The Politics of Empire: Ethiopia, Great Britain, and the United States, 1941-1974

The Politics of Empire: Ethiopia, Great Britain, and the United States, 1941-1974
by Harold G. Marcus

How do three highly different nations, with varying definitions of national interest, relate to each other? Harold G. Marcus here describes how, in the 1940s, Ethiopia viewed Great Britain as a potential colonizer and invited United States intervention as a counter. The British Foreign Office regarded Ethiopia as a "native state" on the periphery of its imperial interests in the Middle East, and actively sought to transfer primacy in Addis Ababa to its American ally, whose geo-politics interests in the region appeared congruent with Britain's. The United States had its own reasons for intervening in Ethiopia: it was concerned about the post-war economic order and wanted to break British economic hegemony in the Middle East; it sought landing rights for American airlines; and it wanted to demonstrate its interest in post-war reconstruction. From 1943-1974 America and Ethiopia had a donor-recipient relationship. Until the Korean War and the rise of Nasser in Egypt, American aid was spasmodic. Thereafter, Washington's geo-political strategies worked in Ethiopia's favor: she was able to obtain sovereignty over Eritrea, and she won important economic, technical, and military assistance, in return for which the United States obtained valuable rights to an important communications base and other facilities in Eritrea. American aid was always spare and mostly directed to internal security, even if it was termed technical or economic assistance. The Ethiopian government used American monies to sustain and strengthen the nation's ruling oligarchy and the supporting mercantile, bureaucratic, and military bourgeoisie, to the exclusion of the countryside and peasantry. Contradictions arose between urban and rural areas, best exemplified by the emergence of a capitalistic agriculture, which enclosed land and transformed the peasantry into a rural proletariat. Economic and natural disasters after 1974, when the military, aided by a massive outpouring of popular support, toppled the imperial regime. Unlike in the 1960 abortive coup, when Washington intervened on the loyalist side, the United States did nothing to save the monarchy. It no longer needed Ethiopia, the American facilities in Eritrea, or an ally on the African side of teh Red Sea. The military government appealed to Washington for massive economic and military aid, which was refused. Abandoned by its old ally, Ethiopia turned to the Socialistic bloc which contributed social and economic aid, weapons, and even fighting units. In conlusion, Dr. Marcus shows how the United States remained interested in Ethiopia, but on its own terms, and not as the country's patron.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
HAROLD G. MARCUS distinguished Professor of History and African Studies at Michigan State University, is the author of A Modern History of Ethiopia and The Horn of Africa, Haile Selassie I: The Formative Years 1892-1936, and The Life and Times of Menelik II: Ethiopia, 1844-1913 (RSP, 1995).