Treaty of the month: What historic treaty has amused me this month?


This month: The Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty


Heligoland Today
Yes ladies and gentleman, after a long absence and by literally 'some' demand the Treaty of the Month is back! This month I encountered a treaty that provided such an orgy of amusement as has never before been indulged in on History and the Sock Merchant.

The Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty of 1 July 1890 (also known as the Anglo-German Agreement of 1890) was an agreement between the United Kingdom and the Imperial German Empire concerning mainly territorial interests in Africa.
This treaty temporarily settled colonial disputes between Germany and Great Britain, but because the treaty appeared to abandon German colonial claims to much of east Africa, it unleashed a storm of nationalist protest at home.

Who, When and Where?


Caprivi
In the treaty, signed in Berlin on July 1 1890, Germany gained the islands of Heligoland (Helgoland in German, originally part of Danish Holstein-Gottorp but since 1814 a British possession) in the North Sea, the so-called Caprivi Strip (chieftainship of the Fwe people in what is now Namibia), and a free hand to control and acquire the coast of Dar es Salaam that would form the core of German East Africa (later Tanganyika, now the mainland component of Tanzania).
In exchange, Germany handed over to the UK the protectorate over the small sultanate of Wituland (Deutsch-Witu, on the Kenyan coast) and parts of East Africa vital for the British to build a railway to Lake Victoria, and pledged not to interfere in the actions of the UK vis-à-vis the sultanate of Zanzibar (i.e. the islands of Unguja and Pemba). In addition, the treaty established the German sphere of interest in German South-West Africa (present-day Namibia) and settled the borders between German Togoland and the British Gold Coast (now Ghana), as well as between German Kamerun (now Cameroon) and British Nigeria.

Why it has amused me:

The UK divested itself of an outlying island difficult to defend in the case of armed confrontations. It immediately declared a protectorate over Zanzibar and, in the subsequent 1896 Anglo-Zanzibar War, gained full control of the sultanate.

The treaty served German chancellor Leo von Caprivi's aims for a settlement with the British. After the 1884 Berlin Conference, Germany had already lost the "Scramble for Africa": the German East Africa Company under Karl Peters had acquired a strip of land on the Tanganyikan coast (leading to the 1888 Abushiri Revolt), but it had never had any control over the islands of the Zanzibar sultanate and so the Germans gave away no vital interest. In return they acquired Heligoland, strategically placed for control over the German Bight, which with the construction of the Kiel Canal from 1887 onwards had become essential to Emperor Wilhelm's II plans for expansion of the Imperial Navy. Wilhelm's naval policies aborted an accommodation with the British and ultimately led to a rapprochement between the UK and France, sealed with the Entente cordiale in 1904.
The misleading name for the treaty was introduced by ex-Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who intended to attack his despised successor Caprivi for concluding an agreement that Bismarck himself had arranged during his incumbency. However, Bismarck's nomenclature implied that Germany had swapped an African empire for tiny Heligoland ("trousers for a button"). This was eagerly adopted by imperialists, who complained about treason against German interests. Karl Peters and Alfred Hugenberg appealed for the foundation of the Alldeutscher Verband which took place in 1891.


Handover ceremony on Heligoland, 10 August 1890