Published online by Cambridge University Press: 12 February 2016
Combining a set of grey literature and primary sources, this article analyses the rise and fall of the sultanate of Awsa, northeastern Ethiopia, between 1944 and 1975. Ali Mirah exploited the typical repertoires of a frontier regime to consolidate a semi-independent Muslim chiefdom at the fringes of the Christian empire of Ethiopia. Foreign investors in commercial agriculture provided the sultanate and its counterparts within the Ethiopian state with tangible and intangible resources that shaped the quest for statecraft in the Lower Awash Valley.
2 M. Gamaledin, ‘The decline of Afar pastoralism’, in J. Markakis (ed.), Conflict and the Decline of Pastoralism in the Horn of Africa (London, 1993), 45–62.
3 See, for example, Harbeson, J., ‘Territorial and development politics in the Horn of Africa: the Afar of the Awash Valley’, African Affairs, 77:309 (1978), 479–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Gebre-Mariam, A., ‘The alienation of land rights among the Afar in Ethiopia’, Nomadic Peoples, 34 (1994), 137–46Google Scholar; B. Hundie, Property Rights Among Afar Pastoralists of Northeastern Ethiopia: Forms, Changes, and Conflict, (http://www.saga.cornell.edu/saga/ilri0606/35hundie.pdf), 2006; and Rettberg, S., ‘Contested narratives of pastoral vulnerability and risk in Ethiopia's Afar region’, Pastoralism, 1:2 (2010), 248–73Google Scholar.
4 J. Markakis, Ethiopia: The Last Two Frontiers (Oxford, 2011); A. H. Soulé, Deux Vies dans l'Histoire de la Corne de l'Afrique: les Sultans Afar Mahammad Hanfaré et Ali-Mirah Hanfaré (Addis Ababa, 2011); A. H. Soulé, Les Afar, la Revolution Ethiopienne et le Regime du Derg (Addis Ababa, 2013).
5 J. N. Bach, ‘New trends, old views: the ambivalent centre-periphery paradigm of Ethiopian studies', in E. Fiquet and A. Hassen (eds.), Movements in Ethiopia, Ethiopia in Movement: Proceedings of the 18th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, Volume I (Addis Ababa, forthcoming), 265–78.
6 A. Triulzi, ‘Ethiopia: the making of a frontier society’, in P. Kaarsholm and J. Hultin (eds.), Inventions and Boundaries: Historical and Anthropological Approaches to the Study of Ethnicity and Nationalism (Roskilde, 1994), 240.
9 A. Triulzi, ‘Battling with the past: new frameworks for Ethiopian historiography’, in W. James, D. Donham, E. Kurimoto, and A. Triulzi (eds.), Remapping Ethiopia: Socialism and After (Addis Ababa, 2002).
10 R. Reid, Frontiers of Violence in North-East Africa: Genealogies of Conflict since c. 1800 (Oxford, 2011).
11 Triulzi, ‘Ethiopia’, 237.
12 D. Donham, ‘Old Abyssinia and the new Ethiopian empire: themes in social history’, in D. Donham and W. James (eds.), The Southern Marches of Imperial Ethiopia (Cambridge, 2002), 3–50.
13 J. Mantel-Niecko, ‘The division of Ethiopia into regions according to the native land typology in use at the turn of the XIXth and XXth century’, in J. Tubiana (ed.), Modern Ethiopia from the Accession of Menilek II to the Present (Rotterdam, 1980), 469–78; D. Crummey, Land and Society in the Christian Kingdom of Ethiopia (Urbana, IL, 2000).
14 J. Kopytoff, ‘The internal African frontier: the making of African political culture’, in I. Kopytoff (ed.), The African Frontier: the Reproduction of Traditional African Societies (Indianapolis, IN, 1987), 9–11.
15 A. Triulzi, ‘Nekemte and Addis Ababa: dilemmas of provincial rule’, in J. Donham (ed.), The Southern Marches of Imperial Ethopia, 57; Mantel-Niecko, ‘The division’, 475.
16 Garretson, P., ‘Frontier feudalism in northwest Ethiopia: Shaykh Al Imam'Abd Allah of Nuqara, 1901–1923’, The International Journal of African Historical Studies, 15:2 (1982), 261–82CrossRefGoogle Scholar; D. Feyissa and M. Hoehne, ‘State borders and borderlands as resources: an analytical framework’, in M. Hoehne and Dereje Feyissa (eds.), Borders and Borderlands as Resources in the Horn of Africa (Suffolk, 2010), 1–25; D. Feyissa, Playing Different Games: the Paradox of Anywaa and Nuer Identification Strategies in the Gambella Region, Ethiopia (London, 2011).
17 B. Korf et al., ‘Geographies of violence and sovereignty: the African frontier revisited’, in B. Korf and T. Raeymaekers (eds.), Violence on the Margins: States, Conflict and Borderlands (London, 2013), 40.
18 A. Triulzi, ‘Prelude to the history of a no man's land, Bela Shangul, Wallaga, Ethiopia' (unpublished PhD thesis, Northwestern University, 1979); P. Garretson, ‘Manjil Hamdan Abu Shok (1898–1938) and the administration of Gubba’, in J. Tubiana (ed.), Modern Ethiopia, 197–210; McCann, J., ‘A dura revolution and frontier agriculture in northwest Ethiopia, 1898–1920’, The Journal of African History, 31:1 (1990), 121–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Ahmad, A., ‘Trading in slaves in Bela-Shangul and Gumuz, Ethiopia: border enclaves in history, 1897–1938’, The Journal of African History, 40:3 (1999), 433–46Google Scholar; Barnes, C., ‘Provinces and princes-power and the eastern Ethiopian periphery’, Journal of Ethiopian Studies, 34:2 (2001), 95–120Google Scholar.
21 National Archives and Library of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa (NALE), Folder 029.18, Meeting between Yayyo Hammadu, Fitawrari Mamo Seyum, Habte Wolde Selassie, 20 Täq. 1960 Ethiopian Calendar (EC).
22 NALE 134.45, Telegram from Awsa Awrajia governor Felleke Dagne to Dejazmach Dereje Makonnen, General Governor of Wollo, 3 Mas.1949 EC.
23 NALE 2.2.73.04, Letter from Amene Shewan (in place of Assafa Aden) to Asfa Wossen, 10 Ham. 1939 EC.
24 NALE 2.2.73.04, Order from the Special Office of the Heir to the Throne Asfa Wossen to the General Governor of Wollo, 17 Miz. 1939 EC; 184.108.40.206, Letter to Enderassie of Wollo, Mangesha Wolde Giorgis from Afambo woreda governor, 18 Ham. 1950 EC.
25 This shift became definitive in 1971, when Dejazmach Solomon Abraham took over from Mamo Seyoum at the head of the Wollo Province, and the deputy minister of the interior, Legesse Bizu, was appointed as special envoy of the central government in the Lower Awash. NALE 17.2.81.06, Letter from Colonel Sumie Wodajo, Governor of Awsa Awrajia, to Ato Legesse Bizu, Deputy Minister of the Interior, 23 Tär. 1964 EC; Letter from Ethiopian Embassy in French Somaliland to Legesse Bizu, 29 Yak. 1965 EC; NA, FO 1043/96, Report on a visit to Bati, Tendaho and Assaita, 20–4 Aug. 1971.
26 Wollo had been the stronghold of Ras Tafari's rival to the throne, Lij Yiasu, whose father Ras Mikael had been defeated in the conclusive battle of Segele in 1916. Resistance to imperial rule resurfaced during the five-year Italian occupation, and again after 1941. See H. Marcus, A History of Ethiopia (Berkeley, CA, 1995), 117; Smidt, W., ‘The coronation of Nagus Mikael in Desse in May 1914: photograph from the Nachlass Jensen and its historical background’, Annales d'Ethiopie, 17 (2001), 361–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Maki, M., ‘The Gaz raids and reconstruction of the Ethiopian empire: the final Gaz in Tigray and northern Wollo’, Nilo-Ethiopian Studies, 14 (2010), 39–50Google Scholar.
27 The term shifta was historically used in the Horn of Africa region to describe both political rebels and ordinary outlaws that operated on the fringes of the established states. During the twentieth century, this term has lost most of its noble connotations to become a reference for common criminal activity. H. A. Whittaker, Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Kenya: a Social History of the Shifta Conflict (Leiden, 2015), 50.
28 NALE 2.2.73.04, Letter from Amene Shewan (in place of Assafa Aden) to Asfa Wossen, 10 Ham. 1939 EC.
29 NALE 134.45, Letter to Awsa Police from Hamsalaga Ejigu Ayele, 2 Mas. 1949 EC.
30 Y. M. Yasin, ‘Trans-border political alliance in the Horn of Africa: the case of the Afar-Issa conflict’, in H. Feyissa and M. V. Hoehne (eds.), Borders and Borderlands, 85–96.
31 NALE 134.45, Telegram from Felleke Dagne to Dejazmach Dereje Makonnen, 3 Mas. 1949 EC; Y. M. Yasin, ‘Regional dynamics of interethnic conflicts in the Horn of Africa' (unpublished PhD thesis, University of Hamburg, 2010), 252.
32 NALE 2.2.73.04, Letter from Amene Shewan (in place of Assafa Aden) to Asfa Wossen, 10 Ham. 1939 EC.
34 NALE 2.2.73.04, Letter from Fitawrari Kefle Dadi to Asfa Wossen, 25 Tär. 1939 E. C.; Order from the Special Office of the Crown Prince to the General Governor of Wollo, 17 Miy. 1939 EC.
35 NALE 2.02.73.04, Letter from Amene Shewan to Asfa Wossen, 10 Ham. 1939 EC.
36 Soulé, Les Afar, 12.
37 NALE 17.2.81.06, Copy of a letter sent by Ali Mirah to Haile Selassie, then sent by Gebre Wolde to Ras Abebe, 08 Sän. 1945 EC.
38 Soulé, Les Afar, 13.
39 T. Negash, Eritrea and Ethiopia: The Federal Experience (Uppsala, 1997).
40 NALE 067.07, Letter from Yayyo Hammadu to Haile Selassie, 20 Näh. 1948 EC.
41 NALE 134.45, Letter from Hamsalaga Ejigu Ayele to Awsa Awrajia Police, 10 Mas. 1949 EC.
42 NALE 134.45, Telegram from Felleke Dagne to Dejazmach Dereje Makonnen, 3 Mas. 1949 EC.
44 NALE 029.19, Letter from Dejazmach Ali Mirah to Asfa Wossen, n.d.
45 National Archives of Great Britain, London (NA) FO 371/165325 VA 1331/6, Letter of agreement between Imperial Ethiopian government and Mitchell Cotts Group, Addis Ababa, 29 Nov. 1962.
46 Institute of Ethiopian Studies, Addis Ababa (IES), Joint Venture between the Direction of the Domain of H. I. M. The Crown Prince of Ethiopia and TPSC, Audit of the accounts for the year ended 30th June 1970; Soulé, Les Afar, 23.
48 NALE 134.45, Telegram from Felleke Dagne to Dejazmach Dereje Makonnen, 3 Mas. 1949 EC.
49 NALE 067.07, Secret Telegram from Wollo Police Department to Wollo Governor General, 22 Näh. 1955 EC.
50 NALE 2.2.84.04, Letter from Deputy-Governor of Awsa Awrajia to Enderassie of Wollo, Dejazmach Mamo Seyoum, 20 Ham. 1962 EC; 067.07, Letter from Yayyo Hammadu to Asfa Wossen, Heir to the Throne of the King of Kings, 16 Ham. 1956 EC; 17.2.81.06, Letter from Hanfare Ali Mirah to Colonel Belachew, Minister of the Interior, 14 Täq. 1967 EC.
51 Gamaledin, ‘The decline’, 55.
52 NALE 134.45, Telegram from Felleke Dagne to Dejazmach Dereje Makonnen, 3 Mas. 1949 EC.
53 IES, TPSC managing agents annual report 1966/7.
54 NA FCO 31/795, Aide Memoire from Dick to Sir Denis Greenhill, 4 June 1971.
55 NA FCO 39/63, From British Embassy (Swann) to Lamarque (ODM), 14 Feb. 1967; FCO 39/63, from J. Congdon and A. Patterson (TPSC): Crop damage by Danakil stock at Dubti, 13 Feb. 1967; Food and Agricultural Organization Library (FAOL), D. A. Caponera, Report to Imperial Government of Ethiopia on Water Resource Policy, Administration and Legislation (Roma, 1969), 12.
56 For the concept of image management strategy see J. Fisher, ‘Managing donor perceptions: contextualizing Uganda's 2007 intervention in Somalia’, African Affairs, 111:444 (2012), 411.
57 NALE 067.07, Letter from Fitawrari Yayyo Hammadu to Haile Selassie, 28 Häd. 1956 EC.
58 NA FCO 33/64, Confidential, Telegram from British Embassy in Addis Ababa to Foreign Office, 18 Nov. 1967; NALE 067.07, Letter from the Ministry of the Pen to the Ministry of the Interior, 23 Tär. 1960 EC.
59 NALE 067.07, Letter from Yayyo Hammadu to Crown Prince Asfa Wossen, 9 Täh. 1959 EC.
60 NALE 029.18, Telegram from Ashatu Taferra to Wollo Governorate Police Commissioner, 15 Täq. 1960 EC; Letter from Ali Mirah to Asfa Wossen, no date; Letter from Ashatu Teferra to Wollo Police Deputy Chief, 28 Täq. 1960 EC.
61 NALE 029.18, Telegram from Ashatu Taferra to Wollo Police Commissioner, 15 Täq. 1960 EC.
62 NALE 029.18, Meeting between Yayyo Hammadu, and Fitawrari Mamo Seyum, Habte Wolde Selassie, 20 Täq. 1960 EC.
63 NALE 029.18, Letter from Ali Mirah to Asfa Wossen, n.d.
64 The original salary amounted to 250 Birr. NALE 17.2.81.06, Anonymous Letter to Emperor Haile Selassie, 19 Ham. 1959 EC; Letter from Office of the Budget, Ministry of Finance, to Governor General of Wollo, 24 Gän. 1958 EC.
65 A sultan's fellow, Qegnazmach Yayo Aliwan, was appointed by the emperor to run the imperial court. NALE 067.07, Letter from Fitawrari Yayyo Hammadu to Crown Prince, 29 Tär. 1956 EC.
66 FAOL, N. J. Cossins, Green Heart of a Dying Land: a Study of the New Cotton Wealth of the Old Sultanate of Awsa (unpublished, Addis Ababa, 1973), 38; NALE 17.2.81.06, Letter from the Ministry of Finance to the Ministry of the Interior, 29 Tär. 1960 EC.
67 NA FO 1043/96, Report from J. S. Wall: The Sultan of Aussa, Ali Mirrah Hanfri, 2 Sept. 1971.
68 NALE 067.07, Letter from Yayyo Hammadu to Haile Selassie, 16 Ham. 1956 EC.
69 NALE 134.45, Telegram from Hamsaleqa Ejigu Ayele to Awsa Awrajia Police Office, 10 Mas. 1949 EC; 17.02.81.06, Letter from Ali Mirah to Haile Selassie, 3 Gän. 1958 EC.
70 NALE 17.02.81.06, Letter from Fitawrari Azdegay, Awsa Awrajia Governor, to Dejazmach Kefle Argatu, Ministry of the Interior, 25 Näh. 1959 EC.
71 NALE 067.07, Secret Telegram from Wollo Police Department to Wollo Governor General, 22 Näh. 1955 EC; 17.2.81.06, Secret, Letter from Brigadier General Lemma Gebre-Mariam to Getahun Tesemma, 6 Mäg. 1965 EC; Letter from Major Teferi Wolde-Tetsai to Wollo Governor General, 28 Ham. 1966 EC.
72 Soulé, Deux Vies, 182.
73 NALE 029.18, Letter from Enderassie of Wollo, Mamo Seyum, to Ali Mirah, 16 Täq. 1960 EC.
74 FAOL, ‘Imperial Ethiopian Government’, Report on Survey of the Awash River Basin: General Report (Addis Ababa, 1965), 31.
75 FAOL, G. E. Nicholson, Report no. 728 to the Government of Ethiopia on Cotton Production (Roma, 1957), 23; S. D. Clark, Legal Matters Affecting the Awash Valley Authority and Proposed National Water Legislation (Roma, 1972), 5.
76 E. Fantini and L. Puddu, ‘Ethiopia and international aid: development between high modernism and exceptional measures', in T. Hagmann and F. Reyntjens (eds.), Aid and Authoritarianism in Africa: Development without Democracy (London, 2016), 91–118.
77 NA FO 371/138085 VA 1331/6, Telegram from Ashe to British Embassy (1331/62), 19 Dec. 1962; FO 371/165325 1331/62, Confidential, Telegram from Loy to Foreign Office, 21 Feb. 1962.
78 NA FO 371/165325 JA 1331/5, Telegram from British Embassy in Addis to Boothby, 12 Nov. 1960; FO 371/138085 VA 1331/6, Telegram from Ashe to British Embassy (1331/62), 19 Dec. 1962.
79 FAOL, J. Hogg, Agricultural Extension, Development of the Awash Valley Phase II (Roma, 1972), 17.
80 IES, TPSC managing agents annual report 1966/67, Cotton Production and Output, Schedule II; NA FO 1043/96, Report by Dorman.
81 NA FCO 39/63, Visit to Ethiopia and Tendaho Plantation by Bridger and Evans, Ministry of Overseas Development, Nov. 1967; FAOL, Hogg, Agricultural Extension, 45; NA FCO 39/63, Telegram from Swann to Jefferson (ODM), 14 May 1968.
82 IES, TPSC Managing Agents Annual Report 1966/67, Lint Cotton Sales 1966–7, Schedule IV; NA FCO 39/63, Telegram from Swann to ODM, 30 Aug. 1968.
83 Banco di Roma Archives, Roma, XI.4.1.4 – 1 – 1 (2), National and Grindleys Bank Limited, London, Colloquio con il Signor Shearer, Assistant General Manager, 28 Oct. 1964, Roma.
84 Loans from the Addis Ababa bank to the sultanate expanded from 500,000 Birr in 1968 to 3,800,000 Birr in 1971. By 1971, total cotton output had increased to 120,000 tons, which gave Ali Mirah a gross income of Eth$ 6,000,000. NA FO 1043/96, Report on a visit to Bati; Bondestam, L., ‘People and capitalism in the north-eastern lowlands of Ethiopia’, The Journal of Modern African Studies, 12:3 (1974), 437CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
85 NA FO 1043/96, Letter from Dick to Ylma Deressa, 2 Feb. 1971; Letter From Dick to Alan Campbell, 4 Feb. 1971.
86 NA OD 26/284, Report on Visit and Discussions held with S. Ferguson, 25 June 1970.
87 The riots followed an attack against the TPSC plantation by Afar gunmen, who looted the grain store, and the murder of a British worker in the streets of Dubti. See NA FO 1043/96, Report on a visit to Bati. After the riots had been quelled, Ali Mirah was summoned to Dessie into the presence of the new Governor General Solomon Abraham and the crown prince, but the ensuing decision to create a woreda office and a police outpost in Ayssa'yta were never properly enforced. Soulé, Les Afar, 17.
88 NA FO 1043/96, Report on a visit to Bati; Observation made during a visit to TPSC by the Defence Attaché, 10–12 June 1971; FCO 31/795, Tel. 217 from Campbell, Confidential.
89 NA FO 1043/96, Report on a visit to Bati.
91 NA OD 26/241, Report of the ODA aid mission, June 1972; Cossins, Green Heart, 159; H. Emanuel, Land Tenure, Land Use and Development in the Awash Valley of Ethiopia (Madison, 1975), 18.
92 FAOL, S. L. Galpin, Marketing potential for projected agricultural produciton in the Awash Valley, technical report no. 18 (Roma, 1973).
93 NA FO 1043/96, Report on a visit to Bati.
94 NALE 17.2.81.06, Telegram from the Ethiopian Embassy in London to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Addis Ababa, 17 Tär. 1966 EC.
95 FAOL, Cossins, Green Heart; H. E. Voelkner, The Social Feasibility of Settling Semi-Nomadic Afar on Irrigated Agriculture in the Awash Valley, Ethiopia, Report no. 23 (Roma, 1974).
96 World Bank Archives, Washington DC, Amibara Irrigation (Revised) Project – C (1–12) – 10444B - Ethiopia-418/707 ET Bol. III – Awash Valley Authority Settlement Program: Comment on Evaluation Report May 1974, from J. Goring to K. G. W. Krishna.
97 In 1972, Ali Mirah paid 160,000 birr in taxes to the Wollo province. Cossin, 55; NA FCO 31/795, from Alan Campbell, British Embassy in Addis Ababa, to Le Tocq, East African Department, 28 June 1971. The relationship between Ali Mirah and Yayyo Hammadu began to deteriorate in 1971, when Yayyo called for the intervention of the Ethiopian Special Forces to quell riots in Ayssa'yta. Subsequently, and until Yayyo's death in 1973, relations between the two Afar notables remained tense, and were marked by frequent schisms. See Soulé, Les Afar, 16; NALE 17.2.81.06, Letter from Colonel Sumie Wodajo, Governor of Awsa Awrajia, to Ato Legesse Bizu, Deputy Minister of the Interior, 21 Mäg. 1964 EC.
98 NALE 17.2.81.06, Letter from Hararghe police to Harar administration, 2 Täq. 1967 EC.
99 According to the police, the Afar were trained in modern military tactics by several Agame advisors from Eritrea. The police officer recommended the deployment of Special Forces from Addis Ababa. See NALE 17.2.81.06, Letter to Awsa Awrajia Police from Ayssa'yta Woreda, 28 Mas. 1967 EC; Letter from Harar Police to Harar Province, 4 Täq. 1967 EC.
100 NALE 17.2.81.06, Letter from the Afar Association of Landlords, Elders, and Students, to Ministry of the Interior, 10 Myz. 1966 EC. For the origins of the association see Y. M. Yasin, ‘Political history of the Afar in Ethiopia and Eritrea’, Afrika Spektrum, 43 (2008), 46–7.
101 NALE 17.2.81.06, Letter from Hanfare Ali Mirah to Ministry of the Interior; Letter from Ali Mirah to Haile Selassie, 10 Mäg. 1966 EC.
102 NALE 17.2.81.06, Letter from Harar Police to Harar Province, 2 Täq. 1967 EC.
103 NALE 17.2.81.06, Letter from Tamrut Kebret to Awsa Awrajia Police, 24 Ham. 1966 EC.
104 NALE 17.2.81.06, Letter from Ali Mirah to Teferi Wolde-Tesfay, Acting General Governor of Wollo, 23 Mas. 1967 EC.
105 NALE 17.2.81.06, Letter from Hanfare Ali Mirah to Colonel Belachew, 14 Täq. 1967 EC.
106 NALE 17.2.81.06, Letter from Teferi Wolde-Tesfay to Fitawrari Mahamen Menda, Acting Deputy Minister of the Interior, 22 Täq. 1967 EC; Letter from Fitawrari Maharen Menda to Brigadier General Brahan Tafari, 1 Tah. 1967 EC.
107 Ford Presidential Library, Ann Arbor NSA Presidential Country Files for Africa, Ethiopia Secret, Telegram from StateDep to AmEmbassy Addis Ababa, Jan. 1975.
108 Wikileaks, Secret Telegram from Hummel, Embassy in Addis Ababa, 3 June 1974. (http://www.wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/1975ADDIS06554_b.html), last accessed 28 Oct. 2013.
110 B. Berman and J. Lonsdale, Unhappy Valley: Conflict in Kenya and Africa (London, 1992), 5.