Childbirth and Abortion in “German East Africa”. Unruliness of East African Women and the Instability of Colonial Power

 The German Empire turned to ‘welfarist’ policies with regards to the Black inhabitants of its colonies as early as the 1900s, as a reaction to the violent colonial wars it fought, which had resulted in a high number of African casualties. As part of this turn in colonialist policies and as a reaction to a perceived “underpopulation”, reproductive health and population issues emerged on the agenda of (mainly male) German colonialists in “German East Africa”. While the motivations were manifold – ranging from economic calculations to missionary ‘altruism’ – and the disciplinary investment diverse (medical, administrative, economic, missionary), three narratives – culturalist, medical, and modernist – dominated the discussions on “underpopulation” and served to uphold the German colonisers’ political, economic and cultural supremacy. Not surprisingly, Black women were regarded as key to the colonisers’ interventions, but were attributed an ambivalent role. On the one hand, they were portrayed as ‘endangered’ by the supposed “promiscuity” of their husbands, by certain “customs and traditions” (such as “child marriages” and abortions) as well as by their supposed “ignorance” regarding “hygiene” and the like. On the other hand, the supposed “promiscuity” and sex work of Black women was seen as dangerous for the White male colonisers’ health. While the trope “White men saving Black women from Black men” was ever-present, the appearance of White nurses and midwives from Germany complicated the picture. Especially missionary circles advocated the ‘import’ of White women to improve maternal and child health, because they were seen as able to forge closer relations with Black women. My paper is based on German state publications as well as politico-scientific journals and monographs concerned with health and population in “German East Africa”. In order to analyse the material, I mainly resort to postcolonial theory (esp. Frantz Fanon, Roland Barthes and bell hooks).

Daniel Bendix is a PhD student at the Institute for Development Policy and Management of the University of Manchester (UK). His dissertation deals with the colonial history and development present of German reproductive health policies in “German East Africa” (Tanzania). In addition, he works as a facilitator for political adult education in Germany on topics such as South-North relations, colonialism, racism, gender, and “development aid”.


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