Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Treaty of Wichale / Uccialli

On the second of May 1889 Emperor Menelik of Ethiopia signed a treaty of assistance with Italy with the Italian Diplomat Count Pietro Antonelli. The treaty defined the boundary of the Italian colony of Eritrea and the Ethiopian Empire. It also set the stage for the tragic intermeshing of Ethiopia and Italy well into the twentieth century.
Menelik II

The treaty was one of mutual assistance and exchange. Italy agreed to provide Menelik II with a certain quantity of modern arms and financial assistance and support for Menelik II’s claim to be Emperor, in exchange Menelik II agreed to put aside Ethiopia’s claim to the port of Massawa and to accept expanded borders for the Italian colony of Eritrea. In the years before Menelik II had been an ally of Italy and had in exchange for assistance been aiding them against Italy’s enemy in Ethiopia Emperor Yohannes IV.1

Yohannes IV had been King of Tigre and had made himself Emperor of Ethiopia. In 1875 a force of Egyptian soldiers who were encroaching into the Highlands of Ethiopia were destroyed at Gundet. The following year a much larger Egyptian force was badly defeated at Gura. The remnants of the army retreated to Massawa on the coast. The Egyptians eventually transferred the port of Massawa to the Italians. Yohannes IV was furious and this lead to a series of conflicts and small battles climaxing in the destruction of an Italian force of 500 men at Dogli on January 25, 1887. During all of this Yohannes IV was engaged in a off again on again Struggle with Menelik II, then King of Shoa, who also claimed the imperial crown. Yohannes eventually recognized Menelik II as his successor but Menelik continued to intrigue against him.2

During all of these relations with the Dervish Mahdi regime of the Sudan changed from bad to worst with a border war starting. In the escalating war the Dervish forces sacked the Ethiopian city of Gondor. Yohannes IV called off his intermittent struggle with the Italians and attacked the Dervishes at Gallabat / Metemma on March 9, 1889. In the ensuing violent but generally inconclusive battle Yohannes IV was killed at the moment of victory and his army retreated rendering the battle inconclusive.3

After this Menelik II seized the chance to claim the Imperial throne and assume the title Negus Nagasti meaning King of Kings or Emperor. Because his claim was not universally accepted in Ethiopia and to reward the Italians for their help in his struggle with Yohannes IV he agreed to Italian expansion in the north. The fact that such expansion was at the expense of Tigre ruled now by Yohannes IV’s illegitimate son Mangasha who refused to accept Menelik II's imperial title, was simply fine with him.4

That is why shortly after Yohannes IV's death Menelik negotiated and signed the Treaty of Wichale.

Map illustrating Boundary created by Treaty of Wichale

Count Antonelli had been over the years a frequent visitor / resident at the court of Menelik II and had negotiated several agreements with Menelik II previously. It appears that before Count Antonelli arrived to negotiate with Menelik II he had drafts of a possible treaty. Now the main interest of the treaty is not the usual mutual interest clauses or the clauses regarding commerce or the import of arms but two particular clauses. Article 3 which gave Italy a firm foothold in the highlands, including the town of Asmara and article 17. Article 17 was the nightmare. In it Menelik II, in the Italian version, consented to using the Italian government for all his dealings with the other powers. The Amharic version stated that Menelik II may use the Italian government for his dealing with the other powers.5 In the Amharic version the Article 17 goes has follows:

Article 17, in Amharic
For whatever needs the Emperor of Ethiopia may have vis-a-vis European potentatres, he can avail himself of the liason services of the Italian governement.6
The Italian wording replaces "he can avail himself of" with "he consents to use".7 There can be little doubt that since it is now known that Antonelli came to his negotiations with Menelik II with a draft treaty with a clause similar to the clause in the Italian version of the treaty, and given that Antonelli was familiar enough with Amharic to know what the clause meant in that language to indicate what can only be called conscious, deliberate deception.8

After signing the treaty Menelik sent Dejatch Maconnen back with Antonelli to Rome for further negotiations. On October 1, 1889 a modification of the Treaty of Wichale was signed in Rome between Crispi, the Italian Prime Minster and Maconnen which modified the original treaty in that it changed the boundary agreements to allow the boundary to be drawn at de facto possession of land, which infuriated Menelik II when he found out, and to allow Menelik II to borrow four million lire with the Italian government guaranteeing the loan with the customs revenue of the province of Harrar passing to Italy should Menelik II fail to pay the interest. One half of the loan would be paid in silver the other half would be in a Italian bank for purchases that Menelik would wish to make in Europe.9

Maconnen left Italy on December 4, 1889. On October 11, 1889 Italy informed other European powers through formal diplomatic channels of her protectorate over Ethiopia and used as evidence article 17 of the Treaty of Wichale. Most of the European powers accepted the alleged Italian protectorate.10

When in December 1889 Antonelli returned with Maconnen from Italy for further negotiations. Menelik II He did not inform Menelik II about the "protectorate", This was even after Crispi the Italian Prime-Minister had taken Antonelli to task for Menelik II having violated Article 17 (by sending a letter to the powers announcing his Coronation, for more see below), in February 1890. Menelik did not discover the protectorate until c. August 1890 and at the time he was already angry with the Italians over the fact that they had advanced well beyond the boundaries agreed too at the Treaty of Wichale. After signing the Treaty of Wichale and Menelik II’s coronation has Emperor he had sent letters to the various European powers announcing his accession to the throne. When the letters sent in reply from the European powers were translated Menelik II became quietly livid with rage. The Italian representative Salimbeni who was unaware of the differences between the two versions of the treaty, was on the receiving end of Menelik II’s anger. The letter from Queen Victoria especially made Menelik II angry. In it Queen Victoria replied to the letter in which Menelik II had informed the British of his coronation and of his desire to send representatives to both France and Britain. In her letter Queen Victoria told him that given article 17 in the Treaty of Wichale he should make all such approaches only through the Italian government.11

The resulting diplomatic wrangle was characterized by various Italian attempts to get Menelik II to accept the protectorate and Menelik II and his truly formidable Empress Taitu making it very clear that they would not accept the protectorate that had been deceptively foisted on them.

Empress Taitu

Antonelli attempted to blame Menelik II’s interpreter. There, however, can be no doubt that Menelik II never understood the clause to ever mean what the Italian version said and it is virtually certain that if he had understood it to mean that that he would ever have agreed to such an arrangement. Further it seems virtually certain that Antonelli knew enough Amharic to know that the Italian and Amharic versions were different.12

Upon learning the contents of Italian version of the Treaty of Wichale the Empress Taitu is supposed to have told Menelik II
How is it that Emperor Yohannes never gave up a handful of our soil, fought the Italians and the Egyptians for it, even died for it, and you, with him for an example, want to sell your country! What will history say of you? 13
Already the Italians had violated the Treaty of Wichale by advancing beyond the boundaries agreed to in that treaty. The deception indicated by article 17 convinced Menelik II that the Italians were not to be trusted.14

The resulting diplomatic rumble lasted for years. Although most European powers accepted the alleged protectorate, Russia, France and the Ottoman Empire did not. And Menelik II kept up a relentless diplomatic campaign and at the same time made every effort to militarily strengthen his kingdom.15

On September 27th, 1890 Menelik II wrote to Umberto the king of Italy to inform him that Ethiopia was no protectorate of Italy in it Menelik II said:
While talking to Count Antonelli at the time when the treaty was being brought to a conclusion, I questioned him with great seriousness, and he answered me in the following manner: ‘If it suits your convenience, you can employe us as your intermediaries; if not, you are free not to do so.’ I said to him: ‘If it is merely a question of friendship why should I emloy anyone but you in my external negotiations?’ I accepted at that time no obligatory agreement and I am not a man to accept it, nor could you advise me to do so”16
A rather tiresome series of negotiations, conducted with much verbal fighting, then proceeded to happen. Count Antonelli returned to Ethiopia and in early 1891 was negotiating in earnest with Menelik II basically to do anything to get Menelik II to agree to the protectorate. This included giving way on the frontier issue. 17

What is hilarious about the whole thing is that Antonelli thought he had got Menelik II to agree to the protectorate and signed an Italian and Amharic version of the new treaty. Count Antonelli then discovered to his absolute horror that the Amharic version of the treaty entirely abrogated the protectorate. When Antonelli confronted Menelik II about this Menelik II attributed the mistake to Antonelli’s interpreter and refused to discuss the issue further. Antonelli then repudiated the new treaty. 18

Since Antonelli had throughout this negotiations talked about how embarrassing it would be for Italy to disallow the protectorate, how injurious it would be to the honour of Italy etc. It is frankly likely that Menelik II and /or his Empress Taitu decided to teach Antonelli a lesson and see how he Antonelli liked having the same trick pulled on him. If the evidence we have is anything to go on Antonelli seemed to have been blissfully unaware of this and instead was self righteously upset and ripped up the treaty in front of Menelik II. I guess its all right to pull this sort of trick on a so-called “uncivilized savage”, but utterly unacceptable if the “uncivilized savage” pulls the same stunt on you. Ah the pleasures of hypocrisy.19

Amazingly during all this the Italians deliberately ignored article 19 of the Treaty of Wichale which stated:
The Treaty shall be written in duplicate in Amharic / (Ethiopic) and in Italian languages and both have equal validity and legal force.20
In that case then Menelik was being perfectly accurate when he stated that given the conflicting versions article 19 made the Italian and Ethiopian versions of Article 17 null and void and therfore abrogated the protectorate.21

The Italian response to all this was to try to create an alliance with Mangasha, the king of Tigre, and to try to buy and or bribe Menelik II. Basically The Italians tried to use the bank loan that Menelik II had created and the two million cartridges that Menelik II had bought with it. Menelik II in the meantime was making every effort to pay off the Italians so he would be under no obligation to them whatsoever. The attempt to bribe Menelik II with cartridges he had purchased failed. On February 27, 1893 shortly after he had received the cartridges Menelik II formally denounced the Treaty of Wichale in its entirety.22

The steady deterioration of relations between Menelik II and the Italians continued until war happened. Menelik II proved to be a first class diplomat and the Italians continued to underestimate him. For example the Italians through a series of foolish moves turned Mangasha of Tigre into their enemy. When Menelik II, in 1893, formally abrogated the Treaty of Wichale he relied on Article 16 which allowed either side to amend the Treaty five or more years after the signing if that side seeking the admendment gave one years notice of the admendment sought. Even assuming that the Italian reading of Article 17 was correct it would only last for 5 years if the Ethiopians gave such notice. Needless to say the Italians made no such admission, but acted like the alleged protectorate was forever. Gradually Menelik was able to establish his undisputed rule over the divided kingdoms of Ethiopia and to cement profitable economic and military arrangements with various European powers like Russia and France. He was able to purchase even more modern military hardware and also get the services of military advisors from France and Russia. 23

The end of all this was on March 1, 1896 an Italian Army of c. 18,000 men was crushed at Adowa by the Army of Menelik II numbering c. 80,000 including at least 60,000 modern rifles, plentiful ammunition, and 54 pieces of modern artillery. Over 4000 Italians were killed and along with c. 2000 Askari locally raised infantry and 1,428 Italians were wounded. About c. 2000 Italians captured along with a smaller number of Askari.24


Battle of Adowa

A few months later a treaty was signed at Addis Ababa by which Italy recognized the complete independence of Ethiopia. Among elements of Italian society this humiliation left a bitter taste and thirst for revenge. Eventually Italy under Mussolini would plan and carry out a war of conquest against Ethiopia in 1935-1936. The deceptive ease of the military conquest would prove to be a trap that would engulf Italy in a protracted, costly and brutal colonial guerilla war that would end in disaster for Italy in 1940-1941 when with amazing ease Italian rule in Ethiopia collapsed upon the invasion of very small British forces.25

All of this from the attempt to deceive Menelik II, who Antonelli, the deceiver, could not take seriously because he was an African. Sometimes nemesis comes in two steps.
 Battle of Adowa - Ethiopian Painting

1. Rubenson, Sven, The Protectorate Paragraph of the Wichale Treaty, Journal of African History, v. 2 (1964), pp. 243-283, at pp. 243-245, and Pakenham, Thomas, The Scramble for Africa, Avon Books, New York, 1991, pp. 472-473, for an over view of Menelik's foreign policy see Gabre-Selassie, Dejazmach Zewde, Continuity and Discontinuity in Menelik's Foreign Policy, in Ed. Milkias, Paulos, & Metaferia, Getachew, The Battle of Adwa, Algora Pub., New York, 2005, pp. 89-132.

2. Pakenham, pp. 470-473, Gabre-Sellassie, Zewde, Yohannes IV of Ethiopia, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1975, pp. 58-75, Erlich, Haggi, Ras Alula and the Scramble for Africa, Red Sea Press Inc., Lawrenceville NJ, 1996, pp. 98-109, Rubenson, Sven, The Survival of Ethiopian Independence, Heinemann Educational Books Ltd., London, 1976, pp. 290- 291, 316-329.

3. IBID. Pakenham, Berkeley, G. F-H., The Campaign of Adowa and the Rise of Menelik, Negro Universities Press, New York, 1969, (original pub. 1902), pp. 3-5.

4. Berkeley, pp. 17-18, Pakenham, 472.

5. Rubenson, 1964, pp. 249-251, Caulk, Richard, "Between the Jaws of Hyenas": A Diplomatic History of Ethiopia (1876-1896), Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, 2002, 153-176.

6, Ayle, Negussay, Adowa 1896: Who was Civilized and Who was Savage?, in Milkias, pp. 133-179, p. 145. The Treaty of Wichale is as follows:
1. King Umberto I of Italy and Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia commit themselves to the [Wichale] Treaty and Friendship and Commerce in mutual pursuit of peaceable and friendly realtions for themselves and for succeeding generations.

2. There shall be dipolomatic and consular exchanges between Ethiopia and Italy which shall operate with the immunities and privileges recognized in Europe.
3. Broad boundary delimitation line from Arafali on the Red Sea coast to the Sudan border with Halay, Segeneiti and Asmara falling within Italian Jurisdiction.

4. Debre Bizen monastry within the Italian zone is to remain Ethiopian territory in perpetuuity and to be permanently demilitarized.

5. Ethiopia can import / export merchandise via Massawa by paying 8% port duty.

6. The Emperor can import arms through Massawa free of charge and Italy will provide escort for their safe entry into Ethiopia.

7. There shall be free trade and commericial transit of people between the two countries but no large scale armed crossing of borders.

8. People of each country can live, move and do business in each other's territory in accordance with the respective local laws and customs.

9. When people from one territory become residents in the jurisdiction of another, they will retain their faith and denomination.

10. Disputes among Italian residents or among Ethiopian residents will be adjudicated by a judge they choose and if the dispute is between Ethiopian and Italian residents the case will br adjudicated jointly by Italian and Ethiopian jurists.

11. In the event Italian or Ethiopian residents pass away within the jurisdiction of one or the other government, their property shall be safeguarded until claimed.

12. Residents of one jurisdiction who commit capital crimes within another jurisdiction will be tried in their own national courrts and in accordance with their own laws.

13. The two Governments agree to extradite nationals wanted for capital crimes.

14. The Ethiopian Emperor shall take all measures to combat slave trading in his country.

15. The Treaty willl be in effect throughout Ethiopia.

16. The parties to the Treaty may change or amend the provisions of the Treaty five years after its adop[tion by giving a one-year notice regarding such intent; however, this is applicable to provisions relating to commerce and not to boundaries.

17. For whatever needs the Emperor of Ethiopia may have vis-a-vis European potentates, he can avail himself of the liason services of the Italian government.

18. In the event that there are two bids for goods or services of equal merit or value offerrred by an Italian national and by the national of another country, the Italian offer is to be favored by the Emperor.

19. The Treaty shall be written in duplicate in Amharic / (Ethiopic) and in Italian languages and both shall have equal validity and legal force.

20. For his part Emperor Menelik has hereby signed and affirmed the Treaty in the presence of Italian plenipotentiary Pietro Antonelli, on March 25, 1881 (Ethiopian Calendar) or May 2, 1889 (Gregorian Calendar) at Wichale, Ethiopia, and it shall be ratified in Rome at the earlist convenience.
From Negussay, pp. 144-145.

7. IBID. 147-150, Caulk, pp. 157-160.

8. IBID. Rubenson. pp. 260-265, Caulk, & pp. 194-199, 219-221, 230-233, Rubenson pp. 384-392.

9. Berkeley, pp. 17-22, Caulk, pp. 189-209.

10. IBID. Berkeley, p. 22.

11. IBID. Berkeley, pp. 24-33, Rubenson, 1964, pp. 247-251, 391-392, Caulk, pp. 214-225, Menelik II Website Here.

12. IBID. p. 33, Rubenson, pp. 260-265, 386., see Footnote 8, Caulk p. 252.

13. Caulk, p. 215, Menelik II website.

14. Berkeley, pp. 24-30, Caulk pp. 231-233.

15. Pakenham, 472-475, Caulk, pp. 269-324.

16. Berkeley, quoting Menelik II’s letter p. 33.

17, IBID. p. 32, Caulk, pp. 235-237.

18. IBID. pp. 34-35, Rubenson, p. 251, Caulk, pp. 235-267.

19. IBID. pp. 36-38, Caulk, pp. 243-260.

20, Negussay, p. 145.

21, Rubenson, p. 394.

22, Berkeley, pp. 36-38, Caulk, 235-267.

23. IBID. pp. 51-56, Pakenham, pp. 475-477, Rubenson, 395-397, Caulk, 269-324.

24. Pakenham, p. 484, Parkenham at p. 485 lists Ethiopian casualties as 7,000 dead and 10,000 wounded, Berkeley, 345-346, Berkeley gives Ethiopian casualties as 7,000 killed and 10,000 wounded, Caulk, p. 563-564, gives Italian losses has c. 4,900 dead + 1,000 Askari dead with 1,500 more wounded; all 56 of their guns, 11,000 riflesand c. 2,700 prisoners of which c. 1,900 were Italian and 800 were Askari, on pp. 566-567 Ethiopian losses are given as c. 4,000 dead with 6,000-8,000 wounded, Rubenson, pp. 403, lists the following casualties Italian (includes Askari), 7,000 dead, 1,500 wounded, and c. 3,000 prisoners. A letter dated March 31, 1896 from Yosef Neguse, (Menelik's Interpreter) states casualties has follows, 3,886 dead Ethiopians, 1,785 dead + captured Italians it gives the number of Askari killed or captured as 4,471, From Tafla, Bairu, Ethiopian Records of the Menilek Era, Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, , 2000, Doc. 151, pp, 457-464, at 463, Wylde, Augustus B., Modern Abyssinia, Methuen & Co., London, 1901, gives the following figures, 4,000 captured Italians and Askari in equal numbers, 5,000-6,000 Ethiopian dead and c. 8,000 badly wounded of whom c. 25% died at p. 212.

25. Pakenham, p. 486, Berkeley, p. 356, for the disastrous Ethiopian war of 1935-1941, see Sullivan, Brian R., More than Meets the Eye: the Ethiopian War and the Origins of the Second World War, in The Origins of the Second World War Reconsidered, 2nd Edition, Ed. Martel, Gordon, Routledge, London, 1999, pp. 178-203, by same author, The Italian-Ethiopian War, October 1935-November 1941: Causes, Conduct, and Consequences, in Great Powers and Little wars, Ed. Ion, A. Hamish, & Errington, E.J., Praeger Publishers, Westport CT, 1993, pp. 167-201.

Pierre Cloutier

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