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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

Recolonising Africa

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 1992).

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 aid.

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 stance.

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 nothing.

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 destitution.

US vendetta

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 election.

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 with Savimbi.

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 process.

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

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