German East Africa – History, Economy, Colony, Governors and More

German East Africa – History, Economy, Colony, Governors and More

German East Africa (GEA) was a German colony (known as Deutsch-Ostafrika in Germany) in the Great Lakes of Africa area that encompassed present-day Rwanda, Burundi, Mainland Tanzania, as well as the Kionga Triangle, a tiny enclave later integrated into Mozambique. The German East Africa covered 994,996 sq. kilometers (384,170 square miles), approximately three times the size of modern-day Germany and twice the size of metropolitan Germany at the time.

The colony was formed when the German military was ordered to put down a mutiny against the German East Africa Company‘s activities in the late 1880s. Imperial Germany’s loss in World War I brought it to an end. German East Africa was eventually partitioned between Portugal, Britain, and Belgium, and was reorganized as a League of Nations mission.

History of German East Africa

The Germans, like the rest of the colonial powers, established their empire in the Great Lakes area of Africa, ostensibly to combat the slave trade and slavery. Unlike other imperial superpowers, they did not formally outlaw slavery, choosing instead to limit the supply of new “recruits” and manage the existing slave trade.

Carl Peters, the founder of the Society for German Colonization, established the colony by signing contracts with various local chieftains on the mainland of Tanzania opposite Zanzibar. The German government stated on March 3, 1885, that an imperial charter had been given, which had been signed by Chancellor Otto von Bismarck on February 27, 1885. Peters’ firm was given the charter, which was purposed to form a protectorate in the Great Lakes area of Africa. Peters then enlisted the help of experts, who set out to explore the area south of the River Rufiji and north of Witu, close to Lamu.

German Askaris - 1896
German Askaris – 1896

The Sultan of Zanzibar objected, claiming to be monarch of both the island and the mainland. The Sultan’s residence was then targeted by Chancellor Bismarck, who dispatched five warships on August 7, 1885. The Sultan had little choice but to acquiesce when the Germans and British decided to partition the mainland amongst themselves.

German dominance over Dar es Salaam, Bagamoyo, and Kilwa was swiftly established. Tom von Prince, Emin Pasha, Wilhelm Langheld, and Charles Stokes’ caravans were dispatched to control “the Street of Caravans.”  The 1888 Abushiri Revolt was thwarted 1889 with British assistance. The Heligoland Zanzibar Treaty, signed in 1890 by Berlin and London, restored Heligoland to the Germans and established the boundary between the British-controlled East Africa Protectorate and German East Africa, but the exact limits were not inspected until 1910.

Two British brothers, Charles Smith Stewart, a British Consul in Mombasa, and George Smith Edward, an officer and a Royal Engineers general, surveyed the section of Kenya-Tanzania boundary that runs from the ocean to Lake Victoria. Stewart Smith was appointed British Commissioner for the delimitation of the Anglo-German Boundary in 1892, and the two surveyed the 180-mile stretch from the coast to Mount Kilimanjaro in the same year. George Edward Smith came back twelve years later to finish the survey of the final 300 mi between Kilimanjaro and Lake Victoria.

The Hehe tribe, commanded by Chief Mkwawa, fought German encroachment between 1891 to 1894. Because opposing tribes backed the Germans, they were vanquished. Mkwawa was trapped and killed himself in 1898 following years of guerilla struggle.

The Maji Maji Rebellion took place in 1905, it was vanquished by Governor Gustav von Götzen, by ordering a famine in an attempt to quell the rebellion; it is estimated that around 300,000 people died as a result of the starvation. However, scandal quickly followed, with charges of brutality and corruption. Bernhard Dernburg was chosen by Chancellor Bernhard von Bülow to modernize the colonial government in 1907.

German colonial officials depended largely on native leaders to ensure peace and in the collection of taxes. Apart from native police, the Schutztruppen (protection forces) in Dar es Salaam, Irisha, mahenge, and Moshi had 110 German officers (inclusive of 42 medical officers), 2,476 Askaris, and 126 non-commissioned officers by January 1, 1914.

Development of the Economy in German East Africa

German East Africa fostered trade and economic development. The main cash crop was sisal, which was planted on almost 100,000 acres (40,000 hectares). There were two million coffee trees planted, 200,000 acres (81,000 hectares) of rubber trees, and vast cotton farms.

Fort Bagamoyo in year 1891
Fort Bagamoyo in year 1891

Starting in 1888, the Usambara Railway was constructed from Tanga towards Moshi to transport these agricultural products to their markets. Dar es Salaam, Kigoma, Tabora, and Morogoro were all connected by the Central Railroad, which ran for 1247km (775 miles). The last link to Lake Tanganyika‘s eastern shore was finished in July 1914, prompting a big and joyous celebration in the city, which included a trade exhibition and an agricultural fair. Electrical cranes, warehouses, and rail access were used to construct or upgrade harbor infrastructure. Tanga, Lindi, and Bagamoyo all had their wharves renovated. Tanga and Dar es Salaam both got 356 passenger steamers and freighters, as well as moreover 1,000 local commercial boats and coastal ships in 1912. Dar es Salaam rose to prominence as the showpiece city of tropical Africa. Dar es Salaam and the neighboring provinces had a population size of 166,000 people by 1914, including 1,000 Germans. There were 3,579 Germans in the entire German East Africa.

In contemporary times, mining of gold in Tanzania dates back to the colonial period of the Germans, with gold discoveries in 1894 close to Lake Victoria. The Sekenke Gold Mine, founded by the Kironda-Goldminen-Gesellschaft in 1909 following the discovery of gold in the area in 1907, was one of the colony’s early gold mines.

Education in German East Africa

For Africans, Germany created an educational program that encompassed elementary, secondary, as well as vocational institutions. “Instructor credentials, curricula, texts, and teaching materials all reached the highest standards in tropical Africa.” Phelps-Stokes Commission, a visiting America concluded in 1924, 10 years after the start of the First World War and 6 years after British administration, that “In terms of education, the Germans have done wonders. Before education reaches the levels, it had under the Germans, some time had to pass.”

The Swahili term shule, which is derived from the German word Schule, signifies school.

Population in the German East Africa Pre-World War I

Over 7.5 million people lived in the German Empire’s most populated colony, with roughly 30% of the population being Muslim and the rest subscribing to different tribal religions or Christian converts, in comparison to about 10,000 Europeans who mostly lived in coastal areas and official homes. In 1913, the colony had just 882 German planters and farmers. German East Africa employed over 70,000 Africans on its plantations.

World War I in German East Africa

A memorial of World War in Iringa
A memorial of World War in Iringa

During  WW I, General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, who had previously served in Kamerun and German southwest Africa, headed the German forces in German East Africa. His army included 3,500 Europeans as well as 12,000 porters and native Askaris. Their military plan was to pursue the 40,000-strong British/Imperial force, which was led by previous Second Boer War leader Jan Smuts at times. The Battle of Tanga (November 3rd to 4th 1914), where German forces destroyed a British force over eight times greater, was one of Lettow-most Vorbeck’s significant successes.

Guerrilla tactics employed by Lettow- Vorbeck forced Britain to devote enormous resources to a tiny colonial theater throughout the war, resulting in almost 10,000 deaths. Lettow-Vorbeck was obliged to quit the colony due to the weight of people, especially after soldiers from the Belgian Congo invaded from the west (Tabora Battle), and depleted supplies. He retreated south entering Portuguese Mozambique, before moving north to Northern Rhodesia, where, three days after the war ended, he consented to a truce after learning of the armistice existing between the battling nations.

After the war, Lettow-Vorbeck was hailed as a hero of Germany. His Schutztruppe was credited as being the only colonial German army not losing in open battle throughout WW I, despite the fact that they frequently fled when outmanned. West Germany and the Weimar Republic later paid pensions to Askari colonial soldiers who had participated in the East African conflict.

A German light cruiser, the SMS Königsberg, fought off the African Great Lakes region coast. After running out of coal and spare components, she was destroyed in July 1915 in the Rufiji delta, and the British bombarded and blockaded the ship. Before linking up with the ground troops, the surviving crew removed the remaining ship’s weapons and installed them on gun carriages, greatly increasing their effectiveness.

In 1914– 1915, a smaller effort was performed on the southern coasts of Lake Tanganyika. A temporary Belgian and British flotilla, as well as the Reichsheer garrison situated at Bismarckburg, were involved (present-day Kasanga).

German East Africa Disintegration

The Portuguese got ambushed by Germans, when they were camping at Ngomano on the 25th of November year 1917
The Portuguese got ambushed by Germans, when they were camping at Ngomano on the 25th of November year 1917

Despite Belgium’s protests, the Supreme Council of the Paris Peace Conference of 1999 gave all of German East Africa to Britain on May 7, 1919. The Anglo-Belgian accord of May 30 1919 was negotiated by the colonial secretary of Britain Alfred Milner and Pierre Orts, the plenipotentiary minister of Belgium, in which Britain gave Belgium the northwestern German East Africa regions of Urundi and Ruanda. On July 16, 1919, the conference’s Commission on Mandates adopted the accord. On August 7, 1919, the Supreme Council approved the accord.

The Commission on Mandates resolved on July 12, 1919, to award Portugal the little Kionga Triangle south of the River Rovuma, with the Kionga Triangle later becoming part of Mozambique after independence. Germany had effectively compelled Portugal to relinquish the triangle in 1894, according to the panel.

The Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, but it did not go into force until January 10, 1920. The German East Africa was officially ceded to the United Kingdom, Portugal, and Belgium on that day. On the same day, the British colony was given the name “Tanganyika.”

German Placenames

For a while, certain names in German East Africa retained German spellings of native names, such as “Udjidji” meaning Ujiji , “Kilimandscharo” referring to Mount Kilimanjaro, “Kleinaruscha” meaning Arusha-Chini, as well as “Neu-Moschi” for Moshi. (Kigoma was once known as “Rutschugi.”)

Many localities have been given African names or have had their original names restored:

  • Kasanga – Wißmannhafen, Bismarckburg port on Lake Tanganyika’s South Eastern Shore
  • Lushoto- Wihelmsdorf or Wilhemstal located to the northeast on the Pangani River
  • Manda- Wiedhafen on Lake Nyasa’s eastern shore
  • Luili- Sphinxhafen on Lake Nyasa’s eastern shore
  • Galula- St. Moritz
  • Sekenke- Sachsenwald gold mine
  • Nansio- Petersweft
  • Mbulu- Neu- Trier
  • Lumbira- Neu-Langenburg
  • Shume-Neu-Hornow to the northeast in the Pare Mountains
  • Mikese- Neu-Bonn
  • Mnazi- Neu-Bethel
  • Ushetu- Marienthal
  • Igulwa- Mariahilf
  • Liganga- Leudorf
  • Tukuyu- Neu-Langenburg and Langenburg
  • Kirondatal- Kirondathak gold mine
  • Kazimzumbwi- Kaiseraue
  • Kisarawe- Hoffnungshoh
  • Mlalo- Hohenfriedeberg
  • Uvinza- Neu-Gottorp or Gottorp near Lake Tanganyika’s North eastern end
  • Nyakanazi- Friedberg
  • Rombo- Fischerstadt
  • Ilembule- Emmaberg
  • Mibirizi- Bergfrieden
  • Ikombe- Alt Langenburg

German East Africa Governors’ List

The following were the governors of German East Africa:

  • Carl Peters- 1885 to 1888
  • Hermann Wissmann – 1888 to 1891
  • Julius von Soden- 1891 to 1893
  • Friedrich von Schele – 1893 to 1895
  • Hermann Wissmann- 1895 to 1896
  • Eduard von Liebert – 1896 to 1901
  • Gustav Adolf von Gotzen – 1901 to 1906
  • Albrecht von Rechenberg – 1906 to 1912
  • Heinrich Schnee- 1912 to 1918

Proposed Symbols for German East Africa

A set of sketches for potential Coats of Arms and Flags for the German Colonies were created in 1914. However, WW I broke out before the designs could be completed and put into action, and the emblems were never used. Following the war’s loss, Germany lost all of her colonies, and the flags and coats of arms that had been made were never used.

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