Carl Peters, (1856–1918)


Explorer, adventurer, and colonial enthusiast behind the colonization of German East Africa. Convinced that Germany’s economic survival depended on the acquisition of colonies, in March 1884 Peters helped found the Gesellschaftfür Deutsche Kolonisation (Society for German Colonization), a colonial lobby that was absorbed three years later by the Deutsche Kolonialgesellschaft (German Colonial Society). Not content with Germany’s recent colonial acquisitions in South West Africa, Togo, and Cameroon, Peters carved out a German sphere of influence in East Africa in late 1884 by signing treaties with interior tribes. Although initially unsanctioned by the German government, in February 1885 Otto von Bismarck made Peters’s protectorate official and granted him and the newly created German East Africa Company a charter to administer the new colony. Over the next several years he took part in expeditions to explore the interior and extend the German protectorate deeper inland.

After the creation of an official German colonial administration in East Africa, Peters served from 1891 to 1897 as Imperial High Commissioner in Kilimanjaro before being relieved of his position amidst allegations of misuse of power and mistreating Africans. Thereafter, he spent 1899–1901 exploring the Zambezi river basin in search of commercial possibilities before being rewarded in 1905 with official rehabilitation by the German government. He returned to Germany full time in 1909 and spent the remainder of his life writing his memoirs and several books on international politics.

FURTHER READING: Henderson, W. O. The German Colonial Empire 1884–1919. London: Franck Cass, 1993; Perras, Arne. Carl Peters and German Imperialism 1856–1918: A Political Biography. Oxford: Clarendon, 2004; Reuss, Martin. “The Disgrace and Fall of Carl Peters: Morality, Politics and Staatsräson in the Time of Wilhelm II.” Central European History 14 (1981): 110–141.



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