The Real “Deal” Behind Eritrea & More Names To Blame

The Real “Deal” Behind Eritrea & More Names To Blame
— On this date on November 15, 1869, the privately owned Italian Rubatino Shipping Company signed a purchase agreement with the Sultans of Assab for the sale of its Red Sea port.   It was no coincidence that the purchase was made the same month of the completion and opening of the Suez Canal. At this time, Ethiopia had fallen into chaos following the suicide of its ruler, Emperor Tewodos II, a year earlier. Its newly crowned ruler Tekle Giyorgis II during this period struggled to consolidate power before losing grip, paving the way for the succession of Emperor Yohannes IV in 1872. Highland Ethiopia had very little,  if any control over the coastal region. The Assab purchase agreement was formalized between the then ruling sultans Ibrahim and Hassan ben Ahmad, and by Father Guiseppe Sapeto, an Italian catholic missionary who arrived in Ethiopia nearly thirty years earlier.   Father Sapeto was originally part of  a mission that had arrived in Ethiopia after a century long Catholic absence in the highlands since Emperor Fasilides had banished the Catholic Church following the brutal civil war caused when Fasilides’ father, Emperor Susneyos, had declared Ethiopia’s conversion to Roman Catholicism. Although the Italian flag was said to have flown over the port, it was not until 1881 when Italy formally bought that shipping company that the status of the port would significantly change.
On July 5, 1882 Italy formally declared Assab as an Italian colony. During this period onward, Italy exploited the ongoing wars between Emperor Yohannes IV and Egyptian expansionists. Italian’s colony of Assab slowly grew.   On May 2, 1889 King Umberto I and soon to be crowned Emperor Menelik II signed the infamous Treaty of Uccialli, whereby Menelik accepted the new Italian frontier.  On January 1, 1890, King Umberto I formally declared its expanded colony of Assab as Eritrea. (Photo: Asab bay, Straits of Bab-el-Mandeb-The First Italian settlement in Africa’  1880)  (Sources: “The Challenges Of A Society in Transition: Legal Development in Eritrea” by Yohannes Gebremedhin; “Eritrea”, by Mussie Tesfagiorgis)
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