Transnational Anticolonial Afro-Asian Memory Spaces in Berlin

By John Njenga Karugia

Berlin has witnessed myriads of events that shaped global politics. One such event was the 1884-1885 Berlin Congo Conference which subdivided Africa amongst colonialists (i). China often strategically invokes Western colonialism within its juxtapositional diplomatic memory politics to remind its Global South counterparts that while the West acted colonially – including colonising China – China is interested in cooperation, friendship, trade and development such as the 2013-launched Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), that is, the New Silk Roads (ii). It is worth paying attention to historical events that laid the formative foundation of our current modernity that includes implementation of the BRI. At the height of colonialism, after the First World War, African migrants from Germany’s former ‘lost’ colonies as well as Asian and Arab migrants from other territories under colonial rule by diverse colonial powers moved to Berlin, thus transforming it into a postcolonial metropolis. They became politically active and formed diverse international anti-colonial resistance solidarity networks against racism, colonialism and imperialism in pursuit of independence for their far-off homelands. Dekoloniale, an organization that highlights colonial memory cultures in Berlin, organized the 14-17 September 2023 Dekoloniale Festival with a focus on transnational Afro-Asian connective memories in Berlin, Germany and Bandung, Indonesia. An exhibition, a walking tour and an international conference concretized transnational Afro-Asian memory spaces in Berlin.

©Dekoloniale Festival 2023_Damian Charles

©Dekoloniale Festival 2023_Damian Charles

The opening event of the Dekoloniale Festival 2023 was a fascinating and very instructive exhibition titled ‘Stand in Solidarity! Black Resistance and Global Anticolonialism in Berlin 1919-1933’, which is hosted at the Museum Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf in der Villa Oppenheim. The biographies of over thirty personalities that were involved in the Afro-Asian anticolonial networks in Berlin shall remain on display until 17 March 2024. The exhibition was curated by Laura Frey, Christian Kopp, Bebero Lehmann, Mirja Memmen and Janik Wetzel.

©Dekoloniale Festival 2023_Damian Charles

Bebero Lehmann, one of the exhibition curators.
©Dekoloniale Festival 2023_Damian Charles

The meticulously planned walking tour organized by B’net Rahal took the approximately 80 participants across Berlin where we visited memory places that memorialize the presence of Africans and Asians in the 1920s during the Weimar Republic. Several scholars who have published about these Afro-Asian public memory spaces gave brief lectures about each memory place during stops that lasted about 15 to 20 minutes. They narrated captivating and tragic facets of biographies of Asians and Africans, their anti-colonial activities in Berlin, how they lived in Berlin and beyond, how Germany’s then Weimar Republic viewed their presence, how the Weimar Republic recruited some of them to help Germany act against fellow colonialists/imperialists abroad, their resilient transnational connections to the homelands they came from in Asia and Africa and how they influenced politics after returning to their homelands.

©Dekoloniale Festival 2023_Damian Charles

Fredrik Petersson's walking tour lecture.
©Dekoloniale Festival 2023_Damian Charles

A stop at the former residential area of Zhou Enlai a Africa-China relations enthusiast, was engrossing (iii). Short lectures were given by Laura Frey, Charlotte Ming and Nataly Jung-Hwa Han. Zhou Enlai resided in Berlin Wilmersdorf from 1922-1924. He later served as China’s Prime Minister after having studied in France and Germany. Having visited Japan, Britain and France therebefore, Zhou Enlai ran Communist Party of China (CPC) activities in Berlin including recruiting Mr. Zhu De into the Communist Party of China. Zhu De later became a General of the Red Army. Zhou Enlai later led the Chinese delegation during the Bandung Conference of 1955 which laid the building blocks of China’s current strong relations with the Global South such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) (v). Prime Minister Zhou Enlai’s later visits to African countries cemented Africa-China relations and initiated exponential diplomatic ties that built trust that has culminated in the acceptance of such Chinese initiatives as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). During his 1963-1964 visits to Africa, Zhou Enlai announced China’s eight principles for economic aid and technical assistance to other countries that are still in effect until today: 1) equality and mutual benefit 2) respect for sovereignty with no conditions attached 3) interest-free and low-interest loans 4) promoting self-reliance and independent economic development 5) increase income and accumulate capital for recipient nations 6) provision of best-quality equipment and material at international prices 7) training personnel of recipient country to master technical know-how 8) Chinese experts should have similar living conditions as experts in recipient countries (vi).

President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Prime Minister Zhou Enlai of China. Source:《人民画报》1968年第8期. See (vii)
We halted at Schöneberger Fuggerstraße 20 where ‘stumbling blocks’ or ‘Stölpersteine’ have been installed in memory of Benedikt Gambé (viii). A short lecture was given by Robbie Aitken and Dominique Haensell. Benedikt Gambé was a Cameroonian musician who had been forced to participate in the racist exhibition of ‘exotic’ Africans referred to as ‘Völkerschau’. In 1937 he was moved to Wittenauer Heilstätten, a medical facility where people who were considered as unworthy of reproducing were castrated and murdered during the Holocaust (ix). He died in 1940 at the Wahrendorffschen Kliniken of ‘unknown reasons’. We also listened to short lectures about many others such as: Jaya Surya Naidu (at Goethestraße 70) presented by Ole Laursen and Gautam Pemmaraju; Thomas Manga Akwa (at Tauentzienstraße 19) presented by Robben Aitken and Dominique Eyidi; the 1927 League against Imperialism presented by Fredrik Petersson; Virendranath Chattopadhyaya (at Goethestraße 61) presented by Ole Laursen and Gautam Pemmaraju; Bonifatius Folli (at Wilmersdorfer 66a) presented by Robbie Aitken and  Dominique Eyidi whose father Mr. Joseph Ekwe Bile also lived in Berlin from 1912 to 1935 (x). 

Dominique Eyidi in Berlin.
©Dekoloniale Festival 2023_Damian Charles

Inspired by the historic Bandung Conference in 1955, the 2023 Dekoloniale Conference in Berlin was titled ‘Bandung Revis[it]ed’ and it brought together experts of African and Asian descent who exchanged views on key issues regarding transnational solidarity. The conference had five panels titled: Art, History and Culture; Economy and Ecology; Epistemology and Cosmology; Intersectionalities; Solidarity and Radical Justice. Each panel received a guiding question that it focussed on. Several members of our De:Link // Re:Link research consortium were invited to participate in the Dekoloniale Festival. Nadja Ofuatey-Alazard from Dekoloniale conceptualized the conference together with John Njenga Karugia. The conference was chaired by three scholars: Anne AdamsJohn Njenga Karugia and Christopher J. Lee. Our De:Link // Re:Link Research fellow Adams Bodomo participated in the panel on epistemology and Cosmology and our Research Fellow Ibrahima Niang participated in the festival’s events. 

©Dekoloniale Festival 2023_Damian Charles

The 2023 Dekoloniale Festival Conference mirrored the 1955 Bandung Conference which came up with the “Ten Principles of Bandung”. The panelists at the 2023 Dekoloniale Festival came up with ten demands that they deemed vital after a full day of dialogues and debates amongst panelists and attendees of the conference. These are presented below with the corresponding names of the panelists involved and the panel within which these demands emanated.

Panel 1 Solidarity and Radical Justice (Kehinde Andrews, Saraya Gomis, Mwazulu Diyabanza, and Su-Ran Sichling)

1. Establish new educational institutions, content and educational formats whose curricula incorporate new themes, new media, social media, conferences, symposiums in schools and universities.

2. Build alliances of solidarity that reflect our shared visions of restitution of cultural artifacts that belong to Africa, Asia and Oceania; Solidarity for the common topic of migration; Alliances for land ownership that incorporates Indigenous peoples.

Panel 2 Art, History and Culture (N’Goné Fall, Hou Hanru, Miriam Ibrahim, Rajesh Parameswaran)

3. Organize our collective power to strategize on how to build topic-specific collectives to address and achieve specific common goals such as: to (re)write our histories; to represent our common issues in different media (television, cinema, theater, museums, magazines, newspapers, literature, politics etc.) in order to challenge our current contexts (and to form a different future).

4. Find new means to create our own spaces and to restructure existing spaces to share and build knowledge for diverse BIPOC perspectives.

Panel 3 Intersectionalities (Marlize André, Ragil Huda, Makda Isak, Dr. Christine Vogt-William)

5. Insist on formulation and implementation of comprehensive anti-discrimination laws that explicitly recognize the intersectionality of our identities as people of African and Asian descent and as Black Queer individuals. Such laws must provide clear and concise language for protection against discrimination regarding all aspects of life, including employment, housing, healthcare, education, and public services. This framework will help reduce oppression by ensuring a legal recourse for those who experience discrimination and by promoting a culture of inclusivity and respect.

6. Demand an accessible and inclusive legal system that recognizes the unique challenges faced by people of African and Asian descent and Black Queer individuals globally. This includes specialized training for legal professionals on issues related to race, gender identity, and discrimination. We insist on affordable and efficient legal aid services for marginalized individuals, ensuring that access to justice is not hindered by financial constraints. Empowering our people to utilize and apply this framework involves raising awareness about legal rights, providing culturally competent legal support, and advocating for equitable representation within the legal system.

Panel 4 Economy and Ecology (Aouefa Amoussouvi, Dr. Tao Leigh Goffe, Anna Hankings-Evans, Jomo Kwame Sundaram)

7. Demand decentralized autonomous banking and governance by challenging existing financial knowledge, models and structures such as the World Bank, Stock Market and intellectual property rights.

8. Demand community-led decision making regarding the protection of land and natural resources through a definition of ‘community’ that includes minority and nomadic groups within the leadership.

Panel 5 Cosmology and Epistemology (Adams Bodomo, Phinith Chanthalangsy, Aicha Diallo, and Mala Pandurang)

9. Encourage and allow our communities to learn their indigenous, mother tongues, and heritage languages, so that they open up and diversify their worldviews. to rethink the cosmos and the knowledge systems that determine our thoughts and acts.

10. Rethink our education model for the learning and unlearning about our complex and diverse realities, using the social and human sciences and pluridisciplinarity as key tools, in order to  elaborate and open up a new cosmology and epistemology.

The following publications contain further information about Afro-Asian Memory in Berlin.

Below are further impressions of the 2023 Dekoloniale Festival.
All images below ©Dekoloniale Festival 2023_Damian Charles

Leave a Comment