By Dr. RICHARD PANKHURST
THE ORIGINAL PLAN
The idea of constructing a railway to link the Ethiopian capital with the coast appears to have been first conceived by Menelik’s Swiss adviser, Alfred Ilg, who had first arrived in Ethiopia in 1877. Having on that occasion taken no less than seven months to make the 700 kilometre journey from the coast to the then capital of Ankober he was fully aware of the inconvenience of mule transport, the high costs of which greatly hindered trade in low priced commodities, such as coffee, skins and wax, which constituted the bulk of Ethiopia’s exports. Traders at this time often took about six weeks on the journey which was almost inevitably accompanied by considerable stealing as it was very difficult adequately to supervise the muleteers.1
" The conception of the railway," writes llg’s biographer, Conrad Keller, " preoccupied him all the time. He tried to interest the King of Shoa in the project, prepared an attractive model with rails, locomotives and carriages, but met with but moderate approval. The King was not well disposed towards the idea. He remembered from his youth that in the fight against Theodore the English had made the task of pushing forward troops, munitions and provisions easier by building a small strategic railway from the coast. The King had once recognised that the project was some-what dangerous, that much had to be considered before it could be allowed to go forward and that it was therefore best to reject it. Furthermore the railway could never have been built without the approval of the Emperor Yohannes which in Menelik’s opinion could never be obtained."2
The French traveller, Paul Soleillet, also appears to have canvassed the idea of building a railway between Qbok and Ankober, while his compatriot, the trader Savoure, is said to have had similar ideas, Menelik however, seemed willing to grant the necessary permission the project was soon abandoned.3
Discussion of the proposed railway was therefore broken off, and was not resumed until after Menelik’s coronation in the autumn of 1889. On December 6 the Emperor sent a message through the French trader Savoure to President Carnot of France expressing his desire to have a railway constructed through Harar to the coast. The idea, however, made but slow progress. On February 11, 1893, however, Ilg obtained a written decree from Menelik officially empowering him to study the project and set up a company.4 On receipt of this all important document Ilg at once turned for assistance to his friend the Frenchman, Leon Chefneux, who had been active in the country since 1882 and had won the Emperor’s favour, being appointed, Ernest Work says, Ethiopian " Consul-General for all Europe."5 Chefneux, who was destined to become more and more the controlling force in the project, was persuaded to go to Europe in quest of the necessary capital.
The plan was to start the railway from the coast and to push inland bringing in supplies as the line advanced. Jibuti was considered more suitable than any other port on the Horn of Africa. Zeila was rejected as it was under the control of the British who were regarded as not being well disposed ; the port had moreover no decent harbour. Berbera, which was also under the British, possessed a spacious harbour, but was too far from Addis Ababa. Jibuti had a small trading population, but possessed plenty of good water and an excellent harbour, and had the additional advantage that the French were believed not to have any ambitions of expanding inland.6
Moreover it should not be forgotten that Chefneux was himself a Frenchman and Ilg a confirmed friend of France.
Chefneux soon aroused sufficient interest among French capitalists to make it necessary to apply for a definite concession from Menelik. Ilg describing this stage of the proceedings in a private letter records :
Despite the Emperor’s desire for a railway it was no easy task to persuade him not only of the usefulness, but also of the necessity of his financial participation in our project, to move him to shoulder a part of the financial responsibility and to overcome the suspicions which were expressed by a few of the nobles. Narrow-minded, short-sighted Europeans, envy and political jealousy played their part in the negotiations. I often felt like throwing up the sponge, the more so as I had no illusions that the greatest difficulties would begin with the construction work. I persevered, however, in an unequal struggle because of my firm belief in the feasibility of the scheme and my equally strong conviction that only through a better and quicker connection with the coast would it become possible for Abyssinia to appropriate the blessings of European civilisation and thereby preserve her independence. After countless negotiations in which each point of the concession was debated in the greatest detail, I finally obtained the concession on March 9, 1894, from the Emperor Menelik’s own hands."7
De Coppet, describing this event, claims that the Emperor was at this time especially favourably disposed to Ilg on account of the latter’s success in installing the piped water system in the Addis Ababa palace, an operation which evoked great admiration.8
The Italian merchant Felter, who was something of a gossip, gives yet another explanation for the granting of the concession. He told Ferdinando Martini, the governor of Eritrea, that in his opinion the Emperor had been motivated more by scientific interest in the railway and love of novelty than by any belief in the economic advantage of the new means of transport.9
(The Emperor’s love of inventions was of course renowned, and forms the subject of a separate article by the present author: see Presence Africaine No. 41).
The Menelik-Ilg Concession of 1894
The Emperor’s Concession of March 9, 1894, which was granted to Ilg personally, authorised him to establish a Company to build and operate a railway from Jibuti through Harar and Entoto to the White Nile. This Company was to be allowed 99-year monopolies over the three stretches of line involved and arrangements were to be made by the Government to channel trade to the railway ; in return the Emperor was to receive a parcel of shares in the concern as well as half the profits whenever these exceeded 3,000,000 francs a year. The Government was to be exclusively responsible for the security of the railway and the Company could only transport troops or raw material with the Emperor’s written approval, violation of this proviso rendering the company liable to the forfeiture of the line. At the end of the Concession all immovable property was to become automatically the property of the Government. The details were as follows :Ã¢â‚¬â€
Article I authorised Ilg to establish a " Compagnie Imperiale des Chemins de Fers Ethiopiens " to build and operate a line from the port of Jibuti right across Ethiopia to the White Nile, then claimed by Menelik as his western frontier.10
Article II specified that the Company should construct the line in three sections, the first extending from Jibuti to the old commercial centre of Harar, the second from Harar to Entoto, until then recently the capital of the empire, and the third from Entoto to the province of Kaffa and the White Nile.
Article III laid down that the Concession for each part of the railway would be for 99 years from the time of its completion andÃ¢â‚¬â€an important clause, as it turned outÃ¢â‚¬â€ that no other company would be allowed to construct competing lines, either from the Indian Ocean or Red
Sea coast into Ethiopia or from Ethiopia to the White Nile.
Article IV, which was also destined to be discussed at a later date, stated that the Concession would be automatically annulled if construction work on the first stretch from Jibuti to Harar had not begun within two years of its signing.
Article V established that the Company was responsible for the good condition of all equipment during the period of the contract and could not interrupt its service except in case of force majeure.
Article VI, which was later modified by agreement, declared that the Company was obliged to establish and operate at its own expense a telegraph line along the entire length of the railway. This line had to be at the disposal of the Ethiopian Government for all State messages free of charge. Other messages were to be paid for at rates to be later determined. It was further declared that if a single wire proved insufficient the Company had to establish a second, also at its own expense.
Article VII prohibited the Company from transporting troops or war material into or out of Ethiopia without a written order from the Emperor, and specified that if the Company took such action without authorisation it had to relinquish the railway to the Ethiopian Government. Troops and war material of the Ethiopian Government were to be transported in peace time at charges to be mutually agreed with the Company and in war time free of charge. The price for services rendered to the Emperor should moreover be less than for any other person.
Article VIII ruled that the Company should fix its own rates for merchandise, but that these must not be higher, and should rather be lower, than the then existing cost of transport by other means.
Article IX applied to customs charges. It stated that such charges then levied by the Emperor’s authorities at Harar were no more than 5 per cent, ad valorem and did not exceed 1,000,000 francs. To facilitate the construction of the railway and to assure the interest on the capital invested, the Company was authorised to levy a duty of 10 per cent, ad valorem, on all merchandise carried by the railway in addition to the transport charge. This levy had, however, to be reduced to 5 per cent, when the net profits of the Company reached 2,500,000 francs, and be totally withdrawn as soon as profits reached 3,000,000 francs. When profits exceeded that figure the excess had to be divided equally between the Government and the Company.
The 10 per cent, duty was justified by the Company in its talks with the Emperor on the grounds that the railway could not be expected to become profitable until it had been extended into the rich lands of the interior.11
Article X stated that the Emperor agreed to direct that all merchandise leaving Harar or coming from Jibuti on which a charge for transport was made should be transported by the railway ; the customs officers were to be instructed to ensure compliance with this article.
This clause, like the preceding, was designed to assist the Company during the lean years before the opening of the line to the interior. Insistance that goods leaving Harar should be transported by rail would inevitably influence the whole trade of the Horn of Africa for though it was impossible for Menelik to legislate in respect of caravans coming to Harar from Zeila or Berbera they would scarcely be profitable if they were obliged to travel back empty.12
In Article XI the Emperor further agreed to provide the Company with all the land required for the establishment of the railway, as well as a zone 1,000 metres wide along the entire stretch of the line, and any forests mines and waters to be found in this zone which had to be measured and defined. (According to Felter Menelik had been reluctant to agree to these provisions.13
Article XII stated that the Emperor would protect the railway and its property against all attack, and that soldiers engaged in such protection should be transported by the Company free of charge.
Article XIII stated that the Emperor would levy no tax on materials required for the construction or operation of the railway, whether imported or of local origin.
Article XIV specified that at the end of the Concession the railway and all its fixed assets were to become the possession of the Ethiopian Government without any compensation, and that the rolling stock and movable property could be purchased by the Ethiopian Government at an agreed price.
It was finally stated, in Article XV, that the Company, in return for this Concession, would give the Emperor 100,000 dollars to be paid in the Company’s own shares.
This concession, it should be emphasised, was given on March 9, 1894, a couple of years prior to the battle of Adowa, and hence before the great increase in Ethiopian prestige resulting from that victory. As the American envoy, Robert Skinner, subsequently remarked, the agreement was made " prior to the disaster to Italian arms, prior to the victory of Kitchener at Omdurman, and before there was any realisation of the strategic and economic importance of the empire."14
Under such circumstances it was relatively difficult to interest foreign investors in the railway project. Ilg and Chefneux were nonetheless very enthusiastic. They set to work with great rapidity, established a railway company with headquarters in Paris at 28 rue de Chateaudun, and began negotiations with the French Government and capitalists.15 Keller says the promoters were bombarded by inquiries about the actual and potential state of trade in the area of the proposed railway, the capitalists being unwilling to subscribe until they could be assured of a favourable future. In response to such questions the promoters explained that statistics showed that exports from Shoa already ran at about 12,000 tons, or 50,000 camel loads, of which 33,000 loads were made up of coffee, 1,200 of hides, and 500 of ivory. Imports comprised about 6,800 loads of cotton goods, 7,500 of salt, 300 of Maria Theresa dollars and 1,000 of various other goods, including arms, petrol, sugar, silks, etc. The total amount of trade was thus estimated at about 9 million dollars (or 23 million francs), while the cost of transport was put at about 890,000 dollars, or 73 to 77 dollars per ton on a journey of 25 days. This trade, it was supposed, would be automatically absorbed in its entirety by the railway. Though the promoters admitted that trade of this magnitude was by no means sufficient to justify the construction of a railway they claimed that the establishment of the line would result in an immediate and extensive increase in traffic. This, Keller comments, was " a very likely supposition " since Ethiopia had a "vast reserve of natural products " which were " only waiting a cheap means of transport to be exported," While " a rise in the country’s national wealth would produce an increase in the demand for European pro-Estimation of construction costs was even more difficult, but on the basis of evidence from other parts of Africa it was believed that 100,000 francs per kilometre would be required and that the total cost of the railway would come to 33 1/2 million francs. These estimates, however, were only very tentative, and the promoters destined to many surprises.16
Negotiations on all sides
Before work on the line could begin it was necessary for the Company to obtain permission to cross the 90 or go kilometres of the French Somali Protectorate between Jibuti and the Ethiopian frontier. The French Government were at first reluctant to agree. Keller states that it doubted whether it would be possible for the Company to construct the first 350 kilometres up to Harar without coining into serious conflict with the " native " population. Shortly before this the Governor of Obok had endeavoured to improve the road from Jibuti to the interior, but had been obliged to abandon work 5 kilometres from the coast because the Somalis maintained that the existing track had been adequate for hundreds of years and that the new road was intended only for the import of cannon. Their threatened resistance had obliged him to abandon the scheme.17
The railway Company declared that it alone would be responsible for the construction and operation of the line and that no obligations or difficulties would result for the Protectorate authorities, but the question dragged on and was only solved when the Ethiopian victory at Adowa on March 1, 1896, opened the eyes of the French to the value of an alliance with Menelik. On April 27Ã¢â‚¬â€ less than two months after the battleÃ¢â‚¬â€provisional authorisation de passer was given in a letter to Chefneux from the French Ministry for the Colonies. It read as follows :Ã¢â‚¬â€ " Sir,
" After a fresh examination of the project for the establishment of a railway from Jibuti towards the interior which you submitted to my department, and with the agreement of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, I have the honour to inform you that I grant you in principle the authorisation to follow up this project.
" It is, however, understood that if the necessary works for the establishment of this railway are not executed according to the conditions specified in your previous communications and within a period of three years I reserve the right to consider this authorisation as null and void.
" The Minister of the Colonies : Guyesse."18
* * * *
The Company meanwhile had also been negotiating with the Emperor because it wished to obtain his approval for a modification in the Concession so as to be able to avoid constructing the line into the Harar mountains. It was desired to divert the line through the valley of Dire Dawa, then also known as Addis, or new, Harar. Menelik, who Keller believes may not have been averse to this suggestion as Harar had been but recently incorporated in his Empire, gave his agreement to this request in a letter of March 5, 1896, in which he repeated his permission that the Company could levy a 10 per cent, toll on merchandise carried by the railway. By way of compensation for the change in the route, however, he made it conditional on the Company’s immediate construction of the telegraph from Jibuti to Harar. This line, it will be remembered, was one of the obligations undertaken by the Company in accepting the original concession. Keller states that it was still hoped that Harar would in due course be reached by the railway by means of a branch line.
Chefneux’s interest in the concern, it may be noted, was now for the first time officially recognised by the Emperor who addressed his letter to him as well as to Ilg.19 The Frenchman, as we shall see, was destined soon to replace his partner in influence.20
* * * *
The next step in the negotiations was to clarify the railway’s position with the French Protectorate authorities. This was done on March 12, 1897, when the French Minister for the Colonies, Andre Lebon, signed an agreement with Chefneux which allowed the Company to make the necessary charges to cover its costs and to collect in addition a levy of 10 per cent., which money was to be paid by the Company into a fund under the control of a Commission appointed by the Ministry for the Colonies.21
* * * *
The railway scheme was now apparently meeting with strong Ethiopian opposition. According to Felter, Menelik was having second thoughts about the scheme, and the Empress Taitu and Ras Makonnen were both critical. The latter was supposed to have said to the Emperor : " When the railway reaches Harar Harar will be no longer yours, and when it reaches Addis Ababa, Shoa will be no longer yours."22
Ethiopian opposition to the railway was taken for granted in British official reports for 1897 and 1898. Colonel Sadler, resident in Aden, believed Ras Makonnen was the principal opponent, but stated : "It is reported that Menelik said all his Rases are against the railway." Harrington, whose own opinion was that a French line would place Harar "at the mercy of a French coup de main any day," says Ras Makonnen had told him " he had always been against the railway, and even now did not intend to allow it to come to Harrar " ; discussing the details of the scheme with Harrington’s interpreter, the Ras is supposed to have added : " This is idiotic, Menelik has given away the key to his treasury."23
Gleichen drew a similar picture, observing : "a large number of the chiefs, at all events in the more western portion, would strongly object to such a newfangled idea, on the grounds that it would introduce into the country the all-pervading whiteman."
British official reports declare that there were even popular demonstrations against the railway, probably officially inspired. Sadler, writing in August, 1897, says
"Ras Makonnen called to Harar all the tribal chiefs responsible for the country to be traversed by the line and asked them their opinion of the project. They were said " to have one and all declared that their livelihood depended on the continuance of the traffic by road, that the railway would ruin them, that if the work be persisted on they would be prepared to resist." The report adds : " Ras Makunan is said to have told them he would not force them to agree to what they did not want, nor to allow others to do so." Notwithstanding early misgivings the Ras soon withdrew his opposition and, according to Piazza, his name was later " associated " with that of the railway."
In April, 1898, Harrington, then at Haramaya, quoted a report of " a popular meeting at the capital to protest against the Railway." Noting that " popular meetings are supposed to be instigated by the King," he relates that rumour had it that the French representative, Lagarde, " was called up and told by Menelek that he, the Emperor, reigned by the goodwill of his people and since they were against the railway he could not allow it. Lagarde is said to have replied that the contract was with King Menelek and not with the Abyssinian nation, and that the French nation would hold the King to his contract."24
There was other evidence of opposition. An Ethiopian nobleman somewhat naively observed to Rodd : " We don’t want rapid communication with the coast ; the railway will be very useful to us in the interior ; we shall wait till it is finished and then destroy its connection with the sea." The people of the coast were even more strongly opposed to the scheme. The Dankalis, Rodd notes, " are all camel owners, and see their interests, nay, their sole means of livelihood menaced." " At Zeyla," Sadler adds, "it is common talk that the Eesa, the Gallas and the Abyssinians have made common cause to oppose the railway."25
Far more important, however, was the opposition of the British who feared that the railway would destroy the trade of their Somali port of Zeila. This view, which was destined to play a vital role in the history of the railway, was put very bluntly by Col. Ferris of the British administration of Aden on November 13, 1896. " If and when this line is completed," he wrote, " the commercial decadence of Zeyla may be looked on as an accomplished fact. Camel-borne trade cannot compete with rail-borne, and the supremacy of this port will cease." This argument was generally accepted in British quarters. On July 30, 1897, Major-General Ardagh, Director of Military Intelligence noted : " If the line is made to Jibuti the effect on Zeyla would be disastrous." He therefore recommended that the British Government should endeavour to " encourage the purchasers of the Abyssinian concession to select Zeyla instead of Djibouti as the port of departure."26
The British, however, were by no means unanimous in its desire to control the railway. Rodd, whose opinion unfortunately always carried some weight, wrote a rather critical report on June 14, 1897, which argued that the line would suffer greatly from competition. Recalling that one surveyor estimated that no more than 75,000 camel loads each of 200 kilos were being taken to the coast each year, he claimed that so small a volume of trade would oblige the railway to impose high freight charges. The exactions of camel or mule caravans, it was true, were then also very high Ã‚Â» but " in a country where every man owns a camel or mule which subsists by grazing and costs him nothing to keep, he could afford, if pressed by railway competition to greatly reduce the charges." Traders moreover would have little reason to prefer the train to the camel as the chief exports, coffee and ivory, did not spoil by keeping and therefore did not require rapid transport Rodd’s final argument was that the railway’s potential trade would be reduced in the future as the trade of Kaffa, Jimma and other parts of Western Ethiopia would be directed westwards rather than eastwards as soon as the British succeeded in pacifying the Sudan. 27
Harrington, on the other hand, was by no means inclined to underestimate the railway’s importance. On August 31, 1899, he submitted to the Foreign Office a " Memorandum on the Somali Coast Railway Question." in which he warned that the establishment of a French railway at Jibuti would have serious economic effects on Aden, Zeila and the Sudan, and would make it easy for the French to seize Harar whenever they might choose to do so. He therefore urged his Government to take definite action, either by buying up the existing Company (as Disraeli had bought up the Suez Canal company a quarter of a century earlier) and transferring the railway terminus from Jibuti to Zeila, or else by building a competing line from the latter port to Harar.28
Harrington reverted to this theme in a subsequent report for April 14, 1900, in which he again urged the need for Britain to participate in one way or another in the railway question. Emphasising that if much more French finance was obtained transfer of control to British hands would " become a difficult and costly matter," he prophesied dire results if speedy action was not taken : " If it is impossible at present," he concluded, " for Her Majesty’s Government to take steps to secure the control of the Railway Company and the transfer of the railway to British Somaliland, then the Railway Concession is likely to have such a tremendous political value in the future that it would seem advisable that British capital should be induced to obtain a considerable interest in the existing Railway Company, so that should difficulties arise between France and Abyssinia on account of the Railway Concession, we may be able to have an equal voice with France in any settlement that ensues.
" If it is impossible to take action in the matter, then once the frontier questions are settled British interests in Abyssinia will be nil, and all that remains is to see France gradually extending her power over Abyssinia until it is virtually, if not actually, a French Protectorate, unless we are prepared to take the risk of war in attempts to avoid such an eventuality."29
The stage was thus set for a period of Anglo-French rivalry.
The Company meanwhile had only been partially successful in raising funds and it was becoming increasingly obvious that grave financial difficulties lay ahead ; the proceeds from the sale of shares and bonds were substantially less than expected while construction costs were proving much higher than estimated. The company had issued 28,000 shares of 500 francs each with the intention of raising 14,000,000 francs ; in fact they only produced 8,738,000 francs ; 8,000 negotiable shares were also issued which were to produce a million francs when the line to Harar was completed and the line to to Entoto begun, and a further million when work on the line from Entoto to Kaffa. Even had these raised the desired amount they would have been of no immediate avail, as construction on these parts of the railway lay in the distant future ; 56,700 bonds, each of 500 francs were offered and 51,000 were purchased, but instead of 25,500,000 francs, they brought in only 11 665,000 francs. The proceeds of shares and bonds thus amounted to 20,403,000 francs, a sum only sufficient for the construction of a fraction of the planned railway.
The railway projectors were destined, as Skinner observed, to meet with " every conceivable embarrassment . . indifference in France . . . active opposition from the savage Issas of the desert, and chronic need of funds."30
Construction Work Begins
Notwithstanding the failure to raise the necessary funds construction work began at Jibuti in October, 1897. There was great activity at the port. The first task was the erection of the railway station which the Italian traveller Wolynsky later said could be compared with those of any secondary Italian city. Work was also carried out on the offices, a storage shed measuring 15 by 30 metres, two workshops for repairs, two large houses for the personnel, lodgings for temporary staff, and various amenities such as baths and douches. Drinking water was obtained from wells 5 miles inland and was pumped to the port where a " practically unlimited " quantity was stored in rock-hewn reservoirs ; availability of water was of vital importance as consumption in the next few years was destined to run at over 67,000 gallons a day.31
Jibuti, which the French had purchased from the Sultan of Tajourah half a century earlier for a mere 1,000 dollars, now underwent a great transformation. The Governor of the French Somali Protectorate transferred his residence there from Obok, arriving in some state with a tame lioness as a watchdog. Meanwhile public buildings, business premises, shops, offices and private houses, as well as several brick works, lime kilns, coal sheds and an ice factory sprang up almost overnight ; the harbour was soon graced with a number of port buildings and a breakwater, while shipping was safeguarded at night by no less than five lighthouses. The main road, according to Jennings and Addison, was short but "a perfect bicycle track" made of crushed coral.32 The population rose more than six-fold in four years, as may be seen from the following figures.33
JIBUTI POPULATION ESTIMATES
Greeks, Armenians, Italians and Indians, as well as Frenchmen, arrived by every ship as Government and railway employees or as private entrepreneurs. As in North Africa, so at Jibuti, persons of every nationality followed the tricolour flag of France. The immigrants often found it difficult to find living quarters. Even greater numbers of Somalis and other peoples of the Horn of Africa arrived overland in the hope of finding work. According to one of the early engine-drivers these immigrants included Gallas, Dankalis, Nubians, Abyssinians and " Negroes" all of whom lived in separate areas. Racial segregation was the order of the day, the town being divided into a European and " native " quarter.34
Though people of every nationality seemed determined to share in the profits which seemed to be about to fall from heaven, the Somalis of the area were divided in their attitude to the railway. Some came offering themselves as camel leaders and bearers and later as earth workers, while others refused to work, and lounged about the town with sticks over their shoulders ridiculing their more slavish or mercenary compatriots. The wages for transporting water, materials and food, however, were so attractive to the nomads of the desert that the offices of the company were always besieged by persons anxious to obtain work of one kind or another.35 The Somalis, as argued elsewhere by the present writer, were often willing to undertake any income-producing work outside their own area, but objected to doing manual work in their area where it would have occasioned a loss of prestige.36
The development of Jibuti, it should be noted, depended entirely on the railway. Prince Henri of Orleans who visited the port in 1898 noted that the port’s trade was negligible, for the entire commerce of Harar passed through ZeilaÃ¢â‚¬â€he nevertheless added the hope that this would be entirely changed as soon as the line was constructed.37 By August it was reported that the chief mercantile houses at Zeila were taking steps to open branches at Jibuti.38
As soon as operations were well under way at the railhead work began on laying the line itself. This was entrusted to the firm of Duparchy and Vigouroux. Hugues Le Roux states that the engineers had gained experience from earlier railway building in the Congo and therefore avoided straight lines so as not to exceed an inclination of 0.025 per metre ; the minimum curve was of 150 metres. To minimize costs it was decided to employ a narrow gauge ; iron sleepers were, however, adopted to ensure durability, particularly in view of the existence of termites. The gauge selected was only one metreÃ¢â‚¬â€-one of the narrowest in the world. The sleepers had therefore to be specially cast and were described as of "Menelek type " ; they weighed 30 kilos apiece, while the rails, which were 10 metres long, weighed 200 kilos. Sleepers were normally laid at a rate of 13 per rail, or on average 13,333 per kilometre, though in areas of greater than normal inclination, they were somewhat closer together, averaging about 14,000 per kilometre. The track was based on a bed of ballast 2.80 metres wide and 35 centimetres deep.39
Because of the termites the telegraph poles were also made of iron. They were made of three interfitting tubes, weighing 75 kilos together, and were placed 70 metres apart on the left side of the track. They carried four separate wires : one for direct official communication with Dire Dawa, one for official business with intermediary stations and the other two for general use. The temperature was so high that the metal was often difficult to handle.40
Before the trains were set in motion all equipment and supplies, including water for drinking and the mixing of cement and mortar had to be carried inland by other means. For every kilometre of line over 70,000 kilos of rails, sleepers and telegraph poles had to be transported besides other supplies. A huge force of camels was therefore soon journeying backwards and forwards along a line of 12 to 15 kilometres, water having often to be carried a distance of 20 to 30 kilometres. Hundreds of camels, and people, perished during this stage of the operations and there were numerous disputes with contractors on one score or another.41
The working force, Leymarie states, was almost entirely made up of Arabs and Somalis, the overseers being Europeans, mainly Italian.*2 According to an official British report, the workers displayed " considerable dissatisfaction . . . because one month’s pay was always held in arrears." This practice was adopted to give the Company a hold over the men who were often tempted to abandon their work, particularly in view of friction with the Somali population of the area.43
The workers in fact met with significant opposition from sections of the Somali population, especially of the Issa tribe, though, according to British reports, they were given a bribe of 2,000 rupees in March, 1898, and a promise of a further 5,000 rupees on completion of the line if they would agree t6 make no trouble.44 Besides the usual dislike to change encountered by railway promoters almost the world over there were other motives at work. Many tribesmen, as we have seen, feared that the competition of the railway would be detrimental to camel caravans, while others were incensed by the manner in which their women folk were taken advantage of by foreign construction workers : Keller states that on this latter account many people reddened the sand with their blood.45 According to Le Roux 30 workers were killed between 1899 and June, 1900, in armed attacks. On one occasion the Issas advanced so close to Jibuti that Europeans in the port area barricaded themselves in their houses, put out to sea or hid in Arab houses. The British authorities in Aden even offered to send a warship to reassure the French population.46 Another major attack occurred in June, 1900, when a number of workers at Bih Humma, beyond the station at Douanle at 106 kilometres, were killed. Throughout this period the labourers engaged in making terraces lived in almost constant fear of assassination from assailants hidden among mimosa trees, and, as Rosen lugubriously notes, many people who left their camp never returned.47
Constant attention had to be paid to questions of security. The Company established security patrols which were largely composed of young Ethiopians led by Europeans whose duty it was to keep a close watch on the entire course of operations. Le Roux, writing when the line had still only reached kilometre 90, confirms that several defence posts had been established and reports that they were manned by Ethiopians as well as by Somalis.48 Jennings, who travelled along the line a little later, records that he saw 14 parties of gangers, each composed of six or seven " natives," one of whom would be on horseback and armed with a rifle parties were invariably in the charge of a Frenchman Italian or Greek.49
Steps were also taken in other directions to curtail resistance or interference on the part of the Somalis A whole staff of negotiators and scouts were employed hostages were taken from various tribes and monthly subsidies paid to the more important chiefs. The Ethiopian government was also advised of particularly unruly elements and requested to use its influence in achieving co-operation on the part of the tribesmen Menelik’s prestige was an important factor in maintaining order.
Lack of security seems to have been a good excuse for corruption. The Company’s statistics were in fact always being questioned. In 1902, for example, Harrington reported that the Greek contractor Macras estimated that actual costs were no more than 30,000 to 40,000 francs per kilometre and not 65,000 as stated.51
The railway, wrote a later British minister, Thomas Hohler, was " one glorious scandal " for " the corruption not unusual in French colonies was rampant in its administration. From time to time the officials would tear up a few sleepers, or put some stones on the line, and report to Paris there had been a raid and some chiefs must be subsidised. I heard of one case where Ã‚Â£1,000 was sent, but the chief in question was merely presented with a robe of honour, and two bags of dates."52
One source of friction was overcome by the company’s decision to make detours in the projected route in order to avoid Somali graveyards, particularly after kilometre 70. Orders were also given to prevent the line from interfering with water holes or inhabited places.53
The railway builders soon found themselves in fairly difficult country and were obliged to erect two viaducts. The first, at Shebele, 19 kilometres from Jibuti, was constructed by a French engineer called Pleignet, who arrived in 1897 after having previously worked in Rumania, Serbia and Constantinople. This bridge was 156 metres long and 12 metres wide ; it stood on 34 piles and crossed a ravine some 10 metres deep.64 The second bridge was at Hoi Hoi, 52 kilometres from the coast, where, as Jennings and Addison say, a " fine metal viaduct" 142 metres long was placed over the confluence of the Hoi Hoi and Loure rivers 30 metres below. 55
Notwithstanding all difficulties the construction work made steady progress as can be seen from the fact that by October, 1899, the line had reached the 25 kilometre mark, while the terrace builders were at kilometre 75 ; by the end of 1900 the line was beyond the Ethiopian frontier and had reached kilometre 120, while the terrace builders were at kilometre 150.56
Financial Difficulties Begin
Before the Line entered Ethiopian territory, however, it had become clear that the Company had run into acute financial difficulties. Appeals for help from the French Government met with refusal as the project was regarded in official circles in Paris with strong misgivings. Nor was sufficient help forthcoming from private French investors or banking concerns. After reaching kilometre 163Ã¢â‚¬â€only 54 kilometres inside EthiopiaÃ¢â‚¬â€Chefneux and his colleagues found themselves obliged to turn to British capitalists for help.
"The scheme had in fact aroused considerable interest in British investment circles. Towards the end of 1898 a financier called Ochs appeared on the scene, urging that the British Government should help him to gain control of the railway in the interests of Britain. Harrington, the British representative in Addis Ababa, called Ochs " a slippery customer " and argued that it would be better for his Government to construct a rival line from Berbera than get mixed up with Ochs’ scheme.57 The latter, however, continued with his plans, and was instrumental in establishing the New Africa Company, the object of which was to buy up the French company. A memorandum drawn up on April 11, 1899, disclosed that the railway company was willing to issue 24,000 new shares, each of Ã‚Â£20, as against 16,000 held by French shareholders. " This," it said, " would practically give the control of the undertaking to the British investors."58
The policy of the New Africa Company was summed up in a speech by its Chairman in 1900, which received a good deal of publicity. It declared :
"In other quarters of Africa we have also been investigating the possibilities of profitably extending our operations, and as a consequence we hope shortly to be able to participate, through our Paris connections, in the construction of the Jibuti railway to Abyssinia, an interesting line, the concession for which was granted by the Emperor Menelik to the Compagnie Imperiale des Chemins de fer Ethiopiens. We hope to be able to co-operate on fair terms with the French capitalists in an enterprise, the object of which, as you may be aware, is to connect the African hinterland of Abyssinia with the Somali coast of the Red Sea. This line, like other railroads of penetration in Africa, must open up the resources of the country through which it passes, and, subject to the vicissitudes in new railway undertakings of this nature, we believe we shall be able to participate in business which will be profitable to the company."59 The New Africa Company, as T. Lennox Gilmour, the railway’s first historian, points out, was thus interested in the concern on purely commercial grounds. 60 It bought a number of shares in the French company and later, as we shall see, substantially increased its holding. Two other British concerns, the Oceania Consolidated Company and the New Egyptian Company, soon followed suit, as reported in the Daily Mail on January 18 and 19, 1900. 61 The three companies agreed, at Chefneux’s request to supply all the finance required for the construction of the line-up to kilometre 215 by making a loan amounting to 3,000,000 francs. 62 The position in October of that year is revealed in a Memorandum by Sir T. H. Sanderson of the Foreign Office, detailing talks he had with Ochs of the New Africa Company. In it the Foreign Office official records that Ochs claimed Chefneux and Ilg were both favourable to the idea of a Berbera-Harar line as a branch of the existing Jibuti line. Turning to the financial situation, Sanderson continues :
" He gave some figures to show that in the present Company British capital would shortly have a majority of votes, and would consequently control the management . . .
" Our of 36,000 present shares, 8,000 plus 4,000, say 12,000, were British owned. It was proposed to add 17,000 shares, which would be held by the New Africa Company, so that out of 53,000 shares 29,000 would be British owned.
" He said that on examination of the chart of Berbera, he entertained no doubt that with some improvement the harbour would compete on favourable terms with that of Jibuti.
" He estimated roughly the cost of the railway from Berbera to Harrar at Ã‚Â£4,000 a mile, which, with improvements of the harbour, would mean a cost of about Ã‚Â£1,000,000.
" In order to make the scheme more promising, he thought that MM. Ilg and Chefneux would be ready to concede that the 10 per cent., which the Company have the right to levy on all merchandize passing to Harrar should be levied at Berbera on goods despatched from thence, and retained towards the income of that portion of the line."63
The position in October was also discussed in a very revealing letter from Sanderson to Lord Cromer in Egypt. Emphasising the size of the financial problem involved, Sanderson said : " I am a good deal impressed with the financial difficulties of the present French company.
" They have a share capital of Ã‚Â£720,000, of which Ã‚Â£500,000 is paid up. They have created 85,000 debentures of 500 francs each, but which are taken at 250 francs, say Ã‚Â£850,000Ã¢â‚¬â€of these some 50,000 had been issued at the end of last year and the total capital then paid up was about Ã‚Â£970,000.
"They have recently borrowed Ã‚Â£80,000 from Mr. Och’s Co. (the New Africa Co.) for which the latter have the right of taking the last 8,000 of the 85,000 debentures . . .
" With this capital the Company apparently expect to complete the railway as far as the 215 kilometre. The New Africa Co. are then to take up the remaining and for a sum of Ã‚Â£300,000 to be procured by a fresh issue of 30,000 debentures they are to construct an additional 70 kilos, bringing the railway to the foot of the hills some 30 miles as the crow flies and 50 miles by road from Harar itself. Estimated cost, Ã‚Â£4,300 per kilo or nearly Ã‚Â£7,000 per mile. What then ?
" To take the line up to Harar will be enormously expensive. To take it on to Addis Ababa is a serious business ; the distance must be double at least that of the line up to this point, and the country only partially surveyed ; where is the capital to be found for this ? "S1 In the nature of things the Company had little alternative but to depend more and more on British capital. The question was whether this would be acceptable to the French Government.
Almost a year later, in July, 1901, the three British firms announced that they had " considerably strengthened " their interests in the railway and had united with the French shareholders to form the International Ethiopian Railway Trust and Construction Company which had entered into a contract with the Chefneux company to advance a further large sum to construct the railway as far as Dire Dawa at a charge of 107,000 francs per kilometre.65
The English group was now in a dominant position.
It possessed 14,000 out of a total of 36,000 shares, was the owner of the largest block of shares under one control, and had an agreement with the Company that no further shares would be created without its approval. It had four representatives on a Board of eight members, a further two of whom habitually voted with it, thus giving it a clear majority. It had a contract to build the line from kilometre 215 to kilometre 295 in return for 30,000 bonds, or, if it preferred, 15,000 shares, which latter would give it still greater voting power, and had a promise to be allowed to construct a further stretch of line on the same terms. Finally it had 24 out of the 100 founders’ shares.66
The railway was thus continuing to obtain capital but on a rather uncertain basis. The promoters of the International Ethiopian Railway Trust and the managers of the Chefneux company both believed that capital from Britain and France could participate harmoniously because the political relations between the two powers were then relatively cordial. Events of the next few years were to show that this belief was unfounded.
Menelek’s First Doubts
Menelek meanwhile was beginning to feel doubts about French influence in the railway, his misgivings being greatly increased by his talks with Harrington in the middle of 1900. On May 30 the British envoy reported that he had warned the Emperor of the dangers to Ethiopia inherent in the monopolistic position of the French with regard to the railway. Menelek had replied that the concession was not in point of fact a monopoly, whereupon, Harrington reports : " I read His Majesty the terms of the Concession as published by the prospectus issued by the Railway Company . . . His Majesty denied the correctness of Article 3, stating that he had only written in the Concession that no other railway would be permitted ‘ near ‘ the French railway, and that he had never intended a monopoly."
Commenting on this statement, Harrington says in his report : " The whole question turns on the translation of a word ; the Amharic version reads ‘ near,’ whereas the French version reads ‘ competing’ and in this way resembles the Ucialli treaty."
In his conversation with the Emperor Harrington proceeded to warn him of the dangers resulting from the French Government’s interest in the railway. This part of the interview assumes special interest in view of subsequent developments. The report continues :
" I pointed out to His Majesty that it was no longer M. Ilg he had to deal with, but the French Company to whom the Concession had been sold, and that the possibility was that in any dealings with the Company he would find the French Government behind them.
"He at once remarked that if the Government entered into the question, the Concession would, by this very fact, be annulled. I drew attention to the fact that no mention of this was made in the Concession, and explained to him the attitude of governments as regard the investments of their subjects in foreign countries such as his, and that everything tended to prove that the French Government were considerably interested in this Concession. I may here remark that it was apparent that this view of the interest likely to be taken by governments, where their subjects were concerned, has never been explained to His Majesty .
" There seems no doubt, from the preoccupation of the King on the subject of the railway Concession, that he never realized what he was signing. Subsequent to my remarks on the subject, he sent one of his Chamberlains to my Italian colleague to discuss the Concession, and has also spoken to him on the same subject. He also asked my interpreter … to compare the French translation with the Amharic text."
Turning to the implications of all this from the point of view of British policy, Harrington concluded by recommending his Government to make a thorough review of the question. He wrote :
" The King may ask the assistance of English capitalists, and as there is a possibility that the question as to whether the Concession is a monopoly may give rise to strained relations with France, which I have cautioned the King about, and which I shall use every endeavour to prevent, it seems to me that the time has come when both the English and Italian Governments, who are interested in the preservation of an independent Abyssinia, must decide as to their attitude concerning the French Railway Concession."67
Further talks between the Emperor and the envoy followed some weeks later, as a result of which Harrington formally requested his Government to ascertain whether the Company’s claim to have obtained a monopoly could be invalidated on the basis of a re-interpretation of Article III of the original Concession. In a letter of June 25, he writes :
" In the course of conversation, His Majesty remarked that a railway could be made elsewhere without infringing the Concession already given … I replied that the only possible lines that could be made would be to the British Somaliland frontier, which would necessitate a line from Berbera, and to the Soudan frontier. So far as the former line was concerned, I doubted whether he could offer any inducements to people to take the matter up with a competing line so near, and as far as the latter, the distance was so great that I doubted the possibility of obtaining the requisite capital."
The Emperor thereupon asked for a legal opinion on the Concession he had already granted, presumably wishing to establish whether a monopoly had or had not been established by Article III. Harrington in his report gave this request his full support, adding : " I venture to suggest that a legal opinion on the French Railway Concession should be prepared for His Majesty, as there is a possibility in finding a flaw in the Concession which would enable us to construct a line from Berbera to Harrar, should he desire to do so at any future time."68
The Foreign Office thereupon requested the Law Officers of the Crown to examine the Concession in the hope of finding a suitable interpretation, but the Officers’ report was entirely negative. On August 31 they replied that : " We are of opinion that the effect of the Concession granted to M. Ilg is to debar the Emperor from granting any Concession for the construction of a railway in Abyssinia which would be a competing line with that authorized by M. Ilg’s Concession. The question whether any proposed railway would compete would be a question of fact, but it would appear clear that any line running from the coast of British Somaliland to Harrar would be both ‘ competing ‘ and ‘ near.’ "89 Legally then there was no doubt about it: Menelek had saddled himself with a railway monopoly. The question remained could the British Government come to terms with it or could British capital purchase it. Harrington tended to favour Governmental action. a January 12, 1901, he reported to the Foreign Office at Menelik was still " very unsettled about the railway concession." Though he thought the Emperor’s suspicions about British policy seemed " almost insurmountable," the envoy added : " There is a remote possibility that I might succeed in getting sanction in some way or another to our making a railway between Berbera and Harrar. The question now arises as to whether I should work for this end or notÃ¢â‚¬â€as it is no use making more enemies than necessary here if Government does not intend to move in this question." This letter might have marked the beginning of a British diplomatic drive had not the British Government been unwilling to put up the necessary funds. On arriving in London the letter was read by Sanderson of the Foreign Office, who sagely wrote this comment on it: " There seems no use in asking for a concession for a railway to Harrar unless we see our way to making it," A colleague, to whom the letter was subsequently sent, added : " I see no prospect of obtaining Government assistance for this project, and Col. Harrington had better let it alone so far as we are concerned."70
British policy was therefore essentially hesitant as may further be seen from Sir Rennell Rodd’s opinion as reported to the Foreign Secretary on July 29, 1901. Rodd was asked whether it would be desirable for the British Government to purchase the railway from the Company which seemed willing to part with it ; he replied by advocating an attitude of wait and see. Discussing Menelik’s original Concession, he tended to share the Emperor’s view that Article III did not necessarily give the French Company a monopoly. Arguing in fact against the verdict of the Law Officers, he declared that " if it were necessary " the Concession " could be evaded in several directions. Careful consideration of its conditions certainly leads to this conclusion." Turning to Article III he added :
" It purports to secure the Company from the competition of any other company in railway construction from the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea or the other side (i.e. the Sudan) ‘ jusqu ‘ en Ethiopie.’
" In the first place this is not necessarily a monopoly ; in the second place it could only operate against other companies and not against H.M.G. (Her Majesty’s Government) if they were minded to make a railway themselves through British Somaliland in order to connect with one in Abyssinia ; in the third place it applies only to the connections on the Abyssinian frontier and not to the railway construction in the country itself, and lastly Sir Rennell thought that the Arabic (or Amharic ?) version might easily be found not so definite as the French version."
The Foreign Office official, who was evidently somewhat confused about the language employed in Ethiopia expressed doubt whether such verbal niceties though apparently suitable for Menelek would serve with a great power such as France. The report continues :
" I suggested to him that distinctions such as these might be useful if we were dealing with Menelek alone, but that if we refused to buy the Jibuti Company and they sold to the French Government instead, the latter would not admit the value of these limitations and that it would be very difficult to maintain these rather technical objections against what would be the broadly dominant position of a great power."
Rodd, however, had little fear of France. The report concludes :
" Sir Rennell. . . thought that France was out of love with East African enterprise, that the development of this concession would cost a great deal of money before it would pay, that she was spending a good deal elsewhere ; in short, that France would not be likely to buy, but that if she did, with MenelekÃ¢â‚¬â€who denies the monopolyÃ¢â‚¬â€on our side, we were strong enough to defeat any effort after Railway exclusiveness that she might make.
" He did not of course deny the menace to the prosperity of British Somaliland which the development of the Jibuti railway under the control of the French Government would involve, nor would we view with equanimity the ascendency of France in Abyssinia if such a situation must be contemplated as possible ; but he was evidently not much afraid of this latter contingency, and on the whole his advice was to wait until Harrington came home on leave and to consult him before taking further action."
Lord Lansdowne, who was shown this report, concurred with its general purport, noting on the margin : " I am inclined to agree."
Menelek, it should be noted, had not yet broken with the Company : on July 6, 1901, he wrote to its president, declaring that he awaited with impatience the arrival of the line not only at Addis Ababa but also at Addis Alem a little to the west. This was of course the period when Menelek contemplated making the latter his capital.71
The First Train Services Begin
The first train service began on July 22, 1901, and operated between Jibuti and Douanle, the first station on the Ethiopian side of the frontier at kilometre 106, a journey of 5 1/2 hours with four halts for water. A year and a half later the service was extended as far as Dire Dawa, 14 hours from the coast at kilometre 311. The first train reached that town, which was long destined to be the terminus of the line, on December 24, 1902. Thereafter trains left Jibuti at 6 a.m. to arrive at Dire Dawa the same day at 8 p.m., having passed 13 stations en route.72
Engines were imported from the Swiss factory of Winterthur and were of two types : a compound engine with four axles weighing 35 tons and a three-axle type weighing 29 tons ; both used Cardiff patent fuel. There were a number of bogie waggons with four axles weighing 10 tons and carrying a load of 22 tons and some with two axles, weighing 5 tons and carrying 10 tons. Passenger coaches were also of two kinds : first and second class combined, and third class. Jennings states that the train on which he travelled, which may well have been typical, was composed of one heavy type engine, a guard’s van, four open trucks, one third-class passenger coach and two combined first- and second-class coaches. In the course of his journey he saw nine engines, three of which were under repair, 21 covered trucks, 63 open trucks, four first- and second-class coaches, one third-class coach and half a dozen trollies.73
The service was in many ways a remarkable one. There were times when conditions of travel seem to have been only just possible. Hohler, for example, tells that near Dire Dawa a river had to be crossed without a bridge : " the train merely made a rush at it, hoping to have enough impetus to climb the other side. About the fourth attempt it succeeded."74 Boyes also draws a rather critical picture, observing that the track was " to say the least badly constructed. We were told that some part of it was scoured away after every shower of rain, and we were fortunate enough just to escape one of these washouts. The day after we reached Dire Dawa railhead, the line was washed away and all traffic stopped for over a fortnight." Wash-outs were indeed common at this time.75
The trains had compartments of three different classes. The first-class was mainly used by foreign diplomats, the more important travellers and explorers and a few Ethiopian notables or officials, such as the Emperor’s representative, Ato Yosef, who acted as a kind of liaison officer to the company. The second-class principally served the French and Greek traders, while the third was filled by a wide variety of people, including Ethiopian soldiers and numerous Arabs, Somalis and Dankalis. The absence of any colour bar was another phenomenon which struck’ contemporary observers. Boyes, who had come from British East Africa, says that " the familiarity of the natives with the whites " on the railway was " very marked to anyone who had been in South or East Africa." To illustrate this point he adds : " I was travelling second-class, and in the same compartment there were two French ladies and a gentleman going up to Dire Dawa. A Somali got in and began to make a cigarette . . . Shortly afterwards the white guard came in and I thought to myself, ‘ Now there’s going to be a row, and I shall see Mr. Somali kicked out,’ but nothing of the kind happened. The guard simply sat down by the Somali and asked him for a cigarette ; they both lighted up and had a smoke together ! "76 (Boyes’ amazement was the greater in that he himself favoured treating the non-Europeans roughly. An official report reveals that he earned the displeasure of the British authorities by stringing up one of his Ethiopian servants as a punishment, declaring : " What does it matter if I hang my own servant ? ")77
The railway, it may be added, made a great impact on the mind of the local Somali population. Keller tells us that the Somalis were amazed by their first sight of the dreadful iron elephant but came in hordes to watch it.78 Later they developed the rather vicious habit of hacking up the installations, using the rails, sleepers and fishplates in the manufacture of spearheads and the telegraph wires in that of bangles and other ornaments. Rey describing this activity later reported that during the 1920′s " a party of raiding Danakils descended on the line, cut down 8 to 10 kilometres of copper wire, loaded it on to a regular caravan of animals they had brought up for the purpose, and disappeared into space." The railway authorities were obliged to forbid people from wearing decorations of this kind, and in due course replaced the copper by steel wire.79 The purloining of railway installations nevertheless remained a problem throughout our period, and resulted in the preference for daylight runnings.80
The Company’s hopes of harnessing British as well as French capital in the railway venture were soon dashed to the ground. The French Government and French colonial interests, both of which were determined on achieving an exclusive position in Ethiopia, were strongly opposed to the participation of British capital in a railway which they conceived of as an essentially French project. Even before the creation of the Railway Trust, as Gilmour states, " an uneasy feeling had been growing in French colonial circles that the increase of British capital invested in the enterprise was jeopardising the hopes founded on the exclusively French character of the railway. When it was found that the International Ethiopian Railway Trust and Construction Company, with its registered offices in London, had not only acquired a large holding in shares and debentures of the railway company, but had also acquired the right to construct the remaining portion of the first section of the line to the foot of the Harar plateau, as well as certain construction rights over the remaining section of the railway, a violent outcry was raised that French interests had been betrayed, and that once more rapacious England was seeking to supplant France in an African enterprise initiated by French foresight and founded by French capital."81
The fear of many Frenchmen that the story of the Suez canal (where British Prime Minister Disraeli had succeeded in buying up an enterprise established by French initiative) would be repeated with the railway was reinforced by a report in the Depeche Coloniale. It stated that Lord Chesterfield, the President of the new British trust, had revealed his intention of replacing French by British management, a development which, the paper declared, would " result in the ruin of our port of Jibuti to the advantage of the neighbouring port of Berbera."82
The French interests involved therefore launched a great agitation which reached its climax in the autumn of 1901. Numerous articles emphasising the dangers of British capital appeared in the French press, together with appeals that the French Government should come to the assistance of the railway. Support was also canvassed from various Chambers of Commerce in France. The central theme of such propaganda was that the railway represented a vital interest for France and the basis of French influence in Ethiopia. The Temps, one of a number of newspapers engaged in whipping up nationalistic sentiment on the question of the railway, went so far as to declare on July 26, 1901, that the line must remain French for through it Ethiopia could become a kind of colony (" une sorte de colonie ") with all the advantages of a colony and none of its responsibilities.83
Such statements were to say the least unwise, for they were read in Addis Ababa as well as in Paris. The Emperor, as Keller says, was an unusually intelligent man with a keen sense of politics, and was always notified of developments affecting his country which occurred in other lands. " Even a less suspicious monarch than Menelik," Keller adds, " would have thanked politely if someone wanted to consider his kingdom as a kind of colony."84
The French, however, were on the eve of a general election and many normally responsible men threw all caution to the wind in their efforts to oust the British capitalists from the railway. Under such pressure the government of the day, headed by Waldeck-Rousseau, decided to yield to the pressure of the vested interests which demanded a strong line. Speaking historically, we may say it was an over-hasty and mistaken decision.
The " dog in the manger " attitude thus far displayed by the French was well summed up by Skinner, who, writing at this period, observed : "so indifferent were Governments, and particularly the French Government which had most at stake, that when the original capital controlled by Messrs. Ilg and Chefneux had been absorbed and when French capital hesitated, a British group . . . took shares and debentures to such an extent that it was feared for a time that control would pass by a simple commercial process from French to British hands. Probably there would have been no great objection in France to such a transfer of interest, but for the underlying fear that, with French stockholders in the minority, the Anglicised Company would build a short connecting-line from Zeila or Berbera in British Somaliland, thereby developing either of these ports at the expense of Jibuti . . ."8S
The Bonhoure-Chefneux Convention
As a result of this fear the Governor of the French Somali Protectorate, M. Bonhoure, was authorised by his Government to sign a new agreement with Chefneux which was dated February 6, 1902. Significantly enough this agreement was framed and signed entirely without reference to the Ethiopian Government, despite the fact that the railway was to operate mainly on Ethiopian territory and had come into existence as a result of a Concession from the Ethiopian Emperor.
As Gilmour exclaims, " the first point to be noted is that the sovereign of the state in whose territory the railway was to be built was not only not a party to the agreement, but was neither consulted nor informed as to the negotiations.
" The second point is that it does not seem to have occurred to the parties to the negotiationsÃ¢â‚¬â€or if it did occur to them it does not seem to have carried any weight with themÃ¢â‚¬â€that the intervention of a foreign Government altered the whole character of the enterprise."86
The agreement in fact completely disregarded Menelek. Skinner says that it " failed to take into consideration the point of view of the Emperor,"87 while Sylvia Pankhurst later commented that a study of its terms would "justify stronger comment."88
The new Convention, while flouting the agreement the Company had made with the Emperor, meticulously endeavoured to regulate the doings of Chefneux and his colleagues to whose financial assistance it came.89 In this way it sought to preserve the French character of the enterprise. The basis of the agreement was that the French Somali Protectorate authorities would come to the Company’s aid by granting it a 50-year annual subsidy of 500,000 francs in return for which the Company was bound hand and foot to the French Government. The Company was henceforth to be a purely French concern with headquarters permanently in Paris, and its council composed only of Frenchmen unless otherwise agreed to by the French Ministers for the Colonies and Foreign Affairs. These Ministers moreover had to approve and could dismiss the council’s director, while the approval of the Minister for the Colonies was required before the Company could increase its capital, accept new loans or undertake new projects. The transfer of the line between Jibuti and the Hawash, the building of any other line in that area or the dissolution of the Company was prohibited except with the permission of the Ministers for the Colonies and Foreign Affairs. The French Government furthermore acquired the right to supervise the security of the line, to fix charges, to share in any profits obtained above a certain level, to confiscate or purchase the railway under certain circumstances, and to inherit the line as far as Dire Dawa, i.e. well into Ethiopian territory, at the end of the 99-year concession period.
The details of this rather complex but very important Convention are as follows :
Article I transferred the Minister of the Colonies’ permission to establish the railway through French territory from the original permit holders, Ilg and Chefneux, to the Company itself.
Article II announced that the French Somali Protectorate would give the Imperial Ethiopian Railway Company an annual subsidy of 500,000 francs, to be paid for 50 years as from July 1, 1902. It specified that this subsidy should be devoted exclusively to guarantee loans to be obtained by the Company in accordance with Article X of the Convention ; ‘the Company was thus assured an annual credit with which to pay future creditors or lenders as well as to make interest and sinking fund payments.
By the same Article the Company was obliged to take all necessary steps, with the approval of the Minister for the Colonies acting on the advice of the Minister of Finance, to assure future creditors and lenders of the benefit of the Protectorate’s subsidy.
Article II specified that the date and conditions of payment of the subsidy should be fixed by the Minister for the Colonies on the advice of the Minister of Finance. Article III specified that the date and conditions of payment of the subsidy should be fixed by the Minister for the Colonies on the advice of the Minister of Finance. Article IV stated that throughout the period of the concession the Company should occupy free of charge the lands granted to it for the permanent way, stations, workshops and other buildings.
Article V stipulated that within two months of the promulgation of the Convention the Company had to modify its statutes to conform to certain conditions there laid down. These specified that the Company should be constituted according to French law, that all members of its administrative council should be French unless otherwise agreed by the Ministers for the Colonies and Foreign Affairs, that the nomination of the council’s director and the selection of its representatives had to be approved by both Ministers who could insist on their replacement in the public interest, and that the Company’s headquarters should be at Paris whence they could not be moved to any other town. This article also laid down that the Company could not increase its capital, accept loans, enter into obligations or employ its capital on other projects except with the approval of the Minister for the Colonies acting on the advice of the Minister of Finance, and that no change in the Company’s statutes could be submitted to its shareholders without prior agreement from these two Ministers.
The temporary or permanent transfer of part or the whole line between Jibuti and the Hawash as well as the dissolution of the Company was expressly forbidden except with the approval of the Ministers for the Colonies and Foreign Affairs acting on the advice of Minister of Finance.
Menelek’s attitude to this and other Articles establishing French claims to the Hawash area will be shortly seen.
Article VI stated that the plans for the line between Jibuti and Addis Harar, i.e. Dire Dawa, could only be modified with the authorisation of the Minister for the Colonies and then only where necessary for technical reasons. The Company was expressly prohibited from building any branch line in the area between Jibuti and the Hawash without the consent of the Ministers for the Colonies and Foreign Affairs.
This last provision, as Skinner points out, was " intended to prevent any possible connection with Zeila or Berbera," and served as a guarantee that all Ethiopian trade should be " drained" through the French port of Jibuti.90
Article VII stated that the line from Jibuti to Addis Harar should be built and be in operation before December 31, 1902, i.e. within less than a year of the signing of this agreement.
Article VIII enabled the Company to fix fares and freight charges as it thought fit, with the proviso that goods passing through Jibuti should be treated at least as well as those passing by land to neighbouring ports. Should the Company’s charges be too high in this respect the Government’s representative was empowered to reduce them between Jibuti and Addis Harar. Such reduced charges, however, would not be operative until three months after their decree ; in case of dispute the French Government had the right to decide the issue subject to appeal to the Council of State.
The article further stated that a 50 per cent, reduction would be granted all along the line to employees of the French State or Protectorate, as well as to their property. This reduction was also to apply to their families and the latter’s luggage.
The Company also agreed to transport free of charge postal bags and officials responsible for them, as well as diplomatic bags of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and French diplomatic and consular representatives in Ethiopia.
This article, it will be appreciated, beside embodying valuable fare concessions for the French State and its personnel, ensured that Jibuti would compete on favourable terms with neighbouring ports.
Article IX stated that the Company must operate the railway in the interests of trade and run the requisite number of trains. If it failed in this respect the Government’s representative was empowered to take the necessary measures. In case of disputes arising out of this provision, the word of the French Government was to be final, subject to appeal to the Council of State.
The Article also laid down that the security and good order of the railway on the Protectorate side of the frontier would be under the control of the French Protectorate and on the Ethiopian side under that of the French legation in Addis Ababa.
The provision in Menelik’s Concession that he would supply guards for the railway was thus ignored, the new Convention being particularly objectionable from the Ethiopian point of view as it seemed to claim more or less extra-territorial rights in Ethiopia.91
Article X stated that all loans contracted by the Company on the strength of the Protectorate’s guarantee should be deposited with a bank to be approved by the Minister for the Colonies after consultation with the Minister of Finance, such monies to be withdrawn only with the former’s approval. It was further specified that loans should be used (1) to repay advances already obtained, (2) to construct the last 100 kilometres of line as far as Addis Harar, and (3) to subsidise the line to that town in the first year of its operation at a rate of not more than 1,000 francs per kilometre. Any remaining surplus could be allocated, under the same Ministerial control, to improve or extend the line or to establish a reserve or depreciation fund.
Article XI established that as soon as gross annual receipts from the operation of the line, excluding subvention money, exceeded 5,000 francs per kilometre, the Company should pay the Protectorate a percentage of them as a due, on the basis of a sliding scale : this due should be 10 per cent, of gross receipts between 5,000 francs and 8,000 francs, 20 per cent, between 8,000 francs and 12,000 francs and 30 per cent, above 12,000 francs.
It was further stipulated that for the purpose of such calculation the line would be considered as running from the middle of Jibuti station to the middle of that of Addis Harar. The line (which, of course, had not yet been completed) should not be less than 290 or more than 310 kilometres. (It in fact eventually worked out at 311 kilometres).
The due had to be paid on July 1, following the year to which it applied.
Article XII dealt with supervision. It stated that supervisory powers in Paris should be exercised by a representative of the French Government to be appointed by the Ministers for the Colonies and Foreign Affairs on the advice of the Minister of Finance. This agent was empowered to examine the Company’s accounts and had to be invited to all shareholders’ meetings.
Supervision and control of the railway itself was entrusted to one or more officials appointed by the Ministers for the Colonies and Foreign Affairs. Such agents were to have free transport on the line.
The costs of control were to be met by the Company which had for this purpose to pay a yearly sum of 30 francs per kilometre of operational line. The Ministers for the Colonies and Finance were further empowered to decide in what manner the Company must furnish the required information.
Article XIII obliged the Company to provide to the French Government’s convention. The report is worthy of quotation in extenso :
" I explained to him the Convention," Harrington relates, " pointing out the objectionable clauses, the one’s about purchasing the Hawash any time after 1920, and French control of the line was received with much disgust, the former clause was not made any sweeter by my suggestion that the French evidently gave him only 18 more years of this world.
" When I had explained all the clauses which ensured the French Government’s control of the line, he remarked that now he understood why Lagarde, who he knew had a copy of the Convention had not allowed him to see it, and had put him off with the remark that it was no use showing him the Convention until it was accepted by the French Government.
" I showed him how once the French Government had acquired control of the line, and the right to prevent any competing line, having killed all commerce between the Somali Coast and Abyssinia, they would be in a position to place any tax they liked on goods coming over the line and thus force Abyssinia to take only French goods, and have him very much at their mercy. " I pointed out that Mr. Lagarde’s remark to him, that everything had been arranged to his (Menelek’s) advantage, and that all danger due to English capital being in the railway had been removed, was very far from the truth, that the so-called English money was nothing more than the money of a German Jew speculator, and gave him a brief .detail of how it had been attempted to obtain money from us to make a branch from Lasserat to Zeyla, and that we had refused though I admitted that had there been a question of a branch to Berbera to a point near Harar, we might have considered the proposition.
" I told him the story of the Press campaign about the railway in France, how it was now acknowledged by everyone official and private that the object of the railway was political and not commercial. He remarked that in the concession the Government was to have nothing to do with the railway, but I reminded him that he was mistaken, there being nothing to that effect. " To make a long journey short, I showed him that this Convention was a usurpation of his Sovereign rights, and showed a great want of respect for him on the part of the nation who had always posed as the great friend of Menelek. His face and growled grunt at this latter remark was exceedingly expressive. After having used every possible argument against the Convention and the situation caused thereby, I told him that now the French Government had so thoroughly exposed their hand, there was nothing else for him to do, but to safeguard himself against eventualities, if as he said, he did not wish the French Government to have anything to do with the railway, in my opinion there was nothing else to do, as the French had clearly shown that they, and only they, should be the sole masters of the Djibouti line, as whatever way he looked at the question, it seemed that they had got him by the throat.
" He then asked me my advice as a private individual, as to what he could do and as to what value was to be attached to my Government’s warning. I told him that as British Representative here, I could not answer him as to the value of the warning, as I was not fully aware of the views of my Government but that if I spoke as a private individual, I said I saw nothing for him but to have to accept the French proposals at least in a modified form, unless he had the support of some other Government, and that I saw nothing left for him but to try and neutralise the political effect of the French line by a competing line which he would build to the British frontier, and could try and get the British Government to build a line from Berbera to meet his. He remarked that in the Concession he had agreed that no competing line should be made, I reminded him that he had agreed that no other railway company should be allowed to build a line to the Red Sea, but that there was nothing about their building a line to his frontier, or nothing to prevent him, or a Government building a line, for that matter if we chose we could build a line from Berbera to his frontier any day we liked without asking his permission. His face lit up at my remark and he replied Yes ! It is true there is nothing to prevent me or a government building a railway. He asked if he could not withdraw his concession, to this I replied that it would not do very much good if he did, as there was 200 kilometres of railway on the ground, and how was he going to stop them working what was made or even continuing it ; the interests involved were not worth the risk of war. I could scarcely realise that the French Government would, after having publicly made law a Convention, without even asking his permission on the subject, now accept the retrocession of the Concession.
" Purely as a private individual, my advice to him was to ask the British Government were they prepared to support him in any action he might take, or supposing he saw no way out of the situation but to accept the French proposals subject to modifications, would the British Government lend him the money to build his own line from the frontier to Harar, and to build a line themselves from Berbera to join his line at the frontier. " He said that this was good advice and asked that I should telegraph, ask three questions, also Government’s views fully on the Convention between the Company and the French Government as well as their advice as to the action he should take.
" I carefully advised him that the advice I gave was my advice merely as a private individual and that he might be perhaps disappointed at the reply he would receive, as I had no reason for supposing that the Government considered the Railway question of anything like the same importance that I did.
" The King asked ‘ What about Ilg who had hoped to make money out of the Concession given him ?’ To this I replied that I felt certain that if my Government were willing to move in the matter of building a competing line, arrangements could be made between him and them to make Ilg some compensation for any loss the French Government action would entail.
" Eventually the interview concluded with the request that my interpreter should go up and fully explain the Convention the next day. Throughout the interview the King showed himself excessively displeased at the French Government’s move, and repeatedly emphasised the remarks with his cane, a sign of great excitement and temper in him, which is not often visible in him."95 The telegram to the British Government which Harrington drafted at Menelik’s request read as follows :
" Warning as desired given to the Emperor. His reply is if you warn him and he acts on your warning, are you prepared to support him in his action, or supposing he is obliged to accept the French Government’s proposal, will you lend him the money to build his own line from the frontier to Harar, you building a line from Berbera to join his line, and guarantee him possession of Harar against the French.
" He would like your views fully on the Convention between railway company and French Government, as well as your advice as to his action."
On the following day as arranged, Menelek received Harrington’s interpreter, Beru, who presented him with a detailed review of the Convention. Ilg who was present took part in the discussion. Harrington’s rather staccato report of the proceedings must again be quoted at some length, as it reveals most graphically Menelek’s attitude and what he considered the more important Articles of the Convention with which in fact it should be read :
" Article 5, para. 5 (which stated that all members of the Company’s council should be French unless otherwise authorised). When Ilg remarked that this was to get rid of him, the King said : ‘ Oh ! Yes ! but where do we come in.’ Para. 7, same Article (prohibiting the transfer of the line between Jibuti and the Hawash) fairly fetched his Majesty,’ What ! ‘ he exclaimed,’ they want the Hawash, do they ? Why can’t they stick to their own ground ? We will see.’
" Beru mentioned about the sphere of influence extending between us and the French as far as Harar and the King exclaimed ‘ Now I know why M. Lagarde was always telling us not to give any concessions North of a line to the Didessa and telling me I must not give one concession in the Wallo country or Godjam.’
" Ilg tried to calm the King, who was furious, by suggesting that they might have something up their sleeves, some proposition or arrangement to suggest to his Majesty, or perhaps proposed to give him some thousands of rifles and millions of cartridges. ‘ What do I want with them,’ said the King, ‘ to the Hawash ? What ! What ! They might as well tell me to prepare for war at once. Now I understand why M. Lagarde hasn’t got it, that he has only a rough copy, he has been sending any amount of telegrams lately perhaps making his plans, and here it is in a newspaper published in full and now it is passed and sanctioned.’
" Article 6, para 2 (prohibiting the Company from building branch lines). The King said to Ilg after the meaning of branch lines had been explained, exclaimed, ‘ Isn’t my concession to you only to lay a line ? ‘
" Article 8 (which specified the French Government’s right to fix charges). Menelek exclaimed, ‘ We did not write in the concession like this for you.’ He yelled for his secretary and when he appeared, said, ‘ Man, in how many hours can you go to Addis Ababa ? Go and get me the copy of the railway Concession. Bring it at once.’
" Beru called his attention to Article 18 (which specified that some of the Articles were subject to agreement between the French and Ethiopian Governments). ‘ Oh yes ! Oh yes ! ‘ said he ‘ read another.’
" Article 9, para. 3 (which put the line in Ethiopian territory under the control of the French legation in Addis Ababa). He said, ‘ Oh yes ! Lagarde for his own interest and glory is going to be governor in our country.’
"Article 11 and 12 (which specified the French Government’s right to share in the profits). He exclaimed, ‘ I thought it was to be for me.’ To Ilg he said, ‘ What are you going to do ? ‘ Ilg replied, ‘ We wrote that the division of profits was to be for you but they have changed it all. What can I say ?’
" Article 14 (which stipulated that the line from Jibuti to Dire Dawa would revert to the French Government at the end of the Concession). He remarked, ‘ I thought it was to be mine. Are they going to take it from me ?’
"To Article 15 (which allowed the French Government to purchase the line from Jibuti to the Hawash) he remarked, ‘ Why don’t they say they will buy Abyssinia ?’
" Ilg remarked when he started to translate Article 16 (which provided for the confiscation of the railway by the French Government) that it was an important one, on hearing it, Menelek exclaimed, ‘They will confiscate it, will they ? We will see. Why do not they say it is their own and take it themselves.’
" The King did not pay too much regard to Article 18 (which specified that some of the articles were subject to Franco-Ethiopian agreement), he said, ‘ Oh yes ! This is to smooth it all over. If they did not want me to agree, why did they not show it beforehand. This is only to cover our eyes.’
" In fact from what my interpreter tells of the King’s behaviour while he heard the translation of the Convention, he was real mad with rage.
" He ordered Ilg to tell Lagarde to come to Addis Ababa at once … it will take him all his intelligence and skill to calm his Majesty I fancy."
Menelek’s attitude and that of Harrington, who strove to strengthen it, can be seen in the conclusion of the report which tells of a further conversation between the Emperor and the envoy. Harrington notes :
" The gist of my remarks was as follows, that the French had clearly shown that the object of their railway was political and that they had every intention of having the control of the railway running to Djibouti, that I had always understood he objected to Government intervention in the railway. To this he assented, and when I referred him to my warning about the railway, when I had discussed the matter in 1900, he remarked to Ilg that everything I had ever said to him had always turned out to be true. I told him I objected strongly to the railway becoming a political instrument in the hands of the French Government and a danger to his independence which it was to our interest to maintain. The present situation unless neutralised or averted in some way or other was to my mind the beginning of the end and that the day of spheres of influence in Abyssinia was approaching, for if nothing was done by him to counterbalance the situation the Railway under French Government control would create, then I should fail in my duty did I not do my utmost to urge my Government to come to terms with France, as regards spheres of influence before the railway could make her position stronger than our’s or Italy’s. He was face to face with the fact that no matter what he did the French Government intended to have, and would have, control of the line from Djibouti. It was to his interest to seek a means to counterbalance the French move."
Developing an interesting philosophy of realpolitik worthy of more frequent quotation, Harrington concludes :
" I said to him, ‘ You told me M. Lagarde told you Government had done this out of friendship for you. If you believe that Friendships exist between governments, you are very much mistaken. You can take it from me that no such thing as friendship exists, as one understands friendship between man and man, between governments. Friendship between governments depends on community of interests and you may be sure that if anyone tells you on behalf of his government that he does, has done, or is going to do anything for you out of friendship, that man in plain language is a liar, as no government will make a considerable sacrifice for another unless it is to their interest to do so.’ ‘ True, true !’ remarked the King.
" I said that there was no secret about our preferring him as a neighbour to France, we find him easier to arrange matters with and if the worst came to the worst that he was a very much less expensive individual to have a war with than the French. I had no idea whether my Government would consider the railway question of sufficient importance to warrant their helping him, but if they did he could rest assured that they did so because it was in their interest to do so, and not out of friendship or philanthropy."96
Harrington’s own view, as explained in the same report, was that the British Government should seriously contemplate the construction of a line from British Somali-land to Harar. An engineer with experience of light American railways had estimated that a line from Berbera to Harar would cost no more than Ã‚Â£750,000 and could expect to carry an annual load of 6,000 tons. Against the cost of construction should be set the fact that the British port of Zeila was threatened with a loss of Ã‚Â£14,000 a year due to the competition of the French line. A railway through the British Protectorate moreover would have the added advantage that it would be of strategic use in connection with the impending hostilities with the " Mad " Mullah. " Far better," Harrington declared, " to spend the money on a railway which will retain the bulk of the Zeyla revenue, than on establishing a permanent military force to protect a trade that will once the French railway reaches Addis Harar, want a microscope to be visible, and an administration to administer a Protectorate that without a railway promises to become dependent on the mother country’s purse."97
Menelek, understandably enough, was gravely shaken by the action taken by the French. When their Minister, Lagarde, finally visited him to request his consent to the stipulations of the Convention which affected Ethiopian territory, he was met, Gilmour says, " with a point-blank refusal." The Emperor " declared that he regarded those clauses of the Convention which contemplated the ultimate acquisition of the railway up to the Hawash valley by the French Government as a direct infringement of his rights as an independent sovereign. They unmasked a design of territorial aggrandisement with which he had been unwilling to credit France."98
No dissent from this view in fact seems possible Notwithstanding the reservations embodied in Article 18, it was obvious from the first that the Convention was but a little masked infringement of Ethiopian sovereignty. Skinner, commenting on the position acquired in Ethiopia by the French as a result of the Convention, observed shortly afterwards :
" The inability of the Railway Company to confer these privileges was tacitly recognised by Article 18 which declares that the paragraphs above-mentioned shall be applicable under reserve as to an understanding between the French and Ethiopian Governments.
" From the point of view of the Ethiopian Govern ment it is undesirable to permit the extension of this existing line by the Imperial Railway Company of Ethiopia, while that Company is bound down by a contract whereby a Foreign Power seeks to obtain contingent rights in a large part of the Empire and absolute control of the means of transportation. Therefore, the Emperor has refused to formulate the limitation clauses regarding the building of additional lines, or to come to the under standing referred to in Article 18 of the Convention in this position he is sustained by other powers with political interests at stake."99
Notwithstanding such opposition, the terms of the Convention were presented to the French Parliament on April 6, 1902, when a law was passed approving the agreement and providing for the annual subsidy of 500,000 francs for 50 years starting on July 1, 1902 and guaranteeing interest and sinking fund payments even in the case of the Company’s dissolution.100
The French, generally speaking, refused to admit the impossibility of their position, and tended to attribute the Emperor’s indignation to the influence of Britain and particularly to Harrington. Though Harrington in fact urged opposition to France this was by no mean the whole story. Gilmour comments : " Nothing i to be gained by denying the fact" that Harrington " used his best endeavours to oppose the designs c France," but " French influence at Addis Ababa fell below zeroÃ¢â‚¬â€not because of anything Sir John Harrington ton had done, but because of something the French Government had done."101
* * *
Harrington, a resolute critic of the French, gave the Emperor strong support in his opposition to the Convention of 1902. Accordingly, on August 30, we fin the British envoy requesting his Government to ascertain whether their legal experts could find any reason which would justify Menelek in abrogating his original cor cession. " Is there," Harrington asked, " any possibly means whereby a coach and four can be driven through the railway Concession without asking the Emperor Menelek to perform a dishonourable action ? "102
The Law Officers, to whom this query was forwarded in due course replied on November 17. The case the presented was ingenious, though not fully satisfying They began by drawing attention to Article 4 of the Concession which laid down that the latter would be automatically annulled if the Company failed to begin construction of the line to Harar within two year Though this obligation had been revoked by the
Emperor’s (aforementioned) letter of March 5, 1896, this cancellation was only conditional on the " immediate " construction of a telegraph line from Jibuti to Harar. Over six and a half years had since elapsed and neither the railway nor the telegraph had been brought to Harar. This, in the Law Officers’ opinion, would justify the Emperor in revoking his Concession as amended by his letter.103
The British Foreign Office, however, was unwilling to act on the basis of the Law Officers’ rather weak opinion, perhaps because the Government was reluctant to break with France, perhaps because it felt unable to take over the financial responsibilities of a railway. At all events Lord Lansdowne, the Foreign Secretary, said the Law Officers’ conclusions did not seem to him " a very strong ground " upon which to take action, and that the whole question would have to be carefully considered.104
This verdict did not prevent Harrington from continuing his efforts to find a solution favourable to Britain. He toyed with various plans. In Paris in December, 1902, he discussed with Ochs and Lagarde the possibility of making Jibuti a free port, and at the same time partitioning Ethiopia into two spheres of influence : a French one in the area of the Hawash and a British in the west.105 In February, 1903, he proposed to his Government the construction of a small British Somaliland railway to Harar of a gauge of no more than 2 ft. 6 in., which, he claimed, would cost no more than Ã‚Â£3,500 a mile. " If Menelek asks our assistance and we fail him," he argued, "we shall lose everything we have gained and our position here will be worse than it was five years ago when we had no representative here."106
In November of the same year he considered a plan devised by Ochs whereby there should be two lines from the coast to Harar, one British and one French, and a third from Harar to the interior belonging to Menelek.107 * * *
However many plans might be devised there was no gainsaying that they all depended on the goodwill of Menelek ; railway builders or intriguers of whatever nationality could hope for no success without his cooperation as profits could only be obtained by operating well into Ethiopian territory and by handling the imports and exports of the interior.
The all important attitude of the Emperor was well summed up in one of Harrington’s reports, dated August 20, 1903. In it Menelek reiterated his argument that he had granted the original Concession on a private basis without any intention of involving the French Government as such. He therefore argued that the privileges he had given to the Company were no longer applicable in a situation where the railway was being sponsored by a foreign power. Because of this, and on the basis of his own interpretation of Article 3 he declared his right either to build or to give concessions for lines anywhere in his own country, and proposed that the British should make a railway from Berbera to Harar in which case he would make one to join up with it on his side of the frontier. Harrington reports this as follows :
" He gave the Concession on the distinct understanding that there was to be no Government interference in the affair. Since the French Government intervened in the matter, M. Ilg, the original concessionaire, stated to him in the presence of both Italian and British Representatives that it was with this understanding that he asked for and obtained the Concession.
" Had it not been for this understanding, His Majesty would not have given the concessionaire the privileges given under the Concession, these privileges were only given to enable a private Company, that was to be formed, to raise the necessary capital for building the line.
" His Majesty objects to French Government interference, as he does not wish any one Government to possess greater privileges than another in his country. In this particular instance he objects to the political and commercial advantages that the sole control of railway communication in Ethiopia from the East would give the French Government, as it seems to mean they will control the commercial development of the east of Ethiopia, he does not wish to put it in their power to do so, therefore he wishes to guard against it. In fact, His Majesty considers that a railway is a menace to his independence, and gives that one Government an advantage over the other Governments with whom he is in relation.
" His Majesty considers that the Concession was obtained from him under false pretences.
" Further, the words used in the original Concession are not’ competing lines ‘ but a ‘ line side by side.’ The Concession is in the Amharic language, and the only official version is the Amharic one.
" His Majesty holds that, having given the privileges he did to the concessionaire to enable him to form Companies to construct the line, now that the Company has made an agreement with the French Government and has received financial support, he is no longer bound to continue these privileges which were given on the definite understanding that there was to be no Government interference in the affair. But now, since the Government has entered in the affair, there is no need to his giving all these privileges.
" His Majesty holds that there is nothing in the Concession to prevent his giving a Concession for a railway anywhere within the limits of his own Empire, or nothing to prevent him building a railway within his own Empire himself.
" His Majesty’s wishes are to come to an amicable settlement with the French Government on the question, to cancel all the special privileges which do not suit, and which were granted to the concessionaire to enable him to raise the necessary capital, and to so arrange matters that the French Government shall not hold a privileged position in Ethiopia as compared with the other Government with whom he is in relation.
" Further, His Majesty desires that the British Government should build a railway line from Berbera to a point on the Abyssinian frontier, in which case His Majesty would build his own line from Harar to meet the Berbera line.
" As regards the line from Harar to the frontier of British Somaliland, His Majesty realises that the financial question is the difficulty for him, he therefore desires that, if possible, the British Government should arrange the financial question for him, and he is willing to, in case he obtains a subsidy in connection with Lake Tana and the Blue Nile for engagements already made, utilise portion of his subsidy to enable the necessary capital to be raised.
" The only condition His Majesty attaches to the Berbera-Harar line is that the line in Ethiopian territory must be the property of the Ethiopian Government."
The French Government, though unwilling to accept Menelek’s position, was fully aware of the dangers inherent in further aggravating the situation. On August 17, 1903, the Italian Wolynsky reported : " At Jibuti there is not a single French soldier, because Menelek does not wish it."108
* * *
The result of the 1902 Convention was to earn the Company the dangerous enmity of Menelik upon whose support alone the success of the railway depended. This was particularly serious in view of the fact that the Company was no flourishing concern but in fact fluttering on the verge of bankruptcy.
The dispute with France almost inevitably caused the Emperor to turn to Britain. A month after the promulgation of the French law approving the disastrous Convention he signed with Harrington a Treaty, dated May 15, 1902, whereby he withdrew his claim to fix the western frontier of Ethiopia on the White Nile and granted the Governments of Britain and the Sudan, in Article 5 the right to build a railway through Ethiopian territory to connect with the Sudan and Uganda.109 A couple of years later, on August 28, 1904, while the conflict over the railway continued, he granted Britain a second concession, this time to build a railway to connect British Somaliland with the Sudan.110 Neither of the two railways for which Britain thus obtained concessions were in fact ever built though they played an important part in the bargaining with France.
Meanwhile in Paris, the Company, despite the subsidy, was sinking more and more heavily into debt. A hundred kilometres of line had still to be built to reach Dire Dawa, and it was obvious that reasonable profits could not be expected at least until the completion of the second stage of the project as far as Addis Ababa for which the Emperor’s permission would now probably no more be forthcoming. The agreement, to which he objected so vehemently, had moreover imposed new financial responsibilities on the Company which had been obliged, on pain of confiscation, to free itself of at least some of its British commitments.
Chefneux and his colleagues, who were on the verge of bankruptcy, now turned to two French insurance companies, La Generale-Vie and La Nationale Vie, to whom they ceded the French Government’s subvention, which would have brought in 25,000,000 francs over 50 years, in return for an immediate 11,30.0,000 francs. By this desperate measure they repaid the loans of 3,000,000 francs from the British companies and liquidated the Trust’s contract for the construction of the line. They did not, however, buy back the shares and debentures held by the English companies. With what was left of the 11,300,000 francs they continued the railway as far as Dire Dawa where the first engine arrived in December, 1903.
The gravity of the situation was intensified by the opposition of Menelek. This was forcibly demonstrated when after first agreeing to do so he refused to attend the opening ceremony at Dire Dawa. The significant of this incident, as Gilmour says, " was not diminish by the knowledge that the refusal involved a great disappointment to the Emperor who was anxious to see 1 railway and the sea, both of which would have be novel sights to His Majesty."111
No less serious, the Emperor, arguing that his original Concession had been violated by the new agreement: withdrew the privileges he had previously authorise such as the free use of stones for the construction of war; houses. When the railway officials asked his permission for them to collect the 10 per cent, levy on merchandise at Jibuti instead of at the frontier, a matter of purely administrative convenience, he " declined to accede the request, on the ground that he had granted the privilege to a commercial company, and not to a company which was practically owned and controlled by foreign government."113 An even greater blow fell when he withdrew the instruction to the customs officials at Harar that they should direct goods to be transported by the railway rather than by alternative means. The Company, relying on what they had hoped would be virtual compulsion for the merchants to convey their goods by the railway, had fixed very high freight charges. Once the proposed compulsion was withdrawn there was little reason for the merchants to load their property on camels to carry it down to the Dire Dawa terminus for transportation by rail rather than to use camels going direct to the port as of old.
The Company complained that as a result of the withdrawal of these privileges the railway operated at heavy loss.
Moreover the Emperor refused to grant the further concession required for the construction of the railway from Dire Dawa to the capital and it was upon this line that all hope of profits centred.113 On March 24, 1904 he agreed to Chefneux’s entreaties to give him a letter repeating his permission for this extension, but on the following day he withdrew the letter and could not be prevailed upon to issue it again. He explained the " while not only willing but anxious that the work should be begun with the least possible delay . . . he would not permit the line to be built by a foreign government or by a company controlled by a foreign government."114
The Emperor was at this time undoubtedly mud preoccupied with the railway question. Le Roux reports that on the inauguration of Addis Ababa’s first steam-roller on May 18, Menelek observed to Ras Makonnen that the event could in nowise be compared to the construction of the railway. " I know very well,’ the Sovereign is quoted as saying, " that we will see nothing serious here until Ilg and Chefneux’s railway scales the plateau." The Ras reporting this to the Frenchman explained that " the Emperor is not unaware that this steam-roller is but the shadow of the locomotive which is still only puffing in the lowlands (i.e. between Jibuti and Dire Dawa). He welcomes it with undiluted joy. The Emperor has not seen the Kingdoms of Europe like me. He has not shuddered at the contact of civilization." Speaking of the Emperor Ras Makonnen is nevertheless said to have added : " He is the Son of Wisdom. Without doubt God lavishes him with the clarity which we others lack. God leads him towards his destiny."115
* * *
The British it should be emphasised, were throughout this time most active in opposing the French. George Clerk, Harrington’s deputy, reported on April 2, 1904, during the latter’s absence in Europe, that following a rumour that Menelik was coming to an agreement with Chefneux he had himself at once travelled to the Emperor’s Palace at Holeta to protest. In the ensuing conversations with the Emperor he attacked the French conception of the railway, and threatened to " fulfil the painful duty " of telegraphing to his Government " that the King of Kings of Ethiopia had proved false to his word " of awaiting Harrington’s return before coming to a solution on the railway. The Emperor nonetheless worked out a new formula of agreement, only to have it rejected by Chefneux.116
Harrington’s return to Addis Ababa strengthened the opposition to Chefneux for the Englishman was a persuasive advocate for either the internationalization of the existing Company or the construction of a rival line to Berbera.117 Menelek generally speaking had a similar approach and went so far as to threaten the French that he would support the latter proposal.118 At heart, however, the Emperor was more of an internationalistÃ¢â‚¬â€his attitude was summed up in a report which Harrington wrote on May 6. It stated : " King Menelek views with approval an international settlement. (1) The French Government should enter into an agreement with His Majesty’s Government to respect the independence of Ethiopia, both Governments reciprocally engaging not to attempt the acquisition of any territory nor to exercise any political interference in Abyssinia, outside their existing frontiers, except in common accord. (2) Railway should be under Anglo-French control throughout, and (3) Jibuti should be constituted a free port. Further His Majesty concurs that Italy should be offered the opportunity of taking part in the internationalization of the railway, if she wishes."119
The Company was now in fact in an impossible position. It had spent the whole of the funds received from the insurance companies, and was obtaining scarcely any revenue from the section of line thus far completedÃ¢â‚¬â€ Jennings and Addison say that costs were in the nature of 115,000 francs a month and receipts at only 15,000. The subvention of 500,000 francs was still paid annually by the French Treasury, but it went to the insurance companies and not to the Company ; the latter could no longer guarantee or be used to pay the interest and sinking fund of the shares and loans obtained for the loss of the subvention meant that there was now no security for them. French capitalists moreover were reluctant to invest in the Company because of Menelek’s refusal to allow the extension of the line into the profitable interior. The seriousness of the situation could be seen from the fact that the French newspaper La Liberte reported in December, 1904, that only the urgent insistence of Delcasse, the Foreign Minister, had induced the " Credit Lyonnais " to make a loan to the Company sufficient to enable it to pay the interest on its shares and thus avoid immediate bankruptcy.120
In their struggle for survival, the directors of the Company had no alternative but to abandon the rigidly French policy which they had pursued since the 1902 Convention. Despite the restrictions imposed upon them by that Convention they sought to obtain British capital and to undertake the internationalization of the railway, a policy which was clearly imperative if they were to obtain Menelek’s approval for the extension of the line. The British financiers were favourable to this policy, particularly in view of the Franco-British Treaty of April 8, 1904, popularly known as the Entente Cordiale, and argued that only an Anglo-French solution was likely to be acceptable to the Emperor. For the time being at least there was no gainsaying the fact that no solution was practicable which failed to win Menelek’s favour and that sufficient capital could not be obtained without drawing on British sources. The Railway News of December, 1904, reported a meeting of the British " International Ethiopian Railway Trust," at which it was stated that the Trust had 20,000 3 per cent, preference shares of 500 francs and 4,000 ordinary shares. The Company, it was reported, had acquired, among other advantages, an interest in the extension of the line. Negotiations to internationalise the railway and to transform Jibuti into a free port were said to be in progress. Heartened by the Emperor’s reaction to the Bonhoure-Chefneux Convention, the Trust had decided to acquire " large interests " in the port of Jibuti, and land and houses in the town which were expected to augment in value when the railway was internationalised. Lord Chesterfield, the President of the Trust, in presenting the annual report and balance sheet said :
" As you will have observed, our policy has been loyally to support the French Government in the enterprise, but we have always felt that only by an international arrangement would it be possible to extend the railway and work it for all nations alike. The neutralisation of Abyssinia and the internationalization of this railway were therefore recommended by us as the best course ; it is also the one which would give the undertaking the desired stability and credit. The alternative would be for the line to proceed as a purely French undertaking, which from a financial point of view might suit this Company equally well. After several years of negotiation, however, we are happy to be able to tell you that our recommendations are viewed with favour by all the Powers interested, and also we understand by the Negus himself ; pourparlers are now being conducted with a view to putting into practical effect the policy we have so long advocated."
Annexed to the Report were plans showing two alternative schemes :
" The first giving the English port of Berbera the same connection with Ethiopia as the French port of Jibuti. This, however, would involve a large outlay. Therefore the second scheme had been put forward, to build only the one line to Jibuti, making it a free port ; the board and management of the railway would become international."121
Lord Chesterfield went on to propose that the existing railway, as well as future extensions, should be internationalised along the entire length of the line ; he also suggested that a duty should be collected at all ports serving Ethiopian trade so as to provide the interest required both on bonds already issued and those to be issued to obtain funds for future extensions.
" The Board and management of the Railway Company," he concluded, " would become international, and for this there are, as we know, precedents : for instance, the arrangements connected with the directorate and management of the Suez Canal Company."122
Notwithstanding this allusion to the Suez CanalÃ¢â‚¬â€ naturally somewhat ominous to French earsÃ¢â‚¬â€the plan for internationalising the railway in fact enjoyed growing support in France. This was in great measure the responsibility of the French diplomat and propagandist, Hugues Le Roux. Gilmour relates that Le Roux was " so impressed " with the Emperor’s " unalterable determination not to permit the line to fall into the hands of a foreign government that he was reluctantly compelled to come to the conclusion that nothing was to be gained by the French Government’s persisting in its demands, and that the only way for France to regain the influence she had lost was to retrace her steps as quickly as possible from the false position into which she had been led. With this conviction . . . Le Roux made it his business to lay the knowledge he had acquired during his visit to Abyssinia before several of the most important Chambers of Commerce in France."
The business men thus approached displayed " intelligible reluctance to abandon the hopes that had been raised, but in almost every instance where the question was discussed, the Chambers of Commerce petitioned the Government to accept the proposal for restoring the railway to a commercial footing."123
The arguments which had produced this volte face on the part of French financial interests may be seen from the resolutions drafted at Marseilles and Rouen. The Chamber of Commerce of the former passed the following resolution :
" The Chamber of Commerce of Marseilles, informed that diplomatic action is being taken to regulate the Ethiopian question, and having considered the two solutions proposed, resolves that the policy of spheres of influences, which would keep up political rivalries in a commercial terrain, be rejected. The Chamber gives, on the contrary, its entire support to the solution of the neutralisation of the Ethiopian railways, which would place France on a footing of equality with her commercial rivals."124
An even more revealing resolution was passed by the Rouen Chamber which read as follows :
" Considering that the second solution, which appears to have the preference of the Negus, would put an end to competitions and struggles for influence, in which we are not certain always to be the more fortunate or the stronger ;
" Considering that it would secured for our port of Jibuti an incontestable advantage ;
" Considering that if, commercially, it is no longer possible to obtain preferential treatment, it is at least necessary to secure equality of treatment with our rivals and to preserve in some way the advance we owe today to the friendly disposition of the Negus ;
" Considering, finally, that this solution would not lead France into fresh monetary sacrifices or into complications always to be dreaded ;
" The Chamber resolves
" That the French Government should continue the negotiations with the British and Italian Governments, with the object of assuring the neutralisation of the Ethiopian Railway, under the administration of a purely commercial company, in which France, Great Britain and Italy would equally participate, and of guaranteeing to our countrymen equality of treatment with our rivals."125
Similar resolutions were passed in January and February, 1905, by the Chambers of Commerce of Lyons, Saint-Nazaire, Nantes, Saint-Etienne and Bordeaux.126 Thus spoke the voice of French finance capital.
This growing French support for a policy of " neutralisation " or " internationalization " was urged by a speaker in the Chamber of Deputies who summed up he matter as follows :
" The railroad cannot remain French except by an accord with our rivals, to whom it should be easy for us to offer compensation because they also possess in Ethiopia interests which we might contest. England desires to delimit the frontiers on the north-west, west and south, and also desires the acquisition of a passage upon the high Ethiopian plateau for a railroad from the Cape to Cairo, which under the authorisation of 1902 would follow the marshy grounds. Italy desires to lose nothing of her economic advantages in this region, and should act willingly in accord with us when certain that we will respect those interests. Therefore there is nothing to prevent an understanding with our rivals, and even that we should give them a place in the management of the railroad provided that the administrative council of the Company contains a French majority."127
The French Africa Association, on the other hand, which represented French colonial interests and ambitions, was bitterly opposed to any international proposals, as were Chefneux and his colleagues. The problem they faced, however, was where to obtain the necessary funds ; it was estimated that another 50,000,000 francs would be required to continue the railway to Addis Ababa and that the Company’s debt already amounted to more than that. The extension of the railway, moreover, required the Emperor’s permission which could only be obtained on his termsÃ¢â‚¬â€or by war if anyone was so foolhardy as to attempt it.128
The advocates of internationalization were therefore fairly confident of success in the early part of 1905.
The Establishment of Dire Dawa
The establishment of Dire Dawa was a notable event. Largely built by the Company’s engineers, it was the first planned town in Ethiopian history, and could soon boast of government buildings, a friendly hotel, important railway workshops and several good shops.143
Wolynsky noted in 1903 that Dire Dawa was’ ‘symmetrical and elegant " and added that within a year it had " taken on the aspect of a gracious city." With a population of nine or ten thousand people it was inhabited by men of Shoa, as well as Somalis, Dankalis and Gallas, and a couple of hundred Europeans and other foreigners, all of whom lived in " perfect harmony." Commercially the new town was the hub upon which converged innumerable flocks of cattle, sheep, goats and horses, as well as large quantities of grain and other supplies. Dire Dawa, Clifford Halle confirms, " sprang to life in a little over twelve months."144
Addison and Jennings record that the railway employed 30 Europeans in the town, besides an evidently much larger number of non-Europeans.145 Skinner, familiar with his own Middle West, accurately described it as a boom " city " ; he also records that it was connected by an " excellent French road " with the old centre of Harar and that the Galla tribesmen in the area had been compensated by Ras Makonnen in cases where the line had passed over their farms.146
Dire Dawa remained a permanent source of admiration long after the original engineers who planned it had been forgotten. Rey, for example, described it in the nineteen twenties as the most " progressive" and " advanced " town in Ethiopia, rejoicing as it did in roads, piped water and electric light.147 It was also the second Ethiopian town to have a cinema.148
Increasing Difficulties of the Chefneux Company
The position of Chefneux’s Company was meanwhile steadily deteriorating, in part because of the Emperor’s growing displeasure which had already prevented construction of the line from Dire Dawa to Addis Ababa, and in part because funds were running low.
Menelek’s attitude can be seen from Harrington’s reports for the first months of 1905 which show that the Ethiopian ruler was beginning to show signs of taking action on his own. On February 28 Harrington reported :
" After the opportunity I have had of inspecting King Menelek’s Treasury, I am inclined to believe that he can raise the necessary capital to undertake the construction of the railway unassisted.
" I think, too, that if Her Majesty’s Government propose building a line in Somaliland financial arrangements could be made to continue it to Addis Ababa by His Majesty."149
In a subsequent despatch of March 12, which was marked " confidential," the envoy emphasised the Emperor’s distrust of France, and added :
" I feel it my duty to warn you that Menelek’s attitude towards the railway question becomes more determined every day, and there is a danger of his taking his own decision in spite of the Powers interested, and both Powers (i.e. Britain and Italy) would be laid open to a very serious rebuff should any agreement be made with France not in accordance with his views."150
A few weeks later, on April 1, Harrington reported that the Emperor had said to him very frankly :
" Tell your Government that after the experience I have had of French policy in my country, I fail to see the value to me of any Agreement whereby the French Government have control of a railway to my capital, and that, failing the internationalization of the railway in my territory, I shall myself undertake the construction of the line."151
* * *
French statesmen and businessmen were by now gravely alarmed by the collapse of their country’s influence in Ethiopia. The French Ambassador in London put the blame for this on the British, arguing in particular that Harrington had prevented a Franco-Ethiopian accord in April, 1904.152 The British Foreign Secretary, Lord Lansdowne, rejected such complaints, replying in April, 1905, that Menelek if unable to obtain assistance elsewhere could turn to the German Government.153
Many Frenchmen realising the impossibility of their situation argued that their Government should retrieve the position it had lost as a result of the foolish Bonhoure Chefneux Convention. A letter in the Depeche Coloniale recognised very clearly that most of the trouble sprung from the Government’s earlier insistence on special rights in the railway. Discussing Menelek’s position vis a vis the Convention it said :
" Why not recognise the impossibility for a Chief of State to approve such clauses ? Is it not natural and legitimate for him to refuse to sanction a Convention by which a foreign government, not content with substituting itself for the private concessionaires, provides for the annexation of the railway penetrating into the very heart of Ethiopia and the zone of territory on which it is constructed ? What sovereign could agree to such pretensions ? That is why the Emperor has not authorised the continuation of the work ; that is why the rights and privileges of the company have remained a dead letter ; that is why the company is prevented from collecting the tithe which the bondholders are deprived of."154
An important debate on the railway and the loss of French prestige in Ethiopia took place in the French Senate on April 1, 1905, during which the Comte d’Aunay argued that the Entente Cordiale with Britain should be evoked in favour of French interests in Ethiopia. The Entente, which had been signed in the previous year, provided for France to support British predominance in Egypt in exchange for British backing for French predominance in Morocco. Though the agreement was not concerned with Ethiopia the Comte declared that if French interests in the railway were not protected the Entente would be a trick or even a mockery.155
" Recently," he exclaimed, " we were able to cherish the finest hopes for our position in Abyssinia. We had the monopoly of the railway which gave us a precious instrument of penetration ; one could say that the Empire of Menelek would become a colony for us from which we could gather the benefits without assuming any of the responsibility.
" Unfortunately, it was nothing but an illusion, and we are today face to face with reality ; we ask with anxiety whether other Powers will completely supplant us or more or less become dominant in Abyssinia."156
The Comte’s speech was greeted with great applause from his fellow senators.
The Foreign Minister, M. Delcasse, by no means unaware of the repercussions which the debate might have in Addis Ababa, made a statement in which we said: "We have never wished, and do not wish, anything but good to the Emperor Menelik, and we have never had any pretension, either political or territorial, on his Empire ; it is not we who would refuse to subscribe to a declaration which would have for its object to respect the independence of Abyssinia and the integrity of its territory."157
# * *
Menelek learnt of the debate in a matter of hours for telegraphic communication had by then been established between Addis Ababa and Europe. Ten days later, on April 11, 1905Ã¢â‚¬â€just over three years after the Bonhoure-Chefneux ConventionÃ¢â‚¬â€he summoned the foreign representatives of France, Britain, Italy and Russia to an important audience at the Palace ; Ilg attended as Councillor of State and was responsible for translating the Emperor’s words sentence by sentence into French, while Chefneux was invited as a representative of the Company, but failed to attend on account of illness.
After the customary salutations the Emperor made a statement of policy, which, Gilmour says, impressed the Europeans there present both by its firmness and by " the evident support " it received from the " influential Rases " in attendance.158
It is generally held that the Emperor’s hand had by now been strengthened by offers of support from other quarters. He had recently signed commercial treaties with the United States, Germany, Austria and Turkey, and had received offers of assistance for the railway both from a German mission led by Dr. Rosen and from the National Bank of Egypt. Germany for reasons of international diplomacy was only too willing to assist Ethiopia in the hope of embarrassing France and was indeed playing a similar game in Morocco ; on the other hand the National Bank of Egypt, which was then organising the Bank of Abyssinia as a subsidiary, considered the enterprise could be undertaken as a purely commercial proposition.159
Though no official text of the Emperor’s speech, which Ilg translated sentence by sentence, is available, Gilmour considers that the accuracy of the version, published by the La Depeche Coloniale, " cannot be called into question." According to it Menelek spoke as follows :
" You are aware, gentlemen, how for several years past I have pursued the task of endowing my country with a railway, on the construction of which we had decided.
" You are not unaware of the great satisfaction with which I witnessed the arrival of the railway at Dire Dawa. I had hoped that after the first effort every month would bring this railway nearer to Addis Ababa. If, however, for three years the work has been stopped, you know the cause. Time has been wasted on idle discussions. I had hoped this railway would, as soon as possible, have largely contributed to the development of our Empire, for that is our principal preoccupation.
" I had also hoped that it would furnish me personally with the means of realising a wish very near to my heartÃ¢â‚¬â€ that of visiting the friendly nations in Europe.
" Accordingly, as I have just said, it is with the liveliest regret that I see the months and years slip by without our friends being able to come to an understanding on this question.
" It is precisely in order to put an end to this state of affairs that I have summoned you here today.
" I wish to beg you to convey to the knowledge of your Governments the decision which I desire to take relative to this question of the railway.
" I should have been glad to see the construction of the railway assured with the least possible delay by an agreement among the different powers, giving to each of them the necessary guarantees.
" Up to the present moment I have received no proposal from you.
" If I receive no proposal from your Governments, no proposal reconciling your international interests, and so putting an end to this conflict, I shall find myself, in order to ensure the construction of the railway, under the necessity of undertaking its construction myself, without either asking or accepting assistance from anyone.
" I shall be obliged if you will convey this communication to the knowledge of your Governments."160
These words, which were heard with the utmost attention, led to immediate discussion. Harrington at once replied, urging the need for the internationalization of the railway as the only means of guaranteeing Ethiopia’s integrity.
" In my capacity as British Minister," he said, " I am glad to state that the British Government does not follow, in reference to Ethiopia, any other policy than the maintenance of its complete independence.
" I declare that I am ready to sign at once any engagement which has for its object the confirmation of that independence.
" A railway constructed with the money of a single nation, and under the control of a single foreign government, would place Ethiopia in a situation incompatible with its independence or the integrity of its territory.
" My personal opinion is that the railway ought to remain on a commercial basis and ought not to be a political instrument.
" The best means of giving to the various interests the necessary guarantees would be to permit the capital of all the nations to participate in the construction of the railway.
"I do not see any inconvenience in entrusting the direction of this enterprise to the French Company, provided that the character of this enterprise remains international.
" I have been aware for some time past of a plan which has for its main object to harmonise the different interests concerned. This plan appears to me acceptable from the point of view of British interests.
" A Company reposing on an international basis would alone be in a position to establish gradually, and, according to their utility, a general programme for the construction of the different sections, having regard to the different interests which it would represent." Turning to the claims of France, he added : " Unfortunately I have been obliged to recognise that from another quarter my efforts have not been supported. " It is impossible for me to understand how the maintenance of the independence of Ethiopia can be reconciled with the idea of a construction of a French railway from
the coast to the capital, under the sole control of the French Government. I regret to be obliged to say that I do not understand this French policy, the less so as the proposals which have been made to me by my colleague, the French Minister, were incompatible with the very principle of the independence of Ethiopia."
M. Lagarde, the French Minister, embarrassed by this attack, at that moment made a brusque movement as if with the intention of speaking, but Harrington went on :
" It seems to me that we could come to an understanding on this question of the railway just as we have just agreed on the creation of a bank. I can pledge my word that my Government is in no way concerned with the creation of this bank, which is a purely commercial and international enterprise, and I repeat that I shall view with pleasure, and will support with my Government, an arrangement in the sense I have indicated."
M. Lagarde then made a brief non-commital statement in which he regretted that he could not express his opinion on the matter. " When my Government shall have come to some decision," he said, " I shall have the honour to submit its decision to Your Majesty."
A member of Menelek’s entourage thereupon pressed him to give some explanation of French policy to date, but he merely replied : " What I have done during the past twenty-two years ought to reassure His Majesty he Emperor in this respect."
Menelek then intervened. The report, which continues in reported speech, says the Emperor said he was " obliged to express his regrets at being for the last three years in the same situation, that is, faced with a Convention into which the Company entered in 1902 with the French Government without his authorisation, an agreement by which his supremacy is threatened. His Majesty has always looked upon the construction of the railway as a commercial enterprise, he has never admitted that this railway should become a political instrument in foreign hands. His Majesty recalls to M. Lagarde his astonishment and displeasure when this agreement was submitted to him. He recalls also to M. Lagarde that His Majesty himself charged him to inform the French Government that he disapproves of this convention."
The Italian and Russian Ministers were then invited to speak. The Italian, the Duke of Gaetano, said his Government had informed him that it desired to see the Company internationalised, while Likatscheff, of Russia, said he would hasten to put before his Government the views the Emperor had just expressed.191
* * *
The shareholders of the Chefneux Company meanwhile continued to demand the exercise of the Entente Cordiale on their behalf. At a general meeting in December, 1905, there were complaints that diplomatic pressure by the French Government had not been sufficient. So far from asserting them effectively to obtain what they termed their ‘ rights ‘ from the Emperor, their Government had failed to hand over to them the 10 per cent, levy on merchandise carried by the railway in the French Protectorate, which by this time, they asserted, would have risen to between 1,500,000 and 2,000,000. Their troubles with the Emperor, they rightly declared, were due to clauses in the Convention the French Government had forced them to sign in 1902 which were " visibly incompatible with the sovereign rights of the Emperor." Nevertheless, they claimed, " we have given to the Government the greatest and most devoted co-operation in leading the Emperor to accept these clauses "Ã¢â‚¬â€but without success.
* * *
The year 1905, which saw the Emperor’s public audience with the diplomats, drifted in 1906 without the Powers taking any action as requested. Menelek thereupon delivered an ultimatum.
On March 15 Harrington telegraphed that Menelek had sent a message to him, as well as to the representatives of France and Italy, which declared :
" In April last year we communicated our views on the railway question to the Representatives of the Powers. France, Great Britain and Italy are the Powers concerned in the railway, but up to now they have not informed us of their views ; therefore we ask you to inform your Government by telegram that if no solution satisfactory to us is presented by the three Governments by May 8, we shall take steps to construct the railway ourselves, as the development and welfare of our country demand it."162
No satisfactory reply came so the Emperor, as good as his word, began operations himself. In May, 1906, the American Skinner noted that the railway controversy was still unsolved, and adds :
" The Emperor has . . . taken a first step in the execution of his threat to build the line himself if international agreement could not be brought about. I have been advised by several correspondents in Ethiopia that a large number of workmen are now being employed, and that the grading has been completed for a considerable distance from Addis Ababa, the work proceeding towards Dire Dawa. The Emperor himself is providing the labourers, and the work is proceeding under the general direction of the railroad company, presumably with the expectation that an eventual settlement will be had, which will enable the company to take over the portion for which the Emperor is now furnishing the funds."163
Harrington confirms the above report in a letter of June 29, in which he states: " The Emperor Menelek, in a recent audience, suddenly interrupted a conversation with me . . . and said that the time-limit assigned by him for the settlement of the railway question by the Powers had elapsed some weeks, and His Majesty added that he was now going to build his own railway."164 * * *
Despite the Entente Cordiale the British and French representatives in the capital continued to work against each other’s interests. Thomas Hohler, who served in the British Legation in 1906 during the illness of Harrington, relates that at the end of May of that year the French minister, Klobukowsky, was largely preoccupied with the question of how to persuade the Emperor to allow a French railway as far as Addis Ababa. Hohler’s own instructions from Sir Eldon Gorst, the British Resident Minister in Egypt, were that he should help the French, " or, at all events, not to put any obstacle in their way." Since, however, the French proposals seemed " to imply a certain amount of interference with the internal administration of the country," Gorst " thought Menelek might resent this, and said that before joining
Klobukowsky in putting pressure on the Emperor, I ought to get instructions from home. He feared that the French object was to increase the dimes which were to finance the construction of the railways, which might embarrass our trade. Meanwhile, I abstained from doing anything about it, and the result was I got a letter from Klobukowsky charging me with bad faith. I sent him a very polite answer, and when he came to return my call he said he had never meant it, nothing was further from his thoughts ; his first two hours with me were enough to convince me of my droiture d’esprit, franchise, etc. I think it was an attempt to over-awe me so that he might have me tied nice and tight to the wheels of his chariot. I asked him, did he propose that the dime should be imposed on imports from the Sudan also, and he replied in the affirmative. Of course, it was absurd to imagine the Sudan would agree for its exports to be taxed, to support a railway leading in the opposite direction. The Italians also objected to the dime being applied on the Eritrean frontier."165
Hohler states that Klobukowsky later incurred Menelek’s wrath by saying that " if the railway negotiations did not go through, he would stop all import of arms through Jibuti."166
The Tripartite Agreement of 1906
Towards the end of 1906 the three Great Powers, Britain, France and Italy, in part prompted by a belief that Menelek’s failing health meant that his reign was coming to a close, decided on resolving their rivalries in this part of Africa. On December 13, 1906, they signed a Tripartite Convention which provided for concerted action in Ethiopia which was accordingly divided into three spheres of influence.
Article VI affirmed the agreement of the three Powers that the railway as far as Addis Ababa, together with an eventual branch line to Harar, should be built either by the then existing Company or by any other French company which might succeed it with the approval of the French Government. The agreement of the other Powers to this article was conditional on their nationals enjoying equality of travel and trade both on the railway and at the port of Jibuti. The Article further specified that merchandise travelling on the railway should not be taxed for the profit of either the Colony or the French treasury.
Article VII laid down that the French Government should ensure that an Englishman, an Italian and a Representative of the Emperor should be appointed to the Administrative Council of the Company or companies charged with the construction and operation of the railway. The British and Italian Governments agreed in return that a Frenchman should be appointed an Administrator on any British or Italian company which might be established to build or run a railway from Ethiopia to the neighbouring British or Italian territories. It was further understood that the nationals of the three countries should enjoy equal facilities to travel and trade on such lines, as well as in the British or Italian ports with which they might connect, and that merchandise should not be taxed for the profit of the British or Italian colonies or their treasuries.
The three Powers expressed their willingness to extend these clauses to the advantage of nationals of other countries.
Article VIII stated that the French company should abstain from any action in respect of the old Concession for the extension of the railway westwards of Addis Ababa (as this area was conceived of as a British sphere of influence).
Article IX specified that the three Powers were agreed that, in so far as foreign capital might be required, the construction of a railway to the west of Addis Ababa should be carried out under British auspices, that any railway linking Eritrea with the Benadir (Somalia) to the west of the capital should be under Italian auspices. The British Government at the same time reserved the right to construct a railway from British Somaliland to the Sudanese frontier, the Concession for which, as we have seen, Menelek had granted on August 28, 1904. The British nevertheless agreed that they would only act on the understanding of prior agreement from the French and Italian governments, the three governments undertaking not to build without agreement among themselves any line penetrating Ethiopian territory or linking up with Ethiopian lines and pledging themselves to avoid direct competition with any lines established under the auspices of any other of the signatory powers.167
Ilg, who realised that this Tripartite agreement endangered the whole railway project as originally conceived by the Emperor and himself, was very critical of its terms. In a private letter to a friend he commented with insight that it was obvious that the Emperor would " energetically veto " the agreement, that the extension of the railway would be postponed for years, and that the economic and commercial progress of the country would therefore be greatly retarded. Turning to the wider implications of the convention he expressed doubt whether even if it were honoured by its signatories it could prevent Germany, Austria, the United States or other countries competing with them in the country.168
Menelek’s reaction was not dissimilar. When the representatives of the three Powers presented the Convention to him, he proudly replied :
" The Convention of the three Powers has reached me. I thank them for having acquainted me with their desire to consolidate and maintain the independence of our Realm. But this actual Convention of theirs (the Powers) is subordinate to our sovereign authority, and it is noted that it cannot bind our decision.
" Written in Addis Ababa December 4, 1906."169
Fears that the Tripartite Agreement would be a prelude to attempts to dismember Ethiopia and to put pressure on Menelek generally were only partially justified for each of the three Powers was still inclined to place its individual interest above the interest of the three. As Harrington had said to Menelek four years earlier, " no such thing as friendships exists, as one understands friendship between man and man, between governments ! "
Early in 1907, however, Harrington visited France and Italy to urge the advantages of what was really a united front against Ethiopia. Though until this time an avowed friend of the Emperor he now undertook a more or less unfriendly act which he later described very frankly as follows :
" My chief object in visiting Paris and Rome was to ensure that the Representatives of the three Powers, France, Great Britain and Italy, should receive strict orders to follow out a policy in the interest of whites as against blacks, and that if the Representatives were not in accord about any particular point, they should not disclose their differences of opinion to King Menelek, but refer the question to their respective Governments."170
In practical terms Harrington was trying to do no less than overthrow the situation in which the European Powers competed against each other for the Emperor’s favour. This competitive situation (the significance of which in the matter of the supply of firearms is discussed by the present author elsewhere) had hitherto been the basis of Menelek’s strength.
In view of the new state of affairs, the ageing Emperor had little alternative but to rely on the labour and capital of his own people. Undeterred he ordered the work to go on, but for technical as well as financial reasons the pace was slow. On November 21 Hohler reported that the Minister of War, Fitawrari Hapta Giyorgis had informed him that the Ethiopian Government had decided to construct the line without foreign assistance. " Shoa," Hohler adds, " will provide the labour, while the other provinces will be called upon for monetary contributions."171
The Company, realising that it had earned the Emperor’s displeasure, appears to have attempted to curry favour by the offer of a substantial gift of arms. Lieut. D. A. Sandford later informed the War Office in London that in 1907 or 1908 Chefneux and his Colleagues had shipped 25,000 Lebel rifles and 2 million rounds of ammunition to Jibuti. These supplies were, however, detained at the port because of Menelek’s refusal to deal with the Company, and were not sent on to Dire Dawa until the latter half of 1909.172
* * *
Menelek’s decision to extend the railway himself without the participation of the old Company was symbolic of the disgust and mistrust with which he regarded the men who had signed the regrettable Convention of 1902. After that event, as we have seen, he had withdrawn the privileges which did much to keep Chefneux and his colleagues out of bankruptcyÃ¢â‚¬â€slowly but surely the Emperor was thus knocking his nails into the Company’s coffin. According to Gilmour, there was " not the slightest room for doubt that the principal ‘ right and privilege ‘ which the shareholders believed would be secured to them . . . was the right to levy the 10 per cent ‘ droit’ to which they were entitled in the terms of the Concession." The withdrawal of this and other privileges had far-reaching effects.
The Company now discovered to its sorrow that it could keep itself solvent only by the issue of bonds and that capital could only be obtained from England. Success or failure therefore seemed to turn on the principle of internationalization, in other words the willingness of British capitalists to invest in a French undertaking and the willingness of the French Government to tolerate growing British control. The question in a way was which was more important : the principle of the Entente Cordiale of 1904, and the Tripartite Agreement of 1906, on the one hand, or the principle of the 1902 Convention, on the other ?
Throughout the first half of 1906 the Company appeared able to weather the storm. It issues bonds to meet the interest payments due in March and June, the necessary capital being subscribed in England. No objection was raised by the French Government, though it will be recalled that all such transactions, according to the 1902 Convention, had actually to be authorised by it. In August, however, a new French Minister for the Colonies, M. Georges Leygues refused to allow a similar policy to be adopted to meet the September payment. The Company was thus placed in a position of great difficulty as failure to meet the coupon due in September would result in bankruptcy. Chefneux and his colleagues solved the problem by obtaining an advance from the British Trust in return for a mortgage on the Dire Dawa Station and 40 kilometres of line on the Ethiopian side of the frontier. A further advance from the Trust to meet the December coupon was arranged on the basis of a mortgage on another 20 kilometres of line in Ethiopian territory.173 By such expedients the Company remained solvent throughout 1906, but it did so only by drifting more and more under British influence. This aroused considerable resentment in France. The French publication Questions Diplomatiques et Coloniales complained that in return for the above loans the Company had transferred the right to construct the line beyond Dire Dawa to the English Railway trust which was able to work much less expensively, that the Company had passed to the Trust the operation of 60 kilometres of the line already constructed between the Ethiopian frontier and Dire Dawa, and that two representatives of the Trust had been introduced to the Company’s administrative council. The year 1907 dawned with the Company once again on the verge of bankruptcy and with the problem of the March coupon to be faced. The Trust again agreed to make the necessary advance in return for a mortgage on a further 20 kilometres of line. This proved the straw which broke the camel’s back, for on March 27 the French Government declared that the loans contravened the 1902 Convention and gave the Company three months in which to regularise its position (which was impossible). June came, and the problem of meeting that month’s coupon proved insuperable as the Trust now refused in the altered circumstances to act as fairy godmother.174 The Company therefore at last had no alternative but to declare itself bankrupt; it therefore passed into liquidation.
Faced with this long expected development the French Government favoured the establishment in Paris of an all French " Societe d’Etudes " to study the affairs of the railway. With the assistance of the French " Banque de l’lndochine " the Company continued to operate the railway yet a little longer. On January 20, 1908, however, the bankruptcy proceedings culminated in the issue of a judicial order for the liquidation of the Chefneux Company, and the transfer of its activities to a new Company to be formed with French support, for the completion and operation of the railway to Addis Ababa, allegedly under conditions which would safeguard the interests of the shareholders and creditors of the defunct Company. Klobukowsky was sent to Ethiopia with the task of negotiating with the Emperor to transfer the Concession to a new company.175
Menelek’s Second Concession
The way was thus at last clear for a new venture. On January 30, 1908, the Emperor, who had long since withdrawn his support from the old Company, willingly granted a new Concession for the operation of the railway and its extension as far as Addis Ababa. This Con-, cession was granted to his personal physician, Dr. Vitalien, as representative of a new railway company.
Vitalien was an unusual person. A coloured man from Guadeloupe, he had studied medicine in Paris before being appointed physician to the railway in 1899. In 1901 he had entered Ras Makonnen’s service only to leave for Jibuti and later for France during the subsequent railway dispute. In the following year, however, he had returned to Ras Makonnen whom he had helped to establish a hospital at Harar. As a result of this Menelek had called him to Addis Ababa in 1904 to serve as his personal physician. On going to Paris on leave in February, 1905, he had made contact with officials of the French Foreign Office, members of the French Inter-Parliamentary Committee on Colonial Affairs and various French Chambers of Commerce ; he was regarded as an expert on Ethiopian affairs and a person with influence at Menelek’s court. On his return to Ethiopia in February, 1906, he had found Ras Makonnen dying, and, after treating him to the end, had travelled to the capital where the Emperor had appointed him court physician. The British envoy Hohler in a report written at about this time, stated that Vitalien, whom he called a " coloured native," was often referred to as a " nigger," spoke Amharic " fairly well " and was " in constant attendance " on the Emperor. At one moment Menelek even seems to have contemplated making him Minister of Health in his first cabinet.176
Vitalien had thus acquired a position in which he could be of service to France, his country of adoption. The French Minister in Ethiopia, M. Klobukowsky, found Vitalien a useful intermediary for the Banque de I’Indo-Chine which was interested in acquiring the railway Concession. As Vitalien later complained Klobukowski’s plan had two phases ; in the first Vitalien was to obtain the Concession ; in the second he was to be made to " disappear " so as to be replaced by the Banque de l’lndo-Chine.177 In accordance with this plan the bank had offered in December, 1907, a month before the grant of the new Concession, to put Vitalien on their pay-roll by placing 500 francs (i.e. 200 dollars) a month in his bank account at Jibuti. Vitalien had refused this offer in the hope of a more advantageous arrangement after the Concession was signed.178 This anticipation was at least partially correct, for in one way or another, Vitalien later received 68,000 francs, though he later went to law in an unsuccessful attempt to obtain more.179 Money, it should be added, often flowed fast in those days : the Company for example quite openly made gifts to prominent Ethiopians to win their favour.180
Though mentioned by name in the Concession, Vitalien appeared in it only as the agent of the new railway company, i.e. as " representant de la nouvelle Societe des chemins de fer ethiopiens " ; he was in fact merely a man of straw and soon disappears from the story, becoming a doctor in Harar, immediately the Company was established.181
The new Concession reaffirmed the essential principles of the Emperor’s original Concession and thereby negated the claims embodied in the ill-fated French Convention of 1902 ; several clauses, however, were borrowed from that Convention and reversed to ensure greater control by the Ethiopian Government. The details of the Concession were as follows :
The Preamble stated that the old Concession granted to Ilg in 1894 was transferred to Dr. Vitalien, as representative of a new company.
Article I stated that the Ethiopian Government would be partners in the railway. The Company was given charge of the line between Jibuti and Dire Dawa and assumed the responsibility of its operation and extension from Dire Dawa to Addis Ababa. It further took over responsibility for 2,300,000 francs due to the Emperor from the old Company and agreed to pay him an interest of 5 per cent, on them.
The Ethiopian Government for its part undertook to provide a quarter of the capital, either in money or labour.
It was agreed that the general direction of the line to be constructed should be from Dire Dawa, via Assaboto, the Hawash and Bossette to Addis Ababa.
Article II specified that the Concession should run for 99 years from the day when the line was completed and in operation as far as Addis Ababa.
The Ethiopian Government undertook not to authorise the construction of rival or branch lines in the region of the railway between Jibuti and Addis Ababa, but reserved the right to build roads leading to the line. The Company was obliged to start work on the line between Dire Dawa and the capital within a year of the signing of the contract ; the time in which the work had to be completed was to be decided upon after the arrival in the capital of the company’s engineers.
Article III stipulated that throughout the period of the Concession the Company was obliged to run such services as would be necessary to meet the needs of freight and passengers ; the Company furthermore undertook to avoid all interruptions in the service except in case of force majeure.
Article IV stated that for the lifetime of the Concession the Ethiopian Government would measure and give the Company the lands necessary for the construction of the railway, depots, stations, workshops, as well as a 1,000 metre wide strip from the frontier to Dire Dawa, a 200 metre strip from Dire Dawa to the Hawash, and a 50 metre strip from the Hawash to Addis Ababa. It was stipulated, however, that the sub-soil would remain the possession of the Ethiopian Government, though the Company was entitled to take free of charge from this zone or even outside it all materials it might need, for the construction or operation of the railway, such as water, wood, lime, sand and ballast.
The Article further laid down that the location of stations should be agreed with the Ethiopian Government, and that in case of mobilisation or war the Company would be expected to stop their trains wherever necessary, even outside stations, in order to load or unload troops or materials of war, the Ethiopian Government having to inform it of its requirements in advance.
Article V stipulated that the Company should establish along the railway a telegraph and telephone line and employ the personnel necessary to operate them. The Company had to transmit all communications of the Ethiopian Government free of charge. If the first wire was insufficient the Company had to establish a second at its own expense. The free use of the telegraph and telephone was reserved for the Company and the Ethiopian Government, but travellers would also be able to use these services on showing their tickets.
Article VI ruled that the Company must not increase its share capital without the prior agreement of the Ethiopian Government. It was expressly forbidden from using its capital for enterprises other than the construction and exploitation of the railway or from transferring the Concession or the railway in whole or in part to other Ownership by sale, agreement or any other means.
Article VII specified that the Company had to inform the Ethiopian Government of its share capital. In order to assist the Company with the construction of the railway, the Government authorised it to collect a duty of 6 per cent, on all merchandise except that belonging to the Government, this fee being in addition to customs and transport charges. It was to be collected at Dire Dawa and could be charged after two months of the commencement of work. Of this 6 per cent, two-thirds were to be kept by the Company and one-third be given to the Government which would use it first to construct feeder roads for the railway and later in other ways for the benefit of the country. Goods imported or exported by the Company were to be exempted from all taxation except customs dues.
Article VIII declared that if the resources of the Company, together with the 4 per cent, levy on goods in transit, were insufficient to meet its needs, it was authorised to accept help from the French Government ; no such help could be accepted, however, unless there was a deficit.
Article IX forbade the Company from altering the direction of the line already laid or to be laid in Ethiopian territory or from building branch lines without the consent of the Ethiopian Government. The Company was obliged to submit its statutes to the Government which was entitled to have them modified if they were not in conformity with the Concession.
Article X entitled the Ethiopian Government to nominate a representative to the Company’s Administrative Council. The Company in turn was obliged to inform the Government of the name of its President as well as of its Representative in Addis Ababa, which latter must be replaced if considered unsuitable by the Government. To ensure the carrying out of the contract each side was to appoint a controller responsible for supervising the construction and operation of the railway. All expenses thus incurred were to be borne by the Company.
Article XI entitled the Company to fix its charges for passengers and freight traffic. These charges, however, could not be higher and should rather be lower than those already existing.
Baggage, merchandise and agents of the Government, as well as chiefs travelling with their followers, were to be charged at half price. In order to take advantage of this provision such travellers had, however, to carry a certificate from the Government. Ethiopian post, postal officials, official post and couriers were to be carried free of charge, and Government merchandise had to be given priority over all other merchandise.
In time of war the railway had to be put at the disposal of the Government which would pay the Company at cost price for the services required of it.
The Company was forbidden from transporting troops or war materials in or out of the country without a written order from the Government. If it acted in this respect without orders it must forfeit the railway to the Government unless it could prove that it had been misled and acted in good faith.
Article XII laid down that in return for the Concession the Company should pay the Government an annual due based on the receipts per kilometre : 15 per cent, of the receipts between 6,000 and 8,000 francs per kilometre, 20 per cent, between 8,000 and 10,000 francs and 25 per cent, above 10,000 francs. This due was to be calculated on the entire length of the line constructed on Ethiopian territory and would be payable until the expiry of the Concession.
Article XIII established that the Ethiopian Government would protect the railway on Ethiopian territory and furnish the necessary troops. It could not, however, be held responsible for any accident which might result from causes outside its control. The guards it supplied for the protection of the railway were to be lodged and paid by the Company which had also to transport them and their baggage at its own expense.
Article XIV stated that at the expiry of the Concession the railway and its fixed assets, on the Ethiopian side of the frontier, would become the property of the Ethiopian Government without compensation. The rolling stock and movable property remained the property of the Company, but the Government could purchase them in whole or in part for a price estimated by experts.
Article XV established that disputes about the interpretation of the Concession should be submitted to arbitration. Both sides were entitled to choose an arbitrator ; if these failed to agree the Government and the Company should together choose a third arbitrator whose decision would be final.
Article XVI confirmed that the Ethiopian Government should nominate a member of the Company’s Administrative Council, with the same powers and emoluments as other members. The Company agreed at the same time to appoint a Representative in Addis Ababa. Article XVII specified that all materials, metals, coal and other merchandise imported by the railway and necessary for its work were exempt from customs charges.
The Government was given the profits from stamps on waybills and receipts delivered to merchants for goods transported. This tax was fixed at the rate of 1/2 guerche on a charge of 10 francs.
Article XVIII forbade the Company from transferring the Contract to any Government or company either by sale or exchange.182
This agreement between the Emperor and Dr. Vitalien having been signed, the French Minister in Addis Ababa shortly afterwards obtained Menelik’s approval of a modification of it to the financial advantage of the Company. The Emperor in two letters, dated respectively May 20 and 27, 1908, agreed that the dues established in Article XII should not be payable by the Company until it had ceased to receive assistance from the French Government, as provided for in Article VIII and had paid back such advances.2 Repayment of such advances was to be effected by deductions from the excess of receipts over expenditure of the railway at a rate of 15 per cent, up to 2,000 francs, 20 per cent, between 2,000 and 4,000 francs, and 25 per cent, above 4,000 francs.183
The Franco-Ethiopian Railway
On March 24, 1908, the Company was constituted to operate the Railway Concession which Vitalien had received on its behalf- It was given the name it still bears, Compagnie Chemin de Fer Franco-Ethiopien de Jibuti a Addis Abeba. The Company had a fairly influential administrative council which was not surprising on account of its backing by the French Government and the Banque de l’lndo-Chine. Its president was Ernest Roume, Hon. Governor General of the French Colonies and Administrator of the Banque de l’lndo-Chine, while its administrative council also included Octave Homberg, and the Marquis de Reverseaux of the Banque de l’Union Parisienne, Charles Michel-Cote, of the Compagnie-Generate d’Electricite, C. Carraby, of the Comptoir Nationale d’Escompte de Paris, S. Einhorn of the Banque Francaise pour le Commerce et 1′ Industrie, G. de la Fontaine, of the Credit Industriel et Commercial, J. Raindre of the Banque Russo-Chinoise, R. Brouillet of the Compagnie Francaise des Chemins de Fer de l’Indo-Chine et du Yunan, J. Giraud of the Banque Transatlantique, and M. Boucard, a member of the Council of State.184
As soon as the Company was formed it opened up negotiations with the French Government to obtain recognition from it, and a special mission was appointed to ascertain the cost of the further work to be done on the line already in use and for its prolongation to Addis Ababa. October 26, 1908, a Convention was signed by the French Minister of Finance and the Colonies and Ernest Roume for the transfer of the Concession from the old Company to the new.
The creditors of the Chefneux Company were not satisfied by its terms. A General Assembly of the Company in liquidation protested against the attitude of the French Government and its representative Klobukowsky, and appointed a Commission to vindicate the rights of the old shareholders and creditors. The French Government, however, retorted on December 8, 1908, by a Presidential decree deposing the Chefneux Company from its Concession on the ground of breach of Articles V and XXVI of the 1902 Convention which barred the Company from augmenting its capital without consent of the French Government and stipulating that the Company’s Administrative Council must be all French.185
On the issue of this decree the Governor of the French Somali Protectorate took immediate possession of the railway from Jibuti to the French frontier, and at the request of the French Government the Ethiopian Government took over the line to Dire Dawa.
The Emperor, lacking the technical personnel required, agreed that the French Consul at Harar should be made secretary of the line inside Ethiopia, while the head of a battalion of French military engineers was put in charge of technical operations.
Chefneux and his colleagues of the Imperial Ethiopian Railway Company and their French and English creditors continued to endeavour to salvage what they could from their bankrupt enterprise. The French Government, it will be remembered, also had an interest in the shares and loans of the deposed Company, the interest and repayment of which had been guaranteed by the French Parliament by the law of April 6, 1902, " even in the event of the purchase of the railway or the dissolution of the Company." By a " transaction " of March 6, 1909, between the French Government and the Chefneux Company, 99 annual payments of 610,748.10 francs were registered as due to the Company, as well as the moneys in hand or due to the Company on December 8, 1909, the movable property of the Railway, and the rights which the Company claimed to possess in the Company of Lake Assal and certain mining concessions. The deposed Company was further given the right to subscribe one-fifth of the shares of the newly formed Company.
The Second French Convention
On March 8, 1909, two days after the conclusion of this transaction, the French Government signed a Convention with Dr. Vitalien which in many ways corresponds to the earlier Convention of 1902, but was without those Articles of the earlier document which had given such afront to the Emperor. It imposed upon the new Company a heavy burden of payment to the bankrupt concern.
Article I of this Convention transferred the Concession for the line between Jibuti and the Ethiopian frontier from the old Compagnie Imperiale des Chemins de Fer Ethiopiens to the new Compagnie du Chemin de Fer Franco-Ethiopien, and granted the latter Company permission to accept the Concession from Menelik for the line from the frontier to Addis Ababa.
Article II specified that the Company should be constituted according to French law and that the statutes concerning its object, share capital, headquarters and the composition of its Administrative Council could not be altered without the authorisation of the Minister for the Colonies acting in agreement with the Minister of Finance. The Company was further prohibited from ceding all or any of its rights, employing its resources for other purposes, issuing bonds or contracting any other loans without such authorisation.
Article III fixed the Company’s capital at 17,300,000 francs, of which 15 millions were in paid up shares and 2,300,000 in shares belonging to the Emperor.
Article II bis stated that the Company should take over all railway equipment, whether movable or immovable, connected with the line between Jibuti and Dire Dawa. In return the new Company agreed to pay the old Company or its claimants 99 annual payments of 610,748.10 francs.
Article V laid down that the construction of the line between Dire Dawa and Addis Ababa should be completed within two years from the promulgation of the law approving the Convention ; projects had to be submitted for successive 100 kilometre sections so that approval for the first section from Dire Dawa could be given within a year. Work had to begin immediately on approval of the plan for the first section and should be pursued without interruption.
Article VI authorised the Company to construct and operate the railway with the capital derived from the shares and bonds issued. The monies arising from the subscription of shares paid in cash, amounting to 15 million francs, were to be used for these expenses, with the exception of 5 million francs reserved as cash and to meet provisional deficits charged to its account as a result of the Convention.
Article VII stated that the French Government guaranteed an interest of 3.50 francs and amortisation on share capital up to 17,300,000 francs, including the 2,300,000 francs in shares belonging to the Emperor as a result of the Convention of 1908.
Redemption was to begin four years after the promulgation of the law approving the Convention and be complete within 94 years.
The interest and the amortisation on the bonds issued had to be paid in a manner approved by the Minister for the Colonies in agreement with the Minister of Finance.
The interest would be calculated according to the actual rate of investment resulting from the sale price of the company’s deeds and must not exceed 4 per cent.
Depreciation was to begin four years after the promulgation of the law and terminate 94 years after promulgation.
The guarantee of the Government was to be attached to the bonds themselves and was to remain operative even in case of the company’s liquidation or dispossession.
Interest and depreciation on the " prime d’economie " were laid down in Article IX. The interest was calculated on an average rate at which the " primes d’economie " were placed.
The new company agreed to put at the disposal of the liquidating company or its rightful claimants the 99 annuities of 610,748-10 francs.
If the receipts indicated in Article XXIII were to prove insufficient to cover the charges stipulated, the difference was to be advanced by the French Government unless the clauses of Article XXIV were applicable.
The amounts advanced by the Government were to be reimbursed, including simple interest, according to Articles XXIII, XXIV and XXIX.
Other articles laid down initial expenses, the establishment, for the Company’s own benefit of a bonus of 10 per cent, on the first five millions’ savings, 20 per cent, on the following 5, and 30 per cent, on the surplus, and, on the other hand, at the same rate, a penalty for exceeding initial expenses to be fixed after the return of the fact-finding mission sent to Ethiopia.
The French Government was to exercise controlling rights on construction and expenditure, had to give its approval to the appointment of the director of works and to projects and contracts worth more than 100,000 francs.
The third Chapter laid down conditions of operation by reserving for conveyance on behalf of the French Government the same rights as those of the Ethiopian Government.
The Company was to operate at its own risk, but if the gross receipts fell below 3,000 francs in two successive years and if the reserves could not cover the deficit the French Government undertook, from the third year, the responsibility for the excess of real expenditure above receipts until such time as the receipts again reached 3,000 francs. The sums thus advanced by the Government were to be credited to their account and reimbursed according to the stipulations of Article VII.
A " prime de gestion " (management fund) was to be established as follows : When the working reserves had attained their maximum and as long as they remained at that maximum all economies made by the company within one year on the sum provided for expenses during that year were to be allocated to the company as remuneration for good management and were to belong to it, together with the right of disposing of them, quite apart from the amounts already allocated by articles VIII and XXIII, unless the stipulations of Article XXIV applied.
This Article XXIV stipulated that, as long as the Government’s guarantee was called in or that the Government had not been reimbursed of the amounts it has advanced, 11/2 per cent, of the share capital, half of the surplus, was to be allocated to pay off the advances paid by the State, or to increase reimbursements already being made.
It will be seen from the above what precautions had been taken by the Government to ensure that in any event and even in the most favourable circumstances the remuneration of the capital and of the new Company should remain very moderate.
Article IV fixed the duration of the Concession at 99 years and ruled that upon expiry the Government would take over from the company.186
By thus reasserting the French position on the railway without making any reference to that of Britain or Italy, the Convention of March 8, 1909, meant in fact an abandonment of the Tripartite Agreement of 1906, which, it will be recalled, provided for the appointment of an Englishman, an Italian and a representative of the Emperor to the Company’s Administrative Council. The French Government in fact had at all stages been motivated almost exclusively by self interest. This indeed was the complaint of the British envoy Thesiger who remarked in 1910: "Throughout the whole question the French Government has kept faith with no one . . . They repudiated all the obligations imposed upon them by the Tripartite Agreement when they believed they could further their own advantage by doing so, and they threw over the English bondholders without compensation when they wished to get the whole control into their hands."187
The Convention of March 8, 1909, nonetheless brought to an end the almost interminable history of manoeuvres and negotiations by financiers and governments. Paul Olagnier, the advocate who pleaded Vitalien’s case against the new Company in 1921, alluded to the rather underhand character of much of the proceedings by quoting from the operetta Les Brigands by Melhac and Halevy where the brigand chief Falscappa departs on an expedition, leaving his daughter Fiorella in the hands of the old man Pietro whom he asks to distract her by telling her a story about thieves.
Pietro : A story about thieves . . . What shall I say ?
Fiorella : Well, old man, tell me, as my father asked you, a story about thieves.
Pietro : Willingly ; once upon a time there was a big financier
Fiorella (after a silence) : and then ?
Pietro : that’s all.
The story of the railway, Olagnier concluded, was much longer " because there were more financiers."188 A similar story could be told of governments.
The Extension and Operation of the Line to Addis Ababa
The new Company seems to have taken over work on the Dire Dawa-Addis Ababa stretch fairly soon after the completion of the necessary formalities. Lieut. D. A. Sandford reported to the British War Office in September, 1909, that 13 kilometres beyond Dire Dawa had been cleared and levelled, that the necessary embankments had been made and thai the materials for bridges had been collected, though neither the ballast nor the rails had yet been laid. There was, he says, " no lack of coolies "Ã¢â‚¬â€Somali, Galla and Danakil ; their working day was about ll1/2 hours, for which they received 5 piastres.189
The British envoy Hervey reporting at about the same time gave the additional information that the Ethiopian Government had agreed to build one fourth of the new line, excluding the laying of rails and sleepers, and that in order to heal the old dispute the contract for this work would be given both to Chefneux and to Julian Humphreys, the agent of Ochs Brothers.190
Completion of the project, however, took a number of years. The laying of the rails, according to Zervos, was started in May, 1912, some eight years after the completion of the original stretch of line from Jibuti to Dire Dawa. Construction work continued without interruption for some three years, and in 1915 the line reached Akaki, some 23 kilometres from the capital. Akaki remained for some time the terminus of the line. During the troubles of 1916 the Ethiopian Government requisitioned the Line from September 26 to November 16, evidently on the basis of Articles IV and XI of Menelek’s second Concession. Completion of the line was thus for some time delayed, work not being resumed until the Regency of Ras Tafari, the future Emperor Haile Sellassie. The first trains arrived at the capital in 1917, by which date the service operated along a line of 784 kilometres, i.e. 311 kilometres from Jibuti, to Dire Dawa, 237 kilometres from Dire Dawa to Hawash, and 237 kilometres from Hawash to Addis Ababa.
Hotels and restaurants were to be found at Dire Dawa and Hawash, and restaurants at Aicha, Afdem and Mojjo. There were 29 tunnels, one nearly 100 yards long, and the construction work of the line as a whole was described by Rey as an engineering feat " equal to anything in Africa." The final development was the building of the capital’s railway station which was inaugurated on December 3, 1929.
Train services seem to have considerably improved after the establishment of the new Company. Sandford, who first travelled on the railway in 1907 before the bankruptcy of Chefneux and his colleagues, observed in 1909 that he was " at once struck by the apparent increased efficiency of the line." He added that the permanent way " appears … to be in good repair, which it certainly was not in 1907." Out of two weekly passenger trains each way, one each way had been made ‘express’ and did the journey from Jibuti to Dire Dawa in 81 hours instead of 12 or more.191
The old policy of high rates, however, was not abandoned. The first-class single fare from Jibuti to Addis Ababa was, for example, Ã‚Â£16, though the corresponding charge in England for a journey of equal distance would have been infinitely less, being estimated by Harmsworth at Ã‚Â£5 and by Farago at only Ã‚Â£2. The free allowance, as Powell complained, was moreover very smallÃ¢â‚¬â€amounting to only 10 kilosÃ¢â‚¬â€and the charges for excess luggage were, he said, " exorbitant."192 Freight charges, according to Dunckley, were equally " iniquitous," a typical load being made to pay Ã‚Â£43 per ton as compared with about Ã‚Â£4 in England.193
A British Board of Trade publication reviewing these rates in 1932 nevertheless tended to exonerate the Company for its tariff, observing : " The rates of carriage are comparatively high when considered in conjunction with the low standard of purchasing power of the people and the inferior grade of exported produce. It would appear nevertheless that the tariffs in force are not unjustified, owing to the small tonnage available for transport and extensive abuse of the half tariff concession."194
Customs formalities were at first also most inconvenient. Rey describes the procedure at Jibuti as " a most irritating bit of officialdom " : the contents and value of every package had to be listed in duplicate and then an excessive number of statistical and transit fees would be charged. During World War I the practice was moreover adopted of levying the 10 per cent, levy in kind as the Colony was short of supplies. Having " run the gauntlet" at Jibuti, the goods had again to pass through customs at Dire Dawa even if they were bound for Addis Ababa. Everything, he says, was " turned out of the train, opened, examined, and delayed," the result being that " cases once having been opened are not properly fastened again, goods are pilfered from them while they are lying about (often for weeks) . . . and the remnents frequently arrive broken and damaged." Traders were therefore obliged to keep a staff at Dire Dawa to deal with goods there and to effect their transport " with as little loss and damage as possible by means of hard work, cajolery and bribery." On finally reaching the capital a third customs examination followed on the basis of a 12 per cent, ad valorem tax, the general inconvenience being intensified by the absence in the early days of either depots or warehouses with the result that goods if not at once collected were " exposed to both pilfering and the effects of sun or rain."195
The various formalities, which, however, were later improved, resulted in many delays. " Goods," Rey explains, " take almost as long to come from Jibuti to Addis Ababa by rail as they did formerly by camel caravan, and the condition in they arrive is frequently little better. Six weeks to two months is a normal period in which to expect one’s goods." Such delays were also in part occasioned by shortage of rolling stock.196
Such difficulties had a direct result on the Ethiopian economy, Addis Ababa prices, according to Maydon, being nearly double those of England.197
Franco-Ethiopian Railway : Expansion of Passenger Traffic 1915-1935
Franco-Ethiopian Railway : Expansion of Trade on the Railway 1910-1935
The extension of the railway nonetheless led to a substantial though by no means revolutionary increase in passenger and freight traffic. The greatest expansion took place in the field of passenger traffic where the total number of passengers carried in 1915 increased three-fold by 1917, six-fold by 1920, and twelve-fold by 1927. The development of freight traffic was much less spectacular. The 1910 tonnage exported did not double until 1918 or quadruple until after 1935. Imports, on the other hand, were considerably more buoyant, The 1910 figure had doubled by 1914, trebled by 1918, quadrupled by 1925 and quintupled by 1926. The general character of this development may be seen from the accompanying tables.187
The greatest expansion in exports occurred in the field of coffee, particularly the so-called " Abyssinian" from the west of the country, as well as in hides and skins. The 1910 coffee tonnage had doubled by 1922, trebled by 1924 and quadrupled by 1927 ; trade was virtually limited to the " Harari " variety until 1921 after which the export of the " Abyssinian " type increased threefold within six years. The hides and skins tonnage exported in 1910 doubled by 1917 and trebled by 1925, but did not quadruple in our period.
A substantial increase in freight was recorded for the principal imports, among them abujedid and other cotton cloth, salt, petrol and sugar. The number of tons of textiles imported in 1910 doubled by 1914, but dropped again in the war years and did not reach or exceed that figure until 1927. The transport of salt, on the other hand, expanded very rapidly indeed, increasing
Franco-Ethiopian Railway : Expansion of Exports of Coffee and Hides and Skins, 1910-1930
no less than nine-fold in the 10 years from 1910 to 1918. The growing carriage of other commodities, mainly luxury goods, may be seen in the following table :
An important effect of the railway was the linking of the Ethiopian and French Somali economies, a development which nonetheless failed to result in any very great expansion in the commerce of France as such. French official sources estimated on the basis of all available data that Ethiopian foreign trade in 1914 totalled
47,720,000 francs, of which goods to a value of 38,945,000 francs passed through the French colony as against only 8,775,000 francs through other territories. The corresponding figures for 1917 were 43,875,000 francs through French Somaliland and 12,715,000 francs through other territories, or a total of 56,590,000 francs. Ethiopian foreign trade in 1914 thus constituted almost 39 million francs out of the total French Somaliland trade of 68 million francs, the corresponding figures for 1917 being 44 millions and 79 millions respectively.
Trade between France and Ethiopia through the French colony was never very substantial except during the initial period of railway construction when large quantities of material were imported for building operations. This may be seen from the following figures :199
The belief sometimes expressed in the early days of the railway controversy that the line would give France a monopolistic or semi-monopolistic trade position in Ethiopia thus in fact proved as unfounded as the claim that Ethiopia would be reduced politically to a colonial status.
The effects of the railway had many ramifications. These included a general decline in mulateers’ profits, as observed by Walker,200 and a general increase in economic activity as well as a growth in the population of Addis Ababa.201
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The position on the eve of the war may be briefly summed up. There were then two weekly services in each direction : trains left both Jibuti and Addis Ababa every Sunday and Wednesday during the dry season, but were somewhat less regular during the rains. Zervos writing at this time tells us that the Company employed about 180 Europeans, and some 1,500 local personnel, while Makin wrote of 162 Europeans and 2,000 " natives," who included, it appears, a number of Yemeni Arab as well as Gurage porters and other employees.202 The Company, according to Zervos, had 54 locomotives, 46 luxury passenger coaches, 10 mixed first and second class coaches, 26 third class coaches and 2 service coaches and 445 goods waggons. The trains were able to pull 200 to 350 tons depending on the section of the line, the net load being about 180 tons. With one train a day in each direction the Company could therefore transport 120,000 tons of goods a year, but the system could be easily geared to four trains a day in each direction with an annual potential of about 500,000 tons.203
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Mussolini’s impending invasion brought about a change in the railway’s ownership when, on January 7, 1935, a Franco-Italian agreement was signed whereby France recognised Italian interest in the line and transferred 7 per cent, of the shares to Italy. The result was that the French had 52 per cent, of the shares, Ethiopia 25 per cent, and Italy 7 per cent. The remaining 16 per cent, were owned by sundry investors.204