German Colonialism in Africa      

TABLE 1: The German Colonial Empire in Africa, 1913

Colony Capital Area
(sq. mi. est.)
population (est.)
OstafrikaDar es Salaam384,1805,3367,645,770
Colonial African Totals 931,46022,40511,406,024
European German Reich208,780 64,925,993
Adapted from L.H. Gann and Peter Duignan, The Rulers of German Africa, 1884-1914
(Stanford University Press, 1977), x.

Conceptually German Africa only existed from 1884 when Chancellor Otto von Bismarck decided it might be useful to Germany (or himself) if the imperial eagle flew over parts of Africa. Its final form, the one displayed here, was not agreed upon until 1911. During the course of World War I German Africa ceased to exist as Allied forces conquered it within eighteen months of the start of the war, although a remarkable German army in Ostafrika (made up mostly of African troops) held out until after the war was over.

Article 119 of the Treaty of Versailles (28 June 1919) deprived Germany of its overseas empire. Germany's African holdings were later divided among Belgium, France, Great Britain and South Africa. Today, German is officially spoken only in Namibia (formerly Südwestafrika) by a remnant of colonial descendants.

Germany's former African empire equates roughly to the modern nations of Togo, Cameroon, Namibia, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi. However, in the cases of Togo and Cameroon, substantial territorial revisions took place as Germany's colonial possessions were redistributed. One half of Togo was directly incorporated into the British Gold Coast (Ghana), while the other half remained a discreet colonial territory under French administration. German Kamerun was also placed under French control, but had parts broken off and attached to neighboring colonies. Were it to be reconstituted today, Kamerun would include all of Cameroon, plus parts of Gabon, Congo-Brazzaville, Central African Republic, and Nigeria.

The above map of Germany's African empire is a historical document. It was so constituted for only a few years. It briefly was reality for the European politicians who recognized its boundaries through treaty and agreement; for the capitalists and colonists who speculatively sought to exploit the wealth within its spaces; and for the soldiers and administrators who were tasked with establishing and maintaining German authority over it. As for the Africans who lived there, for many it was barely worth noting. A small minority may have benefitted from it. Still many more suffered terribly when they found their homes confined within its boundaries. Because of its short existence, Germany's African empire is a greater historical relic than the other colonies in Africa, all of which remained under European administration until the middle decades of the twentieth century. But the German colonies shared with the colonies of the other European powers the central aspect of artificially imposed borders combined with a lack of African consultation in their creation.

A Current Project:

The Hottentot War is a highly biased but useful history of the German-Nama War. Often referred to as the "Generalstabswerk," it was prepared auf Grund amtlichen Materials in 1907 by the Military History Section I of the German Supreme General Staff. Here is my English translation of this long out of print document. It will, however, take some time to complete. I'm posting parts of the volume here as I finish them, although they might sound a little strange as I've never translated anything this large before. Eventually, I'll do a fully edited and annotated version.

Researching the German wars against the Herero and the Nama: