The British and Ethiopian Disposal of Italian Property in Ethiopia, 1941-1956: A Historical Review of the Theory and Practice of the Custodianship of Enemy Property

Haile Muluken Akalu


During the Second World War, the Horn of Africa staged unusual and fast shifting encounters among the colonizers, the colonized, and would be super powers. Governments acted according to their own war time needs and postwar aspirations imbued with the Cold War. Investigating how this transpired in Ethiopia offers valuable insights about the wartime status of international laws regarding the management of property belonging to enemy states and their nationals. However, this is a sidelined aspect in the historiography of the Second World War. Using fresh archives and secondary sources, this article situates the British and Ethiopian treatment of Italian property in Ethiopia in the global discourse of the custodianship of enemy property. States mostly disregarded international law as political exigency and war time needs were given priority. As abstract laws had nominal respect, only individuals with technical, political and security profiles relevant to the victors enjoyed a relatively better protection. Besides, the victors absolved themselves from responsibility by including self-serving clauses in the peace agreement signed in Paris. Like other success factors, custodianship of enemy property was crucial in the rise and fall of firms. In this regard, the twentieth century was hardly progressive than preceding centuries were.


Custodianship; Enemy property; Ethiopia; Britain; Italy; Second World War

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