74. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Talks between President Carter and President El Hadj Omar Bongo

Participants for the US

  • The President
  • The Secretary of State
  • Dr. Brzezinski
  • Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Richard Moose
  • Henry Richardson, NSC Staff (notetaker)

Participants for the Organization of African Unity

  • President Bongo
  • William Eteki, Secretary-General of the Organization of African Unity
  • Martin Bongo, Foreign Minister, Gabon
  • Rene Kombila, Gabonese Ambassador to the United States

The President: I am pleased and honored to welcome you back into the United States, both in your capacity as President of Gabon, and as leader of the OAU. Your advice and counsel and your assessment of prospects for stronger actions by the OAU will be welcome. I am honored and pleased to have you here. It appears that you have had very exciting tasks and challenges facing you in your first three months as Chairman of the OAU. I would be interested to have your opinion on the prospects and problems faced by the OAU, and your assessment of the prospects for renewed peace in Africa.

Bongo: I thank you very much for your warm welcome on behalf of myself, my delegation, and on behalf of the OAU. Your receiving us is a measure of the importance which you attribute to Africa. With [Page 187] respect to African problems, I will turn over the discussion to Mr. Eteki, Secretary-General of the OAU, and then after his remarks I will comment on the political aspects of these problems.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Southern Africa.]

Eteki: There are two problems: 1) African Liberation; 2) Intra-African Conflict. Both are serious. As we all know, the first includes the problems of Namibia and Zimbabwe. The recent interest by the United States in Southern Africa we find very encouraging. Obviously, the United States is already well aware of the Anglo-American plan for Zimbabwe. The OAU does not reject this plan and accepts it as a first step leading, however, to complete and not a sham Zimbabwe independence. On this point we have refused to compromise. The OAU currently assists liberation movements to carry on armed combat in Zimbabwe. If the Anglo-American plan fails, we will continue this course of action.

But we are following with interest the implementation of the plan and the activities of the United States. We are uncertain of the details of the plan, and we are uncertain of the intent of Smith and the white minority relative to Zimbabwe liberation. For us the most important point is the integration of those whites who are acceptable into the liberation army; other issues are details. The OAU does not reject the plan; we are following it with caution toward the goal of complete independence for Zimbabwe.

Bongo: I agree with all the Secretary-General has said. The Front Line States apparently wish to dominate the Zimbabwe negotiations and perhaps influence events towards the acceptance of the Patriotic Front. But we must recall that at the OAU Summit at Libreville, the OAU decided to support the Patriotic Front and other parties in Zimbabwe [sic].2 The Anglo-American Plan should be expedited; if not, we do not know who might come to power. Another Angola must be prevented. The problem is that Smith wishes to maintain the Rhodesian army as it is, and in this respect the Plan is helpful.

However, the Representative of the UN must supersede the British Resident Commissioner in authority, and we believe that this is an African position. The UN is the representative of all the people, and therefore it is only right that its representative should predominate. Further, the OAU must be taken into account in the Zimbabwe peace settlement. Otherwise, there will be difficulties and complications in its implementation.

[Page 188]

Eteki: I wish to say a brief word on Namibia, of which the US is well acquainted. We are encouraged by the US effort. It would be the simplest solution if the South Africans and the Namibians could negotiate a Namibian independence settlement. This however is not possible, and therefore we are supporting SWAPO in its liberation struggle. We are glad that the original plan for a constitutional conference was dropped. This now produces the situation that the most important element is the withdrawal of the South African army, and the introduction of UN troops in a first phase of a settlement, so that SWAPO can organize inside of Namibia. The freeing of political prisoners is also an important issue. If these occur, then we think that Namibia can be independent by the end of 1978. SWAPO is the appropriate spokesman for the Namibian people. We appreciate all the US efforts, but believe that the pressure on South Africa should now be redoubled.

Let me say a word about the situation in South Africa itself. South Africa is trampling on human rights. We are aware of your deep convictions and support of human rights, and are sure that the United States will take all steps to oppose this situation. There are two problems: 1) the problem of human rights, and 2) the political problems. We are aiding the two South African liberation movements,3 and in view of events such as those in Soweto,4 we have no choice. We regret that the US gives the impression of tendering indirect aid to South Africa by its economic ties; this is contrary to UN resolutions and actions. Accordingly, we would appeal to the United States to support the fight for human rights in South Africa.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Southern Africa.]

The President: I appreciate your helpful explanation and outline of your problems. You have a full agenda. It is apparent that under the strong leadership which both you and Secretary-General Eteki are providing, you are attacking those problems. On Zimbabwe, we have been working closely with the British, the Front Line States, the United Nations, and with the OAU and the nationalist leaders. We are determined to use all of our influence to persuade Smith to step down. We are working for free elections under the principle of one-man, one-vote, and to have the army built around the liberation army in a Zimbabwe settlement. The UN adds a legitimacy that supports all of our efforts towards a settlement. I have no way of knowing what [Page 189] Smith’s intent is, but we will exert pressure to persuade him to comply with the Anglo-American proposal.

We have been occupied with Namibia. South Africa has offered to withdraw all of its troops except for some 150 troops along the border. I have no objection to complete withdrawal by South Africa, and hope they will agree, but I do not believe they will. I hope, then, that SWAPO will agree on South Africa’s retaining one base with a small number of troops in an isolated area which the United Nations can secure, and that these arrangements evolve in a way favorable to the future government of Namibia. I wish to stress the importance of SWAPO’s cooperation. South Africa has agreed on UN observers, on free elections, on majority rule, and on independence for Namibia before the end of 1978. We need moderation from SWAPO, and cooperation from South Africa. If too much is expected from South Africa in these negotiations, my guess is that they will not withdraw their troops. I hope we can negotiate an agreement allowing a limited number of South African troops to stay in place in an isolated area during the preparatory stages before the elections.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Southern Africa.]

  1. Source: Department of State, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Cyrus R. Vance, Secretary of State—1977–1980, Lot 84D241, Box 10, Vance NODIS Memcons, 1977. Secret; Sensitive. Brackets are in the original except those that indicate omitted text. The meeting took place in the White House Cabinet Room and adjourned at 3:40 p.m.
  2. The OAU Summit was held in Libreville, Gabon, July 2–5. For statements regarding OAU recognition of the Patriotic Front and other nationalist groups, see Keesing’s Contemporary Archives, 1977, p. 28522.
  3. The African National Congress and the Pan Africanist Congress.
  4. Presumably a reference to the June 16–24, 1976, Soweto (South-Western Townships) uprising, a series of student-led protests reacting to the use of Afrikaans for instruction in all-black schools. The official death toll was 176. (Keesing’s Contemporary Archives, 1976, pp. 27886–27888)