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The African soldiers dragged into Europe's war

03 July 2015 [18:10] - TODAY.AZ

More than one million people died in East Africa during World War One. Some soldiers were forced to fight members of their own families on the battlefield because of the way borders were drawn up by European colonial powers, writes Oswald Masebo.

I was born and raised in a simple home in the rural district of Ileje about 1,000km from Dar es Salaam, in south-west Tanzania. The district is at the border with Malawi where the hilly plateaus of Ileje and Rungwe districts rise above the plains of Lake Nyasa and Kyela district.

My family has made a living from the land of Ileje for generations. During the Word War One, Ileje and the surrounding environments became a battle ground between German forces and British allied forces from Malawi.

Although the war began in 1914, it was the battles fought in 1915 and 1916 which were most intense and which had grave consequences to the generation of my great-grandparents.

Ten years ago, I asked my own grandfather Jotam Masebo what he knew about World War One. His recollections remind us of grinding hardship. I quote:

"Our parents narrated to us a lot about this war. The timing of the war was bad. It broke at the time when our parents were about to begin planting maize, beans, cassava, groundnut, and potatoes... The fighting created fear and insecurity that disrupted the agricultural production of our parents and led to the most acute famine that killed many people. The fighting killed innocent men, women, and children."

The fighting at the river Songwe border was particularly notorious because some of the soldiers and carrier corps involved in it were related to enemy soldiers.

People living on both sides of the border lived together as a single community until the notorious Berlin Conference created a boundary to separate the German colony of Tanzania and the British colony of Malawi. The boundaries passed through the middle of these people and divided them. They would come to fight during World War One, representing the interests of their respective colonial masters.

  • The Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 was convened by Otto von Bismarck to discuss the future of Africa
  • The Berlin Act of 1885, signed by the 13 European powers in attendance, included a resolution to "help in suppressing slavery"
  • The colonial powers were more interested in protecting old markets and exploiting new ones though, and they began carving up Africa leaving people from the same tribe on different sides of European-imposed borders

/By BBC/
URL: http://www.today.az/news/interesting/141969.html

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