Tanzania: Colonial partition (1884-1916)

Updated September 2005

Until the late 19th century European involvement in East Africa was restricted to trade (and, in the case of Britain, the suppression of the slave trade). Matters altered as the African policies of European powers changed from acquiring only possession necessary to secure trade to active penetration and occupation of the interior. This was stimulated and facilitated by the work of missionaries and explorers from the mid 19th century onwards. Reports from the interior created expectations of fabulous wealth to be obtained, told of benighted natives living in pagan sloth and squalor, and roused indignation by their accounts of the miseries wrought by the slave trade. It was not only expedient that the wealth of the continent should be unlocked by the colonial powers, it was a moral duty to so, for the natives had to be rescued not only from the predations of slavers, but from themselves. Here the trinity of Christianity, civilisation and commerce united altruism and self interest into an irresistible unity.

The rivalry between the powers, the fear of each that it would be outdone by the others and left behind, gave a hysterical quality to the scramble for African. Germany, a late comer to the colonisation movement, moved with vigour in East Africa in the 1880s. Carl Peters founded the Society for German Colonization as a tool for advancing German interests in East Africa. He signed a series of treaties in 1884/5 with sultans and chiefs in the hinterland (Columbia Encyclopaedia 2004a). Vague agreements between Britain and Germany in 1886 delimiting separate spheres of influence were followed by the treaty of 1890, which recognised Britain's longstanding domination over Zanzibar and Pemba, while giving Germany a free hand in what was to become German East Africa. The dominions of the Zanzibari sultanate were partitioned. Zanzibar and Pemba became a British Protectorate, while the mainland possessions were distributed between Portuguese Mozambique, German East Africa, British Kenya and British Somalia (Columbia Encyclopaedia 2004a, 2004b).

This shattered not only the unity of the Sultanate but severed various previously independent but integrated Swahili communities from one another. Moreover the Protectorate had lost its vital trading hinterland and its African trading partners fell under the governments of the various European colonial powers: Economically the territory was now a backwater, almost wholly dependent on the clove trade for its survival (Korean Minjok Leadership Academy 2004). The British followed their usual policy of indirect rule, bolstered by a divide-and-rule strategy. In the case of Zanzibar this meant endorsing the status quo: Zanzibar was regarded as an Arab principality and the Arab ruling elite was advanced at the expense of the majority Swahili populations, both the original Shirazi inhabitants and the descendents of African slaves. To the Arabs belonged the opportunities for higher education and to them accrued the government posts and career opportunities available (Columbia Encyclopaedia 2004b).

In 1913 the British engaged in a reorganisation of the East African territories, and oversight of Zanzibari government was transferred to the governor of what was to become Kenya, while a British Resident was appointed to Zanzibar to administer the Protectorate (Government of Tanzania undated).

At the same time that the Germans were preparing for their occupation of the mainland, a series of diseases swept the interior, bovine pleuro-pneumonia in 1883, 1897 and 1899; the rinderpest in 1891; and an outbreak of smallpox in 1892. The first two greatly reduced the cattle holding on which a good part of the economic life in the interior was based, while the smallpox epidemic devastated the human population. (Coast 2001) Thus, at a critical juncture, the ability of the local people to resist the German invasion was weakened. In 1987, with the blessing of Prince von Bismarck, Peters' Society for German Colonization was transformed into the German East Africa Company, which aggressively set about subjugating the territory. The seizure of the mainland areas of the Zanzibari principality led to a revolt by a coalition of Arabs, Swahilis and others. Named the "Abushiri rebellion" after one of its leaders, it was suppressed with difficulty; German troops had to be dispatched and British naval support played a key role (Columbia Encyclopaedia 2004a).

Unhappy with the German East Africa Company's inability to "pacify" the interior and suppress the rising of the Hehe under Mkwawa, the German government took direct control of the territory in 1891. Peters was appointed as imperial commissioner and the seat of government was established in Dar es Salaam. By 1898 resistance was crushed and German control over the territory was established (History World undated, US State Department 2005).

From the beginning the Germans attempted to apply the system of indirect rule to the territory, but found that the communal character of social organisation and the general absence of large scale state formation militated against this. While governing through traditional structures where they could, the Germans were forced to improvise; sending Muslim Swahilis and Arabs from the Coast to act as chiefs (Mpangala 1999). This had the unintended consequence of facilitating the large scale spread of Islam from the urban coastal settlement to the rural communities of the interior for the first time (Lodhi & Westerlund 1997).

In order that the colony be made to pay its own way as quickly as possible, crops such as sisal, cotton and rubber were introduced over the next two decades, while the growing of peanuts, sesame, coffee and cobra were stimulated (Columbia Encyclopaedia 2004a, History World undated). Communications with the interior were opened up through the development of railway lines from Dar es Salaam to Tabora in the north east and then from there to Ujiji on Lake Tanganyika and from Dar es Salaam to Moshi in the North. To ensure a supply of cheap labour for the new plantations the Germans resorted to forced labour extractions (Columbia Encyclopaedia 2004a, History World undated). The German colonial authorities promulgated a series of decrees converted all lands without title deeds, virtually all land in the Colony, into state owned land which formed the legal basis for the alienation of land for the agricultural and related enterprises, especially along the coast and in the north (Okoth-Ogendo 1999).

Resentment at German rule spilled over into the Maji-Maji uprising from 1905-1907 in South East Tanzania. To suppress the rebellion the German military resorted to scorched earth tactics, destroying villages, crops and stored food through the swathes of the country affected by the revolt (History World undated). The rebellion collapsed in the face of widespread famine and anything between 75 000 120 000 (and even 250 000 is mentioned) people died in the fighting and of starvation. The south-east became a wasteland, overrun by bush and reclaimed by the tsetse fly (Columbia Encyclopaedia 2004a, History World undated, US State Department 2005). The German reaction to the uprising was to reform the legal framework and administration of the colony and pour more money into the colony so as to address some of the grievances that had provoked the uprising. Before much progress had been made in this respect the First World War broke out (Government of Tanzania undated).


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