Impossible Missions?


Impossible Missions?

German Economic, Military, and Humanitarian Efforts in Africa

Nina Berman

Texts and Contexts Series

274 pages


July 2004


$50.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

This study of the German presence in Africa in the modern period exposes forms of cultural domination that derive from a philosophy of progress and “good intentions.” The humanitarian belief in development, however, can ultimately lead to the same structural imbalances that an overtly racist model of intervention produces. Berman examines five case studies involving German individuals and their respective “missions” in Africa: Max Eyth in Egypt, Albert Schweitzer in Gabon, Ernst Udet in East Africa, Bodo Kirchoff in Somalia, and modern-day tourists in Kenya. These engineers, doctors, pilots, soldiers, and tourists believed that their presence and actions would benefit the respective countries and their inhabitants. Nevertheless, their interventions created profound problems for Africans.
Nina Berman describes the structures of domination that date back to colonialism but did not disappear with decolonization and are, in fact, integral to today’s global economy. She also critiques the avoidance of African material reality in most of the analyses of European images of Africa, which has led to a perpetuation of the old model of Africanism. By highlighting patterns of domination that did not disappear with decolonization, Impossible Missions? disputes previous assumptions about why global inequality has not only persisted but increased.

Author Bio

Nina Berman is an associate professor of German at Ohio State University.


“In five brief, compelling case studies, Nina Berman offers nothing less than a new way of talking about German engagement in Africa.”—William Glenn Gray, German Studies Review

“Berman’s study offers pleasant, stimulating, and always interesting reading. She brings originality because she proposes a common vision for different discourses and genres, and across several historical periods.”—Janos Riesz, Research in African Literatures

“Berman’s account of impossible German missions to Africa no doubt is an important contribution to the emerging field of German postcolonial studies, not only pointing to neglected aspects of this experience but also showing how shifting perspectives can offer new insights into well-studied topics.”—Fatima El-Tayeb, Monatshefte

"[A] well-written and well-researched book."—Central European History

“With the publication of Impossible Missions, Berman solidifies her reputation as an assiduous documenter and keen critic of the diversity of German cultural and textual encounters with the non-Western world. . . . It is in the textual analysis, however, where Berman’s approach really shiens. Because the case studies are carefully chosen with an eye to the rich layers of meaning that complicate the eventual outcomes of the individual German-African encounters documented, each chapter makes for extremely rewarding reading.”—Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History

"Berman's book brings together a wealth of information and argument, and as such represents a powerfully argued analysis of issues with considerable importance to our globalizing world."—Daniel T. Bullard,

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