Rivalries and Deliveries: The Cold War in Africa

East Africa

Neither Kenya nor Tanzania played a significant role in the Cold War; however, there was still variation within the region. In Somalia, for instance, the state was under the protection of the Soviet Union. Following the Somali military coup in 1969, the new far left leadership formed alliances with the Soviet bloc. Furthermore, security issues were also introduced alongside economic policies. This is best highlighted in East Africa during the collapse of Somalia and the war against Ethiopia, which started because of ethnic disputes over part of the Ethiopian population. Two million Cuban and Soviet forces were sent in to provide aid for the Somalis. This incredible amount of support was without a doubt due to the Cold War alliance. Therefore, it becomes obvious that during the Cold War era, with countries in East Africa aligned to different blocs or superpowers, states were engaging in more than just inter-state violence post-independence, as argued by Englebert and Dunne.

Central Africa

The Cold War in Central Africa also created long-lasting effects that are still felt today. The Soviet-era policies and Russia’s policies today towards Africa have similar goals for the interest of the state. During the Cold-War, the Soviet Union supported many African states with various amounts of aid, each type of aid of dependent on what that African state needed from the Soviet Union. In particular, because of the relationship of some African states to the Soviet Union, many Africans moved to the country for higher education, a practice that continues today in Russia. In Inside African Politics, Englebert and Dunne write, “53,000 Africans were trained in Soviet universities, with thousands more attending military and political schools. Alumni have included the past or present presidents of Angola, Cape Verde, Mali, [and] Mozambique.” Therefore, when the leaders returned to their countries from the Soviet Union, they brought ideas and practices different from those learned in the United States and Europe.

End of the Cold War

Following the end of the Cold War there were strong ideas, particularly within the US, that because there were no longer strategic or geopolitical reasons to catapult Africa into the “global economic agenda”, it was up to the Africans to take their own initiative, as argued by Perlez. What becomes very obvious then is that because of this ideal, economic productivity and security are significantly reduced. Prior to the end of the Cold War, East African states had the ability to play off the superpowers against one another. This was definitely the case when you take Ethiopia into account. Through switching to support the Soviet Bloc in 1977 (as shown in the New York Times Article), the state created a chain reaction that  ultimately led the US to pump large amounts of weapons and funds into neighbouring Somalia.

Now, with the end of the Cold War long past and therefore with no need to dominate the balance of power in the same way, the world superpowers no longer have a strong opinion on whether the continent receives aid or not. What this has meant economically is that it will take a long time for the aid-dependent countries to “wean themselves” off from the support of the superpowers – a process that has dramatically affected access to food within the states. What can be concluded from this is that after the end of the Cold War, due to lowered funding from wealthier countries, there was a need to receive funding to maintain decent levels of food.

Influence of the Soviet Bloc

The Soviet Union is one of the main contributors to the violence in Africa during the Cold War, and some of the conflicts that happen in Africa today are because of how the Soviet Union had militaristic policies in Africa during the Cold War. Angola can be an example of how the Soviet Union played a huge part in the development of Central Africa during the Cold War. During the Angolan civil war, the Soviet-backed MPLA survived only because of the support that the Soviet Union and Cuba gave. The reason that the Soviet Union was so active during the cold war in Africa is due in part to the fact that the resources that the Soviet Union had access to was appealing to many African states. Some African states were more ideologically aligned with the Soviet Union after independence; a more socialist, worker-oriented society was appealing after decades of capitalist exploitation. Additionally, African states also wanted to work with the Soviet Union because it would help distance the African states away from their former European colonizers. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Afro-Soviet trade started a downturn, yet in certain sectors, Russia remained influential. Russia set up the Russia–African Business Council in 2002 that would help with oil, gas, and tourism.

Influence of the U.S. and its Allies

During the 1970s, many African states adopted more market-oriented economic policies and concentrated their economic production around capitalism, perhaps representing the persuasive influence of the United States and the Western Bloc, though lending policies by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank (both dominated by the United States), also compelled countries to transition their economies to capitalism. However, in spite of this, because of the heavy dependency both on colonial powers prior to decolonization and then the superpowers afterward, each economy had a strong element of state interventionism –so it become almost capitalism with a twist because of the reliance on colonial money prior to independence. With food, what this meant is that alongside the emphasis on export and trades to increase growth, the primary production methods that were set up within the state pushed for food production based on increasing self-sufficiency of the populations. Arguably, perhaps, food production was the most “socialist” aspect of post-American-supported states, owing to the high level of state control prior to the economic crisis of the 1980s. Ohaegbulam shows that during the 1970s, most of the superpower support, especially from the US, came in the form of food aid, which would clearly improve access to food for those under the Western bloc.


Englebert, Pierre, and Kevin C. Dunn. Inside African Politics. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2013.

Perlez, Jane. “After the Cold War: Views From Africa; Stranded by Superpowers, Africa Seeks an Identity.” The New York Times. May 17, 1992. Accessed November 24, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/1992/05/17/world/after-cold-war-views-africa-stranded-superpowers-africa-seeks-identity.html.

Ugboaja, Ohaegbulam F. “The United States and Africa after the Cold War.” Africa Today 39, no. 4 (1992): 19-34. https://www.jstor.org/stable/4186860.

Stephens, Carla R. “Complementary Tools for Studying the Cold War in Africa.” Journal of Black Studies 43, no. 1 (2012): 95-101. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23215197.

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