Tanzania's President Julius Nyerere, probably black Africa's most widely respected figure, arrives in Washington today on his first official trip to the United States since he was President Kennedy's guest 14 years ago.
He is the first black African leader invited by President Carter to visit him at the White House.
Since the Vietnam war, the United States and Tanzania have been on opposite sides of almost every major world issue and Tanzania's U.N. ambassador, Salim Salim, has stood out as one of the Third World's most distinguished critics of American policies. Relations between the two countries frist "soured in 1964 when Tanzania accused the United States of plotting to overthrow the government and they have never been warm since.
Improving bilateral relations is unlikely to be the substance of Nyerere's talks with Carter, however.
Nyerere is chairman of the presidents of the so-called frontline states - Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Zambian and Tanzaia - the independent African countries most directly involved in the southern African drama. This makes him the continent's most influential spokesman on strategies for achieving majority rule in Rhodesia, granting legitimate independence to Namibia (Southwest Africa) and ending aparthehid in South Africa.
Nyerere is personally considered to be above reproach. A wealthy Nairobi-based Greek businesswoman, whose family has been involved in Tanzania for two generations, says, "Nyerere is the only man in East Africa who cannot be bought." A practicing Roman Catholic of simple tastes, the 55-year-old philosopher-president is said to be the lowest paid head of state in Africa.
That Julius Nyerere will be the first black African leader to meet President Carter, suggests a nascent triumph in the Fledging U.S. administration's efforts to project a new Africa policy, particularly regarding the white ruled south.
To much of the continent, the United States, through the activites of its large corporations and banking houses and the equivocal attitudes of previous administrations, is still regarded as one of the leading collaborators in maintaining white supremacy and black exploitation in southern Afica.
Carter is viewed by Africans as having an opportunity to change this. They see him as having fewer political obligations to corporate America than any President in recent history and therefore more leeway in initiating policies that could, at least in the short run, affect the profits of American companies doing business in South Africa. Carter has a large political debt to black Americans that might move him to view black African demands with more sympathy.
Part of Carter's success in convincing Africans that he is sincere about changing American policy something former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger tried and failed to do, stems from U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young's open identification with the Afican cause.
"The way Young muscled his way into South Africa after calling their government illegitimate has given us new respect for America's concern here," said Jim Mdoi, the Tanzanian editor of Fahari, a popular Swahili language magazine.
"As Carter's ambassador to the U.N. and confidant we see this as a very positive shift in America's Africa policy. But we don't forget that American economic interests in southern Africa by far outweigh Carter's concern for political change and racial equality."
Nyerere's visit could present Carter with a challenge to transform his verbal commitments to action, particularly regarding South Africa. Nyerere has consistently criticized American investment there and as long ago as 1970 told the U.N. General Assembly that "We in Tanzania are asking that the powerful nations of Europe and America should move toward actions which will increasingly isolate South Afica."
Two years ago, Nyerere said that by trading and investing in South African and otherwise treating South Africa as a respectable member of the international community, the United States is "giving support to apartheid and everything which follows from it." This year, writing in the journal Foreign Affairs, Nyerere called on the United States.
To support the freedom struggles of African nationalists in Rhodesia, South Africa and Namibia, politically, economically and possibly even militarily.
To refrain from making profits out of apartheid.
To put pressure on the South African government to stop helping the white Rhodesian government of Ian Smith.
To make greater efforts to prevent American citizens from serving in the Rhodesian army.
To follow up the repeal of the Byrd amendment, which allowed the United States to break U.N. sanctions to purchase Rhodesian chrome, by taking active steps against all sanction-breaking.
Africans who think like Nyerere hope that Washington will pay closer attention and grasp and opportunity for a level of trust and goodwill in the left-leaning African countries that died with president Kennedy.
Although last week's U.S. decision to sell arms to Somalia has been met primarily with silence in most of Africa, it dots demonstrate a new willingness on the part of Washington to reach out toward countries that do not share Washington's attitude toward Communism.
Ten months before his 1969 trip to Canada, Nyerere let it be known that he would also like to visit Washinton to help improve relations with the United States, but he was told that President Nixon would be too busy.
The following year, when Nyerere came to New York to address the U.N. General Assembely on southern Africa (with a speech that had such an impact on African and black American students that mimeograghed copies were passed hand-to-hand throughout American campus communities), no effort was made to see President Nixon.
In 1975, however, Nyerere was invited to deliver the commencement address at Boston University and he asken for a brief meeting with President Ford. He was rebuffed by yet another American President and later declined the Boston invitation. 6 6jmy)i p 6