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Will U.S. Africa policy change?

A demand for democray and free multi-party elections is resonating throughout Africa (see map, "Africa Goes To The Polls"). In recent months, for example, nationalist parties that had ruled since independence have been voted out in Algeria and Zambia. And Nigeria, Africa's most populous state, is preparing for another attempt at civilian rule.

But questions have risen along with African hopes. Will the United States hear the calls for democracy? And, is America prepared to provide Africans with the same level of assistance promised to Eastern Europeans and former states of the Soviet Union?

Herman J. Cohen, assistant secretary for African Affairs for the State Department, has said yes. In a speech given last year to the New York City-based African-American Institute, he said, "We accept, that as we preach the idea of democracy, that we have the responsibility to provide assistance to provide assistance to African countries that embark on the democratization process. We want help."

The State Department's message: African states promoting what America recognizes as individual rights, democratic ideals and capitalism are more likely to receive aid than those that do not. But how much us such talk worth? Last October, the House killed a bill to set guidelines for dispensing $25 billion in foreign aid over two years. Why? Few politicians want to send money overseas during a recession-ridden election year.

Non-Congressional skeptics also abound. Some fear that Africa will stand behind Eastern Europe and the commonwealth of former Soviet states when grants are made. "With the end of the Cold War and the United States as the only superpower, these are larger demands on the United States to aid the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe," says Vivian Lowery Derryck, president of the African-American Institute. In some ways there is "no strategic value to Africa, and for those of us who care about Africa, this is a tragedy, " she says.

This attitude is also unlikely to change soon. Former U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Donald F. McHenry, president of the Washington, D.C.-based IRC Group Inc., an international consulting firm, says U.S. policy toward Africa has been "faddish." "At one point it was huge projects like dams and roads, then it was aiding poor farmers," he says. "Now it's free enterprise--as if investors are going to go in when there's nothing in Africa to appeal to them."

McHenry cites the need for better schools, stable governments and improved infrastructure and says some African governments are providing those things. But he is doubtful that such things entice most U.S. foreign policy makers who may take a greater interest in Eastern Europe and Russia.

The entire discussion frustrates African diplomats, such as Antonio Matonse, the press and cultural attache for the embassy of Mozambique. Matonse's southern African state renounced Marxism before most of Eastern Europe did, but he expresses fear "that somehow Africa may get forgotten" in the rush to assist the European former communist states.

Can anything be done? Longtime anti-aparteid activist the Rev. Leon H. Sullivan (see "Summit Seeks To Aid Africa," In The News, April 1991), who last April organized the first African/African-American Summit in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, thinks so. He contends that if President Bush can write off Poland's $3.8 billion debt, he can do the same for Africa. Pressure works. Last year after Sullivan met Bush, the United States erased $1 billion of Africa's estimated $4 billion bilateral debt.

But pressure has to be maintained. It is the only way, says Sullivan, "to get Africa back on the globe and into the consciousness of the world, where it belongs."
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Author:Foote, Cornelius F., Jr.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Column
Date:Apr 1, 1992
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