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The Abyssinia Crisis was a diplomatic crisis during the interwar period originating in the "Walwal incident." This incident resulted from the ongoing conflict between the Kingdom of Italy (Regno d'Italia) and the Empire of Ethiopia (then commonly known as "Abyssinia" in Europe). Its effects were to undermine the credibility of the League of Nations and to encourage Fascist Italy to ally itself with Nazi Germany.



Both Italy and Ethiopia were members of the League of Nations which was founded in 1920. Italy was a founding member of the League. Ethiopia joined September 28, 1923. The League had Article X, rules forbidding aggression among members.

On August 2, 1928, in addition to abiding by Article X, Italy and Ethiopia signed the Italo–Ethiopian Treaty of Friendship. This treaty declared a 20-year friendship between the two nations.

On August 27 in the same year, both Italy and Ethiopia signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact. This was an international treaty "providing for the renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy."

Italian encroachment and clash

In 1930, Italy built a fort at Walwal, an oasis in the Ogaden. The fort was in clear violation of the Italo–Abyssinian Treaty of Friendship. The Italians built the fort as part of a gradual encroachment into what was clearly Ethiopian territory.

On September 29, 1934, Italy and Abyssinia released a joint statement refuting any aggression between each other.

The Walwal incident

On November 23,1934, while surveying the border between British Somaliland and Ethiopia, an Anglo–Ethiopian boundary commission arrived at Walwal. The commission was confronted by an Italian force already at Walwal. The British members of the boundary commission protested but withdrew to avoid an international incident. The Ethiopian members of the boundary commission stayed at Walwal.[1]

Between December 5 and December 7, for reasons which have never been clearly determined, there was a skirmish between the garrison of Somalis who were in Italian service and a force of armed Ethiopians. According to the Italians, the Ethiopians attacked the Somalis with machine guns. According to the Ethiopians, the Italians attacked them. The Ethiopians claimed the Italians were supported by two tanks and three aircraft.[2] In the end, approximately 107 Ethiopians[nb 1] and 50 Italians and Somalis were killed.[nb 2]

International response and subsequent actions

On December 6, 1934, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia protested Italian aggression at Walwal. On December 8, Italy demanded an apology and, on December 11, followed up this demand with a demand for financial and strategic compensation.

On January 3, 1935, Ethiopia appealled to the League of Nations for arbitration in the Walwal incident. But the League's response was dull and sluggish. In actuality, many nations were working independently of the League in order to keep Italy as an ally. Shortly after Ethiopia's initial appeal, Minister of Foreign Affairs Pierre Laval of France and Foreign Secretary Samuel Hoare met with Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in Rome.

On January 7, 1935, a meeting between Laval and Mussolini resulted in the "Franco–Italian Agreement." This treaty gave Italy parts of French Somaliland (now Djibouti), redefined the official status of Italians in French-held Tunisia, and essentially gave the Italians a free hand in dealing with Ethiopia. In exchange for this, France hoped for Italian support against German aggression.

On January 25, five Italian askaris were killed by Ethiopian forces near Walwal.[5]

On February 10, Mussolini mobilized two divisions.[6]

On February 23, Mussolini began to send large numbers of troops to Eritrea and Italian Somaliland. These were the Italian colonies that bordered Ethiopia to the northeast and southeast respectively. There was little international protest to this build-up.

On March 8, Ethiopia again requested arbitration and noted Italian military build-up. On March 13, Italy and Ethiopia agreed on a neutral zone in the Ogaden. On March 17, Ethiopia again appealed to the League due to continued Italian build-up. On March 22, the Italians yielded to pressure from the League of Nations for arbitration into the Walwal incident. But on May 11, Ethiopia again protested the ongoing Italian mobilization.

Between May 20 and 21, the League of Nations held a special session to discuss the crisis in Ethiopia. On May 25, a League council resolved to meet if no fifth arbitrator has been selected by June 25, or if a settlement was not reached by August 25. On June 19, Ethiopia requested neutral observers.

From June 23 to 24, the United Kingdom attempted to quell the crisis and sent Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Anthony Eden to broker peace. It was a failed mission though, as Mussolini was bent on conquest. Following that, Britain declared an arms embargo on both Italy and Ethiopia on July 25. Many believe that this was a direct result of Italy's decree that supplying Ethiopia would be perceived as an act of unfriendliness. Britain also cleared its warships from the Mediterranean, further allowing Italy unhindered access.

On June 25, Italian and Ethiopian officials meet in the Hague to discuss arbitration and these discussions fell apart by July 9.

On July 26, the League confirmed that no fifth member has been selected. On August 3, the League limited arbitration talks to matters except for the sovereignty of Walwal. The League met again on September 4 to examine relations between the two countries.

On August 12, Ethiopia pleaded for arms embargo to be lifted. On August 16, France and Britain offered Italy large concessions in Ethiopia to avert war and Italy rejected these offers. On August 22, Britain reaffirmed its embargo on armaments.

On September 4, the League exonerated both Italy and Ethiopia of the Walwal incident[7] since both nations believed Walwal was within its territorial borders. On September 10, Pierre Laval, Anthony Eden, and Sir Samuel Hoare agreed on limitations to Italian sanctions.

On September 25, Ethiopia again asked for neutral observers. On September 28, Ethiopia began to mobilize its large but poorly-equipped army.

The war and occupation

On October 3, 1935, shortly after the League exonerated both parties in the Walwal incident, Italian armed forces from Eritrea invaded Ethiopia without a declaration of war. In response, Ethiopia declared war on Italy and the two nations were at war.

On October 7, the League of Nations declared Italy the aggressor and started the slow process of imposing sanctions. However, these sanctions did not extend to several vital materials, such as oil and were not carried out by all members of the League. Specifically, the United Kingdom and France did not take any serious action against Italy (such as blocking Italian access to the Suez Canal).

Even actions such as the Italian use of chemical weapons and the massacre of civilians did little to change the League's passive approach to the situation.

In December 1935, Hoare of Britain and Laval of France proposed the secret Hoare-Laval Plan which would end the war but allow Italy to control large areas of Ethiopia. Mussolini agreed to the plan, but it caused an outcry in Britain and France when the plan was leaked to the media. Hoare and Laval were accused of betraying the Abyssinians, and both resigned. The plan was dropped, but the perception spread that Britain and France were not serious about the principles of the League. After the plan was dropped, the war continued and Mussolini turned to German dictator Adolf Hitler for alliance.

All sanctions placed by the League were dropped after the Italian capture of the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa on May 5, 1936. Ethiopia was then merged with the other Italian colonies to become Italian East Africa (Africa Orientale Italiana, or AOI).

Ethiopia never surrendered and Italian control of AOI was never total.


The end of the AOI came quickly during World War II. In early 1941, as part of the East African Campaign, Allied forces launched offensive actions against the isolated Italian colony. On May 5, 1941, five years after the Italians had captured his capital, Emperor Haile Selassie entered Addis Ababa in triumph. Italy would be defeated soon after.

See also


  1. ^ According to Mockler, 107 Ethiopians were killed and 40 wounded.[3]
  2. ^ According to Time Magazine, 110 Ethiopians were killed and 30 Italians were killed.[4]
  1. ^ Shinn, p. 392
  2. ^ Barker. The Rape of Ethiopia 1936. Pg. 17.
  3. ^ Mockler, p.46.
  4. ^ Time Magazine, Provocations.
  5. ^ Shin, p. 392
  6. ^ Shin, p. 392
  7. ^ Shinn, p. 392


  • Barker, A.J. (1971). Rape of Ethiopia, 1936. New York: Ballantine Books. pp. 160 pages. ISBN 978-0345024626. 
  • Marcus, Harold G. (1994). A History of Ethiopia. London: University of California Press. pp. 316. ISBN 0-520-22479-5. 
  • Mockler, Anthony (20032). Haile Sellassie's war. New York: Olive Branch Press. ISBN 9781566564731. 
  • Nicolle, David (1997). The Italian Invasion of Abyssinia 1935-1936. Westminster, MD: Osprey. pp. 48 pages. ISBN 978-1-85532-692-7. 
  • Shinn, David Hamilton, Ofcansky, Thomas P., and Prouty, Chris (2004). Historical dictionary of Ethiopia. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. pp. 633. ISBN 0-8108-4910-0. 

External references

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