The course explores the interaction between African decolonisation and global superpower rivalries, from the late 1950s until the end of the Cold War. As much of the continent emerged from European colonial rule in the late 1950s and 1960s, the development of African independent nation-states interacted with the unfolding of the Cold War, on both a global and local stage. Both superpowers officially supported decolonisation, but the United States was sometimes persuaded by its European allies that African self-determination might open the door to communist influence on the continent. The Soviet Union’s vocal support for African liberation was only occasionally matched by a willingness to provide logistical and military backing to such efforts.
Many African political actors sought to remain neutral and ‘non-aligned’ in the Cold War, but others deliberately portrayed local conflicts in Cold War terms, so as to persuade reluctant superpowers to intervene in African contexts that they barely understood and which were usually not a high priority in Washington or Moscow. The ending of the Cold War brought some African conflicts to a close, but the continuation of others suggests the limited relevance of global ideological affiliations to wars that resulted from a complex interaction of global, national and local factors.
The course will explore the extent to which African states and political movements were the subject of manipulation by the superpowers. It will analyse the motivations underlying the policies of the United States and the Soviet Union (and their respective allies) in sub-Saharan Africa. It will also examine the role of other powerful states in Africa’s Cold War: the European colonial powers, China and Cuba. It will critically examine Westad’s ground-breaking approach, emphasising the agency of non-western actors in shaping the form and extent of superpower intervention (or the lack of it) in African contexts and conflicts.
It will also explore a range of source material including state documents, memoirs and film, to assess what we know (and still don’t know) about Africa’s Cold War.