The Tamsen Chronicles

Failed Communism in Africa

The way the Chinese are attempting at present to politically influence the Pacific Nations is basically a page out of the failed Soviet Russian Cold War playbook with regard to Africa in the post-Second World War 1950s.

At that time, I was working as a foreign correspondent and journalist between Cairo in the north and Cape Town in the south and came face-to-face with Moscow’s underground spying and warring tactics aimed at winning over the minds of the African masses to the alleged ideals of Communism.

The Soviets spent vast sums of troubled roubles and international currency on influencing local politicians, educators, academics, trade union bosses, the local Media, the Arts and even the military — just as the Peoples’ Republic of China is now attempting to achieve among the small nations of the Pacific Region.

For the many years I was professionally active on the African continent, I was always aware as a member of the International Press that, whatever situation I found myself in, there was always the possibility of ‘ Reds lurking under our beds.’ The subversive pro-Communists I came across were never, however, Russian citizens but rather local people of all races with influence. Secretive political operatives and manipulators were generally bought or were forcefully persuaded that Russia would hold sway over the West, politically, economically and socially.

As we all know, of course, the Russian master plan to take over Africa’s rich gold, diamond, oil, lithium, aluminium, copper and platinum mines together with the political psyche of its people was never eventually successful although 76 per cent of Africa’s former colonial states did achieve independence with a smattering of Communist backing before refusing to give blank cheque support to pro-Russian votes in the United Nations General Assembly. But Africa’s high hopes of a general new Moscow-led order soon collapsed with the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall and Soviet Russia’s demise as a collective federation of different states with no foreign currency hand-outs any longer on offer to foreign governments and politicians.

Today, Communist China is hellbent on following Soviet Russia’s African campaign in attempting to become the leader of those smaller Pacific countries of economic and military value to them. But I wonder whether the Beijing hierarchy finished reading the Kremlin’s Africa playbook as its final chapter was far from being one of success.

My first experience of underground Communism was in the Congo after Patrice Lumumba was voted in as president and his rich copper mining province of Katanga seceded from his political control. While interviewing him at the time, I became suspicious that he held strong inner Communist views, a fact later reinforced when I noticed on another occasion that his office bookcase was filled with Communist books and literature. He also made a big slip of the tongue to me by mistakenly admitting that Katanga’s mining wealth stood him forever in strong insurance stead with his “great friends”, the Soviets.

During subsequent investigations of the people immediately around him, I discovered that at least two of his top advisers had, on Russian invitation, made secretive trips to Moscow at a time when the former Congolese Government was officially espousing support for the Western Powers. My initial suspicions were later confirmed when Lumumba suddenly and officially turned wholly to the Soviet Union in what can only be  described as a classic short-term Communist takeover by the Kremlin without even one Russian rifle shot being fired. But it did not last very long, and Lumumba was assassinated for his Communist beliefs and actions and his Moscow-inspired policies were discarded.

The Congo and the rest of Africa had been primed for many years by Joseph Stalin and his successors before the rise of his unfortunate lieutenant Lumumba. With the continuation of the Cold War, the Russians had secretly infiltrated their Communist philosophies into Congolese newspapers and into many Congolese Government departments, aided and abetted by the pro-Communist underground radio network on Zanzibar Island. The Soviets had also trained foreign operatives who they sent to Africa with the help of the KGB spy agency and its allied intelligence groups. But, in the end, all their efforts were largely in vain.

As any Red political baiter of the time knew only too well, the Soviet masters in Moscow were determined to defeat the Western Powers in Africa but only after they had made efforts to destroy the Africans’ tribal fabric. To achieve this end, they set up an elaborate, but subtle, pan-African propaganda network which sought to spread political destabilisation and wreak havoc through the dissemination of anti-Western social attitudes among Africa’s youth, in schools and even through church organisations. But, once again, history shows that most of this was political ‘pie in the sky’ thinking.

Soviet espionage and counter-espionage appeared to grow rapidly in Africa throughout the 1950s and 60s. There can be little doubt that the appearance of hard-core Communism in some small pockets throughout the continent would not have occurred to the extent it did without the painstaking efforts of the KGB using Cubans and other foreigners to do their dirty work without a single Russian soldier being on African soil. My experience in Africa proved to me just how easily we in the West thought the Soviets were able to infiltrate and influence the inner sanctums of so many countries and states throughout the continent without any real opposition, yet their efforts bore little lasting fruit as most African voters wanted Africanism, not Communism.

Communist sympathisers and workers in Africa benefitted for a time from large quantities of U.S. dollars illegally smuggled into their pockets by Russian operatives in Europe and elsewhere. Secret payments were made to certain prominent politicians and union organisers, to workers’ charities and strike action fund managers. There were even cases of some Western defence employees in at least one country allegedly benefitting from undercover payrolls. In return, these recipients were expected to hand over military, financial and industrial secrets, just as they are now still being sought from us in the West by Russian and Chinese computer hackers.

As older readers will remember, Egypt’s Colonel Abdul Gamal Nasser had a strong initial Communist tie with Russia over his Suez Crisis involving Britain and France. But he soon discovered his mistake. Tanganyika’s President Julius Nyerere was also a very determined self-confessed communist whose policies sent his country backwards, and the Portuguese African states of Mozambique and Angola were totally destroyed by communist inspired policies and wars. Similar stories were also to be found in Basutoland and the West African states until they eventually woke up to the fact that they were merely Red pawns in a bigger game of attempted world domination.

Kenya was also affected by the Mau Mau leader and first president, Jomo Kenyatta, having been educated in London by an arch Russian Communist academic and then undergoing further training in the Soviet Union. But he, too, found that Communism held little real favour for his people. Other staunch communist leaders were Medibo Keita of Mali, Sekou Toure of Guinea and Leopold Senghor of Senegal but none of them prospered politically in the longer run from their ties with the Kremlin.

The country possibly most affected by the intrusion of underground Communism for a while was South Africa where, in the early 1950s, certain trade unions were led by Westerners trained in Soviet Russia as major propagandists for the countrywide white-anting of government.

Nelson Mandela secretly established the Communist Party of South Africa and was its first ardent president; facts that were only officially corroborated on the day of his death. His right-hand man was a Lithuanian Communist, Joe Slove, the party’s secretary-general trained for the post in Russia. As head of the African National Congress, Mandela also wrote a well circulated hidden manifesto entitled “How to Become a Good Communist.” For his part, Slovo was a paid colonel in Soviet Russia’s KGB who aided Mandela in leaving South Africa illegally to receive training in Cuba, East Germany, Algeria, Egypt, North Korea and China. Despite all their efforts, these two politicians also failed to give Russia even a toehold in Southern Africa.

The story of how Mandela was chosen as South Africa’s first president after Independence following being gaoled for his political activities, is intriguing and little known. It all started with Britain’s Margaret Thatcher fearing that South Africa may eventually provide Russia with a wedge into the West during the Cold War years.

As a result of her concern, she despatched one of her most senior political advisers to Johannesburg under the guise of being a Consolidated Goldfields’ company executive. This man was Michael Young, and his role was to act as negotiator between the former Communist inclined ANC and the South African Government and to support the board of Consolidated Goldfields which had originally sought Mrs Thatcher’s prime ministerial assistance following threatened world sanctions against Apartheid which could have seriously emboldened communist and other threats against the South African economy.

Sometime after this, however, the Kremlin suddenly advised the ANC that it could no longer afford to fund any political activities in Africa and that it had ceased to influence Africa as a would-be Communist power. On hearing this, Mike Young managed to get certain ANC officials to meetings with Mrs Thatcher and South African government spokesmen at highly secretive conferences at Mells Park House in Somerset, England.

Further mystery get-togethers were held at Henley-on Thames where Mandela’s right- hand man, Oliver Tambo, was selected to lead a new post-apartheid South Africa. But Tambo turned the job down and a lower choice Mandela was enlisted and allowed to leave his island incarceration. A final meeting between all parties was then held with highly armed security in the middle of the remote Kruger National Park with the ANC openly turning its back on the now failing Russian ideal of Communism in Africa.

Nelson Mandela was then officially selected as South Africa’s first African president, a move that made bold world headlines. Similar attention was given to South Africa’s then president, F.W. de Klerk, for his efforts of appeasement and both he and Mandela were later awarded the coveted Nobel Peace Prize. This event caused Mandela to seriously advise his ANC colleagues that Communism was definitely a world-wide failure and that Russia’s efforts to influence Africa were very much only a temporary aberration of the past.

The overall failure of Communism gaining a permanent foothold of note in Africa could now very well be an omen to Beijing about flexing its political and financial muscles in the Pacific. Ask most African politicians today and they will tell you that most of the tenets of Soviet Communism are forever dead as far as they are concerned.