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First posted on May 15th 2008

East Africa : Periodization, 1914-2008

1914 By the time World War I broke out, Abyssinia (from 1935 onward called Ethiopia) remained independent, the remainder was divided among Britain (British Somaliland, Kenya, Uganda, Zanzibar, the Seychelles, Mauritius), Germany (German East Africa), France (Madagascar, Reunion, the Comoros, French Somaliland) and Italy (Italian Somaliland, Eritrea).
1914-1918 World War I : German East Africa (and, temporarily, adjacent counries) theatre of war; German commander Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck fought on until a few weeks after the armistice had been signed; his military objective to tie as many enemy soldiers up in Africa, who thus could not be used in the trenches. In World War I, African soldiers (Askaris) were trained to use arms, to shoot at white officers on the other side.
1919-1929 German East Africa partitioned : Kionga added to Moçambique (Portuguese East Africa); League of Nations granted Ruanda-Urundi as mandate to Belgium, bulk of German East Africa under the name Tanganyika as mandate to the British. The inhabitants of German East Africa had to get accustomed to a new language of colonial masters - Portuguese / French / English. Resistance against the establishment of colonial rule in British Somaliland ended as late as 1920. Abyssinia joined League of Nations in 1923. In an effort to placate Italy for non-realized territorial promises made in the Treaty of London 1915, in 1925 the British ceded Jubaland to Italy in 1925.
The British established common organizations for Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika - currency union 1922, customs union 1927. Overall, the colonies saw considerably less investment in infrastructure than in the period prior to World War I. Colonial admnistrations continued trying to attract European immigrants (by granting land); efforts to combat / wipe out infectious diseases were undertaken. In British colonies there were representative bodies (Legislative Councils) which were dominated by whites, representing the administration, the settlers, or white missionaries thought to represent the interests of the African population. A number of East Africans not only learned to speak the language of their colonial masters, but acquired a degree of higher education and of understanding of modern politics. In 1925, in Kenya the Kikuyu Central Organization was founded, a first organization in which Africans dissatisfied with their socio-political situation organized themselves.
1930-1939 The Great Depression affected East Africa, as the price for export products such as coffee, as well as exports, declined. In 1935, Italy invaded Abyssinia; by 1936 the conquest was completed, the country renamed Ethiopia and integrated into Italian East Africa. The Ogaden region was annexed into the Italian Somalia part of Italian East Africa. The Italian act of aggression against a fellow member of the League of Nations, the Italian use of poison gas, the lackluster implementation of the economic boycott against the League of Nations by the colonial powers, disappointed many politically sensitive Africans.
1939-1945 For East Africa the war began in 1940 when Italy entered the war. Italian troops took (undefended) British Somaliland in 1940, but entire Italian East Africa was conquered by British troops in 1941; the independence of Ethiopia was restored; Negus Haile Selassie returned. The administration of Madagascar was loyal to the Vichy regime until ousted by British and South African troops in 1942.
1945-1963 Eritrea and Italian Somaliland (in pre-1936 borders) were under British military administration; in 1950 Italian Somalia was returned to Italian rule, in 1952 Eritrea as an autonomous province annexed by Ethiopia.
Kenya 1952-1956 saw the Mau-Mau rebellion, mainly of the Kikuyu, against British rule. While the movement was suppressed, the colonial administrations, foremost the British, implemented reforms such as enlarging the legislative councils, extending the franchise so that a numbver of Africans could vote and Africans could be elected. The legislative councils saw a sudden shift from white majority to black majority. As Africans until late had not been allowed to form political parties, and many of the political leaders lacked formal higher education, competition for votes favoured idealist candidates making radical demands over more moderate, realistic candidates.
In 1960, Madagascar became independent, so did British Somaliland and Italian Somalia; both former colonies merging to form Somalia, a nation state by contrast to most of her neighbours. Tanganyika became independent in 1961, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi in 1962, Kenya in 1963. Kenyan independence in 1963 saw the exodus of most of the white settlers.
Mauritius was to gain independence in 1968, the Comores (except Mayotte) and Djibouti in 1975, the Seychelles in 1976; Mayotte and Reunion are still French.
1963-1973 When Zanzibar was released into independence in 1964, a coup terminated the Sultanate; the island was merged with Tanganyika to form Tanzania.
The implementation of the concept of Nationalism proved problematic. In Kenya, the distribution of land vacated by the white settlers was conducted in a way favouring the Kikuyus, a matter at the root of the post-election riots of 2008. In Rwanda and Burundi, the Hutu and Tutsi population groups repeatedly faced each other in violent confrontations. The one nation state in the region, Somalia demanded territories with a Somali population from neighbours Ethiopia (the Ogaden), Kenya and French Somaliland; these demands escalated in the Somali-Ethiopian war.
The implementation of a democratic model respecting the various ethnic / religious groups within the state also proved problematic. In 1962 Ethiopia unilaterally cancelled Eritrea's autonomy, triggering a war for independence lasting until 1991. Tanzania proclaimed an African socialism called Ujamaa; the policy alienated the Swahili population of Zanzibar.
The region experienced strong population growth. In the early years after independence, the local infrastructure was expanded (universities, airports built); governments were optimistic regarding their economic development as many Africans believed their economic state of underdevelopment was due to colonial policy intending to prevent such development.
1973-1991 Ethiopia hit by a severe famine 1973-1974; another famine struck 1983-1984.
Cold War at the Horn of Africa : Somali-Ethiopian war over Ogaden. Initially the USSR supported Somalia, the U.S. Ethiopia. In 1974 Ethiopia's emperor Haile Selassie ousted in a military coup; junta switches to Soviet allegiance, US now supported (nominally communist) Somalia. Climax in 1978; Somalia failed in its objective; peace signed in 1988. Both countries saw the rise of regional militias fighting the central government; both governments were ousted in 1991.
Uganda saw a number of changes in government, repeatedly by coup, and a number of civil wars leading to the ousture of dictators, the most notorious Idi Amin. Tanzania the most stable state in the region; Kenya long favoured by western diplomats / the western press because unlike Tanzania the country did not pursue a socialist policy.
Economy : the entire region suffered from the First Oil Crisis, from the fall of prices of African export products in the 1970es. Debt taken up in the early years of independence, a strong population growth, drought, coups, wars affected the regional economy. A sudden rise in interest rates (Reagnomics) in the 1980es paralysed a number of African governments who now had to use the bulk of the state revenue to service their debt.
Since 1991 Eritrea de facto independent since 1991. Somalia disintegrated in a number of countries (Awdal or Somaliland, Puntland, Jubaland etc.); a 1992 U.S. invasion in order to protect relief workers ended in a humiliating withdrawal. World reluctant to recognize the new political map.
Rwanda 1994 site of genocide and a coup by invading Tutsi exiles; Burundi also site of genocide.
Region seriously affected by the AIDS pandemic. Campaigns combatting AIDS limited to lack of funds, infrastructure, the low average income.
World Bank in 2006 cancelled part of the debt of a number of African countries, such as Tanzania, ending the state of paralysis of the respective governments.
2008 post-election riots in Kenya.
Mauritius (which has a melting-pot population) model of a stable state, despite low per capita GDP.

Activities :
1.)    Do you know famous East Africans ?
2.)    Study the historical background of movies featuring East African history : Snows of Kilimanjaro, Out of Africa, The Last King of Scotland, Entebbe, Hotel Rwanda; Gorillas in the Mist what perspective of East African history do these movies show ?

Country History files at WHKMLA : Burundi, Comores, Djibouti (former French Somaliland), Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Reunion, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, Somaliland, Tanzania, Uganda

External Files