Tuesday, December 5, 2017


There are numerous studies and many books about the years when Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, was under Italian rule. Here it is the brief translation (with my notes) of a related research done for the Italian "Universita' di Genova" in 1979 by Bruno D'Ambrosio and published initially in Italian language by the university's "Istituto di Geografia", under the supervision of the Institute Director prof. Giuliani Balestrino. If interested in the full essay, please go to https://dadfeatured.blogspot.com/2018/05/italian-mogadishu.html .


'''Mogadishu''' (or '''Mogadiscio''' in Italian) was the capital of Italian Somalia in the first half of the XX century. In Italian language, the city was officially called ''Mogadiscio italiana'' and the inhabitants were called ''Mogadini''. Italian Mogadiscio was under Italian control from 1885 until February 1941: officially it disappeared in 1947 after the "Peace Treaty" following WW2 when Italy lost all the colonies.

Aerial view of 1938 "Mogadiscio italiana", nicknamed "White Pearl of the Indian Ocean"
In the more than sixty years of Italian rule, the city grew from a small village of just 1,500 inhabitants in the early 1880s to a vibrant capital of nearly 150,000 mogadiscians after WW2 in the late 1940s.


"Mogadishu (or Mukdishu) is mentioned by Marco Polo and described by Ibn Batuta as an “immense” city. This was in the early part of the 14th century.....In 1892 it was transferred to Italy. The name of the town is spelt in a great variety of ways, including Madeigascar, whence the name of the island of Madagascar. Alfred Grandidier points out that the Portuguese, misled by Marco Polo's description of Mukdishu as an island, fancied they had discovered the land of which he wrote when they touched at Madagascar". 1911 E. Britannica

The first Italian to write about Mogadiscio was Marco Polo, who knew of the city during his merchant travels in Asia. But only in the late XIX century the commerce company "Filonardi" from Italy took control of facilities in the port of Mogadishu.

By 1882, Mogadishu was under the joint control of the Somali "Geledi Sultanate" (which was also holding sway over the Shebelle Valley region in the interior called "Benadir") and the Omani Sultan of Zanzibar. In 1885, the sultan Ali bin Said leased the city to an Italian chartered company owned by Vincenzo Filonardi. This "Compagnia Filonardi" (1893–96) and later the "Società Anonima Commerciale Italiana del Benadir" (1899-1905) was finally taken by the Italian government, that obtained the control of the entire region of Benadir with the port of Mogadishu through an agreement with the British government in 1892. From 3 August 1889 to 15 May 1893 Filonardi was the first Governor of the "Somalia italiana" (he was governor again from 1896 to 1897).

The Kingdom of Italy purchased the city in 1905 and made Mogadishu the capital of the newly established "Somalia italiana". The Italians subsequently referred to the city as ''Mogadiscio''.

The city was soon modernized in the early 1910s with the creation of the first sewage system, the first hospital, the first paved roads and the new electricity facilities. In the 1910s and 1920s the Italians enlarged the "Port of Mogadishu" and created the first airport (initially only for military airplanes). In the 1910s was created the first (radio)telegraph station in eastern Africa, under the supervision of Guglielmo Marconi, that was able to connect Mogadishu directly with "Italian Eritrea" and Rome: it was worldwide celebrated.

Guglielmo Marconi's first radio-telegraph station in Mogadiscio
Indeed the first radio communications were started by the Italians in Mogadishu in 1911: the same Guglielmo Marconi supervised the radio station messages in the city. Successively a public "radio service" was started (in Italian language) in 1938 called "Radio Mogadiscio", but was limited to broadcast only in the area of Mogadishu-Genale-Villabbruzzi (the actual "Radio Mogadishu" is the federal government-run public broadcaster; established in 1951 in Italian Somaliland as a follow up of the "Radio Mogadiscio", it initially aired news items in both Somali and Italian language).

From 5 April 1908 to 5 May 1936, the Royal Corps of Somali Colonial Troops (''Regio corpo truppe coloniali della Somalia Italiana''), originally called the "Guard Corps of Benadir", served as the territory's formal military corps with headquarters in Mogadiscio. At the start of its establishment, the force had 2,600 Italian officers. Between 1911 and 1912, over 1,000 Somalis from Mogadishu served as combat units along with Eritrean and Italian soldiers in the Italo-Turkish War. Most of the troops stationed never returned home until they were transferred back to Italian Somaliland in preparation for the Second Italo-Ethiopian war in 1935.

In November 1920, the "Banca d'Italia", the first modern bank in Italian Somaliland, was established in Mogadishu. Later were founded in the city the branches of other Italian banks: in 1936 the "Banco di Roma" and in 1938 the "Banco di Napoli" established a branch (Banco di Napoli replaced the "Cassa di Risparmio di Torino", which had opened an office in Mogadishu in 1932). After WW2 from the Banca d'Italia was developed the "Central Bank of Somalia".

On December 5, 1923, Cesare Maria De Vecchi was named Governor in charge of the new colonial administration and promoted the process of complete pacification of the Somalia italiana, with the initial integration of the native population. Italian colonial policy followed two principles in Italian Somaliland: preservation of the dominant clan & ethnic configurations and respect for Islam as the territory's religion.

The Mogadishu Cathedral and the Arch of Umberto were the core of Mogadiscio in the late 1930s

In 1928, the Italian authorities built the Mogadishu Cathedral (''Cattedrale di Mogadiscio''). It was constructed in a Norman architecture with Gothic style, based on the Cathedral in Sicilian Cefalù. Following its establishment, Crown Prince Umberto II of Italy made his first publicized visit to Mogadishu. To commemorate the visit, the "Arch of Umberto" was constructed. The arch was built at the center of the Mogadishu Garden. The Mogadishu International Airport was constructed that same year. The facility was regarded as one of the finest in the region.

Furthermore, in 1929 there were nearly 1600 Italian civilians resident in Mogadiscio and the government started to publish daily in the growing city the first newspaper of Somalia: "Corriere della Somalia". Its name was changed in "Somalia Fascista" in 1934 but in 1941 was closed by the British when they conquered Mogadiscio; it was reopened in 1950 with the original name "Il Corriere della Somalia" and lasted until 1969/1970 (read www.jstor.org/stable/40759963 ). Other monthly publications in Mogadiscio were "Somalia Sportiva" (1937-1940) and "Somalia Cristiana" (1936-1941). Of course all these newspapers and magazines were in Italian language until April 1941 (successively the British made the "Somali Courier-Corriere della Somalia" in 3 languages -English, Italian and Arab- between 1945 and 1950).

In the early 1930s, the new Italian Governors, Guido Corni and Maurizio Rava, started a policy of full assimilation of the Somalis. Many Somalis were enrolled in the Italian colonial troops, and thousands of Italian colonists moved to live in Mogadishu.

The city grew in size and some small manufacturing companies opened up. The main industries were food processing and the production of leather footwear and wood products. The Italians also settled in agricultural areas around the capital, such as Jowhar (''Villabruzzi'') and Janale (''Genale''), and developed the production and exportation of the bananas.

In 1937, there were 22,000 Italians living in Italian Somaliland, representing 2% of the territory's population (Read in Italian: http://xoomer.alice.it/fernandotermentini/somalia.htm). The majority resided in the capital Mogadishu, with other Italian communities concentrated in Jowhar (''Villabruzzi''), Adale (''Itala''), Janale (''Genale'') and Kismayo (''Chisimaio''). A few lived also in the northern city of Dante (now called Hafun), while working in the local biggest salt mines of the world (read:http://www.populstat.info/Africa/somaliac.htm).

Photo of the eleven children of an Italo-Somali family: nearly 10,000 children were born from Italians (mainly soldiers) and Somalian native girls during the half a century of colonial presence in Italian Somalia. Most of them lived in the Mogadishu area & hinterland

In Mogadiscio in the 1920s and early 1930s there were 4 Italian men for every Italian woman and as a consequence was common the "Madamato" (relationship between Italian soldiers and native girls).

Nearly 7,000 children were born from the Madamato in the Mogadiscio area: they were mulattos who received Italian citizenship when baptized as catholic. But after 1939 the Italian Fascism -since 1938 linked to the German Nazism- imposed harsh racial rules against this Madamato.

By 1935, Mogadishu began to serve as a major naval base and port for the Italians. Then Prime Minister of Italy Benito Mussolini regarded "Greater Somalia" (''La Grande Somalia'') with capital Mogadiscio as the crown jewel in Italy's colonial empire in eastern Africa.

Consequently, from 1936 to 1940, new roads were constructed in the region around Mogadiscio, such as the "Imperial Road" from Mogadishu to Addis Abeba, the capital of the newly created "Italian Ethiopia". New railways (114 km from Mogadishu to Jowhar) and many schools, hospitals, ports and bridges were also built. The biggest salt production company in the world -located in Dante (now called "Hafun") had the headquarters in Mogadiscio.

Mogadishu airport was established in 1928 with the name ''Petrella-Mogadiscio aeroporto'', the first such facility to be opened in the Horn of Africa. It served as the main military airport for Italian Somaliland. In the mid-1930s, the airport began offering civilian and commercial flights. A regular Asmara-Assab-Mogadishu commercial route was started in 1935, with an "Ala Littoria" Caproni Ca.133 providing 13-hour flights from the Mogadishu airport to Italian Eritrea. The aircraft had a maximal capacity of 18 passengers, which at the time was a record. In 1936, Ala Littoria launched an intercontinental connection between Mogadishu-Asmara-Khartoum-Tripoli and Rome. The voyage lasted four days and was one of the first long range flights in the world.

The port of Italian Mogadiscio had an exportation in 1934 of 43.467 tons of agricultural products (mainly bananas) toward Italy and Europe. For this commercial transport were used the service of special container-ships called "RAMB" (that were built with the possibility to be converted to be an auxiliary cruiser). The Ramb II was a banana boat ship based even in Mogadishu. Ramb II was the second of four sister ships all built to the same design: the other ships were the Ramb I, the Ramb III, and the Ramb IV. The four ships were built for the Royal Banana Monopoly Business ("Regia Azienda Monopolio Banane") to transport refrigerated bananas from Italian Somalia to Italy.

From 1936 the port started to have a weekly international ship line for passengers, connecting Mogadishu with Massaua in Eritrea and Genova in Italy with the Italian "Lloyd Triestino" and "Italian Line" (read in Italian: http://www.ilcornodafrica.it/st-porti.htm). The MS Vulcania was a transatlantic ship that served the port of Mogadiscio. Later, in 1941 the port was damaged by British bombings during WW2.

In the 1930s, Italian authorities began to organize professional sport in Somalia. These sports were initially concentrated only in the capital Mogadishu (read in Italian: https://books.google.com/books?id=SW_q8y721EwC&pg=PA235#v=onepage&q&f=false). In 1931 governor Maurizio Rava created the ''Federazione Sportiva della Somalia'', which organized competences of athletics, tennis and football for the Italian community and promoted the first sport activities among the young native population. In 1933 the first Somalian football championship was created in Mogadishu, called ''Coppa Federazione Sportiva'', with three teams ("Societa' Mogadiscio", "Marina" and "Milizia"). In 1938 the football championship was won by the "Amaruini" team, made up mainly of local Somalians; in 1939 the winning team was the "Araba". In 1938 competitions of other sports, like swimming and cycling, were held.

In summer 1938 was created the ''Circuito Mogadiscio'' (called even "Circuito di Mogadiscio" and in English: "Mogadishu Circuit"), a car race done in the main streets of Mogadishu that was one of the firsts in Africa. The main Italian newspaper of Mogadiscio and of the Italian colonies, "Il Littoriale", reported ( http://dlib.coninet.it/bookreader.php?&f=3301&p=1&c=1#page/1/mode/2up ; p. 5) that on mid-August 1938 was done the first car race circuit of Mogadiscio. Indeed, on August 15 the Governor Francesco Saveno flagged the start of a car race followed by many thousands in the "Corso Vittorio Emanuele" (actual "Somalia Boulevard") of Somalia's capital, where there were the main stands. On Mogadiscio streets many native Somalis enjoyed enthusiastically to the first car race in their country. It was followed even by a motorcycle race, done with 250 cc and 350 cc category. The "Circuito di Mogadiscio" was repeated in 1939, but the edition of 1940 was not done because of the beginning of the war.

Map of the railway Mogadiscio-Villabruzzi (green line), showing the most developed area of Italian Somalia (that was inside the triangle Mogadiscio-Merca-Villabruzzi)
In the late 1930s Italian Mogadiscio was enjoying a bright & huge development somewhat similar -but in a minor scale- to the one of Italian Asmara in Eritrea: in 1940 Italian Somalia nearly all the development was concentrated in the triangle "Genale/Vittorio - Villabruzzi - Mogadiscio" and this triangle area was one of the most developed in sub-Saharan Africa.

In the first years of the XX century there were only one hundred Italian civilians (mostly members of the colonial administration with their families) in Mogadishu, but soon started to arrive thousands of colonists (with some merchants and entrepreneurs) from Italy: by March 1940, over 30,000 Italians lived in Mogadishu, representing around 33% of the city's total of approximate 100,000 residents (and making Mogadiscio the second most "Italian" city -after Asmara- of the Italian East Africa). They frequented local Italian schools that the colonial authorities had opened, such as a local "Lyceum" called 'Ginnasio-liceo Emilio De Bono'. They also started the first championships of local football/soccer with teams (like the "Societa' Calcio Mogadiscio" and "Amaruini", that played amateur football in the Italian Somalia from 1936 until 1941 and that later become in 1947 the "Lavori Publici (LLPP calcio)" now called "Jeenyo United (LLPP) FC") in the first stadium of Mogadiscio called 'Stadio Municipale di Mogadiscio' (now 'Banadir (CONI) stadium').

During WW2 Italian Mogadiscio was conquered by the British in February 1941: nearly all the Italians in Somalia took refuge in the city -for security reasons- during those war years until 1945. Because of these refugees Mogadishu in those years had a population that was nearly half Italian, when added the 7,000 descendants of Italian soldiers who had illegitimate offsprings with Somalian girls. According to historian Tripodi, in Somalia nearly 10,000 children were born from Italians (mainly soldiers) and Somalian native girls during the half a century of colonial presence in Italian Somalia. Most of them lived in the Mogadishu area.

Since then the Italian population of Mogadiscio started to diminish, mainly after 1948 when there was the killing of Italians by the "Somali Youth League", and practically disappeared a few decades later. Indeed somali nationalist agitation against the possibility of renewed Italian rule reached the level of violent confrontation in 1948, when on 11 January, large riots broke out that left fifty-two Italians dead in the streets of Mogadishu and other coastal cities in which many more were injured.

Even if there was an important community of nearly 10,000 Italians in Mogadishu in the 1950s, when Italy administrated the country with a ONU mandate, in the late 1970s practically there were no more Italians in Mogadishu.


The legacy of the Italian presence in Mogadishu is mainly related to the decision to develop this city as the capital of actual Somalia: in 1885 the Italians found a small city/village with nearly 2,000 inhabitants living in ruined medieval buildings and in just half a century the city was transformed in a modern colonial capital (of one of the biggest countries in eastern Africa) with more than 100,000 inhabitants, that was nicknamed ''the White Pearl of the Indian Ocean'' in 1938.

However some other legacies of the Italian presence in Mogadishu still remain: from the diffused use of pasta (''baasto'') such as spaghetti and of polenta (''mishaari''), that comes from the Italian Somalis families, to the latin script in the Somalian language and to the architecture of the city.

It is noteworthy to pinpoint that Catholicism in Mogadiscio greatly increased under Italian rule. In the 1950s journalist and history writer Indro Montanelli wrote on magazine "Il Borghese" that Italian Mogadishu in 1942 -after the arrival of the British- was an African capital where most of inhabitants were Catholics: he indicated that of the 95,000 inhabitants more than 40,000 were Italians, while inside the less than 55,000 Somalis there were nearly 8,000 Catholics including the many illegitimate sons of Italian soldiers and Somalis native girls, who were baptized in order to get Italian identification. This meant to him that more than half of the Mogadiscio inhabitants were Catholics in that year, but soon they started to disappear (since the late 1970 practically there are no more catholics in Mogadishu:)


''The story of Mogadishu’s Modernist buildings begins during the time of Italian colonial rule. Unlike Asmara in Eritrea and Tripoli in Libya, where the Italians built their colonial city alongside the native walled town, in Mogadishu the walls of the old medina were torn down and the occupiers’ buildings imposed in the city centre.''Rakesh Ramchum

In 1905 was started a plan to develop the city, that the Italians found divided in two medieval areas: Amaruini and Scingani. In the middle was built the new "Corso Vittorio Emanuele III" (the main avenue) and governmental buildings with a garden area (that in 1934 was beautified with the "Arch of Umberto"). In 1928 was created the "Piano regolatore di Mogadiscio", the first urban planification for the city, when the medioeval Scingani was demolished and was created a modern area with new buildings and tree lined roads.

Since then in Mogadishu were made many architectural improvements before WW2 (read http://www.fedoa.unina.it/1881/1/Santoianni_Progettazione_Architettonica.pdf). The most inportant are:

1) the "Villa Somalia". It is the official presidential palace and principal workplace of the President of Somalia. It sits on high ground that overlooks the city on the Indian Ocean, with access to both the Port of Mogadishu & the harbour and the Aden Adde International airport.

Villa Somalia when inaugurated in the 1930s
The edifice was built -in partially modern art deco style- by the colonial authorities in Italian Somalia, serving as a residence for the Governors.

Villa Somalia sits on high ground that overlooks Mogadishu on the Indian Ocean, with nearby the first athletic structure for sport in Somalia. It was originally a large, squarish stucco building with a modern tiled roof.

Villa Somalia was built in the new section of the city created by the Italians in the late 1930s.
It was a famous symbol of modernist (art deco) architecture and one of the few in all Africa.

2) The "Governor's Palace of Mogadiscio". In the 1930s it was the seat of the governor of Italian Somalia, and then of the administrator of the "Trust Territory of Somalia" after WW2. It was built during the colonial period (in the late 1920s) in the capital city of Mogadishu: in those decades the city was improved with Italian architecture and urbanism: this palace was one of the most representatives of the colonial fascist architecture.

It was located on the "Corso Umberto", the main street of Italian Mogadiscio, and overlooked the ocean & the port. The architecture was a mixture of Italian and Arab styles, with the second floor decorated with Italian Renaissance furniture. A huge garden was created in front of the main entrance.

In the Palace, among other things, there were the following halls in the lower floor:

* Arab hall with decorations, which were derived from the Islamic architecture of the old Mogadishu.
* Rooms of "Queen Elena of Italy" with tapestries.
* "Sala della Giustizia" with furniture in the Gothic style of the Aosta Valley.
* Hall of deliberations, with the wall-scenes taken from the classical style of the Italian architecture and with a huge panel showing "San Giorgio".

The second floor was for private use, with rooms for royal guest.

It was inaugurated by Italian governor Cesare Maria De Vecchi, who ruled from 1923 to 1929. He ordered excavations in the gardens in front of the Palace that proved to be the ancient Arab palace of "El Muzaffar". In 1975 the Palace was completely razed to the ground (for political reasons) and the site was dedicated to the new construction of the luxurious "Al Uruba" (Curuuba) Hotel.

3) the "Garesa Museum" (actual "National Museum of Somalia") . In 1933, the building that used to be the "Garesa" residence of the Zanzibar Sultanate was totally reconstructed by the Italian governor Rava and adapted to the Somalia Museum.

It was the most important cultural place in Italian Mogadiscio.

The "Museo della Garesa" (as was called by the Italian colonists) was officially opened to the public the next year 1934 by Governor Maurizio Rava. The museum suffered heavy damages during WWII.

The just reconstructed white building of the "Garesa Museum" (in the center of photo)
After WWII, the old Garesa Museum was turned into the ''National Museum of Somalia''. The National Museum was later moved in 1985, renamed as the "Garesa Museum", and converted to a regional museum.

After shutting down, the National Museum later reopened: it holds many culturally important artefacts, including old coins, bartering tools, traditional artwork, ancient weaponry and pottery items.

4) the "Mogadishu Cathedral". Known as the ''Cattedrale di Mogadiscio'' (when inaugurated on March first, 1928), was constructed in a Norman "Gothic Revival architecture" style, based on the Cefalù Cathedral in Cefalù, Sicily. It was built in nearly six years by the Italian authorities in their former Italian Somalia, in a central area of the capital not far from the Governor's Palace of Mogadishu|

Indeed the Cathedral was built as the biggest in eastern Africa by order of Cesare Maria De Vecchi, a catholic governor of "Somalia italiana" who promoted the "Missionari della Consolata" christianization of Somalian people. It was built between 1923 and 1928 and was used as a model the "Cathedral of Cefalu" (in northern Sicily), created to commemorate the Christian reconquest of Sicily from the Arabs in the X century.

The Cathedral was done in "Norman" Gothic style, designed by architect Antonio Vandone. The facade, with an impressive appearance, was delimited to the sides by two towers, each 37.50 meters high. The plan of the building was a Latin cross; inside was divided into three naves separated by piers with pointed arches.

The church was entrusted to the "Consolata" missionaries, then replaced by the Franciscans (Friars Minor). The altar had a huge statue -done by sculptor Cesare Biscarra- of the Virgin Mary of Consolata, that looked at the parishioners in an impressive way like a statue of Roman Gods inside an ancient imperial temple.

5) the ''Fiat's Boero Building''. In 1939 Mogadishu was created a building that was judged as a masterpiece of the "Italian-Arab architecture".
The 'Fiat Boero' building
The "Officine Boero" had their headquarter in the building and were the best mechanical industry in Somalia.

Indeed in the surrounding manufacturing area was created the "Inataree" Somali version of the famous Fiat 650 truck, assembled near the "Porto di Mogadiscio"

6) the "Arch of Umberto". In 1934 Crown Prince Umberto II of Italy made his first publicized visit to Mogadishu. To commemorate the visit, the Arch of Umberto was constructed. The arch was built at the center of Mogadishu Garden.

7) the "Lyceum De Bono". It was the best school institution in Italian Somalia, with the official name: "Ginnasio-Liceo Emilio De Bono". It was built in Italian colonial "Art Deco" style, not far away from the "Mogadiscio Stazione ferroviaria" (railway station).

8) the "Casa del Fascio". The biggest and tallest building in Italian Mogadiscio was inaugurated in 1938 as the local offices of the National Fascist Party (later it was the headquarter of Somalian Parliament in the 1960s)

The building was considered a masterpiece of the "fascist architecture".

It was in marble and red bricks, with a tower  (called "Torre Littoria") of 30 meters capped by a fare.

The hall of entrance was fully in marm, while nearly 60 offices were created in a 1970 m2 area.

The building -inspired to the Florence's Renaissance buildings- was one of the first in reinforced concrete in Somalia. (read for further information: https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:jXfU9qTuwcgJ:https://flore.unifi.it/retrieve/handle/2158/806310/25802/tesi%2520parte%25202.pdf+&cd=8&hl=it&ct=clnk&gl=us
9) Other important architectures & buildings were: the ''Arco Trionfale'' (made in 1928); the ''Albergo Croce del Sud'' (a modern "Art Deco" hotel); the "Scuola Regina Elena" (the first educational building in Mogadiscio); the "Palazzo degli Uffici" (neoclassical Italian style administrative building, that after WW2 was the headquarter of the Italian administration of Somalia by ONU mandate in the 1950s) and the ''Cinema Italia'' (the first cinema theater in Mogadishu).


There were many institutions of the Italian government in Mogadiscio, all concentrated in the area centered around the Mogadiscio cathedral and the Governor's Palace.

The following were the official Institutions created by the Italians and their government in Mogadiscio (for further information read Institutions & Educational organizations in AOI):

* Schools for Italians:
**Scuola elementare mista • Ginnasio-Liceo Emilio De Bono
**Missione cattolica dei Cappuccini
**Asilo d’infanzia e scuola elementare parificata mista Regina Elena

* Schools for Native Somalis:
**Missione cattolica orfanotrofio Guido ed Elisa Corni e scuola parificata
**Scuola speciale per i figli dei notabili somali

* Associations, Media and Cinema/Theaters:
**Casa del Fascio
**Opera Nazionale Dopolavoro
**Museo della Garesa
**Laboratorio chimico-batteriologico
**Regio Automobile Club d’Italia
**Consociazione Turistica Italiana
**Compagnia Italiana Turismo (CIT)
**Circolo Duchessa d’Aosta
**Circolo del Tennis
**Associazione Motociclistica Mogadiscio
**Associazione Sportiva Mogadiscio
**Unione Sportiva Mogadiscio
**Cinema Impero
**Cinema Italia
**Supercinema (with theater installations)
**Istituto Luce
**«Bollettino ufficiale e foglio d’ordini e di comunicazioni del Governo della Somalia Italiana»
**«Bollettino della Federazione dei Fasci di combattimento»
**Newspaper «Il Littoriale» (edizione Somalia)
**Newspaper «Somalia Fascista»
**Magazine «Somalia Sportiva»
**Magazine «Somalia Cristiana»

Thursday, November 2, 2017


There are growing evidences that in the centuries of the Roman empire there was a huge trade between the western sub-Saharan Africa and the Mediterranean region. I have written an article about this commerce in en. Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romans_in_Sub-Saharan_Africa

Indeed there were a group of military and commercial expeditions by the Romans across the Sahara Desert, into the interior of western Africa (and its coast). They were made by the Roman Empire between the first and the fourth century AD. One of the main reasons of the explorations, according to academics like Jonathan Roth, was to procure gold and spices.

Roman objects are found in the Sahara, and, significantly, along the western "caravan" route. This route went from Leptis Magna & Sabratha toward the Gadames oasis and the actual Fezzan region (then controlled by the Garamantes) and finally reached the Ahaggar mountains and the Timbouctou/Gao region in the Niger river.

Indeed numerous Roman artifacts have been found at the Garamantes’ capital of Germa in the Fezzan of Libya. There is evidence of Roman style irrigation being introduced and for at least some Garamantes adopting a sedentary and a town, if not urban, lifestyle. Most striking is the large Roman-syle mausoleum found there, evidence either of Roman presence or of Romanization of the elite. Between Germa and Ghat in the Hoggar mountains have been found Roman ceramics, glass, jewelry and coins dating from the 1st to the 4th centuries.

Farther down the route, at the oasis of Abelessa, is the site known locally as the Palace of Tin Hinan. There is a charming local legend about it, but it seems to have been a fortress, in one room of which was found the skeletal remains of a woman, along with a number of Late Roman objects, including a lamp, a golden bracelet and a 4th century coin. Finally, there was a cache of Roman coins found at Timissao only 600 kilometers from the Niger.

Additionally it is noteworthy to pinpoint that in actual Burkina Faso there it is a place -near the border with Niger (and Gao)- where in 1975 has been discovered the so called Bura culture: Kissih (also named "Kissi"). This culture existed since the late first century (when the Festus expedition was done) and produced a variety of distinctive artifacts made of clay, iron and stone. Christopher Kelly claims that analysis of copper-based objects found at Kissih in northern Burkina Faso (and belonging to the Bura culture) suggests that material of them is derived from ores in the north Africa Mediterranean area under Roman control: this fact shows highly probable Roman merchants presence in Burkina Faso (read: http://www.academia.edu/3596759/Contacts_Between_West_Africa_and_Roman_North_Africa_Archaeometallurgical_Results_from_Kissi_Northeastern_Burkina_Faso )

Furthermore it is possible that the Kissih area could have been reached by Roman merchants through another route that was near the Atlantic ocean, going down from Volubilis in Mauretania to the Senegal river (where have been discovered some Roman coins). And in this case we cannot exclude the maritime trade route that has been proved to exist from Sala colonia (near actual Rabat) toward Essoura and Mogador island (in the Rio de Oro region of southern Morocco): ships of Roman merchants -even if with difficulties- could have reached the Dakar region and the mouth of the Senegal river.

Of course there are many books and articles written about this trade: the following is an interesting research related to this trade, written by Sonja Magnavita ("Premiers contacts. La recherche des traces de commerce ancien entre l’Afrique de l'Ouest et le reste du monde").

Ancient trade connections between West Africa and the Roman empire, by Sonja Magnavita

Before the first Arab textual sources appeared towards the end of the first millennium AD, virtually nothing tangible was reported on the regions beyond the southern fringes of the Sahara. When Arabo-Islamic armies conquered North Africa in the 7th–8th century AD, accompanying merchants accessed the roads to the West African Sahel region soon thereafter. Over the subsequent centuries the organised Trans-Saharan trade developed quickly and reached a first peak in the early second millennium AD. Coming back to Antiquity, we shall pose the question as to whether trans-Saharan trade contacts prior to the Arab conquest of North Africa, yet not unambiguously traceable by written sources, are detectable archaeologically. Making no claim to be complete, this brief paper provides an insight into the current state of our knowledge on what can be called the ‘archaeology of first contact’ between people living on both sides of the Sahara. First we will discuss the still meagre but growing evidence available on this matter for the southern fringes of the desert and then take a look at the results of research carried out to the north. The paper concludes by tackling the long-standing discussion on a possible pre-Arab trans-Saharan trade in gold and introducing the initial results of new research on this subject.

A look to the south

Up to the 1990s, scholars practising the still comparatively young discipline of African archaeology concluded that pre-Arab trans-Saharan trade enterprises that might have been of any economic importance were either non-existent or did not leave visible traces in the West African Sahel. In 1996, the discovery of the Iron Age cemeteries of Kissih in Burkina Faso again brought to mind the prospect that the general lack of archaeological evidence for a pre-Arab trans-Saharan commerce is more probably a by-product of research deficit than a matter of fact. Excavations at these sites revealed that a number of valuable goods from various parts of Africa and the wider world were finding their way into the West African Sahel earlier and, more importantly, on a larger scale than previously thought. All in all, thousands of beads made of different materials, more than a thousand of them being of glass, as well as brass jewellery and cowries were found among other goods brought to the Sahel from far distant regions. While the cowries were identified as Cypraea moneta, deriving most likely from the Indian Ocean, the origin of the glass used to manufacture most of the glass beads was chemically traced to the Middle East and some of the tested copper alloys to regions along the Mediterranean Sea, possibly including Carthage. Other objects of likely northern origin found at Kissih include the first known West African swords as well as curved daggers and wool textiles, most of these dated to pre-8th century AD contexts.

Even though only some of these luxuries could be unquestionably dated to a period before the Arab conquest of North Africa, they nevertheless document that initial encounters involving the exchange of valuable items between the West African Sahel and the wider world were not initiated by merchants who came into North Africa along with the Arab armies. Rather, they prove that a flow of luxury objects reached the Sahel from beyond the Sahara throughout the first millennium AD, thus encompassing not only the early Islamic period but also (late) Roman and Byzantine times. Due to the large number of metallic artefacts in some graves, organic materials such as fragments of woollen textiles, leather, basketry and wood were prevented from total annihilation and so yielded the rare opportunity of being able to directly C14-date non-charred organic material. Whilst most of the dated graves belong to the 2nd to 7th centuries AD, excavations in settlement contexts at Kissih proved that the spot was occupied by a sedentary iron-using community between the ca. 4th century BC and the 12th–13th century AD. Evidently, imported objects were then so valuable that they only rarely came to light in the course of the investigations at settlement areas; throughout contexts of the first millennium AD, they were merely found at richly appointed graves. In fact, the first few glass beads from settlement areas merely date to post-9th century AD contexts. By then, the Arab-driven trans-Saharan trade was in full bloom and the value of the formerly very precious trade goods, like Middle Eastern glass, had presumably already dropped.

Other West African locations where evidence for pre-Arabic long-distance contacts was found in secure archaeological contexts are fairly rare. A few isolated glass beads of non-West African origin were also excavated in Djenné-Jeno, Mali. One of these likely derived from Asia (India to East Asia), and dates to sometime in the period 3rd century BC-1st century AD. Two others have a distant, but not securely determinable origin. They came from somewhere in the greater Mediterranean-Near East region and date to between the 4th and 9th century AD. Though present at the later location in much lower numbers than in Kissih, the Djenné-Jeno discoveries nevertheless provide evidence for probably sporadic, incidental contacts between North and West Africa during the first millennium AD. That in a given moment those early contacts might have ceased being merely indirect or occasional, ‘down-the-line’ exchanges of goods through the desert is supported by the discovery in West Africa of the means of transportation that later on enabled the Arab-driven long-distance trade to flourish: pack animals. As indicated by the dated remains of donkey (1st and 3rd century AD) and dromedary (3rd to 4th century AD) from the Middle Senegal River sites of Siouré and Cubalel, close to the Mauritanian border, the shift to economically more significant, direct exchanges through the desert became at least technically possible from then on.

In addition to these locations, there are a number of West African archaeological sites or finds related to long-distance connections, but their insecure dating or context make them less valuable for the scope of the present discussion. Two examples of such evidence come from the Niger Republic: the necropolis of Bura Asinda-Sikka and the statuette from Zangon Dán Makéri. The famous necropolis of Bura Asinda-Sikka in Southwest Niger is approximately dated both via C14 on charcoal and geological surveying to between the 3rd and 13th or 3rd and 10th–11th centuries AD. It revealed anthropomorphic and zoomorphic terracotta figurines connected with inhumations, many of which were accompanied by grave goods such as copper-alloy jewellery, iron weapons and beads. Among the latter are also numerous glass beads. The depiction of horses and the presence of glass and copper-based objects at the site clearly indicate links to North Africa; however, their exact age could not be ascertained yet. New, reliable absolute dates are indeed urgently needed. Work on this is currently being undertaken by the author, as datable organic fibres (mainly of woven textiles) were found adhering to some metal grave goods during an inspection of finds excavated by the Institut de Recherches en Sciences Humaines, Niamey, in the 1990s. Beyond that, chemical analyses of copper and glass from dated contexts might help to trace the origin of some of the selected objects. This research is at its beginnings and results will be published in due time.

The intriguing Janus bronze statuette found at Zangon Dan Makéri in southern Niger is another artefact found south of the Sahara which potentially may have derived from pre-Arab cross-desert contacts. Stylistically dated to 2nd century AD Roman North Africa, the circumstances of its discovery remain obscure. Without any knowledge of the archaeological context it derives from, it is not possible to conclude on whether it was really brought to the Sahel in Roman times, in the course of the medieval, Arab-driven trans-Saharan trade or even later. Indeed, the same is true for the sporadic Roman coin finds made here and there in the Sahara and in sub-Saharan Africa. Bare of any archaeological context, they are today not much more than amazing curiosities. To date, no Roman coin has ever been excavated at a West African sub-Saharan archaeological site.

A look to the north

It is without dispute that there was a flow of trade goods from Roman North Africa into Garamantian territory, and vice versa. But is there secure archaeological evidence in the Sahara or north of it for pre-Arab Trans-Saharan trade too, i.e., trade goods from sub-Saharan Africa transported across the Sahara to North Africa? The Garamantes have been often cited as having played the role of middlemen in a very old and organised trade between northern and inner Africa. A number of archaeologists working in the Fezzan and on its southern boundaries have indeed openly advocated, or at least uncritically agreed on, the existence of Garamantian long-distance trade between both sides of the Sahara. However, looking closely at the archaeological evidence on which the alleged trade contacts between the Garamantian core territory in southwest Libya and the sub-Saharan region is based, it becomes clear how fragile the arguments in favour of such an ancient connection presently are.

In fact, and to start with, there is so far no hard and verifiable evidence of items of West African origin traded into Garamantian territory. Beyond the insecure interpretation of classical documents, much of the archaeological evidence, upon which the hypothesises around a putative Garamantian long-distance trade rests, refers to the sites of the Wadi Tanezzuft in southwestern Fezzan. Due to its fortified character and location on an ancient commercial route used in medieval times, the excavators considered the citadel of Aghram Nadharif to be a kind of gate that funnelled and controlled the flow of goods coming from the south. Archaeological finds that could have substantiated this line of reasoning were, however, not retrieved from the excavations carried out at that location. Accordingly, the relation of Aghram Nadharif and of the Garamantes with a trans-Saharan trade still remains unproven.

In spite of this, it is worth mentioning that the presence in the Wadi Tanezzuft Garamantian sites of roulette-impressed pottery shards has been seen as evidence for such contacts. Roulette impression indeed appears as the main decoration for pottery in the region from the Final Pastoral Phase onwards, i.e., the early first millennium BC. The technique of decorating pottery by cord roulettes is widespread throughout West Africa, both in time and space. However, neither the geographical limits of its use nor the mechanisms of its distribution between neighbouring regions are yet fully understood, although progress has been made in more recent years. The stylistic comparison of widespread decoration techniques such as cord roulette impressions is, in my opinion, a rather weak tie for making a case for trade between the Garamantes’ territory and the Sahel. Petrographical and chemical analysis of the cord roulette-impressed pottery matrix, on the other hand, is a logical step forward to verify the hypothesis that the Garamantes were trading with the far-distant south. The results of such analyses on material from Aghram Nadharif, however, do not support this hypothesis as they show that the relevant pottery was made from local clay. The same is true for some shards decorated with red and white paint, which M. Liverani seeks to link with those from the Inland Niger Delta and Djenné Jeno as well as with the Chad Basin, while M. C. Gatto rather explores connections between the painted cross-hatched motifs and similar motifs in the Borkou area. The fact that no pottery with truly Sahelian origin was found in the tested assemblage is explained by a trade with the south that neither involved pottery nor goods transported in pottery containers. Nevertheless, Liverani argues that frequent contacts with the Sahel triggered the use of these pottery decorations among the Garamantians in the first centuries AD. Gatto, on the other hand, rather suggests that female potters originating from the Sahel intermarried with Garamantians and kept their pottery traditions over generations. In principle, these possibilities cannot be fully dismissed without further substantial work on the diffusion of the cord roulette technique into Saharan Africa. However, it is important to note that decoration may be also in this case much less significant than pottery-making techniques for tracing back the origins of the people who made them. In this respect, the main shaping technique used at Aghram Nadharif – moulding/pinching and coiling – is not a common technique among the Sahelian pottery traditions claimed to relate to the Garamantians (Niger Bend, Lake Chad region). In most parts of those territories, the prevailing techniques during the time concerned (ca. 500 BC onwards) were variants of forming the body of a vessel over a convex or, more widespread, concave mould or form, often in combination with coiling of the upper vessel/rim part. M. Liverani assumes that, instead of pottery, mainly archaeologically invisible merchandise was traded between the Sahel, the Garamantian territory and beyond. These are thought to have consisted, as in medieval times, of salt, slaves and gold.

Ancient gold trade

While the first two trade items mentioned by Liverani are actually relatively improbable to be recognised in the archaeological record, the third has at least a chance to do so. Indeed, whether West African gold once did reach pre-Arab North Africa is difficult, but not impossible, to verify. Already in the 1980s, T. Garrard tried to explain a peak in Carthaginian gold mint issues with the export of gold from regions south of the Sahara to North Africa. A. Gondonneau and M. F. Guerra analysed North African gold coins from different periods, including a few of the very last Byzantine ones and such from the first Arab dynasties. The chemical fingerprint of the gold coins was also compared with modern gold nuggets from Ghana, Ivory Coast and Mali. According to their analyses, the first West African gold reached North Africa in the middle of the 8th century AD. Older gold artefacts than the last coins issued by the Byzantines were not tested, nor were gold nuggets from the eastern Niger Bend. Thus, the analyses only show that native gold from Ghana, Ivory Coast (i.e., the Upper Volta or Mouhoun River gold) and Mali (the Upper Niger gold) was most likely not traded to North Africa before the 8th century AD. This fits well with the archaeological record, for no trade items from northern Africa were found in those southern regions before the 8th century AD either. Since trade items from northern Africa and the wider world were discovered at the eastern Niger Bend prior to the 8th century AD, and since native gold is found there in abundance, it would be interesting to know whether gold from that area matches chemically with pre-Arab North African gold coins.

Another interesting question is whether there is archaeological evidence for the exploitation of the eastern Niger Bend gold deposits prior to the onset of the Arab trans-Saharan trade. First attempts to solve the latter problem were made by J. Devisse, reporting on the middle Sirba River in Burkina Faso. However, the only known archaeological site possibly related to gold exploitation was relatively young, merely dating to the ca. 14th–15th century AD. That gold from the eastern Niger Bend was possibly traded towards the north by the onset of the Arab trans-Saharan trade is also assumed by S. Nixon. Excavating in the medieval Saharan merchant town of Essouk/Tadmekka in eastern Mali, he discovered direct archaeological evidence for the local production of the “bald dinars”, a process later on described by the geographer al-Bakri (11th century AD). Dating to the 9th–10th century AD, Nixon’s finds are so far the oldest hard evidence for trade in gold on the borderland between the Sahel and the Sahara. In this respect, and as Essouk/Tadmekka is situated just to the north of the eastern Niger Bend, a contemporary and pre-9th century AD trade in gold from the gold-bearing tributaries of the Niger River such as the Sirba and Dargol has to be seriously considered.

In 2008, an archaeological site on the lower Sirba River in Niger, close to its confluence with the River Niger, was discovered by the author and colleagues, and test-pitted in the following year. Named Garbey Kourou after the adjacent village, the site consists of two near settlement mounds, located at an elevated point on the northern bank of the Sirba River. In the direct vicinity of the site, modern gold-diggers still pan gold dust from the river bed during the dry season. Two test-pits dug at each of the mounds revealed stratified material throughout the mound deposits, reaching down to depths of 1.2m and at least 2.6m. A series of radiocarbon dates indicates that the mounds were formed between the 4th and 11th centuries AD. In the second Test, a refuse pit radiocarbon-dated to the ca. 4th to 6th century AD was found. Along with potshards, faunal and charred botanical remains, it also contained several fragments of clay crucibles. The crucibles were obviously discarded in the pit after having been used, but what was being melted in them has not yet been satisfactorily determined. A microscopical analysis, conducted by E. Pernicka from CEZ Mannheim, revealed the sporadic presence of copper, silver and gold flitters in the pores of the crucible walls, but none of these flitters showed traces of melting. An XRF-study is currently undertaken on a larger number of crucible fragments in order to trace the material processed in the crucibles. Since a small glass bead was likewise found in the same pit, it is obvious that, as at Kissih, the inhabitants of the Sirba valley were receiving goods from North Africa as early as the 4th to 6th century AD.

It is tempting to presume that the ancient metal workers at Garbey Kourou already mined, processed and exchanged gold from the riverbed nearby for the exotic goods from the north. In the case that such a notion can be substantiated through new finds, this would be a considerable step towards solving the long lasting discussion about an ancient gold trade between West and Roman North Africa prior to the Arab conquest of North Africa.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017


Italians started late to have colonies in eastern Africa, but in a few decades developed an approach to the colonization of their colonies that was different from the one of other European countries (like Great Britain, France and Germany). Indeed the Italians soon tried to use their colonial territories as a possible "melting pot" for their emigrants. Information about their lifestyles has been showed in my issue of March 2016 (https://researchomnia.blogspot.com/2016/03/life-in-italian-eastern-africa.html).

The first thing they did was to help the local populations with ordering the elimination of the shameful "slavery". Later the Italian government created a scholastic system for the native that -with all its problems and insufficiencies- was one of the best in all colonial Africa. And in the late 1930s for all the native children in Italian east Africa was introduced the law that imposed mandatory elementary school (at least 3 years, in order to make all of them to be able to write & read): it was a revolutionary improvement for all "black Africa"! Furthermore, from the legal point of view, the "mixed-race" sons of Italians and native girls were the only in Africa with the same rights (but with little limitations, mainly during Fascism) of the MadrePatria/Motherland's European citizens, while in German East Africa and even in British African colonies these "coloured" had no rights at all!

The Italian colonists brought with them not only new roads, but also their passion for race cars: in Eritrea and Somalia were created the "Grand Prix" of Asmara & Mogadiscio, that was welcomed by all the native population. And the same happened with the airplanes, ships and trains: the "Linea dell'Impero" was one of the first intercontinental air routes in the world, connecting directly Rome with Asmara and Mogadiscio; the most modern transatlantic ships went from Genoa to Massaua and Mogadiscio, while new train railways were built (and were projected). The first hospitals, sewage systems, radio communications were created in the 1930s by these colonists in Italian eastern Africa....were done even the first steps toward the creation of a university in Mogadiscio and Asmara: read http://researchomnia.blogspot.com/2016/04/italian-schools-in-asmara-after.html. The area of Asmara was becoming an industrial hub with a development unique in all Africa...but WW2 blocked (and destroyed) all this!

An Italian colonist family arriving in Italian Africa in the late 1930s
The following is an interesting article, written by Gian-Luca Podesta of the University of Parma, on the subject:

Colonists and “Demographic” Colonists. Family and Society in Italian Africa

Until 1936 the family question was not an issue in Italian colonies, as the number of Italian residents was insignificant and consisted mostly of young males employed in the civil service or in the few commercial enterprises. The economy in the Italian colonies was poor and backward. Eritrea and Somalia did not offer Europeans the chance to lead a decent life, whilst Libya was also poor and, moreover, Italians until 1932 controlled only part of its territory, because the Arabs had revolted against the occupiers. Residence in the colonies was usually temporary. Had they wanted to take their families with them, Italians would have found it very difficult to secure a decent home. Services were lacking, as well as hospitals, and even State schools, as education was still entrusted to catholic missions. Only in Eritrea some Italian men had set up home with African women of the Coptic faith, meeting with much disapproval on the part of the local bourgeoisie. Sometimes, children born of these mixed unions would be recognised by the father, thus acquiring Italian citizenship (Sorgoni, 1998). Mostly, however, cohabitation was not legitimated by matrimony, and after the father’s return to his homeland, the children were often abandoned by their mother. Catholic missionaries used to take them in and give them a summary education, so they could get some manual work. Such cases were however rare: most children born of mixed unions did not have Italian fathers, but other colonists, such as Greeks, or men from comparable countries, for example citizens of the Ottoman empire (Lebanese, Syrians and Egyptians), who, however, were placed lower than Europeans in the social hierarchy. The number of Italians, both men and women, was slight and this caused unease among colonialists back home, because in fifty years Italy had not even managed to populate its own colonies. The situation was so dire that some scientists elaborated a controversial plan to increase the number of Italians in Eritrea.

In 1927 Domenico Simoncelli, one of the young assistants of the statistician and demographer Corrado Gini at Rome University, put forward a peculiar proposal to solve the problem of “racial crossing” and increase the number of Italian families in the colonies. On the basis of Gini’s fascinating theory, Simoncelli contradicted the idea that mixed-bloods were an inferior and less fertile race (Pogliano, 2005). He recalled that in the past the different races had always merged, generating stronger peoples, well apt to reproduce themselves. The opinion according to which half-castes would inherit only the worse features of each parent race was false, because what was attributed to nature was in fact due to poverty. Indeed, as the Spanish and Portuguese had demonstrated, mixed bloods were efficient colonisers and were better suited to colonial climate. Simoncelli suggested that it was necessary to facilitate the acknowledgement of paternity and of attribution of Italian citizenship to mixed-blood children (Pogliano, 2005). Latin people’s “temperament” was more apt to promote mixed unions and assimilation, unlike the Anglo-Saxons, who dominated rather than “shape”.

If mixed relationships were almost inexistent in Libya and Somalia, their number was growing in Eritrea, where, however, half-castes enjoyed a precarious social status, disliked by Italians and despised by the natives. However, in Simoncelli’s view, if they had been educated and protected, they could make up a class of “good, laborious, honest and civilised” citizens. In the future, he thought, it was also necessary to consider the “gradual replacement” of the African population with “new elements” in which Italians would inoculate, through race crossing, “their own blood, their qualities and culture”, thus promoting the expansion of a new colonial society: “It is the white man who has invaded and is invading the world, multiplying his conquests every day; it is he who goes and seeks out the coloured races in their own countries, and everywhere mixes his blood with theirs. More or less, all mixed-blood races recognise him as their father, and this causes them to be educated at the level of the superior mother race.” (Simoncelli, 1929).

Only ten years later the formulation of such a hypothesis would have been inconceivable. As already mentioned, Simoncelli’s proposal was not original, because it stemmed from a theory elaborated by Corrado Gini (Gini, 1912), one of the most famous Italian scientists, well-known all over the world for his contributions to statistics, demography and eugenics. In order to justify the decreasing birth rate in the Western world, Gini had formulated a cyclic theory of differential fertility, dependent on biological factors. In his opinion, inside any country, the intellectually sophisticated, but decadent and scarcely fertile ruling classes were contrasted with the lower classes, uncouth and uneducated perhaps, but highly vital (Cassata, 2006). It was they who, according to Gini, contributed most to the regeneration of society. Gini stated that nations in their history went through various stages of birth, growth and decadence, depending on the behaviour of their social classes. There was continuous exchange between higher and lower ranks of people, between the prolific and the sterile strata of society (Treves, 2001). History could offer many instances of decadent races mixing with more vital ones, producing a new biologically regenerated race (for example the Romans with the barbarians, or the American melting-pot). Gini denied that half-castes were biologically inferior, even though he recommended that race crossing should not take place between peoples who were too different from each other, as in the case of blacks and whites. But Gini also supported the idea that Eritreans were superior to African blacks. At the time Gini was a very important figure in the fascist regime, and he had inspired Mussolini’s demographic policy (Ipsen, 1992). In fact fertility policies were a common European phenomenon. The discussion centred around the problem of the decreasing birth rates, inspired by the scientists, became in that tormented period a precise political programme, both in democratic and authoritarian states (Treves, 2001). Liberal and social democratic governments entered the delicate sphere of men and women’s sexual behaviour, for example in Belgium, Weimar Germany, France and Sweden. The first signs of increased attention had already emerged during the First World War in Germany (Weidling, 1989) and in France (Wishnia, 1995; Le Naour, 2002). In 1940 the English demographer David Victor Glass published the first organic study on the population issue in Europe (Glass, 1940). He was worried by his country’s decadence, caused by the simultaneous decrease in birth rates and by the aging population. Glass was convinced that the British government should implement a demographic policy aimed at contrasting both phenomena, but he also believed that a liberal government must necessarily obey its own democratic principles, and not operate along authoritarian lines. This is a crucial difference. In a totalitarian state such as fascist Italy (and later Nazi Germany and partly also in Stalin’s Soviet Union), where numbers meant power, the demographic policy became an essential element in the life of the State, not only as a political programme, but above all as a founding myth used to mobilise the people and direct consensus towards the regime. In the fascist state, even a technical matter such as the monetary policy to return into the gold standard (“Quota 90”) was used by Mussolini as a myth for mobilisation. Moreover, Mussolini was worried because the lowe-ring birth rates were more evident in the cities, while he wanted to maintain a balance between urban areas and the countryside. That is why he started the integral land-reclaiming campaigns and encouraged the settlement of reclaimed areas, as well as elaborating his demographic policies. Mussolini believed that peasants, free from urban hedonism, would retain those features of strength, vitality and sobriety which, in his opinion, represented the values that should characterise the new fascist Italians; peasants, moreover, begot more children than town dwellers. The programme of demographic colonisation, which originated in Italy and was later exported to Libya and Ethiopia, was fundamental because it would prevent Italy from undergoing the consequences of that which Mussolini called the bourgeois degenerations of urbanism: hedonism, consumerism, low fertility and pacifism. That is why he wanted the organic family unit to become the basis for emigration to the colonies: to preserve and expand the Italian race and to maintain that vitality which he believed was being inexorably undermined by the increase in the urban population in Italy.

The demographic policy constituted the core of the fascist racial strategy originated after the conquest of Ethiopia in 1936 (Maiocchi, 1999). But as early as 1933, the new legislation for Eritrea contained some stronger measures aimed at lessening the position of half-castes in colonial society. For the first time race, i.e. a rigorous evaluation of physical and somatic features, became the most important element among those necessary to acquire Italian citizenship (Sorgoni, 1998). This was a significant move away from the previous laws elaborated by liberal governments and respected by the fascist regime until 1933: from a judgement on the degree of civilisation and education, the legislators started to take into account the explicit study of racial membership, measured on the basis of anthropological and physical factors. Gini’s theories were considered irrelevant by now, and the scientist himself could no longer influence Mussolini. 1937 is the year when, after the conquest of Ethiopia, racism became official State policy. In the new legislative system of Italian East Africa (Africa Orientale Italiana – AOI) people born of mixed unions were no longer considered. In fascism’s new racist biological conception, they were relegated to the category of subjects, i.e. they were equated with the mother and could never become Italian citizens. The question of half-castes in the new fascist racial policy was different from that implemented by democratic colonial powers such as Great Britain and France. It was no longer just a problem of white dignity, or of the risks for the social order caused by the creation of a class of uprooted people; nor was it a matter of the immoral intercourse between colonisers and subject women (Stoler, 1991), or of prostitution and prophylaxis against the spreading of venereal diseases (Levine, 2003). Gone was the attention given to possible ambiguities generated by the effort to conjugate the right to equality guaranteed by the mother country, with the problems caused by the number of mixed bloods and by the effort to lay down the criteria to recognise their right to citizenship (Saada, 2007). Mussolini wished the fascist regime to be a social experiment, in which the new Italian colonists, made stronger by war and by the colonisation enterprise, would show the world that they represented the new type of Italian created by the fascist regime: sober, warrior-like, vital and prolific. This is why Mussolini was strongly against sexual relationships between Italian men and African women, and even more strongly stigmatised the birth of mixed-blood children. Mussolini was really convinced that the Ethiopian guerrilla was caused by the fact that Italians, by abusing African women, had lost any appearance of dignity and superiority in the eyes of the natives (Podestà, 2007). Only the outmost separation of the two races would restore Italian superiority. Racial legislation in AOI was indeed directed against Italians, not Africans. In 1937 the law only punished those who really cohabited with African women, as if they were married (Sorgoni, 1998). In 1939 the law was made more restrictive, punishing anybody who with their actions diminished the prestige of the Italian race, both by having sexual intercourse or just by patronising bars or other enterprises reserved for Africans. As early as in 1937, Mussolini had ordered the repatriation of over 100,000 Italian workers, because he thought they were engaged in too humble occupations and regularly mixed with African people. Emigration to AOI was going to be severely monitored and priority would be given to citizens endowed with the appropriate moral and political requisites, willing to take their families with them. The objective was to found a new Italy overseas. Following fascism’s Darwinian theories, somebody even suggested that the superior Italian race would soon reach and overtake in numbers the decadent Africans. Fascist racism transcended colonial policies and the question of Italian-African relationships. By then the matter of the relationship between the races did no longer concern the contingent aspects of sexual intercourse (for this, Italian prostitutes were introduced into the colony, and all military personnel were given condoms), or of half-castes (it was no longer a question of civilisation and education, but of biology), but it was fully inserted into the fascist regime’s general strategy for government. After the experience of AOI, racism would become a new myth for mass mobilisation, just like in Germany. The indifferent behaviour of many Italians in the colonies persuaded Mussolini of the necessity to implement a more violent racist policy. As early as 1937, piqued by an article appeared in a German news-paper which alleged the massive presence of Jews in the Italian empire, he had ordered a survey to be carried out on the number of Jewish officials and soldiers in AOI, and in 1938 he issued racial laws against Italian Jews (Matard-Bonucci, 2007). In a totalitarian regime such as fascism, colonial policy also loses its specificity, becoming an integral part of general state policy. The comparisons with democratic colonial powers’ policies should always remember this peculiarity or risk seeming partial and sometimes unclear. Italy was the only totalitarian country which possessed colonies. In Africa Mussolini wanted to enact a social experiment, in order to turn Italian settlers into prolific and bellicose racists. Only the policies implemented by Stalin, with the forced relocation and Russianisation imposed on Asian populations in the Soviet Union, could be vaguely compared to Mussolini’s social engineering. In Libya and Italian East Africa too, the fascists planned the forced transfer of part of the African population, in order to make space for new Italian colonists. On the other hand the question of mixed-bloods was only evident in AOI, because in Libya, just like in Algeria (Saada, 2007), it was practically non-existent.

In fact the new role of the family in the fascist empire derived from the regime’s racial policies. Half-castes had to disappear, and in any case they were considered for all purposes as African subjects; for matters of prestige of the Italian race it was deemed appropriate to adopt a policy for the family. The fascist regime’s racial policy, directly inspired by Mussolini, was aimed at preventing “the procreation of half-castes in the most totalitarian way possible” by issuing a series of laws that tried to prevent and punish sexual intercourse between Italians and Africans: “It is proven by biological law that half-castes inherit the mother’s physical characteristics more than the father’s; it is proven that they are generally and permanently useless for the purposes of any creative occupation; it is proven that half-castes are inclined to degenerative forms of various kinds; it is proven that they despise their coloured ancestors and, generally speaking, hate their white ones.” (Sangiorgi, 1937).

In Mussolini’s view, the colonisation of the new Italian Empire should be carried out through the immigration of Italian colonists, and in order to prevent (or better limit) interracial sexual intercourse it was indispensable to favour the transfer of whole family units, or to authorise the families of Italian men already settled in Africa to join them. If until 1935 Italian colonies were too poor to allow the immigration of large numbers of settlers, in later years the family became the basic organic element of fascist “populating” or demographic colonisation. But in order to accommodate the new families it was necessary to create houses, schools, hospitals and all the indispensable services. The programme would take years and a lot of money, but fascist Italy had little time and limited resources. The defeat in the Second World War would finally shatter Il Duce’s dream. The following paragraphs, listed in chronological order and distinct for all the African colonies, will try to delineate the development of Italian colonisation in Africa and, in particular, they will describe the fascist regime’s efforts to favour immigration by entire families. We will also highlight the break which took place, after 1934, with the praxis and the juridical customs of Italian colonialism during the liberal-democratic period and the first stages of the fascist regime, with the explicit purpose to create a new imperial model and favour the influx of new settlers.

A huge Italian family in 1940 Mogadiscio (Italian Somalia)
Eritrea and Somalia 1890-1934

In 1890 a plan for the experimental agricultural colonisation of Eritrea was approved. In the course of the debate the Prime Minister, Francesco Crispi, had stated that Italy could send to Eritrea “that mass of emigrants that were trying to find their way to America” (Battaglia, 1958; Podestà, 2007). The first ten peasant families settled down in their new land in December 1893, but the project collapsed in just two years. In 1896 the government blocked the colonisation programme and discouraged emigration through restrictive measures, decisively rejecting the hypothesis that Eritrea was about to become a “populating colony”.

In fact the colony had never attracted many immigrants. In 1893, 623 Italian civilians lived there, out of whom only 70 were women (Castellano, 1948; Ciampi, 1995). In 1905 the European population amounted to 3,949 inhabitants (including the so-called “assimilated” —Greeks, Egyptians, Turks, etc.), of whom 2,333 were Italian. European women were only 544, of whom 482 were Italian. The great majority of colonists consisted of single men; a consequence of this situation was the widespread cohabitation of Europeans with indigenous women (Barrera, 2002), even though this phenomenon was more common among the assimilated population. Only 126 married Italian men out of 331 had brought their family to Eritrea. However, the number of children born to Italian women had been increasing steadily since 1902: between 1886 (the first year in which they were monitored) and 1904, 369 live births were recorded, 880 until 1913 and 1,434 until 1921. We should add to these figures the children born of mixed unions, who were often acknowledged with some delay. Until 1923, 340 civil marriages were celebrated between Italians (the first was in 1888), whilst in 1931 the average size of colonial families was 3.1 members (4.3 in Italy).

From 1905 to 1931 the Italian civilian population increased steadily: in 1913 Italians were 2,410 (731 women), 3,571 in 1921 (1,163) and 4,188 in 1931 (1,717). Italian society was more stable and less unbalanced as regards the two sexes. Asmara presented a varied social composition, not too different from that encountered in any urban centre back in the mother country. By now Italians born in Eritrea made up about 40 % of the Italian population and the male-to-female ratio had evened out in the meantime, as women constituted 41 % of the Italian population. Of course the number of Europeans was small compared to about 600,000 Eritreans. Most Italians lived in Asmara (3,500) and Massawa (350), whilst a few dozens had settled in the other towns (Bertarelli, 1929).

Eritrea represented a remarkably unconventional colonial society compared to the classic exploitative colonies inhabited mainly by army personnel, civil servants and plantation owners. In early 1900 most settlers were indeed employed in the public sector (949 compared to 611 in the private sector), but in 1931 the ratio was inverted (631 compared to 1,200). The Italian settlers were farmers, miners, skilled workers, builders, craftsmen, clerks, traders, mechanics, shoemakers, tailors. There were also some representatives of the professions such as engineers, doctors, lawyers and pharmacists.
The colonial administration did not tolerate the presence of any poor Italians, providing for the repatriation of those who did not possess the means of supporting themselves. There were whites employed in humbler jobs, such as washerwomen and ironers, cooks, waiters and waitresses, kitchen assistants, dustmen, porters and water vendors, but almost all of them belonged to the group of the assimilated.

The first town planning schemes of all main locations were only elaborated as late as the beginning of the twentieth-century, and later updated (Podestà, 2009). In 1908 Asmara was divided into four areas: the first was exclusively reserved for Europeans, the second was mixed (Europeans and Africans), the third was for indigenous people and the fourth was destined to suburban homes (later it was assigned to the industrial area). Although town planning could not escape the model of colonial subjugation, discrimination had not produced “two distinct urban organisms” with that sharp separation between the new European quarters and the indigenous town encountered, for example, in French North Africa or in Libya (Zagnoni, 1993), where the colonial town was prevalently identifiable with the European zone. Except for Massawa, in the other towns the absolute absence of a pre-existing urban nucleus meant that the colonial city represented, both for Italians and for Eritreans, the only model. At the end of the 1920s, Asmara had a theatre and four cinemas.

In 1905 over 63 % of young Europeans under the age of twenty were illiterate. This high percentage was caused by the fact that most of the assimilated children were not enrolled in primary education. The government created some new primary schools in Asmara, Keren and Adi Ugri, but the colony’s school system remained inadequate and was entrusted mainly to the religious missions until the creation of the empire in 1936, even though at the beginning of the 1930s there was a functioning secondary school in Asmara, as well as a technical school and a scientific lyceum.

Despite some progress, the number of Italian families residing in the colony remained low. Most civil servants and army officers regarded their presence in Africa only as a transitory period in their lives and only a few (generally among the upper ranks) asked their wives and children to join them. These latter, however, sooner or later were forced to repatriate, if they aspired to any decent school education. It is also very difficult to evaluate what Italian family life was like. Unfortunately, we only have few sources to help us reconstruct even a summary picture of colonial society. A rare example is represented by Rosalia Pianavia-Vivaldi Bossinet, the wife of a top army officer, who spent three years in the colony from 1893 to 1895, and who also sent some reports back to L’Illustrazione Italiana magazine (Ghezzi, 2003). But Rosalia paid more attention to the exotic and folkloristic aspects of the colony rather than narrate Italians’ social life. Unfortunately Italian colonial society did not produce any Karen Blixen or Albert Camus.

An exemplary case (though certainly not representative of Italian colonialism) is that of the Pastori family, which I was able to study thanks to the existence of a family archive made up of documents, letters and photographs and on the basis of some oral testimonies (Podestà, 1989; Puglisi, 1952). Adriano Pastori, the pioneer, emigrated to Australia after dropping out of the Naval Academy. In Sidney he became a mining engineer and explored the Australian desert in search of gold. In 1900 Pastori was employed by the Eritrean government to explore the colony after gold had been found near Asmara. He took with him his wife, Elisabetta Bonfà, who between 1904 and 1910 gave birth to four daughters (one died just after birth). After his time in government service, Adriano Pastori independently exploited some gold veins in Eritrea and created a large ostrich farm in Sudan. In 1912 he explored the Dankalia Desert hoping to find oil; instead he only discovered a potassium deposit. A personal friend of Menelik and of his successor to the throne, Ligg Yassu, Pastori obtained from the Ethiopian government the exploitation rights. On the eve of the First World War his wife and daughters returned to Italy.

During the war he was kept under surveillance by the Italian secret service, because he was on too friendly terms with the Muslim Negus Ligg Yassu, who was suspected of sympathies towards the central empires. In 1916 Pastori sold his potassium mine to some important Italian industrialists. In 1918 he founded the Banca dell’Africa Orientale (East Africa Bank) and established a salt mine and a fishing business in Somalia. In 1924 Pastori, suspected of anti-fascism, was expelled from the colony. In 1925 he organised an expedition from Tanganyika to Angola, crossing the Congo. In 1928 Pastori set up a coffee plantation in the Belgian colony, which he then left to his daughter Maria and in the early 1930s he emigrated to Angola to set up another plantation, later entrusted to his daughters Luisa and Elda. The great depression and the collapse of coffee prices convinced him to abandon Africa. In 1937 he joined another son in the Philippines, in search of new opportunities. After a few months, Pastori died during a typhoon whilst he was sailing in the gulf of Leyte.

Adriano Pastori’s case is certainly exceptional; however, his family history offers a rather fascinating view over the long period. His daughters Maria in the Congo, Elda in Angola and Luisa in Eritrea wrote each other regularly until the 1970s; in their letters they recounted family events and commented on the most important political news, offering the researcher the possibility to explore the colonists’ relationship with Africa, as well as social customs in the colony, the persistence of hierarchical mechanisms even after the demise of colonialism and the point of view of Europeans vis-à-vis some often tragic events (like in Congo and Angola), of which they were spectators and sometimes the victims. It is not surprising that, except for some minor details, the lifestyle and mentality were rather similar.

For about twenty years Somalia was just a nominal colony: there were only a few dozens resident Italians, all military personnel or working as civil servants and technicians. Only during the Twenties a programme of agricultural colonisation was started, and the fascist regime promoted the emigration of a few hundred colonists to the area of the Webi Shabeelle. The new farms, about a hundred, produced mainly cotton until 1931, when this was replaced by bananas because of the price fall caused by economic depression. The banana crop was sold at subsidised prices to the State, who directly managed commercialisation through the Regia Azienda Monopolio Banane (RAMB – Royal Monopoly Banana Enterprise), created in 1935 (Podestà, 2004).

For many years farmers and their families constituted the most important nucleus of settlers. Only at the end of the 1920s an embryonic colonial society started to take shape, whose early effects can be traced in the development of the first urban plans for Mogadishu and other large towns (Gresleri, 1993a). The school system was entrusted to the Catholic missions. In their free time, Italian colonists could choose among several leisure clubs and a theatre/movie house annexed to the Italian East Africa Company storehouse in Mogadishu, as well as a cinema in the Duke of Abruzzi Village.

Italian students of a high school in Asmara (Italian Eritrea)
The Empire 1936-1943

The conquest of Ethiopia modified Italian colonial policy, shifting it to another level, that of the empire, a possibility which Mussolini had contemplated since the post-war period; this concept would become one of the regime’s pivotal points after the implementation of its demographic policy. The Empire, in Mussolini’s view, was above all an ideal and spiritual goal towards which Italians should strive to avoid the fate of the decadent people of the West. The meaning attributed to this term transcended the mere territorial enlargement of Italy’s dominions, to take on an almost metaphysical quality, representing the process of anthropological mutation of Italians wished for by the regime, in order to assert its revolutionary charge and fulfil Italy’s true mission.

Fascism’s idea of Empire conceived a new totalitarian colonial policy, which included some common guidelines for the colonies (such as the racial hierarchy and the school programmes), thus overcoming the historical, political and cultural heterogeneity of the various dominions, and also taking into account that one of the principal objectives was to create large Italian communities overseas. To highlight the differences between the fascist model and the classic colonialism of the other European powers, and underline its communitarian outlook, jurists defined the fascist Empire as a corpus misticum made up of several parts which, however, “although they all concurred to reach the same common goals and though each obtained its own advantage” (Ambrosini, 1940), were not on the same level: first came Italy and Albania, followed by Libya and the Italian islands in the Aegean sea; AOI came last.

Of course the elements concurring to make up the hierarchy of dominions were mainly racial and cultural. The administration of the territories was also differentiated: the Aegean Sea and Albania, which was part of the imperial community as an autonomous and independent entity associated to Italy, depended on the Foreign Ministry, whilst Libya and AOI depended on the Ministry for Italian Africa (Ministry of Colonies until 1937), which had purposely changed its name to underline the new way to conceive the relationship between the colonies and the motherland. Between 1936 and 1940, in all its overseas possessions, including Albania and Rhodes, the fascist regime elaborated demographic colonisation plans for the transfer of Italian colonists. The emigration of select Italian families represented one of the cornerstones of fascist policy. The common elements bearing witness to the universal vocation of imperial policy, which aimed at training new Italian settlers and increasing the percentage of Italian blood among the autochthonous populations, were for example the creation of schools and the development of educational programmes for both Italian and indigenous pupils; the impulse given to archaeological research, which would not only confirm the thesis of the “Romanity” of the territories, but also help create that ideal imperial iconography constituting the background for both Mussolini’s exploits and the regime’s propaganda (such as the archaeological excavations in Sabratha, Leptis Magna and Cyrene in Libya, as well as in Rhodes and Albania); the popularity of newspapers, magazines (including some written in the local languages) and the cinema, theatres and the radio; the spread of Western and/or typically Italian lifestyles and leisure pastimes; the planning of an overseas architecture attuned to the various Italian architectural currents; the foundation of cultural institutions of various kinds: beside organisations such as the Dante Alighieri Society, which officially promoted the diffusion of the Italian language and culture overseas, several other entities took part in the spreading of Italian culture, such as the Touring Club, the Automobile Club, the tourist boards and sports societies, etc., whose popularity was proportional to the social organisation in the different territories and to the number of resident Italians.

Until the mid-1930s the fascist regime had been little interested in education, delegating it to the Catholic missions. In the Aegean islands the schools sponsored by the National Association for the Support of Italian Missionaries (ANSMI) were placed under the control of the Government Office for Public Education and subsidised by the government (Pignataro, 2001). Schools managed by the Orthodox and Muslim communities had to teach Italian for at least four hours a week, while school teachers had to obtain a diploma from the Rhodes Teacher Training Institute. In Northern Albania the Jesuits and Franciscan monks had created some Catholic institutions (Santoro, 2005). From 1933 Italian became the compulsory language in Albanian secondary schools. In Libya and the Aegean Sea, the Jewish communities were also spreading Italian language and culture. From 1925 in Rhodes, schools founded by the Alliance Israélite Universelle became Italian Jewish schools, adopting Italian as the official teaching language, whilst Libyan Jews normally attended Italian schools.

The creation of the Empire and the increase of Italian colonists in Libya (119,139 in 1939) and in AOI (165,267 in 1939) represented a turning point in the scholastic organisation of the colonies. On the one hand, new primary and secondary schools were founded and reserved for Italian pupils, on the other the “Italianisation” of subjected populations was intensified, by creating a new educational system aiming at assimilation.

The outlines of the school systems in the different territories had been developed according to racial hierarchies, although particular attention was given to Muslim culture and traditions (in line with Mussolini’s pro-Islamic policy). Everywhere the State gradually assumed direct responsibility for both Italian and native students’ education, replacing the Catholic missions, not only to gain greater political control on the programmes (especially as regards subjects such as physical education), but also to avoid hurting the sensitivity of Muslim populations.

In July 1937, at the start of the implementation in the school sector of what governor Cesare Maria de Vecchi loved to call the beginning of a necessary “totalitarian clean-up”, all schools in the Aegean Sea (including the Orthodox and Muslim ones) were placed under government supervision and management. Italian became the only teaching language, whilst regulations, programmes and textbooks were the same as those used in the Kingdom of Italy. Starting from the 1940/41 school year, Italian also became compulsory in the last two forms of Albanian primary schools.

In Libya and AOI, beside schools for Italians, state schools for indigenous students were also created and organised according to special rules elaborated by the Ministry for Italian Africa, which took into account the specificity of the single territories as regards race, culture, religion, economic needs, etc. Nursery and primary schools were free. Compulsory education, which for Italian pupils was the same as in the mother country, could be imposed on the natives only as far as the first three years of primary school (Mondaini, 1941). Metropolitan schools could also be entrusted to Italian religious congregations, which thus became officially recognised institutions, on condition that the same should only employ teachers that had acquired the suitable qualifications back in Italy, and who would accept to carry out activities and programmes in line with government directives and control. But in AOI the Partito Nazionale Fascista (Fascist National Party-PNF) was determined to limit the missionaries’ involvement in education to a few areas of the former Ethiopian Empire.

The creation of Italo-Arabic State schools in Libya (in competition with Islamic schools) and of schools for the natives in AOI (including in the most peripheral areas), all equipped with a set prepared by the Paravia publishing house, which included Mussolini’s portrait and that of the Emperor King, highlighted the regime’s effort to create a new imperial pedagogy: the purpose was no longer just to annihilate the conquered people with the image of Italy’s power, in order to subjugate them in line with traditional paternalism: in fact the fascist goal was much more ambitious, because its real aim was to actually mould them, i.e. to train a generation of young subjects, who would acquire superior political awareness and could act as a guide and controller for the indigenous masses. “Paternalistic policies, especially suited to Southern people Italo Balbo stated at the Volta Congress in 1938 should necessarily be integrated, for the Arabs of coastal territories, by a system of provisions aiming at their moral elevation and civil evolution, such as to create spiritual harmony between the conquering power and its subjects […]. The fascist government’s work […] is therefore so politically and morally charged that it will be able to transform the population’s social structure; it could indeed create the necessary conditions for greater participation to our civil life on the part of this same population.” (Balbo, 1938). Mass literac since access to higher education was to be rigidly regulated would allow the regime to display all educational and communicative tools at its disposal, such as newspapers, radio and the cinema. In Libya and in the Muslim regions of Italian East Africa the education policy, by integrating Italian programmes and Koranic studies, seemed aimed at the preservation of traditional culture, but it was obvious that in the future the ambition was to “channel” Islam too in the bosom of fascist totalitarianism. In 1935 Italo Balbo founded a Higher Institute of Islamic Culture (Contini, 1953), in competition with Tunis and Cairo universities, which aimed at training civil servants and teachers, whilst in 1936 he created a girls’ boarding school for training nurses. This was the first institution allowing Arab girls access to specialised training at higher levels, no longer restricted, as in the case of the other women’s training colleges, to household economy and to the art of traditional weaving. In AOI too, secondary schools of Islamic studies were founded at Gimma, Harar and Mogadishu. The cultural opening towards Islam was meant to represent the most tangible and remarkable sign of Fascism’s universal mission, as conceived by Il Duce, while of course it also met political and diplomatic goals. But it also had implicit in itself the intention to attract and integrate Muslims, by showing them that the spiritual conception at the core of fascist imperialism offered them the instruments to escape backwardness, by reconciling modernity with tradition and offering them an opportunity for redemption.

In Italia East Africa there were 4 Italian men for every Italian woman and as a consequence was common the "Madamato" (relationship between Italian soldiers and native girls). The photo -taken in 1939 Italian Ethiopia- shows that proportion.
Italian East Africa (AOI) 1936-1941

In AOI Il Duce intended to create a new organic social system conjugating demographic colonisation with other forms of valorisation, transferring from Italy “the whole machinery of its own civilisation” . Fascist colonisation should be understood, in space and time, as “the settlement and empowerment of a people”, that is the transposition to the colonies of all the productive elements of the mother country, such as farmers, workers, artisans, clerks, traders, small entrepreneurs and intellectuals, thus shunning the loathsome model of capitalistic colonisation exclusively aimed at benefiting a restricted class of privileged individuals. This conception met with three crucial objectives: preserving and increasing the country’s numerical power, cementing Italians’ racial cohesion in the empire and in Italy itself and, finally, promoting the social elevation of large popular masses.

There are no precise data on the European and African population in AOI. An estimate carried out in the spring of 1939 indicated 165,267 Italian civilians (Table 1), against about 12 million Africans (Ciferri, 1942). The greatest number of settlers, amounting to 72,408 lived in Eritrea (43.8 %). The percentage of women was very small (Table 2) and only in Eritrea did it exceed 20 %: in 1939 there allegedly were 26,628 women, of whom 14,827 in Eritrea (55.7 %).

Beside workers, the military and all those who depended on the public administration (including those with a temporary contract), and private companies’ employees (including banks and insurance companies), a large number of Italians, not quantifiable but certainly amounting to some tens of thousands, had set up their own business. These were hard-working people that had shown great adaptability, initiative and inventiveness. A multitude of small entrepreneurs, traders, managers of small, often itinerating, catering businesses, drivers and owners of means of transport, skilled workers who doubled as artisans, owners of small building firms, trade representatives and intermediaries.

Mussolini constantly urged the need to increment the number of families, in order to balance the ratio between the two sexes. Il Duce was obsessed with racism. He was above all horrified by the sexual promiscuity of Italian workers and soldiers with African women, about which since 1935 he had been receiving hundreds of alarming reports that deplored the increase in the birth of mixed-blood children; he had even discussed this subject with the foreign press. The issuing of racial legislation, from spring 1937 onwards (Barrera, 2008), was a consequence of the decision to force settlers to take their families with them to the colonies. Unfortunately the problem was not so easy to solve, because African towns did not yet possess a sufficient number of homes or the necessary services. The management of the demographic colonisation programme was delegated to the Opera Nazionale Combattenti (ONC–the War Veterans’ National Organisation) and to some regional boards depending on the PNF. Until 1940, according to data published by the Italian press, the farmer families already settled in their plot were 854, whilst more reliable sources reduce their number to 377 (Sbacchi, 1980).

Most Italians of course lived in the towns. But the increasing number of new arrivals between 1936 and 1938 caused great difficulties to colonial governments, who were totally unprepared as regards housing and other urban services (water, electricity, gas, transport, etc.).

The case of Asmara was emblematic. In 1934 Asmara had a population of about 3,500 Italians and 12,000 Africans. In 1939 Italians had risen to 48,000 whilst Africans were 36,000 . In just five years the total population had increased fivefold, whilst the proportion between Italians and indigenous people had been reversed. This was an unprecedented phenomenon, determined by the economic importance of the city as a logistic base for the war. Families coped as best as they could, while many single men even resorted to sleeping in their vans. At the start almost all new immigrants were single men, but in 1938, thanks to the construction of new housing estates, families started to arrive regularly, thus normalising the population’s female-to-male ratio. In 1940 11,296 italian women were recorded as living in Asmara (23.5 %).

In Eritrea the Italian population’s birth rates were constantly on the increase and this seemed to confirm Mussolini’s hopes that the empire would contribute to the regeneration of the Italian race: the birth rate was 27.8°/00 in 1937 and 28.8°/00 in 1938, whilst in Italy the percentages were 22.9°/00 and 23.6°/00 respectively,br/>
The new residential quarters built in typical Italian style in the city suburbs, featuring two or three-storey buildings, symbolically faced the old town centre characterised by one-storey houses, occupied by Eritreans lured to Asmara because of the demand for labour. The new town planning scheme provided for the forced removal of the indigenous quarter, the market and the mosque, but the governor of Eritrea, Giuseppe Daodiace, objected, highlighting the loyalty always shown by Eritreans towards Italy. The town therefore kept at its core an indigenous area which contradicted fascist racial policies and which, as has been remarked, determined “the peculiar social structure characterising the town for a long period after the war” (Gresleri, 1993b).

In Addis Ababa the situation was different. The capital of the empire was due to become, in Mussolini’s opinion, the most beautiful and futuristic city in Africa, the beacon of the new fascist civilisation (Podestà, 2009). The preparation of the new town planning scheme was very long and problematic, involving top professional people like Giò Ponti, Enrico Del Debbio, Giuseppe Vaccaro and even Le Corbusier, who asked Il Duce to be allowed to design the plan for the new city (Talamona, 1985; Gresleri, 1993c).

Work started only in 1939. The plan provided for a clear separation between the European and indigenous areas. However, this would have meant transferring the African population and building tens of thousands of new homes. Italian settlers had increased from a few thousands in early 1937 (with 150 families) to over 40,000 in March 1940 (33,059 men, 6,998 women and about 4,000 families) whilst the African population had practically doubled and was estimated at about 120,000 people.

The Health Corps of Italian Africa was created only in 1936, and it was made up of about 200 doctors and health inspectors (18), by organising a special public competition which took place between 1937 and 1938. Three centres were gradually built in Addis Ababa, Asmara and Mogadishu, specialised in the cure of malaria, as well as numerous hospitals and clinics. Given Mussolini’s obsession with sex, special attention was naturally given to the prevention and cure of venereal diseases (since the authorities could not prevent contact between Italian men and African women), by rounding up and imposing forced hospitalisation on thousand of native women in special “syphilis homes”. Towards the end of 1938 the incidence of sexual diseases had dropped: the percentage of Italian soldiers suffering from venereal diseases was about 5 % compared to 10 % in 1937, whilst that of civilians, which was much lower, had decreased from 1.4 to 0.9 %. An improvement was also registered among indigenous military personnel, from 3.7 % to 2 %. These data of course reinforced Mussolini’s will to increase the number of whole families emigrating from Italy to AOI. A remarkable effort was made to improve healthcare: beside the doctors belonging to the Italian Africa Health Corps, flanked by 450 military doctors, there were about 500 civilian doctors (232 specialists, among whom 30 paediatricians, and 262 general practicioners). Special maternity wards were built in the hospitals situated in the main locations. The new Italian hospital in Addis Ababa had a delivery room and a pediatric clinic for Italians, with a capacity of over 100 beds in its various sections: expectant mothers, postpartum mothers, babies’ room, gynaecological ward, infectious diseases, visitors’ room, etc. The children’s hospital was subdivided into separate wards for babies and older children, for infectious, gastro-intestinal or pulmonary diseases, etc. Moreover, a university-type faculty was founded in 1941 in Asmara to train nurses.

In Addis Ababa the number of new-born Italian babies was continually growing, rising from 50 in 1937 to 570 in 1939 and the number of weddings being celebrated shot up too, despite the dramatic housing shortage. Italians coped in all possible ways: many continued to live in temporary shelters (tents, huts and prefabricated houses), whilst a lot of families used indigenous homes that had been expropriated or rented. Mussolini found this situation intolerable, and he constantly urged the Italian East Africa’s government to ensure a more vigorous policy of racial separation (on his orders the African market had been forbidden to Europeans, but the measure was later withdrawn, because indigenous trade was indispensable for the provision of food by whites). As Amedeo d’Aosta, the new Viceroy of AOI, once remarked, the solution of the problem of racial prestige was incompatible with the housing situation: firstly, there was not enough money to build houses for Italians or tukuls in the new indigenous town, then there were huge difficulties in sourcing water and building materials; that is why most Ethiopians, after cashing in their expropriation indemnity, went back to the old quarters. To confront the situation, given that, as the Viceroy Amedeo repeated, it was impossible to separate the two races “by evicting one hundred thousand natives”, and whilst waiting for the implementation of a low-cost building programme for the colonists, it was necessary to stop new family units emigrating to Italian East Africa.

To house the families of AOI government employees, who had been forced by Mussolini to take their wives and children to Africa, the national housing body for civil servants (INCIS - Istituto Nazionale Case degli Impiegati dello Stato) financed the construction of 42 buildings with 119 flats, largely insufficient to satisfy all requests. Private individuals did not have any incentives to invest in residential building save for exceptional cases. Notwithstanding the “winds of war”, only in July 1939 a law was emanated which authorised banks operating in AOI to grant loans and mortgages to institutions, societies or private citizens who wished to build civilian houses (including cheap homes), and the planning schemes of the most important towns were completed only on the eve of WWII.

The war definitely put an end to all works in progress, and today the traces of Italian occupation are absolutely insignificant. But if the new imperial cities had trouble in taking shape, social life in Addis Ababa and Asmara was pulsating just like that of any other European town. At the heart of the city were the markets: in the capital in 1939 over 75,000 heads of cattle had been slaughtered and thousands of tons of foodstuffs had been sold. Dozens of shops and even department stores were opened in both cities. Leisure activities also boomed: in Addis Ababa four cinemas had been built for Europeans and one for Africans; eight were functioning in Asmara.

New dancehalls, restaurants and bars were being opened everywhere. The working men’s clubs and numerous sports and recreational societies, supported by local government and by the PNF, organised the colonists’ free time. In Eritrea, near the strategic hubs where companies and the army had located their logistic bases, new urban agglomerates rose from scratch, such as Dek’emhare and Nefasit, with plenty of restaurants and clubs.

The PNF was a crucial instrument in moulding colonial society in a fascist sense and also in the involvement and training of those Africans destined to fill some inferior role in the civil administration or in the army, through school education and the Gioventù Indigena del Littorio (GIL – the fascist indigenous youth organisation). Italian colonists’ degree of adhesion to the fascist party was massive, well above the percentage of party members back in Italy, especially among women: at the end of 1939 the PNF had 51,146 members in the colonies, whilst pending applications for membership amounted to 24,397 and those transferred from Italy were 9,950.

There were 3,308 women enrolled in the fascist organisations (12.8 % of the female population). There also were 237 fascist working men’s clubs with 38,235 members and 106 sports societies with 19,822 members.

A remarkable effort was made to establish a school system in AOI, both for Italians and for Africans. Schools for Italian students were built in thirty locations. Some secondary schools of all kinds were also created in the main towns. In Eritrea, where the number of Italian families was higher than in the rest of AOI, the educational system was structured in the same way as in Italy: in 1938/39 primary schools for Italians counted 107 classes in total, attended by 2,554 pupils, of whom 1,793 in the capital alone. In Asmara the lyceum (grammar school) had 470 registered students, while the technical college had 341 pupils. Between 1937 and 1938, in the whole of AOI, teachers had increased from 209 to 380. On the eve of the war some teacher training schools were also due to be opened.

After the war a ministerial inspection reported that the Asmara lyceum was excellent and “far superior” to that in Tripoli.

Colonisation represented a major turning point in the life of thousands of settlers. The regime conceived a new social plan for the empire, consisting of a society made up by brave and hard-working farmers, virtuous and frugal, “all equal and all poor enough” (Ciano, 1990), as Mussolini loved to say, emphasizing the ethics of sobriety that he wished to inoculate Italians with, as a remedy for the evils of bourgeois hedonism. But it was clear that the settlers did not wholly correspond to the myth of the new Italian. Not only did many of them violate the taboo of interracial sexual relationships, but also, influenced by the climate of mobilisation in the empire, which favoured the creation of wealth and social climbing, they let themselves be seduced by the virtues of individualism and capitalism, turning, in their new country, into entrepreneurs and bourgeois, almost unconsciously breaking loose from fascism in their social and consumer behaviours; ideally, however, the Duce myth would fascinate them till the end of their lives.