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5. Italian Fascist Ideas on Education for “Natives”
In concluding this extended series of articles on Ethiopian education, reference may be made to the Fascist attitude to education for “natives”, which had a profound effect on education in Ethiopia in the period after 1936.
Fascist policy was, generally speaking, opposed, to the creation of an educated “native” elite, and to any kind of training, which would enable “natives” to compete with “nationals”, i.e. Italians.
The Philosophy of Benito Mussolini Himself
The philosophy behind this policy was stated, in 1938, by the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, in the official Italian publication “Etiopia”. He declared that racial problems found “a definite relation to the conquest of the Empire, because it is necessary to realise that the Empire is conquered by the sword but is held by prestige. To maintain prestige we must have a strict and clear racial consciousness, which will stabilise not only the difference of race but also our absolute superiority.”
The application of this thesis was expounded by a prominent Fascist luminary, Guiseppe Fabbri, the editor of the publication. He argued that, in the ancient Roman empire, when Agricola had educated the native chiefs of Britain he had “betrayed Rome”. To prevent a similar fate befalling Mussolini’s East African empire “the office and the administration should”, he declared, “seem mysterious to the native, a place where white people stay, as at the altar.” He added:
“To affirm the superiority of our race, and to join it to the idea of domination is the basis of life in Fascist Italy . . . our power, spiritual, political and military, should, and must, forever rid the Empire of other peoples weaker and inferior to us . . .
“We abhor the invasion of the colonial office by officials who employ natives, because that constitutes a formidable danger. The mentality of the natives is spoilt; they believe themselves equal to us when they see themselves invested with functions we are accustomed to fulfill. Moreover, the native mass tends always to admire this kind of aristocracy of their race; to forment this evil germ is to destroy our empire.
“Where White People Stay as at an Altar”
“The office and the administration’, he continued, “should seem mysterious to the native, a place where white people stay as at the altar; the documents locked in the cupboards should have the odour of sacred papers which natives must not touch. It is when natives are put in contact with such instruments of civilisation that they cease to be sensible of the difference between themselves and us. It initiates, in fact, a gradual process of assimilation, which finally develops consequences grave, if not fatal, to our supremacy, because, in order to retain our natural race superiority and to preserve it from being undermined we must maintain our prestige.
“The employment of natives in the administration must not be resorted to even though they might be useful to us before we have created staffs of Italians who know the local language and the habits and customs of the subject people. When we have developed such Fascist experts they will be the watchful vanguard of our prestige.
“Our expansion in Africa must have a totalitarian character, and one of racial integrity; it must not aim at disseminatory culture, as the illustrious magnates of Africanism, who poison the air with their literary baggage, perniciously desire.”
So much for such “magnates” and their “literary baggage”!
General Guglielmo Nasi
The above Fascist principles were embodied in an important Government directive, of 1938, which deserves quoting at some length. It was issued by General Guglielmo Nasi, the Italian Governor of Harar, on 5 June, 1938, and declared:
“… I notice that Commissioners and Residents have above all an ambition to extend elementary education for natives, and to teach our language to as many children as possible.
“This is a fundamental political mistake that tends to put individuals out of their class who, solely because they possess a veneer of education, will refuse to work in the fields, as we know by our own colonial experience and by that of other countries. They are attracted to the towns, ask for Government employment, compete with the nationals in trades that should be reserved to the latter, forming a class of discontented, or even worse, rebellious people.
“As I have already said on other occasions, we should reserve strictly necessary education to the sons of chiefs and more important notabilities only, because these can subsequently succeed to the duties of their fathers, serve us as interpreters, and hold modest positions in offices.
“However, while for obvious reasons, we cannot altogether close the door of public education to the youth of the lower social classes, we can, and we ought to, close the door tightly on special courses, e.g. for interpreters; and in general we should avoid propaganda, and, still worse, pressure on families to send their sons to Italian schools.
“This principle, which can be absolute in the country, ought, of course, for obvious reasons be subjected to many exceptions in the larger towns (Harar and Dire Dawa).
“Also, with regard to native orphans it is a mistaken policy, for the same reasons as mentioned above, to establish orphanages, because there, in the end, you will always give them habits that do not belong to their race or social class.
“Instead, these derelicts should be cared for by entrusting them to relatives, or at any rate to native families, who under our control and for a monthly sum, will bring them up in the very surroundings in which they afterwards will have to live and work.
“It is superfluous to add that the present directive is of a very secret character, and should be applied without divulging its real motives”.
Secret though it was, we publish it in “Addis Tribune”, with Nasi’s self-styled “real motives”!
The Duke of Aosta
A further directive on educational was issued, on 16 October 1939, by the second Viceroy of Ethiopia, the Duke of Aosta, who has often been described, in the present writer’s opinion wrongly, as a great “liberal”, for he was, rather a great racist. It read as follows:
“At the last meeting of the Governors full assent was given to the principle determining the directions issued several times from this Governorate-General, that schools of all kinds established for the subject peoples of Italian East Africa ought above all to aim at this goal: to train pupils in the cultivation of the soil or to become qualified workers (not specialised) in order to create gradually native skilled craftsmanship for all fields of labour where, for reasons of climate, surroundings, or race prestige, the use of Italian labour is not admissible or convenient, and for the purpose of reducing the cost of labour and production in general, by making use of native labour.
“Consequently it is important that the respective Governors, taking into account the special conditions of their own territories, the native attitude to work and the demands of the local industries, should organise schools for colonial natives, assigning to each of them the specialisation that will most easily lead to the goal indicated above.
“It is also understood that, with the exception of schools for agricultural instruction, where the greater the number of pupils is, the greater the economic and social advantages derived from these schools will be, for all others, vocational schools and ‘cultural schools’ reserved for the sons of native notabilities, the number of students should be decided, year by year, with regard to employment possibilities in the industries and local occupations that can be held out to students leaving the school.
“To the training planned . . . should be added gymnastic-military exercises, in the form and teaching staff that each Government judges most convenient”.
Academic type education for “natives”, in Italian-occupied Ethiopia, as in the Italian Fascist empire as a whole, simply did not exist. The dispatch of young Ethiopians for study abroad, began by Emperor Menilek, had entirely ceased (except for some youngsters sent for religious studies in the Vatican under Roman Catholic auspices).
The Fascist approach to education was likewise seen in Eritrea, in the mid-1920’s, and 1930’s. It was decided, in 1932, that elementary school education for Eritreans should be limited to four years, after which students could go either to a school of arts and crafts (where there would be great emphasis on the learning of Italian), or to special schools where an additional two year course would be given to complete primary studies. So-called “medium schools” for “natives”, i.e. secondary education, were suppressed.
Professor Andrea Festa, describing these developments, explained that the objective of the Italian education in Eritrea was to make the student “know Italy, her glories and her ancient history”, and to teach him to “become a conscientious soldier in the shadow of our flag.” “Superfluous” knowledge, such as the history of the Italian “Risorgimento”, or struggle for independence and unity, should, he declared, be cut out of the syllabus.
The principal schools for “natives” in Eritrea in 1932 were:
1. The San Michele school of arts and crafts at Saganeiti, which was run by Capuchins and taught carpentry, tailoring, shoemaking and saddlery to Catholic children;
2. The St. Giorgio school of arts and crafts at Addi Ugri, which was mainly concerned with agriculture and was attended primarily by Ethiopian Orthodox children;
3. The Salvago Reggi school of arts and crafts for Muslim children at Keren, which taught printing, woodwork and smithy work.
There was also a Re Vittorio Emanuele III elementary school, founded in Asmara in 1926 for the training of interpreters and clerks, and smaller schools at Assab, Ghinda, Addi Ugi, Addi Caieh, and Agordat. None of them of course offered secondary, let alone academic type education.
Education for Italian children was of an entirely different level. Despite the colony’s tiny Italian settlement, there were, in 1932-3, 894 Italian and “half-caste” children in Government schools as against 1,692 “natives.”
The Fascist impact led to the closing of the Swedish and American Protestant Missions in 1932, though the Swedish Mission School in Asmara was allowed to continue until 1935, when, as the Rev. Axel Johnson records, “all its missionaries were expelled.” The state of education in pre-war Eritrea was an important factor causing many youngsters from the Italian colony to cross the frontier into Ethiopia in a quest for education.