Battleground Africa traces the Congo Crisis from post–World War II decolonization efforts through Mobutu’s second coup in 1965 from a radically new vantage point. Drawing on materials from recently opened archives in Russia and the United States, and to a lesser extent Germany and Belgium, Namikas addresses the crisis from the perspectives of the two superpowers and explains with superb clarity the complex web of allies, clients, and neutral states influencing U.S.-Soviet competition.

Unlike any other work, Battleground Africa looks at events leading up to independence, then considers the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the series of UN-supported constitutional negotiations, and the crises of 1964 and 1965. Finding that the United States and the Soviet Union each wanted to avoid a major confrontation, but also misunderstood its opponent’s goals and wanted to avoid looking weak or losing its political standing in Africa, Namikas argues that a series of exaggerations and misjudgments helped to militarize the crisis, and ultimately, helped militarize the Cold War on the continent.

Lise Namikas is an adjunct instructor at Louisiana State University and helped to organize the Wilson Center’s Congo Crisis Oral History Conference in 2004.



1. Which Way Africa?

2. A Cold War Nationalism

3. Collision Course: The Superpowers in the Congo

4. A “Stopgap Arrangement”: ONUC

5. A “Castro or Worse”: Lumumba in Charge

6. Coups d’État and Troikas

7. Murder and Malice

8. A “Cold War” Civil War

9. No Silver Bullets

10. Force and Reconciliation

11. Johnson’s Distraction

12. “Carrying the Burden” in the Congo

13. Reaction and Mop-Up

Conclusion: The Congo in Global Perspective


Included in the Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries list of outstanding 2013 academic titles.

Battleground Africa: Cold War in the Congo, 1960–1965 is a magnificent treatment of a topic of great importance in the evolution of the Cold War from its origins in Europe after the Second World War to its truly global impact less than two decades later. Namikas has made understandable the immensely complex set of factors that made up the conflict.”—Roger E. Kanet, Journal of Cold War Studies

“In this very valuable study of Cold War politics in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s rocky first five years of independence from 1960 to 1965, Namikas draws on Soviet, East German, and Western archives to examine U.S., Soviet, and varied Congolese actors in the Congo. Even readers well-informed in Congolese history will find new and intriguing material here.… The book is well-organized and written clearly, and would work well for upper-division undergraduate and graduate courses. For specialists of the Cold War, this is a must-read study for understanding the Soviet and U.S. struggle for influence in Africa in the 1960s.… Highly recommended.”—J. M. Rich, Choice

“Building on the work of earlier scholars, Namikas has made a remarkable contribution that deepens our understanding of the Central African crisis that marked Africa as a key Cold War battleground.... For the most part, assessments of Congolese domestic politics, internal struggles, and interactions with outside powers are seen through an external lens. It is rare that a single book can take all of these factors into account; Namikas’s book does an admirable job.”—Elizabeth Schmidt, International Journal of African Historical Studies

“This substantial new study, which traces the Soviet and US struggle over the Congo from its independence in 1960 to Mobutu’s second coup in 1965, makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of the reasons behind the ‘abuse of power and … suffering’ (p. 223) of the Congolese people. Until recently, historical studies of the Congo have relied heavily—often exclusively—on sources from the US and the former European colonizers of Africa. But in Battleground Africa, Lise Namikas presents and analyses a range of new information that has recently emerged from the former communist world, including newly released official documents in Moscow and Berlin.”—International Affairs

“The author’s command of Soviet and East Bloc sources is very impressive, and adds a new dimension to the literature that has been lacking in past studies, which have relied on Western documents sets, especially from the US.”—David Gibbs, University of Arizona

“This is a major work on a significant topic that has the possibility of becoming the standard work. The organization and research is exceptional and the author is effective in guiding the reader through the detail and amazing complexity of the story.”—Thomas Noer, Valor Distinguished Professor, Carthage College