AFRICA BACKGROUNDER: HISTORY, U.S. POLICY, PRINCIPAL CONGRESSIONAL ACTIONS
CRS Report for Congress
Africa Backgrounder: History, U.S. Policy,
Principal Congressional Actions
Updated January 5, 2001
Raymond W. Copson
Specialist in International Relations
Foreign Affairs and National Defense Division
Congressional Research Service The Library of Congress
Africa Backgrounder: History, U.S. Policy,
Principal Congressional Actions
Congress has dealt repeatedly with issues related to sub-Saharan Africa since the
late 1950s. This report provides basic background on Africa and its history, U.S.
policy, and congressional involvement, for the general congressional reader.
The modern human species is believed to have emerged in Africa approximately
200,000 years ago. Perhaps 2,500 years ago, the Bantu people began to expand from
a West African base, gradually spreading a complex agricultural system over much
of the continent. Africanists generally agree that loyalties to large ethnic groups, a
key factor in African politics today, were largely absent in pre-colonial Africa.
The Atlantic slave trade, which began about 1450 and lasted 400 years, removed
millions of people in their most productive years from Africa and left the continent ill-
prepared to cope with the European "scramble for Africa." From the 1870s through
the early twentieth century, nearly the entire sub-Saharan region was divided among
the European powers. The Europeans built a basic economic infrastructure; but
imposed a bureaucratic system of government and strengthened traditional chiefs and
other "big men" to help them rule. These patterns deepened divisions in African
societies and strengthened anti-democratic patterns of government.
After World War II, African nationalists organized political parties and began
to demand independence. By the early 1960s, independence had come to most of
eastern and western Africa, but white minority rule persisted in southern Africa,
ending only in 1994, when universal-suffrage elections were held in South Africa.
In the first years of the 1960s, there were high hopes that the end of colonialism
would bring rapid economic growth. Instead, Africa confronted a number of
problems, including inefficient, state-centered economic systems; frequent military
coups; ethnic strife; and corruption. The Cold War contributed to Africa's difficulties,
flooding the continent with arms and strengthening a number of repressive regimes
that had superpower backing. French policy also tended to bolster authoritarian
governments in former French colonies.
In the early 1990s, hopes for Africa's future revived following widespread
political and economic reforms and the end of the Cold War. Later in the decade,
however, the pace of reforms slowed and central Africa fell into an era of violent
conflict. "Afro-pessimists" believe that these developments have gravely damaged
Africa's prospects, but others argue that they are temporary problems masking an
underlying "African Renaissance." The Clinton Administration sided with the "Afro-
optimists," despite frustrations over the war in Congo (formerly Zaire) and other
The 106th Congress passed legislation to strengthen U.S.-African economic ties
and to boost spending to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa and worldwide.
Previous Congresses acted on a number of African issues, including African food
security, apartheid in South Africa, and covert U.S. involvement in Angola.
African History: An Overview......................................2
The Slave Trade.............................................3
Effects ................................................ 4
The Colonial Era............................................5
Effects ................................................ 8
End of Colonialism......................................10
The Cold War.............................................13
Effects of French Policy......................................13
Afro-Pessimism v. Afro-Optimism..............................15
Policy in Previous Administrations..............................20
Principal Congressional Actions....................................23
Suggested Additional Readings....................................25
Selected CRS Products......................................25
Africa Backgrounder: History, U.S. Policy,
and Principal Congressional Actions
Congress, in the exercise of its
Sub-Saharan Africa in Brieflegislative and oversight functions,
has dealt repeatedly with Africa-
Population: 642.3 million (1999)related issues, especially since the
Number of countries: 45late 1950s, when Europe's
GDP: $332.7 billioncolonization of the sub-Saharan
GDP per capita: $316 (1998, excluding region began to come to an end.
South Africa)Bills, resolutions, and hearings have
Foreign debt: $231 billion (1999)covered a wide variety of topics,
Male illiteracy: 31% (1999)including apartheid in South Africa,
Female illiteracy: 47% (1999)other human rights issues, Soviet
involvement in Africa during the
Sources: World Bank, African DevelopmentCold War years, the suffering of
Indicators 2000, Global Development Financechildren and other innocent civilians
1971), African famine, and African
economic development. Attention
has also focused on several
democracy and human rights issues, particularly with respect to Nigeria, Congo
(formerly Zaire), and Sudan, as well as the warfare and violence that afflicted much
of the continent. In 1998, Congress passed the Africa: Seeds of Hope Act (P.L. 105-
385), aimed at promoting African food production, and in 2000, the African Growth
and Opportunity Act (AGOA, P.L. 106-200), intended to promote African
development through increased trade and investment, became law. The Global AIDS
and Tuberculosis Relief Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-264), also enacted in 2000, authorizes
new funding to combat the global HIV/AIDS epidemic and was, in large measure, a
response to the devastation AIDS is causing in sub-Saharan Africa.
Congressional interest in Africa seems certain to continue, not only because the
region is affected by a number of serious problems, some of which could have grave
humanitarian consequences, but also because of the potential Africa offers for U.S.
trade and investment should these problems ease. Africa's problems and prospects
will likely assure continuing constituent interest as well, stimulated in part by the
churches, relief organizations, and other non-governmental organizations active on
African issues. This report is intended to introduce congressional readers to the
region by providing an overview of Africa's history, a summary of U.S. policy toward
Africa, and a listing of principal congressional actions affecting the region. The paper
concludes with suggestions for further reading and a list of selected Congressional
Research Service (CRS) products.
African History: An Overview
Human history is believed to have begun in Africa, probably in the eastern and
southern part of the continent, as human ancestors evolved into the species homo
sapiens, perhaps 200,000 years ago, and began peopling the sub-Saharan region.1
About 50,000 to 100,000 years ago, according to most current scientific thinking,
small bands of these fully modern humans crossed out of Africa into the Middle East,2
and became the ancestors of all human populations elsewhere.
An internal African migration of great significance was launched perhaps 2,500-
5,000 years ago, as the Bantu people of West Africa began to expand their area of
settlement from a base that was probably in the northeast of present-day Nigeria or
possibly Cameroon. The Bantu eventually became the predominant people over most
of sub-Saharan Africa, although people speaking so-called Nilo-Saharan languages
are widely found in the Sahel grasslands on the southern border of the Sahara and
parts of eastern Africa. The Nilo-Saharan languages may have had their origins in
the Nile valley, but the term "Nilotic" to describe peoples existing today has fallen out
of favor with scholars because of the extensive intermingling of Bantu and Nilo-
Saharan speakers over the centuries. Bantu tropical agriculture was not suited to the
Mediterranean climate of extreme southern Africa, and this region continued to be
inhabited by people known as "Khoisan" or "San."
Experts are uncertain about the origins of iron use in Africa,3 but by about 500
BC, it appears that the Bantu had become skilled in smelting iron and making the iron
tools that created a highly successful agriculture and accelerated their expansion.
When Europeans began to explore the African coast after 1450 AD, they found that
farmers were growing a wide variety of crops, including grains as well foods
unfamiliar to Europeans, such as bananas. Some of these had come into Africa
through contacts with the Indian Ocean region and southeast Asia.4 Many African
farmers also had cattle, although the tsetse fly kept cattle out of the wetter, central
part of the continent. After the discovery of America, farmers quickly adopted New
World crops, such as maize and peanuts.
By 1500, an estimated 47 million Africans were living in thousands of farming
communities spread across the continent,5 although in particularly dry regions, such
as Kenya's Rift Valley, some lived a purely pastoral life, herding cattle, sheep, and
1Roland Oliver, The African Experience (New York: Harper Collins, 1991), 1-26.
2John Reader, Africa: A Biography of the Continent (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998), 91-
3See, for example, Paul Bohannan and Philip Curtin, Africa and Africans, fourth edition
(Prospect Heights, Illinois: Waveland Press, 1995), 146-147.
4Sorghum and coffee, among other crops, are believed to be African in origin. Coffee reached
the wider world by way of Arabia.
5Reader, Africa: A Biography, 240.
goats. These were exchanged with farmers for grains and other essentials.6 Large
towns and cities had not developed, probably because large settlements were likely
to be struck down by the parasites and other disease-causing organisms that had7
evolved with homo sapiens in Africa. Human populations outside Africa, by
contrast, had largely escaped these diseases and hence could more easily build cities.
There is wide agreement among Africanists that loyalties to large ethnic groups,
such as "the Yoruba" in present-day Nigeria or "the Tutsi" of east Africa, were largely
absent in pre-colonial Africa, even though they are a dominant feature of African
politics today.8 Broadly similar languages were spoken over wide areas, and these
language areas may have correlated with similar cultural practices and religious beliefs
as well. But historians believe that Africans did not perceive that they had common
interests with other members of these large, amorphous groups. Instead, African
loyalties were embedded in extended families, clans, and patron-client relationships
which offered protection and economic support. Some areas saw the emergence of
powerful individuals or chiefs, sometimes termed "big men" by scholars, who
exercised influence over wide areas through marriage ties and other means, such as
control over a critical trade route.9
A number of African kingdoms developed as the more successful chiefs
consolidated their authority through conquest and alliance. To the south of the
Congo River estuary, for example, European explorers encountered the Kongo
kingdom, where a powerful king ruled several provinces through royal relatives.10
Great artistic achievements also characterized many of these pre-colonial kingdoms,
as evidenced by the naturalistic bronze castings of heads in the kingdom of Benin, in
today's Nigeria, and the stylized Congolese masks and carvings that inspired Picasso
and other modern artists.
The Slave Trade
The Atlantic slave trade is said to have begun in 1441, when a man and a woman11
were captured on the coast of Western Sahara and taken to Portugal. During the
6John Lonsdale, "The Conquest State of Kenya, 1895-1905," in Unhappy Valley: Conflict in
Kenya and Africa, ed. Bruce Berman and John Lonsdale (London: James Currey, 1992), 19-
7 William H. McNeill, Plagues and Peoples (New York: Doubleday, 1977); Reader, Africa:
A Biography, 240.
8Bruce Berman, "Ethnicity, Patronage, and the African State: the Politics of Uncivil
Nationalism," African Affairs 97 (July 1998): 305-341.
9John Iliffe, Africans: The History of a Continent (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
11 Iliffe, Africans: The History of a Continent, 127; Reader, Africa: A Biography, 379.
from Africa, according to authoritative estimates,12 with most going to Brazil and the
Caribbean, and smaller numbers sent to the United States or the British North
American colonies that preceded its formation in 1776. The peak of the trade
occurred in the eighteenth century, as plantation agriculture expanded in the
Americas. Annual totals reached 100,000 in some years late in the century,13 at a time
when 3,000-4,000 were also being taken from East Africa in the lesser-known Indian
Ocean slave trade.14
In 1807, the British parliament voted to end the slave trade, and over the next
60 years, the Royal Navy intercepted more than 1,600 ships off Africa's coasts and
freed over 160,000 captives, sending most to Sierra Leone.15 But many ships evaded
the British patrols, and large numbers of slaves continued to be exported until slavery
was abolished throughout the Americas in the 1850s and 1860s. U.S. participation
in the slave trade was banned by legislation passed in 1807 and strengthened in 1819.
For a number of years, U.S. Navy ships were stationed off the African coast to16
participate in efforts to halt the trade, but with limited success.
The Atlantic slave trade was conducted by European traders based on the West
African coast. They purchased slaves from African owners by trading guns, alcohol,
cloth, or other European-manufactured goods; as well as cowrie shells, which had
monetary value in pre-colonial Africa. Slavery had long been practiced in Africa,
where it was customary to enslave people captured during wars, together with
condemned criminals, and, in some societies, convicted adulterers and enemies of the17
king. In addition, some of those sold into the Atlantic slave trade were kidnap
victims.18 According to historians, slaves in traditional African societies were typically
absorbed into families or local armies, and their treatment was generally less harsh
than in the plantations of the New World. Moreover, the children of slaves in Africa19
often could not be sold.
Effects. Scholars debate the effects of the slave trade on the politics and20
economies of African societies, but the era was clearly associated with turmoil and
12Reader, 379-380; Iliffe, 131. Both authors cite Paul E. Lovejoy, Transformations in
Slavery: A History of Slavery in Africa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983).
13Bohannan and Curtin, Africa and Africans, 184-185.
14Oliver, The African Experience, 123.
15Reader, Africa: A Biography, 42; Iliffe, Africa: the History of a Continent, 148.
16E.B. Potter, The Naval Academy Illustrated History of the United States Navy (New York:
Thomas Y. Crowell, 1971), 59.
17Philip D. Curtin, The Tropical Atlantic in the Age of the Slave Trade (Washington:
American Historical Association, 1991), 15-19.
18Iliffe, Africa: The History of a Continent, 133.
19Bohannan and Curtin, Africa and Africans, 182. Reader, however, reports instances of
slaves being used as human sacrifices in Africa. Africa: A Biography, 183.
20Paul E. Lovejoy, "The Impact of the Atlantic Slave Trade on Africa: A Review of the
outbreaks of war affecting much of West Africa. The guns that flooded Africa in
exchange for slaves helped fuel this instability, and the quest for European arms gave
warring parties a powerful incentive to constantly seek new captives.21 It seems
certain that warfare related to the slave trade, the loss of millions of people in their
most productive years, and the psychological damage to individuals resulting from
political instability and fear of capture, weakened Africa and left it ill-prepared to cope
with the onset of direct European colonization.
The Colonial Era
As late as 1870, there was little indication that the European powers were about
to leave their isolated positions on the coast and partition Africa among themselves.
Instead, it seemed more likely that indigenous political entities would consolidate their
authority and eventually develop into nation-states. In West Africa, for example, the
kingdom of Ashanti (Asante) had profited from its wealth in gold and the slave trade,
and had acquired a strong central government, an advanced system of roads, well
defined boundaries, and a national language.22 It seemed destined to grow stronger.
Buganda in East Africa, to take another example, had become the chief naval power
on Lake Victoria and was known for its powerful king, the Kabaka; its strong army;
and its growing trade.23
Meanwhile, a number of "secondary empires" -- secondary in the sense that they24
relied on imported European military technology -- were emerging. Many of these
were based in Muslim societies, and their gains did much to promote the spread of
Islam in sub-Saharan Africa. In earlier centuries, Islam had been spreading slowly in
West Africa as a result of trans-Sahara trade contacts, and had made larger gains in
northeastern Africa through trade and Arab immigration. Africans who wanted to
associate themselves with the wider Islamic world often converted willingly, and
Koranic schools had begun to introduce literacy in Arabic across the Sahel. But in the
nineteenth century, a series of holy wars or jihads created a vast West African Islamic
empire centered on Sokoto, in modern Nigeria. In East Africa, the sultans of the
island of Zanzibar were extending their power on the mainland, and Egypt was
expanding its control in northeastern Africa. With troops on Lake Victoria by 1876,25
it seemed headed for an empire reaching into central Africa.
Literature," Journal of African History 30 (1989), 365-394. See also Reader, Africa: A
21Robin Law, The Slave Coast of West Africa, 1550-1750: the Impact of the Atlantic Slave
Trade on an African Society (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), 345-350.
22Basil Davidson, The Black Man's Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation-State (New
York: Times Books, 1992), 76.
23Roland Oliver and Anthony Atmore, Africa Since 1800, 4th ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1994), 81-83.
24Bohannan and Curtin, Africa and Africans, 192-204.
25Iliffe, Africans: The History of a Continent, 165.
In southern Africa, it was the "Boers" or Afrikaners, practicing a very
conservative form of Christianity, who established a nineteenth century secondary
empire. Descended from Dutch, Huguenot, and German settlers who had arrived at
the Cape of Good Hope in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, thousands of
Boers trekked deep into the African interior to escape the cultural influences of the
British. (Britain had taken control of the Cape during the Napoleonic wars.) With
modern rifles and cavalry tactics, the Boers defeated the powerful Zulu in key battles,
and established farms in grasslands areas recently depopulated by a series of African
wars sparked by Zulu expansionism. The Zulu were acquiring modern arms
themselves and remained a major force in the region under a king ruling through an
The Scramble. The development of Africa's indigenous political entities was
halted by the European scramble for Africa, which began in competition over the
Niger and Congo River basins in the 1870s. The scramble concluded in 1920, when
British forces, making use of combat airplanes developed during World War I, ended
the last resistance in Somalia. By this time, all of sub-Saharan Africa, except for
Ethiopia and Liberia, was under European control. Ethiopia had thwarted Italian
ambitions to make it a colony by inflicting a humiliating defeat on Italian troops at
Adowa in 1896. However, Menelik II, the Ethiopian emperor, was unable to oust the
Italians from the colony of Eritrea, which they had established along the Red Sea
coast. (Italy invaded Ethiopia again in 1935, in what some historians regard as an
opening phase of World War II. The Italians were driven from the region by British
troops in 1941-1942.)26
The scramble was made possible in part by advances in medicine, which for the
first time gave Europeans a measure of protection against tropical diseases. Gains
in military technology, particularly the development of machine guns and modern
artillery, gave Europeans tremendous advantages over even very large African forces.
In 1898, for example, an army of British and Egyptian troops killed 10,800 Sudanese27
in one day of fighting, while losing 48 officers and men themselves. As a result of
Europe's military advantages, many Africans chose not to resist the colonial invasion,
although the Ashanti, the Zulu, the Boers, the Herero of German Southwest Africa
(Namibia), and peoples in French West Africa did launch armed struggles against the
Many European leaders were initially reluctant to seize territory in Africa
because they doubted that potential financial gains would balance the likely cost.
However, in Britain, France, and Germany there were imperialists and nationalists
both in and out of government who brought popular and political pressure to bear in
support of expansion. Anti-slavery activists felt that direct rule would end the slavery
that continued to exist in Africa itself, and missionaries saw that their efforts could
benefit as well.
26Post-war Ethiopia took full control of Eritrea in 1962, setting off a long resistance struggle.
Eritrea finally became independent in 1993.
27Thomas Pakenham, The Scramble for Africa, 1876-1912 (New York: Random House,
Business interests seeking to develop and exploit Africa’s resources were also
influential, particularly with respect to southern Africa. Diamonds were discovered
at Kimberley, in present-day South Africa, in 1871, and gold was found on the
Witwatersrand (in and around modern Johannesburg) in 1885. (It was not until 1902,
however, that British troops finally subdued the Afrikaners, in the second of the
"Boer Wars.") The new colonial powers also valued Africa’s agricultural potential.
Germany, for example, sought to create a reliable source of raw cotton in its East28
African colony of Tanganyika.
The profit motive was perhaps strongest with King Leopold II of Belgium, but
he successfully hid his real interests for many years amid a show of humanitarian
concerns. Working closely with Henry M. Stanley, the British-American explorer and
journalist, Leopold built a vast empire under his personal control by funding the
exploration of the Congo River basin and persuading local chiefs to sign treaties,
which they little understood, recognizing his authority. At the Berlin West Africa
Conference in 1884-1885, Leopold won recognition of the sovereignty of his
International Association of the Congo (IAC), which controlled Congo and has been
described as Leopold's "one-man enterprise."29 Britain and Germany had come to
favor recognition of Leopold's IAC as a means of thwarting the growth of French30
influence in west and central Africa. Leopold had also succeeded in winning the
endorsement of U.S. President Chester Arthur for his plans, which were supported
by a Senate resolution as well.31
The Berlin conference set rules for the future acquisition of colonies in Africa,
requiring that countries exercise effective control of an area before claiming it. This
had the effect of limiting most further colonization to the strongest powers -- Britain,
France, and Germany, although Portugal secured territories in Angola and
Mozambique, where Portuguese settlers had long been present. Germany lost its
colonies in the First World War, and by that time it was clear that Britain was the
dominant power in Africa, with colonies stretching from southern Africa through
eastern Africa and Sudan to Egypt, and holding the Gold Coast, including the former
Ashanti, as well as Nigeria in West Africa. France, however, also held large
territories in West and in Central Africa.
The United States did not have colonies in Africa, but the U.S. Navy assisted
the American Colonization Society as it began to settle former slaves on the West
African coast in 1820. The first permanent settlement was achieved in 1822, after
arduous struggles and near-defeat by disease and unfriendly local warriors. The
settlers issued the Declaration of Independence of the Republic of Liberia in 1847,
and in subsequent decades, the Americo-Liberians used firearms to conquer
indigenous peoples and extend their control into the hinterland. Some scholars argue
that this expansion did not differ significantly from the actions of the European
28Reader, Africa, A Biography of the Continent, 597.
29Reader, Africa: A Biography, 539.
30On Leopold in the Congo, see Adam Hochschild, King Leopold's Ghost (New York:
Houghton Mifflin, 1998). See also Pakenham's Scramble for Africa.
31Hochschild, King Leopold's Ghost, 75-82.
colonizers,32 and that it set the stage for the violent disintegration of Liberian society
in the late twentieth century. In April 1980, indigenous soldiers from the hinterland
killed the Americo-Liberian president, William Tolbert, setting off a decade of33
political violence and human rights violations, followed by a 6-year civil war.
Effects. The effects of the colonial era on Africa and its peoples, like the effects
of the slave trade, are a subject of scholarly debate. The consequences of Leopold's
rule in his vast Congo colony, however, were quite clearly negative. Human rights
activists and missionaries, including American missionaries, gradually made known
the vast scale of the abuses that were taking place in Congo as Leopold tried to
extract the maximum profit from his enterprises. Forced labor, beatings, mutilations,
summary executions, and the use of starvation as an instrument of policy34 were
commonplace in Congo and the subject of Joseph Conrad's novel, The Heart of
Darkness, published in 1902. The situation in Congo became an international scandal,
forcing the Belgian government to remove the colony from Leopold's personal control
in 1908, and to institute reforms.
In the British and French-controlled territories, the colonial era did provide a
backbone of infrastructure, including roads and telephone systems, although rural
areas generally benefitted far less than towns and cities. Standards of public health
improved, and some elementary education began to be provided. Christian missions
protected by the colonial authorities played a major role in promoting education and35
literacy -- winning millions of converts as a result. Opportunities for higher
education, travel, and employment in the modern sector, though limited, empowered
a number of Africans who later became leaders in independent Africa. Kenya's Jomo
Kenyatta and Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah, for example, studied at the London School
of Economics, and Nkrumah also attended Lincoln University in the United States,
as did Nigeria's Nnamdi Azikiwe. All were later presidents of their respective
At the same time, European investment in Africa was limited, and colonial
governments generally expected African colonies to pay their own way in terms of
development. In order to generate the necessary revenue, the colonial state was
heavily involved in the economy, influencing decisions on what crops should be
planted and regulating prices as well as investment. Many statist systems based on
the colonial model persisted after independence, retarding the evolution of market
economies. Colonial economic policies also made Africa dependent on the export
of primary products -- minerals, agricultural products, and timber -- to the developed
world in exchange for manufactured goods. The prices of primary products have
fared poorly relative to manufactured goods in the post-colonial world, contributing
to Africa's problems.
32Curtin and Bohannan, Africa and Africans, 221-222.
33CRS Issue Brief 96025, Liberia: Issues for the United States, by Nicolas Cook.
34Hochschild, King Leopold's Ghost, 225-234.
35Iliffe, Africans: the History of A Continent, 222-229.
Colonial governments had no interest in promoting democracy or developing
democratic traditions, which would have complicated their efforts to rule Africa with
a minimum of expenditure. In the words of one expert, "the colonial state in Africa
was an authoritarian bureaucratic apparatus of control and not intended to be a school
of democracy."36 As pressure for political rights and independence mounted after
World War II, colonial regimes often imprisoned their critics and took other
authoritarian measures that set unfortunate precedents for post-colonial rulers. Most
Africans had no opportunity for political participation until the very end of the
colonial period, when elections began to be held.
While Britain and France discouraged popular participation for most of the
colonial era, they did work closely with local chiefs and other big men, because the
cooperation of these traditional authorities was essential in obtaining the labor and tax
revenues the colonial regimes required. Some contend that in strengthening big men,
whose influence rested on kinship ties, the granting of favors, and the suppression of
dissent, the colonial authorities contributed significantly to the problems independent
Africa has suffered with respect to corruption, nepotism, and authoritarianism.
Colonial practice, many scholars believe, shaped Africa's present-day ethnic
divisions by intensifying language and cultural differences among African peoples. In
their view, this came about in part because Europeans of the colonial era tended to
view the world in terms of "tribes" and "nations," and encouraged Africans to do
likewise. Moreover, the colonial authorities, particularly the British, found it
administratively convenient to group peoples together as "tribes" and rule indirectly
through "tribal chiefs," whom they strengthened and in some instances created.37
Africans found that they could most effectively advance their interests in the colonial
era if they worked through tribal organizations and sought the patronage of tribal
leaders, and this tended to strengthen tribal loyalties. Today, these ethnic divisions
are the source of much of Africa's violent politics. Even where civil war does not
occur, ethnic divisions typically weaken political institutions and undermine
The colonial partition of Africa often had the effect of imposing artificial
boundary divisions on Africa, separating peoples that had been linked by culture and
trade. After the partition, roads and railroads were built to link the capitals of the new
colonial states to their hinterlands, rather than to one another; creating difficulties in
transport between African countries that remain to this day. Moreover, by imposing
the bureaucratic colonial state on African societies, the Europeans suppressed the
diverse indigenous political arrangements that had governed Africa before the
partition. Whether some of Africa's pre-colonial political entities could have
continued to develop in ways that avoided or minimized the problems that confront
the African state today is one of the unknowns of history. The fact that they were
36Berman, "Ethnicity, Patronage, and the African State," 329.
37Iliffe, Africans, The History of a Continent, 200-202.
38For a recent statement of this view, see Berman, "Ethnicity, Patronage, and the African
denied the opportunity to develop further is regarded by historian Basil Davidson as
the "black man's burden."39
End of Colonialism. World War II (1939-1945) severely weakened Britain and
France, and hastened the end of the colonial era in Africa. The war aims of the
western powers tended to undermine the ideological basis of colonialism by stressing
the importance of democracy and resistance to aggression -- ideas that resonated with
Africa's emerging nationalists. At President Roosevelt's insistence, the United States
and Britain had agreed on a set of war aims in the 1941 Atlantic Charter that affirmed
"the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will40
live." The United Nations Charter signed at the end of the war committed the
colonial powers to developing self government and free political institutions in the
territories under their control (Article 73).
With the coming of peace, Africans who had been educated abroad during the
Their thinking had been influenced by European intellectual currents of the day, and
many had become socialists. They had also studied the revolutionary movements
sweeping Asia and the struggle of black Americans to achieve social justice.
Nkrumah and other African nationalists were greatly inspired by the work of W.E.B.
DuBois, the black American sociologist and civil rights leader.41
By the end of the 1940s, British policymakers, who had granted independence
to India in 1947, generally recognized that the African colonies would one day be
independent -- but they tended to see that day as many decades in the future. France,
by contrast, was following a policy of "assimilation" that in theory was to lead to the
integration of its colonies into a greater France. Individual Africans could be
assimilated as French citizens once they had achieved a certain standard of French
education, and some, such as Leopold Senghor, poet, philosopher, and future
President of Senegal, represented French Africa in the National Assembly.
All around Africa, however, nationalist sentiments were mounting, and by the
early 1950s, the British faced a guerrilla uprising known as Mau Mau among the
Kikuyu of Kenya. New political parties were organizing and staging anti-colonial
protests in Gold Coast (Ghana) and Nigeria. British decision-makers soon concluded
that their weakened country could ill-afford the cost of suppressing rising African
nationalism, and the independence timetable was moved forward. Ghana became
independent in 1957, followed by Nigeria in 1960, Tanzania in 1961, and Kenya in
39Hence, the title of his book, The Black Man's Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation-
State, cited above. On the negative political consequences of colonialism, see also Jeffrey
Herbst, States and Power in Africa: Comparative Lessons in Authority and Control
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000).
40James McGregor Burns. Roosevelt: The Soldier of Freedom (New York and London:
Harcourt Brace Javanovich, 1970), 130.
41Oliver and Atmore, Africa Since 1800, 217-218.
Political parties were organizing in the French colonies as well, but President
Charles de Gaulle was shocked when, in 1958, the little territory of Guinea voted in
a referendum for independence rather than close association with France in a
proposed new French Community. In the face of agitation for independence
elsewhere, de Gaulle decided that France would cut its losses, and 14 independent
countries emerged from French-held Africa in 1960. Demands for independence
sprang up unexpectedly in the Belgian Congo in 1958, and with little power to resist,
Belgium granted Congolese independence in 1960 as well.
Southern Africa. In most of southern Africa, independence was long delayed
because of the presence of substantial white populations which generally opposed
majority rule. In several countries in the region, Africans had to resort to armed
struggle to win their freedom. In 1965, the tiny white minority of British-descended
settlers in Rhodesia issued a Unilateral Declaration of Independence from Britain,
which was pushing for democratic reforms. This led to United Nations sanctions
against the Rhodesian regime, and Africans launched a civil war. Rhodesia finally
became the independent country of Zimbabwe under a majority-elected government
in 1980. Guerrilla wars broke out in Angola and Mozambique in the 1960s, and
independence came only in 1975, after Portuguese military dictator Antonio Salazar
was ousted in a 1974 coup in Lisbon. Armed struggle also took place in Namibia
(South West Africa), which South Africa had taken from Germany in 1914, but
independence did not come until 1990, following a U.N.-supervised election.
In South Africa itself, whites of both English and Afrikaner descent had enjoyed
self-government since 1910, when Britain had granted what would later be known as
Commonwealth status.42 Opposition to white minority rule had existed for decades,
but in 1948, the National Party (NP), representing conservative, nationalistic
Afrikaners, came to power and imposed an institutionalized system of racial
segregation known as apartheid (apart-ness).
Protests against apartheid mounted in the late 1960s, and in the 1970s, an
increasingly violent resistance campaign was met by ever harsher government
repression. In the 1980s, as resistance continued to grow, South Africa launched a
number of military strikes and covert operations beyond South Africa's borders
against bases and personnel of the opposition African National Congress (ANC).
Late in the decade, however, South Africa's white-controlled government was facing
international isolation, and many Afrikaner leaders came to realize that the costs of
defending apartheid would be unsustainable in the long run. Consequently, the regime
undertook secret discussions with the ANC on the outlines of a majority-based
system that would include protections for minority interests. ANC leader Nelson
Mandela was freed from prison in February 1990, and difficult constitutional
negotiations concluded in November 1993. Universal-suffrage elections were held
in April 1994, and Mandela became President in May of that year.
42Pakenham, Scramble for Africa, 667.
In the first years of the 1960s, the future for western and eastern Africa seemed
quite bright. Heavy-handed colonial governments had departed, and a new African
elite including many individuals with excellent educations and global experience had43
come to power. GNP per capita was rising at about 1% per year, on average, and
Africans as well as foreign development experts expected that the construction of
roads, universities, hospitals, hydro-electric dams, and other projects would soon
result in faster growth. In May 1963, the heads of 30 African states signed the
Charter of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to promote African solidarity and
intensify efforts to improve living standards. Member states pledged to respect the
principles of non-interference and respect for territorial integrity in their relations with
Even in these early years, however, serious problems were beginning to emerge.
The former Belgian Congo fell into civil war from 1960-1964, and its mineral-rich
Katanga province attempted to secede. In January 1963, the president of Togo,
Sylvanus Olympio, was assassinated in the first of dozens of military coups and
attempted coups that would plague the region. Nkrumah, who had made Ghana a
socialist, one-party state was overthrown in 1966, and the first of Nigeria's many
coups occurred that same year. Ethnic tensions mounted in Nigeria as a result of the
coup, and when the Ibo people of eastern Nigeria attempted to secede, a civil war
broke out that lasted until 1970.
Sub-Saharan Africa's annual rate of per capita economic growth fell to .8% in
the 1970s, and plunged to a negative 2.2% per year in the 1980s, more than wiping
out all previous gains.44 In these decades, most African countries were governed by
authoritarian regimes, and a few, such as Idi Amin's government in Uganda (1971-
1979), were quite violent. Civil wars broke out not only Uganda, but also in
Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, and Chad, as well as in Angola and Mozambique, where
long civil wars followed the wars for independence. When drought struck wide areas
of the continent in 1982-1984, the highest death tolls occurred in the war-torn
countries, particularly Ethiopia and Sudan, where international relief agencies could
not reach the hungry.
The underlying causes of Africa's problems in the post-independence era have
been the subject of much discussion and analysis. The impact of the colonial era,
which is blamed for inciting ethnic divisions and creating traditions of authoritarian
rule as well as bureaucratic interference in the economy, has already been mentioned.
Colleges and universities began to appear in African colonies only at the end of the
colonial period, leaving very small indigenous elites to deal with the challenges of
independence. Independent Africa confronted a major population challenge as well.
43Donald George Morrison and others, Black Africa: A Comparative Handbook (New York:
The Free Press, 1972), 52.
44John Ravenhill, "A Second Decade of Adjustment: Greater Complexity, Greater
Uncertainty," in Thomas M. Callaghy and John Ravenhill, eds. Hemmed In: Responses to
Africa's Economic Decline (New York: Columbia University Press), 18.
In 1950, there were an estimated 200 million people in the sub-Saharan region, but
by 1990, the number had grown to 600 million.45
The Cold War
The Cold War has also been blamed for many of Africa's problems. Vast
quantities of arms came into Africa during the Cold War, fueling African conflicts.
Most of these arms came from the Soviet Union and its allies, and went to self-
proclaimed Marxist regimes in Ethiopia, Angola, and Mozambique. In reaction, the
United States provided far lesser quantities of weapons, but focused much of its
economic assistance on authoritarian regimes in Zaire, Sudan, Liberia and elsewhere
that were perceived as anti-Soviet. This competitive Cold War involvement, critics
maintain, tended to strengthen governments on both sides that were anti-democratic
and following inefficient, state-oriented economic policies, often marked by46
Effects of French Policy
The degree to which French policy may have contributed to Africa's problems
is a matter of debate. France had remained actively engaged in Africa because French
policy makers believed that a major African role would help give France great power
status at a time when the two superpowers were dominant elsewhere. By overt and
covert means, they cultivated a "special relationship" with the elites of their former
colonies, which they regarded as France's "chasse gardée," or "exclusive hunting
ground."47 In addition, France capitalized on the tie of language to forge close
relations with the "francophone" regimes in Zaire and Rwanda, former Belgian
These special relationships with France usually brought both military and
economic assistance, as well as a promise of French intervention to protect friendly
regimes from violent unrest. Several thousand French troops were stationed at
African bases. French businesses, meanwhile, gained privileged access to trade and
investment opportunities. Critics maintained that French policy was perpetuating
corrupt and authoritarian regimes in many countries, but defenders argued that France
was contributing to stability and, as a result, facilitating development. France began
to reduce its military and financial commitments in Africa after the Socialist Party won
legislative elections in May 1997, but the future direction of French policy is not yet48
45Iliffe, Africans: The History of a Continent, 243.
46Zaire, a major beneficiary of U.S. assistance over many years, is often cited as a case in
point. See CRS Issue Brief 96037, Congo (Formerly Zaire).
47Peter J. Schraeder, "France and the Great Game in Africa." Current History (May 1997),
207. On the French covert role, see Kaye Whiteman, "The Man who Ran Francafrique," The
National Interest (Fall 1997).
48Roland Marchal, "France and Africa: the Emergence of Essential Reforms?" International
Affairs (April 1998), 355-372.
In the later 1980s and early 1990s, as the colonial era fell farther into the past
and the Cold War waned, scholars began to focus on characteristics of the African
state and African societies to explain the continent's difficulties. This line of analysis
led to a number of discouraging conclusions about the continent. Some scholars
concluded that African states were too weak to promote societal change and
economic development, largely because the institutions of the state had been
corrupted. The personal ambitions of leaders, ethnic favoritism, and "pathological
patrimonialism,"49 were blamed by some for diverting state resources to the personal
fortunes of ruling cliques, and to the police and military officials who kept them in
power. There was much academic discussion of the "failed state" in Africa, amid
extensive media coverage of famine and conflict in Somalia, Sudan, and other
countries.50 Economic difficulties continued as well. Despite a growth spurt in mid-
decade, overall GDP growth for the years 1990 through 1998 was 2.0% per year,
less than the population growth rate of 2.6%.51
At the same time, there were several positive developments affecting Africa in
the early 1990s that gave rise to hopes for a better future. With the end of the Cold
War, some noted, Africa’s authoritarian rulers would no longer be able to play the
superpowers against one another to perpetuate their hold on power. The momentous
changes in South Africa were also highly encouraging because they averted a widely
expected and potentially very violent revolution. Many anticipated that a stable
South Africa would soon become an "engine of growth" for the economies of much
of the sub-Saharan region. Several African countries were already well-advanced in
free market economic reforms that they had undertaken at the behest of western aid
donors. Consequently, by the mid-1990s -- despite slow growth in the region as a
whole -- GDP growth rates in several countries were exceeding population growth
rates, and some were achieving annual GDP increases of 5% or better.
Political reforms were also beginning in many of Africa's authoritarian states
because of mounting demands for democratization from opposition movements and
donors. In some countries, national political conferences convened, and diverse
interests in Africa's growing "civil society" were represented, including human rights
organizations, nascent political parties, and churches. Multiple political parties were
permitted in countries that had been one-party states for years, and elections that
seemed generally free and fair began to be held. These developments brought
favorable reactions from a number of analysts. In 1991, for example, U.S. scholar
Richard Joseph, who had been a critic of Africa's patrimonial politics, published an
49Zaki Ergas, ed. The African State in Transition (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1987), 9.
Articles in this edited volume elaborate the critique of the African state.
50For recent contributions to the discussion of the African state, see Herbst, States and Power
in Africa, cited above, and Christopher Clapham, Africa and the International System: the
Politics of State Survival (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).
51African Development Indicators, 2000 (Washington: World Bank, 2000), 7, 17.
article entitled "Africa: The Rebirth of Political Freedom," which noted that a "virtual
miracle" seemed to be underway.52
Afro-Pessimism v. Afro-Optimism
For many observers, the hopes of the first half of the 1990s have faded, in part
as a result of disappointment over the course of African democratization. Some of
Africa's authoritarian leaders learned to manipulate the electoral process and divide
the opposition, creating what one authority, Larry Diamond, calls "pseudo-
democracies." Diamond argues that the governments of Kenya, Gabon, and
Cameroon have played a "cat-and-mouse game with international donors, liberalizing
politically in response to pressure while repressing as much as they can get away with
in order to hang on to power."53 A disappointed Richard Joseph wrote in 1998 that
Africa's democratic opening at the beginning of the decade had resulted, with few
exceptions, in "virtual democracies." These may have the surface characteristics of
liberal democracy, such as regularly scheduled elections, but "their governments
systematically stifle opposition behind a mask of legitimacy."54
More recently, events in Zimbabwe and Côte d’Ivoire, two countries with
significant economic potential if political stability could be achieved, proved
particularly discouraging to advocates of democratization. In Côte d’Ivoire, a
Christmas 1999 military coup, followed by the exclusion of a highly qualified
candidate from the Muslim north from presidential and parliamentary elections held
in late 2000, left the country sharply divided along ethnic and religious lines. In
Zimbabwe, the opposition made gains in June 2000 parliamentary elections, but the
campaign period was marred by political violence, and several members of the
opposition were killed. Government tactics in its campaign to take over farms owned
by whites also led critics to charge that the rule of law was being destroyed in
Sub-Saharan Africa's AIDS epidemic continues to intensify.56 According to a
December 2000 United Nations update, some 25.3 million adults and children are
infected with the HIV virus in the region,57 which has about 10% of the world’s
population but more than 70% of the worldwide total of infected people. The disease,
much like the slave trade in earlier times, takes away young adults in their most
productive years. Uganda and Senegal have managed to slow the disease with
effective prevention campaigns, and there are indications that such campaigns are
beginning to show results elsewhere. But the overall infection rate in Africa is about
52Journal of Democracy 2 (Fall 1991), 11-24.
53"Is the Third Wave Over?," Journal of Democracy (July 1996), 31-32.
54"Africa, 1990-1997: From Abertura to Closure," Journal of Democracy (April 1998), 6.
55See CRS Issue Brief IB10059, Zimbabwe: Current Issues by Raymond W. Copson.
56CRS Issue Brief IB10050, AIDS in Africa by Raymond W. Copson.
57Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), AIDS Epidemic Update, December
20% or more of the adult population is HIV-positive. An estimated 17 million people
have already died in the African epidemic, and mortality is rising.
The armed conflicts that continue to afflict Africa, particularly the vast
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and several of its neighbors at the heart of
the continent, are another concern. The Rwanda genocide of 1994, which saw
perhaps 500,000 to one million people killed, followed by the first DRC upheaval in
1996-1997 and a new DRC civil war starting in 1998, have set back development
prospects and created serious refugee problems for several countries.58 A number of
countries have troops in Congo pursuing a variety of causes and interests, and
creating fears of a wider war. Armed conflicts are also taking place in Angola, Sierra59
Leone, Sudan and other countries
Meanwhile, Africa’s economic performance continues to disappoint many
observers. According to World Bank data, the region’s GDP grew by 2.1% and 2.3%60
in 1998 and 1999 respectively, while population grew by 2.6% and 2.4% – leaving
the region economically stagnant. South Africa’s economy grew by just .6% in 1998
and 1.2% in 1999, postponing the day when it might be able to spark an economic
expansion in southern Africa. Academic authors, looking at sub-Saharan Africa’s
small share of global trade and investment, describe the region as “marginalized” in
the global economy.61
"Afro-pessimists" consider the totality of these trends and conclude that for at
least the next several years the continent's political and economic prospects are not
very bright. A study of global trends in the year 2015, published by the U.S. National
Intelligence Council in December 2000,62 concluded that:
The interplay of demographics and disease—as well as poor governance—will be
the major determinants of Africa's increasing international marginalization in
2015. Most African states will miss out on the economic growth engendered
elsewhere by globalization and by scientific and technological advances. Only a
few countries will do better, while a handful of states will have hardly any
relevance to the lives of their citizens. As sub-Saharan Africa's multiple and
interconnected problems are compounded, ethnic and communal tensions will
intensify, periodically escalating into open conflict, often spreading across borders
and sometimes spawning secessionist states.
58CRS Issue Brief IB96037, Congo (formerly Zaire) by Raymond W. Copson.
59CRS Issue Brief 98043, Sudan: Humanitarian Crisis, Peace Talks, Terrorism, and U.S.
Policy by Ted Dagne.
60Sub-Saharan Africa Data Profile, available at [http://devdata.worldbank.org ].
61Thomas Callaghy, “Africa and the World Political Economy: More Caught Between a Rock
and a Hard Place;” and Nicolas van de Walle, “Africa and the World Economy: Continued
Marginalization or Re-engagement?;” both appearing in John W. Harbeson and Donald
Rothchild, eds. Africa in World Politics: The African State System in Flux (Boulder,
Colorado: Westview Press, 2000).
62Global Trends 2015: A Dialogue About the Future with Nongovernment Experts. NIC
This way of thinking about Africa, however, is rejected by many other observers,
including some with long experience in African affairs, who argue that Afro-
pessimism results from stereotyped views of Africa and a media tendency to focus on
violent, dramatic events. In a 1998 article, two experts with Capitol Hill backgrounds
argued that there is a "new reality" in Africa "in which governments are becoming
accountable to citizens; in which economic policies are empowering a growing private
sector; in which real progress is being made in addressing difficult but tractable63
problems." An International Monetary Fund Issues Brief, released in December
2000, acknowledged “two decades of economic stagnation and little progress in
poverty reduction” in Africa. But the brief took an upbeat approach overall, affirming
that as a result of economic policy reforms, “the seeds of an economic renaissance in64
sub-Saharan Africa, with faster growth and less poverty, have been sown....”
President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa has himself repeatedly advanced the idea that
an African Renaissance is beginning,65 and in a December 1997 speech, then U.S.
Ambassador to South Africa, James Joseph, endorsed the African Renaissance66
concept, saying that "nothing can stop Africa now."
The optimists, while accepting that there have been setbacks, maintain that the
dominant political themes of the 1990s were reconciliation in several formerly
conflict-torn countries, most notably South Africa, and widespread gains in
democratization through the electoral process. Particularly significant, they argue,
were the democratic transitions that took place in South Africa, which held successful
universal suffrage elections in 1994 and 1999, and in Nigeria, where an elected
civilian regime took office in May 1999, ending years of military rule. Nigeria is home
to more than 120 million people, or nearly one-fifth of sub-Saharan Africa’s
population. A recent book in the optimistic school, sponsored by the American
Assembly, pointed out that in 1996 and 1997 alone, national elections were held or67
scheduled in 28 African countries. The optimists argue that the wave of elections
in Africa in recent years has established precedents that will be difficult to erase, thus
making further democratization possible in years to come.
63David F. Gordon and Howard Wolpe, "The Other Africa: An End to Afro-pessimism,"
World Policy Journal (Spring 1998). Wolpe is a former Member of Congress and former
Chairman of the House Africa Subcommittee. He served as President Clinton’s special envoy
to Africa's Great Lakes region. Gordon had served as a professional staff member with the
House Africa Subcommittee and was a Senior Fellow at the Overseas Development Council
when this article was published.
64Policies for Faster Growth and Poverty Reduction in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Role of
the IMF, an Issues Brief. International Monetary Fund, December 2000.
65Peter Vale and Sipho Maseko, “The African Renaissance,” International Affairs (April
66"The Idea of African Renaissance: Myth or Reality?" Vital Speeches (December 15, 1997).
67David F. Gordon, David C. Miller, Jr., and Howard Wolpe, The United States and Africa,
a Post-Cold War Perspective (New York: W.W. Norton, 1998), 42. The American Assembly
is a non-partisan organization affiliated with Columbia University that promotes policy
Optimists also accept that there have been disappointments in the economic
sphere, but note that several African countries, such as Botswana, Mozambique,
Rwanda, and Uganda had projected annual GDP growth rates of above or near 5%
in 2000, following comparable performances in 1999. With continuing economic
policy reforms, improved governance, and support from the international community,
optimists argue, many other countries could begin to lift per capita incomes,
enhancing opportunities and the quality of life for their people. Debt relief in support
for poverty reduction programs has a particularly important role to play, many
argue.68 Africa's natural resources, including vast, newly-discovered oil deposits off
the West African coast, as well as the continent's minerals, tourism potential, and
environmental resources, also encourage the optimists to anticipate a brighter future.
The Clinton Administration's policy toward Africa had a decidedly Afro-optimist
tone. President Clinton made an extensive trip to Africa in March-April 1998, visiting69
six countries in 11 days. He told the South African parliament that he was seeing
"what Deputy President Mbeki has called an African Renaissance,"70 and in a speech
in Ghana, the President said that "democracy and peace and prosperity are not
slogans, but the essence of a new Africa."71 The President acknowledged during his
visit that Africa faced continuing economic problems and disruptive conflicts in a
number of countries, but insisted that "from Ghana to Mozambique, from Cote72
d'Ivoire to Uganda, growing economies are fueling a transformation in Africa."
In August 2000, President Clinton again traveled to Africa, visiting Nigeria to
underscore U.S. support for what National Security Advisor Sandy Berger called “the73
most important democratic transition in Africa since the collapse of apartheid.”
President Clinton warmly praised Nigeria not only for its progress in democratization,
but also for its cooperation with the United States in combating international crime
and its leadership in regional peacekeeping. In addition, he emphasized the
importance of combating the African HIV/AIDS epidemic, which had not been a
subject during his 1998 trip.
The Clinton Administration stressed Africa's potential as a U.S. trading partner,
citing possibilities for increased trade and investment and emphasizing the growing
68Policies for Faster Growth and Poverty Reduction, cited above. For background on debt
forgiveness, see CRS Report RL30214, Debt Reduction: Initiatives for the Most Heavily
Indebted Poor Countries, by Larry Q. Nowels.
69CRS Report 98-420, Africa: President Clinton's 1998 Visit, by Raymond W. Copson.
70Address by the President to the Parliament of South Africa, March 26, 1998.
71Remarks by the President to the People of Ghana.
73Press briefing, August 24, 2000. The President also visited Arusha, Tanzania, during this
trip to show support for the Burundi peace talks that were taking place there under the
leadership of former South African President Nelson Mandela.
importance of oil imports from the region. Officials repeatedly argued that Africa was
already supplying 16% of U.S. oil imports and that it was projected to surpass the
Persian Gulf as a U.S. supplier within the decade.74 The Administration gave strong
endorsement to a congressional trade and investment initiative, the African Growth
and Opportunity Act, noted above, which first passed the House in 1998 and became
law (P.L. 106-200) in May 2000. Administration spokesmen argued that the United
States has a number of other interests in Africa as well, such as preventing weapons
proliferation, preserving environmental resources of global importance, and combating
the drug trade and international terrorism.
To further its objectives in Africa, the Administration launched a number of
Africa assistance initiatives, such as the Leland Initiative, aimed at enhancing Africa’s
access to the Internet, and the Greater Horn of Africa Initiative (GHAI) intended to
reduce perennial food insecurity over much of eastern Africa. In July 1999, the
Administration launched a major new effort against the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa
and worldwide, known as the LIFE (Leadership and Investment in Fighting an
Epidemic) Initiative. These and other Administration initiatives involved a range of
U.S. agencies apart from the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for
International Development, including the Departments of Transportation, Labor, and
Commerce, as well as the Centers for Disease Control of the National Institutes of
Health – all of which, as a result, boosted their Africa-related capabilities.
Administration policy encountered some difficulties, however, and a defining
moment came early, when in October 1993, 18 U.S. soldiers were killed while
participating in a United Nations humanitarian relief operation in Somalia.75 In
reaction to this incident, the United States and the United Nations hesitated in sending
peacekeepers when the Rwanda genocide broke out in 1994, and President Clinton
later acknowledged to Rwandans that "we did not act quickly enough after the killing
In the wake of the Somalia and Rwanda experiences, the Administration sought
to strengthen Africa's own peacekeeping capabilities through the Africa Crisis
Response Initiative (ACRI), which trains units of African armed forces for
peacekeeping duties. Moreover, the Administration launched a “train and equip”
74See for example, Susan Rice, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, “U.S. and Africa in
the 21st Century,” speech to the Seattle World Affairs Council, November 9, 1999. Also,
Rosa Whitaker, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Africa, “The New Millennium and
Africa: American Interests in Expanding Trade with Africa,” speech to the Africa Roundtable
Series, Council on Foreign Relations, Washington, D.C., January 24, 2000. This figure is
evidently based on 1998 data, when Africa oil imports exceeded 15.5% of total imports. The
African figure included imports from Algeria, which were about 2.7% of total U.S. petroleum
imports. In 1999, petroleum imports from Africa dropped to about 13.3% of total imports,
which amounted to about 7.4% of total U.S. petroleum consumption. Based on data
appearing in U.S. Department of Energy, Monthly Energy Review, November 2000.
75For a recent critique of Clinton Administration Africa policy, see Chris Alden, “From
Neglect to ‘Virtual Engagement:” the United States and its New Paradigm for Africa.”
African Affairs (July 2000), 355-371.
76Remarks in Rwanda, March 25, 1998.
program to help at least five Nigerian battalions prepare for peacekeeping duties in
Sierra Leone.77 U.S. officials often assumed roles as mediators in African conflicts
and claimed the peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea, signed in Algiers on
December 12, 2000, as a particular success. Secretary of State Albright attended the
signing ceremony. Nonetheless, Africa's many other conflicts were a source of
frustration to Administration policymakers, since they undermined efforts to promote
economic growth and political reform.
Trade results during the Clinton years were mixed. U.S. imports from Africa
grew by an annual rate of 2.7% from 1995 to 1999, but this pace was considerably
slower than the overall 8.4% annual increase in U.S. imports over the same period.78
Similarly, exports to Africa grew at an average annual rate of .9%, as compared to a
4.4% annual growth rate for all U.S. exports.79 Most trade took place with only a few
countries, notably oil producers and South Africa, and more than half of imports were
accounted for by petroleum. African imports and exports accounted for about 1%
of the U.S. totals in 1999, while according to 1998 data, U.S. investment in the sub-
Saharan region, also heavily focused on the petroleum sector, was about 1.2% of total
U.S. foreign direct investment.80 Nonetheless, Administration officials pointed out
that U.S. firms had made major investments in Africa, including Southwestern Bell’s
acquisition of a share in the South African telecommunications industry and the
establishment of Caterpillar Inc. dealerships in 15 countries.81
Policy in Previous Administrations
Sub-Saharan Africa became a distinct item on the foreign policy agenda in 1958,
when President Eisenhower authorized the creation of a Bureau of African Affairs in82
the Department of State. Over the years, Africa policy has often been the subject
of controversy, with debate typically centering on whether a particular Administration
was doing too much or too little with respect to an issue, such as apartheid in South
Africa, African development, or the Soviet/Cuban role. These controversies cannot
be reviewed in any detail here, but the principal issues faced by successive
Administrations can be briefly noted.
The Eisenhower Administration confronted its first African crisis in 1960, with
the Congo rebellion, which it feared would be exploited by the Soviet Union. The
Administration supported the deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping force, which the
Soviets initially agreed to, but then turned against. The Kennedy Administration
77CRS Report RS20659, U.S. Military Training of West African Forces for Peacekeeping,
by Nicolas Cook.
78CRS Report RS20063, U.S.-Sub-Saharan Africa Trade and Investment: Programs and
Policy Direction, by Lenore Sek.
81Susan Rice address to the Seattle World Affairs Council, cited above.
82Peter Schraeder, United States Foreign Policy Toward Africa: Incrementalism, Crisis, and
Change (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 1.
(1961-1963) was more favorably disposed toward African nationalists than the
Eisenhower Administration, although Cold War pressures limited Kennedy's policy
options. President Kennedy did approve funding for a large and controversial dam
Nkrumah sought for Ghana, and toward the end of his Administration Kennedy began
to press the white regimes of southern Africa for reforms.83 In 1963, The United
States backed a U.N.-sponsored voluntary arms embargo against South Africa, over
the objections of Britain and France.
Africa policy during the Johnson Administration (1963-1969) focused on Congo
(Zaire), where the United States gave extensive covert aid to suppress rebellions
thought to be communist-inspired or of potential benefit to the Soviet Union.84 It was
during this period that Mobutu Sese-Seko, with U.S. backing, solidified his position
as Zaire's president -- a position he would hold until 1997. While Washington gave
limited military assistance to Congo (Zaire), in addition to covert aid, congressional
concerns over the emergence of "another Vietnam" prevented deeper involvement.
In the Nixon and Ford Administrations (1969-1977), the Africa policy focus
shifted to southern Africa and the violent upheavals affecting Angola, Mozambique,
and Rhodesia. Political controversy over Africa policy sharpened considerably in
these years, as critics came to believe that policymakers were too sympathetic to the
white minority regimes. However, Henry Kissinger, the most influential policymaker
of the period, believed that the Soviet Union was following a policy of "ruthless
opportunism" and "adventurism" in Africa and elsewhere, and this view goes far85
toward explaining Africa policy during the period. When Congress banned further
involvement in Angola in 1975, Kissinger claimed that it was unwilling to confront
President Jimmy Carter's Administration (1977-1981) brought a new emphasis
on human rights to U.S. foreign policy, resulting in a strong push for majority rule in
Zimbabwe, advocacy of independence for Namibia, and heavy criticism of apartheid
in South Africa. Mobutu was also pressed for economic and political reforms, but
Zaire policy, like Africa policy generally, continued to be constrained by Cold War
considerations. The Administration did not react to the Liberia coup in 1980, perhaps
because reports of human rights violations and corruption had discredited the
The Carter Administration was faced with apparent Soviet and Cuban gains in
the sub-Saharan Africa, and came under domestic political pressure to respond. An
oppressive, pro-Soviet regime had emerged in Ethiopia, and in response, the Carter
Administration forged ties with Somalia, Ethiopia's neighbor. Somalia then
complicated the situation by invading a province it claimed in Ethiopia, precipitating
the 1977-1978 "Ogaden War." Cuba sent troops to assist Ethiopia, and many feared
83Richard D. Mahoney, JFK: Ordeal in Africa (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983),
84Schraeder, United States Foreign Policy Toward Africa, 74-80.
85Henry Kissinger, White House Years (Boston: Little Brown, 1979), 119, 1257.
that the United States might become militarily involved if Cuban and Ethiopian troops
crossed into Somalia. Cuba and Ethiopia did launch a successful counteroffensive
against the Somalis, but their advance halted at the Somalia border, averting a crisis.
Cold War concerns also played a role in the Carter Administration's opposition to
mandatory sanctions against South Africa.87
Cuban troops were also in Angola, where they were assisting the Marxist regime
in fighting the UNITA resistance movement. This Cuban deployment became a major
concern for Africa policymakers in the Reagan Administration (1981-1989). There
was strong support in the Reagan Administration for resuming covert aid to UNITA,
and a publicly-acknowledged covert aid program was launched in 1986 after Congress
had repealed prohibiting legislation in 1985. Chester Crocker, the Assistant Secretary
of State for Africa in those years, favored a policy of "linkage," intended to secure
Cuban withdrawal from Angola in exchange for independence for South African-held
Namibia. Crocker has written that he faced heavy political opposition from all sides
on this issue, but a 1988 regional peace agreement, negotiated under U.S. leadership,
finally achieved the goals he sought.88 With respect to South Africa, Administration
critics believed that the United States was not pushing hard enough for political
change, and in 1986, Congress enacted sweeping sanctions legislation, over President
Africa policymakers in the George H.W. Bush Administration (1989-1993)
directed much of their attention to the Horn of Africa. Rebel forces in Ethiopia were
poised to overthrow the regime in 1991, and Bush Administration diplomats, working
with both the government and the rebels, managed to arrange a peaceful transition,
avoiding an ethnic and political upheaval of the sort that devastated Liberia after the
combined with drought and famine, had created a humanitarian disaster by 1992.
Consequently, just before leaving office, Bush sent U.S. troops to launch a massive,
multi-national humanitarian intervention. The move was credited with saving
thousands from starvation,90 despite the loss of American life that occurred in 1993.
With Cold War tensions easing, the Bush Administration also pushed Mobutu for
reforms. This was part of a broader policy of promoting democracy and economic
liberalization in Africa generally.
87Cyrus Vance, Carter's Secretary of State, wrote that mandatory sanctions would have
harmed "important Western economic interests." Hard Choices: Critical Years in America's
Foreign Policy (New York: Simon and Schuster), 275.
88Chester A. Crocker, High Noon in Southern Africa: Making Peace in a Rough
Neighborhood (New York: W.W. Norton, 1992).
89Schraeder, United States Foreign Policy Toward Africa, 172
90Walter Clarke and Jeffrey Herbst, "Somalia and the Future of Humanitarian Intervention,"
Foreign Affairs (March/April 1996), 84-85.
Principal Congressional Actions
As noted at the beginning of this report, Congress has dealt with a wide range
of issues related to Africa. This section lists principal actions in recent decades.
!2000. The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA, P.L. 106-200),
aimed at boosting U.S. trade with Africa as well as U.S. investment, became
!--- Under the Global AIDS and Tuberculosis Relief Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-
264) Congress authorized $300 million in FY2001 and also in FY2002 for a
comprehensive HIV/AIDS effort worldwide. The FY2001 Foreign Operations
Appropriations (P.L. 106-429) provided $300 million in Development
Assistance for HIV/AIDS and slightly more than half of the amount was
expected to go toward African programs.
!1998. Congress enacted the Africa: Seeds of Hope Act (P.L. 105-385) to
promote African food security through U.S. assistance programs and other
!1994. The African Conflict Resolution Act (P.L. 103-381), authorizing U.S.
assistance to promote the peaceful resolution of African conflicts, was enacted.
!1993. The South African Democratic Transition Support Act of 1993 (P.L.
103-149) committed the United States to supporting the consolidation of
democracy in South Africa.
!1990. Congress created the Development Fund for Africa (DFA), which
became Chapter 10 of Part I of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. The DFA,
which was first mentioned in FY1988 report language, was intended to
protect Africa aid levels in the wake of the Cold War.
!1992. The Horn of Africa Recovery and Food Security Act (P.L. 103-274)
was passed. The Act set policy objectives for U.S. assistance in the Horn and
included provisions to promote democracy.
!1986. Congress enacted the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act (P.L. 99-
440) over President Reagan's veto. The Act set policy objectives for the
United States in South Africa, imposed a number of sanctions, and provided
for "positive measures" to improve the lives of black South Africans.
!1985. Congress passed a large emergency supplemental appropriation for
African famine relief (P.L. 99-10). The move followed extensive media
coverage of famine in Ethiopia and Sudan, and some criticism of the adequacy
of the executive branch response.
!--- The International Security and Development Cooperation Act of 1985
repealed the Clark Amendment (see below, 1976).
!1980. Congress created the African Development Foundation to promote
grassroots development through small grants to African self-help organizations
!1977. Congress, in effect, repealed the Byrd Amendment (see below, 1971)
by ending its application to Rhodesia.
!1976. The "Clark Amendment," Sec. 404 of the International Security
Assistance Act of 1976 (P.L. 94-239, later Sec. 118 of P.L. 96-533),
prohibited aid that would help any group in Angola conduct military or
paramilitary operations. The prohibition could be waived by a joint resolution.
The amendment was sponsored by Senator Dick Clark of Iowa. (The Clark
Amendment followed an earlier, temporary ban known as the “Tunney
!1971. The "Byrd Amendment," named for its sponsor, Senator Harry F. Byrd,
Jr. of Virginia, was passed. This amendment to the Armed Forces
Appropriation (P.L. 92-156) partially exempted the United States from
participating in U.N. sanctions against white-ruled Rhodesia by prohibiting the
President from enforcing the U.N. trade embargo with respect to imports of
critical and strategic materials, such as chromium and nickel.
Suggested Additional Readings
Bohannan, Paul and Philip Curtin. Africa and Africans, 4th ed. Prospect Heights,
Illinois: Waveland Press, 1995.
Davidson, Basil. The Black Man's Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation State.
New York, Times Books, 1992.
Gordon, David F., David C. Miller, Jr., and Howard Wolpe. The United States and
Africa: A Post-Cold War Perspective. New York: W.W. Norton, 1998
Hochschild, Adam. King Leopold's Ghost. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998.
Herbst, Jeffrey. States and Power in Africa: Comparative Lessons in Authority and
Control. Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2000.
Joseph, Richard, ed. State, Conflict, and Democracy in Africa. Boulder, Colorado:
Lynne Reinner Publishers, 1999.
Pakenham, Thomas. The Scramble for Africa, 1876-1912. New York: Random
Reader, John. Africa: A Biography of the Continent. New York: Alfred A. Knopf,
Schraeder, Peter J. United States Foreign Policy Toward Africa: Incrementalism,
Crisis, and Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
Selected CRS Products
Africa: U.S. Foreign Assistance Issues. CRS Issue Brief IB95052, by Raymond W.
Copson. Continuously updated.
AIDS in Africa. CRS Issue Brief IB10050, by Raymond W. Copson.
Congo (Formerly Zaire). CRS Issue Brief IB96037, by Raymond W. Copson.
Liberia: Issues for the United States. CRS Issue Brief IB96025, by Nicolas Cook.
Nigeria in Political Transition. CRS Issue Brief IB98046, by Theodros Dagne with
the assistance of Amanda Smith. Continuously updated.
Sudan: Humanitarian Crisis, Peace Talks, Terrorism, and U.S. Policy. CRS Issue
Brief IB98043, by Theodros Dagne. Continuously updated.