The shortest war in history was between Britain and what African territory?

And the answer: Zanzibar.    
Photo credit: public domain.

On August 27, 1896, the Anglo-Zanzibar War began and ended in approximately 40 minutes. Following the death of a “puppet” sultan placed by the British Empire, Zanzibari Prince Khālid ibn Barghash refused to leave the palace and concede to the empire’s preferred successor.

While the series of battles known as the Reconquista—through which Christian states attempted to reclaim land—spanned across 774 years, the Anglo-Zanzibar War pales in comparison. In place of the long term conflict that we think of when we imagine war, the conflict between Britain and Zanzibar was squashed in just 40 minutes (well, really 38 minutes, to be exact).

In many ways, this quick result has much to do with the disposition of the nations entering the battle. Britain at this time was an imperial superpower, while Zanzibar was a small, island nation. For several hundred years leading up to the conflict, Zanzibar was ruled by sultans who didn’t reside in (and certainly weren’t from) their nation. Eventually, Britain caught wind of the island nation, and in 1890, promptly declared Zanzibar an official British Protectorate. By 1893, Britain had installed a pro-British sultanate.

The tensions finally began to solidify when the pro-British sultan made the controversial decision to ban slavery. An underground resistance of slave masters and owners began fermenting in Zanzibar until August 25, 1896, when the pro-British sultan suddenly dropped dead. However, before the new pro-British sultan could take the throne, another man named Khalid bin Barghash arrived at the palace and barricaded himself inside. Barghash didn’t like British rule or the prohibition of slavery, and called for the end of both—an act that British saw as initiating war, and promptly sent troops to quell the disagreement. After the 40 minute dispute resulting in heavy Zanzibari casualties, the British installed their choice of sultan, and the country remained a British Protectorate for the next 67-years.

Learn more about the world’s shortest war here.


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