Articles in this series:
Series: A History of Early Twentieth Century Ethiopia
16. Post World War II Relations with the British
We saw last week that Ethiopia’s liberation from Italian fascist rule, by British forces, resulted in no small Ethio-British tension. Now read on:
Haile Sellassie Unwilling to Accept British Hegemony
Haile Sellassie, 1n 1941, was unwilling to acquiesce in British hegemony, or to accept the British political agenda. He succeeded in despatching a telegram to Prime Minister Winston Churchill, in London, inquiring why a treaty between Ethiopia and Britain had been so long delayed. The British Premier replied, by way of excuse, that this had been due to a desire to ensure that nothing remained in the draft agreement “which could be interpreted as interfering with your sovereign rights or with the independence of Ethiopia”. The Emperor, determined to spur the British to action, promptly had this reply broadcast on Addis Ababa radio. The Government in London, feeling that further delays were impermissible, thereupon summoned Sir Philip to England, where Churchill and Eden pressed him to come to a speedy agreement with the Emperor.
The Anglo-Ethiopian Agreement of 1942
After much bargaining an Anglo-Ethiopian Agreement and Military Convention were duly signed, on 31 January 1942. The treaty recognised Ethiopia as an independent state, and laid down that the Emperor was free to form a government. Britain’s paramount position was, however, officially recognised, and many restrictions were imposed on Ethiopian sovereignty. The agreement thus specified that the British representative was to be ex-officio doyen of the diplomatic corps, followed in precedence by the British Commander-in-Chief, East Africa, or his representative. The Emperor was obliged to appoint British advisers, a British Commissioner of Police, and British police officers, inspectors, judges, and magistrates. No other foreign adviser could be appointed without consultation with the British. The latter were to be responsible for policing Addis Ababa, and had the right to station their military wherever they deemed necessary.
The Military Convention went further. It permitted the British to assert military control over Addis Ababa and the country’s principal towns, and to move their armed forces, and military aircraft, into, out of, and around the country at will. The British military were exempt from the jurisdiction of Ethiopian courts, and could use former Italian state property without payment. The Emperor was obliged to requisition and hand over to the British military authorities whatever private property they might require. The radio station, the telephone system, and the railway were to remain under British control. The Ethiopian army was to be trained by a British military mission, and all prisoners-of-war were to be handed over to the British military, who were also to have sole jurisdiction over the repatriation of Italian civilians. The British were, finally, allowed to remain in control of Ogaden, the Somali-inhabited area adjacent to Italian Somalia, which occupied almost a third of the entire country, the Reserved Area, a smaller strip of land adjacent to British Somaliland, and the entire stretch of territory occupied by the Addis Ababa-Jibuti railway.
In return for these considerable concessions the British agreed to provide the Emperor with an annual subsidy, amounting to a million and a half pounds Sterling for the first year, a million for the second, half a million for the third, and a quarter of a million for a fourth, if the Agreement was still in force at that time.
The Emperor and Ministers Deeply Concerned
The Emperor and his Ministers were deeply concerned, not only at the restrictions on Ethiopian sovereignty, but also at the economic consequences thereof. The country was at that time exporting more than it imported, and was thus contributing more to the Sterling area than it received therefrom. The British were thus profiting from Ethiopian exports, and appropriating resources which could otherwise have been used on Ethiopian development. Notwithstanding this manifestly unfair situation the Ethiopian Government was for several years reluctant to press the British for any revision of the agreement. This was largely, according to their American foreign affairs adviser, John Spencer, because they were afraid that the British might retaliate by reoccupying parts of the country. This, in the aftermath of the war, could well have led to the government’s political de-stabilisation.
Despite such fears the Ethiopian Government eventually decided, on 25 May 1944, to demand a new agreement. Receiving no reply from the British by 16 August it threatened to re-occupy Ogaden and the Reserved Area. The British, towards the end of September, accordingly despatched an envoy, Lord de la Warr, to Addis Ababa. In the ensuing talks he stubbornly insisted on the British retention of Ogaden and the Reserved Area. Tough negotiations followed. At one point he threatened to break off the talks, and at another warned that the British, if balked in their objectives, would reoccupy the entire country. A treaty was, however, eventually signed, on 19 December 1944.
The Anglo-Ethiopian Agreement of 1944
In this second Anglo-Ethiopian Treaty the Ethiopians had little option but to agree to British demands for the continued occupation of the Reserved Area and Ogaden. The Emperor’s negotiators nevertheless persuaded the British to accept a reformulation of the relevant article, Article 7, which accordingly declared:
“In order as an Ally to contribute to the effective prosecution of the war, and without prejudice to her underlying sovereignty, the Imperial Ethiopian Government hereby agree that, for the duration of the Agreement, the territories designated as the Reserved Area and the Ogaden… shall be under British Military Administration’”.
This formula, from the Ethiopian point of view, was more cleverly devised than the British negotiators perhaps realised. The use of the word “ally” implied that the country could no longer be treated as “occupied enemy territory”, that it was entitled to a seat in any future Peace Conference, and that the British occupation of the two territories was only temporary, to no more than the duration of the war. The reference to Ethiopia’s “underlying sovereignty” was also significant. It enabled the Ethiopian Government immediately to re-assert its sovereignty by granting an American concern, the Sinclair Company, an oil concession over the area. In the rest of the treaty the British waived their earlier insistence of diplomatic precedence, abandoned their extra-territorial military privileges, and relinquished their control over the Addis Ababa-Djibuti railway, and their monopoly over aviation. The treaty thus marked the full resumption of Ethiopian independence. It was, however, symbolic of the Emperor’s displeasure that he did not sign the agreement, but relegated this onerous task to his Prime Minister, Endalkachew Makonnen. Haile Sellassie also, significantly, rejected any further subsidy from Britain.
Britain’s motive in retaining Ogaden became apparent in the Spring of 1946, when the British Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, proposed that the territory be joined to ex-Italian Somalia, and placed, together with British Somaliland, under British Trusteeship. His government further suggested that Ethiopia, bereft of Ogaden, should be given compensation in Eritrea. This Greater Somalia plan, as it was called, was immediately rejected by the Ethiopian Government, and ran into strong Soviet opposition. Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov declared that the scheme was designed to “expand the British Empire at the expense of Italy and Ethiopia, and to consolidate the monopolistic position of Great Britain in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea”.
Faced with such fierce opposition, Britain abandoned its hold on most of Ogaden in 1948, but retained the fertile grazing land of Haud until 1954, when the entire region was at last, returned to Ethiopia. This was a full two decades after its first alienation by fascist Italy at the time of Wal Wal.