Dr Shaban Mayanja: “The future is bright for German studies in East Africa”
Name: Dr. Shaban Mayanja
Lives in: Nairobi, Kenya
Country of origin: Uganda / Austria
Period in Germany: every now and then since 1991
Educational and research institution: Leibniz Universität Hannover
Occupation: University lecturer
Is German philology in crisis? This question, raised recently in articles in the German news weekly Spiegel and in the „Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung“, is certainly worth asking. But the experiences of Dr Shaban Mayanja, a DAAD lecturer in Kenya, would suggest the opposite. His students go on to find work at German companies or in tourism, for instance, or go into teaching. They are keenly interested in German literature, but also keep up to date on the latest political developments in German-speaking countries.
Fostering the next generation of German students in Sub-Saharan Africa
Shaban Mayanja was born in Uganda. He studied German at Makerere University in Kampala. “I could have studied law,” he says. “But my interest in German literature and culture and my love of the German language were what made my mind up.” After completing his undergraduate degree, he studied at Saarland University before gaining a doctorate from the University of Hannover. He then taught German and translation studies at the universities of Hannover, Bayreuth and Vienna. Since October 2012, Mayanja, who is now an Austrian citizen, has taught German literature, culture and intercultural studies as a DAAD lecturer at the University of Nairobi. “I also coordinate the DAAD-funded Master’s programme here. We have a total of ten Master’s students from eight African countries: Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Ghana and Nigeria. The programme plays a central role in fostering the next generation of Germanists in sub-Saharan Africa.”
Shaban Mayanja’s background and experience make him an important source of advice for students: “They ask me how they too might become DAAD lecturers in the future and want to know what my life in Germany was like as an African.” He has observed that Germany enjoys a positive image in Kenya, as a country with a strong economy and a successful national football team. His students – around 70 percent of whom are women – are very well informed and have an excellent command of the German language. “They are closely following the current debate on refugees. The situation of foreigners in Germany is very close to their hearts,” he adds.
“Like a European country”
One of the things Dr Mayanja most appreciates about the University of Nairobi is the fact that it is so well equipped: “Kenya has strong and functioning infrastructure. We have almost everything we need, and this makes our work much easier.” Almost all students have online access to academic materials and have the opportunity to use laptops during lectures and seminars. In Mayanja’s experience, however, university staff and students have very little contact with the local population. “For me, Nairobi is rather like a European city. I live in an apartment building on the outskirts together with my wife and son. It’s a nice part of town, and there’s even a small swimming pool. While we don’t have much contact with our direct neighbours, we do have quite a large network of friends outside our district. In some ways, it reminds me of what life was like in Hannover.”
Fear of terrorist attacks such as the one carried out by the Al-Shabaab militant group at Westgate Shopping Mall in September 2013 has noticeably changed campus life. “Security at the university is very high, with bag checks at the main entrance and at the doors of each lecture hall,” says Mayanja. “It is also important to be vigilant when taking trips to the coast. But we have learned to live with the situation as it is.”
Many of Dr Mayanja’s students are studying German in combination with Chinese, Korean or International Relations. “Their goal is to improve their chances of being employed by a German organisation with international operations.” Further potential employers include German companies in Kenya and the catering and tourism industries. Teaching German has also become a genuine option. Mayanja is pleased that the third major conference of the Ostafrikanischer Germanistenverband (East African association of German scholars) will be held in Nairobi in late 2017. Of one thing he is sure: “The future is bright for German studies in East Africa.”