Monday, 15 April 2019

The British Roadblock after Ethiopian Liberation

“Emperor Haile Selassie’s triumphant entry into Addis Ababa was not the expected end to the sovereignty crisis that the Italian Occupation had meant. The Emperor’s victory was achieved with the backing of British military forces. Despite Ethiopia having been an independent state prior to the Italian occupation, and the status of Ally that Italian entry into World War II bestowed on Ethiopia, the British treated the Emperor as the local leader of occupied enemy territory, and not as the leader of an independent country.”
Beyond The Throne by Indrias Getachew, Shama Books 2001 pg 109

Emperor Haile Sellassie I faced many trials and stumbling blocks upon His return to Ethiopia. While He may have expected to “pick up where He left off” and go about re-establishing His government and rule, He found that task to be exceedingly difficult due to a number of factors, on the Ethiopian front and because of British interference.

Post-liberation Ethiopia was a mess. Populations were displaced, the government destroyed, territories had been seized and people were starving and without work or homes. They, moreover, resented the Emperor for deserting them, for running away to Britain while they faced the hell of Italian occupation on their own. The Emperor lost many of His once loyal supporters because He went into exile. He was considered a traitor, disloyal to His own oath which He gave upon His coronation. His image in Ethiopia was severely tarnished as a result. One of His biggest challenges upon return therefore, was to regain the trust of His people, to reestablish and consolidate His authority over them. He set up the Ministry of Interior to handle specifically the socio-economic problems and physical hardships endured around the country as a result of Italian occupation.

Security through resettlement was the biggest and most important task, as much of the population was forced to live in the old Ethiopian tradition as “shiftas” or nomadic bandits that raided travelers and settled communities. The Emperor was also quick to establish a local police force and a new military whereby Ethiopia’s borders and urban centres could be protected.
However, in spite of these efforts, the presence of the British in Ethiopia as both administrative and military factions, made things harder for the Emperor and country to settle. Britain’s help to regain Ethiopian independence, had come at a price. The Occupied Enemy Territory Administration blatantly ignored the Emperor’s right to rule Ethiopia autonomously.

The OETA had its sights set on carrying out the Italian dream of dividing Ethiopia up. The British-led administration planned to integrate Ogaden with British and former Italian Somaliland to make “Greater Somaliland.” The Borana lands of the south would have been merged with Kenya. Eritrea would have been fused with Anglo-Egyptian Sudan in the lowlands, while the rest of it was to unify with Tigray to form an independent nation. Clearly these plans had no reverence to the Emperor’s existence or Ethiopia’s independent status. It disregarded Ethiopia’s status as an Ally as well and violated Ethiopia’s right by law to maintain its pre-occupation territories. The end result of this plan to parcel off the land would have meant that the Emperor would become a puppet to the British Empire, and so He did everything in his diplomatic power to prevent that from happening. It was not a price He was willing to pay in thanks for previous British aid.

The tensions between the Emperor and Britain continued from 1941, starting when the He named a new set of Ministers for His government without British approval. Brigadier Maurice Lush was outraged and stated that the Emperor had no right to do such a thing without signing a peace treaty with the King of Italy. Until this was done the King of Italy was still the legal ruler of Ethiopia! It was obvious that the British would take the side of their European counterparts – Italy- in spite of all that Italy had done.

The soldiers of the liberating forces and detractors were also a source of anxiety for the palace as they clashed with Ethiopian patriots and nobles. With their unruly actions they undermined the authority of the Emperor and compromised His standing in the eyes of His own nation. The Emperor was only able to gain the upper hand over the various factions of the OETA by sending messages directly to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Churchill issued a statement that made it clear that Ethiopia was independent and sovereign, and that this status was officially recognized by Britain. This statement stopped all plans to partition Ethiopian territories.

However, problems still continued. Ethiopia signed the First Anglo-Ethiopian Agreement in January 1942, which gave the British Administration too much liberties in government, and allowed them to continue occupying the Ogaden region of Harar. Luckily, by 1944 the Emperor was able to have the administration removed, eradicating their diplomatic dominance in government.  Slighted by the Emperor’s refusal to bow, the OETA had other tricks up their sleeve to undermine Ethiopian autonomy and weaken efforts in post-occupation development. They removed all Italian war booty -which would have been justified compensation and a boon to regaining stability - from Ethiopia. Machinery, factories, arms and goods were taken by the British to their own colonies – Kenya, Somaliland and Sudan.

In 1937, due to attempt on Graziani’s life, Italy killed the trained and educated Ethiopians left in the country. This meant that the Emperor had virtually no technically trained and skilled workers to employ in His new government, to rebuild and maintain the necessary infrastructure. The Italians served to fill this gap, those who remained in Ethiopia and wanted to help right the wrongs of the past and had fostered warm relations with the locals. The OETA however, insisted on repatriating these Italians, forcing them to go back home.

Territorial issues also continued, as the British kept control of the Ogaden and Eritrea, claiming them to be volatile areas. Britain eventually lost claim on the Ogaden region with the help of the United Nations*. Eritrea itself later voted to become the fourteenth province of Ethiopia, which it remained until the monarchy was abolished.

*"In 1941 Ethiopia was one of the founding signatories to the Charter establishing the United Nation and in 1945 was among the found members present at the inauguration of the organization in San Francisco." Getachew 2001 pg 120