Africans in Germany and Germans in Africa. Abstracts

Katrin Bahr, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Post-Colonial Solidarity – Travel Memoirs of East German Men in Mozambique  
The official signing of the Friendship Treaty between the GDR and Mozambique in 1979 meant that thousands of GDR “specialists,” including engineers, teachers, doctors, government officials, and their families would visit Mozambique over the next ten years. These specialists remained throughout various parts of the country for a period of two to three years. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, some of them, mainly men, published travel memoirs. My paper will explore travel memoirs published post 1989, in relation to East German solidarity discourse and the everyday experiences of East German men and their families in Mozambique.
Despite official GDR ideology—and however socialist the intent of these solidarity efforts may have been—the travel memoirs I discuss show that East Germans who went to Mozambique could not escape a sense of a “civilizing mission” that assumed cultural superiority. In Mozambique, just liberated from Portugal in 1975, colonial structures were still in place, in
which East Germans, for the most part, willingly complied—for example by hiring servants and drivers. The travel memoirs reveal historical nuances of colonization and decolonization and how the East Germans handled them. It becomes clear that their intention to help was strongly
shaped by physical, cultural and societal reservations, prejudices and racisms. My paper will show that many of the travel memoirs still reflect colonial expressions and serve discourses of exoticization. My interdisciplinary approach analyzes texts and images to reveal the colonial imagination that continued to inflect Mozambican-East German relationships in the 1980s. Despite widespread, well-intentioned practices of anti-colonial solidarity, I show that the memoirs tell if relationships
that continued the primary of European whiteness.


Albrecht Classen, University of Arizona, Tucson: Africa in Recent German Literature: Critical Perspectives in Andre Kaminski and Renate Ahrens

This paper will introduce two fairly new, but still mostly unknown voices in Swiss and German literature of the last few decades that have made significant contributions to the discourse on Africa in the discourse on the broader exchange.


Dr. Bayo Ijagbemi, Africana Studies, University of ArizonaAgainst the Grain: Susanne Wenger, Yoruba Spirituality, and European Presence in Africa in the 20th Century




When in 1915 Susanne Wenger was born in Austria, European imperialism in Africa had reached a defining moment. The colonizing powers had completed the first stage of military conquest and had begun the task of establishing “effective occupation” that included an occupying force and administrative system over their acquired territories. Also continuing at this time in the various colonies was the assault on the cultures and, especially, the religious belief systems of the African peoples that had two goals. One, to consolidate on the success achieved on the battlefields that momentarily established the military power and superiority of the Europeans. Two, to erode and weaken the conquered peoples’ faith in themselves and their culture that could provide the basis for any recalcitrant attitude towards the colonial powers and resistance to a foreign occupation. These attacks on the religious and cultural practices of the African peoples was relentless throughout the colonial period and it remained a tool of oppression and dehumanization.


It was in this atmosphere of devastation that Wenger arrived in Nigeria in 1950 with her husband, Ulli Beier. Even though Wenger was an Austrian and her husband a German, it was reasonably expected that she would establish solidarity with their fellow Europeans from England in the denigration of Yoruba deities and belief systems. This was not the case. Instead, Wenger became a devotee and eventually a priestess of the Osun deity. Until her death in 2009 in Nigeria, she became the most notable devotee of the goddess of Osun and devoted her life and resources to the preservation and expansion of the shrine dedicated to in Oshogbo and the strongest devotee of the goddess of Osun.


This paper will exemplify Susanne Wenger as an anomaly in the historiography of the European presence in Africa in the 20th century. Against the expectation of the archetypical European in Africa in the heydays of colonialism, Wenger recognized the humanity of the Yoruba and embraced their culture. Unlike the European missionaries that denigrated the African belief systems and condemned their religions as idol worshipping, Wenger became a priestess of a prominent deity of the Yoruba. Wenger represented a negation of the Europeans’ colonial enterprise and the belief and attitude of European superiority and African inferiority that dominated the relationship between Africa and Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries.


Obenewaa Oduro-Opuni
Arizona State University
International Letters and Cultures, Ph.D.

Literary Points of Contact: Germany and the Transatlantic Slave Trade

This paper challenges the notion of the absence of German abolitionist awareness in Europe during the Enlightenment and highlights the lack of a systematic and historical engagement with German debates on slavery in the media and the public sphere based on the work of August von Kotzebue (1761-1819). Investigating the transatlantic significance of the Enlightenment, I trace individual acts of abolitionism in a German context to explore the correlation between abolitionist movements in the Euro-American space and the German involvement in abolitionist efforts. Specifically, I focus on the play by August von Kotzebue produced in 1796, Die Negersklaven, ein historisch-dramatisches Gemӓhlde: in drey Akten (The Negro Slaves: A Dramatic-Historical Painting, in Three Acts). Contextualizing this German play within the abolitionist discourse of Great Britain in the later part of the eighteenth century, I examine the formulation of Kotzebue’s anti-slavery argument in Die Negersklaven based on the historical accuracy of events and factual elements throughout the play. This includes the depiction of black slaves within the play, which will be discussed by virtue of Hortense Spillers’ concept of gender differentiation during slavery and Orlando Patterson’s understanding of rituals and marks that manifest the transformation and assumption into slavery (e.g. slaves being stripped of their names and identities that existed before their capture and enslavement). Additionally, I investigate the nature of German sources on slavery, the slave trade and abolitionism during the time, as they are brought forth in Kotzebue’s preface to the play. These contributions will be examined through Ashraf H. A. Rushdy’s concept of intertextuality, which posits that cultural productions emerge from and simultaneously contribute to social conditions. Finally, I will examine the depiction of violence exerted on black slaves and their transformation into commodities in accordance with appeals to morality as a strategy of abolitionist cultural production. Thus, my reading of Die Negersklaven attempts to highlight a relatively unknown abolitionist literary work that was produced by a German author during the Age of Enlightenment.


Olapeju Alfred, Department of German Studies, University of Arizona: Hybrid Identity of Africans in Germany: Use of Language in May Ayim’s Poem “Blues in Black and White


May Ayim, who was born in Hamburg, Germany, in 1960 by a Ghanaian father and German mother, placed in a children’s home by her biological mother and adopted by a white foster family in 1962, struggled with her Afro-German identity until her suicide in 1996. Her works comprise of scholarly documentation of experiences of women of minority groups in Germany, as well as poems and articles with themes focused on dual-identity, race, feminism and the complexities of self-identity of minority groups in Germany. Her diploma thesis in 1986 titled “Afro-Germans: Their culture and Social History on the Background of Societal Change” was the first scholarly work on Afro-German history spanning the middle Ages to the present (Gerlind, 2012). In her article titled “Borderless and Brazen: Ethnicity redefined by Afro-German and Turkish German Poets”, Goertz (1997) examines how Ayim explores the creative spaces between cultures, breaking down the dichotomous notions of ethnic identity thereby redefining ethnicity as a hybrid concept. Ayim’s first collection of poems titled “Blau in schwarz Weiss” published in 1995, traces the process of marginalization along color lines, with the unification of Germany as one of its more recent manifestations.  Goertz (2003) analyses how Ayim entwines her African and German identity in her poems with a focus on its intercultural dialogue; verbal, visual and musical modes of communication style and how this sets the groundwork for her broadened definition of her Afro-German identity.

This paper will take a stylistic approach in analyzing language use and structure in Ayim’s Blues in Black and White. I will focus on her poems written between 1982- 1988, positioning it within the socio-political climate of that period in Germany. Looking at the affective affordances of these poems, I will provide answers to why her audience identify with them and the methods she uses in presenting socio-political issues. I will relate these themes to the present-day discussions of identity in Germany and Europe. I believe it is important to have these discussions considering the current migration crises in Europe.


Simone Seym, Tucson


Art, Equality and Social Justice in the African-German and European Cultural Discourse: Impempe Yomlingo – Isango’s Explosion of Joy from the Townships of South Africa


“…Thank you too for proving apartheid so abominably wrong. You have helped restore our faith in ourselves. Fantastic.” Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, October 2011

Isango’s productions re-imagine classics from the Western theatre canon, finding a new context for the stories within a South African or township setting thereby creating inventive work relevant to the heritage of the nation. Isango is committed to creating theatre that is accessible to all South Africans and to contributing to a more united South African nation. Impempe Yomlingo – Mozarts Magic Flute – Zauberflöte, as well as  Isango’s award-winning film U-Carmen eKhayelitsha and their second film Son of Man  were filmed on location in Khayelitsha and propelled this historically disadvantaged township into the international spotlight.

The Isango Ensemble with the Creative Team Pauline Malefane, Mark Dornford-May and Mandisi Dyantyis draws its artists mainly from the townships surrounding Cape Town. Their stage productions and films have played to sold-out audiences across the world, and they have received numerous international awards: The Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, Les Globes de Cristal Paris, The Arts and Cultural Award South Africa, The Olivier Award London, The San Francisco Black Film Festival … and so much more.

How does the performers’ narrative of equality, social justice and finding true love reflect the remaining struggles in a post-apartheid South Africa? How does this exuberant fusion of 18th-century German-European and 21st-century African storytelling, music and rhythm unfold? This presentation will explore the Isango Ensemble as a pivotal player of the African and German-European Cultural Discourse.


Praise Zenenga, Africana Studies, University of Arizona:


From Donkey Carts to Mercs and BMWs: German Investments in Zimbabwe


This paper discuses German investments and Business interests in the Southern African Nation of Zimbabwe. The most visible symbols of the German Business presence in Zimbabwe are German cars especially Mercedes Benz and BMWs which not only serve as official state cars used to transport government officials including the head of state, but is also the upper- and middle-class personal vehicle of choice. German cars and are the preferred automobiles. Despite the ubiquitousness of German cars on the Streets on Zimbabwe’s Capital city of Harare, the automobile industry is not the predominant German business investment is Zimbabwe. German businesses interests in Zimbabwe span the mining, transportation, agriculture, tourism and textiles sectors. My analysis highlights how starting in the late 1990s the changed bilateral political relations between German and Zimbabwe impacted economic relations between the two countries – mainly bilateral trade and more specifically foreign direct investment (FDI). The major events that led to the collapse of political relations and business cooperation include the Zimbabwe’s violent land reform program which forcibly took land from white farmers leaving several dead. Ensuing human rights violations, growing disregard for law and order as well as the perpetually violent and fraudulent elections further soured Germany’s political and economic relations with Zimbabwe. Despite deteriorating economic relations between German and Zimbabwe, strong cultural relations and development cooperation especially in the area of humanitarian assistance have persevered over the years. As part of its secondary objective, this discussion also explores the meteoric rise of the Zimbabwean middle class from its peasantry origins paying attention to how German automobiles especially Mercs and BMWs have become emblematic of success, affluence, status and a new class identity.