Reality has forced the governments of war-weary southern Africa to move conflict increasingly from the battlefield to the negotiating table, not only toward a dialogue with each other, but with their internal political opponents.
The transition comes after a generation that has seen the transformation of former colonies into the independent states of Angola, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe, as well as an intensification in the struggle for a democratic South Africa. It is a generation that has also seen civil war, drought, famine, the dislocation of hundreds of thousands of people and economic deterioration throughout the region.
As the "Cold War" between the superpowers transforms itself from conflict to cooperation after years and billions of dollars spent on war, southern African governments have reached the realization that there are no military solutions, only political ones, and these can be achieved only through dialogue.
Governments in Angola, Mozambique and white-ruled South Africa have either committed themselves in principle to negotiation with internal opponents or have already taken the first shaky steps toward new political orders where all political groups can be accommodated.
In Angola, the one-party Marxist government is for the first time holding direct talks with the U.S.- and South African-backed National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) on a cease-fire to the country's 15-year civil war and a political settlement based on full political participation.
In Mozambique, the ruling one-party government has adopted a similar posture in direct talks with the Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO). The government has also dropped most of its Marxist-Leninist economic principles and has committed itself to multiparty elections next year.
And in South Africa, the white-ruled government of President F. W. de Klerk is involved in negotiations with recently-freed Nelson Mandela's African National Congress (ANC) aimed at ending apartheid and creating a future democratic order.
Each example, within its own terms, is as important as the crumbling of the Berlin Wall, for each represents a political quantum leap from unending conflict to political accommodation between sworn enemies that had vowed never to negotiate.
The changes that have taken place indicate a growing maturity of the political leadership in most of southern Africa, an ability to adjust to new realities where continuing economic devastation has forced them from the battlefield to the negotiating table.
"War is an unacceptable alternative at this point," said Millard W. Arnold, Africa specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who recently traveled to Mozambique and South Africa. "Angola, Mozambique and South Africa have serious economic problems. Each government realizes that it can continue the war option but only at a devastating cost."
Of course, the waning of the "Cold War" and the political changes in Eastern Europe have had their own effect on Africa's political and economic situation. But the recent changes in southern Africa were, in fact, under way even before the last fall's chain of events in Eastern Europe.
Given the situation in southern Africa only three years ago, the current developments occurring are nothing short of extraordinary.
Three years ago, southern Africa was the scene of enormous political and economic turmoil. Wars raged out of control in Angola, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa with no hope for a political settlement.
Then, what may have been the turning point was reached in southern Angola, when Angolan rebels, backed jointly by South Africa and the United States, fought government and Cuban forces to a bloody stalemate in the largest battles in the subcontinent's history.
Both sides had committed tremendous resources in arms and men, but in the end, neither could achieve its military or political objectives. It was clear that Angola's oil-based economy would continue to totter on the brink of collapse with no relief in sight and little hope of ever crushing Jonas Savimbi's UNITA rebels.
In fact, Angola's economic plight was similar to the other five black-ruled front-line states (Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe), which had all been targets of South African military, economic and political destabilization.
The cost to the front-line states for supporting the end of white-rule in Namibia and South Africa has been estimated at about $60 billion over the past nine years, according to a United Nations study. The same study put last year's total losses at $10 billion, or 40 percent of the six nations' combined gross national product.
South Africa, the region's economic superpower, was also incurring heavy costs, not only from its military failure, but also from Western sanctions because of its apartheid policy.