German East Africa

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German East Africa
German colony
Flag (proposed)
Green: Territory comprising German colony of German East Africa
Dark grey: Other German possessions
Darkest grey: German Empire
Note: The map shows present-day national borders, but the maximum historical extent of German territory is depicted.
Capital Bagamoyo (1885–90)
Dar es Salaam (1890–1918)
Languages German (official)
Swahili, Kirundi, Kinyarwanda, Maa, Iraqw, Chaga languages
Religion Islam, traditional African religion, Christianity (Catholic and Lutheran)
Political structure Colony
 •  1871–1888 Wilhelm I
 •  1888–1888 Frederick III
 •  1888–1918 Wilhelm II
 •  1895–96 (first) Hermann Wissmann
 •  1912–18 (last) Heinrich Schnee
Historical era New Imperialism
 •  Established by the German East Africa Company 27 February 1885
 •  Border agreement under the Heligoland–Zanzibar Treaty 1 July 1890
 •  Maji Maji Rebellion 21 October 1905
 •  Surrender to Britain 25 November 1918
 •  Formally disestablished under the Treaty of Versailles 10 January 1920 1919
 •  1913 995,000 km2 (384,000 sq mi)
 •  1913 est. 7,700,000 
     Density 8/km2 (20/sq mi)
Currency German East African rupie
Preceded by
Succeeded by
German East Africa Company
Sultanate of Zanzibar
Kingdom of Rwanda
Kingdom of Burundi
Tanganyika (territory)
Kenya Colony
Portuguese East Africa
Today part of  Burundi

German East Africa (German: Deutsch-Ostafrika) (GEA) was a German colony in the African Great Lakes region, which included what are now Burundi, Rwanda, and the mainland part of present day Tanzania (formerly known as Tanganyika). GEA's area was 994,996 square kilometres (384,170 sq mi),[1][2] which was nearly three times the area of present-day Germany.

The colony was organized 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, GEA was divided between Britain and Belgium and was reorganized 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, preferring instead to curtail the production of new "recruits" and regulate the extant slaving business.[3]

The colony began when Carl Peters, an adventurer who founded the Society for German Colonization, signed treaties with several native chieftains on the mainland 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, to Peters' company and intended to establish a protectorate in the Africa Great Lakes region. Peters then recruited specialists who began exploring south to the Rufiji River and north to Witu, near Lamu on the coast.

The Sultan of Zanzibar protested, claiming that he was the ruler of both Zanzibar and the mainland. Chancellor Bismarck then sent five warships, which arrived on 7 August 1885 and trained their guns on the Sultan's palace. The British and Germans agreed to divide the mainland between themselves, and the Sultan had no option but to agree.[citation needed]

Askari soldiers under German command, 1896

German rule was established quickly over Bagamoyo, Dar es Salaam, and Kilwa. The caravans of Tom von Prince, Wilhelm Langheld, Emin Pasha, and Charles Stokes were sent to dominate "the Street of Caravans". 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 returned 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.

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

The Maji Maji Rebellion occurred in 1905 and was put down by the governor, Count Gustav Adolf von Götzen. But scandal soon followed, with stories of corruption and brutality. In 1907, Chancellor Bernhard von Bülow appointed Bernhard Dernburg to reform the colonial administration. It became a model of colonial efficiency and commanded extraordinary loyalty among the natives during the World War I.[citation needed]

Fort Bagamoyo, c. 1891

German colonial administrators relied heavily on native chiefs to keep order and collect taxes. By 1 January 1914, aside from local police, the military garrisons of the Schutztruppen (protective troops) at 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).[4]

General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, who had served in German South West Africa and German Kamerun, led the German military in GEA during World War I.

Economic development

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

To bring these agricultural products to market, beginning in 1888, the Usambara Railway was built[by whom?] from Tanga to Moshi. The Central Railroad covered 775 miles (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. In 1912, Dar es Salaam and Tanga received 356 freighters and passenger steamers and over 1,000 coastal ships and local trading-vessels.[5] Dar es Salaam became the showcase city of all of tropical Africa.[6] By 1914, Dar es Salaam and the surrounding province had a population of 166,000, among them 1,000 Germans. In all of the GEA, there were 3,579 Germans.[7]

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.[8]

Despite all these efforts, GEA never achieved a profit for the German Empire and needed subsidies from the Berlin treasury.[citation needed]


Germany developed an educational program for Africans that included elementary, secondary, and vocational schools.[who?] "Instructor qualifications, curricula, textbooks, teaching materials, all met standards unmatched anywhere in tropical Africa."[9] 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."[9]

The Swahili word "shule" means school and has been borrowed from the German word "schule".[citation needed]

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 compared to 5,000 Europeans, who resided mainly in coastal locations and official residences. In 1913, only 882 German farmers and planters lived in the colony. About 70,000 Africans worked on the plantations of GEA.[10]

World War I

WW1 Memorial in Iringa, Tanzania.

The story of GEA during World War I is essentially the history of the colony's military commander, General Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck. A vibrant officer, he spent the war harrying the forces of the British Empire, tying down with his band of 3,500 Europeans and 12,000 native Askaris and porters a British/Imperial army of 40,000, which was at times commanded by the former Second Boer War commander Jan Smuts. One of his greatest victories was at the Battle of Tanga (3–5 November 1914), where von Lettow-Vorbeck defeated a British force more than eight times the size of his own.

Lettow-Vorbeck's guerilla campaign compelled Britain to commit significant resources to a minor colonial theatre throughout the war and inflicted upwards of 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, then into Northern Rhodesia where he agreed to a ceasefire three days after the end of the war after receiving news of the armistice between the warring nations.[citation needed]

A 200 German East African rupie provisional banknote issued in Dar es Salaam from 1915–17. Currency had to be printed locally due to a significant lack of provisions resulting from the naval blockade.
A 200 German East African rupie provisional banknote issued in Dar es Salaam from 1915–17. Currency had to be printed locally due to a significant lack of provisions resulting from the naval blockade.

Lettow-Vorbeck was acclaimed after the war 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, although they often retreated when outnumbered. The Askari colonial troops that had fought in the East African campaign were later given pension payments by the Weimar Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany).[citation needed]

The German light cruiser SMS Königsberg 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 Brittish. The surviving crew stripped out the remaining ship's guns and mounted them on gun carriages, before joining the land forces, adding considerably to their effectiveness.[citation needed]

The Portuguese were flanked by the Germans, while encamped at Ngomano on 25 November 1917

Another and smaller campaign was conducted on the shores of southern Lake Tanganyika over 1914–15. This 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.[11]:240 The British colonial secretary, Alfred Milner, and Belgium's minister plenipotentiary to the conference, Pierre Orts, then negotiated the Anglo-Belgian agreement of 30 May 1919[12]:618-9 where Britain ceded the north-western GEA provinces of Ruanda and Urundi to Belgium.[11]:246 The conference's Commission on Mandates ratified this agreement on 16 July 1919.[11]:246–7 The Supreme Council accepted the agreement on 7 August 1919.[12]: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,[11]:243 with it eventually becoming part of independent Mozambique. The commission reasoned that Germany had virtually forced Portugal to cede the triangle in 1894.[11]:243

The Treaty of Versailles was signed on 28 July 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 that date, "Tanganyika" became the name of the British territory.

German placenames

Most place names in German East Africa continued to bear German spellings of the local names, such as Udjidji for Ujiji and Kilimandscharo for Mount Kilimanjaro. (Kigoma was known for a time as Rutschugi.) The few exceptions to the rule included

as well as German translations of some local phrases, such as Kleinaruscha for Arusha-Chini and Neu-Moschi for the city now known as Moshi. Lake Eyasi was known as the "Hohenlohe Sea", and the mission town of Sankt-Michael (St. Michael) near Kahama was formerly more important.



See also


  1. ^ V. T. Harlow and E. M. Chilver, ed., History of East Africa, Vol. II (1965)
  2. ^ J. Bridgman and D. E. Clarke, German Africa: A Selected Annotated Bibliography (1965)
  3. ^ Deutsch 2006
  4. ^ Haupt, Deutschlands Schutzgebiete in Übersee 1884–1918, p. 32
  5. ^ Haupt, p. 30
  6. ^ Miller, Battle for the Bundu, p. 22
  7. ^ Haupt, p. 155
  8. ^ Tanzania Mining History, retrieved 24 July 2010
  9. ^ a b Miller, p. 21.
  10. ^ Längin, Bernd G. (2005). Die deutschen Kolonien. Mittler. p. 217. ISBN 3-8132-0854-0. 
  11. ^ a b c d e Louis, William Roger (2006). Ends of British Imperialism: The Scramble for Empire, Suez, and Decolonization. I.B. Tauris. ISBN 978-1-84511347-6. Retrieved 19 September 2017. 
  12. ^ a b "Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, the Paris Peace Conference, 1919". United States Department of State. Retrieved 19 September 2017. 


Proposed flag for German East Africa
  • Bullock, A. L. C., Germany's Colonial Demands, Oxford University Press, 1939.
  • Deutsch, Jan-George, Emancipation without Abolition in German East Africa, c. 1884–1914, published by James Currey, Oxford, 2006, ISBN 978-0-852-55986-4
  • "Deutsch-Ostafrika". Deutsches Kolonial-Lexikon (in German). 1920 – via Universitätsbibliothek Frankfurt. 
  • East, John William. "The German Administration in East Africa: A Select Annotated Bibliography of the German Colonial Administration in Tanganyika, Rwanda and Burundi from 1884 to 1918." 294 leaves. Thesis submitted for the fellowship of the Library Association, London, November 1987."
  • Farwell, Byron. The Great War in Africa, 1914–1918. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. 1989. ISBN 0-393-30564-3
  • Hahn, Sievers. Afrika. 2nd Edition. Leipzig: Bibliographisches Institut. 1903.
  • Haupt, Werner. Deutschlands Schutzgebiete in Übersee 1884–1918 (Germany’s Overseas Protectorates 1884–1918). Friedberg: Podzun-Pallas Verlag. 1984. ISBN 3-7909-0204-7
  • Miller, Charles. Battle for the Bundu, The First World War in East Africa. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc. 1974. ISBN 0-02-584930-1
  • Schnee, Dr. Heinrich (Deputy Governor of German Samoa and last Governor of German East Africa), German Colonization, Past and Future – The Truth about the German Colonies, George Allen & Unwin, London, 1926.

External links

  • The coins and bank notes of German East Africa
  • Wikified article on German East Africa based on the 1911 edition of Encyclopædia Britannica
  • Wikisource-logo.svg "German East Africa". Encyclopedia Americana. 1920. 
  • Wikisource-logo.svg Beach, Chandler B., ed. (1914). "German East Africa". The New Student's Reference Work. Chicago: F. E. Compton and Co. 

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