A year after the Berlin partition, Italy annexed Eritrea and started occupying territories along the key Red Sea port of Massawa on the Ethiopian side. Ethiopia considered this a provocation since Massawa was the empire’s economic gateway to the world. More so, it had only liberated the port from an Egyptian invasion nine years earlier. The Italians did not think of Ethiopia as a serious threat, though, and continued the advance. Under the Emperor Menelik II’s legendary leadership, Ethiopians made Italy pay for their complacency.
Menelik was an interesting figure in African history. He is generally known for his admirable military strategy against the invading Italians, but he was a power monger himself. At some point, he attempted to seize the Ethiopian throne twice from Emperor Yohannes VI in the mid‐1800s by allying with Egyptians and French armies. The attempted coup failed, but Menelik did successfully install himself as emperor after Yohannes’ death, passing over the late emperor’s own son. Menelik II expanded the Ethiopian army and brought many autonomous kingdoms under the empire. He even asked all colonial powers along the Horn to recognize his supreme authority. The Italians did not appreciate his efforts and sued for a treaty that might trick Menelik into submitting some of his territories in return for military aid.
During the diplomatic tussle between Ethiopia and Italy over the control of Eritrea, Menelik and Italian Prime Minister, Francesco Crispi, agreed to the Treaty of Wuchale in 1889. Again, Ethiopians were furious at the submissive agreement with an imperial power and Menelik’s three damning mistakes: Italy would not send him the weapons as promised (they might later be used to shoot Italians, after all); seceding some territories gave the Italians reasons to want more; and trusting Crispi to keep his word was simply ill‐considered.
In all fairness, the Italians tricked Menelik into signing the treaty under the impression that he still had dominion over key trade routes and most of his territory. In the Amharic translations of the treaty, Article XVII stated that Ethiopia ‘could’ have recourse to the good
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