During the height of the Cold War in the 20th century, the mere thought of a truly emancipated Africa teeming with organic, contextual, participatory, and liberatory democracy inspired livid fury in the minds of Western imperialists.
This was aggravated where certain African governments in the immediate post-colonial era of the 20th century chose to take their own paths of self-determination that were averse to Western capitalism. They were hastily branded “Communist” and became an evil that had to be wiped from the face of the earth.
In 1957 when Ghana brimmed with unprecedented revolutionary zest that torched the whole continent with majority rule imaginings – the first African country to attain independence – the CIA viewed it with enigmatic lenses because of its “place in history”. Kwame Nkrumah’s revolutionary charisma radiated African self-determination that threatened Western imperialism in the context of the Cold War.
The same applied for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which freed itself from Belgian colonial rule in 1960 under the leadership of Patrice Lumumba, a fiercely principled African nationalist who upheld the maxim of “positive neutrality”.
Africa’s revolutionary luminaries who include Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, and Frantz Fanon were acutely aware of the “imperialism not necessarily from Europe” at a time they were creating new paths of self-rule for the continent at large. In 1958, Nkrumah’s Ghana hosted an African conference attended by three hundred plus leaders from twenty-eight African territories, including Lumumba and Fanon. Nkrumah’s intention was to dilute the euphoria of independence with realistic, stern warnings of interference at the instance of “imperialist and capitalist forces”.
The independence of these two countries held unmatched political symbolism – the independence of these two countries portended the independence of the rest of Africa, and imperial interference compromising such independence signalled the exposure of Africa’s sovereignty and independence to “grave risk”, in the words of Nkrumah at the conference.
The resource-rich DRC was too lucrative to pass over to “African radical communists” – even though Lumumba once proclaimed, “I am not a Communist … I am a revolutionary [demanding] the abolition of the colonial regime which ignored our human dignity.” Just shortly after being democratically elected as DRC’s first prime minister, he was ruthlessly assassinated in a plan orchestrated by the CIA. America’s interests then were vested in the Congo’s uranium deposits.
Nkrumah, deeply devastated with Lumumba’s assassination, also fell to predatory and megalomaniac machinations of the CIA when he was deposed as Ghana’s leader via a coup in 1966. His stern warnings about imperialist interference – this time from the CIA – were crystallized with the materialization of these two events: Lumumba’s assassination and the coup that deposed Nkrumah. Puppet governments subservient to American and Western interests were installed: in the DRC, it was the callous Mobutu Sese Seko.
The nationalist movements for liberation in Zimbabwe and Mozambique were intricately woven as the two neighbouring countries fought side by side to attain majority rule for black Africans. Mozambique won majority rule in 1975 following the departure of Portuguese colonial settlers, with Zimbabwe attaining majority rule in 1980.
When Mozambique got its independence under the astute leadership of the venerated leader Samora Machel in 1975, it posed serious existential threats to the colonial states of Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa.
The sovereignty of Mozambique, avowedly built on Leftism (socialism/communism), served as a liberatory channel for Zimbabwean nationalists engaged in an acrimonious guerrilla warfare with Rhodesia. The latter depended on a reliable ally – apartheid South Africa. White Rhodesia and South Africa did not hesitate to enlist the help of the CIA.
Initially, Rhodesia’s Central Intelligence created the Mozambican National Resistance Army (RENAMO), a rebel group led by Alfonso Dhlakama to weaken ZANLA and FRELIMO by pushing an anti-communist agenda. Apartheid South Africa continued to fund and support RENAMO with the help of the CIA (after Zimbabwe got independence).
This resulted in a bitter civil war that lasted from 1975 till a ceasefire was agreed in 1992. CIA covertly supported RENAMO, but later grew skeptical of it saying that Dhlakama did not match Machel’s political stature. Machel died in a mysterious plane crash in 1986 near South Africa’s border.
Of importance to note too is the Angolan civil war after its independence in 1975 – heightened by the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale in 1988.
It was an ideological war pitting the Marxist inclined Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) supported by Cuba, the Soviet Union, and other African liberation movements including South Africa’s ANC and South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) and the Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), a rebel group led by Jonas Savimbi (similar to RENAMO) – it received anti-communist support from America’s CIA and apartheid South Africa.
However, the battle was a turning point in Southern Africa’s history that ultimately led to the independence of Namibia.
The CIA, even without superimposing the colonial hegemony similar to that of European powers, was driven by the frenzied reactions of the Cold War in which the “fear of communism” justified interference via coups and proxy wars.
This destabilized the foundation for organic paths of self-determination that new African nation states sought to carve for their collective well-being.
The CIA must not hide behind the historical amnesia caused by profound agency secrecy – it must be held accountable for its “drunkenness” with power laden with murder [but without the will to openly effect (neo)colonial regimes] that destabilized post-colonial African attempts towards emancipatory independence and sovereignty.