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Africa and the Cold War - Term 1 Week 5

Crisis in Congo, 1959-65

If the Cold War had lurked in the wings during the decolonisations of the 1950s, Belgium’s hasty exit from Congo in 1960 thrust Africa into the centre of superpower rivalry. In volatile circumstances, the secessionist claims of the mineral-rich province of Katanga triggered Africa’s first major Cold War conflict. This story is complex: start with Schmidt (or, if you prefer, Westad) to gain a grasp on the narrative, then explore its various facets through the extra readings.
Look through the documents on the Congo crisis available through the Office of the Historian and the Cold War International History Project (see link in class readings). Bring one of the documents to class, to form the basis for the discussion about the motivations of the superpowers in the Congo.

Class/Essay questions

1. What motivated Western intervention in the Congo, 1960-65?
2. To what extent was the Katanga secession caused by the Cold War?
3. What were the consequences of the Congo Crisis?

Class readings

Elizabeth Schmidt, Foreign Intervention in Africa: From the Cold War to the War on Terror (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 57-78 [e-book].
Miles Larmer and Erik Kennes, ‘Rethinking the Katangese Secession’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 42 (2014), 741-61.

Primary Source. Patrice Lumumba, Speech at the ceremony of the proclamation of Congo’s independence, 30 June 1960, available at:

TASK: For US documents on the Congo Crisis, see: FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES, 1964–1968, VOLUME XXIII, CONGO, 1960–1968, available at:; see Soviet, US and Belgian documents available at the website of the Cold War International History Project at:

Further readings

William Attwood, The Reds and the Blacks: A Personal Adventure (New York: Harper & Row, 1967).

Larry Devlin, Chief of Station, Congo: Fighting the Cold War in a Hot Zone (New York: Public Affairs, 2008).

Emmanuel Gerard and Bruce Kuklick, Death in the Congo: Murdering Patrice Lumumba (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015).

David N. Gibbs, ‘The UN, International Peacekeeping and the Question of ‘Impartiality’: Revisiting the Congo Operation of 1960’, Journal of Modern African Studies, 38 (2000), 359-82.

Anne-Sophie Gijs, ‘Fighting the Red Peril in the Congo: Paradoxes and Perspectives on an Equivocal Challenge to Belgium and the West (1947-1960)', Cold War History (advance access).

Piero Gleijeses, ‘Havana’s Policy in Africa: New Evidence from the Cuban Archives’, Cold War International History Project Bulletin, 8-9 (1996-97), 5-8.

Piero Gleijeses, Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington and Africa, 1959-1976 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002), 101-59.

Piero Gleijeses, ‘Cuba and the Cold War 1959-1980’, in Melvyn P. Leffler and Odd Arne Westad (eds), The Cambridge History of the Cold War, vol. II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 327-48.

Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, The African Dream: The Diaries of the Revolutionary War in Congo (London: Vintage Books, 1999).

Matthew Hughes, ‘Fighting for White Rule in Africa: the Central African Federation, Katanga, and the Congo Crisis, 1958-1965’, International History Review, 25 (2003), 592-615.

Alessandro Iandolo, ‘Imbalance of Power: The Soviet Union and the Congo Crisis, 1960-1961’, Journal of Cold War Studies, 16 (2014), 32-55.

Madeleine Kalb, Congo Cables: The Cold War in Africa from Eisenhower to Kennedy (New York: Macmillan, 1982).

John Kent, America, the UN and Decolonization: Cold War Conflict in the Congo (London: Routledge, 2010).

John Kent, ‘The US and Decolonization in Central Africa, 1957-64’, in L. J. Butler and Sarah Stockwell (eds), The Wind of Change: Harold Macmillan and British Decolonization (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 195-214. [e-book]

John Kent, 'Lumumba and the 1960 Congo Crisis: Cold War and the Neo-Colonialism of Belgian Decolonization', in Miguel Bandeira Jerónimo and António Costa Pinto (eds), The Ends of European Colonial Empires: Cases and Comparisons (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 218-42 [e-book].

*Alessandro Iandolo, ‘Imbalance of Power: The Soviet Union and the Congo Crisis, 1960-61’, Journal of Cold War Studies, 16 (2014), 32-55.

Ryan M. Irwin, ‘Sovereignty in the Congo Crisis’, in Leslie James and Elizabeth Leake (eds), Decolonization and the Cold War: Negotiating Independence (London: Bloomsbury, 2015).

Miles Larmer, ‘Of Local Identities and Transnational Conflict: The Katangese Gendarmes and Central-Southern Africa’s Forty-Years War, 1960-99’, in Nir Arielli and Bruce Collins (eds), Transnational Soldiers: Foreign Military Enlistment in the Modern Era (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 160-178 [e-book].

Sergey V. Mazov, A Distant Front in the Cold War: the USSR in West Africa and the Congo, 1956-1964 (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2010).

*Sergey Mazov, 'Soviet Aid to the Gizenga Government in the Former Belgian Congo (1960-61) as Reflected in the Russian Archives', Cold War History, 7 (2007), 425-37.

*Lise Namikas, Battleground Africa: Cold War in the Congo, 1960-1965 (Washington DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2013).

Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, Patrice Lumumba (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2014) [e-book].

Lazlo Passemiers, 'Safeguarding White Minority Power: The South African Government and the Secession of Katanga, 1960-1963', South African Historical Journal, 68 (2016), 70-91.

Jean-Philippe Peemans, ‘Imperial Hangovers: Belgium – The Economics of Decolonization’, Journal of Contemporary History, 15 (1980), 257-86.

Paul B. Rich, ‘The Death of Dag Hammarskjöld, the Congolese Civil War, and Decolonisation in Africa, 1960-65’, Small Wars and Insurgencies, 23 (2012), 352-75.

*Natalia Telepneva, “Cold War on the Cheap: Soviet and Czechoslovak Intelligence in the Congo, 1960-1963” in Philip Muehlenbeck and Natalia Telepneva, eds, Warsaw Pact Intervention in the ‘Third World’: Aid and Influence in the Cold War, (London: IB Tauris, 2018).

Odd Arne Westad, The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005) [e-book].

Susan Williams, Who Killed Hammarskjöld? The UN, the Cold War and White Supremacy in Africa (London: Hurst, 2010).

Ludo de Witte, ‘The Suppression of the Congo Rebellions and the Rise of Mobutu,1963-5’, International History Review, 39 (2017), 107-25.