Monday, January 25, 2010

'Regional Conflict and U.S. Policy: Angola and Mozambique'

This book review was published in Volume 3, Number 2, of International Freedom Review (Winter 1990).


Regional Conflict and U.S. Policy: Angola and Mozambique 
edited by Richard J. Bloomfield.
(Reference Publications, Inc.: Algonac, Mich., 1988. 261 pp., $24.95 hdcvr, $12.95 ppb)
Reviewed by Richard E. Sincere, Jr.

Sometimes even well-informed Americans have trouble understanding the differences between Angola and Mozambique, despite their location on opposite sides of the southern African continent. The similarities are readily apparent: Angola and Mozambique were Portuguese colonies from the late fifteenth century until 1975. Both are poor. Both are in Africa. Both have had troubled relations with neighboring South Africa. Moreover, both have been ruled by Marxist-Leninist parties since independence.

However, the similarities do not go much beyond these few points, especially since after independence Angola and Mozambique have followed different paths and have come upon unique problems and opportunities. Each will have a decidedly different future.

The World Peace Foundation, which describes itself as “a private, non-profit foundation based in Boston that conducts studies of international issues,” has collected a number of essays on Angola and Mozambique in Regional Conflict and U.S. Policy: Angola and Mozambique, edited by Richard J. Bloomfield, the World Peace Foundation’s executive director. Bloomfield served as the U.S. ambassador to Portugal from 1978 to 1982. Strangely enough, considering Portugal’s ongoing (if uneven) ties with its former African colonies, Ambassador Bloomfield confesses In the Introduction to being “a neophyte” in the region, an odd position for a former U.S. envoy to Lisbon to invoke.

The essay contributions to this book vary in quality and substance and there is also a certain imbalance in the collection. For instance, an excellent and comprehensive survey of Mozambican history by Gillian Gunn does not have any counterpart dealing with Angolan history, a lacuna that really should have been addressed by the editor.

Moreover, as a book, this anthology is poorly produced. There are numerous typographical and editing errors, there is inconsistency in the typefaces and type-styles used, the leading (space between lines) on some pages is tighter than on others, and the text on some pages is longer than on others for no apparent reason (such as the beginning of a new section or chapter). Overall, this book gives the impression of being someone’s first effort at desktop publishing.

The contributors, for the most part, represent the best of liberal and center-left thinking on African issues. Their names are recognizable to anyone who deals with these issues frequently:  Gerald Bender, Kurt Campbell, Carlos Gaspar, Kenneth Maxwell, Robert I. Rotberg, Wayne S. Smith, in addition to the previously mentioned Gillian Gunn and Richard J. Bloomfield.

In his opening essay, “The Legacy of Decolonization,” Kenneth Maxwell, director of the Camões Center for the Portuguese Speaking World at Columbia University, makes a valid criticism that many analysts of African issues often overlook because they themselves are guilty of the sin he identifies. The literature on decolonization falls into two categories, he says: either it has been “classically Africanist” or it has been “overly concerned with grand strategy—with East-West Issues and foreign interventionism.”

Consequently, the Africanists tend to see all events through the prism of “Africa” (in the abstract), undiluted by other considerations, while the other group focuses “almost exclusively on the actions of the superpowers and their allies.” Since the twain seldom meet, there is little interaction or understanding between the two groups. Rarely, Maxwell asserts, “does either side listen to the other, let alone accept that in both positions there is much truth.”

Certainly, this condition has affected the way American analysts and policymakers have approached Angola and Mozambique. There are some people who refuse to believe, for instance, that the MPLA and Frelimo (the Marxist parties ruling Angola and Mozambique) are driven by anything other than their Marxist ideology and therefore there should be no accommodation with them even in the interests of regional stability. There are others who think that the Marxist nature of the governments of Angola and Mozambique should be no cause for concern at all and that Americans should continue “business as usual.” Still others, wearing the blinders of anti-apartheid activism, think that Washington should ally itself with Luanda and Maputo against the aggressive-imperialist-racist South African state: their feeling is, “Any enemy of Pretoria is a friend of ours.”

Long-Standing Communist Ties
It is nevertheless difficult to set aside superpower considerations when dealing with Mozambique and, especially, Angola. Leaders of the future Marxist governments in Portuguese Africa were active members of the Portuguese Communist party and its allies during Portugal’s fascist period. These included Marcelino dos Santos of Frelimo and the MPLA’s Agostino Neto, who, according to Maxwell, “knew the Portuguese Left from the inside,” a characteristic lacking in rivals Holden Roberto of the FNLA and Jonas Savlmbi of UNITA.

From the beginning, Moscow supported the anti-Portuguese liberation movements. Maxwell reports:
[T]heir support for the MPLA went back to 1958; and despite a cooling of the’ Soviet relationship with Neto during the 1970s, Soviet support went to one or the other of MPLA’s factions throughout the period of armed struggle against the Portuguese.
This Soviet connection was sufficient to stimulate U.S. concern. He cites Helmut Sonnenfeldt’s view that the United States had had “no intrinsic interest In Angola” but that even a remote and unimportant territory acquires American interest once it “becomes a focal point for Soviet, and in this Instance, Soviet-supported Cuban military action.” The derivative U.S. interest that results is something “which we simply cannot avoid.”

Maxwell’s account of Soviet interests in southern Africa differs in tone if not in fact from that of Kurt Campbell, whose essay in this volume has also been published, in slightly different form, as an Adelphi Paper by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. Campbell notes from the outset, however, the significant difference between U.S. and Soviet interests in the region:
Since its dramatic entrance into southern Africa in 1975 to bolster the MPLA during the fractious Angolan civil war, the Soviet Union has played a central role in the military affairs of the region. While the counsel and pressure of both the United States and Britain have been heeded in various southern African capitals and boardrooms, only the Soviet Union, with Its allies Cuba and East Germany, has made its influence felt and demonstrated its commitment on the battlefield.
Campbell adds that “Angola and Mozambique are the Soviet Union’s oldest surviving allies in black Africa, and have been the primary focus of Moscow’s energies to date.” Nonetheless, over the past three decades, Soviet moral, political, financial, and military support has benefited the African National Congress in South Africa, Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army, and the South West African People’s Organization. Angola and Mozambique merely represent the Kremlin’s first successes In installing revolutionary governments in southern Africa.

Mozambique, however, has not turned out to be quite the success the Soviets had hoped for. Frelimo came to power in 1975, essentially unopposed during its struggle against Portuguese colonialism, and in 1977 signed a twenty-year treaty of friendship with the Soviet Union. Frelimo promised to become an orthodox “Marxist-Leninist vanguard party” (no small task in a country with no industrial proletariat to speak of) and by 1978 Soviet, East German, and Cuban advisors “were busy shaping Mozambique’s internal political system, assisting in party organization, ideological education, propaganda coordination, and the training of the internal security police.” The Soviets offered substantial military assistance, and Samora Machel, Frelimo’s chief, followed the Moscow line in international forums on all manner of issues unrelated to southern African politics.

Not ten years later, Campbell reports, despite this Soviet assistance:
Mozambique was in a shambles—the result of a concerted South African policy to destabilize the country, combined with a lethally incompetent Marxist economic system.... Currently, the Soviets stationed In Mozambique behave more as prisoners than as protectors of the faltering regime.
What had happened was that the Soviet Union was unable or unwilling to deliver on its promises, particularly in the area of economic assistance. Although Joaquim Chissano, Machel’s successor, has maintained good relations with the Soviets, he “himself appears to look more to the West rather than to the East for economic assistance.”

Indeed, it seems that the Soviets were the exploiters rather than the saviors of Angola and Mozambique. For instance, Campbell points out:
[I]n the late 1980s the Soviet Union was taking 75 percent of the fish catch from the territorial waters of Angola and Mozambique, even while both countries were suffering from serious food shortages.
The Cuban Connection
Wayne S. Smith made a name for himself in 1982 when, as head of the U.S. interests section in Havana, he publicly dissented from Reagan administration policy toward Central America. His essay in this book, “The Cuban Role in Angola,” argues the case that the Cubans are not Soviet puppets but are conscientiously pursuing their own interests in Angola. He blames the United States for “shattering the Alvor agreement” (which was supposed to provide for free and open elections among the three competing liberation movements in Angola upon independence) despite the admissions of Admiral Rosa Coutinho, Portugal’s last colonial governor, that he had himself gone to Havana to get the go-ahead to install the MPLA as the post-independence government in Luanda in direct violation of the Alvor agreement.

The crux of Smith’s argument is this: Fidel Castro wanted to revivify his revolution and strengthen his position vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. Smith says:

Castro was -- had always been -- interested in winning political influence, and In that sense Cuba’s intervention was perfectly consistent with the policies and objectives it had pursued in Africa since the early years of the Revolution.. . . Cuba was suddenly—if briefly—seen as a major Third World power to which other progressive but weaker governments could turn in times of trouble…. Thus, Castro doubtless calculated, if Cuba could save the day in Angola, that would strengthen its bargaining power with Moscow. Cuba would have advanced the cause of socialism and thus would be in a strong position to ask for better terms of trade and increased assistance from Moscow.

Smith concludes from this that Castro acted on his own, without Soviet prodding. In a sense, that is probably true. Yet the reason for his action — sending 30,000 troops to Angola between November 8, 1975, and March 1976— was part of his traditional and necessary kowtow to the Kremlin. Interfering in Angola’s internal affairs was Fidel Castro’s way of toadying up to Leonid Brezhnev, so that Cuba could get a better deal on its sugar and gasoline to run its 1955 Buicks.

In defending Cuba’s continued military presence in Angola, Smith castigates the United States and South Africa for prolonging the war by supporting Jonas Savimbi and UNITA. “One can hardly imagine greater folly,” Smith writes. “Such an undertaking serves to help South Africa perpetuate the fighting In Angola. It Is a prescription for continuing the turmoil and bloodshed, not for ending them.” He does not seem willing to accept the suggestion that Savimbi and his Angolan supporters have legitimate grievances and a right to participate in a unified Angolan government, free of outside interference. Like other contributors to this volume, Smith believes that the United States should recognize the MPLA regime in Luanda and abandon the UNITA Freedom Fighters, in deference to Cuba’s wish for “a secure Angola. . . at peace with its neighbors, with its civil conflict resolved, and with its doors open to Western economic influence.."

Focus on Mozambique
Easily the best contribution to this collection is Gillian Gunn’s tightly-packed essay on the history of Mozambique, “Learning from Adversity: The Mozambican Experience.” Tracing developments In Mozambique from the early fifteenth century to the present, Gunn demonstrates how a confluence of regional and East-West interests affect Mozambique today.

One important difference between Angola and Mozambique is that in Angola there were three major liberation movements struggling against Portuguese rule (FNLA, MPLA, UNITA), while in Mozambique there was only one, Frelimo. As a result, the transition from colonial rule to independence was much smoother. At the time of independence, there was no organized resistance to Frelimo’s control of the government. It did not take long, however, for a resistance movement to come about, thanks in part to the connivance of Ian Smith’s Rhodesia (then fighting its own guerrilla war and fearful of Marxist neighbors). However, Gunn points out, there were internal considerations as well:
Three developments had created the conditions for the growth of an armed dissident movement should Frelimo gain power. First, factional fighting had led a number of middle and low level ex-Frelimo members to feel they had been badly treated. Second, the leaders of the defeated conservative movement stood ready to mobilize this anti-Frelimo sentiment. And third, Rhodesian intelligence had started to formulate the mechanism to organize and arm these elements.

Renamo, as the resistance group came to be known, had fertile ground on which to operate. Frelimo became ideology-ridden and, as a result, Mozambique’s economy and political stability suffered. As Gunn writes:

By the end of 1977 Frelimo was drifting away from the traditions it had developed in the guerrilla war [against Portugal]. Instead of developing ideology from experience, a process which at least ensured some link between policy and reality, it began to impose ideology upon reality.

The consequence? “The balance of payments fell from its 1976 surplus of $41 million down to a 1978 deficit of $244 million, and an even more serious $360 million deficit in 1980.” The story observed in nearly every Communist country repeated itself in Mozambique. For example, Gunn writes,

[T]he ideologically motivated emphasis on mechanized state farms. . . was disastrous.... It came to cost more foreign exchange for a state farm to produce a ton of grain than it would have cost simply to import the crop.

In any case, a good many fanners were intelligent enough to by-pass the official, ideology-driven market, for “by 1982 one half of all peasant production was being sold on the black market.”

So the resistance movement had plenty of reasons to gain support in the countryside. Unfortunately, several self-generated factors worked against Renamo’s interests. One was its brutality. Gunn asserts that Renamo’s “behavior hampered the development of true popular support. Rape and severing of breasts, ears, and lips in retaliation for non-cooperation became common.” Perhaps more important, “Renamo’s inability to articulate a coherent political platform, beyond anti-communist rhetoric, also lessened its chances of developing firm grassroots support.” (And, I might add, its chances of acquiring support from democratic countries abroad. The same people who unstintingly support UNITA or the mujahideen in Afghanistan hesitate to do the same for Renamo.)

Gunn concludes that “Mozarnbique is not a classic Marxist state serving Soviet interests” because Frelimo has gradually returned to “its pragmatic habits.” The belief of many (on the American right, for instance) “that continuation of Frelimo in power means expansion of Soviet influence in the region is not supported by the recent factual record.” The character of Renamo—its lack of credentials as an indigenous movement, its brutality—lead to severe questions about its ability to lead. A Renamo-run Mozambique, says Gunn. “has little chance of being more stable than a Frelimo-run Mozambique.”

Gunn makes the case for increasing U.S. economic aid to Mozambique, because without such aid, “Mozambique is more likely to remain chronically unstable, and therefore unable to control ANC guerrilla infiltration into South Africa.” She asserts that “on several issues that really matter to the West,” such as excluding Cuban troops from Africa, “Frelimo has already shown that its definition of national Interest can overlap with the definition by the United States of Western interests.”

The Trouble with Ideology
The title of UCLA Professor Gerald J. Bender’s essay sums up his thesis: “Washington’s Quest for Enemies in Angola.” He argues, for instance, that Angola under the MPLA is more pluralist and freer than pro-Western neighbors.

It would appeal that In Angola under dos Santos there is greater freedom to criticize the party and government without suffering arbitrary arrest, torture, or death than Is the case in the six non-Marxist states [of Gabon, Zaire, Togo, Malawi, Cote d’Ivoire, and Kenya].

In his conclusion, Bender criticizes U.S. policy toward Angola as confused. “What is clear,” he argues, “is that not only has there been a great divergence of perceptions about whether the Angolan government represents a danger to the United States but there have also been diametrically opposed policies proposed to address the situation.” Various parts of the Executive Branch and Congress have pursued policies “that reflect little, If any, consideration” of the policies pursued by other offices and agencies. He continues,

The result has been a series of confusing, contradictory, and futile policies that have displeased Americans from left to right and that have had almost no impact on engendering change in Angola. Clearly, this state of affairs is good neither for the United States nor for Angola.

Editor Richard Bloomfield takes as his task the distillation of the wisdom imparted by his fellow contributors In a concluding essay, “U. S. Policy: Doctrine Versus Interests.” His views become clear early on when he asks, “Why should normal relations with Angola depend on a Namibia settlement? South Africa is the outlaw in Namibia, not Angola. Why should normal relations with Angola depend on the withdrawal of Cuban combat forces from Angola? These forces play a defensive role.”

Bloomfield seems to believe that ideology and political doctrine are opposed to U.S. national interests, rather than elements that inform interests and strategy. If that is the case, then the whole Carterite structure of human rights and democracy opposed to “an inordinate fear of Communism” that informed U.S. strategic interests from 1977 to 1981 comes tumbling down. From the very beginning, American values—political, moral, and economic— have helped to shape the national interest and national strategy.

Bloomfield turns the whole issue of U.S. relations with Angola and Mozambique into a stalking horse for U.S. attitudes toward apartheid in South Africa. He writes:
Let us imagine that the regime in Pretoria were one that accorded political rights to the black majority. If that were the case, it is likely that the guerrilla movements in Angola and Mozambique would be weak, if they existed at all. There would be no Cuban troops in Angola and the Soviet bloc presence in both countries would in all likelihood be minimal and largely civilian.

This is, if nothing else, a non-sequitor. The existence or nonexistence of apartheid in South Africa is irrelevant as far as the political rights of Angolans and Mozambicns go. The dos Santos regime in Luanda does not exclude Jonas Savimbi and his supporters from political participation because whites control the government in South Africa. He excludes Savimbi because he and the MPLA covet their currently held political power and fear losing It. Joaquim Chissano has adjusted his economy and relations with the West not because of apartheid in South Africa, but because his reliance on Soviet assistance and Marxist ideology proved disastrous.

For Bloomfield, U.S. policy toward Angola and Mozambique should be motivated as much by how it will affect American goals for the elimination of apartheid as it is by U.S. relations with the Soviet Union or U.S. disdain for Cuban imperialism in Africa. He argues:
U.S. objectives in each country must be consistent with U.S. interests. This seems obvious, but in the policy debate it is often as not disregarded. Thus, the objective of replacing governments that are ‘Marxist’ and friendly to the Soviet Union with their enemies in these two instances would only lead to governments that would be even less likely to cooperate with U.S. policy vis-à-vis South Africa.

This may be true with Renamo, but it certainly is not true with UNITA. Jonas Savimbi has long been on record in opposition to apartheid and even, at one time, supported the African National Congress. His acceptance of military and financial assistance from South Africa was a prudential move designed to advance his interests in Angola. Similarly, the United States allied itself with the Soviet Union during World War II in order to defeat Hitler; that alliance did not imply approval for Stalin’s purges or any Marxist policy. A truly democratic government in Angola featuring Savimbi’s participation would probably support U.S. goals in South Africa without the baggage of ties with the Kremlin and an ideological need to undermine liberal democracy in post-apartheid South Africa.

The Quickening Pace of Events
Events in southern Africa have caught up with, and, in some cases, passed by the analysis presented in this book. The independence of Namibia is just around the corner. Election results announced in November 1989 indicated that SWAPO garnered just 57 per cent of the vote in elections for a constituent assembly; 67 per cent was needed to bulldoze through its own constitution. The peaceful transition to independence in Namibia is supposed to be accompanied by the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola. There may be good reason to adopt a policy of “watchful waiting” as far as that goes. Castro does not especially want to take back these troops, some of whom have contracted the AIDS virus, and may send them on some other mischievous adventure In Africa or elsewhere before he throws them a ticker-tape parade in Havana. American policymakers should beware of any Cuban adventurism in the future.

There is some hope for a negotiated settlement in Angola, too. Savimbi and dos Santos shook hands at a meeting of African heads of state and government in Gbadolite, Zaire, in mid-1989. Though a disagreement arose over just what transpired at Gbadolite*, pressure from the United States and its friends in Africa may just force dos Santos to agree to meet Savimbi at the bargaining table.

In Mozambique, the Chissano government continues to seek and receive Western economic, and even military, aid. Despite Renamo’s lack of ideological bearings, it has had some military successes that are worrisome for the Frelimo regime. David Hoile reports (in The World & I, December 1989) that Renamo “now probably controls more than 50 per cent of Mozambique and operates in some 80 per cent of the country,” adding that “factions within Frelimo itself have conceded the legitimacy of negotiating with Renamo.” So there is plenty to watch in Mozambique as well.

Regional Conflict and U.S. Policy: Angola and Mozambique is not the best book on the region. Neither is it the worst. The essays by Kurt Campbell and Gillian Gunn may be, as they say, worth the price of the volume But except for those with a die-hard interest in southern African affairs this is probably a book that can be passed up.

* See 1FF publication Angola Peace Monitor, Volume 1, Number 2—Ed.

Richard Sincere is a Washington-based issues analyst and author of The Politics of Sentiment: Churches and Foreign Investment in South Africa (Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1987).

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