Seminar: Satan for one, angel for the other: a new look at resistance and collaboration in Ethiopia, 1935-41

Jagama KelloThis presentation will discuss resistance and collaboration during the Italian Fascist occupation of Ethiopia, 1935-41, the prelude to World Word II. Shiferaw Bekele, Associate Professor of History at Addis Ababa University, will cast a new glance on the topic on the basis of old and new sources: memoirs of Ethiopian veterans and patriots, autobiographies and analyses of Italian participants, and reports of members of the British armed forces who fought in Ethiopia to oust the Italians in 1940-41. Bekele re-evaluates Italian archival sources as well as oral history accounts of Ethiopian informants to reconstruct the major features of the 1935-36 and the 1941 wars and the (Ethiopian) Patriots’ resistance. (Photo: Ethiopian patriot Jagama Kello, middle, fought the Italian invaders.)

'Community collaboration'

Literature so far affirms that resistance was widespread in the country and that ‘collaboration’ with the Italians was limited and not an organized feature. But Bekele's findings are that ’community collaboration’ (from clans, parts of ethnic groups or religious communities) was quite large-scale. And except for the first year of the occupation (1936), resistance was not widespread, but limited to Amhara and Shewa areas and some parts of the Oromo regions, i.e. mainly in the central and northwestern provinces of the country. In terms of ethnic distribution, it involved mainly Amhara, Agew, Gurage, Oromo and Qemant peoples. As to religious affiliation, Muslims largely, though not exclusively, supported the Italians, and the Ethiopian-Orthodox (except in Eritrea) were predominantly resisting. The Italian occupation thus engendered new narratives of oppression among people of the Ethiopian empire, resulting in differential responses to resistance and collaboration, reflecting the precarious unity of the pre-1935 empire, a theme eagerly exploited in Italian colonial propaganda. The issues would come back to haunt the Ethiopian post-War imperial government, faced with various ethno-regional revolts.


Shiferaw BekeleShiferaw Bekele is an Associate Professor of History at Addis Ababa University (AAU). He got his BA (1979) and MA (1982) in History from AAU and has been teaching there for several decades.

His areas of research are the economic, cultural and political history of Ethiopia from the late 18th to the 20th century. He has published many essays and articles in journals and edited collections. He has also (co-)edited several books, among them Research in Ethiopian Studies: Selected papers of the 16th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, Trondheim July 2007 (with H. Aspen, Birhanu Teferra and S. Ege; Wiesbaden 2010).

Currently, he sits on editorial boards of four international journals in Ethiopian or African history. He is a member of the editorial board of the Hamburg University-based Encyclopaedia Aethiopica (1998-2014) and has been Hiob Ludolf Professor of Ethiopian History at Hamburg University, as well as a recipient of numerous international scholarships. At present, he is also the Executive Secretary of the Ethiopian Academy of Languages and Cultures.

Date, time and location

10 July 2014
15.30 - 17.00
Pieter de la Courtgebouw / Faculty of Social Sciences, Wassenaarseweg 52, 2333 AK Leiden
Room 3A06 (3rd floor)