Italian East Africa #1 (1938)

Italian East Africa #1 (1938)

Italian East Africa #1 (1938)
Italian East Africa #1 (1938)

Italian East Africa (Africa Orientale Italiana) was an Italian colony in the Horn of Africa. The dominion was formed on January 15, 1936, after the Second Italo-Abyssinian War that resulted in the annexation of the Ethiopian Empire by Fascist Italy, by merging the pre-existing colonies of Italian Somaliland and Italian Eritrea with the newly conquered territory. When established in 1936, Italian East Africa (the other Italian colony in Africa being Italian North Africa) consisted of the old Italian possessions in the Horn of Africa, Italian Eritrea and Italian Somaliland, and the recently annexed Empire of Ethiopia. In 1939, it had an area of 666,026 square miles (1,725,000 km²) and an estimated population of 12,100,000. The colony was administered from Addis Ababa.

Victor Emmanuel III of Italy adopted the title of “Emperor of Ethiopia”, although having not been recognized by any country other than Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. The colony was administered by a Viceroy of Ethiopia and Governor General of Italian East Africa, appointed by the Italian monarch. The dominion was further divided for administrative purposes into the six Governorates of Italian East Africa: Italian Eritrea and Italian Somaliland, plus four provinces of Ethiopia (Amhara, Galla-Sidamo, Scioa, Harar) each under the authority of an Italian governor, answerable to a viceroy, who in turn represented the Emperor. There were also forty Commissionerships. Italian East Africa was briefly enlarged in 1940, as Italian forces conquered British Somaliland, thereby bringing all Somali territories under Italian administration. However, the enlarged colony was dismembered only a year later, when in the course of the East African Campaign the colony was occupied by British forces.

Italy had possessed colonial territories in eastern Africa since the end of the nineteenth century. One of the first was the Benadir around actual Mogadishu in Somalia, that later was extended and become Italian Somaliland with the inclusion in 1926 of the “Oltre Giuba” territory. The first official Italian possession in east Africa was Eritrea.

Historians are still divided about the reasons for the Italian attack on Ethiopia in 1935. Some Italian historians such as Franco Catalano and Giorgio Rochat argue that the invasion was an act of social imperialism, contending that the Great Depression had badly damaged Mussolini’s prestige, and that he needed a foreign war to distract public opinion. Other historians such as Pietro Pastorelli have argued that the invasion was launched as part of an expansionist program to make Italy the main power in the Red Sea area and the Middle East. A middle way interpretation was offered by the American historian MacGregor Knox, who argued that the war was started for both foreign and domestic reasons, being both a part of Mussolini’s long-range expansionist plans and intended to give Mussolini a foreign policy triumph that would allow him to push the Fascist system in a more radical direction at home.

Italy’s forces were far superior to the Abyssinian forces, especially in air power, and they were soon victorious. Emperor Haile Selassie was forced to flee the country, with Italian forces entering the capital city, Addis Ababa, to proclaim an empire by May 1936, making Ethiopia part of Italian East Africa.

Occupation stamps were issued on May 22, 1936, in the just-conquered and created A.O.I. with three denominations — 25 centesimi, 30 centesimi and 50 centesimi — featuring the image of Emperor Victor Emmanuel III. Later in the year on December 5, four additional stamps were issued — 10 centesimi, 20 centesimi, 75 centesimi and 1.25 lire — also featuring Victor Emmanuel with a backdrop scenes of Ethiopia. All of the stamps were inscribed in Roman, Arabic and Amharic scripts, and included the date of 9 May 1936 to commemorate the day that Ethiopia was annexed by Italy. These are listed in the Scott Catalogue at the end of the section on Ethiopia (Scott #N1-N7).

In 1937, Governor Maurizio Rava created the first system of postal service stations in Italian Somalia, that later was fully enlarged in order to include all Italian Eritrea and most of Italian Ethiopia once World War II began. The occupation stamps were replaced with stamps of Italian East Africa on February 7, 1938.

The Italian victory in the war coincided with the zenith of the international popularity of dictator Benito Mussolini’s Fascist regime, during which colonialist leaders praised Mussolini for his actions. Mussolini’s international popularity decreased as he endorsed the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany, beginning a political tilt toward Germany that eventually led to the downfall of Mussolini and the Fascist regime in Italy in World War II.

Fascist colonial policy in Italian East Africa had a divide and conquer characteristic. In order to weaken the Orthodox Christian Amhara people who had run Ethiopia in the past, territory claimed by Eritrean Tigray-Tigrinyas and Somalis was given to the Eritrea Governorate and Somalia Governorate. Reconstruction efforts after the war in 1936 were partially focused on benefiting the Muslim peoples in the colony at the expense of the Amhara to strengthen support by Muslims for the Italian colony.

Italy’s Fascist regime encouraged Italian peasants to colonize Ethiopia by setting up farms and small manufacturing businesses. However, few Italians came to the Ethiopian colony, with most going to Eritrea and Somalia. While Italian Eritrea enjoyed some degree of development, supported by nearly 80,000 Italian colonists, by 1940 only 3,200 farmers had arrived in Ethiopia, less than ten percent of the Fascist regime’s goal. Continued insurgency by native Ethiopians, lack of natural resources, rough terrain, and uncertainty of political and military conditions discouraged development and settlement in the countryside.

Ethiopia proved to be extremely expensive to maintain, as the budget for the fiscal year 1936-37 had been set at 19.136 billion lira to create the necessary infrastructure for the colony. At the time, Italy’s entire yearly revenue was only 18.581 billion lira.

In 1939, there were 165,267 Italian citizens in the Italian East Africa, the majority of them concentrated around the main urban centers of Asmara, Addis Ababa and Mogadishu. The total population was estimated around 12.1 million, with a density of just over 18 inhabitants per square mile (6.9/sq km²). The distribution of population was, however, very uneven. Eritrea, with an area of 90,000  square miles (230,000 km²), had a population estimated in about 1.5 million, with a population density of 16.7/sq mi (6.4/km²); Ethiopia with an area of 305,000 square miles (790,000 km²) and a population of some 9.5 million, had a resulting density of 31/sq mi (12/km²); sparsely populated Italian Somaliland finally, with an area of 271,000 square miles (700,000 km²) and a population of just 1.1 million, had a very low density of 4/sq mi (1.5/km²).

The architects of the Fascist regime had drafted grandiose urbanistic projects for the enlargement of Addis Ababa, in order to build a state-of-the-art capital of the Africa Orientale Italiana, but these architectural plans — like all the other developments — were stopped by World War II.

On June 10, 1940, Italy declared war on Britain and France, which made Italian military forces in Libya a threat to Egypt and those in the Italian East Africa a danger to the British and French territories in the Horn of Africa. Italian belligerence also closed the Mediterranean to Allied merchant ships and endangered British supply routes along the coast of East Africa, the Gulf of Aden, Red Sea and the Suez Canal. The Kingdom of Egypt remained neutral during World War II, but the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 allowed the British to occupy Egypt and Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. Egypt, the Suez Canal, French Somaliland and British Somaliland were also vulnerable to invasion, but the Comando Supremo (Italian General Staff) had planned for a war after 1942. In the summer of 1940, Italy was far from ready for a long war or for the occupation of large areas of Africa.

Hostilities began on June 13, 1940, with an Italian air raid on the base of 1 Squadron Southern Rhodesian Air Force (237 (Rhodesia) Squadron RAF) at Wajir in the East Africa Protectorate (Kenya). In August 1940, the protectorate of British Somaliland was occupied by Italian forces and absorbed into Italian East Africa. This occupation lasted around six months. By early 1941, Italian forces had been largely pushed back from Kenya and Sudan. On April 6, 1941, Addis Ababa was occupied by the 11th (African) Division, which received the surrender of the city. The remnants of the Italian forces in the AOI surrendered after the Battle of Gondar in November 1941, except for groups that fought an Italian guerrilla war in Ethiopia against the British until the Armistice of Cassibile (September 3, 1943) ended hostilities between Italy and the Allies.

East Africa Campaign (1941)
East Africa Campaign (1941)

In January 1942, with the final official surrender of the Italians, the British, under American pressure, signed an interim Anglo-Ethiopian Agreement with Selassie, acknowledging Ethiopian sovereignty. Makonnen Endelkachew was named as Prime Minister and on December 19, 1944, the final Anglo-Ethiopian Agreement was signed. Eritrea was placed under British military administration for the duration, and in 1950, it became part of Ethiopia. After 1945, Britain controlled both Somalilands, as protectorates. In November 1949, during the Potsdam Conference, the United Nations granted Italy trusteeship of Italian Somaliland under close supervision, on condition that Somalia achieve independence within ten years. British Somaliland became independent on June 26, 1960, as the State of Somaliland, the Trust Territory of Somalia (ex-Italian Somaliland) became independent on July 1, 1960, and the territories united as the Somali Republic.

Scott #1 was released in the first definitive series of Italian East Africa, a set of 33 stamps issued on February 7, 1938 (Scott #1-20, #C1-C11, and #CE1-2). The 1-centesimi is printed in red orange using the photogravure process on watermarked paper and perforated 14. It features the Grant’s gazelle (Nanger granti), a species of gazelle distributed from northern Tanzania to South Sudan and Ethiopia, and from the Kenyan coast to Lake Victoria. Its Swahili name is Swala Granti, named for a nineteenth-century Scottish explorer, Lieutenant Colonel James Augustus Grant.

The Grant’s gazelle stands 30-37 inches (75–95 centimeters) at the shoulder. The females weigh from 77 to 11o pounds (35 to 50 kilograms) and males from 110 to 180 pounds (50 to 80 kg). Its coat is a beige orange on the back with a white belly. The Grant’s gazelle looks similar to a Thomson’s gazelle, except it is much larger and has lyre-shaped horns which are stout at the base, clearly ringed, and measuring 18-32 inches (45–81 cm) long. The subspecies are segregated by different morphological characters, such as horn shape and slight differences in coat color. These differences are not indicative of ecological separation as with some species. Grant’s gazelles are extremely fast; they can run 50 miles per hour (80 km/h), but larger males do not exceed 45 miles per hour (72 km/h).

The Grant’s gazelle is found in East Africa and lives in open grass plains and is frequently found in shrublands; it avoids areas with high grass where the visibility of predators is compromised. They also occur in semiarid areas and are relatively well adapted to dry areas, relying on more browse or leafy material during dry seasons to supplement their intake of water. They are migratory animals, but travel in the opposite direction of most of the other ungulates, such as Thomson’s gazelles, zebras, and wildebeest, which are more water dependent. They can subsist on vegetation in waterless, semiarid areas, where they face little competition.

The most common predators of the Grant’s gazelle are cheetahs and wild dogs. Humans also tend to hunt gazelles. In the Serengeti, Grant’s gazelle is a prey item for cheetahs, but the Thomson’s gazelle is preferred. However, in Nairobi National Park, Grant’s gazelle is preferred over Thomson’s gazelle, making it an important resource to the cheetah. Jackals are major predators of fawns.

The Grant’s gazelle is a gregarious, territorial, and migratory species. The home ranges of does overlap with those of the bucks. Only male gazelles are territorial. Male gazelles will herd all females that cross their territories. When the females are in estrus, they are strongly guarded by the dominant male, which prevents other males from mating with them. Any doe that tries to leave is aggressively herded back. Most of the time, the buck’s simple stance in relation to her is enough to keep the female from leaving.

Bachelor groups are made up of adolescent and bucks not holding territory. Any new members must perform intimidation displays to enter the group. However, bachelor groups tend to be very loose and members can leave whenever they want. The larger, older males with thick horns have the best chance of establishing a territory. Conflicts between adult males are usually solved with intimidation displays. The bucks circle each other and swing their necks from side to side, displaying their neck power. Neck strength is important in an actual fight and the male that cannot keep up yields. Gazelles of nearly equal neck strength are more likely to engage in actual combat. Fighting occurs in young bucks more often than older ones. Dominant bucks can simply run off subordinates rather than having to display to them.

Grant’s gazelles are generally mixed feeders that both browse and graze. Their average diet consists of 65.8% browse and 34.3% graze. Rainfall in their habitats seems to be the determinant of their diets. The Grant’s gazelle’s diet may also be responsible for the slow growth rates in the browsed plots. They get most of their moisture from the plants they eat, so they do not often have to drink water. Thus, they can stay on the plains long after the rains end. From July to September, gazelles move deep into dense brush and wait for the next rains. They will eat red oats and small, tough plants, which are avoided by the other ungulates. This allows the gazelles to survive in the brush during the dry season. Grant’s gazelles eat mainly dicotyledons during the dry season and grass in the wet season.

The Grant’s gazelle is still a common species, despite having been eradicated in certain areas. Major threats have been habitat destruction and poaching. The gazelle’s status as an unthreatened species is dependent on protection of the national parks and reserves where it lives, including Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Tanzania, and Lake Turkana National Parks in Kenya. Estimates of the population range from 140,000 to 350,000. While certain areas have stable populations, overall the population trend is going downward.

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