in a world where most modern nations were at one point either colonized or the colonizer it seems quite a mystery how some regions remained untouched by this crucial era of the past and it’s especially surprising to find that there were actually some areas in africa that remained untouched by the portuguese british spanish french belgian and italian colonial powers who swarmed the continent with simultaneous goals of expanding their empires of the few and far between modern day states that managed to slip out of the imperial intruder’s grasp though ethiopia stands as one of the most impressive.
eventually each empire also realized that they would likely be competing with their neighboring european powers and therefore needed to make some claims to the lands they wished to utilize this prompted a period generally referred to as the scramble for africa when the scramble began europeans had already reached the continent driven by financial and political reasons the european leaders knew that it would only be a matter of time before war would break out between them if some type of deal was not made.
as to who would control which parts of the continent 13 european nations met with each other and the united states for the berlin conference the conference began on november 15 1884 and didn’t end until february 26 1885 and resulted in the subsequent berlin act the region of modern day congo that had already been occupied by the belgians was confirmed to be under belgian possession areas of free trade for all was set up around the niger and congo rivers and the congo basin and lake malawi and it was agreed that any european entity.
who took land along the african coast would have to inform the other powers of this action now the door was open for any and all of these imperial powers to start taking over the continent italy was one of these empires and quickly set its sights on ethiopia after beginning to establish what would become its eritrean colony moving to expand this colony more the italians sent their special core of africa into the port town of misawa was at the time under the authority of the ethiopian empire in 1887.
the latter initially sent a warning to the italian officials that they were in violation of a treaty that had been signed between ethiopia known then as abyssinia britain and egypt but the warning was not heated instead italy decided to double down and began to prepare for a battle at the sahati fortification with 167 italian troops alongside 1 000 locals the town’s governor raz alula engida was not even slightly tolerant of this move and decided to outright attack.
the fortification and its inhabitants this risky decision resulted in a tragic number of casualties for the ethiopians with only a few italians being injured and none killed the attacking troops had been no match for the garrison’s cannon and rifles and were shortly forced to retreat while some still remained alive still the italians were now low on ammunition and further felt need for reinforcements which resulted in about 550 additional troops being sent to the fortification thanks to his spies raz alula was given a heads up and quickly gathered.
a fresh army to march back to the garrison before the reinforcements could arrive this time the ethiopians greatly outnumbered the italians who still had superior weaponry but low ammunition the battle raged on for a few hours before the ammo finally ran out and the ethiopians routed their enemies almost wiping them out entirely this considerably angered the surviving italians and their authorities which turned the new-found war into not only a political struggle but also a personal vendetta now at the end of january italy voted to send a massive.
new force back to eretria to avenge their recent defeat while the ethiopian emperor johannes iv decided to pull his troops out of the area for the time being this ended up being a wise move as the italians were suddenly plagued by disease and forced to return home by march the rest of the year was marked by a period of shady politics and back and forth alliances.
the italians hoped to bribe the rivals of johannes into partnerships with them while the emperor himself looked to maintain unity within the region so he would have support against the invading threat ultimately with the death of johannes as he fought elsewhere against the mattis sudanese threat the italians found some degree of success as the monarch was succeeded by manalik of shiva.
whom they had previously formed an alliance with this brought about the treaty in which italy’s new possessions throughout the establishment of italian eretria were recognized by the ethiopian empire still though ethiopia did lose some of the territories it had previously claimed ethiopia itself was yet to be touched by italy’s colonial hand this was not the end of italy versus Ethiopia.
though and europe had surely not given up so easily on colonizing the remaining african free states in fact italy at this point actually believed ethiopia to be an italian protectorate via the witcher treaty in the italian translation this clause had been quite clear but for some reason in the amharic translation it was not and instead seemed to confirm ethiopia’s full autonomy the italians claims that menelik surely knew he was signing a modified copy of the treaty but that doesn’t appear to be the case.
as he had sent letters to both germany and britain in 1889 and was only informed by them that he could not have diplomatic relations with any european power aside from italy due to the rules established back at the berlin conference this prompted newfound tensions between italy and its supposed protectorate as menelik denounced the hidden clause of the treaty and worked to consolidate his own power.
throughout ethiopia this ushered in a new era of ethiopian nationalism partly fueled by a widespread anti-italy sentiment but also through the unity encouraged by the new emperor when italy began to seize small territories around the ethiopian eretrium border they expected some of menelik’s rivals to join their campaign and fight against him but instead they all rushed to the emperor’s side this time italy’s strategy to divide and conquer quickly crumbled.
as the ethiopians regardless of previous internal feuds were determined to unite and maintain their independence from the europeans ironically menelik was also now better equipped thanks to the europeans the italians had provided some weaponry to rivals of the crown including menelik himself prior to johannes death that they expected would be used against the ethiopian authority.
in addition to further military supplies from france and britain who hoped to keep italy’s expansion in check when a new war finally broke out between italy and ethiopia the fresh nationalism and unity of the latter would eventually prove itself to be the key to victory though some military aid was given from russia it was the joint efforts of the ethiopians that eventually defeated the italians at the battle of adwaa following this decisive clash the treaty of addis ababa was signed in october of 1896.
and forced the italians to recognize ethiopian sovereignty the aftermath of these events and the impressive nature in which ethiopia had proven itself as an independent nation strengthened its ties with russia and prompted both britain and france to spark friendlier relations this played a significant role in the safety of ethiopia’s sovereignty and went far in deterring other european imperial powers from making.
any moves against the free state still italy was not quite done in 1935 the second italo ethiopian war broke out after italy decided to invade ethiopia yet again this time though italy was actually successful to a certain extent ethiopia was annexed and united with the surrounding italian possessions of somaliland and eritrea to create italian east africa which lasted until the italians switched sides in the second world war and eventually signed a treaty.
in 1947 that acknowledged ethiopia’s independence and required italy to pay 25 million dollars in reparations so ethiopia was never colonized in part due to the underestimation of the entire continent’s possibilities by europe partially because of the berlin conference and the limitations it put on other empires.
in the region but largely due to the resilience and determination of the locals this region was more developed than other african territories and it had more contact with muslim and european kingdoms throughout the centuries while many other african tribes in other regions were isolated another factor that contributed to this outcome is italy now beyond the jokes that have been made about the italian armies in some contexts at the end of the 19th century.
italy was a recently unified country and its experience in colonialism was pale compared to that of great britain or france we cannot know what would have happened if one of these two countries have been more captivated by ethiopian territory but it is a factor that we must take into account the ethiopian nationalism and menelik’s skillful unification and use of european weaponry against the europeans were pillars in the fight for freedom of the ethiopians without those factors history likely would have gone down a very different path.
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