Scramble for Africa: Italy


Figure 1.--The photo shows local children with nuns. Note that some of the nuns are Italian and others are African. The photograph was taken in Cheren (now called Keren) in Eritrea during 1897.

Italy as part of the scramble for Africa obtained colonies in East Africa. The Kingdom of Italy itself was declared in 1861, after Kingdom of Piedmont and Sardinia had annexed Kingdom of Lombardy and Venice (this Kingdom was not independent, but controlled by the Austro-Hungarian Empire) and Kingdom of Naples (including all South Italy and Sicily). Rome became Italian only in 1870. Italy was a poor country. Many Italians emigrated to North and South America. The colonial effort was a attempt to share in the partition of Africa. This was both a matter of national pride as well the result of the widly held opinion that colonies were needed for a healthy economy. An Italian company (Rubattino) bought the rights to Assab Bay from the local Sultan (1869). The Italian Government bought these rights from the company and declared Assab an Italian colony (1882). This was Italy's first territorial acquisition in Africa. Assab became the primary port in what was to become the colony of Eritrea. The Italians also seized Somaliland and established a small protectorate (1889). Some resistance was encoutered as the Italians expanded their new colony (1889-92). The Italians assisted Ethiopian Emperor Menelik expand his territory in East Africa. The Italians claimed that in exchange Menelik had agreed to a protecorate and invaded Rthiopia. The Ethiopians decisively defeated theItalians at the battle of Aduwa/Adowa (1895). This was a rare African victory over European colonizers. Italy was forced to recognize the independence of Ethiopia. After the war with Memelik, Italy declared the colony of Eritrea in the coastal area they still controlled. I do not have details about Italian colonial policies at this time. Italy next seized Libya after a brief war with the Ottomans (1912). Ethiopia remained independent until the Italians under Mussolini invaded (1935), causing a major international incident. The young Emperor Haile Salassie appealed to the League of Nations, but half-hearted anctions were quickly abandoned. The Fascists organized youth groups in their African colonies. Mussolini dreamed of seizing Egypt and Suez after declaring war pn Britain and France (1940). Subatantial Italian forces were stationed in both Libya and Italian East Africa. The massive Itlaian invasion from Libya was defeated by a small British force (1940) and only German intervention prevented the fall of Libya (1941). Another small British Commonwealth force attacking from Sudan and Kenya seized Italian East Africa (1941).

Italian Kingdom: Unification (1861)

The Kingdom of Italy itself was declared in 1861, after the Kingdom of Piedmont and Sardinia had inified Italy. Piedmont annexed the Kingdom of Lombardy and Venice (this Kingdom was not independent, but controlled by the Austro-Hungarian Empire) and Kingdom of Naples (including all South Italy and Sicily). Cavour cleerly engineered a war in which Austria was defated by a combined Piedmontese-French allied force. With Austria's defear, smaller Astrian dominated principalities like Parma, overthrew the lruling family and joined Piedmont in its effort to uify Itaky. Southern Italy ws acquired as a result of Garabaldi's expedition. Rome only became Italian in 1870 after Prussia defeated Fance in the Franco-Prussin War. .

Impetus for Empire

Italy was a poor country. Many Italians emigrated to North and South America. The colonial effort was a attempt to share in the partition of Africa. This was both a matter of national pride as well the result of the widly held opinion that colonies were needed for a healthy economy. Another important factor in Italy was arpidly growing population in a country that already had a large, landless peasantry. Declining agriculturl production combined with a risiing population was fresulting in the late 19th century in growing levels of malnutrition. Italian emigration reached substantial levels in the lte 19th century. At the turn of the 20th century, 0.5 million Italians were emigrating annually. Thus African colonies had the advantage of providing land on which Italins could settle.

Colonies

Italy as part of the scramble for Africa secured colonies in East Africa, an area in which the Brirish and French were also interested. The area attracted colonia interested because of the importance of Suez. The Italians also attempted to seize Ethiopia, but were miitarily defeated. Later Libya in North Africa was added. And after the rise of Mussolini, Ethiopia was finally added to the Italian colonial empire.

Eritrea

An Italian company (Rubattino) bought the rights to Assab Bay from the local Sultan (1869). The Italian Government bought these rights from the company and declared Assab an Italian colony (1882). This was Italy's first territorial acquisition in Africa. Assab became the primary port in what was to become the colony of Eritrea.

Somaliland

Modern Somalia is a union of British (northern) Somalialand and Italian (eastern Somalialand. Britain became concerned with the Horn of Africa in the mid-19th century. The British concern was primarily with Egypt and Suez and the line of communications with its most important colonial possession--India. There were important trade routes through Egypt to India even before the Suez Canal was built. The British established a rotectorate over Aden at the rntrance to the Red Sea (1839). Aden became an important Royal Navy base. Aden relied on Somali mutton as its principal food source. Egyptian forces which occupied much of Somalia, withdrew to fight the fundamentalist rebellion led by the Mahdi in Sudan (1884). The British negotiated agreements with tribal chiefs in what is now northern Somalia (1884-86). The British established a protectorate (1887). France which was also interested in Suez had acquired a position in the area at Djibouti which was known as French Somaliand (1860s), but this was not incorporated into Somalia when it became independent. The British and French negotiated a boundary agreement (1888). Italy entered Somalia the following year (1889). The Italians created a snall protectorate along the eastern Indian Ocean coast. Some resistance was encoutered as the Italians expanded their new colony (1889-92). Subsequently additional territory was added in the south which the sultan of Zanzibar was forced to relinquish. Additional territory was added in the north. The final addirion was Jubaland or the Trans-Juba (east of the Juba/Jubba River). It was transferred by the British from Kenya to become the westernmost area of Italian Somaliland (1925). The Italians invaded and seized Ethiopia (1935). The following year, the Italians unified Somali-speaking regions of eastern Ethiopia to create Italian East Africa. The Italians after declaring war on the British (1940) attacked British Somaliland. The small British force evacuated to Aden. After stopping the Italian invasion of Egypt (1940), the British reinforced by South Africans organized a small military force in Kenya. They attacked the Italians from the south and quickly defeated the numerically superior Italian forces in Ethiopia and Somaliland. Britain governed the area until 1950, when Italian Somaliland reverted to a United Nations trust territory under Italian administration. Somalia which unified British and Italian Somaliland became independent (1960).

Ethiopia

The Italians eyed Ethiopia during the European Scranle for Africa. Much of Africa had been divided among the Great Powers (Britain, France, and Germany), before Italy felt it got it fair share. Italy was only unified in the 1860s and with a very small navy was unable to fully participate in the Scramble for Aftrica. Thus Ethiopia, a rare African country that remained independent took on some importance, epecially after Italy acquired smll coastal colonies in East Aftrica. Italy nationalists began to see colonies as important if the new nation was to replicate the greatness of their ancestors. Italy assisted Ethiopian Emperor Menelik expand his territory in East Africa. The Italians claimed that in exchange Menelik had agreed to a protecorate and invaded Rthiopia. The Ethiopians decisively defeated theItalians at the battle of Aduwa/Adowa (1895). This was a rare African victory over European colonizers. Italy was forced to recognize the independence of Ethiopia. After the war with Memelik, Italy declared the colony of Eritrea in the coastal area they still controlled. Ethiopia remained independent until the Italians under Mussolini invaded (1935), causing a major international incident. Italy was widely criticized for its invasion. The young Emperor Haile Salassie appealed to the League of Nations, but half-hearted anctions were quickly abandoned. Even so, the feeble criticism by the British and French helped push Mussolini toward Hitler. Mussolini's persued colonial policies of racial superiority, yet Italian racism might be considered somewhat more cultural than the extreme biological racism of their NAZI allies. Mussolini mercilessly supressed any opposition. Some efforts were made to modernize Ethiopia which at the time was virually medieval. Fascist propaganda claimed to be different from the other colonial powers. Mussolini claimed that Fascist Italy was a benevolent nation that cared for the people under its control and was not interested in exploiting them. [Palumbo] Italian control of Ethiopia was extremely short lived. After Italy entered World War II by declaring war on Britain (June 1940), the British launched an invasion from Kenya and quickly over ran both Italian Somaliland Eritrea and Ethiopia, ending the Italian presence in East Africa (1941).

Italian Colonial Poicies

We do not have details about Italian colonial policies in East Africa at this time. We believe they were realtively similar throughour East Africa. Libya was somewhat different becuse it was more accessable to Italiam migration.

Libya

Italy seized Libya after a brief war with the Ottomans (1912). The Libyans resisted. Fighting broke out, but the British brokered a truce after Italy joined the Allies in World War I (1915). After the War, fighting broke out again leading to a prolonged colonial war. Italy continued efforts to colonize Libya. Mussolini with his dreams of reconstituting the Roman Empire would wage a merciless campaign to end Libyan resistance to Italian rule. The Italians seized control of the coast cities, but have great difficulty maintaining control of the interior. The Italians unified Tripolitania and Cyrenaica as the colony of Libya (1929). Mussolini employing brutal tactics, including poison gas, finally suceeded in crushing Libyan resistance. Mussolini saw Libya as offering the possibility of colonization by Italy's burgoning population. The Sanusis finally surrender to the Italians (1931). One of the goals of Italian colonism was the concern with over population. Italy called Libya "The Fourt Shore" and promoted Italian settlement there. Several projects with Italian colonists were launched.

Youth Corps

Balilla units were almost certainly established in Italy's Italian colonies, including Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Libya. HBU has no details, but presumes only Italian children could join and not the children of the colonial people.Interestingly, Missolini's Fascist regime set up youth organizations also in invaded countries. There were the "Gioventý Albanese del Littorio" (Albanian Youth of Littorio) in Albania, the "Gioventý Araba del Littorio" (Arabic Youth of Littorio) in Libya and the "Gioventý Etiopica del Littorio" (Ethiopic Youth of Littorio) in Ethiopia. I'm less sure about Italian policies in occupied areas f the Balkans other than Albania. The fez was used as the uniform cap in all these organizations. The interesting aspect here is the difference between the Italian and German approach. Unfortunately we have little information at this time on the progrm and activities of the Italian colonial youth groups.

World War II

Mussolini dreamed of seizing Egypt and Suez which would have staked or a huge colony in East Africa and North Africa. It was one of the enducements leading him to declare war on Britain and France (June 1940). He waited until it was clear that the Germans had defeated the French Army. Substantial Italian forces were stationed in both Libya and Italian East Africa, virtually surrounding the small British force Egypt guarding the Suez Canal. The Italians struck first from Libya (September 1940). The massive Itlaian invasion from Libya however stalled was defeated by a small British force (December 1940) and only German intervention prevented the fall of Libya (1941). Another small British Commonwealth force attacking from Sudan and Kenya seized Italian East Africa (1941). The campaign in the Western Desert sea-sawed back and forth after Hitler committed Erwin Ronnel's Aftrika Korps. The British after the decisive El Alemain victory (October 1942) moved west and seized Libya (November-December 1942), ending Italian colonial dreams of empire in Africa.

Sources

Palumbo, Patrizia. A Place in the Sun: Africa in Italian Colonial Culture from Post-Unification to the Present (Berkeley, California, University of California Press, 2003). 332p.





HBC








Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Return to Main National Empires in Africa page]
[Return to Main Scramble for Africa page]
[Return to Main Italian regions page]
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Countries]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]




Created: 12:45 AM 4/21/2006
Last updated: 2:22 AM 10/14/2007