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Africa and the Cold War - Term 1 Week 10

Educating Africa: students in the Eastern Bloc

The experience of colonialism left Africa’s independent nations with a serious shortage of skilled workers. The superpowers saw an opportunity: thousands of Africans travelled to the United States and the Soviet Bloc on university scholarships. Yet they proved less ideologically impressionable and politically malleable than their sponsors hoped. This class will explore the experiences of African students in the Soviet Bloc. Issues of gender and - especially - race come to the fore here. The literature can often seem anecdotal, drawing on African memoirs - but what broader conclusions can we draw from it?

Class/Essay questions

1. How successful in achieving its goal was the educational assistance offered to Africa by the Soviets and their allies?

2. Was the USSR racist?

3. What do the memoirs of those Africans educated in the Eastern Bloc tell us about the impact of Cold War politics on Africa?

Class reading (feel free to substitute anything from the further reading section)

Sean Guillory, 'Sean Guillory, 'Culture Clash in the Socialist Paradise: Soviet Patronage and African Students' Urbanity in the Soviet Union, 1960-1965'', Diplomatic History, 38 (2014), 271-81.  

Maxim Matusevich, ‘Journeys of Hope: African Diaspora and the Soviet Society’, African Diaspora, 1 (2008), 53-85.

Julia Hessler, 'Death of an African Student in Moscow: Race, Politics and the Cold War', Cahiers du monde russe, 47 (2006), 33-63.  

‘Black in USSR: The Children of Soviet Africa Search for their Own Identity’, Calvert Journal (2016), available from:

Further reading

G. Thomas Burgess, 'A Socialist Diaspora: Ali Sultan Issa, the Soviet Union, and the Zanzibari Revolution', in Maxim Matusevich (ed.), Africa in Russia, Russia in Africa: Three Centuries of Encounters (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2007), 263-91.

G. Thomas Burgess, Race, Revolution, and the Struggle for Human Rights in Zanzibar: The Memoirs of Ali Sultan Issa and Seif Sharif Hamad (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2009), memoirs of Ali Sultan Issa.

Joy Gleason Carew, 'Black in the USSR: African Diasporan Pilgrims, Expatriates and Students in Russia, from the 1920s to the First Decade of the Twenty-First Century', African and Black Diaspora, 8 (2015), 202-15.

Nigel Gould-Davies, ‘The Logic of Soviet Cultural Diplomacy’, Diplomatic History, 27 (2003), 193-214.

Roger E. Kanet, ‘African Youth: The Target of Soviet African Policy’, Russian Review, 27 (1968), 161-75.

Abigail Judge Kret, ‘“We Unite with Knowledge”: The People’s Friendship University and Soviet Education for the Third World’, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, 33 (2013), 239-56.

Maxim Matusevich, ‘Probing the Limits of Internationalism: African Students Confront Soviet Ritual’, Anthropology of East Europe Review, 27 (2009), 19-39.

Maxim Matusevich, ‘Black in the USSR’, Transition, 100 (2008), 56-75.

Maxim Matusevich (ed.), Africans in Russia, Russia in Africa: Three Centuries of Encounters (Trenton, NJ: World Press, 2007).

Maxim Matusevich, ‘An Exotic Subversive: Africa, Africans and the Soviet Everyday’, Race and Class, 49 (2008), 57-81.

Sergey V. Mazov, A Distant Front in the Cold War: The USSR in West Africa and the Congo, 1956-64 (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2010), ch. 4.

Sara Pugach, 'African Students and the Politics of Race and Gender in the German Democratic Republic, 1957-80', in Quinn Slobodian (ed.), Comrades of Color: East German in the Cold War World (New York, 2015), 131-57.

Seymour M. Rosen, The Development of People’s Friendship University in Moscow (Washington, DC: Institute of International Studies, 1973).

Andrew J. Rotter, ‘Culture, the Cold War and the Third World’, in Robert J. McMahon (ed.), The Cold War in the Third World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 156-76.

Quinn Slobodian, ‘Bandung in Divided Germany: Managing Non-Aligned Politics in East and West, 1955-63’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 41 (2013), 644-62.

*Marcia C. Schenck, ‘From Luanda and Maputo to Berlin: Uncovering Angolan and Mozambican Migrants’ Motives to Move to the German Democratic Republic (1979–1990)’, African Economic History, 44 (2016)