Africa in the US presidential race

With regard to Africa, the differences between President Reagan and Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale are stark. They have strikingly divergent plans for aiding the drought-stricken, famine-struck lands on the eastern side of the continent; they approach the knotty problem of Africa's economic development in a distinctly different manner; their solutions to Africa's demographic catastrophe are irreconcilable; and their methods of moderating the power of white South Africa and eliminating apartheid are vastly dissimilar.

Both the President and his challenger appreciate the magnitude of Africa's crisis. With its population growing at more than 3 percent a year, and in selected countries at 4 percent, there will be twice as many people in Africa in 16 years than there are now, a grand total of about 800 million.

Neither Africa's agriculture (which has been harmed) nor its mineral wealth (still largely untapped) and manufacturing ability (which is limited) can sustain such an explosion of bodies or, except in a few well-endowed and well-managed countries, provide for them in an acceptable manner. Already only a very few countries in black Africa feed themselves, and with drought and other natural calamities, starvation is a periodic danger. Today 6 million of Ethiopia's 32 million people are experiencing famine, and serious hunger threatens all of eastern and southern Africa, as well as a continental belt of nations from Mauritania to Somalia.

The economies of Africa are weak, their management structures deficient, their currencies overvalued, and their real options for uplift few and politically risky. The Reagan administration has preferred to assist only those nations that have made positive shifts from a socialist to a free-market orientation in their economies. Mr. Mondale has talked about helping those who are needy to find the means to develop their productive capacities. Mr. Mondale is prepared to sanction increased multilateral assistance to Africa through the World Bank and by increasing the lending capacities of the International Monetary Fund and the soft-loan subsidiaries of the World Bank. Mr. Reagan has opposed those initiatives.

The Reagan administration has penalized those countries in Africa that have voted in the United Nations on crucial issues against the United States. This understandable antagonism on the part of a big state against smaller and weaker ones has rarely been tempered by considerations of larger structural realities. Although Mr. Mondale has pronounced on none of the particular cases and, in office, might take positions similar to Mr. Reagan's officials, his approach to third-world questions has been much more compassionate and far less doctrinaire than that of Mr. Reagan. The leaders of black Africa generally believe that Mr. Mondale would understand their special circumstances and help those nations capable of absorbing aid and employing it to improve per capita standards of living.

Family planning is among Africa's greatest need. Since the 1960s, after independence almost everywhere, black populations have boomed in ways that are destructive to economic growth. Mr. Mondale would support African efforts to limit their birthrates. Mr. Reagan's policy was established last summer in Mexico City; his administration will permit no US funds to be spent in countries or by international agencies that approve abortion. Although no African national accepts the extreme Chinese position, abortion is mostly legal. Women's choice is respected, even in heavily Roman Catholic countries.

The cleavage between the two contenders is clearest regarding South Africa. Both abhor apartheid, but Mr. Reagan's administration believes that friendship, cooperation, and a close working relationship will propel South Africa down an evolutionary path to the fuller political participation that Vice-President Mondale enunciated as an American goal in talks with South Africa's prime minister in 1977. Mr. Reagan also believes that the policy of catching flies with honey will ultimately persuade South Africa to free Namibia, the southwest African territory it controls in defiance of the UN.

Mr. Mondale, allied to a great extent with the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the administration of President Carter, is prepared to speak sharply and firmly to South Africa about evolution and Namibia. More critically, he is on record as favoring a tightening of the strategic embargo against South Africa, and of limiting contacts at all levels until the white leaders there begin to take reform seriously.

Whereas the Reagan government has employed carrots to cajole South Africa, a Mondale-run State Department would use sticks as well as carrots. It would reward only those South African initiatives that reduced rather than enhanced tension between black and white.

African leaders of almost all backgrounds believe that their needs would be answered more fully and their complaints heard more sympathetically by a government headed by Mr. Mondale. The white rulers of South Africa, however, desperately want Mr. Reagan to win, and to retain the very policies that have contributed since 1980 to the strength of that anxious republic.

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