The Motives for Liberal Italy’s Colonialism in Africa – Dissertation

Posted on May 5, 2013

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Italian Soldiers in Libya, 1912

Italian Soldiers in Libya, 1912

Abstract

Italian colonialism was, in its time, unlike any other in Europe. It was short lived and arguably improvised. It had been unified in 1861, when the other European powers already directly or indirectly controlled much of the world. Moreover, one of the driving sentiments of the Risorgimento had been the right to self-determination, which clashed with imperialist ambition and was still very much alive in those who called for the regions of the Italia Irredenta (Italian in language but under foreign control) to be brought under Italian rule. Soon after Unification, though, many began to dream of a great Italy, a great power and a protagonist on the world stage. Prime Minister Francesco Crispi saw African colonies as a way to pursue Italian greatness while some identified colonialism with the solution to the problem of overpopulation in the south of the country.  Others, inspired by geographical societies and chambers of commerce, sought to create outlets for Italian commerce and new sources for raw materials to supply Italy’s growing industry. Examination of the reasons why liberal Italy acquired colonies in Africa reveals that none of these groups, however, seemed to stand out as the main contributor to Italian colonial expansion. Instead, from the acquisition of Assab in 1869 until the invasion of Cyrenaica and Tripolitania in 1911, all motives have contributed, to different extents, to the development of a colonial policy in Africa.

Table of Contents:

Introduction.

1. Early Italian Colonialism: Assab, Chambers of Commerce and Geographical Societies.

2. Entering the Scramble for Africa: from Tunis to Dogali 1878-1887.

3. Crispi’s Colonial Policy of prestige: 1887-1896.

4. Somalia: from Protectorates and Concessions to Colony.

5. Giolitti’s ‘Historical Inevitability’: Tripolitania and Cyrenaica 1910-1912.

Conclusion.

Appendix.

Introduction

The late 19th century British Prime Minister Salisbury had labelled contemporary Italian Prime Minister Francesco Crispi’s colonial efforts as ‘misplaced and suicidal African ambitions’ and Seton-Watson argued that Italian colonialism was ‘largely imitative’.[1]However, Italian colonial policies, albeit imitative at some stages, reflected a combination of problems unique to Italy among the major colonial powers of the 19th and early 20th centuries.  These problems were a sluggish economy, an underdeveloped industry, a struggling trade, a light weight on the international stage and huge emigration.

Roberto Michels agreed with the general consensus that liberal Italy never had an economic need to justify territorial expansion in Africa. Instead, he believed that Italy’s needs were also psychological. Some Italians sought to gain international prestige for the country, considered the least of the powers.[2] Gennaro Mondaini argued that although the official motives of early Italian colonialism were commercial and demographic, Italian colonialism was mainly an ideological movement, because it had no economic or social base to support it.[3]

This study will determine the motives behind the different Italian governments’ decision to acquire colonies in Africa.  Firstly, the commercial motive is important in legitimising colonial expansion: no one could argue that Italy’s industry and economy did not need to expand. For this reason, Grassi has claimed, liberal Italy’s colonialist policy was different from the policies of the great imperialistic powers, whose economies and industries were highly developed in comparison and needed to find new markets. In the Italian case the governments sought create the conditions for the Italian economy to expand and tap into overseas markets under Italian control.[4] Secondly, the demographic motive was pivotal for the establishment of African colonies as it brought together the Italian political class, convinced that Italian colonies in Africa could absorb Italian emigration. Thirdly, strategy also played an important role in motivating different Italian governments to undertake colonial ventures. The fear of encirclement and the fact that the Mediterranean, considered by many Italians as their mare nostrum, was virtually controlled by foreign powers convinced Italy that she should fight for a stronger position on this stage.  The quest for national prestige convinced many, within the Italian elites, that Italy should prove herself worthy of the ‘great power’ status. Despite the genuine nature of Italy’s problems, the country lacked the capital to quickly turn her African possessions into profitable. Consequently, much of Italy’s expansion in Africa was also driven by the will to ensure some colonies while waiting for economy to develop.

This study will examine, following a chronological pattern, the motives behind liberal Italy’s colonial expansion in Africa and the way they interacted in the cases of Assab, Massawa, Abyssinia, Tripolitania and Cyrenaica. Focus will be mainly given to the governments and characters which shaped the history of liberal Italy’s colonialism between 1869 and 1912.

1. Early Italian Colonialism: Assab, Chambers of Commerce and Geographical Societies

Colonialism had been subject to bitter political debate in Liberal Italy since the Ottoman Crisis of 1875. Contemporary enthusiasts looked at Albania, Tunis and Tripoli. Those who took sides against overseas expansion believed that Italy’s attention should be focused on regaining those Italian regions which were under foreign rule (Trentino and Trieste).[5] D.M. Smith has argued that, due to its position on the map which made it vulnerable to invasion or blockade from the sea, Italy’s foreign policy had become relatively aggressive.[6] Self-defence was not, however, the only motive behind the will to expand. Perhaps due to the glorious chapters of Italian history, including the marvels of Imperial Rome and the Renaissance, many Italians wanted a brighter future for Italy, more than just that of a young and neutral country. King Vittorio Emanuele II’s words reincarnate this spirit: “Italy must not only be respected, she must make herself feared”.[7] This ambition, however, pushed many in the history of liberal Italy to set expansionistic goals which were not easily achievable due to Italy’s status of the weakest of Europe’s great powers. For this reason, Naitza argues that at its early stages Italian colonialism was a sort of ‘merchant colonialism’, coherent with Italy’s moral, material and economic condition in the two decades after unification.[8] The opening of the Suez Canal (1869) promised to end the state of isolation from world trade that the Mediterranean had found itself in after the discovery of America.[9] In this context, attention shifted towards Suez and the Red Sea. Already in 1863, the Associazione Marittima Mercantile Ligure had reminded the government that, since the Red Sea would only be sailable by steamships, the acquisition of a refuelling station somewhere along the African coast would open the Red Sea ship route to India, the Far East and Oceania to Italian trade.[10] In 1869 the government was lobbied by the Chamber of Commerce of Genoa and into setting up a trading outpost in the Red Sea. A report was written by the chamber for the attention of the government:

We are not talking about vast territorial gains, which bring results that do not compensate the sacrifices made [to achieve them]. What we do want to propose is that Italy acquires, in those areas that our sailors now frequent the most (and those they will likely sail in the future), some ports in which we can give assistance to our citizens.[11]

Both the government and Italian capitalists had hoped that the opening of the canal would put Italy back into the centre of world trade by preparing Italian infrastructure for a new and more intense flow of trade. An improvement programme involved the expansion of the railway system, the enhancement of national ports and the building of the Frejus tunnel between Italy and France.[12] The Catania Chamber of Commerce also dispensed some advice that was of a cautiously colonialist nature. In an essay to the government they claimed that Italy was bound to become a colonial state, for its own benefit. Not to reach the level of major colonial powers, yet it should take a few bays and small colonies for herself. This was because –they thought- Italian colonialism should be driven by private enterprise with the support of the government.[13]

Atkinson’s research on the role of geographical societies adds depth to the debate on the nature of liberal Italian colonialism. Atkinson pointed out that geographical societies fuelled the initial thrust towards expansion in Africa. The most influential of all was the SGI (Societa’ Geografica Italiana). It was founded in Florence and its lobbying intentions became clear when it moved to Rome, once the latter became Italy’s capital in 1871. At the time, only 11% of the society’s members were geographers, while the rest were a collection of merchants, financiers, industrialists, diplomats, military officers and aristocrats. They composed what was virtually an interest group, which had an array of different reasons to demand African colonies. It is no coincidence that all the expeditions organized and funded by the SGI were directed to independent African states: Abyssinia (1870, 1876, 1891, 1895, 1897), Tunisia (1875), Morocco (1876) and Somaliland (1891 and 1892). Africa was the only continent where Italy could hope to gain colonies and the SGI’s interest focused mainly on those parts of Africa that could become Italian colonies. These expeditions played an important role in future Italian expansion, as they drew maps and carried out surveys that would later be used by the Italian military.[14] Among the members of the Societa’ d’Esplorazione Commerciale in Africa, the majority were industrialists. Within this group, cotton industrialists always constituted the largest subgroup.[15] Some of the SGI’s members had interests in expanding to Africa; and the most lucrative way to do it was by receiving the government’s economic support. Raffaele Rubattino, the owner of a leading shipping and trading company in Genoa and member of the society had ties with the government. Indeed, the government had put him in charge of building new maritime links between Italy and the North African Mediterranean coast. Manfredo Camperio, vice-president of the society, worked for the state to intensify trade between Italy and Libya by founding a number of trading companies as well as exploring the possibility for agricultural colonisation of Cyrenaica.[16] However, Italy’s status as a new nation among other well-established European colonial powers convinced the contemporary government not to try to directly acquire any land in Africa. Instead, Italian colonialism started modestly in 1869, in the bay of Assab, which was bought by a private trading and shipping company from Genoa, owned by Raffaele Rubattino.[17] In reality, it was a Genoese missionary, Giuseppe Sapeto, who was put in charge by the Italian government to purchase the port while officially it would be owned by the Rubattino company.[18]

At the Congress of Berlin of 1878, after Bosnia-Herzegovina was taken by Austria-Hungary and Cyprus by Britain, Italy tried but failed to obtain Trieste – a city which was Italian in language but yet part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.[19] The Documenti Diplomatici show that in the months previous to Berlin, and indeed during the conference itself, prime minister Cairoli and Count di Robilant, ambassador at Vienna, had examined the possibility of obtaining Trieste but had encountered Austria-Hungary’s hostility backed by Germany’s support.[20] Under this circumstance, Italy was offered Tunis as compensation for the other Powers’ gains, but Cairoli, a staunch Garibaldian, was focused on Trieste and the Trentino like many Italians. He refused the offer, claiming that at the conference he would pursue a policy of ‘Clean Hands’.[21] Indeed, Cairoli, preferring not to contrast the French, sought to maintain the status quo in Tunis.[22] Despite Cairoli’s unwillingness to subject another nation to Italian control, Tunis was a perfect choice as a first colony: it was very close to Sicily, and seizing it would have been a coherent move both economically and strategically. Moreover, about 11.000 Italians were living there at the time, attracting the government’s attention soon after Unification. [23]  As early as 1868 a Treaty was signed with the Bey of Tunis, which clearly suggests that, Tunis was more than just a trading partner for the Italian government. According to the Treaty, trading ships would expect the protection of the respective navies and merchants would enjoy favourable duties. The second point of the agreement stated that: “Italian warships [should] be received and treated, in Tunis’ waters and ports, in the same manner apt for the warships of the most revered and privileged Power”.[24] This particular document shows that, although Italy did not feel ready for colonial conquest, it acted in Tunis in terms of economic penetration. The agreement, however, was not one between states of equal rank, and the will to turn the North African state into a satellite state of Italy was evident; Italy aspired to be a Mediterranean power and Tunis was the most obvious output for this new ambition.

The early concept of colonialism in liberal Italy, as Naitza saw it, was merely ‘merchant’. Up until Assab, there was no pressure in Italy for a colonial empire. Liberal Italy was too busy with the building of the nation and, crucially, she appeared aware of the limitedness of its resources. Moreover, Cairoli’s refusal to take Tunis at the Berlin Conference shows that the principle of self-determination, central to the Risorgimento, was still present within Italy’s political elite and it would have made imperialistic colonialism an unpopular and incoherent policy.

Yet, examining contemporary data concerning the total trade between Italy and Africa, one can assess the nature of Italian merchant colonialism. The data provided by Podestà reveals that, despite an undoubtedly favourable geographical position, Italy’s volume of trade with Africa as a percentage of her total foreign trade was surprisingly small. Indeed, between 1878 and 1900, Italy’s exports to Africa never exceeded a 2.7% share of her total exports. Similarly, Italy’s imports from Africa in the same period never exceeded a 3.4% share of her total African imports.[25] Nevertheless, some Italian chambers of commerce showed a timid interest for Africa and lobbied the government for the establishment of small commercial colonies and the acquisition of ports to be utilised as base for Italian sea trade. It may be argued that, given the disproportionately small volume of trade that Italy had with Africa in the second half of the 19th century, the chambers of commerce thought that the Italian state should literally pave the way for a surge in Italian trade with Africa. In other words, it was down to the state to create the conditions for the underdeveloped Italian capitalism to expand to Africa while the very act of pushing new financial frontiers would in itself encourage the development of Italian trade. The Italian government showed it was receptive to this form of colonialism as long as it acted as a boost for the Italian economy. The 1868 treaty with the Bey of Tunis suggests that, although in no mood to affect Tunis’ sovereignty, Italy was willing to create a favourable situation for her capital in the North African country. Nevertheless, the Tunis treaty also suggests that the Italian leadership had started to play with the idea of being a Mediterranean power. However, the leading role that the state gave to traders and capitalists like Rubattino and Camperio in virtually laying the fundaments for Italian colonialism in Africa shows that in the two decades after the Italian unification, the state, albeit supportive of its private enterprise, was still avoiding large-scale colonial commitments overseas. It was willing to fund and support private initiative as long as it was believed that this would fuel economic development. The Italian government funded Rubattino’s purchase of the port of Assab precisely because an official colonial venture would be too incoherent in front of the electorate to be officially undertaken by the Italian state. Equally, it was an attempt to gain a foothold in Africa without encountering the opposition of public opinion that became much stronger in the next three decades.

2. Entering the Scramble for Africa: from Tunis to Dogali 1878-1887

Cairoli would come to regret his ‘Clean Hands’ policy of Berlin, when later in 1878, after witnessing strong French attempts to assert their authority in Tunis, he decided to dispatch a consul and an armed guard of marines, imitaded by France. He had pledged to maintain the status quo to avoid confrontation, yet in this instance, conflict was only just prevented.[26] Italy also came to realise that it needed to be respected as a power, if it were to acquire any territory in Africa, when Britain and Germany informed France that they would not oppose the occupation of Tunis.[27]

At Tunis, Italy was losing its secular cultural influence to France. Mussi had also told Cairoli of the possibility of obtaining agricultural concessions from the Bey of Tunis for the settlement of Italian migrants.[28] However, Depretis, like Cairoli, was adamant in maintaining the status quo in Tunis while at the same time France was breaking the balance in her favour.[29] France finally exploited her diplomatic vantage point in 1881 when, after a dispute along the dubious border with French Algeria, French troops occupied Tunis. Once France took over, the Italian community of Tunis would lose the rights and privileges it had acquired with the 1868 treaty, causing a diplomatic defeat that would reflect badly on the government in Rome in front of public opinion and would come back to haunt successive governments. To its critics, the government had just abandoned 11.000 Italians in French hands, and twenty years after the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy, this was not going to be taken well by Italy’s patriots. Those fringes of the press that were in favour of overseas expansion for the sake of prestige were outraged by what they considered a humiliation. The Rassegna Settimanale wrote: “The subjection of the north coast of Africa to France will bring it as a necessary consequence the destruction of Italy’s future as a great power”.[30]

Since Assab had been sold to Rubattino, in 1870, it had been virtually abandoned, as the Genoese merchant did have the necessary funds for its development as a modern port. However, in 1879, the merchant revived his interest for the port and asked from the government the deployment of a warship in the Red Sea to protect the post and an exploring party that was to search a way between Assab and the Abyssinian highlands.[31] Cairoli informed Rubattino that the Chamber had decided “with enthusiasm” to second his requests and two vessels would be despatched to the Red Sea to protect what he refers to as “our colony”.[32] Cairoli’s enthusiastic reply to Rubattino’s request shows that Cairoli was more than willing to have Italian warships stationed in the Red Sea. In a second letter he tells Rubattino that having a trading post at Assab was good for the economic interests of the country, as it would improve Italy’s naval presence and therefore her influence in the orient.[33] Cairoli was then practicing a policy close to the one advocated by the chambers of commerce: state-supported commercial expansion. Yet, besides the desire to expand the reach of Italian trade, there is a strategic motive to the decision to deploy the Italian navy in the Red Sea. Finally, the fact that Cairoli referred to Assab as “our colony” suggests that there was a feeling, in the cabinet, that the African port was an Italian colony as much as it was a privately owned trading post.

Assab was finally acquired by the Italian government in July 1882, stirring the Italian state towards open-air African colonialism. It was decided that Assab would enjoy the status of a duty-free port[34], presumably because, as it attracted very little trade, the Italian government wanted to encourage the Red Sea trade to use it as a trading post. Assab, however, was very slow at attracting trade.[35] Two years later, Italian foreign minister Mancini exposed the main weakness of Assab as a trading post when he asked Menelik, king of Shoa, to encourage his Kingdom’s traders and merchants to use the port of Assab as their trading post to Europe.[36] Indeed, Assab needed the hinterland’s trade to flourish as a trade centre.

In 1882, Italy was given another chance by Britain to assert her authority on African soil. After Khedive Ismail was forced to flee the country by a revolt lead by Arabi Bey, treated by the press as an Egyptian Garibaldi, Italian foreign minister Mancini rejected a British proposal for joint intervention in Egypt on the grounds that Italy did not have either sufficient troops or sufficient funds to embark on such expedition. As Smith notes, Francesco Crispi was among those who bitterly criticized Mancini’s decision not to intervene in Egypt and called it a great diplomatic failure for Italy.[37] At this stage, however, a number of high profile Italians opposed to colonialism, at its early stages. Garibaldi, representing those who had fought for the Risorgimento believing in the right to self-determination of nations, once said that a policy of colonial expansion put prestige before welfare and posed Italy under the constant threat of war.[38] Egypt, in particular, exposed the two opposing currents of thought within the Italian political establishment: on the one hand those who saw in the acquisition of colonies as the possible cause for economic disaster, while on the other hand stood those, like Crispi and the Monarchy, who believed that Italy needed to prove herself on the International field in order to be respected by the other Powers and considered a Power herself.

Yet, while Italy was in no mood for undertaking new ventures in Africa, the failure of Assab had prompted the Italian government to take further action when Egypt abandoned its garrison at Massawa, on the Red Sea, due to economic difficulties. Showing that Italy’s colonial policy still heavily relied on the other powers’ good will, Italy’s next colonial gain would only become possible thanks to a British invitation: when Britain feared that the political vacuum that formed in Massawa could be filled in by the French, the British government asked Italy to occupy the port.  While Britain hoped to benefit from a friendly presence near the Sudan, where British general Gordon was fighting the Mahdi, the Italian government sought to exploit the favourable situation and gain her first militarised colony.[39]

When Massawa was finally occupied on 5 February 1885, Mancini claimed that it was ‘the key to the Mediterranean’ and that it would open the Abyssinian market to Italian products.[40]  Italian motives for occupying Massawa seemed to be commercial as much as strategic. Yet, just like Assab, Massawa needed to become an output for Abyssinian trade if it were to become a successful trading post.[41] Milanese entrepreneurs had been aware of the ports’ flaws since they sent an expedition to east Africa in 1878 to explore Massawa’s commercial potential and assess the possibility of building a railway between Assab and the Shoa.[42] Italian authorities attempted to solve the problem with the agreement of March 1888, according to which the Emperor was required to use Massawa as his empire’s trading post.[43].

The circumstance in which Italy came to seize Massawa suggests that Italy did not take action because she was certain that the colony would become a successful trading post, but because she had been presented with the chance of seizing it under the patronage of Britain, while also securing its foothold on the African continent. Indeed, Naitza has argued that the seizure of Massawa represents the end of Italy’s merchant colonialism and start of a new phase of strategic colonialism.[44] The start of this new trend is demonstrated by Italy’s military occupation of Assab, in 1885.[45]  This decision had been taken on the grounds that, given the many deaths of Italian citizens in the area (mainly explorers), the colony needed protection by the Italian state. Mancini claimed that Italy had to assert her authority and prestige in the Red Sea. In his mind, a display of military force may prevent native aggressions, yet it would also improve Italy’s political position on the Red Sea and consequently in the Mediterranean.[46]

At this point, Italy held two Red Sea ports as support for Italian trade in the area but it was thought that to secure those positions it would be necessary to seize the hinterland too.[47] At the start of 1887, Italian troops moved inland from Massawa to implement di Robilant’s plan, which worried the Negus.[48] In response to the Italian advances, Abyssinian troops attacked Italian outposts. At Dogali an Italian column of 500 soldiers was ambushed and annihilated.[49] Outraged by the defeat, the supreme commander in the Red Sea, Gene’, asked di Robilant for the resources necessary to start an offensive against Abyssinia. He believed that Massawa on its own was not worth Italy’s economic efforts and suggested to take the chance, fight the Negus with strength, and finally seize the Abyssinian highlands. This way, he thought, Italy could strengthen her position on the Red Sea by seizing those markets needed to make the occupation of Assab and Massawa worthwhile. Nevertheless, di Robilant vehemently rejected the commander’s plan, complaining that Italy could not realistically afford a full-scale conflict in east-Africa.[50] Arguably, had the Italian government planned to conquer Abyssinia, di Robilant would have taken the chance to exploit Dogali, but the fact that he refused shows that, at least in the short-term, the Italian government did not yet plan, nor could it afford, to create a true east African empire.

3. Crispi’s Colonial Policy of prestige: 1887-1896

While Dogali widened the gap in Italy between colonialists and anti-colonialists, it also contributed to Depretis’ government’s fall, while favouring the ascent of Francesco Crispi, who was appointed interim prime minister. Historiography differs on the character of Crispi and the nature of his contribution to the Italian colonial struggle. Indeed, Naitza argues that though the man had once opposed the expedition to Massawa, he had come to the conclusion that national prestige coincided with that of the armed forces and the monarchy. Accordingly, once he became interim prime minister and foreign minister, he initiated a policy of military strengthening and colonial conquest, aimed specifically at improving Italy’s national prestige.[51] Challenging Naitza’s view on Crispi is Segrè’s statement that “he [Crispi] never launched a truly ambitious and expansionistic colonial program during his two ministries”; instead “he confined himself to consolidating Italy’s position in East Africa while pursuing the local intrigues that he had inherited from his predecessors”.[52]

There is no doubt that Crispi’s idea of foreign policy was aggressive in nature. Indeed, he made his stance on African colonies clear when he had claimed that colonies were “a necessity in modern life”.[53] His idea policy was centred on the pursuit of prestige for Italy and her armed forces. As early as 1877 he told prime minister Depretis that Italy had to “make her strength felt” should complications arise from the Russo-Turkish war and that “at no matter what cost, Italy [had to] complete her armaments”. Later, as minister of the interior, after a meeting with King Vittorio Emanuele II, he wrote in a letter to Depretis that “the King [felt] the need to crown his lifework with a victory which shall give [the] army the power and prestige it [lacked] in the eyes of the world”.[54]

A decade later, in July 1887, Depretis died during his third mandate as Prime Minister and the King appointed Crispi as Depretis’ interim successor. Crispi now had the chance to put his ideas on foreign policy into practice. Yet, his focus was directed from the start of his ministry towards France, rather than Africa.  Italy had become a unified state less than three decades before Crispi became prime minister and he was now adamant in turning Italy into a European and Mediterranean power. France was Italy’s main rival on the latter stage: and it was not going to give up her political, commercial and military superiority easily. Nevertheless, good relations with France were vital to the Italian economy, which was deeply reliant on French capital and trade with France herself. This meant that France could impose its own terms when it came to stipulating commercial treaties and exercise enormous amounts of pressure on Italy, should the situation require it.[55] Tension between the two states ran high until Crispi initiated a trade war over tariffs. Crispi spectacularly miscalculated Italy’s position as he boasted about the “beginning of the economic war” with France, and told the Senate: “it will not be us; it will not be Italy, that suffers the most”.[56] Instead, the ‘Tariff War’ was disastrous for Italy, as exports to France plummeted by two thirds.[57]

After the utter failure of the Tariff War, Crispi turned his attention to Africa. As stated earlier in this chapter, Italy’s success on the Red Sea depended on Abyssinia’s will to satisfy Italy’s commercial needs: an unacceptable situation for anyone who, like Crispi, dreamed of Italy as a great power. Crispi’s government’s first major contribution to Italian colonialism in Africa was the Treaty of Uccialli, signed with Menelik in May 1889. The King of Shoa was fighting a civil war against the late Negus John’s son, Ras Mangasha who also claimed the throne of the Abyssinian Empire. With the treaty, Italy had obtained land in the Abyssinian hinterland in exchange for the recognition of Menelik’s claim to the imperial throne, the supply of arms and funds to fight his opponents.[58] The Treaty of Uccialli showed Italy’s intention to supervise Abyssinia’s relations with other European powers with its 17th point, which stated that Menelik agreed to delegate Abyssinia’s talks with foreign states to Italian agents and which Crispi had used to announce a protectorate over the African state. Moreover, the treaty finally procured Italy with the highlands west of Massawa.[59]  In his famous Palermo speech from October 1889 Crispi showed how elusive his motives for Italian colonial expansion in Africa actually were (See appendix 3). Crispi spoke of African colonies as a source of ‘air’, vital for Italy’s survival. It was a speech permeated with rhetoric, yet it can be argued that it shows how even Crispi was not certain about how to justify colonialism in East Africa. A year later, he seemed to understand that the only way to legitimise Italian colonialism in front of the masses was to give it commercial and demographic motives.[60] (See appendix 4).

Segrè claimed that, along with the symbolic power of African colonies, colonialism attracted great enthusiasm from Italian politicians when it was portrayed as a solution to Italy’s massive emigration. He argues that land colonization policies were always the focal point of the colonialist policies of liberal Italy. The country, in the late 19th century, was overcrowded and at the time of Crispi’s 1890 speech, around 200.000 Italians were emigrating annually. It became clear that successful demographic colonies were necessary to a country that did not want to keep losing great numbers of its citizens. Eventually, when Crispi spoke of Italy’s mission in Abyssinia, he claimed that Italy’s main purpose there was to redirect Italian emigration to Italian colonies (See appendix 4).[61] Crispi demographic plan was one that few in Italy could dislike. In June 1889, Crispi put Leopoldo Franchetti in charge of the program of settlement of Eritrea. In 1890, he regrouped all of Italy’s Red Sea possessions under one single colony called Eritrea.[62] In June 1891, Franchetti presented his settlement plan to the new government: it consisted in state-subsidised settlement. The program, however, never took off and emigration rates to foreign countries kept growing. Bruner attributes this trend to the choice that potential migrants faced: they could choose between an unknown African land or one of the main emigrant destinations of Western Europe and the Americas that offered well-developed social infrastructure: the final choice was easy for the vast majority of migrants.[63]

Despite Crispi’s apparent optimism, the situation in east Africa was unstable. In September 1890, Menelik had questioned the treaty of Uccialli. He declared that according to the Amharic version of the document the Negus was allowed, rather than obliged, to delegate Abyssinia’s relations with European powers to Italian diplomats. The quarrel that followed caused years of fruitless negotiations between Italy and Menelik who demanded that the ‘protectorate paragraph’ be revised.[64] The debate over this paragraph is important in determining the nature and motives Italian colonialism in Abyssinia. Rubenson is convinced that there was, on the Italian side, the intention to limit Abyssinian sovereignty.[65] Giglio, focusing instead on the unpublished memoirs of Pietro Antonelli (the Italian ambassador to Menelik in charge of negotiating the Treaty), stresses the latter’s recurrent claim that the ‘protectorate paragraph’ did not imply an obligation, but an option.[66] Rubenson’s research on Italy’s early relations with Menelik seems to confirm that Italy cautiously attempted to assert some authority on Abyssinia, but did not initially seek a protectorate.[67] Crispi had only exploited the Treaty to enhance Italy’s prestige when he notified the European powers that Ethiopia had become an Italian protectorate.[68] Whether Antonelli had acted in accordance with Crispi to create a misunderstanding with Menelik is debatable, but the notification to the powers suggests that the prime minister wanted a protectorate at all cost.

In May 1889, Crispi ordered for the occupation of Asmara, despite opposition from the cabinet.[69] Crispi also wished to push into Tigray and had the support of the King. However, the commander of the Italian forces in Abyssinia, Baldissera, believed the plan to be too risky and protested. Crispi replied: “You want to make peace with Alula (the Abyssinian official who had led the Dogali ambush), while I want him to be punished for the massacre at Dogali”. Baldissera was immediately replaced with general Orero, who advanced into Tigray and occupied its capital Adowa. Crispi telegraphed his congratulations and ordered him to wait at Adowa for reinforcements. However, shortly after Orero abandoned the village, which he thought could not be held any longer without reinforcements.[70] Crispi resigned from office in 1891 and in 1893, Menelik, suspicious of Italian intentions, formally repudiated the Uccialli Treaty putting Italy into a dangerous position. As Italian troops advanced further into Abyssinian territory to submit Menelik into accepting the protectorate, the latter allied himself with his rivals to fight against Italy. To make things worse, France had recently started to build a railway between Addis Ababa and French Djibouti, which would allow Abyssinian trade to merely bypass the Italian ports in Eritrea; Menelik saw a chance to free himself of his reliance on Italian ports for trade.[71] Crispi returned to power as prime minister in the same year and revived his aggressive policy of expansion, opposed by then minister of finance Sidney Sonnino who, like Count di Robilant Before him, strongly opposed to an expensive war in Abyssinia.[72] Crispi told the new commander in Abyssinia, general Baratieri, that he had to win a victory for the sake of Italian dignity and prestige, despite the limited resources (See appendix 5).[73]

Baldissera had in his time opposed to occupying Adowa, his successor Orero retreated shortly after occupying it and Baratieri had demanded more men to succeed in his task, aware that his army was greatly outnumbered by Abyssinian troops. It is then evident that seizing Tigray was seen considered an unwise move under the military point of view. Moreover, Italy could not yet afford a full scale war. Even the chamber of commerce in Milan criticised the militaristic turn that Italian colonialism had taken in Abyssinia and told the government that this policy of military expansion drained the Italian economy while colonial policy should aim at free commercial operation.[74]  The military campaign eventually ended in a disastrous manner. Baratieri’s army advanced into Adowa, encouraged by Crispi, and was decimated by a huge Abyssinian force.[75]

In this instance, Crispi did not seem interested in the strategic, commercial or demographic sides of colonialism, but in the prestige it could bring to the Italian nation. Indeed, the prime minister’s own words confirm that his aim in Africa was enhancement of Italian prestige: “A defeat in Abyssinia will remove any claim we might have to be regarded as a great power in Europe… A good victory will solve our problems”.[76] Public opinion too seemed hostile to the form of imperialistic colonialism that had originated from Massawa, when it was interested at all. When news reached Italy of the defeat at Dogali, students and irredentists gathered in squares around the country to protest against Italy’s African venture. A large protest was carried out in front of the parliament’s building. But it is during the campaign that led to Adowa that the protests increased in size and importance. Demonstations were organised in the main Italian cities, mainly by groups of socialists who became known as antiafricanisti. They believed that imperialist conquest was being imposed to the Italian people for the interests of the elites rather than the country as a whole.[77] The socialist paper Critica Sociale wrote that the African venture was “mostly a militaristic, not capitalist phenomenon, feeding royal interest”. The liberal L’Idea Liberale claimed that Italy “had gone to Africa to imitate the rest, to have our own piece of ‘black continent’ drawn on a map”. The Gazzetta Piemontese paper explained that the unrest was for the most part due to the fact that people hadn’t even heard of the places where Italian soldiers were fighting and dying.[78] The military disaster at Adowa prompted riots and protests across northern Italy and Crispi resigned as prime minister.[79] 91.000 people who asked for total withdrawal from Africa signed a petition.[80] Podestà claimed that “Italian colonialism had, since the beginning, a remarkably populist character”.[81]  This statement is by no means accurate: colonialism in Italy did not attract much attention from the people. From Massawa to Adowa colonialism had been something that belonged to the elites: merchants, industrialists and politicians. Italy acquired the Eritrean colony to secure its position on the Red Sea and attempted to assert its authority on Abyssinia to redirect its trade towards Italian ports on the Eritrean coast. Crispi’s motives for expansion in Abyssinia appear of a different nature. Duggan’s biography of the Italian statesman tells of a man that had always been concerned with Italy’s prestige and his will to advance into Abyssinia in 1896, in the name of Italian dignity, defiant of all advice, proves that he was concerned with the prestige and respect that a total victory in Africa could bring to his country. Neither in his correspondence, nor in the one of his colonialist predecessors is there mention of public opinion as something that African conquests could turn to their favour. Colonialist policies were pursued discretely; Crispi’s being the exception, to appease public opinion that was mostly against African colonies.

4. Somalia: from Protectorates and Concessions to Colony

Mancini had showed his real intentions for Africa later in 1885. Addressing Parliament, he called for the solution of Italy’s emigration problem, which was then reaching “alarming heights”. His plan of action consisted in punishing the tribesmen guilty for the massacre of an Italian explorer and his party, occupying the coast north of Assab, assessing the commercial viability of the Eritrean hinterland and of Somalia  and the navigability of the river Juba (See Appendix 1).[82] This was the first time that an Italian government showed serious interest in the Somali coast.

After the Italian occupation of Massawa, explorer Antonio Cecchi was sent to Zanzibar and its mainland possessions to assess their commercial potential and that of the Juba. Accompanied by Navy commander Matteo Fecarotta, he carried out unsuccessful talks concerning eventual concessions on the Benadir Coast with the Sultan of Zanzibar. Interest in Italy for the Somali coast was growing and the government in Italy appointed Vincenzo Filonardi consul at Zanzibar, where he was based as a respected merchant: he had been chosen because of his commercial expertise.[83] Arguably, giving such a delicate job to a merchant and not to a professional diplomat was in itself a sign that, in the Somali case at least, merchant colonialism was still motivating Italy to look at Africa for economic expansion. Italian efforts in Somalia had mainly focused on the Benadir coast. However, in 1888, after years of fruitless negotiations with the Sultan of Zanzibar, Obbia’s Sultan Yusuf Ali asked for Italian protection following a dispute with the Sultan over a small Somali village. Prime Minister Crispi did not waste this opportunity and sent a naval squadron to the Red Sea to declare a protectorate and occupy the area. The Sultanate of the Mijjertein soon followed and suddenly Italy found it had gained a foothold on the coast of northern Somalia.[84] When, in 1893, Italy finally obtained the Benadir concession from the Sultan of Zanzibar (The concession stretched from south of Obbia to the Juba River) she had gained virtual control over the coast stretching from Cape Guardafui in the north to the Juba River in the south.[85] Italy’s motives in acquiring the Benadir concessions seem confused. The Benadir was almost immediately handed to the administration of the Societa’ Commerciale Filonardi, a private company headed by Filonardi himself. Podestà believes that the main reason Italy did not assume full control of the concession lays in that the country could not afford economically to militarise and colonise it. Secondly, he argues that Crispi was aware that a commercial colony would be more easily accepted by those in the Chamber of Deputies who stood against African colonialism. Indeed, back in the spring of 1889, Crispi had claimed in front of the Chamber that, in Benadir, he did not wish to establish a military colony like Eritrea. Instead he intended to place it under the management of a commercial company, apt to economic penetration rather than military occupation.[86] Yet, as Grassi saw it, the Somali case marked the end of Italy’s merchant colonialism in Africa.

Filonardi handed to the government a document outlining the company’s constitution plan. It reveals that the Italian state and the company itself planned for more than simple economic penetration:

The Filonardi & C. assumes administration rights of the Benadir ports to the purpose of implementing, promoting and developing the commerce, industry, land cultivation and immigration of Italian settlers within the territories of east Africa under Italian influence.[87]

Surprisingly, Filonardi states that the soon-to-be company will have as its aim to facilitate the settlement of Italian immigrants in the area who would not only practice trade and manufacturing, but also farming.[88] Filonardi’s commitment to promote the settlement of Italian immigrants seems hardly justifiable as reports from explorers visiting the area suggest that the Benadir’s suitability as a settlement colony was very much dubious.[89]

The Italian government had showed the will to avoid great economic and military involvement; yet it did attempt to keep the Filonardi Company under  control. The state was indirectly the major stakeholder in the company through the Banco di Roma, which was the company’s biggest creditor.[90] Secondly, when Filonardi took control over the Benadir it was agreed with the local chiefs that all uncultivated lands would become property of the Italian government and that the government would enjoy exclusive control on minerals and all sources of raw materials.[91] Thridly, Filonardi given by the state a 300.000 lire annual payment to last for 25 years to fund the company’s administration expenses, the construction of a commercial port, surveillance of the slave trade and arming of an Italian ship to patrol the coast. Finally, the foreign minister would personally retain the final say over any treaty and contract that would extend the concession’s borders and those agreements with which the company may want to return the concession or parts of it.[92] The Benadir operation was motivated by merely economic purposes on the surface, but the Italian state’s reluctance to give up its control over the Filonardi company suggests, as argued by Podestà, that Crispi only used merchant colonialism as a mask for his will to gain colonies.

Antonio Cecchi, the successor of Filonardi as Italian consul at Zanzibar, did not admire the latter’s work in the Benadir. As Filonardi had been the advocate for an Italian merchant colonialism, Cecchi was to work in the Interest of the Italian cotton industry in the new east African colony. If the Italian industry had not needed African expansion before Adowa, by the mid-1890s Italy had gone through a belated industrial revolution. Although northern Italian cotton industrials were still looking to expand within the national market, some entrepreneurs had started to consider tapping into foreign markets. Between 1883 and 1890 Italy’s cotton textiles import rates had halved as a result of the dramatic increase in the productive capacity of her cotton industry. For this reason many cotton industrialists looked at east Africa as a possible outlet for their industry and subscribed to the Societa’ per l’esplorazione commerciale in Africa. One of those men, Giorgio Mylius, was pushed by Cecchi, his a close relative, to visit the Benadir concession, assess the possibility of cultivating cotton and examine the potential of the colony to become an output for the Italian cotton industry. The Benadir had in fact been known to have its own cotton plantation and a primitive textile industry. For this purpose, after the visit, Mylius wrote a report for Cecchi where he considered himself very positive about the potential of the concession. Indeed, he believed that a modern and irrigated agriculture could boost cotton production and that the introduction of machines would create a highly fruitful textile industry. However, Mylius also confessed that the colony would not be suitable as an importer of Italian textile goods as its market was an importer of American and Indian textiles, which were too cheap for the Italian industry to compete with.[93] In June 1896, despite the widespread diffidence in colonial policy brought by the humiliating defeat at Adowa, sufficient investment was gathered for a new commercial company, created at the Societa’ per l’esplorazione in Africa in Milan.[94] The Filonardi Company was dismissed by the Italian government and replaced with the Anonymous Company of Benadir. Again, the Italian government sought to avoid full commitment although the government itself had been pushing for the creation of the new company. Indeed, Crispi and the Italian government had for months tried to find the necessary capital for the new company by contacting investors, often appealing to the patriotic sense of those he asked. The fact that Crispi had to appeal to the patriotic sense of investors shows that they knew as well Crispi that there was little profit to be made out of the Benadir.[95] The company was given carte blanche for what concerned the financial administration of the colony and an annual subsidy slightly greater than the one that had been granted to the Filonardi Company but again absolved itself of the obligation to defend the colony from military attack.[96]  The Benadir Company, Grassi argued, was only a form of indirect colonialism with which Italy formally refused, on the surface, to be accountable for the concession militarily and economically. With time, the ca. 192.000 lire annual fee that the Benadir Company had to pay the Sultan of Zanzibar for the concession turned out to be too large a price for the company to sustain, as it had been for the Filonardi Company.[97] The company did not make the profit its investors hoped for and was accused of speculation, as virtually no capital had been re-invested in the colony since the company’s creation and very little had been done about fighting slavery and the slave trade.[98] The Benadir Company was then dismissed and an attempt had been made by the government to find large investments for a new company but virtually no one seemed willing to put their capital at stake in the colony.[99] In January 1905, the Italian government negotiated with Britain the purchase of the Benadir concession off the Sultan of Zanzibar, of which the former was the official protector.[100] The experience of the companies then taught the Italian government that there was no demand among Italian capitalists for a commercial company on the Benadir coast. Reports on the unsuitability of the region for white settlement arguably convinced the government which, up to 1905, had never seriously considered implementing settlement programs similar to the ones that Franchetti had carried out in Eritrea. After the failure of the Filonardi Company it was the Lombard entrepreneurs that showed a timid interest for the Benadir and, with Crispi’s encouragement in some cases, invested in a new company.  Benadir was not receptive to Italian goods because it already imported cheaper foreign products; nor was it apt for agricultural colonisation from an Italian cotton industry lacking the necessary funds to quickly transform the colony in to an exporter of raw cotton. Yet, despite these problems, Giolitti’s government purchased the Benadir when it could have easily passed it to another power.

The commercial and capitalistic motives then are not enough to justify Italy’s resilient interest in the Benadir. In 1905 Tommaso Tittoni, the foreign minister of Giolitti’s government, was aware of the incoherence of Italy’s colonial policy in the Benadir and declared before the Chamber that Italy had acquired her colonies on the Indian Ocean for reasons of security rather than demography or commerce. He said that Italy was late in the race for African colonies and had to make do with what she could: she had to secure colonial outlets waiting for her economy to develop and be large enough to exploit them. Tittoni himself helps clarify why Italy had decided to buy the Benadir rather than return it to the Sultan of Zanzibar.

We have to hold on to the colonies we already have, but I don’t think the country would approve neither a policy of big spending nor the beginning of an imperialist policy… In this moment we think that Italy should keep her main resources at home and that, abroad, they should be conserved. We think that it would not be convenient to impose to the country sacrifices to quickly develop those colonies that unfortunately, for now, do not give us great hopes of prosperity.[101]

Even Sonnino, minister of the treasury and finance and advocate of agricultural and demographic colonialism, had shared his concern that Italy should acquire colonies for herself before the other powers did.[102] Italy’s motives in going to Somalia in the first place and sponsor two commercial companies can be explained to a great extent in terms of commercial and capitalistic motives. On the other hand, it is the very concept of ‘historical inevitability’ that explains why Giolitti decided to purchase the colony despite the lack of capital to invest in the colony’s development. In this instance the motive was strictly strategic: as explained by Tittoni, Italy had to acquire colonies in Africa waiting for her economy to be developed enough to exploit them.

5. Giolitti’s ‘Historical Inevitability’: Tripolitania and Cyrenaica 1910-1912

Italian interest for Tripolitania had been more or less constant since the early 80s, when France seized Tunis. Indeed, even the Kingdoms of Sardinia and the Two Sicilies had showed interest for Tripolitania prior to unification.[103] Segrè argued that Tripoli was a special case in the history of Liberal Italy’s colonialism: unlike East Africa, Tripoli attracted the attention of all fringes of the political spectrum. Crucially, unlike East Africa, Italians could relate to Tripolitania thanks to abundant rhetoric and literature on its past as a province of the Roman Empire, when together with Cyrenaica it was known as Libya.[104] But it was Libya’s potential as a colony, rather than reality, that charmed public opinion. As Cunsolo claims, Libya appealed to all sections of Italian society: ideally, it could accommodate Italy’s surplus population, supply Italian industry with raw materials, provide employment for the Italian proletariat and open new markets for the country’s growing export business.[105] The prospective of Tripolitania as a commercial colony however, was in reality not so spectacular. The Italian consul at Tripoli, Medana, reported at the start of the 20th century, that Tripoli could not become the outlet for trans-Saharan trade as hypothesised by some and warned that the trade was in fact declining. He also admitted that Italy was behind Britain, France and Austria-Hungary in terms of trade with Tripoli.[106] Reports from the first decade of the century on the potential of Cyrenaica as a colony were also pessimistic. In 1909 a British expedition claimed that its arid desert was in no way suited for colonisation and carried out an unfruitful search for mineral deposits.[107] In August 1911 di San Giuliano asked the consul at Benghazi to carry out a survey of mineral resources in Cyrenaica, which was not successful either.[108] Yet, despite the negative views on Libya’s potential, for the first time in the history of Italian colonialism, Libya attracted interest from most of the political landscape.

However Africa, also for the first time, attracted interest outside the traditional political, military and industrial elites. The nationalists, in particular, were particularly enthusiastic about Tripolitania; they wanted the memory of Adowa erased from Italian consciousness and replace it with an imperial affirmation, which would bring glory and prestige to the Italian state. The letter of invitation to the first congress of the ANI (Associazione Nazionalista Italiana) specifically mentioned the conquest of new colonies as one of the main points of debate at the conference. Interest in a colonial empire was so great that the founders of the Idea Nazionale, the nationalists’ main paper, had stated that all Irredentist activity should be suspended to allow national energies to focus on colonial conquest in Africa.[109] Enrico Corradini, one of the foremost ideologues of Italian nationalism, had showed that the nationalists’ attention had turned to Libya when he declared Tripoli to be “the fulcrum of Italian foreign policy”.[110] The ANI worked to foment the public’s interest in Libya by publishing surveys, organising congresses, distributing propagandistic material.[111]

But besides the commercial, demographic and nationalistic motives to Italian interest in Libya, the strategic one had also some ground. It was widespread opinion in Italy that the peninsula should not become encircled by foreign powers since Egypt and Tunisia were respectively under British and French control. Yet, contemporary writer G.Salvemini argued that even if Italy seized Libya, in the case of war the French could easily bypass it through Tunisia.[112] Nevertheless, Italy had started to pave the way for the seizure of Tripoli as early as 1887, by having Germany sign a protocol that allowed Italy to take Tripolitania in the eventuality that France upset the status quo in Morocco.[113] However, before Italy could have a righteous claim over Libya, she had to lay solid commercial and financial foundations in the region. In this instance the Italian government had encountered the unlikely rivalry of Germany, her ally. Crispi became alarmed by the increasing German economic penetration in Tripolitania and had told the consul at Tripoli that Italian influence in the region had to become exclusive.[114] Bosworth argued that the Banco di Roma had become that chief agent of peaceful penetration in Tripoli and its surroundings.[115] Indeed, the Banco had attempted to create the conditions for economic penetration in Tripolitania; in a telegram to the foreign minister Marquis di San Giuliano from 1911, the man in charge of the bank’s branch at Tripoli, Bresciani, explained that he had been sent to the North African city to create as many Italian interests as possible by supporting the businesses that already existed and starting new ones altogether. He acted on behalf of the government for “a serious economic penetration in [Libya], in light of the privileged political interest that Italy had to protect, while also contemplating occupation in the near future”.[116] The Banco di Roma was working to lay those foundations that Italy needed to create the conditions for military occupation. This policy had met with some success: the Banco had acquired industrial holdings, mining concessions and shipping installations.[117] The Turkish government had foreseen Italian objectives and commenced to privilege German and Austro-Hungarian investments in Libya over Italian ones, to hinder Italy’s economic penetration.

In February 1910, Bresciani had complained to the chairman of the Banco di Roma that the Turkish government had prohibited local Authorities in Tripoli and Benghazi to concede new businesses to Italian nationals. Constantinople denied the rumour but complaints kept coming until the Italian foreign minister, Marquis di San Giuliano, threatened the Turkish government that unless an end was put to hostility towards Italian enterprise in Libya, the Italian government would be forced to “take a different way”.[118] Of course, the different way di San Giuliano was talking about was military occupation. Diplomatic friction intensified with the Hodeida Incident when, in late 1910, an Italian merchant ship was held in the Red Sea by Turkish authorities under the accusation of smuggling. Shortly after, the Guzman Incident worsened the relations between the two governments even further. Guzman was an Argentinian journalist who had published anti-Italian articles on a Tripoli paper. He had been expelled from Tripoli under Italian pressure, but the local governor had allowed him back into the city.[119]

Prime Minister Giolitti was in a delicate position: on the one hand, the ambassador at Constantinople warned him that Germany’s trade with Tripoli had been growing considerably. On the other hand, the Banco di Roma threatened to sell all its activities in Libya to a group of German and Austro-Hungarian investors, and di San Giuliano was of the opinion that such event should have been avoided at all cost.[120] At this point, military occupation was considered very likely by the Italian government.[121] Giolitti himself wrote in his memoirs that, although he had been prone to wait for the contemporary Moroccan Crisis to come to an end, occupation had been rendered a necessary step by Turkish hostility and the certainty that someone else would have occupied Libya had Italy failed to do so herself. The prime minister believed that the situation was putting Italy’s economic interests, her national dignity and prestige at risk.[122] Even Sonnino, very much against expensive military ventures in Africa at the times of Crispi, was favourable to military occupation to prevent Libya from falling in foreign hands.[123] Cunsolo argued that the main reason exponents of all political backgrounds came to advocate the occupation of Libya was the fear to lose it to another Power.[124] This view is congruent with Naitza’s statement that the conquest of Libya was to be merely a preventive move.[125]

In July 1911, di San Giuliano wanted to avoid conflict in Libya but had come to the conclusion that Italy should be prepared for it regardless. Although Italian attention had been focused mostly on Tripolitania, the foreign minister thought that Italy should also occupy Cyrenaica, in order for the outcome of the conflict to be worth the country’s eventual great military and economic effort. In the meantime, in Libya, reports claimed that the safety of Italian residents was at risk as local administrators were turning the populace against Italy. Rumours spread that an Italian warship had been sent to the port of Tripoli to bomb the city and Italians started to flee the country, fearing reprisals by the locals.

In September, di San Giuliano sent a telegram to Italian embassies in Europe and the Unites States where he told the ambassadors that, since the evidence for Turkish hindrance of private Italian enterprise in Libya was not strong enough to justify military action, they should instead talk to foreign governments about the general trends of hostility showed by Turkish authorities in Tripolitania and Cyrenaica and the need for protection of the Italian communities in Tripolitania and Cyrenaica. The Italian government then was aware that the case for occupying Libya was weak. Di San Giuliano knew that although France would respect the 1902 deal with Italy according to which no opposition would be made to an Italian seizure of Tripoli, Germany, Austria-Hungary and Britain would make objections. The main case against occupation was that, it was thought, that questioning Turkish imperial authority would expose the Empire’s weakness and push the Balkan peoples to seek independence, consequently causing great instability in the Balkans that might eventually lead to a European war. For this reason, Giolitti and di San Giuliano decided that Italy should face the other Powers with a fait accompli (accomplished fact), to leave them no time to react to the occupation.[126] On the night of September 26, the Italian government sent a 24-hour ultimatum to Turkey were they demanded the withdrawal of all Turkish troops from Cyrenaica and Tripolitania to allow Italian military occupation. In the telegram, Italian action was justified by Turkish hostility to Italian economic enterprise and the state of abandon and neglect in which the two North African regions had been left by Constantinople. Turkey rejected the ultimatum and Italy declared war on September 29.[127]

One of Italy’s motives for the military occupation of Libya was prevention, as argued by Naitza. The strategic, demographic and commercial potentials of the region were very limited, given Italy’s lack of capital, which had already compromised the success of Somalia and Eritrea as colonies. Yet crucially, there was widespread fear in Italy that one of the other powers would seize Libya and replicate the Tunis humiliation. Giolitti and di San Giuliano were alarmed by the Turkish government’s hindering of Italian enterprise while foreign powers were favoured specifically to contrast Italy’s ambition and feared that foreign powers would become interested in Libya themselves. As the Italian government could not claim to have commercial and financial supremacy over Libya, great focus was given to Constantinople’s anti-Italian policies to justify the use of military force. This suggests that Giolitti and di Sangiuliano had already decided to seize Libya, and that all they needed was a pretext to take action. However, prevention can only be considered to be a short-term motive. In addition, long-term motives are also detectable: there was a feeling that Tripolitania belonged to Italy, similarly to Tunis in the previous century, although for different reasons. The relatively close distance between Sicily and Libya made it a much more appealing potential colony that the remote East Africa could ever be. For these reasons, Italian interest in Tripoli had started even before Unification. Indeed, the key to understanding why Italy fought the Turkish Empire over Tripolitania and Cyrenaica is Giolitti’s concept of ‘historical inevitability’, with which he explained his government’s decision to invade them.[128] Giolitti felt he had no choice, as Italy was risking her economic interests as well as her prestige. Early surveys on the potential of both regions as agricultural colonies for Italian emigrants had been rather pessimistic. In Libya, Italy had been working through the Banco di Roma to create the conditions for economic penetration which, by 1911, was extensive yet by no means exclusive, as Giolitti had wished in 1889. Therefore, Grassi’s thesis can be applied to the Libyan case too: Italian capital and emigration was going to be expected to follow the state’s lead.

 

Conclusion

At its origin, Italian colonialism was merely a form of merchant colonialism, as argued by Naitza. The fact that Cairoli refused to accept Tunis at Berlin in 1878 demonstrates that the idea of self-determination that had fuelled the Risorgimento was still present at the top of the Italian political system. The acquisition of Assab through Rubattino’s company, in 1869, is proof that the Italian government did not feel ready to openly engage in colonialist policies. Instead, focus would be given to economic penetration and the extension of the boundaries of Italian trade. The acquisition of the Benadir concession was also motivated by purely commercial motives. Italy’s textile industrials timidly hoped to transform the concession into a colony exporter of raw cotton but it was under government’s pressure that enough capital was gathered to administer the Benadir. Italy’s acquisition of Assab, Massawa and the Benadir was motivated greatly by the will to create the conditions for Italian trade to develop.

However, the militarisation of Assab and the occupation of Massawa and its surroundings, in the first half of the 1880s, were motivated by strategic reasons. Italy took the opportunity to strengthen considerably her foothold on the Red Sea coast while also making a discrete move inland; this policy of strategic expansion was in line with Mancini’s view that the Red Sea was the key to the Mediterranean and that Italy had to assert her influence there.

The strategic motive was also behind Italy’s occupation of Lybia. The fear of encirclement and the need to enhance Italian authority in the Mediterranean were pivotal in convincing Giolitti’s government to take offensive action and avoid a second ‘Tunis’. Even the occupation of parts of the Abyssinian highlands in the late 1880s and early 1890s and Crispi’s attempt to subject Menelik to a protectorate can be associated with the strategic motive. The Italian government Italy needed to control the Abyssinian hinterland to direct its trade to her Eritrean ports and Menelik’s complete independence was an obstacle to this end.

Nevertheless, the Abyssinian phase of liberal Italy’s colonialism in Africa was also the one that saw the quest for Italian prestige as its major motive. Crispi led Italy to a policy of reckless military expansion which she could not afford. The prime minister saw Abyssinia as a way to achieve Italian prestige and erase the humiliation of Dogali from the national consciousness.

Crispi had attempted to make this policy more acceptable by boasting that Eritrea would absorb thousands of Italian immigrants. The demographic motive is in fact the last of the motives of Italian colonialism in Africa. The accommodation of Italian migrants had been considered before all of liberal Italy’s colonial undertakings. Filonardi had claimed that his company would promote Italian settlement in the Benadir, Crispi had put Franchetti in charge of organising agricultural settlement in the Abyssinian highlands. Moreover, before the start of the Italo-Turkish war, surveys had been carried out in Tripolitania and Cyrenaica.

It has been demonstrated that are a number motives to Italian colonial expansion in Africa; they all contributed, to different extents, to the creation of an Italian colonial empire in Africa. Yet, a pattern of continuity is visible: liberal Italy turned to Africa more or less constantly in the five decades between Assab and Libya not because she was a great power; she did so hoping to become one. Mondaini was right then in claiming that Italian colonialism was an ideology, before it was a policy. Italian colonialists had to create the conditions for colonialism to happen by simply implementing colonialism itself.

 

 

 

 

Appendix

  1. 3.   

Like the Human Body, nations need air that they can breathe in order to survive. Without it they would grow weaker and eventually perish. As far as we are concerned we have understood this and have secured the air for Italy’s lungs… Today Italy is on the march and is asserting itself. Listen to the voice that rises from our colonies: they are jubilant! “Italy!” is the cry that comes from the shores of the Mediterranean and echoes back from the most distant oceans… Africa, mysterious and awesome, opens up to us, trusting and friendly… Ethiopia, now almost entirely pacified, reaches out its hand to us in the person of a sovereign desirous of civilization…

-Francesco Crispi, 1889. [129]

4.

[In Eritrea] Our purpose is the institution of a colony that can accommodate that immense emigration which goes to foreign lands, redirecting it under the dominion and laws of Italy; our purpose is also to do everything that can help our commerce and the commerce of the country we have occupied.

Francesco Crispi, 1890. [130]

5.  

The government sent what you asked for in terms of men and arms. The country expects another victory… such that would settle forever the Abyssinian question. Mind your actions. Your honour and Italy’s dignity are at stake. I’m not asking for the war plan. I’m only asking that the defeats don’t repeat themselves.

Crispi to Baratieri, 1896. [131]

Primary Sources:

La Stampa, Archivio Storico dal 1867. Fondazione CRT. [Online] [http://www.archiviolastampa.it/].

Giolitti, G., Memorie della mia vita. Garzanti Editore (Milano, 1967).

Ministero degli Affari Esteri, I Documenti Diplomatici Italiani. Serie II Voume X. Commissione per la pubblicazione dei documenti diplomatici (Rome, 1986).

Ministero degli Affari Esteri, I Documenti Diplomatici Italiani. Serie II Voume XI. Commissione per la pubblicazione dei documenti diplomatici (Rome, 1986).

Ministero degli Affari Esteri, I Documenti Diplomatici Italiani. Serie II Voume XII. Commissione per la pubblicazione dei documenti diplomatici (Rome, 1987).

Ministero degli Affari Esteri, I Documenti Diplomatici Italiani. Serie II Voume XVII-XVIII. Commissione per la pubblicazione dei documenti diplomatici (Rome, 1994).

Ministero degli Affari Esteri, I Documenti Diplomatici Italiani. Serie II Voume XX. Commissione per la pubblicazione dei documenti diplomatici (Rome, 1998).

Ministero degli Affari Esteri, I Documenti Diplomatici Italiani. Serie II Voume XXII. Commissione per la pubblicazione dei documenti diplomatici (Rome, 1994).

Ministero degli Affari Esteri, I Documenti Diplomatici Italiani. Serie IV Voume V-VI. Commissione per la pubblicazione dei documenti diplomatici (Rome, 2001).

Ministero degli Affari Esteri, I Documenti Diplomatici Italiani. Serie IV Voume VII-VIII. Commissione per la pubblicazione dei documenti diplomatici (Rome, 2004).

Ministero degli affari esteri, Trattati e convenzioni fra il regno d’Italia e gli esteri, Volume III. Tipografia Claudiana (Florence, 1872).

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[1] Seton-Watson, C., Italy from Liberalism to Fascism (London, 1962). pp  118; 367

[2] Naitza, G.B., Il Colonialismo nella Storia d’Italia (1882-1949) (Firenze, 1975). pp 113-115

[3] Ibid. pp 116-118

[4] Grassi, F., Le Origini dell’Imperialismo Coloniale Italiano: il Caso Somalo. (Lecce, 1980). pp 185

[5] Seton-Watson, C., Italy from Liberalism to Fascism (London, 1962). pp 104

[6] Smith, D.H., Italy: a Modern History (Ann Arbor, 1959). pp 118

[7] Ibid. pp 119

[8] Naitza, G.B., Il Colonialismo nella Storia d’Italia (1882-1949) (Firenze, 1975). pp 9

[9] Ibid. pp 8

[10] Podestà, G.L., Sviluppo Industriale e Colonialismo: gli investimenti Italiani in Africa Orientale 1869-1897. (Milano, 1996). pp 29-30

[11] Naitza, G.B., Il Colonialismo nella Storia d’Italia (1882-1949) (Firenze, 1975). Pp 6-7

[12] Podestà, G.L., Sviluppo Industriale e Colonialismo: gli investimenti Italiani in Africa Orientale 1869-1897. (Milano, 1996). pp 31

[13] Naitza, G.B., Il Colonialismo nella Storia d’Italia (1882-1949) (Firenze, 1975). Pp 7

[14] Ben Ghiat, R.; Fuller, M., Italian Colonialism. Palgrave Macmillan (Basingtoke, 2005). pp 17

[15] Podestà, G.L., Sviluppo Industriale e Colonialismo: gli investimenti Italiani in Africa Orientale 1869-1897. (Milano, 1996). pp 120

[16] Ibid. pp 85-86

[17] Smith, D.H., Italy: a Modern History (Ann Arbor, 1959). pp 128

[18] Sapeto, G., Assab e I suoi Critici (Genova, 1879).

[19] Smith, D.H., Italy: a Modern History (Ann Arbor, 1959). pp 123

[20] Ministero degli Affari Esteri, I Documenti Diplomatici Italiani. Serie II Voume X (Rome, 1986). pp 124

[21] Smith, D.H., Italy: a Modern History (Ann Arbor, 1959). pp 130

[22] Seton-Watson, C., Italy from Liberalism to Fascism (London, 1962). pp  108

[23] Ibid. pp 108

[24] Ministero degli affari esteri, Trattati e convenzioni fra il regno d’Italia e gli esteri, Volume III. (Florence, 1872). pp 184-187

[25] Podestà, G.L., Sviluppo Industriale e Colonialismo: gli investimenti Italiani in Africa Orientale 1869-1897. (Milano, 1996). pp 70

[26] Smith, D.H., Italy: a Modern History (Ann Arbor, 1959). pp 130

[27] Seton-Watson, C., Italy from Liberalism to Fascism (London, 1962). pp 108

[28] Ministero degli Affari Esteri, I Documenti Diplomatici Italiani. Serie II Voume XI (Rome, 1986). pp 122; pp 403-405

[29] Ministero degli Affari Esteri, I Documenti Diplomatici Italiani. Serie II Voume XI (Rome, 1986). pp 255

[30] Smith, D.H., Italy: a Modern History (Ann Arbor, 1959). pp 131

[31] Ministero degli Affari Esteri, I Documenti Diplomatici Italiani. Serie II Voume XII (Rome, 1987). Pp 209; pp 262

[32] Ibid. pp 292

[33] Ministero degli Affari Esteri, I Documenti Diplomatici Italiani. Serie II Voume XII (Rome, 1987). pp 263

[34] Ministero degli affari esteri, Trattati e convenzioni fra il regno d’Italia e gli esteri, Volume IX. (Florence, 1884). pp 21

[35] Naitza, G.B., Il Colonialismo nella Storia d’Italia (1882-1949) (Firenze, 1975). pp 10

[36] Ministero degli Affari Esteri, I Documenti Diplomatici Italiani. Serie II Voume XVII-XVIII. (Rome, 1994). pp 4-5

[37] Smith, D.H., Italy: a Modern History (Ann Arbor, 1959). pp 132

[38] Ibid. pp 129

[39] Smith, D.H., Italy: a Modern History (Ann Arbor, 1959). pp 180

[40] Podestà, G.L., Sviluppo Industriale e Colonialismo: gli investimenti Italiani in Africa Orientale 1869-1897. (Milano, 1996). pp 187; Naitza, G.B., Il Colonialismo nella Storia d’Italia (1882-1949) (Firenze, 1975). pp 13

[41] Clark.M, Modern Italy, 1871-1995 (London, 1996). pg 99

[42] Podestà, G.L., Sviluppo Industriale e Colonialismo: gli investimenti Italiani in Africa Orientale 1869-1897. (Milano, 1996). pp 147

[43] Clark.M, Modern Italy, 1871-1995 (London, 1996). pg 99

[44] Naitza, G.B., Il Colonialismo nella Storia d’Italia (1882-1949) (Firenze, 1975). pp 13

[45] Ibid. pp 10

[46] Ministero degli Affari Esteri, I Documenti Diplomatici Italiani. Serie II Voume XVII-XVIII. (Rome, 1994). pp 608-609

[47] Ministero degli Affari Esteri, I Documenti Diplomatici Italiani. Serie II Voume XX. (Rome, 1998). pp 379

[48] Smith, D.H., Italy: a Modern History (Ann Arbor, 1959). pp 180

[49] Ministero degli Affari Esteri, I Documenti Diplomatici Italiani. Serie II Voume XX. (Rome, 1998). pp 451-452

[50] Ministero degli Affari Esteri, I Documenti Diplomatici Italiani. Serie II Voume XX. (Rome, 1998). pp 454-455-456; pp 519-522.

[51] Naitza, G.B., Il Colonialismo nella Storia d’Italia (1882-1949) (Firenze, 1975). pp 16-17

[52] Segrè, C.C., Fourth Shore. (Chicago, 1974). pp 12

[53] Seton-Watson, C., Italy from Liberalism to Fascism (London, 1962). pp 138

[54] Smith, D.H., Italy: a Modern History (Ann Arbor, 1959). pp 122

[55] Duggan, C., Francesco Crispi: 1818-1901 (Oxford, 2002). Pp 505

[56] Duggan, C., Francesco Crispi: 1818-1901 (Oxford, 2002). Pp 519

[57] Ibid. pp 523

[58] Clark.M, Modern Italy, 1871-1995 (London, 1996). pp 100; Smith, D.H., Italy: a Modern History (Ann Arbor, 1959). pp 182; Sanderson 96

[59] Ministero degli affari esteri, Trattati e convenzioni fra il regno d’Italia e gli esteri, Volume XII. (Rome, 1892). pp 77-81

[60] Choate, M.I., From territorial to ethnographic colonies and back again: the politics of Italian Expansion, 1890-1912 (2003). pp 67

[61] Segrè, C.C., Fourth Shore. (Chicago, 1974). pp 4-5;  Choate, M.I., From territorial to ethnographic colonies and back again: the politics of Italian Expansion, 1890-1912 (2003). pp 65-67

[62] Clark.M, Modern Italy, 1871-1995 (London, 1996). pp 100

[63] Bruner, S.C., Leopoldo Franchetti and Italian Settlement in Eritrea: Emigration, Welfare Colonialism and the Southern Question (2009), pp 73-88

[64] Rubenson, S., The Protectorate Paragraph of the Wichalē Treaty (1964). pp 243-251

[65] Ibid. pp 275

[66] Giglio, C., Article 17 of the Treaty of Uccialli (1965) pp 226-222

[67] Rubenson, S., The Protectorate Paragraph of the Wichalē Treaty (1964). pp 271

[68] Giglio, C., Article 17 of the Treaty of Uccialli (1965) pp 229

[69] Duggan, C., Francesco Crispi: 1818-1901 (Oxford, 2002). pp 574

[70] Ibid. pp 582-583

[71] Clark.M, Modern Italy, 1871-1995 (London, 1996). pp 100 ; Naitza, G.B., Il Colonialismo nella Storia d’Italia (1882-1949) (Firenze, 1975). pp 19

[72] Naitza, G.B., Il Colonialismo nella Storia d’Italia (1882-1949) (Firenze, 1975). pp 19.

[73] Ibid. pp 67-72

[74] Goglia, L.; Grassi, F., Il Colonialismo Italiano da Adua all’Impero. Editori Laterza (Bari, 1981). pp 66.

[75] Smith, D.H., Italy: a Modern History (Ann Arbor, 1959). pp 185

[76] Duggan, C., Francesco Crispi: 1818-1901 (Oxford, 2002). pp 704

[77] La Stampa, Archivio Storico dal 1867. February 3-4, 1887; March 2, 1896.

[78] Naitza, G.B., Il Colonialismo nella Storia d’Italia (1882-1949) (Firenze, 1975). pp 14-15

[79] Duggan, C., Francesco Crispi: 1818-1901 (Oxford, 2002). pp 709

[80] Segrè, C.C., Fourth Shore. The University of Chicago Press (Chicago, 1974). pp 16

[81] Podestà, G.L., Sviluppo Industriale e Colonialismo: gli investimenti Italiani in Africa Orientale 1869-1897. (Milano, 1996). pp 22

[82] Hess, R., Italian Colonialism in Somalia (Chicago, 1966). pp 13-14

[83] Hess, R., Italian Colonialism in Somalia (Chicago, 1966). pp 15-17

[84] Ibid. pp 25-26

[85] Ibid. pp 29

[86] Podestà, G.L., Sviluppo Industriale e Colonialismo: gli investimenti Italiani in Africa Orientale 1869-1897. (Milano, 1996). pp 274-275

[87] Ibid. pp 283

[88] Ibid. pp 283

[89] Hess, R., Italian Colonialism in Somalia (Chicago, 1966). pp 45-48

[90] Grassi, F., Le Origini dell’Imperialismo Coloniale Italiano: il Caso Somalo. (Lecce, 1980). pp 12

[91] Hess, R., Italian Colonialism in Somalia (Chicago, 1966). pp 42-43

[92] Podestà, G.L., Sviluppo Industriale e Colonialismo: gli investimenti Italiani in Africa Orientale 1869-1897. (Milano, 1996). pp 283

[93] Grassi, F., Le Origini dell’Imperialismo Coloniale Italiano: il Caso Somalo. (Lecce, 1980). pp 12-16

[94] Ibid. pg  28-29

[95] Ibid. pg 19

[96] Hess, R., Italian Colonialism in Somalia (Chicago, 1966). pp 59

[97] Hess, R., Italian Colonialism in Somalia (Chicago, 1966). pp 53-59

[98] Podestà, G.L., Sviluppo Industriale e Colonialismo: gli investimenti Italiani in Africa Orientale 1869-1897. (Milano, 1996). pp 324-325

[99] Grassi, F., Le Origini dell’Imperialismo Coloniale Italiano: il Caso Somalo. (Lecce, 1980). pp 187

[100] Ministero degli affari esteri, Trattati e convenzioni fra il regno d’Italia e gli esteri, Volume XVII (Rome, 1907). pp 485-486

[101] Grassi, F., Le Origini dell’Imperialismo Coloniale Italiano: il Caso Somalo. (Lecce, 1980). pp 176-177

[102] Podestà, G.L., Sviluppo Industriale e Colonialismo: gli investimenti Italiani in Africa Orientale 1869-1897. (Milano, 1996). pp 310-313

[103] Bosworth, R.J.B., Italy, the Least of the Great Powers: Italian Foreign Policy before the First World War (Cambridge, 1979). pp 135

[104] Segrè, C.C., Fourth Shore. The University of Chicago Press (Chicago, 1974). pp 27

[105] Cunsolo, R.S., Libya, Italian Nationalism, and the Revolt against Giolitti (1965). pp 188-189

[106] Segrè, C.C., Fourth Shore. The University of Chicago Press (Chicago, 1974). pp 27

[107] Smith, D.H., Italy: a Modern History (Ann Arbor, 1959). pp 273.

[108] Ministero degli Affari Esteri, I Documenti Diplomatici Italiani. Serie IV Voume VII-VIII. (Rome, 2004). pp 175.

[109] Cunsolo, R.S., Libya, Italian Nationalism, and the Revolt against Giolitti (1965). pp 187-189

[110] Bosworth, R.J.B., Italy, the Least of the Great Powers: Italian Foreign Policy before the First World War (Cambridge, 1979). pp 142

[111] Cunsolo, R.S., Libya, Italian Nationalism, and the Revolt against Giolitti (1965). pp 190-191

[112] Segrè, C.C., Fourth Shore. The University of Chicago Press (Chicago, 1974). pp 27

[113] Bosworth, R.J.B., Italy, the Least of the Great Powers: Italian Foreign Policy before the First World War (Cambridge, 1979). pp 137

[114] Ministero degli Affari Esteri, I Documenti Diplomatici Italiani. Serie II Voume XXII. (Rome, 1994). pp 305

[115] Bosworth, R.J.B., Italy, the Least of the Great Powers: Italian Foreign Policy before the First World War (Cambridge, 1979). pp 138

[116] Ministero degli Affari Esteri, I Documenti Diplomatici Italiani. Serie IV Voume VII-VIII. (Rome, 2004). pp 75-76; Naitza  pg 26

[117] Cunsolo, R.S., Libya, Italian Nationalism, and the Revolt against Giolitti (1965). pp 186-187

[118] Ministero degli Affari Esteri, I Documenti Diplomatici Italiani. Serie IV Voume V-VI. (Rome, 2001). pp 120; pp 174-176; pp 425.

[119] Giordano, pg 179

[120] Ministero degli Affari Esteri, I Documenti Diplomatici Italiani. Serie IV Voume V-VI. (Rome, 2001). pp 121-125

[121] Ministero degli Affari Esteri, I Documenti Diplomatici Italiani. Serie IV Voume VII-VIII. (Rome, 2004). pp 125

[122] Giolitti, G., Memorie della mia vita (Milano, 1967). pp 217-218; pp 221

[123] Ministero degli Affari Esteri, I Documenti Diplomatici Italiani. Serie IV Voume VII-VIII. (Rome, 2004). pp 210

[124] Cunsolo, R.S., Libya, Italian Nationalism, and the Revolt against Giolitti (1965). pp 192

[125] Naitza, G.B., Il Colonialismo nella Storia d’Italia (1882-1949) (Firenze, 1975). pp 26

[126] Ministero degli Affari Esteri, I Documenti Diplomatici Italiani. Serie IV Voume VII-VIII. (Rome, 2004). pp 125; pp 246-247; pp 262

[127] Ministero degli Affari Esteri, I Documenti Diplomatici Italiani. Serie IV Voume VII-VIII. (Rome, 2004). pp 268-270; pp 292

[128] Segrè, C.C., Fourth Shore. The University of Chicago Press (Chicago, 1974). pp 23

[129] Duggan, C., The Force of Destiny. Penguin (London, 2008). pp 337

[130] Choate, M.I., From territorial to ethnographic colonies and back again: the politics of Italian Expansion, 1890-1912 (2003). pp 67

[131] Ibid. pp 67-72

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