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

    Hope Remains for Rio Olympic Games

    Facing a host of problems, Rio prepares for holding the games but experts say some risks, like Zika, may not be as grave as initially thought

    Diplomats Hope to Revive Cradle of Civilization After Defeat of IS

    Diplomats from around globe gather at US State Department, discuss how to rebuild minority communities shattered by Islamic State group

    Women Voters Look Past Gender in Assessing Clinton

    She's the first female presidential nominee, but party identification, other factors outweigh gender

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

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Busi
    X
    July 28, 2016 4:16 AM
    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Philadelphia Uses DNC Spotlight to Profile Historic Role in Founding of United States

    The slogan of the Democratic National Convention now underway in Philadelphia is “Let’s Make History Again” which recognizes the role the city played in the foundation of the United States in the 18th century. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, local institutions are opening their doors in an effort to capitalize on the convention spotlight to draw visitors, and to offer more than just a history lesson.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora