Radio Prague and the Cold War in Africa

Photo: CTK

In the last years of the Cold War, Radio Prague’s English department was many times bigger than it is today and divided into several sections, devoted to different parts of the world. One of the most important was the Afro-Asian service. Africa was an important Cold War battleground and Radio Prague’s Afro-Asian service was not just telling the people of Africa about Czechoslovakia. It also covered events within Africa itself, following closely the Soviet political line. At one time the department was receiving tens of thousands of listeners’ letters every year.

At the end of 1985, a year that saw drought in many parts of Africa and devastating famine in Ethiopia, Radio Prague broadcast a summary of the previous 12 months:

“Radio Prague’s Afro-Asian service brings you a review of the past year in Africa, a year which has seen much good, but also much evil… Now, along with its true friends, Africa must face the present, with hunger as the number one problem. Naturally, this fact has not escaped the attention of the government and population of Czechoslovakia, as well as other socialist countries, who have done their utmost to help… The assistance provided by the socialist countries was not limited to a mere one of granting of aid. We prefer long-term assistance and removing the causes of the problem and thus preventing its repetition. Moreover, our assistance has no strings attached to it, while American Vice President Bush, for instance, let it out openly that America conditioned its help. In addition, there is the point, where did the Western assistance go to? In the case of Ethiopia, the Vice President only chose to spit out a piece of advice, namely that the social order should be changed. The country’s socialist orientation, Bush claimed, caused the drought and famine.”

The presenter was referring, of course, to George Bush Senior, at the time Vice President in the Reagan administration. In Sub-Saharan Africa, Angola was gripped by civil war between the communist government, supported by the Soviet Union, and the anti-communist UNITA rebels, backed by South Africa and the United States. In 1985 the Angolan government staged a symbolic tribunal, called “Children Accuse Imperialism”, which was the subject of a Radio Prague report:

“The dock was empty, but everybody knew who the culprits were: Pieter Botha of South Africa, Jonas Savimbi of UNITA and Ronald Reagan of the United States. They were tried in absentia of crimes committed against children and young people in a number of African, Asian and Latin American countries.”

Photo: CTK
The broadcast included eye-witness accounts, such as this ten-year-old child from Angola:

“One day I took a ride in a truck to visit my uncle. On the way we were attacked by UNITA. A lot of people died on the truck and the only survivors were three FAPLA [The People's Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola] soldiers, a baby and myself. They took us to a base in the bush. When we reached the base, the baby we were taking with us started to cry a lot. They got hold of it and beat it against a stone. It finally died.”

As it summarized events in Africa in 1985, Radio Prague’s Afro-Asian service concluded that there was one hope for the continent’s future:

“There are so many protracted problems Africa has inherited from its colonial past that their solution will take several decades at the usual pace of evolution – unless all of us are surprised. There were many who back in 1917 doubted that Soviet Russia could overcome its fatal backwardness by the end of this century. It did, and so can Africa.”

It is worth pointing out that at the time Prague had big ambitions when it came to international broadcasting. Throughout the 1980s a vast new radio complex was under construction that aimed to rival Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty in Munich. It was never completed, and for many years stood derelict. It has now been rebuilt as an office block.

The episode featured today was first broadcast on May 14, 2009.

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