Letter: US retreat in world affairs spells danger for Africa

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The Independent Online
Sir: David Usborne's report ('White House in foreign policy row', 27 May) that the United States administration may be preparing to 'step back from its leading role in world affairs' comes at a worrying time for people in many of the poorest African countries, who are concerned about their status in the post-Cold War era.

The State Department official quoted by Mr Usborne said that the United States no longer has the 'leverage' or 'influence' to lead the world through crises. This is surprising, given that during the past four years the United States has led the developed countries in exerting massive influence for change on African governments.

With the end of the Cold War and its proxy 'hot' conflicts in Africa, these countries have been 'asked' to adopt a raft of measures prioritised by the developed world, including democracy, market forces, privatisations and 'good government'. Where civil wars have existed, the warring sides have been pressured into 'peace processes' that can pave the way for the above measures.

Unfortunately, those exerting the pressure for change do not always follow through with their promises of assistance; and their attention seems to wander when the play departs from its optimistic script.

Angola is a case in point. After 16 years of civil war sponsored by the Cold War powers, the two sides were persuaded to accept a peace process involving a ceasefire, bilateral disarmament and democratic elections. Having fostered this agreement, however, the international community sent a paltry monitoring force that was unable to enforce the terms and conditions it contained.

For reasons that should by now be well known, the elections resulted not in peace and stability, but in a rapid descent into a new spiral of violence that threatens to take the destruction of Angola to unprecedented depths.

Precious little world attention is being given to this new catastrophe, however. The recent belated recognition of the legitimacy to govern of the victorious side in the elections held last October will make little difference to the hundreds of thousands of people trapped in contested towns that are cut off from adequate food supplies and health care, or to the thousands of displaced people who have flooded into the government-controlled coastal strip, placing an intolerable burden on a collapsing infrastructure, as I witnessed during my recent visit.

Formal recognition of the government is welcome, but the question now is one of responsibility. Will the developed world, which, under US leadership, brought about the 'peace process', now respond with sustained and compassionate attention to the plight of Angolans? Or will the tendency indicated in David Usborne's report win out? Clear signals are needed, through the response to the UN appeal for Angola on 3 June and when the subject is debated at the Security Council.

Yours faithfully,


Africa Director

Save The Children

London, SE5

28 May