Russian influence in Africa, first episode: the Soviet legacy

Russian influence in Africa, first episode: the Soviet legacy

RFI broadcasts a series of episodes on Russia’s influence on the African continent since the start of the Cold War. In this first episode, we travel to the USSR. Nikita Khrushchev, first secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, quickly understands that in order to fight the Western bloc he must unite the fight for the independence of African countries to his cause. Moscow recycles the strategy developed by Nikita Khrushchev in the late 1950s.

First modification:

2 min

In an August 1961 speech, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev denounced the actions of the imperialist powers in Africa: “It was they who organized the bloody repression of the Congolese patriots, who killed the national hero Patrice Lumumba,” he accused.

Under his command, the USSR launched multiple cooperation operations with the African continent. Numerous and diverse initiatives were carried out, such as the massive sale of arms, the sending of volunteers, infrastructure projects, scholarships. Thousands of African students thus attended Soviet universities.

Students in the USSR

Although for some the experience was harsh and they suffered violence and racism, this was not the case for the Congolese engineer Louis-Patrice Ngagnon, sent to Kiev in the 1970s. “We received very, very good training. It was truly a win-win relationship. We left here in more favorable conditions, because everything was within our reach,” he recalls on RFI. “There was no segregation. It was an immersion with the Soviet students, we did all our studies together,” insists Louis-Patrice Ngagnon.

The Congolese engineer believes that this experience allowed his generation to prepare the next. Although they left with a considerable body of knowledge, not all of these students became a communist vanguard, as Moscow hoped.

Most of the newly independent countries became the arenas for competition between the two blocs.

“Relations between the countries of the African continent and the USSR were very complex, beyond the image of confrontation between the two blocs, between two older brothers, seeking to help the poor oppressed countries,” explains Tatiana Smirnova, an anthropologist at the center. FrancoPaix from the University of Quebec in Montreal.

Soviet narrative

According to her, African countries were not satisfied with staying “on the periphery”. On the contrary, they themselves played an active role. “The leaders played the card of these opposing blocs, depending on the opportunities of the moment,” explains Smirnova, pointing to the example of Nigeria “a country that, at that time, played very well between the two blocs.”

Starting in the 1980s, the Soviet Union fell apart and interest in the continent eroded. Russia was absent from Africa for a long time. In recent years she began to recycle the Soviet narrative: that of her role as “liberator of Western imperialism”, as Smirnova points out.

This story today resonates with a part of African public opinion, frustrated by the failure of the unfinished democratic processes that began with the end of the Cold War.

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Written by Editor TLN

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