The Cold War in Africa

Authored by: Jeffrey James Byrne

The Routledge Handbook of the Cold War

Print publication date:  May  2014
Online publication date:  June  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415677011
eBook ISBN: 9781315882284
Adobe ISBN: 9781134700653


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Although the continent was always peripheral to the central contentions of international politics in the late twentieth century, a very large number of the Cold War’s casualties were Africans. For three decades black, white, or Arab Africans fought each other in a plethora of national liberation struggles, civil wars, and secessionist campaigns that the superpowers frequently exacerbated with injections of arms, cash, or dangerous politics. In the 1970s, countries such as Angola, Ethiopia, and Eritrea became notorious exemplars of the “proxy war,” whereby Washington and Moscow channeled their rivalry into some of the world’s poorest – and remotest – places. But, as scholars such as Odd Arne Westad and James Scott have shown, an even greater number of Africans might be considered casualties of the Cold War’s ideological battles. 1 Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of African peasants became collateral damage in colonial counter-insurgency campaigns masquerading as anti-communist crusades, or subjected to the postcolonial state’s ruthless and misguided efforts at social and economic transformation (as had so many Ukrainian and Chinese peasants before them). Thus, while not all of the continent’s miseries over the past half-century are attributable to the Cold War, it is certainly a central concern in the history of modern Africa.

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