Global Development and Colonial Power
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Global Development and Colonial Power

German Development Policy at Home and Abroad

Daniel Bendix

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📖 eBook - ePub

Global Development and Colonial Power

German Development Policy at Home and Abroad

Daniel Bendix

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About This Book

Although Germany was one of the principal colonising nations in Africa and today is the world’s second largest aid donor, there is no literature on the postcolonial condition of contemporary German development policy. This book explores German development endeavours by state institutions as well as NGOs, and provides evidence of development policy’s unacknowledged entanglement in colonial modes of thought and practice. It zooms in on concrete policies and practices in selected fields of intervention: development education and billboard advertising in Germany, and – taking Tanzania as a case in point – obstetric care and population control in the Global South. The analysis finds that disregarding colonial continuities means to perpetuate the inequalities and injustices that development policy claims to fight. This book argues that colonial power in global development needs to be understood as functioning through the transnational character of development policy at home and abroad.

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Chapter 1


‘German-Tanzanian Cooperation in Health can be followed back to the 19th century’ (Tanzanian German Programme to Support Health 2008). When I began my research on colonial power in German development policy in 2008, I was surprised to find this allusion to the colonial period on the website of the Tanzanian German Programme to Support Health (TGPSH), the most significant German development programme on health in Africa. I was surprised because there is a general agreement in Germany – and in formerly colonising nations more generally – that development policy constitutes a break with the colonial past. As it turned out, the reference to the period of German colonial rule was the product of a short research project initiated by a former senior manager of the German health programme in Tanzania. In my interview with him, he recounted his fascination with the German activities in health care during the colonial period. At the same time, he pointed out that Germany’s colonial past was a delicate topic for the German government:
Well, it was new to me how systematically the German colonial medical personnel or the German Colonial Office had already acted in the establishment of a health system back then. That was really exciting…. The German government, well, I know that BMZ [the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development] was, of course, never interested and very reluctant when it came to dealing with German colonial times, research-wise or other. That was politically taboo … but one would have to, I think, ask again from time to time, whether the times are not changing; that it has just become more of a historical thing, and not political.1 (Interview 10, 21 October 2010)
German development staff may have made similar political considerations – to declare colonialism a thing of the past – and, when relaunching its website, TGPSH avoided all references to the colonial history that connects Germany and Tanzania. It appears that non-recognition of the colonial past and denial of colonial legacies is characteristic of global development in general (e.g., Biccum 2002; Kapoor 2008; Kothari 2011). This book addresses this denial and reconstructs traces of colonial power in contemporary development. It does so by investigating the presence of colonial modes of thought and practice in the specific case of Germany’s transnational development policy.
Unlike the previously mentioned research by the German health programme manager, who would have liked to consign the topic of German colonialism to the past, this research pursues an understanding of history as put forward by Michel Foucault (1977, 1979) and described by the German postcolonial scholar Kien Nghi Ha as follows:
As long as the overlapping of sediments of time and society is not acknowledged and academic reappraisal remains purely historical, the influences of colonial effects on the racist imprints of present German society cannot be focused on. To not comprehend history as an open and dynamic field means to disallow the question of the topicality of colonial presences. (2005, 106)
A critical approach understands history as a realm that is still active and refrains from treating colonialism as historical in the sense of being over and done with. It acknowledges that the past affects our present.

The Relevance of This Book

Challenging the notion of a clear and thorough break between colonial-era interventions and post-World War II (WWII) development, postcolonial approaches have urged us ‘to unnaturalize stories of development’ (Power 2006, 28). While the impact of British colonialism on contemporary global development policy has been subject to revision and critique, this book turns the spotlight on the neglected case of Germany. It applies the postcolonial development studies’ assumption that colonialism affects contemporary development to various fields of German policy and undertakes an empirical investigation of specific German interventions. Investigating German development in a transnational sense as interrelated interventions ‘at home’ and ‘abroad’, this book shows how colonial power – conceived as discourses which emerged during colonisation, interconnected with practices, institutions and political-economic conditions – functions in global development to stabilise relations of inequality to the advantage of the global North.2
The book builds on and complements important work in postcolonial development studies (Eriksson Baaz 2005; Heron 2007; Kapoor 2008; Wainwright 2008; McEwan 2009; Wilson 2012). It takes up their theoretical insights to specific contexts (policy fields as well as country context) in order to empirically test the hypothesis that development policy and colonialism are interrelated. The book explores colonial power in German development policy both empirically and as a transnational phenomenon. It understands the colonialism-development nexus as productive in the interrelationship between policies directed at informing and educating the German public, on the one hand, and development activities aimed at the global South, on the other. Scholars of postcolonial development studies have mainly focused on one side of the coin only: some have investigated the coloniality of development in interventions in the South (Wainwright 2008), while others have focused on the production of colonial development mentalities in the North (Kontzi 2015). Moving beyond the common strategy of understanding racism, colonialism and development through the lens of the British (post-)colonial context, and bringing forward the under-researched case of Germany, this book suggests more generally that the colonial power of international development can best be understood in the complex transnational interrelationship between interventions at home and abroad. Postcolonial development studies have to date not undertaken a comprehensive analysis of a single donor country’s development endeavours in such a transnational manner. By linking interventions abroad with activities in the name of global development inside Germany, this book highlights the concerted – and at times contradictory – efforts of national policies towards international development.
The overall argument here is that contemporary transnational German development endeavours are fundamentally shaped by the colonial past. By disavowing that legacy, development policy risks creating or perpetuating the very inequalities and injustices it claims to battle against. More specifically, the book highlights the fact that international development activities inside Germany in its current orientation contribute to stabilising colonial and racialised relations of inequality at the national and global levels by disregarding the development-colonialism nexus. The examples taken as evidence are development education (DE), on the one hand, and advertising by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and government, on the other. Furthermore, the book demonstrates that contemporary German development interventions in the global South display striking similarities to colonial-era policy and practice with regard to discourse and its interrelation with practices and political-economic interests. The two examples taken here are obstetric care policy in Tanzania and population control in the global South.

Why Germany? Why Tanzania and ‘German East Africa’?

Germany as a country is a worthy case for investigating questions around the development/colonial issue. It displays the singular characteristics of a country ‘in-between’: Acknowledgement of historical facts and critical assessment of today’s development policy run concurrently with the denial of Germany’s part in European colonialism and its lasting effects (see chapter 2). Despite the facts that ‘Germans are a colonizing people with centuries of experience’ (Friedrichsmeyer, Lennox, and Zantop 1998, 9) and that Germany, as part of the European Union, profits immensely from the ongoing pan-European colonial project (cf. Hansen and Jonsson 2014), its involvement in colonialism is often denied or – if acknowledged – downplayed with reference to the colonising endeavours of other European nations. Germany’s image as not lumbered with a colonial burden regularly serves to justify its particular suitability as an unfettered authority in questions of development in the South. Studies on the colonial legacy of development policy have focused on activities by British (Wilson 2012; Kothari 2006b; Wainwright 2008; Slater and Bell 2002; Biccum 2005; Noxolo 2006; Hodge 2007) and, to a lesser degree, Canadian (Heron 2007), Scandinavian (Eriksson Baaz 2005), Portuguese (Power 2006) and Slovak (Profant 2015) agencies, institutions and professionals. Despite the fact that Germany is the European Union’s largest and the world’s second largest ‘aid donor’ (OECD 2017a) and once was one of the principal colonising nations in Africa (and the Pacific), colonial power in German development policy has remained comfortably ignored or denied.
While both Germanys shared the legacy of a colonial past, they practised different approaches in their relations to the global South. Thus, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) distanced itself from Western ‘foreign aid’ semantically and ‘preferred to use terms such as “economic socialist assistance” rather than “aid” which it associated with the neo-imperialism of the Federal Republic of Germany’ (Howell 1994, 305). According to Jude Howell, the GDR’s ‘assistance’ ‘provided the possibility of pursuing a strategy of development that was founded on radically different economic, ideological, and political premises’ to the ‘neo-liberal paradigm’ (1994, 328). This possibility for alternative South-North relations, which was in fact welcomed by some recipient countries, came to a halt with the ‘unification’ of the two Germanys (Büschel 2010). Germany’s ‘unification’ has been described as ‘annexation’ or even ‘colonisation’ by some observers (Vilmar and Dumcke 1996), because GDR’s economic, political, cultural and social life was destroyed or devaluated in its process (Behrend 1995). This also applies to GDR’s thought and practice on ‘socialist international solidarity’ (Weiter 2000). While I am aware of the danger of reproducing the effacement of the GDR’s history and legacy, this research does not cover the colonial legacy of the GDR’s development policy or its repercussions after ‘annexation’. In the following, ‘Germany’, when used for the period of the existence of the GDR, thus only refers to the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG).
The chapters that examine development policy abroad concentrate on German-Tanzanian development ‘cooperation’. Present-day Tanzania seems a particularly fitting case for investigating colonial power in global development. It previously formed part of Germany’s largest colony ‘German East Africa’, and the significance of ‘German East Africa’ for German colonialism is reflected in the centrality of German-Tanzanian relations to this day. What is more, German development policy and practice have in fact emerged during German colonial occupation and were particularly evident in ‘German East Africa’. Even though the GDR also had extensive relations with Tanzania, the focus of this book, as mentioned earlier, is on development engagement by the FRG. It has been argued that among all of Germany’s development partners, Tanzania is the country with which Germany has the broadest and deepest relations (Köhler 2000). Health, and more specifically population and reproductive health, is one of German development ‘cooperation’s’ priority areas in Tanzania (BMZ 2011b; TGPSH 2009c).

Development Policy

Despite ample criticism, there appears to be much faith by governments, NGOs and the general public in development ‘cooperation’ as a philanthropic, altruistic endeavour by the rich nations of the North to support the ‘development’ of poor countries in the South. Multi- and bilateral donor agencies and NGOs in the North present their objectives as selfless improvements of the economic, social, ecological and political conditions in so-called developing countries. However, such an understanding of development is also contested (Sachs 1992; Escobar 1994). Some scholars suggest that development perpetuates asymmetrical power constellations that serve the economic interests of the North (Duffield 2006; Kapoor 2008). Others have highlighted the fact that societies in the South are evaluated, and development policies are implemented, on the basis of a racialised and gendered modernity-tradition dichotomy (Crush 1995b; Noxolo 2006). This book adds to existing studies by exploring the ways in which racialisation, developmentalism, trusteeship and political-economic interests interconnect in the particular case of German development policy. To date, postcolonial development research has largely refrained from analysing specific policy fields and interventions and primarily focused on general policy orientations (Biccum 2005; Noxolo 2006; Slater and Bell 2002). By undertaking a concrete scrutiny of particular policy fields (see later) and by rereading present interventions through the lens of the colonial past, this book offers an empirical, ‘real-world’ assessment of the colonial power in present-day development. It investigates that power empirically, in the interaction between the intranational (political education, development advertisement) and the international (interventions into obstetric care and population development in the global South) and traces influences of colonial modes of thought and practice in contemporary development.
Development studies focus on practical interventions and are largely future oriented (Kothari 2011). Recently, however, scholars have shown increasing interest in the history of development (Bayly et al. 2011; Woolcock, Szreter, and Rao 2011). Michael Woolcock, Simon Szreter and Vijayendra Rao (2011) regard history as a resource for self-reflection: Why are certain issues focused on and not others, and why have interventions come to take their particular form in the present? While existing historical approaches in development studies tend to focus on the evolution of institutions and economic development (van de Walle 2009; Bayly et al. 2011), this book provides evidence that rereading discourses and practices of contemporary development through the theoretical lens of colonial power (chapters 3 and 4) or through an actual comparison with colonial times (chapters 5 and 6) gives substance and sophistication to the postcolonial claim that particular ‘racial formations constructed through colonial processes are re-presented and re-articulated’ in international development (Kothari 1996, 3). Such an in-depth understanding of the influence of colonialism on contemporary issues of development provides the necessary ground for imagining ‘de-colonized, de-whitened, post-colonial’ international cooperation (Crush 1994, 334).
Benita Parry and others (e.g., Lambert and Lester 2006) have argued that colonial rule was never ‘monolithic’ but rather characterised by a ‘dispersed space of power … effecting multiple situations and relations’ (2004, 14). Thus, differences between colonialisms and their legacies must also be taken into account. Even though colonialism was a distinctly trans-European project, one cannot assume that Germans held the same convictions, followed the same policies and carried out the same practices as other European colonisers in other territories. This also means that contemporary development policy by different countries of the global North draws on different cultural experiences and backgrounds. This book elaborates on the specificity of one individual national case of colonial power in international development. It highlights, for example, the simultaneity of German development professionals’ philanthropic arguments to legitimise interventions, on the one hand, and their ignorance regarding considerable German economic stakes in reproductive health in the South, on the other hand (chapter 6). It also ascertains how obstetric practices were introduced by Germans during colonial rule and are now presented as evidence of African backwardness (chapter 5). German professionals are situated within the legacy of not only a general but also a specific colonial past. Because colonialism was both a European and a multifaceted endeavour, postcolonial development studies must take account of similarities and divergences in colonial power in contemporary development.

Selected Areas of Intervention

Alongside its transnational perspective, the focus of this book lies on two areas of intervention within Germany that are key to conveying or negotiating ideas of development and North-South relations intranationally: DE (chapter 3) and billboard advertising strategies by NGOs and government (chapter 4). DE ‘is the only strand of education that organises itself around North-South relations and therefore is located right in the middle of local-global processes and debates’ (Andreotti 2006, 2). While it is supposed to raise awareness of power relations and interdependence, it may also, inadvertently, restrict its perspective to notions of the global South based on Western superiority or charity. Germany’s financial investment in DE is higher than that of any other OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) country. In addition to schools and universities, about 16,000 German NGOs are involved in DE activities. Billboard advertising is equally crucial in educating the German public on issues of global development and in conveying measures to counteract poverty and inequality – albeit in a more implicit way. Growing up in Germany means to be exposed from day to day to public images that locate destitution in the South and solution in the North. It is common to not ‘take these billboards seriously and [think] they [are] just about donations…. However, these images in and of themselves inform notions of the Global South and of Black people’ (Kahlon et al. 2016, 19). Charity advertisements by humanitarian and ‘aid’ NGOs in the form of large billboards are omnipresent in public places and train stations all over Germany. Some campaigns comprise up to 100,000 posters along the streets and train stations of the country. DE and billboard advertising provide the necessary ideological legitimation for development policy abroad as well as the background for the socialisation of those Germans active in global development.
In terms of development policy abroad, the book focuses on two areas (maternal health and family planning) within a policy field that is generally understood as altruistically motivated, common sense and non-negotiable – sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) – and analyses their colonial legacy. While population policy had occasionally been subject to criticism for its neocolonial, patriarchal and authoritarian orientation, the institutionalisation of the concept of SRHR at the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo in 1994 allegedly rid the field of reasons for such critique. An examination of the policy field of reproductive health and population is instructive because it is one of Germany’s main concerns today and was a focus, too, during German colonisation in Africa and the Pacific. Questions of reproduction in the colonised territories in Africa and the Pacific were also discussed by German politicians, administrators, missionaries and physicians from around 1905 to the end of German colonisation around 1920. This book zooms in on two distinct strands in development policy on sexual and reproductive health and rights. ‘Maternal health’ or ‘pregnancy and delivery’ (chapter 5) is one of the focal areas of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (BMZ) endeavours in the field of ‘reproductive health’ (BMZ 2011b). Childbirth-related issues lend themselves to an analysis of colonial power in development because they were a prime target of colonial policies for transforming the colonised people in the name of civilisation and modernity (Ram and Jolly 1998; Vaughan 1991). Furthermore, this book takes a closer look at ‘family planning’ and ‘population dynamics’ (chapter 6). Contemporary German development policy closely links the subject of SRHR to warnings about population growth. During German colonialism, colonial stakeholders cautioned against a population decline and perceived the colonies’ inhabitants as a resource in need of protection and enhancement. However, Germany’s colonial past is seldom viewed as significant in German development ‘aid’ and, on the rare occasion that a connection between the period of colonial occupation and contemporary devel...

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APA 6 Citation
Bendix, D. (2018). Global Development and Colonial Power (1st ed.). Rowman & Littlefield International. Retrieved from (Original work published 2018)
Chicago Citation
Bendix, Daniel. (2018) 2018. Global Development and Colonial Power. 1st ed. Rowman & Littlefield International.
Harvard Citation
Bendix, D. (2018) Global Development and Colonial Power. 1st edn. Rowman & Littlefield International. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Bendix, Daniel. Global Development and Colonial Power. 1st ed. Rowman & Littlefield International, 2018. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.