Dernburg Reforms

Dernburg Reforms
   Reforms that overhauled the German colonial system following public outrage over colonial corruption scandals and the bloody suppression of the Herero and Maji Maji revolts. Under the guidance of former businessman Bernhard von Dernburg (1865–1937), the German government ended the influence of special interest groups by abolishing an advisory body known as the Kolonialrat and transferred control over colonial matters from a subdivision of the Foreign Office to a newly created Colonial Ministry. As colonial minister, Dernburg sought to reduce corruption and professionalize colonial service by ensuring that those serving overseas received the same salaries, pensions, and opportunities for promotion as their counterparts at home in Germany. Starting in 1908 with the creation of the Hamburg-based Koloninstitut, which provided formal training in colonial administration as well as classes in the languages and culture of colonized peoples, Dernburg made a concerted effort to staff his ministry with experts in the hopes of creating more rational, productive, and humane colonial policies.
   As a staunch supporter of economic development, he used his business connections to attract new investment in the colonies, leading to an expansion of mining, agriculture, and railroad construction projects throughout the German colonial empire. At the same time, Dernburg also advocated better treatment of the indigenous peoples, arguing that they were crucial to the long-term development of the colonies both as a labor force and as the primary suppliers of raw materials. Consequently, his reforms also abolished corporal punishment, the use of forced labor, and the expropriation of native lands. Although the outbreak of World War I ended Germany’s colonial experiment, the effect of the Dernburg reforms was a significant liberalization of German colonial administration during the final years of the Empire.
   See also <>; <>; <>; <>.
    Gann, L. H., and Peter Duignan. The Rulers of German Africa 1884-1914. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1977;
    Henderson, W. O. The German Colonial Empire 1884-1919. London: Frank Cass, 1993;
    Smith, Woodruff D. The German Colonial Empire. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1978;
    Stoecker, Helmuth, ed. German Imperialism in Africa. London: C. Hurst & Company, 1986.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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