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Book Review


Elizabeth Schmidt, Foreign Intervention in Africa: From the Cold War to the War on Terror. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Pp. vii + 267. Index. $27.99 (paper).


     Foreign Intervention in Africa challenges the popular myths that Africans are to be blamed for their plight and that they are "intolerant of ethnic and religious differences but accepting of corruption and dictatorship." (1) Schmidt examines the historical context of these more recent problems are places them into two sub-categories, the period of extra-continental impact where the United States, the Soviet Union, and former colonial powers intertwined themselves in if not created countless African conflicts. During the later periods after the Cold War's end, the most consequential interventions were intra-continental. African governments, with support from various external governments supported dictators, and rebel movements in neighboring states where natural resources were claimed for redistribution and control. Recently the "War on Terror" has allowed for increased foreign military presence on the African continent. Since the end of the colonial era, the interests of the global superpowers have affected the outcome of African policy and experience by directly impacting the local struggles and exacerbating them into larger and more destructive events with which the people of Africa are forced to live on a daily basis.

     With the publication of the is book, Elizabeth Schmidt should become more well known in a variety of subfields outside of African history such as political science and development studies for her contribution to the literature on the post-colonial history of Africa and the role of foreign intervention. And there is more to come as a book on state collapse, foreign intervention and the war on terror is already in progress. Presently we are fortunate to have the latest publication by Elizabeth Schmidt, Foreign Intervention in Africa: from the Cold War to the War on Terror. An established historian, Schmidt approaches a topic that is popular for edited volumes with contributions by multiple authors as a successful and informative historical monograph. She exceeds all expectations with a readable and teachable text on this complex part of Africa's post-colonial relationship to a newly divided world of East and West. Her inclusion of the post-9/11 "War on Terror" is noteworthy in that it sets the stage for more to come. While the Cold War chapters are region if not country specific, her final chapter on this post-Cold War period presents mini case studies of both countries previously discussed such as the Congo and Somalia, in addition to nations such as Liberia which are not covered in earlier portions. However, because the majority of the text focuses on the relationship that non-African superpowers such as the United States and the Soviet Union have with former colonial Africa during the Cold War, this post-Cold War section could have just as easily been saved for the forthcoming book on failed states.

     From the great contextualization offered by Bill Martin in his foreword to the succinct and informative conclusion, this book is highly accessible for university students and beyond. Organized both regionally and chronologically, it would prove useful as required reading in courses on modern African studies, development studies, geography, political science and more. And although it is a fluid monograph that one can read from beginning to end, each chapter can also stand alone, which is how I have chosen to use it for my upper division History of Decolonization course. Aside from the well-researched and clearly illustrated examples that Schmidt provides in this history of foreign intrusions on the newly emerging nation-states of post-colonial Africa, there is an added bonus. The unexpected research tool Schmidt provides her readers at the end of each chapter in the form of a chapter-specific miniature literature review is indispensible. These suggested readings are based upon the various themes from within each chapter and she annotates each in a practical and well-thought out explanation of why she has included them.

     For the purposes of teaching undergraduates who are required to write research papers, this component of the book is an invaluable asset. For example at the end of her chapter on France and its use of Africa as it private domain in the post-colonial era, she divides the suggested titles into groupings from such general notions as, decolonization in French Africa to French military intervention, to more specific annotations about political resistance movements in French territories (190-191). Students who become interested in a sub-topic of any part of this book are provided with a handful of important and useful texts by other experts in those fields. These suggested readings prove extremely useful in helping students know where to start with the outside research components of assigned papers, particularly if one is not terribly familiar with the vast literature when teaching a broader concept course such as Decolonization.

     The book covers four chronological periods in African history from the Cold War to the War on Terror and is further broken down into the regional categories covering the earlier part of this era and intercontinental intervention, followed by a later period which was more prone to intra-African national involvement. The maps provided are useful as is the explanation of the multitudes of acronyms which are inevitable considering the geo-political spectrum of the topic. Schmidt's introduction successfully denotes a framework and provides the reader specific timelines of the key players and places under study in the chapters which follow. Her writing style is clear with little reliance on field-specific jargon welcoming readers from a variety of fields. The first chapter and the conclusion speak to general concepts of nationalism, decolonization, the Cold War and the current arena of global terrorism. Chapter two engages the North African nations of Algeria and Egypt. The third chapter delves into the complexity of the influence on the Congo by outsider states such as Cuba in addition to the United States and the Soviet Union. Chapter three takes in the late-departing colonial power of Portugal and what that meant to the colonies of Angola and Mozambique in particular. Southern Africa is address in chapter five from the lens of white minority rule which uniquely allowed for Apartheid to flourish for many years with the global community essentially supporting its existence. The sixth chapter envelopes the volatile horn of Africa and gives new evidence to how we understand what has seems the consistently lawless Somali coast. And the success of France using its former colonies as private domain is address in the seventh chapter.

     Foreign Intervention in Africa, "refers not only to military terrain and the corridors of power but also to the struggle for African hearts and minds. For the purposes of this study, foreign refers to alien political powers rather than individuals." (2) Furthermore the author addresses the roles of particular individuals or governments in African policy making that may be less universally known. For example, while many people may be vaguely aware of the acts committed by the United States and Great Britain in helping replace presumed- Soviet sympathizer Patrice Lumumba with the more western-friendly military leader Mobutu Sese Seko, Schmidt delves further. She expounds on the political intricacies linking the situation in this newly independent and resource-laden nation with Kennedy, the former Eisenhower administration and members of the United States' congress played in the aftermath with great detail (68). In this and many other cases, Schmidt evidences a particular moment in the Cold War era that has rarely been broached in such a depth of historical context.

     One of the only issues that I found with the book's structure and chapter layout is repetition. Because the chapters are written to stand alone, there are a few cases where the United States and the Soviet Union's interest in one region of Africa directly affected another and some of the same details appear more than once. I recommend that anyone planning to teach this book read it in its entirety even if assigning only portions of it. It is full of abundant information that is thoroughly researched and comprehensible, and while it may be slightly difficult for high school students, college students with any interest in the modern world of Africa will benefit from the historical lens with which this study is presented.

Tiffany Gleason is a lecturer in World History at the University of California, Merced. She can be reached at


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