Ethiopia, the UN, and the legacy of the Italian occupation: Käbbädä Mikael’s political and historical thought on slavery (1949)

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Published eight years after the end of the Italian occupation, Käbbädä Mikael’s Ityop̣yanna Məəhrabawi Səlǝṭṭane (‘Ethiopia and Western Civilization’, 1948/49) is a historical refutation of Italian propaganda about the persistence of slavery in Ethiopia, written at a time when Ethiopia was pursuing legal action through the UN to demand reparations. My chapter analyzes the ways in which Käbbädä theorizes the relationship between slavery and modernity. Ityop̣yanna Məəhrabawi Səlǝṭṭane interrogates precisely, as the title suggests, Ethiopia’s march towards səlǝṭṭane, or civilization, internally reworking Western modernization theory to defend Ethiopia’s agency in both world history and the present. Käbbädä’s appraisal of the history of slavery within this framework is nevertheless deeply ambivalent. The Fascist invaders had depicted Ethiopia as a backward land where people suffered under the barbaric yoke of slavery. On the one hand, Käbbädä attacks Italian propaganda by listing the obstacles Ethiopian emperors had faced in trying to abolish slavery, emphasizing the legislative steps forward in this direction. But on the other hand, the Italian insinuation that Ethiopia was internally disunited had clearly struck a chord among the members of the Ethiopian elites, concerned as they were about the precarity of national unity. Käbbädä was, at the time, one of the major exponents of those Christian, Amharic-speaking intellectuals which Emperor Haylä Sǝllase promoted as his crucial political allies. Thus, the chapter contributes to the history of slavery in Ethiopia from the perspective of the “center”, tracing the links between political thought and state policies in the late 1940s.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSlavery and the slave trade in Ethiopia revisited
EditorsAhmed Hassen, Giulia Bonacci, Alexander Meckelburg, Serena Tolino
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2022


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