At 5:00 am on 3rd October 1935, the Italian armed forces, commanded by General Emilio de Bono crossed the Merab River from Eritrea.
The invasion of Ethiopia was under way. Last ditch attempts by the Emperor Haile Selassie to halt the invasion by leasing half of Ethiopia to Standard Oil had failed.
Thousands of Eritrean colonial troops, recruited and conscripted by the Italians, participated in the advance.
Above is a press photograph dated 15th October 1935. Its caption reads: “A group of Native Eritrean troops with the Italian army in Ethiopia, are shown assembled before the march on Aduwa.”
Soon the Italian led forces – who had not bothered to declare war on Ethiopia – were advancing deep into Ethiopia.Ethiopia invasion map
The map sent out to the press had this caption: “”Addis Ababa, Oct. 5 – War on three fronts: Italians are reported pushing into Ethiopia along the three fronts indicated, frequently using bombing planes to prepare for the advances. One of the main Ethiopian forces is reported at Dessye.”
On paper the forces may have been relatively evenly balanced.
Indeed, there may have even been an Ethiopian numerical advantage, with around 800,000 troopsItalian troops Ethiopia facing the 500,000 Italian forces.
In reality the balance was always in Italy’s favour.
For a start, the Italian troops were better trained and armed. The photograph (right) is captioned: “Marching towards the enemy: the vanguard of the Italian troops push on to Makale. The Italian soldiers wear heavy boots to protect their feet from the rough ground that the Ethiopian warriors traverse barefoot.”
It was not just boots that the Ethiopian army lacked.
Only about one-quarter of the Ethiopian army had any kind of military training and the men were armed with 400,000 rifles of every type and in every kind of condition.
Then there was the critical difference in armaments.
Ethiopia had an airforce of just 3 planes. Italy could mobilise nearly 600.
Italian tanks advanceItaly had 795 tanks (see picture left) and Ethiopia had just three.
“Mussolini’s tanks break through a stone wall and climb a hill to clear the way for the advance of the Fascist legions on the northern front” is how this photograph is captioned. It is dated 6 November 1935.
Clearly outgunned and attacked with poison gas, the Ethiopian forces had no alternative but to retreat. On 2nd of May 1936, the Emperor Haile Selassie boarded a train and left the capital en route for England and exile.
It was a bitter moment indeed. It was astonishing that the Ethiopian forces had held out as long as they did. And although some troops and the irregular ‘Patriots’ continued resistance, it was not until the Allied troops invaded from Eritrea, Sudan and Somalia in 1940 that the tide really turned.Indian army Eritrea
Of course, it was not just Italy that turned to colonial troops. So did the British. This undated photograph (right) is captioned: ‘With the Indian Army in Eritrea.’
“The whole Empire has been stirred by the achievement of the Indian forces in Eritrea,” Mr Winston Churchill.
To recall these events is not to apportion blame; history is not about blame. It is, rather, an attempt to recall critical moments in the lives of nations and their people.
If anyone was responsible for the conflict it was Mussolini and the Italian fascists. Certainly their Eritrean colonial troops were not responsible for the war.
PT II Explains How The Colonized/Colonial Eritrean Moors Helped Fascist Italy Were They Munipulated Traitors?
by MINILIK SALSAWI » 25 Aug 2013,
Many people have commented on the self-inflated attitudes displayed by the Eritrean elite, and their constant referral to psychological factors in order to explain the Ethiopia – Eritrea confllict. It is common for Eritreans to heap glowing descriptions on themselves, followed by a sneering description of Ethiopians. Here for example is the President of Eritrea himself falling into this embarrassing behavior pattern:
“The elite of Tigray have this baggage of feeling inferior, marginalized and wanting to assert itself by expanding territory, by controlling territory.” (Issayas Afeworqi Interview published July 18, 1998)
Here we see the real Issayas. You don’t expect these kinds of statements from Heads of State. But perhaps this is the partial Italian ancestory of Issayas Afeworqi coming to the fore.
There is a complex for sure, but all observers have noted that it rests as a chip on the shoulders of Eritreans, particularly those Eritreans who have Italian blood.
Here for example is the Financial Times:
“Deny it as they might, Eritreans feel superior to their southern neighbours and the attitude to Tigre, from where Ethiopia’s leadership hails, is particularly patronising.” (Financial Times, June 20 1998)
So, Issayas, you need to remove the log from your own eye before trying to look for imaginary specks in our eyes.
But where does the Eritrean quasi-racist ideology derive from? (It is not really racism because we are the same race and the same ethnic groups)
Probably there are two sources:
(1) The Fascist-era ideology which humiliated Eritreans and relegated them to sub-human status. In the search for positive self-identity, those Eritrean elites who had adopted some superficial Italian cultural aspects began to look down on their “uncivilized” fellowmen. The self-hatred caused by Italian colonialism was turned around and reflected on the common people of Ethiopia and Eritrea who were still in tune with their own culture.
It is this attitude which has perpetuated through the past several decades, contaminating the Eritrean identity. It is this phenomenon which has created the paradox whereby the indigenous cultural heritage of Axum is disparaged and the current inhabitants of that town derided as “[deleted].” In its place the Eritreans substitute the foreign trappings left behind by the departing Italians and cherish these relics as if they created them themselves.
The following quote provides further eplanation:
“From the mid-1930’s, a combination of three factors further contributed towards tthe evolution of what might be called ‘Eritrean consciousness’. The first was the growing racist ideology which began to draw a distinction between the Eritreans who were fortunate enough to be under the civilizing umbrella of Italy and the inhabitants of the Ethiopian empire.” (Pollera, 1935, Negash 1987).
(2) The Mulatto Effect: – Even though the proportion of mixed Italian-African population in Eritrea is negligible, these individuals have had a disproportionate effect on the evolution of Eritrean national psychology. It is well-known that the mixed race class arising from a mixture of European and native populations can develop disturbingly racist attitudes towards its own partial native heritage. [“Though they were officially separated from Eritreans by Fascist race policies, there was actually a great deal of interaction through the social institution of madamato or concubinage, in which many Italian single men lived with Eritrean women, producing a mixed-race population who largely associated themselves with Italian culture.” Tom Killion , 1998]
(The above observation should not be construed as denigrating people who happen to be of mixed race. Thankfully in today’s world, the value in cultural/racial diversity is recognised, and no one need be ashamed of their heritage. Fundamentally we are all of mixed race descent; the important thing is that mixed race individuals are able to equally value their dual racial heritages)
Still, mixed race individuals who grew up in the Fascist environment (roughly 1920’s and 1930’s) as well as in the post war period when the Italian population in Eritrea was substantial and the Italians continued to dominate Italy (to 1952) are susceptible to this “mulatto disease.” Issayas Afeworki clearly exhibits the symptoms of this mulatto disease, and there are many like him. The pro-Italy party in Eritrea (composed of Italian settlers, ex-Ascaris, and mixed race individuals) attracted the support of approximately 10 percent of the population during the period leading up to the 1952 federation.
The above statements cannot be left without mentioning the contributions made by Eritreans who escaped Italian colonialism and came to Ethiopia throughout the colonial period. There was no possible advancement for black people in Italian Eritrea. Black people were not allowed to learn beyond the fourth grade or to have a normal professional career. For ambitious Eritrean colonial subjects, Ethiopia was the land of opportunity. Beyond that, many Eritreans defected from the Italian army and joined Ethiopia during the Mussolini invasion of 1935. It is to be recalled that the assasination attempt which provoked the Graziani massacres in Addis Abeba was carried out by two Eritreans.
At the time of the UN investigations to determine Eritrea’s fate, the Unionist Party consistently came out as the largest party, receiveing overwhelming support in the highlands. This clearly shows that the vast majority of the Tigrean-Eritrean people held Ethiopia in high prestige at that time, and were not infected by the psychological diseases which were prevalent among some of the Eritrean elite during the Fascist period. It is truly unfortunate that the intransigence of the Haile Selassie government and the brutality of the Derg regime has helped destroy the common bond which once united the Ethiopian and Eritrean people.
1. To summarize, prior to the arrival of the Italians, the relationship between the Tigrean parts of Eritrea and Tigre-proper was one of respect accorded to the common history and cultural heritage (eg Axum and St Mary of Zion church and monasteries of Debre Damo, Debre Bizen). After the arrival of the Italians, the feelings of respect and common identity were replaced with a sneering, semi-racist attitude that took root among the urban elites. This attitude persists to this day. It is essentially a phenomenon confined to the urbanized Tigrean-Eritreans and refreshingly absent among the Muslim, lowland population of Eritrea.
2. It is not the fault of the Eritrean elite that they were exposed to the destructive Fascist and Colonial forces. However, now that the Italians have long gone, they would do well to purge themselves of the psychological remnants of this period.
3. The psychological explanation provided by the Eritrean president for the origin of this war is silly. Clearly there are economic factors involved as well as local political considerations. Perhaps the role of psychology may have been important in the Eritrean miscalculation concerning the reaction in Ethiopia to their invasion.
Eritreans spend too much time with gratutious psychoanalysis and comparison with Ethiopians. We are fundamentally the same people. It is unhealthy to have this national delusional psychosis which requires definition of a separate Eritrean identity in terms of its supposed superiority to Ethiopian identity.
Eritreans interested in psychological group comparisons need to spend their time comparing themselves to Europeans, Japanese, Indians etc. These compare and contrast exercises will prove more useful than the obsessional fixation with trying to prove that Eritreans are better than Ethiopians.
The Origin of Eritrean Psychological Confusion
Young Eritreans being manipulated by their Fascist Italian colonizers – National Geographic, 1935