A subtle change is taking place in southern Africa, bringing with it a hope for peaceful accommodation among African states rather than the armed confrontation that has in part, led to so much Eastern and Western involvement on the continent recently.
At the organization of African States meeting in Khartoum, the moderates and radicals are assaulting each other verbally over the French, Belgian, American, Soviet and Cuban roles in Africa, suggestion a growing tension between the two groups.
But in fact, a far more significat development is in the making as Western-backed Zaire and Soviet-and Cuban-supported Angola take the first timid steps toward finding a way out of their equally strong dependence on outside forces.
Friday, the Zairian news agency announced that a delegation from Angola would meet over the weekend with one from Zaire in the Congolese capital of Brazzaville. This was the latest indication that Angola is seeking to make peace with Zaire.
Much more important sign of the Angolan intention to reduce growing tensions in the region came last Wednesday when militant Namibia nationalists gave their reluctant agreement to the Western plan for a peaceful resolution of the Namibia dispute. Angola's role in getting the Southwest African People's Organization (SWAPO) to accept was of utmost importance, according to Western diplomatic sources.
An agreement between Zairian President Mobutu Sese Seko and Angolan Leader Agostinho Neto to end their backing of rebels or dissidents seeking the destruction of each other's regimes could be the first big step toward eliminating the need of both to rely so heavily on foreign troops to stay in power.
Buttressing this tentative Zairian-Angolan move toward detente and away from continuing confrontation is the current attempt by the Carter administration to improve its channels of communication to the Angolan government, which it has still not recognized two years after the end of the Angolan civil war.
President Neto has also signaled his strong desire to normalize relations with the United States.
The desire of Angola to reach a negotiated settlement in Namibia and an accommodation with Zaire are small reflections of a much larger mood settling over southern Africa these days: exhaustion from war and fear of far worse things to come if the present trend of confrontation continues unabated.
The two seminal events affecting the thinking of all African leaders in the region have been the South African raid May 4 on a Namibian refugee and guerrilla camp at Kassinga 150 miles inside Angola and the rebel assault May 12 and 13 on the southern Zaire mining center of Kolwezi. In both attacks, more than 800 persons were killed.
Kassinga and Kolwezi are examples of the kind of warfare and its devastating results facing all of southern Africa if the current trends prevail.
Little attention has been given in the West or Africa on military implications of Kassinga, despite their considerable impact. For one thing, Kassinga showed that the presence of even 20,000 Cuban troops in Angola provides no serious protection against the large airborne raid, involving hundreds of troops, that South Africa is capable of.
For another, it made clear to all the states of southern Africa that South Africa is willing to strike deep into their vulnerable countries.
Probably only a large Soviet or other East Bloc military force can stop this, and no African leader in this region is eager to invite in such a force.
Zambian and Mozampique, meanwhile, are daily faced with at least the threat of Rhodesian Army raids on nationalist guerrilla camps in their countries.The Rhodesians can operate almost with impunity deep into both countries and the general trend is toward bigger raids as the situation inside Rhodesian grows worse and the white-led government gets more desperate.
If anything, more Kassingas are strongly indicated in Zambia and Mozambique as well as Angola if no negotiated settlements are reached over Namibia and Rhodesia.
The other sign of the times was Kolwezi, which opens up the prospect of radicals and conservatives everywhere arming and setting loose invading rebel forces to topple each other's governments. Already Mobutu has warned that he stands ready to retaliate against Angola by inciting the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA), a nationalist faction defeated in the 1975-76 Angolan civil war, to renew its struggle against Neto on a much larger scale.
The Neto government hardly needs trouble in northern Angola. In the southern part of the country, it already has to deal wtih another guerrilla movement, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), which has been getting secret backing from South Africa and some Arab sources.Even with considerable Cuban assistance, Neto has been unable to crush UNITA.
Whatever the extent of Angolan and Cuban backing for the rebel invasion of Zaire's southern Shaba Province, the most significant thing in the wake of Kolwezi is that both Cuba and Angola seem eager to wash their hands of the rebels. Neto has told Mobutu through Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda and West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt that he is disarming the rebels returning to Angola as a gesture of goodwill and to prevent another invasion.
The Angolan calculation seems to be that if the Namibian dispute can be peacefully resolved and a U.N. peacekeeping force is brought in, then South African assistance to UNITA will be cut off and the dissident group's strength will ebb away. Similarly, if Angola can make peace with Zaire then it would not have to deal with the renaissance of the FNLA in northern Angola.
This would clear the way for Neto both to strengthen his regime and to lessen its dependence on Cuban troops, possibly altogether.
Bringing an end to the Angola-Zairian fued and a peaceful resolution of the Namibian dispute should have a major impact on the current general trend in southern Africa toward escalating warfare, subversion of established governments and racial confrontation.
It could even lead to a broader African approach to reducing and perhaps eliminating altogether the need for foreign intervention on the continent.
TAt this point, however, only the first hesitant steps toward such a new approach to resolving conflicts in this area have been taken, and there are still strong currents, notably in Rhodesia, toward ever greater confrontation. And just how a militant African will deal with South Africa other than through conflict and supporting guerrilla struggle is far from clear.