Bonn — In the period of stocktaking after Rhodesia's peaceful transition to black rule, West Germany is doing everything it can to help the Rhodesian example rub off on neighboring Namibia.
West Germany's interest in this stems from Namibia's (South-West Africa's) history as a 19th-century German colony, from the number of ethnic Germans still living in Namibia, and from a longstanding conviction of the virtues of black identity and nonalignment on the part of the coalition liberals and Social Democrats.
This interest makes Africa the one area of foreign policy in which West Germany sticks its neck out a bit more than elsewhere. In other regions of the world -- not counting East Germany, which is considered "intra-German" rather than "foreign" policy -- West Germany wraps its economic and growing political leadership in a cloak of European cooperation. In Africa it is willing to take initiatives on its own as well as in tandem with the United States, Britain, France, and Canada.
So far the impact of the Rhodesia's transition on Namibia has been twofold, according to West German diplomats. It has suggested to the black South West African People's Organization (SWAPO) that it can trust free elections to bring it to power. At the same time it has made whites in Namibia and South Africa more alarmed about their own future.
How these new perceptions will sort themselves out should be seen in the current negotiations. As thing stand now, South Africa, which controls Namibia, and SWAPO are discussing (through the group of five intermediaries) establishment of a cease-fire zone 50 kilometers oneither side of the Namibia-Angola and Namibia-Zambia borders prior to any new political arrangements.
The group of five, representing the UN (France, West Germany, Britain, the United States, and Canada) does not recognize any South African right to continue to hold and administer South-West Africa, but it is trying to work out a peaceful shift of government.
The ethnic German community in Namibia does not participate in these negotiations but has been a social leader since desegregating its academic high school some years ago.
In Rhodesia, West Germany's bilateral relations with Prime Minister Robert Mugabe are already off to a good start.
West Germany, at the urging of Free Democratic (liberal) Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, funded a program to train 1,000 black African refugees back in 1977.
Under this modest but pertinent project, 500 have been receiving vocational training in Africa and 500 have entered West Germany's regular trade apprenticeship program.
As it happens, 280 out of 350 Rhodesians who came to West Germany under the project came on recommendation of Mr. Mugabe, then a guerrilla leader. Mugabe apprentices impressed the Germans with their motivation and diligence -- and the Mugabe people appreciate the early recognition of legitimacy. (They don't appreciate earlier government impounding of funds raised by a West German Maoist group to buy weapons for Mugabe guerrillas, but this is past history.)
Elsewhere in black Africa, West Germany is playing a quiet but important role by virtue of trade and foreign aid. It is either the first or second largest trading partner of virtually every black African state (with first place going to the former colonial power where West Germany is second). And West German economic assistance to every black African country except (so far) Mozambique and Angola is four times all the economic assistance to black Africa by the entire Soviet bloc.
One-third of West Germany's bilateral economic assistance (almost 1 billion deutsche marks net in 1978, or about $525 million) and half its multilateral assistance (700 million deutsche marks, or about $370 million) go to Africa, with the bulk of this going to black AFrica. Bilateral aid now consists almost entirely of grants rather than loans.
In addition, the West German equivalent of the American Peace Corps is focused largely on Africa.The German Development Society, a government corporation, provided 58.3 million deutsche marks ($30 million) in 1978 as seed money for private investment in developing African countries where low and slow returns would normally scare off private investors.
West German investment in the continent is still small -- only about 6 percent of total West German investment abroad. Some 1.634 billion deutsche marks [860 million) were scattered in black Africa, with Nigeria having the largest single amount at 225 million deutsch marks ($118 million); 649 million deutsch marks ($340 million) were invested in South Africa as of mid-1979, according to Bundesbank figures.
Many black Africans still suspect West Germany of military and nuclear cooperation with South Africa, as shown in last summer's Organization of AFrican Unity condemnation of West Germany. (West Germany flatly denies the charge.)
One further irritant between black Africa and West Germany was removed last May, however, when Zaire -- at the prodding of both West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and Angola -- withdrew permission for rocket testing in Zaire by the German company OTRAG.
West Germany's wooing of black Africa has not been a bipartisan policy. Conservative opponents hold that the Social Democratic-Free Democratic coalition government was dumping traditional white allies in South Africa in its eagerness to win black friends.
The conservatives do not have the votes to block the coalition's Africa policy, however. Moreover, their position has been discredited in the past year by the combination of Christian Democratic Union leader Helmut Kohl's call for recognition of Bishop Muzorewa last April, and British conservative sponsorship of open Rhodesia elections.