It is difficult to imagine trying to discuss all the intricacies of U.S. foreign policy on Africa and the Caribbean in a two-day conference. Condensing that symposium into a half-hour television program is impossible.
Unfortunately, "A New Awakening: U.S. Foreign Policy in Africa and the Caribbean" tried to do just that and instead barely touches the depth of the controversies surrounding the Reagan administration's policies. The documentary, which is the first on foreign policy produced by Howard University's WHMM-TV, airs tonight at 8 on Channel 32. It will be rebroadcast by most of the nation's PBS stations June 26.
The program was filmed during a two-day conference on U.S. policies held early this month at Howard University, bringing together African, Caribbean and U.S. officials. The meeting was sponsored by TransAfrica, the black American lobby for Africa and the Caribbean, which may help explain why the documentary deals with two diverse areas and problems.
Perhaps because of its time constraints, "A New Awakening" fails early on to clearly identify the aspects of U.S. policy it will deal with or what the problems might be. But by failing to be specific, it leaves confused those viewers not intimately familiar with the problems, conflicts, groups or policies. As an example, the program opens with a short description of South African raids into Angola to battle a Namibian guerrilla organization known as SWAPO and the suffering the raids bring. H.P. Asheeke, the deputy U.N. observer for SWAPO, also gives a description of the resistance movement and its goals.
The documentary then shifts to Chester A. Crocker, U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, who says, "It is our view that the Namibian conflict is very closely interrelated on the ground with the conflict inside Angola, and the escalation of violence along that border makes it unrealistic to expect that one can resolve the one without addressing the other." His comments appear to be a reference to political conflict in Angola and the Cuban troops there, who the Reagan adminstration has insisted must be pulled out. Yet nowhere before that are the Cubans mentioned or are the U.S. relations or policies toward South Africa, Angola or Namibia explained.
The documentary continues in much the same vein, jumping from African policies to President Reagan's Caribbean Basin Initiative to the problems of refugees in Africa and the Caribbean.
Despite these shortcomings, "A New Awakening" uses comments from a series of African and Caribbean officials to take the administration to task for formulating its foreign policies out of fear of the spread of communism. These officials make clear that they do not consider themselves pawns in an East-West chess match but instead are looking for the best of both systems and help from either side.
The documentary offers a different perspective from many analyses of U.S. foreign policies since it seeks to show the problems as viewed by the Africans and Caribbean peoples themselves and the view of U.S. black organizations, such as TransAfrica. But the program is spread much too thin and leaves the viewer wanting a more coherent and substantial expression.