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Re-establishing Italo-Ethiopian Relations after the War: Old Prejudices and New Policies Giampaolo Calchi Novati After World War II, the 1947 Peace Treaty with Italy recognized the independence and sovereignty of Ethiopia.1 Although Italy may have had reservations about an act which was imposed upon her, no reservations could exist regarding the legal status of the Abyssinian Empire. The manner in which Italian occupation ended—Haile Sellassie was reinstated as monarch in 1941 by the British—showed that Ethiopia had not been an Italian colony in the true sense. If anything, Ethiopia had to deal with Great Britain to whom it owed its "liberation" and whose troops continued to be stationed on its territory.2 Ethiopia and Italy re-established diplomatic relations only after lengthy negotiations. The laboriousness of normalization is explained partly by the fate of Italian colonies in Africa,3 but also by psychological misunderstanding which had built up between the two countries.4 Italy was anxious to accelerate procedures so she could reassert her influence in the new African and international set-up, but did not want to give the impression she was ready to make economic or political concessions in return. As for Ethiopia, in viewing its relationship with Italy, the Addis Ababa government believed that colonialism had come to an end and demanded therefore that the period be formally closed. In the course of Italo-Ethiopian relations, expertise and skills had been developed that would be useful in furthering and strengthening relations and trade between the two countries. Italy could be a valuable partner, Ethiopia thought, in helping it escape the British yoke to which it had been subjected during the war. Agreement and difference hinged on the question of the former Italian colonies. As part of its African policy, the Italian government certainly envisaged regaining influence in Ethiopia. Northeast African Studies (ISSN 0740-9133) Vol. 3, No. 1 (New Series) 1996, pp. 27-4927 28 Giampaolo Calchi Novati This would mean reacquiring, at least to a certain extent, some prerogatives enjoyed during the colonial period, even though, in the case of Ethiopia, no direct claims were made. The fact that Italy entertained such colonial or paracolonial aspirations inevitably aroused the suspicions ofthe Ethiopians. They remembered Italian aggression which had included substantial requests for Somalia and especially for Eritrea. Italy took for granted that Europe and Africa would be interdependent in the economic and security spheres, but was also convinced that Europe had to support potentially nationalistic changes in Africa if she wanted to maintain control over the continent. At the same time Italy refused—in the name of those very interests—to "erase the Italian and European character" which had been stamped into her ex-colonies "during many decades of fruitful labour."5 In these circumstances it is not surprising that Italo-Ethiopian talks did not get off the ground until the United Nations had made decisions regarding the former Italian possessions. In the meantime, the Ethiopian government resisted any direct or indirect contacts with Italy.6 Attempts at dialogue were initiated through diplomatic legations in Cairo, Washington, and London,7 as well as through John D. Spencer, the American legal advisor to the Ethiopian government, and through the Ethiopian envoy in London.8 The whole matter was postponed until the signing of a Peace Treaty, then to its ratification, and finally, to the outcome of the debate on Italian colonies. Ethiopian reservations were justified. Italy did not want to give up Eritrea, her favorite colony, and made no attempt to conceal her displeasure when the territory was federated with Ethiopia. Italian policy regarding Eritrea—in agreement or not with Great Britain—had oscillated between a request for mandate and independence, with Italy always placing her own interests before the national rights of the Eritreans.9 The Ethiopian authorities openly reproached Italy for demonstrating continuing hostility. As for Somalia, Italy knew that its return there would evoke "memories of the painful past in the minds of the Ethiopian government."10 Ethiopia objected to Somalia's being placed under Rome's trusteeship as it meant that Italy was once more a "neighbour." Such proximity would probably spark renewed discord over borders. In fact...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1535-6574
Print ISSN
0740-9133
Pages
pp. 27-49
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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