Africa Backgrounder: History, U.S. Policy, Principal Congressional Actions [Updated January 5, 2001]   [open pdf - 162KB]

"After World War II, African nationalists organized political parties and began to demand independence. By the early 1960s, independence had come to most of eastern and western Africa, but white minority rule persisted in southern Africa, ending only in 1994, when universal-suffrage elections were held in South Africa. In the first years of the 1960s, there were high hopes that the end of colonialism would bring rapid economic growth. Instead, Africa confronted a number of problems, including inefficient, state-centered economic systems; frequent military coups; ethnic strife; and corruption. The Cold War contributed to Africa's difficulties, flooding the continent with arms and strengthening a number of repressive regimes that had superpower backing. French policy also tended to bolster authoritarian governments in former French colonies. In the early 1990s, hopes for Africa's future revived following widespread political and economic reforms and the end of the Cold War. Later in the decade, however, the pace of reforms slowed and central Africa fell into an era of violent conflict. 'Afro-pessimists' believe that these developments have gravely damaged Africa's prospects, but others argue that they are temporary problems masking an underlying 'African Renaissance.' The Clinton Administration sided with the 'Afrooptimists,' despite frustrations over the war in Congo (formerly Zaire) and other problems. The 106th Congress passed legislation to strengthen U.S.-African economic ties and to boost spending to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa and worldwide. Previous Congresses acted on a number of African issues, including African food security, apartheid in South Africa, and covert U.S. involvement in Angola."

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CRS Report for Congress, RL30029
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