Embattled in the Last Theatre of the War: The Involvement of Abercorn (Mbala) District of Northern Rhodesia in the First World War

  • Daniel Daliso Phiri Malambwa Secondary School, Mpika - Zambia
Keywords: Abercorn,German-Tanganyika, chiefs, propaganda, coercion, incentives, African agency, Watch Tower Society


A conflict which started between Austria and Serbia,on 28 June 1914, turned into the First World War on 28 July 1914 as aggressors started summoning their allies. Later in 1914, warring states called upon their colonies to service the fighting. By December 1914, Africa had joined the war on the side of respective colonial masters. It was in this context that Abercorn (now Mbala) district, a northerly district of Northern Rhodeisa (Zambia) that bordered German Tanganyika (Tanzania) got involved in the First World War on behalf of Britain, its colonial master. The war situation faced by the British in Abercorn required collective effort of not only the imperial force but also the local people to fight the Germans. As a result, the British used various ways in the district to enlist the local people into the war. The geographical location of Abercorn made it inevitable for the district to be involved in the fighting.To a large extent, the British used local chiefs, propaganda, coercion and incentives to recruit the local people for war services. This work demonstrates that Africans did not join the colonial army purely due to government propaganda, but that they also had their own reasons for doing so such as desire to earn money and learn how to operate a gun. In this manner, the article brings to the fore the aspect of African agency in the enlistment process. It is also argued that not all Africans buttressed the British war aims as groups such as the Watch Tower Society were subversive towards the recruitment of the local people for war service in the district.