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A Diplomatic Adventure Story

by Donald Easum

A distinguished diplomat recalls a tempestuous period for the AF Bureau at the State Department culminating in his being relieved of duty as Assistant Secretary for African Affairs at the behest of the man who hired him—Henry Kissinger.  –Ed.

In Washington in late January 1976, meeting his American counterpart for the first time, the Nigerian Foreign Minister Joseph Garba told Secretary of State Henry Kissinger: “You have a good man in Lagos.”  Kissinger replied,  “Good for whom, you or us?”

It was a very hot summer in 1973.  My family and I were finishing our second year in Ouagadougou, where I was serving as United States ambassador to Upper Volta.  “Family” meant my wife Penny and our four children – Jeff, David, Susan, and John, born respectively in Managua, Djakarta, Fairfax, and Dakar.  Penny, from Alabama, had held Foreign Service assignments in Addis Ababa and Madrid before we met in a Department of State elevator in Washington in late 1953.  “Family” also meant my parents in Madison where I grew up – my father Chester V. Easum, Rhodes Scholar from Illinois and history professor at the University of Wisconsin, and my mother Norma B. Easum, piano recitalist and church organist.

Now known as Burkina Faso, this small West African country was among the world’s poorest.  Its population of five million was largely rural, dependent for survival on the annual harvest.  Identifying and implementing a U.S. national interest there was not easy. 

But our small State/AID/USIA team was determined to do its best.  Our tools consisted of a modest economic assistance program, cultural exchange and public information initiatives, and an enthusiastic Peace Corps contingent of seventy young Americans doing good works with their Voltan counterparts.  We had two excellent deputy chiefs of mission during this period – Pierce Bullen and wife Hélène succeeded Dick Matheron and wife Kay.  David Fields and then Tom Widenhouse were splendid administrative officers.  The United States Information Agency (USIA) could not have sent us a more skillful and versatile Public Affairs director than Stan Alpern.

Diplomatic party on Ambassador Easum’s crowded terrace in Ouagadougou

Our efforts and our judgments received consistent support from the Department’s Bureau for African Affairs, ably headed by Assistant Secretary David Newsom.  The Bureau accepted our country team’s unorthodox but certainly not maverick rejection of a proposed Marine Guard presence.  Although our volleyball and softball enthusiasts could have used some help, we saw no need for special protection of buildings or personnel.  Nor did we think any significant purpose would be served by the assignment of a sleuth or two who would prowl for ”intelligence information” of dubious utility.

Droughts are endemic in the African Sahel.  The sécheresse of that summer and the resulting famine were the most devastating of any in the recollection of our Voltan hosts.  Drought relief became the centerpiece of our mission.

Our embassy’s administrative staff organized truck transport to bring hundreds of tons of surplus U.S. sorghum to Ouagadougou from the Ghanaian port of Tema – a rough-road distance of 550 miles.  As chair of an emergency committee organized by Voltan President Lamizana, I persuaded the pilots and crews of two wandering Belgian Air Force C-130s to airdrop this grain for starving villagers.  The Washington Post ran a feature story by visiting reporter David Ottaway, including a photograph of a group of us trying to be helpful while sacks were being loaded into the aircraft on the Ouagadougou airstrip.  We were relieved Ottaway did not mention Stella Artois, the Belgian beverage of choice to be routinely consumed in considerable quantity in the cockpits.

The air drop
Belgian Air Force captain explains C-130 drought-relief airdrop technique to Voltan cabinet members, U.S. embassy personnel, and local journalists (Ambassador Easum on right) on Ouagadougou airstrip, August 1973.

I was subsequently decorated with a parchment awarded by Lamizana.  I was designated Commandeur de l’Ordre National, an honor I accepted on behalf of everyone who had contributed to the effort – including Peace Corps and Voltan Red Cross volunteers working alongside teenage members of embassy families spending the summer in “Ouaga” with their parents and younger siblings.

Four months later an out-of-the-blue telephone message from the State Department instructed me to meet with Henry Kissinger in New York as soon as possible.  The venue would be his hotel suite in The Pierre.  Although not told what to expect, I had a hunch our Ouagadougou days were over.  We would miss them.

After pleasantries, Kissinger asked, “How old are you?”  I told him I was his age.  He then suggested I might be interested in “doing something more useful than whatever you’ve been doing out there – in – where did you say? – just where is that?”  I assumed he knew.  I could not help but wonder whether Ottaway’s article had something to do with his wanting to see me.

Kissinger explained he was unimpressed by the talent he would inherit as he took on the responsibilities of Secretary of State for President Nixon – while retaining the role of the President’s National Security Advisor.  He rattled off a dozen positions for which he said he urgently needed top-caliber career Foreign Service Officers.

I told him I considered my previous experience inadequate for all but one of these jobs, but it would be an assignment I would not relish – that of Executive Secretary of the Department.  I said I had already served two years as a staff member in that office followed by appointments as Executive Secretary of the Agency for International Development (AID) and as Staff Director of the National Security Council’s Interdepartmental Group for Inter-American Affairs.   Kissinger countered, “Then how about a geographic bureau – Latin America or Africa?”

I pointed out that despite a year of graduate studies in Argentina, I didn’t come anywhere near knowing enough about the Latin American turf.  My only Foreign Service posting in the region had been a quick two years as a first-tour vice-consul in Managua in the mid-fifties. 

As for Africa, my experience was limited to what I had absorbed over the course of eight years in four small former French or British colonies in west Africa: Senegal, The Gambia, Niger and Upper Volta.  I said the areas of significant political concern for him and the Africa Bureau would be elsewhere.  They would importantly include the Horn of Africa, the Portuguese territories, Rhodesia, and above all South Africa and Namibia.  I suggested whomever he chose as Assistant Secretary for Africa should be already familiar with these arenas.  I warned him I was not.     

He said, “OK – go to Washington and talk with [Deputy National Security Advisor] Scowcroft – then go back to your post – my office will be in touch.”

A mildewed 1974 desk calendar indicates that January 22 was my first day on the job as de facto Assistant Secretary for African Affairs.  David Newsom, busy that morning preparing for his new assignment as ambassador to Indonesia, turned over to me his aging Volkswagen, his desk, and his Africa Bureau responsibilities with this caution: “Don, you’ll have to figure him out for yourself, but just remember: Kissinger will take custody of any bright ideas you and the Bureau may come up with.”  Then came a prescient alert: there was general Africa Bureau consensus, he warned, that favored a “more straightforward policy” of opposition to apartheid and support for decolonization.  He said I would have to work on this “with the Seventh Floor” – implying it might be a hard sell.

As for the bright ideas, it soon became evident that Kissinger didn’t want custody.  He ignored or rejected initiatives the Bureau considered important.  Figuring out how to deal with his lack of interest would become our first major challenge.

My debut in the big time took place barely a week later.  It was my first Kissinger staff meeting.  These sessions were held more or less monthly, often shoe-horned at the last minute into a schedule dictated by the Secretary’s globetrotting priorities.  They lasted roughly an hour.  Participants numbered from 12 to 20.  Kissinger played court jester, devil’s advocate, stage manager, prosecuting attorney, chief justice, chief guru – whatever best suited the moment as he saw it.  There was considerable laughter from the claque.

I had learned from Willard De Pree, African affairs specialist in the Department’s Office of Policy Planning, that the subject for discussion would be the U.S. need for renewed access to airport facilities at Lajes in the Azores.  These had proved critical in assuring our airlift to Israel during the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war.  De Pree told me that the Portuguese had now unveiled a spectacular quid pro quo: they would guarantee us Lajes if we would provide missiles they could use against insurgents in their African colonies.  The Portuguese demanded the transaction be made public. 

Our acceptance would violate Washington’s long-standing policy forbidding Lisbon to use any U.S.-supplied weapons in Africa. 

The issue struck home with me.  In February 1965, while serving as political officer in Dakar but additionally responsible for monitoring U.S. relations with The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, I had flown to Bissau to meet with Portuguese General Arnaldo Schultz, the Governor and Commander-in-Chief.  During our landing on the single-strip barbed-wire-surrounded airfield, I spotted half a dozen fighter planes parked along the runway’s edge.  I recognized them as North American F-86s of Korean War vintage.  I was good at identifying aircraft, having spent 1944-45 in U.S. Army Air Corps control towers in the Pacific theater.

Unnoticed by my Portuguese Air Force pilot, I managed to snap pictures.  I sent the negatives to the Africa Bureau upon my return to Dakar.  Seven years later, in January 1972, the Department publicly declared there was “no authenticated case” of Portugal’s use of U.S. fighter planes in Africa.  I cabled from Ouagadougou to remind the Bureau that Department files contained evidence of six such cases authentically sitting on a very authentic African runway.

So here I was on January 28, 1974 – in my first official engagement at that altitude – telling the Secretary of State that I foresaw serious protests if this deal with Portugal went through.  I mentioned the possibility of Nigerian cutbacks on oil exports to the United States, closure of Ethiopian and Kenyan ports to U.S. vessels, censure by the 44-nation Organization of African Unity (OAU), loss of votes in the United Nations, and shutdown of Peace Corps projects.  De Pree stoutly supported my concerns.  No one else spoke up.

Kissinger’s reaction set the tone. First the quip: “Are you telling me that shutting down the Peace Corps would be a bad thing?”  Then he said, “I recognize that the Africans won’t like any of it – but, you know, we don’t like some of the things that the Africans are doing either.”  He asked me whether the Senate had yet confirmed me.  I said no.  Then he concluded, “I told you what our choices are, and there is no sense looking at it only from the African point of view.  There is no justification of it from the African point of view.  This isn’t done to promote our African policy.”  End of discussion.  Beginning of hard times.

My Bureau colleagues were disappointed and puzzled when I had to tell them that Larry Eagleburger, Kissinger’s principal deputy, had been instructed by Kissinger to tell me I should not discuss the Azores question with anyone.  Concerning Drought Relief
The Senate confirmed me on February 27. At a staff meeting in late March, I spoke on the regional implications of the catastrophic droughts in West Africa.  Kissinger pitched excellent questions.  My time at bat was a difficult seven minutes.  But I knew about droughts and my responses seemed to register.  So far, so good – yet I felt like a recruit called up from the minors, vulnerable to being sent back down at any time.

Concerning Ethiopia
The staff meeting on April 22 tangled with the Ethiopian problem.  Two weeks earlier I had presented the issues in brief without challenge from the boss.  An urgent Ethiopian request for help appeared to have been prompted by Somali aggression in the disputed Ogaden region.   Now, with an Ethiopian army mutiny suddenly underway and with political and administrative chaos brewing in Addis Ababa, Kissinger pushed me hard on whether and how to increase our already substantial military assistance.  No one seemed to know what should be done.  Kissinger called for yet another meeting on Ethiopia to be held two days later in the White House Situation Room. 

Our agenda April 24 was threefold: 1) how could we expedite current military, economic and drought assistance commitments to Ethiopia, 2) what additional help could we provide, and 3) what military hardware might we ask Ethiopia to pay for. 

Only four State Department officers had been invited.  One was the talented Robert Keeley, newly assigned as alternate deputy director of our Africa Bureau’s East Africa office.  Other participants were Vice Admiral John Weinel from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, CIA Director William Colby, CIA Zaire specialist Larry Devlin, three civilians from the Department of Defense, and four members of the National Security Council including a Major General and a Lt. Colonel.  We had no ambassador in Addis at the time. 

After considerable but inconclusive discussion, Kissinger decided we should hold back any significant policy change until the Ethiopian political situation cleared.  We were still treading water a year later as unrest turned into revolution.  An ousted Emperor died under mysterious circumstances on August 27, 1975. 

Kissinger’s arms-for-Azores swap was stopped in its tracks by the military coup that wracked Lisbon on April 25, 1974, the day after our Ethiopian palaver.  The change of government brought a stunning end to the world’s last remaining colonial empire. Political repercussions would immediately and fundamentally affect our Bureau’s operations and priorities throughout sub-Saharan Africa. 

As spring moved into summer, it was more and more evident that our Bureau was not eliciting the kind of attention from our Secretary of State that we believed circumstances required.  Sharpening our sense of isolation was the late April defection of our North African desk officers (under instruction from the Seventh Floor), who would take up a different life-style in the Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs.  Goodbye to Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Sudan. 

Meanwhile, African ambassadors were being routinely rebuffed by Secretary Kissinger’s office even when seeking no more than a 15-minute get-acquainted conversation that they could relay to their home offices.  African permanent representatives to the United Nations and visiting African foreign ministers felt similarly neglected.

Leonard Kibinge, redoubtable Kenyan ambassador in Washington, was called back to Nairobi after five years of devoted service on behalf of Kenya’s relations with the United States.  Kissinger’s staff denied him a farewell call.  I said goodbye to him at Dulles Airport, giving him a sealed note “from the Secretary” that Kissinger’s office had asked me to hand over.  In Nairobi some years later, Kibinge told me he had torn it up.  He was by then a prominent manufacturer of textiles and a grower of tea and flowers for export.

We had noted Kissinger’s lack of interest in “black Africa” from the beginning of the year.  Now it began to look more like disdain.  We needed to shift some gears.

Our Bureau came up with a plan designed to help us address at closer hand and with greater confidence the immediate consequences of the Portuguese empire’s collapse and its longer-term significance for white rule in Rhodesia, South Africa and Namibia.

With concurrences from the Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research and the Office of Policy Planning, we devised a five-week string of visits I would undertake to southern African capitals.  My schedule would include participation in the October 24 celebration in Lusaka of the 10th anniversary of Zambian independence – to which I had received a personal invitation from Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda.

We asked our six ambassadors in southern Africa (Deane Hinton in Zaire, Jean Wilkowski in Zambia, Bob Stevenson in Malawi, Bev Carter in Tanzania, David Bolen in Botswana/Lesotho/Swaziland, and John Hurd in South Africa), plus consul generals Peter Walker in Mozambique and Tom Killoran in Angola, to prepare analyses of the administration’s Africa policies as seen from their respective vantage points.  We would then get together to brainstorm at a “mini” chiefs-of-mission conference that Ambassador Wilkowski would host in Lusaka November 3-4.  Additional perspective would be supplied by Roy Haverkamp, political officer monitoring African affairs from our embassy in London, and by Greg Kryza, head of the administrative office of our Bureau.

In pulling this plan together, we were fortunate to be able to draw on an experienced team that included deputy assistant secretaries (Ed Mulcahy, Jim Blake, Jack Foley, Chuck James), geographic office directors (Paul O’Neill, Walt Cutler, Wendell Coote), and public affairs specialist John Blane. 

During the week preceding my departure for Africa, Blane joined me for meetings in New York with each of the 30 African foreign ministers attending the United Nations General Assembly meeting.  Without exception, they expressed interest and said they would look forward to talking with us again after our consultations in Africa were completed.

The author, circa 1974

Our reasons for selecting the Zambian capital as the site for our discussions were in part geographic.  Lusaka was centrally located in view of Zambia’s sharing borders with six of the countries I would visit plus Rhodesia and Namibia.  Political and psychological factors also encouraged the choice.  President Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia’s first president, was open-minded about East/West issues when compared with Tanzania’s president Julius Nyerere, Zaire’s president Mobutu Sese Seko, and Mozambican leaders Samora Machel and Joaquim Chissano.  Meeting in Lusaka would suggest a U.S. commitment to a balanced stance regarding African-U.S. political relationships.

We also liked the symbolism of convening in the same city where the Lusaka Manifesto on Southern Africa had been signed.  This was the eloquent and visionary landmark document drafted in large part by Nyerere in 1968 and signed in Lusaka in August the following year by the presidents or prime ministers of 13 central and east African states.

The theme of the Manifesto is worth revisiting here: “The principle of human equality, and all that flows from it, is either universal or it does not exist. The dignity of all men is destroyed when the manhood of any human being is denied … It is on the basis of our commitment to human equality and human dignity, not on the basis of achieved perfection, that we take our stand of hostility toward the colonialism and racial discrimination which is being practiced in southern Africa.” 

Earlier in the year our Bureau had succeeded in arranging a meeting with Kissinger for Zambia’s energetic young foreign minister Vernon Mwaanga.  Mwaanga had served as ambassador to the Soviet Union at age 26.  We knew we could count on him, on Mark Chona (Kaunda’s right-hand man), and on Siteke Mwale (Zambia’s ambassador in Washington) to facilitate our Lusaka pow-wow. 

Joe Sisco, Under Secretary for Political Affairs, approved our game plan.  It remains unclear whether he informed Kissinger, who would later say he was unaware of my travels until he began receiving my daily reporting cables from the field.  Sisco told me Kissinger kept very close track once he learned what I was doing.  The Bureau was pleased to get his attention – one way or another.  We sought a richer dialogue with African leaders, who were increasingly peeved that the U.S. Secretary of State appeared indifferent to their concerns.  This would be a good beginning.  If my visit to southern African capitals and our chiefs of mission consultations in Lusaka produced significant results, we could consider following a similar pattern in other regions of the continent.

As we were winding up our preparations in Washington, Kissinger approved our proposal that President Ford meet at the White House October 11 with Mohamed Siad Barre, president of Somalia and of the Organization of African Unity.  We thought this flicker of Kissinger interest – probably sparked by Somalia having become the Soviet Union’s most important client in sub-Saharan Africa – could grow into something more substantial.  We hoped it would not turn out to have been a one-of-a-kind surprise.

In addition to writing the memorandum of conversation for the record, my responsibilities as escort officer for the Ford/Siad Barre meeting included discouraging the Somali leader from 1) smoking and 2) talking too much.  Successful on the first count; unsuccessful on the second.  President Ford, although attentive and friendly, had little to say. 

I visited ten African capitals and seven other African cities.  Included was the notorious Soweto ghetto, population one million.  I met with ten heads-of-state or prime ministers, eight foreign ministers, twelve liberation group leaders, and a wide selection of cabinet members and traditional chiefs, politicians and teachers, journalists and clergymen, lawyers and businessmen, and labor leaders and farmers.  The trek began October 19 in Zaire and ended November 23 in Angola.

The three principal nationalist organizations struggling for power in Angola were the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA), the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).  Further complicating the scene was the French-supported FLEC (Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda) operating in a small enclave north of Angola. 

Concerning FNLA
Ambassador Hinton and I spent three hours in Kinshasa October 19 with FNLA head Holden Roberto.  Our conversation took place in the home of Larry Devlin, CIA station chief in Zaire (Democratic Republic of the Congo) in the early sixties.  Roberto wore dark glasses indoors, very dark.  We couldn’t see his eyes.

Related to Zaire’s president Mobutu through marriage, Roberto was Mobutu’s personal choice to head an independent Angola.  He was known to be corrupt, ineffective as a leader, and in Mobutu’s pocket.  He represented the Bakongo ethnic group in northern and northwestern Angola where a 500-mile border was shared with Zaire.  He branded MPLA chief Agostinho Neto “a Communist tool of the whites and the Soviet bloc” and said the FNLA would resume hostilities in two months if Portugal did not take up earnest negotiations toward independence.  He claimed UNITA’s Jonas Savimbi was an opportunist whom he would never trust. 

Hinton and I then met with Daniel Chipenda, an ambitious Ovimbundu leader claiming to head a key faction in Neto’s MPLA and reportedly favored by Zambian president Kaunda.  Chipenda made a point of telling us Savimbi had accepted his invitation to come to Kinshasa to discuss strategies.  Chipenda would subsequently drop the MPLA and join the FNLA.

Three days later Mobutu hosted Hinton and me for lunch in his residence in Lubumbashi 1000 miles southeast from Kinshasa, close to the border with Zambia.  He said his “gravest concern” for Zaire was what was happening in Angola.  He stressed as essential for Zaire’s future the immediate provision of assistance for a million Angolan refugees who were exerting critical pressures on already scarce farmland, schools and hospitals in southern Zaire.  It was clear he expected the United States to underwrite his support, military and otherwise, of Roberto and the FNLA.

Hinton and I enjoyed the French-language press conference that followed.  But popular feature writer Massamba-di-Kelo wrote in TAIBA the next morning that my visit to Zaire and then nine other countries should result in greater U.S. support for Mobutu’s leadership throughout southern Africa.  I had suggested no such possibility.

Concerning MPLA 
A month later, November 22, consul general Tom Killoran was my host in Luanda.  With Neto out of the country, it was Lucio Lara, Neto’s closest aide, who received us.  Lara insisted that although the MPLA “contained Marxist members” and had benefited from assistance from “the socialist countries,” it had not “mortgaged its independence of action.”  He criticized the FNLA for recent violation of ceasefire agreements.

Expressing concern about “the activities of some U.S. organizations” on behalf of “certain political groups” in Angola, Lara said he would be pleased to keep in touch with us.  I recalled Neto’s telling me in Lusaka during the Zambian anniversary ceremonies that he could not understand why the United States did not recognize the MPLA as the lead candidate for leadership of Angola’s nationalist struggle.  Killoran told me he was convinced that the MPLA was the best qualified of the various movements.  The MPLA controlled Luanda and a major portion of central Angola, which shared 600 miles of northern and eastern border with Zaire and 250 with Zambia.

Concerning UNITA
Killoran and I received a five-man UNITA delegation that wanted to make certain we knew their movement was national, multiracial, and “the most authentic” of the various Angolan liberation groups.  The quintet said they represented the largest ethnic group in the country, the Ovimbundu, who occupied Angola’s central highlands and southern provinces and shared 400 miles of eastern frontier with Zambia and 700 of southern frontier with Namibia. They said the only reason their leader Jonas Savimbi had not shown up for our discussion was that he was “abroad” rounding up support.

Concerning FLEC and Others
Gulf Oil had a $300 million stake in Cabinda, the small Angolan enclave bordering the Congo and Zaire.  The OAU and the international community considered Cabinda part of Angola.  Its suitors were many.  Neto and the MPLA, Mobutu and guerrillas in Roberto’s FNLA, French mercenaries from FLEC, and the Congolese president Marien Ngouabi – all had designs on the Cabinda oil fields, off-shore as well as on-shore.

Whom To Support
Admiral Rosa Coutinho, the soon-to-depart Portuguese High Commissioner in Luanda, confided that Mobutu was pressuring him to allow the FNLA to build up military forces in Luanda.  I recalled Mobutu had told Hinton and me that Roberto had received 340 tons of Chinese rockets for use against the MPLA.  Open warfare in Luanda between the MPLA and FNLA could be anticipated.

The Admiral remarked that Tanzania’s president Nyerere was the only African leader capable of inducing the liberation groups to “come together and work for a common goal.”  He said Kaunda’s interest in Angola “shifts with the winds.”  Although personally partial toward the MPLA, the Admiral cautioned that some kind of unity or understanding among rival organizations would be essential.  Meanwhile his most urgent task was to create an Angolan army.  Without it, he said, “Chaos will ensue upon departure of Portuguese forces.” 

These conversations in Kinshasa, Lubumbashi and Luanda fortified my belief that the United States should not choose sides among rival groups squabbling for control of Angola’s transition to independence.  This had been the consensus of the two-day conference of our chiefs of mission that began November 3 in Lusaka.  Two days after the conference President Nyerere made a forceful presentation to our chargé d’affaires Gordon Beyer in Dar-es-Salaam, urging that we stay clear of the competing movements seeking our favor.

Malawi was the third of the ten countries I was visiting.   Ambassador Stevenson and I met with president Hastings Banda October 27, 1974 at a reception on the grounds of the presidential residence in Blantyre.  We sat in those heavy upholstered chairs and sofas assigned to visiting VIPs and carried to garden terraces by household stewards.

Malawi’s “president for life,” Dr. Hastings Banda, jokes with ambassadors Robert Stevenson and Don Easum, October 1974.


Earlier in the day we had heard Banda address Parliament with a lengthy presentation, full of self-praise and punctuated by his trademark phrase – “beyond any shadow of a doubt and without any fear of contradiction.”  He had little reason to fear that any of his subjects would dare contradict him.  He had led his country to independence from the United Kingdom in 1964, and declared himself President in 1965.  His Malawi Congress Party named him “President for Life” in 1970, and a year later took the precaution of upgrading him to “President for the Life of Malawi.”  Nevertheless, in his determination to maintain control and order at any cost, Banda ran a police state that monitored churches, controlled school curricula, banned television, censored radio and publications, and ignored habeas corpus when convenient.

Banda held the office until 1994.  He died three years later.  It was generally believed he was 97 years old but rumors continued to suggest he was really 101.  Adulation kept him going – brightly dressed women would dance and ululate and sing his praise – he would wave his famous flywhisk wand.

I explained the purpose of my visit to southern African capitals.  In response, Banda made a point of reminding us that Malawi was the only African country maintaining an embassy in South Africa.  He referred proudly to the role he claimed Malawi was playing on behalf of the Front Line states and their rejection of South African apartheid. 

As for Malawi’s relationship with neighboring Mozambique, Banda nodded in the direction of a small cluster of visitors who seemed separate from most other guests – “you should go over there and talk with them – they are freedom fighters from Mozambique – we just give them safe haven when they need it.”  Stevenson and I later learned that these were mercenaries supported not only by Banda but also by the South African government. Within a few months the formation of RENAMO (Resistência Nacional Moçambicana) was announced.  By the early 1980s its war with FRELIMO (Front for the Liberation of Mozambique) was at full speed.

Blantyre as seat of government would soon give way to Lilongwe 120 miles to the north.  Stevenson and I drove there to explore the site of our eventual embassy office building, staff housing, and ambassador’s residence.

I predicted that my most rewarding adventures during these five weeks could well turn out to be my meetings in Dar es Salaam with Samora Machel, leader of FRELIMO, and in Lourenço Marques with acting Prime Minister Joaquim Chissano.  The contrast between these two leaders of a new Mozambique and the scrum of power seekers in Angola on the other side of the continent could hardly have been more striking.

Meeting with Samora Machel
When we met in Lusaka during Zambia’s 10th anniversary celebrations in late October, President Nyerere had suggested I talk with Machel.  It was in FRELIMO’s small office in Lusaka that U.S. ambassador Wilkowski, Zambian foreign minister Vernon Mwaanga, and FRELIMO’s information chief Jorge Rebelo discussed Nyerere’s proposal the morning after the Lusaka celebrations ended.  Wilkowski had already raised the idea during a brief interchange with Machel.  Nyerere and Ambassador Carter worked out final arrangements in Dar es Salaam with Sérgio Vieira, personal secretary to Machel.

As a result of such nimble diplomacy in high places, Carter and I enjoyed an intriguing evening session with Machel October 30 at the Mozambique Institute in Dar es Salaam.  The Institute was the channel for international assistance to FRELIMO’s health and education programs.  Several press commentaries would later refer to Kissinger’s uneasiness about our seeing Machel “without permission.”  I had kept State Department officials fully informed.  They easily could have told me to lay off.  They said nothing.  What I did made sense. 

Machel launched our discussion with an explanation of FRELIMO’s “deep resentment against the U.S. for its support for Portugal and its opposition to decolonization in Africa in general.”  Carter and I explained that we hoped our relationship with Portugal would be viewed in the framework of our role in the NATO alliance.  Machel replied he was not prepared to say he understood the U.S. position, but he declared emphatically we should “let bygones be bygones” and substitute collaboration for the misunderstandings and hostilities of the past. 

Machel stressed the need for urgent assistance in attacking Mozambique’s immense problems of financial and economic recovery.  Such outreach would be the responsibility of Prime Minister Chissano at FRELIMO’s interim government headquarters in Lourenço Marques.  I suggested I meet with Chissano.  Machel said he would ask for the green light and let me know.  

In our reporting telegram Carter and I summarized results of our two-hour meeting as “providing Machel with the opportunity to air long-held criticisms of USG with a high ranking Department official and the opportunity for those criticisms to be put in proper perspective.  The exchange seemed to furnish a good base for a new relationship.  USG was asked to provide immediate and substantial assistance to the transition government.”

Meeting with Joaquim Chissano
Machel obtained and sent me Chissano’s approval for my visit to Mozambique.  I had given the Africa Bureau 19 days of notice.  In the afternoon of November 19 I flew to Lourenço Marques from Mbabane, Swaziland’s capital – in a twin-engine Cessna chartered by our embassy and piloted by a South African.  My meeting with Swazi King Sobhuza had been cancelled when he took to the mountains to pray for rain.  His staff asked me to write him a note.  I did so.  The 45-minute flight featured stunning cloudbanks overhanging an impressive mountain range.  I wondered whether I was looking down on His Majesty.  I wished him well.  I was later informed it had rained.

Prime Minister Chissano turned up the next morning with an impressive transition government team of young and older ministers – Mário da Graça Machungo, economic coordination; Alcântara Santos, transport and communications; Eugénio Picolo, public works; Dr. António Paulino, health; and Gideon Ndobe, education.  A former Portuguese Air Force colonel would handle military issues.  Presentations were to be devoted primarily to Mozambique’s financial crisis and massive relief and infrastructural needs, but Chissano wanted first to “put our meeting in a broader context.” 

Here’s a portion of the report Consul General Walker and I sent to Washington.  Thanks are due to consular officer Randy Reed who served as interpreter.  He was newly arrived from an assignment in Rio de Janeiro. 

Chissano stated in moderate but frank terms that for 10 years he and his colleagues in FRELIMO had conducted a struggle for independence, which they felt the United States had obstructed.  As a result the US had an image amongst FRELIMO leaders that was quite negative.  Chissano noted our meeting was a break with the past that entailed a major political step and risk for FRELIMO, which would be subject to criticism from those of its friends who had stood by it during difficult days.  Those friends would no doubt point to the fact that the first high official of a major power received by the FRELIMO-led government was an American.  Nevertheless, what was important was future relations, and it was in that context that his government welcomed my visit and looked forward to our collaboration in the future.

I told Chissano that upon my return to Washington I would find out whether State/AID’s Working Group on assistance to former Portuguese territories could send a team to assess recovery and development requirements.  Such an action would gibe very nicely with our strategies regarding Mozambique as discussed in our chiefs of mission deliberations two weeks earlier in Lusaka.  We had received nothing from Washington instructing us otherwise. 

I met with local press that afternoon.  Notícias, Notícias da Beira, A Tribuna and Radio Club of Mozambique carried the story the next morning with virtually no editorializing. 

That evening the Portuguese High Commissioner, Admiral Vitor Crespo, hosted a dinner in my honor. The following morning, November 21, Mayor Massavanhane treated me to a tour of the city prior to my departure for Luanda 1600 miles to the northwest on the South Atlantic Ocean coast.

I had spent the better part of November 7 in rewarding meetings in Gaborone with Botswana’s popular first president, Sir Seretse Khama II, and key members of his cabinet.  Sir Seretse had been trained in law in London following studies at the University of Fort Hare in South Africa and Balliol College, Oxford.  His decency, integrity, and enlightened leadership throughout his presidency (1966-1980), augmented by the influence of his English wife Ruth Williams, had become major factors backstopping Botswana’s efforts to present itself as a model of non-racial multi-party democracy in southern Africa.  He skillfully oversaw Botswana’s transition to an export-rich economy based on copper, beef and diamonds.  He insisted that income be reinvested at home in health, education and infrastructure.  As for the international arena, he was an effective contributor to the work of the Front Line states in bringing an end to the civil war in Rhodesia.

Sir Seretse told me he was surprised and pleased by what he had seen and heard about my discussions with his counterparts in the region.  Following a lengthy give-and-take concerning Botswana’s role in the area and his hopes for continued U.S. support, he took special pains to wish me well in my upcoming discussions in South Africa.  He said he would be watching and listening. 

Meetings with Vice President Quett Masire and Minister of Mineral Resources and Water Affairs Segokgo were followed by a dinner reception hosted by Foreign Minister Archie Mogwe in the National Assembly hall.  Reporters from Cape Town’s Argus, the Rand Daily Mail, and the influential conservative South Africa Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) joined local journalists for the press conference. The Botswana Daily News the next morning front-paged its friendly summary with headline “U.S. ‘Mr. Africa’ favours dialogue with SA.”  The customary photograph shows External Affairs Secretary Mbiganyi Tibone with Ambassador David Bolen, Deputy Chief of Mission Sam Thomsen, and Easum.  All are smiling.  Why not?

Two days later Ambassador Bolen cabled the following comment to the Department: “Assistant Secretary Easum was warmly and cordially received here.  His visit made a major contribution in promoting better understanding of U.S. policies and actions on southern African issues and in demonstrating U.S. interest in Botswana’s development.”

The Republic of South Africa shares with Botswana an 800-mile border that Gaborone comes close to straddling.  The Botswana example of civil liberties virtually next door was increasingly difficult for white South Africans to ignore, and increasingly tempting for black South Africans to demand.

And now for South African Prime Minister Balthazar Johannes Vorster – Ambassador Hurd and I met with him in Pretoria on November 15, 1974.  Our discussion would be the capstone of a five-day series of exchanges with key South African personalities in Cape Town, Pretoria, Johannesburg, Soweto, and Durban.  Among them were Zulu leader Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi and Bureau of State Security boss General Hendrik van den Bergh.  The first was charming; the second was a J. Edgar Hoover type – head shaved – no fun to talk with.

As a starter, I explained to Vorster that Ambassador Hurd and I would not be in his office that morning had not six of his “fellow African heads of state” and Samora Machel encouraged me to seek the appointment.  I said President Nyerere had suggested I remind him of the Lusaka Manifesto.  Vorster was familiar with the text – Hurd and I sensed it made him uncomfortable. I told him that South Africa and its policies on apartheid, on Namibia, and on Rhodesia represented issues of priority concern for the African leaders with whom I had met (Mobutu excepted, given his preoccupation with Angola and “his” FNLA). I outlined U.S. views and said I would welcome his comments. 

Vorster began with an expression of appreciation for the U.S. veto of the expulsion of South Africa from the United Nations.  France and the United Kingdom had cast similar votes. As anticipated, Vorster was stern and stubborn on internal issues.  He insisted that his recent pledge of change “within six to twelve months” related only to external affairs.  He ruled out any flexibility concerning the structures of apartheid or “separate development;” he would “countenance no pressures from the outside.”  In “white South Africa” there would be white rule.  Within the homelands, there would be black majority rule.  Only in those homelands would blacks be able to vote or own property or businesses.

Concerning Namibia (he of course called it South West Africa), Vorster maintained South Africa had “fulfilled its mandate from the League of Nations.”  While he did not think a timetable could yet be set for Namibian independence, he assured us he would accept “any government that represents the decision of the peoples concerned.”  He said, “All options are open.”

Hurd and I saw little point in mentioning South Africa’s snub of the United Nations decision declaring South African occupation illegal and calling for immediate withdrawal.  Nor did we raise South Africa’s brutal responses to the expanding guerrilla liberation front of the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO). I told Vorster that President Kaunda had asked me to urge that South Africa’s withdrawal from Namibia be “graceful” rather than contentious or violent.   Vorster’s response was to warn “if South Africa were to leave the area tomorrow, there would be chaos…we will not abandon our responsibilities.”

On Rhodesia, Vorster said he was trying his best to move Prime Minister Ian Smith to the conference table.  He said “South African police” were in Rhodesia to “prevent terrorists from infiltrating South Africa.”  He acknowledged that the behavior of his African neighbors “was improving” but he wanted to make it clear that “violence will be met with violence.”  Hurd and I found him troubled, tense, and neither gracious nor rude.

In the last of several telegrams reporting this conversation to Washington, I included the following personal reaction: “A conversation with Prime Minister Vorster can hardly be anyone’s idea of family entertainment.  It is more like an x-rated movie.  I leave [South Africa] with one salient overriding impression . . . that is, of a political and social system that condemns four-fifths of the population to a catch-22 kind of police-state system that can only be viewed as utterly repugnant to human dignity in the twentieth century.  It cannot avoid being increasingly subject to internal and external assault.”

Our chiefs-of-mission discussions in Lusaka had produced the following consensus concerning the apartheid question:

The talk of basic change in the internal policies of South Africa and U.S. ability to influence change must be viewed with caution.  Nonetheless, while U.S. leverage with the SAG is limited, it may not be as limited as we think it is, particularly after our recent participation in the veto of its expulsion from the UN.  The SAG values its relationship with the U.S. and may realize that it needs us more than we do it.  For these reasons we believe A) that we should continue our present policies of making clear, in particular, our unequivocal aversion and opposition to South Africa’s racially discriminatory apartheid policies, our continuation of the arms embargo, ban on naval visits, Ex-Im Bank limitations, and limitations on trade and investment promotion, and B) that we should weigh in more heavily and broadly with the SAG, when we have a basis and interest for doing so, in an attempt to encourage them to alter and improve their racial policies to the end that there will be significant movement toward equal economic, political and social opportunity for all racial groups.

Neither the above statement nor our other reporting telegrams brought significant reaction from the Department.  We assumed all was well.  A similar lack of response greeted the collective views of our six ambassadors and two consul generals regarding policy concerning Namibia and Rhodesia; Ambassador Hurd had cabled them to the Department from Cape Town on November 11.  I felt justified in drawing on these points in dealing with African leaders and the press during my remaining days in southern Africa.

At mid-point during my ten days in South Africa, I travelled by car from Bloemfontein across the border into Lesotho, a poverty-stricken mountainous nation encircled by South Africa.  Ambassador Bolen joined me for a meeting with Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan in the capital city of Maseru.  Of royal lineage, Prince Jonathan had been appointed Prime Minister upon Lesotho’s achievement of independence from Great Britain in 1966. 

Prince Jonathan was outspoken in his criticism of the big country surrounding his little one and its population of only 1 million.  He said that to his dismay 120,000 Lesotho mine laborers in South Africa who until recently were sending good money back home were now facing poverty as a result of South Africans taking their jobs.  As anticipated, he asked us for major increases in development assistance.  He turned us over to his Minister of Finance, Sekhonyana, who pleaded for help in hotel management, training of mobile police units, job creation in the agricultural sector, control of soil erosion, and improvement of the water supply.  We said the State Department’s Africa Bureau and AID would be pleased to review any such requests if submitted within the context of Lesotho’s five-year national plan.


Several days before I left South Africa for Swaziland and then on to Mozambique, Rhodesia’s diplomatic representative in Pretoria informed South African Foreign Affairs Secretary Fourie that “Salisbury” was interested in talking with me before I got too far away.  Rhodesia was not on my itinerary.  In putting the question to Hurd, Fourie pledged every effort to keep word of any such invitation from leaking to the press.  Hurd and I relayed the query to Under Secretary Sisco, along with the usual pro-and-con options.  We told him we came down on the negative side.  So did he.

Throughout my African travels the journalists I encountered were omnipresent, aggressive, and generally friendly. They posed sharp questions.  They quoted me accurately – usually.  Headlines were more problematic – often.

On November 2 Cape Town’s Argus carried my statement in Dar-es-Salaam that “we are using our influence to foster change in South Africa, not preserve the status quo.”  Argus repeated a Dar es Salaam headline, “Majority Rule in SA is U.S. Aim,” and noted my remark that the U.S. and Tanzania shared common goals for southern Africa but differed on tactics.  I affirmed U.S. acceptance of the United Nations call for withdrawal of South African police and armed personnel from Rhodesia.  A day later the Sunday Times of Zambia quoted my view, with a photo, that “SA must change.”  On November 4 the Johannesburg Star front-paged my guess that South African unwillingness to push Rhodesia to accept a constitutional settlement could weaken support for keeping South Africa in the United Nations.

Nearly every journalist we encountered outside South Africa asked why the U.S. continued to tolerate the Byrd Amendment’s exemption of Rhodesian chromium from U.S. sanctions against the Ian Smith regime. Responding November 8 to a reporter from the Botswana Daily News, I said, “The principal obstacle to effective negotiations between the Portuguese government and the liberation movements of Angola is disagreements between the several liberation movements.”

A front-page story November 15 by Fleur De Villiers in the Pretoria News covered my 75-minute session with Prime Minister Vorster earlier that morning.  On the same day the Durban Daily News cited my expression of U.S. concern over South African banning and detentions without trial.  Johannesburg’s Rand Daily Mail offered a front-page photo of the dinner where I was guest of honor in Soweto’s Dube Village. Reporters and other Sowetans pressed me so aggressively into one of the room’s corners that a careless cigarette burned a hole in my jacket. 

In a Pretoria press conference I repeated what Prime Minister Vorster had told me concerning keeping all options open regarding the UN demand that South Africa permit Namibia to choose its separate way.  It would be 14 years before South Africa would make good on that promise.

I left Africa for Washington on November 23, departing Luanda at midnight on South African Airways to refuel in Lisbon.  The previous evening the English Service of the government-supported SABC in Johannesburg had aired an unusual editorial entitled “AN HONEST BROKER.”  SABC’s Radio Port Natal in Durban and the Afrikaans-language Springbok Radio followed suit with the same text early the following morning.  Following are excerpts from the broadcasts:

Mr. Donald Easum…has now completed his ten-nation tour of this sub-continent…His visit has contributed to the prospect of detente in Southern Africa and to better understanding by the American Administration of the Republic’s policies and objectives…what was significant was his frankness on key issues.  He said that his Government supported the position that South Africa’s presence in South West Africa was illegal, and that sovereignty over Rhodesia resided in the United Kingdom…Asked whether he believed that South Africa could move away from discrimination, his answer shot out monosyllabically – YES!  Asked what his feeling was about an improvement of relations within Southern Africa, he replied: ‘I am optimistic.’… It seems certain that Mr. Easum’s visit will lead to a thorough-going reappraisal of Washington’s attitudes to this part of the world…America should act as honest broker between the races of the sub-continent.  With no little panache, that role Mr. Easum is performing.

Less than a week after my return to the Department the same friendly SABC trio was heard from once again.  This time their editorial was entitled “AN ADVANCE BY MR. EASUM.”  They had obtained the text of the “Lusaka Manifesto Revisited” address that I delivered November 26 in Lexington, Kentucky.  The occasion of my speech was a “Black America and Africa” symposium at the University of Kentucky’s Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce.  In my remarks I reflected on my just-completed trip through southern Africa; I explained my conclusion that it was in our interest to make the principles articulated in the Manifesto a feature of U.S. policy toward Africa.

My SABC admirers announced they liked my presentation because it dealt with the “separate development” policy for the homelands in a fashion they considered informative and fair.  The Africa Bureau’s Office of Public Affairs, directed by Ambassador Jack Linehan, had cleared my text with various offices in the Department but felt no need to seek Seventh Floor approval.

The day after my presentation in Lexington, Ambassador Bolen in Gaborone reviewed its main points with Sir Seretse Khama, who “expressed appreciation for such a forthcoming U.S. statement on southern Africa and said he would study the speech with great interest.”  Botswana Foreign Minister Mogwe told Bolen that Easum “had shown unusual grasp of subtleties of southern African problems during his visit to Botswana and in his press statements and interviews during his trips around southern Africa.”  Mogwe volunteered that the Lexington speech “would be helpful in dealing with southern African problems.”  I hoped Nyerere was pleased as the Manifesto’s principal drafter.

In July 1980 Sir Seretse died of pancreatic cancer.  I had the sad good fortune to attend the bereavement ceremonies in Gaborone – some 40,000 mourners were said to have participated – and to spend a long cool night around a huge bonfire in the company of women singing Anglican hymns in English and traditional songs of farewell in the languages and harmonies of the region.  They welcomed someone who could sing bass in the hymns.  I felt a special link with Sir Seretse.  He was 59 years old.  He was buried in the Khama family graveyard–on a hill.

Officially, no one in the Department was talking.  But my Bureau colleagues had a notion of what was underway.  Charged by the Seventh Floor as guilty of too much attention from the press, too much regard for African opinion, and too much initiative in the policy arena, Easum was in trouble.  His days as Assistant Secretary would now most surely be numbered.   

On November 25, my second day back at my desk and the day before my presentation in Lexington, Kissinger’s senior deputy Robert Ingersoll called me to his office to describe – but not explain – “some personnel changes the Secretary has decided to make.” 

John Reinhardt, our ambassador in Nigeria, would be brought back home to assume responsibility for the Department’s Bureau of Public Affairs.  The occupant of that position, Ambassador Carol Laise, would be “moved up” to take over as Director General of the Foreign Service.  The incumbent, Ambassador Nathaniel Davis, would take my place as Assistant Secretary for African Affairs.  And I would go to Lagos.  I was not interested in asking Ingersoll what lay behind these maneuvers.  I knew enough.  There would be no trial. 

Kissinger may have thought the Davis-for-Easum switch would provoke no controversy.  After all, Lagos was considered an important assignment; Cairo and Pretoria were our only other Class One posts on the African continent.

The author (on trumpet) on the Ambassador’s veranda in Lagos

Meanwhile, the promising opening toward Mozambique brought about by my meetings with Machel and Chissano had been slammed shut.  Kissinger had decided we must leave such matters to the Portuguese.  This made no sense to me.  I asked him to reconsider – our Working Group was ready, the Africa Bureau keen, funding available, Congressional support virtually certain, the new government in Maputo eager, and Lisbon relieved to see others pick up some of the burden.  Kissinger said no.  Case closed?  I thought the proposal still had a chance if I could persuade Art Hartman (Assistant Secretary for European Affairs since January) and Frank Carlucci (who had just been named Ambassador to Portugal) to take a look at it. I talked with each of them – to no avail.

Lost was a great opportunity to join others in supporting Mozambique’s beginnings as an independent nation with open borders with South Africa, to help nudge Mozambique’s political inclinations in the direction of democratic governance, and to signal that the United States was not unwilling to befriend and do business with a “leftist” regime. 

The Working Group never left home.  The best I could manage was the following feeble sentence in my testimony December 12 before the Africa Subcommittee of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs: “FRELIMO and the transitional government are hopeful that the United States government will help them meet the economic and financial challenges their new nation faces.”   

Ambassador Davis wanted to visit Maputo shortly after taking over the Bureau in April 1975.  Chissano turned him down.  He was similarly rebuffed by Nigeria, Ghana and Zaire. 

It would be a year later, in early May 1976, that Kissinger’s and Chissano’s paths crossed for the first time.  Kissinger reports in Years of Renewal that they met in Nairobi during a meeting of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.  According to other sources, Kissinger asked Chissano for an invitation to Maputo.  Chissano passed the request to Machel.  Machel said no.  I do not believe Kissinger and Machel ever met.

By the time I left Washington for my new assignment in Lagos – in March 1975 – the U.S. press had given substantial coverage to the termination of my assignment as Assistant Secretary and the advent of Nat Davis as my successor. 

The journalists’ general thesis made sense: African leaders preferred someone they knew as contrasted with someone who had spent little time on their continent and about whom they knew very little beyond his purported involvement in the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile.  Davis had been ambassador to Chile for the period October 1971 to October 1973.  The coup d’état in Santiago, to be followed shortly thereafter by Allende’s death, took place September 11, 1973.

Davis Proposes He Withdraw
Davis informed Kissinger of his doubts concerning the wisdom of his taking my place.  He pointed out that he agreed with a number of my views and was not confident he could satisfy Kissinger “where Easum apparently had not.”  He cabled Kissinger (who was out of Washington at the time) that heading the Africa Bureau was not a responsibility he would seek “under the circumstances.”  Kissinger would not be deterred.

The OAU Challenges the Davis Appointment
On February 20, 1975, the Organization of African Unity released from its headquarters in Addis Ababa a “general consensus” resolution attacking the Davis nomination.  On the following day the Washington Post published David Ottaway’s dispatch from the Ethiopian capital regarding the resolution’s possible consequences.  Ottaway, who had filed the drought-relief airdrop story from Ouagadougou in late 1973, ended his report with the following:

There could be a sharp deterioration in American-African relations, which are already poor, partly because of what Africans see as Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger’s general indifference so far toward the affairs of this continent…Rep. Charles C. Diggs (D-Mich.), chairman of the House subcommittee on Africa, has strongly opposed Davis’ appointment and told Kissinger in a letter that his appointment to the State Department’s top Africa post is ‘pure folly.’  Zaire President Mobutu Sese Seko, one of the most pro-American leaders in Africa, has taken the lead among African leaders in opposing Davis’s appointment and speaking out against his nomination.

The same day that the Ottaway article appeared, commentator and journalist Carl Rowan joined the fray with the following:

If Kissinger and President Ford insist on pushing this appointment through, it will be tantamount to saying to every African foreign minister: ‘Who cares what you think?’  It was a mistake for Kissinger to oust Donald Easum as Assistant Secretary for Africa in the first place.  Easum knows Africa and has the respect and trust of African leaders.  It will be something close to diplomatic insanity for the Ford administration to insist on cramming Davis down the throats of the Africans.

Kissinger Fights Back
Kissinger responded to the OAU’s protest with an angry cable instructing our chiefs of mission in African capitals to immediately inform their host governments that it was the U.S. Secretary of State, not Africans, who determine the assignments of U.S. Foreign Service officers.  A number of our ambassadors found this mandatory scolding unseemly, distasteful and counter-productive.  For most of the African recipients of the lecture, it was the first time Kissinger had paid them any attention.  And for most of them it was the last.

And Now the Congressional Black Caucus, Colin Legum and Others
The Congressional Black Caucus called a press conference February 26, releasing a statement taking sharp issue with Kissinger’s message to the OAU.  It charged him with arrogance and insensitivity and argued that Davis would not receive “the trust and cooperation” from African countries that an assistant secretary of the Africa Bureau would need.   

Three weeks after the OAU announcement and Kissinger’s riposte, the London Observer released a commentary by Colin Legum, veteran South African journalist and editor of the esteemed Africa Contemporary Record.  Following are portions of his March 11 piece entitled “Kissinger and Black Africa Reach Impasse.”

The United States and Africa have reached a diplomatic impasse over the decision of the US Secretary of State, Dr. Henry Kissinger, to appoint Nathaniel Davis as the new Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in place of Donald Easum, whom he roughly dismissed from that post after statements he had made during an extensive visit to southern Africa at the end of last year…Kissinger predictably reacted by reminding his African critics that the choice of officials and diplomats is a ‘function of American sovereignty.’… He has made a number of blunders which – whatever his achievements in the Middle East – count against him personally in Africa, a continent he knows little about and about which he appears to care even less… So the problem of American relations with Africa may not just be over whether Nathaniel Davis goes or stays at his Africa desk in the State Department, but whether Kissinger himself can be persuaded to see the past errors of his reading of the African situation.

For months the controversy Kissinger had expected to avoid refused to fade.  Among other publications questioning his decisions on Africa policy were the Washington Star, Washington Post, Washington Afro-American, New York Times, Atlanta Constitution, Christian Science Monitor, Philadelphia Bulletin, Baltimore Sun, Los Angeles Times, Louisville Courier-General, Wisconsin State Journal, Arizona Republic, Stars and Stripes, International Herald Tribune, and the magazines Africa Report, West Africa, African Development, and Jeune-Afrique.

And then there was the headline that appeared March 19 in the Capital Times back in my hometown – Madison.  My mother telephoned me.  She had been startled to read “Easum Loses Tilt With Kissinger.”  She felt I should have been able somehow to avoid such unpleasant notice.  Jack Anderson in Washington . the article

Kenneth Kaunda was Zambia’s president from independence in 1964 until 1991.  He paid a formal visit to Washington April 18-20, 1975.  At the state dinner at the White House he broke protocol and custom with a long and emotional toast expressing his concern that the United States was insufficiently supportive of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, of the independence struggle in the former Portuguese territories and Namibia, and of the liberation struggle in Zimbabwe.  He warned that “racial war lies ahead in southern Africa – the U.S. must exert itself positively and energetically to help avert such a catastrophe.”

In early March 2009 I had the good fortune to spend two hours with President Kaunda in Lusaka.  In addition to maintaining a lively interest and considerable clout in his country’s political struggles, he is active in charity work through the Kenneth Kaunda Children of Africa Foundation that he launched in 2003 to assist HIV/AIDS orphans.  In 1986 he had lost a 34-year-old son to HIV/AIDS.  In 1999 thugs believed to be on a political mission assassinated another of his sons, aged 47.

We saw the “father of the country” in his office in the verdant Lusaka suburbs.  He had just returned from a week of fund-raising in Nigeria.  Mark Chona, his brilliant long-time political advisor whom I had known since 1980, joined us.
Kaunda recalled well his visit to Washington in the spring of 1975.  And he remembered the Africa Bureau’s “mini” chiefs of mission confab in Lusaka in 1974. He spoke poignantly of how easy it could have been for Kissinger, despite his initial ignorance, indifference and condescension, to win African hearts and minds. While he was eager to talk about the Carter years, he declined any comment on the operation in Angola against the MPLA.

In parting, Kaunda and I sang a little farewell melody to each other that was more or less in tune despite our ad lib temptations.  It was the alphabet song familiar to children around the globe, aka “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and sometimes attributed to Mozart.  Then we joshed about possibilities for his guitar and my trumpet the next time around.  He is only 86.

Throughout the second half of 1974 our Africa Bureau and I had been successful in forestalling Seventh Floor consideration of a CIA recommendation for assistance to Holden Roberto and the FNLA in Angola.  The Agency waited until early spring 1975 to take its case to a higher level, by which time I was on my way to my new posting in Lagos.  Nat Davis’s view of Kissinger’s expanded proposal to send covert military support to the FNLA differed very little from mine.  He argued it would soon become public knowledge – and would almost certainly fail.  Of similar opinion were knowledgeable officers in the Africa Bureau, in other parts of the State Department, in the National Security Council’s Interagency Task Force on Angola, in the CIA, and above all in Congress. 

Kissinger would not be swayed.  He was determined to seize in Angola what he considered a timely opportunity to display America’s (and Henry Kissinger’s) strength.  He believed that defeating the MPLA, which he considered pro-Soviet, could expunge the image of a flabby United States in retreat after Vietnam.  Moreover, he thought he could do it on the cheap with clandestine CIA collaboration.  He was soon to be proven dead wrong.

I had managed to co-exist 14 months with Kissinger.  Davis lasted less than four.  Nominated as my replacement on January 8, 1975, he was not confirmed by the Senate until March 11 and not sworn in as Assistant Secretary until April 2.  He submitted his resignation letter in late July upon learning that President Ford, ignoring his written dissent, had approved the Kissinger/CIA recommendations for covert intervention in Angola.

Kissinger replaced Davis with Bill Schaufele, who would follow the leader.  Schaufele’s Foreign Service career had been impressive but now he caved.  By mid-July President Ford had authorized the disbursement of $6 million for financial aid and arms shipments to the FNLA.  He approved additional amounts of $8 million on July 27 and $10.7 million August 20.  The latter sum was to be shared with Savimbi’s UNITA. 

By late autumn 1975 the MPLA was winning the war.  In November the South Africans invaded – which precipitated the Cuban decision to send more than 36,000 troops by April 1976.  The internationalization of the struggle was assured.  A tragic mess was on its obscene inevitable way.

It is impossible to know what might have resulted had Kissinger accepted the policy stances toward Angola of the first two Africa Bureau assistant secretaries he hired.  It is in any case difficult to imagine that their recommendations would have resulted in the kind of nightmare – for Angolans, for U.S. prestige, and for himself – that his bludgeoning of the bureaucracy provoked. 

It took until 2002 for peace to come to that war-wracked land-mine-strewn nation.  In a special study on U.S.-Angolan relations, the Council on Foreign Relations estimated in 2007 that up to 1.5 million Angolans (nearly 10% of the population) perished in the 1975-2002 period.  Approximately 100,000 were maimed by land mines.  500,000 fled the country, and over four million were internally displaced.  These are shocking statistics for which U.S. policy must share blame.

Contrast these Angolan miseries with what happened in Mozambique, the country that Kissinger had declared “the most radical and Marxist of the front-line states, the one most vulnerable to Soviet overtures, and the one most likely to cooperate with Cuban auxiliary forces.”  In due course Mozambique became a success story – and it remained that way, on good terms with its neighbors and without calling on Cuban or Soviet soldiers.  

In his memoirs, Kissinger refers to the Africa Bureau as “the one bureau that went its own way.”  He charges the Bureau’s “Africanists” with “missionary zeal,” parochialism, and a “governing ethos” relying on “traditional African bureau verities.”  He complains that officers in the Bureau “evolved a kind of siege mentality in which they transmuted their isolation into a claim to moral superiority, casting themselves as the defenders of American idealism.”

I do not recognize this fancy nonsense as a description of the Africa Bureau I knew.  It was common sense and not idealism that motivated the Bureau’s call for distancing the United States from apartheid, for nurturing the dialogue with Mozambique, and for steering clear of the power struggle in Angola. 

Had Kissinger paid more attention to the Bureau’s recommendations in 1974 and early 1975 – recommendations spawned in what he called the Bureau’s “backwaters of policy” (whatever and wherever they may be) – he might have led the U.S. to early constructive relationships with the newly decolonized Portuguese territories.  The Ford administration might have been spared the allegations that the CIA colluded with South African military units in Angola, resulting in their collision with Cuban soldiers and a defeat some have called South Africa’s Bay of Pigs.  The result would be decades of destruction and chaos for the new Angola.

Major collateral damage was inflicted on the U.S. image elsewhere in Africa.  A clumsy White House attempt to influence OAU voting in January 1976 boomeranged in Nigeria when a letter from President Ford to head-of-state General Murtala Mohammed was flaunted in the local press as a “Fatuous Insult to Black Africa.” The letter, sent to the heads of state of all OAU member countries, asked them to vote against the proposal that Angola, led by the MPLA, be admitted to OAU membership.

Nigerian traditional Yoruba leader, the “Alafin of Oyo,” hosts Ambassador Easum and wife Penny, December 1978.

Many OAU members saw this as yet another American intrusion in African affairs.  Half voted to accept, half to reject – 22 to 22.  Meanwhile our embassy offices and the ambassador’s residence in Lagos were besieged by demonstrators (my family and I were there), as were our consulates in Ibadan and Kaduna.  A month later Murtala was assassinated, prompting fresh demonstrations charging the CIA with complicity and ensuring rejection of Kissinger’s several requests to visit Nigeria during his final year on seat.

I got caught in a hostile demonstration several days after Murtala’s death and had to thread my way on foot through marchers chanting and drumming in protest.  The signs they carried declared “DOWN WITH THE CIA” and “HANG DIMKA.”  Dimka was the Nigerian Army Captain who masterminded the operation, took responsibility for the shooting, and was now on the run.  By my side was a young Marine guard in civvies who didn’t know what to do – I told him to just keep walking slowly and if possible look up and smile a little.

The frustrations of the Africa Bureau in 1974 and the dust-up that followed fortified my continuing interest and growing concern regarding the U.S. relationship with the African continent.  I returned to Africa and to things American-African many times – as ambassador to Nigeria for nearly five years, president of the African American Institute for eight, and director of River Blindness Foundation programs for four.

Ambassador Donald Easum, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, Dr. Nancy Mitchell, and Mark Chona, Lusaka, Zambia, March 5, 2009

I was speaker for USIA in African cities and universities, escort for the first African National Congress (ANC) visitors to the U.S., observer of Nigerian elections, advisor for the WorldSpace satellite radio project, consultant for Global Business Access Ltd. and for Volunteers in Technical Assistance, member of the Council on Foreign Relations and of the Corporate Council on Africa, trustee of the American Schools of Tangier and Marrakech, and researcher in March 2009 in Zambian official archives in Lusaka.

I brought focus on African issues while serving as Woodrow Wilson Foundation Fellow at eight small colleges and universities, and as Stimson Senior Fellow for four semesters at Yale University.

In the spring of 1991 I conducted a semester’s seminar on apartheid for twelve Princeton undergraduates.  We then put together a two-week study tour in South Africa to test our Ivy League impressions against the real thing.  On June 16 we watched Nelson Mandela close-up in the soccer stadium in Soweto.  Press reports stated there were 40,000 persons in the stands.  Thanks to special arrangements made for us by the youth wing of the ANC, we had been frisked for weapons and then escorted to standing-room space within 20 feet of the stage where Mandela presided.  He had been released from Robben Island prison 16 months earlier – having served 9,375 days of his life sentence.  Called the Soweto Youth Day Rally, the stadium event celebrated the 15th anniversary of the student protest march that left scores of young people dead in the streets. 

Three days later Mandela turned up in the Johannesburg airport where we were awaiting a flight to Cape Town.  So was he.  He complimented the students for their initiative in attending the rally, plied them with questions, and told us he was on his way to discuss South Africa’s education crisis with President de Klerk.  He said he was “honored to meet with fellow academicians.” Track down the Spring 1992 issue of NAFSA’s International Educator magazine for our account of our South African venture and for photos of Mandela and the young Princetonians.

What an extraordinary man!  I introduced him several months later at a Rothko Chapel ceremony in his honor in Houston.  Also on the podium were President Jimmy Carter, the Chapel’s founder Dominique de Menil, the Rev. Bill Lawson, Houston mayor Katherine Whitmire, and Texas governor Ann Richards.  The governor did not wear her famous boots that star


Ambassador (ret.) Donald B. Easum, Ph. D., served in the U.S. military in WWII, followed by studies at the University of Wisconsin, the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, and in London.  After a year of research and writing in Argentina, he entered the U.S. Foreign Service in 1953.  Early postings were to Nicaragua, Indonesia, Senegal/The Gambia/Guinea-Bissau, and Niger.

Other assignments included Executive Secretary of the Agency for International Development (ICA/AID) and Staff Director of the National Security Council’s Interdepartmental Group for Inter-American Affairs.  He was Ambassador to Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso), Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, and Ambassador to Nigeria.

Retiring from the Foreign Service in December 1979, Ambassador Easum served for eight years as president of the African American Institute with headquarters in New York and branch offices in Washington and in African capitals.  He taught at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School and as a Stimson Fellow at Yale. As Vice President of the River Blindness Foundation and in collaboration with the Carter Center and the World Bank, he was responsible for ivermectin distribution programs in Nigeria, Cameroon, Uganda, and Tanzania.  He is a Board member of the American Schools of Tangier and Marrakech and has worked with a number of private organizations devoted to human rights and international service in developing countries.

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