German East Africa

German East Africa

German East Africa





Quick reference

General issues: German colony 1893-1919

Country name on general issues: Deutsch-Ostafrika

Special issues:

  • Private issues: Afrikanische Seeen Post 1892
  • Local issues: Wuga mission post 1916
  • Occupation issues: Belgian occupation 1916-1922, Belgian occupation, issues Ruanda and Urundi 1916, British occupation 1917-1920, British occupation, Mafia 1915-1916, British occupation, Nyasaland Force 1916-1917, Indian Expeditionary Force 1914-1922, Portuguese occupation, Kionga 1916-1920

Currency: 1 Rupee = 64 Pesa 1893-1905, 1 Rupee = 100 Heller 1905-1919

Population: 6 457 000 in 1900

Political history German East Africa

Establishing German East Africa

Postal history German East Africa

Please click on the image to enlarge

German East Africa, in the middle of the 19th century, is populated by a large number of different peoples – mainly Swahili speaking Bantu peoples and a small minority of other peoples, such as the Nilo-Saharan Maasai in the north. Parts of the country are, at the time, under control of the sultanate of Zanzibar – more specific the coastal region and areas around the main caravan route from the coast to Lake Tanganyika and Congo.

From 1884, the German East Africa Company is active in the country. In 1885, the German East Africa Company signs treaties with a number of local rulers to form the protectorate of German East Africa – a protectorate administered by the German East Africa Company under protection of the German Empire.  More to the north, the – small – protectorate of Witu is also established in 1885. Witu is administered initially by the German Witu Company, the administration being transferred to the German East Africa Company in 1888.

In 1886, the British and the Germans sign a treaty limiting the control of the sultan of Zanzibar on the mainland to a 10 nautical mile wide stretch along the coast running from Mozambique to Witu. The part that is within the German sphere of influence – including the island of Mafia – is leased by Germany from the sultan of Zanzibar in 1888 and subsequently bought in 1890. A further treaty between Great Britain and Germany in 1890 established the final spheres of influence in the region. Witu is transferred to the British and Zanzibar becomes a British protectorate. Thus, the British may seem to be better off with this treaty, but Germany is compensated elsewhere: it acquires the Caprivi Strip attached to German South West Africa and the island of Heligoland in Europe.

The German East Africa Company transfers its rights to the German Empire in 1891, German East Africa becoming a German colony. The Germans extend their rule to all of German East Africa in the period until 1898.

WWI and aftermath

German Schutztruppe, Askari company - colonial troops, local company with German officers

German Schutztruppe, Askari company – Colonial troops, local recruits with German officers

During WWI, German East Africa is one of the important theaters of war outside Europe. The first skirmishes take place in 1914. In 1915, the British occupy the island of Mafia in order to neutralize the German cruiser Königsberg that is based there. The mainland of German East Africa is invaded in 1916. The Belgians invade from Belgian Congo. The British invade from British East Africa – the Indian Expeditionary Force playing a important part – and from Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland by means of the Nyasaland Force. Finally, the Portuguese invade German East Africa from Mozambique. As the Germans counter attack, part of the war is fought on the soil of Northern Rhodesia, Nyasaland and Mozambique.  The German military command capitulates in 1918.

In the treaty of Versailles, signed in 1919, German East Africa is divided among the Allies. Kionga – a small triangle in the south – is awarded to Portugal and becomes part of Mozambique in 1920. Ruanda-Urundi becomes a Belgian mandated territory and the rest of German East Africa becomes a British mandated territory – from 1920 called Tanganyika. The Belgian withdrawal from the territories awarded to the British takes until 1921. The Belgian and British mandates are formalized by the League of Nations in 1922.

Ruanda-Urundi will gain independence in 1962 as the republic of Rwanda and the kingdom of Burundi. Tanganyika will gain independence within the British Commonwealth in 1961 and will unite with Zanzibar in 1964, to form the republic of Tanzania as we know it until today.

Postal history German East Africa

Stamps issued by the German administration

Postal history German East Africa

1901 – Standard colonial design with the German emperors yacht ‘Hohenzollern’

The first German post offices in eastern Africa are opened in Lamu and Zanzibar in 1888 and 1890 respectively. After the 1890 treaty between Great Britain and Germany on their spheres of influence in eastern Africa, these offices are closed in 1891. In these offices the stamps of Germany had been used, recognized by the cancels.

In German East Africa the first post offices are opened in 1890. Here too, at first, the stamps of Germany are used. The first stamps for German East Africa are issued in 1890, these being German stamps overprinted only with a new face value in the local currency. In 1896, more overprints are issued – again German stamps with a new face value in the local currency – now with the additional overprint of ‘Deutsch-Ostafrika'[1]‘German East Africa’ . The first definitives are issued in 1902. These and subsequent issues are of the standard design for the German colonies. The last stamps are issued in 1919 – even after the German capitulation in German East Africa. The last German post office in German East Africa was closed in 1917.

A private issue was prepared in 1892 by the Schülke & Mayr company based on a treaty with the governor of German East Africa. The stamps were to be used for a postal service between Dar es Salaam and Lake Victoria. As the treaty ended the same year and was not renewed, the stamps were not actually used. A provisional issue was prepared in 1916 in Wuga – stamps of a primitive local design printed by the mission printing office. As sufficient supplies of the regular German East Africa issues arrived in time, this issue was equally never used.  The private issue is only listed in the Michel catalog, the provisional issue is listed in Michel and Scott.

Occupation issues

Postal history German East Africa

1916 – Nyasaland Force

The occupation of German East Africa led to several issues for use in the occupied territories:

  • The first issues to appear were those issued by the British occupation forces on the island of Mafia in 1915. These are stamps of German East Africa that were overprinted ‘G.R. Mafia’ or ‘G.R. Mafia’ and a new face value. In 1915 and 1916, overprints were issued on stamps of the British Indian Expeditionary Force.  These were stamps from British India overprinted ‘I.E.F.’ that were given the additional overprint of ‘G.R. Post Mafia’.
  • More British occupation issues followed when the Nyasaland Force issued stamps in 1916/1917. These were earlier issues of Nyasaland overprinted ‘N.F.’ for ‘Nyasaland Force’.
  • The British forces that had invaded German East Africa from British East Africa and Uganda issued stamps from 1917 until 1922. These were stamps of British East Africa & Uganda overprinted ‘G.E.A.’ for ‘German East Africa’.
  • The forces from British India – operating from British East Africa – in their field offices used the British India issues for the Indian Expeditionary Force – used in Africa but, for example, also in the Middle East. These were British Indian stamps  overprinted ‘I.E.F.’ that were issued from 1914 and used until 1922.
  • The Belgian issue stamps for the occupied territories in German East Africa from 1916 until 1922. The first general issue are stamps of Belgian Congo overprinted ‘Est Africain Allemande Occupation Belge/Duitsch Oost Afrika Belgische Bezetting’[2]French and Dutch for ‘German East Africa Belgian Occupation’. . These are in 1922 reissued with an additional overprint of a new face value. A further set is issued in 1918, stamps of Belgian Congo overprinted ‘A.O.’ for ‘Afrique Orientale’[3]‘East Africa’ . Local issues have appeared for Ruanda and Urundi, the overprints reading ‘Ruanda’ and ‘Urundi’. Stamps with similar overprints for several other locations in German East Africa – Kigoma and others – are not recognized by the catalogs.
  • Finally the Portuguese in 1916  issued stamps for use in Kionga – stamps from Lourenço Marques – a part of Mozambique – overprinted with a new face value and ‘Kionga’. On cover these are rare, only eight covers are known.

The occupation issues were superseded by regular issues at different times: in Kionga by the issues of Mozambique from 1920, in Tanganyika and Ruanda-Urundi by the issues of these mandated territories from 1922 and 1924 respectively.

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2 Responses to German East Africa

  1. Tim Harrison


    Great site, thank you very much. I have an addition to the list of stamp issuing entities: Witu Protectorate, also known as Swahililand. Dates of issue, 10 July 1889 to 18 August 1889, valid until 24 July 1890. Currency 64 pesa = 1 rupee. There were 60 regular postal stamps issued (5 series, issued from 10 July to 18 Aug 1889) and 36 official stamps (3 series issued from 13 July to 8 August 1889). Capital, Witu.

    Witu Protectorate was an enclave of German influence in East Africa, situated to the north of the Zanzibari coastal strip between the Tana River and the Indian Ocean. Its first ruler (Sultan Ahmed Bin Fumo Luti) established a sultanate there in the 1860s after an unsuccessful rebellion against the neighbouring Zanzibaris on Patta Island, to the nort of Lamu. In 1885, the Dernhardt brothers (who are ubiquitous in the commercial history of early German East Africa) successfully negotiated for an Imperial Charter of Protection, which was granted on 27th May under the protection of the Company For German Colonisation.

    Sultan Ahmed died in 1889, but in that year the postal history of Wituland started when his successor, Sultan Fumo Bakara, started a postal service after consultation with the Dernhardt brothers. Stamps were printed in black using hand-carved stencils on unwatermarked paper of various colours according to 12 denominations, starting on 10th July 1889. It seems that the Sultan was never fully satisfied with early issues, resulting in several issues of similar-looking stamps. Stamps were inscribed in Arabic script ”Insignia of The Posts of The Sultan of Swahililand” or variations on this theme. All stamps are rare, and issues on cover are extraordinarily rare. Stamps are listed in Michel, German Colonies section.

    Wituland was ceded back to Great Britain under the terms of the Heligoland Treaty of 1st July 1890.

    I recently posted some images of some Wituland stamps I have in my collection at the following URL:

    Kind regards, Tim H

    • Gerben


      Thanks for your reply. I hope you don’t mind me moving it to German East Africa which is where I discuss the Witu protectorate. The reason why I have not included the issues you mention is rather basic: I have limited the scope of StampWorldHistory to stamp issuing entities listed in the worldwide catalogs and the Witu protectorate issues are only listed in the Michel specialized catalog. Also despite the Michel listing they are not entirely undisputed. Several of the resources I use question the validity of these issues – I could send you scans if you like. The Stamp Atlas summarizes the discussion by stating ‘The local stamps ‘issued’ here (…) have never had universal official recognition’. That being said they are of course being collected and at auctions change hands for considerable amounts of money. You certainly have an impressive collection yourself.

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