Social Problem
the Economy

The Kaiserreich : Colonial Policy

A.) Colonial Policy under Otto von Bismarck

In parliament, Otto von Bismarck depended on the support of the national liberals, who demanded the acquisition of colonies in order to 'secure Germany's trade interests' and to create an outlet for Germany's population surplus. Bismarck regarded Germany a continental European power without colonial interests. He was satisfied seeing France and Russia distracted by their colonial expansion in Africa and Asia. However, his no-colonies-for-Germany stand was a minor issue on his agenda.
During the SCRAMBLE FOR AFRICA, Bismarck seized the opportunity and presided over the BERLIN CONFERENCE of 1885, where all claimants received some shares, and Germany itself claimed it's first colonies, TOGO (1884), CAMEROONS (1884) and GERMAN SOUTHWEST AFRICA (1884), where the basis for German acquisition had been laid by men such as CARL PETERS, LUEDERITZ, WOERMANN. In 1885 Germany claimed GERMAN EAST AFRICA; in 1886 Germany and Britain signed a treaty recognizing mutual spheres of interest there. In 1884/5 Germany also acquired GERMAN NEW GUINEA, bought from the NEW GUINEA CO. (est. 1880) and the MARSHALL ISLANDS.

B.) Post-Bismarckian Colonial Policy

Colonies were only of secondary interest to Bismarck. In 1890 his successor Caprivi signed the so-called HELIGOLAND-ZANZIBAR-TREATY with Britain : Germany ceded the Wituland as well as claims over Ugandan and Somali territory to Britain, in exchange for the small island of Heligoland, located in the North Sea, and the Caprivi Strip giving Namibia access to the Zambezi river.
After Japan's victory in the SINO-JAPANESE WAR of 1894/95, Germany, France and Russia pressed Japan to give back some of it's conquests from China, only to make their own claims. In 1897 Germany leased the KIAUCHOW territory from China; Germany enjoyed a number of economic privileges in the Shandong province. After the SPANISH-AMERICAN WAR of 1898, Germany bought the CAROLINE and MARIANA ISLANDS (except Guam) from Spain.
Kaiser Wilhelm II. was much more in favour of the acquisition of colonies (Germany demands a place in the sun); the supporters of an aggressive colonial policy became organized (FLOTTENVEREIN 1898 (Naval League)).
In the late 19th century, Germany's industry had expanded rapidly, looking to secure both a reliable supply of raw materials and a secure market. Emigration, although a frequent topic in imperialist speeches, was of minor importance - only in South West Africa (modern Namibia) ca. 20.000 Germans settled down.
Unsaturated appetite for more colonial acquisitions and the (imagined) need to secure a harbour between Germany and it's possessions in west Africa (AGADIR 1907, 1911) were among the reasons that led to World War I. The logic of imperialists dominated among Wilhelm II.s advisors, namely ADMIRAL TIRPITZ. Germany pursued on a policy of massive fleet expansion. In a secret treaty with Britain, Germany suggested both countries to split up Portugal's colonial possessions, a treaty which never became reality.

C.) German Colonial Administration

In it's colonies, Germany established an infrastructure - an administrative centre, roads, railways, hospitals, schools. A plantation economy was created, suiting the needs of the mother country, rebellions brutally crushed. When the HERERO rebelled in German South West Africa in 1906, they were driven into the Kalahari desert, where most of them died of dehydration.
Germany's colonial administration overall was deficitary, the expenses outnumbering the revenue.

Tsingtao - A chapter in German colonial history in China, 1897-1914, from DHM
Kaiserreich : Kolonialpolitik, from DHM : lemo, in German, illustrated
DOCUMENTS Sources on German Imperialism from psm-data, in German, English; from LSG, in German
Kaiser Wilhelm II.: A Place in the Sun, 1901, from Modern History Sourcebook
Thronrede Kaiser Wilhelms II.: Eroeffnung des Reichstags am 28.11.1905 Auszug zur Entwicklung in den "deutschen Schutzgebieten", from DHM
Thronrede Kaiser Wilhelms II. - Eroeffnung des Reichstags am 19.11.1907 Auszug zur Entwicklung in den "deutschen Schutzgebieten", from DHM
Plan to Partition Portugal's Colonial Empire, in : Memoirs Prince Lichnowsky 1912-1914, from BYU, scroll down to 'colonial treaty'
Friedrich Fabri, Does Germany need Colonies ? (1879), in excerpt posted by J.V. O'Brien
Bismarck on Colonial Policy 1884, 1889 from LSG, in German
Cartoons on German Imperialism, posted by LSG
Article Kolonien - Die Kolonialbestrebungen in Deutschland (Colonies - the Movement for the Creation of a Colonial Empire in Germany), P.1 (958), P.2 (959), from Meyers Konversationslexikon, 1888-1890 edition, in German
REFERENCE The Age of European Imperialism : Germany and Italy Join the Race, from John Merriman, A History of Modern Europe, NY : W.W. Norton 1996

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on November 12th 2004

Click here to go Home
Click here to go to Information about KMLA, WHKMLA, the author and webmaster
Click here to go to Statistics

Impressum · Datenschutz