German East Africa

   Although dwarfed as a settlement colony by German Southwest Africa, German East Africa was the largest and most populous German colony. During the early nineteenth century Arab slavers expanded their activities deeper into the interior of East Africa, thereby attracting the interest of European abolitionists, merchants, explorers, and missionaries. By the 1840s, early European contacts with East Africa had evolved into an informal British protectorate over Zanzibar and its coastal possessions. Formal colonization of the region began in late 1884 as part of the Scramble for Africa when the German explorer and adventurer Carl Peters induced interior chiefs to sign treaties of protection that placed their lands under his control. Although Otto von Bismarck had initially opposed Peters’ activities lest they provoke an unnecessary confrontation with Britain, the German government established a formal protectorate over East Africa in February 1885. Germany’s creation of a protectorate caught Britain by surprise and triggered a race for territory in which British and German agents competed with each other to expand their respective colonial holdings by signing additional treaties with tribes located much further inland. Anglo-German rivalry in East Africa finally ended 1890 with the Heligoland-Zanzibar treaty, which formalized the borders of German East Africa. Although Bismarck had initially hoped to leave the task of administering the new protectorate to Peters and his Deutsch-Ostafrikanische Gesellschaft (German East Africa Company [DOAG]), the combination of DOAG mismanagement, arrogant treatment of the local Muslim population, and increased competition for trade triggered a revolt in 1888 that forced the German government to intervene militarily and eventually assume control of colonial administration three years later. Although the outbreak of additional revolts over the next several years required ongoing military campaigns to pacify the interior, the new administration’s primary task was fostering economic development. To that end, the Germans began an ambitious program of railroad construction, created coffee and rubber tree plantations, and introduced a variety of new crops including cotton, sisal, and sesame. Despite German East Africa’s economic growth, by the turn of the century German relations with the indigenous peoples were again in decline, as a result of a combination of taxes, forced labor, and the arrival of white settlers and Indian immigrants. The situation finally came to a head with the outbreak of the 1905–1907 Maji-Maji revolt, which the Germans suppressed with extreme brutality. Nevertheless, after the outbreak of World War I, German forces composed predominantly of African recruits under the command of Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck retreated into the interior and launched a highly successful guerilla campaign, only surrendering after the war had officially ended. After the war, Germany was stripped of all her colonies and in 1922 the newly created League of Nations split German East Africa into mandates, assigning Tanganyika to Britain and the smaller territories of Rwanda and Burundi to Belgium.
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   FURTHER READING:
    Henderson, W. O. The German Colonial Empire 1884-1919. London: Frank Cass, 1993;
    Iliffe, John. Tanganyika under German Rule, 1905-1912. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969;
    Rudolf von Albertini, ed. European Colonial Rule, 1880-1940. The Impact of the West on India, Southeast Asia, and Africa. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1982;
    Stoecker, Helmuth, ed. German Imperialism in Africa. London: C. Hurst & Company, 1986.
   KENNETH J. OROSZ

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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