In order to understand what is going on in southern Africa I find it helpful to start with a series of events. The first of these which is shaping the problems of today (including Soviet and Cuban troops in Angola) is that through the Nixon-Ford-Kissinger era Washington policy toward southern Africa operated on the premise that whites would continue to dominate the area for the foreseeable future.
Because United States policy assumed the continuance of white domination it refrained from giving encouragement and support to the black nationalist movements which were developing wherever whites still controlled the institutions of government directly, or indirectly through blacks of their choosing.
The result of the assumption of continuing white supremacy was to give Moscow a chance to sponsor and support the new black nationalist movements. Moscow seized that opportunity. In Angola, which is particularly important to the whole of southern Africa, the Soviets picked the black movement which seemed to be the most promising, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). The Soviets sent in money, guns, Soviet advisers, and Cuban troops.
By the time Portugal gave up the struggle to retain control of Angola and announced its intended withdrawal the Soviets were backing the inevitable winner. Henry Kissinger, then secretary of state, wanted to send support to two rival black groups. But it was too late. The Soviets had been operating with the MPLA for years. MPLA had become the dominant black movement. Besides, Congress voted against money, weapons, or advisers for the lost causes in Angola.
Thus did Angola and Mozambique become clients of the Soviet Union, as they still are. Soviet and Cuban troops remain in Angola at the request of the ruling MPLA, the only legal political party in the country, as they have been for more than six years. South African troops were not uncovering anything new when they claimed to have bagged a Soviet warrant officer in southern Angola the other day.
Thus also did other black movements and countries in Africa tend to regard the US as an agent of white colonialism and the Soviet Union as the champion of the new black nationalism.
A symptom of the condition which existed toward the end of the Nixon-Ford-Kissinger era was exposed when Dr. Kissinger wanted to visit Nigeria, the largest, most populous, and wealthiest of the black countries of Africa. He was refused permission to visit. Black Africa wanted nothing to do with Dr. Kissinger.
This state of affairs changed quickly after President Carter named Andrew Young as his ambassador to the United Nations. The old assumption was reversed.US policy was based on the opposite assumption that black rule was inevitable throughout all of Africa south of the Sahara, with the single exception of parts of South Africa where the white population is substantial.
The change of attitude permitted the US to associated itself with the British attempt to bring about a transfer from white to black rule in Rhodesia. Here, for the first time, Washington and London joined to help the blacks to independence. Since the blacks in Rhodesia could get help from London and Washington they did not need help from Moscow. rhodesia became Zimbabwe and is now a client of the West, not of moscow.
An important reason behind the shift of US policy toward black nationalism was the practical fact that US trade with black Africa had come to exceed US trade with white Africa. South Africa is an important source of raw materials to the US, but Nigeria is the second largest supplier of oil to the US. In one recent year it actually was the first. Normally it is a close second to Saudi Arabia as a supplier of oil.
The Angolans say they would like to "release" their Soviet and Cuban "helpers ," but cannot do so while South Africa continues to raid deep into Angolan territory and supply the UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) forces of Jonas Savimbi, who has kept a guerrilla resistance movement going in the southeast corner of the country.
During the last week of August the South Africans staged their deepest and longest raid into southwestern Angola. The UN Security Council debated a resolution of censure against South Africa. The US vetoed that resolution of censure. The white South Africans were delighted. The West European allies were dismayed.The Soviets could not suppress a smile. Their lease on Angola had just been renewed, free and for nothing, by that American veto.
The story provides a neat example of how to keep Russian and Cuban troops in the heart of Africa.