Argument

An expert's point of view on a current event.

Africa’s Needs

The pillars on which Africa's peace and security rest -- disarmament and development -- have been assailed by America's policies during the past four years.

William Betsch/AFP/Getty Images
William Betsch/AFP/Getty Images
William Betsch/AFP/Getty Images

Africa faces serious dangers in 1985. But the danger of the "new colonialism" that the Republican party platform waves in its face ­the "tripartite axis of the Soviet Union, Cuba, and Libya" -- is not one of them. Africa's most serious problems are the diversion of re­sources into armaments, negative economic growth, armed conflicts invariably heightened by superpower rivalry, and the denial of fundamental human rights. These are threats to America's interests in Africa as well.

Africa cannot expect to attain its full politi­cal, economic, and social potential without the global peace and security that also are essential for the progress of the rest of the world. Yet the pillars on which that peace and security rest -- disarmament and development -- have been assailed by America's policies during the past four years.

Solidarity with others has not weighed much in American thinking in recent years. Yet any threat to world security is a potential threat to every country. No single issue poses a greater threat than the continued deploy­ment and stockpiling of enormous quantities of nuclear weapons. My own country, Nige­ria, would suffer irreparable damage, if not total collapse, after a nuclear war, even if it were not struck by a single nuclear weapon. The same applies to the rest of Africa.

Africa faces serious dangers in 1985. But the danger of the "new colonialism" that the Republican party platform waves in its face ­the "tripartite axis of the Soviet Union, Cuba, and Libya" — is not one of them. Africa’s most serious problems are the diversion of re­sources into armaments, negative economic growth, armed conflicts invariably heightened by superpower rivalry, and the denial of fundamental human rights. These are threats to America’s interests in Africa as well.

Africa cannot expect to attain its full politi­cal, economic, and social potential without the global peace and security that also are essential for the progress of the rest of the world. Yet the pillars on which that peace and security rest — disarmament and development — have been assailed by America’s policies during the past four years.

Solidarity with others has not weighed much in American thinking in recent years. Yet any threat to world security is a potential threat to every country. No single issue poses a greater threat than the continued deploy­ment and stockpiling of enormous quantities of nuclear weapons. My own country, Nige­ria, would suffer irreparable damage, if not total collapse, after a nuclear war, even if it were not struck by a single nuclear weapon. The same applies to the rest of Africa.

Since Africans cannot escape the conse­quences of decisions an American president makes, it is in their interest for him to understand Africa’s point of view. A presi­dent’s daily decisions can mean continuing starvation and poverty for many in Africa. And they can affect the local use of force that an aggressive, racist regime in South Africa may attempt in response to new American concepts of security. Because the Western superpower continues to show such absolute faith in nuclear weapons for strength and influence, it is little wonder that a regional bully like South Africa has, according to some reports, intensified its own nuclear program, not to mention its policy of destabilizing its neighbors. Thus the local security implica­tions of the international arms race being fueled by superpower policies are as grave for Africa as the economic consequences.

Now that the American electoral campaign is over, surely the rhetoric of military superi­ority should give way to the determined search for common security. The continued total world expenditure of nearly $700 billion on armaments is an unpardonable waste. The United States and its archrival, the Soviet Union, are responsible for the bulk of it. They must show the way toward redirecting world material and intellectual resources to econom­ic and social development by committing themselves to disarmament.

Americans must understand that having more and more missiles in their silos is false security if by diverting resources and energies it weakens the social, economic, and political fabric of the world and increases the risk of the very disorder they fear. The essential first step toward attaining genuine security must be to reopen dialogue at the highest levels. This can lead to releasing resources urgently needed for economic growth.

Africa’s Economic Crises

The most immediate danger facing many African states is economic collapse. Economic problems have had and will have profound political consequences: the overthrow of re­gimes and ever-growing strife. Africa’s eco­nomic crises may not attract headlines compa­rable to Africa’s political turbulence, but the roots of the political turbulence can often be traced to the broader economic crisis.

Africans for their part must admit that, in the two and a half decades of their independ­ence, they have performed woefully economi­cally. The once-thriving food exports of the 1960s have given way during the 1980s to food deficits and heavy dependence on food im­ports, which drain Africa’s meager foreign exchange. Food imports are, of course, only a reflection of the almost total collapse of Afri­can agriculture. Between the mid-1970s and the present, commodity prices in the world market have fallen drastically. Recently the impact of global inflation and recession has thrown African economies — already among the world’s least developed — deeper into de­pression, made worse by escalating debt and chronic balance-of-payments deficits.

The United States has responded to this continental tragedy by merely following its conventional aid program to promote Ameri­can interests. Aid has generally gone not to the most deserving countries but to those countries whose professed political orienta­tions and military postures mesh with the currently perceived interests of Washington. Although it is true that during the past three years of severe drought in much of Africa, U.S. aid increased, some of that increase was wiped out by inflation. Food aid more than doubled, how­ever, everywhere aid was too little and, even worse, too late.

Relying exclusively on private-sector invest­ment to solve Africa’s economic problems has not worked. Overseas companies simply have not been pouring investment into Africa, and no change in investment codes will alter this fact. The formula of the Reagan administra­tion should no longer be an article of faith. But neither can an ill-digested ideological approach to Africa’s problems, imposed with­out due regard for African culture and for the continent’s rudimentary economic develop­ment, be an unqualified success.

U.S. positions on international economic issues also have aggravated Africa’s problems. American opposition to equitable commodity agreements has ensured price swings that are detrimental to raw-material producers. Some African countries are so poor and uncredit­worthy that they have never been able to attract the private-bank loans that would put them in the honored class of debtor countries. Because they have little choice but to try to maintain existing facilities and service debts with depressed earnings, it is hardly surpris­ing that most African states face bankruptcy and consequent political and social disorder.

Moreover, it is unfair and immoral that the poorest countries of the world are compelled by the nature of the international monetary system to finance the deficits of the wealthiest states. The explanation that this resource flow reflects economic recovery and expansion in developed economies is both feeble and incor­rect: Many other developed economies also are adversely affected by high U.S. interest rates. If through deficit fiscal policy America con­tinues to mortgage the future, surely someone must pay for that future. But who? When? And how? If only Americans paid, the rest of the world would worry less.

In addition, Washington has been strikingly unsympathetic to African debt problems and, indeed, to Third World debt problems in general. It has advised some African states to follow the standard IMF (International Mone­tary Fund) stabilization package, which may include devaluation of currency; reduction or elimination of subsidies; reduction of gov­ernment spending, which often results in cutting social services; and removal of trade restrictions. The IMF prescription, however, designed four decades ago for developed econ­omies, would be disastrous for many African states.

In the case of Nigeria, which obtains rough­ly 90 percent of its foreign-exchange earnings from crude oil sales and which imports even basic agricultural inputs, a drastic and abrupt devaluation of the naira, as demanded by the IMF, would only escalate inflation and fuel social and political unrest. What has led Nige­ria into its current balance-of-payments diffi­culties is precisely the unrestrained import of goods and services, both necessary and unnec­essary. Today, accepting the IMF formula would be self-destructive. In virtually all other respects, the current government of Nigeria has actually gone beyond the demands of the IMF in redirecting its economy. Indeed, it is far from clear that an American administra­tion, currently unable to qualify for an IMF program because of its high deficits, overval­ued currency, and import restrictions, would willingly meet IMF conditions.

Africa’s leaders rightly perceive the IMF package as a prescription for economic con­traction and industrial collapse, as well as for the social and political chaos that would follow. They also correctly view the package as an instrument by which the developed and industrialized economies dominate the Third World. In Brioni, Yugoslavia, in May 1984, the Interaction Council of Former Heads of Gov­ernment, declared that the debt problem was created jointly by all parties-debtor coun­tries, international banks, and creditor coun­tries. Therefore, all have the responsibility to seek solutions that take into account the interests of debtors and creditors alike and that maintain a stable, orderly, and just world economic and financial system. Such solutions cannot be found without political actions by creditor countries as well as by debtor coun­tries.

For their part the debtors (as well as the lending banks that goaded them on) must recognize that their borrowings far exceeded what was possible for them to repay when they took loan after loan in the 1970s. They must be realistic and vow never to fall into such extravagant "planning" again. Agricul­ture must become the highest priority for all African governments — as it already is for some. For Africans, food self-sufficiency is the first essential step toward genuine security and economic development. In agriculture, the private sector should take the lead, with governments supplying funds only for re­search and development and the essential infrastructure: roads and power and water systems. Of course, there will be cases requir­ing other government subsidies from time to time.

But some African states cannot possibly become self-sufficient in food production. Nor are their prospects for other economic ad­vances good. Nineteenth-century European imperialism left Africa with at least a dozen states whose resources are negligible and that exist now only because of virtual subsidies from their former colonial rulers. Their only alternative is to become part of a neighboring state with better prospects. But political difficulties apart, that measure would merely in­crease the burden on the larger, better-placed neighbor, which no doubt already suffers problems of its own.

These problems are not isolated from Amer­ica’s policies and interests. The United States can take several steps to alleviate Africa’s debt and agricultural difficulties. As leader of the free world and center of Western banking interests, the United States can take the initia­tive in the unpalatable task of addressing the debt of developing countries to see what can, with minimal damage, be written off. The United States not only can but must act to bring down and stabilize its own interest rates. No debtor country can plan to survive economically, let alone develop, if it cannot know from one month to the next what interest rate it will have to pay, especially if the direction of change in already high inter­est rates is ever upward.

But while Africans are striving toward growth and development, they require emer­gency assistance if millions are not to starve. If the immediate issue is relief from drought and debt, then in the long term the United States can assist Africa in developing its agricultural resources so that individual countries can once again feed themselves. Since the United States has an interest in large, consolidated markets, it might also encourage and assist such floun­dering regional economic organizations as the Economic Community of West African States and the Southern African Development Coor­dination Conference (SADCC), both of which can mobilize resources for growth and devel­opment.

The African environment in 1985 will con­tinue to be conflict-ridden, reflecting the continent’s long history, colonial inheritance, and current social and economic turbulence. But Africans will continue to seek to isolate these conflicts, whatever their root causes or nature, from superpower exploitation.

American Misperceptions

Traditional American policy has been rhe­torically sympathetic to African efforts to develop African solutions to African prob­lems. More recent policy practice has been to focus single-mindedly on geostrategic consid­erations that misperceive African conflicts as extensions of superpower rivalry. Conflicts that are not related to the global balance of forces are quickly exacerbated, and regional peacemaking efforts that seek to manage con­flicts are rendered impotent by American intervention, as in Chad.

Most Americans and, I have no doubt, most Soviets, had never heard of Chad. But sudden­ly, because Libya was interested in its neigh­bor, America discovered critical strategic in­terests there. Clearly the issues in Chad did not warrant America’s out-of-proportion reac­tion, either to protect Sudan or to punish Libya. Like other Chadian leaders, President Hissen Habre has enjoyed the hospitality and support of Libyan leader Muammar el-Qadda­fi. But Libyan diplomacy in Africa and be­yond has not yet attained and may never attain its objectives of Arab unity, liberation of Palestine, enthronement of the People’s Congress, and placement in power all over Africa of leaders sympathetic to Qaddafi’s position. Further, no African leader wants to substitute one kind of imperialism for another, no matter the color of the imperialist-white, yellow, beige, or black. Chad must be encour­aged to find the solution to its persistent internal strife on the basis of the Lagos agreement, which makes provision for includ­ing all contending factions in a government of national unity.

The immediate and full implementation of the Lagos agreement would prevent civil war and make any peacekeeping force unnecessary even after the complete withdrawal of French and Libyan troops. But if the Lagos agreement is not implemented, whatever peacekeeping force may be introduced into Chad should have the approval and financial support of the U.N. Security Council. The ill-fated OAU (Organization of African Unity) peacekeeping force of 1981-1982 foundered in no small measure because outside support for the effort was based far more on protecting the interests of Sudan and opposing those of Qaddafi than on concern for a peaceful Chad. African states, especially Nigeria, have been searching pains­takingly for a Chadian-derived solution since 1978. That search resulted in the Lagos agree­ment. It has proved impossible, however, to implement all of the provisions of the agree­ment because of external interference and the refusal of outsiders to reject the efforts of the different Chadian factions to use superpower rivalries in their own cause. That is why Security Council support is essential.

The Western Sahara is another conflict area that, with Chad, paralyzed the OAU in 1982 and 1983. Although the United States has not been directly involved, its supply of arms to Morocco, again based on non-African geostra­tegic considerations, has strengthened King Hassan II’s government in its refusal to nego­tiate with the OAU-recognized Western Sahara liberation movement, the Polisario Front (Front for Liberation of Saguia Hamra and Rio de Oro).

The U.S. administration should now pres­sure Hassan to implement the 1983 OAU resolution that called on Morocco and the Polisario Front to move toward a referendum on the Western Sahara. Although a referen­dum would be difficult to arrange, by coopera­ting, Morocco could extricate itself from this costly war and also spare Africa the agonies arising from continuation of the conflict. Any other solution to the Western Sahara problem that the proposed union of Morocco and Libya might impose by force of arms or diplomatic maneuver would leave the OAU divided and disabled, and northwest Africa unpeaceful for some time to come. No matter how imperfect the OAU may be, Africa has no substitute, and it will profit no member to destroy the organi­zation.

No other African political issue is as central and emotionally charged, however, as the situation in southern Africa. South Africa has been able to maintain its intransigence in no small measure through weapons and technolo­gy supplied by the West. All American admin­istrations say they abhor and deplore apart­heid. But that is not enough. Before 1981, the United States was willing to lead the West to pressure South Africa to implement U.N. Security Council Resolution 435, passed in 1978, on Namibian independence. Since 1981, however, America has clearly tilted in South Africa’s favor through the policy of "construc­tive engagement."

We have been told that the recent Nkomati Accord and its aftermath have promoted re­gional peace in South Africa. But the accord is more a certification of South Africa’s current and future dominance in the region than anything else. The efforts of South Africa’s neighbors to extricate themselves from its historically and colonially imposed economic web they formed SADCC in 1979 for just that purpose-foundered when drought and recession undermined their strength. West­ern countries might have significantly helped their effort to reorient their econ­omies but instead provided inadequate as­sistance and continued to stress their bilateral relations and problems with the member countries. The American rejection of aid to Mozambique because of its Marxist leadership is a striking example.

Thus the Nkomati Accord between Mozam­bique and South Africa must be seen for what it is-not a victory for peace, but a setback in the war against apartheid and oppression in South Africa. Three years of drought, com­bined with a failed economic program and a successful South African destabilization policy against Mozambique, forced President Samora Machel to negotiate in order to prevent the starvation of his people and to stop the contin­ued destruction of life and property by dissi­dents trained and armed by Pretoria. For South Africa the agreement is, at best, a pyrrhic victory, and for black Africa, at worst, the loss of a battle. But the struggle to enthrone basic human rights, racial accommo­dation, social justice, and equity in southern Africa will continue until won.

The incumbent American administration has said that constructive engagement is aimed at building an "overall framework for regional security." Yet it is illusory to expect regional security and peace to be established on a foundation of racial and social injustice and economic oppression. Both in pronounce­ments and application, constructive engage­ment has cast serious doubt on the sincerity of America’s stated wish to pressure South Afri­ca to undertake even minimal, cosmetic changes. The policy has encouraged the South African government to conclude that the world believes that its recent and dubious constitutional changes mean genuine progress in solving its racial problems. Africans cannot accept that the continued exclusion of the black majority from all political rights and participation constitutes progress. Nor can they understand how the United States, which daily proclaims its commitment to democracy, can condone such a trick with mirrors.

The least that Africans expect from the next American administration is abandonment of constructive engagement. With violence esca­lating inside South Africa, now more than ever it is in America’s interest to change its approach of engaging only with the white minority rulers. The West, under the leader­ship of the United States, can help avert a conflagration by pressuring South Africa to involve all its citizens in the process of secur­ing meaningful social and political change. Peaceful and orderly change is obviously in the best interest of South Africa’s citizens, its neighbors, and indeed the Western world.

The United States can help bring such change about by phased pressure. To begin, it can reinstitute the measures in force before 1981 and, in particular, tighten up U.S. com­pliance with the U.N. arms embargo, initiat­ed, in fact, by the United States itself in 1963. Then it can ban the sale of Krugerrands in the United States, deny landing rights to South African Airways, prohibit Americans from traveling to South Africa, assist South Africa’s neighbors in reorienting their economies away from dependence on South Africa, deny technology to South Africa, and ban further American investment there, encouraging in­vestors instead to go into other countries in the region. If there is movement toward full participation by all South Africans in the government of their country, some of these measures may be relaxed. If not, further pressures can and should follow.

Cooperation between the United States and African states was never closer, or more successful, than during the Namibia negotia­tions from 1977 to 1980. The Contact Group of five Western countries — Canada, France, Great Britain, the United States, and West Germany — with the United States in the lead, worked to pressure South Africa toward agreement based on terms spelled out in Resolution 435. At the same time, in consulta­tion with the Contact Group, African states were pressuring the South West Africa Peo­ple’s Organization (SWAPO) and its ally Ango­la to accept the same terms.

But in 1981 the new Reagan administration effectively undermined the work of the Con­tact Group when it linked progress on Nami­bian independence to the withdrawal of Cu­ban troops from Angola. This linkage, rejected by some Contact Group members as well as by African states, was embraced by South Africa as a new and firmer basis for stalling on a Namibian settlement. The rapid collapse of the SWAPO-South African talks of July 1984 showed clearly South Africa’s reluctance to withdraw its troops from southern Angola and to implement a cease-fire with SWAPO.

Meanwhile, not only has the Contact Group been gutted (France has suspended its partici­pation), but African states have no more points on which to pressure Angola and SWAPO. They cannot ask the Angolan gov­ernment to leave itself defenseless with South Africa’s troops still on its territory. It is not possible even for those Africans who most want peace in South Africa to press further than they had before linkage and other post­1980 conditions were injected. The ball is now in the court of South Africa and its friends.

The past four years should indicate to the American administration that Namibian independence, like stability in the region, cannot be achieved by appeasing South Africa. A new U.S. initiative should begin by separating the issue of Cuban troops from the independence of Namibia. The United States, South Africa, and Angola along with SWAPO should work together for Namibia’s independence. Favor­able conditions and a workable agenda could follow this scenario: South Africa withdraws from Angolan territory; the Namibian and Angolan bases of Angola’s South African-­backed rebels are dismantled in Namibia; Resolution 435 is implemented; Cuban troops leave Angola; and the Angolans arrive at an internal political settlement including all par­ties.

In the almost three decades of U.S.-African relations there has never been a period as frosty as that of the last few years. The U.S. government has been largely responsible for that chill because of its insensitive and, at times hostile, attitude toward African aspira­tions for political stability and a better quality of life. The bias shown by the United States in favor of South Africa has made Africans suspicious of American intentions in southern Africa. Equally unsettling for Africa is the eagerness of the United States to get involved in local conflicts because of its opposition to, or support of, certain African leaders, its overreaction to what it sees as communist incursions, and the related matter of geostrate­gy.

American presidents should realize that historical ties between Africa and the United States, as well as medium-and long-term American interests, demand policies that will enhance the capability of Africans to cope with their own problems. Africans, even more than Americans, want Africa to be free from foreign rule and from the threat of foreign domination. Africans want a peaceful and secure continent and sustainable social and economic development. Such a continent will make a substantial contribution not only to the well-being of Africans but also to a revital­ized world economy, and thus to the contin­ued prosperity of the United States.

<p> General Olusegun Obasanjo, a chicken farmer, was head of state of Nigeria from 1976 to 1979. </p>

More from Foreign Policy

A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.
A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

Lessons for the Next War

Twelve experts weigh in on how to prevent, deter, and—if necessary—fight the next conflict.

An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It’s High Time to Prepare for Russia’s Collapse

Not planning for the possibility of disintegration betrays a dangerous lack of imagination.

An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.
An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.

Turkey Is Sending Cold War-Era Cluster Bombs to Ukraine

The artillery-fired cluster munitions could be lethal to Russian troops—and Ukrainian civilians.

A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol  January 8, 2009 in Washington.
A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol January 8, 2009 in Washington.

Congrats, You’re a Member of Congress. Now Listen Up.

Some brief foreign-policy advice for the newest members of the U.S. legislature.