Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Elizabeth Schmidt's "Foreign Intervention in Africa"

Elizabeth Schmidt is Professor of History at Loyola University Maryland. She is the author of Cold War and Decolonization in Guinea, 1946–1958 (2007), which received the African Politics Conference Group’s 2008 Best Book Award, and Mobilizing the Masses: Gender, Ethnicity, and Class in the Nationalist Movement in Guinea, 1939–1958 (2005), which received Alpha Sigma Nu’s book award for history in 2008. Her 1992 book, Peasants, Traders, and Wives: Shona Women in the History of Zimbabwe, 1870–1939, was awarded a special mention in the Alpha Sigma Nu book competition for history, was a finalist for the African Studies Association’s Herskovits Award, and was named by Choice an “Outstanding Academic Book for 1994.”

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Foreign Intervention in Africa: From the Cold War to the War on Terror, and reported the following:
Foreign Intervention in Africa chronicles foreign political and military interventions in Africa during the periods of decolonization and the Cold War (1945–91), with a glimpse into the post-Cold War periods of state collapse and the “global war on terror” (1991-2010). During the first two periods, the United States, the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, and the former colonial powers entangled themselves in countless African conflicts. During the period of state collapse, African governments, sometimes assisted by extra-continental powers, supported warlords, dictators, and dissident movements in neighboring countries and fought for control of their neighbors’ resources. The global war on terror, like the Cold War, has increased the foreign military presence on the African continent and generated external support for repressive governments. The book argues that in each of these cases, external interests altered the dynamics of internal struggles, escalating local conflicts into larger conflagrations, with devastating effects on African peoples.

For this book, the Page 99 Test fails miserably. The ninety-ninth page, which includes a portion of the "Suggested Reading" section for Chapter 4, does not reveal anything significant about the quality of the book as a whole. However, if the reader turns back to page 98, the final page of a chapter titled "War and Decolonization in Portugal’s African Empire," the magnitude and consequences of foreign intervention in one internal African struggle are exposed. This page would pass the test with flying colors.

From page 98:
After independence, thousands of foreign troops poured into Angola. Having waited until November 11 to intervene directly, the Soviet Union embarked on a massive sea- and airlift, transporting more than 12,000 Cuban soldiers between November 1975 and January 1976. Moscow also sent military instructors and technicians, along with heavy weapons, tanks, missiles, and fighter planes. Meanwhile, thousands of South Africa troops and hundreds of European mercenaries, the latter recruited and paid for by the CIA, arrived to assist the MPLA’s rivals. In late November, with a final expenditure of $7 million for the Angolan operation, the CIA’s secret Contingency Reserve Fund was depleted. By that time, America’s once-covert role had been exposed. Embarrassed by the imbroglio, especially American collaboration with white-ruled South Africa, Congress passed two bills that banned further funding of covert activities in Angola, and a reluctant President Ford signed them into law. Abandoned by its allies, South Africa withdrew from Angola during the first few months of 1976. Without Pretoria’s backing, the FNLA and UNITA rapidly collapsed. By February 1976, the MPLA, with Cuban assistance, controlled all of northern Angola. Disgusted by the collaboration between the MPLA’s rivals and apartheid South Africa, the OAU and the vast majority of African nations recognized the MPLA government. By the early 1980s, only the United States and South Africa continued to withhold diplomatic recognition.
Learn more about Foreign Intervention in Africa at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue