Tag: Africa
Zanzibar (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

Throughout the nineteenth century, the Sultan of Zanzibar ruled most of the East African mainland. He held tight control over the region, and ran lucrative ivory and slave trades. The indigenous tribes resented the control, but weren’t nearly powerful enough to oppose it.

As David Livingstone launched his expedition from Zanzibar, other explorers joined him and they began to send back reports of the horrors of the African slave trade. Political lobbyists in England began to press the Sultan to quit the slave trade, and in 1873, he reluctantly capitulated to their demands.

Thanks to these efforts, the British government held an informal control over the Sultan for a time. In the 1880s, British control came under threat by the Germans who began quietly garnering allegiance and support from the local tribe leaders. They moved quickly, getting each tribe to agree to the Kaiser being their overlord. The tribe leaders were quick to agree, misguidedly assuming that a distant overlord would be less trouble than the nearby Sultan.

The Germans formed a German East Africa Company that incorporated all the lands of the tribal treaties that they had signed. The new colony was dubbed Tanganyika and stretched from Tanganyika to Witu.

The British were taken fully by surprise, and moved rapidly to counter the German occupation. They set up the British East Africa Company and once again put pressure on the Sultan to hand over command of his remaining lands in East Africa. Once the land was rightfully divided between the Germans and the British, a temporary peace was established as each agreed to respect the others’ domain. A few years later, a more binding agreement was officially signed, giving Britain rule over Zanzibar and all the land from the Island of Pemba to Lake Victoria and the Nile watershed.

Before long, the East Africa Company found that their income was not nearly enough to offset the expenses of administration, so they sold their lands and buildings to the British Government. The government had the resources to properly develop the region, and a railway was soon built which opened up the highlands for white settlement.

Britain's possessions in British East Africa d...
Britain’s possessions in British East Africa during the colonial period. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The highlands provided a pleasant climate and land suitable for growing a variety of cash crops. In 1906, white settlers had moved in and developed crops of tea, coffee and tobacco. In 1907, the white settlers were given a select number of seats in the local government, though the local governor maintained majority control over who was appointed.

At the end of the First World War (which strongly impacted Kenya’s white population), the British settlers there pressed for the adoption of Kenya as a Crown Colony. This request was granted, giving the settlers far great rights in the region. Though the British government stated that as an African territory, the natives should be paramount, the lion’s share of government representation was given to the white settlers.

This inequality coupled with the worldwide depression of the 1930s led to serious tensions in the region. Nationalist groups grew up, and Kenya was wracked by deadly rebellions. The Mau Mau rebellion resulted in the murders of multitudes of British settlers and those who worked for them.

The rebellion was quelled, and throughout the 1950s, the Africans were given more lands and greater representation in government. In 1960, the policy of “one person one vote” was established, effectively ending the imbalance of power held by the white settlers.

By the end of British colonial rule in 1963, there remained some 60,000 white settlers living in Kenya. That number has dropped over the years, and today there are an estimated 32,000 British expatriates  living there. There are a number of well-known Britons who were actually born in Kenya, including Evolutionary scientist Richard Dawkins, cyclist Chris Froome, and Sir Michael Bear, 683rd Lord Mayor of London.


Relics of Empire: Saint Helena

English: Jamestown, capital of Saint Helena, f...
Jamestown, capital of Saint Helena, from above (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

About 1200 miles off the southwest coast of Africa lies the tiny island of Saint Helena. It is one of the most isolated islands in the world, yet it has long played an important role as a stopover point for ships sailing to Europe from South Africa and Asia. The island of Saint Helena is perhaps most famous, however, as a place of exile for such dignitaries as Napoleon Bonaparte and Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo.

Today, Saint Helena is distinguished by being Britain’s second oldest colony. It makes up part of the British overseas territory that also includes the islands of Tristan da Cunha and Ascension Island.

The island of Saint Helena was originally discovered by the Portuguese. Recognizing it as a strategic rendezvous point, the Portuguese furnished the uninhabited island with fruit trees, vegetables and herds of livestock, and built a small chapel and a couple of simple houses. While they chose not to form a permanent settlement, the island became a regular port of call for Portuguese ships.

When Sir Francis Drake located the island and realized that Portuguese ships regularly called there, English war ships began ambushing the heavily-laden Portuguese carracks. Obviously, this quickly discouraged the Spanish and Portuguese, and they soon reverted to new ports along the west coast of Africa.

The Dutch were developing their own trade routes at the time, and soon began frequenting the island. The Dutch officially claimed Saint Helena in 1633; however, nothing came of their claim, as they never colonized or fortified the island.

English: Copper engraving, 'A View of the Town...
‘A View of the Town and Island of St Helena in the Atlantic Ocean belonging to the English East India Company’ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As Saint Helena was largely abandoned, Oliver Cromwell scooped up the opportunity by granting the English East India Company a charter to govern the island. The Company moved quickly, fortifying the island and populating it with planters. In 1659, Captain John Dutton was made the first governor of the island, and the settlement was named Jamestown in honor of the Duke of York.

For a time, the Company faced severe challenges in attracting new immigrants. Ecological problems and social unrest nearly resulted in abandonment of the settlement; however, through continued subsidies, improved fortification, ecological initiatives, and legal reforms, the colony was soon back on track. By 1770, the island was enjoying considerable peace and prosperity, and by 1814, the population had reached 3,507.

In 1815, the British government took control of the island as Saint Helena had been selected as the holding place for Napoleon Bonaparte. While the Saint Helena was still technically under EIC possession, the island was strongly fortified with hundreds of British troops and guarded continuously by naval vessels.

After Napoleon’s death in 1821, control was once again given to the EIC; however, this transition was short-lived. The passing of the 1833 India Act brought Saint Helen back under the jurisdiction of the British Crown as a Crown Colony.

The government immediately implemented a number of cost-cutting measures which initiated a significant population decline. Many who could afford to do so chose to move abroad. The economy and population saw brief spikes throughout the 19th and 20th centuries; however living standards were steadily in decline for many years.

In 1989, the British Overseas Territories Act provided the islanders with full and equal status under British law. Since that time, the government has invested significant resources in helping the island to once more reach a point of self-sufficiency and economic growth.

Today, the island has a population of around 4,250 residents. Most are of British origin, descended from planters and soldiers.

Relics of Empire: Tristan da Cunha

Smack in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean sits “the remotest island in the world.” This tiny colony of Great Britain is comprised of six small islands: Tristan da Cunha (the main body), flanked by Inaccessible, Nightingale, Middle, Stoltenhoff, and Gough. All but Tristan and Gough are unoccupied; however, Gough boasts little more than a manned weather station.

The islands were discovered in 1506 by Portuguese explorer Tristão da Cunha. The explorer was on his way to the Cape of Good Hope when he happened upon the islands; however, rough weather and tempestuous seas prevented him from making a landing. Before moving on, he named the island after himself, calling it Illha de Tristão da Cunha. This was later Anglicized to the modern name Tristan da Cunha.

Settlement of Edinburgh of the Seven Seas on T...
Settlement of Edinburgh of the Seven Seas on Tristan da Cunha Island (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few others happened by the islands throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, though none stayed long. In 1810, the first settler arrived: an American named Jonathan Lambert, who claimed the islands as his own property and renamed them the Islands of Refreshment. Neither the name nor rule stuck for long, as Lambert died just two years later.

British rule of Tristan da Cunha began soon thereafter, when the United Kingdom formally annexed the islands. The move was a strategic military one, made primarily to keep the island out of the hands of enemy forces. The British government feared that the islands could be used as a rescue base from which the French could free Napoleon Bonaparte from imprisonment on Saint Helena. There were also concerns that the Americans might try use the base again as they had done in 1812.

Initially, Tristan was populated by military personnel; however, the British garrison was soon bolstered by a growing population of civilians and whalers. This minor population growth was short lived though, and as the Suez Canal improved shipping lines, the islands once again sank into isolation.

By 1938, the islands had been declared a dependency of Saint Helena. The population grew marginally throughout the 20th century; however, when Queen Mary’s Peak erupted in 1961, the entire population was forced to evacuate. A year later, the island was assessed, and since damage was minimal, most families returned.

English: Portrait of Tristan da Cunha settler ...
Portrait of Tristan da Cunha settler Jonathan Lambert (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, the islanders carry on in relative obscurity. On occasion, such as during the extratopical cyclone in 2001, they receive relief from the British government. Mostly though, the islanders of Tristan da Cunha are largely self-sufficient – especially since the islands were given a unique UK postal code, allowing them to order needed supplies online.

The island is ruled by the Queen, represented by the Governor of Saint Helena. The governor appoints an administrator on the island who takes advice from a local island council.

The population of Tristan da Cunha is 264. Most of these are descended from 15 original ancestors who arrived on the island between the 1800s and 1900s. There are only eight surnames on the island, and these speak to the heritage of the inhabitants: Glass and Patterson (Scottish), Hagan (Irish), Rogers and Swain (English), Green (Dutch), Lavarello and Repetto (Italian).


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