Courtesy Reuters

The Rise and Fall of Abyssinian Imperialism

THE collapse of the government of Haile Selassie represents the disappearance of the last stronghold of native imperialism in Africa. There was a time when it was thought that European civilization, instead of being imposed on the peoples of northeast Africa by the Great Powers themselves, might reach them indirectly through the expansion of the Turkish, Egyptian and Abyssinian empires. The first of these disappeared as a vital force in Africa when it was supplanted early in the nineteenth century by the Egypt of Mehemet Ali. Mehemet extended his rule to Nubia, Sennar and Kordofan. One of his successors, Ismail, who became viceroy in 1863, was very ambitious to extend Egyptian rule still further. His troops pushed up the White Nile, and down the east coast of Africa until he controlled it as far as Cape Guardafui. Mehemet had ruled his empire largely with Turkish, Albanian and Circassian officers; Ismail preferred Europeans and Americans. Of the latter, mostly veterans of the Civil War, no less than forty-eight served him between 1869 and 1878. But Ismail's grandiose projects, including the building of the Suez Canal, had led him to mortgage Egypt up to the hilt. The inevitable consequences ensued: bankruptcy, European intervention and civil war, the last culminating in the British occupation of 1882. The Sudan was lost with the fall of Khartum in January 1885. The Red Sea from Massaua south was abandoned to the Italians in the same year. Thus ended the attempt to create an Egyptian Empire in Africa.

That Abyssinian imperialism did not succumb so easily is partly accounted for by geography. The center of Abyssinian power was located in a virtually inaccessible highland surrounded by deserts and it was not believed to be especially rich in readily extractable resources. Hence, the cupidity of the European Powers was naturally directed into more lucrative fields. The only imperialist states that sought to subjugate Abyssinia were Egypt (Abyssinia represented a constant danger to the Egyptian colonies in the Sudan and on the Red Sea), and

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