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Daniel Bendix: Global Development and Colonial Power

Cover Daniel Bendix: Global Development and Colonial Power. German Development Policy at Home and Abroad. Rowman & Littlefield International (London) 2018. 224 Seiten. ISBN 978-1-7866-0349-4.
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The Publication “Global Development and Colonial Power: German Development Policy at Home and Abroad” explores the role of Germany’s colonial power in its past and current activities in the field of development co-operation. It is particularly interesting in the light of post-colonial and anti-racist critique of Germany’s developmental policy at home and abroad, namely the ‘Global South’.


The author is currently Senior Researcher at the Department of Development and Postcolonial Studies at the University of Kassel, Germany. Bendix was an active volunteer and intern in development organisations in various countries in Africa and Europe. He continues to work as seminar facilitator and consultant for German and international non-governmental (NGOs) developmental organisations.


Early life-experiences(“…from an early age I learned how to talk the development talk and walk the development walk…”, p.9), and experiences of “consciously living whiteness” as a teenager in Lesotho and South Africa instilled in the author a desire to critically inquire into the colonial legacy of development. The author’s scientific research (chapters 5 and 6 draw on the author’s PhD research) and professional experience as a freelance trainer and consultant for various international developmental NGOs form the basis of this publication. He particularly mentions his close and long-term involvement with the Berlin-based collective glokal e.V. for postcolonial development and anti-racist education and consulting being one of the significant contributing factors (chapters 3 and 4 draw on these experiences) to this publication.


  • Chapter One – Introduction (Pp. 1-14) – discusses the relevance of the book and the author’s reasons for choosing Germany and Tanzania/’German East Africa’ as the focus of research and discussion. A detailed description of the author’s own biographical connection to colonial power in development and a listing of sources, description of the writing process and chapter outlines round up the introduction.
  • Chapter Two – German Colonialism, Development Policy and Colonial Power (Pp. 15-38)lays out the historical and contemporary context of German colonialism and development endeavours, and outlines the book’s theoretical and methodological basis.
  • Chapter Three – Development Education (DE) and the (De-) Stabilisation of Colonial Power (Pp. 39-64) – explores ways in which Germans are socialised into development discourse. The author concludes that despite some significant postcolonial sensitivity, “German DE in general continues to refrain from fundamentally questioning historically developed relations of power and domination” (p.12).
  • Chapter Four – Billboard Advertising and the Potential for Subverting Colonial Power (Pp. 65-90) – scrutinises the public relations strategies of the German government as well as secular and faith-based NGOs. It analyses dominant narratives in NGO billboard advertising with an in-depth study of a specific campaign by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Co-operation and Development (BMZ), “The Big Five”. The author’s facit in this regard: “development billboards in Germany tend to de-historicise and de-politicise global inequality and manifest colonial legacies. On the other hand, some campaigns and adbusting activities oppose such tendencies” (p. 12-13).
  • Chapter Five – Transforming Child-Birth Care in East Africa and Challenges to Colonial Power (Pp. 95-120) – investigates German interventions in child-birth practices in East Africa, particularly Tanzania, during colonial occupation and the present times. Based on archival research and interviews with German development professionals, previous and current, in Tanzania the author concludes that “colonial power continues to shape German policy on and practice in obstetric care in Tanzania”. However, it is observed that colonial power in this field today is “fractured” owing to the fact that “development professionals ’ accounts of their work display a considerable degree of hesitation and admissions of failure to induce change” (p. 13).
  • Chapter Six – Controlling Population in East Africa (Pp. 121-142) concentrates on the colonial and current German policy aimed at population control in East Africa. Analysing the archive materials, interviews and the massive dissemination of contraceptives in Tanzania by German pharmaceutical industries, the author concludes that “… racialised, gendered discourses continue to be interconnected with the political economy of population control and the interests of capital in German policy today” (p.13).
  • Conclusion – Colonial Power Transnationally, the German Case and Postcolonial Future (pp. 143-152) – wraps up the four policy realms discussed in chapters 3–6 and spells out the book’s contribution to the general debate on colonialism and development. The chapter also emphasises the interconnectedness of policies at home (DE and public relations activities like Billboard Advertising explained in chapters 3 and 4) and abroad (German Child-birth care and Population Control measures explained in chapters 5 and 6) that allows for the stability of colonialism-development nexus. The chapter also lists some lessons that discussions on postcolonial development studies could learn from an analysis of the German case. Offering some methodological reflections on research into colonial power, the book concludes with thoughts on how to challenge and transform colonial power transnationally.


I summarise the contents of the book in the following three steps:

  1. Hypothesis
  2. Methodology
  3. Major Findings and Suggestions for the future

1. Hypothesis

Global development policies of the ‘global North’ in the ‘global South’ are characterised by a collective amnesia, or rather, a conscious non-recognition of the colonial past and the denial of colonial legacies which continue to affect current development policies. Whereas postcolonial studies and critique have thoroughly analysed the effects of British colonial era and its after effects, the colonial past of Germany and its current effects on its international development policy in the ‘global South’ remain largely neglected. The book strives to bridge this gap in the research and praxis related to postcolonial critique of German development policies, in particular, and the development policies of the global North in the global South, in general.

2. Methodology

Addressing the above mentioned denial and amnesia, the book reconstructs traces of colonial power in contemporary development Policies of Germany, at home and abroad. For this purpose, the author selects four empirical studies which show, in an exemplary manner, the intranational and international activities of the German Development Co-operation, namely the activities of the BMZ, faith-based (mainly Christian) Foundations and other NGOs in the field of German development policy:

  1. Development Education (DE) in Germany;
  2. Billboard Advertising and other Public relations Activities of the official German development policy and that of developmental NGOs in Germany;
  3. German interventions in child-birth practices in East Africa, particularly Tanzania;
  4. Colonial and current German population control policy in East Africa, particularly Tanzania.

To this end, the book draws as well as on the author's original research in Germany and Tanzania (mainly interviews and archive material) and on his experiences as a freelance educator, facilitator and consultant for various international volunteer agencies and NGOs plus many exchanges with peers in the field and in the context of glokal e.V.'s work.

3. Major Findings and Suggestions for the future

Regarding DE in Germany, the author comes to the following conclusion: DE in Germany embraces concurrent and contradictory tendencies. While perpetuating ideas of western supremacy, DE also “…seems to hesitantly acknowledge fundamental postcolonial critiques that question the dominant concept of development and call for an actual recognition of diversity in the context of a continuous colonial present”. Further analysis of policy papers and teaching material proves however that “…DE in Germany continues to (re-)produce or not fundamentally question colonial power while cognisant of the necessity to do so” (p.64).

Analysing Billboard Advertising in German development policy, the author highlights two problems: “Firstly, there is limited recognition of the colonial legacy that connects the global North and South discursively and materially; secondly, perspectives and political agency from the global South remain conspicuously absent” (p. 87). Furthermore, it is also based on an understanding of Germany as white and reproduces a corresponding self-image of a homogeneous non-migrant society. It also reinforces the colonial discourse of the superior North and the inferior South. The positive contribution of the practice of Adbursting (critically re-interpreting original racist and discriminatory billboards) is also highlighted as it “…criticises both the colonial present in North-South relations and racism in German billboard advertising and in German society more broadly” (p.88). Moreover, the author also points out the problem of the billboard advertising’s obsession with images of children (propagating a de-contextualised childlike image of the global South) and/or women (depicted as non-threatening and non-political victims of southern societies; mothers who cannot take care of their children due to over-population).

Focussing on the childbirth-related care in the specific context of German-East African relations, the book further argues that, “…German professionals continue to establish a fundamental hierarchy between themselves and East Africans in their assessment of Tanzanian childbirth-related Practices”. The ‘coloniality of power’ in this aspect lies in the fact that such estimations of German Professionals are based on “race”; relating “perceived deficiencies to notions of an intrinsic Tanzanian character”, “culture” or even “Africanness”; “regarding East African practices as lagging behind”; thereby, the German practice disregards East African alternative knowledge and practice (p. 118). All this is justified by referring to Germany's “construct of itself as epitome of progress”. The norms set by the Germans are projected into East Africa: “professionalism, rationality and Christianity during colonialism, and rational planning, empathy and sensitivity in the present” (p. 118-119). However, the author also refers to a fracture in contemporary, colonial power based policy abroad owing to the practical experiences of developmental professionals in their day-to-day work: “While uncertain about the value of their work and approaches, German professionals eventually located the problem in Tanzania and could not imagine other ways of teaching midwifery” (p.119).

Discussing the colonial and current German Population Control Policy and Practice in East Africa, specifically Tanzania, the author comes to the conclusion that “German agents in both periods have associated what they considered problematic population size (as being underpopulated in the colonial times and overpopulated in the current times, PR) and fertility rates with a general backwardness of East Africans, particularly with regard to gender relations” (p. 141). This particular practice also points to the fact of the economic interests that play a key role in such German interventions. Contemporary German policies in the field of population and reproductive health are primarily presented as philanthropic, altruistic endeavours. However, “… the long-term German interests to transform Tanzania into a ‘stable’, ‘functioning society’ with which Germany could engage in profitable economic exchange seem to also warrant interventions into reproductive health and reducing population growth in Tanzania” (ibid.). The Author, furthermore, concludes that “… colonial power in current German development policy on population and reproductive health is thus evident in the interconnectedness among racialised, gendered discourses and the political economy of population control” (p.142). This points, in turn, to the necessity that colonial power in development can only be fully comprehended when seen in the light of the continuity of the connection of colonial discourses to material practices as well as economic interests of the global North.

On the whole, the author summarises the findings of his research and analysis in the book under the following three aspects:

  1. the transnational construction of hierarchical difference and disregard of non-western knowledge;
  2. developmental ideology and the practice of trusteeship and
  3. the furthering of political-economic interests of the ‘developers’ (see p. 143). The book also “… confirms the connectedness of educational and public relations in Germany intranationally with Germany’s international global South policy” (p.145). Thereby, the altruistic self-image as an improver of the lives of people in the global South, contemporary German development policy at home and abroad turns out to be a neo-colonial endeavour in which particular gendered and racial formations constructed through colonial processes are re-presented and re-articulated (see p. 145). In that sense, “colonial power in contemporary global development remains firmly in place due to its transnational embeddedness in, and interplay between, policies towards the South and activities within the so-called donor countries. By disregarding this complex framework, ‘donors’ create or perpetuate the inequalities and injustices that their development policy claims to battle against” (ibid.).

The author concludes the book with some thoughts and lessons for future research and practise in the field of postcolonial critique of (German) developmental policies at home (global North) and abroad (global South):

  • The findings of the empirical chapters (3-6) in the book prove that contemporary development policy is part of a general racialised and neoliberal agenda. At the same time it shows that contemporary development policy also draws on cultural-historic experiences, backgrounds and political-economic conditions specific to the respective colonising nation, thus constituting a particular German colonial power formation. Therefore, as colonialism was both a trans-European and a multi-faceted endeavour, postcolonial development studies must account for the similarities and divergences in colonial power in contemporary international development.
  • Future postcolonial studies need to focus on specific areas of intervention by the ‘developers’ besides, as was done until now, focussing on general policy orientations and developers’ subjectivities. Focus on policy and practice in particular fields (like child birth care policies and population control policies discussed in this book) adds to the understanding of the interrelatedness of discourses with practices, institutions and political-economic conditions.
  • The purpose and aim of investigating into colonial power in development is to confront and alter such power. The ultimate aim needs to be to imagine and make possible a de-colonized, de-whitened, post-colonial transnational solidarity.


The book starts off with the hypothesis that development policy and the remains of colonial power/colonialism are interrelated. On the basis of four empirical studies – DE in Germany; Billboard Campaigns and Public relations activities in Germany; Germany’s Childbirth-related policies in Tanzania; Germany’s Population Control measures in Tanzania – the author convincingly lays bare the colonial and hegemonic attitudes and actions/policies of Germany as well as in the colonial period and in its current development policies. Critical interview citations and concrete examples (like the “Big Five” poster campaign) relating to the four empirical areas allow the reader to perceive the interconnections between colonial discourses of power and the effects of those on the colonised.

What is especially worth mentioning is that the book clearly demonstrates the interrelationship between interventions at home and abroad: the negative images of the ‘global South’ (and its population) created and nurtured by DE and billboard campaigning in the ‘global North’ are transported and implemented in the former coloniser’s interventions in the former colonies.

A further strong point in the book is the demonstration of how the ‘global North’ keeps opportunistically camouflaging its developmental rhetoric regarding the colonised to ideologically legitimise and maintain their continuous control over the colonised. This becomes most evident in German legitimisation arguments vis-à-vis the population control policies of Germany in Tanzania. In colonial times, the intervention was perceived to be necessary because of ‘low population levels’ whereas in the current times it is the “high population levels” in Tanzania. In this way the book clearly demonstrates how international development ‘co-operation’ invents the ‘unruly’, ‘wild’ and ‘underdeveloped’ other in order to ‘rule’, ‘civilise’ and ‘develop’ the other. These overtly moral imperatives and ‘do-good’ argumentations for interventions in the ‘global South’ are very well de-masked in the book to manifest the covert, selfish and self-aggrandising aims of the global North.

The conclusions drawn from the critique and analysis in the foregoing Six Chapters of the book do call for a postcolonial future (for instance, “planetary citizenship”, p. 150) but do not clearly argue for a future without the development rhetoric criticised throughout the book. The conclusions in the book, on the whole, still seems to plead largely for an ‘alternative’ development and does not categorically argue for ‘alternatives to development’: What could be an alternative global South-North relationship without these centuries of development ideology that continues to create situations of dependence of the ‘global South’ on the ‘global North’ and the hegemony of the ‘global North’ over the ‘global South’? What future-oriented, constructive alternatives do ‘development professionals’ and the huge ‘development industry’ in the North (the recently inaugurated opulent and gigantic building complex of The German Agency for International Cooperation /GIZ in Bonn is symbolic of this still thriving industry) to offer other than the continuing, dominant developmental rhetoric and praxis? Much promising concepts for such ‘alternatives’ to development have been excellently gathered in the volume The Post-Development Reader compiled by Rahnema and Bawtree (1977).


On the whole, considering that this book is the first of its kind that ‘academically’ unveils the colonial past of Germany and its effects on its current international development interventions, this is a well-researched (going by the literature, resources and interviews) and well-analysed publication. This is a must for (advance level) students, researchers, teachers and practitioners who wish to understand the connections between the colonial past (of Germany) and its remains in the present, namely in its current the intra- and international developmental policies and practices. One must be cautioned though that this work is best suitable for advanced professionals and academia with a good background in postcolonial/anti-racist theory and practice.

Rezension von
Dr. phil Prasad Reddy
Geschäftsführung, Zentrum für Soziale Inklusion Migration und Teilhabe (ZSIMT/Bonn)
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Prasad Reddy. Rezension vom 06.03.2019 zu: Daniel Bendix: Global Development and Colonial Power. German Development Policy at Home and Abroad. Rowman & Littlefield International (London) 2018. ISBN 978-1-7866-0349-4. In: socialnet Rezensionen, ISSN 2190-9245,, Datum des Zugriffs 27.09.2021.

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