Bitter facts about the Internal politics during the second Italo–Abyssinian War

By Tuji Jidda

Much has been written about the 1935 Italian Invasion of Abyssinia. But just little has been said, in disguise, regarding the domestic political dimension of the war. It is the recent opinion by Tola Biya entitled ‘Ethiopia: Remembering Oromo Patriots who fought in World War II that prompted me to briefly and quickly compose this perspective of the war, without referring back to the ample material I have on the subject.


Background to domestic politics before the Italian invasion:

  • It was only four decades since Menelik’s brutal massacre and conquest of majority of non-Abyssinians when the war started. The survivors simply reduced to the status of slavery.
  • Tigreans were trying to resolve their succession crisis to regain the power and wealth they lost to Shoan king Menelik following Yohannes’s defeat by Mahdist army.
  • The Gojjam were reviving from the devastating battle of Embabo and conspiring to gain their proper place or the upper hand.
  • The Wello (Islam Oromos) were suffering from the effects of Shoan cuop against the legitimate heir, Emperor Iyasu, and the subsequent humiliation of defeat at the battle of Sagalee in which some 80,000 people had died. They were also suffering fresh round of Naftegna’s devastating campaign that brought the famous Wello famine of 1929.
  • Ogaden was just suffering from the pain of 1900s Abyssinia conquest and Mad Mullah’s war against Amhara colonialism.
  • The South was suffering from fresh massive rampant slave raids and many other internal crisis

Despite Teferi Mokonen’s effort, many Ethiopian armies didn’t heed the Emperor’s call for mobilization. To the contrary, Italians exploited this mega ‘internal’ crisis for its advantage and managed to get the support from all of Eritrea, Somali, Afar, most of Tigre, Wello, Gojjam and of course the Oromos. Eritrean and Somali Askari soldiers- indigenous colonial troops- became major part of the colonial Italian troops.

The high-tech military superiority, support from Europeans and Roman Catholic Pope coupled with massive internal support they had gained gave the colonial Italian troops absolute advantage over the savage Abyssinian army. On top of that Ras Gugsa of Tigre joined the Italian forces with his army.

The war ended shortly but with massive causalities. After seeing the direction and seriousness of the war, Ras Hailu of Gojjam and Ras Seyoum of Tigre deserted back to their territory.  The disintegrated (mainly) Shoa army had to face the skirmish battle from within. The Wello blocked the way and ambushed retreating Shoan army led by a Ras and even pursued to capture escaping Emperor Teferi Mokonnen.

Following news of the defeated Emperor’s escape, the surrounding Oromos rushed to Addis Ababa on horseback for revenging. They went on the rampage, looting and killing of the Neftegnas. Most Europeans sought refuge at foreign embassies based in the capital. The Egyptian patriarch escaped to his country. Hararghe, Arsi, Bale, and Borana Oromos collaborated with Italian army in evacuating the Shoa Neftegna-Melkegna settlers- most of who managed to escape. To the southwest, Abba Jobir of Jimma was hunting for remnants of Neftegna army in collaboration with Italians. The first measure Italy took at arrival of Addis Ababa was to demolish the statue of Menelik.

Unable to find safe heaven, part of the disintegrated Abyssinian army fled to neighboring countries of Djibouti, Kenya and the Sudan. Many surrendered to the Italians while other parts of the defeated army were either forced or chose to be guerilla fighters, latter to be called ‘Arbegna’. Those who opposed the Neftegna party were called ‘Banda’. Strangely, there were a number of famous Oromo Arbegnas, mainly from Shoa-Tullama, who bravely fought the Italian colonizers undermining the Neftegna colonizes. I have difficulty calling Abyssinianized Oromos who consciously or unknowingly collaborated with brutal regimes against their people real Oromos, even though they have pure Oromo blood.

The five years 1936-1941 period of Italian occupation was a blessing in disguise for majority of southern non-Abyssinian Ethiopians, including the Oromos. The formal and practical abolition of slavery and internal colonization, the religious freedom, especially for Islam, the massive construction, modernization and civilization and the like can be mentioned. It is during this time the first Afan-Oromo Radio started transmission from Harar and Jimma. It is also during this time, Mosques were constructed in Addis, Jimma, Harar, and Desse. It was during this time the first Oromo confederacies established. Sadly, however, all these humanizing initiatives got back to even more brutal savagery level when H. Sillassie of Shoa started enslavement and counter revenging campaign following British assisted evacuation of the Italians.

In short, the second Italy-Abyssinian war was conducted over another internal colonization. Strictly speaking, the war was conducted between Italian colonizers and Shoa colonizers; as the recent Ethio-Eritrea war was between TPLF and EPLF. The others were nothing except being fun like ‘Andu Siyageba, Lelawu Gagaba”. From my understanding of the Abyssinian-Ethiopian history, the five years of Italian occupation of Ethiopia were the first best time since Menelik’s holocaust. The second best may be Emperor Iyasu’s time and the third best was the initial stage of the Derg regime, thanks to Dr. Haile Fida.

The writer can be reached at oceonia@yahoo.com.{jcomments off}



About the author

OPride Staff

Collaborative stories written or reported by OPride staff and contributors.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.