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Italian East Africa

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Title: Italian East Africa  
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Subject: Italian Eritrea, History of Ethiopia, Italian conquest of British Somaliland, Italian guerrilla war in Ethiopia, Italian Empire
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Italian East Africa

Italian East Africa
Africa Orientale Italiana
Colony of Italy




Flag Royal Coat of arms
Foedere et Religione Tenemur
"We are bound by Treaty and by Religion"
Marcia Reale d'Ordinanza
"Royal March of Ordinance"
Italian East Africa in 1936.
Capital Addis Ababa
Languages Italian, Oromo, Amharic, Somali, Tigre
Political structure Colony
 -  1936–1941 Victor Emmanuel III
 -  1936 Pietro Badoglio
 -  1936–1937 Rodolfo Graziani
 -  1937–1941 Amedeo Umberto
 -  1941 Pietro Gazzera
 -  1941 Guglielmo Nasi
Historical era Interwar period / WWII
 -  Established 9 May 1936
 -  Disestablished 27 November 1941
 -  1939[1] 1,725,000 km² (666,026 sq mi)
 -  1939[1] est. 12,100,000 
     Density 7 /km²  (18.2 /sq mi)
Currency Italian East African lira
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Italian Eritrea
Italian Somaliland
Ethiopian Empire
British Somaliland
Trust Territory of Somalia
British Somaliland
Ethiopian Empire
French Somaliland
Today part of  Ethiopia
^a Full title was "Viceroy and Governor-General of Italian East Africa".[2]

Italian East Africa (Italian: Africa Orientale Italiana) was an Italian colony established in 1936. It was formed through the merger of Italian Somaliland and Italian Eritrea with the former Ethiopian Empire.

In August 1940, during the Second World War, British Somaliland was conquered and annexed to Italian East Africa, which in 1941 was itself conquered during the East African Campaign by a British-led force of combined British, including colonial, and Ethiopian units.[3] British Somaliland, Italian Somaliland and Eritrea then came under British administration. In 1949 Italian Somaliland was reconstituted as the Trust Territory of Somalia, which was administered by Italy from 1950 until its independence in 1960. In 1951 Eritrea was annexed by Ethiopia.


When established in 1936, Italian East Africa covered the former Italian Eritrea and Italian Somaliland and the recently invaded Ethiopia. Victor Emmanuel III of Italy consequently adopted the title of "Emperor of Ethiopia". The territory was divided into the six governorates of Italian East Africa: Italian Eritrea and Italian Somaliland, plus four provinces of Ethiopia (Amhara, Galla-Sidamo, Scioa, Harar) each under the authority of an Italian governor, answerable to the Italian viceroy, who represented the Emperor Victor Emmanuel.

Italian East Africa was briefly enlarged in 1940, as Italian forces conquered British Somaliland, thereby bringing all Somali territories under Italian administration. However, the enlarged colony was dismembered only a year later, when in the course of the Ethiopian and British East African Campaign of June 1940 to November 1941 Italian East Africa was conquered.

The other Italian colony in Africa was Italian North Africa (Africa Settentrionale Italiana, or ASI).


East Africa Campaign northern front: Allied advances in 1941.

The dominion was formed in 1936, after the Second Italo-Abyssinian War that resulted in the annexation of the Ethiopian Empire by Fascist Italy, by merging the pre-existing colonies of Italian Somaliland and Italian Eritrea with the newly conquered territory.

In February 1937, following an assassination attempt on Italian East Africa's Viceroy Rodolfo Graziani, Graziani ordered Italian soldiers to raid the famous Ethiopian monastery Debre Libanos, where the would-be assassins had briefly taken refuge and had the monks and nuns in the monastery executed.[4] Afterwards, Italian soldiers destroyed native settlements in Addis Ababa, which resulted in 30,000 Ethiopians being killed and their homes left burned to the ground.[4][5] The brutal massacre has come to be known as Yekatit 12.

Fascist colonial policy in Italian East Africa had a divide and conquer characteristic. In order to weaken the Orthodox Christian Amhara people who had run Ethiopia in the past, territory claimed by Eritrean Tigray-Tigrinyas and Somalis was given to the Eritrea Governorate and Somalia Governorate.[4] Reconstruction efforts after the war in 1936 were partially focused on benefiting the Muslim peoples in the colony at the expense of the Amhara to strengthen support by Muslims for the Italian colony.[4]

Italy's Fascist regime encouraged Italian peasants to colonize the colony by creating agriculture and small industries there.[4] However few Italians came to the Ethiopian colony, with most going to Eritrea. By 1940, only 3200 farmers had arrived to Ethiopia, less than ten percent of the Fascist regime's goal.[6]

Italian East African 100-lire banknote.

Continued insurgency by native Ethiopians, lack of natural resources, rough terrain, and uncertainty of political and military conditions discouraged development and settlement in the countryside[6] However, Italian Eritrea enjoyed a huge development, supported by nearly 80,000 Italian colonists.[7]

The colony proved to be extremely expensive to maintain the budget in 1936-37 requested from Italy 19.136 billion lire to create the necessary infrastructure for the colony.[4] At the time Italy's entire revenue that year was only 18.581 billion lire.[4]

There was an urbanistic project for the enlargement of Addis Ababa, in order to become the state-of-the-art capital of the Africa Orientale Italiana, but these architectural plans -like all the other developments- were stopped by World War II.[8]

In 1940, the adjacent protectorate of British Somaliland was occupied by Italian forces and absorbed into Italian East Africa. This occupation lasted around one year.

Colonial administration

Administrative subdivision of Italian East Africa.

The colony was administered by a Viceroy of Ethiopia and Governor General of Italian East Africa, appointed by the Italian monarch. The dominion was further divided for administrative purposes into six Governorates and forty Commissionerships.


In 1939, there were 165,267 Italian citizens in the area, the majority of them concentrated around the main urban centres of Asmara, Addis Ababa and Mogadishu. The total population was estimated around 12.1 million, with a density of just over 18 inhabitants per square mile. The density of population of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Italian Somaliland were, however, very unequal. Eritrea with an area of 90,000 square miles had an estimated population of 1,500,000 or a density of 16.6 per square mile; Ethiopia an area of 305,000 square miles and a population of 9,450,000, resulting in a density of 31 per square mile; sparsely populated Italian Somaliland finally, with an area of 271,000 square miles and a population of just 1,150,000, had a very low density of 4.2 per square mile.[9]

English Italian Capital Total population[1] Italians[1] Tag Coat of Arms
Amhara Governorate Amara Gondar 2,000,000 11,103 AM
Eritrea Governorate Eritrea Asmara 1,500,000 72,408 ER
Harrar Governorate Harar Harrar 1,600,000 10,035 HA
Galla-Sidamo Governorate Galla e Sidama Jimma/Gimma 4,000,0000 11,823 GS
Shewa Governorate [10] Scioà Addis Abeba 1,850,000 40,698 SC
Somalia Governorate [10] Somalia Mogadishu 1,150,000 19,200 SOM


  1. ^ a b c d  
  2. ^ Melvin E. Page;Colonialism: An International Social, Cultural, and Political Encyclopedia -page 1054
  3. ^ Ofcansky and LaVerle Berry, Thomas P. "Ethiopia in World War II". A Country Study: Ethiopia. Library of Congress. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Cannistraro, p. 5
  5. ^ Sarti, p. 191
  6. ^ a b Cannistraro, p. 6
  7. ^ Italian industries and companies in Eritrea
  8. ^ Addis Abeba 1939 Urbanistic and Architectural Plan
  9. ^ Royal Institute of International Affairs (24 August 1940). "Italian Possessions in Africa: II. Italian East Africa". Bulletin of International News 17 (17): 1065–1074. 
  10. ^ a b Apis Networks - Engineered Hosting


  • Antonicelli, Franco (1961) Trent'anni di storia italiana 1915 - 1945, Saggi series 295, Torino : Einaudi, 387 p. [in Italian]
  • Cannistraro, Philip V. (1982) Historical Dictionary of Fascist Italy, Westport, Conn.; London : Greenwood Press, ISBN 0-313-21317-8
  • Del Boca, Angelo (1986) Italiani in Africa Orientale: La caduta dell'Impero, Biblioteca universale Laterza 186, Roma : Laterza, ISBN 88-420-2810-X [in Italian]
  • Mockler, Anthony (1984). Haile Selassie's War: The Italian-Ethiopian Campaign, 1935-1941, New York : Random House, ISBN 0-394-54222-3
  • Sarti, Roland (1974) The Ax Within: Italian fascism in action, New York : New Viewpoints, ISBN 0-531-06498-0
  • Mauri, Arnaldo (1967). Il mercato del credito in Etiopia, Milano, Giuffrè, pp. XVI, 504 [in Italian].
  • Calchi Novati, Gian Carlo (2011).L'Africa d'Italia, Carrocci, Roma. [in Italian]
  • Tuccimei, Ercole (1999). La Banca d'Italia in Africa, Presentazione di Arnaldo Mauri, Laterza, Bari, ISBN 88-420-5686-3 [in Italian]

See also

External links

  • Italian East African Armed Forces, 10 June 1940
  • 1940 Colonial Brigade, 10 June 1940
  • Italian East Africa Air Command, 10 June 1940
  • Ascari: I Leoni di Eritrea/Ascari: The Eritrean Lions. Second Italo-abyssinian war. Eritrea colonial history, Eritrean ascari pictures/photos galleries and videos, historical atlas...
  • Geographic map of Italian business community in Africa (December 2012) , established using applied onomastics.
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