Posted by: mmeazaw | November 1, 2010

Ethiopia in World War II


The wresting of Ethiopia from the occupying Italian forces involved British personnel, composed largely of South African and African colonial troops penetrating from the south, west, and north, supported by Ethiopian guerrillas. It was the task of an Anglo-Ethiopian mission, eventually commanded by Colonel Orde Wingate, to coordinate the activities of the Ethiopian forces in support of the campaign. The emperor arrived in Gojam on January 20, 1941, and immediately undertook the task of bringing the various local resistance groups under his control.

The campaigns of 1940 and 1941 were based on a British strategy of preventing Italian forces from attacking or occupying neighboring British possessions, while at the same time pressing northward from East Africa through Italian Somaliland and eastern Ethiopia to isolate Italian troops in the highlands. This thrust was directed at the Harer and Dire Dawa area, with the objective of cutting the rail link between Addis Ababa and Djibouti. At the same time, British troops from Sudan penetrated Eritrea to cut off Italian forces from the Red Sea. The campaign in the north ended in February and March of 1941 with the Battle of Keren and the defeat of Italian troops in Eritrea. By March 3, Italian Somaliland had fallen to British forces, and soon after the Italian governor initiated negotiations for the surrender of the remaining Italian forces. On May 5, 1941, Haile Selassie reentered Addis Ababa, but it was not until January 1942 that the last of the Italians, cut off near Gonder, surrendered to British and Ethiopian forces.

During the war years, British military officials left responsibility for internal affairs in the emperor’s hands. However, it was agreed that all acts relating to the war effort–domestic or international–required British approval. Without defining the limits of authority, both sides also agreed that the emperor would issue “proclamations” and the British military administration would issue “public notices.” Without consulting the British, Haile Selassie appointed a seven-member cabinet and a governor of Addis Ababa, but for tactical reasons he announced that they would serve as advisers to the British military administration.

This interim Anglo-Ethiopian arrangement was replaced in January 1942 by a new agreement that contained a military convention. The convention provided for British assistance in the organization of a new Ethiopian army that was to be trained by a British military mission. In addition to attaching officers to Ethiopian army battalions, the British assigned advisers to most ministries and to some provincial governors. British assistance strengthened the emperor’s efforts to substitute, as his representatives in the provinces, experienced administrators for the traditional nobility. But such help was rejected whenever proposed reforms threatened to weaken the emperor’s personal control.

The terms of the agreement confirmed Ethiopia’s status as a sovereign state. However, the Ogaden and certain strategic areas, such as the French Somaliland border, the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railroad, and the Hudad () (collectively termed the “Reserved Areas”), remained temporarily under British administration. Other provisions set forth recruitment procedures for additional British advisers should they be requested. About the same time, a United States economic mission arrived, thereby laying the groundwork for an alliance that in time would significantly affect the country’s direction.

A British-trained national police administration and police force gradually took the place of the police who had served earlier in the retinues of the provincial governors. Opposition to these changes was generally minor except for a revolt in 1943 in Tigray–long a stronghold of resistance to the Shewans–and another in the Ogaden, inhabited chiefly by the Somali. British aircraft brought from Aden helped quell the Tigray rebellion, and two battalions of Ethiopian troops suppressed the Ogaden uprising. The 1942 Anglo-Ethiopian agreement enabled the British military to disarm the Somali rebels and to patrol the region.

After Haile Selassie returned to the throne in 1941, the British assumed control over currency and foreign exchange as well as imports and exports. Additionally, the British helped Ethiopia to rehabilitate its national bureaucracy. These changes, as well as innovations made by the Italians during the occupation, brought home to many Ethiopians the need to modernize–at least in some sectors of public life– if the country were to survive as an independent entity.

In addition, the emperor made territorial demands, but these met with little sympathy from the British. Requests for the annexation of Eritrea, which the Ethiopians claimed to be racially, culturally, and economically inseparable from Ethiopia, were received with an awareness on the part of the British of a growing Eritrean sense of separate political identity. Similarly, Italian Somaliland was intended by the British to be part of “Greater Somalia”; thus, the emperor’s claims to that territory were also rejected.

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  1. […] CHAPTER ONE    GENERAL PROVISIONS    […]


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