Thursday, 1 February 2018

Michael Rösser presents a working paper on 'The Forgotten Population Groups'

Various colonial protagonists have been involved in the building process of the central railway in German East Africa. Historiography has almost exclusively focused on the role of the colonial administration, however. With the African workforce having been regarded as only one factor to accomplish the building tasks (their agency has been generally ignored), other protagonists involved in the building process have hardly been studied. Examining colonial newspaper articles, this paper attempts to narrow down the focus on the role of two neglected colonial protagonists: labour recruiters and Indian indentured labourers in German East Africa. Especially labour recruiters were of crucial importance to deliver the workforce necessary for the infrastructural project. Comprising mostly of Southern European (esp. Greek) migrants, who deliberately went to the German colony to seek employment at the railway construction site. They were responsible for the construction of individual route sections and were also in charge of recruiting and supervising the (African) workforce necessary.
Indian indentures labour was decisive in various British domains, e.g for the construction of the Uganda Railway in neighbouring British East Africa. In contrast to claims of established studies on German colonialism, the sources consulted here suggest that  Indian labour was important for the German East African central railway as well. Indian labour migration to the German colony took place in two major ways. It was first of all an overseas business, meaning that potential workers travelled from India to East Africa. Secondly, it was also an intercolonial event, as Indian railway workers apparently left their employment in British East Africa in order to work in the German colony. 
These various labour experiences shaped specific Indian discourses about their own identity within colonial society. Their mindset and agency is illustrated by a poem published in the newspaper The Indian Voice of East Africa, Uganda and Zanzibar.

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