Africa's proxy Cold War

The years following the Second World War saw European empires lose their grasp over Africa and the efforts of the United States and the USSR to secure influence over the decolonising continent. The ill-fated Anglo-French invasion of the Suez CAnal, which spelt the virtual end of British imperialism marked a turning point in the manner of foreign influences in Africa.  In future, all action was not direct, but became a series of conflicts as the two superpowers struggled for influence in newly independent African states.  A second stage of Imperialism.  Millions died in these proxy wars: food production and distribution were disrupted and regional famines followed.

A British tank advances over rubble in Suez

Cold War conflicts played havoc with African politics by skewing the complex process of decolonisation. US and Soviet intelligence agencies played kingmakers, financing and overseeing coups to install agreeable rulers.  Both powers tended to support corruptible local strongmen, often of a military history and an authoritarian philosophy.  It was irrelevant whether these dictators had any ideological commitment to liberal democracy or Communism as long as they paid lip service to these ideologies when called upon.  This manifested in the ascension of corrupt, brutal men to the seats of African power, such as Nasser.  His view as a radical nationalist was seemingly incompatible with Marxism, but in practice he was an ideal ally to the Soviet Union as he consistently challenged the Western powers.  The USSR poured modern warplanes and weaponry into Egypt and portrayed Nasser as a champion of oppressed peoples in their struggle against imperialism and capitalism.  The scene was set for decades of proxy rivalry in Africa, to the continued expense of African lives to foreign politics.



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