June 10, 2010 at 7:49 pm | Posted in Africa, Germany, Globalization, History, Military, Third World, World-system | Leave a comment









Askaris and the German Empire in

World War I: Colonial Globalization

Askari is an Arabic, Urdu, Turkish, Somali, Persian, and Swahili word meaning “soldier” (Arabic: ‘askarī). It was normally used to describe local troops in East Africa, Northeast Africa, and Central Africa serving in the armies of European colonial powers. The designation can however also describe police, gendarmerie and security guards.[1]

During the period of European rule in East Africa locally recruited askari soldiers were employed by the Italian, British, Portuguese, German and Belgian colonial forces. They played a crucial role in the initial conquest of the various colonial possessions and subsequently served as garrison and internal security forces. During both World Wars askari units served outside the boundaries of their colonies of origin.

The German Colonial Army (Schutztruppe) of the German Empire employed native troops with European officers and NCOs in its colonies. The main concentration of such locally recruited troops was in German East Africa (now Tanzania.) Formed in 1881 after the transfer of the Wissmanntruppe (raised in 1889 to suppress the Abushiri Revolt) to German imperial control. Although the first Askaris formed in German East Africa were by DAOG (Deutsche Ost-Afrika Gesellschaft – the German East Africa Company) in about 1888. Originally drawn from Sudanese mercenaries, the German askaris were subsequently recruited from the Wahehe and Angoni tribal groups. They were harshly disciplined (as were all German troops of that time) but well paid (on a scale twice that of their British counterparts in the King’s African Rifles) and highly trained by German cadres who were themselves subject to a rigorous selection process. Prior to 1914 the basic Schutztruppe unit in Southeast Africa was the Feldkompagnie comprising seven or eight German officers and NCOs with between 150 and 200 askaris (usually 160) – including two machine gun teams. Such small independent commands were often supplemented by tribal irregulars or ruga-ruga.

They were successfully used in German East Africa where 11,000 askaris, porters and their European officers commanded by Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck managed to resist numerically superior British, Portuguese and Belgian colonial forces until the end of World War I in 1918.

Spanish Colonies

As noted above “askari” was normally a designation used in East Africa. Exceptionally though, the term “askari” was also used by the Spanish colonial government in North-West Africa, in respect not of their regular Moroccan troops (regulares), but of a locally recruited gendarmerie force raised in Spanish Morocco in 1913 and known as the “Mehal-la Jalifianas”. This was the equivalent of the better known Goumiers employed in French Morocco. Indigenous members of the Tropas Nomadas or desert police serving in the Spanish Sahara were also designated as “askaris”.


1. [1] | Kamusi Project

2. Armies of the 19thC East Africa Chris Peer, Foundry books 2003

3. Miller, Charles. Battle for the Bundu: The First World War in German East Africa. London: Macdonald & Jane’s, 1974; and New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc. 1974, p. 333. ISBN 0-02-584930-1




7. Stroop Report online-in German and English

8. “Uganda: Askaris in Iraq Ripped Off”. New Vision. 2007-08-12.

9. “Gatherer search”. Wizards Of The Coast. Retrieved 2007-07-05.

Askaris and the German Empire in

World War I: Colonial Globalization


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