Conversations on Europe. “Centering a Sideshow: World War One in German East Africa as Local Experience.”
The East African campaign of World War I engaged hundreds of thousands of soldiers, porters, and other laborers between 1914 and 1918. Its geographical scope encompassed the lands that today comprise mainland Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, and more. This paper provides an overview of how different African actors within the East African theater experienced the war, highlighting localized understandings of the nature of warfare, its costs, and in some cases, the opportunities it made available. For example, in what ways did the East African campaign simply appear as a mere continuation of previous wars of colonial conquest to certain residents of German East Africa? This paper also traces how some of the more “global” aspects of the war, such as food shortages and disease, manifested in local contexts. This paper argues that by labeling extra-European theaters of war as “sideshows,” we miss opportunities to explore commonalities and differences in diverse human experiences of the war. Certainly to those who lived through it, the East African campaign was no sideshow, but instead a profoundly disorienting and disruptive era of loss, suffering, socio-economic disruption, and political change.
Michelle Moyd is an Assistant Professor of History at Indiana University—Bloomington. She received her Ph.D. from Cornell University in 2008. She specializes in African history, with a particular focus on the social and cultural history of African colonial militaries and colonial warfare. Her first book, Violent Intermediaries: African Soldiers, Conquest, and Everyday Colonialism in German East Africa will appear in the New African Histories series at Ohio University Press in Summer 2014.
World War I was a major turning point in world history that brought Europe’s long nineteenth century to a close and ushered in the conflicts of the twentieth century. Beginning in 2014, the Weiser Center for Europe and Eurasia is sponsoring a series of programs—WWI 1914-2014: Reflecting on the 100th Anniversary of WWI—that examine the many ways that WWI changed Europe’s place in the world.
Sponsors: CES, African Studies Center