African Students in the Soviet Union / Russia: Destinies, Experiences, and Influences on the Development of African Studies

Conveners: Prof. Nicolay A. Dobronravin (St. Petersburg State University, Russia);
e-mail:, Dr. Anna Y. Siim (Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography [Kunstkamera], St. Petersburg, Russia); e-mail:, Dr. Tatiana A. Smirnova (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales / Reseau International d’Acteurs Emergents, Paris, France); e-mail:

Thousands of African students were trained in the Soviet Union/Russia. The education of foreign cadres was seen by the Soviet authorities as an instrument of ideological influence in the

‘developing’ world. However, life experience of African students was not shaped by socialist/communist indoctrination, even where such indoctrination did take place. Many of the students arrived from the countries which were classified as "socialism-oriented" in the Soviet Union, but this classification rarely corresponded to the official ideology of these African states. African students came to the Soviet Union to study various disciplines which was seen as helpful for the development of their countries. Many of the graduates became qualified specialists in their fields. At the same time, the development of African studies in the Soviet Union relied upon lasting interaction with African students, sometimes leading to the emergence of new scholarly approaches far beyond the ideological conjuncture of the Soviet period. Most African graduates returned to their countries, where some of them held high government positions, played a significant role in the fields of university education, sciences and arts. Individual trajectories were often influenced by everyday experiences of African students in the Soviet Union. As a result, political, social and cultural life of many countries has been closely associated with the Soviet Union/Russia. This link is not always obvious because of more visible postcolonial influences in the respective countries. The objective of this panel is twofold: an attempt to analyze the role of Soviet/Russian life experiences in the individual trajectories of African students, as well as an endeavor to trace the development of African studies in Russia in the light of interaction with African students. How were these students trained? What were the relations established with the professors and other students? How did African students and Soviet Africanists interact? What was the outcome of these reciprocal influences? What was the role played by the "mixed" marriages, political context, family and personal relations? The corresponding narratives remain underexplored, and all these questions cannot be answered without a deeper understanding of the Soviet period of Russia's history, far beyond both pre-
1991 and post-Soviet ideological cliches.