Case-study: Tanganyika under German Rule

A coin from German East Africa

A coin from German East Africa

On May 25, 1887, the German East Africa Company (DOAG), under the leadership of Carl Peters took control of Dar Es Salaam, on the road to colonising German East Africa. The company had Imperial mandate from Chancellor Bismark, and gained full control of the coastline of what would later be known as Tanganyika by April 1888. Conquest was not easy, however, and armed resistence began in August of 1887.

However, by 1898, Germany under DOAG controlled all of Tanganyika’s major population centres and lines of communication. At first, the extension of control was a highly localised process, with military leaders making bargains with individual tribal units. Early German rule was reliant on bands of gunmen who created a culture of fear to control compliant tribal leaders. They often engaged in tribal warfare, assisting those they controlled to defeat other tribes in return for a share of the profits. As Iliffe has suggested, “conquest was not an event, but a process”.

For the entire period of German rule, mechanisms of control remained unevenly spread across the country. District officers
maintained administrative districts in coastal areas and around towns, and often exercised complete administrative control and autonomy over those areas, because of a lack of sustainable communication links to either the metropole or the colonial capital. There was simply no way for the Governor to exercise the necessary levels of control. Rule was, for the most part, maintained by force, and it is frequently noted that officials inspired great terror in the people they controlled.

Over time, German rule inevitably altered. By the late 1890s, the colony had been secured, and treaties between collaborative indigenous populations were the major way of maintaining control. As the 1900s wore on, however, local compromises often began to collapse because of the growth of German military control, and the development of localised conflicts. Throughout the German period, however, the colony’s history was one of conquest and response: there was no grand scheme, and plans were lacking, largely because the colony was under the jurisdiction of a trading organisation rather than a government.

As such, the economy of Tanganyika was entirely restructured from the 1890s – a very difficult process which had little actual effect until the coming of railway links in the early twentieth century. European invasion, however, rapidly sped up the process of integrating the Tanganyikan economy into that of the world as a whole. With integration came the disease epidemics and natural disasters which characterised the German period.

Imported Indian cows spread rinderpest, a cattle plague, in 1891, which killed between 90 and 95% of the colony’s cattle populations and created mass suffering among the pastoralist populations. Between approximately two fifths and three quarters of the Maasai in Tanganyika died as a consequence, and the competition for surviving cattle became increasingly intense (this significantly effected the British take-over of Kenya, which will be covered in another post). A smallpox plague also hit in 1893, and killed an estimated 10% of the population of Dar es Salaam; while locust plagues throughout the 1890s decimated crops and caused widespread famine. Although the locusts cannot be seen as a consequence of colonisation, both rinderpest and smallpox can be – and the impact on both human populations and the economy was understandably great.

On top of this, Germany had no great desire to invest in Tanganyika; and in the early period it did not have the capital, either. Investment was largely from DOAG, and did not start seeing returns until 1904. Coffee was the main export of the 1890s, at a time when Europe had very little interest in it – demonstrating poor planning and the failings of monocropping in one fair swoop. During this period, DOAG had complete control over land rights, meaning that land alienation for plantation was common.

Monetisation and taxation were introduced in the 1890s, and this fact demonstrates the growth of the colonial economy. The Germans placed high priority on the creation of a cash economy, paying workers in coinage and insisting on this method for tax payment, rather than payment in kind. Tax proved remarkably easy to collect, with resistance in the early period being limited to areas with minimal experience of long-term trade, either before or during German rule.

However, the clearest indication of the development of the colonial economy was white settlement, which grew significantly between 1904 and 1913, so that Tanganyika before the outbreak of the war had the same number of settlers as Kenya (around 5,000). White settlement of course led to increased land alienation, and saw frankly ridiculous plantations develop, which demonstrated little knowledge of the climate or of farming technique of any kind. Coffee, rubber and cotton were the favourites of settlers, but by 1914 almost all of these plantations had been uprooted to make way for sisal, a crop used in the production of rope and twine. Sisal flourished in the climate of Tanganyika and withstood unpredictable rainfall well. Additionally, as it took seven years to mature, it was excellent at riding out price fluctuations.

Plantation development introduced a truly capitalist economy to Tanganyika, radiating out from the white settled North East across the colony, and often pulling in Africans as workers. Plantation work was brutal, despite its relative ease. The pay was generally poor, and workers were housed and fed badly, often suffering from contagious diseases such as dysentery and diarrhoea. Levels of brutality can be well gauged in the fact that the Dar es Salaam court convicted 27 Europeans of brutality between 1909 and 1911, suggesting that these practises were commonplace.

Labour migration was common towards the end of the German period, as those who had been alienated from their traditional lands sought work on European plantations or in the developing cities and ports. This caused catastrophe in that it spread plagues and diseases.

Religion was one of the most major ways in which German occupation actively affected the lives of ordinary Africans in Tanganyika. The more integrated Tanganyika became in to the wider world, the more its religious culture began to change, and while it is unquestionable that indigenous religions continued to be practised because of the solutions they provided to ancient evil, they tended not to have anything to say about the problems raised by colonisation. Islam offered solutions on both levels; while Christianity triumphed in the explanations it offered to the wider world.

The arrival of Europeans enlarged people’s worlds and made these experiences increasingly difficult to ignore: traditional religions were often reformulated in order to make sense of new situations. In many cases, it was claimed that prophecy had foretold the arrival of Europeans, making the colonial experience in to something that could be explained and controlled. However, the dominant tendency was for indigenous religion to lose vitality, especially towards the end of the German period.

During this time, Islam experienced a coastal revival and in 1912 it was estimated that there were between 300,000 and half a million Muslims in Tanganyika, although their dedication and orthodoxy evidently varied greatly. Bizarrely, it seems as though the colonial experience actually helped to integrate Tanganyika further in to the Islamic world.

Growth in Christianity is obviously the most well-documented change of this period, with many indigenous people seeming to adapt elements of it and practise it in tandem with traditional religion. Mission work from Roman Catholics more than Protestants grew significantly during the period of German rule, and missionaries often believed that they were directly competing with the spread of Islam. In many areas, they attempted to convert chiefs and tribal leaders as a way to convert considerably larger populations.  By 1913, there were around 80,500 baptised Christians in Tanganyika: around 2% of the population.

It was increasingly difficult for either of these world religions to adapt to Tanganyika, given that indigenous religious practise had no history of sacred texts, and in many cases condoned polygamy (etc).

More Tanganyika/Tanzania case-studies are coming!

As ever, comment if you would like to know my sources.

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