For Africa, this decade has been a period of ominous economic, social and environmental decline. In 1980 depressed world commodity prices, declining agricultural production, ravaging drought and desertification, rising external debt, and both civil and interstate warfare portended continent-wide disaster. Throughout the 1980s per capita income fell from a level already the lowest in two decades. Decreasing financial reserves forced cuts in vital imports, including an eight-percent cut in 1987 alone. As the value of African exports continued to fall, from $57 billion in 1980 to $32 billion in 1986, one African statesman, the former Nigerian head of state General Olusegun Obasanjo, warned that Africa was falling into a state of "dereliction and decay."

Yet Africa remained low on the list of American foreign policy concerns. During the Reagan presidency Washington officials spoke of Africa as "a continent of great promise" with which the United States was effectively interacting on both economic and diplomatic fronts.1 The somber reality was that human conditions in Africa were continuing to deteriorate, despite a U.N.-sponsored recovery plan (1986-1990) under which many African states were undertaking unpopular structural reforms and austerity measures.

U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuéllar lamented the failure of industrialized donor states to respond to African reforms with increased assistance, saying that it was leading Africa "not to recovery and development but to drift and stagnation, if not a chronic state of crisis."2 Even in gold-rich South Africa, where the persistence of apartheid was a principal focus of the administration's Africa policy, economic conditions were worsening, exacerbated by the intensifying racial polarity.

On the other hand, Africa was approaching its fourth decade of independence with some plausible grounds for hope and avenues of opportunity. In southern Africa an agreement for the military disengagement of Cuban and South African forces from Angola and Namibia, respectively, held the possibility of converting this area of devastating conflict into an engine for development in the region. In West Africa, at an October 1988 Africa Leadership Forum convened by Nigeria's Obasanjo, he and other Africans presented tough, perceptive and prescriptive analyses aimed at deepening and expanding their commitment to disciplined recovery and development efforts.

For the first time since the rise of African nationalism after World War II, there was reason to believe that Africa's internal efforts might not be distracted by East-West confrontation. A tentative relaxation in superpower tensions, if confirmed by full military disengagement from Afghanistan and Angola, could result in a less divisive, if not more generous, international climate. African needs and issues might then at least compete for international consideration on their merits rather than on their relevance to a zero-sum cold war.


Despite Africa's stark socioeconomic crisis, it was instead the perceived threat of Soviet expansionism in Angola, Mozambique and Ethiopia, and domestic political pressure on the issue of apartheid in South Africa, which commanded Washington's attention. These concerns seemed to pose a more immediate challenge to American interests. From the time he assumed office in 1981, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Chester A. Crocker focused his energies on two objectives: reducing Soviet/Cuban influence and cross-border conflict in southern Africa, and encouraging liberalization of the oppressive racial and political order in South Africa.

The Africa policies of the Carter Administration were dismissed as ineffectual, even though it was on Jimmy Carter's "watch" that Zimbabwe had achieved independence and South Africa had endorsed but not yet implemented a U.N. formula (Security Council Resolution 435) for Namibian independence. Assistant Secretary Crocker believed that softer language, expanded economic and cultural ties, and diplomatic suasion could nudge South Africa toward regional accommodation and internal reform. He first tested this concept of "constructive engagement" on the issue of Namibia.

In mid-1981 the United States broke ranks with other members of a Contact Group (Britain, Canada, France, West Germany) that had been seeking to persuade Pretoria to implement Resolution 435. Judging that multilateral approach to have failed, it unilaterally proposed, and South Africa readily accepted, the idea of linking the withdrawal of South African forces from Namibia to a parallel withdrawal of Cuban forces from Angola. Washington thereby dismantled collective Western diplomatic pressure on Pretoria and provided the issue of Cuban troops as a rationale for a prolonged South African military presence in Namibia.

The United States, alone among the world powers, had not recognized the MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) government that emerged from a violent power struggle following the collapse of Portuguese rule in 1975. A Cuban expeditionary force and Soviet arms had played a crucial role in the victory of the Marxist MPLA over rival movements supported by the United States and South Africa. Despite initial postindependence zealotry and dogmatism, however, the MPLA government pragmatically came to terms with American and other Western oil firms exploiting the country's considerable petroleum reserves, and Cuban forces began to withdraw as early as April 1976. As this withdrawal proceeded, the Carter Administration missed an opportunity in early 1977 to accord relatively uncontroversial recognition to the government. Soon after, the exodus of Cuban troops was ended, and reversed, because of overflights of South African aircraft and mounting antigovernment insurgency. The South African Defense Force (SADF) had helped to reorganize, train and equip remnants of the rival movement UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola), which had regrouped in Angola's southeastern savanna. Led by a formidable, longtime adversary of the MPLA, Jonas Savimbi, whose political roots were in populous and ethnically Ovimbundu central Angola, UNITA's deadly hit-and-run insurgency gradually expanded northward across the Benguela railroad corridor and throughout much of eastern and central Angola.

UNITA's anticommunist stance earned the assistance of Morocco, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, as well as South Africa. By mid-1986 South Africa's assistance alone reportedly totaled about $1 billion.3 The dramatic success of UNITA's guerrilla strategy prompted Cuba and the Soviet Union to ratchet up their assistance to beleaguered Angolan government forces. This, in turn, galvanized sympathy for UNITA among conservative, anticommunist groups in the United States. UNITA became an obvious candidate for Reagan Doctrine assistance to "freedom fighters" opposing governments perceived to be Soviet-imposed. The doctrine's thesis was that relatively small amounts of aid to groups such as UNITA could, at low risk, raise the cost of and ultimately reverse Soviet expansionism of the late Brezhnev years.

As a political chameleon of passing persuasion but steady ambition, Savimbi feted foreign journalists and political leaders at his headquarters in Jamba near the Namibian border. Described by visitors as a charismatic strategist and democrat, Savimbi made a high-profile entry onto the Washington stage in early 1986. He met with President Reagan and other top executive and congressional leaders, publicized his case in a well-orchestrated media campaign and obtained a promise of substantial military help. The 1976 Clark Amendment, which banned such aid to Angolan groups, had been repealed in 1985. By mid-1986 UNITA's defenses against sophisticated Soviet weaponry were being strengthened by officially acknowledged "covert" aid, reportedly including Stinger antiaircraft and TOW antitank missiles.

This new thrust in American policy was intended to force the MPLA to negotiate a political settlement with Savimbi, thereby eliminating the excuse for Cuban troops in Angola. Most European observers feared that American intervention would have the contrary effect of closing the door to a negotiated settlement and the departure of the 35,000 Cuban troops.4 In the event, neither the intent nor the fear would test out before the political and strategic realities of southern Africa were altered by three intervening factors: (1) the cumulative ravages and exhaustion of unwinnable war; (2) the "new thinking" that reoriented Soviet diplomacy; and (3) the overextension and retrenchment of South African military power.


Afflicted by over a quarter-century of anticolonial and internal conflict, Angola was facing disaster by the late 1980s. Its oil revenues (about $2 billion annually) were not enough to pay for billions of dollars' worth of Soviet military equipment, support thousands of Cuban soldiers and technicians and rebuild a ruined economy subject to continuing destruction. The statistics were grim. Since 1975 nearly half of Angola's approximately eight million people had been uprooted. Land mines created tens of thousands of amputees, and hundreds of thousands took refuge in adjoining countries. UNICEF estimated that 55,000 children under the age of five died from violence-related causes in 1986 alone.5 Angola was being consumed by war, a war to which the United States was now contributing.

In 1985 and again in 1987 the MPLA government and its Soviet and Cuban guarantors sought a definitive military solution by means of massive, tank-led offensives designed to capture UNITA's southeastern redoubt and its "capital," Jamba. These slow, easily targeted offensives were meant to destroy UNITA's communications and supply links to Namibia/South Africa. In each case, the intervention of South African air, artillery and surrogate ground forces (the 32 Battalion-white-officered Angolan dissidents) helped UNITA blunt the attacks, but at serious human and material cost to both sides. After the second offensive the MPLA was left with a badly pummeled army and thinly stretched Cuban rearguard forces facing a seemingly endless attritional guerrilla insurgency.6 The enormity of the human suffering and physical destruction disposed even the most war-calloused leadership within the MPLA to become more receptive to the notion of an externally brokered regional settlement.

An agreement that resulted in the withdrawal of Cuban and South African forces from Angola and Namibia would presumably deprive UNITA of its primary source of external support. The MPLA rejected as unnecessary all suggestions that it negotiate with UNITA's Jonas Savimbi, possibly overestimating the extent to which South African involvement was accountable for UNITA's success. Critics suspected that the MPLA might be a victim of its own propaganda, according to which UNITA was little more than a creature of the SADF. The Luanda government seemed unable to accept that to some extent UNITA was a political beneficiary of the MPLA's failure to reach beyond its own traditional urban and northern strongholds to less-educated, rural and religious communities, whose support was essential to national unity. MPLA leaders wanted to believe that if UNITA could be deprived of its Namibian logistical hinterland, its second-echelon leadership would become receptive to offers of individual amnesty and the movement would fade away.

Under Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union's willingness to pay the price of a protective, privileged relationship with a destitute client in faraway southwestern Africa came increasingly into question. It knew that American leadership was still smarting over what was widely, albeit simplistically, viewed as the humiliating "loss" of Angola in 1975 to Soviet domination. Angola had come to symbolize the end of détente. As Moscow's policymakers came to acknowledge the extent to which regional confrontations had poisoned U.S.-Soviet relations, they became more interested in regional disengagement, Informed by the sobering experience of working with a government whose "socialist orientation" was not buttressed by the educated cadres, economic infrastructure or national cohesion necessary to realize its aims, and absorbed by the exigencies of perestroika at home, Soviet authorities became less enthusiastic about pouring additional billions of dollars of scarce resources into a distant military entanglement. Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Anatoly L. Adamishin and Assistant Secretary Crocker became active interlocutors in the search for a way out.

The shift in South Africa's policy was equally sharp and important, though some feared ephemeral. Skeptics doubted that South Africa's shift represented more than a tactical maneuver, just as some distrusted Moscow's "new thinking." The ruling National Party in South Africa must have been uneasy that the rising, extreme right-wing Conservative Party would capitalize electorally on any moves it made to withdraw from Namibia. But there was reason to believe that the shift, however tentative and grudging, reflected new power realities in southern Africa. South Africa had extended its military projection beyond sustainable limits and was finding it prudent to step back.

Twice the United States had encouraged South Africa to overextend itself, according to official South African sources: first in 1975 when Secretary of State Henry Kissinger allegedly urged it to intervene in support of UNITA and other anti-MPLA forces, and again in the mid-1980s when Director of Central Intelligence William Casey and private conservative groups in Washington supported its second engagement with UNITA. In both instances Cuban forces were the immediate cause of South Africa's undoing.

In its September-October 1987 intervention South Africa's formidable long-range artillery, airforce and surrogate ground forces were successful in smashing the MPLA's lumbering, Soviet-designed, motorized offensive at Mavinga, north of Jamba. The South Africans pressed on to join UNITA forces in laying siege to Cuito Cuanavale, where shattered MPLA units had taken refuge. Savoring their Mavinga victory, albeit with unease over small but politically sensitive white conscript casualties, South African officials reacted with seeming scorn when Mr. Crocker announced in early 1988 that he had managed to obtain the Angolan government's formal acceptance of the principle of a total Cuban troop withdrawal, and on a speedier timetable than had previously seemed possible, in return for South African implementation of U.N. Resolution 435.

Some journalists wrote that because South Africa had altered the "military equation" in Angola, the most a Cuban withdrawal might produce would be a South African withdrawal from Angola, not Namibia.7 President P. W. Botha publicly speculated that Cuba was contemplating the withdrawal of its forces without a Namibian settlement. Expressing doubt that Crocker had contributed to this promising situation, Botha credited South African military power, claimed that the Soviets had become "frustrated" and were "shopping" for a compromise, and declared that South Africa had no intention of leaving Angola "until the Cubans leave."8 In Washington, analysts at the Defense Intelligence Agency, long critical of Crocker's greater enthusiasm for negotiations than for military support for UNITA, were speculating that the imminent fall of Cuito Cuanavale might lead to the surrender of other provincial capitals and even UNITA's triumphal entry into Luanda.

As it had since the late 1970s, the South African/UNITA military success led to military escalation. Early in 1988 Cuba sent 10,000 to 15,000 new combat troops to Angola, raising its military presence to approximately 50,000. In addition to reinforcing besieged Cuito Cuanavale, the Cubans seized the initiative and did what the MPLA had long wanted them to do: they moved south toward the Namibian border. As its artillery mired down in rainy season mud outside Cuito Cuanavale, SADF suffered new white casualties and lost at least two Cheetah fighter planes-a serious loss because perhaps only 12 planes were operational and the international arms embargo dating back to 1963 made replacing aircraft difficult. Angolan MiG-23s flying from new bases at Cahama and Xangongo gained air supremacy over southwestern Angola, a dozen white South African soldiers were killed near Calueque Dam on the border, and Angolan aircraft overflew South African military facilities in Ovamboland in Namibia.

South Africa confronted the prospect of greater human and material losses if it undertook an assault on Cuito Cuanavale or attempted to press Cuban forces back from the border. SADF could no longer range freely through southern Angola to accomplish its other mission, to search and destroy guerrilla units of the nationalist South West African People's Organization (SWAPO) seeking to infiltrate into and liberate Namibia. By mid-1988 South African military leaders knew that the new Cuban presence along Namibia's northern border, unless removed by negotiations, would likely translate into increased external support for SWAPO and related encounters with Angolan or Cuban forces.

Suddenly it was a Cuban-imposed "military equation" that was concentrating South African minds. If Pretoria implemented Resolution 435 it would lose the Caprivi Strip base complex that had given SADF striking power into the heart of southern Africa. It would receive an embarrassing influx of angry emigrants from among Namibia's white minority of approximately 90,000, who would attempt to stir political passions in South Africa as Algeria's pieds noires had done in France in 1962. The Conservative Party was poised to exploit the occasion. On the other hand, the African National Congress (ANC) would lose its training bases in Angola, and South Africa would retain control of the vital railhead and port of Walvis Bay and thus the capacity to intervene quickly to thwart any hostile thrust from SWAPO-governed Namibian territory.

In Pretoria the influence of the military was giving way to that of the Foreign Office, as the government seemed to recognize the geopolitical limits of its power. After new rounds of U.S.-brokered diplomatic discussions, in August 1988 several thousand South African troops extricated themselves from Cuito Cuanavale and made an orderly withdrawal back across the Namibian border.


Circumstances having become propitious, Chester Crocker's persistence paid off. Beginning in May with U.S.-mediated talks between South Africa, Angola and Cuba in London, and subsequent meetings in Cairo, New York, Geneva and Brazzaville, the terms of a regional settlement were systematically hammered out. They culminated in the signing of formal agreements on December 22 setting forth the steps and timetable for implementation of Resolution 435 and the departure of Cuban forces from Angola. Cuban troops are to leave over a period of 27 months, with an initial cohort of 3,000 out of 50,000 to leave by April 1, 1989. Namibia's transition to independence is to begin on that same date. A U.N. peacekeeping force of up to 9,000 soldiers, police and administrators costing up to $700 million will move into Namibia as South Africa reduces its troop strength from some 50,000 to 1,500 by July 1. Preparations will then proceed for the election of a constituent assembly based on proportional representation on November 1. Following the assembly's adoption of a constitution, Namibia is slated to gain independence.

Meanwhile, Cuban forces are scheduled to withdraw northward: to 200 miles from the Namibian border by August and then to the 13th parallel above the Benguela railroad by November. By that time, half of Cuba's 50,000 troops should have left the country. The remainder of Cuban forces will leave by stages to be completed by July 1, 1991. Critics of the agreement argue that as of April 1989 South Africa's departure from Namibia will be irreversible, whereas Cuba could halt its withdrawal at any time. Excluded from the settlement, UNITA would be left vulnerable to a Cuban-backed MPLA offensive designed to wipe it out. However, the failure of Cuba and the Soviet Union to support a 1988 dry season assault on UNITA and reports of an informal Cuban-UNITA agreement not to attack each other's forces suggest that the MPLA might not be supported in such action. Continued improvement in Soviet-American relations may depend on the laboriously negotiated regional settlement's not being wrecked on the shoals of Angola's internal conflict.

Angola's quest for peace clearly depends on reaching an internal political settlement. Once Cuban and South African forces are removed from the region, American officials reason, "pressures for political settlement between the MPLA regime of [President] José Eduardo dos Santos and Mr. Savimbi's UNITA movement will become inexorable."9 They have also indicated that the United States will not establish diplomatic relations with the Luanda government or stop blocking its membership in the World Bank and International Monetary Fund until it has come to terms with UNITA. But the dos Santos government has continued strongly to resist having to deal with Savimbi, whom it fears politically and holds personally responsible for alleged UNITA collaboration with Portuguese military officials in the early 1970s and subsequently with the South African military beginning in 1975.

The potential for an internal settlement is complicated by continuing, congressionally supported U.S. aid to UNITA, which could also become a major stumbling block to the implementation of Cuban troop withdrawal. The U.S. aid factor has grown in importance as the UNITA insurgency has shifted northward away from its original South African umbilical cord to regions within reach of an American lifeline via Zaïre. On January 6, in advance of his inauguration, President-elect George Bush wrote Savimbi promising to continue "all appropriate and effective assistance" until realization of a negotiated "national reconciliation." In what a January 12 Washington Post story called Bush's "first foreign policy commitment," he pledged his support to the man UNITA radio refers to as "supreme guide, Comrade President Dr. [Savimbi]." A Bush aide described this support as meaning continued covert military help valued at about $15 million annually, which the incoming administration views as having helped bring about the accords of December 22, as well as support for African diplomatic efforts. It will not be easy for the White House or the State Department to extricate the United States from this commitment, which could perpetuate civil war unless African diplomacy prevails over MPLA and UNITA rigidities.

A powerful congressional alignment led by Senator Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) threatened in October to deny $150 million in essential U.S. funding for the U.N. 435 peacekeeping function (including the monitoring of Cuban troop withdrawal over some 27 months) unless UNITA's inclusion within a settlement was assured. Combined African, Soviet and American pressure and cajoling in favor of national reconciliation of an imaginative kind is needed to overcome the Savimbi factor. Discussion has centered around such formulas as an MPLA offer of a coalition government if Savimbi would "volunteer" to step aside. Perhaps most promising are the efforts of African states to persuade the Luanda government to join in reconciliation talks with UNITA. The heads of state of Nigeria, Morocco, the Ivory Coast and Kenya, among others, have offered their good offices. But at year's end, in a move likely to reinforce MPLA reluctance to negotiate, the Frontline States collectively urged the incoming Bush Administration to discontinue U.S. support for UNITA "bandits." With the likely continuation of both U.S. aid for UNITA and (possibly reduced) Soviet support for the MPLA, however, stalemated civil war and de facto partition loom as a possible outcome.

As for Namibia, it faces an unpromising independence, reliant on mineral wealth of declining value, depleted fisheries and arid agriculture. A rudimentary, racially segregated educational system imposed by South Africa has left its population ill prepared. The country will be vulnerable to social upheaval as thousands of war-brutalized soldiers of the internal South-West Africa Territorial Force and the external SWAPO guerrilla army are demobilized. Thousands of Namibians studying in Cuba, the Soviet Union and elsewhere will also have to be integrated back into local society. A widely predicted victory for SWAPO in the November 1, 1989, elections is less likely to produce the hardline Marxist government feared by some than a fragile, inexperienced government in dire need of international assistance.

Above all, the UNITA issue dramatized how vulnerable to derailment a tortuously negotiated agreement might be even after implementation has begun.10 Yet, however pitted and detouring the road, a grudging, fitful regional retrenchment by an overextended South Africa appeared to be under way at year's end.


In another example of regional retrenchment, in mid-1988 President Botha engaged in a flurry of jet diplomacy with Mozambique, emulating John Vorster's visits to distant African capitals a decade and a half earlier. The time when Pretoria's legions could lay waste its neighbors at little short-term cost was ebbing.

Reduced to chaos by drought, administrative incapacity, political disaffection and South African-nourished rebellion, Mozambique had signed the U.S.-encouraged Nkomati agreement with South Africa in 1984 under which it expelled militants of the ANC in return for Pretoria's pledge to discontinue its destabilization policy against the hard-pressed, socialist-oriented but increasingly pragmatic government of FRELIMO, the Mozambique Liberation Front. But the Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO) continued its scorched-earth devastation, though it became largely self-propelled. Mozambique turned to the West for help amid what seemed like expressions of embarrassed relief in Moscow, heretofore FRELIMO's principal but parsimonious benefactor. Military units from neighboring Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Malawi attempted to restore control over vital transport routes, and British trainers and Italian equipment began to help rebuild the army. The Reagan Administration dropped its earlier hostility and in 1983-84 joined in providing modest food and technical assistance.

Despite this assistance, the Maputo government could not end the chaos. But one of the causes of its trauma, South African complicity in the RENAMO rebellion, seemed on the wane. In mid-1988 Pretoria initiated bilateral talks designed to resuscitate the largely lapsed Nkomati agreement, pledged to discontinue any residual support to RENAMO insurgents and promised technical and security assistance to permit the transmission and sale of electrical power from Mozambique's Cabora Bassa dam on the Zambezi River to South Africa. A successful meeting between Presidents Botha and Joaquim Chissano at Cabora Bassa in September appeared to undercut lingering pressure from zealous Reagan Doctrine enthusiasts in Washington to assist the "anticommunist" RENAMO. Even more important to the debate in Washington over whether to aid that group was a compelling report released by the State Department, which held RENAMO responsible for vast destruction and the deaths of some 100,000 civilians.11 As Mozambique's plight commanded increasing international concern and Western assistance, South African policymakers had to reckon that renewed support for attritional destabilization would bring them into collision with the West.

Seeking to offset military retrenchment with diplomatic outreach, President Botha also flew to Malawi, Zaïre and the Ivory Coast in September-October 1988. While they seemed to provide South Africa with an ephemeral measure of external acceptance, his visits were not reciprocated and the Frontline leadership of Botswana, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe did not receive him.

In Zimbabwe, one of the few countries where agricultural production has remained strong, the ruling ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Union) and the opposition ZAPU (Zimbabwe African People's Union) achieved a political reconciliation in 1988. These longtime political rivals merged, advancing Prime Minister Robert Mugabe's goal of a one-party state by 1990. The reconciliation also diminished South Africa's opportunities for political destabilization in this key Frontline State. Although South Africa used such tactics less frequently in 1988, South African soldiers raided an alleged ANC headquarters in Botswana in late March, killing four.

Regional dependence on and vulnerability to South Africa will be further decreased if Angola reaches an internal settlement and the troop withdrawal proceeds. It will open the way for reconstruction and use of the Benguela railroad, enabling Zambia and Zaïre to redirect mineral exports away from South African transport routes and ports. Also, Angola could then use its petroleum wealth to relaunch what was previously developing as a rich and diverse economy based on coffee, maize, diamonds, iron and food-processing.


The second goal of "constructive engagement" was to facilitate and hasten racial and political reform within South Africa. During the early years of the Reagan Administration, P. W. Botha promulgated a series of reforms eliminating pass laws, the ban on mixed marriages and group restrictions on university admissions. As it gained momentum, the reform agenda raised expectations and catalyzed a feverish growth of black political organizations, including trade unions, student movements and community volunteer groups. But reform did not extend to such essentials of apartheid as the Group Areas Act, separate homeland citizenship and denial of the franchise to blacks at the national level. The gap between what the National Party and black political leadership considered a reasonable process, scope and pace of reform led to frustration, despair and accelerating violence. As South Africa's townships erupted, the government responded with armored troop carriers and tear gas, and millions of American television viewers found themselves caught up in South Africa's racial drama.

The Free South Africa Movement burst onto the American scene in the wake of President Reagan's reelection in 1984. Rejecting "constructive engagement" as failed appeasement, antiapartheid activists campaigned for divestment, disinvestment, consumer boycotts and, ultimately, national trade sanctions, all of which culminated in a 1986 Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act adopted by Congress over the president's veto. Interviews with both advocates and opponents of such measures revealed more concern for being on the "right side" of the issue than for strategic and realistic thinking about how best to facilitate fundamental reform at tolerable cost.12

The sanctions passed by Congress were limited and inexpensive. They banned a range of South African imports (excluding strategic minerals) and terminated landing rights for South African Airways in the United States. Most important, they marked a downturn in U.S.-South African relations, underscored by the January 1987 report of an independent, presidentially appointed advisory committee on U.S. policy toward South Africa. The report concluded that circumstances in South Africa had "moved in a direction sharply at odds with the hopes and expectations of the architects" of American policy.13

Bitter and defiant, the South African government severely restricted foreign news media and restored order in the townships by using the police, army and a succession of "states of emergency." The National Party government professed a continuing belief that the 5-to-1 black majority should be incorporated into economic and political structures of the country. But it was unable to persuade credible black leadership to endorse or participate in limited, unilaterally dispensed "power sharing." It persisted in efforts to crush "radical opposition" such as the pluralistic United Democratic Front and the underground, exiled ANC, which demand a universal political franchise. Its determination to crush this opposition was dramatized by a three-year treason trial of UDF and other black leaders. Four defendants were found guilty of treason; in December 1988 they were sentenced to prison, but this verdict made their crimes of antiapartheid advocacy and "hostile intent" legally punishable by hanging. If these were the consequences of mere dissent, The New York Times asked, "what course remains open but revolution?"14 In late 1988 South Africa's best-known political prisoner, the ill and aging Nelson Mandela, was shifted to a relatively comfortable confinement-but with little or no prospect of political freedom.

Pretoria appears locked into a policy of coerce and co-opt, hoping to gain local black support, or at least quiescence, by means of socioeconomic programs of improved housing, education and social services. The aim is to buy time to persuade appreciable numbers of blacks to accept a modified apartheid system incorporating limited local self-government in a patchwork of political entities reminiscent of the Holy Roman Empire. Leaving aside the question of whether economic well-being and political equity can be achieved in a framework of enduring separation, carrying out this policy depends on the availability of massive financial resources.

Although the South African economy is based on gold, diamonds and strategic minerals, which have been exempted from sanctions and are easily transported, it has proved vulnerable to external trade sanctions and a related loss of investor confidence. Over the past decade South Africa's population has grown at a faster rate than its economy-3.6 percent versus 1.3 percent, according to some estimates. Gross national product is currently growing at about 2.5 percent annually, well below the five percent needed to meet job demand. Unemployment within the economically active black population is already 30 to 40 percent and is expected to reach 50 to 60 percent within 15 years.

The prospects for an improving economy are not good, given the current situation: a depreciated currency, a 14-percent inflation rate, some $12 billion in external debt payments due in 1990-91 and a $5-billion net capital outflow since 1986. From the time of the Soweto uprising in 1976, South Africa has been a net exporter of capital, unable to attract new financial and technological investment crucial to growth and its co-optation strategy. Nothing short of fundamental political change is likely to alter these impediments to the economy's long-term health.

Compounding the economic difficulties is the right-wing backlash against the National Party's haphazard moves to reduce racial discrimination and introduce controlled power sharing. The Conservative Party, pledged to return to pure Verwoerdian apartheid, replaced the liberal Progressive Federal Party as the official opposition in parliament after the March 1988 elections. In municipal elections in October Conservatives won 60 percent of the seats on Transvaal city councils and promptly moved to reintroduce petty apartheid segregation in cities such as Boksburg. While the Conservative Party enjoys a heady sense of growing power, a brain drain of liberal professionals steadily carries away vital skilled manpower (half of the country's medical school graduates emigrate), and black labor and consumers try desperately to organize countervailing pressure. The Conservatives demand "self-determination" for South Africa's five million whites, which means partition of the country by whites. The more extreme, paramilitary Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB) with an estimated 5,000 to 9,000 members and hundreds of thousands of supporters and tacit sympathizers, is fanning a mystical, xenophobic Afrikaner nationalism. Believed to have a strong covert following among government employees, notably the police, the AWB poses a threat of violent resistance to any reform program seen as undermining continued white domination.

As the 1980s end, South Africa confronts an inexorable logic. A coercively fragmented and stratified state of five million white citizens dominating some 28 million "others" cannot hope to achieve and sustain healthy economic development. It cannot do so even if it stops expending huge sums administering and defending Namibia (over $1 billion a year), aiding UNITA (some $250 million a year), dispatching expeditionary forces, supporting surrogate armies and mounting "preemptive strikes" against presumed ANC facilities in neighboring countries. But it is no less evident that the fundamental reform required will remain beyond reach so long as right-wing reaction paralyzes the state. A specter of near-term stalemate and long-term isolation, violence and decay haunt South Africa's future.

In late 1987 Secretary Shultz and Assistant Secretary Crocker acknowledged their "frustration" at the "grim realities," and a "debilitating pessimism" concerning prospects for the construction of a democratic South Africa. Arguing that the 1986 sanctions, which they had opposed, had served to arrest "meaningful reform" and abet a cycle of violence and counterviolence, they also acknowledged that Americans were deeply divided over how to approach a seemingly intractable tragedy. Crocker decried an "adolescent tendency" among South Africans of all persuasions "alternately to cultivate or scapegoat" foreigners and, speaking with the sobered voice of experience, mused: "we know now-more than ever-that the fate of South Africa is not in our hands."15

Implicitly recognizing this impasse, George Bush proposed during his presidential campaign that efforts to "compel" change in South Africa with more "unilateral" sanctions be forgone in favor of "a more effective diplomatic strategy" focused on active "multilateral" coordination with Europe and Japan. "In my administration," he averred, "the first thing I will do is meet with the heads of state of other Western countries to work out a united Western position on South Africa." Such a position would be premised on a need for "fundamental political change" and a recognition that "racial conflict in South Africa would be a catastrophe for all concerned." The style, if not the content, was in contrast with the years of apparent Reagan indifference to apartheid and multilateralism. Candidate George Bush also called for an expansion of government and private initiatives "to help black South Africans in areas such as housing, education and training."16

A combination of coordinated international pressure and black empowerment initiatives, if given substance and focus, might in fact improve chances for a positive outcome. If, as George Bush argues, sanctions have been counterproductive in furthering internal reform, they may have been productive in inducing more accommodating South African policies toward the region. Might concerted multilateral sanctions, chosen for their potential effectiveness rather than for domestic political gratification, impose on South Africa a sense of realism about its internal future? Bipartisan and multilateral discussions might concentrate on the identification of a selective list of measures that could be rapidly implemented, and that could have potentially sharp psychological or strategic impact. These could include: an international air embargo or bans on relatively easily monitored sales of specific industrial chemicals and high-technology machinery. Any multilateral initiatives of this nature would need to be accompanied by an explicit commitment to respond promptly to a fundamental reversal of race policies in South Africa by ending sanctions and resuming fruitful economic ties.

In the absence of such substantive multilateral action, "black empowerment" initiatives risk being perceived by increasingly battered, embittered and radicalized black South Africans as manipulative palliatives. As a substitute rather than an aspect of a comprehensive multilateral policy of all South Africa's present and alternative trading partners-including Britain, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and West Germany-such programs could become increasingly controversial.

President George Bush's electoral endorsement of "economic assistance to the member states of the Southern African Development Coordination Conference" points up another policy opportunity.17 Increased support for transport and other SADCC development projects would strengthen the region and reorient trade (via the Beira and Benguela railroads) and communications away from dependency on South Africa. The U.S.- and Soviet-backed international guarantees in the Angola-Namibia settlement and increased support for security forces in other Frontline States would help dissuade South Africa from returning to an aggressive regional destabilization policy.

Prospects for American policy toward South and southern Africa remain problematic. But the Bush Administration might improve them by working with a range of partners, including seasoned allies, trade competitors and traditional adversaries, to galvanize a broad international consensus behind a well-considered, patiently pursued set of strategies.


The unfolding tragedy of South Africa serves to command the attention of an otherwise distracted United States to matters African. But it may also divert attention from the intimidating complex of crises besetting the continent as a whole. While policymakers concentrate on southern Africa, accelerating deforestation and desertification, spreading malnutrition and disease (including AIDS), debilitating warfare in potentially rich agricultural countries such as Angola, Ethiopia and Sudan, deteriorating terms of trade and soaring international debt are combining to make Africa a human and environmental disaster area. The crisis is so diffuse and of such magnitude that the United States and the world at large shrink from engaging it.

The cumulative destruction and exhaustion of protracted warfare is so severe that it can force protagonists to contemplate negotiated settlement. Prospects are least auspicious in Ethiopia, where the military government remains determined to crush Eritrean and Tigre nationalism despite horrendous casualties; they are better in Sudan, where some northern leaders show signs of willingness to abandon forced Islamization of the war-and-famine-decimated but resolutely rebellious south; promising in the Western Sahara, where economically motivated rapprochement between Algeria and Morocco is facilitating a political resolution to the Polisario insurgency; and consummated in Chad, where costly military defeat finally persuaded Libya's Muammar al-Qaddafi to abandon his territorial ambitions.

Presidential candidate Bush acknowledged a need for debt rescheduling and greater coordination and mobilization of Western financial assistance, but he also spoke of Africa as "a major and growing market for U.S. commodities, technology and equipment."18 The reality is otherwise. Confronting it, General Obasanjo has observed that only Africans can "know what is really amiss" and only they "can tell it as it is" to themselves. Considering perestroika, the coming integration of Europe, and the economic and technological miracle of Japan and the NICs, Obasanjo said, and "contrasting all this with what is taking place in Africa, it is difficult to believe that we inhabit the same historical time."19

What is required, in the Nigerian leader's view, is an assertion of democratic values and collaboration among African states. Eschewing the notion of any quick fix, he also urges renewed efforts to persuade the international community to stabilize commodity prices, lower protectionist barriers and, in general, build "a new and fairer economic order." Above all, however, Obasanjo says Africans must rely principally on their own efforts. They must depend on their own imagination and purpose, draw upon their own human resources. Specifically, they must free themselves from continuing dependency on the "roaring industry" of up to 80,000 expatriate advisers costing over half of Africa's $7 to $8 billion in annual assistance.

In ascribing a "special responsibility" to African universities and intellectuals to devise solutions and spur action, he points to a core aspect of the African crisis in which the United States might take a lead in promoting an international response. The universities that Obasanjo sees as crucial to African efforts to reverse the continent's decline are themselves hard hit by the economic situation. The development and preservation of key African universities and research centers with adequate libraries, laboratories and trained African faculty and researchers should be an achievable goal. Bearing in mind the role that land grant colleges played in the development of the United States, an American-sponsored international effort to help African universities and intellectuals meet the challenge of this historical time would seem a logical priority.

Because the United States is preoccupied with its own debt and trade deficit, it is unlikely to expand significantly its annual $800 to $850 million in bilateral assistance to Africa (about ten percent of the total foreign aid Africa receives). But it could become a leader rather than a foot-dragger in devising more generous, coherent and practicable means of scheduling and meeting debt payments.20 Specifically, it could encourage international financial and bilateral assistance criteria based on demonstrable productivity gains rather than ideological or strategic considerations;21 it could respond to General Obasanjo's arguments for a "variegated" approach to development by encouraging maximum multilateral coordination, flexibility and humility before the enormity of Africa's unfolding crisis.

American policymakers will continue to concentrate diplomatic energy on the special challenges of southern Africa, but they can at the same time develop initiatives relevant to the larger African context. They can press upon the Soviet Union and others agreements to stop arms sales to such self-destructing societies as those of Ethiopia, Sudan, Sahara and Angola, and joint or parallel efforts to facilitate conflict resolution and economic reconstruction. They can build on international consensus achieved in cases such as Angola to turn energies to creative, self-sustaining uses, to rescue afflicted societies from further decline. In so doing they will contribute to the quest for concrete diplomatic and economic breakthroughs and models desperately needed by a continent in distress.

1 See address by Secretary of State George P. Shultz to Organization of African Unity gathering, New York City, Oct. 4, 1988.

2 See report of the secretary-general in the mid-term review of the United Nations Programme of Action for African Economic Recovery and Development 1986-1988, A/43/150, Aug. 10, 1988, and Los Angeles Times, Sept. 19, 1988.

3 Los Angeles Times, Sept. 16, 1988.

4 For example, L'Express (Paris), Feb. 24, 1986.

5 See U.S. Committee on Refugees, Uprooted Angolans: From Crisis to Catastrophe, Washington, D.C.: August 1987; Washington Post, Aug. 30, 1987.

6 See John A. Marcum, "Regional Security in Southern Africa: Angola," Survival (London), January-February 1988.

7 Peter Younghusband in The Washington Times, Mar. 17, 1988.

8 Arnaud de Borchgrave interview with P. W. Botha, The Washington Times, Mar. 14, 1988.

9 Herman W. Nickel, U.S. ambassador to South Africa from 1982 to 1986, in The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 25, 1988.

10 See Gillian Gunn, "A Guide to the Intricacies of the Angola-Namibia Negotiations," CSIS Africa Notes, September 1988.

11 Report by Robert Gersony, "Summary of Mozambican Refugee Accounts of Principally Conflict-Related Experience in Mozambique," April 1988.

13 The Report of the Secretary of State's Advisory Committee on South Africa, Washington, D.C., January 1987.

14 The New York Times, Nov. 26, 1988.

15 See Chester A. Crocker, "A Democratic Future: The Challenge for South Africans," CUNY Conference on South Africa in Transition, White Plains, N.Y., Oct. 1, 1987; and George Shultz, "The Democratic Future of South Africa," Business Council for International Understanding, New York City, Sept. 29, 1987.

17 Ibid., p. 16.

18 Ibid.

19 Address by General Olusegun Obasanjo at Africa Leadership Forum, Ota, Nigeria, Oct. 24, 1988.

21 See Isebill V. Gruhn, "African Debt: Shadow Play of the 1980s," Africa and the World, April 1988.

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  • John A. Marcum is Professor of Politics and Chair of International Programs at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is the author of a two-volume study, The Angolan Revolution.
  • More By John A. Marcum