Southern Africa and U.S. Foreign Policy || U.S. Policy in Angola and Mozambique

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  • U.S. Policy in Angola and MozambiqueAuthor(s): William MinterSource: Africa Today, Vol. 23, No. 3, Southern Africa and U.S. Foreign Policy (Jul. - Sep.,1976), pp. 55-60Published by: Indiana University PressStable URL: .Accessed: 15/06/2014 07:34

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  • U.S. Policy in Angola and Mozambique

    William Minter Before April of 1974 it was easy to write about United States

    policy towards Portuguese colonialism, although the level of public interest might have been low. The support for a continued Portuguese presence Was thinly disguised. And during Angola's second war of liberation, it was also relatively easy to expose the United States' intervention aimed at eliminating the option of an independent Angola under the leadership of the MPLA. Now Portuguese colonialism is gone, and the independent states in Angola and Mozambique are both People's Republics, under the leadership of liberation movements, MPLA and FRELIMO, committed to radical transformation of their own societies and to the liberation of the rest of southern Africa. The focus of the "crisis" spotlight has moved on, to the white regimes in Rhodesia and South Africa, and policy towards Angola and Mozambique, one would think, is likely to settle down into low-key obscurity, becoming routine and uninteresting. But this surface observation may be misleading. For it is unlikely that United States policymakers have given up on reversing the revolutionary advances made in these two southern African countries, or, at minimum, isolating and neutralizing their effect on the continuing struggle in the southern African region.

    To base one's analysis only on the public statements of United States policy would almost certainly be misleading. Nor is it desirable to wait several years until fortuitous leaks reveal what the actual policy was in detail. This means that the following essay will inevitably contain some elements of speculation. It is, however, speculation based on an analysis on the interests of the United States, as interpreted by its foreign policy establishment, and of events in southern Africa, as well as the clues given by policy statements and actions. '

    A Look at Past Policy

    Present policy must be set in the context of the past. Thus it is relevant to note, first of all, that the policy of the United States throughout the wars of liberation against Portuguese colonialism was to maintain support of its NATO ally Portugal, with occasional suggestions to Portugal (hardly enough to constitute "pressure") that colonialism was really out-of-date, and that it would be wise to think

    1. I followed a similar approach in analysis of Nixon policies towards Portuguese colonialism in Chapter 9 of my book Portuguese Africa and the West (New York, 1973), written before NSSM 39 was revealed, with results that later proved to be accurate.

    William Minter, author of Portuguese Africa and-the West, is on the staff of Africa News, Durham, N.C. He returned to the U.S. in June from Ribaue, Mozambique, where he taught at the FRELIMO secondary school.


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  • a bit about some kind of transition to "self-determination", arranged with cooperative African elites. While the assumption that "Portugal was there to stay" was only officially embodied in policy with the famous "tar-baby" option of NSSM 39 (1969), earlier policies under Kennedy and Johnson were not substantially different.2

    What NSSM 39 did mean is that when the April 1974 coup came in Portugal, and it was clear that there would be a transition to some variety of independence in the Portuguese colonies, the policy-makers were relatively unprepared for a coherent policy to establish an acceptable substitute for Portuguese colonialism. This does not mean that the attempt was not made, but that it was hasty, confused and unsuccessful in its own terms. In Mozambique the United States, through the CIA, undoubtedly cooperated with the various attempts to find a successful substitute for FRELIMO. But the weakness of such forces was so clear that during the crucial period of September 1974 these right-wing forces did not even get the support they had hoped for from South Africa, much less any substantial material en- couragement from the United States. The United States, although not invited to the independence celebrations, soon established full diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of Mozambique.

    The situation in Angola, as is well-known to anyone who has read the newspapers during the last year, was quite different. Not only did the United States have a greater economic stake in Angola, and a strategic stake in maintaining the position of the Mobutu regime in Zaire, but the position of the Angolan liberation movement, the MPLA, was much weaker than that of FRELIMO. The tribal and opportunistic forces opposing it were organized in some areas, and had some military strength. There were long-time ties with the CIA, certainly in the case of FNLA with its base in Zaire, and probably in the case of UNITA as well. The Portuguese Armed Forces Movement in Angola was much weaker and less progressive than in Mozambique or in Guinea-Bissau. Therefore the possibility was created for the successive attempts to eliminate the MPLA as a factor in the future of Angola, and to establish one variant or another of a "moderate" pro- Western government in that country: through Spinola's plans for a Lusitanian federation; through support for FNLA and UNITA; through the invasions of Zairois and South African troops; through the use of mercenaries. Even greater intervention was stopped by popular and Congressional action in the United States, and the territorial integrity of the People's Republic of Angola was established by means of MPLA's popular mobilization, and, at a crucial point to counter South Africa's blitzkrieg, by the support of Cuban troops. The withdrawal of the South African troops at the end of March 1976 marked the end of Angola's second war of liberation.'

    2. See Chapter 4 of Portuguese Africa and the West. 3. Although much has been written during the past year on the U.S. role in Angola, there is to my knowledge as yet no comprehensive account, which would include prior U.S. in- volvement with Zaire. Developments during this period can be followed in the clippings reproduced by Facts and Reports (Angola Comite, Da Costastraat 88, Amsterdam).


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  • William Minter

    While Gulf Oil was permitted by the United States to resume its operations in Angola following the MPLA victory, providing much needed foreign exchange to the country, the June 1976 veto of Angola's application for United Nations membership showed that the defeat of United States intervention was still not fully accepted. Using the transparently silly justification of the continued presence of Cuban troops in Angola (as Angolan President Agostinho Neto commented, if presence of foreign troops were grounds for exclusion from the United Nations, many United States allies would thereby be excluded), the United States maintained its position as the one western power refusing to recognize the People's Republic of Angola.

    Is the Real Aim "Destabilization?"

    Publicly expressed American hostility to Angola, increased military aid to Zaire and a limited resurgence of guerrilla warfare by the U.S.-backed groups in Angola have led to speculation that there is a low-level "destabilization" campaign against the People's Republic of Angola, designed to make life difficult for the new regime, without any major or obvious U.S. involvement. In the case of Mozambique, on the other hand, the administration's willingness to provide a limited amount of aid to compensate Mozambique's closure of the border with Rhodesia (in order to conform to United Nations sanctions) has even led to charges. that the United States is underwriting the Zimbabwean guerrilla forces. Yet there are some grounds for thinking that, in the context of U.S. plans for southern Africa, "destabilization" and "isolation" of both Mozambique and Angola are part of the strategy.

    It is important to emphasize that while the newly emerging United States policy towards southern Africa is identified with Kissinger, after his recent Africa trip and meeting with Prime Minister Vorster of South Africa, the basic elements of that policy are likely to be followed by any of his potential successors under Ford or Carter.4 These are to buy time and slow down or stop radicalization and African guerrilla struggle in southern Africa, by producing some movement towards majority rule (or illusion of movement) in Rhodesia and Namibia. This is to be carried out in cooperation with the South African white regime. For South Africa, it is clear, option 2 of NSSM 39, that all change should be carried out under white auspices, still holds. And United States cooperation with South Africa is increasing: the participation of a South African warship in the 4. In a major foreign policy speech on June 23, Carter noted that he agreed with the "recent posture taken by Secretary Kissinger as relates to Africa". He added the interesting point of favoring a larger role for such countries as Great Britain. The spectrum of "candidates" mentioned as possible Secretaries of State under Carter is well within the establishment community and consensus, and even a possible lower- level administration member with more openess towards African liberation struggles could hope for only one small voice in the debate.


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  • bicentennial International Naval Review is only symbolic of more substantial relationships: increased United States bank loans to South Africa,increased cooperation on military intelligence (the Advokaat system at Silvermine), a trial balloon about a United States naval presence in the Transkei.5

    The policy also involves some limited pressure (and much talk of pressure) on the white Rhodesian regime to move towards some compromise which might satisfy moderate African opinion. But more serious, if less overt, effort is to be given to breaking down African support for armed struggle in Rhodesia and Namibia, and to opening the way for another round of "talks," which might promote some moderate African alternative to white rule, but would at least buy some more time and increase the difficulties for the guerrilla forces. Since Angola is the crucial rear-base country for SWAPO's guerrilla struggle in Namibia, and Mozambique plays the comparable role for the Zimbabwean forces, it is clear that the greater the difficulties in these countries the more time gained for Kissinger's (or his successor's) "peaceful option." At this level, the interests of the South African and Rhodesian regimes correspond with the United States initiative, although these countries may balk at the various "compromises" that may also be contained in U.S. plans. The one qualification significant to add in the case of South Africa is a practical one: that difficulties in Mozambique should not be so great as to lead to interruption of essential labor, transport and energy facilities that South Africa still gets from Mozambique.

    Given this overall perspective, one could sketch out a hypothetical "destabilization" option on which the United States might get effective cooperation from South Africa, Rhodesia, disgruntled Portuguese ex- settlers and ex-PIDE agents from Angola and Mozambique, and perhaps the Portuguese government as well:

    Objectives Maximum: replacement of regimes in Angola and Mozambique by suitably non-revolutionary pro-western governments; Minimum: discrediting of the results of liberation struggles in Angola and Mozambique; aggravation of economic and political difficulties so as to prevent effective aid to Namibian and Zimbabwean guerrillas.

    (1) Angola- Means (a) Maintain low level of guerrilla warfare against People's Republic; (b) hinder establishment of normal relations with Zaire and Zambia; (c) stimulate to the maximum political divisions within MPLA; (d) hinder normal relations with Portugal; (e) focus propaganda on Soviet and Cuban role in Angola.

    5. For these, and other items indicating closer ties of the United States with South Africa, see Africa News weekly digest, and Southern Africa magazine. An article entitled "The Transkei-Key to U.S. Naval Strategy in the Indian Ocean" by Major Wesley A. Groesbeck, U.S. Army, appeared in the June issue of Military Review. 58

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  • William Minter

    (2) Mozambique - (a) mount propaganda campaign against Mozambique, aimed at portraying it as extremist, chaotic, collapsing; (b) attempt to mobilize people in Mozambique against FRELIMO by identifying new government as cause of economic difficulties; (c) attempt to isolate Mozambique from the other "front-line" countries (Zambia, Bot- swana, Tanzania), especially on issues of the Zimbabwean struggle.

    Potential Allies in "Destabilization"

    There are a number of indications that such a scenario is indeed in operation. This does not mean that the CIA, or other United States agencies, are necessarily or even probably orchestrating the whole scenario, or even taking the major initiatives. There are many other forces with the same interests and capabilities. But at the least it is highly probable that the United States government is taking a friendly and cooperative interest, providing encouragemen...


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