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The Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEAC) was the administrator of British East Africa, which was the forerunner of the East Africa Protectorate, later Kenyamarker. The IBEAC was a commercial association founded to develop African trade in the areas controlled by the British colonial power. Created after the Berlin Treaty of 1885, it was led by William Mackinnon and built upon his company's trading activities in the region, with the encouragement of the British government. Mombasamarker and its harbour were central to its operations, with an administrative office about 80 km south in Shimonimarker. The company was incorporated in London on 18 April 1888, and granted a royal charter by Queen Victoria on 6 September 1888.

The IBEAC oversaw an area of approximately 246,800 mi² (639,209 km²) situated along the eastern coast of Africa, its centre being at about 39° East longitude and latitude, and from 1890 also administered Uganda. The administration of British East Africa was transferred to the Foreign Officemarker on 1 July 1895, and in 1896 so was control of Uganda.

The Company's Brief History

In the early 1880s, European powers began rushing to obtain unclaimed territories within areas of interest in Africa. One of these areas, the Sultanate of Zanzibarmarker and the interior of Eastern Africa, caught the attention of both Germany and Britain. Hoping to resolve this common interest in a peaceful manner, in 1886, Germany and Britain signed a treaty in which they agreed upon what lands they would exclusively pursue. Germany would lay claim to the coast of present day Tanzania and Britain retained access to the area in which Kenya and Uganda lie.

At this same time, Britain was focusing its resources in other interests which included land acquired in Southern Africa. This left the British Rule reluctant in accepting full responsibility for this newly acknowledged region. In an effort to ease this potential burden, Britain considered allowing a commercial company the right to administer and develop the eastern territory. In 1888, Sir William Mackinnon and the Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEAC) were authorized to serve this very purpose.

The IBEAC assumed responsibility for land stretching from the eastern coast of Africa to Uganda all the way to the northwestern shore of Lake Victoriamarker.

Other than the expected work involved with governing the exportation and management of goods and agriculture, the main role of the IBEAC was to begin facilitating the construction of a railway connecting the east coast region of Mombasamarker to Lake Victoria.

Unfortunately brewing conflict between rival factions ultimately prevented the Company from investing the necessary time and money into this venture. The four groups involved, the kabaka, French Catholics, Protestants, and the Company, could not resolve their squabble amicably and with tensions continuing to rise, civil war broke out in January 1892. With the aid of Frederick Lugard, the individual given the task of building the Company a fortified location, the IBEAC earned itself a fruitless victory.

This conflict proved to be the Company’s final undoing. IBEAC was already struggling financially due to customs issues but the money spent funding this skirmish all but bankrupted it. This also made clear that the Company would be unable to continue its poorly executed attempt at colonizing eastern Africa.

The British East Africa Company proved to be an ineffective attempt at allowing commercial businesses local administrative rights. Inevitably, in 1894, the British government declared a protectorate over Uganda effectively dissolving IBEAC and assuming full responsibility.


  • John S. Galbraith, "Italy, the British East Africa Company, and the Benadir Coast, 1888-1893,"The Journal of Modern History 42.4 (1970) 549-563

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