OneWorld Magazine presents
A PRETEXT FOR WAR
|"In 1932, Addis Abeba informed the Tripartite powers that it would purchase approximately #150,000 worth of machine guns, rifles, and ammunition. The piddling amount nonetheless distressed the Italians, who were already disturbed by the modern military training under way in Addis Abeba and other towns. By early 1933, a Belgian mission had readied a 2,250-man imperial guard for rapid deployment in company strength to Gojam and other trouble spots. Later that year, Ethiopia's first two Saint Cyr-trained officers, three of the Belgians, and fourteen noncoms from the imperial guard left for Goba in Bale to train an internal security force for deployment along the frontier."|
Rome's military attache in Addis Abeba complained that the new military center,
230 miles away from the nearest Italian outpost, threatened Somalia. For home
consumption, he exaggerated Ethiopia's battle readiness, its weaponry, and its training. In
fact, by September 1934 -- two months before the crisis with Italy began only
three thousand troops were trained and equipped for modern warfare, and it was
not until December that five Swedish officers came to open a military academy.
After 1931, the Italians worked to create an environment in which they might be able to destroy Ethiopia's independence. The Addis Abeba government unwittingly assisted by sharply raising duties on luxury imports, most of which came from France. Officialdom in Paris immediately began reconsidering France's relations with Ethiopia and concluded that it might be time to transfer its interests there to the Italians. Rome had the resources to help build a modern Ethiopia, and the French hoped that involvement would dissipate Italy's nationalistic energies harmlessly and distract Mussolini from the intrigues and uncertainties of European great power politics. Except for the railway from Djibouti, France had no vital interest in the Horn of Africa.
Paris reasoned that Italy might be granted a free hand in Ethiopia in return for concessions in Tunisia, where Rome exercised an annoying extraterritorial jurisdiction over Italian nationals. Throughout 1931, France's hitherto cordial relations with Ethiopia grew cool, to the emperor's anxiety. In early 1932, Paris rebuffed his efforts to improve the situation, explaining to its minister in Addis Abeba that nothing could be permitted to disrupt France's inter- European relations. While France was in the process of abandoning Ethiopia to Mussolini, Haile Sellassie was confronting Italy by ordering his army to move into Ogaden to counter infiltration from Somalia.
As early as 1925, the Italians had taken control over a line of strategic water holes defined by the settlements of Geregube, Welwel, Warder, and Geladi. By late October 1926, the regularity of Italian patrols from these places had become obvious and had elicited an Ethiopian protest. In June 1927, Addis Abeba sent an expedition into the region, but it was subsequently recalled when talks began for the Italo-Ethiopian Treaty of 1928. During the negotiations, Mussolini refused to consider any textual references to delimitation of the frontiers between Somalia and Ethiopia, since he hoped to add to Italian holdings.
By 1932, the advance had been considerable, and the Italians had even built a road from Danot to Geladi over terrain that contemporary maps placed in Ethiopia. A clash was inevitable, since imperial forces aimed to establish government at all levels, to open administrative offices and markets at all important water holes and wells, and to build roads, especially between Jijiga, Degeh Bur, and Korahe. In early 1934, the Ethiopians neared the Italian outposts, eliciting a protest that the imperial forces had impinged on Italian territory, although Rome refused to define the extent of its holdings. The emperor decided therefore to use an imminent Anglo-Ethiopian frontier demarcation to reveal the extent of Italian infiltration into sovereign Solomonic territory.
Article 4 of the Italo-Ethiopian Treaty of 16 May 1908 stipulated that territories inhabited mainly by clans dominating the coast should fall within Mogadishu's sovereignty, which, according to the subsequently disputed Italo- Ethiopian Agreement of 1897, followed a line not more than 130 miles inland. In no way, therefore, could Warder and Welwel be considered Italian territory. The British were fully aware of the dispute and interested in learning the extent of Italian penetration, but not at the expense of a major row with Rome. On 22- 23 November 1934, the Anglo-Ethiopian demarcation team reached Welwel and encamped close to the Italian perimeter, near the wells.
The Italian commander complained that the commission's arrival was a complete
surprise and refused to deal with the Ethiopians as equals. That afternoon,
when two Italian planes buzzed the mission's camps, the British decided to
retire northwest to Ado and the Ethiopians to dig in. A war of nerves ensued,
with both sides shouting insults and threats until the Italians, obviously
acting under orders, attacked during the afternoon of 5 December. After two
days of fighting against planes and armored cars -- man against machine, the
theme of the subsequent war -- the Ethiopians were beaten, taking many
casualties, and the survivors retreated.
Mussolini Decides To Invade | Sellassie Remains Calm | The Nightmarish Ending
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