It is 2014. The faded flag of the German Democratic Republic blows in the wind on a makeshift flagpole in the heart of Maputo. Although East Germany has long since ceased to exist, twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, 9000 kilometers to the south, a group of former worker-trainees raises its flag every day. The emblem of the hammer and compass, surrounded by a ring of rye, has become a common sight for those walking the streets of the Mozambican capital (Fig. 7.1). In Mozambique, it symbolizes the returnees’ faith that their youth, and the beliefs that sustained them in the past, will yet be redeemed. It has been a long wait. Those who fly the flag are mostly in their fifties and sixties. For some, it is a waning faith, but for almost all this faith relates to a deep and nostalgic longing for their East German past. This longing for the past is inseparable from dreams of a better future.

Fig. 7.1
figure 1

Juma under the East German Flag in the park of the madjerman in Maputo in February 2014. Source: Photo taken by the author

On most Wednesday mornings a group of the former Mozambican contract workers widely known as madjerman, who worked and trained in East Germany from 1979 to 1990, gathers under the flag in the Jardim 28 de Maio in the vicinity of the labor ministry. The park has become colloquially known as the park of the madjerman.Footnote 1 The madjerman have occupied the park since the early 1990s. The offices of the “central base of the madjerman” are in the park’s public toilets (Fig. 7.2). A few members gather every day to set up shop, drink, exchange gossip, support each other, and plan future events. Wednesday demonstrations against the Mozambican government, inspired by the East German Monday Demonstrations, start with communal prayers at the headquarters. Donning German flags, soccer caps, t-shirts, and all sorts of German apparel, the group makes for an odd picture as they march singing and dancing through the streets of Maputo. They are demanding payment of social security benefits and outstanding wages from the Mozambican government that were in part withheld during the 1980s. After two decades, protest has become a way of life for many in this group. If you stop and take the time to speak to any of the protesters, you will soon be told nostalgically about the golden times in East Germany and learn how the former migrants draw on their experience abroad to aspire to similar living and working conditions at home.

Fig. 7.2
figure 2

The Base Central, office, and central congregation space for the madjerman in Maputo, in the Jardim 28 de Maio (Garden of the 28th of May) in August 2011. Since the photo was taken, the park has become gentrified. Source: Photo taken by the author

The nostalgic narratives shared by many former migrants to East Germany diverge markedly from a standard description of life in the Soviet Bloc, which is more often depicted as drab and restrictive.Footnote 2 Not without reason, we more usually hear about East Germany as a country of monotonous rows of prefabricated concrete housing blocks, Trabant cars, barbed wire, black and white news, omnipresent Stasi officials, and the Wall.Footnote 3 Life in this gloomy place is frequently portrayed as especially unattractive for the Cubans, Vietnamese, Mongolians, Chinese, Algerians, Angolans, and Mozambicans who were visibly identifiable as foreigners.Footnote 4 This one-dimensional view of East Germany is not, however, shared by many of the Angolans and Mozambicans who lived and worked there during the 1980s.

Strikingly, the retrospective images that these migrants paint of their life and work in drab East Germany are often conspicuously colorful. Rather than long hours of toiling on factory floors, many Angolan and Mozambican worker-trainees recount warm friendships, swirling parties, opulent consumption, and youthful hipness during their sojourns in East Germany. The legacies of their migration remain a daily feature of many returnees’ lives. The East German flag continues to fly over the park of the madjerman in Maputo. This park also serves as the headquarters of the main organization of returned worker-trainees and a place where workers greet each other with Freundschaft—a socialist greeting meaning friendship—and a knock on the table, as they learned in East Germany.

As Remembering African Labor Migration to the Second World has made abundantly clear, there was more to the migratory experience than “fun because we were young and we always had money in our pockets.”Footnote 5 Long-term family separation, routinized hard work, the challenges of learning a new language, and cultural, climatic, and culinary adjustments were part of everyday life. In the late 1980s, racism was on the rise and violence increasingly became part of foreign worker-trainees’ lived reality as it also fell to them to contribute with up to 60 percent of their wages to working off their home country’s debts to East Germany. However, longing for parts of their East German lives remains an important part of worker-trainees’ memories. This chapter, and book, is colored by memories of experiences in a world I cannot replicate and do not wish to validate socially, politically, or otherwise. I am not invested in glorifying the socialist projects in East Germany, Mozambique, or Angola. I do not set out to rehabilitate the East German dictatorship or to suggest that it was virtuous.Footnote 6 Rather than treating these playful memories of East Germany as exceptions to a broader darker narrative, I read these voices as an opportunity to question not only how and what the former workers remember, but also why.Footnote 7 The point of this chapter is not to establish a set of facts. It is to explore the fascinating overlap between temporalities that memory achieves. There is an interplay in the minds of the madjerman between their German past and their Mozambican past, present, and future, and this interplay says something about all those things. Exploring these interplays is at the center of what I am trying to do in Remembering African Labor Migration to the Second World.

The first part of this chapter deals with nostalgia and explores the workings of a particular form of nostalgia, namely eastalgia, in relation to the workers’ pasts, presents, and futures.Footnote 8 The second part then relates this nostalgia, with its multiple temporalities, to the life cycle approach which I have adopted in this book. It simultaneously looks back and out to place the labor migrations into their historic context and a global perspective. We have repeatedly explored in this book the interface between past, present, and future in people’s memories, and how the narratives that people tell about themselves and their past lives reflect all three of these things. Nostalgia is therefore the perfect theme with which to finish this book, as it encompasses so much of what I am trying to say. It is a particular relationship between memory and emotion, not only a descriptor, but also an analytic tool that allows for understanding the memories of the returned migrants as an emotional critique of Angola’s and Mozambique’s economic development since 1990. In a sense, Angolan and Mozambican migrants were time travelers. If we conceive of economic development as an inevitable linear process that affects all countries sooner or later, as conceived of by Marxist and modernization theory, we can get at what this means. Traveling geographically to the more developed East Germany meant for the migrants that they were traveling forward in time. By working in the industrialized East German economy, they had been to Mozambique’s and Angola’s futures. Returning was therefore for them like going back in time, and a brutal disappointment as they saw not only that Mozambique and Angola had not traveled along the supposedly inexorable path to socialist development but that they were in fact giving up on the idea of even trying. Many of the migrants have spent much of the rest of their lives longing for a future that never happened. They went to the future, came back to the present, expecting to help take their homes forward in time, but ended up stranded in the past. Worker-trainees had mainly left with two broad objectives: to gain the skills to help build and industrialize their country, and to become upwardly socially mobile through the knowledge gained abroad. Both expectations were dashed. Many former migrants were left with nostalgic memories of a youth that never was and dreams of a future that was not to be. This temporal rupture has colored their memories since.

Part I: Eastalgia—The Past in the Present for the Future

Longing in Mozambique and Angola: Post-Socialist Nostalgia, Ostalgie, and Eastalgia

In the landscape of memories of the global socialist moment, Angola and Mozambique are two of many underexplored territories. Much work remains before we have an acceptably full picture of the myriad of ways in which people across the world remember socialism and relate it to their post-socialist lives. So far, scholarship has primarily engaged with Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where the study of post-socialist nostalgia sparked a literature boom examining its relationship to the economy, politics, and time.Footnote 9 These three themes resonate with the Angolan and Mozambican memories discussed here. Nostalgia for some aspects of communism does not automatically correspond to a wish to reinstate a previous regime. In Angola and in Mozambique, just as in other Central and Eastern European countries, nostalgia for a socialist past is not a binary discourse. Most people have an ambivalent attitude toward the past. In Germany, nostalgia for aspects of East German life has become such a widespread phenomenon that it has brought forth its own name, Ostalgie, a portmanteau denoting longing for the East (Ost being the German word for east and Nostalgie meaning nostalgia).Footnote 10 It describes the relationships of former East Germans with East German consumer culture, even as most of the surviving eastern brands are now produced in former West Germany. The term has become a lens for understanding the subtle lingering of East German legacies in the reunified Germany, ranging from an analysis of counter-memory to East German sexuality and the East German fashion industry.Footnote 11 In Ostalgie International—a collection of academic voices and eyewitness accounts written by East Germans who traveled around the socialist world and socialist world citizens who sojourned in East Germany—Ostalgie broke out of its German straightjacket.Footnote 12 This emerging map of international longing for aspects of socialist life leads us through the varied memoryscape of people who lived in and traveled between socialist countries around the world. They remember dreams of development, consumer goods, and memories of a different life including scarcity but also security and predictability.Footnote 13 Some of these memories are shared privately; others are publicly displayed as group reminiscences.

Talking about post-socialist nostalgia and Ostalgie brings into focus feelings of longing for a past that is often negatively perceived by others. In an effort by post-socialist regimes to distance themselves from their pasts, the socialist legacy is often silenced, as in the case of Mozambique, or hotly debated, as in the German post-reunification discourse.Footnote 14 Post-socialist nostalgia, Ostalgie, refers to ways of speaking about the positively experienced aspects of socialist regimes. However, in this book I refer to the anglicization of Ostalgie, eastalgia. To my knowledge, this is my coinage. I do this because the eastalgia which I encountered when interviewing people for this book has several differences to Ostalgie as it is usually manifested and described. Whereas German Ostaglie is to a large extent associated with people’s relationships with consumer brands, this is not the case for Mozambican or Angolan nostalgia. Eastalgia has much more to do with the experience of migration, which for obvious reasons does not feature much in Ostalgie. Furthermore, eastalgia functions more than Ostalgie as a criticism of the present. Many former East Germans hold deep reservations about what has become of unified Germany—as evidenced by the recent rise of the far-right political party the Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland, or AFD) in the German states that were formerly in the East—but they do not, as a whole, express this through a longing for the past in the way that I saw in Mozambique and Angola. Furthermore, for former worker-trainees, eastalgia is a form of claim-making. It justifies why the former workers should be compensated for the earnings that they never received after their return home. There has been a complete divergence in experience since 1990 for German Ostalgiker and Mozambican and Angolan eastalgists. Above all, I feel that it is more appropriate to use the anglicization in an English-language book, as using the German loan word implies that it is a German phenomenon. Of course, in this case, it is not: it is a Mozambican and Angolan phenomenon. There are therefore both theoretical and linguistic reasons for my coinage and use of eastalgia.Footnote 15

People who experience or express eastalgia or Ostalgie are usually not expressing a political wish to return to pre-1990 socialism. Both types of nostalgia bring into focus a partially remembered reality, as they filter out the negative aspects of life under socialist regimes. As with all visions of a rose-tinted past, they are a blueprint of perfection against which to measure the imperfect present. The present will always fall short. In fact, it is precisely because the present falls short that the past appears so enticing. As we will see, the former Angolan and Mozambican labor migrants express longing for aspects of East Germany, the People’s Republic of Mozambique, and the People’s Republic of Angola. Many continue to feel disappointed by the contours of their lives in the post-socialist world they came to inhabit.

The East German Past Through Mozambican and Angolan Eyes: “A World Full of Roses”

Integral to both socialist and capitalist modernization projects was what philosopher Susan Buck-Morss calls “the dream of the twentieth century.” This dream “dared to imagine a social world in alliance with personal happiness, and promised to adults that its realization would be in harmony with the overcoming of scarcity for all.”Footnote 16 The worker-trainees’ reintegration into southern Africa by the early 1990s coincided with an academic decline in the belief in the twentieth century’s linear modernization project, marking the arrival of the postmodern world.Footnote 17 Yet such a narrative lives on in the imaginations of many worker-trainees.Footnote 18 Their lived experience in East Germany shaped their expectations of linear development through industrialization.

Some of the interviewees’ eastalgia is expressed as longing for a dream of development. As an advanced and modern socialist state, for the workers East Germany was a model of what the socialist future might hold for their own nascent socialist countries. According to the developmentalist paradigms to which socialist governments wholeheartedly subscribed (though it was not only socialists who believed in linear development at that time, it must be said), instead of time traveling to see what the future or past held, one could simply travel to places in different stages of development.Footnote 19 One could travel to developmentally “backward” places to understand earlier forms of development. Consequently, traveling to Europe from Africa meant traveling to the future. As global travelers, Angolan and Mozambican worker-trainees did not only change their geographic location; in their understanding, they could also travel through time along the linear path to development on the map of modernization.Footnote 20

The flight to East Germany catapulted worker-trainees from recently independent, emerging socialist states struggling to assert themselves economically, politically, and socially, to the most developed actually existing socialist dictatorship in the heart of Europe. Angola and Mozambique faced multifarious issues including a host of negative developmental effects on their economies and infrastructure, including the Portuguese mass exodus and sabotage acts, internal political rivalries, regional power battles, and Cold War geopolitics resulting in proxy war. Witnessing organized public infrastructure and an industrialized consumer culture, migrants often describe their physical arrival in East Germany as their first plunge into modernity. Jaime pointedly contrasts his Mozambican and East German experiences:

We landed in a foreign country, which nevertheless smelled like flowers and made us, who were used to the smell of gunpowder, dizzy. The smell, the clean cities, the well-lit cities. We smelled the flowers right upon leaving the plane because our hosts welcomed us with bunches of flowers in their hands.Footnote 21

The worker-trainees’ longing is both a temporal longing for the past and a migrant’s longing for a geographically distant place, forever frozen in time and remembered as seen through rose-tinted spectacles.

Underlying many eastalgic memories is the dream of a specific form of modernity, namely, of socialist industrial development. Many worker-trainees were introduced to the concept of socialist development during their education at home, and by the promises of their governments, and their commitment to this ideal was solidified during their time in East Germany. They were fascinated by the trappings of East German socialism, including entitlements such as housing, health care, public transport, and secure working conditions with reliable wages. While some workers had already critically eyed socialism in East Germany, all were rudely awakened from their socialist dream after returning to their war-torn nations, which had turned away from socialist state-led development at the end of the Cold War era. Returnees were left with a bitter taste in their mouths when confronted with the failure of the socialist path to development both personally and as a nation.

Both eastalgia and Ostalgie partly relate to consumption. However, while Ostalgie has to do with a preference for Eastern brands, eastalgia is for consumption as an activity. East Germans now living in the Federal Republic have few restrictions on the consumption options available to them. By contrast, for the African returnees, such as Lopes, East Germany meant economic freedom to consume that was lost on return: “We had money in our pockets and were able to buy what we wanted.”Footnote 22 Inocêncio remembers East Germany as a consumer paradise because he could afford Western consumer goods, a predilection partially inspired by the consumption of Western media: “It was in Germany…where I walked my first steps in paradise in Nikes and jeans like a black American.”Footnote 23 Miguel recalls his time in Germany as “a happy time,” a more predictable time when life was easier to organize because rules governed all aspects of life:

I would like to return to that life. There was none of that annoyance of having to run around looking for things everywhere because the things we needed were there and we knew how to go about getting what we needed or to whom to turn with a problem.Footnote 24

Miguel’s depiction contrasts with the familiar image of state-socialist economies as places of scarcity and the inevitable long lines of people trying to obtain goods. These quotes show how experiences of the poverty or abundance of consumer culture in East Germany were relative and depended on the background of the observer. Most East Germans judged their offerings of consumer items against those of West Germany and believed themselves to be living in a context of scarcity. But foreign worker-trainees whose reference point was the global South, especially countries marked by warfare such as Angola, Mozambique, or Vietnam, experienced the opposite.Footnote 25 Longing for their East German consumer experience is fueled by the marginalization that many former workers face today.

Both Ostalgiker and eastalgists are nostalgic for what they remember as a secure and comfortable life centered on consumer socialism.Footnote 26 Quite a few returnees still possess German memorabilia such as postcards, photos, drinking glasses, and flags that they display prominently in their houses.Footnote 27 As we learned in the previous chapter, most had to part with the more valuable goods they imported during their difficult reintegration process. Gone is the comfort of TVs, fridges, stoves, motorbikes, and, just as importantly, the status that owning such goods conveyed. The fathers and grandfathers of some of the migrants had worked in the South African mines and invested their earnings in household goods like cloth, clothes, shoes, sewing machines, plows, bikes, tractors, and cars. Decades later, migrants brought back goods to establish their own households, including tables, chairs, dishes, bedding, motorbikes, cars, records, stereo equipment, TVs, movies, and books. The centrality of consumer items and the status migrants acquired through European goods is a historical constant in southern African labor migrations.Footnote 28 The returnees’ relationship with their East German goods was subordinate to their need to survive. What the migrants were left with was not physical but psychological.

Another aspect of eastalgic longing has to do with mobility. As socialist cosmopolitans, returnees had greatly broadened their horizons.Footnote 29 State-socialist labor migrations were an example of what Christina Schwenkel terms “socialist mobilities.”Footnote 30 Migration exchanges created a landscape of memories and shared experiences. How these experiences were interpreted depended on one’s vantage point, whether one was in the global South/Third World or the global East/Second World. This is demonstrated by the commonalities and differences between eastalgia in Mozambique and Angola and Ostalgie in Germany.

Angolan and Mozambican workers were mobile inside East Germany and in Europe after German reunification. Gaspar contrasted what he remembered as a time of mobility to stasis in Angola. There was an irony in this because legally there were many more controls over his mobility in East Germany than in modern Angola, but the reality of his lives in these two countries was a complete reversal of this. His mobility in Germany was made possible through relatively generous wages and functional public infrastructure, both factors absent in his present life: “When we were in Germany, I just bought a ticket to see my brother-in-law in Czechoslovakia and I went from Berlin to Munich, but since I returned [to Luanda], I have not left this place and that makes me feel as if I am imprisoned.”Footnote 31 Memories like these highlight how many workers recall their sojourn as highly mobile, despite being restricted from travel to the West prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall. This stands in sharp contrast to their immobile lives at home, enforced by poverty and the paucity of transport options there. Post-socialist globalization has not really brought about a more interconnected world for these migrants. Rather, it has fragmentated and ruptured the world they operated in up to 1990.Footnote 32 Many find themselves marginalized, unable to traverse continents and countries as they did in their youth, and they feel isolated.

Nostalgia for one’s youth is common in all peoples across the world.Footnote 33 Many worker-trainees in Angola and Mozambique frame their sojourn overseas in terms of life stages. Regina speaks in one of her poems of “Germany, the cradle of our birth,” alluding to the deep impact the temporary stay had on some workers as they were forming their personal identities.Footnote 34 Probably this had something to do with the young age—late teens to early twenties—of many of the migrants. In Augusto’s words: “It was great. Germany made me a man. I learned how to live on my own and take more responsibility for life.”Footnote 35 For many worker-trainees, especially those who left as teenagers, straight from school, or in their early twenties, the transcontinental journey was a journey into adulthood and financial and geographic independence.Footnote 36 We might compare their nostalgia with other people’s nostalgia for their university years or for the time they spent traveling before settling down to permanent careers. It was exciting; the world seemed full of opportunities; it was different to what they had experienced before and what they would experience afterwards. For Gaspar, the advantages of being young in East Germany outweighed the disadvantages:

I consider it a pleasure to have been young in [East] Germany because the social standing of youth in society was good. We had basic rights concerning our training and workspace and we had a right to lodging and healthcare. … We were also under surveillance. If we didn’t go to school or work, our group leader knocked on our doors and asked what happened. We were very irresponsible not least because we had money. …We had practically everything in Germany.Footnote 37

Many Angolan and Mozambican worker-trainees spent the defining years of their youth in East Germany. They fell in love, started families of their own, and established close friendships with East German families. Through these intense interpersonal and intercultural experiences, they to some extent became “Germanized.” They also left traces abroad. Today, a generation of Afro-Germans can trace their fathers to Angolan and Mozambican worker-trainees. Though in many cases all physical contact has been lost, emotional ties bind the workers and their memories to East Germany.

I do not intend to portray eastalgia as a naïve dream, a deception, or simply a product of the imagination. Far from it. The fact that eastalgia is almost universal among those whom I interviewed suggests that something profound is going on. Nostalgia is an emotional—and some would say rational—response to the complex changes in various environments that migrants experienced. Longing stems from the suffering induced by separation from a child, from a spouse or a lover, from friends and colleagues. In this case it is a result of big differences in living conditions, infrastructure, and general economic development between sending and receiving countries. Both Angola and Mozambique were engulfed in protracted armed regional conflicts during the years of the worker-trainee programs.Footnote 38 As socialist cosmopolitans, returnees continue to long for the unfulfilled promise of modernity that they felt they were working toward in the 1980s. They decry the lack of egalitarian development at home, but they do not necessarily wish to return to socialism or Germany. Rather, they wish that Angola or Mozambique could adopt some of the positive things they remember from their stay in Europe.

In retrospect, East Germany appears in the brightest of colors, assuming in some interviews an idealized status that it can only retain because returning is impossible economically, geographically, and temporally: “If they told me to choose a country to live, I would clearly choose Germany!”Footnote 39 This remains a hypothetical situation and therefore one that can be freely imagined.Footnote 40 The country of their memory is forever lost and probably never existed in the way they evoke it. The temporal return to the migrants’ youth is impossible; the transcontinental journey unaffordable; and East Germany no longer exists. In many interviews, the loss of paradise and the loss of youth go hand in hand.

Back to the Future: Mozambican Post-Socialist Nostalgic Critiques of the Government

This section examines the Mozambican version of eastalgia, which critiques the present-day government in two ways. Firstly, it does so by comparing the former worker-trainees’ lives after their return to Mozambique to their lives in East Germany. Secondly, it looks at how eastalgia manifests itself through a longing for the former Mozambican leader Samora Machel. Today, eastalgia is an anachronistic annoyance for the FRELIMO government. The Mozambican government has long moved on from the socialist development dream that it had held when concocting its worker-trainee scheme.

Mozambican former worker-trainees deploy positive memories of East Germany as a criticism of what they perceive as the failed modernization project in Mozambique. This perspective is certainly true for the madjerman activists who draw on such narratives when they articulate their claims to non-madjerman, such as me. But this is equally the case for social events such as family gatherings and the groups of workers who assemble in the park after work. And it also held true for reminiscences shared by non-activists in interviews with me. As far as I can discern, nostalgia for East Germany as a criticism of modern Mozambique is almost universal among madjerman. Where post-reunification histories often see decay and underdevelopment in East Germany, Luís saw communist Germany as a progressive and livable alternative:

You cannot compare Maputo and [former East] German cities. There is just simply no comparison. Look around and you will see garbage everywhere [in Maputo]. …Nothing works here, and everything has been decaying since independence even here in the city of cement. …No, you cannot compare that with the clean, modern, well-lit, and organized [East] German cities.Footnote 41

Rather than describing actual lived realities, Luís employed an exaggerated anachronistic comparison, emphasizing both the decay of modern Maputo and the modernity of East Germany’s cities to give weight to his criticism of Mozambican underdevelopment. The fact that I am German might have played a role not only in his embellished description of German cities but also his use of independence as caesura. But more so, these were comments that returnees made among each other from the perspective of socialist cosmopolitans. What is left unsaid is that inner cities in colonial Mozambique and perhaps to a lesser extent in East Germany were predominantly white spaces from which Africans as customers and inhabitants were excluded and to which they had access only temporarily through labor.

Madjerman also often talk about an idealized past East German society to criticize the current Mozambican government’s failed integration of the approximately 12,300 migrants who were repatriated in the early 1990s.Footnote 42 This was apparent in Adevaldo’s accusation:

Ah! I experienced beautiful times in Germany, a country that welcomed me, gave me hope for a better life with work. Hope that was taken from me in my own country because there was no compensation for my hard and honest work. We only experienced contempt, beatings, and inhumane treatment because here we are only poor workers from Germany, just slaves of those governing, who stole from us.Footnote 43

Memories are mediated through the present. If the injustices of the East German labor environment remain suppressed in such comments, it does not mean that such injustices did not exist, only that such a differentiated view would weaken the critique made of the Mozambican government today. In addition, the East German experience was far less immediate than their post-return lives, so that the post-return grievances seem so much sharper to the madjerman than any wrongs or grievances they had suffered in East Germany.Footnote 44 Another important aspect may be that although things were often tough for them in Germany, they still felt in control of their lives. They were young, they were doing things which many of their compatriots could not even dream of, and their general trajectories were upward, even if there were short-term frustrations or things that were upsetting. After their return in 1990, it became much harder to tell themselves a narrative of progression and progress.

The critique of the present FRELIMO government also includes for many former migrants a nostalgic longing for President Samora Machel—or at least, an idealized version of him. The figure of Machel is bound up in the promise of a young, socialist post-independent Mozambique with high hopes of development and equality.Footnote 45 President Joaquim Chissano (1986–2005), the president following upon Machel’s untimely death in a suspicious plane crash in South Africa in 1986, abandoned both the socialist project in Mozambique and the memory of Samora Machel in a process M. Anne Pitcher has described as “organized forgetting.”Footnote 46 Yet, President Armando Guebuza (2005–2015) realized the power that Samora Machel still held and resurrected his memory as romanticized symbol. The nostalgia for a lionized Machel is shared by many a Mozambican from madjerman to rappers. As Janne Rantala argues in the context of contemporary Maputo rap, Samora Machel is remembered as “the great modernizer of his time” and “the people’s ally in the struggle against present-day injustices.”Footnote 47 This we see reflected in Juma’s words:

I remember those days. It was a calmer time. The country was clean. Today the country might have developed but it is dirty and unorganized. …Samora Machel loved his people. He was the only president that had a love for his nation, his people. For the country, for the infrastructure, for everything. This country used to smell of perfume, of cologne.Footnote 48

The key to nostalgia for Machel’s era was its forward-looking promise of development. President Samora Machel’s vision for an alternative Mozambican socialist modernity left a deep impression on many of the young Mozambican migrants, several of whom claimed to have met him personally. Idolized by many interviewees as the father of the nation, Machel is also a highly contested figure, and the methods and results of his push toward socialism and modernity were often far from benign.Footnote 49 Nevertheless, many worker-trainees who returned to Mozambique share an uncritical glorified sentimentality toward their founding father with many other Mozambicans.Footnote 50

Comparing eastalgia with black South Africans’ nostalgia for apartheid is instructive for understanding what is going on. In Native Nostalgia, Jacob Dlamini writes that it is both “illuminating and unsettling to hear ordinary South Africans cast their memories of the past in such a nostalgic frame” but that “[t]hese are people for whom the present is not the land of milk and honey, the past not one vast desert of doom and gloom, and the ancient past not one happy-go-lucky era. For many, the past is a bit of this, the present a bit of that and the future hopefully a mix of this, that and more.”Footnote 51

By engaging nostalgic memories under apartheid, Dlamini sought to challenge the depiction of faceless struggling masses central to a South African master narrative of black dispossession. Similarly, taking the Mozambican migrants’ memories seriously, and acknowledging the richness and complexities of Mozambican life in East Germany, challenges simplistic narratives of East German exploitation of foreign workers. Moreover, Dlamini’s work shows the ahistoricism of teleological narratives which assume an ever-better future. He shows that people’s experience is much more complex than the official periodization dividing South African history into a negative experience of the apartheid past and a positive experience of the rainbow present. If this is true for South Africa, it is also the case for its regional neighbors, Angola and Mozambique. The colonial past is not uniformly remembered as evil. The government may have been unrepresentative, racist, and exploitative, but people still lived, loved, and succeeded with their lives. Similarly, the socialist governments in East Germany, Angola, and Mozambique all had exploitative tendencies and continued to dominate the people in whose name they were supposed to govern. In East Germany, African workers were exposed to racism and exploitation and treated as intimate strangers, and yet, as we have seen, positive memories are shared about these times, memories that run counter to certain narratives of liberation or exploitation. These memories are also valid because they demonstrate the complexity of the lives of people who were victims but also so much more.

Positive memories can further work as a critique of the present.Footnote 52 Listening to the returned workers, we see that the returnees, too, are employing their eastalgia for political criticism of their present. Even as FRELIMO turned away from the socialist revolution, socialism lived on in workers’ recollections of it in East Germany. They continue to try to hold the government accountable for their expectations through various public measures ranging from legal recourse to regular demonstrations in the capital. Against all odds, many returned worker-trainees still believe in Samora Machel’s socialist revolution. They still wait in anticipation for the government to make good on its promise to provide them with appropriate work and repay their wages.

Eastalgic Memoryscapes in Angola and Mozambique

Kathleen Stewart reminds us that nostalgia is “a cultural practice, not a given content; its forms, meanings and effects shift with the context—it depends on where the speaker stands in the landscape of the present.”Footnote 53 In the light of this, the two brands of eastalgia seen in Angola and in Mozambique are not quite the same. However, there are important similarities. Both Angolan and Mozambican migrants grew up under Portuguese rule in the late colonial period and came of age in the time immediately after independence when the countries were embroiled in civil war. Both groups went to East Germany to work and train, and both returned steeped in East German socialism just as their home countries left socialism behind. Based on similar horizons of experiences, we might assume that the nature of nostalgic longing would be similar.Footnote 54 It is in many ways, but not all.

While Angola and Mozambique share many themes in their histories, they are different countries with distinct economic, political, cultural, and social contexts. Accordingly, even within the same spatial and temporal contexts, I found different responses to the past. A country-level analysis is of course a rough generalization. Nevertheless, in what follows, I analyze how expressions of eastalgia differ in the two countries.

The Mozambican worker-trainees engage in a multitemporal form of nostalgia: their fantasy is turned backwards, toward the unreachable. They cannot turn back time to their youth, and the promise of contributing to the Mozambican industrial revolution. Their relatively worry-free existence of comparative material comfort in East Germany has gone and is irretrievable. They are acutely aware of the present as a product of their past. Identifying as madjerman means belonging to an active countrywide social group whose connections were forged during a shared experience abroad, but it also means carrying the stigma of political agitators. Moreover, madjerman face the future as an aspirational dream. They envision a future in which they will receive enough money from the government to allow them to establish a comfortable material life once again.

Nostalgic longing in Angola, by contrast, is mono-temporal and looks backward. In the absence of a critical mass of returned workers from East Germany, their identity as former worker-trainees is not so crucial to their present. There is no collective name by which the workers are known, and they are not a vocal group in the country’s landscape of political opposition in the way the madjerman are. While they are also successfully engaging the government regarding compensation, their fight is a more technical and partially successful one. The presence of campaigning groups does not extend beyond the capital. Internal criticism of the government is muted but the Angolan diaspora protests publicly in Europe.

The Mozambican migrants’ longing is also multi-local, encompassing notions of being at home and abroad as distinct categories. To be madjerman is to be abroad at home and at home abroad. Their eastalgic longing is for their sojourn abroad, where they enjoyed a better life before returning home. The Jardim 28 de Maio in downtown Maputo—the park of the madjerman, the madjerman headquarters, Madjerman Republic, or the university of the madjerman, depending on the context—is in 2014 portrayed as a physical safe space, where “the rules and regulations of Mozambique no longer apply and we live according to our rules.”Footnote 55 This is, of course, a fiction. The occupation of the park is only possible because the Mozambican government turns a blind eye to it. Nevertheless, the park is an expression of displacement, an incongruent simultaneity echoing their identity, neither fully Mozambican nor German, but madjerman. It is quite visibly a bricolage of experiences, memories, and artifacts from East Germany and Mozambique (Fig. 7.2).

The Angolan workers, by contrast, are more firmly rooted in their Angolan identity. Even those Angolans who live abroad today invoke their patriotism and allegiance to their Angolanidade in their protests.Footnote 56 This might be because many Angolans stayed less than the contract period of four years due to their relatively late arrival, starting in 1985, when the East German economy began to struggle more, and the country became increasingly xenophobic. The timing of Angolan migration did not help them identify with East Germany’s society to the same extent as Mozambicans, particularly those of the first generation from 1979, some of whom stayed for up to a decade.

Moreover, quite a few Angolan migrants were already older, in their mid- to late twenties, and came to East Germany after serving in the military or pursuing other professions; their migration was therefore less emotionally formative. Finally, more Angolan than Mozambican migrants whom I interviewed subsequently attempted to migrate again, mostly as asylum claimants to unified Germany, to Portugal or other European countries, or to South Africa and Namibia. Therefore, their comparatively short East German stint did not assume such a central place in their life narratives as it did for many Mozambicans.

Eastalgia in Mozambique is created in the interplay between personal and collective memory. A key part of it serves to reinforce the madjerman identity, and the madjerman identity reinforces eastalgia in turn. Individual reminiscing occurs in the form of taking out and displaying photo albums, friendship books, magazines, and other memorabilia from East Germany. Such acts help to maintain a thread between past and present by tying their experiences abroad to their lives back home. They also share memories when they meet in friendship groups or at formal gatherings. Reminiscing together, then, becomes a communal act of belonging. Reminiscing is associated with emotions ranging from pride to disappointment. There is pride at having migrated, but anger and disappointment about the failed reintegration.

As a result, communal longing for East Germany has become a relational concept.Footnote 57 It situates individuals in a countrywide web, linking madjerman across time and space. Regardless of the origin or generation of a particular worker, the identity links them together. Sometimes being a madjerman is helpful for business relationships, but mostly the common identity is used as a framework for political activism. This network is tentatively spreading beyond Mozambique, including former workers and allies residing in Germany.Footnote 58 This kind of connection is not the case in Angola, where, as we have seen, a much smaller number of worker-trainees were sent to East Germany and there is no equivalent formalized national support structure. Given the politically repressive nature of the country, the Angolan diaspora in Europe has had more opportunity to protest. These protests employ a language of human rights and anti-corruption but not of eastalgia. Group identity is limited, and reminiscing takes place, above all, in the private sphere.

Eastalgia such as it exists in Angola is private, but in Mozambique it is both private and public. Some madjerman have published essays or memoirs.Footnote 59 There are related productions at the German cultural center in Maputo and beyond.Footnote 60 Through their artistic contributions and literary presence, madjerman have slowly carved out a space for their history within broader national histories.Footnote 61 Nothing similar appears to exist in Angola.Footnote 62 The madjerman’s nostalgic longing is also political. The public anger voiced in the regular demonstrations of activists in Maputo arises from deception, dispossession, disempowerment, and disenchantment with the state as a provider of public goods or wages. It also emerges from alienation from post-socialist Mozambican development practices. While in this context eastalgic longing might be read as escapist, false consciousness, naiveté, or simply a feeling of longing, I read it as social critique. Eastalgia is profoundly political with its dreams of modernity, development, and consumption.

Svetlana Boym distinguishes between reflective and restorative nostalgia, the former emphasizing reconstruction, and the latter simply a longing from which no further action needs to follow.Footnote 63 Here lies the major difference between the Mozambican and Angolan case studies. While both case studies engage in reflective nostalgia that involves reminiscing about past times, the Mozambican form of eastalgia also performs a restorative function, namely the critique of government in the hope of creating change. The restoration is largely a potential one, the hope of changing their lives to resemble the material and working lives they remember, or increasingly for a peaceful old age. The former worker-trainees’ current circumstances largely reflect those they left behind before migrating abroad. Their hopes for social upward mobility were short lived.Footnote 64

Part II: Closing Points—The Labor Migration Programs

Modernity and Temporality

When the returned worker who lives in the pictured bedroom in Maputo goes to sleep, the last thing he might see before closing his eyes is the East German flag decorating his room. In addition to his memories, this worker has held on to a few goods like a stove, TV, and vinyl records from his time in East Germany (Fig. 7.3). He is unwilling to relinquish these items that remind him of the “modern” life he once lived. The shared object of longing among Angolans and Mozambicans whom I interviewed is modernity, loosely defined as well-being, equality, progress, political stability, and economic development. The former worker-trainees measure this dream of modernity against their lived experiences in East Germany, and against their experiences during the civil wars in Angola and Mozambique and their (mostly) failed reintegration into post-conflict economies. Few former worker-trainees have become part of Mozambique’s new middle classes. The Angolans have fared marginally better. In this context, drawing on positive memories of East Germany must be seen in the light of the difficult reintegration workers subsequently experienced.

Fig. 7.3
figure 3

The bedroom of a returned worker. Source: Malte Wandel, Einheit, Arbeit, Wachsamkeit, n.p

Eastalgia provides the means for critiquing persistent inequality and precariousness. The dictum of forgetting the ruling party’s socialist past, as Pitcher has insightfully pointed out, leads to a double negation of the past.Footnote 65 There is little knowledge in the public realm about the socialist past outside of official party interpretations. However, even official party interpretations are now silenced as part of the reinvention process undertaken by parties that have been in power since independence.Footnote 66 Yet, as Pitcher observes, against this forgetting from above, some workers and peasants continue to draw on language and practices familiar to them from socialist Mozambique to negotiate the demands of the market economy.Footnote 67 And as explored above, President Samora Machel has been reified as the hero of many different people in Mozambique. The returnees also continue to draw on their experiences under socialism to justify demands. They do not, however, simply draw just on comparisons with the Angolan and Mozambican past; they also use comparisons with East Germany. Their nostalgia is at once part of a global socialist sphere of ideas and very localized.

Angola and Mozambique did not industrialize as had been the plan and therefore had little use for the labor power of many returnees. However, the migrants’ stay abroad influenced their home countries in unexpected ways. The profound developmental differences that the migrants lived, the experience of loss in their countries of origin, and the nature and timing of migrant projects are all crucial reasons why eastalgia remains prevalent. The madjerman’s eastalgia cannot solely be understood as unreflective dreaming of an idealized past of safety, consumerism, and emotional relationships. The migration experience has become a motor for critiquing Mozambique’s failed development and for envisioning an alternative future. Eastalgia conjures an alternative past in which Machel’s promise of a socialist utopia was a guiding light for the country. By contrast, most of the Angolans’ sense of longing is expressed individually and remembered as a personal recollection mostly focused on the past.

Envisioning the possibility of an alternative present is a legacy of the Angolan and Mozambican migrations. In East Germany, they encountered the future they envisioned for Angola and Mozambique. Eastalgia is not only for East Germany, it is for a lost vision of Mozambique and Angola. The returnees keep the memory of the global socialist moment alive in both their home nations and reunified Germany. Angolan and Mozambican returnees and their counterparts in the diaspora continue to stake a claim to a better material future and an acknowledgment of their role in the global socialist revolution, and they continue to hold their respective governments publicly accountable through marches and legal and political initiatives with German allies. While only a minority of all former workers participates in these public demonstrations and initiatives, the overwhelming majority shares in the eastalgia that continues to drive their dream for a future more akin to their past.

Looking Back and Looking Out: The Workers’ Life Course in Global Perspective

…the end of colonialism, a changed world—this is the red entry into the main book of history. …This could be it, the melody of how our life feels: distances shrink…and everywhere the earth is home to people. In this home we can live freely as equals and brothers. Because we are fundamentally the same, we become close with one another; the other complements alike. In so doing contrasts disappear, [yet] differences unfold in our longing for riches and diversity. Mankind makes an important step to realize…the ideal of equality. …Now we have arrived at the point where mankind can extinguish itself. For the conditions for social equality have not yet been created. Something is racing. This is true when people—specialists in their areas from socialist countries—work for a few years in Africa to help extinguish the underdevelopment that is a result of colonial exploitation; for instance, our miners in Mozambique. This is true when a few thousand young Mozambicans study here [in East Germany] or receive vocational training. This is valid, this race.Footnote 68

Ursula Püschel was an East German author who traveled to Mozambique and interacted with Mozambican worker-trainees in East Germany. Her book was a document of its time, a piece of literature, East German propaganda, which captured the tensions between a shared socialist dream of borderless human equality and the realist politics of state survival. Cooperation between the Second and Third Worlds was meant to overcome colonialism’s legacies; together, through the transnational exchange of technical expertise between brother-states, the conditions for equality were seen as achievable. Meanwhile, the Second World was in a race with the First World while the Third World raced the Second World. Global inequality showed no signs of disappearing.

As should be apparent from the discussion on eastalgia so far in this chapter, the migration of Mozambicans and Angolans to East Germany constituted an event which needs looking at in its temporal totality. It is as real now as it was in its operation because those who participated are still living it. This book’s life cycle approach allows for the holistic examination of this migration, an approach that benefits the study of most migrations.Footnote 69 We need to look at why people decided to migrate, their migration experience, reintegration, and material and immaterial legacies of the migration. We need to do this in one entirety because these aspects do not exist independently from each other. They do not even exist independently of the present day. This perspective is an innovative model in the context of many studies which parse out the various stages and, in the process, often separate host from home countries. The complexities and ambiguities that our approach here brings to the fore are not conducive to forcing all into a single neat argument, but this is, ultimately, my contribution. When migrants are moved to the foreground as historical actors, their stories emphasize that they are people who make their decisions against a backdrop of personal security, family conditions, and career decisions which are influenced by national politics, and which in turn are shaped by the possibilities and pressures of an interconnected world.Footnote 70

The Angolan and Mozambican migrants experienced the shrinking of distance, the acceleration of globalization, and the coming together of socialist axes; they experienced socialist internationalism firsthand as they integrated into East German workplaces alongside workers from places like Cuba and Vietnam. After their return to Angola and Mozambique and the collapse of socialism, their lives at the margins reminded them of the asymmetries of the post-socialist globalization as their international mobility was curtailed once again and their world shrank. These life histories provide a unique perspective on emerging transnationally mobile socialist lives in the second half of the twentieth century. But—and this is important, particularly in the context of global histories that have emphasized mobility and increasing connections—these narratives also illuminate how these same lives deflated again to become local lives, spectators of twenty-first-century globalization from the sidelines. This book underscores that despite increasing interconnection and mobility, large sections of the global population are being disconnected from migration circuits that were previously open. Globalization is not a linear process. Global processes—whether the global socialist moment or post-socialist globalization—do not create a flat, homogenized world, but produce new and reproduce old inequalities in many post-socialist nations around the world, including labor exploitation and the feeling of being left behind. From the perspective of many returnees to Angola and Mozambique, “the end of history” in 1990 in fact kicked off a history of fragmentation, loss, and isolation that finds an echo today across the world from the US to China.

Ursula Püschel wrote about a race against time to develop Africa. It is this race that the Angolan and Mozambican worker-trainees felt they ran and lost. Before they could cross the finishing line, it vanished. Migrants went to work and train in the global North only to return with superfluous skills to a South that had promised socialist revolutions on buzzing factory floors but had given up on this idea. Angola and Mozambique began to distance themselves from their socialist dreams in the late 1980s, introducing liberal structural adjustment programs. Mozambique became a poster child for privatization.Footnote 71 The collapse of socialism in Africa and Eastern Europe changed the rules of the game and decided the outcome of the race for the migrants. The migrants’ historical legacy is not that of being those who shaped socioeconomic ties and policies, as they had expected it to be. Rather, it is of struggling to shape their lives on ever-shifting geopolitical and socioeconomic terrain. They witnessed decolonization, independence, the hot Cold War, the rise and fall of socialism, free-market adjustment policies, democratization, peace, resurgence of conflict, and peace again. Most returnees felt betrayed because they had not been given the chance to develop their home countries through their blue-collar skilled labor while building a stable working-class life as they had seen in Germany. Many carry that bitterness with them into the present and subsequently eastalgically long for their time in East Germany.

The analysis of eastalgia in this book firmly positions Africa on the global map of post-communist nostalgia. East Germans express Ostalgie. Eastern Europeans from Bulgaria to the former Yugoslavia long for aspects of their socialist pasts. So do Mozambicans and Angolans, like many other citizens in the thirty-five African countries which experimented with some form of socialism post-independence. This is therefore an international longing, an unintended manifestation of elusive supranational socialist identity that was supposed to unite the proletariat around the world for the revolution. This international longing, however, remains very unevenly covered in scholarly analysis, and much more work must be done to understand the African part in it.

Neither the protesting madjerman in Mozambique nor Angolans in the European diaspora are calling for a return to socialism. Their immediate demand is for governments to honor their promise to return the withheld funds and deliver employment opportunities. Their broader concerns are transparency and inclusive development. Angolan workers who continue to protest are motivated by successful past claims that saw a total of about US$41 million paid to the 1600 registered former workers: approximately US$26,000 per person.

For the Mozambicans, the motivating factor for their activism is the memory of the living conditions they enjoyed in East Germany, and the dreams they once harbored for their personal and professional post-return lives. They are inspired by the East German Monday Demonstrations, and the responsiveness of the government to past claims. This encourages madjerman to don their German hats, t-shirts, and flags, grab their vuvuzelas, whistles, drums, and homemade protest signs and share in the Wednesday demonstrations in Maputo, more than a quarter of a century after their return.Footnote 72 Many returnees do not participate in protests or meetings. Some acknowledged long ago the utopian nature of the protest and have moved on; some would like to join but fear being considered political troublemakers, others live too far away to attend with any regularity, while still others are simply too busy to devote any attention to a part of their lives that they consider closed. Despite this, nearly all the madjerman with whom I talked share an unflattering returnee’s gaze upon their home country. The former socialist cosmopolitans are constantly comparing post-socialist Angolan and Mozambican development with an increasingly eastalgic picture of their East German lives.

What their longed-for East German experience was actually like is almost a separate issue, albeit related, to how their memories interact with their present lives. Following the travelers to East Germany and witnessing their transformation into socialist cosmopolitans has told us new stories about the experience of being a young African involved in East Germany’s labor, economic, and social life. We have seen how worker-trainees were shaped into skilled workers in heavy and light industries, agriculture, construction trades, mining, and transport. Their incorporation into working collectives in socialist people’s enterprises was intended to create model socialist workers, experienced in real socialism and ready to apply and transfer that knowledge back home. We also saw that, far from being passive receptacles of this project, workers succeeded in negotiating employment terms through collective and individual actions. And yet, socialism’s celebration of the working class looked more and more like propaganda when set against the political realities in the East German “workers’ and peasants’ state” as well as in Angola and Mozambique, where the working class in the traditional sense had always remained numerically small. Celebration of the socialist worker seemed insincere when compared to the treatment of African students in East Germany. It was the students, many of whom were drawn from among already established elites, not the workers, whom East Germany courted as the future leadership of their respective home countries.Footnote 73 In the name of building future political and economic partnerships, East German bureaucrats were willing to make concessions to students—for instance, in terms of freedom of movement across the Iron Curtain—that they did not make to the migrant workers or most of their own citizens.Footnote 74

Looking at the scale of economic and political relations between East Germany, Angola, and Mozambique suggests a story of state exploitation. The Mozambican government used the workers’ deferred pay to reduce their debts to East Germany. East Germany in turn increasingly demanded higher numbers of foreign workers to support its struggling economy. This accelerated during the latter half of the 1980s. The labor and training program began with an emphasis on training skilled socialist model workers. As both Angola and Mozambique became mired in civil wars that halted much of their industrial development, partnerships that had been envisioned between East German and Angolan and Mozambican industries fell flat. With the weaker performance of the East German economy the exploitative side of socialism became predominant. These abusive tendencies were part of the long and ignoble tradition of European exploitation of African labor. Indeed, the Mozambican government’s interest in the deferred pay program came from its own historical understanding of its citizens as a labor export, a regional tradition founded in Mozambican migration to South Africa since the middle of the nineteenth century. Africans thus emerged as victims and agents in these complex stories of internationally mobile African labor. The migrants were indeed being exploited, not least by their own governments, but this did not mean that they could not use the scheme to their own ends.

There is a long tradition of seeing Africa either as isolated from or a victim of globalization. Demonstrating the untenability of this idea is one of the key ideas of this book. Angola and Mozambique were enthusiastic participants in socialist globalization. Samora Machel, Agostinho Neto, and Erich Honecker shared a dream of a bright socialist future of global equality. They propagated scientific socialism and industrial development. They also believed in coercion as the best way to achieve their goals. Was the failure of this dream to achieve the envisioned industrial development in Africa a missed opportunity? Counterfactuals are notoriously difficult. We will never know what might have happened had Angola and Mozambique not been ravaged by civil war right through the period. What we do know is that we cannot continue telling the histories of socialist Angola, socialist Mozambique, and East Germany in purely national terms. This book, if it does nothing else, demonstrates that international connections shaped lives from the working class to political elites. In so doing it is part of a recent trend that examines the migration of African politicians, exiles, and students to the Second World, but has not, until now, paid much attention to migration of workers.Footnote 75

The Cold War shaped options for politicians and migrants alike. The MPLA and FRELIMO won their anticolonial wars with help from the socialist world. They were then able to stay in power and ultimately win drawn-out civil wars. Africans were therefore self-interested actors in the Cold War. The Cold War also shaped options for political, economic, and scientific-technical cooperation partners for Angola and Mozambique. Labor and education cooperation agreements with East Germany paralleled exchanges with Cuba, the Soviet Union, and others.Footnote 76 Escaping war at home was a great motivation for young potential worker-trainees to migrate to East Germany. Indeed, just as the civil wars were in large part manifestations of the Cold War and would have been less likely to have lasted so long without it, the migration schemes themselves would have almost certainly not existed in the form that they did without the Cold War. They were as much part of the Cold War as the Berlin Blockade or the Bay of Pigs invasion. The Cold War simultaneously engendered hot wars in Africa and enabled new international relationships between socialist nations and individuals.

Young Angolan and Mozambican migrants in Eastern Europe participated in the making of socialism. While their political leaders shaped socialism in Angola and Mozambique on the policy level, it was the migrants who acted out on the everyday stage what it meant to be socialist New Men and New Women and ambassadors for their home country. They spoke about their lives in Nampula or Namibe to their East German colleagues during coffee breaks; they learned East German workers’ songs and sang Mozambican and Angolan revolutionary songs with their East German brigades. On return, they debated the socialist revolutions at home and compared them with the East German socialist reality they encountered, framing East Germany, much as Samora Machel had done, as a model socialist state.Footnote 77

Workers spent time learning technical knowledge as well as Marxist-Leninist ideas. On a practical level, they produced goods to support and maintain the East German economy. They also consumed some of the goods they produced to support their family members at home through material remittances. They further used their socialist migration to invest in and capitalize on the goods they needed to start their personal lives as heads of families upon their return home.

Moreover, as intimate strangers the workers showed the extent and limits of East German solidarity with African revolutionaries. They represented their home countries, were welcomed as friends and brothers, but were also kept apart. However, workers also broke away from the official scripts and created private relationships with host families, friends, and romantic partners. This helped their integration into German society. One legacy of this is the generation of Afro-Germans who grew up after the workers had come to East Germany.

As the migrants faced gender and racial discrimination, their East German lives reminded them of socialism’s limited ability to render race and gender meaningless through the supposed power of working-class identity. Until 1989, pregnant foreign workers were sent back home to give birth or were forced to abort if they wanted to continue in Europe. Toward the end of the period, racism and xenophobia spiked and made life for foreigners unbearable. The oral histories reveal that the East German state had enforced the illegality of racism fairly well in the public realm. However, as its power began to crumble and its citizens were subjected to dramatic political and economic changes and finally the dissolution of their state, racism and xenophobia could no longer be contained or suppressed.

The workers tested the limits of the socialist state’s ability to control their lives. Following the narratives of the interviewees, we have shifted from presenting a society of stasis, want, and state control to include stories of consumerism, interracial romantic relationships, mobility, and racism and xenophobia. These things were all bound up with each other. Workers shaped their own lives, for instance by engaging in romantic relationships with East Germans, by working overtime to increase their earnings, by exchanging money on the black market to buy Western goods, or by asking students to bring back items from shopping trips to the West. Surveillance was uneven, allowing some workers to move out of their dormitories and create parallel private lives with German host families or romantic partners. Others had to register daily and needed to be creative to get any of the outside world into their lives, for example by smuggling visitors into their quarters.

After the workers returned to Mozambique and Angola, many scrambled to make a living in the informal market economy, or in the service industry as security guards, waiters, or taxi drivers. With the collapse of socialism, the workers’ personal and professional dreams and their role in their home country’s development were thwarted. However, they did not simply leave East Germany behind. The took it with them. They did their best to East Germanize Mozambique and Angola, whether through the many German goods that flooded the parallel Mozambican markets in the early 1990s, or through their return with German mannerisms, often embodied in a direct communication style, a penchant for planning and punctuality, or a male interest in domestic chores. This behavior rendered them different from those that stayed, and it earned them the label “German” or madjerman.

Interviewing former worker-trainees about their memories has revealed the enduring legacies of their past experiences in their present lives. This might include a biracial child, the German language, memorabilia or consumer goods from East Germany on display, or an investment in the ongoing political demands for repayment of transfers made during their time as foreign workers in East Germany. These are among the many unintended legacies. The migrants’ lives are reminders of the socialist pasts on which the present is built.

Is this an Afro-pessimistic narrative? A story of national decline? It is not. Neither is this an uncritical celebration of socialism. It is a story of loss and gain, of movement and stasis, of hope and despair. It tells the ambiguity of dreams and imagination, and the details of daily life between East Germany, Angola, and Mozambique. Following James Ferguson’s call to think productively with narratives of decline, we have dealt here with the migrants’ narratives of loss and eastalgia and we have tried to adopt their perspective and understand what it means to them and for their world.Footnote 78 A diverse group of migrants responded in myriad ways to the post-return losses they suffered. Some asked difficult questions about inclusivity and development in their home countries and found a collective voice to challenge the status quo. They marched to demand the repayment of withheld wages and raised their voices against corruption. Others wrote poetry or composed songs in which their migration experience lived on. Still others distanced themselves from their migration experience as they successfully integrated into the formal labor market. Even those at the margins are agents of change, their stubborn dreams and protest an act of resistance against despair.


Eastalgia demonstrates that, in addition to skills training and intercultural knowledge, migrants left East Germany with an identification with a supranational socialist identity. Moreover, they remember having enjoyed a certain standard of public goods and amenities against which they measure their post-return lives. These included public transport, health services, contract labor, union activity, subsidized housing and basic necessities, and leisure time activities. Many of these things were sponsored by the state or by the companies that they worked for. Seeing Angola and Mozambique through the eyes of socialist cosmopolitans, they judge things differently to their compatriots. They demand an accountable state and an amelioration of their living conditions. It is through the agency of the migrant workers, their practices and memories, that they have impacted societies in Angola, Mozambique, and East Germany and continue to reimagine them.

Studying life histories has provided a new perspective on the history of socialist solidarity and its aftermath in Angola and Mozambique. Socialist education and labor migration shaped the awareness of an entire generation of post-independence Angolans and Mozambicans who were educated in the socialist world from independence in 1975 until the collapse of socialism in 1990. The technical knowledge and the soft skills they learned abroad continued to shape the social, economic, and political life of their home countries.

These life histories also illustrate how the education and training exchanges of the Cold War era facilitated links for nations which under colonialism had been denied international links outside of that with the colonial metropole. Angola and Mozambique could now be independent drivers of connection with countries around the world, such as Cuba, the Soviet Union, and other Eastern European states. The Third World and the Second World worked together so that the former could become part of the latter. The migration circuits whose stories constitute this book would not have been possible without these socialist axes. Following Africans abroad and analyzing the impact that the global geopolitical climate had on Angolan and Mozambican national politics and economic development helps us arrive at a more nuanced and inclusive picture of post-independence history.

On one hand, the migration of unskilled Angolans and Mozambicans to Germany is now a faint memory of a bygone era. The German Democratic Republic, the People’s Republics of Mozambique, and the People’s Republic of Angola have all ceased to exist. On the other, the legacies of these migrations continue today in the lives of their participants. African socialist migrations remain alive through the way former participants exert their will on the present.