Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Africa and the Cold War - Term 2 Week 1

The end of the dream: coups, dictators, and military rule

To the newly independent African states faced with multiple challenges to its sovereignty, security was one of the key challenges. As much as the Cold War offered choices in developmental models, African governments faced choices faced important choices, as far as training their armies and developing their security sector. A decade on from the celebrations that greeted independence across Africa, the situation had turned much gloomier. Democracy quickly went the same way as colonialism. By the 1970s, most states were ruled by authoritarian one-party regimes. In many, the military overthrew civilian government, often sparking a rash of coups. To many African leaders, such as Kwame Nkrumah who was ousted in 1966, the coups were a product of 'neocolonialism', entrenched in the fabric of the African armies. As the militaries became increasingly important, all sides in the Cold War rushed to offer arms, military and security training to African armies and revolutionary movements. Why did Africa succumb to the ‘coup disease’? From where did these military regimes draw their legitimacy? And what role did the superpower rivalry play in abetting the rise of authoritarian government and dictators in Africa, including the role of secret agencies? The lecture looks at the select cases of military coups and addresses the militarisation of the Cold War.

In class, we’ll start with the case of Ghana, looking at why the Military decided to topple Nkrumah and the role of the West. In the second half, we will addres militarisation of the Cold War, specifically looking at US and British policy towards Nigeria. Please, look through documents on US relations with Ghana. Bring one to class

Class/Essay questions

1. To what extent did the Cold War contribute to the prevalence of military coups in post-colonial Africa? Answer with reference to either Ghana, Uganda OR Nigeria

2. Account for the militarisation of Cold War competition in post-colonial Africa. Answer in relation to Ghana, Uganda OR Nigeria

3. To what extent did the Cold War prolong military and single-party rule in post-colonial Africa?

4. What was the impact of Western and Eastern bloc secret intelligence in Africa?

Class reading

Simon Baynham, ‘Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? The Case of Nkrumah’s National Security Service’, Journal of Modern African Studies, 23 (1985), 87-103

Marco Wyss, 'The United States, Britain, and Military Assistance to Nigeria', The Historical Journal, Volume 61, Issue 4 ( December 2018):1065-1087  

Chibuike Uche, 'Oil, British Interests and the Nigerian Civil War', The Journal of African History, Vol. 49, No. 1 (2008): 111-135  

TASK: TASK: Look through a list of documents on US and Ghana and bring one to class: Foreign Relations of the United States Series, 1964-1968. Volume XXIV, Africa. Ghana (Documents 235-274), available from:

General readings

Samuel Decalo, ‘Military Coups and Military Regimes in Africa’, Journal of Modern African Studies, 11 (1973), 105-27.
Samuel Decalo, Coups and Army Rule in Africa (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990).
Jesse Ferris, Nasser’s Gamble: How Intervention In Yemen Caused The Six-Day War And The Decline Of Egyptian Power (Princeton University Press, 2015)
David Goldsworthy, ‘Armies and Politics in Civilian Regimes’, in Simon Baynham (ed.), Military Power and Politics in Black Africa (London: Croom Helm, 1986).
Ian Greig, The Communist Challenge to Africa (Richmond: Foreign Affairs Publications, 1977), 39-67.
John W. Harbeson (ed.), The Military in African Politics (New York: Praeger, 1987).
Patrick J. McGowan, ‘African Military Coups d’état, 1956-2001’, Journal of Modern African Studies, 41 (2003), 339-70.
Eric Nordlinger, Soldiers and Politics: Military Coups and Governments (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1977).
*Paul Nugent, Africa since Independence: A Comparative History, 2nd edn (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 204-260. Useful summary
Vijay Prashad, The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World (New York: The New Press, 2007), 134-50.
Ruth First, The Barrel of a Gun: Political Power in Africa and the Coup d’État (London: Allen Lane, 1970), 3-23.

On Western and Soviet secret intelligence and military involvement in Africa Cold War

*Poppy Cullen, 'Playing Cold War politics’: the Cold War in Anglo-Kenyan relations in the 1960s’, Cold War History, 18:1 (2018), 37-54

John Ferris, “Coming In from the Cold War: The Historiography of American Intelligence, 1945–1990,” in Michael J. Hogan, ed., America in the World: The Historiography of American Foreign Relations since 1941 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 562–500
Richard J. Aldrich, “Grow Your Own: Cold War Intelligence and History Supermarkets,” Intelligence and National Security, Vol. 17, No. 1 (Spring 2002), pp. 135–152
David Throup, “Crime, politics and the police in colonial Kenya, 1939-63”, in David M. Anderson and David Killingray (eds.), Policing and decolonisation: politics, nationalism and the police, 1917-65 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1992), 127-157.
Richard Rathbone, “Political intelligence and policing in Ghana in the late 1940s and 1950s”, in David M. Anderson and David Killingray (eds.), Policing and decolonisation: politics, nationalism and the police, 1917-65 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1992), 84-104.
Philip Murphy, ‘Intelligence and decolonization: the life and death of the Federal Intelligence and Security Bureau, 1954-63’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 29:2 (2001)
*Thomas J. Maguire, Counter-Subversion in Early Cold War Britain: The Official Committee on Communism (Home), the Information Research Department, and ‘State-Private Networks’, Intelligence and National Security, 30:5 (2015): 637-666
*Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the Third World (New York: Basic Books, 2005) [Also watch Christopher Andrew talk on his new book, The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the Third World, Newly Revealed Secrets from the Mitrokhin Archive:]
Philip Murphy, ‘South African intelligence, the Wilson Plot and post-Imperial trauma’ in Patrick Major and Christopher R Moran (eds), Spooked: Britain, Empire and Intelligence since 1945 (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars, 2009)
*Natalia Telepneva, ‘Saving Ghana’s revolution: the demise of Kwame Nkrumah and the evolution of Soviet Policy in Africa 1966-1972’, Journal of Cold War Studies (2018, forthcoming), available from
*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, forthcoming (London: IB Tauris, 2018).
F.S. Saunders, Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War (London: Granta, 1999)
*Calder Walton, Empire of Secrets: British Intelligence, the Cold War and the Twilight of Empire (Harper Press: London, 2013), 210-86.
Calder Walton and Christopher Andrew, ‘Still the Missing Dimension: British Intelligence and the Historiography of British Decolonisation’, in Patrick Major and Christopher R. Moran (eds), Spooked: Britain, Empire and Intelligence since 1945 (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars, 2009), 73-96.
Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA (New York: Doubleday, 2007)
Luise White, The Assassination of Herbert Chitepo: Texts and Politics in Zimbabwe (Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press, 2003).
Hugh Wilford, 'The Information Research Department: Britain's Secret Cold War Weapon Revealed', Review of International Studies 24, 3 (1998): 353-70

On Ghana

Dennis Austin and Robin Luckham (eds), Politicians and Soldiers in Ghana, 1966-72 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978).

*Simon Baynham, The Military and Politics in Nkrumah’s Ghana (Boulder: Westview, 1988).

Ama Biney, ‘The Development of Kwame Nkrumah’s Political Thought in Exile, 1966-1972’, Journal of African History, 50 (2009), 81-100.

Henry L. Bretton, The Rise and Fall of Kwame Nkrumah: A Study of Personal Rule in Africa (London: Pall Mall, 1966).

John Dunn, West African States: Failure and Promise (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978) [e-book].

C. L. R. James, Nkrumah and the Ghana Revolution (London: Allison & Busby, 1977).

On Nigeria and the Biafra War

Luke Nnaemeka Aneke, The untold story of the Nigeria-Biafra War : a chronological reconstruction of the events and circumstances of the Nigerian Civil War (New York : Triumph Publishing, 2007)

*Anthony A. Douglas, Poison and Medicine: Ethnicity, Power and Violence in a Nigerian City, 1966-86 (Oxford: James Currey, 2010).

*Michael Gould, The Biafran War: The Struggle for Modern Nigeria (London: IB Tauris, 2012) [e-book].

Toyin Falola & Ogechukwu Ezekwem, Writing the Nigeria-Biafra War (Suffolk : James Currey, 2016)
Okaka Opio Dokotum, The Biafran War according to Hollywood : militainment and historical distortion in Antoine Fuqua's 'Tears of the Sun', Lagos Historical Review, vol. 12 (2012): 23-40.
Tobe Nnamani & Bernhard Uhde, Between ethics and politics : lessons from Biafra : the role of the International Community and its sociopolitical implications (Author House, Bloomington, IN : AuthorHouse, 2004)
Nwabeze Reuben Ogbudinkpa, The economics of the Nigerian civil war and its prospects for national development (Enugu : Fourth Dimension, 2002)
George A. Obiozor, The United States and the Nigerian civil war: an American dilemma in Africa, 1966-1970 (Lagos : Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, 1993)

Joseph E. Thompson, American policy and African famine: the Nigeria-Biafra War, 1966-1970, Contributions in Afro-American and African studies (Greenwood Press, 1990)
Amechi Okolo,"The political economy of the Nigerian oil sector and the civil war", The Quarterly Journal of Administration: (1980/81), vol. 15, no. 1/2, p. 107-126.

*Keith Panter-Brick (ed.), Nigerian Politics and Military Rule: Prelude to the Civil War (London: Athlone, 1970).

*Keith Panter-Brick (ed.), Soldiers and Oil: The Political Transformation of Nigeria (London: Cass, 1978).

*Maxim Matusevich, No Easy Row for a Russian Hoe: Ideology and Pragmatism in Nigerian-Soviet Relations, 1960-1991 (Africa World Press, 2003)

G. N. Uzoigwe, Visions of nationhood: prelude to the Nigerian Civil War (Africa World Press: Trenton, NJ 2011)
Douglas Anthony, 'Resourceful and progressive blackmen' : modernity and race in Biafra, 1967-70 / Douglas Anthony, The Journal of African History: (2010), vol. 51, no. 1, p. 41-61.
*Marco Wyss, The United States, Britain, and Military Assistance to Nigeria, The Historical Journal, Volume 61, Issue 4 ( December 2018):1065-1087

*Marco Wyss, ‘The Challenge of Western Neutralism during the Cold War’, the Journal of Cold War Studies, Volume 20, Number 2 (Spring 2018)

On coups and the military in Uganda

Hugh Dinwiddy, ‘The Uganda Army and Makerere under Obote 1962-71’, African Affairs, 82 (1983), 43-59.

Garth Glentworth and Ian Hancock, ‘Obote and Amin: Change and Continuity in Modern Ugandan Politics’, African Affairs, 72 (1973), 237-55.

Holger Bernt Hansen, Ethnicity and Military Rule in Uganda (Uppsala: SIAS, 1977).

Holger Bernt Hansen, ‘Uganda in the 1970s: A Decade of Paradoxes and Ambiguities’, Journal of Eastern African Studies, 7 (2013), 83-103.

Mahmood Mamdani, Imperialism and Fascism in Uganda (Nairobi: Heinemann, 1983).

Ali Mazrui, Soldiers and Kinsmen in Uganda: The Making of a Military Ethnocracy (Beverly Hills: Sage, 1975).

Derek R. Peterson and Edgar C. Taylor, ‘Rethinking the State in Idi Amin’s Uganda: The Politics of Exhortation’, Journal of Eastern African Studies, 7 (2013), 58-82.

George Roberts, 'The Uganda-Tanzania War, the Fall of Idi Amin, and the Failure of African Diplomacy, 1978-1979', Journal of Eastern African Studies, 8 (2014), 692-709.

Aidan Southall, ‘General Amin and the Coup: Great Man or Historical Inevitability?’, Journal of Modern African Studies, 13 (1975), 85-105.

Michael Twaddle, ‘The Amin Coup’, Journal of Commonwealth Studies, 10 (1972), 99-112.

Peter Woodward, ‘Ambiguous Amin’, African Affairs, 77 (1978), 153-64.

On coups and the military in Burkina Faso

Victoria Brittain, ‘Introduction to Sankara & Burkina Faso’, Review of African Political Economy, 12 (1985), 39-47.

Ernst Harsch, Thomas Sankara: An African Revolutionary (Athens: Ohio University Press 2014) [e-book].

Guy Martin, ‘Ideology and Praxis in Thomas Sankara’s Populist Revolution of 4 August 1983 in Burkina Faso’, Issue, 15 (1987), 77-90.

René Otayek, ‘The Revolutionary Process in Burkina Faso: Breaks and Continuities’, Journal of Communist Studies, 1 (1985), 82-100.

Alexandra Reza, ‘The New Broom in Burkina Faso’, New Left Review, 101 (2016), 93-119.

Thomas Sankara Speaks: The Burkina Faso Revolution, 1983-87 (New York: Pathfinder, 1988).

Elliott P. Skinner, ‘Sankara and the Burkinabé Revolution: Charisma and Power, Local and External Dimensions’, Journal of Modern African Studies, 26 (1988), 437-55.

On coups and the military in Congo/Zaire

Kenneth L. Adelman, ‘Zaire’s Year of Crisis’, African Affairs, 77 (1978), 36-44.

Thomas M. Callaghy, The State-Society Struggle: Zaire in Comparative Perspective (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984), ch. 1.

Sean Kelly, America’s Tyrant: The CIA and Mobutu of Zaire (Washington DC: American University Press, 1993).

Miles Larmer, ‘Local Conflicts in a Transnational War: The Katangese Gendarmes and the Shaba Wars of 1977-78’, Cold War History, 13 (2013), 89-108.

Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, The Congo from Leopold to Kabila: A People’s History (London: Zed, 2002).

Nathaniel K. Powell, ‘The “Cuba of the West”?: France’s Cold War in Zaïre, 1977-1978’, Journal of Cold War Studies, 18 (2016), 64-96.

Michael Schatzberg, ‘Explaining Zaire’, African Affairs, 82 (1983), 569-73.

Michael Schatzberg, The Dialectics of Oppression in Zaire (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988).

Crawford Young, ‘Zaire: The Anatomy of a Failed State’, in David Birmingham and Phyllis Martin (eds), History of Central Africa – The Contemporary Years since 1960 (London: Longman, 1988).