Southern Africa: Challenges and Choices

Courtesy Reuters

When a new president takes office in January 1989, one of the major challenges he will face is to craft a coherent and sustainable policy toward southern Africa. His ability to meet this challenge will be affected greatly by developments over the next six months. Current congressional efforts to pass new sanctions against South Africa could further politicize the apartheid issue and result in actions that would restrict the next administration’s ability to deal resolutely and effectively with Pretoria.

Moreover, the outcome of U.S.-sponsored talks currently under way between Angola, Cuba and South Africa to bring about the independence of Namibia and the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola will greatly influence the opportunities for a new relationship with the Angolan government, as well as the possibilities for removing this conflict as a source of tension in U.S. relations with Moscow and Havana. Unfortunately, the potential impact of developments in the final months of the Reagan era on the options available to the next president has not been widely recognized.

The process of building a broad bipartisan consensus that will enable the next president to grapple with southern African issues quickly and confidently should begin immediately. Building such a consensus requires a balanced understanding of the sources of recent policy failures, a clear recognition of the deep-seated nature of conflict in southern Africa, and a willingness to reexamine U.S. policy objectives.


Southern Africa has always been difficult terrain for U.S. policymakers. The several failures involved in the collapse of the Reagan Administration’s policy of "constructive engagement" are only the latest in a long series of frustrated initiatives. Over the past three decades, Republican and Democratic officials alike have repeatedly miscalculated the stability of white rule, the strength of black resistance and the significance of Soviet and Cuban involvement in the region, with equally damaging consequences.

In their efforts to promote political change in southern Africa some administrations have relied on strategies emphasizing "quiet diplomacy"

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