Go Africa, Go Germany

8.7.2009 | Von:
By Lena Giesbert, Research Fellow, GIGA Institute of African Affairs

Views on Southern Africa: Reflections on the "Go Africa – Go Germany" Programme of the bpb

From 19.08.07 – 18.09.07

When I first received the call for papers from the federal agency for civic education on the "Go Africa – Go Germany" programme 2007 and saw that it was planned to visit Namibia, honestly, I thought: "maybe not too interesting. I have been there once and don't necessarily need to go there again...".
Fishermen working on a lobster-boat in Namibia.Fishermen working on a lobster-boat in Namibia. (© bpb)

I had been to Namibia for an internship in 2004 at a Namibian research institute, which was not my first journey to Africa, but certainly one, that left an impact and wasn't always that easy. I remembered all the strange feelings I had gone through during my stay in Windhoek. There was the strange presence of the German colonial past, as well as the difficulties I had in making friends with Namibians, which I assumed to be mainly a consequence of the experience of the apartheid and the fact that I was white and a German. Yet, when reading over the call for papers again I found some details, which I actually found quite interesting all aside of my immediate and biased picture of how Namibia would be like again. The group selected for this programme would consist of Germans and participants from all SADC countries. The aim was, to create a network and a long-term base for eyelevel communication between young scientists of both regions.

This was something I had never come across before in the years I have been dealing with and travelled in African countries. After some further reflection, I also thought, that travelling to Namibia again might not even be the worst thing to do – especially because I had this ambivalent relationship to it. Actually, I started to consider this exchange programme to be a real chance for me to experience a part of Africa again through a different lens, not only by travelling there, but also by spending an intensive time together with young counterparts from the area itself.

My view on sub-Saharan Africa in general (I will only refer to this part of Africa here) ahead of the exchange programme was probably shaped differently compared to many of the German participants. I studied African Studies focussing on politics and economics at the University of Leipzig, which followed out of a one year stay in the Sudan and which later on gave me the opportunity to visit several countries in the East, West and South of sub-Saharan Africa. Therefore, I have encountered diverse African societies and cultures already, including intense experiences with family- and everyday life. Through my work at the Institute of African Affairs of the German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA) I have kept dealing with issues in the area especially in the economic field. Although a research institute, other than for instance the media, tries to be as objective as possible, in many cases we still tend to deal with problematic areas and sensitive subjects regarding African countries. These include poverty, lack of democracy, conflict and post conflict situations etc. As a result, I sometimes feel trapped in a relatively pessimistic view on the continent.

When I received the acceptance for the "Go Africa – Go Germany" programme, I had the strong expectation, that as a group we could come up with a network serving mutual interests (in my case a contribution to my work through direct and personal views on the situation in the represented SADC countries) and also that travelling through Namibia together with this group would open up new insights to me regarding this particular country.

I must say, that it was a very good idea not to follow my first intention when I read, that the programme would partly take place in Namibia. This time, it was a very different experience. We went through an extremely intense programme, which truly opened new doors for me regarding the SADC region in general and Namibia in particular. Within only ten days we travelled from Windhoek all through the country up north to the Angolan boarder (Ruacana falls and Opuwo) and back into the middle of the country again (Twyfelfontain), to the coast (Swakopmund and Walfis Bay) and to the desert (Gobabeb). Despite this (sometimes too) intensive travelling, we had the chance to get some really good and enlightening insights into areas of Namibian life on the ground through several of the presentations during our trip. Good examples of that were the presentations on land reform and the direct encounter with a white farmer on his farm and the discussions within the group coming up afterwards. Or, the jolting presentation of four women on their living with HIV/Aids and the activities they have set up as a women´s group.

Especially to see the northern part of Namibia gave me a new impression of the whole country, as I was able to have a glimpse on the coexistence of modernity and traditional ways of living, which became especially clear in Opuwo, where Himba people live within the regional society in their traditional way of life.

The most important new input for my view of Africa, though, came from the group itself. Through the contact with the African participants I felt able to see things in a new way and I was extremely impressed by the openness of most of our new friends no matter what conversation we had. Their critical and deep reflection on for instance political systems in Namibia or other Southern African countries gave me so much hope for the future of this area, which I sometimes tend to loose while working on critical issues in sub-Saharan Africa from the outside. Besides, the African participants opened my eyes in a different way regarding my own home country, Germany, as well. Through their questions and the talks while walking or sitting in the bus, I often felt like looking at certain aspects for the first time, through the lenses of their perspective. Thank you all for this wonderful opportunity!


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