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

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

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

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

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

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. Germanlanguage 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 . . .

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