War, political upheavals and bad management continued to wreak havoc on the economies of black-ruled nations across Southern Africa last year with the noticeable exception of those operating within the orbit of South Africa itself.
Acute shortages of basic commodities such as cooking oil, butter, flour, rice and corn persisted in Angola, Zambia, Mozambique and parts of Zaire where queueing before food shops seemed to rival soccer as the main national pastime.
National debts grew ever larger while production remained stagnant or dropped, and there was no significant rise in the price of copper, which constitutes the main money earner for both Zaire and Zambia.
Mozambique, Rhodesia, Zambia, Zaire and Angola all posted negative, or at best only marginally positive, growth rates in per capita income terms. By contrast, South Africa recovered from its 1977 recession to register a growth rate of 2.7 percent, and the small economies of neighboring mineral-rich Botswana and agriculturally based Malawi continued to expand at arespectable pace.
As the result of economic slumps and transportation bottlenecks in black African countries immediately to its north, South Africa continued to expand its trade relations with all of them, except Angola.
One of the main causes of the region's difficulties was the ever worsening war in Rhodesia that spilled over on an almost daily basis into neighboring Mozambique, Zambia and Botswana as the Rhodesians accelerated their efforts to wipe out nationalist guerrilla bases in these countries.
But the spread of fighting seemed to affect practically the whole region in 1978. In southern Zaire's Shaba Province, dissident Lunda tribesmen crossed the main mining town of Kolwezi, cutting the country's copper exports for a time and generally upsetting the whole economy.
In southern Angola, guerrillas of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) continued to defy Cuban-backed government attempts to eliminate them. They kept normal trade between the north and south at a standstill and prevented the east-west Benguela railroad, which once served Zaire and Zambia as well as southern Angola, from resuming regular service.
Meanwhile, there was no sign of any reversal in the trend toward ever mounting debts in either Zambia or Zaire. Even as the International Monetary Fund and American and European bankers were pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the ailing Zambian economy, they were showing increasing reluctance to contuining similar assistance to Zaire.
Zaire now has a 2.5 billion to 3 billion dollar debt, and Zambia is no longer far behind if the 18 months of nonpayment for goods already received is included. Zambia now owes around $2 billion to its foreign creditors.
In addition to bogging down in wars and debts, most nations of this region were experiencing enormous difficulties in simply managing their economies, whether Socialist in orientation like Mozambique and Angola or capitalist like Zaire and Rhodesia.
A shortage of skilled manpower began to cripple parts of the white-run Rhodesia economy as the exodus of Europeans picked up. The same problem plagued Marxist Mozambique and Angola as their governments tried to fill the vacuums left by the departing Portuguese and take over more and more of the economy.