One of the central pillars of colonisation was tax. The European powers
did not want Africa to be a drain on their treasuries, and they wanted
the colonies to pay their own way. They also wanted people to enter into
the cash economy. Taxation was a way of driving people into working for
The competence of a French colonial official
might often be measured by how much tax he was able to collect. This could
be in the form of a poll tax or a tax on homes. For the ordinary people,
especially those who were not earning money through labour or selling
goods, taxation was an intolerable burden. Resentment turned to anger
in many parts of Africa.
ANGOLA'S FIRST REBELLION
The Portuguese were the earliest Europeans
to arrive in Sub-Saharan Africa back in the 15th century. But their activities
were, like those of other European powers, confined largely to trading.
In the late 19th century they attempted to impose some administrative
control. In 1902 a tax collection exercise in Bailundo, in the centre
of what is now Angola, went badly wrong when local people rebelled violently,
attacking tax collectors and traders (both European and African). This
was the first time that Africans had rebelled against the Portuguese in
SIERRA LEONE HUT TAX
The imposition of a tax on individual property
in 1898 was the final straw for Temne and Mende chiefs who had seen a
big increase in British intervention in the Protectorate in the 1890's,
including: stamping out slavery, seizing any land without title deeds,
appointing district commissioners, and increasing levels of policing.
The Hut Tax resulted in the death of some British officials and anyone
suspected of collaborating.
Cardew, the British Governor of Sierra Leone noted 'the growing political
consciousness of the African, and his increasing sense of his worth and
In South West Africa (now Namibia)
the Germans played off the Herero against the Nama. But the Herero soon
regretted the treaty of protection they had signed with the Germans; they
were forced to pay taxes, their land was stolen. In 1904, frustrated and
betrayed, they took the Germans on, destroying some farms and killing
a hundred people. The German response was out of all proportion.
"The Herero nation must leave the country.
If it does not do so I shall compel them by force...Inside German territory
every Herero tribesman, armed or unarmed, with or without cattle, will
be shot. No women and children will be allowed in the territory: they
will be driven back to their people or fired on.
These are the last words to the great Herero nation from me, the great
General of the mighty German Emperor."
General von Trotha's extermination proclamation
quoted by H. Bley's South West Africa under German Rule.
The Germans drove the Herero into the Omaheke desert, sealing the last
water holes off before erecting a fence to keep them out. Around 50,000