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Author ORCID Identifier
Open Access Dissertation
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Germanic Languages & Literatures
Year Degree Awarded
Month Degree Awarded
Jon Berndt Olsen
African History | European History | German Literature | Oral History | Photography
My dissertation examines the everyday life and work of development workers and their families sent by the German Democratic Republic (GDR) to Mozambique between 1979 and 1990. I investigate the issues of state and individual solidarity and the interactions of Germans and Mozambicans within the development projects. 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 research shows 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. This led to confrontations within the group of development workers but also with the partners.
My dissertation also shows how East Germans created their own niches to escape the orders given by their government. Private contacts with Mozambicans and other development workers from Western countries were held although the state ministry applied strict rules on how and how not to interact with people from the so-called capitalist states. The dissertation explores both the cultural meaning of these development projects and their social history, including their manifestation in everyday life and the economic inequality that characterized the encounter between East Germans and Mozambicans.
In my dissertation, I ask how the development mission came about; how the East German men, women and children interacted with the native Mozambicans; how their relationships were represented in newspapers and journals in the metropole; how political ideology shaped the substance of the collaborations; and how the East German men and women remembered their work; and especially how, through an analysis of photography, women who traveled as “mitreisende Ehepartner” (spousal traveling companions) remembered their life in Mozambique. Last, this work also explores the aspect of life in the GDR after their return and post-1989.
 Although the GDR did not use the term development aid (Entwicklungshilfe) at all, I will use this term here for the purpose of simplification.
Bahr, Katrin, "POSTKOLONIALE SOLIDARITÄT: ALLTAGSLEBEN VON DDR-BÜRGERN IN MOSAMBIK, 1979-1990" (2020). Doctoral Dissertations. 1992.