Romantic Dimensions of the Second Scramble for Africa: “A White Lady Is Like Gold for Us”

Friday, January 4, 2013: 8:50 AM
Chamber Ballroom II (Roosevelt New Orleans)
Nina Berman, Ohio State University at Columbus
I propose to discuss changes brought on by migration patterns that flow from wealthy nations of the northern hemisphere (Germany, Switzerland, Austria) to a poor nation of the southern hemisphere (Kenya). Over the past forty years, German-speaking tourists and settlers have contributed to shaping life in Diani, a community located on the south coast of Mombasa. In addition to vacationing as tourists, Germans, Swiss, and Austrians are active in the area as managers of hotels; owners of boutiques, travel agencies, nightclubs, diving businesses, and restaurants; landlords of expensive private villas; and employers of Kenyans. Some move to Kenya to retire, and some engage in binational romantic relationships. The activities of these tourists and settlers have had a significant impact on the local community, affecting real estate development and shifts in land ownership; commercial infrastructure; population growth; interpersonal relations; and patterns of social and cultural practices.

My talk will focus on romantic relationships that have developed between Kenyans and German-speaking migrants, an aspect popularized by tremendously successful non-fiction and fiction texts and films (such as Corinne Hofmann’s Die weiße Massai). Drawing on statistical data gathered at the Registrar of Marriages in Mombasa and on insights gained from interviews that I conducted with more than 80 individuals during two extended research stays in 2009-10 and 2011, my analysis will highlight areas of strength and conflict observable in these bicultural relationships. My talk will also explore the effect of the “culture of charity” that structures the larger community in Diani on these interpersonal relationships. My investigation of German/Swiss/Austrian activities in contemporary Kenya sheds light on critical and often neglected aspects of globalization, particularly those that manifest themselves at the micro level in various dimensions of everyday life.