American policy in Africa, although not so heavily involved, followed the same pattern. The dominant element after 1946 was opposition to communism and to the communist powers. As far as Africa was concerned, responsibility for pursuing these objectives was delegated to America's trusted allies—Britain, France, Belgium, and even Portugal—whose policies in the area were therefore broadly supported, despite minor disagreements that arose as American business became interested in Africa's potential. Inevitably, this placed the United States in opposition to an Africa seeking to win its independence from those same powers. However, when political freedom could be achieved peacefully, the United States was able to appear to Africa like a neutral bystander. In these cases the United States was able to adjust its policies and accept the new status of African sovereign states without any difficulty, although it continued to look at African affairs largely through anticommunist spectacles.
In southern Africa, practical support for the status quo continued unabated until after the Portuguese revolution in April 1974. Thus, despite America's verbal criticism of Portuguese colonialism, U.S. arms and equipment were used by Portugal in its military operations in Angola, Guinea-Bissau, and Mozambique. Despite verbal opposition to apartheid, American trade and investment in South Africa were expanded, and the United States opposed any effective United Nations demonstration of hostility toward the apartheid state. The United States also fought a hard and largely successful rearguard action against the demands for international intervention against South Africa's occupation of Namibia (South-West Africa). Regarding the British colony of Rhodesia, the United States trailed behind British opposition to the white-minority regime of Ian Smith, watered down the sanctions policies it had endorsed at the United Nations, and criticized black African regimes for the vehemence of their opposition to the Smith regime.
In Africa the superpowers nearly confronted each other in a crisis that typified the new Cold War that was developing in the 1970s. Throughout the anticolonial war in Angola (1960–1974), the United States supported Portugal, not any of the nationalist forces. Supplying the Portuguese-backed National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) with money and military and other equipment while decolonization finally took place was thus a rather blatant attempt to place "friends" in political power in the new state. But the more effective Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) did not collapse. Instead, it asked for and received more arms from its supporters, including the Soviet Union, to meet a South African invasion of Angola in 1975. The MPLA also welcomed Cuban troops. When the FNLA demanded more help than the American administration could give without congressional approval, Congress—with the lessons of Vietnam still fresh in its mind—refused its support.
The Angolan debacle and other factors led toward a reassessment of traditional U.S. policies in southern Africa. Some Americans had long been urging support for the anticolonial struggle, and African Americans were beginning to take a greater interest in these matters. Also, trade with independent Africa had been growing and now included oil from Nigeria. The possibility that this trade might be jeopardized by pro–South African activities was no longer of merely academic interest to the United States. Moreover, guerrilla warfare in Rhodesia intensified after mid-1975, arousing fears of a repetition of the Angolan experience.
Black Africa welcomed Kissinger's Lusaka statement of 27 April 1976, which stipulated that majority rule must precede independence in Rhodesia and ruled out American material or diplomatic support to the Ian Smith regime. With some hesitation, Africa also cooperated with the Kissinger shuttle diplomacy later in the year. Africa hoped that "even at that late stage, the use of American power in support of majority rule could enable this to be attained in Rhodesia without further bloodshed." This Kissinger initiative forced Smith to shift his ground, but it did not succeed in its declared objective. Nor did it remove African uncertainty about the depth and the geographical limitations of the new American commitment to change in southern Africa.