Why Was Ethiopia Never Colonized?

The romantic rewriting of Haile Selassie's legacy must stop | | Africa at  LSE

There is contention among a few historians as to whether Ethiopia deserves the accolade as the only country on the continent that was never successfully colonized.

This is because Liberia, a country founded in 1847 as a home for freed enslaved African by abolitionists ulterior motives, was also technically never colonized, at least, not in any way close to how we would speak of the imperial annexation of other places in Africa.

The American Colonization Society, the private company that founded Liberia, referred to the nation as a colony but the Society was not committed to running it like one.

Whether Liberia falls in the ‘never-colonized category’ is a topic for another day. But Ethiopia is still in a special league of one – it was the only African territory that went to war as a nation to make sure it was never colonized.

But how did Ethiopia manage the politics of the times and navigate its way out of the imperial reach of Italy and Great Britain?

It was left alone at the Scramble for Africa

Together with Liberia, Ethiopia (then Abyssinia) was untouched at the so-called Scramble for Africa initiated by the Berlin Conference of 1884. When the European diplomats carved up the territories north to south, Liberia was left because it was seen as a colony of the United States but it is not quite clear why Abyssinia was untouched.


This theory may have some merit. As far back as the 14th century, the Zagwe dynasty of the Kingdom of Axum in modern-day Ethiopia, sent a delegation to meet a Pope.

Victory at the Battle of Adwa (Adowa)

Even as the territory of Ethiopia seemed to enjoy a lite respite after the Berlin Conference, there were attempts by some European countries to invade. Britain, for one, was in control of Somaliland, the Sudan and Egypt, territories whose proximity to Ethiopia allowed the British to make attempts at taking over.

But Ethiopia would go to war and win the 1895 Battle of Adwa, against Italy in order to defend its territorial sovereignty. Italy, founded in 1861, was then a new nation that followed the footsteps of the older nations and took up the European imperialist hobby.

Saved by World War II

Italy, under the fascist Benito Mussolini, went back to Ethiopia in 1935 to try and annex the country, and this time they succeeded. Between 1936 and 1941, Italy practically ruled over Ethiopia as Emperor Haile Selassie fled into exile.

Except for the Soviet Union, all the major countries in the world recognized Italy’s annexation of Ethiopia.

But in 1941, Italy, a part of the Axis powers who fought against the Allies in World War II, was defeated by British forces which included Ethiopians. Haile Selassie thus returned to Ethiopia and since then, Italian colonization has been viewed as unsuccessful.



Written by PH

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