Key Facts & Summary
- It was as a result of conflict between Italy and Ethiopia, which was known as Abyssinia.
- The League of Nations could not do anything to prevent it. It was the first stern test to the League of Nations which had not been in existence for a long time.
- Italy was feeling vengeful for the defeat that they had earlier suffered in Adowa
The Abyssinian crisis was a diplomatic crisis that took place between 1934 and 1937 over Italy’s policy of aggression against Ethiopia. It originated as a result of the “Welwel incident” of November 22, 1934, which marked an acceleration of the ongoing conflict between the Kingdom of Italy and the Empire of Ethiopia (then known as “Abyssinia” in Europe).
It had the direct effect of undermining the credibility of the League of Nations and encouraging fascist Italy to ally itself with Nazi Germany. The crisis had contributed to lack of peace in Europe through the progressive constitution of two opposing sides.
The second Italian-Ethiopian war or the campaign of Abyssinia was an armed conflict between fascist Italy led by the dictator Benito Mussolini and the Ethiopian Empire of Haile Selassie I, from October 3, 1935, to May 9, 1936.
It was part of Italy’s second attempt to seize the East African country after the defeat of Adowa in 1896, which made the country one of the last free countries in Africa. Ethiopia and Italy were then members of the League of Nations according to its charter to ensure the prevention of wars through the principle of collective security.
The outbreak of this war marked the withdrawal of Italy from the League of Nations and it’s diplomatic, political and strategic realignment with Nazi Germany. At the same time, the failure of the international organization to prevent the Italian invasion discredited the League of Nations on the international level on the eve of the Second World War.
Armed resistance to the Italian occupation lasted until May 5, 1941, the date of the liberation of Addis Ababa at the end of the East African campaign by the British colonial forces in the north and the Belgians in the south.
The intention of Benito Mussolini to invade Ethiopia:
On October 2, 1935, Benito Mussolini announced his intention to invade Ethiopia on a false pretext. Ethiopia, an African country, also called Abyssinia, was ruled by an emperor or Negus named Haile Selassie I. A Christian of the Coptic rite, like the majority of his subjects, he flattered himself with the myth of descending from the Queen of Sheba and the King of Israel Solomon.
Ethiopia was the only country in Africa that had so far escaped any form of European colonization. It was even a member since 1923 of the League of Nations. Thus, everything started from a diplomatic game. Benito Mussolini, on the pretext of an assault on Italian inspectors a few months earlier, on November 23, 1934, on the borders of the Italian colony of Somalia and Ethiopia, felt the right to go much further.
Negus Haile Selassie, I reacted by denouncing from his part an invasion of Italian soldiers in Walwal, a hundred miles within its borders. He shocked the League of Nations. The League, whose mission was to maintain peace among its members, was being tested for the first time in its existence. It appointed an arbitration board. It referred the two complainants back to back on September 3, 1935. But the Italian Duke did not care about his opinion! He was, in any case, determined to invade Ethiopia.
The Italian dictator wanted to offer his country a colonial empire “worthy of its rank” and had no alternative but to attack the only African state that was not under any European colonization. He also wanted to avenge a humiliating defeat of the Italian armies against the Ethiopians Negus Menelik, in Adoua, March 1, 1896.
Thus on October 2, 1935, the Duke addressed a warlike speech to the Italians and announced its decision to invade Ethiopia. The next day, at his command, ten divisions supported by tanks and aviation – a total of over 300,000 men – rushed to Ethiopia and took it from the Italian colonies of Somalia and Eritrea.
Origins and causes of war: National contexts
In the first decades of the century, both Ethiopia and Italy were experiencing major political upheavals. Since the mid-twentieth century, Ethiopia had entered a period of centralization and modernization. This process accelerated towards the end of the reign of Menelik II (1889-1913).
The death of the latter was followed by a political crisis and the coming to power of his grandson, Ledj Iyasu, in a tense atmosphere. Conditions of succession criticized, religious policy questioned and antagonism towards neighbouring colonial powers (Italy, France and the United Kingdom) marked his reign of three years.
It ended with a coup d’etat supported by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and part of the nobility. On September 27, 1916, Zewditou I became the leader of the Empire. The sovereign must nevertheless deal with Teferi Merkonnen, future Haile Selassie I. The Ethiopian court of the 1920s was the scene of opposition between the so-called conservative party, represented by Zewditou, and that of the progressives, led by Teferi.
The two personalities managed to live together. Various reforms, supported by progressives, were adopted. They included the abolition of slavery, socio-economic modernization and openness to the outside world symbolized by the country’s accession to the League of Nations in 1923.
This process continued after April 2, 1930, when Haile Selassie I came to power. These centralization efforts, however, were to come up against the more aggressive policy of the Italians, particularly in the region of Ogaden, a province in which the Welwel incident took place in 1934.