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Open Access Publications from the University of California

From Colonial to Neoliberal Times: German Agents of Tourism Development and Business in Diani, Kenya


This essay traces the role of Germans in various economic developments on the Kenyan coast over the past fifty years, focusing on one of Kenya’s most prominent tourism resort areas of Kenya, the Diani area located south of Mombasa. When tourism development began in earnest in the 1960s, German, Swiss, and Austrian entrepreneurs played a crucial role in pioneering the kind of enterprises that became the hallmark of coastal tourism—upscale hotels, restaurants, bars, discotheques, safari businesses, and diving schools. Reviewing the developments in Diani provides insight into neoliberal transnational economic transactions that presently occur in many areas of the world. Germans take part in these developments not only as representatives of large corporations or agents of state-funded development aid, but also as individual entrepreneurs. The discussion first sketches the setting in which these interactions take place, and then reviews the stages and various dimensions of German economic activities in Diani, namely developments in the area of tourism, small businesses, and real estate. The concluding section considers the effects of the German activities with regard to local culture and landownership, as examples of current global neoliberal developments. Acknowledging the impact of individuals investors, managers, and entrepreneurs through this case study of German activities in Kenya sheds light on lesser-known dimensions of globalization, dimensions that include an increasing north-to-south migration and new forms of cross-cultural hierarchies and collaborations.

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