" in a conflict area. Each also threatened to place the United States in opposition to prevailing opinion in the Organization of African Unity (OAU) on a major regional conflict. Such steps represented a break with the Administration's own past policy. In southern Africa, where U.S. attention was focused for most of the year, there was less a change in substance than in tone. The Administration held to its policy of supporting peaceful diplomatic solutions, and witnessed an unexpectedly positive evolution toward a settlement in Rhodesia. The United States played a minimal role in the denouement, however, as the new Conservative government in Britain under Margaret Thatcher brought to a successful conclusion the London negotiations between the contending Zimbabwean parties and reimposed British authority in Rhodesia prior to elections.

As the great powers maneuvered, black Africa witnessed several other events whose significance was largely ignored by Western observers intent on southern Africa and the Soviet presence. The continent's three bloodiest dictators-Idi Amin of Uganda, Jean-Bedel Bokassa of the Central African Empire and Francisco Macias Nguema of Equatorial Guinea-were all overthrown, while two of the continent's most important countries, Nigeria and Ghana, successfully completed long and arduous journeys back from military to civilian rule. These developments accompanied a general awakening inside black Africa to the issue of human rights. In conjunction with the move toward peace in Rhodesia, they gave rise to a new sense of hope in Africa's painful search for political stability.

Economic trends within the continent, however, offered few grounds for optimism. Reports issued by the OAU and the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) all pointed to a sharp deterioration in economic conditions for the vast majority of countries and warned of an Africa-wide crisis of development in the 1980s if steps were not taken immediately to reverse accelerating downward trends.


With the mid-August resignation of Ambassador Young, the Administration lost its politically most powerful Africanist. Although his decision resulted from a controversial foray into Middle East diplomacy in a secret meeting with a Palestine Liberation Organization representative in New York, his resignation also symbolized the decline of U.S. activism in southern Africa. In mid-April, Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith's "internal settlement" elections installed a new black-led government in what was now to be called "Zimbabwe Rhodesia." This step brought to an end the 1977 joint Anglo-American proposals for a settlement to the Rhodesian conflict as well as President Carter's subsequent plan for a general peace conference, neither of which had met with any success despite Young's personal efforts to sell them to the warring parties as well as to South and black Africa.

Shortly before Young's retirement, his top assistant in the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, Ambassador Donald McHenry, was quietly replaced as the chief Western negotiator for the next round of talks with South Africa over Namibia by Sir James Murray, a professional British diplomat serving as the Foreign Office's representative to the United Nations in Geneva. McHenry had distinguished himself by his relentless pursuit of a Western peace plan for Namibia, which had greatly irritated South Africa and forced that country onto the defensive. His replacement reflected an increasing Anglo-American concern over South African sensitivities. On the other hand, McHenry was subsequently named by President Carter to fill Young's position as Ambassador to the United Nations. This step was meant in part to signal a continuity in American policy toward black Africa, but the loss of Young's domestic political clout and his personal influence with the President were significant.

One of the major obstacles presented to the activist American diplomacy in pursuit of majority rule was the backlash of southern Africa's beleaguered white minority governments against Western, and specifically American, pressures. It might well be argued that a subtler style of American diplomacy in dealing with South Africa and the Smith government in Rhodesia would have eventually run up against the same brick wall of white stubbornness and become bogged down in the incredible web of political complexities surrounding the Anglo-American search for negotiated settlements. Certainly the complications of dealing with the 14 different parties involved in the Rhodesian dispute, and 12 in the Namibian one, proved a major stumbling block in their own right. It is nonetheless true that both Pretoria and Salisbury perceived U.S. policymakers, including President Carter himself, as implacable antagonists of white power in southern Africa and accused them of championing militant Marxist black nationalist groups backed by the Soviet bloc. This atmosphere of hostility had helped to increase the doubts of the two white minority governments about their immediate or long-term interest in cooperating with the United States or in making compromises that could only erode the white military and political position in Namibia, Rhodesia and even South Africa itself. At the same time, considerable congressional sentiment in favor of lifting sanctions against Rhodesia made the prospect of significant U.S. economic pressure against South Africa appear increasingly unlikely. Both Prime Minister Smith and the new South African Prime Minister, P.W. Botha, dug in their diplomatic heels, resorting to stalling and evasive tactics in their negotiations with the West, and went ahead with plans for "internal settlements" designed to assure the advent to power of moderate African nationalist leaders in Namibia and Rhodesia.

In January, Prime Minister Smith held a referendum for whites on the internal settlement he had worked out the previous March with Bishop Abel Muzorewa and two other moderate black nationalist leaders. As expected, the 230,000 remaining whites endorsed a new constitution paving the way for the first election of a black majority government and a Parliament in which the European population, representing less than four percent of the total, held 28 of the 100 seats. In the April elections, the turnout of an estimated 65 percent of the potential black electorate gave the exercise credibility for many Western observers. Muzorewa won 67 percent of the ballot, giving his United African National Council a slim 51-seat majority in the new legislature.

Although one of the black losers in the election, Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole, charged "gross irregularities" in the voting, most of the outsiders invited in to monitor the elections, like the conservatively oriented Freedom House Foundation and a British Conservative Party delegation, declared them as "free and fair" as possible under the circumstances of war. A number of conservative American organizations and Congressmen lobbied aggressively for the lifting of American economic sanctions against the new Zimbabwe Rhodesia and outright diplomatic recognition of the Muzorewa government, which formally took over from Prime Minister Smith and the white-dominated Rhodesian Parliament at the end of May.

Much to the surprise and disappointment of the new Muzorewa government and its white Rhodesian backers, however, virtually none of the intended consequences of the April elections materialized. Only a few hundred of the guerrillas fighting under the banner of the Patriotic Front led by Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo came over to the Salisbury government's side. Far from petering out, the war grew steadily worse, with Rhodesian raids into neighboring Mozambique and Zambia on an almost daily basis. Meanwhile, an intense campaign to win diplomatic recognition from at least some of the moderate African states totally failed. Nor did the Carter Administration, or even the Conservative British government, succumb to mounting domestic pressures to lift sanctions and recognize the outcome of the April elections. After consultations with Secretary of State Vance, the new British Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington, announced on May 22 that the Conservatives would forego the immediate lifting of sanctions and seek instead "the widest possible international recognition" for a "legal" black government in Zimbabwe Rhodesia. This British holding action cleared the way for President Carter to declare in June that the change from a white minority-run Rhodesia to a black-dominated Zimbabwe Rhodesia had "not been sufficient to satisfy" the requirements of Congress' own laws regarding an end to American sanctions.

Congressional supporters of the Muzorewa government, spearheaded in the Senate by North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms and Virginia Senator Harry Byrd, nonetheless attached an amendment to the 1980 weapons procurement authorization bill requiring the President to terminate sanctions, but only if he determined this would be in the national interest, and giving him until November 15 to make his decision. Although the Administration was thrown onto the defensive by these moves, Carter's tenacity in resisting congressional pressure was important in allowing the new British government to make one final attempt to arrange an all-party peace conference.


In the midst of escalating Rhodesian raids all across Zambian territory, the British Commonwealth Conference of 42 heads of state took place in Lusaka during the first week of August, and to general surprise it ended in an agreement for the British to muster yet another round of negotiations among all the contending parties. The ninth attempt since 1965 to reach a settlement of the Rhodesian dispute began in London on September 10. Although the history of the conflict made optimism foolhardy, the artful negotiating techniques of Lord Carrington, combined with considerable pressure on the Patriotic Front from its front-line backers, brought the conference by early December to an agreement on a new election plan in which all nationalist groups said they would participate. The Muzorewa government, the white Rhodesian minority (with a notable holdout in Ian Smith) and the Patriotic Front miraculously came to an accord on yet another constitution for the war-exhausted country, stripping the whites of many of their remaining privileges and doing away with a number of "nonpolitical" civil service commissions through which they had continued to dominate the police, army and civil service under Muzorewa.3 The warring parties also agreed that Britain should set up an interim government to rule the country for a two-month period during which Bishop Muzorewa would step down and Britain, with the help of a 1,200-man Commonwealth peacekeeping force, would organize the new elections.

The London agreement represented a tremendous diplomatic coup for Prime Minister Thatcher and her Tory party. What had eluded past British Labour and Conservative governments for 14 years as well as the Nixon, Ford and Carter Administrations-an end to the white Rhodesian unilateral declaration of independence and years of ensuing warfare that had taken over 20,000 lives-appeared now at last at hand. The Carter Administration, which had tried so determinedly to make peace in Rhodesia for two years, played no direct role in the breakthrough. In preventing the Muzorewa government's supporters in Congress from forcing through legislation lifting sanctions, however, it forestalled an action which might well have torpedoed the London conference. President Carter also quietly helped to bolster the British negotiating position by offering financial and logistical assistance to fly in Commonwealth peacekeeping troops on American C5A Galaxies, resettle 200,000 Zimbabwean refugees who have been encamped in Zambia, Mozambique and Botswana, and possibly put together some kind of compensation fund to help the new Zimbabwean government buy land from white settlers.

In the negotiations, Lord Carrington pressured first the Muzorewa government and then the Patriotic Front into accepting various British compromise proposals and negotiated separately with each side to avoid head-on public confrontations between them. He also skirted the highly delicate issue of putting together a new national army, leaving it to be worked out after the new elections were held. While Lord Carrington's negotiating technique was masterful, it must also be said that the time was finally ripe for a settlement. The Muzorewa government had failed to prove itself at home or abroad, while escalating Rhodesian attacks against both guerrilla bases and local targets inside Mozambique and Zambia had clearly enhanced the front-line and Patriotic Front predisposition for reaching an accord. These attacks ranged as far afield as an Nkomo camp in eastern Angola and came as close to Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda's State House residence as an adjacent house where Nkomo was living. Furthermore, these raids switched ominously from purely guerrilla military installations to Zambian economic targets. In early November the Muzorewa government had also cut off all food supplies going to Zambia through Zimbabwe Rhodesia on the southern rail route from South Africa, creating an economic blockade the Zambians probably could not have endured for more than three months. Key road and rail bridges around Lusaka were destroyed even as the talks in London were approaching an agreement.

Even a temporary respite from the ever-spreading war and consequent mounting devastation being wreaked upon the country could only be welcomed by all parties as well as their foreign backers. But the eventual outcome of the London agreement-its translation into a lasting peace among the various warring Zimbabwean black and white nationalist groups-remained at the year's end a major unanswered question.

Whether an election would settle the fundamental issue of who would ultimately rule the country could not be predicted. Given the sharp ideological differences, particularly between the Rhodesian whites and the Patriotic Front, as well as the divisions within the Front itself, it was possible the accord might serve to mute the conflict only temporarily. It remained conceivable that South Africa and the white-dominated Zimbabwe-Rhodesian military establishment would not accept the election results if the Patriotic Front was the victor, or that the Front would resume its guerrilla war if Bishop Muzorewa was the winner.

The London accord certainly gave hope to a worried United States and Britain, however, that the threat of a larger war in southern Africa, involving the Soviets, Cubans and South Africans (like that in Angola only four years earlier) could now be averted in Zimbabwe Rhodesia. South Africa had been quietly increasing its military commitment to the new Muzorewa government. According to reports in the American press, two battalions of South African ground troops and one squadron of Mirage jet fighters were stationed inside Zimbabwe Rhodesia and were being used against Patriotic Front guerrillas.4 On the other hand, escalating Zimbabwe-Rhodesian military attacks against all the surrounding black-ruled countries supporting the Patriotic Front war effort had heightened fears of increasing Soviet involvement as President Kaunda warned that he would have to turn to the Soviets and Cubans to bolster the defenses of his own country as well as those of the guerrillas if the devastating raids continued. News of the growing South African military engagement in Zimbabwe was indeed matched by reports of increasing numbers of Cuban military advisers and Soviet arms arriving in Mozambique (including possibly Cuban pilots to fly Soviet-produced MiGs). While the direct South African military involvement still far surpassed the direct Soviet and Cuban one in the Rhodesian war as of late 1979, the London agreement may well have forestalled an escalation by Moscow and Havana in response to Zambian and Mozambican requests.


No similar breakthrough had come in the protracted negotiations over Namibia by the end of the year. American-led Western efforts to close the final gap between South Africa and the nationalist group leading the guerrilla struggle inside Namibia, the Southwest African People's Organization (SWAPO), still fell short of final success. Pretoria continued to dicker over the fine points of the peace plan first worked out in 1978 by the five Western powers-the United States, Britain, Canada, France and West Germany.

After a long hiatus in the negotiations, Ambassador McHenry worked out with Angolan President Agostinho Neto, shortly before his sudden death in September, an Angolan-initiated compromise on security arrangements along the Angolan-Namibian border. Aimed at meeting previously stated South African objections to the U.N. plan, Neto's proposal stipulated that a 50-mile-wide demilitarized zone (DMZ) be set up on either side of the border. Joint U.N.-Angolan and U.N.-Zambian police forces would monitor the area, helping to assure that no SWAPO guerrillas would penetrate Namibia during the elections.

Subsequent to this Angolan concession, South Africa reluctantly agreed to further negotiations, which resumed briefly at Geneva in November. While South Africa agreed in principle to the DMZ, it raised further conditions, continuing to insist on the strict international monitoring of SWAPO guerrilla bases in neighboring Angola and Zambia and refusing to permit any SWAPO bases inside Namibia during a transition period while U.N.-supervised elections for an independent, black majority government were being organized.

At the same time, Pretoria kept alive its other very real option of going ahead with its own internal settlement. On May 14, South Africa took another large step in this direction by establishing an interim National Assembly in Namibia and giving the new body wide legislative as well as some limited executive powers to rule the territory. Meanwhile, it was working to strengthen progressively the position of its protégé, the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance party, a biracial group of "liberal" white and moderate black tribal Namibian leaders.

Because its objections to the U.N. plan have largely been met or have been reduced to the fine points of monitoring a truce it seems that South Africa is now deliberately stalling to await the outcome of the peace process in Rhodesia-holding back either from taking the final step toward its own internal settlement in Namibia, or from accepting the U.N. plan. A U.N. mission was scheduled to visit the three countries involved in January or February 1980 to work out the details on the DMZ. If the Rhodesian elections are concluded in an orderly fashion, pressure is likely to build for a definitive South African decision on Namibia shortly thereafter. A settlement in Rhodesia would generate momentum for a parallel achievement in Namibia.


While holding off the West in Namibia, South Africa's new Prime Minister, P.W. Botha, surprised both his own country and the outside world by launching a program of reforms in the country's internationally denounced system of apartheid, or strict racial segregation, assuring white supremacy. Beginning in August and after only about ten months in office, Botha put forward a plan he said would end "total permanent separation [of blacks and whites] built on artificially maintained white supremacy" in South Africa. He warned South African whites urgently that they "must have adaptations; otherwise we will die."

The central plank of his "New Deal" was a proposal for a "confederation" or "constellation" of southern African states, including the nine tribal homelands for South Africa's 19 million blacks plus other unnamed independent black states in the region, presumably Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana. Subsequently, Botha approved parts of a commission report advocating the legalization of labor unions for a large category of blacks in the country, and began pushing for an end to "unnecessary and offensive" discriminatory racial laws, apparently aiming to do away with "petty apartheid" (the system of laws erected to ensure the social segregation of the races), while still carefully preserving and protecting white domination.5 Botha's reformism, totally unexpected of the former Defense Minister with a reputation as a hardliner, seemed calculated both to defuse the continuing potential for major black unrest inside South Africa and to improve the country's badly tarnished image abroad so that it might regain acceptance in the West as an ally.

In southern Africa, Pretoria continued its efforts to build itself into an independent regional power that neither black Africa, the West nor the communist countries could easily push around. It quietly provided huge commodity credit loans to Mozambique and Zambia in an effort to pull these two hostile black-ruled countries to its north further into the South African economic orbit. By midyear, Zambia was shipping nearly half of its copper exports, the mainstay of its battered economy, on the southern rail route through Rhodesia to South African ports and sending cargo planes directly to Johannesburg to pick up food and other supplies in critical shortage. Meanwhile, South Africa signed an agreement with Mozambique to double its exports through the port at Maputo to generate additional earnings for the hard-pressed government there and also extended a commodity credit loan of over $100 million.

Earlier, in April, Pretoria showed its defiance of American pressure by provoking a totally artificial crisis when it charged that the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria had been using its plane to spy on, and photograph, South African nuclear installations. After Botha ordered three U.S. military attachés at the Embassy to leave the country, the Carter Administration retaliated by expelling two senior military officers attached to the South African Embassy in Washington.

Behind this diplomatic tempest in a teapot was a far more serious bone of contention-whether South Africa, despite earlier assurances, was indeed going ahead with the development of a nuclear bomb. After the joint American-French-Soviet disclosure in August 1977 that South Africa had erected in the Kalahari Desert a structure similar to those used elsewhere to detonate nuclear explosions, Washington obtained an assurance from the South African government that it had no intention of setting off a nuclear bomb. But in September 1979 a U.S. Vela surveillance satellite recorded several flashes of light, generally associated with nuclear explosions, somewhere in the southern Atlantic. Although South Africa strenuously denied this, the renewed speculation served admirably to boost its carefully nurtured image of increasing power, self-sufficiency and ability to go it alone without the West.

The Botha government's new internal reformist program and external "go-it-alone" policy, spelled out in word and action during the course of 1979, raised anew some recurring questions about how Washington should deal with South Africa. Might South Africa be encouraged to make further reforms and if so, how? The harsh rhetorical attacks upon South Africa of the Carter Administration's first two years subsided into silence and it seemed increasingly unlikely that President Carter would willingly seek a confrontation with South Africa over any issue during the 1980 presidential election campaign. Even in the event of a total breakdown in Namibia negotiations, U.N. action on sanctions would likely be deferred as long as possible.

The South Africans, for their part, were apparently following a long-term strategy in their dealings with the United States, assuming that their relations with the Carter Administration would never be very good and seeking to build bridges to Congress and the American public.6 In their pursuit of an eventual closer relationship with Washington, the South Africans could only have been heartened by the new conservative mood in Congress and particularly the general growing interest in the establishment of new American bases in the Indian Ocean area in the wake of the year-end Iranian crisis.7

Meanwhile, a survey undertaken by the Council on Foreign Relations of American elite opinion confirmed just how narrow a base the Administration was operating from in promoting a more "activist" policy tilting toward black Africa and against white-ruled southern Africa. The poll, conducted by Yale professor William J. Foltz, covered 2,300 members of the Council and its affiliated committees across the United States. The results showed that 64 percent of the committees' members and 48 percent of the Council's judged President Carter's Africa policy as either "below average" or worse. Respondents rated the Soviet Union as doing better than America and saw the U.S.S.R. as actively engaged in a strategy of undermining U.S. influence there. While the survey showed a general sympathy for black African nationalism and the independent African countries, there was little indication of support for strong pressures against South Africa. What the Council study substantiated was the extent to which the Carter Administration and its Africanists had been going against the mainstream of elite American opinion to the extent that they had entertained measures to pressure South Africa in a more forceful and meaningful way.8


If the United States discovered in 1979 some of the limits of its ability to shape events in southern Africa, it could take comfort in the fact that the Soviet Union and Cuba were discovering similar limitations in their ability through force of arms to fashion an outcome to their liking in either Ethiopia or Angola. Despite the provision of more than one billion dollars worth of Soviet arms and 13,000 to 15,000 Cuban combat troops to Ethiopia, the military government there under Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam failed during the course of the year to bring an end to the bloody separatist wars raging in northern Eritrea province and in the southeastern Ogaden region bordering on Somalia. Indeed, Somali-backed guerrillas of the Western Somalia Liberation Front increased the scale of their activities in the Ogaden, where most of the Cuban troops were stationed, and once again claimed total control over the countryside. In Eritrea, Ethiopian forces failed in their third major offensive to retake the last remaining towns still under the control of the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) and sustained casualties running into the thousands in the process of trying to do so under a strategy devised by their Soviet advisers. Neither the Somali nor the Eritrean antigovernment guerrillas showed any sign of giving up their "wars of independence" despite the crushing defeats they had suffered in 1977-78 at the hands of the central government's forces, aided in the Ogaden by Cuban combat troops.

Furthermore, combined Soviet, East German and Cuban efforts to get the Eritrean nationalists and the Mengistu government to negotiate a political settlement of the dispute were even less successful in 1979 than in previous years (when representatives of the two sides at least had met in East Berlin). Meanwhile, Soviet attempts to pressure Colonel Mengistu into setting up a political party to guide and institutionalize Ethiopia's extremely radical socialist revolution were again frustrated. Despite the expectation that Mengistu would establish a workers' party during September celebrations marking the fifth anniversary of Emperor Haile Selassie's overthrow, which were attended by Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin, the announcement was not forthcoming. The delay confirmed the general impression of Western analysts that Mengistu had no intention of giving in to Soviet, or Cuban, pressures on a matter directly affecting his personal authority over the revolution. It further served to fuel speculation that the wily military leader was first and foremost an Ethiopian nationalist and only secondarily an aspiring communist.

In Angola, the Soviets and Cubans experienced a similar failure of superior military might to resolve a continuing internal conflict. Repeated offensives by Angolan government military forces against the guerrilla opposition led by Jonas Savimbi in southern Angola did not succeed in crushing it, despite Soviet, East German and Cuban assistance. Savimbi's National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) held good to its word to prevent the Benguela railroad (running from Zaïre's copperbelt through southern Angola to the Atlantic) from operating until the central government agreed to negotiate a settlement. While UNITA scored no major military or political victories over the government in Luanda, Savimbi himself flew to the United States directly from the bush of Angola in November to lobby personally for American support and against U.S. recognition of the MPLA government. Claiming to command a force of 15,000 guerrillas and to have no need for arms, the bearded Angolan dissident leader told American officialdom that his goal was still a coalition government including UNITA, and the expulsion of Cuban troops from Angola.

Thus the communist presence did not end the armed conflict. Nor, on the other hand, did it prevent the Angolan government from going ahead to work for better relations with the West, including the United States. In September, a second American oil company, Texaco, signed a $350-million agreement with the Angolans to develop a second major oilfield off the northern coast. The death of President Neto on September 10 while undergoing surgery and treatment for cirrhosis of the liver in a Moscow hospital brought no indication of any change by his successors in Angolan foreign policy. This included its continuing cooperation with the West in the search for negotiated settlements to the Rhodesian and Namibian conflicts.


While both the United States and the Soviet Union were in one sense or another frustrated in their respective African diplomacies in 1979, African nations themselves experienced tumultuous political upheavals and extremely trying economic times. Most important was the end of the eight-year-long reign of terror of Idi Amin in Uganda. The manner of his downfall, however, set a precedent that left all of black Africa uneasy: Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, in retaliation for Amin's earlier invasion and seizure of some Tanzanian territory, sent upwards of 40,000 troops across the border into Uganda to bolster a small force of Ugandan exiles battling to topple the Ugandan dictator. In April, Amin's undisciplined army was driven out of Kampala and northward into southern Sudan by the Tanzanian force. Continued disorder plagued the ravaged country, however; in mid-June, after two months in office, Yusufu Lule was displaced as head of the new civilian government by Godfrey Binaisa, who had served as Attorney General of Uganda under former President Milton Obote.

The impact of the war on Tanzania was considerable, setting back its economic development and leaving Nyerere with a continuing heavy military involvement in Uganda his country could ill afford. Nyerere's pleas for $375 million in financial and economic assistance to help overcome the war's effects on Tanzania evoked a minimal response in the West, including the United States. To its embarrassment, the Administration found itself in the awkward position of hailing the downfall of Amin but unwilling, in the aftermath, to pressure Congress for assistance either to Nyerere, regarded as a key American ally, or the Binaisa government. Some private American banks were reported to have joined a consortium which provided several hundred million dollars in loans to help tide his government over its worst economic crisis since independence. Because of a previous congressional ban on all aid and economic trade with Amin's Uganda, the Administration had no ongoing programs and could scrape together for Uganda only a paltry three million dollars in 1979, with the prospect of another eight million dollars from other African programs-a drop in the bucket compared to the needs.

On August 4, another lesser known African dictator, Macias of Equatorial Guinea, was next deposed, this time by his own military, bringing to an end a decade of highly repressive rule. The new government, under Macias' nephew, Lieutenant Colonel Teodoro Nguema, immediately reopened the mosques and churches closed earlier and tried to coax back the one-third of the country's population which had fled to neighboring countries. It also ended Soviet use of a "fishing depot" on the island of Bioko that had served as a staging point for Cuban troops during the Angolan civil war.

The third dictator to fall was Bokassa, leader of the Central African Republic, which he had declared an "empire"-with himself the "emperor"-in late 1976. On September 20, the former colonial ruler, France, flew a small expeditionary force of paratroopers into Bangui, ousted Bokassa and installed former President David Dacko in his place. It was all accomplished without bloodshed but in an exceedingly high-handed "neocolonial" fashion that again left black Africa extremely ill at ease despite Bokassa's unpopularity.

The fall of three African dictators widely regarded as the continent's worst came in the midst of a discernible African awakening to the long-avoided issue of human rights. How far this movement for human rights might have been causal in the trio's downfall is extremely difficult to establish. Similarly, it is impossible to estimate the impact of President Carter's drive to make human rights an issue in world politics. Certainly Carter's personal crusade and congressional action against various offenders like Amin in Uganda served to reinforce those African nongovernmental groups and intellectuals seeking to force the issue on their governments.

These human rights advocates scored a major breakthrough at a symposium organized by the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa in Monrovia, Liberia in March. The "Symposium on the Future Development Prospects of Africa Toward the Year 2000," as it was formally called, ended with a cry of distress it hoped all African governments would hear: "Only yesterday, the birth of a state that respected basic freedoms was one of the most important demands in the struggle for independence," the symposium noted in its final document. "Has this erstwhile dream now turned into a nightmare in which repression and censorship condemn and reduce whole generations of Africans to silence?" It went on to urge the OAU to establish a human rights department to monitor the state of affairs in African countries. Significantly, this proposal was approved in principle at the organization's annual summit of African leaders held in Monrovia in July.

Adding to these hopeful developments in the human rights field was the return to civilian rule in two of black Africa's most important countries, Nigeria and Ghana, engineered by their own military leaders. The most important transition came in Nigeria, black Africa's most populous and richest oil-producing state. Beginning in early July, Nigerians elected members to a 95-member federal Senate and 449-member House of Representatives, their governors and legislatures for the country's 19 states and finally a national president. The new constitution adopted by the Nigerians set up a federal system of government-with a Senate, House and separately elected president-bearing an unmistakable resemblance to that of the United States. On August 16, Shehu Shagari, a northern Muslim who had served in the military government, won the presidential election, and on October 1 he took office as Nigeria's first civilian ruler in 13 years. The Nigerian military under Colonel Olusegun Obasanjo had kept scrupulously to its word, as well as to its timetable, in guiding the country through an extremely careful process leading to civilian democracy.

The transition in Ghana did not go nearly as smoothly. On the very eve of elections in early June, a cabal of rebel junior officers took control of the government. The group, led by Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings, summarily executed three former military heads of state, whom they accused of abuse of office and rifling the national treasury.9 Nonetheless, elections for a new civilian government proceeded on schedule and at the end of September Hilla Limann, a relatively unknown former diplomat, took office as Ghana's first civilian president in seven and a half years. First appearances suggested the Ghanaian reversion to civilian rule was a fragile exercise that might be easily overturned. Nonetheless, the Ghanaian and Nigerian elections, combined with the return to elected constitutional rule by the ruling officers in Upper Volta in 1978 and in Mali this past year, constituted a clear trend among Africa's military leaders toward restoring a significant degree of democracy in their countries even when it was clearly at their own personal political expense.


The promising African political trends evident in 1979 must be set against the discouraging economic performance of the vast majority of African states not only this past year but during the entire decade of the 1970s. Both the ECA's Monrovia symposium and its detailed review of economic and social conditions across black Africa, published in March, provided alarming evidence of the stagnation in economic development of most of the non-oil-producing African countries.10 According to ECA statistics, the 45 non-oil-producing countries had achieved an average annual growth rate, in real terms and on a per capita basis, of only about one percent over the last decade.11 It noted a slight deceleration in the rate of growth for these countries in the 1970s compared to the previous decade and said that if the present trend continued it would take fully 75 years just to double their already very low per capita income. The continent's ability to feed itself is also deteriorating. The increase in food production slowed from 2.7 percent in the 1960s to 1.3 percent in the 1970s and now stood "far below" the average rate of increase in the population. One hundred million Africans, nearly a quarter of Africa's entire population, were getting less than "the critical minimum" to eat.

The Monrovia symposium concluded that the only way for independent Africa to avoid "the disasters that loom at the turn of the century" was for African leaders to develop "a new political will" aimed at fostering a different approach to economic development and international cooperation, emphasizing links between developing countries. Whether such will would be forthcoming in the midst of the continuing daily struggle for political survival characteristic of so many African governments seemed highly problematical. Nonetheless, the frank realization of the seriousness of the economic situation was the obvious necessary first step and this had been taken.

The grim economic realities of Africa provided the United States, at least in theory, with new opportunities to implement its own official policy of avoiding competition with the Soviet Union in the field of arms and competing instead, as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Newsom told Congress in October, "where we have comparative advantage, in the support for economic and social development." However, there was no indication Congress was willing to back up this policy by appropriating the additional funds needed to give it any reality. The Carter Administration did ask for $100 million more in economic development and security support assistance for sub-Saharan Africa in the 1980 fiscal year. But the general expectation was that Congress would slash away enough of this to keep aid to Africa in real terms at about the previous year's level of $320 million. In fact, the level of American economic assistance to African countries has not increased in real terms over the amount provided in 1969-70.


The outstanding question about American policy toward Africa during 1979 was whether the changing tone and focus of concerns were already beginning to result in a difference of substance. The Administration's Africanists argued vehemently that, despite the resignation of Ambassador Young and the lowered American profile in ongoing negotiations in southern Africa, there was no basic change in policy objectives as stated early on by the Administration. The London agreement, they pointed out, reflected precisely the initial goal of American policy: an internationally recognized settlement and elections in which all black nationalist factions, most particularly the Patriotic Front, agreed to participate. They also intimated that the Administration had played a sizable behind-the-scenes role in helping to overcome various impasses that threatened to abort the Lancaster House talks. Similarly, there was no change whatsoever in the U.S. policy of wringing a settlement out of the Namibia stalemate and patiently pursuing the talks with South Africa for that purpose.

Yet, at least three policy decisions seemed to suggest that a change in substance might be occurring as well, if not in southern Africa at least elsewhere on the continent. The first was the decision to put off indefinitely U.S. diplomatic recognition of the Soviet- and Cuban-backed MPLA government in Angola despite its willingness to work out an entente with Zaïre (which Western economic stakes make a key U.S. concern), and its continuing cooperation with the United States in the search for a negotiated settlement to the Namibian conflict. Following the crisis over the Soviet "combat brigade" discovered by American intelligence in August to be stationed in Cuba, President Carter apparently did not want to take on "the Cuban issue" once again by proposing U.S. recognition of Angola in the absence of any significant withdrawal of Cuban troops from that country. The unresolved fate of the SALT II strategic arms limitation treaty made the vote of the conservatives in Congress far too important to arouse their ire over Marxist Angola.

The second, more dramatic, example of the change in the substance of American policy was President Carter's decision to provide arms to Morocco after having refused two years earlier to extend military assistance to Somalia. While the two cases were not identical, in both instances an African country turned to the United States for help in pursuit of its efforts to annex territory beyond its existing borders. The decision to help Morocco came after an agonizing reappraisal within the Administration of whether to come to the rescue of a pro-American mainstay in North Africa, King Hassan.

The King faced growing difficulty in his struggles against Algerian, Libyan and possibly also Cuban-backed guerrillas opposed to his annexation of the old Spanish Sahara. This sparsely populated but phosphate-rich territory had been divided between Morocco and Mauritania in 1975-76 with the agreement of the former colonial power, Spain. But the Moroccans got most of it, over the vehement protests of neighboring Algeria. The division and annexation of the Western Sahara immediately spurred the already existing Polisario nationalist movement to launch a full-scale struggle against Morocco and Mauritania for the complete independence of the territory under its own rule. By 1979, Mauritania had wearied of the guerrilla war, given up any claim to its portion of the Sahara and left Morocco to fight on alone in the face of mounting African and international criticism of its policy. Some 32 countries had already extended recognition to the Polisario government in exile, and the OAU at its July summit in Monrovia had called for a referendum on self-determination within the Sahara to settle the dispute.

The issue of whether to provide King Hassan with up to 24 Cobra helicopter gunships and several OV-10 Bronco reconnaissance planes to bolster his increasingly difficult position vis-à-vis both the Polisario and Algeria brought the Administration's Africanists and globalists into open conflict once again. The former argued that the United States had no interest in identifying itself with the Moroccan cause of annexation of the Sahara. Morocco's action contravened the OAU tenet of respect for colonial boundaries and had served to isolate King Hassan within the African body and the Third World generally. The globalists, led by Brzezinski with backing in the military, countered that the United States could ill afford to be seen "abandoning" another close ally in a time of need, particularly following the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, and that such a move would only serve to weaken the Moroccan monarchy and perhaps provoke Hassan's own downfall. Furthermore, the United States was under considerable pressure from its principal Arab allies, namely Egypt and Saudi Arabia, to show support for Morocco, which they, too, were already aiding with arms and financial assistance. President Carter himself finally came down on the side of the globalists and on October 2 announced he was ready to back the sale of the arms in question to Morocco even while pushing for a negotiated settlement.

The third example of changing substance was the Carter Administration's decision to pursue actively the possible acquisition of access rights to naval and air facilities in at least two sub-Saharan African countries, namely Kenya and Somalia, and possibly Djibouti, as part of its new military strategy in the wake of the Iranian crisis. In mid-December, a Pentagon and State Department delegation left for a tour of Indian Ocean countries, among them Kenya and Somalia, to discuss the possible American use of military facilities in these countries for the new Rapid Deployment Force the Administration was putting together to deal with future crises like the one then in progress in Iran. At the same time, U.S. officials were reported to be discussing with the French the possibility of also gaining access to their excellent facilities in independent Djibouti.

Such an approach contravened the original Administration policy of avoiding American military involvement on the continent. Discussions about the use of Somali airfields and ports were certain to pose anew the question of American arms for Somalia and the likelihood of U.S. entanglement in the ongoing Somali-Ethiopian feud over the Ogaden. Fear of just such an entangling alliance had finally led to a "neutral" policy of noninvolvement and a refusal to provide arms to Somalia when it had asked for them in 1977 after breaking dramatically with the Soviet Union and closing the Soviet naval base in Berbera. The Somalis could reasonably be expected to demand American arms as the quid pro quo for allowing U.S. warships and planes to use Somali facilities. Should the Administration acquiesce to this demand in the aftermath of the traumatic events in Iran, it would mean the complete reversal of its earlier policy of neutrality toward the Horn of Africa for which the Africanists had been primarily responsible.

These decisions and directions seemed symptomatic of the new mood settling over Washington by the end of the year and the decade. It was one of increasing unease over perceived Soviet and Cuban advances throughout the Third World and uncertainty about how America might act forcefully to counter them. There was a growing sense that the United States had to draw the line in a stiffened defense of its interests and allies wherever they might be threatened, directly or indirectly, by the Soviet bloc. It implied a policy toward Africa of bolstering American "allies," no matter the right or wrong of their causes, and of demonstrating to Moscow and the world a renewed American readiness to use its economic, diplomatic, and, if necessary, military muscle to meet the communist challenge. In effect, the Carter Administration that had begun by explicitly rejecting Kissinger's globalist approach to the issues and problems of Africa, in favor of an African regional perspective, did appear to be on the verge of a major reversal back toward the Kissingerian view of the continent.

The implications of such a reversal for U.S. relations with Africa were likely to be far-reaching. It would certainly endanger the reservoir of goodwill Ambassador Young and the Africanists' policy had built up for the United States throughout black Africa generally, and in such leading African states as Tanzania and Nigeria specifically. Particularly damaging would be any evidence that the United States was undertaking either an open or secret rapprochement with South Africa. The earlier black African view that the United States regarded African countries basically as little more than pawns in the cold war, and that it tilted naturally toward white-ruled South Africa out of an underlying racial bias, still lies fairly close to the surface.

Already, some Africans view the failure of the United States to increase economic assistance to black Africa in any meaningful sense as evidence that there is more noise than substance to the Carter Administration's vaunted claims of a "new era" in U.S.-African relations. Some African leaders obsessed with the expanding Soviet and Cuban presence in Africa-like the leaders of Senegal, the Ivory Coast, Somalia and the Sudan-might welcome for their own special reasons an American return to a more Kissingerian view of the continent, but it seems likely that such an approach would serve to alienate most of Africa, including those countries the United States has relied on most closely in furthering its economic and political interests.

1 The Washington Post, July 3, 1979.

2 Also influential in designing the Carter Administration's Africa policy were Policy Planning Staff Chairman Anthony Lake, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Richard Moose, and the present U.N. Ambassador, Donald F. McHenry.

3 It also reduced their representation in the proposed new parliament from 28 to 20 seats and did away with ironclad guarantees against changes in the new constitution detrimental to whites. Basically, they were left with provisions for compensation in case of property seizure, a guarantee of citizenship in Zimbabwe and of pension payments abroad if they left, temporary control of the police and army, and the hope that through a divided black electorate their remaining 20 seats would still enable them to play a decisive role in Parliament.

4 In December, South African Foreign Minister R. F. Botha confirmed British and American press reports that his government had sent forces to Zimbabwe Rhodesia to help protect its communication lines to South Africa.

5 Another aspect of the Botha government's reformist policy was to clean up the so-called Muldergate information scandal involving a $72-million secret fund for overseas propaganda projects set up under former Prime Minister John Vorster and his Information and Interior Minister, Connie Mulder. The scandal culminated in midyear with the release of a government report charging that Vorster himself had played a role in trying to cover up financial irregularities in the information department. Vorster, who had become State President after retiring as Prime Minister, immediately resigned from office.

In September, an American federal grand jury began investigating the activities of Michigan publisher John P. McGoff who had allegedly acted on behalf of the South African government and received $11 million from it to buy interests in various U.S. media, including the Washington Star. While McGoff failed in his bid to purchase the Star, he was reported by a South African commission to have used the money to buy the Sacramento Union in California and a 50 percent interest in an American-owned international television news agency, UPITN.

6 In October, a group of South African lawmakers, constituting nearly one-sixth of the entire membership of the Parliament, visited the United States for discussions with a wide range of Americans, from that country's liberal critics to its conservative supporters. The unprecedented visit was apparently both a bridge-building exercise and a tactic being employed by Prime Minister Botha against his own more conservative opposition to convince them of the need for reform.

7 In November, a delegation of the House Armed Services Committee was given red carpet treatment while on its biennial tour of South Africa, among other African countries, and was taken to some military facilities, including the naval base at Simonstown which U.S. warships had once used in the early 1960s. The Committee's chairman, Melvin Price (D.-Ill.), was quoted openly as saying that South Africa was important to U.S. strategic interests or "otherwise we wouldn't be here. Our visit is because of our interest in defense matters."

8 William J. Foltz, Elite Opinion on United States Policy toward Africa: A Survey of Members of the Council on Foreign Relations and Its Affiliated Regional Committees, New York: Council on Foreign Relations, Inc., 1979.

9 Appalled at the dangerous precedent set by its neighbor, so close to its own handover to civilian government, Nigeria cut off oil supplies to Ghana. Whether or not these sanctions were the controlling factor, the executions did end at that point.

10 "Symposium on the Future Development Prospects of Africa Towards the Year 2000," United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the Organization of African Unity, Monrovia, Liberia, Feb. 12-16, 1979.

11 "Survey of Economic and Social Conditions in Africa, 1977-1978," United Nations Economic and Social Council, Economic Commission for Africa, Rabat, March 20-28, 1979.


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  • David Ottaway has for five years served as the Africa correspondent for The Washington Post. He is on leave this year as a Fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He is the co-author with Marina Ottaway of Ethiopia: Empire in Revolution and Algeria: The Politics of a Socialist Revolution.
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