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'As Bad as the Congo/?: British Perceptions of Colonial Rule and Violence in Anglo-German Southern Africa, 1896-1918

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

This thesis examines British perceptions of Anglo-German colonialism in Southern Africa before and after the First World War. During the peace negotiations at Versailles, the British Foreign Office published the Blue Book which exposed Germany’s brutal suppression of the 1904-8 Herero and Nama uprising in German Southwest Africa (GSWA) as an abuse of the responsibilities of a colonial power. This was part of a move to allow Britain and her allies to confiscate German colonies all over the globe through showing how Germany was unfit as a trustee of ‘backward’ nations. The German delegation responded by publishing a White Book which claimed Britain had committed similar atrocities in its colonies – particularly in Southern Rhodesia in the 1890s.

This dissertation examines the entangled histories of British and German colonial violence in the cases of Southern Rhodesia and GSWA. It juxtaposes how the British viewed, and in part collaborated with, German counterinsurgency at the zenith of ‘High Imperialism’ vs. their position at Versailles. It explores the interests and agendas of British officials. These included the internal security of Southern Rhodesia and the extent of governmental influence, the problem of the Boer diehards who had taken up residence in GSWA, and rivalry with Germany for command of south-central Africa. Situated in this myriad of stakes was the African resistance of the Ndebele and the Herero and Nama which posed both challenges and opportunities for British officials.

Central to the thesis is an exploration of the values and ideas which underpinned British attitudes to colonial violence. It seeks in particular to understand the role of humanitarianism, central to the justification for European rule in Africa since its partition at the Berlin Conference. It examines equally how ideas of race and civilisation shaped how British officials understood both their strategic interests and the legitimate uses of colonial violence in the aftermath of the partition of Africa.

Overall, the dissertation is a contribution to a new history of European imperialism in Africa which keeps in focus, at the same time, the histories of European imperial rivalry and collaboration.
Original languageEnglish
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Award date2018

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