How Colonial Officials Dealt With the Problem of Labour in Colonial Tanganyika and Zanzibar | HI 360

Picha ya mapango

Tanganyika and Zanzibar was colonized during the late of the 19th century. The next was the establishment of colonial economy, so as to exploit both colonies. The Cambridge dictionary define labour as a practical work, especially when it involves hard physical effort: Colonial exploitation required economic development. Economic development required the exploitation of African labour. The problem was how to extract the necessary labour from those who possesed it and how to make them available to the colonialists. All economic activities, whole colonial development, depended on African labour. ‘To colonize Africa means to make the negro work.’[1] Labour question become the field where the most vital interests of the colonizers and the colonized confronted one another and where the great struggle between the intruding Europeans and accomodating Africans was daily re enacted in a myriad silent everyday forms. The following were the solution provided by the colonial officialls to solve the problem of labour in colonial Tanganyika and Zanzibar.
Introduction of colonial education. The limit of African wants and desires was seen extremely low even in areas where efforts had been made to raise it by supplying of trade goods. This was explained that, nature had not driven African to demand more than they had. Wrote Burton, ‘In these temperate and abundant lands nature has cursed mankind with the abudance of her gifts, his wants still await creation and he is contended with such necessaries as roots and herbs, game and few handfuls of grain, consequently, improvement has no hold upon him.’[2] If Africans did not wish or know how to work, they must be educated for work. Example, education for work become the key concept of German colonial ideology. Many schools built in production centers. For the first time Africans were educated for plantation work. District agricultural officers gave instruction on planting different crops.

The use of slaves. German colonialists abolished only slave trade, not slavery itself. As late as 1901 Gotzen implied that slave production was so important to the colonial economy that he could not agree to abolition. Colonialists supported slavery for economic reasons. The number of slaves in the colony was counted in hundreds of thousands, the great majority living on the southern coast and around Tabora. Europeans hired slaves to their masters as workers. The European employer made a deal directly with the slaveowner or more commonly with an Indian recruiter for delivery of certain number of slaves for a period agreed beforehand, ussually for a few months. A considerable part ussually half of the wage was pocketed by the owner and the recruiter; the rest, together with posho went to the slave labourer him or herself. Before 1903 the practice was still going on in Tanga, Pangani and Kilwa. But in 1903 the acting governor Stuhlmann in his report, make clear that hiring of slaves produced a great deal of problems which made it unsuitable means of obtaining labour. The root cause for the failure to transform slaves into wage labourers lay in the discrepancy between the work organization in the pre colonial slave economy and that in the new colonial economy.
Forced labour. Those Africans who did not wish to work for Europeans could be forced into it. The governor who advocated the use of force was Liebert. Example, the annual report of DOAPG related from their Lewa plantation that if the chief did not send workers, he was taken from his village and kept as a hostange until his people come to work. In west Usambara forced labourers were first obtained through the commands of Kilindi chiefs. Each farm was alloted certain nearby African villages which had to provide them with a labourers. Whoever could not pay or had nothing to sell was obligated to work: a month of work for the government. In this way there were tens, hundreds of thousands to be employed.

Taxation. A more and effective means available to the colonial state to influence the volume and direction of labour flows was intensifying the collection of tax and manipulating it according to labour demands. Where tax had been collected it had driven people to work in two ways: directly as tax labourers who paid their taxes in work instead of cash or produce, and indirectly by creating a need to procure money to pay tax. As time went on more and more tax was collected in cash and the labour role of taxation as an indirect push to work was strengthened. Taxation become an increasingly selective measure being used for different purposes in different areas. For example, in Tanganyika; hut tax and head tax were introduced. A migrant worker could earn up to 15 rupees a month. To push the African living in these areas to work or more, tax rates there should be raised substantially, whereas elsewhere they could stay lower.

Labour card systems. A popular solution to labour availability was a labour cards (kipande). Its pioneer was West Usambara, known as Wilhelmstal. Every Shambaa man except for Jumbes and some who worked for the colonial administration, had to obtain an official labour card. It contained 30 squires which were filled according to the number of days worked by the holder for European employers, missionaries included. A card had to be filled in four months, otherwise the holder could be sent to public works which were paid less or not at all. This system for officials it saved a great deal of time and trouble as they were no longer needed to obtain and dispatch batches of individual workers to certain farms. Kipande system applied in Usambara, Tanga, Kilimanjaro and Morogoro. All in all labour card system were sometimes called unofficial because they were adopted to local conditions without formal legislation or explicit instruction from Dar es salaam, and outside West Usambara labour cards were issued by employers not by authorities. But what was called unoficial had very official sanction, and labour card system were ultimately based on the colonial states repressive.

Creation of labour reserves zone. The colonial officials divided the colony into two major parts, the labour reserved areas and the productive areas. Labourers were recruited from areas like Kigoma, Tabora, Rukwa, and Ruvuma to be taken to sisal plantantions in Tanga and Morogoro. Also they were taken to the coffee plantations in Kilimanjaro and Kagera and also in cloves plantations in Zanzibar. Therefore the system of creating labour reserve areas helped the colonialist to have a constant supply of labourers in their productive areas.

The coolie experiment. This was an emergency option to import workers from abroad. In June 1892 the first Asians worker arrived at Tanga, they came from Singapore. Another batch of East Asians arrived in 1894, they included Javanese and Malayans. According to surviving document, the number of coolies was 700-800. The result of this experiment was embarracing. Coolie labour was expensive also many Coolies could not stand the harsh treatment they received at the hand of Germany plantation managers. It’s a fact that the Coolie failed to tolerate the East African coast climate, many were often sick. The Javanese at Derema become notorious for plundering the crops of nearby African cultivators. So the Coolies were prevented to be supplied to plantations.

Establishment of labour depertment. During the rule of British the depertment was established, the head of depertment was J. Orde Brown. The major work of Labour depertment was to solve the problem of labour in Tanganyika and Zanzibar. Example Orde Brown as the head of the depertment came out with the following solution to labour problems; provision of treatment to diseases which faced Africans and establishment of camps.

            “we have already started one camp, and we hope that we shall have other government camps on the main roads where travelling natives will be able to get good advices… this will keep some sort of supervision over the migration of labourers.”[3] In the same article Orde Brown ask the difficult question, ‘why the Maasai never produces coffee or cotton?’ Orde as a head of depertment had not seen any employers recruiting labour amongst the Maasai.

The whole East Africa faced the problem of labour. The supply of labour was not equal to demand. Africans were not ready to work for Europeans because of harsh treatment, exploitation and diseases like sleeping sickness which has captured the popular fancy. The solution applied by colonial officials to deal with labour availability had negative effects to the Africans and made their life worse.

Written by;


Juhani Koponeni – Development for Exploitation, chapter 6
J. O. Browne – “The Native Labour in Tanganyika”, Journal of the Royal African Society, vol. 26, No. 102 (Jan 1927). Oxford University Press.

[1] Fischer, Mehr Licht, p 79.
[2] Burton, Lake Regions, II, p 328
[3] J. Browne. Native labour in Tanganyika page no 114.

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