Project C8

Ethnic Groups and Nationalities in a Period of Political, Economic and Social Change in Northern Namibia since 1915


Project Leaders:

Prof. Dr. Otto Dann
Historisches Seminar
D-50923 Köln

 0221 / 470-5249
 0221 / 470-5148 


Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Möhlig
Institut für Afrikanistik
D-50923 Köln

 0221 / 470-3884
 0221 / 470-5158


Georgios Chatzoudis, M.A.
Andreas Eckl, M.A.


Research Area:

Northern Namibia



Research Program

It is our aim to investigate the political, socio-cultural and economic development in the semi-arid regions of Northern Namibia since the end of the German colonial rule in 1915. Within this thematic frame, we are focussing on the aspects of identity and nation building of two groups, on the one hand the communities of German and Boer origins in the farm area of Tsumeb, Otavi and Grootfontein, on the other hand the Bantu-speaking communities of the Kavango Region, namely the Kwangali, Bunza, Shambyu, Gciriku, and Mbukushu.

    There are several factors that play a role in forming or intensifying collective identities. These are:

  1. the economic crises caused by the world depression in 1928-32, by repeated droughts and by an in-creasing shortage of fertile land,
  2. political unrest and upheavals in the wake of the two world wars, such as conflicts over the legal status of citizens, tenure questions, and the development of new social constellations caused by the deportation of the male population of German descent to concentration camps,
  3. the coercive relocation of the non-white population in so-called home-lands during Apartheid, and the influx of civil war refugees from Angola.

Crises that do not merely affect individuals can effectively only be dealt with within a community. Collective action triggered by such crises produces solidarity among the people concerned and thus creates new feelings of ethnic or national identity particularly among communities that share features such as language, cultural traditions, religion, and geographical origin.This project is centered on the question how the shared experiences of crises and their joint overcoming initiated a process of political selfawareness. It also investigates the ways in which social institutions were instrumental in competing for economic, social and political dominance. This project is steered by the assumption that the mechanisms by which own interests are safeguarded particularly in a situation of a general crisis form the basis of ethnic identity and nation building.

The representatives and officials of the various rulers of Namibia before Independence as well as the representatives of the various missionary societies played an important role as agents of foreign interests. Until the 1960s, missionaries were almost exclusively the providers of education and health service in the so-called homelands. Their impact on the ethnic groups is also investigated.

Another important topic of our research is the relationship between the two groups under investigation, on the one hand the farmer population of German and Boer origin and on the other hand the population of the Kavango Region. Since the process of ethnic identification is taking place within a network of political and economic competition with other ethnic groups of the same larger area, we adopt a contrastive comparative approach which includes these two ethnic groupings. In this way, we think to be able to work out more precisely the factors of ethnic and political identity building in Northern Namibia.




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