|Ethiopia Table of Contents
A latecomer to the scramble for colonies in Africa, Italy established itself first in Eritrea (its name was derived from the Latin term for the Red Sea, Mare Erythreum) in the 1880s and secured Ethiopian recognition of its claim in 1889. Despite its failure to penetrate Tigray in 1896, Italy retained control over Eritrea. A succession of Italian chief administrators, or governors, maintained a degree of unity and public order in a region marked by cultural, linguistic, and religious diversity. Eritrea also experienced material progress in many areas before Ethiopia proper did so.
One of the most important developments during the post-1889 period was the growth of an Eritrean public administration. The Italians employed many Eritreans to work in public service--particularly the police and public works--and fostered loyalty by granting Eritreans emoluments and status symbols. The local population shared in the benefits conferred under Italian colonial administration, especially through newly created medical services, agricultural improvements, and the provision of urban amenities in Asmera and Mitsiwa.
After Benito Mussolini assumed power in Italy in 1922, the colonial government in Eritrea changed. The new administration stressed the racial and political superiority of Italians, authorized segregation, and relegated the local people to the lowest level of public employment. At the same time, Rome implemented agricultural improvements and established a basis for commercial agriculture on farms run by Italian colonists.
State control of the economic sphere was matched by tighter political control. Attempts at improving the management of the colony, however, did not transform it into a selfsufficient entity. The colony's most important function was to serve as a strategic base for future aggrandizement.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress