Where did Russia's allies in Africa come from? Soviet agents in the South

The Kremlin does not give up its struggle for influence in Africa, turning it against the West. The Russian-African summit in St. Petersburg (July 27-28, 2023) has just ended. Nowadays, Moscow's tool is the 'Wagner Group' of Yevgeny Prigozhin, who find fertile ground there thanks to the former activities of the secret services of the Soviet Union.

Russian influence in Africa dates back to the Cold War when the Soviet regime sought to establish cooperation with successively emerging countries, but Russia also supported independence movements in some colonies. Hostility towards the West was the common denominator. Much less frequently was the ideology - African leaders de facto often pretended to be Marxists in order to get economic help and military support from the USSR.

A special role in Soviet policy towards Africa, regarding its dark population in particular, was played by the KGB. Soviet intelligence not only conspired against governments averse to Moscow and supported the rebels, but also conducted a large-scale "active agents" campaign that portrayed the Soviet Union as a selfless supporter of a decolonised Africa. Meanwhile, the U.S. was presented as the plotting mischief shadow superpower, supporting colonialism and exploitation. The KGB used its entire arsenal - manipulating local media and forging documents - to make the CIA an enemy which needs to be destroyed.

The Cold War period in Africa was marked by both, many successes of the KGB, especially in the area of disinformation, but also by failures. For example, the fiasco to restore the power of Ghana's Marxist leader or the coup in Congo. When Joseph Mobutu murdered the pro-Soviet Patrice Lumumba, the KGB resident in Kinshasa was arrested. Before Boris Voronin was allowed to fly to Moscow, he was placed against a wall to simulate an execution.

The African Lenin and the Czech connections

As the first British colony in Africa to gain independence (1957), Ghana was of particular political importance in the 1960s, which was the most dynamic period of the European colonies' disintegration in Africa. In 1960, Kwame Nkrumah, who referred to himself as the "African Lenin", became the head of state. This first "friend" of the Soviet Union in Sub-Saharan Africa ruled Ghana for six years, so Soviet equipment and advisers from the USSR and East Germany began to arrive. The KGB-trained National Security Service entwined the country with a network of denouncers. Disinformation specialists from the Service "A" of the KGB ensured that the Ghanaian president's attitude towards the USA was 'proper' and in line with set objectives.

After the failed coup d'état in 1962, he became really obsessed that the CIA was plotting to overthrow him. In February 1964, Nkrumah even wrote a letter to President Lyndon B. Johnson, accusing the CIA of ill intentions, using a KGB-fabricated correspondence - purportedly from a disillusioned U.S. intelligence officer - that exposed hostile CIA and British SIS operations against the Ghanaian regime.

Attempts at socialist economic management failed, and in 1996 a coup took place in the crisis-ridden country. During the president's visit to China, pro-American General Joseph Arthur Ankrah seized power, promptly removing hundreds of Soviet advisers and terminating all military contracts with Moscow. The KGB, however, was not about to give up. For this purpose - not for the first and not the last time in Africa – it used comrades from the services of the Eastern Bloc countries.

In 1967, the head of the Czechoslovakian intelligence station in Ghana, Karel Hotárek, went to a farm run by Czech immigrants near Accra, ostensibly to get some fresh eggs. However, the objective was a secret meeting with Kofi Batsa - a writer and political activist closely associated with Nkrumah. The Ghanaian presented Hotárek with a coup plan to overthrow General Ankrah. He assured that about 30 important army officers would support him. Only money was the issue. These were to be provided by Prague and Moscow.

In October 1968, Operation "Alex" was formally launched. People closely connected with the Soviets informed Nkrumah that he was to prepare for his big return to power. The only thing was that Hotárek and Moscow became increasingly sceptical of Batsa. In August 1968, he was arrested - as there was a risk that he would reveal the coup plot. Nevertheless, the operation continued. Yet, many months passed by, and the coup d'état did not happen.

Fot. Wikimedia
Many influential people studied at Lumumba University in Moscow, including Karim Massimov - Prime Minister of Kazakhstan; Ali Khamenei – Iran's leader; Mahmoud Abbas - President of the Palestinian National Authority; Ilich Ramírez Sánchez (also known as Carlos the Jackal) - Venezuelan terrorist; Michel Djotodia - President of the Central African Republic; Porfirio Lobo Sosa (known as Pepe Lobo) - President of Honduras; Daniel Ortega - President of Nicaragua; Hifikepunye Lucas Pohamba - President of Namibia; Alexei Navalny - Russian opposition activist; Bharrat Jagdeo - President of Guyana; Tamar Beruchashvili - Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia; Jeanne d'Arc Mujawamariya - Minister of Environment of Rwanda and Hillary Onek – Ugandan Minister of the Interior.

These moods are perfectly reflected in the December 1974 note by Nikolai Leonov, head of KGB analysis, quoted in the Mitrokhin Archives, on the events in Dahomey (now southern Benin): "On December 4 of this year, President Mathieu Kérékou declared himself a Marxist-Leninist. He also announced that henceforth his country would follow the path of building socialism. He asked us for help in organising the army, special services, not to mention the economy. Our ambassador, to whom Kérékou had addressed the statement, was sweating with fear and was unable to answer either yes or no." No wonder, as Leonov noted in the same document, "80 percent of the three million population couldn't read or write; power is in the hands of a military clique. There is no industry, no parties, no classes."

Marxists in exchange for the Portuguese and the war in the Horn of Africa

It was only after the second wave of decolonisation and dismantling of the Portuguese colonies in Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau and Angola in the 1970s that Soviet influence increased again. However, the KGB had already contacted the leaders of liberation organisations in the Portuguese colonies in the early 1960s. And in this case, comrades from the fraternal intelligence were used.

  Miroslav Adamek was a Czechoslovakian diplomat in Conakry - the capital of Guinea - and a spy known under the pseudonym of "Alter". In November 1960, he first met with Amilcar Cabral, the founder of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC). The two men had a meal together, after which the Czech spy indicated that their conversation was "very encouraging" and suggested recruiting Cabral as a secret contact under the "Secretary" codename.

Cabral used the meeting to request financial and logistic assistance to support an uprising against Portuguese colonial authorities in Guinea. Moscow, wanting to gain new allies, agreed. Cabral was given weapons that strengthened the PAIGC as a military force. His brother was sent to study medicine at Moscow's Lumumba University, and his daughter Iva was admitted to a prestigious boarding school near Moscow. In return, Prague (which de facto was Moscow) received valuable information from Cabral.

But it wasn't until July 1967 that the Politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) ordered Lubyanka to provide systemic training for "progressive nationalist organisations" fighting Portuguese colonialism: MPLA (Angola), FRELIMO (Mozambique) and PAIGC (Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde). However, before the fight broke out in earnest, and not only comrades-advisers from the USSR but also Cuban troops took part in it, Moscow's attention was drawn to another important region of the Dark Continent: the Horn of Africa (as the Somali Peninsula was called).

In October 1969, the military overthrew the civilian government in Somalia. The Supreme Revolutionary Council, under the leadership of Major General Mohamed Siad Barry took power. Also, a KGB agent named Kerl was on the council, and he greatly influenced Barry's decisions. One of the first junta's conclusions was to invite the Soviet Navy to Somalian ports and to expel half of the U.S. embassy staff. Siad Barry made an amateur "synthesis" of Marxism-Leninism with Islam and declared Somalia a one-party state.

The KGB played a teaching role in creating the National Security Service, commanded by Barry's son-in-law. By 1974, there were nearly 3,600 Soviet advisers in Somalia, including 1,600 military ones. On July 11, 1974, Somalia and the USSR signed a treaty of friendship and cooperation, the first such agreement concluded by Moscow with a 'Black African' state. The Soviet fleet began to use the Berbera Port, and two years later (thanks to Soviet supplies), Somalia was already the fourth country in Sub-Saharan Africa in terms of armaments - just behind Nigeria, Zaire and Ethiopia. The collapse of the Portuguese colonial empire in Africa and the emergence of Marxist regimes in Angola and Mozambique sparked enthusiasm in Moscow. Especially that in 1974, almost simultaneously, a group of military men overthrew the Ethiopian emperor. Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam conducted it as the leader. The junta began to move towards Marxism and an alliance with the Soviets. The KGB also took care of this by preparing pseudo documents of the CIA residency in Nairobi, which allegedly showed an international conspiracy - involving, among others, the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Somalia - to remove the Mengistu regime.

However, the Soviets soon faced a formidable challenge: the growing mutual hostility of the allies in the Horn of Africa. It was about territorial disputes. Moscow had to make a choice. They chose Ethiopia, so Barry broke up with the Kremlin, and it was not long before the war flared up. According to KGB documents from the Mitrokhin Archive, Soviet military aid to Colonel Haile Mariam was extensive; in the winter of 1977, Soviet planes full of military equipment and "advisers" landed in Ethiopia every 20 minutes. The conflict ended in 1978, but without changed borders - Somalia failed to conquer the Ogaden region. On the other hand, the Soviets lost the Somalian authorities' appreciation for good and in favour of the U.S. and the Saudi Arabia governments.

Montage in the Algerian style

One of the KGB's favourite methods of operation was to provide various African leaders, including those unrelated or even hostile to Moscow, with fabricated documents striking the West. In March 1973, the military dictator of Nigeria, General Yakubu Gowon, received a denunciation - allegedly from a young army officer - about the subversive activities of the CIA in the Nigerian army. In 1975, the King of Morocco, Hassan II, was given a CIA agent falsified report about an alleged plot to overthrow the ruler. However, the most tremendous success of the Soviet 'active agents' specialists was achieved much earlier, using one of the conflicts in Africa to set France against the USA.

When the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) began negotiations with President Charles de Gaulle in January 1961, a group of generals opposed it. In April, there was a failed military coup in Algiers. Moments later, the Italian left-wing newspaper Paese Sera published an article entitled "Was the military coup in Algeria prepared in consultation with Washington?". Its authors claimed that General Maurice Challe was one of the coup's leaders, the CIA agent. They took advantage of the well-known fact that Challe, serving at NATO Headquarters, was perceived as a rather unusually pro-American officer for a Frenchman.

Ukrainian biological weapons, or the nonsense of the year in Russian war propaganda

Would they be working on an instrument of self-destruction?

see more
Of course, that disinformation operation was continued according to the rules of the KGB. The article from a small Italian newspaper was quoted by "Pravda" - the official Soviet press organ, the TASS agency and Radio Moscow. The left-wing French newspaper "Le Monde" also picked up the story - (a question here is about the role of the Soviet agents of influence in France, so brilliantly described in "Montage" by Vladimir Volkoff) - writing: "now it seems established that American agents more or less encouraged Challe". The newspaper quickly retracted this claim, but the damage to American-French relations was already done.

Africans in Crimea

Today, the Republic of South Africa is Russia's key partner on the Dark Continent. This most industrialised African country was the object of Moscow's special interest even 100 years ago. Lenin mentioned it in his articles, and in 1922 Bill Andrews, the first head of the Communist Party in South Africa, joined the Communist International (Comintern). Five years later, the African National Congress (ANC) elected pro-Soviet activist Josiah Gumede as its leader. Nevertheless, over the next decades, Moscow failed to gain much influence over the situation in South Africa, especially since the ANC was standing strong against violence.

However, when Congress was outlawed in 1960, together with the SACP (South African Communist Party), Gumede founded the organisation "uMkhonto we Sizwe" (Spear of the Nation), which began an armed struggle against the South African government. uMkhonto was supplied with Soviet weapons and was also trained by the Soviets. Furthermore, in 1963, the top Soviet leadership ordered the head of the KGB, Vladimir Yefimovich Semichastny, to start transferring subsidies to the ANC - initially, it was 300,000 dollars each year.

uMkhonto fighters were trained in the Crimea, in Privolnoye Center No. 165. It was the largest military training centre for members of African "national liberation movements" supervised by the KGB. At the same time, there were even half a thousand "trainees", and in total, during 26 years of this operation, about 15,000 newcomers from Angola, Mozambique, Guinea and South Africa underwent training in Crimea. African warriors were trained not only in fighting methods but also explored the basics knowledge of Marxism-Leninism and learned the Russian language.

Today, when people talk about training African cadres in Russia, the aforementioned Patrice Lumumba University immediately comes to mind (established in 1960 in Moscow as Patrice Lumumba Peoples' Friendship University of Russia). Meanwhile, four decades earlier, African students had appeared in the secret International Lenin School run by the Comintern (Communist International) and in the Communist University of the Toilers of the East (KUTV). There was Jomo Kenyatta among them - the future leader of independent Kenya (before leaving for Moscow, he joined the ranks of the British communists - Kenya was still a colony of the United Kingdom).

Education was to be a tool to deepen the bonds of African elites with the homeland of the world proletariat. Over 50 years, Lumumba University has educated about 7,000 students from 48 different African countries, all in the field of physics, economics and public administration. African students were also admitted to other universities throughout the USSR.

For the Soviet services, these were ideal places to recruit their agents. It is not by chance that the vice-chancellor of Moscow University has always been a KGB officer. But it was also about building a positive image of the Soviet Union and spreading communist ideology in Africa. After the collapse of the USSR, Moscow gradually withdrew from Africa, but the graduates of Soviet universities did not disappear. Many of them found themselves among the elites of their own countries. So when in 2014 Putin, looking for new allies, decided to reinvest in the Dark Continent, he knew that Russia would find many friends in Africa.

– Grzegorz Kuczyński

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

– translated by Katarzyna Chocian
Main photo: President of the Central African Republic - Faustin-Archange Touadéra - with bodyguards from the Russian Wagner Group. April 2022. Photo. Sven Torfinn/Panos Pictures / Panos Pictures / Forum
See more
History wydanie 22.12.2023 – 29.12.2023
Pomeranian Crime: Whoever is Polish must disappear
Between September and December, 1939, 30,000 people in 400 towns of Pomerania were murdered.
History wydanie 22.12.2023 – 29.12.2023
Escape from Stalag – Christmas Eve Story 1944
Prisoners sought shelter in a German church... It was a mistake.
History wydanie 15.12.2023 – 22.12.2023
New Moscow in Somalia
The Russian press called him "the new Columbus".
History wydanie 15.12.2023 – 22.12.2023
Anonymous account by Witold Pilecki
The friend with whom they had escaped from KL Auschwitz was killed on August 5. He died with the words: “for Poland”.
History wydanie 8.12.2023 – 15.12.2023
Journalist purge to restore media monopoly
Only “trusted people” were allowed to work; over 100 employees were interned.