Africa and the Global Cold War III

Aychegrew Hadera, Bahir Dar University; Christian Methfessel, Leibniz Institute for Contemporary History; Ned Richardson-Little, Erfurt University; Teferi Mekonnen, Institute of Ethiopian Studies, Addis Ababa University; Jan Záhořík, University of West Bohemia, Pilsen
Ernst-Abbe-Stiftung; VolkswagenStiftung; Faculty of Arts, University of West Bohemia, Pilsen; Research Department and International Office, Erfurt University
Fand statt
In Präsenz
Vom - Bis
22.09.2022 - 24.09.2022
Stella Kneifel, Geschichte Westasiens, Universität Erfurt

During the Cold War, both the United States and the Soviet Union came into contact and conflict with one another on a political, social, and ideological level in Africa. In the course of this conference the role of the Cold War in developments within Africa (in terms of relevance and as a historical framework) as well as the extent to which the superpowers influenced African countries (including decolonization and their paths to modernity), were critically discussed. Topics included relations between Africa and Eastern Bloc countries, intra-African relations and analyses of local case studies.

The first panel primarily focused on the mobility of (mostly) young Africans. ERIC BURTON (Innsbruck) highlighted the need to dissolve the separation between education on the one hand and military training on the other, when examining educational mobility of members of liberation movements in Africa during the 1950s and 1960s. Burton emphasized the individuality of students’ trajectories. By doing so, he demonstrated that the boundaries between these categories were blurred, which further underlined the notion of said trajectories being fragmented and global. MARCIA SCHENCK (Potsdam) explored the question of whether the Cold War could be seen as an intellectual force field. During the 1960s, decolonization, development, and higher education with respect to refugee students were seen as an essential component for modernization and empowerment. She placed special emphasis on the supranational bureaucratic level as the foundation of refugee assistance and power players, influencing the refugees’ educational path.

In the second panel, academic mobilities were discussed. LORENA ANTON (Bucharest) and LAURA BISAILLON (Toronto) investigated how Ethiopian students in Romania lived their lives as socialist subjects in the 1970s and 1980s. Using ethnographic methods, they examined students’ pasts, passages and trajectories by investigating the organization, production, and circulation of knowledge. Special attention was being paid to trajectories and experiences of female students. JAN ZÁHORIK (Pilsen) focused on the educational cooperation between Ethiopia and Czechoslovakia/Hungary. Through interviews with former African students, he could trace their life paths and reveal their attitudes, perceptions, and disappointments. He argued that inequalities were reproduced within the educational system. E.g., this was evident in the selection of cadres who had to be loyal to the regime. Against this background, it is not surprising that both sides were disappointed: Czechoslovak representatives expressed their dissatisfaction with the level of cooperation with African counterparts and intercultural relations while the students were disappointed when they realized their expectations of Czechoslovakia were different from reality.

The third panel mainly dealt with information and media. ROBERT HEINZE (Paris) addressed the aspect of media and solidarity. Using the guerilla radio “Voice of Namibia” as an example, he investigated the experiences of African journalists who came to Berlin to attend the International Institute for Journalism. Heinze’s example reveals a contradiction in terms of perspectives. While GDR histories have emphasized the ideological function of training African journalists, looking at it from a Southern point of view, however, changes this picture: from the perspective of Namibians and other African journalists, the emphasis on anti-imperialism was not necessarily communist, but rather nationalist in nature. However, anti-imperialism offered an ideological middle ground, acceptable to both the socialist discourse of international solidarity and the discourse of non-alignment. MIKULÁŠ PEŠTA (Prague) focused on Prague as a center of anti-colonial thought and host city for many Third World intellectuals, journalists, and politicians. In doing so, he paid special attention to those international organizations that had their headquarters there. His examination shows that international organizations were interconnected to one another as well as internationally and that their global scope made a significant contribution to decolonization. Therefore, he argued it to be necessary to interpret international organizations not only in the context of the Cold War, but also in the context of decolonization.

The fourth panel focused on intelligence cooperation and clandestine networks. ROBIN MÖSER (Leipzig) highlighted parallels in the negotiations with French and German companies and the apartheid South African nuclear sector. Competition was pushed to the extreme during the 1970s as the South African regime urgently needed foreign investment for its nuclear strategy. He summed up that growing international opposition to South Africa’s apartheid policies prevented the regime from establishing itself as a major supplier of nuclear fuel on a world scale. Nevertheless, earlier collaboration with French and German nuclear energy partners enabled and gave South African scientists the confidence to invest in a sophisticated nuclear infrastructure that served domestic purposes until the end of apartheid. JAN KOURA (Prague) showed that Morocco can be considered a “special case” within Czechoslovakia’s Africa policy. In the 1960s, Czechoslovakia maintained good relations with the pro-Western Moroccan government on the one hand, and supported Ben Bella’s regime in Algeria during the Sand War against Morocco, on the other hand. Czechoslovak intelligence services actively cooperated with the leading Moroccan opposition politician Mehdi Ben Barka. Using the example of Czechoslovak attitudes toward Morocco, he demonstrated the conflicts within Czechoslovak foreign policy and argued that Czechoslovak intelligence was an important and previously overlooked player in African affairs during the Cold War.

The fifth panel discussed the arms trade and mercenaries. SUE ONSLOW (London) approached different dimensions of truth. Using the example of representation and motivation of “foreign mercenaries” who participated in the “counterinsurgency” in Rhodesia between 1965 and 1980, she asked what kind of truth historical researchers were asking for. In doing so, she distinguished fact-based truth on the one hand and personal and narrative truth on the other. She emphasized that in both cases it is important to examine what and why something is remembered falsely – no matter the motivation behind. MILORAD LAZIĆ (Washington, D.C.) discussed Yugoslavia’s military aid to Ethiopia. Belgrade extended its political and military support in the 1970s to avoid that Ethiopia falls to foreign influence. Merely between 1974 and 1977 Yugoslavia sent military aid in the amount of 5 million U.S. dollars. He argued that Yugoslav military aid to Ethiopia fit into aid to African liberation movements and independent states in general. Thus, aid was an attempt to overcome the power dynamics of superpower relations; at the same time, the aid demonstrated the limits of global activism by small and medium-sized states – the Cold War offered opportunities, but also imposed constraints. NED RICHARDSON-LITTLE (Erfurt) addressed the topic of arms trafficking of the two German states to Africa. Despite the prohibition of establishing an army of their own, Germany was a global arms dealer after World War II. The arms trade was subject to division during the Cold War, which affected the two German states: They competed to supply arms to Africa. While there were possible open markets for East Germany in South Africa, this became an issue due to pressure from the Soviet Union to maintain an anticolonial line. West Germany on the other hand, sought to establish relations with new states drawing on old colonial ties. However, both states used arms trade to attack the other as successor to the Nazis.

The sixth panel covered the Ethiopian-Somali conflict. NATALIA TELEPNECA (Glasgow) expounded the history of the Soviet embassy in Addis Ababa in the 1970s. She traced in how far the Soviet Embassy in Addis Ababa was aware of the revolutionary developments in Ethiopia and the role it played in the Ogaden War of 1977/78. The Soviet Embassy supported the Provisional Military Administrative Council and its first deputy chairman Mengistu Haile Mariam, considering the latter to be the main proponent of so-called progressive socialist developments and thus an important ally of the USSR. Her contribution emphasized the importance of personality and ideology in Soviet diplomacy and highlighted the role of “men on the ground” and their narratives. YONAS SEIFU (Jimma) discussed why the Ogaden border region has been a source of conflict between Somalia and Ethiopia, especially since Somalia’s independence in 1960. He argued that the outbreak of war in 1977 was instigated by Somali President Said Barre, who pursued his irredentist policy to create a Greater Somalia. The superpowers also played a role in this by heightening the geopolitical tensions in the region and subsequently intervening with heavy-handed policies to advance their perceived strategic, military, and economic interests in the region.

In the seventh panel, contested territory and resources were discussed. TEFERI MEKONNEN (Addis Ababa) dealt with the Nile, which flows through the territories of eleven African countries. He examined the impact Cold War ideological alignments and realignments in Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan had on hydropolitics along the river Nile. As a result of the construction of the High Aswan Dam in the 1950s, the Nile issue became part of the politics of the Cold War in Northeast Africa and during the 1970s and 1980s the reciprocal ideological shifts in Cairo and Addis Ababa in particular formed an important background for the re-establishment of hostile relations between Egypt and Ethiopia. Furthermore, Sudan’s traditional strategic designs on the Nile waters were in tune with those of Egypt, which led the two states to join hands against the military government in Addis Ababa and increased tensions in the Eastern Nile Basin.

In the eighth panel, new Ethiopian sources on Cold War history were discussed. AYCHEGREW HADERA (Bahir Dar) presented an analysis of political memoires regarding Ethiopia's foreign policy during the Cold War which demonstrated that the latter was determined by two main factors, nationalism and socialism. However, his new and central argument was the cause of Ethiopia’s realignment to the socialist camp was due to internal or regional factors rather than an allegiance to the principles of socialism. In addition, he shed light on Ethiopia’s difficult relationship, especially in military matters, with the Soviet Union.

In the roundtable, TEFERI MEKONNEN (Addis Ababa) and CHRISTIAN METHFESSEL (Berlin) addressed the topic of research in Ethiopian archives. Mekonnen provided information about archival holdings of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies and the opportunities for international scholars to work in and with the Institute of Ethiopian Studies. Methfessel spoke about holdings of the African Union Commission Archives and English language diplomatic documents in the Ethiopian National Archives and Library Agency (NALA), consisting mainly of Haile Selassie's correspondence. The presentations then sparked a discussion about the bias of memoirs, which are, however, essential as historical sources. In this context, Ketebo Abdiyo and Yonas drew attention to a project at the University of Jimma where a new archive is being built.

In the final discussion, sparked by comments from KETEBO ABDIYO (Jimma) and IRIS SCHRÖDER (Erfurt), participants reflected on the relevance of the Cold War for the history of postcolonial Africa, thereby continuing a debate on a question that already had formed a focus of the first two events of the conference series.1 In this regard, especially the talks taking local perspectives offered promising insights: Rather than asking what Africa meant for the superpowers in the Global North or how the Cold War impacted the African continent, such an perspective offered the opportunity to explore what African actors made out of the Cold War in situations that were structured by various contexts. IRIS SCHRÖDER also paid tribute to the late Alexander Thumfart of the University of Erfurt who contributed greatly to the collaborations that led to the conference and whose presence was dearly missed at the event.

Conference overview:

Christian Werkmeister (Erfurt/Weimar): Welcome


Aychegrew Hadera (Bahir Dar University), Christian Methfessel (Leibniz Institute for Contemporary History), Ned Richardson-Little (Erfurt University), Teferi Mekonnen (Institute of Ethiopian Studies, Addis Ababa University), Jan Záhořík (University of West Bohemia, Pilsen)

Panel 1: Academic Mobilities, Decolonization and the Cold War

Chair: Ned Richardson-Little (Erfurt)

Eric Burton (Innsbruck): The Pen and the Gun: African Liberation Movements and Educational Trajectories

Marcia Schenck (Potsdam): Cold War Policies, Scholarship Programs and Decolonization Struggles: African Refugee Students of the late 1960s

Comment: Florian Wagner (Erfurt)

Panel 2: Academic Mobilities between Africa and Eastern Europe

Chair: Kelemework Tafere (Mekelle)

Lorena Anton (Bucharest), Laura Bisaillon (Toronto): The Politics of REDEducation. Ethiopian-Romanian Academic Exchanges during Ceaușescu’s Regime

Jan Záhořík (Pilsen): Education as a Socialist Modernity: Closer Look at Czechoslovak-Ethiopian Relations in the Cold War

Comment: Nikolaus Graf Vitzthum (New Haven)

Wrap-Up Discussion Day 1

Chair: Paul Skäbe (Erfurt)

Ned Richardson-Little (Erfurt): Introductory Note

Panel 3: East-South Information and Media Entanglements

Chair: Florian Wagner (Erfurt)

Robert Heinze (Paris): Solidarity on the Air: Southern African “Liberation Radios” in the Context of East-South and South-South Relations

Mikuláš Pešta (Prague): Africans and the Media of the “Communist Geneva”. The Role of Africans in the Communication of the International Organizations Based in Socialist Czechoslovakia

Comment: Eric Burton (Innsbruck)

Panel 4: Intelligence Cooperation and Clandestine Knowledge Networks

Chair: Sue Onslow (London)

Robin Möser (Potsdam): Apartheid South Africa’s Transnational Nuclear Network: Cooperation with France and Germany, 1968-1978

Jan Koura (Prague): Imbalanced Partnership: Czechoslovakia, Morocco and the Global Cold War in Africa in 1960s

Comment: Ned Richardson-Little (Erfurt)

Panel 5: Arms Trade and Mercenaries in Cold War Africa

Chair: Christian Methfessel (Berlin)

Sue Onslow (London): Histories of ‘Foreign Mercenaries’ or ‘Ideological Foot Soldiers’ in the Rhodesian War

Ned Richardson-Little (Erfurt): The Two German States and the Evolution of Arms Trafficking to Africa in the Cold War

Milorad Lazić (Washington, D.C.): Yugoslavia’s Military Aid to Ethiopia and the Ogaden War

Comment: Jan Záhořík (Pilsen)

Panel 6: The Ethiopian-Somali Conflict in a Cold War Perspective

Chair: Teferi Mekonnen (Addis Ababa)

Natalia Telepneva (Glasgow): The Soviet Embassy in Addis Ababa in the Run-Up to the Ethiopian-Somali War, 1974-1977

Yonas Seifu (Jimma): Soviet-American Rivalry in the Horn of Africa: The Case of the Ogaden War (1977/78)

Comment: Christian Methfessel (Berlin)

Wrap-Up Discussion Day 2

Chair: Peter Nadig (Berlin/ Mekelle)

Aychegrew Hadera (Bahir Dar): Introductory Note

Panel 7: Conflict in the Horn of Africa: Contested Territory and Resources

Chair: Christian Methfessel (Berlin)

Teferi Mekonnen (Addis Ababa): The Cold War and the Hydropolitics of the Eastern Nile River

Comment: Ketebo Abdiyo (Jimma)

Panel 8: New Ethiopian Sources on Cold War History

Chair: Iris Schröder (Erfurt/Gotha)

Aychegrew Hadera (Bahir Dar): Ethiopia’s Foreign Policy in the Time of the Dergue: New Evidence from Political Memoirs

Teferi Mekonnen (Addis Ababa), Christian Methfessel (Berlin): Round Table: Conducting Research in Ethiopian Archives

Final Discussion

Chair: Christian Methfessel (Berlin)

Ketebo Abdiyo (Jimma), Iris Schröder (Erfurt/Gotha): Introductory Notes

1 Philipp Metzler, Tagungsbericht: Africa and the Global Cold War, 5.7.2018 – 6.7.2018 Erfurt, in: H-Soz-Kult, 22.1.2019, <> (14.1.2023); Paul Sprute / Maximilian Vogel, Conference Review: Africa and the Global Cold War, University of Mekelle, March 2019, in: Global Histories 5/1 (2019), pp. 168-175, <> (14.1.2023).