The war that broke out between Britain and Zanzibar in 1896 lasted only 40 minutes. This armed conflict, in which the British colonialists and the Zanzibar Sultanate confronted, went down in history as the shortest war in the world.


The invasion of imperial troops on the territory of the Zanzibar Sultanate was included in the Guinness Book of Records as the shortest war in the history of humanity. According to an agreement signed between Great Britain and Germany in 1890, the strategically important Zanzibar Island in East Africa was under the influence of the British Empire.

Khalid ibn Bargash became the new Sultan of Zanzibar after the death of Hamad ibn Tuvaini on August 25, 1896. Bargash wanted to get rid of the British protectorate and create his empire, declaring independence. The British, who then had a considerable influence on the African country, refused to recognize the authority of Khalid and demanded the new ruler to vacate the throne.

The leading cause of the conflict was that the arbitrary actions of Bargash began to disturb the colonial power. Britain was the initiator of the conflict, as it had views of another candidate, Khamoud ibn Muhammad.

The UK started to put pressure on Bargash to remove him from the throne, but he did not even consider such an offer. The British wished to subjugate Bargash by force and declared war on Zanzibar. On August 27, five British ships approaching Zanzibar harbor were ready to open fire at any time.

At 9.00, the term of the ultimatum put forward by Britain expired, either the authorities would surrender their powers, or the ships start shooting at the palace. The British built a squadron of four ships in the raid and sent cannons to the Sultan’s Palace.

Khalid gathered an army of nearly 3.000 men and prepared for battle. Weak armament and a small number of warriors made the Zanzibar people lose in this war. Besides, they had a chance to avoid bloodshed by fulfilling the British requirement to lay down their arms and lower the flag, but the Africans decided to give battle.

Precisely at 9 a.m., two cruisers and three gunboats launched the bombing of Khalid ibn Bargash residence. Firing more than 500 shells, they turned the magnificent palace into a pile of ruins. The Zanzibar army tried to resist this aggression, but it was armed with only one gun of the 17th century and half a dozen Maxim machine guns.

The only ship of the Zanzibar fleet was sunk, the Sultan’s palace turned into flaming ruins. The newly-minted Sultan of Zanzibar fled, and the country’s flag remained in the dilapidated palace. In the end, with an aimed shot, the flag was shot down by the British admiral, which by international standards means surrender.

The entire conflict lasted 38 minutes from the first shot to the overturned flag. The Sultan took refuge in the German consulate, and his soldiers ran every which way. Khalid ibn Bargash ended his days in 1927 in Kenya.

For African history, the episode is considered to be deeply tragic, since 570 people died in the armed conflict, and they were all citizens of Zanzibar. Unfortunately, the duration of the war has nothing to do with either its bloodshed or how it can affect life inside the country and around the world. War is always a tragedy that leaves an unhealed scar in the national culture.