Italians of Ethiopia are the
colonists from Italy who moved to
colonize Ethiopia in the XX
century, and their descendants.
The 1880s were marked by the Scramble for Africa
in Ethiopia and
Eastern Africa, when the Italians
began to vie with the British and French for influence in the area.
Asseb, a port near
the southern entrance of the Red Sea, was bought
by in March 1870 from the local Afar
sultan, vassal to the Ethiopian Emperor, by an Italian company,
which by 1890 led to the Italian colony of Eritrea.
Since then the Kingdom of Italy
started to try to take control of Ethiopia.
between the two countries resulted in the Battle of Adwa in 1896, whereby the Ethiopians defeated Italy and
remained independent, under the rule of Menelik II.
Italy and Ethiopia signed a
provisional treaty of peace on 26 October 1896, but in the next
years Italians started to pursue the "avenge of Adua" as a matter
of national honor.
The avenge indeed came when Benito
started to expand the African colonial possessions of
Italy in the 1930s.
In October 1935, Mussolini launched the Second Italo-Abyssinian War
invaded Ethiopia. Emperor Haile
Selassie fled the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa on 2 May 1936 and the Italians entered the city on
5 May, after bloody battles.
The war was full of cruelty: the Ethiopians used Dum-dum
bullets (the Hague Convention
of 1899, Declaration III,
prohibited the use in international warfare of bullets called
"Dum-dum", which easily expand or flatten in the body) against the
Italians from the start of the war, and this provoked the
retaliation of the Italians, who used gas against the Ethiopians in
the last months of the war.
Victory was announced on 9 May 1936 and Mussolini declared the
creation of the "Italian Empire". The Italians merged Eritrea,
, and newly captured
Ethiopia into Italian East
(Africa Orientale Italiana, A.O.I.).
The Italian King Victor Emmanuel
added Emperor of
to his titles.
Mussolini dreamed of sending millions of Italian settlers to
Italian East Africa, and Italians had high hopes of turning the
area into an economic asset: huge investments were done in the
creation of needed infrastructures (roads, airports, hospitals,
to the start of World War II Mussolini
controlled much of Ethiopia, but a guerrilla war raged in some
areas of Ethiopia still controlled by clans linked to Selassie (who
was exiled in Great
One of the main steps done by Mussolini in
order to "pacify" the country and gain the sympathy of the
Ethiopians was to decree the abolition of slavery
inside Ethiopia in October 1935.
In the first months of 1941 the Allies
conquered the Italian East Africa Empire and for the Italian
Ethiopians started a period of harassment that led to their nearly
disappearance after World War II.
Italian Ethiopia: 1936-1941
The Italian community in Ethiopia was very small in 1935, before
the Italian invasion: only 200 Italians lived in Ethiopia, nearly
all of them in the capital Addis Ababa.
But in 1940, just five years after Mussolini's conquest of this African
, the Italians residents in Etiopia were nearly 40,000.
The Italo-Ethiopians were concentrated in the capital area, and in
some cases were related to military and administrators just arrived
Ethiopia (divided in the
administrative provinces of Scioa, Galla-Sidamo, Harar and Amara)
as part of the Italian Empire (1936-1941)
To these colonists there was to be added the Italian labourers, who
came temporarily to work (usually only for some months) in the
construction of the Etiopian infrastructures, calculated in nearly
200,000 in five years.
The 40,000 were to be followed -according to the projects of the
of Mussolini - by nearly two
millions Italians in the next ten years, who were to be added to
the 10 millions of Ethiopians living in the country in 1940.
According to official statistics of the Italian government, in
October 1939 the Italian Ethiopians were 35.441, of whom 30.232
male (85,3%) and 5209 female (14,7%), most of them living in urban
Only 3,200 Italian farmers moved to colonize farm areas, mainly
because of the danger of Ethiopian guerrilla (that in 1940 was
still controlling nearly 1/4 of Ethiopia highlands).
Ethiopia (divided in the administrative provinces of Scioa,
Galla-Sidamo, Harar and Amara) as part of the Italian Empire
(1936-1941)The Italians did huge and expensive infrastructures,
that drained the Italian economy but reduced in those years the
unemployment in the Kingdom of
. They did of new roads asphaltated: in 1940
Addis Ababa was connected by state-of-the-art roads to Asmara and Mogadishu.
Furthermore, of railways were reconstructed
or initiated (like the railway between Addis Abeba and Assab), dams and
hydroelectric plants were built, and many public and private
companies were established in the underdeveloped country.
The most important were: "Compagnie per il cotone d'Etiopia"
industry); "Compagnia etiopica del
latte e derivati" (Milk industry); "Cementerie d'Etiopia" (Cement
industry); "Compagnia etiopica mineraria" (Minerals
industry); "Imprese elettriche d'Etiopia"
(Electricity industry); "Compagnia etiopica degli esplosivi"
industry); "Industria per la
birra dell'AOI" (Beer industry); "Trasporti automobilistici
(Citao)" (Mechanic & Transport industry).
There was an urbanistic project for the enlargement of Addis Ababa,
but these architectural plans
-like all the other developments- were stopped by World War
Italians of Ethiopia under British and Ethiopian rule
With the Italian
defeat in eastern Africa
in spring 1941, the Italians of
Ethiopia started to face a period of huge difficulties.
Some Italian civilians even partecipated in the Italian guerrilla war in
until 1943, like Rosa
. This Italian doctor was a woman who became an active
member of the Fronte di Resistenza (Front of Resistance), an
Italian organization which fought the Allies in a guerrilla war
from December 1941 until summer of 1943.
In August 1942 she managed to enter inside the main ammunition
depot of the British Army
Ababa and blow it up, somehow surviving the huge explosion. This
act of sabotage destroyed the ammunition for the new British
machine gun and delayed the deployment of
this "state-of-the-art" weapon for many months.
Doctor Dainelli, even if less known than lieutenant Amedeo Guillet
, was famous as one of the few
Italian woman who participated actively in the Italian guerrilla
operations against the British troops after the East African Campaign
She was nominated, after the end of the war, for the Italian medal
of honor called "croce di ferro".
After World War II the Italian Ethiopians were forced to return to
Italy, mainly after the fall of the Negus
1974. Nearly 22,000 Italo-ethiopians took refuge in Italy during
the 1970s. Their main organization in Italy is the Associazione
Italiana Profughi dall'Etiopia ed Eritrea (A.I.P.E.E.).
In the 2000s many Italian companies are back to work in Ethiopia
and now there it is a community of 1256 Italian technicians and
managers with their families living mainly in Addis Ababa .
Only 80 original Italian colonists remain alive in 2007. Actually
there are nearly 2000 illegitimate descendants of Italian colonists
and Ethiopian women.
Language and Religion
The remaining 80 original Italian Ethiopians colonists speak
, but their descendants
speak even Amharic
The 1256 recently moved to Ethiopia Italian technicians and
managers (with their families living mainly in Addis Ababa) use the
Italian and English language
have some knowledge of Amharic for their work).
In religion, nearly all are Roman
Famous Italians of Ethiopia
- Franco Antonicelli. Trent'anni di storia italiana 1915 -
1945 p. 84
- Nicola Labanca. Oltremare. Storia dell'espansione coloniale
- Ethiopia: pag. 69
- Italian Emigration in Etiopia (in Italian)
- Addis Abeba 1939 Urbanistic and Architectural
- Rosa Dainelli and the Italian guerrilla
- Amedeo Guillet
- Photo and article of Italo-ethiopians residents in
Italy as refugees (in Italian)
Refugee association (in Italian)
- Official Statistics
- Addis Abeba: Visit of Italy's President in
- Antonicelli, Franco. Trent'anni di storia italiana 1915 -
1945. Mondadori ed. Torino, 1961
- Barker, A.J. Rape of Ethiopia, 1936. Ballantine Books.
London, 1971. ISBN 978-0345024626
- Blitzer, Wolf. Century of War. Friedman/Fairfax
Publishers. New York, 2001 ISBN 1-58663-342-2
- Del Boca, Angelo. Italiani in Africa Orientale: La
conquista dell'Impero, Laterza, Roma-Bari 1985. ISBN
- Del Boca, Angelo. Italiani in Africa Orientale: La caduta
dell'Impero, Laterza, Roma-Bari 1986. ISBN 884202810X
- Labanca, Nicola. Oltremare. Storia dell'espansione
coloniale italiana. Il Mulino. Bologna, 2007. ISBN
- Maravigna, Pietro. Come abbiamo perduto la guerra in
Africa. Le nostre prime colonie in Africa. Il
conflitto mondiale e le operazioni in Africa Orientale e in
Libia. Testimonianze e ricordi.Tipografia L'Airone.
- Mockler, Antony. Haile Selassie's War: The
Italian-Ethiopian Campaign, 1935-1941. Random House. New York,
1984. ISBN 0394542223
- Rosselli, Alberto. Storie Segrete. Operazioni
sconosciute o dimenticate della seconda guerra mondiale.
Iuculano Editore. Pavia, 2007.
- Sbiacchi, Alberto. Hailé Selassié and the Italians,
1941-43. African Studies Review, vol.XXII, n.1, April