Author: Czeslaw Jesman
Source: African Affairs , Apr., 1959, Vol. 58, No. 231 (Apr., 1959), pp. 145-146
The colonial aspirations of Belgium in the nineteenth century were far more diverse than is usually remembered. Ouvrard, the famous banker of the Napoleonic Empire, suggested to the city fathers of Antwerp the acquisition of the island of Lucon in the Philippines for 125 million Francs. They very nearly got it. About 1841 a Belgian company operated in Guatemala.
The ubiquitous consul Blondel was active in Ethiopia. Owing to his efforts a Belgian school and a Belgian trading factory operated for a time in Gojjam.
Lord Aberdeen, of all people, suggested to Eenens, another Belgian traveller in Africa, that he should raise an expeditionary corps and penetrate the interior of Ethiopia ; he was either to explore it or to conquer. For this purpose Eenens would have required, according to the British statesman, only 1,200 soldiers.
An alliance between Belgium and Ras Ali of Amhara, the virtual lieutenant of the realm, had been attempted as early as 1851.
The battle of Adua opened the eyes of the European States to the advantages of friendship with Ethiopia.
The normal pattern of colonial politics, and in particular the Anglo- French struggle for supremacy, became blurred in Ethiopia by side issues and interlopers. Swiss arrived there, needy and thrifty, and Swedish missionaries. Inevitably Eing Leopold II cropped up on a prospective stamping ground of international capital.
Leopold was interested in Ethiopia from the beginning of his reign. He saw in it yet another field of personal, as distinct from national, expansion. When he became sovereign of the independent state of Congo, Leopold conceived a plan of joining forces with Ethiopia and creating with Menelik a dual empire which would dominate Africa.
A Congolese embassy was to be sent to Addis Ababa to discuss the project. It was to be led either by Colonel Haneuse, a confidant of the king or by an old acquaintance of Menelik, Monsignor Van den Branden de Reeth. Nothing came of the idea though Colonel Haneuse visited both Ethiopia and Eritrea in July J 892 and in February 1893.
After Adua, Sam Wiener, another confidential agent of Leopold II visited Rome and Eritrea sounding the possibilities of a different project : Eritrea was to be loaned to a Belgian operated company, the “Societé de la Colonisation et d’Exploitation” An expedition against the Mahdists would be organised there under the Belgian flag and a route opened across the territories held by them to the Congo Free State. The pacification of the Sudan and the regeneration of Egypt would be facilitated considerably by this move. Possible English objections would be assuaged by the return of Kassala to the Sudan. Massawa would remain under the Italian flag.
Menelik’s qualms would be pacified by a fusion of the Milanese company of Benadir, controlling the Italian Somalia, with the Congolese Company. Emperor William II of Germany was to be persuaded to support the plan by concessions offered to German industries.
Eventually, Leopold II and Menelik would become emperors and high protectors of Congo, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt.
Unfortunately, none of the interested parties took this plan seriously. But Leopold was not easily discouraged. He again approached the Rome cabinet through his minister Vanloo. This time he offered to administer Eritrea with Congolese troops but under the Italian flag, for a yearly payment of five million Lire, slightly less than the estimates of military expenditure in Eritrea in 1898-99. This suggestion was also ignored. Yet the king of the Belgians continued to be interested in Ethiopian affairs. He entertained Ashinov; years later, in December 1897, he received Prince Henn d’Orleans, the champion of French colonial expansion, and Captain Leontiev and discussed with them the advisability of opening a Belgian embassy in Addis Ababa.
The first Belgian minister to Ethiopia, Baron Gerard, was appointed only in 1923 when all embers of colonial pioneering adventure were long extinct in Brussels.
The Italians, the British and the Ethiopians, for once united, were hostile to all Belgian schemes and thus, inevitably, they fell through.
Eighty years later a Belgian military mission was invited to Addis Ababa.
It was paid enormous salaries by the Ethiopian government, some L200 monthly to each of its members. They were also granted insurances. On the eve of the Italian invasion in 1935) Major de Reul, one of the members of the mission enlisted 22 Belgian officers for the Ethiopian service in spite of the disapproval of the Belgian Government. At least one of them, a retired general of the regular Belgian Army acted as personal military adviser to Emperor Haile Selassie I until two years ago. At all times in the course of the last half-century Belgian arms and munitions poured in vast quantities into Ethiopia. The traffic has gone on in open defiance of the convention aiming at suppression of slavery and regulating the traffic of arms and alcoholic beverages in Africa, which was signed in Brussels on 2nd July 1890.
“Czesław Jeśman (1 September 1912 – 29 October 1987) was a Polish lawyer, prose writer and journalist in exile. He graduated in law from the Stefan Batory University. In the years 1937-1939 he was employed in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as a contract employee of the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in New York. In the years 1939-1943 he served in the Polish Armed Forces in the West, m.in in the Military Bureau of Propaganda and Education, then, in the years 1942-1950 in the British army, in West Africa. From 1950 to 1955 he was a lecturer at University College, Addis-Ababa, and from 1956 he lived and worked as a freelance journalist in London. He cooperated with the Polish emigrant press, the British press and the Polish Section of the BBC. He was the publisher of the magazine Afro-Asian Review.”