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Katrin Bahr, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Cultural Studies

Postcolonial Solidarity: The German Democratic Republic in Mozambique

My dissertation examines the development projects organized by the German Democratic Republic (GDR) that sent thousands of Germans to live and work in Mozambique from 1975 to 1990. It will be one of the first in English to look at the East German development project from a post-colonial perspective.

I plan to investigate in particular the issues of race and economic inequality in these development projects, led by a country that denied either existed under socialism. Since the GDR did not see itself as a colonial power or an heir to Germany's colonial past, it acquitted itself of the charge of being an exploitative imperialist in its foreign policy. From its perspective, it stood side by side in “solidarity” (Solidarität) with its “brother states” (Bruderstaaten) throughout the developing world. Official documents spoke of “equal rights in economic relationships” (gleichberechtigte Wirtschaftsbeziehungen).

My preliminary research suggests that the GDR never achieved this ideological goal in Mozambique. While the GDR proclaimed solidarity when starting the projects, the livelihood of the metropole, such as stabilizing the East German economy through securing a supply of bituminous coal, was a priority above the welfare of Mozambique. In trying to exploit natural resources in Africa for use by Germans at home, the GDR accordingly acted like a post-colonial power. Despite official ideology, the East Germans who went to Africa could not escape the civilizing mission that assumed cultural superiority, however socialist the mission may have been. For example, at the Moatize mine, factory, and agricultural projects, East Germans were in theory not allowed in their leisure time to talk to Africans, their supposed brothers in solidarity. GDR children attended separate kindergartens and schools.

My dissertation explores both the cultural meaning of these development projects and their social history, including their manifestation in everyday life and the racism and the economic inequality that characterized the encounter between East Germans and Mozambicans. I plan to ask how the development projects came about; how the East German men, women and children interacted with the native Mozambicans; how their relationships were represented in documentaries and newspapers in the metropole; how political ideology shaped the substance of the collaborations; and how the Germans and Mozambicans remembered their personal encounters.