E. Burton: In Diensten des Afrikanischen Sozialismus

In Diensten des Afrikanischen Sozialismus. Tansania und die globale Entwicklungsarbeit der beiden deutschen Staaten, 1961–1990

Burton, Eric
Studien zur Internationalen Geschichte (49)
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607 S.
€ 84,95
Rezensiert für Connections. A Journal for Historians and Area Specialists von
Quirin Lübke, Historisches Seminar, Universität Leipzig

“Tanzania will smoke out any foreigner wherever he may be who tries to sabotage the country’s policy of socialism and self-reliance” (p. 65). This was not the auspicious welcome that overseas development workers might have hoped for from the Tanzanian Vice-President. Far from being indicative of widespread hostility toward foreigners, it was just one view on foreign assistance, and was challenged by the sheer number of development workers (“advisers”, “expatriates”, “experts”, “teachers”, “brothers” – the designation changed with what work they did or where they came from) who came to Tanzania from capitalist and socialist countries in the decades after its independence in 1961. In his book, Eric Burton focuses on those coming from West Germany and the German Democratic Republic in a study of the broader development policies and practices of both countries in Tanzania.

The impact and nature of the entanglements between the three countries were far from straightforward, nor was the situation in Tanzania as the Vice-President’s quote in a local newspaper demonstrates. It is therefore no surprise that contradictions are a dominant theme early in the book. Tensions existed between self-reliance, an important pillar of Julius Nyerere’s conception of African socialism (Ujamaa), and the need for foreign expertise. There was also a gap between the rhetoric of liberation and freedom of the new Tanzanian state versus Nyerere and his ruling party’s authoritarian tendencies. Among others, these contradictions are given to the reader as a useful shorthand to understand the forces that shaped the circumstances in which German development workers and their Tanzanian counterparts operated.

Burton takes a chronological look at East and West German development policies toward Tanzania. This begins with early contacts, shaped in part by lingering colonial connections for West Germany and an East German desire to demonstrate solidarity with decolonising countries, before tracing the competition between the two states. The East German intermezzo in Zanzibar[1] was symptomatic – in which aid was traded for international recognition – while countervailing West German efforts tried to prevent it. Following formal mutual recognition in 1972, a period of coexistence defined relations between East and West Germany, but while the acrimony might have lessened on this front, respective relations with Tanzania fluctuated as local dynamics and global economic conditions shifted in the 1970s and 1980s. In establishing this triangle (East-West-South) and following it from start to finish, this book taps into an increasingly well-established scholarship that has broadened the horizon of twentieth-century history beyond an older and simpler East-West dichotomy.[2] In its early chapters, the book adds international development to this history and manages to enlighten even an uninitiated reader on its interwoven characteristics.

The book chimes with some of Burton’s previous work. Entanglements between the global North (both the capitalist West and socialist East) and the global South reoccur, as do those between Germany and Tanzania.[3] The result is the author’s visible mastery of the topic’s hinterland and command of archival resources in all three countries. The same familiarity has given the author access to contemporary witnesses. Interviews are used adeptly throughout the book, complementing the account where archives leave gaps. Moreover, these interviews help in the shift toward a detailed history of international development, shining particularly in accounts from German economic advisers and academics who went to Tanzania, or Tanzanians who cooperated with Germans on development projects. Here also lies a key contribution of the book, at the hand of concrete examples it shows how international development drove entanglements between the three countries. Furthermore, beyond making global history tangible, it provides new approaches and challenges to national histories. In the case of Tanzania, Nyerere’s Ujamaa did not exist in a vacuum. Foreign development workers bore some responsibility for the performance of projects. Therefore, their role in the Tanzanian undertaking toward development must be considered.

Burton achieves this by paying close attention to the role of people, the dynamics between them, and the factors constraining their actions. This starts with a look at Tanzanian students who went to study in East and West Germany. Scholarships are presented as part of wider development policies, while returning Tanzanians are viewed in light of their impact at home and the fulfilled and unfulfilled aspirations that had originally motivated them to study abroad. Many would end up as counterparts to German development workers, becoming interlocutors enabling development projects. The interplay between development workers and their Tanzanian counterparts is central to the book’s case studies and their analysis. What emerges is a heterogenous set of experiences shaped by individual circumstances. In the case of the West German development project in Tanga, Burton highlights the fraught relationship between those giving and receiving aid. Elsewhere, the influence of East German economic advisers seconded to Zanzibar depended on whether their local counterparts listened to them, ignored them, or were unlucky enough to be executed. Other factors, such as the individual skills (language, interpersonal, subject expertise) of the development workers or the ambitions held by East or West Germany at a certain point, all impacted the success of any cooperation.

Germans who went to Tanzania are also examined in detail, with their backgrounds, selection, and motivations considered in light of their actions once in Tanzania. A revealing difference for those coming from East Germany was that travel abroad was exceedingly rare. It differentiated those who traveled from the remaining population in a way that had no comparison in the West. This had implications for what the East German state expected from its citizens. They were to act as ambassadors, to spread the gospel of Marxism-Leninism and how it was applied in East Germany. These expectations are made clear in Burton’s chapter on German academics who taught at the University of Dar es Salaam. In addition to highlighting some of the shadowboxing between academics, it also reveals the Tanzanian university’s unique position as a point of convergence between ideas from the West, East, and South. Much is gained by including academics within the definition of development workers, not least by showing the obstacles that stood in their way, caused by financial constraints, checks imposed by the country that sent them, local politics, or the dissatisfaction of their students.

The book’s long arc allows the complex nature of relations and interactions between actors from Germany (East and West) and Tanzania to unfold over time. Yet, universal explanations or arguments as to the exact impact of German development policies are eschewed. However, this is a feature not a bug, as the book lives from the intriguing detail provided by the author. Not only is it a valuable contribution to an aspect of global history, but its analysis of case studies is useful for anyone seeking to understand past or future international development projects and policies.

[1] British rule ended in Zanzibar in late 1963. It would remain independent for about four months until it joined in a union with the Tanganyikan mainland to form what became known as the United Republic of Tanzania.
[2] See Odd Arne Westad, The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times, New York 2005; George Roberts, Revolutionary State-Making in Dar es Salaam: African Liberation and the Global Cold War, 1961–1974, Cambridge 2021, pp. 100–134.
[3] See for example Eric Burton, Diverging versions in revolutionary spaces: East German advisers and revolution from above in Zanzibar, 1964–1970, in: Lena Dallywater / Helder A. Fonseca / Chris Saunders (eds.), Between East and South: Spaces of Interaction in the Globalising Economy of the Cold War, Berlin 2019, pp. 85–115; Navigating global socialism: Tanzanian students in and beyond East Germany, in: Cold War History 19 (2019), 1, pp. 63–83. On students more generally, Journeys of education and struggle: African mobility in times of decolonisation and the Cold War, in: Stichproben. Wiener Zeitschrift für kritische Afrikastudien 34 (2018), pp. 1–17.

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