When most of us think of World War I, we rarely consider the continent of Africa. But Africa and World War I are important stories in the histories of both. This episode looks at the impact of the Great War on the continent of Africa. We look at the fall of German West Africa, the terrible toll of the East African front, and all that took place in between the two.

Africa and World War I
World War 1 in Africa. British African troops on the march to Kilimanjaro. The Operation began on Feb. 25, 1916 and ended on March 22, 1916, when the British took possession of the mountain from Germany

The fighting of World War I in Africa was among the earliest and latest engagements of the war. The west, under German rule, collapsed quickly but a variety of uprisings and atrocities bridged the gap between that relatively quick fight and the longer and more notorious campaign in the east.

Africa and World War I
World War 1 in East Africa. German Askaris (native soldiers) posing at attention with artillery. Manning the gun on the left are two German officers. Ca. 1915-18.

More than 1 million Africans were involved in fighting World War I, either on the African continent or in far-off lands where their colonial overlords shipped them. When we add in the known totals of Africans, men women and children, who were forced to act as carriers for the Europeans, that total grows to 2.5 million.

The French and the Germans used forced, sometimes unpaid, conscription to leverage what they saw as an inexhaustible resource of fighting men from Africa into their battle fronts.

Africa in World War I
World War 1 in Africa. Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck was commander German East Africa forces in World War 1 campaign. With a force of 20.000 Germans and Askari (Africans), he fought with guerilla tactics

 

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Find the other episodes of our History of Africa podcast series here.

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JB Shreve is the author of "How the World Ends: Understanding the Growing Chaos." He has been the host of the End of History podcast since 2012. He has degrees in International Relations and Middle East Studies. His other books include the Intelligence Brief Series. Regular posts and updates from JB Shreve are available at www.theendofhistory.net