Italian Colonialism: Ethiopia


Figure 1.--This press photograph dated December 1935 was captioned, "Group of Askara boys, sons of Italian natice troops. The "Askari" or "Ascari" were indigenous soldiers in Italian Eastern Africa-- Italian colonial troops. They wore a white uniform with the fez. Usually they went barefoot. The name came from the Arab term Ďaskar (soldier). We are not sure precisely sure where this photograph was taken. It presumably was taken in Ethiopi which had just been occupied by the Italians. Source: Acme Newspictures.

The Italians eyed Ethiopia during the European Scramble 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 Effort

The Italians eyed Ethiopia during the European Scramble 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.

Independent Ethiopia

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.

Invasion of Ethiopia (1935)

Ethiopia remained independent until the Italians under Mussolini invaded (1935). The world had given little attention to the Italian conqyest of Liya in the 1920s. It was considered a colonial matter. The world view changed when Mussolini decided to invaded Ethiopia (1935). The Italians used , using modern weapons, again including poison gas, to attack a largely unarmed country. The Ethiopins had defeated an Italian Army in 1896 and Mussoline was determined to redeem what he saw as a blot on the national honor. Marshal Pietro Badoglio, who would play a role in Wols War II, commanded the Italian invasion force. He extensevly used poison gas. (The Allies in 1943 made a deal with Badoglio to overthrow Musolini.) The Italian Ministry of Defence did not admit until 1995 that poison gas had been used by the Italian Air Force. [Del Boca] The Italian invasion was widely condemned at the League of Nations more than 50 other countries. The invasion gave rise to world-wide indignation, but nor military support for Ethiopia. Criticism was especially heated in Britain which, still thinking about World War I, people were truly shocked by Italy's use of poison-gas as well as deliberate bombing of Red Cross hospitals and ambulances--especially the British Red Cross Unit. [Waley] The invasion caused a major international incident. The young Emperor Haile Salassie appealed to the League of Nations. The British pushed in the League of Nations for scantions. The French played lip service, but were more interested in Italaian support for their efforts to limit Hitler. An oil embargo which might have affected the Italian war effort was not approved, provably for that reason. [Davidson, p. 130.] The Italians were condenmed by the League of Nations and then walked out of the organization. Italy was widely criticized for its invasion, but half-hearted anctions were quickly abandoned. Even so, the feeble criticism by the British and French helped push Mussolini toward Hitler. Mussolinin was peronally offened at this treatment. Hitler made it cleart that Germany symphithized.

Haile Selassie in Exile

Haile Selassie with the Italians overruning his untry fled to England. He lived there in exile. He appealed for help. The western nations condemned the action and brought the issue to the League of Nations. They took no real effective action to actually assist the Ethiopians. Britain and rance were primarily interested in using Mussolini to moderate Hitler. The Italians would remain un control of Ethiopia until 1941 when the British launched an attack from Kenya.

Italian Colonial Ethiopia

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]

World War II

Italian control of Ethiopia was extremely short lived. After Italy entered World War II by declaring war on Britain (June 1940). Mussolini was convinced that he could quickly take Egypt and Suez with the large army he built up in Libya. The Italian offense in Egypt, however, quickly bogged down (September 1940). A British offensive with a much smaller force forced the Italians to retreat back into Libya (December 1940). Next the British struck in the south. The British launched an invasion from Kenya and Sudan and quickly over ran Italian Somaliland, Eritrea, and Ethiopia, ending the Italian presence in East Africa (1941).

Sources

Davidson, Eugene. The Unmaking of Adolf Hitler (Univesity of Missouri: Columbia, 1996), 519p.

Del Boca, Angelo. I gas di Mussolini. Il fascismo e la guerra d'Etiopia.

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.

Waley, Daniel. "British Public Opinion and the Abyssinian War 1935-6".







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Created: 1:48 AM 9/26/2007
Last updated: 11:00 PM 5/13/2009