So far, this module on politics and government in Africa has focused on politics within African societies, colonies, and post-colonial nation-states. As you know, however, a big part of the politics of any country involves the country’s relationship with other nation-states.
You know how important international or foreign relations are to the United States by reading a newspaper or watching the evening news on network television. On an average evening, more than one third of the stories covered focus on international relations. Moreover, foreign affairs are so important to the United States, that the Secretary of State -the head of our Department of State that oversees international relationships -is the most important member of the cabinet, according to our constitution. The Secretary of State is fourth in line for presidency should anything happen to the president, after the vice president, speaker of the House of Representatives, and the president pro-temp of the Senate.
The United States is not unique in giving great importance to international affairs. International relations may even be more important to African countries. Remember how dependent African countries are on international aid and trade? It is in the interest of African governments to develop and maintain international relations that will benefit their countries.
To simplify African international relations, we can make a distinction between relationships between African countries, and relationships between African countries and the rest of the world.
International Relations Between African Countries
From the dawn of the independence in Africa more than forty years ago, relationships between African countries have been very important. Although, as you know, there is great diversity in Africa, the many societies and peoples of Africa have shared experiences that brought a sense of unity and solidarity among African nation-states. The most relevant of these shared experiences is the legacy of colonialism.
Colonial oppression and exploitation within colonies helped unite different ethnic and religious groups in a struggle against colonialism. Not surprisingly, the feeling of solidarity carried across the boundaries established by colonialism. Leaders and citizens of countries that gained their independence early showed great support for the nationalist struggle in countries not yet independent. Many Africans agreed with a statement that was very popular in the 1960s and 1970s: No African is Free until all Africans are Free!
Official government support for those struggling for freedom, particularly in the southern African settler colonies of Angola, Mozambique, Rhodesia, and South Africa, was a central foreign policy focus of most African countries until these countries gained their independence.
Support for freedom and independence for all African countries was not the only uniting theme in post-independence inter-African policy. Most of the nationalist leaders who helped lead their countries to independence were influenced by the ideas associated with Pan Africanism. Pan Africanism, like most ideas, has different versions. But at the heart of Pan Africanism is the idea that all Africans have shared experiences that help unite them. These shared experiences are connected to the exploitation of Africa and Africans in the modern era, beginning with the slave trade and culminating in colonialism. Pan Africanists (promoters of Pan Africanism), argue that these factors unite not just the people living on the continent of Africa, but Africans in the Diaspora -most of whom had been forced out of Africa by the slave trades.
From its very beginnings, the Pan-African movement, which began in the early twentieth century with a series of Pan African Congresses in Europe, asserted that Africa and its grand diversity of peoples and societies could only prosper economically and become free and powerfully politically if Africa was politically united in a Pan-African country -a United States of Africa. Pan Africanists were well aware of the fact that colonialism worked in Africa in part because European powers were able to separate societies and peoples through a policy of divide and rule. Pan Africanists argued that Africa could only be strong and take its place among the world’s economic and political powers, if it were united. An Africa divided into more than 50 countries, some which were smaller than a mid-size American state, was destined to be political and economically weak.
Early in the post-colonial era, the ideal of Pan Africanism came into direct conflict with the imperative of national sovereignty. Even among African presidents like Kwame Nkrumah, who were strong advocates of African unity, there was a realization that unity would take a long time to achieve. In the mean time, African governments had to institute policies that would defend their countries’ sovereignty. Not surprisingly, policies and practices that are aimed at protecting national sovereignty have the effect of making unity between nations more difficult!
In 1999, the British Broadcasting Company (BBC), which has the largest English language listener-ship of any radio company in Africa, asked its listeners in Africa to nominate and vote for the most important African in the twentieth century. The overwhelming winner of this contest was Kwame Nkrumah (1909-1972, who led Ghana to independence in 1957, and who was a committed Pan Africanist). This tremendous tribute demonstrates the high regard that people from every region of Africa have for Kwame Nkrumah, even though he was victim of coup d’etat in 1966 and died in exile in neighboring Guinea, 1972.
You can learn much about President Nkrumah on a number of web-sites. You may find it very interesting to study the life of this great proponent of African freedom and unity.
Search the web for President Nkrumah
Or you can go to your school or community library and see if there are any biographies of Kwame Nkrumah available. A good biography written for students is:
In spite of the tension between the imperative for sovereignty and the ideal of Pan African unity, the leaders of independent African nation states recognized the importance of dialogue and good relationships between their newly independent countries. In May of 1963, the leaders of 31 independent African countries meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia created the Organization of African Unity (OAU). The purpose of the OAU was to establish guidelines for and to facilitate strong relationships between independent African States. The OAU Charter (a charter is like a constitution) called for greater unity among African countries, but it established principles that made unity more difficult. For example:
- Principle of inviolability of inherited boundaries. The word inviolability means “cannot be changed.” In putting forward this principal, the leaders of African governments stated clearly that the boundaries between countries that were established by colonial rule must not be changed. Can you think of reasons why the African leaders supported this principle?
- Non-interference in domestic affairs. The OAU Charter states very forcefully that under no circumstances can one country interfere in the domestic (internal) affairs of another country.
These two principles firmly established the sovereignty of the nation state as being of greatest importance to African states. In spite of the rhetorical support for the idea of unity and Pan Africanism, the OAU Charter placed strong obstacles to unity.
The OAU has done much to promote economic and political cooperation between member states. Moreover, the OAU played a leading role in coordinating opposition to colonial rule. In particular, the OAU provided support for the struggles of freedom in the settler colonies of southern Africa-Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.
Here is a chance for you to use the internet to learn more about the Organization of African Unity. The OAU is not the only continent wide organization of nation -states. Have you heard of the Organization of American States? The OAS is an international organization whose membership includes all the nation states of two continents -North American and South America. What about the European Union?
Please go to the OAU home-page, spend some time exploring the site, and then complete the following assignment. When you have completed the assignment, please place it in your Activity Journal.
You can read more about the OAU by clicking here.
1. What are the main administrative structures of the OAU?
2. Where is the OAU headquartered?
3. How often is there an OAU of Heads of State Summit?
4. Where are these summits held?
Now reread the section on Purposes and Principles to answer the questions below.
5. Carefully read Article II: Purposes. List the six purposes (or goals) of the OAU. Based on what you have learned over the past weeks that you have been studying Africa, how successful has the OAU been in realizing these goals? What major obstacles did the OAU and its member states face in trying to implement these goals?
6. Carefully read Article III: Principles: The Charter highlights seven principles. List these seven principles. Based on what you have learned over the past weeks that you have been studying Africa, how successful has the OAU been in defending these principles? What major obstacles did the OAU and its member states face in trying to realize these principles?
African International Relations with the Rest of the World
Once they had won their political independence, African countries were internationally recognized as sovereign countries. In addition to developing relationships with neighboring countries in Africa, the newly independent nations developed relations with other non-African nations. The new post-colonial governments had to develop foreign policies that would guide their relationships with other nation-states.
One of the first foreign policy initiatives taken by each African government upon achieving independence was to apply for membership in the United Nations Organization. In the UN, each nation state, no matter how small in land area, or the size of its population, or how insignificant its political power and influence, was treated as sovereign state with an equal chance to express its voice in this most important international body.
In developing its foreign policy, the new post-colonial African states were influenced by domestic factors and by the realities of the larger global context.
Domestically, foreign policy was influenced by factors such as economic trade and political ideology.
- An African country whose economy is dependent on the export of cocoa, for example, will develop foreign relations in a manner that promotes greater access to global markets. Not surprisingly, cocoa producing countries will focus their attention on countries that import cocoa.
- As will be detailed below, at independence, some African governments had a philosophical or ideological orientation towards either socialism or capitalism. African governments that favored developing a capitalist orientation tended to develop closer relationships with the United States, Japan, and countries in Western Europe. However, African governments with a more socialist orientation tended to develop closer relationships with the Soviet Union, China and other socialist countries.
While these domestic factors did influence the development of foreign policy by the new African governments, of greater importance were factors in the international arena, factors that were often outside the control of the new African governments.
There are a number of global factors that influenced Africa’s relationships with other countries in the post-colonial era.
- Relationship with former colonial power. Which foreign countries do you think newly independent countries of Africa had the closest relationship with in the years immediately after independence? In almost every case, the answer is their former European colonial power. So for example, after Senegal became independent in 1960, the government developed a close relationship with France. In the case of Nigeria, initially its closest international relationship was with Britain. Does this surprise you? After all, many African countries had to struggle against the European colonial powers to achieve political independence. However, there were many economic, social, and political connections between newly independent countries and their former rulers. These connections influenced the foreign policies and relations of the newly independent countries. In the post-colonial era, most of the former colonial countries tried to foster close relationships with their former colonies. This is particularly true in the case of Britain and France, the two largest colonial powers. Britain went as far as to form what is called the Commonwealth of Nations. All former British colonies in Africa, Asia, and the Americas are eligible for membership. The primary goal of the Commonwealth is to promote closer ties between these nations. Currently, the Commonwealth of Nations has a membership of 54 sovereign nations and 26 dependencies, making it one of the largest trans-continental organizations of states, smaller than only the United Nations and the Non-Aligned Movement. France has been even more closely engaged with most of its formal colonies in Africa. The French government fosters the idea of a basic cultural unity between regions of the world influenced by French rule, language, and culture. La Francophonie is the term that French give to this concept of solidarity of French speaking people in Europe, Africa and Asia.Unlike, Britain and other former colonial powers, France has stationed troops in several African countries for the entire post-colonial period. These troops have on occasion been used to support a government against attempted coups. To further solidify relationships between France and its former colonies every year since 1973, the French government has sponsored a Franco-African Summit. These summit meetings are always attended by the presidents of France and all of its former colonies in Africa.
- Geo-Political Global Politics. The end of World War II in 1945 led to very important changes in world history and in the structure of relationships between nation-states. The post-World War II era world witnessed the division of the world into two sets of geo-political groups of nation states.
1. East-West Division. Two countries emerged at the end of the war as new global super-powers-the United States (USA) and the Soviet Union (USSR). In such a situation, it is natural that competition developed between the two new global powers. However, the tension that developed between these two super-powers was accentuated by great differences in ideology. The US championed democratic capitalism. The USSR championed democratic socialism.
Since the United States is located in the western hemisphere and most of its allies were in Western Europe, this geo-political alliance became identified as the West or Western Bloc of Nations. Similarly, since the USSR and most of its allies were located in Eastern Europe, this alliance was identified as the East or Eastern Bloc of Nations. The strong tension between the US and the USSR is widely referred to as the Cold War -since the tensions never developed into a actual warfare between the West and East. However, even if the USA and USSR never went to war, competition between the two blocs resulted in a series of wars in Asia and Africa.
2. North-South Division: World War II pitted the Allied forces against the evils of Nazism and Fascism. During World War II, the allied powers asserted that they were fighting for liberty and freedom for all people. Indeed, in 1941 just after the US joined the War, President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill of Britain signed the Atlantic Charter, a document that outlined the principles for which the allies were fighting. What do the second and third article assert?
THE ATLANTIC CHARTER (1941)
The United States would not enter the war until after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. But by the spring of 1941, Congress had approved the Lend Lease program, and the aid Roosevelt had promised at Charlottesville had begun to flow to Great Britain, where Winston Churchill was now prime minister. In July 1941, Roosevelt and Churchill met for the first time in Argentia Bay off Newfoundland to issue a joint declaration on
Originally the Soviet Union, which had been attacked by Germany the month before, was to sign the charter as well. But the notion of “one world,” in which nations abandoned their traditional beliefs in and reliance upon military alliances and spheres of influence, did not appeal to Joseph Stalin, and, in fact, neither was Churchill particularly thrilled. Only Roosevelt, who had been a member of the Wilson administration, truly believed in the possibility of
For further reading: James McGregor Burns, Roosevelt: The Soldier of Freedom (1970); Gaddis Smith, American Diplomacy During the Second World War (1964); and Robert Divine, Roosevelt and World War II (1969).
THE ATLANTIC CHARTER
The President of the United States of America and the Prime Minister, Mr. Churchill, representing His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom, being met together, deem it right to make known certain common principles in the national policies of their respective countries on which they base their hopes for a better future for the world.
First, their countries seek no aggrandizement, territorial or other;
Second, they desire to see no territorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned;
Third, they respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live; and they wish to see sovereign rights and self government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them;
Fourth, they will endeavor, with due respect for their existing obligations, to further the enjoyment by all States, great or small, victor or vanquished, of access, on equal terms, to the trade and to the raw materials of the world which are needed for their economic prosperity;
Fifth, they desire to bring about the fullest collaboration between all nations in the economic field with the object of securing, for all, improved labor standards, economic advancement and social security;
Sixth, after the final destruction of the Nazi tyranny, they hope to see established a peace which will afford to all nations the means of dwelling in safety within their own boundaries, and which will afford assurance that all the men in all the lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want;
Seventh, such a peace should enable all men to traverse the high seas and oceans without hindrance;
Eighth, they believe that all of the nations of the world, for realistic as well as spiritual reasons must come to the abandonment of the use of force. Since no future peace can be maintained if land, sea or air armaments continue to be employed by nations which threaten, or may threaten, aggression outside of their frontiers, they believe, pending the establishment of a wider and permanent system of general security, that the disarmament of such nations is essential. They will likewise aid and encourage all other practicable measures which will lighten for peace-loving peoples the crushing burden of armaments.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Winston S. Churchill
Source: Samuel Rosenman, ed., Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, vol.10 (1938-1950), 314.
Is colonialism consistent with the principles of the Atlantic Charter? The people from African colonies, many who fought for the Allies in the War, took the Charter to heart. “They respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live; and they wish to see sovereign rights and self government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them;.” How could European leaders endorse this principle and still maintain colonialism? Not surprisingly, the decade following the end of World War II was a decade in which nationalism flourished in Africa, giving rise to political independence.
During the post-war period, the economies of the US, Japan, and former colonial powers in Europe flourished. All of these countries are situated in the Northern Hemisphere. However, as you have learned, political independence and the end of colonialism did not result in immediate economic, social, and political development in Africa. Moreover, many of the colonial countries in Asia, Latin America, or Africa were situated south of the developed countries.
Over the past twenty-years, the political and economic gap between the countries of the North and the former colonial countries of the South has grown. As was demonstrated in Module Nine: African Economies, globalization has had negative consequences in most of Africa. The economic, social and political problems of globalization, reflecting the North-South divide, have come to dominate the relationships between African countries and the developed countries of the North. African diplomats spend much of their time negotiating with the North for debt reduction, much needed new financial assistance, and fairer trade policies.
Cold War in Africa
Political independence for most African countries came during the height of the Cold War tensions between East and West. In spite of their close connection to the former colonial powers in Europe, all of which belonged to the Western Bloc, most of the newly independent African governments wanted to stay neutral in the Cold War. Many of the new African leaders were attracted to the idea of non-alignment that was championed by newly independent countries in Asia, the Caribbean, Africa, as well as some countries in Latin America that had been independent for a longer time. The core idea of non-alignment is to be neutral, not to take sides, in the Cold War. Proponents of non-alignment were convinced that the survival of their nation-states depended on their neutrality between the Eastern and Western Blocs.
So attractive was the idea on non-alignment that nations from Asia, the Americas, and Africa joined together to form the Non-Aligned Movement, which by the 1980s had a membership of 77 independent countries.
However, in spite of their best attempts to remain non-aligned, African governments were not always strong enough to resist being drawn into the conflict between the USA and the Soviet Union. The nature of African involvement in the Cold War varied. At times African governments would side with one of two super-powers in a vote at the United Nations, or African countries praised the Soviet Union for its stand against racism and Apartheid in southern Africa and criticized the US for not offering strong enough condemnation of Apartheid.
Far more serious are the examples of African countries that suffered from violence and civil strife as a result of their being drawn into the Cold War competition between the two superpowers. Indeed, in Angola, the Congo (Zaire), Ethiopia, Mozambique, Somalia, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, the cold war turned into hot wars, governments were overthrown, political and economic systems destroyed, tens of thousands of people were killed, many more injured, and millions became refugees in their own country or in neighboring countries.
Case Study of Angola
Perhaps no country in Africa has suffered more as a result of the Cold War than Angola. Angola won its political independence from Portugal in 1974 after many years of struggle. Angola, a country rich in natural resources (petroleum, diamonds, commercial agriculture) and with a relatively developed economic and transportation infrastructure had high potential at independence in 1975. But for the following twenty-six years Angola suffered from a continuous civil war that nearly destroyed the country’s economy, took the lives of over 100,000 Angolans, displaced over a million citizens, and as result of land-mine explosions, has given Angola the largest limbless population in the World
You can find out more about Angola by clicking on the following web-site
The tragedy of Angola is a living and continuing legacy of the Cold War.
The roots of Angola’s civil war lie in its colonial history. Angola is one of the oldest colonies in Africa. Portuguese slave traders established a presence on the coast of Angola in the sixteenth century CE. In the nineteenth century at the height of the slave trade Portugal began to expand its influence into the interior of Angola, by 1885-remember this date signifies the beginning of the Scramble for Africa [Module Seven B: African History] -Portugal was able to lay claim to all of present-day Angola.
The interior highlands of Angola have rich fertile soils that attracted Portuguese settlers. Angola’s economic value to Portugal, the poorest country in Western Europe, increased in the mid-twentieth century with discoveries of diamonds and petroleum. In the post-War World II era when France and Britain were beginning to negotiate with nationalist leaders in their African colonies, Portugal, which was controlled by a dictator Antonio Salazar, refused to negotiate with African nationalist leaders in Angola. To Salazar, Angola was an integral part of Portugal-just as important as any other province of Portugal. Indeed, so strong was Portugal’s determination to maintain control of Angola and her other African colonies (Cabo Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique), that nationalist leaders were arrested and either jailed or sent into exile.
In response to Portugal’s refusal to negotiate, by the early 1960s two nationalist groups had been formed to struggle against Portugal. These two groups were the Popular Movement for the Independence of Angola (MPLA) and the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA). Although these two groups shared a common desire for the independence of Angola, they differed over ideology. This difference was the first inkling of the impact of the Cold War on Angola. The leadership of the MPLA had a socialist orientation and they were impressed by the willingness of the Soviet Union and its allies to give money and arms to support the liberation struggles in Southern Africa. The FNLA, which had ties with neighboring Congo (Zaire) was more orientated to the West, even though it received very little support from the US for its struggle against the Portuguese in Angola. Indeed, there is considerable evidence that shows that the US used its influence with the FNLA to minimize its struggle against the Portuguese.
Why would the US not support an end to colonialism in Angola? After all, given our own colonial history, the US should have been supportive of other colonial peoples gaining their independence. Moreover, remember the Atlantic Charter? The Charter promised support for countries and people struggling for freedom and liberty. So, why not support independence in Angola? The answer lies in the Cold War. Two factors are of particular importance:
- In spite of the fact that Portugal was a dictatorship, it was an important ally of the US, and as such, the US government did not want to offend Portugal. Of particular importance in the 1960s and 1970s were the US military bases in Portugal and in the Azores, Portuguese controlled islands in the eastern Atlantic Ocean. The Azores were used by US military planes to refuel on their way to military exercises in the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East. The Portuguese government let it be known that they would maintain their military relations with the US only if the US provided support for Portugal’s war against nationalists in her African colonies. In an era in which the Cold War determined foreign policy, the Middle East was far more important to the US than was the principle of liberty and freedom in “far away” Angola!
- At the height of the Cold War, the US government was very suspicious of any nationalist movements that had a socialist orientation. Consequently, the US was concerned about the MPLA, which by the late 1960s had become the strongest nationalist group in Angola. In response to this suspicion of the MPLA, the US government went beyond supporting the Portuguese in their fight against the MPLA. The US gave support to a rival nationalist organization. In the late 1960s, Jonas Savimbi who had been a leader in the MPLA, broke with that organization and formed a new nationalist group to fight the Portuguese. Savimbi called the new organization the Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). UNITA soon grew into a strong fighting organization, thanks to support from the China, the US, and South Africa. Not surprisingly, this split in the nationalist movement weakened the overall effort against the Portuguese.
The end of colonial rule in 1975 came not only because of the armed struggle, but also as the result of the end of the dictatorship in Portugal. In 1974, a group of army officers, tired of fighting three wars in Africa (Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique) took over the government of Portugal. One of their first items of business was to negotiate with the liberation armies for an end of colonial rule in Portugal’s African colonies.
The transfer of power to independent governments in Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau went relatively smoothly. But this was not the case in Angola. Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau won their independence under the efforts of a single nationalist movement. However in 1974, the MPLA and UNITA both claimed the right to govern an independent Angola. Eventually on November 11, 1975, Portugal simply withdrew from Angola. The MPLA, which clearly had the support of most of the people around the capital city of Luanda was able to form the first independent government.
Political scientists and historians who study Angola seem to agree that a democratic conclusion to Angola’s struggle for independence could have been reached, had external powers, particularly the US and the Soviet Union, agreed on a solution to Angola’s political crisis. However, the Cold War mentality was victorious and the people of Angola suffered for it!
The MPLA, with support for the Eastern Bloc and many of the non-aligned countries, was unwilling to give into the demands of UNITA for equal participation in the new government. Not without reason, MPLA viewed UNITA as a creation of external forces bent on limiting Angola’s independence to choose its own political and economic path. UNITA, for its part, perceived the MPLA to be committed to maintaining its control of power at any cost.
With the tensions of the Cold War mounting in the mid-1970s, the external supporters of both sides were willing to support their side with money and arms to keep the civil war going. For twenty-seven years, in spite of the end of the Cold War, UNITA continued to mount a brutal civil war against the MPLA controlled government of Angola.
Fortunately, thanks to the active engagement the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and of the former Cold War adversaries, Russia and the U.S., who strongly encouraged their proxies the MPLA and UNITA to negotiate the end of hostilities, the Lusaka Accords were signed by the warring parties in 1999. The two parties contested an election in 2002 in which the MPLA won a convincing victory.
What is the current situation in Angola? (Thanks to reputable news sites on the Internet you can find out for yourself.)
Using web-based sources write a one-page report on the current situation in Angola. The following questions provide a guide for your research.
As indicated above, the Lusaka Accords, signed by the MPLA and UNITA ended the 27 year long civil war in Angola. UNITA agreed that it would disarm its soldiers in return for the promise that it would be given the opportunity to fairly compete in the elections scheduled for 2002 which were won by the MPLA.
1. What has happened to UNITA since its defeat in the 2002 elections?
2. Is Jonas Savimbi still engaged in politics? If so, what has been his impact on the politics of Angola since 2002?
3. President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, long time leader of the MPLA, is one of the longest serving presidents in all of Africa. According to news sources, how can explain his political longevity?
4. What role do opposition parties play in contemporary Angola?
5. How does the U.S. State Department describe the current relationship between the U.S. and Angola?
6. Spend some time reading the English language press in Angola (weblinks on Angola country page). According to these online news sources what are the major issues confronting Angola at this time?
Here are some web-sites to help you get started:
American Press: We have included three American newspapers on our list. These newspapers have relatively good coverage of Africa. However, you should also search for coverage of Angola in your local newspapers. Every newspaper’s home page will have an archive section with a search option. You should use this search option to find articles on Angola.
Africa oriented news sources:
You should visit the official web-sites of the Angola government and UNITA to ascertain their perspectives.
Once you have completed your report and your teacher has seen it, please put it in your Activity Journal.
Go on to Activity Seven or choose from one of the other activities in this module
- Activity One: What’s in a Word?
- Activity Two: Pre-Colonial Political Systems
- Activity Three: Political Legacy of Colonialism
- Activity Four: Post-Colonial Government
- Activity Five: Second Liberation
- Activity Six: International Relations
- Activity Seven: Homework