Black-white wars across the southern tier of Africa have touched of a new scramble for that continent. American foundations and other policy institutions are beginning to make heavy commitments to determine U.S. policy options in the growing crises of southern Africa.
The U.S. superstar of diplomacy and academia. Henry A. Kissinger, is among the recruits signing up for what could become the biggest area of growth in policy studies since the Vietnam boom of the early 1960s Kissinger will co-chair a committee of experts who will look at what the United States should do now in Rhodesia, Angola, Namibia and South Africa.
The U.S.-southern Africa connection is rapidly becoming a point of intersection for some of the strongest institutional and political currents swirling through American public debate. The growing Soviet and American involvements in that region are pulling conservatives and liberals alike into a debate that until now both sides had largely ignored.
The Colorado-based Aspen Institute is seeking a reported $100,000 from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund to set up the Kissinger policy panel, which is not likely to take critical view of the former secretary of state's events in southern Africa. At the own contribution to the shape of same time, the fund's much bigger brother, the Rockefeller Foundation, is considering a proposal for a $1.5 million two-year study intended to question every assumption of U.S. involvement in the region.
The spectrum of new interest is broad enough to embrace the Pentagon, which is commissioning its own Africa study through Georgetown University's Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, which is taking a look at U.S. elite and public attitudes toward South Africa.
"I think the foundations have a phobia of not being a step ahead of the headlines," said one policy analyst involved in a new Africa foundation project. There is a feeling that this region is going to blow and the foundations want at least to be in the position of saying they were giving advice before the policymakers were ready to listen.
Some Carter administration strategists fear that Republicans are using the foundations as a kind of advance positioning to gain a springboard for attacking the Demoratic record in the 1980 elections, especially if Rhodesia turns into a racial bloodbath and Soviet-backed guerrilas come to power there.
Kissinger, a potential candidate for the U.S. Senate from New York, repeatedly has made public references to his differences with Carter on Rhodesia, and both he and former president Ford have emphasized in speeches their view that liberals in the Senate handed the Soviets a victory by cutting off aid to pro-Western guerrillas in Angola in 1976. The Ford-Kissinger message is that they did not lose Angola.
"African issues are no longer being monopolized by Africa specialists," who have traditionally been "libertionists," said Chester Croker, director of Georgetown University's African Studies program. "Globalists are also becoming involved as this conflict becomes very salient for American foreign policy. It is also very messy and potentially very bloody."
Crocker is directing a research program for the University's strategic studies center and is also due to run a Pentagon-financed study of Soviet and Cuban activity in Africa. Crocker said the sum involved was "very modest" and would be spent organizing meetngs of specialists and commissioning study papers.
The most ambitious new project under consideration appears to be at the Rockefeller Foundation. The board of trustees expects to decide in early December whether to put up $1.5 million to underwrite a 15-member commission of prominent Americans and a staff of five or six specialists.
The proposal for a commission, that would have the kind of prestige that White House-appointed panels normally enjoy, was drawn up at the foundation's request by Franklin Thomas, a New York Attorney and urban planner who worked at the Justice Department under Robert F. Kennedy and who has directed the Kennedy family project in Bedford-Stuyvesant for the past 10 years.
"We would start by getting the facts sorted out on actual U.S. interests and choices in the region," Thomas said. "We would expect to show that more is possible than having to make a choice between a high moral position that does not answer practical questions and the simple-minded approach that they have the right to do what they want over there whatever it is ."
The Aspen Institute is also turning to the Rockefeller establishment for money, but the scope and extend of the Aspen Institite study is not clear. Kissinger's co-chairman and the project organizer, Waldemar A. Nielsen, did not respond to requests for information.
Kissinger's Washington office, while saying that he had "more or less decided to participate," was also vague on details, describing the project as a top-level discussion group that would meet periodically "to brainstorm." Other sources said the panel, if funded, would be composed of about 10 members who would make specific recommendations on Africa by the end of 1979.
James Baker, a State Department officer who was the first black American diplomat to serve in South Africa, is currently on leave to run a three-level Carnegie fund study on South Africa. Baker and two assistants have completed nearly 100 interviews of U.S. policymakers to examine the effects of domestic politics on U.S. policy toward South Africa.
They will then take a public opinion poll on the issue and will undertake case studies that are likely to include the controversial topic of U.S. corporate and foundation investment in South Africa.
The growth of foundation and political interest in southern Africa is being paralleled by movement among some activists, who in the 1960's would have gone into antiwar protests. Now they are moving into Africa policy debate.
"Increasingly you are seeing the people who went to demonstrations during the Vietnam period, but who weren't necessarily orgainzing those demonstrations, move into Africa issues," said Chris Root, associate director of the liberal, union and church supported Washington Office on Africa.