German colonialism – an overview

From 1884 on, the German Empire took to occupy overseas colonies and so called »Schutzgebiete« (lit. protected areas). The foundations were laid by private traders, like Carl Peters, and a number of colonial societies who occupied strategically important trade stations, both acting upon mere economic interests. At first the question whether the German Empire should acquire colonies was ridden in controversy. Chancellor Otto von Bismarck initially deemed it an unnecessary and costly endeavour yet later nevertheless put the areas under the protection of the German Empire. At the Berlin Congo Conference in 1884/85 the private societies' claims of overseas possessions, often acquired in dubious ways, were designated as imperial »Schutzgebiete« and as such incorporated into the state project.

On the invitation of the German government, the most important European powers with colonial aspirations gathered in Berlin in November 1884 to confer about the division of the African continent. In the course of the conference the German Empire was granted the colonies of Cameroon, Togo, German Southwest Africa (today Namibia), German East Africa (today the states of Tanzania continental, Rwanda and Burundi), Kiautschou in China as well as Samoa and German New Guinea in the Pacific, bereaving the respective inhabitants of their possessions, their dignity and culture and not seldom, their lives.(1) The indigenous population was refused a proprietary historical development – the latter rather aligned and defined in accordance with the, predominantly economical, interests of the colonial rulers.(2)

of the inhabitants. Any form of resistance against the occupation was mostly suppressed, often violently, by the German colonial army. Key examples of the many colonial wars are the battle against the Maji-Maji movement in East Africa (1905-1907) and the genocide on the Herero and Nama in present-day Namibia. In the period around 1904-1905, an estimated 75000 Herero and Nama found their deaths in the war against the Germans.(3) Until today, there has been no official apology from the German side.

of Versailles in 1919. As a consequence of the defeat in the First World War, the German colonies were designated mandate areas by the League of Nations, to be administered by
other colonial powers. Nevertheless, the idea of colonial revisionism became a popular movement between the world wars, tied to the rising influence of National Socialist ideology: the National Socialist protagonists saw the loss the colonies as an injustice done and advocated for a recovery of the colonial possessions.(4) During the Third Reich, the colonial societies were merged into the Reichskolonialbund (imperial colonial federation) and a Kolonialpolitisches Amt (colonial-political department) was established.

Even when the decolonisation of Africa seems to have found a historical point of conclusion throughout the second half of the 20th century, the consequences of colonialism can still be asserted into the present day. Through historical colonialism there have been confounded particular imaginations and views of the world, aside from political and economical structures. The categorisation in colonising and colonised is still reproduced into racist opposites as White/Black, indigenous/cultivated or developing country/industrial nation.

  • (1) Vgl. Sebastian Conrad: Deutsche Kolonialgeschichte. C.H. Beck: München 2008, S. 28 – 34.
  • (2) Vgl. Jürgen Osterhammel: Kolonialismus. Geschichte – Formen – Folgen. C.H. Beck: München 1995, S. 19ff.
  • (3) Vgl. Sebastian Conrad: Deutsche Kolonialgeschichte, a.a.O., S. 53.
  • (4) Vgl. Alexandre N'Dumbe: Was wollte Hitler in Afrika? NS-Planungen für eine faschistische Neugestaltung Afrikas. IKO: Frankfurt 1993, S. ???.
Images on this page:

Above right: Wikimedia

Colonial properties
in Africa 1914