Revisiting the Soviet Moment in Sub-Saharan Africa
History Compass, 10, 1- 10, July 2009
Maxim Matusevich, Ph.D.
Department of History
The Soviet Union’s involvement of sub-Saharan Africa came on the heels of African independence. During the Cold War, both the USSR and the United States engaged in an intense struggle for the “soul of Africa,” vying to win over the newly independent African nations. The Soviets offered Africans an alternative model of socio-economic development and hoped that its implementation would result in a closer geoplitical alliance and Africa’s inevitable march toward socialism. However, these early euphoric expectations were dashed when it became clear that African nations were often pursuing their own pragmatic objectives. Even those regimes who formally committed to socialism were, in fact, using ideology and exploiting the cold war rivalries and superpower sensibilities for their own political expediency. In Angola, in Somalia, in Ethiopia, and in Southern Africa, the Soviets were left to contend with regimes and political movements that often defied their expectations. Soviet involvement in sub-Saharan Africa diminished greatly in the wake of Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms in the Soviet Union. With the Cold War waning and the Soviet economy in shambles, the USSR had little incentive to continue its presence in Africa. By the time of Soviet collapse in 1991, the country had lost much of its earlier clout and prominence in Africa, south of the Sahara.