Ethiopians are proud of the fact that they have never been conquered throughout their history. Africans adopted the Ethiopian tri-colours, green, gold and red, as theirs. It eventually became the colours of pan-Africanism.
Yet as can be found on the internet, there are some who find that fact a bitter pill to swallow. They just can not accept the fact that Ethiopia was never colonized. They always refer to the five years from 1936 to 1941 that the Italians were in Ethiopia and say that Ethiopia was colonized for those five years and not occupied.
So let’s start with the definitions. What is colonization? And what is occupation? The Webster-Merriam dictionary tells us:
Colonization: an act or instance of ‘colonizing.’ Colonizing being the ‘establishment of a colony’; and colony in turn meaning ‘a body of people living in a new territory but retaining ties with the parent state.’ Also a ‘territory inhabited by such a body.’
Occupation: the act or process of ‘taking possession of a place or area: seizure’. Also: ‘the holding and control of an area by foreign military force.’ And ‘the military force occupying a country or the policies carried our by it.’
The obvious differences that can be seen are the fact that
1. In a colonization resistance has been eliminated, the colonized have been subdued and the major activity that is going around is done by the civilians. The country must have surrendered.
2. In occupation there are almost no civilians involved because the occupation is being enforced by the invading army. And the need for this invading army is due to the fact that there is still a resistance going on in one way or the other, which in term implies that the army still doesn’t have a 100% control over the territories.
Now let’s have a look at Ethiopian history, specifically the years 1936 to 1941. The second Ethio-Italian war started a long time before 1935. The first Ethio-Italian war, which ended with Italy’s defeat and humiliation at Adowa in 1896, could be seen as the starting point. Italy wanted revenge and started the second war on October 3rd, 1935. It ended on May 7th, 1936 with the collapse of the Ethiopian Army, which had fought bravely but could not stand up to the poison gas and bombs raining from the Fascists’ airplanes. They marched into Addis Ababa on May 5th, 1936. It must be noted that Ethiopia never surrendered.
The first of the Ethiopian patriots to start the guerilla warfare that would continue till victory day was Lij Hailemaria Mamo of Debre Damo. He attacked a convoy of Italians that were heading to Addis Ababa on May 4th, 1936 thus gaining him the name first of the Ethiopian Patriots or “Arbegna.” After him came resistance in each and every part of Ethiopia. The more the patriots fought the harsher the fascists became, and the harsher they became the more people joined the patriots. By the end of 1936, almost all of Ethiopia was up in rebellion and fighting a guerilla war.
To name a very few of the patriots’ leaders:
• Lij Hailemariam Mamo in and around Debre Damo
• Abebe Aregay in and around Showa
• Dejazmach Menegesha and Belay Zelleke in the the Gojjam are and around the Nile Gorge
• Dejazmach Balcha “Aba Nefso” Safo in the Gurage lands
• Dejazmach Hailu Kebede in the Lasta lands
• There were Eritrean deserters who fought on the Ethiopian side, even when the patriots were losing.
• This war was supported by civilians living in the occupied cities, they were called ‘Ye Wist Arbegnoch’ or the “inside warriors.”
At no given time during those fives years were Italians not fighting for their lives. Apart from the cities where they had their garrisons the land a few kilometers away was controlled by the patriots and the vast countryside remained free.
The Allies had only postponed what was inevitable by letting the fascists get away with murder and pillage hoping that the leniencies of France and Britain would not push Mussolini into the arms of Hitler. They, especially the British finally realized the error of their ways when they found out that should the fascists win they could be a threat to their own territories of Kenya, British Somaliland and Sudan and could completely cut them off from the Suez Canal and the Red Sea if they were to create and empire that stretched form Somaliland to Libya!
The war ended after only three months of fighting between Ethio-British forces and the fascists. Addis Ababa was liberated on May 5th, 1941 exactly five years after it was occupied by the Italians.
So, how was this any different than the ‘occupation’ and not ‘colonization’ of Europe? Almost all of mainland Europe except for Portugal, Spain and Sweden were in one way or another under Germany’s rule; Some for more than five years. Some had even completely surrendered and even collaborated and switched sides over to the Nazis. And yet not one of them is mentioned as being colonized.
Well, it is hoped that this article will show that Ethiopia is a nation that has never been colonized… and never will be!
• Michael B. Lentakis: Ethiopia: a view from within