U.S. and Soviet foreign aid during the Cold War: A case study of Ethiopia

Tobias Broich

Research output: Book/ReportReportProfessional


This study provides a historical perspective of Ethiopia's position in the international aid game at the Horn of Africa during the Cold War era (1945-1991). The main conclusions of this study are threefold. First, the countries of Ethiopia and Somalia became classic examples of pawns in Cold War politics. The two superpowers, the United States of America (USA) and the Soviet Union, switched sides to support countries to which they had been previously furnishing assistance at the apex of the Cold War. Second, recipient governments are able to use international development assistance as a tool to implement as much of their policy agenda as possible. Both the Imperial Government of Ethiopia (1941-1974) and the Ethiopian communist government (1974-1990) aimed at maximising external financial resources while minimising the amount of loss of sovereignty over the policy agenda. Third, the 1984-86 famine in the Horn of Africa region convincingly highlights the moral dilemma that the international donor community faced when assisting non-democratic recipient states. Ethiopia's history has provided two valuable lessons for the successive Ethiopian Government during the post-Cold War era: (i) the extent to which a lack of economic development and widespread death caused by famine contributed to the demise of both Ethiopian governments during the Cold War era; (ii) the extent to which large financial and military dependence of both the imperial government and the communist government on one major ally (USA and Soviet Union, respectively) during the Cold War played a decisive part in the overthrow of both governments.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherUNU-MERIT working papers
Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2017

JEL classifications

  • f35 - Foreign Aid
  • f50 - International Relations and International Political Economy: General
  • n47 - "Economic History: Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation: Africa; Oceania"
  • o55 - Economywide Country Studies: Africa


  • Ethiopia
  • Foreign Aid
  • United States
  • Soviet Union
  • Cold War

Cite this