The Pandemic Depression
The Global Economy Will Never Be the Same
ETHIOPIA, the first country to lose her independence in the present sweep of aggression, has been the first to be liberated. True, the invasion of Manchuria preceded the conquest of Ethiopia by four years; yet even today, a decade after Japan began her attack on China, there is still a Chinese Government in effective possession of a large part of China, engaged in a fight to the finish with the invader. Ethiopia, unlike China, was completely overrun and her independence extinguished. She thus heads the roll of national tragedies, now beyond the dozen mark -- Austria, Albania, Czecho-Slovakia, Poland, the Baltic States, Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Jugoslavia and Greece. And this is to say nothing of Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria and Thailand, as well as Italy herself, author of Ethiopia's downfall, all of which surrendered their freedom without a fight.
As the first country freed from Axis occupation, Ethiopia faces the liberating Powers with important and complicated problems. Here, for the first time, they must make decisions which inevitably will influence the policies they later pursue in other occupied lands as they too are freed. The same reconstruction formulas cannot, of course, be applied indiscriminately to such dissimilar countries as, for example, Ethiopia, Albania, Poland and Norway. Yet, given the force which precedent exerts on the acts of governments, the policies followed in the reconstitution of an independent Ethiopia seem sure to serve as guideposts for those who are to supervise the creation of a New Europe out of the wreck of the New Order. Nor should we forget that the policies applied to Ethiopia will be watched with the closest attention, not only by the various governments-in-exile and their countrymen at home, but by the Axis régimes themselves, for these can be counted on to extract the full propaganda value from any failure by the Anglo-Russo-American bloc to honor promises made to its smaller allies.
On November 28 of last year Italian resistance in East Africa ended with the surrender of the besieged Fascist garrison at Gondar. The campaign had been typical of this war in that the Allied forces were composed of units from many parts of the world. The British Empire contributed men from the United Kingdom, West Africa, Rhodesia, South Africa, Kenya, the Sudan and India. There were also contingents from the Belgian Congo and the Free French colonies in Africa. And last, but certainly not least, there were the "patriot" armies raised by the Ethiopians themselves. The interest of Britain's allies in her policy towards Ethiopia thus derives in part from their participation in a common victory. It flows even more from the common resolves taken by all the United Nations in their joint declaration signed at Washington on January 2, 1942. In the preamble of that document they subscribe to the "common program of purposes and principles embodied in the Atlantic Charter," and in Article Two they pledge themselves "not to make a separate armistice or peace with the enemies." Each of the signatory governments thus has a vital interest in any actions and commitments of any of the others which might prejudice either the conduct of the war or the negotiation of an equitable and durable peace. We have, in effect, become very much our brother's keeper.
In a time when Americans anxiously await the latest hourly news from Chungking and Delhi, Cairo and Kuibyshev, Ethiopia has lost some of her remoteness. Time was, and not many years ago, when "Abyssinia" was merely a word -- like Tibet or Timbuctoo -- that sprang to the lips as a synonym for something inaccessible, hardly real. Before the Ethiopian War of 1935-36 only two articulate groups in the United States were interested in Abyssinia: the more race-conscious Negroes, and certain religious bodies engaged in missionary work. The Christian Abyssinians, who have always constituted the ruling element in Ethiopia, are very proud of their non-Negro racial and cultural origins. Nevertheless, as they are in general dark-skinned and as they are most certainly Africans in a geographical sense, they have received the sympathy of black men throughout the world, especially anti-imperialist black men in the United States and the West Indies.
This feeling of sympathy became widespread among all Americans when Mussolini invaded Ethiopia in the fall of 1935, and since that date Ethiopia has ceased to be in the minds of most Americans a blank spot marked Hic sunt Leones. In the near future our interest in Ethiopia and adjacent lands is bound to increase still further, for the United States Government is constructing a huge supply and repair base in Eritrea to serve Allied forces in the Near East. Details concerning these activities have of necessity been meagre. It has, however, been obvious for some time that none of the Near Eastern countries under Allied control -- Egypt, Palestine, Syria, 'Iraq or Iran -- was sufficiently remote from enemy bombers to afford sites suitable for large-scale bases where supplies and matériel from Britain and America could be unloaded, assembled and repaired in comparative safety. Alexandria, Haifa and other ports in the Eastern Mediterranean are easily reached from Axis air bases in Libya, Crete and the Dodecanese. They are also vulnerable in that traffic bound to and from them must depend on the Suez Canal, since the short route past Gibraltar and Malta has become too dangerous for merchant shipping. But even the Canal cannot be relied on entirely, for it too is within the enemy's easy bombing range; it may thus be blocked, at least temporarily, by ships sunk in it while passing through. Even the port of Suez, at the Red Sea end of the Canal, has not proved satisfactory because it too is subject to bombing.
Eritrea, on the other hand, is sufficiently distant from any Axis-held territory -- Crete and Bengazi are 1,750 airline miles from Asmara -- to afford adequate protection without at the same time being too far removed from the fighting forces which it must serve. Massaua has a respectable harbor less than 400 miles from the Bab-el-Mandeb, where the waters of the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean meet. It is therefore well situated to act as a terminus for convoys coming from America either via the Atlantic and the Cape of Good Hope or via the South Pacific and across the Indian Ocean. The latter route is probably no longer practicable; even the former will become dangerous, perhaps impossible, if Japan is able to exploit her early victories at Singapore and in the East Indies sufficiently to break Britain's naval hold on the Indian Ocean. Eritrea could also become one of the termini for the air route between the United States and the Near East that passes by way of West Africa and the Sudan. This route is now used for plane-ferrying and for the transport of government officials, important mail and other urgent business. It cannot, of course, become a substitute for the round-the-Cape water route as a means of moving troops, arms and supplies to Eritrea and the Near East. However, roughly parallel to this air route there is reported to be in process of creation one or more land routes by which war supplies can in time be moved in considerable quantities. To tie the Eritrean base in with this route would be a simple matter. Through highways already exist between Eritrea and the Sudan and these could easily be improved; while the gap between the Sudan and Eritrean railway systems, only 75 miles in length, can easily be filled in.
Massaua "enjoys" one of the hottest and most unpleasant climates in the world. Fortunately, it lies almost in the shadow of the Eritrean highlands. Asmara, located on the plateau at an
elevation of 7,500 feet, is only 50 miles from Massaua as the crow flies, or 75 by either the narrow-gauge railway or the more modern highway. The American base is said to include both the Massaua and the Asmara areas. Its climatic and topographic conditions will thus run a wide gamut, for at 7,500 feet, even on the 15th parallel of latitude, one is in reality in the temperate zone. Some use can doubtless be made of the means of transport, shops and other installations set up by the Italians when this area was the base for their operations against northern Ethiopia. Much will have to be rebuilt or created ex novo if it is to serve the needs of a vast army fighting modern mechanized warfare against the world's greatest masters of that art.
The construction of this base is purely a war measure, and the American authorities have emphatically declared that the United States is acquiring no territorial rights or claims over any part of Eritrea. Nevertheless, the existence of this base does give the United States an added reason for concern in Britain's policy towards the restored government of Haile Selassie.
When Mussolini thrust Italy into the war on June 10, 1940, he did so at the cost of leaving his newly won empire in East Africa to its fate. Not that Il Duce understood this at the time, for in his calculation the imminent fall of France was to be followed shortly by the collapse of the British Empire. This event, long predicted by Fascist orators, was to have opened the gates of Egypt and the Sudan to the creation of a vast Italian empire in Northeast Africa. The failure of Britain to cave in according to the Fascist schedule meant that, except for hazardous communication from Libya by air, Italian East Africa was completely isolated from the homeland. The question then became one as to how long it would take the British to exert enough pressure against the Fascist forces in East Africa -- numbering over 200,000 and known to be well armed and supplied -- to cause them to surrender.
An obvious weapon to use against the Italians was the Ethiopian people itself. The British Government had, in 1938, decided to recognize the Italian conquest of Ethiopia. Though Haile Selassie had taken up residence in England, he was regarded by the British Foreign Office merely as a private person, not as the head of a government-in-exile. When, however, Italy and Britain went to war, the latter discovered that the former Negus was a valuable diplomatic and military asset. He was flown to the Sudan in a British plane, and on January 15, 1941, he raised his banner on Ethiopian soil. With this gesture the reconquest of Ethiopia was begun. Patriot bands, some of which had been carrying on guerrilla warfare against the Italians ever since the Emperor had fled in 1936, joined his forces. Led largely by British officers, these played an important part in the ensuing campaign, particularly in the liberation of Gojjam province.
The troops of the Emperor were not the first to reach the capital. This honor was won by a small body of South, West and East African troops that in seven weeks (February 14 to April 5) pushed its way from Kismayu, at the mouth of the Juba River, through Mogadishu and Harrar to Addis Ababa, a distance of some 1,150 miles, after having defeated Italian forces several times its own in number and captured immense stores of arms and other supplies. By May 19 the Italian Viceroy, the Duke of Aosta, had surrendered at Amba Alagi, and the campaign was at an end except for the capture of a few isolated outposts.
This lightning campaign -- authentic Blitzkrieg -- will remain as one of the military marvels of this war. How so few could accomplish so much against so many, particularly when the many were better supplied than the few and were in possession of numberless excellent defensive positions in a mountainous country, is explained by the low morale of the Italians and their native allies. Only in rare instances, such as during the siege of Keren, did they put up more than a halfhearted fight. Mussolini lost his empire even more quickly than he had won it.
On February 4, 1941, Foreign Secretary Eden declared in the House of Commons that: "His Majesty's Government would welcome the reappearance of an independent Ethiopian State, and recognizes the claim of the Emperor Haile Selassie to the throne. The Emperor has intimated to His Majesty's Government that he will need outside assistance and guidance. His Majesty's Government agree with this view and consider that any such assistance and guidance in economic and political matters should be the subject of international arrangement at the conclusion of peace. They affirm that they have themselves no territorial ambitions in Abyssinia. In the meanwhile the conduct of military operations by Imperial forces in parts of Abyssinia will require temporary measures of military guidance and control. These will be carried out in consultation with the Emperor, and will be brought to an end as soon as the situation permits."
This commitment was made in anticipation of the conquest of Italian East Africa. Not until May 5, five years to a day after he had fled into exile, did the Emperor reënter Addis Ababa. He appointed a ministry and set about reëstablishing his administration, both in his capital and in the provinces. At the same time, there came into existence a British administration that operated alongside, or perhaps above, the Ethiopian Government. This British administration, nominally military, was nevertheless staffed in no small part by men whose experience had been in the colonial service. In England the friends of Ethiopia voiced considerable apprehension at this system, and particularly at the use of colonial officials in the administration of a friendly people long accustomed to national self-government. Questions were asked in Parliament as to when the Government intended to give effect to its implied promise to recognize Haile Selassie, not only as the ruler of an independent Ethiopia, but as an active ally in the war. The Government was reminded that the Emperor had declared himself and his people ready to fight on against the Fascist Powers until final victory was won. In general, the Government spokesmen confined themselves to reiterating Mr. Eden's statement of February 4.
Finally, on January 19, 1942, the British Government was able to announce that a two-year agreement had been made, the general nature of which was revealed by Mr. Eden on February 3. In this accord the Government of Haile Selassie received formal recognition, and a grant of £2,500,000. Other British aid in the form of a military mission and various advisers was also extended, as will be explained later, in return for the wartime use of Ethiopian bases and communications.
What about the United States? Unlike Great Britain, this country has never recognized the Fascist conquest of Ethiopia. That being so, all the American Government need do to reëstablish relations with Haile Selassie is to exchange diplomatic missions. Such a step, aside from satisfying the elementary demands of justice, would have the practical advantage of allowing us to station diplomatic and consular representatives at Addis Ababa and other Ethiopian cities, where they could gather much-needed information about a region in which we have suddenly become vitally interested. Further, because of the prestige enjoyed by the United States in that part of the world, American diplomats would be in a particularly favorable position to facilitate close collaboration between the Ethiopian and Allied Governments. The dispatch of an American diplomatic mission to Addis Ababa would seem to be most desirable.
Ethiopia should also become one of the United Nations by being invited to adhere to the Washington Agreement of January 2, 1942. Haile Selassie and his patriot bands have for some time been de facto allies of the anti-Axis Powers -- indeed, the Ethiopians were fighting Fascist aggression long before the twenty-six United Nations were willing to recognize that it was their fight too. The least these Powers can do is to admit Ethiopia to their ranks. Incidentally, this would be wise diplomatic strategy, for it would impress the colored and colonial peoples of the world with the sincerity of Allied professions.
So much for Ethiopia's rôle in the war. What is to be her status when victory has been won? This is a question that will concern the United States, if for no other reason than because it will be an American interest to see that the peace settlement is so devised as to leave -- anywhere in the world -- the fewest possible foci of dissatisfaction from which future wars may breed.
First of all, Ethiopia must be assured of her juridical independence. As far as Britain is concerned -- and she is the paramount Power in that part of the world -- the question has apparently been settled by the agreement announced on January 19. If in addition the United States were to resume diplomatic relations with Ethiopia, and the latter were to adhere to the Washington Declaration, there would be little, if any, doubt that an Axis defeat would see Ethiopia's independence fully restored.
There then arises the question as to what territory should be included in the revived Ethiopian state. Thus far three main schools of thought have manifested themselves on this subject in England. One school, composed primarily of liberals and anti-imperialists, holds that Ethiopia should not only be restored to her 1935 boundaries, but should also be given Eritrea, and perhaps French and Italian Somalilands. Those who hold this view point out that there are weighty geographic, economic and ethnic reasons in favor of their proposal.
Another group, more numerous and influential, holds that the Ethiopian Empire is hopelessly backward and that therefore the non-Amharic and non-Christian parts of it should be lopped off, leaving only the ancient core of historic Abyssinia under a nominal freedom, but in reality as a British protectorate. To make this proposal is to suggest the revival of the essential feature of the Hoare-Laval Plan. Those of this persuasion speak feelingly about the need for Haile Selassie to accept "advice and assistance."
Then there is the pro-Italian point of view, expounded by such persons as Major Polson Newman, who defend the reputation of the Italians as colonizers and suggest that after the war Eritrea and Somalia, at least, could be returned to a chastened Italy.
Though these schools manifest numerous minor variations within themselves, most publicists who have expressed themselves concerning the future of Ethiopia -- and there have been quite a number -- fall into one school or another. In addition, there is the attitude prevalent among many of the unreconstructed Boer Nationalists who regard all of sub-Saharan Africa as the rightful sphere for South African imperialism. Field Marshal Smuts himself, though certainly no adherent to this school of thought, talks of the "United States of Africa" in which the Union would play the leading rôle. It is hardly necessary to point out that the South African color bar and all its implications arouse only the most hostile emotions among the race-proud Abyssinians. To allow the South African Nationalist mentality to get a foothold among those giving "advice and assistance" to the Ethiopian Government can only beget trouble.
One reason for the reluctance of the British to recognize the Ethiopian Government may well have been their unwillingness to endorse the territorial integrity of Ethiopia as of 1935. Having accepted the Italian conquest, the British Government can of course allege that its recognition of the independence of Ethiopia does not necessarily carry with it acquiescence in her former boundaries. The United States, never having recognized Victor Emmanuel III as Emperor of Ethiopia, does not, one would suppose, enjoy this same freedom of choice. Furthermore, in Points One and Two of the Atlantic Charter, to which all the United Nations have now subscribed, the signatories are pledged to "seek no aggrandizement, territorial or other," and to "desire to see no territorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned." Just how closely the peacemakers can, and will, adhere to these formulae remains to be seen. The search for an equitable and durable peace may well lead to many decisions not now foreseeable. Let us therefore examine the question of Ethiopia's boundaries on its merits.
The accompanying maps, showing the diversity of language and religion in and around Ethiopia, indicate the impossibility of trying to carve up that region along lines of cultural cleavage. And the maps only begin to tell the story, for in reality the confusion of peoples and tribes is far too great to portray on any map, no matter how detailed. In the city of Harrar, for instance, is preserved a Semitic dialect related to the Amharic language that predominates on the Abyssinian plateau. Yet the city is surrounded by territories inhabited by Hamitic-speaking peoples. In other areas several different languages will be found in the same locality, spoken by diverse peoples living side by side.
What has been said of languages applies with equal force to religions. Here, too, one finds an absence of clear-cut dividing lines. We are accustomed, for example, to refer to the inhabitants of the central plateau as Amharic-speaking Christians. As a matter of fact, the Christian Abyssinians are divided among
three principal Semitic language groups -- Amharic, Tigray and Tigré.[i] In contrast to these, there are certain Hamitic languages also spoken in the highlands, such as Galla and Agau. Furthermore, not all of the inhabitants of the plateau are Christians; many are Moslems, while some are still pagans. Nor are all those who speak Amharic and its sister tongues necessarily either Christians or inhabitants of the plateau. The language spoken at Massaua, where the population is almost wholly Moslem, is one related to Amharic -- in this case, Tigré.
The Christian Abyssinians have always made of their Coptic religion a bulwark against the Moslem flood that for centuries has
pressed against their mountain bastions. One of the salient features in their history has been this continual struggle to preserve their island of Christianity in a sea of Islam. This struggle has been long and fierce, and its memory is part of the national tradition of Abyssinia. That in our times this tradition is still vigorous was shown in 1916 when the Emperor Lijj Yasu, grandson and successor to Menelik, was overthrown among other reasons because of his partiality to Islam. But the very fact that a man whose father (Ras Micael of Wollo, a Galla region in the central plateau) had been a Moslem could even ascend the imperial throne indicated that times were changing. The Galla, for instance, have long been intermarrying with the Abyssinians, and many have received high office. Haile Selassie has encouraged this tendency, and during his previous rule even Moslems participated in the imperial administration. It is along this road that the salvation of Ethiopia lies. The Christians and Mohammedans of Egypt, Palestine, Syria and the Lebanon have learned to live and let live with a fair degree of mutual accommodation, and it is not too much to hope that they can do the same in Ethiopia.
There has, it is true, never been any such thing as Ethiopian nationalism -- that is, a sense of loyalty to a common fatherland on the part of all the peoples in the empire. Among those peoples only the Christian Abyssinians possess a sense of national solidarity that has evolved to any degree of articulateness. Elsewhere in the empire loyalties are still localized in the tribe or in the region. Most of the peoples cannot even lay claim to a written language, and without that the growth of a national culture is impossible. Perhaps the first sparks of a feeling of common destiny among the Ethiopian peoples were struck off on the anvil of Fascist rule. Perhaps also the heroic figure of Haile Selassie may catch the imagination and enlist the loyalty of his heterogeneous realm.
In any event, the Ethiopian Empire is an historical reality and the wise course for peacemakers is to build upon that foundation. Anything that can be done to prevent the rise of countless small African nationalisms based on racial, linguistic or religious differences should be encouraged. The tendency today must be towards integration, not partition. The Balkanization of Africa can hardly be the aim of enlightened statesmanship. The experience of Soviet Russia in protecting the cultural autonomy of its numerous and diverse peoples within a greater political framework might be imitated, as far as conditions permit, in Ethiopia. Even if the Lion of Judah should turn out to have been nothing more than an African counterpart of the Habsburg Monarchy, it will have served a useful historical purpose.
Italy's poor record as a colonial Power will, one supposes, result in her complete expulsion from East Africa. The territorial question will thus involve not only Ethiopia but the older Italian colonies of Eritrea and Somalia. The future of French Somaliland, at present under Vichy rule, may also come up for adjudication. All of these colonies, plus Britain's sparsely inhabited protectorate in Somaliland, belong geographically and ethnically to a much larger region -- one of which the Abyssinian plateau is the core. This region, roughly in the form of a triangle, possesses marked characteristics that distinguish it from surrounding regions. On the east it is bounded by the waters of the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, and on the west by the line where the plateau falls away into the plains of the Sudan. In the south, though nature has failed to provide a clear-cut line of cleavage, the belt of sterile steppe and swamp land in northeast Kenya running from Lake Rudolf to the Indian Ocean forms a buffer zone between the Ethiopian and Kenyan highlands. In addition to its geographical unity, this region possesses a high degree of ethnic homogeneity. Except for the border areas along the Sudan frontier, it is inhabited by peoples manifesting like somatic characteristics which anthropologists have identified as belonging to the Ethiopic type.[ii]
When the territorial settlement of African problems is being made after the war, the Ethiopian Government will undoubtedly put in a claim for areas that did not belong to it in 1935. Even before the Emperor returned to Addis Ababa these claims were outlined by Dr. Warqneh Martin, former Ethiopian Minister in London, who wrote that as "compensation for the horrible atrocities perpetrated against her defenceless people by the Italians," Ethiopia should be awarded "the ports of Massaua and Assab, and the coast between them . . . with the Province of Hamasien, now called Eritrea . . . Italian Somaliland might also be granted to Ethiopia, but of course only if the inhabitants of the locality desire to be free and equal members of the Ethiopian Empire." Certain English publicists even propose handing over French Somaliland, since Jibuti is the most accessible outlet for central and southern Ethiopia.
The claim to Eritrea, or at least the plateau section of it, is difficult to refute. It was once an integral part of Ethiopia and its inhabitants belong to the main body of Christian Abyssinians. The case for the annexation of the coastal areas, including Massaua and Assab, is not so clear. The English quarterly Round Table, in its September 1941 issue (p. 721), suggests that "the Red Sea and Indian Ocean coasts should be under some régime which would inspire confidence in Ethiopia and provide the needed facilities for through traffic." This proposal, at least as it concerns the Red Sea, would appear to be a mistake. Except for Massaua, Assab and a few very small villages, this coast is virtually uninhabited -- one might say uninhabitable, so unbearable is its climate. The only raison d'être for Massaua and Assab is as ports for the Abyssinian plateau. To separate Massaua from its hinterland would be a geographic and economic absurdity. If Ethiopia is to have a chance to become a going concern politically and economically, she must have access to the sea. The only comprehensible object in denying her this access would be to keep her in a semi-colonial condition.
Much the same reasoning applies to French Somaliland. If France retains or regains her colonial possessions in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, Jibuti will continue to be useful to her as an entrepôt. She could in this case retain a small concession of land on the Gulf of Tajura as a sort of French counterpart to Aden. The rest of French Somaliland could be incorporated into Ethiopia, not only because Jibuti is the main outlet for the central plateau, but because the inhabitants of the colony are of the same stocks (Danakil and Somali) as those of the adjacent regions in Ethiopia. In any event, the Addis Ababa-Jibuti railway should pass under Ethiopian control.
This brings us to British Somaliland. It so happens that the political division of the Somali people under French, British, Ethiopian and, until recently, Italian sovereignty, is highly anomalous. The coming peace settlement will afford an excellent occasion for setting up a more rational arrangement. There might be created a single administrative area comprising all the Somali people (except the few thousand along the railroad to Addis Ababa, who ought to remain in Ethiopia proper for economic and strategic reasons). In such an area, some 350,000 square miles in extent, would live a relatively homogeneous population of nearly three million persons with the same language and religion, under more or less the same geographic and climatic conditions. The government of this area might be a nominal condominium like that in the Sudan, where the effective power is wielded by a few British officials who supervise the local administration of native officials or chiefs. In this way Ethiopian amour propre might be protected while assuring a unified and responsible government in the Horn of Africa. When and as the Ethiopian Government demonstrated its ability to govern peripheral peoples, it could be accorded a larger share in the joint administration.
The conclusion to which we have come, then, is that it is neither politically wise nor physically possible to split up the mosaic of Ethiopian peoples into different sovereignties; that the whole area comprised within former Italian East Africa and the two Somalilands of Britain and France possesses a high degree of geographic, racial and historical unity; and that therefore the function of wise statesmanship is to strengthen this natural unity by endowing it with political unity. Here is a chance for us to anticipate, and thus avoid, some of the mistakes into which the exaggerated nationalism of Europe has led its peoples.
This will not be easy, and it can only be achieved if the Ethiopian Government receives that outside aid and advice which the Emperor has repeatedly stated he needs. The recent two-year agreement between Britain and Ethiopia provides for many forms of aid and advice. For example, British judges are to sit in Ethiopian courts, British advisers will assist in the imperial administration, British officers will train the army and police force, and the British Government is given sweeping rights on Ethiopian territory for war purposes. In effect, these terms merely ratify conditions existing since the British forces took over the country last spring. In return for these wide concessions, Ethiopia will receive a small financial grant and is given the assurance that Britain has no designs on her independence.
These terms make Ethiopia, at least for the duration of the war, a de facto British protectorate. Her position is thus somewhat similar to that of Egypt, 'Iraq and Iran. Haile Selassie and his government have in effect been placed on probation. They must demonstrate their capacity for administration and their willingness to learn and to improve. Fascist rule, paradoxically enough, will have contributed something to the political progress of the Ethiopians if, by showing that they are not as invincible as their fifteen centuries of freedom had led them to believe, it has persuaded them that they must be more receptive to modern ideas, institutions and techniques. The Fascist legacy of a wide-ranging network of highways and airports, if not allowed to decay, will greatly simplify the task of centralizing the administration and preventing provincial governors from pursuing independent, and even mutually hostile, policies as in the past.
One of the things on which foreign observers, and certainly the protecting Power, will keep a close eye is the policy of the Ethiopian Government in regard to slavery. The continued existence of this institution is cited by opponents of Ethiopian independence as evidence that the country is ruled by an anachronism unworthy of the name of government. In the recent Anglo-Ethiopian accord Haile Selassie agreed to issue a decree abolishing slavery in Ethiopia as soon as he is able to legislate again. Such a decree will represent a culmination of preliminary measures promulgated over a number of years by the Ethiopian Government. We must not, however, expect miracles. An institution that is such an integral part of Ethiopia's feudal society cannot be legislated out of existence by a stroke of the pen. The Emperor is fully aware of this and is seeking to make the transition from bondage to emancipation in such a way as to rend the social and economic fabric as little as possible. The Italians also decreed the end of slavery, but substituted forms of state service that robbed the decree of any practical value. With the proper foreign guidance and encouragement, the Ethiopian Government may, by using its own peculiar African methods, succeed where the "efficiency" of Roman methods failed. In any case, the most disgraceful aspect of slavery in East Africa, the slave-smuggling trade across the Red Sea to Arabia, is something for which the maritime Powers must take the major responsibility, and which Britain in particular should make every effort to suppress.
One of the reasons for hope in the future of Ethiopia is the Emperor himself. Haile Selassie is an enlightened and forward-looking sovereign. He made remarkable progress in improving the character and personnel of the administration, national and provincial, before 1935. Given time and disinterested help, he can make even faster progress in the future, once he has filled the places of the educated and able young men systematically exterminated by the Fascists. Progress and reform, no matter how slow, will rest on solider foundations if made under an inspired native régime than under foreign domination or tutelage, however enlightened and altruistic the latter may be. Unlike truly colonial peoples, or even peoples long subject to foreign rule, the Ethiopians will tolerate and coöperate with a government only when it is their own. The government of the Ethiopian Empire is certainly far from being that of a modern democracy. It is, according to Anglo-Saxon standards, inefficient, often corrupt and sometimes cruel. Yet it may be not inaccurately described as one that answers the requirements of the feudal stage from which Ethiopian social, economic and political life has just begun to emerge.
Haile Selassie is not the only one on probation. A heavy responsibility also rests on the protecting Power, and behind it, on all the members of the anti-Axis front. The assistance -- administrative, judicial, financial and military -- now being given Ethiopia under wartime conditions must not be allowed to become the instrument for imposing a permanent state of subjection on the country. No one knows more than the Emperor how badly his country needs help of all sorts, especially financial, without which he cannot effect the many reforms long close to his heart. But this aid must be given without interfering with Ethiopia's self-respect or her juridical independence.
The position of the Ethiopian region, lying as it does along the short route to India, is one of vital importance to the British Empire. Britain will therefore wish to maintain her naval control over those waters. She is also unquestionably the paramount land Power in Northeast Africa. As the co-guardian of the Sudan and as the ally of Egypt, she has a vital interest in the régime of the Nile waters.[iii] But the construction of dams and other works along the Blue Nile in western Ethiopia should not carry with it any "sphere of influence" or other political or economic advantages. The United States very clearly has an interest in protecting the "open door" in Ethiopia as elsewhere in Africa.
The present two-year agreement, it is hinted, may be followed by a treaty. Certain English observers have suggested that such a treaty might well embody an alliance similar to that between Britain and Egypt. A still better suggestion might be the formation of a tripartite treaty including Egypt. Such an arrangement would help stabilize Northeast Africa and facilitate the peaceful solution of the manifold political, economic and religious problems which arise from the proximity and mutual dependence of these three Powers.
There is every reason to believe that the British Government is fully alive to all these responsibilities, and intends to meet them with wisdom and generosity.
[i] For a more detailed description of the distribution and character of the language-groups and religions of Ethiopia see R. G. Woolbert, "The Peoples of Ethiopia," in FOREIGN AFFAIRS, January 1936.
[ii] See the article in volume xiv of the "Enciclopedia Italiana" on the "Etiopici," especially the map on p. 485.
[iii] See William L. Langer, "The Struggle for the Nile," FOREIGN AFFAIRS, January 1936.