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Articles in this series:
Series: A History of Early Twentieth Century Ethiopia
17. Ethio-American Post-War Relations
We saw last week that Ethiopia’s Post-World War II Relations with Britain were far from satisfactory, and the Emperor, in the mid 1940s. reduced his contacts with that country. Now read on:
The 1940s and early 1950s constituted an important period of post-war reconstruction. Decrees designed for the most part to bring the entire country under centralised, and standardised, administration, were issued as early as 10 March 1942. Dealing with a wide variety of subjects, including significantly enough taxation, they were from that date published regularly, in the Negarit Gazeta, of official gazette. They bore the signature of the Minister of the Pen, or official writer of proclamations, which gave them the stamp of imperial authority.
President Roosevelt at Bitter Lake
Development, as the years went by, were based on steadily increasing American economic, military, and other assistance. Ethiopian ties with the United States were symbolised by a meeting between the Emperor and President Roosevelt, held by the Suez Canal Bitter Lake at the beginning of 1945. The British Minister in Addis Ababa, Robert Howe, hearing the Emperor’s Egypt-bound aeroplane flying over his legation, before day-light, at once investigated the cause of the unusual noise. Ascertaining what this was, and perhaps fearing an Ethiopian opening to the United States, he commissioned a small ‘plane to pursue the monarch to Egypt.
The State Bank of Ethiopia, Ethiopian Airlines, and American Silver
Post-war Ethiopian contacts with the United States had in fact started three years earlier. A new government bank, the State Bank of Ethiopia, established in 1942, was run at first by an American governor, George Blowers. A new national currency, inaugurated in 1945, owed its successful introduction to the United States. The latter provided the silver needed to mint 50 cent coins, whose intrinsic value ensured popular acceptance of the new paper money. The country’s first national air services, Ethiopian Airlines, at first almost entirely American manned, was set up in close collaboration with the American carrier Trans World Airlines, in 1946.
The Imperial Highway Authority
American financial assistance made possible the establishment of an Imperial Highway Authority, IHA. Funded with assistance from the American-sponsored International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, IBRD, it restored old and built many new roads.
An Important Landmark
An important landmark in Ethio-American relations was the signing by the two countries, on 22 May 1953, of a 25-year Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations. This provided inter alia for an American communications base, the Kagnew base as it was called, just outside Asmara, which was by then under Ethiopian rule. Training of Ethiopian soldiers, by a British Military Mission to Ethiopia, BMME, withdrawn in 1951, was carried out, after 1953, by an American Military Assistance Advisory Group, MAAG. American staff, including deans, were prominent in the country’s institution of higher learning, Haile Sellassie I University, in educational development and planning, through the United States Point Four Program, and in secondary school teaching, through the US Peace Corps. The majority of Ethiopian students studying abroad, including many members of the military, went to the United States, and Ethiopian soldiers fought, under American command, in the Korean War, of 1950-3.
Continuing, though perhaps less consistently than in Menilek’s day, Ethiopia’s old policy of avoiding dependence on any one foreign power, Haile Sellassie’s government also made use of foreign assistance, and expertise, from other lands. The Air Force, the Imperial Bodyguard, telecommunications, and school building, were thus entrusted to Swedes, the police to Germans and Israelis, planning to Yugoslavs, and the country’s principal Military Academy, at Harar, to Indians. Teachers from the sub-continent were also extensively employed, particularly in the provinces.
This period witnessed many promising developments in the educational sector. These included the re-opening of pre-war schools, and the establishment of many new ones. The most prestigious schools in the capital were the Haile Sellassie I Secondary School, founded in 1943, and the General Orde Wingate Secondary School, in 1946. Useful teaching was also given at vocational schools, for commerce, handicrafts, and technology Education, contrary to the situation prior to the war, was now extremely popular. Almost every school had a waiting list for new student intake. The Emperor, when driving in his car, was frequently mobbed by children crying, “School! school!”. Increasing numbers of students were sent for study abroad, mainly to English speaking countries: first to Britain, and later to the United States, Canada, and India. The growth of secondary education made possible the establishment, in 1950, of the country’s first institution of higher learning, the University College of Addis Ababa. This educational establishment was later merged with other colleges, specialising in agriculture, building, commerce, engineering, public health, technology, and theology, to form the nucleus of Haile Sellassie I University, established in 1961 (later renamed Addis Ababa University). It subsequently also comprised colleges of business administration, education, law, and medicine, a school of social work, and Institutes of Ethiopian Studies, Patho-Biology, and Development Research. The University’s administration, and some of the faculties, were housed in the former Imperial Palace, and its well-kept grounds, which the Emperor donated for the purpose.
Two New Hospitals
A number of new hospitals were also established. The most prestigious was the country’s first modern teaching hospital, named after the Emperor’s daughter, Princess Tsahay, who had served as a nurse in Britain in 1940, during the London Blitz. This institution, founded in 1951, was funded by international subscription, mainly in Britain. A Russian Red Cross hospital was also set up, named after Dajazmach Balcha, who had fought at Adwa, and later in the patriotic resistance to the fascist occupation.