Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Institut für Europäische Ethnologie

Sebastian Pampuch

Exiled in East Germany: Life stories of Malawian and South African freedom fighters during the Cold War

Betreuung: Prof. Dr. Beate Binder, Prof. Dr. Andreas Eckert

Förderung: „PROMI – Promotion inklusive“ (Universität Köln)



The presence of Africans in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) is very rarely thought of in connection with the experience of exile. Instead, Africans in the GDR are predominantly viewed through the prism of educational and labor migration. While such research has undoubtedly produced valuable insights, it tends to overvalue archival records at the expense of oral history and often fails to adequately account for the implicit Eurocentrism, methodological nationalism and anti-communist bias inherent in Western knowledge production. As a result, the global-historical setting and broader political contexts in which such migration occurred remain marginalized, with the GDR mostly depicted as a sealed national unit marked by dictatorial repression and anti-black racism instead of being seen as a country deeply embedded in the highly dynamic process of decolonization. This study offers a different approach. Through biographical portrayal, it unfolds the life stories of some members of African liberation movements or freedom fighters who lived in exile in the GDR and, ultimately, remained in reunified Germany, with the main case study being a Malawian activist – Mahoma Mwaungulu – who was expelled from East to West Berlin. Recounting his experiences along with those of some South African exiles, chief among them a former medical worker for the ANC’s armed wing, the study ethnographically reconstructs the multiple entanglements between the “Second” and “Third” worlds from the vantage point of the politically displaced within the concrete historical contexts of African decolonization, the struggle against the Malawian Banda dictatorship, and the struggle against South African apartheid. It thus adds an actor-centered perspective to the growing scholarship on entanglements between decolonizing African nations and the Eastern bloc. The study also counterposes the competing figures of the political exile and the refugee and discusses the problems reunified Germany has had in coming to terms with its socialist past, further unearthing the political-economic critique of capitalism that is clearly visible in the lives and struggles of these exiles.


Schlüsselbegriffe / Keywords

Exile, Diaspora, Migration, German Democratic Republic, Africa, Freedom Fighters, Post-Colonialism, Post-Socialism, Decolonization, Biographical Research, Entangled Histories, Political Anthropology, Political Economy


Curriculum Vitae

Studies of European Ethnology, German Literature and Spanish; Post Graduate Traineeship in Library Management; Data Librarian at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies; Research Assistant at the Department of European Ethnology at Humboldt University Berlin


Kontakt / Contact


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