Dramatizing Development: The Celebration and Reality of West German Village Projects in West Africa, 1962-1977
In West Africa, the Federal Republic of Germany hoped to do well by doing good. In cooperation with the host governments of Ghana, Togo and Dahomey and with local notables, official West German development agencies planned and operated four development projects during the 1960s and early 1970s, aiming to help several villages earn their way to higher standards of living by forming cooperatives and producing for agricultural or fish markets. At the same time the FRG and host governments joined together to stage “development theater.” That is, they exploited the projects through ceremonies and publicity to highlight their own benevolence and the villagers’ gratitude. In reality the projects mostly fared badly because of practical German mistakes, incompetent German managers, and confusion over the proper organization of cooperatives. The Germans were also guilty of cultural hubris, failing either to investigate villager needs or to appreciate the wisdom of local practices. This dissertation ties together disparate bodies of scholarly literature on symbolic politics, development aid administration, development aid critiques, and the history of conflict between European and African agricultural, domestic and medical knowledge and practices. Small village development projects served the needs of symbolic politics much as large-scale projects have done, even though they brought only small or no advantage to the villagers. The projects went astray largely because the West Germans were blinded by a “colonial gaze” that prevented them from valuing villager experience, yet the “gaze,” projected outward, became an advantage in “development theater” by vii making villagers appear needy and ignorant or, where necessary, guilty of making the projects go wrong by not working hard enough.