Colonial Legacies – German Volunteer Tourism in Namibia

by Dimitra Dermitzaki




I.) Introduction
I.I) Reflection of own position
II.) Contextualization
II.I) Theoretical Framework and the Character of volunteer tourism
III.) Methodology
III.II) Weltwä
III.III) Freunde Waldorf – Freunde der Erziehungskunst Rudolf Steiners
IV.) German neo-colonialism and volunteer tourism
V.) Conclusion and overlook


I.) Introduction
Colonialism and colonialist structures are far from over. The genocide on the Herero, Nama and San peoples by German colonial forces poses one of the most sensitive but also important historic happenings of the 20th century that does not get enough attention and does not underly enough educational work as it should. Not only is it generally relevant from an anti-colonial or de-colonial perspective, but also against the background of long German silence over this genocide and the refusal of taking any responsibility.
Considering the relatively clear historic facts, that are recognized at least in international historic and post-colonial research, a new approach on the prevailing German attitude towards genocide and land-grabbing in its former colonies on the African continent, linking to its refusal of recognizing colonization and imperialism and its own role in it, is needed.
With the beginning of German colonial might dating back to 1884, they succeeded in seizing autonomy and rule over four territories in the African continent, in Asia and the Pacific. Therefore, Germany’s history of violence, destruction and genocide has to be looked at from the perspective of its colonial expansion, transforming its colonial character into radicalizing nationalism. Occupation and war led into the genocide on the Ovaherero (hereinafter called Herero) and Nama from 1904-1908 in nowadays Namibia. Also, Namibia is the last country in Africa that reached independence in 1990.
Attempted German colonial glory came to an end in the course of the First World War. However, colonial expansion were central parts of the Weimar Republic as well as of the world dominance aspirations of the Nazis, in which colonial continuities are visible in their genocidal, eradicating and extractivist actions during World War II in Nazi Germany. Even the Second World War did not put an end into German colonial societal nostalgia about “German land in Africa”, which becomes strongly visible through the politics of Geography and Ethnology or the absent thematisation of German colonialism which was further not regarded as subject of politics of the interior. This absence of historic reappraisal of the own colonial past and destruction becomes further not only visible in German school education, maintenance of colonial legacies such as street names (commonly known “Afrikanische Straße” in Wedding, Berlin) or sculptures but also through the vehement refusal of accepting and publicly addressing Germany’s colonial past and the consequences along with it.
Against this background, volunteering from Germany in Namibia – and in this framework, volunteer tourism as fusion of combining tourism with volunteering “for a good cause” in countries of the Global South – becomes essential when looking at German colonial past and its legacies up to today.
This paper aims at addressing the appropriateness of young “Westerners” when participating in projects of volunteer tourism, inter alia supported by governmental and state funds, while also discussing the complexity of Germany’s refusal of the formal recognition of its committed genocide and reparation payments.

Hereafter, a thorough reflection of the own position as author and its importance for the deconstruction of colonial thought in the frame of this paper will be conducted.
Thus, various different organizations sending volunteer tourists abroad from Germany within the so called “Freiwilligendienst” (Volunteering Service) will be examined pursuant to different aspects and placed in a theoretical framework of post-colonialism while also questioning limitations of post-colonial approaches when it comes to real-life conflict ridden contexts of colonial effects such as land grabbing, poverty, oppression and exploitation.

I.I) Reflection of own position
As a white and Southern European migrant and child of migrant workers in the course of arranged “guest workers” movement to Germany and descendant of a proletarian, agrarian family, post-colonial thought and critical reflection became relevant to deconstruct and understand the own migrant position in German society, along with its political, social and material consequences. Being socialized and educated in Germany and German institutions, knowledge and critical thinking of German history, and particularly colonial heritage, become a crucial part of the self and self-reflection within German society. Even though a naturalized German citizen, I have faced racism and discrimination as part of my experience growing up in Germany. However, even though I experience racism, gender and class based discrimination and exploitation, I am still aware of my privileged position as a European citizen. I still benefit from the systemic exploitation of the labor force of people in non-centers of capitalism around the world, the periphery and semi-periphery. Nonetheless I am compassionate with other racialized people and their experiences and take actively part in the struggle against the mass exploitation of women, racialized and colonialized people around the world.
Therefore, my position in the context of this research subject is not unbiased, resulting from the compression of my own experience, political opinion and activism. I am not aligned and do not intend to achieve objectivity within my research as I reject the occidental separation of rationality and emotions, resulting in a scientific relativism. The own biographical experiences, emotions, living conditions and political interests shape also the position regarding the research subject of choice and thus prove the subjectivity of science.

II) Contextualization
The genocide of the Herero, Nama and San was based on the rationale of acquisition of wealth and control over land. Unlike other genocides in other regions, the German quest for Lebensraum overseas – an imperialist wish – went far beyond the initial goal of establishing colonies and townships abroad. The extension of this demands included the wish for „settling the surplus of German population in Africa and turn it into a German white empire.“

After its colonization of then so called German South West Africa (Deutsch-Südwestafrika) in 1884, German colonial forces took over full autonomy and property. Leading to a restrictive life of the people living there, an extensive uprising from the indigenous Herero took place in January 1904 and lasted till 1908. Following a direct, written order from Berlin to brutally break any resistance and uprising, German colonial forces undertook genocidal actions against the Herero and later also against the Nama, who had joined the resistance. These genocidal actions included leading the Herero into the Omaheke Desert, which posed a direct extermination instruction. Further, the strategic warfare of scorched earth policy against the Nama and destruction on concentration camps was ordered, where the majority of the people died of diseases, abuse and exhaustion. An estimated number of 60,000 Herero people and 10,000 Nama were killed, including an uncounted number of San. It is considered the first genocide of the 20th century.
Even after the official end of war and destruction, an extreme exploitative policy and collective punishment were continued, including the compulsion to work for whites and the visible wearing of registration marks. Following a wide range of regulations, sexual relationships between European men and African women was prohibited and stigmatized. In the course of these policies, a segregation state was established and set the component for what happened after 1933 in Germany. Further, one very crucial variable and part of the collective punishment was the expropriation of land. In this course, land of the Herero and Nama was confiscated as sanction for their resistance and given to Germans which is inter alia the root for the prevailing unjust and unequal land distribution. In fact, up to this day, more than 50% of Namibian land is owned by white Namibians, who are predominantly descendants of German colonialists of the past century. On the other hand, according to Reuters as of 2017, white Namibians make only 6% of Namibia’s entire population of 2.4 Million. Further, at Independence in 1990, “Whites had access to about 100 times as much land as every person in an African area” and 74% of all peasant, usually black, land was located in drought areas whilst white farmland was concentrated in good rainfall areas.
The important factors of German colonial policies and therefore contemporary legacy of German colonialism in Namibia are various, but two are decisive, namely Genocide with arbitrary consequence of reduction of peoples and land ownership with arbitrary consequence of eviction and displacement of indigenous peoples. The main German interest in the territory was determined by land, with the main motivation of the German colonizers being the dispossession of the Herero land and giving it to German settlers. In the long run, a new Germany should be created in Africa.
Hence, the current prevailing patterns of land ownership as well as wealth and poverty are proof of a huge disparity between white and black people.

Given the fact that the German state and government have not officially apologized for the committed atrocities and for the genocide in particular, the hardly reported news and information on Namibia as country but also as important political subject in German colonial past gives hints on the lack of historical and empathetic reappraisal of the committed atrocities in German society. The question of recognition and reconciliation are neither present in liberal and representative democracy’s formation, nor topic of attention in the wider civil society context. However, the German state’s high commitment for the sending and organizing of volunteers from Germany through various bilateral state funded programs, mostly the so called „Freiwilligendienste“ (volunteering programs) gives a hint on how German state institutions and parts of civil society still view Namibia from a colonial lens.

Going abroad, traveling around the globe under the newly trending term “Globetrotter” or “Global Citizen” or also traveling as a volunteer has become increasingly popular in Western European countries in the name of growing up, maturing and getting to know one self better. There are certainly people traveling to other European countries or countries considered as “Western” but also those who prefer regions in the Global South. Traveling as a tourist, thus vacationing while volunteering in often poverty stricken regions, is defined as volunteer tourism and huge business in Namibia because it includes other socio-economic and labor-related aspects such as housing, access to guided tourist attractions and other popular services.
Taking into consideration the various forms in which colonialism, oppression, racialization and labor exploitation is still present in many countries around world including Namibia, a closer look into current and still prevailing aspects of colonial continuities in today’s Namibia have to be drawn.

II.I.) Theoretical Framework and the character of volunteer tourism
The theoretical framework of this paper is based on post-colonialism and post-colonial thought. In academia, postcolonial theory and applicable thought address societal, political and economic contexts post colonialism/ post-colonial structures and the need to identify and deconstruct those. This school of thought can provide a groundwork to identify aspects of colonial legacy, influence and the interconnections between the Global “North” and “South”.
Nikita Dhawan and María do Mar Castro Varela argue there has been a transformation of the term “post-colonial” in itself. When in the 1970s this term described the situation of former colonies, by the 1980s it addressed all colonized regions and communities worldwide, ongoing from their colonization up to today. The term also applies to so called internal colonies such as Wales, Ireland and Scotland or Catalonia, Basque country or Galicia in the Spanish State. Nonetheless, pre-colonial structures in the oppressed and conquered lands have played a role also in colonial structures and thus it is important to refrain from an approach in which ideologies, histories and traditions of colonized regions were only created in the course of colonialism itself.
However, the term and philosophical meaning of post-colonialism is not entirely undisputed but this paper does not leave room for a thorough critical perspective of post-colonialism as concept in both academia and activism. Although, a valid and central question should be to what extent post-colonialism serves more as a theoretical and historic tool to describe societal contexts in which we live in: post-colonialism as a state of mind, as condition in which we live considering historic continuities of colonialism. Thus, it is challenged to what extent the idea and aim of decolonization or anti-colonialism can be covered and can be fulfilled in its expectations through post-colonialism.

“Volunteer tourism (“voluntourism” for short) is an alternative form of tourism in which tourists volunteer as part of their vacation in a developing country.(…) It is often marketed as a mutually beneficial form of tourism, yet debate has arisen in recent years over the validity of this assessment and over the efficacy and ethics of using voluntourism as a development tool.”
Both, volunteering and tourism can and should be viewed through the lens of post-colonialism. Since post-colonialism aims at deconstructing and reconstructing post-colonial narratives for affected people in the Global South but also dynamics in the Global North, it poses a tool for historical, political and economic impacts and colonial legacies of both the colonized and the colonizer.

Tourism in this context has to be taken into account from a post-colonial point of view because it gives ground for a thorough analysis of neocolonial power relations, especially regarding aspects of mobility, capital and both institutional and structural access. As Pastran points out, Said’s work on the constructions of the “Other” in tourists’ perspectives and how those are mostly based on and sustained through colonial myths is an essential tool when looking deeper into analysis of post-colonialism. This includes racialized and “othered” people themselves but also concrete destinations, places, arts, traditions and cultural aspects of local’s daily lives and a mystification and thus construction around it as “exotic”, new and unknown Other that has to discovered.
Concerning volunteering and volunteer tourism in particular, empirical studies have concluded this concept is a quite new one, actually arising from sort of an opposition to booming mass tourism in the 1980s. Also, there is a high and increasing amount of voluntourism agencies and projects with the top destinations being in the Global South. In conclusion, findings include destination, age group, duration and motivation of participants in voluntourism with them being mostly in the Global South, between 18-30, two weeks up to more than six months, with many of them completing this service between graduation of high school and beginning of their studies.

III.) Methodology
In order to create an information database to be used – considering there is no room for empirical surveys – two different German state funded organizations promoting volunteering programs abroad and especially in Namibia will be conducted and discussed. The sampling is chosen as follows: as umbrella organization compromising all possible offered organizations.

Weltwärts and Freunde Waldorf Freiwilligendienste

The two organizations and one umbrella organization is chosen based on the following three criteria: 1.) Quite high popularity/ public name recognition, 2.) Focused on volunteer tourism under the umbrella of doing a good turn in Namibia, 3.) External funding through governmental institutions.
The goal is to gain data through their online presence and media representation on how volunteering in the Global South and especially in Namibia is promoted.

This organization is a German organization operating under the name “” which basically translates into “foreign countries”. It compromises a wide range of various organizations and sub organizations through which young people, usually between the age of 18 and 30, can organize their volunteer trip abroad. The offered organizations vary from Kulturweit to Weltwärts or Freiwilliges Soziales Jahr. Some of them can be completed in Germany, e.g. in schools or in homes for senior citizens. However, organizations such as Kulturweit to Weltwärts are in fact specialized in sending youngsters abroad, with a focus on so called developing countries.
Kulturweit has an age restriction of 18-26 years and covers most “developing countries”. The average time one can stay abroad ranges between 6 to 12 months. Work is primarily focused on schools and this volunteer service is state funded through the ministry of interior and the German federal ministry of economic co-operation and development as well as social security such as “Kindergeld”, child benefit.

III.II) Weltwä
Weltwä which translates to “worldwards”, is a state funded program focusing on sending individuals from Germany for 6-12 months abroad, particularly to the countries of the Global South, including former German colonies and scenes of atrocities. The program Weltwärts is restricted to youth between 18-27 years and addresses all so called developing countries and covers mostly non-profit projects. It’s official website presents the organization as opportunity giver for self-development, exchange of knowledge and as hub for highly engaged and motivated young people who seek to support others abroad by involving themselves in humanitarian projects with the self-proclaimed aim of doing good to poor peoples.
Thus, the categories are divided between individuals as Freiwillige volunteers going abroad and entire groups, organized for joint volunteering. The list of countries in which volunteering is possible includes Namibia. As of 2019, 99 positions in education, 20 in health, 9 in agriculture and environment, 31 in culture and sports, 103 in child and youth work as well as 31 in work with unprivileged people and 2 in human rights are offered. A high number of the hosting organizations are German in their origin and also located in Germany with outlets abroad in Namibia.
The German federal ministry of economic co-operation and development (BMZ) funds Weltwärts by bearing 75% of the expenses. The other 25% are covered by the sending organization which is, in many cases, also state funded. Concerning financial expenses, collecting donations for the aimed project of the participant is recommended and stated as “typical” for NGO affiliated projects in the field of development cooperation.
Concretely expected from the participants in this kind of volunteering projects is to continue their work and commitment even after returning to Germany. This includes the collection of donations for the project but also for the partner organization located in Germany and abroad. Further, interest and the continued promotion of projects and cooperation in developmental work in the Global South.
According to an internal survey by Weltwärts, around 3,300 young people participate in this programme annually as of 2016. There is no exact number of German youth volunteering in Namibia but the high number of existing and also offered vacant volunteering positions to Namibia gives a hint about it.

III.III) Freunde Waldorf – Freunde der Erziehungskunst Rudolf Steiners
This organization was founded in 1976 and is focused on promoting Waldorf schooling philosophy. Waldorf, also goes by Steiner education, follows the educational elements of Rudolf Steiner, a German Anthropologist who invented Waldorf schools as alternative to regular public schools. His pedagogical philosophy is focused on developing pupil’s intellectual, artistic and practical skills within a holistic framework, giving teachers and students relatively high autonomy alike. However, this pedagogical approach is not undisputed.
This organization claims to have supported over 830 Waldorf affiliated organizations worldwide. Further, 1,800 youngsters complete the volunteering programme each year. Target countries cover all world regions, including Namibia. On their website, Freunde der Erziehungskunst Rudolf Steiners it is claimed offering a volunteering service through which young participants strengthen the Waldorf and remedial teaching movement worldwide by also gaining valuable experiences for themselves.
In fact, this organization is a sending organization operating i.a. through the developmental project Weltwärts funded by the Ministry for developmental cooperation or Internationaler Jugendfreiwilligendienst (IJFD) funded by the Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (BMFSJ).
Further, the Website Freiwilligendienst Namibia is a self-created blog reporting about some youngsters experience through their one year volunteering service with Waldorf Windhoek in Namibia, including report of their work but also of their travel experiences around the country. Considering this is more of a personal blog, even though co-financed by the state funded organizations, the reporting participants only mention once Germans colonial history in Namibia and do not properly reflect their own position and role as Germans/ Europeans in a former German colony but rather focus on the “bright” side of their travel.

IV.) German neo-colonialism and volunteer tourism
As the data shows, a high number of volunteer tourists is engaged in projects in Namibia with the purpose of doing well in a country of the Global South. However, at least the media and online representation of those organizations do not show any awareness of Germany’s colonial past in many of the countries promoted to volunteer in, nor do they highlight problematics of this kind of “service”, namely travelling as Europeans to countries of the Global South that are, at least from the position of the volunteers home countries, often officially declared poor, war or conflict-ridden or at least critical.
The appropriation of local projects concerning water access, land fertility and therefore access to food or child care or care/protection of particularly vulnerable people is another aspect. “Freiwilligendienste” are basically and inherently promoting one side, in which white European students or young adults are being given the opportunity to travel abroad and “do good” in countries where “there is a lot of harm and a vast need for good people to bring it over to the people there”, respectively. Neither the collecting site nor Weltwärts as organization nor Freunde der Erziehungskunst Rudolf Steiners as sending organization under this umbrella focus in their own description or programme announcement on the institutionalized meaning of being a German volunteer in a former German colony and also a country still not receiving the recognition and reparation payments it should while spending loads of funds into the volunteer tourism of its own youngsters to gain experiences in the Global South, inherently creating and sustaining the image of gaining information, valuable insights in the life of locals and indispensable impressions for free as own entitlement that´s further taken for granted. Programs such as the Freiwilligendienst are funded with seemingly endless state funds for youngsters to make a “one of a lifetime experience” regardless the involvement of the own – in this case German – government in the context of local politics and economics in the international arena, promoting not only a seemingly innate entitlement to other people’s lives and cultures but also continuities of colonial legacies since they are mostly not being reappraised, let alone focus of the volunteering programmes.

V.) Conclusion and outlook
In total, there is – although unsurprisingly – little reflection and sensibility about the actual roots of poverty and ongoing class struggle locally, such as colonialism and imperialism and therefore also little reflection about the own role as maybe white savior. In fact, those programmes pose an appropriation of civil projects instead of engaging in the own home society to solve root causes of ongoing neo-colonialism, exploitation and extractivism around the world and taking the own government and ruling class into responsibility. The neo-colonialist character is exposed because apparently no lessons from the past are applied but are rather ignored and eradicated and only create a platform for youngsters to focus on themselves. In conclusion, this type of volunteering and tourism consists in its own nature more about the self-fulfillment of Westerners than about actual support of the needs of the hosting countries and communities. Ultimately, various diasporic and migrant self-organizations in Germany call “Freiwilligendienste” to the Global South Kolonialdienst – colonial service. A description that’s not far from the colonial-blurred aims of those programmes.







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