Three years after it began, the crusade for democracy in Africa has
turned out to be a political and economic war of reconquest.
Barry Crawford identifies the new ways in which the West is dictating
how Africa is governed today. Bottom, Charles Longford
reveals how recent US policies have effectively ended Angolan independence
Three years ago, French president François Mitterrand announced his
plans to democratise the francophone states of Africa. The policy was dubbed
'Paristroika', and it signalled the start of the West's high-profile
crusade for democracy in Africa. Before long, African regimes had all been
told by Western governments, the International Monetary Fund and the World
Bank that their future access to support would be conditional upon them
ending corruption and human rights abuses, and changing their constitutions
to support multi-party democracy.
The West had never previously shown any interest in democracy in Africa.
Until the end of the eighties, the conditions it imposed on African governments
were tied in with the Cold War. Those who identified with the Soviet
bloc could expect to face economic destabilisation and Western-sponsored
subversion. Such was the treatment meted out to Angola, Mozambique and Ethiopia
from the seventies onwards. On the other hand, if they identified with
the West and anti-communism, African regimes were guaranteed support. So
Africa's most corrupt dictators - such as Mobutu, Barre, Moi and Banda - were
secured in power. President Mobutu of Zaire assisted Western and South African
efforts to subvert Angola. In return, Western bankers had rescheduled the
Mobutu regime's debts eight times by 1987--more often than any other country
before or since.
Some clean break
When the Cold War ended, so it seemed did the West's support for Africa's
old dictators. In May this year, new US secretary of state Warren Christopher
even admitted that, 'during the long Cold War period, policies toward Africa
were often determined not by how much they affected Africa, but by what
advantage they brought to Washington or Moscow'. Christopher promised a
clean break. Henceforth, 'an enduring commitment to democracy and human
rights' would be at the heart of America's relations with Africa. Aid would
be allocated accordingly.
The West's initial crusade for democracy in Africa keyed into the wave of
revulsion against corrupt dictators which swept the continent after the
collapse of Stalinism. That helped to obscure the true interests which were
being pursued behind the banner of democracy. The hidden aims of the campaign
were to establish the authority of the 'democratic' West over 'uncivilised'
Africa, and to force African governments to open up their economies to easier
foreign penetration by means of privatisation, deregulation and currency
devaluation. The consequence was even more austerity for the peoples of
Africa (see 'Africa's sham democracy', Living Marxism, September
Three years on, it has become clear that the most important conditions which
the West now insists upon in Africa are not openness and democracy, but
obedience and control. If an elected African government can do the West's
bidding and maintain a modicum of stability, all well and good. If it cannot,
then Western governments and institutions have proved quick to abandon any
notion of democracy.
In Zambia, the post-Cold War transition at first went quite smoothly.
The incumbent president, Kenneth Kaunda, lost an election to the West's
nominee, Frederick Chiluba. But when the price of staple foods rocketed
and Chiluba fired thousands of civil servants, public apathy turned
to anger. In March, Chiluba declared a state of emergency and arrested opposition
leaders. This has not deterred the West from rewarding him with $850m of
Unfree and unfair
Elsewhere the sham of democracy has been more cruelly exposed. By terminating
all aid to Kenya, for example, the West forced the old president Daniel
arap Moi to concede to elections. The anti-Moi ticket wasn't enough to hold
the opposition together, however, and the president survived. Although the
election was not judged free or fair, the West has resumed ties with Moi,
once he met further harsh conditions. When Kenya's first multi-party
parliament opened in January, it was promptly suspended. It is a similar
tale in Ghana, where opposition groups were so outraged by the electoral
irregularities which helped president Jerry Rawlings return to office
that they boycotted the subsequent elections to the legislature in May.
Rawlings' Ghana remains a favourite of the West in Africa, receiving $9
billion in loans over the past decade.
Where election results have gone wrong, the West has shown no qualms about
abandoning democracy altogether. When the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS)
looked set to win Algeria's elections in 1992, the army stepped in and suspended
the vote. Western condemnation was conspicuous by its absence. After all,
democracy cannot be extended to Islamic fundamentalists.
Where austerity programmes are being implemented relatively smoothly, the
West is reluctant to use the 'conditionality' weapon at all. President Yoweri
Museveni's Uganda is the kind of one-party state the Western financiers
like. He has cut 30 000 civil service jobs and abolished all price subsidies.
His National Resistance Council remains Uganda's sole legal political organisation,
and he has dismissed multi-party elections as a 'diversion'. With the promise
of another $185m from the World Bank, Museveni can afford to sustain that
My friend 'Omar'
The new conservative government in France has stripped away the façade
of Mitterrand's 'Paristroika' policy to reveal the real content of French
intervention in Africa today. Democratisation can mean little when France's
new interior minister, Charles Pasqua, refers to old guard dictators like
Omar Bongo of Gabon, Paul Biya of Cameroon and Gnassingbé Eyadéma
of Togo as personal friends. According to Pasqua, French support for 'my
friend Omar' in the forthcoming presidential election is only the beginning:
'We will do the same in Mali, Niger and Congo.'
In this supposed age of democracy, Western governments are also seeking
to dictate African politics through old-fashioned wars of subversion. Liberia
was supposed to have held elections in the middle of last year. But America
has some way to go before it will allow the Liberian people any say. Most
of the country is under the control of rebel leader Charles Taylor. The
USA is directing a West African military 'peace-keeping' force which is
bombing towns and villages under Taylor's control. The USA has also sponsored
the formation of ULIMO, a new armed gang on the model of Unita in Angola,
to wage civil war in Liberia. Until Taylor has been decisively weakened,
the democratisation of Liberia will have to wait.
No questions asked
So far, the West has little need to be embarrassed about the increasingly
cynical character of its democracy crusade. Nobody is questioning its fundamental
right to dictate the shape of African government. Many African leaders and
intellectuals who once criticised imperialism have now accepted the West's
argument that African culture itself, rather than Western domination, is
to blame for the lack of democracy in the continent.
Having ended the Cold War, America has shifted its interest in Africa to
countries where the collapse of Stalinism has produced the most marked change
in attitude towards the West. Top US aid recipients this year are South
Africa, Ethiopia and Mozambique. After its recent recognition, Angola may
be added to the list. The more troublesome Zaire, Liberia and Sudan get
So much for people power: Angolans fight for news of what the USA
has dictated will be their future
So long, Angola
'This decision', announced Bill Clinton in May, 'reflects the high
priority that our administration places on democracy'. The US president
was talking about his decision finally to grant full diplomatic recognition
to the formerly pro-Soviet government of Angola, headed by President Jose
Eduardo dos Santos of the Movement for the Popular Liberation of Angola
(MPLA). Clinton told the world's press that he had turned his back on Jonas
Savimbi's National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita), which
the USA had backed for 18 years, because Savimbi had refused to accept the
latest peace plans. However, the world's press failed to notice that Clinton's
fingers were crossed while he was speaking.
Clinton's announcement was widely applauded. America was congratulated for
upholding democracy by facing down Unita, which had refused to accept the
result of last September's elections and had restarted the bloody civil
war. Even a liberal journalist like Victoria Brittain, one of the few public
critics of America's past role in the Angolan tragedy, thought that Clinton's
belated recognition of the MPLA-led government could be 'the first
small step in redressing a humanitarian and political crisis' (Guardian,
21 May 1993).
Nobody has seen fit to ask why America should have any say over what
takes place in Angola at all. Instead, the celebration of Clinton's recognition
of the government ratifies the fact that an American president, not
an Angolan one, will decide what can and cannot happen in Angola. After
all, the power to recognise also carries with it the power to de-recognise.
Control remains in American hands, and Africans are expected to seek Washington's
blessing by submitting to its conditions.
From the moment the MPLA led Angola to independence from Portuguese colonialism
in 1975, the USA and South Africa have tried to turn back the clock. America
took Savimbi, a defeated and discredited guerilla leader, transformed his
Unita organisation into a killing machine and unleashed it upon the Angolan
people. The result has been a 16-year civil war in which over half a million
Angolans have died, while economic devastation, estimated by the United
Nations to have cost $100 billion in the 1980s alone, reduced Angola to
Although every European government had recognised the Angolan government
back in 1976, America remained determined to punish Angolans for trying
to go it alone in opposition to the West. In 1989, when the effects of the
war and the retreat of the Soviet Union led the desperate MPLA to endorse
market economics and apply for admittance to the International Monetary
Fund and the World Bank, the USA tried to block recognition. The US vendetta
against the MPLA was intensified by the involvement of troops from
Fidel Castro's Cuba in the Angolan civil war. The American authorities used
the issue of democracy as a front for their assault.
In May 1991, the USA pressurised the government into signing the Bicesse
ceasefire agreement, which set up the September 1992 elections. In
the eyes of the world, Bicesse meant that the MPLA and Unita were equal
participants in the Angolan peace process. America had abrogated Angolan
independence by ensuring that its terror gang received equal billing with
the national government. But this was only the start.
When the MPLA complained to the United Nations that Unita was not demobilising
its army in line with the Bicesse accords, America and the UN ignored it.
When the MPLA produced evidence that a 20 000-strong Unita army trained
in Morocco and Zaire had been infiltrated into eastern and northern
Angola before the elections, nothing was said. Indeed documentary evidence
now shows that South Africa and the CIA continued to arm Savimbi even after
The elections were in fact a major triumph for Angolan democracy. Over 90
per cent of eligible Angolans voted. But the result was not what America
or Unita expected: the MPLA took 58 per cent of the vote, giving it 54 per
cent of all legislative seats compared to Unita's 34 per cent. And in the
presidential race, dos Santos of the MPLA polled 48.6 per cent, compared
to 40 per cent for Unita's Savimbi. Dos Santos' narrow failure to win an
overall majority meant that a run-off was required. It never took place.
Instead, Savimbi refused to accept his party's defeat and threatened to
resume the war. He ordered Unita senior officers to desert from the
newly unified army.
Equality for Unita
By October, Unita had effectively restarted the civil war. Threatening the
'Somalia-isation' of the country, Savimbi demanded that the election results
should not be published until they had been verified by the National
Electoral Council, Unita officials and the UN. The US administration
backed Savimbi's position. Herman Cohen, president Bush's African affairs
spokesman, told the US congress that Washington would establish relations
with the government of Angola once the UN certified the elections.
Yet when the UN security council's resolution 785 endorsed the election
as free and fair, American recognition was not forthcoming. Savimbi took
his cue and upped the stakes militarily. By the end of October, Angola had
been plunged back into a vicious civil war.
Remarkably, America justified its refusal to recognise the newly elected
Angolan government by arguing that premature recognition of a presidential
candidate who had not secured over 50 per cent of the vote would count as
interference in the internal affairs of Angola and breach its electoral
code! And, in order to avoid further interference in Angola's internal affairs,
America not only refused to condemn Savimbi, it now insisted that negotiations
had to take place between the elected government and Unita. Through the
UN, the USA instructed president dos Santos to travel to Geneva to meet
By enforcing all of these stipulations, America effectively elevated Unita
to the same status as Angola's elected government. It colluded with Savimbi's
refusal to abide by the democratic process which it had insisted upon in
the first place.
If the American attitude were applied to the US presidential election, it
would produce this scenario. First, the election of President Clinton could
not be recognised, as he received only 43 per cent of the vote on a 55 per
cent turnout. (Dos Santos, remember, received 48.6 per cent on a 90 per
cent poll). Second, the defeated candidate George Bush would, under threat
of violence, have to be made a virtual partner in Clinton's administration.
And Clinton would be told by the UN to travel to another continent to make
a deal with Bush. When applied to Angola, this is called the democratic
Another 20 000 dead
Some commentators blamed the Bush administration and its Cold War attachment
to Savimbi for the crisis in Angola. But what change was there when Clinton
took over - the president who places such a 'high priority' on democracy?
The new secretary of state Warren Christopher not only endorsed the equating
of Savimbi with the government, he also insisted that democratic elections
were no longer the condition upon which recognition would be based. Instead,
it was 'the amount of territory held by the MPLA [which would] be a factor
determining recognition' (Africa Confidential, 22 January 1993).
This was an open invitation to Savimbi to strengthen his hand by rejecting
the elections and grabbing as much territory as possible. The result was
another bloody round of conflict which is estimated to have claimed
a further 20 000 Angolan lives. That has been the Clinton administration's
contribution to peace in Angola.
The MPLA's invitation to the Unita butchers to take up ministerial posts
shows how America's campaign of destabilisation has exacted concession after
concession from an elected government. By granting recognition on such restrictive
conditions, Clinton has effectively assumed control and reversed the Angolan
independence struggle. It is recolonisation by another name.
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 57, July 1993