Rowman and Littlefield International

Schalke 04 and Colonial Power in German Development Policy

Published on Friday 03 Jan 2020 by Daniel Bendix

Chairman of top German football club Schalke 04, Clemens Tönnies, recently caused a public outcry for uttering racist statements. At a public meeting with 1.600 in the audience, he spoke about “Entrepreneurship with responsibility – ways into the future of food production”. This was in his capacity as founder and owner of the German food industry giant Toennies Lebensmittel, a company specializing in pig and beef cattle slaughtering and processing. Tönnies criticised tax increases designed to help to fight climate change. His suggestion, instead, was to finance 20 power plants a year in Africa: “Then the Africans would stop cutting down trees, and they would stop making babies when it gets dark”.


While Tönnies may be dismissed as ignorant, his ideas are not that of an animal-murdering madman who has consumed too much hormone-treated meat. Anti-African racism – often linking global climate change to overpopulation in Africa –  is mainstream, as exemplified in the audience’s applause for Tönnies’ remarks. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s personal representative for Africa, Günter Nooke, commented that “the problems Tönnies raised, such as the disappearance of the rainforest and population growth on the African continent are real and have to be talked about, if need be in a controversial discussion.” This comment was sadly unsurprising, given Nooke’s well-known colonial and racist views. He is of the opinion that colonialism had “contributed to freeing the continent from archaic (social) structures” and promotes neocolonial responses to migration. If challenged, he resorts to measures that silence those who speak out.


Racist images of the global South are also discriminatory towards Black people and People of Colour living in the West. Effects for both those privileged and attacked by them are palpable: empirical studies in school contexts in Germany have, for instance, found a direct link between the portrayal of the global South in education material and, disturbingly, the prevalence of racism of white German students and teachers towards Black students (Marmer, Marmer, Hitomi, & Sow, 2010). Such representations are omnipresent and target the unconscious to a great extent.


They can be regarded as one of the central realms of indirectly educating the general public about global development and conveying measures to counteract poverty and inequality. As a social science educator, I consider it fruitful to read images of the global South with regard to the stories they tell about development, capitalism, colonialism or North-South relations. Racist ideas about the global South ‘at home’ are intimately connected to policies by Western countries abroad. Images of the global South construct it as in need of intervention in the sense of help or guidance. Or, as in the case of migration, People of Colour are portrayed as dangerous invaders of the West, which legitimises the often deadly enforcement of border regimes.


Most stakeholders of German development and foreign policy concerned with issues of demography are, thankfully, more nuanced than Tönnies and Nooke. The Berlin Institute for Population and Development – the most important German think tank for demographics – recently published the study “Africa’s Demographic Trailblazers. How falling fertility rates accelerate development”, funded by the Federal Foreign Office. The publication calls for an “open, clear and pragmatic discussion […] about how strong population growth can be reduced in a democratic and humane way”. While aware of the paradigm of sexual and reproductive health and rights that was instituted with the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development 1994 in Cairo, it highlights a utilitarian perspective: “[T]he question of whether and how strongly a population grows is not only a private matter but also a social concern”, not only in terms of its relationship to “the number of jobs” and “the capacity of the country to provide necessary infrastructure such as health services, schools and housing”. Overpopulation is also related to the concern of climate change and ecological destruction, as “[s]ustained population growth does not work in any case on a planet with limited space and resources”. The study suggests that “[b]ecause population growth affects stability, governability, crisis prevention and irregular migration as well as fair and sustainable development, it should be included on the German foreign policy agenda” (Berlin Institute for Population and Development, 2019, p. 5).


Non-recognition of the colonial past and denial of colonial legacies is characteristic of global development in general (Kapoor, 2008; Kothari, 2011; Wilson, 2012). In my view, the colonial power of international development can best be understood in the complex transnational interrelationship between interventions at home and abroad. Here, colonial power is conceived as discourses which emerged during colonisation, interconnected with practices, institutions and political-economic conditions. While population policy had occasionally been subject to criticism for its neocolonial, patriarchal and authoritarian orientation, the institutionalisation of the concept of sexual and reproductive health and rights at the Cairo Conference allegedly rid the field of reasons for such critique. In this short piece, I limit myself to illustrating how this works in the case of German population policy towards African countries. Despite the fact that Germany is the European Union’s largest and the world’s second largest “aid donor” (OECD, 2017) and once was one of the principal colonising nations in Africa (and the Pacific), colonial power in German development policy has remained comfortably ignored or denied.


The claim to “develop” the colonized societies was always part of colonialism, as the participants at the Berlin Africa Conference of 1884/85 also stated: “All the Powers […] bind themselves to watch over the preservation of the native tribes, and to care for the improvement of the conditions of their moral and material well-being”. This also applied, for example, to questions of population development. Starting in 1900, German colonizers expressed their concern about a “population decline” in the colonies (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Eingebornenschutz, 1914). The goal of increasing population size was primarily driven by the view of the colonized as an economic resource. They were to be exploited but, crucially, had to be “preserved”.


Today as well, in population development are part of German activities in the global South. Their consideration is illuminating for an understanding of colonial aftereffects in development policy. In terms of development policy, Germany is active in the field of “reproductive health” and “population development”, especially in Africa (BMZ, 2013) (BMZ 2013). In interviews, German development experts interpret perceived high birth rates in many African countries as a sign of social backwardness. For example, a staff member of the Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW) who is responsible for the area of health comments has said:

And one sees as well that the fertility rates are still high, that, I would say, the whole context in Tanzania is still very conservative with regard to women, with regard to the societal stance of women. But also, I would say, one looks within the family and so on, it still is very classical and goes hand in hand with a certain oppression

(Interview with KfW staff member, 18.03.2010).


German “development cooperation” assumes that the reason is a pervasive unmet need for contraceptives. In the specific case of German development policy in Tanzania that I have examined, the development experts are confronted with the fact that, contrary to their presumption, “surprisingly, the interest or the demand for contraceptives […] is not that high. This means that the acceptance of family planning is not yet as high as we would hope. […] And what can we as German development cooperation do to support the ministry and the civil society in generating this demand” (Interview with Head of the Reproductive Health Component of the Tanzanian-German Programme to Support Health, 19.03.2010).


Only recently, the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik), Germany's most important think tank for foreign and security policy, also stated that it is not necessarily an unmet need for contraceptives that should be tackled as a problem in many African countries, but an excessive desire to have children (Angenendt & Popp, 2014, p. 27). While reference to human rights is used to propagate “free choice” of the number of children, Africans are seen as irrational if they do not have fewer children or want to use “modern” contraceptives.


These colonial-paternalist discourses are accompanied by tangible economic interests (Bendix & Schultz, 2017). The pharmaceutical company Bayer, for example, has joined forces with USAID to launch the Contraceptive Security Initiative to establish contraceptive pills in Tanzania and ten other African countries for more affluent sections of the population in the private market. According to Bayer (Bayer HealthCare, 2011), the “Contraceptive Security Initiative” represents “a new strategic approach and an innovative way to tap into markets in developing countries”. In 2012, Bayer also established the Jadelle Access Program together with the U.K. and U.S. governments, among others. Bayer and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation agreed to make 27 million Jadelle contraceptive implants available over six years for a reduced price for development measures and recently extended their cooperation. The global contraceptive market is expected to grow to $19.6 billion by 2020, equivalent to an annual growth rate of 3.1 percent (Transparency Market Research, 2014). The BUKO Pharma campaign accordingly evaluates the “Contraceptive Security Initiative” as “a marketing tool to defend Bayer’s position as global market leader for oral contraceptives and its market position in the field of women’s health” (2014, p. 40).


In summary, it can be said that today, as in colonial times, different German actors see it as their task to influence population development in Africa. This represents the intertwining of the colonial view with economic interests. But the idea that we in Germany should be interested in fertility rates and population development in the South is not self-evident. For example, the reverse is not the case – Tanzania does not send experts to Germany to change our reproductive behaviour. The unidirectional “development view” (Escobar, 1994, p. 155) must be created again and again at home.


Here, for example, the German Foundation for World Population (DSW) is significant. It tries to convince German society of the problem of a growing world population. The DSW made catastrophic statements in 2011 while announcing the “Day of the Seven Billion”, indicating that the number of people on Earth is growing by 2.6 per second, 158 per minute, over 225,000 per day or 83 million per year (Deutsche Welle, 2012). It has also set up two corresponding “world population clocks” in Hanover, one of them in front of the zoo.


The topic of population development also appears repeatedly in school curriculums. In the “Curriculum Framework for Global Development Learning” (KMK & BMZ, 2009), one of the central themes is “demographic structures and developments”. In the section on history, the population question is placed in the context of global environmental changes and it is proposed to deal with “conditions and consequences of the global population growth in the past and presence” (KMK & BMZ 2015: 248). It is repeatedly suggested that the number of people is a problem for “development”, not the way in which access to resources and nature is organized by capitalism and colonial exploitation structures (Brand & Wissen, 2018).


In the public draft of the orientation framework, the teaching example “global population development” was proposed for the subject of mathematics. The topic was introduced as follows:

The disparate development of the global population, its rapid increase in parts of the world, but also its decline and ageing in some countries, pose a serious challenge. The provision with food, drinking water, energy and basic consumer goods is not succeeding adequately despite considerable efforts. What is more, an increase in living standards is directly or indirectly detrimental to the natural environment and therefore to the basis for life. (KMK & BMZ 2014, 235)


While in the first sentence population development is described in an alarmist manner as a “serious challenge”, the second sentence shows where the journey is heading: the gaze of schoolchildren should wander to the South, for only its population can be associated with deficits in the supply of “food, drinking water, energy and basic consumer goods”. The third sentence highlights the critical issue of overconsumption, but it is not clear how this is connected to the perspective on decreasing and ageing populations (in the North). In this respect, this too can only be seen as a problem for so-called developing and emerging countries. It does not reflect how reductionist a perspective it is that discusses population issues in purely quantitative terms, without addressing demographic ideologies and inequality within a global, racialized capitalism. A perspective on development that turns political, social and ecological problems into demographic questions runs through the entire framework. It should be noted that the teaching example for the subject of mathematics is based --among other things-- on criticism of an initiative that has been called “Decolonize Orientierungsrahmen!” (2014), which was deleted without replacement in the final version of 2015 (KMK & BMZ, 2015).


The connectedness of educational and public relations work in Germany intranationally with Germany’s international global South policy is evident. In contrast to its altruistic self-image as an improver of the lives of people in the global South, contemporary German development policy at home and abroad turns out to be ‘a neo-colonial . . . [endeavour] in which particular gendered and racial formations constructed through colonial processes are re-presented and re-articulated’ (Kothari 1996, 3). This research suggests that colonial power in contemporary global development remains firmly in place due to its transnational embeddedness in, and interplay between, policies towards the South and activities within so-called donor countries. By disregarding this complex framework, ‘donors’ create or perpetuate the inequalities and injustices that their development policy claims to battle against. Rather than only focusing on perceived lack in the global South, an anti-colonial agenda needs to concern itself with the global North’s “imperial mode of living” (Brand & Wissen, 2018) that is based on and produces inequality and the exploitation of people and nature in the context of postcolonial inequalities. Here, German development policy and Tönnies may again find common ground. The consumption of meat is one of the biggest contributors to climate change and, therefore, to global inequality. Germany emits more carbon dioxide than the entire continent of Africa, in part because of the kind of mass animal farming from which Tönnies has made his fortune.




Angenendt, S., & Popp, S. (2014). Bevölkerungswachstum, Fertilität und Kinderwunsch. Herausforderungen für die Entwicklungszusammenarbeit am Beispiel Subsahara-Afrikas. SWP-Studien, (20).

Bayer HealthCare. (2011). Wir kooperieren mit USAID, um einen nachhaltigen Markt für Verhütungsmittel in Afrika zu schaffen – Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals. Retrieved 15 March 2011, from

Bendix, D., & Schultz, S. (2017). The Political Economy of Family Planning: Population Dynamics and Contraceptive Markets. Development and Change, 49(2), 259–285.

Berlin-Institut für Bevölkerung und Entwicklung. (2019). Africa’s Demographic Trailblazers. How falling fertility rates are accelerating development. Retrieved from

BMZ. (2013). Sexuelle und reproduktive Gesundheit und Rechte. Retrieved 6 September 2013, from

Brand, U., & Wissen, M. (2018). The Limits to Capitalist Nature. Theorizing and Overcoming the Imperial Mode of Living. London: Rowman & Littlefield International.

BUKO Pharma-Kampagne. (2014). Arm und vergessen. Untersuchung des Geschäftsverhaltens von Boehringer Ingelheim, Bayer und Baxter in Uganda. Pharma-Brief Spezial, (1).

Deutsche Gesellschaft für Eingebornenschutz. (1914). Eingebornenschutz. Koloniale Rundschau – Monatsschrift Für Die Interessen Unserer Schutzgebiete Und Ihrer Bewohner, (1), 1–5.

Deutsche Welle. (2012). Seven Billion and Climbing, but not Everywhere. Http://Www.Dw.Com. Retrieved from

Escobar, A. (1994). Encountering Development. The Making and Unmaking of the Third World. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Kapoor, I. (2008). The Postcolonial Politics of Development. Oxon: Routledge.

KMK, & BMZ (Eds.). (2009). A Cross-Curricular Framework for Global Development Education in the Context of Education for Sustainable Development - Condensed Version. Bonn-Berlin: KMK-BMZ.

KMK, & BMZ. (2015). Curriculum Framework Education for Sustainable Development (2nd updated and extended edition). Bonn-Berlin: KMK-BMZ.

Kothari, U. (2011). Commentary: history, time and temporality in development discourse. In C. Bayly, V. Rao, S. Szreter, & M. Woolcock (Eds.), History, Historians and Development Policy. A Necessary Dialogue (pp. 65–70). Manchester-New York: Manchester University Press.

Marmer, E., Marmer, D., Hitomi, L., & Sow, P. (2010). Racism and the Image of Africa in German Schools and Textbooks. International Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations, 10(5), 1–12.

OECD. (2017). Development aid rises again in 2016. Retrieved 27 June 2017, from

Transparency Market Research. (2014). Contraceptives Market - Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share and Forecast 2014-2020. Retrieved from

Wilson, K. (2012). Race, Racism and Development. London: Zed Books.


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