South African troops enter Addis Ababa
South African troops enter Addis Ababa

During the Second World War Britain and Ethiopia – supported by Indian, Sudanese and South African troops – defeated Italian forces occupying Ethiopia.

The Anglo-Ethiopian campaign to liberate Ethiopia started in January 1941 and completed in eighteen months.

It was not long before the British began stripping away Italian property from Ethiopia and from Eritrea. British colonies in India, Kenya and Uganda benefitted.

A fascinating article by Haile Muluken Akalu sets out what took place. You can read the full document here: THE_BRITISH_AND_ETHIOPIAN_DISPOSAL_OF_IT.

The brief section below gives an outline of what happened.

According to official statements, what the British removed from Ethiopia was immeasurable. Copious Italian medical supplies, such as medicines, bandages and ointments, were taken for use by British East African troops.

Oxygen producing factories were removed, leaving hospitals in Ethiopia to run without the life-saving gas. The value of medical stores removed by the British was about £4 million. Engineering machineries, factories, garage equipment, printing machines, oil, heavy trucks, and so forth were transferred to Eritrea, Kenya and Tanganyika in the name of the war effort. Crankshaft grinders were shipped to Libya and used to repair tanks. Weapons and munitions were taken to Kenya.

Of properties taken to India, Kenya and Uganda were road building equipment, a brick factory, an oxygen factory, soap-making equipment, diesel tractors, water-boring works, sawmills, mining machinery, and so forth.

Under British political and military domination, powerless Ethiopia could hardly protest against the removal of enemy property, a stance mistaken by the British for consent. Haile Selassie did not protest the removal of 26 small mechanical workshops, six oxygen factories and the Pirelli Retreading Plant by way of direct requisitioning or private purchase through negotiation with private owners.

The British took equipment from eight heavy repair workshops informing the Emperor but not securing his consent. He is said to have permitted the removal of 21 Lancia workshops and machinery from 26 small mechanical workshops while written permission is claimed for the removal of 13 road making machines, 19 items of sawmilling machinery, 20 petrol pumps, one crankshaft grinder, 24 „scrapa‟ metal [sic], and 100 cubic meters of timber. Several trucks and other valuable enemy property were taken from the Italians with or without payment. There were many cases in which British officers removed enemy war materials and other property without informing the Emperor.

To lessen Ethiopians disaffection with the disproportional loot of spoil by the British and South African troops, the British appointed a Joint Anglo-Ethiopian Committee for enemy property. While this arrangement gave Ethiopians some share of the looting, the Committee did not prevent the removal of property in the name of serving British wartime needs.

Workshop equipment, capable of maintaining 600 vehicles a year, was taken to Kenya with all the 1200 Italian workers. The Pirelli tire factory plant was taken to Kenya while an oxygen factory, having a daily production capacity of 700 cubic meters, was taken to Eritrea. Other removals include a printing press, carpet factory machinery, woodwork workshop equipment, heavy vehicles assembly and maintenance equipment, pharmaceuticals factory equipment and an unknown amount of money and gold to Kenya. From about 40,000 registered enemy vehicles before the end of occupation, only about six thousand were transferred to the Ethiopian Custodian in 1942. Likewise, about 80% of Italian mechanical equipment was removed from Ethiopia by the British.

Obviously, not all of these appropriations could be justified by the British wartime needs.


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