When the war was launched from the Sudan, the subject of discussion in the British parliament, and what was in the minds of the people, was the extent of British authority over Ethiopia and the nature of the relationship between the two countries. Concerning this ambiguity, We already have discussed in chapter XVIII the draft report that Sir Anthony Eden presented to the British parliament on Yekatit 4, 1941 [Feb. 11, 1941]; but, on the other hand, the authorities of the East African colonies ignored the subject which had been debated in the British parliament and were inclined to place Our country under their administration. Accordingly, the military command, which had its headquarters at Nairobi, included Ethiopia in what they called the “Occupied Enemy Territory Administration.” On our side, We strove to explain that the British government was working for the freedom of the whole world and to establish warm relationships between our peoples. At the same time, We had the duty of teaching Our people to be worthy of reciprocating their good deeds.
Before and after We returned to Ethiopia, We described the nature of the relationship between Ethiopia and Britain. We did so in our proclamations, speeches and in other appropriate ways. But the British military officers and troops in Ethiopia, pretending that they did not know the nature of the friendship and alliance openly debated in the British parliament, began to portray Us and Our people as though we resented British assistance. Major General Sir Phillip Mitchell, the Chief Political Officer in the British Forces High Command, arrived in Addis Abeba in Genbot 1933 [June 1941]. He came to Addis Abeba on his way to London for discussions with his government about the administration of Ethiopia. We exchanged views but failed to agree on certain matters. We also expressed Our disagreement with the ideas he suggested.
We feared that he might influence and possibly distort the attitude of his government and, for this reason, We asked him to present the following six ideas to his government: that London assist Ethiopia to establish her own military forces as soon as possible; to find solutions to Our current financial problems, and advisors for the Ministries of Finance and Justice; help to set up a permanent provincial administration; determine the amount of money Ethiopia had to pay for expenses incurred in the operation to drive the aggressors out; and, finally, sign a Treaty with Us.
Later, when General Wavell, the Supreme Commander of the British Middle Eastern High Command, came to Addis Abeba on Sene 21, 1933 [June 28, 1941], We discussed with him Our problems.
Among the British military officers in Ethiopia, there was a person called Brigadier [Maurice S.] Lush, who led a political group which had sinister intentions toward Our country.They spoke publicly that the purpose of their coming was to rule Ethiopia. They also claimed that the Ethiopian people hated them, though they were their liberators, and by doing so, they tried to destabilize the security of the country. Before we entered Ethiopia Our patriots led the British troops in the north, west, and east; and later, during the preparation for launching the assault on Nasi’s forces at Gonder, Our patriots, whose number was over a hundred thousand, were the ones who led the attack and fought on the front lines. But the British portrayed them as if the patriots had done nothing. While they broadcast their victories and the amount of booty they captured over the radio, they did not mention the names of Our patriots.
When Jima was retaken, it was Our force which defeated the enemy, and the British did not touch the booty on the field. But once it was brought to town, they took all, claiming that, according to the rules of war, everything should fall to the British. Moreover, they fought with Our troops, using tanks, and wounded Our patriots just to commandeer a truck that the forces under the command of Dejazmatch Geresu Duki had captured. Some judges who went to the place of the incident to investigate, testified that the British troops were at fault.
Mitchell, the man who came to draft a treaty and [Sir Robert] Howe, who was later appointed as British Minister in Ethiopia, began threatening Us by circulating rumors that, since Our only friend was Mr. Anthony Eden, the Foreign Secretary, British officers would administer Ethiopia as a mandate.
They spoke about and published in newspapers the imminence of violence and the absence of security in Ethiopia. Because of this, the resident military officer of the British in South Africa came but saw that the reality was far from what was alleged. He left Ethiopia baffled. The British in Ethiopia, led by Brigadier Lush, tried to divide our people along tribal lines. As the result of their propaganda and promises of protection, some tribes in Jemjem awraja became rebellious and mounted disturbances. We sent Ras Abebe and Brigadier Lush to the area, and the people, after meeting with Ethiopian authorities, changed their minds. It was found out that the cause of the problem was the resident British political officer, and, thereby, the plot was foiled. In Harer, the propaganda campaign conducted by a British political officer among the Gerri Kocher Somalis resulted in civil conflict. He was responsible for the bloodshed which occurred.
The British took all the military equipment captured in our country, openly and boldly saying that it should not be left for the service of blacks. For Our people of Eritrea, We issued a proclamation, and the British commander confirmed that their emperor had arrived and that they would achieve their freedom. If this had not been done, obviously the Eritreans would have faced problems stemming from the uncertainty of the situation. Although the maintenance of the occupation of Eritrea was understandably important for military reasons, the British expressed their interest in retaining it as a permanent colony.
Haile Sellassie Gugsa was the first person to betray Us and thus cause the Ethiopian forces to disintegrate when the Italian forces invaded. Despite this, the British military commanders divided Tigray into two sections and appointed Haile Sellassie Gugsa as the governor of one of the parts.
Nevertheless, as if his earlier betrayal was not enough, Haile Sellassie Gugsa was again caught corresponding with the Italians. As a result, the British took him into custody, and they kept him in Asmera. We explained the wrongs that Haile Sellassie Gugsa had caused and requested his extradition. The British military commanders informed Us through Brigadier Lush that they would do so if We promised not to punish him by death. Finally, they granted political asylum to a person who, in the first place, had deserted the Ethiopian government and people and had caused the disarray of Our forces; and who, later on, had been illegally appointed by the British themselves but removed when he was found to be an instrument of the enemy. They took him out of Asmera and gave him safe haven in an unknown place.
In general, the British stopped at nothing to divide Our people and make the government hated. They controlled the entire state revenue, including the sales and municipal taxes. Because of this, We reached a stage where We could not pay the salaries of Our workers. This brought Us enormous difficulties. The amount of the provisions they were commandeering for the purpose of the war was out of proportion, and although it was obvious that such practices would lead to the impoverishment of the country, they carelessly continued their unabated exploitation.
Despite the fact that the problems mentioned above were potentially capable of creating instability and were inflicted on Us daily, We tolerated all and continued to organize Our administration. On the other hand, We began to hear that some of our people were saying that we drove out one white man only to replace him with another. As they said on the street, if this was the result of everything, then what was wrong with the Italians.
Since all the African countries surrounding Ethiopia were under colonial rule there were a number of arguments raised to oppose Ethiopia’s independence. The slave trade was still going on, her boundaries were not demarcated, internally there was violence and bloodshed, and she needed European trusteeship. Such were the allegations against us.
To investigate these charges the British parliament debated the issues from left and right. No government in the history of the world was able to solve all problems at once and to straighten everything out miraculously. In fact it takes a long time and consistent effort to carry out such a task. Yet it was surprising that everything was exaggerated when it came to us.
The most exaggerated accusation against Ethiopia was the issue of slavery. For this reason, when We began laying the foundations for rehabilitating the country, We immediately issued a proclamation to abolish the master-slave relationship. This proclamation stated that Our pre-war proclamation had come to fruition.
The institution of slavery was deeply rooted in tradition and it was impossible to uproot such an ancient institution simply by writing laws. It should not have been held against us as a strange phenomenon either. Since far back in history, slavery had been practiced in the whole world; it was not an institution unique to Ethiopia. It is recorded in history that this practice has posed problems world-wide.
We also faced a number of controversial problems directed against our freedom. In the guise of advancing racial and tribal concerns, the British military authorities in East Africa advanced some proposals inconsistent with our independence. In response, We made a bitter struggle to wrest Our country from the jaws of the lion.
Accordingly, We dispatched a telegram to the then British Prime Minister stating the problems We encountered because of the delay of the treaty that was to be made between the British and Ethiopian governments. In a telegram he sent to Us, he indicated “I would like to urge Your Majesty not to be worried about the long time it is taking to complete the agreement. The reason for the delay is to draft the treaty in such a way that the assistance that the British government intends to provide to your country will not infringe upon the prerogatives of the Emperor and the independence of Ethiopia.”
We explained that financial assistance would be required to reconstruct Our destroyed country and early on We asked for ten million guineas to enable Us to negotiate further assistance from our friends and allies. At the time of the signing of the treaty, We were told that the request could not be met and We reduced it to five million. They told us that the authorized amount was exactly two and a half million pounds sterling. Accordingly, We signed a two-year agreement with Britain on Tir 23, 1934 [Jan. 31, 1942].
The agreement was signed by Us, while on behalf of the British government, it was signed by Major General Sir Philip Mitchel, Chief Political Officer of the East African British Forces High Command. The agreement was divided into 12 sections. The provisions required the British to appoint British judges to sit in Ethiopian courts, to assist the administration of Our imperial government, to train Our armed forces, to work for the repatriation of Ethiopians held as captives by the Italians, and seek the return of the properties of the Ethiopian government and the works of art taken to Italy, and ecclesiastical costumes and other things confiscated from the various churches and communities. On our part, We were not to ask the British troops, who were to stay in Ethiopia until the European war was over, to pay for their utilization of Ethiopian property. However, it was an undeniable truth that Ethiopia remained in serious difficulty until the war ended.
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