Michelle Moyd - Mikono ya damu: "Hands of Blood": African Mercenaries and the Politics of Conflict in German East Africa, 1888-1904 (review) - Journal of Military History 67:1 The Journal of Military History 67.1 (2003) 253-254

Mikono ya damu: "Hands of Blood": African Mercenaries and the Politics of Conflict in German East Africa, 1888-1904. By Erick J. Mann. New York: Peter Lang, 2002. ISBN 0-8204-5369-2. Maps. Tables. Figures. Glossary. Appendixes. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. 335. $52.95.

Erick J. Mann argues against the "unqualified" (p. 11) yet common assertion that Europeans conquered Africa simply through their employment of superior weapons technology. Instead, Mann insists that colonial conquest was "almost entirely conditioned and realized by local factors and initiatives" (p. 11). His study focuses on the German conquest of Tanganyika, and specifically on the central importance of the Schütztruppen, or defense force, as the "primary vehicle through which German colonial rule manifested itself" (p. 15). He thus challenges the extant historiography of Tanzania, which has failed to account for the Schütztruppen as the driving force behind early German colonialism. He also critiques available scholarship on the French and British colonial militaries for obscuring how local dynamics informed the creation and maintenance of these forces. Mann systematically explores the history of the Schütztruppen's formation and development throughout the protracted period of conquest, tracing the various regional political and military dynamics that influenced Schütztruppen operations up to the Maji-Maji Rebellion of 1905. Throughout, he reminds his reader that "conquest was not an event but a dynamic process, and a highly uneven one at that" (p. 199). In short, German Schütztruppen commanders responded haphazardly to the situations they encountered. Where possible they manipulated local circumstances to suit their needs, resorting frequently to extreme violence and scorched-earth policies to impress upon Tanganyikan peoples the futility of resistance. African leaders similarly chose alliances based on local politics and assessments of the Schütztruppen as a formidable military power.

Mann's work expertly synthesizes secondary literatures on precolonial and German colonial Tanganyika. His archival work, conducted in Germany and Tanzania, supplements these materials beautifully, providing him evidence for challenging previous interpretations, as well as vivid examples of Schütztruppen activities. Most fascinating is his fifth chapter on the internal dynamics of the Schütztruppen: he explains how German officers recruited and secured the loyalty of the African troops who made up the bulk of the Schütztruppen. Here and throughout his study, Mann examines how local African politics and military considerations drove the Germans to construct their force in particular ways. Although he pays only passing attention to the gender and cultural history of the Schütztruppen, he hints at these areas as potential avenues of research. The work is widely accessible, though specialists in Tanzanian history and colonial military history will benefit most from its detailed presentation. Military historians especially will be impressed with Mann's fusion of campaign details and political and social context. Maps, appendixes, and an outstanding bibliography provide valuable data for researchers. Mann's thoughtful study of the German colonial [End Page 253] military in East Africa shows us that African history, German colonial history, and military history have much to say to each other.


Michelle Moyd
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York

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Archived 2010
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