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Africa during the Scramble: The Last Kingdom

Thande

The Great and Powerful Wizard, Opnohop Moy
Published by SLP
#2
It is entirely possible for this era of anarchy to continue for a few more decades and so for the Italian conquest to be successful. In that case I might well be writing an article arguing that the only way to save Ethiopia is for the civil war never to start in the 18th century.
I like this point being highlighted; I think there is a tendency in AH to fall back on a gradualist view of history that suggests country XYZ is doomed starting from an ineluctable trend of decline centuries ago, and you have to go back to a POD so early that the end result is unsatisfyingly unrecognisable--we want to see the Inca fight off Pizarro, not some vaguely related but totally different-looking native Peruvian state do it. But as you note here with Ethiopia, there is plenty of evidence that real history is more like punctuated equilibrium, and countries or groups can rise and fall far more sharply, with declines (or ascents) reversible. It's not quite the same as Great Man vs. Marxian tides of history, but I think that debate can somewhat obscure this one.
 

Alex Richards

She needs an artificial Mountain, not AV
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
Location
Derbyshire
#3
One thing which springs to mind with a Russian Djibouti colony- it feels like there might be a slim possibility that this port could actually end up falling to Ethiopia itself if Russia implodes, though likely it would still be in a poor position to bring in significant supplies.
 

Redolegna

Champagne Socialist
Moderator
Published by SLP
Location
Paris
Pronouns
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#4
Menelik had in fact so many guns, and good ones too, that coming back from a victory he turned down poet-turned-arms dealer Arthur Rimbaud who was looking to make a killing by selling him rifles. They were neither numerous enough or good enough for Menelik to be interested in them.
 

Thande

The Great and Powerful Wizard, Opnohop Moy
Published by SLP
#5
One thing which springs to mind with a Russian Djibouti colony- it feels like there might be a slim possibility that this port could actually end up falling to Ethiopia itself if Russia implodes, though likely it would still be in a poor position to bring in significant supplies.
Has anyone ever done a thing about Russian White emigrés helping Ethiopia in return for carving out a niche for themselves there? Seems like the sort of thing that could have happened.
 

Gary Oswald

Old and Foolish now
Sea Lion Press staff
Pronouns
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#7
Male Rising did that I think.
In Male Rising, the Tsar sets up a court in exile in New Moscow in Eritrea as a guest of the Ethiopian Empire.

I think Thande was thinking of something on a smaller scale, which did happen in OTL. In the 1920s Ethiopia recruited a whole bunch of officers who'd previously served in either the Russian Army or the Ottoman one but weren't welcome in the new regimes.

The most notable one on the russian side was Feodor Konovalov who remained in Ethiopia until the 1930s and gives an important first hand account of the second italian-ethiopian war (the version written in french anyway, the second draft was written in italian in order for feodor to win favour with Musoslini and is complete propaganda).
 

Death's Companion

General Ugg Apologist.
#8
In Male Rising, the Tsar sets up a court in exile in New Moscow in Eritrea as a guest of the Ethiopian Empire.

I think Thande was thinking of something on a smaller scale, which did happen in OTL. In the 1920s Ethiopia recruited a whole bunch of officers who'd previously served in either the Russian Army or the Ottoman one but weren't welcome in the new regimes.

The most notable one on the russian side was Feodor Konovalov who remained in Ethiopia until the 1930s and gives an important first hand account of the second italian-ethiopian war (the version written in french anyway, the second draft was written in italian in order for feodor to win favour with Musoslini and is complete propaganda).

Someone write the pulp novel of Cossacks routing the Italians in 1935. Inject it into my veins.



Good article btw but it left one key point about 1935 that I thinks needs more attention, even in total defeat the Ethiopans broke the Italian Treasury, the Spanish civil war played a big part in things but a lot of the shit WW2 performance came from the fact that Mussoluni's adventures in the thirties were far beyond what his state could afford or his military could do whilst also modernising.

The half a million men with shiny modern gear fighting it out in Ethiopia were never going to lose the battle, but they lost a different war because of it.
Surprised actually that there has not been too much talk of a potential earlier Great war influencing events in Africa. Admittedly its a blank canvas but if something broke out in the 1860s or 1890s it could change the map of Africa substantially.
 

Coiler

Connoisseur of the Miscellaneous
Published by SLP
Location
Nu Yawk
#9
I like this point being highlighted; I think there is a tendency in AH to fall back on a gradualist view of history that suggests country XYZ is doomed starting from an ineluctable trend of decline centuries ago, and you have to go back to a POD so early that the end result is unsatisfyingly unrecognisable
I think the "rivet counting" side of AH plays a big role with this type of thinking, as does an understandable sense of OTL results being inevitable. That a lot of the alternative results are indeed less-thought out country wanks doesn't help either.
 

SenatorChickpea

The Most Kiwi Aussie of them all
Patreon supporter
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#10
I like this point being highlighted; I think there is a tendency in AH to fall back on a gradualist view of history that suggests country XYZ is doomed starting from an ineluctable trend of decline centuries ago, and you have to go back to a POD so early that the end result is unsatisfyingly unrecognisable.
As a general rule of thumb, I think that politics can change very quickly; society takes much longer. I am not, obviously, talking about the social changes brought about following political upheaval or after a major technological advance: but basic ideas about race, class, gender, sexuality and so on.

Take that old chestnut of a CSA victory:

It's a gradualist rule of thumb that southern victory was impossible due to the sheer industrial and demographic imbalance of the war, and that any POD that would change that would be so far back to- as you say- make the scenario unsatisfying in its difference. That could very well be true, of course!

But I would accept- as a reader of fiction, and even as a historian- the premise that a series of catastrophic Union defeats combined with some sort of political and diplomatic disaster could eventually lead to some sort of negotiated end to the war.

However

If the question is framed as 'Could the CSA have used black troops en masse?' then the gradualists have the unimpeachable position: No, because that would require such a fundamental change to southern society first on an economic and political level but deeper still on the level of basic ideas of what humanity is et cetera... that it would not be the CSA. The question is as meaningless as asking 'What if the Nazis weren't antisemitic?,' or 'What if the British Empire was not exploitative of its colonial subjects?'
 

Gary Oswald

Old and Foolish now
Sea Lion Press staff
Pronouns
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#11
As a general rule of thumb, I think that politics can change very quickly; society takes much longer. I am not, obviously, talking about the social changes brought about following political upheaval or after a major technological advance: but basic ideas about race, class, gender, sexuality and so on.

Take that old chestnut of a CSA victory:

It's a gradualist rule of thumb that southern victory was impossible due to the sheer industrial and demographic imbalance of the war, and that any POD that would change that would be so far back to- as you say- make the scenario unsatisfying in its difference. That could very well be true, of course!

But I would accept- as a reader of fiction, and even as a historian- the premise that a series of catastrophic Union defeats combined with some sort of political and diplomatic disaster could eventually lead to some sort of negotiated end to the war.

However

If the question is framed as 'Could the CSA have used black troops en masse?' then the gradualists have the unimpeachable position: No, because that would require such a fundamental change to southern society first on an economic and political level but deeper still on the level of basic ideas of what humanity is et cetera... that it would not be the CSA. The question is as meaningless as asking 'What if the Nazis weren't antisemitic?,' or 'What if the British Empire was not exploitative of its colonial subjects?'
Ethiopia works as a perfect example of that. Centuries of increasing disunity were reversed in three decades in a political sense but in a social sense the seperate identities still remained which is something the country has struggled with over the last 120 years.

It's a useful rule of thumb, I agree, that the political structure can change a lot faster than people's views of themselves.
 

Jared

fatal softener
Published by SLP
Location
Over the rainbow
#12
Ethiopia was so weak in 1868 because of centuries of decline caused by various factors including the Oromo migrations wherein the arrival of a new people into the old Kingdoms led to increased religious and ethnic strife. These internal troubles culminated in a long running civil war called the Era of Princes in which there was no effective central authority from around 1730 to the 1850s.
This makes me wonder what Ethiopia's situation would be like if the Era of Princes ended a couple of decades sooner. I'm only passingly familiar with the period [1], but from what I can tell, since it was essentially ended by one conqueror, maybe a different conqueror could have done it earlier.

How would Ethiopia have fared if it had a couple of decades more of centralised state-building? Better? Worse? Might be worse if it means European colonial powers no longer underestimate them and/or arm rivals and rebels. Might be better if it means that they can get meaningful port access somewhere.

[1] ie I last read anything meaningful on it twenty-five years ago so I'm really relying on Wikipedia.
 

Charles EP M.

Well-known member
Published by SLP
#13
Great article. The logistics of all this are fascinating (and if you give Ethiopia better standing w/ rifles by 1935, there's still the airpower issue). The fact the great defeat of Italy boils partly to a trick backfiring is grand
 
#16
I've considered the long-term possibilities of an earlier and strongly Greco-Ptolemaic influenced state of Axum on Ethiopian history - a subject which I've been interested as a little-known offshoot of the Christian
East since I was doing my degree (including on Byzantium) in the late 1970s. The presence of the Axumite state in the Yemen in the 520s and its subsequent extension of influence close to Mecca in the era of the creation of Islam also has potential long-term consequences.

I suggest in my own Sealion ebook on the early Roman empire that Cleopatra could have escaped down the Red Sea to Axum or the Yemen and set up a Ptolemaic state in exile there - and in OTL she did send out a small force towards the Red Sea from the Nile to prepare for this sort of evacuation as Octavian was approaching Egypt but it was caught and destroyed by pro-Roman tribes. if she and Caesarion,as the son of Caesar and the Ptolemaic heir, plus a substantial part of their court and army, had got away to the foot of the Red Sea we might see a Greek-influenced Yemeni-Axum state develop in later decades and with
the right leadership create a coherent regime feeding off the Indian trade route for its wealth. Then this could expand into inland Ethiopia as the Yemen falls to the Moslems in the 630s (or to Persian allies earlier) and add vital resources and a sense of national cultural/ political mission as the heirs of the Pharoahs to the early Ethiopian state - and they could create a coherent system of overlordship of local tribes for a regular army. A rural rather than urban state as Red Sea trade dried up and fairly weak in international terms, but capable of adding extra 'punch' to the OTL state of the medieval period and being run from a (small) city not from tented camps by the C14th expansion? And later of seeing off the threat of the sultanate of Harar under Ahmed Gran in the C16th and being boosted substantially by Portuguese arms in the C17th? It might even not break up in the Era of Princes at all, but central power continue to outmatch the regional barons and the Galla tribes - if the royal family was more coherent or had a strong ruler in the middle C18th.

So what if Gondar was more like the embattled but coherent and warlike kingdom of Gondor (as in Tolkien)? And Tewodros had more resources and loyal vassals to work with?
 

Gary Oswald

Old and Foolish now
Sea Lion Press staff
Pronouns
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#18
I'm much less of an expert of classical history than you @heraclius but certainly one of the interesting things about it is how important North Africa was compared to Northern Europe. Italy had far more economic interests in Egypt than Britain. It's really only the muslim conquests that reverses that. I think any POD pre Muhammad, such as your fascinating Cleopatra one, could easily see more of sub Saharan Africa, Ethiopia etc, dragged into that trading network an the concept of Christendom in the way Scandinavia and Ireland were rather than isolated. Which probably means nothing like the scramble ever happens.

Of course on the flipside, there arguably was a sophisticated Egyptian cultured state outside of the Roman Empire in Sudan and it ultimately collapsed due to the rise of Axum and left relatively little legacy.

Airpower, armor, and artillery.
All of which were things the Ethiopians were trying to buy and struggled to get enough to compete, in particular they recruited black airmen who were british and american trained. The embargo certainly didn't help with that, it meant that had to compete against having to buy basic arms for their men, in terms of funds, but Ethiopia is a poorer country than Italy and even with an equal playing ground it would struggle to buy the same quality army. Especially since as @Death's Companion points out the Italians arguably couldn't really afford it themselves.
 

Thande

The Great and Powerful Wizard, Opnohop Moy
Published by SLP
#19
So what if Gondar was more like the embattled but coherent and warlike kingdom of Gondor (as in Tolkien)? And Tewodros had more resources and loyal vassals to work with?
Fun fact, someone with Ethiopian connections once wrote to Tolkien asking if that's where he'd got the name, and he wrote back saying it was a coincidence, as Gondor was originally called Ondor in early drafts before he added the G.

I'm much less of an expert of classical history than you @heraclius but certainly one of the interesting things about it is how important North Africa was compared to Northern Europe. Italy had far more economic interests in Egypt than Britain. It's really only the muslim conquests that reverses that. I think any POD pre Muhammad, such as your fascinating Cleopatra one, could easily see more of sub Saharan Africa, Ethiopia etc, dragged into that trading network an the concept of Christendom in the way Scandinavia and Ireland were rather than isolated. Which probably means nothing like the scramble ever happens.
I'd argue that the idea of a European vs North African split, rather than Civilised Mediterranean vs. Barbarian North Europe and Rest of Africa, would probably be the single biggest culture-shock for some hypothetical Roman, Greek or Egyptian time-traveller going from the classical era to the Middle Ages.