Conquest and Partition of East Africa

19 Min Read

Conquest and Partition of East Africa

Conquest and Partition of East Africa – Despite the fact that the scramble and partition of East Africa started in the late 19th century as a result of the rise of monopoly capitalism (new imperialism), many African historians argue that the process of putting this part of the world under European Imperial powers started in the beginning of the century.

For example, Buluda Itandala argues that “the European partition of E.A was a logical outcome of the efforts made earlier by explorers and missionaries to open up the African continent for commerce, Christianity and European political control.” The Pro-Itandala, therefore, believe that European activities in East Africa between 1800 and 1880 prepared the ground for easy political control of East African territory which had to come later.

In that context, missionaries, explorers, travelers and traders crisscrossed the interior of Africa and provided the Imperial powers with geographical information and economic riches of the continent.

Missionary Activities in East Africa are divided into two main phases: – From the early 1840 to 1870 and from 1873 onwards. During the first phase, few missionaries existed in East Africa; Most of their activities were confined in the coastal areas and; between 1860 and 1870, missionaries were concerned with ending slave trade and converting freed slaves into Christians. In the second phases [From 1873 onwards], this period was marked by the death of David Livingstone in 1873.

Livingstone’s death aroused interests in evangelism in Africa and as a result the number of missionaries penetrating into the interior increased. Although some chiefs such as Kimweri of Usambara accepted missionaries’ services wholeheartedly, missionaries’ main challenge was the resistances they faced from some societies they came into contact with.

EXAMPLES: Dr. Ludwig Krapf (a German sent by Church Missionary Society of England), first visited the Galla of Southern Somalia then went to Zanzibar in 1844 and later established a mission station at Rabai in Mombasa. In 1846 and 1849 he was joined by Johann Rebmann and Jacob Erhardt respectively.From Rabai, the journey into the interior of East Africa started: Rebmann went to Taita in 1847, and reached the Chaggaland in 1848. Krapf reached Usambara in 1848. By 1863, the Holy Ghost Fathers from Reunion Island had established a Mission station in Zanzibar.

In 1864, U.M.C.A followed suit. In 1868, the Holy Ghost Fathers established a mission at Bagamoyo, where freed slaves were taught different life skills. In the 1870s, missionaries’ activities had reached as far as Uganda and Ujiji: e.g. Henry Morton Stanley, C.M.S under Alexander Mackay arrived in Buganda in 1877. In 1878, the white fathers had reached Ujiji.

The Travellers/Explorers came to East Africa to gather geographical and scientific information. Their coming was motivated by several things: To discover the source of River Nile that was mentioned in the Greek sources; the curiosity to discover the snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro; to discover the great inland seas and; to prove about myth of the great inland fears. Some of the explorers/travellers who came to East Africa include Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke who were sent bythe Royal Geographical Society in 1956.

Their main task was to lead an expedition from Zanzibar and trace the source of River Nile. Speke ‘discovered‘ Lake Victoria. Others include Joseph Thomson, a geologist and Dr. Fischer.

As aforesaid, the argument has been that missionaries and explorers furnished their respective governments with valuable information about E.A, which pacified the partition process. In other words, their activities were part of European intervention and conquest. Their main role in the partition process was that they campaigned for political control of the areas they were doing their activities. How did they do this?

Through their speeches and writings (propaganda for imperialism) e.g. he famous speech given by Dr. Livingstone in 1857 at Cambridge University. Part of this speech reads.

“…I beg to direct our attention to Africa. I know that in a few years.

I shall be cut off in that country, which is now open; do not let it be shut again. I go back to Africa to make an open path for commerce and Christianity; do you carry out the work which I have begun. I leave it with you…”

After Visiting the Victoria Nyanza in 1858, Speke appealed to the British government to come and colonize that area which he believed was potential for agriculture, livestock keeping and trade. In his report he stated: – “… Bordering the south of the lake there are vast fields of iron; cotton is also abundant; and every tropical plant or tree could grow; those that do exist, even rice, vegetable in the utmost luxuriance. Cattle are very abundant, and hides are found in every house….”

Some missionaries appealed to their governments to extend political control to the areas they were doing their evangelical activities for two major reasons:

1. For their protection (security and freedom). For example, Alexander Mackay once appealed to the British government;

“…All that we desire is only liberty to carry our work, with security to our lives and those of the people who choose to learn…we feel certain that the time has come for us to humbly request your aid and interference ….”

2. For abolition of slave trade and inter-tribal wars which they thought were causing unspeakable sufferings to innocent people. For example, a missionary by the name Ashe appealed to the British intervention in ending the atrocities committed by Kabaka Mutesa’s solders in Karagwe.

Despite the fact that European powers were given all such information and requested to occupy the areas, they were reluctant to extend their political control to Africa. This signifies that Itandala’s argument although to some extent is true, does not shed light on the genesis of the problem. In other words, the efforts made by agents/forerunners of colonialism per se cannot account for partition of East Africa which took place between 1880 and 1900.

The fact remains that monopoly capitalism which characterized the economies of Europe between 1860 and 1900 came with new economic challenges/problems that could not be resolved by the European Imperial Powers without acquiring colonies in Africa.

Several theories have been used to explain the partition of Africa and East Africa in particular. They include economic, psychological, social Darwinism, evangelical, social atavism, national prestige, balance of power and global strategy and the African dimension theories. I will not concentrate on these [read Uzoigwe at your own pace].

We want Know how the process of scramble and partition of East Africa was done and the ensuing struggles. According to Lenin( see uzoigwe p. 21), Monopoly capitalism was characterized by struggles for the partition of the world. Lenin believed that Capitalism was doomed to self-destruction because having finally partitioned the world, the capitalist, now rentiers and parasites living on incomes from investment would be threatened by the growing nations who would demand a repartition of the world. The capitalists, greed as ever, would refuse to comply.

The issue, therefore, would be settled by war which they will inevitably lose. War, then , is inevitable consequence of imperialism, the violent death of capitalism (p. 21).

The beginning of the scramble/ the struggles(p. 28) – three major events which occurred between 1876 and 1880 which triggered the scramble/struggle. i). In 1865, King Leopold I, who had interest in Africa, was crowned as the King of Belgians. In 1876, Leopold convened an international conference (Brussels Geographical Conference). The conference resulted into setting up of the African International Association.

In 1879, The Association employed H. M. Stanley to explore the Congo and as a result the Congo Free State was created. Leopold managed to get the recognition of the Congo Free State by almost all great European powers even before the Berlin West African Conference.

(ii). Activities of the Portugal from 1876 – Portugal who was invited in the 1876 Brussel conference, inspired with what happened in the conference, she began a series of expedition in Africa which by 1880 had resulted into the annexation of Mozambique.

(iii). The French Colonial expansion policy between 1879 and 1880. This was signified her participation with British in the dual control of Egypt[1879], the dispatch of Savorgnan de Brazza into Congo and the ratification of his treaties with Chief Makoko of Bateke, and the revival of French colonial initiatives in both Tunisia and Madagascar.

This move finally compelled both the British and German to abandon their preference for informal control and influence in favour of a formal policy leading to their annexations in Southern, East and West Africa from the end of 1883 onwards. The German initiatives, for instance, resulted in the annexation of South West Africa, Togoland, the Cameroons, and German East Africa, which in turn further accelerated the pace of scramble.

By 1884, the British paramount in East Africa were challenged by the German when Carl Peters signed treaties with African chiefs in the hinterland of the coast lying directly opposite to Zanzibar [ eg. Mangungo of Msovero ] which finally placed the areas in the Jurisdiction of the German East African Company. This occupation made the Sultanate of Zanzibar to protest to the German emperor that the company had violated the territorial integrity of his sultanate by occupying part of it.

When the scramble intensified in the early 1880s, dispute among imperialist powers arose. As a result, the Berlin West Africa Conference [ btn 15th Nov 1884 and Nov 26 1885] was convened to sort out the territorial disputes over the competing powers. The idea to convene the conference was first suggested by Portugal but later on taken up by Bismarck – a German fellow.

Some of the agreements/resolutions reached in the Berlin conference include

(a)- Article 34 of Berlin Act states the doctrine of ‘spheres of influence’ governed by the principle of notification

(b) – article 35 states the doctrine of ‘effective occupation’ translated in the possession of sufficient power/authority to demonstrate control over the annexed area

(c) recognized the Congo Free State and therefore, declared Congo as a free trading zone

(d) Abolition of slave trade.

The Berlin Conference did not end up the struggle/ competitions. Struggles continued and they were to be resolved through signing of agreements/ treaties. Treaties were of two types: one was between African chiefs and Europeans and the other was between European powers themselves.
In East Africa, the treaty signed between Kabaka Mwanga II and the representative of Imperial British East African Company (IBEAC) is good examples of the Chiefs- European treaties. However, it should be noted that in signing those treaties, African representatives (Chiefs) did not mean to give up their sovereignties.
Their intention was to benefit from their presences while retaining their power. In Buganda, the situation was more chaotic – the Baganda Protestants were in a bitter struggle with the Baganda Catholics leading into a battle at Mengo on 24th January 1892. Treaties between European powers themselves were commonly called bilateral treaties.
In East Africa, the most influential treaties of this nature were the Anglo-German Delimitation treaty of 1st November 1886 and the Anglo-German Agreement of 1890 commonly called Heligoland treaty. The 1886 treaty :-

Limited the Sultan’s influence in the mainland territories to a ten-mile wide coastal strip

The German sphere extended from a straight boundary line running from the Umba River to the Lake Victoria Nyanza in the north to the Rovuma River in the south

The British sphere extended from the German boundary to the Juba River in the north

Immediately after the 1886 partition, the German sphere was controlled by a chartered company – German East African Company but the British relied on William Macknnon’s British East African Association. This treaty did not set specific boundaries in the west. During that time the Germans were operating from Bagamoyo in south and from Witu in the north.
From Bagamoyo, they were pushing southwards to Lake Malawi/Nyasa, westwards to Lake Tanganyika and northwards to Lake Victoria. Operating from Mombasa, the British were also pushing westwards to the shores of Lake Victoria, especially in Uganda. By 1888, the German were threatening the interest of the British in Uganda and they wanted to take advantage of the pre-existing rivalries between the Moslems and Christians on one hand, and between Protestant and Catholic factions.
Therefore, the struggle between the two powers centred on occupation and control of Uganda. This culminated into signing another agreement in July 1890. According to this – Heligoland Treaty:

Uganda was recognized as a British sphere of influence plus Kenya and Zanzibar and Pemba

The German received the island of Heligoland in the North Sea in exchange for the evacuation of Witu. A ten-mile wide coast strip which belonged to the Sultan in 1886 was now German’s sphere.

The Sultan lost his sovereignty

Other important bilateral treaties included the Anglo-Italian treaty of 1891 and the German- Portuguese treaty of 1886. Since the 1886 treaty up to 1890, German and British governments did not assume direct control of their occupied areas in East Africa. The control and administration of the area was vested in the German East African Company and the Imperial British East African Company respectively. The I. B. E. A.C sometimes relied on the William Macknnon’s Association.

The Imperial British East Africa Company had built stations at Machakos in the Kamba country and Fort Smith in Kikuyu. But these were looked upon simply as convenient places for lake-bound caravans to halt and restock with provisions. Depot stations were established at River Tsavo and at Mumia’s at River Nzoia. At the coast I. B. E. A. C. had stationed agents at Kisimayu, Lamu, Witu, Malindi, Takaungu and Vanga.Those agents were mainly supervising collection of customs. I. B. E. A. C. had a larger central administration at Mombasabutits main job was either customs or preparation for caravans to the interior. Generally, company administration was weak.

It was the Heligoland treaty which made the governments of the respective powers to begin a direct control of the areas. Following formal declaration of a protectorate over Zanzibar in November 1890, Britain used it as a base for the conquest of the rest of her East Africa Empire and in1894 Uganda Protectorate was declared mainly in Buganda, but other areas were already occupied through treaties and conquest.

Despite the fact that the two powers had agreed on what each should occupy, attempts to exert full control and administration continued to instill a sense of mistrust on both side. Such mistrust again manifested into further struggles.

For example, From 1891 to1892, the German sent an expedition under Oscar Baumann to make an economic and geographic survey of the northern interior of German East Africa including areas around the Lake Victoria. Out that expedition, the German decide to establish a permanent substation at Shirati along the Lake Victoria in North-Mara in 1898.

A fort was built in the Shirati sub-station in 1902 and in 1903 the German set another station at Ikoma in what is today Serengeti district. Threatened by German initiatives in the area, the British decided to establish their administrative center at Karungu in South Nyanza District in 1903. The intention of this was to curb down what would be considered as further expansion from North-Mara into Kenya.

Share This Article
Leave a comment

You cannot copy content of this page