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Serendipitous Resistance in FascistOccupied Ethiopia, 1936-1941 Charles Schaefer Valparaiso University On 5 May 1936 Marshall Badoglio led a triumphant Italian army into Addis Ababa to raise the Italian flag over the Imperial Palace. The assault over the Northern highlands and through the Ogaden had been extraordinarily successful. With a massive ground force, air support, and an array of weaponry, including yperite (mustard gas), never before deployed on the African continent, the Italian military defeated a numerically inferior and poorly organized Ethiopian army forcing Emperor Haile Sellassie to flee, ultimately to arrive in Geneva, Switzerland to plead his case before the League of Nations. Yet even before the fall of Addis Ababa, a resistance campaign was organized. Until his actual departure aboard the train bound for Djibouti, Haile Sellassie toyed with the idea of joining the resistance led by his cousin, Ras Imru. The objective of the Patriots was remarkably straightforward: to increase the military and social costs of occupation until they became untenable leading to the eventual overthrow of Fascist rule. Yet by expanding the terrain of resistance to include economic factors, it will be argued that more passive forms of resistance contributed to inflating the costs of occupation thus making it virtually unaffordable. This essay explores these economic costs. First, it will consider the effectiveness of the Ethiopian Patriots, as a foundation for the subsequent discussion on the financial problems the Fascists faced. Second, it will probe a fiscal handicap (the ingredient of serendipitous resistance) or namely how Ethiopians' opposition to Italian monetary reforms and their insistence on using the Maria Theresa thaler significantly inflated prices to the point that many of Italy's dreams of empire (spacio vitale) were * This paper was presented at the 12th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, Michigan State University, 5-10 September 1994. Northeast African Studies (ISSN 0740-9133) Vol. 3, No. 1 (New Series) 1996, pp. 87-11587 88 Charles Schaefer jettisoned in order to pay for its large military presence. In this light, every Ethiopian who transacted a monetized exchange and insisted on being paid in Maria Theresa thalers resisted in a non-belligerent manner. Patriotic Resistance Italy's war costs exceeded all expectations. The official estimate for the Ethiopian War, 1934 to 1937, was 12 billion lire or about 600 million dollars, although, according to Alberto Sbacchi, the Director of the General Accounting Office calculated that it was more like 39 billion lire. Such numbers remain meaningless unless contextualized. Using Sbacchi's figures, over 19 billion lire were requested by the Africa orientale governorships for fiscal year 1936-7, yet "Italy's total government revenue for the same period was estimated at 18,581,000,000 lire, which meant that Ethiopia, alone, would absorb all Italian revenues!" To undercut this comparison, it should be noted that the Ministry of Africa only budgeted 5 billion lire to Italian East Africa for the same period. The high cost of conquering and administering Ethiopia also came at a time when Italy was militarily committed in Spain and later, the Second World War. The effects of occupying Ethiopia were to leave the Italian economy prostrate. The fact that Ethiopia was only partially occupied accounts, in large part, for these enormous expenditures. Huge tracts of the interior were held by Ethiopian rebels or were inaccessible to Italian troops. The Ethiopian highlands compare to Northeastern Arizona, only the fissure that forms the Grand Canyon must be multiplied a hundredfold to duplicate the tabletop plateau that is unendingly bisected by deep ravines descending as much as 5,000 feet. Because of the terrain the Italians were required to construct an elaborate network of roads and airports connecting colonial administrative centers, yet vast tracts between the roads and airports remained beyond Italian jurisdiction. The three administrative bureaus in Rome—the Ministry of Africa, the Colonial Superior Council, and the Ministry of Finance—responsible for planning and budgeting Italian efforts in Ethiopia had not anticipated the magnitude of building such a transportation network, nor had they imagined that infrastructural costs would be borne exclusively by the government solely for strategic purposes. Italy's colonial planners had envisioned Serendipitous Resistance in Fascist-OccupiedEthiopia 89 transforming Ethiopia into a frontier...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1535-6574
Print ISSN
0740-9133
Pages
pp. 87-115
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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