- Navigating Socialist Encounters: Moorings and (Dis)Entanglements Between Africa and East Germany During the Cold War ed. by Eric Burton et al.
This edited volume, comprised of fourteen chapters and an introduction, contributes significantly to our understanding of the still understudied links between East Germany and the Global South. Unlike other recently published essay volumes dedicated to the topic of socialist internationalism, including Comrades of Color (ed. by Quinn Slobodian, 2015), the present title focuses exclusively on the relationship between the GDR and Africa (namely Angola, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar, and especially Mozambique) in the aftermath of the continent's decolonization. The volume pursues a two-pronged approach. First, it examines how political, social, and cultural entanglements between the GDR and Africa have impacted both (East) German and African histories and institutions, generating multiple institutional, personal, and linguistic networks. Second, it demonstrates that such endeavors were often spearheaded by nonelite actors, including migrant workers, students, educators, or activists. To this end, each author in the volume unearths a treasure trove of sources that draw, among others, on East German and African archives, oral and micro-histories as well as literary and documentary texts and artifacts.
In their introduction to the volume, the four editors, Marcia C. Schenck, Immanuel R. Hirsch, Anne Dietrich, and Eric Burton, situate the volume within scholarly efforts to move beyond an understanding of globalization as a Western-led phenomenon, in which neither Africa nor the communist world actively participated until the late 1980s. Accordingly, the present volume charts a forty-year arc, starting with institutions and mobilities that were put in place in the 1950s and 1960s, through the collapse of the Portuguese empire in the 1970s, and ending with labor and training contracts of the 1980s. By privileging ties between Africa and the GDR in particular, the editors complicate homogeneous perspectives on the topic (including the idea that the USSR had total hegemony over the foreign policy of the Eastern Bloc) and [End Page 384] demonstrate instead the diversity of socialisms on both the African continent and Eastern Europe, refracted by political upheavals, economic necessities, or the politics of nonalignment. While the examined networks attest to socialist futures envisioned as alternatives to the neocolonialism many had perceived as inherent to capitalism, the volume, in privileging the GDR, also duly addresses the country's unique position within the Eastern Bloc as a former colonial state, showing how legacies of German colonialism and Nazism permeated many postwar cross-continental encounters.
All individual essays are well-written, critically informed, and highly innovative. The first part of the volume, "Shaping Pioneering Institutions," opens with Jörg Depta and Anne-Kristin Hartmetz's analysis of East and West German cultural diplomacy in Nasser's Egypt. Focusing on the GDR's Herder Institute in Cairo, the authors argue that the GDR competed against the FRG's quantitative advantage in teaching German as a foreign language with qualitative developments, resulting in the emergence of Deutsch als Fremdsprache as an academic discipline. Christian Alvarado's chapter reveals how Kenyan students in 1960s GDR and Yugoslavia challenged their dual objectification as commodified workers by Kenyatta's government and, using film, as racialized subjects in Europe. Eric Angermann turns to African trade unionists' ambivalent experiences at the Freie Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund college in Bernau, where their political and antiracist activities were countermanded by paternalistic staff. A fascinating complement to Angermann's piece is J. A. Osei's account of his time at the college, reproduced in full in the volume's second part. Immanuel R. Harisch's annotations deftly explain previous edits to Osei's text when it was first published by the college's bulletin in 1964. The section concludes with Franziska Rantzsch's essay about labor contract negotiations between the GDR and Mozambique after Mozambican independence in 1975. Rantzsch argues that the accords were actively shaped by Mozambican partners and intended to be...