Bartering Coffee, Cocoa and W50 Trucks: The Trade Relationships of the GDR, Angola and São Tomé in a Comparative Perspective


  • Immanuel Rafael Harisch University of Vienna



This article offers a comparative examination of trade relations between the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and two former Portuguese colonies—Angola and São Tomé and Príncipe respectively—within the context of the global rivalry of political systems during the Cold War. As part of the socialist bloc, the GDR gave considerable support to pro-Marxist regimes in both countries which sought to consolidate their rule after achieving independence in 1975. In both instances, the countries bilaterally agreed on direct commodity exchanges, fueled by the GDR’s manifest need to retain its foreign currency reserves in the face of sky-rocketing commodity prices in the 1970s. However, as my archival research reveals, Angolan and São Toméan officials exercised significant influence in negotiations by effectively appealing to the GDR’s “anti-imperialist solidarity” and successfully shaping the terms of trade in both arrangements. These agreements were accompanied by other forms of “socialist aid,” like constructing industrial facilities and the work of so-called East German “Friendship Brigades.” Angolan negotiators pushed for a comprehensive assistance package for the coffee harvest as well as for “Friendship Brigades” to repair the imported W50 trucks whereas the São Toméan President Manuel Pinto da Costa secured fixed prices for his country’s primary export, cocoa, at a time when decrease in global demand threatened to devastate the country’s economy.

Author Biography

Immanuel Rafael Harisch, University of Vienna

Immanuel R. Harisch received his bachelor degrees in African Studies and Development Studies from the University of Vienna, where he is currently enrolled in the consecutive master programs. His current research interests focus on the relations between the German Democratic Republic and Angola as well as on the production of historical knowledge at the University of Dar es Salaam where he studied as an exchange student.