The invasion of Ethiopia in October 1935 broke the power of the Ethiopian imperial forces under the Emperor Haile Selassie. Although some resistance continued with guerrilla forces attacking the Italians when they could, most of the country was under Italian control by May 1936. Benito Mussolini, the Fascist leader, then set about creating a permanent Empire in the Horn of Africa. Central to this ambition was the building of roads, so that links between Addis Ababa and the coast could be maintained and costs reduced. This photograph, dated August 1938, shows this process. The original caption is below.
Caption on the back of the photograph: “Addis Ababa, Africa: A total of 2023 miles of pivotal highways in Ethiopia constructed under appalling difficulties in thirteen months actual working time by 60,000 Italians and 60,000 natives have just been completed according to official construction reports as of July 30 detailing work on each of six major road building projects. Of this 1180 miles have been finished in every detail including asphalt surfacing. Freight rates have dropped from $350 a ton (Asmara to Addis Ababa 688 miles) to $30 a ton. A total of 4,448 small bridges, 128 large bridges, 501 construction camps, and 1700 building have been constructed in this gargantuan undertaking.
The biggest single job is the Addis Ababa – Asmara road, 688 miles long known as Route 2 between the old capital of Eritrea and Ethiopia, both now designated as Italian East Africa. So great were construction difficulties that men had to be let down constantly by ropes to carve a road on the side of mountains 3200 metres above sea level. A total of 1864 bridges, virtually one every three miles had to be guilt on this 688 mile road which cost 826,000,000 lire or about $41,300,000.
The rebuilding of completely new cities is planned at Addis Ababa, Dessye, Harar, Gimma, Gondar and Assab, work what has hitherto been impossible because of high freight rates.
Photo shows: The first mechanized road building equipment in the heart of Ethiopia. Steam rollers on the Asmara – Sebderat road 240 miles long passing through lion and elephant country.”