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History, The Italo-Ethiopian Wars

Tafari Makonnen, Adwa, Massawa, Haile Selassie, emperor of Ethiopia

With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, the Red Sea coast had become increasingly attractive to the European powers as an object for colonization. Italy focused its attention on Ethiopia, seizing Aseb in 1872 and Massawa in 1885. In 1889 Menelik and the Italians signed the Treaty of Wichale (Ucciali). The treaty was one of friendship and cooperation, but the Amharic and Italian versions of it differed, and the Italians claimed that it made all of Ethiopia their protectorate. As a result, war broke out between Italy and Ethiopia in 1895, and Italian forces were decisively defeated at Adwa (Aduwa) the following year. Italy was forced to recognize the independence of Ethiopia, and Menelik’s present-day boundaries. The successor of Menelik, Emperor Lij Iyasu (reigned 1913-1916), was deposed in favor of his aunt, crowned Empress Zauditu. Tafari Makonnen, her cousin, was selected as heir apparent; he succeeded to the throne as Haile Selassie I. In 1931 he granted Ethiopia its first constitution.

With the rise of the dictator Benito Mussolini, Italian designs toward Ethiopia were revived, and in October 1935 Italy invaded the country. An attempt by the League of Nations to halt the conquest failed. Addis Ababa fell to the invaders, and in May 1936 Mussolini proclaimed Italy’s King Victor Emmanuel III emperor of Ethiopia. Haile Selassie was forced to flee the country and take refuge in England, but he was restored to the throne by British and Ethiopian forces in 1941.

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