A brief history of German East Africa

Deutsch Ostafrika's Governors
Carl Peters, administrator
Hermann von Wissmann, Reichskommissar
Julius von Soden
Friedrich Radbod von Schele
Hermann von Wissmann
Eduard von Liebert
Gustav Adolf Graf von Goetzen
Georg Albrecht von Rechenberg
Albert Heinrich Schnee

German administrator Carl Peters secured treaties with tribal leaders on East Africa's coast, legitimising the German government's right to negotiate with Britain over spheres of interest in East Africa. In the treaty of 1886, Germany renounced it's claims on the Witu area (on Kenya's coast, north of Mombasa) and on Uganda, and Britain recognized Germany's claim to what was to become German East Africa. In another treaty of 1890, Germany traded the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba for the much smaller island of Heligoland, off Germany's coast in the North Sea. The Germans bought off the Sultan of Zanzibar's rights to the Tanganyikan coast for $800,000.

The extremely low mintage 1888 "H" Mombasa Rupee Silver Coin in EF+ in the Balson Holdings Family Trust collection

Bagamoyo - Dar-es-Salaam

The German East Africa Company (founded 1887, succeeded by the German government in 1891) established Bagamoyo as the new German colony's capital, soon moving it to Dar-es-Salaam after warfare between the German forces and the Bushini people destroyed the beachside town in 1889. Bagamoyo ("bwaga moyo" literally meaning "throw down your heart") was a slave trader's centre from which slaves were shipped overseas - the slave trading post has recently been listed as a world heritage site.

Deutsch Ost-Afrika

The colony was called Deutsch-Ost Afrika (German East Africa). The colony's borders had been established in treaties with Britain (Kenya, Uganda, Northern Rhodesia), Belgium (Belgian Congo) and Portugal (Mocambique). The welfare and interests of the indigenous people were disregarded as in other colonised areas of Africa. From the coast, the Germans penetrated the country and established their rule but not after encountering uprisings in the southern highlands Iringa district.

The currency was 1 Rupia = 64 Pesa.


The Germans established an infrastructure of roads, railway lines, hospitals and schools (Swahili being the language of education). Slavery centered around the small inland town of Tabora and traditionally run by the Arabs was effectively suppressed. (See Stanley's book on "How I found Dr Livingstone" for an earlier mudmap of the Arab slave traders outposts at Tabora). A plantation economy introduced by the Germans, based on sisal, cotton and rubber, coffee, sesame, copra and peanuts.

In 1905, a new currency was introduced, 1 Rupia = 100 Heller.

By developing the country's infrastructure and by establishing a new capital at Dar-es-Salaam, the traditional Arab and Islamic dominance of the coastal region was greatly diminished. Christian missionaries, both protestant and catholic, entered the country, establishing christian communities. The introduction of Swahili as the language of administration and education also favoured the spread of Islam.

World War One

When World War I broke out in 1914, German East Africa was the only German colony not to fall to enemy forces within a matter of months. The island of Mafia was occupied by the British Navy in 1914; German military commander, Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck was able to hold the colony's northern border to Kenya until 1916. When British and South African forces finally managed to penetrate the German lines, von Lettow-Vorbeck switched to a guerilla strategy. He reinforced his troops by conscripting native soldiers, the so-called Askaris. Constantly on the move and partially operating in British Rhodesia and Portuguese Mocambique, he held out until the end of the war, tying enemy forces up in Africa which thus could not be employed on the European front.

[Brief history of German East Africa] [1915 Interim Bank Notes] [The 20 Heller "gun metal" coin struck in 1916]
[1916 15 Rupee "Tabora Pound" Gold Coin] [1917 Interim Bank Notes - struck in the field]

[von Lettow-Vorbeck an extraordinary soldier] [Vorbeck's Despairing Post Card]

[Rare German East Africa Siege Coins, Notes and Collectables] [Web Site Text Site Map]
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