G. Stolyarov II
Four major regions of Sub-Saharan Africa had been colonized by Germany. They are today’s Tanzania, Namibia, Togo, and Cameroon.
Tanzania was acquired via the efforts of Dr. Carl Peters of the German Colonization Society from 1884 to 1885. Promising protectorate status to the various tribes inhabiting its territory, Peters rapidly accomplished the subordination of the realm to Kaiser Wilhelm I.
Namibia was purchased by Germany shortly after the 1884 Berlin Conference. Its de facto occupation began in 1889, when 25 German troops in tourist garb, under the leadership of Major Curt of Francois, crossed through British territory near the port of Walvis Bay and occupied the colonial capital of Winterhoek (Windhoek).
The first German involvement in Togo occurred in 1884, when Dr. Gustav Nachtigal, a representative of Chancellor Bismarck, signed a protection contract (similar to those undertaken by Peters in Tanzania) with King Mlapa of Togo City. In 1888 Curt of Francois conducted an exploratory journey into the interior, and a permanent research station was founded at Bismarck Castle by Dr. Wolf. In 1891, Germany assumed direct control over Togo.
Cameroon was acquired by Dr. Nachtigal in 1884 via protection contracts with coastal peoples. The remainder of Cameroon was gradually assimilated via expeditions into the southern reaches by Captain Kund in 1887 and Captain Morgen in 1890. In 1898, rich rubber deposits were discovered in southeast Cameroon, and the area became an economic powerhouse.
Major conflicts with natives flared up in Tanzania from 1891 to 1898, when Chief Mkwawa of the Hehe systematically raided German settlements, protectorates, as well as columns of German troops. In 1898, realizing the futility of his struggle, Mkwawa shot himself over a fire.
The Maji Maji Rebellion in 1907 was sparked by natives believing that drinking a sacred water rendered them immune to bullets. They suffered devastating losses at the hands of German artillery.
In Namibia, German forces were considerably crueler to the Herero natives. In 1904, enraged by almost haphazard killing of their people at the hands of settlers, the Hereros erupted in war. They were defeated by the forces of General Lothar von Trotha at the Battle of Hamakari on August 11, 1904, and were pursued through stretches of barren desert until all but 6000 of a population of 50000 perished of starvation or skirmishes. This is widely considered to be the first twentieth-century genocide.
All German possessions in Africa were confiscated by a superior Allied military presence from 1914 to 1918.
German Language and Architecture in the Former German Colonies of Sub-Saharan Africa
Although Germany lost possession of its African colonies in 1918, traces of the German language and architecture remain there to this day. A visit to Namibia, Togo, and Tanzania especially will reveal numerous aspects of German culture, legacies of the colonial era.
German is widely spoken in Namibia, although it is not an official language. Namibia also maintains one of the only German-language newspapers in Africa.
All Germans were expelled from Tanzania in 1918 by a decree of the League of Nations. In 1925, many were allowed to return and rebuild their livelihoods. Today, under 2% of Tanzanians are Europeans (many of them Germans) who largely inhabit the urban centers
The Church of Christ in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, was designed by the architect Gottlieb Redecker and constructed in 1907. Its Neo-Romanesque design is almost unique on the entire continent, and within it is contained a valuable replica of Reuben’s’ “Resurrection of the Lazarus.” The original painting had been destroyed in Berlin in 1945.
Other German monuments remain in the former African colonies today. The “Old Fort” in Windhoek is the oldest building in the entire city. It was constructed in 1890 by Curt of Francois and the 32 men under his command and for some time served as a barracks the headquarters of the German occupation in Namibia. Today it is the country’s National Museum.
The Windhoek Railway Station was built in 1912 and is still in use. It is ideal in representing German colonial architecture, and displays in front a locomotive, the Illing, which had traversed a total of 271,000 miles between Swakopmund and Otavi from 1904 to 1939.
Heinitzburg Castle in Windhoek was formerly a lavish private residence constructed for the Count of Schwerin in 1914 by the architect W. Sander. Today it is a prestigious private restaurant.
Of course, no visit to Namibia is complete without visiting the statue of the man who almost single-handedly colonized the country, Major Curt of Francois.
Lome, the capital of Togo, contains a governor’s palace, which was completed in 1898, displaying an adaptation of German aesthetic tastes to the extremes of tropical climate. This building displays many of the simple angular features of indigenous African architecture.
Although the German colonial presence in Africa has been non-existent for the past 89 years, the language and architecture of Germany that remains in Namibia, Togo, and Tanzania serve as reminders of these countries’ past.
A Reflection on the African Short Story
An essay from Zimbabwean Marko Phiri
AS a fan of the short story genre, I have over years past wondered what makes the short story such a powerful and appealing genre. From the under 5,000-word masterpieces to the kind of terse flash fiction that throws you off your chair, there is something about condensing an idea into a moving narrative that is at the opposite end of a 100,000+ word or thousand-page opus. It says a lot about the writers and the creative process. American creatives being who they are, have for generations lapped up on the short story for adaptation for the silver screen: think obvious names such as Philip K. Dick or Stephen King or further back to Edgar Allen Poe. In pursuit of the Holy Grail of African short fiction, African writers and professional critics and judges (invariably white with your token black) of short story contests have been at each other’s throats on what exactly makes a short story a great short story.
I have read anything from Richard Wright to Langston Hughes to F. Scott Fitzgerald to Raymond Carver to Charles Bukowski, a diverse kind of short story telling that has always left me on awe. I am always surprised that when the subject of “what you read” always has to include African writing, and being a Zimbabwean, your list MUST including Dambudzo Marechera as if he is the ultimate standard. I have read Caines prize winners, some great, some not so great, and the diversity is just as telling, and predictably perhaps, so-called great short stories have more often than not been sources of rabid contestations. Yet I have also noted that the stories that I have appreciated have no gimmicks, just straight up story telling. What has always taken me aback is reading a review of African writing no doubt from a Eurocentric perspective that the writing is “Dickensian” or “Dostoyevskian” or “Chekovian” or “Kafkasque” etcetera and wonder how many African readers would identify with such references, or worse still the writers themselves. Yet this has become the standard as set elsewhere removed from what would be African writing’s own benchmarks — if they ever existed.
A few years ago, an African fellow posted his short stories online and got a lot of praise from readers who kept asking for more, but one white man, a buzz kill of sorts who nailed his credentials on the mast as a world-travelled literary agent, jumped in to dismiss the writer, telling him no international publisher would pay attention to him. Like WTF? Who the fuck does the guy think he is, I imagined the writer yelling. It was telling that a total stranger would interject and define what or in fact how this African chap should write and for whom.
But then it’s a well-worn pain-in-ass polemic that has seen writers from the mother continent taking offence at being pigeon-holed into “African literature,” something that has concerned everyone from Ben Okri to Pettina Gappah. You read any sit-down with an African writer, what remains current in those cerebral dialogues is the question where they place themselves in the scheme of global literature. Or in fact where arbiters of global literature place them. It has resonance with what has been categorised as “world music” where music from other “worlds” remains outside the nomenclature of arbiters of good music.
That the world is full of contradictions is passé, yet I find it curious that while the Afro-optimist’s soap box is full of bluster about the African narrative, about Africa rising, within the sphere of fiction, there is resistance to be pinned down to “African” as seen by that movement from “here” where lifetime financial rewards are zilch to “there” where Mount Olympus awaits. It certainly is a profound issue of “voice” within the broad ambitions of identity politics as emerging from or extending to continental representation in the black Diaspora, but it has still offended many who nevertheless in different fora would appeal to the same to peddle the Africa rising make-believe narrative. Africa is rising yes, but I choose to write for a paying Eurocentric audience.
I have always wondered why stories that apparently pursue disparate structural trajectories and literary styles still seem to grab the attention of “judges”, the final arbiters of “great African writing.” For example, many times I have revisited Brian Chikwava’s “Seventh Street Alchemy”, a short story that I have enjoyed immensely for what I view as its lack of pretence to genre snobbery with its brutally honest brushstrokes. It reminds me of the brilliant writing that emerged in the 1960s and earlier of black South African writer/journalists famously called “the Drum Boys”, painting cathartic tales of ordinary folks under apartheid. Here you read easy-going prose not the stylistic rigidity we see today ostensibly informed by creative writing MFAs. It is this formulaic “new writing” that has some black South African writers frothing that why what they consider bland fiction by white writers seems to grab the interest of publishers. And invariably “prize-winning.” But back to Chikwava.
Seventh Street Alchemy is a past winner of the Caine Prize, and well-deserved, if I may add. I do not see any reason why I should hide my bias. Then I read NoViolet Bulawayo’s “Hitting Budapest” another Caine Prize winner. These are clearly two styles from different planets and could point to changing considerations — if at all — about what makes great writing, Chikwava having won in 2004 and Bulawayo in 2011. I do not read short fiction to waste my time on some faux analysis as if I’m preparing a doctoral thesis. I read for my own edification. It is here then that I start asking what lenses the judges of these things put on when they decide and declare “a winner.” Well, anyone can be a judge. Anyone who has a mouth has an opinion. But you obviously need an academic cap of some sort to be taken seriously.
In Seventh Street Alchemy, Chikwava’s muses are certainly street, a kind of writing that tells a story that must be told without appealing to any literary device or stylistic contraption, something manifest in many recent prize-winning short stories that have made difficult reading for ordinary folks. When one prize was announced, a journalist colleague remarked rather incredulously, “this is a boring story, how did it win this prize?” It was a sentiment I have heard many times. Obviously the convenient retort would be: “different strokes for different folks.” Yet such sentiments do carry relevance if the continent’s literature is to be consumed by the continentals.
Loud complaints galore that African writers are writing for Eurocentric audiences, which is ridiculous (not the claim but the writing itself) if knowledge production also becomes a victim of continental flight, knowledge production fleeing and joining the unmerry band of 21st century’s boat people. Yet it has become trendy that an MFA is a must-have for a successful writing career which I find ridiculous as the much envied American writers who become overnight millionaires writing pulp fiction or roman a clefs seemingly have never bothered themselves about enrolling for an advanced creative writing course. Obviously there are professional editors who guide them along the way, yet it remains their own story, their own voice that puts plenty food on the table.
But these demands do exist for writers from the mother continent and it can be seen in winners of big name awards who are either English literature professors or creative writing alumni and it will be agreed this still has not turned anyone into a Chinua Achebe (yet).
It definitely has resonance with other counter-expressions about other international prizes such as the Booker Prize for example when an old criticism was that crime fiction was considered not good enough to grab the attention of judges. One book reviewer actually wrote that Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings was “not your typical Booker winner,” simply because it was a “crime novel.” A quote would suffice: “It is very interesting to see the Man Booker Prize embrace such and exciting and violent tale that veers deeply into ‘crime novel’ territory. While Eleanor Catton won two years ago for a book she herself called an ‘historical, astrological murder mystery’, in general the Booker Prize has generally eschewed anything that leaned towards ‘genre fiction’, and A Brief History Of Seven Killings is definitely a crime novel. Full of violence and murder and gangs and exploring the issues of crime and its effect on those involved, A Brief History Of Seven Killings may be literary in style, but it is without doubt crime in nature.”
But who cares, perhaps the world of books and literary awards is changing, perhaps it is not, what remains as clear as day in an African savannah is that for many an African reader and writer, winners would claim the prize by popular reader acclamation. Or buffs would call it trivializing “serious literature?” That would be the day.