6. Telegram From the Mission to the United Nations to the Department of State and the White House1

815. For the President, Vice President, Brzezinski, Vance. Subject: Africa Policy.

1. There are two and possibly only two principles on which Africa is united. These are: A. Principle of territorial integrity, B. Anti-colonialism and majority rule.

2. There are many other principles and attitudes in which there is considerable African interest even majority concern but only on these two is there unanimity.

3. The Russians have managed to be on the right side of these two issues while we have been hesitant or equivocal in the light of other interests.

4. The result is that we get considerable influence as a result of our policies toward development, health, food and agriculture, investment and technical assistance but jeopardize it all because of our equivocation on the essential African issues.

5. In the Nigeria-Biafra situation2 as in Ethiopia-Somalia3 we lost considerable influence by not realizing the unanimity on the territorial integrity issue while the Soviets moved quickly to support the federal governments of Nigeria and Ethiopia.

6. In Southern Africa we have been slow to identify with the majority aspirations of former Portuguese colonies and the liberation movements of Southern Africa.

7. On every other issue we have an outstanding and credible record and the Soviets are miserable.

8. So far, the Carter administration has done very well on the colonialism-majority rule issue. We were slow—myself included—in realizing the importance of the territorial integrity issue. It really strains my values to support a repressive regime as the one in Ethiopia, but Africa has seen repressive regimes come and go. Repression and violence threaten only a few states but every African nation has border [Page 13] problems and none can afford to support border changes without threatening themselves.

9. Our insensitivity to African priorities has created a vacuum in which Russian and Cuban forces gain an advantage. I know we deferred to the OAU,4 and are innocent of any aggressive act in the Horn, but in the absence of military options (and I think the post Vietnam period has seriously limited all military options unless the US herself is directly threatened), it is imperative that we develop a creative, aggressive and sensitive diplomatic approach to all questions.

10. This we have done very well in the Middle East, Panama, SALT and up to now in Southern Africa.

11. I am afraid that our present situation in Rhodesia has the potential for jeopardizing the progress we have made. A wait and see attitude in Rhodesia now is just like our attitude of ten months ago in the Horn. It creates a vacuum which almost certainly will be filled by Soviet-Cuban forces, and once again they will have the solid support of Africa.

12. Alternatively, action on our part has risks, but we would be entertaining those risks with the support of African leadership and could with a concerted effort win South African support as well.

13. Our enemy in Africa is chaos. We can negotiate with and ultimately influence any educated African leadership. Their power depends on their ability to meet the needs of their people once the fighting stops and the Russians have never assisted much in that direction. Western technology, capital, management and markets are the basis of the kind of peaceful competition the President spelled out in his Notre Dame speech.5

14. It will take considerable effort to explain the complexities of this situation to our public and the Congress, but it is important that we try. We must make it clear that the situation cannot be resolved in the simplistic terms of Communist and terrorists versus moderates. I hope you won’t mind my taking on this challenge.

15. I know it is difficult with such a crowded agenda to focus on Rhodesia, but I hope that we can keep our policy moving forward. A breakthrough in Africa could also be a very positive contribution to [Page 14] our overall foreign policy situation. It is not likely to occur soon, but it can move forward this year in both Rhodesia and Namibia.

  1. Source: Department of State, Files of Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, 1977–1980, Lot 84D241, Box 8, Southern Africa 1978. Secret; Immediate; Nodis.
  2. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E–5, Part 1, Documents on Sub-Saharan Africa, 1969–1972, for documentation on the U.S. response to the Biafran civil war in Nigeria, which lasted from 1967 until 1970.
  3. See Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XVII, Part 1, Horn of Africa, for documentation on the U.S. response to the Ethiopian-Somali war of 1977–1978.
  4. For the decision to rely on the OAU to negotiate a settlement of the Ethiopian-Somali war, see Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XVII, Part 1, Horn of Africa, Document 58.
  5. A reference to Carter’s May 22 commencement address at the University of Notre Dame. For text of the speech, see Public Papers of the Presidents: Jimmy Carter, 1977, Book I, pp. 954–962. It is also printed in full in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. I, Foundations of Foreign Policy, Document 40.