The following was written by ASFL Executive Board Member Martin van Staden
The Cold War is over… but we know that! We’ve known it since the early 1990s. Unfortunately, however, we have not reaped the benefits of it being over here in Africa – much due to our own stubbornness.
When the news broke that Cuban tyrant Fidel Castro had finally died, my mind wondered to his comrade Robert Mugabe, who is far more advanced in age than Castro was, but still rules Zimbabwe with an iron fist. Mugabe, however, also represents an ideological tendency which is evident in various places throughout Africa. The adherents of this ideological tendency are not yet convinced that the Cold War is over.
To them, Marxist-socialism still represents a viable framework for Africa’s development and prosperity, despite the fact that not only did reality disprove Marxist-socialism, but market capitalism has been steadily bringing Africa out of poverty!
Contrary to popular belief, the Soviet Bloc did not fall as a result of a military engagement or trade sanctions. Ordinary, everyday economics destroyed the Soviet Bloc, just like ordinary economics destroyed Zimbabwe, and how ordinary economics destroyed Venezuela. This is why the fall of the Soviet Bloc is often referred to as ‘the fall of communism’. It represented a moment in time when a particular ideology was, objectively, decimated by reality. This has not happened often in history.
But many in Africa are unwilling to accept this. When these individuals think back to the Cold War, they see only the Western powers not being not too keen on supporting the anti-colonial liberation movements, and the Soviet Union and Communist China, on the other hand, being more than happy to do so.
This support, however, was not out of the kindness of the communists’ hearts. They were very much committed to spreading their ideology around the world – whereas the West was not – and Africa and South America represented fertile ground for them to do this, as well as undermine the liberal West.
Many of my peers are quite proud of how unapologetically pro-Castro they are. To them, the fact that Castro and the communists assisted the liberation movements, and, particularly, the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa, was enough to vindicate them and their ideology. While this is understandable within context, what bothers me is the fact that they would reject facts just to push narratives sympathetic to socialism.
The most glaring example of this is the continued belief among many who belong to the so-called ‘post-colonial’ school of thought that Cuban forces won a grand victory over the South African military in the Angolan town of Cuito Cuanavale during the Border War.
This, despite the fact that only around 30 South African soldiers were killed in the period spanning 1987/88, while the Cubans and Angolans lost well over 4,000. The battle, from a strategic perspective, was a draw, because both the Cubans and the South Africans got what they wanted. (For the Angolans, however, the battle was a complete defeat. Unfortunately, the Angolan military did not, at any stage during the entirety of the war, match the far better equipped and well-trained South Africans.)
The only reason Castro romanticized the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale, and fought so hard to make it appear like a grand victory for Cuba, was so that Cuba could exit the conflict in Angola with its head apparently held high. The Cuban people had supported the intervention, and the Soviet Union had paid for it. Castro could not afford for it to look like Cuba was defeated, otherwise risk losing already-dwindling Soviet support, and low public morale. It was simply underhanded Cold War political posturing.
It is truly bizarre that many of my peers continue to adhere to this twentieth century narrative. By doing so, they aren’t spiting those of us who oppose communism. Instead, they are contributing to the continued misery of ordinary Africans. They are – or they are at least trying to – breathe legitimacy into a doctrine that has killed more Africans than direct colonialism ever could; bearing in mind that Marxist-communism is certainly indirect colonialism. Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and all the other core socialist and communist theorists were white European men, after all!
There is no doubt that it is a taint on Western liberal democracies’ history that they opted not to support the anti-Apartheid movement quite as enthusiastically as the communists did, but that doesn’t change the reality of how economics works. Indeed, price controls will always lead to incorrect signals being sent throughout the market, thus leading to useless surpluses and disastrous shortages. And value will always be subjective, meaning that no amount of romanticizing farmland by post-colonial politicians, will ever make ‘patterns of ownership’ any more important in the minds of the people.
Individuals will always be the best judges of what is best for them. These are axiomatic truths which no amount of doctrinaire demagoguery will change. However, the Marxist ‘Frankfurt’ school of thought tried to delegitimize how economics works by attempting to deny logic; the very fabric of reality itself! Ridiculous!
When the Cold War ended, Africans should have rejoiced! The end of the Cold War meant that we no longer had to stick to our communist allies, despite the fact that economic realities did not support their position. When the Berlin Wall fell, so did our moral obligation toward the Soviet Bloc.
It is not too late. The principles of economics never change, and are waiting for Africa to embrace them wholesale.