One of the largest and deadliest conflicts in history is the First World War which was fought between 1914 and 1918. Major European superpowers together with their allied non-European forces fought against each other for supremacy. Millions of military personnel, including nearly two million Africans, were recruited by these superpowers and their allies to fight in the war. Though largely forced into recruitment, it is disappointing that most of the efforts of these African soldiers have not received much recognition globally.
In November 2018 when world leaders gathered in Paris to remember the end of World War I 100 years on and honor its fallen soldiers, Zambia announced plans to hold a commemoration of its own in Mbala (formerly Abercorn), in the northeast of the country, close to the Tanzanian border.
A monument in Mbala — Mbala Surrender Monument — situated in the middle of a traffic roundabout on President’s Way marks the spot where German forces formally surrendered, finally ending World War I in Zambia, not in France as widely believed. Zambia’s tourism agency said in November 2018 that it would like to be remembered for its role in the war, adding that highlighting the Mbala region will “unlock the tourism and investment potential of Northern province.”
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“It gives us an opportunity to tell our story, the forgotten story, that we played a part in the First World War and that it actually finished not at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month 1918 in Europe but at Abercorn, now Mbala, at the 12th hour on the 25th day of the 11th month 1918,” Zambia’s tourism agency said.
It is a popular misconception that World War I ended in France which was the main stage of the four-year battle between the Allies and the Central Powers. On November 11, 1918, an Armistice was signed in a railway carriage at Rethondes near Compiègne in France and the war was believed to have ended.
However, while the Allies (Britain, France, Russia, Italy and the United States) were celebrating together with the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria), the war was still ongoing in Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia.
It is documented that after the Armistice was signed, General Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck, a Prussian Army Commander in the German East Africa campaign, did not get word of the end of the war. Nicknamed the Lion of Africa (German: Löwe von Afrika), Lettow-Vorbeck continued his raids in East Africa with 3,000 German and 11,000 African forces. His forces entered the British colony of Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) from German East Africa – which included present-day Burundi, Rwanda, and the mainland part of Tanzania – and captured the town of Kasama.
The General learned about the Armistice on November 14 in Kasama via telegraph. The three days’ delay is believed to have been caused by celebrations in Kabwe, a southern town in then-Northern Rhodesia.
The British command ordered them to march to Abercorn, now Mbala in northeast Zambia near the border of German East Africa. On November 25, 1918, they reached Abercorn and formally surrendered by throwing their weapons into Lake Chila before returning to German East Africa. This marked the final end of the war. Some of the weapons recovered from Lake Chila can be seen in the nearby Moto Moto Museum.