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Janus in Africa


WHILE PRESIDENT CARTER'S recent repeal of the Byrd Amendment permitting U.S. importation of Rhodesian chrome--a move that will increase white Rhodesia's economic isolation and strengthen the position of the Zimbabwean freedom fighters--suggests that the administration may be developing a new policy in Africa, the recent gift of almost $4 million in weapons and aid to Zaire inspires a less optimistic interpretation of American goals.

The repeal of the Byrd Amendment is essentially symbolic. American reliance on Rhodesian chrome dropped from 11 per cent of the amount used in the U.S. to 3 per cent last year; and Union Carbide, which owns most of the major Rhodesian chrome mines, recently completed construction of a chrome refinery in South Africa and will be able to continue importing Rhodesian chrome in finished form to America through that channel. The move seems designed simply to win the friendship of the Zimbabwean freedom fighters, whose victory in Rhodesia seems inevitable; it certainly represents no sacrifice on America's part.

Secretary of State Cyrus Vance has justified America's emergency aid to Mobutu Sese Seko, Zaire's president, on the grounds that the Katangese rebels now threatening Zaire's stability are actually fighting for Angola, but he has offered no evidence of such outside interest. Certainly the Katangese have long found a haven in Angola, but the Katangese secessionist movement is a longstanding internal struggle in Zaire. In that context, the aid to Mobutu seems to be simply giving support to a corrupt regime that was installed in a U.S.-inspired military takeover and has little support in the countryside. American support for Mobutu can only be based on economic interests--Zaire is one of the richest countries in Africa, with gold, diamond and copper deposits--mainly in Katanga--and Mobutu has consistently shown his willingness to allow American multinationals to exploit those riches. Carter and Vance seem just as willing as their predecessors--who gave Zaire $30 million last year, more than any other African state--to ignore the consequences of Mobutu's dictatorial rule over the Zairois population.

Carter's decision to send emergency aid to Zaire cannot help but bring back memories of American involvement in Vietnam, where a decision to support a corrupt regime finally alienated the entire population from the United States. The American public should scrutinize American involvement in Zaire carefully before permitting Vance to shore up Mobutu's regime. And the much heralded shift in American policy in Africa should be scrutinized equally carefully, because for all Carter's rhetoric about human rights, at the moment his foreign policy seems based on premises that are dangerously parallel to those that led previous administrations to support repressive and corrupt regimes throughout the world.

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