The Nordic Africa Institute

Archives in Finland

To understand Finland’s involvement, one must take the cold war political context into the analyses and Finland’s unique position between east and west. Finland was itself a former colony, having been a province of Sweden for nearly five hundred years and then taken in war by Russia in 1809 only to gain its independence in 1917. Finland was an agrarian country that was not allowed by the Soviet Union to receive Marshall Help after the Second World War. It was extremely poor, having to pay war reparations to the victorious powers and had just lost a large amount of land to the Soviet Union and also had half a million internal refugees (IDPs). Africa was far away. Another important relationship is the traditional cultural closeness with Sweden and also Norway and Denmark. It was in this connection that Southern Africa rose to the political agenda in Finland.

Under the reign of President Kekkonen (1956-1981) Finland started to be aware of the liberation struggle in Southern Africa. The Seamen’s Union had already begun a boycott against South African shipments in 1963. Several committees and organisations started to be formed. The Committee of 100 (1963), corresponding to a British peace movement with Kalevi Suomela, Paavo Lipponen, Erkki Tuomioja and others who later became well-known politicians as activists, started a public debate on the lack of Finnish support to liberation movements in Southern Africa, Namibia being the one slight exception. The South Africa Committee (1965) was a sensitive issue as Finland had recognised the South African government and had close ties with them. The committee was eventually established, with trade union support, and worked closely with IDAF. Most coordination of activities was done later by the Isolate South Africa Campaign (EELAK), foremost boycotting actions.

With the establishment of the Students' International Assistance YKA and their invitation to Nickey Iyambo from the Swapo Youth League, the already existing ties with Namibia were strengthened. Mozambique and Guinea Bissau became partners for Finland soon after. Mozambique foremost through Operation Day’s Work (Taksvärkki) and Guinea Bissau after a visit to Finland by Amílcar Cabral in 1971. He was the first leader of a liberation movement who was treated as a statesman in Finland and received by the President. On an official level, Finland started contributing to the UN Trust Fund for South Africa in the late 60’s and with direct aid to ANC in 1977. During the 1980's, supporting liberation movements in Southern Africa became a common issue for trade unions, church and all the political parties, including the small right wing ones. In October 1985 the Transport Workers Union, led by Risto Kuisma, decided to start a blockade of goods to and from South Africa, an action that gained wide support and reduced direct trade between the countries to a trickle. A law prohibiting all trade with RSA went into effect only after the other Nordic countries had done this in 1986.