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Africa and the Cold War - Term 2 Week 3

Proxy war? The Ethiopia-Somalia conflict, 1977-78

Building on last week’s session on the context of superpower rivalry in the Horn of Africa, this class will look at the events of 1977-78 itself, when Ethiopian-Somali disputes spilt over into war. Ostensibly a conflict over a small triangle of land, the Ogaden War has often been presented as a ‘proxy war’ between the superpowers. We will assess whether this is a fair description of the conflict, looking at the impact in particular of Soviet and Cuban military aid for Ethiopia. You will already have an outline of the war’s narrative from the Westad's chapter on the reading list last week – this week’s reading presents a series of different viewpoints on the conflict. The CWIHP essay discusses material found in Ethiopian and Eastern Bloc archives on the Ogaden War: how has the end of the Cold War changed our understanding of the Ethiopia-Somalia war?


1. What caused the Ogaden War, and what advantage did victory bring?

2. What do we learn about Cuba’s Africa policy from its intervention in the Ogaden War?

Class readings

Gebru Tareke, ‘The Ethiopian-Somalia War of 1977 Revisited’, International Journal of African Historical Studies, 33 (2000), 635-67.  

Jiri Valenta, ‘Soviet-Cuban intervention in the Horn of Africa: Impact and Lessons’, Journal of International Affairs, 34 (1980-1), 353-67.  

Ermias Abebe, 'The Horn, the Cold War, and Documents from the Former East-Bloc: An Ethiopian View' in ‘Anatomy of a Third World Cold War Crisis: New East-Bloc Evidence on the Horn of Africa, 1977-78’, Cold War International History Project Bulletin, 8-9 (1996-7), 40-49 [plus see introduction from James Hershberg, pp. 38-40], available from (go to pages 40-49)

TASK: Look at the collection of documents on the crisis in the Horn of Africa. Bring one document to class. Be prepared to explain why you chose it and how it helps us understand the conflict:

General readings

Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, The Mitrokhin Archive: Volume II, The KGB and the World (London: Penguin, 2006), 423-70.

Harry Brind, ‘Soviet Policy in the Horn of Africa’, International Affairs, 60 (1984), 75-95.

Donald Donham, Marxist Modern: An Ethnographic History of the Ethiopian Revolution (Oxford: James Currey, 1999).

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, ‘Moscow’s Proxy? Cuba and Africa, 1975-1988’, Journal of Cold War Studies, 8 (2006), 3-51.

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 [e-book].

Fred Halliday, 'US Policy in the Horn of Africa: Aboulia or Proxy Intervention', Review of African Political Economy, 4 (1977), 8-32.

James G. Herschberg, ‘Anatomy of a Third World Cold War Crisis: New East Bloc Evidence on the Horn of Africa 1977-78 – Introduction’, Cold War International History Project Bulletin, 8-9 (1996-97), 38-40.

Donna R. Jackson, ‘The Ogaden War and the Demise of Détente’, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 632 (2010), 26-40.

David D. Laitin, ‘The War in the Ogaden: Implications for Siyaad’s Role in Somali History’, Journal of Modern African Studies, 17 (1979), 95-115.

Jeffrey A. Lefebvre, Arms for the Horn: US Security Policy in Ethiopia and Somalia, 1953-1991 (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1991).

Jeffrey A. Lefebvre, ‘The United States, Ethiopia and the 1963 Somali-Soviet Arms Deal: Containment and the Balance of Power Dilemma in the Horn of Africa’, Journal of Modern African Studies, 36 (1998), 611-43.

Marina Ottaway, Soviet and American Influence in the Horn of Africa (New York: Praeger 1982).

*Robert G. Patman, The Soviet Union in the Horn of Africa: The Diplomacy of Intervention and Disengagement (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 204-54 [e-book].

Ahmed I. Samatar, ‘Self-Reliance Betrayed: Somali Foreign Policy, 1969-1980’, Canadian Journal of African Studies, 21 (1987), 201-19.

Elizabeth Schmidt, Foreign Intervention in Africa: from the Cold War to the War on Terror (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013) [e-book].

Peter Schwab, ‘Cold War on the Horn of Africa’, African Affairs, 77 (1978), 6-20.

Gebru Tareke, The Ethiopian Revolution: War in the Horn of Africa (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009).

Andargachew Tiruneh, The Ethiopian Revolution, 1974-1987: A Transformation from an Aristocratic to a Totalitarian Autocracy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), chs 7 & 8 [e-book].

Odd Arne Westad, The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 273-87.

Belete Belachew Yihun, ‘Ethiopian Foreign Policy and the Ogaden War: The Shift from “Containment” to “Destabilization”, 1977-1991’, Journal of Eastern African Studies, 8 (2014), 677-91.

Radoslav A. Yordanov, The Soviet Union and the Horn of Africa during the Cold War (Lanham: Lexington, 2016). [e-book]

*Louise P. Woodroofe, Buried in the Sands of the Ogaden: The United States, the Horn of Africa, and the Demise of Détente (Kent: The Kent State University Press, 2013)