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Monday marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall that
preceded the collapse of the Soviet Union two years later. The effects
of the event were also felt on the African continent, which for decades
had been one of the arenas for the conflict between East and West.
Analysts say the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989
was primarily a symbolic event, but it marked the beginning of changes
that would affect Africa and the developing world in many ways.
deputy chairman of the South African Institute for International
Affairs, Moeletsi Mbeki, says the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991
ended the Cold War and East-West rivalries.
"Africa had been at
the receiving end of the Cold War with great powers using Africa as a
playground to fight its [their] proxy wars," he said.
Change of political climate
the ideological struggle for influence in Africa brought political
assassinations and military coups. It contributed to the
authoritarianism and political instability that characterized Africa's
early years of independence.
Mbeki says the Cold War also prolonged the struggle against colonialism in southern Africa.
Second World War the original noises that came from the United States
in particular were that it wanted the colonial system to come to an
end," he said. "But once the Cold War started, the United States
changed its position and supported the colonial powers in Africa. And
it was the Soviet Union and its satellites that supported the struggle
He notes for example that East Germany
provided military training and arms to liberation movements in southern
Africa, whereas West Germany had built up extensive business ties in
the region. As a result, some African leaders reacted with
apprehension to the moves to reunite the two countries after the fall
of the Berlin Wall.
But he says the end of the Cold War, aided
by rising public pressure in the West, boosted the negotiations to end
the wars in Angola and Mozambique and the apartheid system in South
Mbeki concludes the collapse of the Soviet Union also boosted democratization across much of the continent.
number of dictators that had been supported by the Soviet Union lost
their patronage and started either to change into less authoritarian
systems or collapsed," he said.
Analysts say the demise of the
Soviet Union encouraged democratization in many African countries, but
say the extent of the reforms has varied.
An analyst with the
Electoral Institute for Southern Africa, Ebrahim Fakir, says new forms
of capitalism evolved that widened the gap between rich and poor.
1989 may have signaled greater amounts of freedom, the inception of
some kind of democratic regime, it also initiated greater amounts of
inequalities, not just between states and regions of the world, but
within states," he said.
He says the rise of capitalism mainly
benefited the elites in Africa or their business partners in the West
who were better prepared to take advantage of the opportunities it
Hope and Distress
He says the fall of the Berlin Wall brought hope to some people, but also distressed others.
was lots of celebration of the political freedoms, even economic
freedom, but for other people it was a breakdown of old certitudes, of
relying on the state to provide, having some kind of social welfare
net, basic as it was, that certitude was no longer there," said Fakir.
adds rising technological advances and the advent of the Internet and
electronic mail made businesses more efficient and communications more
rapid. These may have even contributed to the demise of communism.
he says African countries in many cases did not have the
infrastructure, such as reliable electrical supplies, to take advantage
of them. Fariq says the changes also affected African societies.
gave rise, particularly in the developing world, to greater amounts of
conflict between tradition and modernity," he said. "The idea of the
extended family becomes less important, the rise of the nuclear family,
new social mores, ethics and so forth."
Analysts note that the
demise of communism also left the world with a single dominant power,
at least for a time. And this uni-polar world may have contributed to
excesses such as those that led to the banking crisis that affected
But they conclude that the emergence of
regional powers, such as China, Brazil and India among others, could
signal that current geo-strategic politics are also evolving.