German East Africa

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 double the area of metropolitan Germany at the time.

German East Africa
Coat of arms
Green: German East Africa
Dark gray: Other German possessions
Darkest gray: German Empire (1911 borders)
StatusColony of Germany
CapitalBagamoyo (1885–1890)
Dar es Salaam (1890–1916)
Tabora (1916, temporary)[1]
Common languagesGerman (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 eraNew 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)
CurrencyGerman East African rupie
Preceded by
Succeeded by
German East Africa Company

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 GEA was divided between 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]

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][6][7]

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]

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". 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]

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

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.

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.

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.[22]:22 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.[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.[23]


Germany developed an educational program for Africans that included elementary, secondary, and vocational schools. "Instructor qualifications, curricula, textbooks, teaching materials, all met standards unmatched anywhere in tropical Africa."[22]: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."[22]:21

The Swahili word for school, shule, is derived from the German word Schule.[24]

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.[25]

World War I

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 consisted of 3,500 Europeans and 12,000 native Askaris and porters. Their war strategy was to harry the British/Imperial 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 German forces defeated a British force which was more than eight times larger.[26]

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) as well as 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 three days after the end of the war after receiving news of the armistice between the warring nations.[27]

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, 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 West Germany.[28]

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 and mounted them on gun carriages, before joining the land forces which added considerably to their effectiveness.[29]

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. It involved a makeshift British and Belgian flotilla, and the Reichsheer garrison at Bismarckburg (modern-day Kasanga).

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.[30]: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[31]:618–9 where Britain ceded the north-western GEA districts of Ruanda and Urundi to Belgium.[30]:246 The conference's Commission on Mandates ratified this agreement on 16 July 1919.[30]:246–7 The Supreme Council accepted the agreement on 7 August 1919.[31]: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;[30]:243 it eventually became part of independent Mozambique. The commission reasoned that Germany had virtually forced Portugal to cede the triangle in 1894.[30]: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".)[32]

Many places were given African names or had their previous names reestablished:[33][34][35][36]

  • Alt Langenburg (Ikombe)[34]
  • Bergfrieden (Mibirizi)[34]
  • Bismarckburg (Kasanga) on the south-eastern end of Lake Tanganyika[35]:v. I,p. 217[34]
  • Emmaberg (Ilembule)[34]
  • Fischerstadt (Rombo)[34]
  • Friedberg (Nyakanazi)[34]
  • Gottorp or Neu-Gottorp (Uvinza) near the northeastern end of Lake Tanganyika
  • Hohenfriedeberg (Mlalo)[34]
  • Hoffnungshöh (Kisarawe)[34]
  • Kaiseraue (Kazimzumbwi)[34]
  • Kirondathal (Kirondatal) gold mine
  • Langenburg and Neu-Langenburg (Tukuyu) north of Lake Nyasa[34]
  • Leudorf (Liganga)[34]
  • Mariahilf (Igulwa)[34]
  • Marienthal (Ushetu)[34]
  • Neu-Bethel (Mnazi)[34]
  • Neu-Bonn (Mikese)[34]
  • Neu-Hornow (Shume) in the Pare Mountains in the northeast
  • Neu-Langenburg (Lumbira)[34]
  • Neu-Trier (Mbulu)[34]
  • Peterswerft (Nansio)[34]
  • Sachsenwald (Sekenke) gold mine
  • St. Moritz (Galula)[34]
  • Sphinxhafen (Liuli) on the eastern shore of Lake Nyasa
  • Wiedhafen (Manda) on the eastern shore of Lake Nyasa
  • Wilhelmstal or Wilhelmsdorf (Lushoto) on the Pangani River in the northeast
  • Wißmannhafen, port of Bismarckburg (Kasanga) on the southeastern end of Lake Tanganyika

List of governors

The governors of German East Africa:[37]

Administrator (1885-1891)

Reichskommissar (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.

See also


  1. Michael Pesek: Das Ende eines Kolonialreiches. Campus, Frankfurt a. M./New York 2010, ISBN 978-3-593-39184-7, S. 86/90.
  2. Roland Anthony Oliver (1976). Vincent Todd Harlow; Elizabeth Millicent Chilver; Alison Smith (eds.). History of East Africa, Volume 2. Clarendon Press. ISBN 9780198227137.
  3. Jon Bridgman; David E. Clarke (1965). "German Africa: A Selected Annotated Bibliography". Hoover Bibliographical Series. Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace, Stanford University. ISSN 0085-1582. Archived from the original on 14 June 2020. Retrieved 19 January 2018.
  4. Jan-Georg Deutsch (2006). Emancipation without Abolition in German East Africa, C. 1884–1914. James Currey. ISBN 978-0-852-55986-4. Archived from the original on 31 January 2020. Retrieved 19 January 2018.
  5. Arne Perras (2004). Carl Peters and German Imperialism 1856-1918: A Political Biography. Clarendon Press. ISBN 9780199265107. OCLC 252667062. Archived from the original on 31 January 2020. Retrieved 19 January 2018.
  6. Hartmut Pogge von Strandmann (February 1969). "Domestic Origins of Germany's Colonial Expansion under Bismarck". Past & Present (42): 140–159. JSTOR 650184.
  7. Sara Friedrichsmeyer; Sara Lennox; Susanne Zantop (1998). The Imperialist Imagination: German Colonialism and Its Legacy. University of Michigan Press. ISBN 9780472066827. OCLC 39679479. Archived from the original on 21 May 2016. Retrieved 22 January 2018.
  8. No. 123 Agreement between the British and German Governments, respecting the Sultanate of Zanzibar and the opposite East African Mainland, and their Spheres of Influence – 1st November, 1886 (in: Map of Africa by Treaty Vol II, pp. 617, 620) "3. Both powers agree to establish a delimitation of their respectives spheres of influence on this part of the East African Continent..... The territory to which the arrangement is applied is bounded on the south by the Rovuma River, and on the North by a line which, starting from the mouth of the Tana River, follows the course of that river or its affluents to the point of intersection with the equator and the 38th degree of east longitude ...." "Line of Demarcation. The line of demarcation starts from the mouth of the River Wanga or Umbe, runs direct to Lake Jipe, passes thence along the eastern and round the northern side of the lake and crosses the Lumi River; Teveita and Chagga (Kilimanjaro District) After which it passes midway betwwen the territories of Taveita and Chagga, skirts the northern base of the Kilimanjaro range, and thence is drawn direct to the point on the eastern side of Lake Victoria Nyanza which is intersected by the 1st degree of south latitude"
  9. Dirk Göttsche (2013). Remembering Africa: The Rediscovery of Colonialism in Contemporary German Literature. Camden House. ISBN 9781571135469. Archived from the original on 31 January 2020. Retrieved 19 January 2018.
  10. James S. Olson (1991). Robert Shadle (ed.). Historical Dictionary of European Imperialism. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 279–80. ISBN 9780313262579. Archived from the original on 29 April 2016. Retrieved 19 January 2018.
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  12. The Last Time Archived 13 August 2021 at the Wayback Machine, Stewart Smith, J. (2019). The last time: memoirs of a colonial officer in Nigeria and the Southern Cameroons, free ebook version via Cambridge University Centre for African Studies p. 36
  13. Alison Redmayne (1968). "Mkwawa and the Hehe Wars". The Journal of African History. 9 (3): 423. doi:10.1017/S0021853700008653. ISSN 1469-5138. JSTOR 180274. S2CID 163016034.
  14. Iliffe, John (1967). "The Organization of the Maji Maji Rebellion". The Journal of African History. 8 (3): 495–512. doi:10.1017/s0021853700007982. JSTOR 179833.
  15. Iliffe, John (1979). A Modern History of Tanganyika. Cambridge University Press. pp. 193–200. ISBN 9780521296113. Archived from the original on 6 May 2016. Retrieved 27 June 2019.
  16. Hull, Isabel V. (2003). "Military Culture and 'Final Solutions'". In Gellately, Robert; Kiernan, Ben (eds.). The Specter of Genocide: Mass Murder in Historical Perspective. Cambridge University Press. pp. 151–62. ISBN 9780521527507.
  17. John S. Lowry (June 2006). "African Resistance and Center Party Recalcitrance in the Reichstag Colonial Debates of 1905/06". Central European History. 39 (2): 244–269. doi:10.1017/S0008938906000100. ISSN 1569-1616. S2CID 145059774.
  18. Walter Nuhn (1998). Flammen über Deutschost: der Maji-Maji-Aufstand in Deutsch-Ostafrika 1905–1906, die erste gemeinsame Erhebung schwarzafrikanischer Völker gegen weisse Kolonialherrschaft: ein Beitrag zur deutschen Kolonialgeschichte. Bonn: Bernard & Graefe. ISBN 3763759697. OCLC 41980383.
  19. Werner Haupt (1984). Deutschlands Schutzgebiete in Übersee 1884–1918. Friedberg: Podzun-Pallas Verlag. ISBN 3-7909-0204-7.
  20. BRODE, H. (2016). BRITISH AND GERMAN EAST AFRICA: their economic commercial relations (classic reprint). [S.l.]: FORGOTTEN BOOKS. ISBN 978-1330527467. OCLC 980426986.
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  23. Tanzania Mining History Archived 14 August 2010 at the Wayback Machine, retrieved 24 July 2010
  24. "shule - Swahili-Old High German (ca. 750-1050) Dictionary". Glosbe. Archived from the original on 31 January 2020. Retrieved 17 January 2018.
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  27. Brian M. DuToit (1998). The Boers in East Africa: ethnicity and identity. Westport, Connecticut: Bergin & Garvey. ISBN 0897896114. OCLC 646068752.
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  30. Louis, William Roger (2006). Ends of British Imperialism: The Scramble for Empire, Suez, and Decolonization. I.B. Tauris. ISBN 978-1-84511347-6. Archived from the original on 11 June 2020. Retrieved 19 September 2017.
  31. "Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, the Paris Peace Conference, 1919". United States Department of State. Archived from the original on 20 September 2017. Retrieved 19 September 2017.
  32. Université du Burundi. Département d'histoire., ed. (1991). Histoire sociale de l'Afrique de l'Est (XIXe-XXe siècle) : actes du colloque de Bujumbura, 17-24 octobre 1989. Paris: Karthala. ISBN 9782865373154. OCLC 25748614.
  33. Koloniales Jahrbuch. Berlin : C. Heymann. 1888.
  34. Germany. Reichstag (1871). Stenographische Berichte über die Verhandlungen des Deutschen Reichstages. Princeton University. Berlin: Verlag der Buchdruckerei der "Norddeutschen Allgemeinen Zeitung".
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  37. A. J. Dietz. "A postal history of the First World War in Africa and its aftermath - German colonies: II Kamerun" (PDF). African Studies Centre, Repository, Leiden University. Archived (PDF) from the original on 18 September 2020. Retrieved 17 January 2018.

Further reading

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