The German People and Their Lost Colonies


NOTHING affected the German national esteem so deeply as the loss of the German colonies, based as this loss was upon charges of brutality and maladministration on the part of those who were responsible for the welfare of the natives. After this lapse of time one may see events in a truer perspective than was possible during the furor of the Great War, But the passage of time has not softened the charges that were then made against the Germans — they are only forgotten or seen in their relationship with the present-day needs of a great community struggling to retrieve the disasters of the past. So far from the German colonial movement having been destroyed by the war, the contrary is the case, and Germany to-day is in the full swing of a national awaking comparable with the great colonial effort of forty years ago when the Prussian helmet was first donned officially under the African sun.

Not the retrocession of Alsace-Lorraine, nor the loss of the German Fleet, nor the occupation of the Rhineland, touched Germany so deeply as the so-called ‘rape’ (Kolonialraub) of her colonial possessions. Here, indeed, was a betrayal that affected the national honor; for it was held that this great militarized empire was unworthy to manage naked barbarians and that the iron heel of officialdom had ground down those who should have been lifted in the scale of civilization. This has been characterized as a deliberate lie, a propagandist idea fostered in order to make way for the mandatory system under which nations encharged with the administration of native races become the mandatories of the League of Nations and responsible, at any rate in theory, to a body supposedly much more powerful than themselves. In any case Germany was held to be unworthy of this responsibility, and the charge has rankled deeply in the national consciousness.

But it may be doubted whether such a charge, involving the ‘rape’ of her colonies, would have stirred so profoundly the German imagination but for the fact that Germany, in common with most other European nations, is engaged in a continuous and deadly struggle — not less real because it is so seldom realized — for the control of raw materials and foodstuffs. At a swoop vast potential resources were taken away from her and handed, under the disguise of ‘mandates,’ to rivals in the economic warfare of the present day. In spite of the fact that Germany is now experiencing no difficulty in obtaining adequate supplies of raw materials for her revived industries, and that the dead city of the war, Hamburg, is throbbing with reawakened energy and rapidly resuming her pre-war eminence as a colonial port, no true German will believe that his Fatherland can again be great and prosperous without full control of tropical products for use in its industries. This fact — and it is a fact that is experienced to-day by other nations as well as Germany — is alone sufficient to account for the remarkable colonial revival during the past few years, without the added incentive of the so-called ‘colonial lie’ which so deeply touched German honor.

A Germany without colonial possessions and the ownership of reserves of raw materials is a Germany shorn of itself. Although the German colonial empire was less than forty years old at the time of its premature death, the desire — the imperious need, if one will — for colonies had become deeply engrained in the national character. It was not for nothing that for fifty or sixty years colonial propagandists had stumped the country in an endeavor, entirely successful in the sequel, to awaken the torpid German imagination to a realization of the value of colonies to an industrial nation that was about to lead the world and, eventually, to dominate the two hemispheres. The colonial seed was sown from Hamburg to Königsberg — both great names in German colonial history — and the result was the first German colonial empire. I say ‘first’ advisedly, for no one can believe that Germany will remain permanently without overseas territorial possessions. Although none can at present foresee where these future ‘plantations’ (again the word is used advisedly) can be raised without another world-upheaval, there can be no reasonable doubt that a great and increasing nation, although now at the nadir of its power, will not forever remain in a position of inferiority to much weaker and less progressive neighbors or even to the two greatest colonial Powers — Prance and Great Britain. The future is in the lap of the gods, but the colonial movement tending toward this future is now bursting the bonds of self-restraint imposed by the Peace Treaty, and from end to end of Germany there is an active propaganda for the return of her colonies.

It is difficult for those who have not followed the trend of opinion in Germany to realize how this colonial virus has entered into and spread throughout the whole body politic. It might have been thought, perhaps, that the colonial enthusiasts were but a small and insignificant body, making, it is true, a great noise, but not otherwise counting in the policy of a great nation. This idea, however, is contrary to fact, for from the President downward there is scarcely a leading politician who has not presided over or spoken at public meetings held in favor of rebuilding the lost fleet or regaining the lost colonies. The two ideas, indeed, are closely connected; but here we are chiefly concerned with the colonial movement and the foundations upon which it is built.

The fortieth anniversary, celebrated in April 1924, of the foundation of the German colonial empire was the occasion of a great outburst of popular enthusiasm. The memory of one Adolf Liideritz — who in 1884 hoisted the German flag on the barren shores of Southwest Africa, received the support of Bismarck, and started the overseas empire — evoked more than adequate recognition throughout the Reich. Hitherto the movement had been quietly, though industriously, directed; but the celebration of the Colonial Commemoration Day (Kolonialgedenktag) was a great event in all those cities — Hamburg, Munich, Strassburg, Bremen, Frankfort, and Berlin — in which the colonial idea had taken root previous to the war. Prior to the actual celebration numerous colonial journals issued in Germany had resumed publication. A nation without colonies can still maintain an excellent colonial review, KolonialeRundschau, and publish several colonial newspapers, such as Der Kolonialdeutsche and Afrika-Nachrichten, as well as support a most active and aggressive colonial society, the Deutsche Kolonialgesellschaft, which, through its branches, has organized innumerable meetings and conferences in the chief cities of Germany. Moreover, in association with other groups, such as the Arbeitsgemeinschaft of Munich, and with societies of former colonial soldiers, a general federation of all the colonial bodies, Koloniale Reichsarbeitsgemeinschaft, was formed, which at a later period organized a great colonial congress and exhibition held in the City Hall of Berlin on the seventeenth and eighteenth days of September last. Coincident with this unofficial enthusiasm was the creation, on April 1, 1924, of a colonial section at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, composed of fifteen officials for whom a credit of 156,000 marks was anticipated in the budget of the Ministry. These are facts — and the details might be multiplied easily — that demonstrate the existence of a directed movement of colonial expansion that entails a demand for the restitution of the German colonies.

Although this demand has not yet been put forward officially as the considered policy of the German people, it has been formulated in such a way as to leave no room for doubt as to the ultimate policy of successive German governments. It was not merely a ballon d’essai when the Foreign Minister, Herr Stresemann, writing to the Secretary-General of the League of Nations on December 12, 1924, stated that his country was prepared to enter the League under certain conditions and that ‘Germany, who since her defeat has been excluded from all colonial activities, expects that in due time she will be given an active share in the working of the mandatory system.’ This official declaration, of first-rate and far-reaching importance, was fathered by no less important a person than Dr. Marx, who at the Congress of the Centre Party, on October 27, said that the claim of the Fatherland to recognition as a free nation ‘involved the establishment of a Greater Germany, in the bosom of which would be found again all the German nation and into which our colonies would again be drawn in order that this Germany should have markets for its merchandise and a supply of raw materials.’ This statement was in itself forced upon the German Chancellor by the Federation of Colonial Societies, which had been engaged in active propaganda for this purpose.

The actual result of all this colonial activity is that Germany to-day is little different politically, so far as this question is concerned, from what she was during the period coinciding with the first outburst of enthusiasm for colonial enterprises in the early nineties. The leaders of German thought are again to the fore in all kinds of active propaganda, from the issue of stamps bearing the portraits of colonial heroes, such as Von Lettow - Vorbeck, and letter paper with the legend ‘Deutschland, hole deine Kolonien,’ — that is to say, ‘Germany, retake your colonies,’ — to the organization of great meetings and demonstrations, presided over by wellknown politicians, and the holding of lectures and exhibitions in the State schools. At the request of the Prussian Ministry of Public Instruction, the colonial idea (Kolonialgedanke) has been placed definitely before the pupils, through the agency of the Deutsche Kolonialgesellschaft, which has furnished subjects for discussion, documents, lantern slides, and moving pictures, and paid the traveling expenses of the lecturers. Among the subjects of debate have been the following: The Colonial Lie; A Day in the Plantations of German East Africa; The German Woman in Our Colonies; Under the Flag of Lettow-Vorbeck; and Life in Our Colonies. It is clear that no nation that had accepted the status quo as a permanent condition would be engaged in this active propaganda, and the coping stone has recently been placed on the propagandist edifice by the establishment, in connection with the Reichstag, of an Inter-Party Colonial Union, under the Presidency of Dr. Bell, Vice-President of the Reichstag, for the preparation of Parliamentary action in Germany and abroad.


Before referring to the leaders of this movement it will be well to consider the bases of German propaganda at the present time. It is divided into three principal streams, inclusive of the three problems with which the German people, politically, are chiefly concerned. All of them arise out of the settlement by the Treaty of Versailles and, presumably, can be disposed of only by a revision of that Treaty and the entry of Germany into the League of Nations. With the fight against the so-called ‘ lie of German responsibility for the war’ we are not concerned, except to state that on this question the educational stalls of the universities have responded with what may almost be regarded as well-drilled alacrity, so that Europe has been inundated with statements designed to show that Germany was guiltless in responsibility for the war. With the second question, the struggle for the protection of the German race in neighboring countries, we are equally unconcerned, as this fight is but a continuation of the prewar irredentist policy succinctly summed up by the word ' Pan-Germanism.’ But with the fight against the ‘lie of German incapacity in matters of colonization’ and for the recovery by Germany of her lost colonies, all signatories of the Treaty of Peace are intimately concerned, and it is well, therefore, to consider briefly the statements that are put forward as a basis for argument.

A pamphlet written by Dr. Heinrich Schnee, former Governor of German East Africa, and published for English consumption under the title of ‘The German Colonies under the Mandates/ and a special number of the Silddeutsche Monatshefte containing another article by the same writer, may be taken as typical of these publications, of which many might be cited.

In the former, Dr. Schnee enters the plea that because mandatory government has been a failure the colonies should be returned to Germany. ‘The mandates,’ he writes, ‘have proved a great failure. The present conditions in those colonies are in every way much worse and cannot be compared with what they were under German control. These former German possessions are being thoroughly ruined, not only economically, but ethically and socially. Especially fatal for the natives are the awful consequences of the lack of sanitary conditions to control the ravages of the terrible tropical diseases and epidemics. The natives are extremely dissatisfied with their mandatories. One must come to the conclusion that the only possible solution of the problem is to return the colonies to their rightful owner — Germany.’

In the latter, Dr. Schnee dwells upon the excellencies of the Germans as colonial administrators. ‘Germany,’ he states, ‘has been despoiled of her colonies by a lie. There has been a triple deception. Germany was deceived by invoking the fourteen points of Wilson, in order to justify a rape, pure and simple; the natives of the colonies have been deceived by omitting to consult them; finally the public has been deceived by speaking of a pretended incapacity of the Germans to colonize. The Germans were, on the contrary, good administrators. Their colonies were prosperous and their subjects loved them. They never created in their colonies military ports as did the English, nor militarized the natives as did the French. It was other people, not the Germans, who illtreated the natives. Germany has shown herself civilizing and full of humanity. Under foreign administration the colonies have commenced to be in jeopardy. They will recover only when Germany is again confided with the task of administering them.’

The German argument for the possession of colonies may be divided into three heads. Germany wants colonies (1) in order to provide homes for her surplus population and openings for officials and traders; (2) to produce the raw materials and foodstuffs needed by her vast industrial population; and (3) so that as a great nation she can free herself from the stigma of incompetence, for ‘no great nation, if it is to be free and self-respecting, can be deprived permanently of colonial possessions.’

With regard to the first of these arguments, it can be admitted that Germany has now as much need of colonies to absorb her surplus population as at any time since the foundation of the Empire. German emigration now exceeds the total in 1892, and last year over 115,000 emigrants left the Fatherland to be absorbed by the United States, the Argentine, Brazil, and Paraguay. It is evident, however, that this argument cannot be applied to the ‘rape’ of her former possessions, as Germany has never had colonies of settlement, in contradistinction to plantation colonies, with the possible exception of Southwest Africa, where the white population was only about 15,000 previous to the war.

The second argument is a telling and effective one, although it has been remarked above that there has been an extraordinary revival in German industries, in spite of the fact that Germany owns territorially no present sources of raw materials. The third argument is based upon national amour propre and is undoubtedly more difficult to answer than the others. It is evident that a proud, self-willed, and stubborn people must feel very keenly its moral inferiority to the rest of the world in not being permitted to own colonial territory.

In putting forward these arguments the colonial enthusiasts make two statements, both of which can be easily and effectively answered. The first is that the Allied nations accepted a deliberate lie when they agreed that German colonial administration was notoriously bad and inefficient so far as the natives were concerned, and the second is that the mandatory government now in force in these colonies is more inefficient and disastrous than the former German administration. It is not necessary to enter into any discussion of German colonial methods prior to the war. Their maladministration in many respects has been proved up to the hilt. The natives were illtreated and terrorized over large districts, and the Germans, with notable exceptions, had not learned — perhaps a long and painful lesson for all colonizing nations — that tropical administration requires humanity as well as scientific skill. In all the German colonies the policy of trusteeship for native races had not been frankly admitted, with the consequence that the natives were regarded rather as cogs in the German economic wheel than as human beings with rights and feelings of their own. No European nation is guiltless in this matter, but of recent years the idea of trusteeship has been more and more clearly defined, notably by such great administrators as Sir Frederick Lugard in Nigeria, until it is recognized to-day as the keynote of European policy in Africa. In this respect Germany lagged behind, unfortunately for herself and for the natives then under her charge.

This policy, which is in reality the only effective answer to those who would question the right of Europeans to administer territories not their own, was finally laid down as the basis of our position in East Africa in the Kenya White Paper of 1923. ‘As in the Uganda Protectorate, so in the Kenya Colony,’ it was stated, ‘the principle of Trusteeship for the Natives no less than in the Mandated Territory of Tanganyika is unassailable.’ Mr. OrmsbyGore, the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, has recently elaborated this statement in a notable utterance which may be summed up as follows. The tremendous impact involved in the juxtaposition of white civilization, with its command over material force and its comparatively high and diversified social system, on the primitive peoples of Eastern Africa (and Western Africa, too) has involved a revolution in their modes of life and thought. In order to justify this revolution imposed from without, European nations now recognized a principle of trusteeship embodying duty toward the natives, duty toward the world as trustees for very rich territories so that they may be developed for the use of the whole community, and duty toward the settlers, one of which duties is the development among them of a community sense in contradistinction to the selfish individualism of the past. ‘Britain will not be judged at the bar of history by the work of Government and missionaries alone,’ it is stated in the recent report of the East Africa Commission; ‘the trusteeship lies really upon the shoulders of every man and woman of European race in Africa. It is in very truth a white man’s burden, and all Europeans in Africa must share in the work.’ These words put forward a theory of government that was not practised by Germany, and for that reason Germany was found wanting at the bar of history.

The second charge adumbrated by the new school of enthusiasts, that mandatory government has entirely failed to justify itself, may be completely answered by a study of the present position of Germany’s greatest colony, or that part of it now known as the Tanganyika Territory. In accepting the mandate for Tanganyika, H. M. Government undertook a great task which can be properly performed only if the mandate is a permanent one. Unfortunately the opinion was at one time prevalent in East Africa and elsewhere that the mandates might be withdrawn, and this belief led to a considerable hesitation on the part of those who were prepared to aid in the reestablishment of the country. Fortunately a statement has recently been issued that the mandate is not for a limited period, and that it cannot be abrogated without the unanimous consent of the Powers represented on the Council of the League of Nations and of the Allied and Associated Governments, including France and America, to whom Germany renounced her rights under Article 119 of the Treaty of Versailles and who conferred the mandate on Great Britain. It is thus clear that, except in the unlikely event of grave mismanagement of the natives, the position of Great Britain or of any other country as a mandatory is assured.


The mandated territories in Africa consist of four groups: Togoland, the greater part of which has been allotted to France; Cameroons, of which France has received about five sixths; Southwest Africa, which is administered by the Government of the Union of South Africa; and the former German East Africa, now divided into the Tanganyika Territory, administered by Great Britain, and Ruanda-Urundi, administered by Belgium. It is the Tanganyika Territory that generally provides the text for German criticism. It should be frankly admitted that in certain respects British administration has not reached the standard attained by the Germans, although great progress is being made to remedy initial errors, due to a too rigid economy with regard to precisely those aspects of administration in which the Germans took, and rightly took, the greatest pride.

A great want of intelligent foresight was shown when such an admirable scientific institution as the Amani Research Institute, which was founded in 1902 and upon which the German Government had expended £120,000, was practically closed down. This was a tropical scientific experiment station superior to anything in the British Colonies and Protectorates and comparable only with the Indian research institute at Pusa or the similar Dutch institution at Buitenzorg in Java. Here a remarkable work had been done by the Germans in investigating all kinds of products likely to be of service in developing their colonies. Provisions have now been made for the reestablishment of this institute. This, in connection with the really admirable work done by the Medical and Sanitary Departments and the Agricultural and Veterinary Departments, which employ a large European and native staff working in coöperation with the Department of Education, should finally remove a just cause of complaint on the part of the Germans. In all other respects Tanganyika has made such remarkable progress that Dr. Schnee’s indictment may now be completely refuted.

Any criticism of mandatory administration in Africa should be tempered by the reflection that at the time of the Peace these territories had been devastated by war and their administration had been seriously impeded. This was especially the case in East Africa. We must imagine a country, twice the size of the German Empire with the addition of its shorn provinces, containing nearly eight million natives, which, when the Belgians and British assumed administration, had been ravaged by four years of almost continuous warfare. Over this vast area the contending forces had marched and countermarched. The railways had been torn up and practically destroyed; the bridges were broken down; the plantations were running wild and derelict; trade was almost at a standstill; and, above all, such of the natives as had been drawn into the industrial net were rapidly reverting to idleness and apathy and had to some extent lost their respect for the white man, although they had gained a lively idea of his material power. So rapidly does Africa revert, both spiritually and materially, that it would be only a slight exaggeration to state that in Tanganyika much had to be done de novo.

Into this chaos of economic stagnation and spiritual backsliding it was the task of the mandatory administration to introduce order, to renew all forms of educational work, to restart the plantations, and to reërect a new economic system upon the ruined German administration. It was a great effort, even to so successful an administrator as Great Britain; for officials had to be drawn from the depleted staffs of other colonies, who were necessarily unversed in conditions in Tanganyika, and a new administration had to be built up almost from the beginning. In East Africa it was not a question of the withdrawal of an occupying force and the substitution of another force equally efficient. It was a question of the creation of an entirely new army of organization.

The result of this change, although not yet a complete success, speaks volumes for the methods that have been employed; and there can be little doubt that Tanganyika in nearly every respect is fully equal to what it was under German control, and in some matters is certainly superior. From the material point of view it is already the greatest exporter of sisal hemp within the British Empire, ranks third in the export of sesame or ‘sim-sim,’ fourth in the export of ground-nuts and cotton, and fifth in copra. The export figures for 1923, allowing for the increase of prices, were rapidly approaching, even if they did not exceed, the pre-war total of the whole of German East Africa, being £1,657,601 (not including reexports, a very large feature in the Tanganyika trade), compared with the German total of £1,121,888 in the year 1911. But these remarkable results were eclipsed last year when there was a further increase of 60 per cent — an increase shown by the exports of no other country in the world.

Even the Germans, with their keen economic sense, can scarcely regard the above result as unsatisfactory; and it is mainly because they realize the great economic value of this vast territory that they are to-day so keen on obtaining a revision of the Treaty that was forced upon them.

Financially conditions in this part of East Africa are not entirely satisfactory, in view of the large grant that has to be made from Imperial funds; but it must be borne in mind that large sums have had to be expended on many forms of renovation, and that with the increase of railways — the prime factor in all African progress, for which there is no substitute — there will be a further advance in prosperity. In the recent report of the East African Commission stress is laid upon the building of new railways and the improvement, of harbors, and these works will almost certainly be undertaken in the near future. Already, however, Dr. Schnee’s remark that ‘the natives are povertystricken because the possibility of selling their produce has been taken from them on account of the cessation of export’ has been completely falsified, while from the purely educational standpoint sufficient advance has been made in the reestablishment of schools to justify the statement of the independent Phelps-Stokes investigation that ‘the Government has made commendable progress in the reorganization of schools during the last three years. Genuine effort has been made to relate the school work to the conditions and needs of the people, especially as regards health and agriculture.’ It is not possible to describe here what has been done in the other mandated territories to justify the change in administration, but it is sufficiently evident that a clear case can be established that this change has been justified by its results in spite of the fact that these countries were taken over in a state of collapse and during an unparalleled period of world-depression.

As has been remarked, the new colonial movement in Germany is ably directed by individuals who are accorded the powerful support of the State. Many of the leaders of this movement have played an important part in the development of the former German colonies and are ready to establish others wherever and whenever it is possible to do so. Duke Adolf Friedrich of Mecklenburg, for instance, a former Governor of Togoland, a distinguished African traveler, and a brother of the Prince Consort of the Netherlands, recently attempted to secure a concession of the greater part of the Dutch portion of New Guinea, so that there could be established there a great chartered company, enjoying almost sovereign rights. Unfortunately for the success of what was a well-conceived plan, this project was decisively rejected by the Government of the Netherlands East Indies, in spite of, and perhaps because of, the active support of Dr. Helfferich, brother of the late leader of the German Nationalist Party. This avenue being closed, at any rate for the present, there can be no doubt that political explorations accompanied by economic activities will be pursued in other directions, with the support of such national heroes as General von Lettow-Vorbeck, who took so distinguished a part in the defense of East Africa, Dr. Marx, the late Chancellor, Dr. Solf, the last Colonial Minister of the old empire, Dr. Schnee, and a host of lesser worthies. The roots of German colonialism are too deep to be eradicated and, whatever opinion one may hold as to the desirability of Germany again becoming a colonial power, there can be as little doubt that her call for colonies is a genuine one as there can be that it must arouse the sympathies, though not necessarily the coöperation and aid, of all fair-minded observers.