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The War in Africa

The German colonies in Africa had been acquired in the 1880s and were not well defended. They were also surrounded by territories controlled by Britain, France, Belgium and Portugal. Colonial military forces in Africa were relatively small, poorly equipped and had been created to maintain internal order, rather than conduct military operations against other colonial forces. The Berlin Conference of 1884 had provided for European colonies in Africa to be neutral, if war broke out in Europe; in 1914 none of the European powers had plans to challenge their opponents for control of overseas colonies. News of the outbreak of war was met by an editorial in The East African Standard on 22 August, arguing that Europeans in Africa should not fight each other but instead collaborate to maintain the repression of the indigenous population. However, as David Kilingray points out, the colonial territories in Africa were inevitably dragged in the war once it turned into a global conflict, a “total war.” In the course of the war the Allies felt they had a responsibility to protect the natives from German militarism and technological developments. The Entente powers posed as crusaders for liberalism and enlightenment but little evidence exists that it was seen as such by Africans. Many African soldiers fought on both sides, with a loyalty to military professionalism rather than nationalism and porters had mainly been attracted by pay or had been coerced. The war had been the final period of the “Scramble for Africa”; control and annexation of territory had been the principal war aim of the Europeans.

The following are original maps of colonial Africa and the military operations in Africa. They were generated by staff of the Olin Library Map Collection department.