This is the story of the last gasps—and enduring impact—of the Cold War in the Horn of Africa.

By Sam Wilkins 

  • Earlier this year, The Strategy Bridge asked university and professional military education students to participate in our fifth annual writing contest by sending us their thoughts on strategy.
  • Now, we are pleased to present one of our third-place winners, from Sam Wilkins, a recent graduate of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.

The Horn of Africa dominates today’s headlines. From ethnic cleansing in Ethiopia’s Tigray region to the ongoing war against al Shabaab, the region is beset by overlapping crises. Understanding today’s tumult in the Horn requires grappling with the complex legacy of the Cold War’s final chapter in the region.


The Cold War accelerated and intensified the Horn of Africa’s zero-sum brand of ethnic politics from 1977-1985, and the thaw and subsequent end of the Cold War in Africa ended critical lifelines for the notorious regimes in Addis Ababa and Mogadishu, precipitating their collapse in 1991.

This essay outlines how the Cold War’s conclusion laid the groundwork for the Horn’s bloody 21st century in four sections. First, it reviews how the intensification of the rivalry between Moscow and Washington from 1977-1978 re-aligned the superpower dynamics in the region. The second section illustrates how superpower intervention in the region led ruling regimes to eschew diplomatic solutions to the various ethnic rebellions against their rule and precipitated a famine in Ethiopia. The third section explains how the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev’s “New Thinking” and the end of the Cold War in Africa ushered in the unraveling and ultimate downfall of the regimes in Mogadishu and Addis Ababa.

The essay’s conclusion outlines how understanding the international dynamics and missed opportunities in this final chapter of Africa’s Cold War helps deepen our understanding of the Horn’s current tumult. This is the story of the last gasps—and enduring impact—of the Cold War in the Horn of Africa.


It is impossible to understand the conclusion of the Cold War in the Horn without first grasping the tumultuous outcome of the Ogaden War between Ethiopia and Somalia.[1] At the beginning of the 1970s, Siyad Barre’s Somalia sat firmly in the Soviet sphere. It hosted a Soviet base in Berbera and fielded a Soviet-supplied army.[2]

Ethiopia, meanwhile, represented a reliable American partner under Emperor Haile Selaisse.[3] Selassie’s overthrow in 1974 by a cabal of young leftist officers known as the Derg unraveled this alignment.[4] As Ethiopia’s political center convulsed in disorder, outlying ethnic groups erupted in rebellion.[5] The Derg, under the leadership of a young Major named Mengistu Haile Meriam, began brutal efforts to suppress these revolts.[6]

Siyad Barre eagerly viewed these developments as an opportunity to achieve his irredentist aims of uniting all ethnic Ogadenis under his rule.[7] Barre misinterpreted a series of communications with American diplomats as an American endorsement of his territorial goals and readiness to replace the Soviet Union as Somalia’s military sponsor.[8]

Despite Soviet objections, Barre launched his Soviet-equipped military in an invasion of the Ogaden in July 1977.[9] Exasperated, the Soviet Union denounced the Somali invasion, leading Barre to expel all Soviet advisors from Mogadishu.[10] These Soviet advisors flew directly to Ethiopia, where they formed the core of a rapidly growing Soviet and Cuban intervention.[11] This internationalized force repulsed Barre’s legions from Ethiopia by February 1978.[12]

To The Last Bullet The Cold War Last Gasps And Enduring Impact In The Horn Of Africa
Mohammed Siyad Barre during an anniversary parade of the coup in October 1977 (Jean Claude Francolon/Getty)


Defeat in the Ogaden, in retrospect, spelled the beginning of the end for Barre’s regime.[13] Somalia’s postwar outlook appeared truly grim. While the war itself was popular, Barre’s defeat was humiliating—and politically disastrous.[14]

The Somali National Army, which had grown quickly to meet the demands of the war, faced plummeting morale.[15] While the Somali National Army had once been a source of national pride for Somalia’s fractious clans, discharged soldiers brought home tales of its incompetence in defeat.[16] In Mogadishu, officers from the Majeerten clan launched a coup in April 1978. While Barre’s forces crushed the revolt, his regime was clearly in dangerous territory.

Barre gambled that the U.S. would quickly replace the Soviets as his sponsor. While the U.S eventually provided approximately $90 million per year in military assistance, this support proved slow to materialize.[17] To fund his security state, Barre levied taxes against his clan enemies, further fueling resentment.[18]

Ethiopia’s triumph in the Ogaden War proved a bitter harvest. Flush with confidence and Soviet assistance, Mengistu accelerated his attempts to transform Ethiopian society and crush the ethnic rebellions against his rule. However, despite receiving over $2.3 billion dollars of Soviet military assistance by 1983, Mengistu’s military proved unable to defeat stubborn rebellions in Tigray and Eritrea throughout the first half of the 1980s.[19]

The Derg concurrently undertook an ambitious program of collectivization and land reform designed to increase short-term outputs.[20] However, the introduction of these intensive farming methods by Eastern Bloc advisors, combined with the deforestation of newly nationalized forest areas by firewood-hungry peasants, devastated Ethiopia’s delicate ecological system. When drought struck from 1983-1985, Ethiopia’s already decimated agricultural system shattered.[21]

Biblical levels of famine followed.[22] By 1984, over 1 million Ethiopians had died of starvation. Mengistu’s repressive political system proved slow to comprehend the immensity of the crisis that gripped the countryside.[23]

Cold War dynamics accelerated this suffering. East German Stasi advisors to Mengistu reported that his Government Commission for Relief and Rehabilitation was infiltrated with “counterrevolutionary enemy forces,” who collaborated with foreign embassies and relief organizations.[24] These fears of foreign infiltration exacerbated the agony of hard-hit areas by simultaneously casting doubt on the reports of famine within the Ethiopian government and delaying the required permission and support to international relief efforts. [25]


For the Soviets, the famine unleashed cynicism about their erstwhile partners in Ethiopia and stimulated a reexamination of the prospects for socialism in Africa. [26]

Newly installed, Gorbachev increasingly viewed Mengistu’s regime as an albatross on Marxism-Leninism and a drain on the creaky finances of the Soviet Empire.[27] As Gorbachev’s government wound down its support for the Derg, the raison d’etre for American support to Barre’s increasingly repressive regime evaporated. As American support dried up, so did Barre’s odds of survival against increasingly resilient clan rebellions.

Gorbachev’s Re-Appraisal and the Downfall of Mengistu

Under the protective framework of Glasnost, or “new thinking,” frustrations with Mengistu’s regime blossomed. Officials of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union recognized the famine had been caused by Ethiopian mismanagement and ultimately “threatened 5-6 million people” with starvation.[28]

Bloody ethnic rebellions by Tigrayans and Eritreans also deeply unnerved Soviet regional experts. [29] These deep ethnic conflicts, some scholars reasoned, rendered class-based socialist development models inappropriate for Ethiopia.[30] One prominent Soviet Africanist admitted in 1988 that “there are no socialist states in sub-Saharan Africa, only socialist-oriented states.”[31] Party officials, once zealots for intervention and socialism in Ethiopia, denounced the country in official documents as “perverting the principles of socialism” and fomenting a “negative image that was actively used by reactionary forces in Africa and beyond.”[32]

Escalating costs represented an additional concern.[33] Mengistu’s government, in the words of one Communist Party official, demanded: “a lot, quickly, and freely.”[34] Gorbachev emerged determined to end what he called the “uneconomic” support for the Derg.[35] These changes represented a massive about-face—and by extension, a condemnation of the entire Soviet Third World project.[36]

To The Last Bullet The Cold War Last Gasps And Enduring Impact In The Horn Of Africa
Cold War Foreign Military Aid to Ethiopia, in Millions of U.S. Dollars[37]

Mengistu’s worsening military situation on the Eritrea-Tigray front fueled further Soviet frustrations.[38] In 1988, Eritrean and Tigrayan rebels agreed to coordinate their efforts and form a unified party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), under the leadership of the Tigrayan guerilla leader Meles Zenawi.[39] As the military balance tipped in favor of his rivals, Mengistu urgently appealed to his Soviet advisors for additional assistance.

In April 1988, the Politburo gathered to debate this request. Chief of the General Staff Marshal Sergei Akhromeiv described Mengistu’s military situation as “catastrophically hopeless.”[40] Cherniaev and other Gorbachev-aligned thinkers in the Foreign Ministry supported Marshal Akhromeiv’s perspective, arguing that “here we have the same old routine: a friend asks, and we immediately give.”[41] Reformers illustrated how the deluge of Soviet weapons had—and would continue to—prolong the conflict. “Our arms will not change anything,” Cherniaev continued, “they’ll only push Mengistu further into a hopeless undertaking—an attempt to solve everything by military force.”[42]

Gorbachev concurred and agreed to curtail aid to Mengistu. The Politburo dispatched Karen Brutens, International Director of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, to Addis Ababa to share the news and pressure the Derg into negotiations. Brutens warned Mengistu that “the solution can only be on the political path.”[43]

Mengistu conceded to a ceasefire and agreed to participate in negotiations hosted by former American President Jimmy Carter in Atlanta in the fall of 1989. However, Mengistu instead used this pause in fighting to expand his military and prepare for future offensives. [44] In September 1989, the Soviets cut off all weapons and ammunition supplies and withdrew their military advisors.

Mengistu, meeting with Soviet diplomats in November 1990, expressed his confusion with the receding support. “What is happening in the USSR?” he exclaimed. “Do Soviet-Ethiopian relations have a future?” We are no longer counting on your economic help, but we would ask you to maintain at least military assistance….you yourselves oriented us towards the socialist path of development, and now you are turning your backs on us!”[45] This would be the final meeting between Soviet officials and Mengistu. Without this critical aid, Mengistu’s forces were routed on the battlefield.[46] In 1991, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front captured Addis Ababa.

The Implosion of the Somali State

Mengistu’s old enemy in Mogadishu faced an equally dire situation. Somalia’s new American sponsors proved less generous in their financial support than Barre anticipated.[47] Compared to the Soviet Union, which provided over $930 million U.S. dollars in aid from 1966-1977, the United States and its partners proved relatively more frugal, handing over only $484 million in military aid from 1978-1988.[48]

To The Last Bullet The Cold War Last Gasps And Enduring Impact In The Horn Of Africa
Foreign Military Aid to Somalia: Soviet Largesse, American Frugality[49]

Diminishing foreign aid left Barre increasingly unable to afford the growing demand for security rents from Somalia’s fractious clans.[50] Resistance to Barre emerged in multiple regions under the umbrella of the Somali National Movement (SNM).[51] Mengistu’s government provided both material support and safe haven to Somali National Movement fighters.[52]

However, as Mengistu’s situation declined in 1988, the two dictators cut a peace deal in an effort to focus on their domestic situations amidst dwindling superpower support.[53] Paradoxically, this thawing of the Cold War in the region worsened Barre’s domestic situation. Somali National Movement fighters received warning of the deal and sallied from their Ethiopian bases to launch attacks throughout Somalia’s northwest (now Somaliland).[54]

As their attacks increased, Barre’s armed forces responded by carpet bombing the cities of Hargeisa and Burao.[55] Africa Watch estimated that 15,000-20,000 civilians were killed in these bombings, while a further 5,000 Isaaks were killed by the Somali National Army in roundups and executions over the next year.[56]

This brutality proved to be the final straw for American leaders, who had already seen Barre’s strategic utility plummet as the Cold War in Africa receded. Contemporary State Department announcements confirmed reports of “a widespread, systematic, and extremely violent assault on the civilian Isaak population” and “a pattern of roundups, summary executions, and massacres.”[57]

While an inauspiciously timed $1.4 million dollar shipment of American arms and ammunition arrived in Somalia in June 1988, subsequent military and foreign assistance was promptly canceled by an outraged U.S. Congress.[58]

This cutoff of foreign aid—and the subsequent diminishment of Barre’s patronage apparatus—led additional clans into rebellion.[59] The strongest of these clans, the Hawiye of Central Somalia, pressed Barre’s forces into a shrinking perimeter around Mogadishu itself.  The Somali National Army, once a potent force, began to melt away, as powerful commanders defected alongside common soldiers.

On January 27th 1991, Barre fled Mogadishu.[60] However, divisions amongst, and within, Somalia’s fractious clans endured beyond Barre’s departure. Battles for power and control erupted throughout Somalia, ushering in years of displacement, civil war, and, later, famine. [61]


The superpower rivalry exacerbated the Horn of Africa’s already fractious and winner-take-all brand of ethnic and tribal politics. Superpower interventions accelerated and intensified the aggressive tendencies of the regimes in Addis Ababa and Mogadishu. Tragically, this military aid encouraged and enabled both regimes to pursue maximalist military solutions to their regional and domestic ambitions and eschew political compromise.

International military aid did not create Barre’s brand of irredentist and militarized politics, but it did provide him the means to attempt these maximalist ethnic objectives. Soviet shipments of offensive weapons, like tanks and armored personnel carriers, to Barre altered the balance of power in the region and convinced the Somali leader that an irredentist invasion of the Ogaden could succeed.

Archival documents illustrate that Barre felt confident that even if the Soviets abandoned him after the invasion, the United States would quickly step in as an alternative weapons supplier. After defeat in the Ogaden, Barre’s Somali National Army relied upon American weapons to beat back clan-based revolts.

In Ethiopia, Soviet military largesse encouraged the Derg to seek a brutal military solution to the ethnic revolts in Eritrea and Tigray—even when Soviet military experts recognized that only negotiations and the introduction of an ethnically federal system could end the violence. Like Barre, Mengistu leveraged external support in an ill-formed attempt to secure his dominance over ethnic subgroups. This zero-sum brand of ethnic politics, unfortunately, endures in Ethiopia’s political culture today. The Soviet intervention did not create this culture, but rather enabled its execution with the largest military assistance program on the African continent.

Ultimately, the legacy of the Cold War’s conclusion in the Horn was not victory, but death.[62] The human toll of this violence is immense. Total deaths from the Ogaden War, the Ethiopian-Tigrayan-Eritrean war, and the Somali Civil War exceed 250,000 civilians killed.[63] When the 1 million Ethiopians who perished during the 1983-1985 famine are added to this total, the scale of this tragedy comes into focus.

Barre and Mengistu manipulated the Cold War rivalry to aggregate their own power, but underestimated how the changes wrought by Gorbachev spelled the end of such arrangements. These leaders donned the trappings of Marxist ideology when convenient, but their commitment to the cause was skin deep—as Siyad Barre’s attempt to switch sides in the Cold War in 1977 indicates.

As historian Odd Arne Westad noted, “if the countries in question were not ready for socialism, then the whole basis on which Soviet policy had been erected was faulty…By supporting these regimes, the Soviet Union therefore ended up on the wrong side of history.”[64]

Ultimately, however, both Barre and Mengistu overestimated their ability to manipulate the superpower rivalry to advance their own goals. As the bipolar Cold War order thawed in 1989, their strategic importance faded. The cancellation of foreign largesse in 1989 ultimately precipitated the downfall of both the Mengistu and Barre regimes. Absent international military aid and assistance dollars, neither Mengistu nor Barre could afford the security rents and the repressive patronage regimes upon which their fragile rule depended.[65]

To The Last Bullet The Cold War Last Gasps And Enduring Impact In The Horn Of Africa
Mengistu Haile Mariam stands with Fidel and Raul Castro during a visit in Havana, Cuba, 25 April 1975. (AFP)

Could the superpowers have better managed the Cold War’s conclusion in the Horn? Probably. After all, competition in the Horn of Africa brought scant geopolitical gains to the dueling superpowers. Both Mengistu’s Ethiopia and Barre’s Somalia proved to be frustrating clients for their superpower sponsors.

While the Ogaden intervention enhanced the prestige of Brezhnev’s Soviet Union, Mengistu proved to be a burden for the Soviet Union’s overstretched finances. When Mengistu fled into exile in 1991, his army had received over $12 billion dollars in Soviet weapons on credits that would never be repaid. Over 11,000 Soviets served in Ethiopia, 79 of which were killed in fighting, including two generals.[66]

Somalia under Barre proved to be equally vexing to American policymakers. Following Barre’s defeat in 1978, Somalia provided a naval and air base designed to support American efforts to project power into the Middle East, but these facilities were seldom employed during their roughly eight years in operation.[67]

In retrospect, leaders in both Washington and Moscow should have recognized the extent to which the Horn’s leaders abused superpower assistance to further their ethnic agendas. In the internationalist zeal of the Brezhnev era, the Soviets badly misjudged Mengistu, despite clear evidence of his bloodthirst and mismanagement dating back to 1977. Gorbachev’s re-think came too late to avert Mengistu’s doomed ambition to put outlying ethnic groups under the boot of his regime. American leaders also missed key opportunities in the region in this period.

The first came under the Carter administration, where mixed diplomatic signals meant to woo Barre away from the Soviet orbit should have been replaced with clear warnings against an invasion of the Ogaden. The second came under President Reagan, as diplomats failed to impose any conditionality on the military assistance sent to Barre’s regime—despite growing evidence of human rights abuses by the Somali National Army.

A joint attempt by the superpowers to de-militarize the region—or at least to simultaneously downsize their military assistance programs—at an earlier junction might have incentivized their clients to seek peaceful solutions to their ethnic and clan rebellions. At a minimum, slowing the flood of lethal assistance into the region might have minimized the civilian harm wrought during these campaigns.

The consequences of these failures at the end of the Cold War endure today in the Horn’s geopolitics. Since 1991, Addis Ababa and Mogadishu have struggled to unify their fractious ethnic and clan landscapes.[68] Ethiopia is now again in the midst of a bitter ethnic war in Tigray that has witnessed acts of ethnic cleansing not seen since the late 1980s.[69] Like Mengistu, Ethiopia’s Nobel-Prize winning Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy seeks total military victory over Tigrayan rebels and has eschewed negotiations around the critical question of ethnic federalism.

Next door, Somalia remains mired in chaos and civil war—despite repeated international interventions and attempts at state-building.[70] Nearly thirty years after the collapse of the Barre and Mengistu regimes, the international community continues to reckon with the enduring consequences of the world forged by the end of the global Cold War.

Sam Wilkins is an instructor of International Affairs at the Department of Social Sciences at West Point and a U.S. Army Special Forces officer. Sam recently graduated with an MA in International Affairs from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. The views expressed are the author’s, and do not represent the official position of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.


[1] Odd Arne Westad, The Cold War: A World History (New York: Basic Books, 2017), 365.

[2] Radoslav Yordanov, The Soviet Union and the Horn of Africa during the Cold War (Lanham, Lexington Books, 2016), 192.

[3] Marvine Howe, “Ethiopians Are Suspicious of Big U.S. Radio Base,” The New York Times, 28 August 1970. “National Security Study Memorandum 39,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969-1976, Volume XXVIII, Southern Africa.  “NDSM-231: Ethiopia – Kagnew Station and Military Assistance,” Richard Nixon Presidential Library, Box H-208, August 14, 1973.

[4] Derg is Amharic for “committee.” Sam Wilkins, “Buried in the Sands of the Ogaden: Lessons from an Obscure Cold War Flashpoint in Africa,” War on the Rocks, 6 September, 2019, See also Michael Ghebrenegus Haile, The Downfall of an Emperor: Haille Selassie of Ethiopia and the Derg’s Creeping Coup (Trenton, New Jersey, Africa World Press, 2018).

[5] The most critical of these rebellions were the Tigrayans and Eritreans in the Northeast and Ogadenis in the East. Luis Woodroofe, Buried in the Sands of the Ogaden, 104.

[6] While the United States wound down its arms supply in the wake of blatant human rights violations by the Derg forces using U.S.-provided weapons in Eritrea, the Soviet Union jumped in to expand its relationship with the new leftist regime in Addis Ababa. See Westad, The Global Cold War, 280. Nancy Mitchell, Jimmy Carter in Africa: Race and the Cold War (Washington: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2016), 105.

[7] Somali irredentist claims on the Ogaden are baked into its creation. On Somalia’s national flag—a five-pointed white star on a sea of light blue—one of the points of the star represents the Ogaden.

[8] Sam Wilkins, “Détente Under Fire: Contrasting Approaches to Cold War Strategy and Crisis Management in Africa,” The Strategy Bridge, 5 November 2020,

[9] Gebru Tereke, “The Ethiopia-Somalia War of 1977 Revisited,” The International Journal of African Studies, Vol. 33, No. 3 (2000), pp. 639.

[10] Yordanov, The Soviet Union in the Horn of Africa during the Cold War, 190.

[11] Dan Oberdorfer, “The Superpowers and the Ogaden War,” The Washington Post, 5 March, 1978.

[12] Over 1,000 Soviet advisors and 17,000 Cuban troops fought in Ethiopia. This Soviet intervention made President Carter appear helpless in the face of Soviet aggression. The media blasted the Ogaden War as “Carter’s Angola.” Paul Henze, the National Security Council staff officer responsible for the Horn of Africa wrote angrily in a memorandum to Brzezinski, the “Soviet involvement…and Cuban expeditionary force was sent in made us look like a frustrated, helpless giant…The worst thing about all this is that it adds to the impression, at a time when he least needs it, that the President is leading an amateurish, inept administration that neither knows what it wants nor how to go about getting it.” Henze to Brzezinski, Mar. 10, 1978, NA Staff, Horn 2, Jimmy Carter Library. Tareke, “The Ethiopia Somalia War of 1977 Revisited,” pp. 635-667. Westad, The Global Cold War, 280.

[13] “Record of a Special Coordination Committee Meeting, 2 March, 1978,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1977-1980, Volume XVIII, Horn of Africa, Part I.

[14] Dan Oberdorfer, “The Superpowers and the Ogaden War,” The Washington Post, 5 March, 1978.

[15] For an excellent case study of the Ogaden War in military terms, see Kenneth Pollack, Armies of Sand (Oxford University Press, 2019).

[16] In Hargeisa in Somalia’s north, 80 Somali National Army officers from the Isaak clan were executed by their commanders after vocalizing their opposition to the conduct of the war. “A Government at War With Its Own People: Testimonies About the Killings and Conflict in the North,” Africa Watch, January 1990, 27.

[17] The U.S. also replaced the Soviets at the naval base in Berbera, in northern Somalia. Woodruffe, Buried in the Sands of the Ogaden, 266. See also US Security assistance per year totals via SIPRI arms transfer dataset at

[18] Westad, The Global Cold War, 287.

[19] Westad, The Global Cold War, 287.

[20] In the countryside, the economic situation was characterized by contradictory systems and initiatives. See Paul Henze, Ethiopia in Mengistu’s Final Years, Volume 1: The Derg in Decline (New York: Shama Books, 2007) and Paul Henze, Ethiopia in Mengistu’s Final Years, Volume 2: Until the Final Bullet (New York: Shama Books, 2007).

[21] See Paul Henze, Ethiopia in Mengistu’s Final Years, Volume 1: The Derg in Decline (New York: Shama Books, 2007) and Alexander De Waal, Evil Days: Thirty Years of War and Famine in Ethiopia (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1991).

[22] BBC journalist Michael Buerk quoted in Yordanov, The USSR in the Horn of Africa, 233.

[23] Joseph Berger, “Offers of Aid for Stricken Ethiopia Are Pouring into Relief Agencies,” The New York Times, October 28, 1984.

[24] Yordanov, The USSR in the Horn, 224. Meanwhile, the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs Africa Department believed that the West exaggerated the scale of the famine in order to woo Ethiopians to the Western camp and “tarnish the Ethiopian regime.”

[25] The most notable of which was the March 1985 “We Are the World” concert fundraiser. For more, see Gavin Edwards, “We are the World: A Minute by Minute Breakdown,” Rolling Stone, 5 March 2020,

[26] The Soviets eventually responded at scale to the famine by providing 24 Mi-8 helicopters, 300 All-Terrain Vehicles, and 12 AN-12 transport aircraft to assist in food distribution, in addition to over $393 million dollars in food aid. After BBC reporter Michael Buerk famously described the situation as “a biblical famine in the 20th century” during a 1984 visit, Western aid organizations scrambled to assist. These massive international efforts eventually helped stabilize the situation. Yordanov, The USSR in the Horn of Africa, 233.

[27] Soviet assistance was badly wasted or stolen by corrupt and incompetent administrators. One episode that is illustrative of this tragic era regards 5,000 tons of Cuban sugar donated to Ethiopia for famine relief. Instead of disbursing the sugar to famine-struck regions, Derg officials sold it to Djibouti, to the immense frustration of Soviet and Cuban officials. Yordanov, USSR in the Horn of Africa, 225.

[28] For more on the broader reconsideration of Soviet Foreign policy under Gorbachev, see Robert English, The Idea of the West: Gorbachev, Intellectuals, and the End of the Cold War (Columbia University Press, 2000).

[29] Yordanov, The USSR in the Horn of Africa, 225.

[30] Georgii Mirskii, a prominent Soviet foreign affairs expert, noted in World Economy and International Affairs in 1987 that “our scholarship, with its emphasis on the role of class factors, has shed no light on Asian and African peoples’ internal ethnic and religious diversity.”

Assistant Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Kolosovskii echoed these concerns:  “We need a view of the developing countries that is to a considerable degree de ideologized, and that recognizes the uniqueness of processes at work there, and their independence of the rivalry between the two socio-economic systems.” Westad, The Global Cold War, 286, 383 and Westad, The Cold War, 487.

[31] Yordanov, The USSR in the Horn, 237.

[32] Yordanov, The USSR in the Horn, 225.

[33] Andrew and Mittokhin, The World was Going Our Way, 436. Cost imposition represented a key component of American strategy for hawks within the Reagan administration. However, this goal of bleeding the USSR in the Third World was not universally shared across the U.S. government or implemented in an integrated manner.

For more on these debates from Reagan-era practitioners, see: Chester Crocker, High Noon in Southern Africa: Making Peace in a Rough Neighborhood (New York: WW Norton and Company, 1992), Herman Cohen, U.S. Policy Toward Africa: Eight Decades of Realpolitik  (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2020), and Peter Rodman, More Precious than Peace: The Cold War and the Struggle for the Third World (Charles Scribner’s Sons: New York, 1994).

[34] Quoted in Westad, The Global Cold War, 383.

[35] Yordanov, The USSR in the Horn, 437. KGB reports around Mengistu’s corruption and incompetence fueled Gorbachev’s desire for a fresh approach.

[36] Rodman, More Precious Than Peace, 309.

[37] Graphs by author, using data from SIPRI Arms Transfer Database, accessible at:

[38] See “200 Days in the Death of Asmara,” Human Rights Watch Archives, 20 September, 1990,

[39] As Mengistu rebuffed Soviet efforts to encourage negotiations, the EPRDF won a series of battlefield victories over the first three months of 1988. Tobias Hagmann, “Twenty Years of Revolutionary Democratic Ethiopia,” Journal of East African Studies, Vol.5, Issue 4 (2011), pp. 580.

[40] Westad, The Global Cold War, 383.

[41] Westad, The Global Cold War, 383.

[42] Westad, The Global Cold War, 383.

[43] A subsequent visit by Deputy Foreign Minister Anatoly Adamishin in January 1989 reinforced the urgency of seeking a negotiated solution to the war in the northeast. Ibid., 384.

[44] Despite these machinations, his position continued to erode as Soviet frustration with Mengistu’s delaying tactics grew.

[45] Andrew and Mitrokhin, The World Was Going Our Way, 479.

[46] In February 1990, Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front forces captured the critical port of Massawa, capturing massive stocks of Soviet-provided equipment and opening the rebellion to exterior support from the sea. “Ethiopian Rebels Capture Critical Red Sea Port,” The Los Angeles Times, 11 February 1990,

[47] Nevertheless, high-level engagement with Barre continued. See Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, “Remarks by President Reagan at photo op with Ambassador Designate Somalia,” 4 June, 1981.

[48] SIPRI Arms Transfer Database, Accessible at:

[49] Graphs by author, using data from SIPRI Arms Transfer Database, accessible at:

[50] The signing of the 1988 tripartite agreement that concluded superpower intervention in Angola’s civil war is generally considered by scholars to mark the conclusion of the Cold War in Africa. William Claiborne, “Cuba, Angola, South Africa Sign Accord,” The Washington Post, December 14, 1988.

[51] Two additional headwinds bashed into Barre’s fragile state apparatus – a regional economic downturn and a rise in underground remittance payments into the country from a growing expatriate population. The remittances went directly to families and clans – eluding the state’s taxation system. The convergence of these factors meant that Barre could no longer afford the security rents needed to maintain the loyalty of Somalia’s diverse population. Alex De Waal, The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa: Money, War, and the Business of Power (New York: Polity Press, 2015), 45.

[52] In Somaliland, Barre’s regime faced its most potent challenge. Barre’s security apparatus responded harshly to protests by local clans, employing “mobile military courts” to quickly dispatch scores of Somaliland’s Isaak peoples to prisons—where many were killed. See Robert Gersony, Why Somalis Flee: Synthesis of Accounts of Conflict Experience in Northern Somalia by Somali Refugees, Displaced Persons and Others (Washington, DC: Bureau forRefugee Programs, Department of State, 1989).

[53] Peter Schraeder, “The Horn of Africa: US Foreign Policy in an Altered Cold War Environment,” Middle East Journal Vol. 46, No.4 (Fall, 1992), pp.579.

[54] See Yordanov, The USSR in the Horn of Africa, 284 and Westad, The Global Cold War, 385.

[55] As contemporary witnesses noted, these bombings represented ethnic cleansings, and occurred “only after non-Isaaks had been evacuated.” One civilian later told Africa watch that “the artillery shelling began immediately after the non-Isaaks were evacuated.” “A Government at War With Its Own People: Testimonies About the Killings and Conflict in the North,” Africa Watch, January, 1990, 132.

[56] Thandika Mkandawire, “The Terrible Toll of Post-Colonial Rebel Movements in Africa: Towards an Explanation of Violence Against the Peasantry,” Journal of Modern African Studies, 40.2 (2002), 181-215.

[57] “A Government at War With Its Own People,” Africa Watch, 217.

[58] This shipment included 1,200 M-16 rifles and 2.8 million rounds of ammunition. Other prominent foreign donors, such as the United Kingdom, who provided $9 million in annual foreign assistance, promptly followed the U.S. cancellation of assistance and aid. Peter Schraeder, “The Horn of Africa: US Foreign Policy in an Altered Cold War Environment,” Middle East Journal Vol. 46, No.4 (Fall, 1992, pp.574).

[59] Mohamed Haji Ingiris, The Suicidal State in Somalia: The Rise and Fall of the Siyad Barre Regime (University Press of America, 2016).

[60] For more on the Bush administration’s regional response to the crisis, see: George HW Bush Presidential Library, “MEMCON Meeting with Hassan Gouled, President of Djibouti,” 24 April 1991.

[61] Within Mogadishu, an intra-Hawiye civil war erupted between Ali Mahdi Mohamed and General Mohamed Farah Aided. Despite four major international military interventions over the subsequent 30 years, Somalia remains a failed state. See Mary Harper, Getting Somalia Wrong? Faith, Hope and War in a Shattered State (New York: Zed Books, 2012).

[62] Woodruffe, Buried in the Sands, 137.

[63] “Ogaden War Producing Little but Refugees and Death, The New York Times, 18 November 1978, “Ethiopia: Red Terror and Famine,” Mass Atrocity Endings Project, Tufts University, 7 August, 2015

[64] Westad, The Global Cold War, 380

[65] For more, see Alex De Waal, The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa: Money, War, and the Business of Power (New York: Polity Press, 2015).

[66] Mitrokhin and Andrew, The World Was Going Our Way, 478.

[67] Peter Schraeder, “The Horn of Africa: US Foreign Policy in an Altered Cold War Environment,” Middle East Journal Vol. 46, No.4 (Fall, 1992, pp.584.

[68] Mahmood Mamdani, “The Trouble With Ethiopia’s Ethnic Federalism,” The New York Times, 3 January, 2019.

[69] See: Michelle Gavin, “The Conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region: What to Know,” Council on Foreign Relations, 10 February, 2021,, “Tigray Crisis: ‘Genocidal War’ Waged in Ethiopia Region, Says Ex-Leader, 31 January, 2021,, Lucy Kassa and Nabih Bulos, “In an Out of Sight War, A Massacre Comes to Light,” Los Angeles Times, 19 March 2021,

[70] See James Fergusson, The Word’s Most Dangerous Place (New York: De Capo Press, 2013), Ian Livingston, “Somalia, Facing Severe Challenges, Also Shows Signs of Hope,” Brookings, 3 May, 2018.

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