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German East Africa

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German East Africa was a large German colony that existed for some three decades from the 1880s to the end of World War I.


Map of German East Africa

German East Africa was nearly 1,000,000 km2 (390,000 sq mi), larger than any European country except Russia. The colony was founded in the 1880's in order to protect the interests of the German East Africa Company. The capital was Bagamoyo from 1885 to 1890 and Dar-es-Salaam from 1890 onward.

During the First World War there was a campaign in this region as well. The Germans and their African allies faced great disadvantages, surrounded by colonies of enemy powers on all sides, and with the British in control of the sea and able to bring in troops from India. They fought a strong guerrilla campaign and were able to hold out for the duration of the war. Surrender only came when news of the armistice in Europe reached them. After the German surrender, Britain took over Tanganyika and Belgium took control over the region that is now the countries of Burundi and Rwanda.

An excellent historical novel covering the campaign, mainly from a German point of view, is William Stevenson's The Ghosts of Africa (ISBN 0-345-29793-8). C.S. Forester's novel The African Queen (ISBN 0-316-289108) and the movie based on it also take place in East Africa during the war.

MV Liemba was built for the Imperial German Navy before the war. The ship that the lead characters conspire to sink in The African Queen is based on her. She is still in service as a ferry on Lake Tanganyika and is now a tourist attraction.


German East Africa included what are now the following countries:

Zanzibar is an island that is now also part of Tanzania. Germany exerted influence there as well until 1890. Then in the "Heligoland Zanzibar Treaty" (a name coined by Bismarck to dismiss the treaty that his successor had made), Germany gave up its claim there and Britain transferred Heligoland to Germany.

See also[edit]

  • British Empire — the empire on which "the sun never set", due to its great extent
  • French Empire — French colonies from the early 20th century to the 21st century
  • World War I — while this war only lasted a few years, it had a huge impact on world history and proved to be only the first of two such devastating wars
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