Why German is Spoken in East Africa

Carl Peters, Doctor of Law, was a German national with less than $12,500, equivalent to around $400,000 today in capital, and played a significant role in colonizing East Africa. 

He had a doctorate in law, specializing in international law. During his expedition to East Africa in 1884, he reportedly made dubious agreements with local leaders and tribal chiefs. 

These agreements were the basis for establishing the German East Africa Company. However, his assertive and frequently aggressive methods of securing treaties and concessions later led to complications.

Carl Peters, Doctor of Law
Carl Peters, Doctor of Law

Dr. Peters studied British colonial activities and was determined to create adventure companies to establish German colonies in East Africa. He set up the Society for German Colonisation and raised $10,000 from sympathetic adventurers, equivalent to just over $300,000 today. His journey to Zanzibar began on November 4th, 1884, marking the start of his efforts to establish German colonial interests in East Africa.

During this expedition, Dr. Peters, serving as the Chairman and General Manager of the German East Africa Company, negotiated with Barghash bin Said, the Sultan of Zanzibar. The goal was to secure concessions for the ports of Dar-es-Salaam and Pangani. These concessions were crucial as they would allow direct trade with the interior regions through a strip of land controlled by the Sultan.

During the negotiations, Dr. Peters identified an opportunity to expand the Company's influence by securing a lease for the entire coastline within the German colonial territory. On July 30, 1887, he negotiated a temporary agreement with the Sultan. On April 22, 1888, a formal agreement was signed.

As part of the agreement, the Sultan granted the German East Africa Company the right to administer from the Umba River mouth to Cape Delgado for 50 years. This administration encompassed policing and justice and would continue under the banner of Zanzibar and the Sultan's name. However, it led to atrocities and ultimately tainted Dr. Peters' reputation.

The agreement also gave the Company ownership of unclaimed land, forests, and mines. It allowed the Company to tax the native population and establish a bank with the exclusive right to issue notes. The most financially significant part of the agreement was the management and control of customs-related activities. In the first year, the Company would handle customs duties on behalf of the Sultan, getting a 5 percent commission. 

The cost, up to an amount of 250,000 marks (equivalent to about $135,232.36 in United States Dollars today), would be paid by the Sultan. After the first year, the Company would lease the customs for a fee determined by the results of that year's operation, subject to potential adjustments every three years. And so, on August 15th, 1888, the German East Africa Company came into existence.

As the German East Africa Company gained control over certain coastal and inland territories, there was a need for administrative and governance structures. To manage these areas effectively, the German language, the colonial power's language, was introduced for official purposes.

German became the official language of administration, governance, and communication in the areas controlled by the German East Africa Company. This meant government officials, documentation, and legal proceedings were conducted in German.

However, the Company took over the administration of coastal territories but struggled to maintain control in the face of resistance and insurrections by local leaders and Arab Valis, who had previously dominated those areas. Even after the dissolution of the German East Africa Company and the establishment of German East Africa as a German colony, the use of the German language continued in official capacities. 

Nonetheless, as the situation in East Africa became increasingly difficult to manage, the German government had to intervene to protect its interests and assert control in the region. Eventually, due to the escalating conflicts and instability in the region, the German government dissolved the German East Africa Company. The German government took over the colonial administration of German East Africa.

In 1895, Dr. Carl Peters, the founder of the German East Africa Company, faced a tumultuous legal and personal ordeal due to his actions in East Africa. One of the major charges against Dr. Peters was the mistreatment of indigenous people and his brutal behavior on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro from 1891 to 1892, which the German Colonial administration refused to acknowledge for many years.

Allegations of coerced labor, maltreatment, and the ruthless exploitation of African individuals were pivotal in the legal prosecution launched against him. He was put on trial in Germany for his actions in East Africa. As a result of the guilty verdict, Dr. Peters was sentenced to prison for three years. Following his release from prison, Dr. Peters returned to Germany, became a prolific, controversial author, and died on September 10, 1918.


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