IN THE course of the present African crisis Great Britain has consistently taken its stand with the angels. It has done more than any other major Power to make the League an effective instrument of action against an aggressor state, and through leading members of its government it has announced on more than one occasion its determination not to accept a settlement of the dispute repugnant to the League. To be sure, in the London press reference has been made here and there to the fact that the British, whatever their interest in peace and in the strengthening of the League, have other interests of a purely national character which are endangered by the Italian policy and which must therefore be defended. But this aspect of the problem has generally been glossed over. The English, as a people, have been well satisfied with themselves in an altruistic rôle. In the words of one of their leading political writers, they have long enjoyed freedom of speech because they can be trusted to leave unsaid the things that would be discreditable or embarrassing.

At the root of the present difficulties there lies, no doubt, the general apprehension, shared alike by Britain and France, of the new wave of nationalism and colonialism which has been sweeping Italy since the advent of the Fascist régime. Anyone who has followed at all closely the last decade's flood of expansionist propaganda and the story of Fascist organization and activity in the countries of the Mediterranean basin, will hardly have escaped the conclusion that the aspirations of the New Italy have created an entirely new situation -- a situation fraught with latent danger to the two Powers which, hitherto, have shared between them the control of northern Africa. It has been suggested on some sides that M. Laval's visit to Rome last January was actuated as much by fear of Italian designs on Tunis as by alarm at Hitler's plans for Austria, and that the French premier sold out the well-established French interests in Ethiopia in order to avoid trouble nearer home. This may or may not have been so, but it is beyond question that Fascist propaganda in all the region from Algiers on the west to Egypt and Syria on the east has caused genuine uneasiness and has obliged the governments of both Paris and London to reconsider the Mediterranean problem.

So far as England is concerned, the new colonialism of the Italians touches most directly the time-honored problem of Egypt; and for England the Egyptian question has always been indissolubly linked to the Suez Canal and to the general safeguarding of the route through the Red Sea to the Far East. This is certainly not the place to review the British policy either in Egypt or in the Suez area, but it may be worth recalling that the London government has always been sensitive about the establishment of any strong Power on the coasts of the Red Sea. Long before the Suez Canal was built, the English occupied Aden as a reply to the activities of Mehemet Ali in Arabia. Much later in the nineteenth century they put every conceivable obstacle in the way of Turkish efforts to establish effective control along the same coast. They intervened only a few years ago to save the Imam of Yemen from the consequences of his defeat by Ibn Saud, and are clearly anxious to keep the conquests of the great Arab within bounds so far as the coastline is concerned.

On the other side of the Red Sea the story has been the same. The English were filled with misgivings about the expansion of Egypt to the south in the days of the Khedive Ismail. They insisted, at great cost, on holding Suakin and the coast line of the Sudan against the onslaughts of the Mahdi's followers and they themselves occupied British Somaliland as a reply to the establishment of the French at Obock and Jibuti. It is true that they encouraged the Italians to take over Massaua, but the Italians were then their friends and clients and it certainly does not follow that because they once desired Italian help against the dervishes they are now prepared to see the erection of a large Italian empire on the Red Sea. On the contrary, it is an obvious British interest to frustrate Italian aspirations of such a magnitude.

While acknowledging, then, the very real interests of Britain in the Mediterranean and Red Seas, let us turn to an examination of the motives of British policy more specifically in Ethiopia. The newspapers often mention Lake Tana and its importance for the Sudan and Egypt. But the present significance of Lake Tana is not sufficiently realized, nor has the fact that British policy in Ethiopia has for almost fifty years centered on the protection of this lake been properly underlined.

Appreciation of the facts came rather late to the English, it must be confessed. When the decision was made, in 1884, to abandon the Sudan, even General Gordon wrote: "The Sudan is a useless possession, ever was so, and ever will be so. . . . I think Her Majesty's Government are fully justified in recommending the evacuation." And as late as 1889 Lord Cromer could report home: "I have pointed out over and over again during the last five years that the true interests of Egypt are not to reconquer, but to trade with the Soudan." All of which indicates that to the English mind the Sudan had meant nothing to Egypt but a paradise for slave traders and ivory hunters, a paradise for officials bent on ruthless extortion.

But among the Egyptians themselves the situation was viewed from a different angle. Ever since the Middle Ages there had been current a legend that the Emperor of Ethiopia could shut off the water of the Nile as one would shut off a fawcet. Even within the last few months a high Egyptian official has explained Egyptian sympathy for the Ethiopians as a form of gratitude for the fact that the highlanders never tampered with the Egyptian water supply. More than likely one of the motives behind the Egyptian conquest of the Sudan in the nineteenth century was the desire to secure control over the entire Nile system. The growth of the Egyptian population and the extension of the system of perennial irrigation was rapidly making the increase of the Egyptian water supply the most vital problem of the government and it was being widely recognized that Egypt could not feel safe until the whole course of the great river was in her hands. That is why, in 1884, the Egyptian Government protested so vigorously against the abandonment of the Sudan, and why Riaz Pasha wrote in 1888: "No one will deny, so clear and evident a proposition is it, that the Nile is the life of Egypt. Now the Nile means the Soudan, and nobody will doubt that the bonds and connections which unite Egypt to the Soudan are as inseparable as those which unite the soul to the body. . . . I mean by the Soudan the banks of the Nile and the island of Senaar, and the districts of the Eastern Soudan, terminating at Suakin. . . . No European power would occupy Suakin without wishing necessarily to extend its power into the interior, with a view to reaching richer districts. But if it attained its object, and took possession of the banks of the Nile, it would be all over with Egypt."

This was the danger to which so eminent an authority as Sir Samuel Baker had called attention. In his famous book "The Nile Tributaries of Abyssinia", published in 1868, he had already put forward the proposal that a series of dams be constructed from Aswan to Khartum, in order to increase the Egyptian water supply and to irrigate the Sudan for the culture of cotton. In 1884 he pointed out what the loss of Khartum would mean: "If a civilised, or even semi-civilised, enemy be in possession of that point, the water of the Rahad, Dinder, Blue Nile and Atbara Rivers could be diverted from their course and dispersed throughout the deserts, to the utter ruin and complete destruction of Egypt proper."

Among British statesmen, Lord Salisbury was undoubtedly one of the first to appreciate the danger. After the very low Nile flood of 1888 he seems to have been convinced by the warning letters written to the Times by Sir Samuel Baker; and his daughter has told us, in her biography of her father, that the reconquest of the Sudan became one of the fixed points in his policy. England was not willing to finance that reconquest, and so the actual operation had to be postponed for some years, but in the interval the new orientation of British colonial policy was beginning to show itself in connection with the relations of Great Britain with other European states. The Germans were bought off from Uganda in 1890; and after some years of uncertainty the English took over that crucial area at the source of the White Nile from the British East Africa Company. The Italians were, at the same time, putting forward their pretensions to a protectorate over all Ethiopia, which led Lord Dufferin, at that time Ambassador at Rome, to express the fear that they might "attempt to tap the Upper Nile and Sudan." Salisbury agreed, and in the negotiations with Italy, which were then opened, thought that England should insist "on the command of all affluents of the Nile, so far as Egypt formerly possessed them." After much difficulty the agreements of 1891 were made, one clause of which bound Italy "not to construct on the Atbara, in view of irrigation, any work which might sensibly modify its flow into the Nile."

In the meanwhile the water requirements of Egypt had reached the point where some further storage provisions were becoming indispensable. For years the engineers in the Egyptian service discussed various possibilities, finally deciding upon the Aswan Dam, which was built between 1899 and 1902. In the midst of the debates, however, an eminent French engineer put forward the suggestion that dams be built at the outlets of Lakes Victoria and Albert, and at the confluence of the Sobat and the White Nile. Indulging in dangerous speculation, he pointed out that these reservoirs, if built, would control the fate of Egypt, for if they were kept closed Egypt would be deprived of the needed supply, while if they were opened in flood time they could be used to wash out the entire Egyptian civilization. The point is important, because it can be shown that the French, anxious as they were to force the British evacuation of Egypt, formulated their policy in the Congo and in Ethiopia on this idea of getting control of the Nile water. By supporting the Emperor Menelik against the Italians they secured a preponderant influence at Addis Ababa, encouraged the Emperor in his claims to a frontier on the Nile, and obtained a concession for a railway from Jibuti to Addis Ababa and beyond, to the White Nile. Marchand was sent out from the west to advance to the Nile at Fashoda, while another French expedition, starting from Ethiopia, was to meet him and thus establish a French-Ethiopian belt right through the Sudan. It would then have been easy to force the British out of Egypt by threatening to cut off the water supply. In a recent book,[i] I have followed the development of this crisis in some detail. There is neither need nor space for the repetition of it here, but I should point out that in the Fashoda crisis of 1898 the British were prepared to go to war with France for reasons which, at bottom, were not so very different from those which have driven London to take so uncompromising a stand at the present time.

The French plans were completely frustrated in 1898 and the victorious English, once they had finished with the South African War, were able to devote themselves to the Ethiopian angle. Nothing much is known of the negotiations carried on by the English minister, Colonel Harrington, but he did succeed in having Menelik sign the agreement of May 1902, by which the Ethiopian ruler not only accepted a frontier removed by a considerable distance from the main course of the Nile, but also gave invaluable assurances with regard to Lake Tana. By Article III he engaged "not to construct, or allow to be constructed, any work across the Blue Nile, Lake Tana, or the Sobat which would arrest the flow of their waters into the Nile, except in agreement with His Britannic Majesty's Government and the Government of the Soudan." The engagement was, to be sure, a purely negative one, but nevertheless it marked a great advance over the danger and uncertainty of the previous period.

The provisions of the treaty with Menelik already reflected the improved knowledge of the régime of the Nile which resulted from the investigations of Sir William Garstin and his associates, investigations which were undertaken at once after Kitchener's reconquest of the Sudan and the ejection of Marchand from Fashoda. I shall not go into the highly complicated details of a hydrological nature connected with the Nile Basin, but something must be said on this score if the importance of Lake Tana and the general British stake in Ethiopia are to be understood. Before 1900 knowledge of the peculiarities of the Nile discharges was very scant indeed, but since that time a tremendous amount of study has been devoted to the subject and the main facts, at least, are no longer the subject of dispute.

Although the Nile originates in Lakes Victoria and Albert Edward, the true reservoir is Lake Albert, into which both systems flow, and from which the Bahr-el-Gebel issues. A very substantial amount of water, the result of the winter rains in the lake region, emerges from Lake Albert, but almost half of this supply is lost by evaporation in the great swamp area, about four hundred miles long, through which the Bahr-el-Gebel passes between Mongalla and the mouth of the Sobat River. The Sobat itself, the first important confluent on the right bank, brings down the water from the southern part of the Abyssinian highlands, and, rising in April, just about doubles the amount of water of the White Nile. But the rush of water from the Sobat serves to hold back most of the water from the Bahr-el-Gebel. In similar fashion the Blue Nile, which alone contributes more than half of the entire discharge of the Nile, holds back the water of the White Nile in August and September. As the great flood of the Blue Nile begins to subside, this great body of water above Khartum is released, thus continuing for several more months the flood that reaches Egypt. Two-thirds of the total discharge of the Nile passes the frontier of Egypt in August, September and October, and of this flood two-thirds comes from the Blue Nile, the rest being divided about evenly between the Atbara and the White Nile. But when this great flood has passed and the impounded waters of the White Nile take the place of the Blue Nile water, the White Nile supplies about 85 percent of what reaches Egypt.

In other words, the heavy silt-laden water which has made possible the cultivation of Egypt for thousands of years, is almost exclusively the contribution of the Blue Nile, which collects it from countless streams in the Ethiopian mountains. It has been estimated that five-sixths of all the water of the Blue Nile enters that river between its outlet at Lake Tana and its crossing of the frontier into the Sudan. In that region the river flows through a tremendous canyon which has never yet been explored by white men, but which is known to drain a very large mountain area. Engineers agree that nothing man can do could in any way check this torrential flow. Egypt's supply of autumn water and fertilizing silt is, in all human probability, completely safe.

The modern problem of Egyptian water, however, arose with the introduction of perennial cultivation in the time of Mehemet Ali. The second crop, which is mainly cotton, requires water during the spring months, when the discharge of the Nile is slight. Cotton has now become the crop on which Egypt depends for her existence. Between 1882 and 1900 the population increased from somewhat less than seven millions to about ten millions, and by 1900 most of the land in the Delta was under perennial cultivation, though in Upper Egypt there were still almost two million acres under annual or basin irrigation. The Aswan Dam, storing about one billion cubic meters of water, permitted the conversion to perennial cultivation of about four hundred thousand acres in Upper Egypt and tripled the yield of cotton. Between 1908 and 1912 the Aswan Dam was heightened and its capacity more than doubled, thus making possible further conversion of lands under basin irrigation to the perennial system. But the population rose from about ten millions in 1900 to more than fourteen millions in 1927 and is increasing at the rate of about three hundred thousand annually. The conversion of all available land has therefore become more and more imperative, but even so the situation is rather desperate, for only about twelve thousand square miles of Egypt's three hundred and fifty thousand are at all cultivable. It is estimated that by 1955 all suitable land will have been converted and that then Egypt will be supporting between eighteen and twenty million people.

Ever since the investigations of Sir William Garstin and his associate, Mr. Dupuis, it has been taken for granted that ultimately a dam would have to be built on the Upper Blue Nile, preferably at its outlet from Lake Tana, to supplement the summer water supply of Egypt. The introduction of irrigated cotton culture in the Gezira of the Sudan in 1904 has made this desirable also from the Sudanese standpoint. However, the scheme has been held up by the political difficulty of getting the Ethiopian Government to agree. For that reason the project was more or less shelved for years, though surveys were made, with the permission of Addis Ababa, in 1915 and again in 1920-1924. In the interval the Sennar Dam on the Blue Nile was begun in 1913 and finally finished in 1925. This has made possible the extension of the cotton area in the Gezira from 30,000 feddans (a feddan is 1.04 acres) to a possible 300,000, without any detriment to Egypt. At the same time much attention had been given to the possibility of constructing a dam just above Khartum. The Aswan Dam was raised for a second time in 1930, thus doubling the capacity once more, and finally, after much dispute, the Egyptian Government proceeded in 1933 to the construction of the great Gebel Aulia Dam, south of Khartum on the White Nile. This dam will be finished in 1937 and will serve to reduce the flood danger as well as to store summer water for Egypt.

The situation as it presents itself now is briefly this. Between March 1 and August 1 of each year Egypt requires about fourteen and a half billion cubic meters of water for the cotton, sugar, rice and other summer crops. The average flow for the years 1912-1927 was ten and a half billions. The Aswan Dam, after the second raising, will hold about five billions and the new Gebel Aulia Dam another three to four billions. Egypt will therefore have more than she needs when the Gebel Aulia Dam is finished, but if she is to develop the land to the limit, as she must, she will need about twenty-six billion cubic meters of summer water, and this will have to come from further projects, namely from an Upper Blue Nile Dam and from a dam at the outlet of Lake Albert. The Lake Albert reservoir, if the level were raised by only one meter, would store five billions of cubic meters, but it would do little good unless the course of the Bahr-el-Gebel were cut deeper and regulated, so that the stream could no longer lose itself in the swamps. This will eventually have to be done, but it will be an extremely costly enterprise.

The Tana Dam, on the other hand, would not be expensive, and would have the added advantage of serving the Sudan as well as Egypt. It is thought that fully three million acres could be put under cultivation in the Sudan, if only there were water; in any event cotton now constitutes 60 percent of the exports of the Sudan and is a factor of considerable interest to Lancashire. England's unwillingness to abandon the Sudan to Egypt has been one of the prime reasons for the failure to reach an Anglo-Egyptian agreement, and it demonstrates more clearly than anything else the high value which England assigns to the Sudan. As for the projected Tana Dam, it is unnecessary to say much. The lake, which is about 6000 feet above sea level, is about forty to fifty miles square and reaches depths in the neighborhood of two hundred feet. About three and a half billion cubic meters of water are discharged by the lake annually. The water as it issues from the lake contains no silt; and since the flow takes place at the time of the great Blue Nile flood, it is of almost no account to Egypt at present. About six billion cubic meters could be stored ready for use when needed, by blasting a deeper outlet and erecting a dam. Of this amount about three and a half billion would be released from January to April for use in the Sudan and Egypt, and the rest would be kept in reserve for years of poor flood. By cutting out the cataract, a reservoir could be built without raising the level of the lake, a fact which is important because the Ethiopians have been much exercised by the thought of having the churches on islands in the lake in any way damaged.

Since for more than thirty years the Tana Dam has been an integral part in the projected development of the summer water supply of Egypt and the Sudan, we need not wonder that it should have become the key to British policy in Ethiopia. As aforesaid, the fact is reflected in the agreement made with Menelik in 1902. A second stage was reached in the famous Tripartite Agreement of December 1906 between England, France and Italy. Of the negotiation of this pact we have only the most fragmentary evidence. However, its general lines seem to have been something as follows.

Towards the end of 1902 the Italians, much alarmed by the progress of British influence at Addis Ababa, and disturbed by the illness of Menelik and the danger of inter-tribal war at his death, approached the British with a suggestion that the two Powers agree on a successor who might if necessary be imposed on the Ethiopians. The English, evidently eager to get Italian support for their efforts to internationalize the French-owned railway concession, entered upon discussion and came to an agreement with the Italians. But in the interval the entente cordiale with France had been consummated and it was deemed necessary to initiate the Paris government. In the course of the negotiations, which dragged out over a period of years, M. Delcassé raised the question of marking out spheres of influence. He was willing to recognize British interests in the Tana region and was willing to abandon the idea of extending the French railway from Addis Ababa westward. But in return he wished to have included in the French sphere not only Harar, but also Shoa, with the capital. This demand conflicted with the Italian desire for a sphere connecting Eritrea and Italian Somaliland, which presumably would have run just west of Harar. Being the weaker party, the Italians were obliged to give in, if only in order to prevent an Anglo-French agreement to which they were not parties. Their sphere was therefore moved to the west of Addis Ababa, and was apparently to pass to the east of Lake Tana, though this was not made clear. The Italians were dissatisfied with the whole pact, but had to console themselves with the idea that it was better than nothing. The British, on their part, were at last freed from the danger of having French influence extend to the west of Addis Ababa, though, as we realize now, they were letting in the more restless and ambitious Italians.

In 1914, soon after the raising of the Aswan Dam, Lord Kitchener took steps to further the Tana project and in 1915 a joint Egyptian-Sudanese-Ethiopian commission visited the lake. The World War and the internal disorders in Ethiopia no doubt had much to do with the fact that no progress was made. But there is every indication that the British expected to push on with the project as soon as convenient. When in November 1919 the Italian Government tried to link up the Ethiopian question with its claims for compensation under the Treaty of London, it had no success whatever. The Italians proposed to support Britain "in order that she may obtain from Ethiopia the concession to carry out works of barrage in the lake itself, within the Italian sphere of influence, pending the delimitation of the extent of the territorial zone to be recognized as pertaining to Great Britain in respect of the latter's predominant hydraulic interests. . . ." Italy was also to support an application from Britain to build a motor road from the Sudan to Lake Tana. In return England was to support the Italians in order that they might obtain a concession for a railway from Eritrea to Somaliland west of Addis Ababa. Rome asked further for recognition by Britain of "an exclusive economic influence in the west of Ethiopia and in the whole of the territory to be crossed by the above-mentioned railway."

This proposal is interesting inasmuch as it represents an effort to expand the agreement of 1906. Lake Tana is here described as within the Italian sphere, only a zone of which was to be allowed England. In fact, all of western Ethiopia was to be part of the Italian economic sphere. It is not surprising that the London cabinet rejected the offer, "owing to the strong objection felt to the idea of allowing a foreign Power to establish any sort of control over the headwaters of rivers so vital to the prosperity and even the existence of Egypt and the Sudan." It must be remembered that at the time the English were still expecting to secure the concession from the Ethiopian Government. Of the discussions carried on in the years 1920 to 1924 we know nothing specific. An authoritative Italian writer has declared, very recently, that in 1922 the English offered the Ethiopian Government the port of Zeila in British Somaliland in return for the concession.[ii] Others have maintained that in 1923, presumably at the height of Anglo-Italian tension during the Corfu affair, Lord Curzon threatened to denounce the Tripartite Agreement of 1906. But these are simply a few among the many obscure points in the whole historical background of the present crisis. All we know is that when Ras Tafari (the present Emperor) came to London in 1924, the whole matter was gone over with him by Ramsay MacDonald and that negotiations continued even after that. Nothing came of the discussions; apparently the Ethiopian regent made it pretty clear that when the dam was to be built, Ethiopia would undertake the work itself.

Profoundly disappointed by this turn of events, and evidently suspecting that Italian influence had something to do with the Ethiopian's obstinacy, the London Government now returned to the Italian offers of 1919, in order, as Sir Austen Chamberlain said later, "to secure that exterior opposition should not intervene to prevent a friendly arrangement." The result was the famous exchange of notes of December 14/20, 1925, which amounted practically to acceptance of the Italian terms of 1919. In return for Italian support in securing the concession for the dam and the road, the English were to support the Italians in getting the concession for the railroad from Eritrea to Somaliland and to recognize "an exclusive Italian economic influence in the west of Abyssinia and in the whole of the territory to be crossed by the above-mentioned railway." "But such recognition and undertaking are subject to the proviso that the Italian Government, on their side, recognizing the prior hydraulic rights of Egypt and the Sudan, will engage not to construct on the headwaters of the Blue or the White Niles or their tributaries or affluents any work which might sensibly modify their flow into the main river." It would appear, from the further assurance of the British Government that it would construct and operate the dam so far as possible with locally recruited labor, and from the expression of confidence that the project would increase the prosperity and economic progress of the local inhabitants, that "exclusive Italian economic influence" must have meant more than is usually understood by this admittedly vague phrase.

The further history of this episode need not detain us. When Ras Tafari learned of it in June 1926 he took it to be a plan to bring pressure upon him, appealed to the League, and succeeded in securing reassuring statements from both England and Italy. But the incident left its mark. In his note to the British minister, the Regent pointed out that negotiations between England and Ethiopia had been in progress, adding bitterly, "We should never have suspected that the British Government would come to an agreement with another Government regarding our Lake." In any event, negotiations were taken up again. Of their content we know nothing, but Sir Austen Chamberlain referred later to a British note of May 1927 to which the Ethiopian Government replied in September. Very soon after that, on November 3, the New York Times reported that negotiations had been practically completed between Dr. Warneth Martin, agent of Ras Tafari, and the J. G. White Engineering Corporation of New York for the construction of the dam, which was estimated to cost $20,-000,000. In view of the stir caused by this announcement both in England and in Egypt, Sir Austen Chamberlain declared almost at once that a concession granted without previous consultation with the British Government would be contrary to the agreement of 1902. As a matter of fact, Dr. Martin stopped at London on his return journey, gave assurances that no definite contract had been signed, and reaffirmed the respect of the Ethiopian Government for the agreement of 1902.

Nothing seems to have happened for more than a year, but in November 1929 Mr. Lardner, the vice-president of the J. G. White Corporation, went to Addis Ababa, and on the invitation of the Ethiopian Government the Sudan Government in January 1930 sent one of its experts, Mr. R. M. MacGregor, to join in a conference. Egypt too had a representative. After two months of discussion it was decided that in addition to the dam a road should be built to the lake from Addis Ababa, not from the Sudan. Engineers of the company were to make further surveys for the project. Evidently complete agreement was reached with regard to the American contract. The English regretted that their own engineers were not to build the dam, but they argued with some force that the main thing was to have the dam at all. It could be of little use to Ethiopia; consequently, if once built, it would of necessity serve the needs of Egypt and the Sudan.

The surveys, carried out by Major L. B. Roberts, were completed by May 1931, but either because of the world economic conditions or because of unknown reasons, nothing came of the project until in January 1933 another conference was summoned to meet at Addis Ababa. The Egyptian Government, which had just decided to build the Gebel Aulia Dam, was not enthusiastic, partly for financial reasons, partly because of the violent opposition of nationalist elements to the construction of works even in the Sudan, to say nothing of Ethiopia. So determined was this opposition that for a time Cairo could find no one willing to act as delegate at Addis Ababa, and when finally a victim was found, he was sent to the conference without power to make an agreement. His mission was simply to find out what the Ethiopian Government proposed to do. At the conference itself, in February and March 1933, it was decided that, in the hope of reducing estimates, further surveys should be made by the American engineers both for the road and for the dam. It was proposed that Egypt should vote 50,000 Egyptian pounds for this purpose and that the whole matter should be gone into again in 1935. In July 1933 the Egyptian Chamber actually voted the 50,000 pounds, its purpose being primarily to keep a finger in the pie.

The present Ethiopian crisis, as it developed in the spring of 1935, apparently served to hasten the reopening of the subject. On May 10 the Emperor invited the British, Egyptian and Sudan Governments to send delegates to a new conference at Addis Ababa, but the London cabinet, anxious not to aggravate the dispute with Italy, replied that it favored postponement. Nevertheless the Egyptian Government on May 22 adopted a five-year plan of irrigation work at an outlay of £E21,000,000, of which three million were set aside for the Tana Dam. At the same time negotiations between the Egyptian and Sudan Governments were opened with a view to settling the details of costs and partition of waters, so that all might be clear for the final arrangements with the Ethiopian Emperor as soon as the international situation permitted. On September 4, 1935, the Egyptian cabinet approved an arrangement with the Sudan by which the dam was to be constructed at the expense of Egypt, but the Sudan was to pay for water at a certain rate. The Sudan was to be permitted to take 10 percent of the water at first, but might later increase its quota to as much as 50 percent. It was reported that the Egyptian Government would now proceed to make an agreement with the Ethiopian Government giving Egypt the right to construct the dam irrespective of future developments in Ethiopia.

The relationship of Italy to these negotiations is not at once apparent. In the earlier days of the crisis the Italian press, and presumably the Government, made much of its claims under the 1906 Treaty and under the Anglo-Italian exchange of notes of December 1925. It was evidently on the basis of these obligations that Mr. Eden tried to negotiate in Rome in June 1935. But as a matter of fact London can easily evade these earlier arrangements. They are incompatible with the League Covenant in so far as Italy may try to stretch them till they affect the independence and integrity of Ethiopia. Furthermore, as things now stand, England is not securing the concession for the Tana Dam, and therefore is under no obligation to assist Italy to realize her share of the bargain. The Dam is going to be built, but officially it is to be constructed for the Ethiopian Government by an American engineering firm, even though the Egyptian Government will supply Addis Ababa with the necessary funds. The Sudan Government may, to all intents and purposes, be under the control of Britain; but the Sudan Government will merely buy water when the Dam is completed.

With respect to Italy there is this other aspect to be considered, that the basis of French policy has been changed. In 1906 it was the French objections that made the Italians accept a sphere in western Ethiopia. What they really wanted was a broad belt in eastern Ethiopia, running behind French and British Somaliland. They have themselves sneered at the fantastic idea of a railway through the mountains of a great circle passing west of Addis Ababa. Now the present situation has all the appearance of resting on French approval. The Italians are pushing forward toward Harar both from the north and from the south, yet one hears no protests from France and no suggestion that the Italian advance will interfere either with the railway or with the French zone. From this one can only conclude that M. Laval sold out completely in making the agreement of January 1935 and that the Italians, if no one stops them, will get the sphere they originally wanted, and of course as much more as they can. This would also explain the oft-reiterated statements from Italy that Britain need not fear for her interests or for Lake Tana, and that Italy is fully prepared to guarantee those interests. It makes it by no means impossible that before the crisis is over Britain, guided by France, will strike a bargain with Mussolini. If it is at all within reason, this can be forced down the throat of Haile Selassie and presented to the League as an agreement satisfying to all parties concerned. If England does eventually yield to temptation and allow her imperialism to get the better of her internationalism, we may be sure at least of this, that the Lake Tana region will remain outside the Italian sphere and that it will be either under the control of a rump Ethiopia or within the sphere of the Sudan and of England.

[i] "The Diplomacy of Imperialism." New York: Knopf, 1935.

[ii] Maurizio Rava: "L'Inghilterra e l'Etiopia," Nuova Antologia, September 1, 1935, pp. 74-90.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • WILLIAM L. LANGER, Associate Professor of History in Harvard University; author of a number of works, the latest being "The Diplomacy of Imperialism"
  • More By William L. Langer