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Reviewed by:
  • Navigating Socialist Encounters: Moorings and (Dis) Entanglements between Africa and East Germany during the Cold War ed. by Eric Burton et al
  • Yulia Gradskova (bio)
Eric Burton, Anne Dietrich, Immanuel R. Harisch, and Marcia C. Schenck (Eds.), Navigating Socialist Encounters: Moorings and (Dis) Entanglements between Africa and East Germany during the Cold War (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2021). 399 pp. Index. ISBN: 978-3-11-062231-7.

Today relationships between countries of state socialism and those fighting for independence and against colonialism in Africa and Asia are getting more and more attention from researchers.1 While recent publications have convincingly demonstrated the multiple connections between state socialist countries and newly independent countries in Africa and Asia, they have opened a new set of questions that demand further inquiry. These questions include the need for a better understanding of the economic, [End Page 293] ideological, and cultural outcomes of this cooperation for both sides, the motivations of the main initiators and participants in postcolonial countries, and, the least explored issue – the everyday practices of such cooperation. The main focus of the volume under review is the issue of encounters.

The theme of encounters is already announced in the volume’s title and problematizes it on several levels. On the one hand, the contributors are interested in globalizations in plural with a focus on East–South connections (P. 10). In this respect, the book is similar to the 2020 contributed volume edited by James Mark, Artemy M. Kalinovsky, and Steffi Marung but has a somewhat narrower geographical focus.2 This focus is mainly the GDR in Eastern Europe and mainly, but not exclusively, Mozambique in Africa (some chapters deal with the experiences of encounters between East Germans and Angolans, Ghanaians, Kenyans, and Zanzibaris). This narrower focus allows the book’s contributors to more coherently examine relationships in the classrooms and workplaces, and to explore the expectations, obstacles, and misunderstandings of these relationships. Not limiting themselves to changes at the macro level, the contributors also study individual experiences of the encounters and memories about them. As the editors put it in the introduction to the volume, they decided to focus on “moorings which entangled – and, with time, unmoored and disentangled – two continents through patchy personal, institutional, and linguistic webs” (P. 8). Accordingly, the focus of individual chapters varies from a particular document (such as a diary of the solidarity brigades in Angola – chapter 12, by Paul Sprute) or private photographs preserved by former instructors and trainers sent to Mozambique (chapter 13, by Katrin Bahr) to the institutional frameworks involved or created in the process of cooperation.

The volume also contributes to the ongoing discussion about different socialisms, not least by questioning the presumed historical scheme: “socialism” was practiced first in the USSR, then in Eastern Europe, and only afterward transferred to Africa (P. 5).3 The editors remind readers in the introduction that in the 1960s and 1970s several African countries, including Ghana, Guinea, and Tanzania, nationalized raw material exports and introduced state-controlled boards for marketing agricultural production, as well as adopting free universal health [End Page 294] care and education (P. 3). They did this before any direct transfers of socialism from the Second World (Pp. 8–9).

The volume consists of fourteen chapters (including the introduction) that are authored predominantly by researchers working in German, Austrian, and American academic institutions. Just a few chapters were penned by Mozambicans in the capacity of researchers or authors of historical recollections. Chapter 9 was coauthored by a German researcher, Marcia Schenck and a former pupil of the School of Friendship for Mozambican children in the GDR, Francisca Raposo, and chapter 10 – by Schenck and Ibraimo Alberto, a Mozambican labor migrant who became a German boxer. Chapter 7 is the publication of a historical source: a diary kept by a Ghanaian trade union activist, J. A. Osei. Its English translation is annotated by Immanuel R. Harisch. Osei started this diary when he came to the GDR to study at the union school in Bernau in the early 1960s. This variety of formats sets this edited volume apart from other books on similar topics.

Another reason to commend this volume is the range of...