In This Review

Blood and Diamonds: Germany’s Imperial Ambitions in Africa
Blood and Diamonds: Germany’s Imperial Ambitions in Africa
By Steven Press
Harvard University Press, 2021, 352 pp

Press has written an excellent history of Germany’s colony German South West Africa, a place that eventually gained independence as the country of Namibia in 1990. The book looks at the story through the prism of diamonds, the colony’s main source of revenue and exports. This is a smart choice, as it allows Press to range widely, from the day-to-day activities in the diamond fields, to business intrigue in Berlin, to the shady politics of the international diamond trade in Antwerp, Johannesburg, and London. German South West Africa was founded in the 1880s to further the imperial ambitions of German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, and Press’s account shows that the colony well deserved its reputation for brutal violence. His careful economic history makes clear the importance of diamonds to the survival of the colony and to Germany’s economic reach at the time, as South West African diamonds came to dominate the huge retail market for gems in the United States. As in almost every colony, this natural resource wealth mostly benefited the imperial rulers back home, especially a small number of German banks and businessmen. The colony’s infrastructure remained rudimentary, most of the small German settler population lived in poverty, and the indigenous African labor force toiled to mine alluvial diamonds under horrendous conditions.