Germans on the Kenyan Coast: Land, Charity, and Romance

Germans on the Kenyan Coast: Land, Charity, and Romance

by Nina Berman


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Diani, a coastal town on the Indian Ocean, is significantly defined by a large European presence that has spurred economic development and is also supported by close relationships between Kenyans and European immigrants and tourists. Nina Berman looks carefully at the repercussions that these economic and social interactions have brought to life on the Kenyan coast. She explores what happens when poorer and less powerful members of a community are forced to give way to profit-based real estate development, what it means when most of Diani’s schools and water resources are supplied by funds from immigrants, and what the impact of mixed marriages is on notions of kinship and belonging as well as the economy. This unique story about a small Kenyan town also recounts a wider tale of opportunity, oppression, resilience, exploitation, domination, and accommodation in a world of economic, political, and social change.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253024305
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 01/30/2017
Pages: 284
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Nina Berman is Professor of International Letters and Cultures at Arizona State University Her most recent book publications include German Literature on the Middle East: Discourses and Practices, 1000–1989 and an edited anthology (with Klaus Mühlhahn and Patrice Nganang), German Colonialism Revisited: African, Asian, and Oceanic Experiences.

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Germans on the Kenyan Coast

Land, Charity, and Romance

By Nina Berman

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2017 Nina Berman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-02437-4


Multitudinal Coastal Entanglements

Pwani si Kenya — Pwani ni Kenya — Pwani ni Ujerumani (na Italia na kadhalika)

mwenyi lake ana lake hataki la mwenzi wake, na ukimwendea pake wala hakupi shauri. (This is a world of personal interest don't rely on your neighbor. And if you go to his place he won't give you any help.)

— Mwalimu Mbaraka bin Shomari (1860–1897), "Vita na Hassan bin Omari"

Any visitor to ukunda and the larger Diani area, which is located about thirty kilometers south of Mombasa, will notice the cosmopolitan makeup of its population and the transnational nature of its economic space. Diani is a microcosm of Kenya's ethnically and religiously diverse population: local Digo interact with individuals from Masai, Kamba, Luo, Kikuyo, Kisii, and other ethnic communities; Muslims, Hindu, and Christians live near to one another. Added to this multireligious and multicultural Kenyan population is another diverse group of residents: Germans, Italians, British, Swiss, Austrians, Dutch, Danish, Russians, and citizens of other (mostly European) countries. These Europeans are generally not tourists; tourists spend most of their vacation time at hotels and beaches or on organized tours. Rather, these Europeans live and often work in Diani. They own houses, stores, travel agencies, nightclubs, and restaurants; they manage hotels and diving businesses; and some have moved to Diani as retirees. German-language signs can be found in locations across Diani, and German bread and beer are available, as are pizza and gelato. The number of binational couples is eye-catching; as opposed to dominant practices in Europe and North America, mixing and mingling across boundaries of ethnicity, race, religion, and class is common in Diani. Evidence for these entanglements is also visible in the materiality of Diani's economic space: schools, water tanks, wells, and toilets are built and sponsored by (resident and nonresident) Europeans, and various educational and health-related institutions are run by Europeans or co-directed by Europeans and Kenyans.

For centuries the Kenyan, and the larger East African, coast has been an integral part of the Indian Ocean economy and culture, with particularly strong ties to the Persian Gulf and India. International tourism, which was introduced on the Kenyan coast in the 1960s, marks not a break, but a notable shift in the outward orientation of the coast. Tourism brought a host of new actors to the Kenyan coast, many of them Europeans. Germans in particular, and to a lesser degree Swiss and Austrians, played a pivotal role in creating the coastal tourism infrastructure, and their activities have had far-reaching consequences for the local social, political, and economic environment. (For the sake of convenience and because of their significant cultural similarities, henceforth I refer to German-speaking Germans, Swiss, and Austrians collectively as "Germans.") European-driven tourism became a catalyst that led to an influx of settlers from various European countries and the emergence of an active real estate market; it has also generated diverse forms of connections between African Kenyans and (mostly) European tourists and expatriates. Together, these developments — building on processes that began during the colonial period and were continued after Kenyan independence was gained in 1963 — caused shifts in landownership, social structures, and cultural and religious practices as well as, in part, an orientation of the area toward Europe. On a broader level, tourism — which in 2013 overall accounted for 10.6 percent of employment in Kenya — provided one vehicle for Kenya's integration into the global neoliberal economic order. It created the infrastructure that made possible a wide range of consequential activities, including humanitarian assistance and retirement migration, which have had a tremendous effect on the area. But the expansion of the tourism industry also led to substantial changes with regard to internal social, economic, and political Kenyan dynamics. Inland labor migration, for instance, caused a significant increase in the coastal population, and the influx of Kenyans from other parts of the country altered the religious and cultural makeup of the coast.

Germans on the Kenyan Coast offers a longue durée perspective on the present-day situation on the Kenyan coast by tying developments presently occurring under neoliberal capitalism to processes that began during, and even before, the period of the East Africa Protectorate (1895–1920) and then British colonial rule (1920–1963). The book argues that shifts in landownership since the colonial period have led to a relentless gentrification process that has dispossessed coastal African Kenyans of land they had previously owned or used. This long-term process of gentrification, in combination with the consequences of intra-Kenyan power struggles and the systemic dependence on the global economy, resulted in the pervasive precarity of the African Kenyan population. This precarity is currently addressed through humanitarian activities that are carried out by mostly expatriate humanitarians, in conspicuous ignorance of the complex reasons for the poverty and need they encounter, and that entangle African Kenyans and expatriates in multidimensional economic and social exchanges. Romantic relations between African Kenyans and Europeans have emerged as another social practice that is born of economic and emotional vulnerabilities that affect the involved individuals in distinct ways.

This book traces changes on the Kenyan coast as they have occurred over the past fifty years by focusing on the Diani area, one of the most prominent tourism resort areas of Kenya. The center of the area is densely populated and known as the town of Ukunda. The indigenous people of the area are Digo, one of the nine ethnic communities known as the Mijikenda. Today the area includes Kenyans of various ethnicities who have migrated to Diani, drawn by the promise of a tourism-related economy. Since the 1960s, when inhabitants of the original villages of Diani numbered in the few thousands, the population has swelled to close to seventy-five thousand. Diani thus has become a contact zone between Kenya's various communities and also between Kenyans and a diverse group of expatriates, many of whom have settled in Diani permanently or semipermanently.

When tourism began to develop in earnest during the 1960s, German entrepreneurs, among others, played a crucial role in pioneering the kinds of enterprises — upscale hotels, restaurants, bars, discotheques, safari businesses, and diving schools — that became the hallmark of coastal tourism. Why this German fascination with Kenya? Ever since the initial interest during the colonial period, East Africa has occupied a special place in the German imagination. In the postindependence era, the films, writings, and activities of Bernhard Grzimek (1909-1987) may be credited with having initiated a second phase of German fascination with the region. His 1959 book and film Serengeti darf nicht sterben: 367,000 Tiere suchen einen Staat (Serengeti Shall Not Die: 367,000 Animals Are Looking for a State) and his TV show Ein Platz für Tiere (A Place for Animals, with 175 episodes between 1956 and 1987) shaped the German image of East Africa in substantial ways and provided an impetus for what quickly became a successful tourism industry. The US show Daktari, which was first aired in Germany in 1969 and continues to be shown to this day, played a similar role. Print media coverage in Germany was sparse, however; until the 1990s, editions of the most popular weeklies in Germany, Der Spiegel and Stern, rarely featured articles about Africa and less so Kenya. Coverage of Africa was largely restricted to the political situation in South Africa, famine in Ethiopia and surrounding areas, and then, increasingly, AIDS. The few articles on Kenya focused primarily on tourism and at times advertised specific resorts and trips. More important, the experiences of the high number of tourists who have traveled to Kenya since the mid-1960s are reflected in a large corpus of autobiographical, biographical, and fictional texts and films that further stoke a fascination with the country. Tourism was only part of Germany's material involvement with Kenya: West Germany was the first country to recognize independent Kenya, and investors and companies quickly established a host of economic collaborations with the newly formed nation.

This involvement of German entrepreneurs in building Kenya's coastal tourism ensured that a significant portion of Kenya's tourists have come from German-speaking countries: by the mid-1990s, German-speaking tourists outnumbered British tourists and were the largest group of visitors, spending on average a longer period in Kenya than their British counterparts. In 1996, for example, tourists from Germany alone numbered 104,800 (18.9 percent of all tourists), while 97,600 (17.6 percent) tourists came from the United Kingdom. In 2009, a total of 940,386 international arrivals were recorded at the two main airports, with 395,828 of them categorized as tourists. Among those tourists were 63,592 Germans, 15,810 Swiss, and 5,302 Austrians, and though the overall share has decreased in comparison to 1996, German-speaking visitors still make up 21 percent of tourists. In 2013, the market share of overnight stays of tourists from Germany alone was at 19.6 percent, while the numbers for tourists from other European regions dropped. Since Germans vacation mostly on the coast, they were and have been the most visible group in the area.

In Diani, Germans became active participants in the development of tourism after Karl Pollman in the early 1960s bought one of several existing small hotels; it soon emerged as one of the most popular hotels for German tourists. New upscale hotels were built during the 1970s, and until the early 1990s, most were owned or co-owned or managed by Germans. The German presence in hotel management waned after the 1990s, and with it the number of tourists, especially after a crisis in tourism brought on by the Kenyan election-related violence of 1997 and from which the south coast never fully recovered. Germans, however, became leading figures in the real estate market that has been booming since the mid-1990s. In addition, Germans remain the largest group of tourists in Diani, and some have also settled in the area. German expatriates, some of them retirees, play a crucial role in Diani's economic space, as business owners, landlords, employers, and consumers. In 2014, more than one thousand Germans rented and owned property in Diani, and hundreds more lived in adjacent areas. Within a population of seventy-five thousand, these numbers may seem insignificant, but the effect of the presence of about three thousand expatriate entrepreneurs and residents of various origins, along with that of tens of thousands of tourists annually, is in fact profound. Although German entrepreneurs, residents, and tourists are an integral part of Diani's economy and sociocultural life, scholarship on the role of Europeans in Kenya has focused primarily on British-Kenyan relations. Studies on the role of Germans and tourists and residents from other European countries are rare, despite the significant effect these groups have on Kenya's economic, political, and social life. A paradigm shift seems to be in order.

For the local population, tourism and the real estate boom have had substantial repercussions, especially with regard to landownership and various social practices that structure life in Diani today. Tourism brought economic opportunity by creating jobs, but the effects of the real estate economy have been overwhelmingly adverse. The indigenous Digo people have been subjected to a massive process of gentrification, whereby residents of the original villages now control or own only about 20 percent of the land they once used in the area east of the Mombasa–Lunga Lunga Road. Generally, the word "gentrification" is used to describe processes in (mostly) urban environments whereby poorer and less powerful members of a community are forced to give way to profit-based real estate development. Aspects of ethnicity, race, and religion are intricately intertwined with class-based economic factors in each case of gentrification: one or more ethnically, religiously, and/or economically defined groups move out of a certain area, and other groups move in. Rowland Atkinson and Gary Bridge, who tie global processes of gentrification to the rise of the neoliberal state, argue in Gentrification in a Global Context that "gentrification is now global." D. Asher Ghertner raises concerns regarding an inflationary use of gentrification and rightfully warns that "if by gentrification we mean nothing more than a rising rent environment and associated forms of market-induced displacement," then "this definition is so broad that it diverts attention away from more fundamental changes in the political economy of land in much of the world." Linking the analysis of gentrification to practices of the neoliberal state, however, allows us to address distinctions regarding landownership and property rights (Ghertner's relevant point of contention) as well as factors of class, ethnicity, race, and religion as they are salient in various areas of the world. I consider the concept an especially useful vehicle for transcending the limitations of African exceptionalism, whereby connections to global economic and political processes are evaded in favor of a more narrow view of events occurring mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. This view is rooted in a focus on the colonial past or on structural aspects that are perceived to be intrinsic to African states, or both. More than any other concept addressing changes in land, housing ownership, or residency patterns, gentrification captures the developments that have been under way in Diani over the past fifty years.

One aspect of these property developments involves the movement of upcountry immigrants into the area. This group includes Kikuyo, Kisii, Kamba, Luo, and many other Kenyan ethnicities and is collectively known as wabara, those from upcountry. Some of the immigrants end up on the winning side of the rush for economic opportunity and real estate in Diani, and others end up on the losing side. In that competition over resources, three groups can thus be identified: the local Digo, upcountry immigrants, and expatriates. Questions of ethnic and (less so) religious belonging play a considerable role in the story that Germans on the Kenyan Coast tells. Overall, however, it is the combination of ethnic, religious, and economic factors that reveals clear tendencies regarding the privilege that some individuals and groups have and others do not.

In a comparative perspective, Diani emerges as representative of processes presently under way in tourism centers across the global south, in particular with regard to (1) the longue durée effects of structures created by colonialism, the effects of neoliberal economic policies and the global rush for real estate; (2) the role of humanitarian assistance; and (3) the scale and scope of transnational romantic relationships and marriage.

Longue Durée Effects of Structures Created by Colonialism; Effects of Neoliberal Economic Policies and the Global Rush for Real Estate

Longue Durée Effects of Structures Created by Colonialism

The gentrification of the Diani area, through both tourism and real estate development, would not have been possible without laws that were first drawn up during the era of the Protectorate and then colonial rule, which correspond to the first phase of gentrification. Beginning with the 1901 East African (Lands) Order-in-Council, various ordinances instituted by the British government significantly affected patterns of landownership along the coast. The 1908 Land Titles Ordinance, for example, ignored not only the longstanding customary use of land by groups of villagers for communal activities, such as hunting and farming, but also indigenous practices that regulated individual ownership of land in ways distinct from British conventions. With the 1915 Crown Lands Ordinance, communal tenure claims were no longer permitted; only individuals were allowed to file claims. Indigenous groups were thus deprived of the opportunity to claim the largest areas of land that they used. A 1919 ordinance that introduced a system of registration of titles completed the disinheritance of the indigenous people, as it had the consequence that only a few title claims by locals were approved and registered. While the coast was officially under the sovereignty of the sultan of Zanzibar, some developments that occurred in other areas of Kenya also occurred at the coast. Many Digo were placed in the South Nyika Reserve, and land they had previously used was made available for development by settlers. The most infamous example was the 1908 granting of 260,000 acres (105,218 hectares) of land south of Mombasa to East African Estates Ltd., one of the largest British colonial companies operating in Kenya at the time.


Excerpted from Germans on the Kenyan Coast by Nina Berman. Copyright © 2017 Nina Berman. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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Table of Contents

1. Pwani si Kenya—Pwani ni Kenya—Pwani ni Ujerumani (na Italia na kadhalika):
Multitudinal Coastal Entanglements
2. Land
3. Charity
4. Romance
Epilogue: Je, Vitaturudia? Will They Return to Us?
Appendix: Maps and Tables

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Masomo ya Kisasa: Contemporary Readings in Swahili - Ann Biersteker

In this richly detailed book, Nina Berman tracks the influx of thousands of German-speaking tourists and residents, especially in the 1990s, and the making of a distinctive Kenyan-European cultural enclave in the coastal community of Diani as many of these visitors choose to extend their stay as long-term residents.

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