Diplomatic History of Ethiopia

Ethiopia is one of the oldest civilizations in the world, with its history spanning over three thousand years. Throughout this long history, situated as it is at a veritable crossroads of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, it has enjoyed varied relations with the outside world. Friendly trading relations have alternated with conflicts with external powers that often involved bloody wars. Ethiopia's modern diplomatic history can be traced back to the reign of Emperor Theodros II in the mid nineteenth century who sought to forge strong diplomatic relations with the outside world, most notably with countries in Western Europe. His vision of a developed and prosperous Ethiopia pitted him against all sorts of enemies and sparked off the need to obtain the best scientific and technical expertise from what he justifiably considered were the most advanced nations of the day. He received a number of emissaries of western nations at his court, trying hard to get their advice and counsel on how to develop Ethiopia. In 1868, he committed suicide when defeated by a British army.

Theodros' tradition of contact with western powers was closely followed by the Emperor Yohannes IV (1874-1889) who was equally aware of the value of maintaining good relations with the rest of the world, though he too had his problems not least with the Mahdi in the Sudan and with the Italian encroachments into northern Ethiopia. Notable among the diplomatic missions during his reign were the British delegations of Augustus Wylde (1883), Vice-Admiral Hewett 1884 and Gerald Portal (1887) concerning the withdrawal of Egyptian garrisons from Sudan after the Mahdi's revolt, the British promise to hand over Massawa which had been in Egyptian hands and their subsequent gifting of it to Italy.

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