*** The Cold War country trends Africa

The Cold War: African Country Trends

Cold War Africa
Figure 1.--Here boys in Chad mug for the photographer in front of a Soviet Communist display, probably about 1962-63 in N'Djamena. Tey may be outside the Siviet embassy. France granted indepenence (1960). At the time it was widely believed that independence and socialism would insrantly lead to a bright new future of prosperity and abundance. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Africa with few exceptions (Ethiopia and Kiberia) was still divided into European colonies at the end of World war II and the beginning of the Cold War. The European countries attempted to hold on to their colonies after World War II. The major exception was India which rapidly moved toward independence, especially when the Labour Party won a general election after VE Day (1945). A series of costly guerilla wars (1940s-50s) largely fought outside of Africa, except for Kenya. convinced the European powers not to resist de-Colonization. None of the Europeans publics supported costly military eddorts to maintin colonial empires. And the United states did not support their Europens allies in such an effort. Here the Cold War was involved. Decolonization and the Cold war begn at about the same time. The Soviets supporte Decolinization. Few in the Third world noted the vast Russian colonies in central Asia and Eastern Europe. Belgium, Britain, and France rapidly moved toward decoloniization. Decolonization occurred much more rapidly than anticipated. None of the European colonies jadc adequatly prepared their colonies. The British began the process in Ghana (1956). The Belgian Congo was a special case. These countries had poorly trained leaders, many of whom thought Soviet styled political and economic organization provided for rapid modernization and conveniently permanent personal power for them. The public in many countries were also attracted. They were impressed with Soviet power and the apparent success at socialism and economic planning to achieve rapid development. This lead to Africa becoming a new front in the Cold war. This was complicated by Portugal attempting to maintain their colonial possessions. South Africa and Rhodesia attempted to maintain white racist control. Soviet arms led to the Ogadon War and the Soviets switching sides. Cubans served as Soviet surrogates. The Cold War experience in Africa was not as ideological as in other regions. A range of other issues, including de-colonization, tribal issues, racism, national differences became mixed in with ideologiccal issues. The result was that the high hopes of independence were for the most part dashed. Despoite billions of dollars of aid, living standards in many African countries actully declined after independence. Only now is democracy and free market reforms in some of the contries beginning to have some impact in improving living conditions.


Portugal resisted decolonization. Finally a Socialist revolution in Portugal finally resulted in independence for the country's African colonies. The Angolan Civil War was part of the Cold War. The Civil War developed as political grouups struggled to control independnt Angola (1974). The primary contenders were the Marxist Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the anti-Marxist National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). The Soviet Union supported the MPLA and use Cuban soldiers to assist the MPLA militarily. The United States, South Africa and China over tim supported UNITA. After the Cold War, America desengaged frim many African activities and the Soviet Union ceased to exist. The struggle continued, but st a lower level because outside support was more difficult to obtain. Foreign companies eager to exploiting Angola's copious natural resources has gotten involved.


Chad as part of French West Africa was granted independence (1960). It was part of the rapid decolinization of Africa during the 1960s. Chad did not prove a major battleground in the Cold War. The optimitic future that many Chadians held about their independent future soon devolved into three decades of civil warfare, as well as invasions by Col. Qadafi's Libya. The major dynamic in Chad was between the Arab north and the Arican South. France managed to retain some influence in many of its former colonies, including Chad. The African south retaimed some afection for France and Frenh culture. At the time that the Cold War ended, a realtive peace process was restored (1990). Since that time, however, the north-south divide has worsened.


Belgium after making virtually no preparations for independence huridly deoparted the Congo. Charismatic Patrice Lumumba and his leftist party won a plurality in the first parlimentary elections (May 1960). Katanga Province where important mines were locayted seceded with Belgium's support. Lumumba turned to the Soviet Union for support in regaining control of Katanga. President Eisenhower was concerned about growing Soviet influence in Africa. The Cenbtral Inteligence Agency (CIA) engineered a coup, removing Lumumba from office. He still had a great deal of popuilar support and began to form a new government. Katanga leader Moishe Tshombe arrested Lumumba and haf him beat to death. The CIA recruited Joseph Mobutu (Mobutu Sese Seko) to firm a new government in the Congo, He established a one-man authoritative regime that prevented any true elctions tht would have resulted in the choice of various left-wing politicins. Mobutu made billions and the people Zaire benefitted little from the country's mineral wralth. Littl effort was made to develop a modern economy or build needed infrastructure. Mobutu helped the United States prevent the left-wing MPLA in neighboring Angola from consolidating a Communist dictatorship.

Congo (Brazzaville)

The Congo became involved in the Cold War that emerged after World War II. President Massamba-Debat did not complete his term of office. Capt. Marien Ngouabi and other disgruntleed officers staged a coup (August 1968). Ngouabi and his fellow plotters formed the National Revolutionary Council to govern the country. The now Major Ngouabi assumed the presidency (December 31, 1968). Like many African officials, Ngouabi decided to move his country toward Communism. The decesions made by leaders like Ngoubi seemed a mix of limited education, lack of sophistication, and the appeal of dictatorialm power. In Europe the economic success of democracy and free marketing capitalism and the failure of Communism was becoming apparent. Throughout developing countries Communism and Socialist planned economics still had wide-spread appeal. President Ngouabi proclaimed Congo to be Africa's first "people's republic" and announced the decision of the National Revolutionary Movement to change its name to the Congolese Labor Party (PCT) (1969). This ushered in a long period of Marxist-Leninist corruption and political instability. President Ngouabi was assassinated (March 18, 1977). The collapse of the Soviet Union (1991) finally sparked attempts at democratic reforms in the Congo.


Ethiopia under Emperor Haile Selassie was a staunch all in the Cold War. This changed with a left-wing military coup (1977). Mengistu Haile Mariam was appointed to chairman of the military and head of state of Ethiopia. Mengistu proceeded to suppress his opponents and pillars of the old regime and sought support from the Soviet Union.


Kwame Nkrumah having led Ghana's independence movement became the country's first president (1957). Ghana was the first black African nation to win independence. Thus Nkrumah believed that he had an important role to play in the struggle against 'capitalist interests' on the continent. He inissted that , "the independence of Ghana would be meaningless unless it was tied to the total liberation of Africa." He not only opposed European imperialism, but capitalism as well. Like many African leaders, he assumed that independence and the adoption of socialist policies would usher in an era of prosperity. He adopted many socialist policies which led a British colony with a healty economy into a prolonged decline. Failing economically at home, he aspired to be a Pan-African leader highly critical of the West. He was a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement (1961). He was a founding member, but despite the name generally took anti-capitalist, pro-Soviet positions. Nkrumah also adhered to the Casablanca group (Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Egypt, and Morocco). They called themselves neutralists, but in most cases were leaning toward the Soviet Union. One 1962 press report indicated that Eastern-bloc technicians and advisers, including military ones, swarm about in Guinea and are becoming more numerous in Ghana and Mali." [Schwartz] Nhrumah's initial strategy was to encourage revolutionary political movements in Africa. The CIA reports that Nkrumah's government provided money and training for radical Communist-oriented guerrillas at safe camps in Ghana. Ghana received aid from Communist China forthis effort after the 1964 Sino-Soviet split. Several hundred revolutionaries went through this training program in Ghana. It was administered by Nkrumah's Bureau of African Affairs. They participated with insurgencies in Angola, Congo, Mozambique, Niger, and Rhodesia. [CIA] Nkrumah believed that a Ghana, Guinea, and Mali union would serve as the the first step toward a united Africa. They believed it would ignite the African people psychologically and politicaly and eventual lead toward a United States of Africa. Nkrumah was a founding member of the Organization of African Unity. He became a star in the Communist world. He went went on tour through Eastern Europe, proclaiming solidarity with the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China (1961). [Gebe] The Soviets awarded him the Lenin Peace Prize (1962). It shoul not be thought thar Nkrumah was a Communist following orders from Moscow. He was a Afican nationalist and socialist who thought that socialism would solve Africas problems and whi found the Soviets and Chinese and sources of support. Gahanians might have been more impressed with his Pan-Africanism if it had resulted in economic bebnefits. It did not. Nkrumah suffered domstically because of his focus on Pan-Africanism rather than attentiom to the new nation's increasing economic problems. Nkrumah attacked his critics as being short-sighted. [Rooney, pp. 24–25.] He moved to estblish a one party under the Conention People's Party. Most other early African leaders tablished one-party rule. While Nkrumah was away on a state visit to North Vietnam and China, he was overthrown by a violent coup d'état cobuxted by a Ghanian military and police forces, with backing from the civil service (1966).


Maxamed Siyaad Barre, president of Somalia, was the ptincipal Soviet client stste in East Africa, controlling the strategic Horn of Africa. The Soviets heavily armed his army with jet aircaft and modern tanks. Barre observed the left-wing coup in Ethiopia and resulting internal conflict. He decided to use the army that the Soviets had armed to seize the contested Ogaden along the poorly delimited border. He had a force of 50,000 men, incuding 15,000 fighters from the Western Somalia Liberation Front. The Somalia forces began covertly entering the Ogaden/ Eastern Ethiopia (May-June 1977). Actual fighting began (July 1977). The new Ethiopian dictator, Mengistu Haile Mariam, had aather small military force which the United States had not heaviky armed. Within 2 months, the Somalis controlled almost all of the Ogaden. The Soviets saw Eyhiopia as a much bigger Cold War prise. Weaponry poured in from the East Bloc, including the Soviet Union and North Korea. The Soviets provided plane and helicopter pilots. The Cubans provided ground troops. The Ogaden War would take more than a year to resolve, but at the end the Ogaden was back in Ethiopian hands. And Barre's army was shattered. It was the beginning of the history of Somalia as a failed state.


CIA. "IM: Ghana's freedom fighters' camp and the Chinese Communists," CIA FOIA.

Gebe, Boni Yao. "Ghana's oreign policy at independence and implications for the 1966 coup d'état" Journal of Pan African Studies (March 2008).

Rooney, David. (1988). Kwame Nkrumah: The Political Kingdom in the Third World (St. Martin's Press: 1988).

Schwarz, Walter. "The Cold War & the African states," Commentary (June 1, 1962).

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Created: 1:09 AM 12/28/2015
Last updated: 12:05 AM 1/14/2018