German East Africa

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German East Africa
Deutsch-Ostafrika (German)
Service flag of the Colonial Office
Wappen Deutsches Reich - Reichsadler 1889.svg
Coat of arms of the German Empire
German East Africa 1914.svg
Green: German East Africa
Dark gray: Other German possessions
Darkest gray: German Empire (1911 borders)
StatusColony of Germany
Capital Bagamoyo (1885–1890)
Dar es Salaam (1890–1916)
Tabora (1916, temporary) [1]
Common languages German (official)
Swahili, Arabic, Kirundi, Kinyarwanda, Maa, Kisukuma, Iraqw, Chaga languages
Islam, traditional African religion, Christianity (Catholic Church and Lutheranism)
Wilhelm I
Frederick III
Wilhelm II
 1885–1891 (first)
Carl Peters
 1912–1918 (last)
Heinrich Schnee
Historical era New Imperialism
 Established by the DOAG
27 February 1885
1 July 1890
21 October 1905
3 August 1914
25 November 1918
28 June 1919
1912995,000 km2 (384,000 sq mi)
Currency German East African rupie
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Flag of the German East Africa Company.svg German East Africa Company
Flag of the Sultanate of Zanzibar.svg Zanzibar
Blank.png Rwanda
Blank.png Burundi
Tanganyika Flag of Tanganyika (1923-1961).svg
Kenya Flag of Kenya (1921-1963).svg
Ruanda-Urundi Flag of Belgium (civil).svg
Mozambique Flag of Portugal.svg

German East Africa (GEA; German : Deutsch-Ostafrika) was a German colony in the African Great Lakes region, which included present-day Burundi, Rwanda, the Tanzania mainland, and the Kionga Triangle, a small region later incorporated into Mozambique. GEA's area was 994,996 km2 (384,170 sq mi), [2] [3] which was nearly three times the area of present-day Germany and almost double the area of metropolitan Germany at the time.


The colony was organised when the German military was asked in the late 1880s to put down a revolt against the activities of the German East Africa Company. It ended with Imperial Germany's defeat in World War I. Ultimately the territory was divided amongst Britain, Belgium and Portugal, and was reorganised as a mandate of the League of Nations.


Like other colonial powers the Germans expanded their empire in the Africa Great Lakes region, ostensibly to fight slavery and the slave trade. Unlike other imperial powers, however they never formally abolished either slavery or the slave trade and preferred instead to curtail the production of new "recruits", regulating the existing business of slavery. [4] [ page needed ]

The colony began when Carl Peters, an adventurer and the founder of the Society for German Colonization, signed treaties with several native chieftains on the mainland which is opposite Zanzibar. On 3 March 1885, the German government announced that it had granted an imperial charter, which was signed by Chancellor Otto von Bismarck on 27 February 1885. The charter was granted to Peters' company and was intended to establish a protectorate in the African Great Lakes region. Peters then recruited specialists who began exploring south to the Rufiji River and north to Witu, near Lamu on the coast. [5] [ page needed ] [6] [ page needed ] [7] [ page needed ]

The Sultan of Zanzibar protested and claimed that he was the ruler of both Zanzibar and the mainland. Chancellor Bismarck sent five warships which arrived on 7 August 1885, training their guns on the Sultan's palace. The Sultan was forced to accept the German claims on the mainland outside a 10-mile-strip along the coast. In November 1886 Germany and Britain reached an agreement declaring they would respect the sovereignty of the Sultan of Zanzibar over his islands and the 10-mile-strip along the coast. They otherwise agreed on their spheres of interest along what is now the Tanzanian–Kenyan border. [8] The British and Germans agreed to divide the mainland between themselves, and the Sultan had no option but to agree. [9] [ page needed ]

Askari soldiers under German command in 1896 Eckenbrecher Tropische Landschaft in Deutsch-Ostafrika.jpg
Askari soldiers under German command in 1896

German rule was established quickly over Bagamoyo, Dar es Salaam, and Kilwa. Oscar Baumann was sent to explore Masailand and Urundi. During his expedition he discovered the source of the Kagera river, the Alexandra Nile. The caravans of Tom von Prince, Wilhelm Langheld, Emin Pasha, and Charles Stokes were sent to dominate "the Street of Caravans".[ citation needed ] The Abushiri Revolt of 1888 was put down with British help the following year. In 1890, London and Berlin concluded the Heligoland–Zanzibar Treaty, which gave Heligoland to Germany and decided the border between GEA and the East Africa Protectorate controlled by Britain, although the exact boundaries remained unsurveyed until 1910. [10] [11] [ page needed ]

The stretch of border between Kenya and Tanganyika, running from the sea to Lake Victoria, was surveyed by two British brothers: Charles Stewart Smith (British Consul at Mombasa) and his younger brother George Edward Smith (an officer and later a general with the Royal Engineers). Stewart Smith had been appointed British Commissioner in 1892 for the delimitation of the Anglo-German Boundary in Africa, and in the same year they both surveyed the 180-mile line from the sea to Mount Kilimanjaro. Twelve years later George Edward Smith returned to complete the survey of the remaining 300 miles from Kilimanjaro to Lake Victoria. [12]

Between 1891 and 1894, the Hehe people which were led by Chief Mkwawa resisted German expansion. They were defeated because rival tribes supported the Germans. After years of guerrilla warfare, Mkwawa was cornered and committed suicide in 1898. [13]

The Maji Maji Rebellion occurred in 1905 [14] and was put down by Governor Gustav Adolf von Götzen, who ordered measures to create a famine to crush the resistance. It may have cost as many 300,000 lives. [15] [16] Scandal followed with allegations of corruption and brutality. In 1907, Chancellor Bernhard von Bülow appointed Bernhard Dernburg to reform the colonial administration. [17] [18]

Fort Bagamoyo, c. 1891 Fort von Bagamono.jpg
Fort Bagamoyo, c.1891

German colonial administrators relied heavily on native chiefs to keep order and collect taxes. By 1 January 1914, not including local police, the military garrisons of the Schutztruppen (protective troops) in Dar es Salaam, Moshi, Iringa, and Mahenge numbered 110 German officers (including 42 medical officers), 126 non-commissioned officers, and 2,472 Askari (native enlisted men). [19] :32

Economic development

1 rupee, German East Africa, 1902. Silver 917. German East Africa, 1 rupee, 1902.jpg
1 rupee, German East Africa, 1902. Silver 917.

Germans promoted commerce and economic growth. Over 100,000 acres (40,000 ha) were put under sisal cultivation which was the largest cash crop. [20] Two million coffee trees were planted, rubber trees grew on 200,000 acres (81,000 ha), and there were large cotton plantations. [21]

Beginning in 1888 the Usambara Railway was built from Tanga to Moshi to bring these agricultural products to market. The Central Railroad covered 775 mi (1,247 km) and linked Dar es Salaam, Morogoro, Tabora, and Kigoma. The final link to the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika was completed in July 1914 and was cause for a huge and festive celebration in the capital with an agricultural fair and trade exhibition. Harbor facilities were built or improved with electrical cranes, with rail access and warehouses. Wharves were remodeled at Tanga, Bagamoyo, and Lindi. After 1891, the German colonial administration undertook efforts to overhaul the region's caravan routes, which had existed before European colonisation, into all-weather highways, although most of these projects proved to be unsuccessful and ended in failure. [22]

In 1912, Dar es Salaam and Tanga received 356 freighters and passenger steamers and over 1,000 coastal ships and local trading-vessels. [19] :30 Dar es Salaam became the showcase city of all of tropical Africa. [23] :22 By 1914, Dar es Salaam and the surrounding province had a population of 166,000, among them 1,000 (0.6%) Germans. In all of the GEA, there were 3,579 Germans. [19] :155

Gold mining in Tanzania in modern times dates back to the German colonial period, beginning with gold discoveries near Lake Victoria in 1894. The Kironda-Goldminen-Gesellschaft established one of the first gold mines in the colony, the Sekenke Gold Mine, which began operation in 1909 after the finding of gold there in 1907. [24]


Germany developed an educational program for Africans that included elementary, secondary, and vocational schools.[ citation needed ] "Instructor qualifications, curricula, textbooks, teaching materials, all met standards unmatched anywhere in tropical Africa." [23] :21 In 1924, ten years after the beginning of the First World War and six years into British rule, the visiting American Phelps-Stokes Commission reported, "In regards to schools, the Germans have accomplished marvels. Some time must elapse before education attains the standard it had reached under the Germans." [23] :21

The Swahili word for school, shule, is derived from the German word Schule. [25]

Population on the eve of World War I

In the most populous colony of the German Empire, there were more than 7.5 million locals. About 30% were Muslim and the remainder belonged to various tribal beliefs or Christian converts, compared to around 10,000 Europeans, who resided mainly in coastal locations and official residences. In 1913, only 882 German farmers and planters lived in the colony. Approximately 70,000 Africans worked on the plantations of GEA. [26]

World War I

A World War I memorial in Iringa, Tanzania German WW1 Memorial in Iringa.jpg
A World War I memorial in Iringa, Tanzania

General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck had served in German South West Africa and Kamerun. He led the German forces in GEA during World War I. His military force consisted of 3,500 Europeans and 12,000 native Askaris and porters. The war strategy was to harry the British army of 40,000, which was at times commanded by the former Second Boer War commander Jan Smuts. One of Lettow-Vorbeck's greatest victories was at the Battle of Tanga (3–5 November 1914). In the battle, the German forces defeated a British force, which was more than eight times larger. [27]

Lettow-Vorbeck's guerrilla warfare compelled Britain to commit significant resources to a minor colonial theatre throughout the war and inflicted more than 10,000 casualties. Eventually, the weight of numbers, especially after forces coming from the Belgian Congo had attacked from the west (Battle of Tabora), and dwindling supplies forced Lettow-Vorbeck to abandon the colony. He withdrew south into Portuguese Mozambique and then into Northern Rhodesia, where he agreed to a ceasefire after he had received news of the armistice between the warring nations three days earlier. [28]

GEA-49-Deutsch Ostafrikanische Bank-200 Rupien (1915).jpg
A 200 German East African rupie provisional banknote issued in Dar es Salaam in 1915–17

Currency had to be printed locally due to a significant lack of provisions resulting from the naval blockade.

After the war, Lettow-Vorbeck was acclaimed as one of Germany's heroes. His Schutztruppe was celebrated as the only colonial German force during World War I that was not defeated in open combat, but it often retreated when it was outnumbered. The Askari colonial troops who had fought in the East African campaign were later given pension payments by the Weimar Republic and West Germany. [29]

The SMS Königsberg, a German light cruiser, also fought off the coast of the African Great Lakes region. She was eventually scuttled in the Rufiji delta in July 1915 after running low on coal and spare parts and was subsequently blockaded and bombarded by the British. The surviving crew stripped out the remaining ship's guns, mounted them on gun carriages, and joined the land forces, which added considerably to their effectiveness. [30]

The Portuguese were flanked by the Germans, while encamped at Ngomano on 25 November 1917. Der Durchbruch der Schutztruppe Deutsch-Ostafrika uber den Rowuma MItte November 1917. Darstellung von Carl Arriens.jpg
The Portuguese were flanked by the Germans, while encamped at Ngomano on 25 November 1917.

Another smaller campaign was conducted on the shores of southern Lake Tanganyika in 1914 and 1915. It involved a makeshift British and Belgian flotilla and the Reichsheer garrison at Bismarckburg (modern-day Kasanga).[ citation needed ]

Break-up of the colony

The Supreme Council of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference awarded all of German East Africa (GEA) to Britain on 7 May 1919, over the strenuous objections of Belgium. [31] :240 The British colonial secretary, Alfred Milner, and Belgium's minister plenipotentiary to the conference, Pierre Orts  [ fr ], then negotiated the Anglo-Belgian agreement of 30 May 1919 [32] :618–9 where Britain ceded the north-western GEA districts of Ruanda and Urundi to Belgium. [31] :246 The conference's Commission on Mandates ratified this agreement on 16 July 1919. [31] :246–7 The Supreme Council accepted the agreement on 7 August 1919. [32] :612–3

On 12 July 1919, the Commission on Mandates agreed that the small Kionga Triangle south of the Rovuma River would be given to Portugal; [31] :243 it eventually became part of independent Mozambique. The commission reasoned that Germany had virtually forced Portugal to cede the triangle in 1894. [31] :243

The Treaty of Versailles was signed on 28 June 1919, although the treaty did not take effect until 10 January 1920. On that date, the GEA was transferred officially to Britain, Belgium, and Portugal. Also on the same day, "Tanganyika" became the name of the British territory.

German placenames

Some names in German East Africa continued to bear German spellings of the local names for a while, such as "Udjidji" for Ujiji and "Kilimandscharo" for Mount Kilimanjaro, "Kleinaruscha" for Arusha-Chini and "Neu-Moschi" for the city now known as Moshi. (Kigoma was known for a time as "Rutschugi".) [33]

Many places were given African names or had their previous names reestablished: [34] [35] [36] [37]

List of governors

The Imperial High Commissioners (German : Reichskommissar) and Imperial Governors (German : Kaiserlicher Gouverneur) of German East Africa: [38]

Reichskommissar (1885/88-1891)

Imperial Governors (1891-1918)


Planned symbols for German East Africa

In 1914, a series of drafts were made for proposed Coat of Arms and Flags for the German Colonies. However World War I broke out before the designs were finished and implemented and the symbols were never actually used. Following its defeat in the war, Germany lost all its colonies and the prepared coat of arms and flags as a result were never used.[ citation needed ]

See also

Related Research Articles

The modern-day African Great Lakes state of Tanzania dates formally from 1964, when it was formed out of the union of the much larger mainland territory of Tanganyika and the coastal archipelago of Zanzibar. The former was a colony and part of German East Africa from the 1880s to 1919 when, under the League of Nations, it became a British mandate. It served as a British military outpost during World War II, providing financial help, munitions, and soldiers. In 1947, Tanganyika became a United Nations Trust Territory under British administration, a status it kept until its independence in 1961. The island of Zanzibar thrived as a trading hub, successively controlled by the Portuguese, the Sultanate of Oman, and then as a British protectorate by the end of the nineteenth century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck</span> German army officer

Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck, popularly known as the Lion of Africa, was a general in the Imperial German Army and the commander of its forces in the German East Africa campaign. For four years, with a force of about 14,000, he held in check a much larger force of 300,000 British, Indian, Belgian, and Portuguese troops. He is known for never being defeated or captured in battle.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Carl Peters</span> German explorer and colonial administrator (1856–1918)

Carl Peters was a German explorer and colonial administrator. He was a major promoter of the establishment of the German colony of East Africa and one of the founders of the German East Africa Company. He was a controversial figure in Germany for his views and his brutal treatment of native Africans, which ultimately led to his discharge as Reichskommissar in 1891.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Battle of Tanga</span> 1914 battle of the German East African campaign at the African theatre of WW I

The Battle of Tanga, sometimes also known as the Battle of the Bees, was the unsuccessful attack by the British Indian Expeditionary Force "B" under Major General A. E. Aitken to capture German East Africa during the First World War in concert with the invasion Force "C" near Longido on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. It was the first major event of the war in Eastern Africa and saw the British defeated by a significantly smaller force of German Askaris and colonial volunteers under Lieutenant Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck. It was the beginning of the East African Campaign of World War I, and is considered one of the greatest victories of the Schutztruppe in Africa. The British retreat enabled the Schutztruppe to salvage modern equipment, medical supplies, tents, blankets, food and a number of Maxim machine guns which allowed them to successfully resist the allies for the rest of the war.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Maji Maji Rebellion</span> Uprising in the south and east of German East Africa, 1905–1907

The Maji Maji Rebellion, was an armed rebellion of Muslim and animist Africans against German colonial rule in German East Africa. The war was triggered by German colonial policies designed to force the indigenous population to grow cotton for export. The war lasted from 1905 to 1907, during which 75,000 to 300,000 died, overwhelmingly from famine.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Society for German Colonization</span>

The Society for German Colonization was founded on 28 March 1884 in Berlin by Carl Peters. Its goal was to accumulate capital for the acquisition of German colonial territories in overseas countries.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Battle of Kilimanjaro</span>

The Battle of Kilimanjaro at Longido took place in German East Africa in November 1914 and was an early skirmish during the East African Campaign of the First World War.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gustav Adolf von Götzen</span>

Gustav Adolf Graf von Götzen was a German explorer, colonial administrator, and military officer who served as Reichskommissar of German East Africa. He came to Rwanda in 1894 becoming the second European to enter the territory, since Oscar Baumann’s brief expedition in 1892, and later, he became the first European to cross the entire territory of Rwanda.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">African theatre of World War I</span> Theatre of operations during World War I

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">East African campaign (World War I)</span> Series of battles in East Africa during World War I

The East African campaign in World War I was a series of battles and guerrilla actions, which started in German East Africa (GEA) and spread to portions of Mozambique, Rhodesia, British East Africa, the Uganda, and the Belgian Congo. The campaign all but ended in German East Africa in November 1917 when the Germans entered Mozambique and continued the campaign living off Portuguese supplies.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Richard Hindorf</span>

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Albrecht von Rechenberg</span>

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Germany–Tanzania relations</span> Bilateral relations

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Further reading

02°24′47″S30°32′37″E / 2.41306°S 30.54361°E / -2.41306; 30.54361