Foreign Intervention in Africa: From the Cold War to the War on Terror

By Markovitz, Irving Leonard | The International Journal of African Historical Studies, May 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Foreign Intervention in Africa: From the Cold War to the War on Terror


Markovitz, Irving Leonard, The International Journal of African Historical Studies


Foreign Intervention in Africa: From the Cold War to the War on Terror. By Elizabeth Schmidt. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Pp. 267. $27.99 paper.

Elizabeth Schmidt enables us to better understand the causes and consequences of Foreign Intervention in Africa through her simple but elegant categorization and periodization of historical developments since the advent of independence.

Her analysis provides a much needed service because she goes beyond a mere narrative to provide a moral perspective on the motives and interests of the interveners and the damage that they have done to ordinary Africans.

Professor Schmidt more than fulfills the objective of the Cambridge University Press series "New Approaches to African History," edited by Martin Klein, of both summarizing the state of knowledge on a particular subject, and stimulating debate by arguing a particular point of view and challenging students and readers.

Schmidt shows how there were winners and losers, instigators and culprits in each of the four periods that she argues define the era: the period of decolonization from 1956 to 1975; the Cold War from 1945 to 1991; the period of state collapse-1991-2001; and the "global war on terror," 2001-2010.

If in the first two periods, external interventions by the United States, the Soviet Union, China, Cuba and the former colonial powers were what mattered most, intrusions by African governments were increasingly determinative during the period of state collapse with their support of "warlords, dictators, and dissident movements in neighboring countries" (p. 3). African governments fought, sometimes with external support, "for control of their neighbors' resources" (p. 3). The global war on terror, as during the Cold War, brought new interventions by external powers into internal struggles and intensified support for repressive regimes, "escalating local conflicts into larger conflagrations with devastating effects on African peoples" (p. 3).

Schmidt is, of course, totally aware that events in the real world do not fit into tidy time periods or categories. She is, however, concerned with establishing four central propositions. First, as colonialism tottered at the end of WWII, Cold War powers sought to transfer instruments of control to themselves, again at the expense of indigenous peoples, in neo-colonial arrangements. Second, when the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union collapsed, African nations were abandoned and left with enormous debts and collapsed states: "While indigenous prodemocracy movements challenged warlords and autocrats, foreign actors both helped and hindered their efforts" (p. 2). Third, the global war on terror has again increased foreign military presence. Fourth, throughout all of these periods, foreign intervention has exacerbated rather than alleviated African conflicts and harmed rather than helped Africa's peoples-and this includes, for the most part, humanitarian and peace-keeping efforts.

Schmidt pointedly tells us that not only did the United States hope to replace the colonial powers as the dominant external force, but "strove to keep both radical nationalism and communism at bay," while the Soviet Union and other communist countries "sided unabashedly with African liberation movements" (p. …

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