An interview between the Canadian Journal of History/Annales Canadiennes d’Histoire and Jan Záhořík, author of “Czechoslovakia and Congo/Zaire under Mobutu, 1965-1980” (Part 1 of 2)

Written by the Canadian Journal of History/Annales Canadiennes d’Histoire.

Photo of Jan Záhořík
Dr. Jan Záhořík

Jan Záhořík is an Africanist who teaches at the department of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of West Bohemia in Pilsen. His article on the Cold War relationship between the former Czechoslovakia and Congo/Zaire is available in the latest issue of the CJH/ACH.

Dr. Záhořík’s main area of research is modern and contemporary African history and politics. He noted, however, that “because I come from the Czech Republic I also feel I have some sort of duty to explore and analyze our history in regard to Africa. Former Czechoslovakia played quite a significant role in Africa during the Cold War.”

As explained in the article, in 1964 an agreement of scientific-technological cooperation was signed between Czechoslovakia and Congo/Zaire. We asked Dr. Záhořík about the significance of this agreement and whether it was an unusual arrangement. He explained: “Former Czechoslovakia was trying to establish multiple multilevel relations with many African countries by that time. Of course, one of the main aspects was export of arms and ammunition – Czechoslovakia was the 6th biggest exporter of weapons to Africa in the 1960s and 1970s – but besides this there was a big tendency to establish fruitful cooperation in research, medical care, [and] education. Dozens, or better to say hundreds, of Czechoslovak teachers, medical doctors, and engineers served in Africa during the Cold War, and this is one of the main reasons why Czechoslovakia, or now Czech Republic, has still a good name in many corners of Africa.”

Dr. Záhořík explained that with this article, new light is shed on the economic interactions between the Eastern Bloc and African countries during this time period. He noted that, “for a long time, presence of the Eastern Bloc actors in Africa has been seen as rather ideological, supporting primarily socialist or Marxist regimes, but as this study shows, there were many rather pragmatic reasons for cooperation with, in this case, African regimes such as that of Mobutu in the Congo, who was otherwise one of the main regional Western allies.” Though he was familiar with a similar pragmatic relationship between Ethiopia and Czechoslovakia, he was still surprised by the degree of pragmatism he found in trade relations between Czechoslovakia and Congo/Zaire. He noted that “the results show that Czechoslovak foreign policy towards Africa turned quickly from, let us say, an era of naïve ideological ‘export’ to a rather pragmatic approach.”

In addition to the various other restrictions it created, the Cold War stilled dissemination of academic work between the Eastern and Western Blocs. Dr. Záhořík stressed that now that these barriers have been removed, we must continue to work to break down others. He emphasized that scholars in the Eastern bloc did excellent work, but they were unable to share it with the outside world. Now that the political climate has changed, Dr. Záhořík believes that publishing in English what may seem like “minor” subject matter “may help us to understand certain historical events and processes in a different light. Therefore, I am sure there will be more works on, for instance, Czechoslovak-African relations in the near future.”

Read Part 2 here.

Read Jan Záhořík’s article “Czechoslovakia and Congo/Zaire under Mobutu, 1965-1980” FREE for a limited time online here:


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