In the nineteenth century, the British had been content to exericse their power in East Africa through their influence over the Sultan of Zanzibar. This arab island claimed control over large swathes of the mainland in order to help facilitate their slave and ivory trades. The British were to be surprised by the secret gathering of treaties by Dr Carl Peters of the German East Africa Company. He was ultimately rewarded for his efforts by the awarding of German East Africa to his company's control in 1890.
World War One would see Tanganyika become a highly active theatre of war. The British were quick to invade and annex all overseas German colonies. However, the German commander in Tanganyika was to proove much more difficult to subdue than in any of the other colonial theatres of war. Paul von Lettow Vorbeck fought a highly effective guerilla campaign. He tied down huge resources for the British in a highly embarrassing campaign that raged throughout Eastern and Central Africa for the entire duration of the war. In fact, he only surrendered after it had been made clear to him that the Germans had actually already signed an armistice. Tanganyika therefore became a British conquest and it was awarded control over the territory as a League of Nations Mandate. There was some reorganisation of borders finalising the Rwanda border with Belgium and the Mozambique border with Portugal.
The British were determined to rule Tanganyika indirectly through its African leaders as much as possible. They did set up a Legislative Council which was mostly appointed by the Governor, but it did actually allow unofficial African representation. These were to be elected in 1945.
Perhaps a cynical reason for the granting of rights to the Africans was the relative poverty of the colony. The previous German colonists had shamelessly exploited the territory for all that they could and had launched massacres and murders of large scale sections of the population. Tanganyika was therefore a very fragile economy. It could attract little investment and white settlers with access to capital were more inclined to go to those colonies which granted white settler self-government. The depression of the 1930s and its impact on commodity prices did not help the situation either. The northern highlands of the colony were capable of growing some cash crops, but the south was unsuitable for intensive agriculture. Government schemes to develop economic crops consistently failed, the most notorious example was the Ground Nut Scheme of the 1940s which was an utter disaster.
The post war world was full of hope for African nationalists and independence movements. India was granted its independence in 1947 and Africans were hopeful that similar provisions could be made in their own continent. At first, British
plans for the relatively under-developed African colonies seemed to be rather slow in emerging. It would take another 10 years before the Gold Coast received its independence as Ghana. Nigeria was not too far behind in getting its independence. These were examples of relatively successful economies at least by colonial standards. The British government was generally content to hand over independence to viable political units although they were wary of being left holding the uneconomic colonies at the end of this process. Tanganyika was firmly in this latter category. They therefore proposed the creation of large federated political units. They created the British East Africa Federation in the 1950s combining Kenya with Tanganyika and Uganda. Many black Africans were concerned that this was a scheme designed to prolong colonial rule. Although the scheme collapsed more because of the violence of the Mau Mau rebellion north in Kenya.
With the withdrawal of the racist South Africa from the Commonwealth in 1961, the British were quick to reassure other black African nationalists that they would be granted independence on a one person one vote basis. Tanganyika was awarded its independence in 1961 as the nation of Tanzania.