British Empire title

Scroll down the page or follow these links, use your 'back' button to return here.
Northern Africa: Sudan | Somaliland | West Africa: Gambia | Sierra Leone | Gold Coast | Nigeria | East Africa: Kenya | Uganda | Taganyika & Zanzibar | Southern Africa |
British Africa map

Only British territories, in shades of pink, are shown.

Britain Anglo-Egyptian Egypt (1914)From 1899 Sudan (1956-70)1956-1970

Anglo-Egyptian Sudan (Sudan)

Northern Sudan was bought under Egyptian control in 1821 and in 1874 the viceroy of Egypt, the Khedive Ismail, gave the post of governor of Egyptian Sudan to Charles Gordon who brought peace and order. Slavery was an inherent part of north Sudanese society, so Gordon’s anti-slavery administration made him extremely unpopular. Muhammed Ahmad declared himself Mahdi or spiritual leader in 1881 and led an Islamic rebellion. Britain occupied Egypt in 1882 and invaded Sudan. Gordon had resigned in 1880 but returned in 1884 to evacuate Egyptian forces from Khartoum. The Mahdists captured Khartoum on 26th January 1885 and Gordon was killed on the 30th, two days before the British relief of Khartoum. The ‘Mad Mahdi’ died some months later and his successor Khalifa Abdulla continued the struggle to be eventually defeated by General Lord Kitchener at the battle of Omdurman in 1898, which saw the end of the Dervish uprising.
Kitchener continued south to forestall French occupation of southern Sudan. The French objective was to link their territories west to east but this would interfere with the British design to link their possessions from Cape to Cairo. They met at Fashoda and with neither side wanting conflict agreed to fly both their flags over the fort. After tense discussions between Britain and France, which narrowly averted war, the French withdrew and it was agreed that the watersheds of the Nile and Congo would demarcate their respective spheres of influence in Africa.
1899 saw the creation of the Anglo-Egyptian condominium of Sudan under a British governor. In 1948 a constitution was granted but in 1951 King Farouk proclaimed himself King of Sudan. After the overthrow of the monarchy in Egypt, Sudan was granted self-government in 1953 with full independence from Egypt and Britain on 1st January 1956.
Sudan did not join the Commonwealth.

Britain 1884 Somalia1960 Somalia
British Somaliland (Somalia)

With the occupation of Aden, control of the coast opposite to secure the sea routes to India and the Far East, was considered necessary. The 1st treaty was signed in 1827. More followed in 1840 concluded by Cpt. R.Moresby of the Indian Navy in which the rulers agreed not to enter into treaties with any other foreign power. Exploration of the hinterland by Richard Burton furthered British influence. British control, however, was not definitely established until 1884, with the occupation of Zaila, Berbera and Bulhar, prompted by the Mahdist revolt in Sudan and the withdrawal of Egyptian khedival garrisons from the area. Treaties of 1884, 1885 and 1886 with various Somali tribes formed a British Protectorate. It was administered from Bombay until 1898, passing to the Foreign Office, then to the Colonial Office in 1905.
From 1899 until 1904 various wars with the mullah, Mohammed bin Abdulla, an Islamic fundamentalist, ensued. In 1909 he was again raiding tribes deep in the protectorate and in 1910 the far-flung garrisons withdrew nearer the coast. The ‘Mad Mullah’ was eventually routed and killed in 1920.
During WWII the Italians occupied British Somaliland, but in 1941 British troops evicted the Italians entirely from Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia in the four-month Abyssinian campaign, supported by Ethiopian nationalists.
On 26th June 1960 independence was granted, joining with the old Italian Somaliland on 1st July 1960 to become Somalia.
Since independence civil war has continued, with the old British Somaliland breaking away from Somalia in 1991, declaring itself the Republic of Somaliland. It has still to be recognized.

West Africa

West Africa

British possessions (pink) of West Africa.

The earliest traders to West Africa were the Carthaginians and Phoenicians of ancient times. Europeans, in particular the Portuguese, began to explore and trade around the coast from the 15th century. The next three centuries saw the arrival of Dutch, French, British, Spanish, Danish and German merchants who built stations and forts around the coast. The climate and disease deterred much exploration of the interior and it was not until the 19th century that the scramble for African possessions among the European powers really started.

British Gambia Gambia The GambiaSince 1965
Gambia (The Gambia)

The British first set up a trading post and fort built by the ‘ The Company of Adventurers of London trading into Africa’ at the mouth of the Gambia river. Further inland journeys, in search of gold, and skirmishes with the Portuguese and Dutch necessitated Fort James to be built in 1664. In 1816 a settlement was founded on St. Mary’s Isle which was the beginning of the colony proper. A fort was built as a base against the slave trade and the settlement became Bathurst, which was administered by Sierra Leone from 1821. Gambia became a separate British colony in 1843.  The colony was surrounded by French territory and with an agreement the boundaries were settled in 1889. A British Protectorate over the interior was proclaimed in 1893. Gambia became an independent member of the Commonwealth on 18th February 1965.

Sierra Leone Sierra Leone Sierra Leone 1961Since 1961
Sierra Leone

The Portuguese navigator Pedro de Sintra named it in 1462 after a fancied resemblance of the hills to the form of a Lion. During the 16th and 17th centuries the slave trade and piracy attracted many Europeans, but the colony was not grown from their establishments, rather from the philanthropists who sought to alleviate the lot of those who were victims of the slave trade. In 1772 Britain declared that any escaped slave would have asylum in Britain and become automatically free. In 1787 the Anti-Slavery Society bought the coastal territory from the local Timni chief, the main tribe, as a haven for freed slaves found destitute in Britain. The British philanthropists organized their transport to Cape Sierra Leone, where the settlement was named Freetown. In 1791 Alexander Falconbridge formed a transport company, the St. George’s Bay Company which became The Sierra Leone Company, landing the first colonists at Freetown in 1792. In 1794 the French plundered the colony. 1807 saw the company transfer its rights to the crown, the same year that the British parliament declared the slave trade illegal. British warships that captured slave ships brought the freed captives to the colony and thus the population grew. Internal exploration continued and an agreement with the French delineating the frontier was signed in 1895, shutting out Sierra Leone from its natural hinterland. In 1896 it became a British protectorate, which remained separate from the colony of Freetown until 1951. The country was granted independence becoming a member of the Commonwealth on 27th April 1961.

Gold Coast Gold Coast GhanaFrom 1957
Gold Coast (Ghana)

The Portuguese from the late 15th century had founded Elmina, a name relating to ‘mines’. English ships in 1553 brought back from the ‘Gold Coast’ 150lb of gold attracting thereafter adventurers from almost every European nation. The building of forts by the British, from 1651, provoked attacks by the Dutch but as more forts and trading stations were built British dominance grew. With quarrels rife among the Europeans little control was exercised over the native peoples.
It became a centre of the slave trade, many of whom were prisoners of war of the Ashanti, the main native power, that sold them to the merchants. With the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 control passed from the merchants to the crown. British control gradually predominated on the coast and was recognized by Ashanti. 1824 saw incitement of the Fante to rise against the Ashanti by the British, to secure inland areas. In 1826 the Ashanti were defeated but the British government, disgusted at the perpetual disturbances, sent instructions to abandon all British possessions and return home. There were protests by the merchants who brought in an administrator, George Maclean. He worked with the native peoples and secured treaties between the Fante and Ashanti. In 1850 the Colonial Office purchased residual Danish interests, and Dutch interests in 1871. The Ashanti war of 1873-74 resulted in the extension of British influence. Further exploration north of Ashanti with various treaties secured the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast in 1897. With economic growth, high standards of schooling and military service in WWII, there came a demand for home rule.
Constitutional discussions led to the combination of the Gold Coast and British Togoland, (part of the former German colony of Togoland before WWI), to become independent as the Republic of Ghana on 6th March 1957, the first British African colony to gain independence.
Ghana is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.

British Nigeria Nigeria Nigeria1960 on

The Portuguese came in the 15th century to set up trading stations establishing a slave trade in the process, supported by the people of the kingdom of Benin. Other Europeans followed them with British traders arriving in the 17th century. The principle trade was in slaves, but when the British Government abolished this practice in 1807, palm oil formed the staple article of commerce. Exploration of the hinterland began and navigation of the Niger but with malaria and disease the region remained known as the ‘White Man’s Grave’ until the discovery of Quinine in 1854.
Lagos Island remained a centre for the slave trade. In order to stop this, it was attacked by the British, being taken as a possession in 1861, administered from Sierra Leone and later the Gold Coast. After treaties with France and Germany, Britain controlled the coast from the colony of Lagos in the west to the border of German Kamerun. Trading companies formed the Royal Niger Company in 1886 that secured territories inland eventually to be taken over by the crown forming the Niger Coast Protectorate in 1893.
With continuing disturbances by the Beni, slave raid gangs and attacks on tribes under British protection Benin was bought under British rule in 1900. With the transfer of the company’s territories to the crown and it’s Royal charter removed the area became the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria in 1900, which Lagos became part of in 1906. Frederick Lugard brought Northern Nigeria under British control, later to become the governor of Nigeria, by treaties with the Islamic Fula and Hausa forming the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria in 1903. In 1914 the two protectorates merged to become the largest British colony in Africa, which was administered indirectly by retaining the powers of the chiefs and emirs of its 150 or more tribes. In Northern Nigeria Muslim chiefs of the Fulani tribes maintained a conservative rule over the majority of the country's Hausa population. In the West, the Yoruba dominated; the Ibo tribe was centred in the East.
In WWI Anglo-French forces occupied German Kamerun. The western territories of British Cameroon becoming part of the Federation of Nigeria in 1954.
Nigeria gained independence on 1st October 1960 with part of the Cameroon territories returning to the Republic of the Cameroon on its independence from France in the same year.
In 1963 Nigeria became a republic remaining in the Commonwealth.

East Africa

East Africa

British possessions of East Africa shown in shades of pink.

British East AfricaBritish East Africa KenyaKenya 1963 on


From the 8th century Arabs and Persians made settlements along the coast gaining some political supremacy leading to the formation of the so called Zenj empire. The Masai pastoral people came into the area in the 18th century from the north and during the 19th century the agricultural Kikuyu steadily advanced from the south. Portuguese traders operated in the region during the 16th and 17th centuries, although control of the coastal towns was always under the Sultan of Zanzibar until concessions to the British and Germans in the 19th century. British coastal trade began in the 1840s and in 1887 a trading company, the British East African Association, later the Imperial British East Africa Company, secured a lease of coastal strip from the Sultan of Zanzibar. Germans also courted concessions and soon agreements between Britain and Germany ratified British claims to the districts inland from Mombasa. With more concessions and agreements with the Germans the company’s lands spread from the coast north to Abyssinia and west to Victoria Nyanza (Lake). On 1st July 1895 the formal transfer of the company’s territories to the crown took place at Mombasa forming the British East Africa Protectorate. From 1896 until 1903 the building of the Mombasa-Victoria Nyanza railway linked the Uganda Protectorate and opened up more sparsely populated land. Because of the altitude and hence cooler climate it was deemed suitable for agriculture and European settlement.
In July 1920 the Protectorate was annexed to the crown and renamed Kenya Colony after Mt. Kenya. By this time a great area of the 'White Highlands' had been reserved for settlement, employing many Kikuyu. During the 1920s there was considerable immigration from Britain and India coinciding with the development of political movements who demanded a greater share in the government of the country. Jomo Kenyatta steadily developed Kikuyu nationalism eventually forming the Kenya Africa Union, and the militant Mau Mau. From 1952 the Mau Mau insurrection was fought being defeated in 1959. Elections in1961 saw the Kenya African National Union (KANU) and the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU) join the government of Kenya Colony.
On 12th December 1963 Kenya gained independence, becoming a republic within the Commonwealth the following year, with Jomo Kenyatta as President.

Uganda ProtectorateUganda Protectorate UgandaSince 1962


The name Uganda derives from The Kingdom of Buganda that dominated the lands of Victoria Nyanza in the 18th and 19th centuries. Captains Burton and Speke heard of Buganda from Arab traders and Speke entered the country in 1862, the first European to do so. Mutesa I, kabaka or king of Buganda welcomed the explorers Speke, Grant and Stanley, hoping for protection against Arab slave and ivory traders. Anglican, French Catholic and Muslim missionaries were sent by the Europeans and Arabs. Following Mutesa's death in 1884 tensions developed between his successor, Mwanga, and the Anglicans, Catholics and Muslims culminating in factional fighting. British and German disagreements concluded with the Anglo-German treaty of 1890 assigning Uganda to Britain. The British East Africa Company placed Buganda and the western states Ankole and Toro under its protection with Frederick Lugard as administrator. He persuaded the British government to assume a protectorate over Uganda in 1894. In 1900 the Uganda Protectorate was divided into six provinces with the eastern parts being transferred to the British East Africa Protectorate in 1903.
After World War II the last Kabaka, Mutesa II backed the protectorate government in suppressing Buganda nationalist risings in 1945 and 1949. In 1953 he tried to secede his Kingdom from the protectorate but was denied by the Ugandan High Court and deported, only to return in 1955 as constitutional monarch. Internal self-government was granted in 1962 as a federation of the areas of Ankole, Buganda, Bunyoro, Busoga, and Toro. Prime Minister Milton Obote renounced this constitution and Uganda became an independent republic within the Commonwealth on 9th October 1962.
Mutesa II was elected the first president but was deposed in 1965 by Milton Obote who was deposed himself in 1971 by General Idi Amin.

Zanzibar Zanzibar 1963

The name derives from ‘The Land of the Zenj’, people who once controlled large areas of the East African Coast. The Zenj ‘empire’ declined with the arrival of the Portuguese in the late 15th century who went on to conquer Kilwa, Malindi, Mombasa and other major cities. The power of the Portuguese was diminished by the Turks and the Zimbas, to be displaced by the Imams of Muscat (Oman) in the 17th century. It prospered as a centre for the Arab slave trade. Zanzibar town was made the capital of the African dominions by the Sayyid Said of Muscat in 1832. On his death in 1856 power passed to his sons, Majid and Bargash ibn Said. Bargash was known as the Sultan of Zanzibar and saw the dismemberment of his dominions by Britain, Germany and Italy. He was strongly influenced by Sir John Kirk who was British consul of Zanzibar from 1866 to 1887. Kirk worked to suppress the slave trade throughout the sultanate concluding in a treaty of 1873. With the treaty of the 4th November 1890, Zanzibar became a British Protectorate, which in the process conceded Heligoland to Germany and left Madagascar to the French. The protectorate was limited to the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba in 1906. In 1913 control passed from the Foreign to Colonial office. During WWI it saw fighting between the German and British Navies.
Independence within the Commonwealth came on 19th December 1963, uniting with independent Tanganyika to form the United Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar on 26th April 1964, which became the United Republic of Tanzania on 29th October 1964.

Tanganyika Tanganyika Territory Tanzania Tanzania 1964 on


In 1858 the expedition of Burton and Speke reached Ujiji on the north west shore of Lake Tanganyika which became famous as the meeting place of the explorers Stanley and Livingstone in 1871. During WWI, German East Africa or Tanganyika, was conquered by Britain. Tanganyika Territory was the name officially given to ex-German East Africa in January 1920 under the League of Nations mandate to Great Britain. The areas that form present-day Rwanda and Burundi were added to the Belgian Congo. After WWII it became a trust territory administered by Britain until it’s independence on 9th December 1961. In 1964 it united with Zanzibar to become Tanzania under President Julius Nyerere.
Tanzania is a Commonwealth member.

Return to top
Southern Africa