Conference PaperPDF Available

The Case for German Colonialism



A brief summary of German colonial achievements and the evolution of anti-colonial thought in Germany after 1914. Alliance and similarities between anti-colonialism and Nazism.
17.45 Uhr
20.00 Uhr
Raum 3S 039,
Auf ein Glas
Wein in der
Prof. Bruce
Die Bilanz des deutschen
Warum sich die Deutschen nicht für die
Kolonialzeit entschuldigen und erst recht nicht
dafür bezahlen müssen!
Prof. Bruce Gilley ist Politologe an der Portland University in
Oregon, USA. Er wurde 2017 weltberühmt mit seinem Aufsatz
The Case for Colonialism (Die Vorteile des Kolonialismus), in
dem er sehr fundiert darlegte, wie die europäische Kolonialzeit
für viele Länder ein Gewinn war, die nach der
Entkolonialisierung in eine bis heute währende Spirale aus
Gewalt, Armut und Korruption rutschten. Damit griff er eines der
StSteckenpferde der Linken an, die u.a. ihre Politik der offenen
Grenzen mit den angeblichen Verbrechen der Kolonialzeit
begründen. Obwohl der Aufsatz in einem angesehenen
akademischen Journal erschien, löste er gewaltsame Proteste
und gar Morddrohungen gegen seinen Verfasser und den
Verlag aus. Der Verlag zog den Aufsatz zurück, obwohl er allen
wissenschaftlichen Standards genügte. Prof. Gilley ließ sich
jjedoch nicht einschüchtern und blieb bei seiner These. Er wurde
damit zum Vorkämpfer für akademische Meinungsfreiheit
angesichts linksradikaler Gewalt lange vor Lucke und Lindner.
Prof. Gilley wird uns im Bundestag beehren und uns erklären,
warum die kurze deutsche Kolonialgeschichte ein Vorteil für
Länder wie Tansania, Kamerun und Togo war, der bis heute
nachhallt. Im Anschluss an den Vortrag laden wir Sie in
vorweihnachtlicher Stimmung auf ein Glas Wein und ein
anregendes Gespräch mit unserem Gast aus Übersee ein.
Kolonialhistoriker sind heute alle links. Meine beste
Qualikation, diesen Aufsatz zu schreiben war, dass ich kein
Kolonialhistoriker bin. -Prof. Bruce Gilley
Die Einladung richtet sich an alle MdBs, Referenten, Mitarbeiter
und Presse.
MMdB Petr Bystron, AfD-Obmann im Auswärtigen Ausschuss
MdB Markus Frohnmaier, Entwicklungspolitischer Sprecher der
Anmeldung bitte an:
The Case for German Colonialism
Die Vorteile des deutschen Kolonialismus
By Bruce Gilley, Professor of Political Science, Portland State University
In 2017, Prof. Bruce Gilley, a political scientist at Portland State University, Oregon, USA,
published the essay "The Case for Colonialism," in which he explained in depth how the European
colonial era was a win for many countries which, following decolonization, slipped into an
ongoing spiral of violence, poverty and corruption. He attacked one of the hobbyhorses of the left,
which among other things justify their policy of open borders with the alleged crimes of the
colonial era. Although the essay appeared in a rather unknown academic journal, the Third World
Quarterly, it triggered violent protests and even death threats against the author and publisher.
The publisher withdrew the essay, although it met all scientific standards. The statement of the
publisher openly states the reasons: "Although this essay was examined by peer review, the
publisher received serious threats of personal physical violence. For us, the safety of our
employees is our top priority, we are forced to withdraw this publication," it says on the website
of Third World Quarterly. However, Prof. Gilley was not intimidated and stuck to his thesis. He
was thus the champion of academic freedom of expression in the face of left-wing violence long
before Lucke and Lindner. Prof. Gilley will visit from 7.-10.12. the University of Heidelberg and
will hold on 11.12. this intergroup in the German Bundestag at the invitation of AfD MPs Markus
Frohnmaier (Development Policy Spokesman) and Petr Bystron (Chairman in the Foreign Affairs
I became interested in German colonialism while I was writing the biography of Sir Alan
Burns, a British colonial administrator, governor, and diplomat. When he arrived for his first
assignment in Nigeria in 1914 – aged 27 – he was plunged into fighting in German Cameroons. I
was puzzled by the high levels of support that the Germans seemed to enjoy among native
populations, support that was even more evident in German East Africa. If you read what passes
for “scholarship” on German colonialism in Africa, you would think that Africans hated German
rule and would never have lifted a finger on its behalf.
I am not a historian, much less a historian of colonialism. I am a social scientist, and I
have come to the conclusion that very little history on German colonialism meets the most basic
standards of social scientific research as normally understood. It is ideological, biased, and often
self-contradictory. So my main qualification for writing about German colonial history is that I
am not a historian of German colonialism.
Let’s start with German Southwest Africa (Namibia and parts of present-day Botswana)
because unless we confront this head-on and get it right, everything we say about the rest of
German colonialism will always come with the riposte “Well, what about the Herero?” Well,
what about the Herero?
First, let’s remind ourselves that Southwest Africa was about 2% of the German colonial
population (measured in terms of people-years). Just logically, imagine we conclude that
Germany did a really horrible job with this 2% and a superb job with the other 98%. What would
our overall conclusion be about German colonialism?
German colonialism in Southwest Africa entered into a place that was in every respect
anarchic and violent. In particular, the Herero and Nama had tense and violent encounters over
pasture lands, cattle-raiding, and enclosures. The Nama massacred a fifth of the Herero
population in a single day on August 23, 1850 at a place now known as Murder Hill.
Whereas in West Africa, the local trading culture was relatively easy to integrate into the
global economy, this was not true in the Southwest where it represented a major shift. In effect,
German settlers moved faster than the government, meaning the Herero and Nama experienced a
shock, rather than a transition. As conditions for both groups became unbearable, they rebelled.
The Nama participated in the first stages of the anti-Herero war, before turning on the Germans
as well.
German policy was to restore order and then initiate a major policy change.
Unfortunately, the man sent into this emergent rebellion was a war-traumatized outsider. General
Lothar von Trotha arrived and issued his infamous declaration. By the time the Herero rebellion
ended in 1906, the population had fallen by 75% from 80,000 to 20,000 as a result of battle,
starvation, poisoning, thirst, or neglect in camps. The Nama surrendered in 1907 on pain of a
similar order, their population reduced by half from 20,000 to 10,000. Whether a kinder fate
awaited either group in the absence of German colonialism is doubtful. More likely, the Herero
would have found themselves facing extermination from an alliance of non-Herero groups,
armed by rogue European and Arab gun-sellers keen to seize land. But then again, the details of
such a war would not have been recorded by history, much less become the subject of numerous
inquiries and directives.
Virtually the entire brutality of the German war on the Herero and Nama was caused by
von Trotha’s orders. He was condemned, recalled, and his policies rescinded. When a new
governor was sent in 1910, he promised “to reinstate in the natives a confidence that they will
find protection against the brutal excesses of a few individuals.” Nothing excuses Trotha’s “leave
or die” order. He was a rogue official, who was condemned and recalled. The reason it is wrong
to call this genocide is simply that it was not a systematic, policy-driven aspect of the war: it was
a personalistic decision, not followed by his predecessor and ended with his recall. Germans and
German policy was not genocidal: Trotha was. He committed a war crime.
Surely, the German colonial record should be largely judged by the record in German
East Africa, which accounted for 54% of the people-years of German colonialism. Why do we
hear so little about this area, which became mostly Tanzania (other bits are now Rwanda and
Burundi, and parts of Kenya and Mozambique)? Because it was an astounding success. Martin
Ganisya, a freed slave who rose to become a senior teacher at the Lutheran mission school in Dar
es Salaam wrote in 1907 of the pax–Germanica which had finally settled on the area which
“formerly its condition was one of injustice..but now there is peace everywhere.” The Germans
enjoyed the overwhelming support of the native populations in suppressing the Maji (water cult)
rebellion of 1905 to 1907. The post-1907 reforms ushered in an “age of improvement
unparalleled in European colonial history in Africa. In the legislative debate on the colonial
budget of March 1914, a resolution was passed that called for the respect of native rights in labor
recruitment, an end to coercion of natives, and an obligation to provide universal education. The
American historian Woodruff Smith in 1978 called the resolution “the most complete statement
to date by any colonial power of its self-conceived obligation to subject peoples and of the need
for limitations on the exercise of imperial power.” Smith argued that there was “considerable
evidence” for the German claim that they enjoyed high levels of legitimacy among the natives as
evidenced by support from key groups. That is why the war here was so prolonged. Loyal
African troops battled to the death on behalf of Germany until late 1918.
German Cameroons, accounted for another 34% of the German colonial era. Again, we
do not hear much about it. Why? Because it was such a remarkable success as a colony. German
rule had many allies among the native population here. In the north, the local sultanate of the
Islamic Fulanis, which had invaded, plundered and enslaved rival groups from 1823 until the
Germans arrived in 1902, was the willing agent of German control. As in northern Nigeria under
the British, Christian missionaries were forbidden here and Islamic law left in place. If the
Germans had not occupied the Cameroons, the Yale historian Harry Rudin wrote in 1938 after
conducting fieldwork in the early 1920s, the British or French would have. If not them, then it
would have been the Fulanis, which, given their record in the north, “might appear to make the
native more content with European imperialism.”
In the south, German rule operated through the coastal Duala tribes, who became
prosperous middlemen. From 1907, there were representative councils for African interests, a
decentralized administration, and training for a local elite to serve in government. In 1914, the
entire colony was policed by only 2,700 native police and soldiers and 200 German officers – or
one for every 1,000 residents (modern states have between 5 and 10 soldiers and police per
1,000). The Germans enacted a more robust development program in the Cameroons than
anywhere else, in part to comply with the Berlin Conference’s insistence that colonial claims
needed to be backed by “effective occupation”. From 1894, they introduced agriculture, industry,
and infrastructure plans for inland areas. Ironically, these would serve as reference points for
later critics of the relatively laissez-faire British and French administrations of the region.
“Wherever I went, I heard natives praise the excellent German administration,” Rudin wrote.
“The frequently made comment about the Germans was that they were very strict, at times harsh,
but always just.”
Again, that explains why, as in East Africa, natives rallied around their German rulers
when the Great War erupted. The only exception was the coastal Duala peoples, who rebelled
just before the war for the simple reason that the successful spread of development to inland
areas had robbed them of their previous monopoly position on trade in the colony. The Hausa
and Jaunde tribes of the interior proved every bit as willing to fight for the Germans as the
Nigerian tribes were to fight for the British. When the southern areas fell, more than 6,000 native
soldiers and 8,000 other natives chose to leave with the Germans for the neutral Spanish colony
of Rio Muni (today’s Equatorial Guinea).
Surely the most comical evidence of the perversion of truth in the contemporary academy
is the retrospective attempts to “take down” Germany’s tiny “model colony” of Togoland – just
2% of the colonial record but sucking up a gargantuan effort like the efforts centered on the other
“2%” colony in Southwest Africa. Smith called Togoland a “classical trading colony -- in which
European merchants, protected by a minimal government presence, would trade with indigenous
societies or develop extractive industries.” The tiny capital at Lomé exerted minimal day-to-day
control, while government remained in the hands of local chiefs. Oral historians would find
curious stock phrases left-over from German days such as “And one for the Kaiser!” yelled by
Togolese fathers while spanking their sons or “Not in Gruner’s time!” sighed by old women in
one area referring to better days under a former German district commissioner. The governor
from 1903 to 1910, Julius Graf Zech, was a Catholic and self-described humanitarian who
emphasized the moral responsibility to improve the lives of Africans. Bismarck, who had
alienated Catholics in his drive to unify the country, encouraged this new humanitarianism as a
way to regain Catholic support at home.
German rule brought stability to a region previously hampered by inter-tribal wars and
rivalries. In the northwest, for instance, the Nawuri and Gonja groups, which had overrun and
subjugated smaller rivals in the 15th and 16th centuries, became allies and profited handsomely
from German rule. One of those who moved to the new colony because of its economic
opportunity and political stability was a mixed race Brazilian named Francisco Olympio. His
son, Octaviano, pushed Zech and his successors into political reforms, making use of political
opportunities hitherto unknown in the region. Francisco’s nephew, Sylvanus, would become the
nationalist leader and first president of independent Togo in 1961. He was gunned down in a
bloody heap in 1963 trying to escape into the U.S. embassy. He was replaced as president of
Togo by a series of military dictatorships that would last for half a century. Oh, if only German
colonialism had lasted longer!
But, yes, scholars beaver away to take down the “myth” of the model colony. The
attempts to do so are so ideologically motivated that one need do nothing but quote from them.
The poster child here is Dennis Laumann of the University of Memphis. Laumann is a Marxist
and a fan of Cuba. He advocates violent animal rights movements and encourages his students to
read The Workers Daily. We could dismiss him as an ideological crank right away. But it is too
delicious to pass up. Laumann by his own admission found in his field work that “the oral history
of the German occupation, to my initial surprise, indirectly supports the model colony thesis -
emphasizing what oral historians describe as the "honesty," "order," and "discipline" of the
German era.” So he decided that oral traditions – which did not yield the correct results – must
be false consciousness: “Oral history is shaped by the economic and political realities of its
present, and thus, as it transforms over time, is a reflection of the specific era in which it is
Having freed himself from the need to rely on evidence, Laumann simply writes with
shock about scholars who do not adopt an anti-colonial viewpoint on the history of German
Togoland, never offering a shred of actual evidence, only quotes from anti-colonial Togolese.
The best he can muster is a quote from a Togolese historian in 1969 to the effect that “the people
of Togo were completely disenchanted with the nature of the administration and found it
unbearable”, which is a claim, not a fact. He backs it up with grand claims that the Germans
“denied Togolanders their basic freedoms” – what exactly does this mean in the context of 1907
in Stone Age West Africa?
A final point about Africa is that it was the Germans who came up with the cure for
sleeping sickness, which the French duly stole and was then widely applied in the 1920s.
Probably one to two million lives were directly saved by this German contribution, to say
nothing of the multiplied effects on families and communities. That is why two Ghanaian
scholars Isaac Brako and Seth Peter Frimpong in 2013 concluded that this alone overwhelms
everything else in the German colonial record: “On the basis of its achievement in medicine
alone, we are of the opinion that the German presence in Africa seemed more than justified.
When Africans strike the balance, they cannot say the German presence did not do them any
There is a similar story of grossly distorted and ideological scholarship to be told about
German colonial records in Qingdao and in the South Pacific. On the former, I would only quote
the Father of Modern China, Dr. Sun Yat-sen during his visit in 1912: “In three thousand years,
China did not achieve in [Qingdao] what Germany has done in fifteen years. If every local
government in China would send ten people to visit Qingdao and learn about its administrative
management, town, streets, wharves, harbours, university, forestation, public works, and
government, China would benefit greatly.” Sun continued to seek German advice well into the
1920s even after the colony was seized by Japan (which caused a nationalist backlash in China
that paved the way for the catastrophic takeover of China by the Chinese Communist Party).
In the Pacific, despite reams of evidence of the success of German colonial rule, scholars
strain and insist on “subtle” and “implicit” and “secret” hatred for Germans, and how the poor
islanders were traumatized and marginalized by the Germans. Here is a little delicious historical
update. Despite all the kraut brutality, the silly Pohnpeians lovingly restored their German Bell
Tower in 2000. This seems an act of collective folly. Why would they restore a symbol of the
colonial era? Maybe because then and now, it was better than what they otherwise would have
Since 1918, the topic of German colonialism has gone through four stages in German
society. From 1918 until 1933, the former colonial administrators fought against the crude anti-
German propaganda, mostly produced by Britain, and made strong empirical arguments that the
German colonial record was second to none. The most active was Heinrich Schnee, last governor
of German East Africa, who coined the phrase “colonial guilt” (Die koloniale Schuldlüge), the
attempt by ideologically motivated propagandists to paint the colonial record in the worst
possible hues. That is now an accurate description of virtually the entire academic industry
writing on colonialism.
This first post-1918 generation of German colonial advocates clung to Germany’s
Western enlightenment tradition as a liberal colonial power. It sought to hold fast to the pan-
European project of sharing modernity with others and being held accountable through the
(uniquely Western) self-critical tradition and its institutions. The tragedy is that the “colonial
lobby” lost out. Too many Germans became embittered with liberal civilization and turned away
from liberalism altogether. Instead, they rushed into the arms of the Soviet Union and became
stooges of communist agitation against colonialism, most centrally through the Comintern’s
League against Imperialism and for National Independence (LAI) in the Friedrichstrasse district
in Berlin. Headed by the German communist Willi Münzenberg, the LAI attracted anti-colonial
nationalists like M.N. Roy of India and Mohammed Nafi Celebi of Syria.
This rejection of the liberalism and cosmopolitanism of the colonial era fit neatly with the
forces encouraging the rise of National Socialism. Anti-colonialism was now seen as part of a
return to German purity, exceptionalism, and separateness. If there was a colonial pathway to
Auschwitz, it came not from Windhoek but from Friedrichstrasse. If there is a book to be written
on this unsavory aspect of anti-colonialism, it would have the title: From Friedrichstrasse to
Auschwitz: On the Relationship Between Anti-Colonialism and the Holocaust.
Many anti-colonial activists wanted to import Nazi-style government and movements into
their own home countries. At the core of their vision was a parochial nationalism, an anger at
“international capitalism”, and an insistence on replacing corrupt elites with vigorous youth.
Egyptian anti-colonialists expressed support for the Nazi platform of retaking Upper Silesia and
the Rhineland, insisting that Egypt should have Sudan as its own “living space”.
Hitler long rejected colonialism as a waste of money and time, led by Jewish capitalists
and effete, Christian missionaries intent on the universal brotherhood of man. He believed blacks
were not fit to be ruled by Germans, for they were no better than “poodles” and it would be a
waste of national resources. He hated the idea of inter-racial sexuality in the colonies. (Modern
left-wing scholars, like Hitler, also denounce inter-racial sex in the colonies because it
“controlled the body of the subject.”) Hitler’s assumption of power caused anti-colonialists in
Europe to switch their allegiance from Moscow to the Nazis, seeing in Hitler a powerful new
sponsor. African and Asian nationalists were attracted by the romantic anti-modernization
impulses of the Nazis. Subhas Chandra Bose allied with the fascists in both Germany and Japan,
seeking their support against British rule in India. In November of 1941, Bose founded the Free
India Center in Berlin, which cooperated with a special India Division in the German Foreign
Office in trying to convince Indians, both in Europe and South Asia, to fight for the Nazis. Bose
even raised a 3,000-man Indian Legion of the Nazi military from among Indian POWS in
Germany. Similarly, in 1944, a “second Brigade Nord-Africaine” was founded with the help of
the French Gestapo. The organization, which included about three hundred Arabs and Berbers,
was led by the pro-Nazi Algerian Mohammed El-Maadi, and supported the French Milice in its
fight against the anti-Nazi Resistance. The Palestinian Amin al-Husseini (known as the “Mufti of
Jerusalem,” an important Sunni religious authority) revived the Berlin Islamic Central Institute
as the Arabischer Nachrichtendienst (Arabic Information Bureau) in 1942 to conjoin Nazi efforts
with anti-colonialism in the Middle East.
The Nazis drew parallels between their “national revolution” of 1933 (which, they
argued, had freed Germany from the oppressive regime of Versailles), and colonized people’s
own national aspirations. Nazism and anti-colonialism shared a fundamental DNA of being
illiberal, reckless, totalitarian, and an imminent threat to the lives of those who might be put
under their rule. The Third Reich poisoned every aspect of German culture and society, and
turned the liberal German colonial heritage into just another illiberal facet of this most evil of
regimes. William Harbutt Dawson, the British journalist, scholar, and civil servant who was part
of the British delegation at Versailles, argued that National Socialism had disunified, de-
Westernized, and decolonized Germany – taken it out of European civilization – and that the
future lay in restoring those liberal European facets. Dawson underestimated Hitler’s capacity for
evil, but he was correct in asserting that Hitler was a manifestation of Germany’s rejection (or
denial) of European civilization and empire, not of its embrace, and that the road to de-
Nazification lay in restoring Germany to its central place in European life, and German
Unfortunately in the Cold War era, German anti-colonialism again allied itself with
Moscow. East German scholars working under Stalinist organizational demands cranked out
critical works on the German colonial record which later historians have lapped up like thirsty
dogs. Maybe it is just me, but state-directed research by an evil Stalinist regime with an
ideological agenda to attack the West does not seem likely to yield scholarship of value. Post-
Cold War, the echoes of Marxism continue to dominate German scholarship on colonialism.
German memory and writing on colonialism continues to suffer from a post-1918
ideological indoctrination campaign redolent of the worse aspects of totalitarianism. Having
variously allied itself with totalitarian movements of the left (Soviets) and right (Nazis), this
scholarly industry continues to get a free pass and to be accepted as truthful and just. It is neither.
Germany’s reassertion of its classical liberal and Western identity must begin with a rejection of
the dogmatic and totalitarian ideology of anti-colonialism.
Full-text available
The large-scale use of semantic transfer and inversion as rhetorical tactics is particularly prevalent in right-wing discourses and populist »alternative knowledge« production. The contributors to this volume analyze processes of re-semanticizing received meanings, effectually re-coding those meanings. They investigate to what extent rhetorical maneuvers serve to establish new and powerful belief systems beyond rational and democratic control. In addition to the contemporary rightwing and conspiracy narratives, the contributions examine the discursive fields around conceptions of human nature and the deep past, population politics, gender conceptions, use of land, identity politics, nationhood, and cultural heritage.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.