19 May 2007 04:22


  • [SW Country]( Addis Tribune) One Policy for the Weak, And Another for the Strong - Haile Sellassie : Posted on [10 Feb 2002]


One Policy for the Weak, And Another for the Strong - Haile Sellassie


Story Filed: Friday, February 08, 2002 2:21 PM EST

Feb 08, 2002 (Addis Tribune/All Africa Global Media via COMTEX) -- We looked in the previous article in this series, at Ethiopia's tribulations as an independent African state struggling to hold its own in an unjust and European-dominated world.

We saw that the three neighouring Colonial Powers, Britain, Italy, and France attempted, by the Tripartite Treaty of 1906, to divide the country in three spheres of economic interest; that Emperor Menilek was not informed, let alone consulted, in advance; and that the Treaty was conceived, as the British envoy John Harrington wrote, as part of "a policy in the interest of whites against blacks".

We saw further that, after Ethiopia's entry into the League of Nations in 1923, two Colonial Powers, Britain and Italy, so far from freely accepting the country's entry into the comity of nations, continued to attempt a policy of partition - a policy that would not have been dreamt of had Ethiopia been a European state.

The two governments did this by agreeing to help each other to establish exclusive spheres of economic interest. They did this, we saw, without consulting the Ethiopian Government. The Ethiopian Regent, Ras Tafari Makonnen, found Anglo-Italian action a threat to Ethiopian sovereignty, and found it necessary to protest to the League of Nations.

Continuing this analysis, we come now to the Italian Fascist invasion of Ethiopia, of 1935-6.

Fascist Preparations for War

In 1933 the Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, according to his aide, the Minister of the Colonies, Emilio De Bono, decided to invade Ethiopia. The Duce told De Bono, as the latter recalls in his memoirs, Anno XIII. The Conquest of an Empire, that the war should be completed "not later than 1936".

Preparations for the forthcoming invasion were almost immediately put in to operation. The Wal Wal incident of 5 December 1934 - a clash of arms on the Ethiopian side of the frontier between Ethiopia and Somalia, served as the Duce's pretext for finally mobilising his forces.

The British and French Governments, which, as we have seen, had sought to partition Ethiopia in 1906, were naturally little interested in preserving the country's independence thirty years later.

When Ethiopia was confronted with threatened invasion, what action of the European Great Powers, which were then largely led by Great Britain?

Mossolini on the eve of the invasion of Ethiopia -speaking on 7 July 1935, to call on the Italian people to display their classical warlike skill and spirit

If Ethiopia had been a European state, fully accepted as a member of the comity of nations, the British Government would probably have raised the impeding breach of the peace at the League of Nations, and might well have taken the lead in pressurising Mussolini against having resort to war.

The Maffey Report

Instead of doing this, the British Government, acting, we would argue, in the spirit of the 1906 Convention and of the Anglo-Italian agreement of 1925 (neither of which had been rescinded), decided to establish an Inter-departmental Commission. Appointed early in March 1935, it was headed by Sir John Maffey, a former British Governor of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan and the then Permanent Under-Secretary for the Colonies, i.e. a typical British colonial functionary.

The Commission's instructions are worthy of notice. They were not to devise a means of avoiding the war, or of protecting the would-be victim of aggression, but, very differently, to review the entire field of British relations with Ethiopia, and to report on "British interests" in the country: to see, in fact, whether such interests would in any way be endangered by an Italian occupation (and, if it would not, presumably to Hell with Ethiopia as an independent state).

The Commission's Report was duly completed by 18 June 1935, when a copy was despatched to the Foreign Office. The Report stated that Britain's only interest in Ethiopia was (as earlier formulated in the 1906 Tripartite Convention and the Anglo-Italian agreement of 1925) in the Lake Tana area.

Otherwise, the Report declared, there were "no vital British interests...

in Ethiopia or adjoining countries sufficient to oblige His Majesty's Government to resist a conquest of Ethiopia by Italy". It was therefore, the Report concluded, "a matter of indifference whether Ethiopia remains independent or is absorbed by Italy".

This callous attitude would not, we would argue, have been so readily applied to a European power threatened with invasion.

The Foreign Office, we should add, did not keep the Maffey Report to itself. Instead it despatched a copy to the British Embassy in Rome, where a copy was soon acquired by Mussolini. The dictator was thus, in effect, given the green light to invade Ethiopia.

This he was to do three months or so later, on 3 October 1936.

The Stressa Meeting

Our argument that the European powers, despite Ethiopia's membership of the League of Nations, had not fully recognised the country's entry into the comity of nations would seem supported by what happened at the three-power Stressa peace conference, which was held in Northern Italy, in April 1935.

During their deliberations at this gathering the British, French and Italian Prime Ministers discussed the future of peace, and agreed on a statement of policy. It declared, as you may remember, dear reader, that:

"The three Powers, the object of which is the collective maintenance of peace within the framework of the League of Nations, find themselves in complete agreement in opposing, by all practicable means, any unilateral repudiation of treaties which may endanger the peace and will act in close and cordial collaboration for this purpose".

Mussolini, as chairman, read out this declaration to the meeting, on the penultimate day, 14 April 1935. He then paused, looked at his European companions, and asked, "was it not necessary" to insert in the text the words "In Europe"?

Neither of the two other great leaders said anything.

The Duce therefore repeated himself. Should not the text, he asked, say, "opposing by all practicable means, any unilateral repudiations of treaties which may endanger the peace of Europe"?

The British Foreign Office advisor, Lord Vansitart, leaned over to the British Prime Minister, the elderly Ramsay MacDonald, and pointed out that the insertion of the proposed words would exclude the text from applying to anything Mussolini might be planning to do in Africa.

"Don't be tiresome, Van", Mac Donald declared, in a famous riposte, "we don't want any trouble. What we want is an agreement we can put before the House of Commons".

The French Prime Minister, Pierre-Etienne Flandin, noticing no negative reaction on the part of MacDonald or of his Foreign Secretary, received the impression, as he later declared, of "a tacit acquaintance given by the British Government to Italian ambitions in Ethiopia".

The Italian Under-Secretary of State, Fulvio Suvitch, took a not-dissimilar view, when he declared, long afterwards, that Mussolini's "Ethiopian war" had been "made by a gentleman's agreement with England".

And scarcely more than that no man can say.


The British and French Governments meanwhile chose to adopt a position of "neutrality" in relation to the impending Fascist invasion. They did this by refusing to supply either potential belligerent with arms.

The would-be invader and its victim were thus placed in a position of supposed "equality" - except that the aggressor, Italy, manufactured its own weapons, whereas Ethiopia, the victim of aggression, was obliged to import them from abroad. Lacking access to the sea, she could do so only through British or French colonial territory, which was closed to her in the interests of "neutrality".

No action, it should be noted, was, however, taken to close the Suez Canal to Italian military supplies. Thus was it that the largely British-owned Suez Canal Company earned its profit on every gun or canister of poison gas passing through the canal.

Nor was any action taken to prevent Italian war-planes from flying over British colonial territory - but Ethiopia was officially denied the right to import arms across British or French territory.

The meaning of this so-called "neutral" arms blockade was graphically explained by the Emperor in an interview with the London Sunday Times, of 21 July 1935, in which he declared:

"Is there one policy for the weak and another for the strong? The weak must be kept weak so that the strong may have no undue difficulty in destroying them. Italy is a great manufacturing country working night and day to equip her soldiers with modern weapons and modern machines. We are an agricultural and pastoral people without resources and cannot do more than purchase abroad a few rifles and guns to prevent our soldiers from entering battle with spears and swords only. In what way have we provoked this war?

If we are in the right, and if civilised nations are unable to prevent this war, at least do not then deny us the power to defend ourselves".

by Richard Pankhurst

Copyright Addis Tribune. Distributed by All Africa Global Media(AllAfrica.com)

KEYWORD: Ethiopia 

Copyright 2002, Africa News Service, all rights reserved. 


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