African Policy Reversal

July 14, 1978

Report Outline
Recent Changes in U.S. Policy
Foreign Involvement in Africa
U.S. Interests in the Continent
Special Focus

Recent Changes in U.S. Policy

Plan for Pan-African Peacekeeping Force

The Organization of African Unity (OAU) will open its 15th annual meeting in Khartoum, the capital of the Sudan, on July 19. The meeting may be the most critical since the OAU was set up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in May 1963. A proposal to create a pan-African peacekeeping force to intervene in African border disputes and forestall foreign intervention is backed by the United States and several of its allies, especially the former French colonies. But countries with close ties to the Soviet bloc have assailed it as a “neocolonial” plot. The OAU's Liberation Committee, in a preliminary meeting June 23 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, denounced the plan and demanded that “the imperialists, their lackeys and their mercenaries in Africa” keep hands off the continent and let the African nations solve their own problems.

The issue of foreign involvement in Africa was brought to a head in May when 1,300 Belgian paratroopers and 600 French Foreign Legionnaires were flown — in U.S. planes — into Zaire's Shaba (formerly Katanga) province to repel an invasion by Katangese rebels based in Angola. The rebels seized Kolwezi, capital of copper-rich Shaba and held it for several days. The death toll reached at least 855, according to a body count by the International Red Cross, of which more than half were civilians, including 136 Europeans. The Belgian and French troops removed the city's 2,250 European residents and drove the invaders back into Angola. These troops were replaced in early June by a contingent of Moroccans, also airlifted in U.S. planes.

A year earlier, the same Katangese rebels had invaded Shaba, but were stopped short of Kolwezi by French-supported Moroccan and Zairian troops after more than a month and a half of fighting. At that time, U.S. involvement was limited to supplying 18 transport planes to carry supplies for the French operation. The Carter administration was silent on the issue of Cuban or Soviet support for the invaders. In May of this year, however, the administration responded vigorously, both in offering aircraft and supplies, and in denouncing Cuban responsibility for training and arming the Katangese.

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