50. Address by Secretary of State Vance1

The United States and Africa: Building Positive Relations

This is a special occasion for me to meet with you and to discuss with you such an important subject: American relations with Africa.

Before I turn to our main topic, I would like to add a personal note about the man who has led this organization and who has been a voice for justice and freedom for nearly five decades. I speak of Roy Wilkins [outgoing executive director of the NAACP]—a personal friend, a man I have admired through the years.

Roy Wilkins has not finished his work. There remains an important agenda which he helped fashion—an agenda of human rights and social justice. I know that President Carter and others in his Administration will continue to seek his help, be inspired by his strength, and strive for what he believes to be just.

While guiding the NAACP, Roy never lost sight of the importance which Africa has had for our nation. Africa matters very much to the United States. This is a fact more and more Americans are coming to understand.

You in the NAACP have recognized this fact since the first days of your organization, almost 70 years ago—in sponsoring the first Pan African Congress in 1919;2 in your calls, during the days of the Marshall plan, for effective assistance, as well, to Africa, the Caribbean, and other developing areas.

We in a new Administration hope that we can show similar vision as we build our policies toward Africa.

We proceed from a basic proposition: that our policies must recognize the unique identity of Africa. We can be neither right, nor effective, if we treat Africa simply as one part of the Third World, or as a testing ground of East-West competition.

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African reality is incredibly diverse. But out of this diversity comes a general fact of great importance: Africa has an enormous potential—in human talent, in resources to be developed, in energy to be harnessed.

Let us consider how this is true in terms of our own national interests; for Africa’s potential is tied to our own.

—The success or failure of the search for racial justice and peace in southern Africa will have profound effects among the American people. And our participation in that search is based on the values of our own society.

—The role of the African nations at the United Nations, and in other multilateral bodies, is pivotal. One-third of the U.N. member states are African.

—Africa’s mineral and agricultural wealth already provides a substantial portion of our imports of such commodities as copper, cobalt, and manganese for our industries, and cocoa and coffee for our homes. And Africa supplies 38 percent of our crude petroleum imports.

—Our direct investment in sub-Saharan Africa has increased nearly sixfold over the past 15 years; our trade now is almost 12 times what it was then. And the pattern of our trade with Africa includes an even larger share for black Africa. Trade with South Africa in 1960 was 39 percent of our commerce with Africa; now, our trade with Nigeria alone is double the value of that with South Africa.

—Beyond these political and economic ties that bind our futures, there are the social and cultural links from which we have benefited greatly. Our society and culture are enriched by the heritage so many Americans find in Africa. We experience this enrichment every day—in our literature, our art, our music, and our social values.

During the past few months, as we have considered the specific policies I will discuss today, a number of broad points have emerged. They define the general nature of our approach.

First, the most effective policies toward Africa are affirmative policies. They should not be reactive to what other powers do, nor to crises as they arise. Daily headlines should not set our agenda for progress. A negative, reactive American policy that seeks only to oppose Soviet or Cuban involvement in Africa would be both dangerous and futile. Our best course is to help resolve the problems which create opportunities for external intervention.

Second, our objective must be to foster a prosperous and strong Africa that is at peace with itself and at peace with the world. The long-term success of our African policy will depend more on our actual assistance to African development and our ability to help Africans resolve their disputes than on maneuvers for short-term diplomatic advantage.

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Third, our policies should recognize and encourage African nationalism. Having won independence, African nations will defend it against challenges from any source. If we try to impose American solutions for African problems, we may sow division among the Africans and undermine their ability to oppose efforts at domination by others. We will not do so.

Fourth, our policies must reflect our national values. Our deep belief in human rights—political, economic, and social—leads us to policies that support their promotion throughout Africa. This means concern for individuals whose rights are threatened anywhere on the continent. And it means making our best effort peacefully to promote racial justice in southern Africa. In this we join the many African nations who, having won their freedom, are determined that all of Africa shall be free.

Fifth, our ties with Africa are not only political, but cultural and economic as well. It is the latter two that are most enduring.

And finally, we will seek openness in our dealings with African states. We are willing to discuss any issue, African or global; to broaden our dialogue with African nations; and to try to work with them, even when we may not agree.

Only thus can we promote our views without rancor. Our renewed relations with the People’s Republic of the Congo, our experience at the recent conference on southern Africa in Maputo [U.N.-sponsored International Conference in Support of the Peoples of Zimbabwe and Namibia, May 16–21], and our work with African delegations at the United Nations all demonstrate the value of this approach.

In the end, of course, our Africa policy will be judged by results, not intentions.

Assistance for Human Needs

One of Africa’s principal concerns is that its basic human needs be met. Despite its vast resources, it is still one of the least developed areas of the world. Eighteen of the twenty-eight least developed countries in the world are African.

We are prepared to help.

In addition to our growing trade and investment relationships with African nations, we are committed to providing economic assistance that will directly improve the lives of those most in need. Turning this principle into practice cannot be accomplished overnight. But it must be done.

Our economic assistance to Africa is being increased from $271 million in fiscal year 1976 to a projected $450 million in fiscal year 1978. We hope that assistance from our European friends will also increase, and expect to consult with them on how we all can make the most effective contributions.

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To help our aid reach rural villages, we will emphasize support for the development and sharing of appropriate technology and techniques. I have in mind such devices as small farm machinery now being manufactured in Senegal, Upper Volta, Mali, and elsewhere; hand-hydraulic palm oil presses in Nigeria; and basic agricultural extension methods that have succeeded in one nation and could be applied in another. We will also expand support for agricultural research in Africa and try to assure that our own technical assistance is appropriate to African requirements.

We also acknowledge the needs of African states for advanced techniques that will enable them to develop and process more of their own natural resources.

Our Agency for International Development, headed by Governor [John J.] Gilligan, is determined to cut down on red tape in approving assistance projects, so it can respond quickly and effectively. Greater attention will be given to projects which can be started quickly and require minimal outside technical assistance or expensive equipment.

Men and women are more important than machines. Africa’s natural resources will be developed by Africa’s people. Human development is thus the key to Africa’s future. While we will provide additional opportunities for Africans to study here, emphasis will be on programs of training and education in Africa.

We must also remember the importance of Africa’s infrastructure. It is a vast continent, and improved transport and communications are essential to its welfare.

I am aware, as I indicate these directions for our programs, how tempting, but mistaken, it would be to design blueprints for another continent’s development. We can only work effectively if we work cooperatively with African governments in behalf of their development priorities. Accordingly, we will seek to increase our contribution to the African Development Fund. And we are requesting from the Congress $200 million for the Sahel, to be managed in coordination with the Club du Sahel.

The long drought in the Sahel devastated the economies of some of the poorest countries in the world. Now these countries are working together to become self-sufficient in food production and to develop the ability to withstand future droughts.

In the Club du Sahel, the African states plan together for the region. The donor nations participate in the planning and determine how each can assist most effectively. They then commit the resources necessary to meet their goals. In this process, we are discovering the great value of encouraging coordination among African states; of planning with them and with other donors; and of concentrating on regional [Page 218] problems rather than isolated projects. For it will be essential that sensible and effective programs be planned and implemented.

America can fully support African development only if we meet the kind of commitments I have outlined. I hope that every citizen with an interest in Africa will make it clear, to the Congress and to us in the executive branch, that he or she wants those commitments met.

Promotion of Human Rights

While we address the reality of human need in Africa, we must also do what we can in behalf of human justice there.

We will be firm in our support of individual human rights. Our concern is not limited to any one region of the continent.

We must understand the diversity of African social and value systems. Gross violations of individual human dignity are no more acceptable in African terms than in ours. One of the most significant events in modern African history—and in the international effort to promote human rights—was the recent decision by Commonwealth countries to condemn the “massive violation of human rights” in Uganda.3 Many African nations took part in this decision. Their action should be applauded.

Abuse of human rights is wrong on any grounds. It is particularly offensive when it is on the basis of race. In southern Africa, issues of race, of justice, and of self-determination have built to a crisis.

—The conflict in Rhodesia is growing. Rhodesian incursions into neighboring countries exacerbate an already dangerous situation and deserve the condemnation they have received. The choice between negotiated settlement and violent solution must be made now. The same is true for Namibia. Many lives—black and white—hang in the balance.

—The risk of increased foreign involvement is real.

—Violence within South Africa grows. There may be more time there than in Rhodesia and Namibia for people of goodwill to achieve a solution. But progress must soon be made, or goodwill could be lost.

—Crisis within the region has brought pressure for stronger action at the United Nations, and appeals to our responsibilities under its charter.

This is the reality we face. The dangers, our interests, and our values, as well as the desires of the Africans themselves, require our involvement—and our most dedicated and practical efforts.

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We cannot impose solutions in southern Africa. We cannot dictate terms to any of the parties; our leverage is limited.

But we are among the few governments in the world that can talk to both white and black Africans frankly and yet with a measure of trust. We would lose our ability to be helpful if we lost that trust. It is therefore essential that our policies of encouraging justice for people of all races in southern Africa be clear to all.

After careful consideration, this Administration has decided to pursue actively solutions to all three southern African problems—Rhodesia, Namibia, and the situation within South Africa itself. These problems must be addressed together, for they are intertwined.

Some have argued that apartheid in South Africa should be ignored for the time being, in order to concentrate on achieving progress on Rhodesia and Namibia. Such a policy would be wrong and would not work.

—It would be blind to the reality that the beginning of progress must be made soon within South Africa, if there is to be a possibility of peaceful solutions in the longer run;

—It could mislead the South Africans about our real concerns;

—It would prejudice our relations with our African friends;

—It would do a disservice to our own beliefs; and

—It would discourage those of all races who are working for peaceful progress within South Africa.

We believe that we can effectively influence South Africa on Rhodesia and Namibia while expressing our concerns about apartheid. Implicit in that belief is the judgment that progress in all three areas is strongly in the interest of the South African Government.

We believe that whites as well as blacks must have a future in Namibia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. We also believe that their security lies in progress. Intransigence will only lead to greater insecurity.

We will welcome and recognize positive action by South Africa on each of these three issues. But the need is real for progress on all of them.

Let me review briefly our approach to each.


We are actively supporting a British initiative to achieve a negotiated settlement of the Rhodesian crisis. In coming weeks, we will be seeking agreement on a constitution that would allow free elections, open to all parties and in which all of voting age could participate equally. These elections would establish the government of an independent Zimbabwe. Our goal is that this be accomplished during 1978.

This constitution should include a justiciable bill of rights and an independent judiciary, so that the rights of all citizens, of all races, are protected.

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We also hope to lend greater assistance to the peoples of neighboring nations whose lives have been disrupted by the crisis in southern Africa.


In Namibia a solution leading to independence is being sought through the efforts of the five Western members of the Security Council, with South Africa, the United Nations, and other interested parties, including the South West Africa People’s Organization. That solution would include free elections in which the United Nations is involved, freedom for political prisoners, repeal of discriminatory laws and regulations, and the withdrawal of instruments of South African authority as the elections are held and independence achieved.

On the basis of our discussions thus far, we are encouraged by the prospects for an independent Namibia, one which will take its rightful place in the African and world community. We welcome the indications of flexibility on the part of South Africa. We are gratified by the confidence shown by many African governments in the efforts of the United States and Western associates on the Security Council. Differences remain, however, and progress will require a willingness on all sides to be openminded and forthcoming. But we will persevere.

South Africa

While pursuing these efforts for peace and justice in Namibia and Rhodesia, we have also expressed to the South African Government our firm belief in the benefits of a progressive transformation of South African society. This would mean an end to racial discrimination and the establishment of a new course toward full political participation by all South Africans.

The specific form of government through which this participation could be expressed is a matter for the people of South Africa to decide. There are many ways in which the individual rights of all citizens within South Africa could be protected. The key to the future is that South African citizens of all races now begin a dialogue on how to achieve this better future.

The South African Government’s policy of establishing separate homelands for black South Africans was devised without reference to the wishes of the blacks themselves. For this reason, and because we do not believe it constitutes a fair or viable solution to South Africa’s problems, we oppose this policy. We did not recognize the Transkei, and we will not recognize Bophuthatswana if its independence is proclaimed in December, as scheduled.

We deeply hope that the South African Government will play a progressive role on the three issues I have discussed. We will applaud such efforts. If there is no progress, our relations will inevitably suffer.

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We cannot defend a government that is based on a system of racial domination and remain true to ourselves. For our policy toward South Africa is reinforced by change in our own society. The activities of the NAACP are a testament to the inseparability of our foreign and domestic goals. It is also entirely fitting that Andy Young [U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations], who has done so much in the struggle against our divisions at home, should now be contributing so well to the design and effectiveness of our policies abroad.

I have heard some suggest that we must support the white governments in southern Africa, come what may, since they are anti-Communist. In fact, the continued denial of racial justice in southern Africa encourages the possibilities for outside intervention.

Similarly, when such crises as the recent invasion of Zaire arise,4 we see no advantage in unilateral responses and emphasizing their East-West implications. We prefer to work with African nations, and with our European allies, in positive efforts to resolve such disputes. As President Carter recently said, it is best to fight fire with water.5

The history of the past 15 years suggests that efforts by outside powers to dominate African nations will fail. Our challenge is to find ways of being supportive without becoming interventionist or intrusive.

We see no benefit if we interject ourselves into regional disputes. We hope that they can be resolved through the diplomatic efforts of the parties themselves in an African setting.

We are aware of the African concern that we have sometimes seemed more interested in the activities of other outside powers in Africa than in Africa itself. They know that some argue we should almost automatically respond in kind to the increase in Soviet arms and Cuban personnel in Africa.

We cannot ignore this increase—and we oppose it. All sides should be aware that when outside powers pour substantial quantities of arms and military personnel into Africa, it greatly enhances the danger that disputes will be resolved militarily rather than through mediation by African states or by the OAU [Organization of African Unity].

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This danger is particularly great in the Horn, where there has been an escalation of arms transfers from the outside. The current difficulties in Ethiopia, and the tensions among nations in the area, present complex diplomatic challenges. We seek friendship with all the governments of that region. We have established an embassy in the new nation of Djibouti. Its peaceful accession to independence marks a step toward stability in what remains a troubled area.

We will consider sympathetically appeals for assistance from states which are threatened by a buildup of foreign military equipment and advisers on their borders, in the Horn and elsewhere in Africa. But we hope such local arms races and the consequent dangers of deepening outside involvement can be limited.

In accordance with the policy recently announced by the President, arms transfers to Africa will be an exceptional tool of our policy and will be used only after the most careful consideration.6

We hope that all the major powers will join us in supporting African nationalism, rather than fragmenting it, and in concentrating on economic assistance rather than arms.

Our approach is to build positive relations with the Africans primarily through support for their political independence and economic development and through the strengthening of our economic, cultural, and social ties. Our new and positive relationships with nations like Nigeria encourage us in this course. Our efforts to build such relations may not seize the headlines. But this quiet strategy will produce long-term benefits.

Our relations will be closest with those nations whose views and actions are most congruent with ours. We will never forget or take old friends for granted. Their continuing friendship is a fundamental concern; they can rely on our support. When the territorial integrity of a friendly state is threatened, we will continue to respond to requests for appropriate assistance.

We do not insist that there is only one road to economic progress or one way of expressing the political will of a people. In so diverse a continent, we must be prepared to work with peoples and governments of distinctive and differing beliefs.

American representatives in Africa met last May to compare notes and discuss new policy ideas.7 They agreed that almost everywhere in [Page 223] the continent there is a new feeling about America—a sense of hope, a sense that we have returned to our ideals.

The future of Africa will be built with African hands. Our interests and our ideals will be served as we offer our own support. It will require the understanding and approval of this audience, and of Americans everywhere.

  1. Source: Department of State Bulletin, August 8, 1977, pp. 165–170. All brackets are in the original. Vance delivered his address before the annual convention of the NAACP. The Department transmitted the text of Vance’s speech to all African diplomatic posts in telegram 153476, July 1. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770234–1039) For the text of the question-and-answer session following Vance’s address, see Department of State Bulletin, August 8, 1977, pp. 170–174.
  2. Convening in Paris February 19–21, 1919, the first Pan African Congress brought together African leaders to address the status of Africa during the postwar period, specifically the former German colonies. Attendees endorsed the right of Africans to participate in their own governments and charged the League of Nations with upholding this right.
  3. Reference is to a communiqué released during the British Commonwealth heads of government meeting in London June 8–16 condemning Ugandan human rights abuses and reaffirming support for majority black rule in Rhodesia. See R.W. Apple Jr., “Uganda Condemned by Commonwealth,” The New York Times, June 16, 1977, p. 5 and Bernard D. Nossiter, “Leaders Condemn Uganda,” The Washington Post, June 16, 1977, p. A–11.
  4. Reference is to the March 1977 invasion from Angola of the southern Zaire province of Shaba, formerly known as Katanga.
  5. During his May 22 Notre Dame address (see Document 40), the President commented: “For too many years, we’ve been willing to adopt the flawed and erroneous principles and tactics of our adversaries, sometimes abandoning our own values for theirs. We’ve fought fire with fire, never thinking that fire is better quenched with water.”
  6. See footnote 5, Document 40.
  7. Presumable reference to a May 10 meeting in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, of 33 U.S. diplomats from African posts in order to discuss U.S. policies toward Africa. Young also attended the meeting. (Michael T. Kaufman, “Young, Opening African Trip, Meets in Ivory Coast With 33 U.S. Envoys,” The New York Times, May 11, 1977, p. 2)