How did the Germans treat their colonies

German colonialism in Africa

Aspects of a Chronology

Colonial interests

With the establishment of the German Empire in 1871 under Kaiser Wilhelm and President Bismarck, Germany became a nation-state and, in the course of industrialization, an economic superpower. During this time it was initially industrialists, merchants, researchers, individual politicians and, since the early 1880s, the increasing number of colonial associations who, following the example of Spain and Portugal, saw a need for the establishment of German colonies. Colonialism was supposed to balance out the social contradictions and conflicts that had arisen from capitalist development. The advocates of German colonial policy argued that new sales markets were necessary for German export products and that colonies would offer additional opportunities for capital investment (e.g. in railroad or mining). In addition, they wanted to import cheap raw materials. A unifying “master human feeling” and the participation of all Germans in the new cheap products from the colonies should smooth out social conflicts within Germany. The exploitation of the colonized, who received little or no wages for their work, offered new profit opportunities and was intended to strengthen the German economy.

The number of voices increased demanding that the Reich should not stand back in the ongoing "division of the world", but rather cross the threshold to world power. These demands were supported by innumerable novels and serial stories in newspapers in which colonization was presented as a gripping adventure story. These stories convey a sense of mission with which the Germans would be almost obliged to missionize Africa “culturally”. Many Germans were ready to emigrate and take part in the colonial conquests: out of a Christian or progressive sense of superiority, out of economic hardship or out of profit interests. The fact that this colonial sense of mission emanated from the inferiority of the colonized was taken as a frightening matter of course.

The politics of colonial conquest

Bismarck, who initially opposed the plan to found German colonies for foreign policy and financial reasons, supported the colonial movement from 1884 onwards. He wanted to use the current global political weakness of England and France and hoped that his commitment to German colonies would lead to an electoral success in the upcoming Reichstag elections. At the “Congo Conference” in Berlin in 1884/1885, the European colonial powers - including now Germany - assured each other of mutual territorial rights over African land. From then on, the German Emperor issued "letters of protection" for the areas of East Africa (today Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania), South West Africa (today Namibia), Togo and Cameroon. On this basis, “Africa researchers” and merchants such as Adolf Lüderitz, Carl Peters or Joachim Pfeil concluded “protection treaties” with the population of these countries by declaring the African areas to be “protected areas” of the German Reich.

In 1891 the empire took over the administration of these colonies. The African territories were now ruled by German governors appointed by the Kaiser. Gradually, its own colonial economic and social structure was established.

The colonial administration included a tax that was imposed on every household of the local population as a "hut tax". Until then, people had been able to provide for themselves. Now they had to get into employment and thus become dependent on the colonizers. With the taxes that could be paid in kind, money or by working on plantations, there was a compulsion to work in the service of the colonial rulers. By 1901 there had already been 25 revolts against this tax.

Resistance to Colonization

In March 1905 the "hut tax" in East Africa became a "per capita tax", which meant a multiple increase. In order to pay the tax, a large part of the population had to work on cotton plantations - extremely hard work that killed many people. In July 1905 there was a rebellion on one of the plantations, which developed into an open struggle against colonial rule. The first successes of the insurgents resulted in an expansion of the fighting to the entire south and other areas of East Africa. The German troops reacted with the "scorched earth policy": They burned entire villages, confiscated cattle and supplies, poisoned wells and destroyed the crops in the fields. In doing so, they deprived the resistant population of their livelihood. In 1906 the uprising was officially over - the fighting actually lasted until 1908.

Probably the biggest uprising against colonial rule took place in "Deutsch-Südwest", when the "Protection Treaty" with the Hereros living there was broken by the construction of the railway destroying the Hereros' pastures and thus their livelihoods. As a result, the Hereros attacked German farms and, in isolated cases, military bases in 1904. The uprising was brutally suppressed. As early as 1904, General von Trotha issued the order to shoot all Hereros within the German colony. In 1907 the uprising was officially over - of around 80,000 Hereros, at most 15,000 had survived. Lothar von Trotha wrote in a letter: “I know enough tribes in Africa. They are all alike in the train of thought that they only give way to violence. To use this violence with blatant terrorism and even with cruelty was and is my policy. I destroy the rebellious tribes with rivers of blood and rivers of money. "(Quoted in: Schürmann)

Colonial expansion

As a result, a majority in the Reichstag made up of the SPD and the center refused to approve additional funds for the protection forces in 1906. Kaiser Wilhelm II responded by dissolving the Reichstag. The following election campaign for the new Reichstag in 1907 focused on the conflicts over the colonies. Ultimately, a coalition of liberal and conservative parties won - which wanted to ensure an economic upswing in the colonies.

In 1911 the colonial expansion of the empire reached its climax with an enlargement of the colony in Cameroon. The importance of the overseas territories for the settlement of Germans was, however, comparatively small. Only a little more than 20,000 Germans lived in the colonies, many of them as soldiers, police officers, administrative officials or missionaries. Others worked as planters or farmers. Since the majority of the emigrants were initially men, women were specifically recruited - they were intended to increase the proportion of the white population in the colonies. For men and women, emigration and the role as colonial rulers meant a social rise, combined with economic and personal power over the colonized.

The official end of the colonial era

During the First World War or at the end of it, the German colonial rule over the African territories was ended. After the proclamation of the republic in November 1918, the Reich Colonial Office was dissolved by the new Reich Chancellor Friedrich Ebert (SPD). With the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919, the Reich officially lost all colonies: “Art. 119. Germany waives in favor of the Principal Allied and Associated Powers all of its rights and claims with regard to its overseas possessions. "

This officially ended Germany's colonial era - but by no means did its colonization efforts. During the Weimar Republic and National Socialism, the colonial associations continued to work and advertise, demanding: “Germany must - Germany will become a colonial power again” (special issue “Colonies” of the magazine Die Woche of May 16, 1931). And still in the 50s there was a "Bund der Deutsch-Togoländer", which had the plan to make Togo Germany's 12th federal state ...

Schürmann, Felix: German colonialism. 03/18/2003