German East Africa

The Arab Rebellion in East Africa 1888-1890

also referred to as Buschiri's Uprising

A.) The Situation Preceding the Rebellion

In 1885/86, Britain and Germany had agreed to partition the hinterland of the East African coast into a British and a German sphere of interest. As both governments did not wabt to be directly involved, private companies were founded and chartered to administrate these territories.
The coastal stretch itself belonged - as was recognized by both Britain and Germany, to the SULTANATE OF ZANZIBAR. On April 28th 1888 the DEUTSCH-OSTAFRIKANISCHE GESELLSCHAFT (German East African Corporation, the chartered company) signed a treaty with the Sultan of Zanzibar according to which the administration of the coastal region within the German sphere of influence was leased, for 50 years, to the Gesellschaft. The Gesellschaft appointed chiefs to the major ports (Tanga, Pangani, Bagamoyo, Dar-es-Salam, Kilwa, Mikindani, Lindi) who assumed office late in August 1888.
The appearance of these Germans, their demand that the Gesellschaft flag was waved next to the red flag of the sultan, their insistance that Walis (administrators) opposed to the Gesellschaft be replaced, in combination with the fear that measures against slave trade now will be implemented caused the mood in these coastal places and their surrounding to turn against the Germans. The Sultan's troops, supposed to protect the Gesellschaft officials, were among the first to turn against them. The rebellion was first reported in Pangani September 18th 1888.

B.) The Cource of Events

Within a matter of days, Gesellschaft chiefs found themselves under siege in most of the coastal places. The German Navy squadron off East Africa could protect the station at DAR-ES-SALAM, a town within range of ship artillery. A navy landing corps expelled the insurgents from BAGAMOYO (Sept. 24th 1888) where they had laid siege to the station house in which the German Gesellschaft officials had held out. From all other stations the Gesellschaft officials had either to flee or to be evacuated. The inland station of MPWAPWA, beyond territory under the sovereignty of the Sultan, was cut off.
German chancellor OTTO VON BISMARCK arranged a multinational BLOCKADE (proclaimed Nov. 30th 1888) of the East African coast, joined by Britain (for British East Africa), Portugal (for northern Mocambique) and Italy. He then appointed HERMANN WISSMANN as Reich commissioner for East Africa, who arrived on Zanzibar March 31st 1889.
The rebellion had erupted almost simultaneously at the major ports, with the exception of Dar-es-Salam. In the rebellion, men from the interior, besides the Sultan's troops, played a major role. As the leader in the northern area emerged BUSCHIRI BIN SALIM, who leas the insurrection in Pangani.
Wissmann arrived in East Africa with recruited troops, Sudanese, Somali and Zulu - foreign to the area of operation and hence more reliable than the locals. Wissmann fortified Bagamoyo and Dar-es-Salam, in cooperation with the Navy he took, fortified and garrisoned Tanga and Pangani. Expeditions into the interior were intended to clear the area.
Buschiri and his followers were repeatedly thrown out of their camps, repeatedly suffered defeats. The skirmishes were single-sided, as Wissmann's forces were better armed and more disciplined. Yet Buschiri and his fellow rebel leaders were hardy, concluding ever new alliances, trying to take hostage singular missionaries and travellers and collecting ransom for them, interrupting the caravan trade (which for a while came to a standstill), intimidating the native population not to communicate with the Germans and terrorizing those who did.
Only when Wissmann established and garrisoned more fortified positions, after having recruited reinforcements from the Zulus, and when he marched into the interior, fortifying and garrisoning Mpwapwa and reopening the main caravan route, did the situation change. Now Indian and Arab merchants returned to Bagamoyo and Dar-es-Salam, the caravans came in, larger numbers of African chiefs requested German letters of protection; it proved increasingly difficult for Buschiri to find new allies. Finally, he was arrested and executed (Dec. 16th 1889); the rebellion effectively had died down. The rebels were given a general pardon by Wissmann (January 1890).

C.) Legacy

The Deutsch-Ostafrikanische Gesellschaft went bankrupt, and the German government had to take over. The administrative center was moved from Bagamoyo to Dar-es-Salam, which had an excellent natural port and was better suited for communication with Germany. In 1890 Germany and Britain signed another treaty, in which Germany accepted a British protectorate over the island of Zanzibar in return for, among others, British recognition that the coastal stretch of the Sultanate within the German sphere of interest would be placed under German sovereignty.
The rebellion is usually referred to as Arab in nature; yet the Arabs formed only a tiny, albeit influential, minority along the coast. Most of the rebels were Africans of various tribes. In the course of the rebellion, the hitherto dominant influence of the Arabs, Comorese, Baluchis etc. in the coastal region was broken; they were succeeded by the German authorities.

D.) Character of the Fight

The rebels were inadequately armed (they had rifles, gunpowder, even cannons, but outdated models, obviously with poor accuracy. Also their discipline was rather poor, as most fights ended with the rebels fleeing in disorder, leaving behind large numbers of casualties, their camps regularly falling into the hands of the Germans (i.e. mercenary units commanded by Germans), who themselves suffered few losses.
The rebels' BOMA-style fortifications proved to be no match for the mercenaries armed, trained and commanded by the Germans; the rebels did not know how to attack the fortifications in stone erected by the Germans, had no response to the powerful ship artillery and the cannons the Germans could field.
The cohesion of the rebel force was based on a combination of religion, superstition, on fear of the Germans etc. With Buschiri's continued lack of success, in the end it eroded rapidly.

Wissmann's policy had to be to break up the cohesion among the rebels and to isolate Buschiri. As slavery was well-established in the region, he declared to only intend to interrupt slave trade. On the other hand, he was willing to accept chiefs as allies who owned slaves, and he welcomed caravans at Bagamoyo which brought cargo belonging to TIPPU TIP, who later was fought by the authorities of the CONGO FREE STATE, destribed by them as a notorious slave trader.

Deutsch-Ostafrika 1885-1890 : Auf dem Weg vom Schutzbriefsystem zur Reichskolonialverwaltung. Ein Beitrag zur Verfassungsgeschichte der Deutschen Kolonien, by Klaus Richter German East Africa 1885-1890 : from the system of protection promising treaties to German colonial administration. A contribution to the constitutional history of German colonies.
Description of the campaign in Deutsch-Ostafrika 1888/90, list of officers involved and medals handed out : Deutsch-Ostafrika 1888-1889 by Marcus Bodeux, in German
Biography Hermann von Wissmann, from Univ. Hamburg
Arab Rising in German East Africa 1888-1890, from Armed Conflict Events Data by, encyclopedic description with flaws
DOCUMENTS Documents on German Imperialism, from psm-data, scroll down for documents of the Rebellion in East Africa (Reichstagsakten Vol.121 1888/89 attachments 41, 60, 76, Vol.127 1889/90 attachments 44, 78, 118, German originals (posted by Bayerische Staatsbibliothek) and English translations

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2001, last revised on November 17th 2004

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