The centenary of the outbreak of the “war to end all wars” in August 1914 will be commemorated throughout Europe. The suffering and loss of life during the conflict will loom large. One signally important theatre of war is likely to remain overlooked – Africa.
The East Africa campaign engulfed 750,000 square miles – an area three times the size of the German Reich – as 150,000 Allied troops sought to defeat a German force whose strength never exceeded 25,000. Its financial cost to the Allies was comparable to that of the Boer War, Britain’s most expensive conflict since the Napoleonic Wars. The official British death toll exceeded 105,000 troops and military carriers. But it was civilian populations throughout East Africa who suffered worst of all in this final phase of the “Scramble for Africa”.
To call the Great War in East Africa a “sideshow” to the war in Europe may be correct, but it is demeaning. The scale and impact of the campaign were gargantuan. The troops, carriers and millions of civilians caught up in the fighting in East Africa should not be forgotten.
Edward Paice is Director of Africa Research Institute and the author of Tip & Run: The Untold Tragedy of the Great War in Africa(Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007).