News / Africa

Soviet Union's Collapse Two Decades Ago Deeply Affected Africa

Parties still in power that received backing from the Soviet Union include the party of Angola's President Jose Eduardo dos Santos (L), the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola, and of South Africa's President Jacob Zuma (R), the African Nationa
Parties still in power that received backing from the Soviet Union include the party of Angola's President Jose Eduardo dos Santos (L), the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola, and of South Africa's President Jacob Zuma (R), the African Nationa
Nico Colombant

The gradual collapse of the Soviet Union, which ended in dissolution 20 years ago, had wide-ranging effects across Africa. Marxist-inspired governments and movements lost their backers, while new conflicts became awash with weapons and mercenaries from the former Soviet sphere.

During the Cold War, described by many analysts as a geographical chess game between the Soviet Union and the United States to either spread the socialist system or prevent it, Africa was not immune from its fallout.

Angola's internal strife

Angola is one example of how the situation sometimes became a protracted civil war.

The winners of the war in Angola, and rulers since independence from Portugal in 1975, were the Soviet-backed People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola.

But when Soviet-backed Cuban troops pulled out completely in 1991, and the Soviet Union stopped sending weapons and aid, Angola's government renounced Marxism and adopted free market policies.

An Angolan author and journalist with the newspaper Semanario Angolense, Sousa Jamba, said the change away from socialist ideology was very abrupt and was never explained.

"They were very ardent Marxists at one time, and when the Soviet Union collapsed all they said was, 'we also have to do away with Marxism.' And my question was, were they Marxists because they believed in the ideology or were they Marxists because it was convenient at one point to be Marxist in order to get the backing from the Soviet Union? That question has not been answered,” said Jamba.

Ripple effect

In other countries, like Ethiopia, when the Soviet Union stopped backing the government, rulers were quickly ousted. Other Soviet-backed leaders, such as Benin's Mathieu Kerekou, renounced Marxism and then lost multi-party elections.

U.S. and European backed anti-communist authoritarian governments also slowly turned to multi-party elections.

A professor of politics at Princeton University from Benin, Leonard Wantchekon, said multi-party democracy was an improvement, but also for many Africans a disappointment.

“Disappointed not in the elections per say, but disappointment in how little elections changed governance and development outcomes,” said Wantchekon.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in Africa also was followed by the loss of influence of Soviet-educated opposition activists and government workers, a wave of privatizations, and increased reliance on foreign aid agencies to provide basic services. According to Jamba, the Angolan journalist, there also has been deteriorating governance.

"In some of these countries what we have is just the worst kind of capitalism, in which people use the state to steal money and steal the resources of the country," said Jamba.

Weapons proliferation

Besides Angola, the Cold War coincided with other black liberation movements, some of them also violent and resulting in civil war, and in southern Africa, with anti-communist white minority governments resisting for years.

A Senegalese historian with the College of Wooster, Ibra Sene said while most of those struggles ended along with the Cold War, there were very negative residual effects as well.

“At the end of those wars there was a big pile of weapons that was circulating around the continent and playing a very important role in areas where there were new wars. It is a huge problem after the Soviet Union,” said Sene.

With many former Soviet soldiers and pilots out of work, some of them became mercenaries operating old Soviet equipment in recent West African conflicts, such as in Ivory Coast or in Liberia.  

Other conflicts, such as those ongoing in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and in Somalia, are still awash with weapons from the Cold War fighting, or obtained more recently from Soviet Union stockpiles, highlighting how the former world power’s collapse is still being felt to this day in Africa.

You May Like

Islamic State Survivor: A Yazidi Girl's Tale

Sarah Said Haydar, captured a year ago while fleeing Islamic State onslaught in northern Iraq, was so traumatized by militants, she sought to end her own life More

EU, US Applaud Kosovo Law on Special Court

Joint statement says lawmakers' decision to address allegations of war crimes 'demonstrated their commitment to the rule of law and to honor international agreements' More

ASEAN Ministers to Push for S. China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Tradei
X
Robert Carmichael
August 04, 2015 3:07 PM
Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Trade

Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Growing Number of E. Jerusalem Palestinians Seek Israeli Citizenship

Most Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have long rejected the option of full Israeli citizenship, seeing it as a betrayal to their political cause - the formation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. But as that dream remains elusive, more and more Palestinians are applying for Israeli citizenship. Zlatica Hoke reports the decision is hard for many Palestinians who say they have to be pragmatic about it.
Video

Video With No Money, More Students, African Universities Struggle

Academics from around the African continent converged in Johannesburg last week for the African Universities Summit, a chance to tackle some of the major issues facing higher education in Africa today. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Wisconsin's Voter ID Law Still Mired In Controversy

Voter ID laws have sparked controversy across the US. More than 30 states enacted laws requiring citizens to show identification before they vote. Against fierce opposition, the state of Wisconsin recently enacted one the most restrictive voter ID laws in country. As Jeff Swicord reports, no one can predict its impact as the 2016 election nears.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Hailed as Highly Effective

At last, there's a way to end the suffering from the Ebola epidemic that has ravaged West Africa for more than a year. Researchers say the vaccine is so effective, there may never be a major outbreak of Ebola again. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs