Courtesy Reuters

The United States and Africa: Victory for Diplomacy

On April 18, 1980, as Lord Soames and Robert Mugabe exchanged compliments, the Union Jack made its final descent on the African continent and the flag of Zimbabwe flew alone after a generation of struggle in the United Nations, on the battlefield, and at the polls. With the independence of Zimbabwe, U.S. policy toward Africa registered an important achievement, and a new period in African-American relations began. Ironically, few policymakers in the Congress or Department of State had believed such an outcome to be possible. However, real African and American interests ultimately prevailed against the anxieties and prejudices which have long limited our thinking about events in Africa and had also blocked a settlement of that long-lived conflict.

At the inaugural ceremony, Prime Minister Mugabe's call for reconciliation between blacks and whites came as a welcome surprise to those who had for years dismissed him as "a Marxist-terrorist trying to gain power through the barrel of a gun." Despite widespread doubts outside Zimbabwe about the strength of Mugabe's political constituency, he had achieved a solid electoral victory over both Bishop Abel Muzorewa, on whom both Britain and South Africa had placed their hopes, and Joshua Nkomo, who enjoyed military support from the Soviet bloc. The unexpected size of his majority gave Mugabe an unequivocal mandate which greatly simplified the task of the British in handing over power. All in all, the election and handover represented a triumph of democracy in the face of considerable external pressure.

The Zimbabwe settlement must also be recorded as a victory of the Western alliance in cooperation with the Organization of African Unity (OAU). It signaled a renewal of the cooperation in decolonization which came under Western leadership and via the United Nations during the 1950s and 1960s. And it curtailed at least temporarily the trend toward growing dependence on Soviet military aid to bring about African liberation. That trend had proved all-important in the 1970s, when the West backed Portugal against Soviet-armed liberation movements in Angola,

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