John Rapley is a professor at the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study. His most recent book is Twilight of the Money Gods.
During the Cold War, Africa stood on the frontline of the East-West struggle. Both the U.S. and Soviet blocs propped up client-regimes with generous patronage and military assistance, and each of them maintained proxy armies that fought rebellions against states in the other camp. In this way, the two superpowers became adept at harassing one another without ever coming to blows themselves.
Africa generally came off the worse for it. Some leaders of what were then newly independent countries became very adept at exploiting the superpower rivalry, playing one side off against the other and thereby extracting maximum benefit.
Sadly, though, most of it ended up in Swiss bank accounts or European real estate. Keen to keep their allies on board, Western governments and the Soviet Union turned a blind eye to the spectacular corruption and maladministration that blighted and bankrupted countries like Zaire, Ethiopia and perhaps most spectacularly of all the Central African Republic, whose megalomaniacal leader renamed his country an Empire and blew the country’s annual budget on a lavish coronation ceremony, replete with a golden throne.
Meanwhile the proxy armies that took the Cold War to African battlefields bogged countries like Angola and Mozambique down in endless and destructive civil wars.
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