The Unscrupulous Prospector, the Ethiopian Elite, and Italy's Frustrated Imperialists:

Recording of CERS webinar with Noelle Turtur, Eugen and Jacqueline Weber Postdoctoral Scholar in European History, UCLA

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You can watch the recording of The Unscrupulous Prospector, the Ethiopian Elite, and Italy’s Frustrated Imperialists: Alberto Prasso and the Evolution of Italian Colonial Strategy in Ethiopia, 1905-35 here on our website and on our YouTube Channel. The webinar took place on Tuesday, February 14, 2023.


On March 8th, 1905, the Italian Consul in Addis Ababa, Count Colli di Felizzano, informed his superiors in Rome about a large mining concession that Emperor Menelik had just granted to a feckless Italian adventurer, Alberto Prasso. Colli doubted the concession territories contained any potential mineral wealth, let alone the ability of Prasso – a seemingly ignorant man who frequently took off on his prospections with only a few African guides – to realize its potential. Nevertheless, Colli cautioned that it would be a pity if wealthy foreign investors snatched the concession from Italian hands. For Colli, the estimated 70,000km2 concession in the contested southwestern border region was tantamount to obtaining a small slice of Ethiopia for la grande patria, just less than a decade after Italy’s defeat at Adwa in 1896. From 1905 to 1935, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its representatives hungrily eyed Prasso’s concession and his company. Analyzing Prasso’s rapport with Ethiopian elites and workers, European financiers, and the Italian government, Noelle Turtur examines the evolution of Italian colonial strategy from the liberal government to the fascist regime. Both liberal Italy and fascist Italy sought to control Italian concessions such as Prasso’s as a means of extending their commercial and political influence, with the expectation that one day it could be leveraged into imperial power. Italian imperialists shared the belief that Italian enterprises in Ethiopia, financed through a combination of state and private capital, could be used to secure Italian interests and engage the Italian population in colonial projects. While these ideas remained consistent, the fascist regime was willing to act much more decisively than the liberal regime.


Noelle Turtur is currently the Eugen and Jacqueline Weber Postdoctoral Scholar in European History at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is broadly interested in the relationship between migration, business, and imperial power. Her manuscript, Making Fascist Empire Work: Italian Enterprises, Labor, and Organized Community in Occupied Ethiopia, 1896-1943, analyzes the role of Italian enterprises in the Italian colonial project in the Horn of Africa. She received her doctorate in History from Columbia University in 2022.


Hollian Wint is Assistant Professor at UCLA History. Her work spans the Indian Ocean from East Africa to the Indian subcontinent. Her first project took her into archives in Zanzibar and mainland Tanzania, Gujarat and Bombay, as well as London and Washington DC. Her teaching interests are similarly broad. She has taught classes on Africa and the Indian Ocean, the history and anthropology of money and debt, global history, and the history of Islam. In both her teaching and research, she explores the intersections of gender, political economy, and material culture, as well as innovative historical methods.

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Duration: 01:17:13



So good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to 

our winter speaker series at the Center for  

European and Russian Studies at UCLA. And also, 

happy Valentine's Day! I'm Laurie Kain Hart,  

Faculty Director of the Center and professor 

of anthropology and global studies.  

So thanks to our audience for joining us 

today and to our wonderful speaker and  

respondent whom I will introduce in a moment.

As is our custom here at UCLA, I want to  

acknowledge that we are here on the unceded 

territory of the Gabrielino/Tongva peoples  

who are the traditional land care takers of the 

Los Angeles Basin and South Channel Islands.  

As a land grant institution occupying 

this ground, we pay our respects to the  

ancestors, elders and all relatives and 

relations past, present and emerging. 

I'd also like to thank our Center's 

Executive Director Liana Grancea,  

and Outreach Director Lenka Unge, for 

their contributions to today's event.  

We at the Center are especially interested 

in understanding the global, transnational  

and of course, imperial and colonial past and 

present of Europe's global context and impact.  

Today's lecture on the evolution of 20th 

century Italian imperialism in Ethiopia,  

in the context of both liberal and fascist 

governments, speaks directly to that mission 

and we're grateful to professor Turtur 

for sharing her research with us.  

So let me introduce her. Dr. Noelle Turtur is 

Eugen and Jacqueline Weber Postdoctoral Scholar  

in European History at UCLA. Her research 

focuses on the relationship between migration,  

business and imperial power. Her manuscript 

“Making Fascist Empire Work: Italian Enterprises,  

Labor, and Organized Community in Occupied 

Ethiopia, 1896 to 1943” analyzes the role  

of Italian enterprises in the Italian 

colonial project in the Horn of Africa. 

She received her doctorate in history 

from Columbia University in 2022.  

So we are also grateful to have with us 

respondent, Professor Hollian Wint. Professor  

Wint is assistant professor in the Department of 

History at UCLA. Her work spans the Indian Ocean  

from East Africa to the Indian subcontinent. 

Her first book project took her to archives  

in Zanzibar and mainland Tanzania, Gujarat and 

Bombay, as well as London and Washington, DC. 

She teaches on Africa and the Indian Ocean, 

the history and anthropology of money and debt,  

global history and the history of Islam. 

In both her teaching and research,  

she explores the intersection of gender, 

political economy and material culture,  

as well as innovative historical methods. 

So my thanks to both of you for being here.  

A note on logistics. Audience members 

can put their questions into the chat box,  

not the Q&A, but the chat box at the bottom of the 

screen at any time during the talk or discussion. 

And we'll ask the speakers to respond to 

as many of them as possible after the talk.  

So with that, I will turn the podium over to 

our speaker for The Unscrupulous Prospector,  

the Ethiopian Elite and Italy's Frustrated 

Imperialists: Alberto Prasso, and the Evolution  

of Italian Colonial Strategy in Ethiopia 

from 1905 to 1935. Thanks, professor Turtur.  

Thank you, everyone, for 

being here today.  

At 22 years old, Alberto Prasso, like so 

many Italians, set off to seek his fortune  

first in America. His life up until then had been 

nothing extraordinary. We know that he was  

born in May 1871 in Mongardino 

d'Asti, a Piemontese hill town of about  

and Prasso obtained a sixth-grade education. 

He left from La Harve and arrived at Ellis Island 

in December 1892, en route to join some relatives  

in Santa Cruz, California. Although Prasso arrived 

a few decades late for the California Gold Rush,  

there is no doubt that prospecting for gold became 

Prasso's lifelong obsession. After California,  

he went to Alberta and then to Alaska. In 1898, he 

was prospecting in the Transvaal in South Africa,  

and three years later he traveled up to Rhodesia, 

to Katanga in King Leopold's Congo Free State. 

A few years later, he arrived in Addis 

Ababa, taking the caravan from Djibouti,  

and he traveled along with an British officer 

who introduced the feverish prospector to the  

Ethiopian imperial court. According to Prasso's 

shine to the Italian adventurer. He appointed Ras 

Wolde Giyorgis, the governor of Kaffa and general  

in Menelik's southwestern campaigns, and Ras 

Tasemma Nadaw, the Amhara governor of Iluu Abbaboor,  

born to be his baldaraboch, or his 

patrons and intermediaries with the court. 

Between 1903 and 1905, Prasso accompanied 

Ras Wolde Giyorgis to Kaffa and throughout the newly  

conquered western regions of Ethiopia on a mission 

to lay down the telegraph and telephone line  

linking these regions to Addis 

Ababa. Over the next few years,  

Prasso took several trips to western Ethiopia 

to identify potential mineral deposits. While  

the Italian Legation in Addis would have certainly 

noted the arrival of another Italian in the city, 

by then, the population had dwindled substantially 

to just a few dozen, following the release of  

most Italian prisoners of war taken at Adowa, the 

Italian Consul Count Colli di Felizzano considered  

him just another speculator who, to paraphrase, 

was neither particularly cultured nor bright.

Yet Colli sat up with attention when 

Prasso walked into his office in March  

had been awarded by Emperor Menelik. 

The concession, according to Colli's 

letters to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,  

granted Prasso the right to search for

precious metals in southwestern Ethiopia.  

The area is marked in red on the map, which 

Colli drew for the Ministry's reference. The  

concession, known as the Baro Concession, was later 

estimated to cover over 70,000 square kilometers.  

Colli doubted that Prasso would be able to turn 

that concession into a profitable enterprise. 

Likely, he even doubted Prasso would survive 

his prospections. The low-lying, water-logged  

regions were rife with tsetse flies and 

malaria, making the region difficult  

to traverse and inhospitable to both humans 

and pack animals. Further process would have  

to ingratiate himself to local authorities and 

people as Menelik's concession made clear that  

the court would not intervene on Prasso's behalf.

Menelik's control over the region at this  

period and time was limited at best. There was 

frequent conflict between the lowlander Anuyaa,  

the Oromo living in the high plateau, 

some of whom were strategically allied  

with Menelik's government for periods and 

the Amhara military governors appointed to  

rule rebellious people and exact tribute 

locally to support their imperial armies. 

Even if Prasso survived his prospections, the 

agreement granted him a mere three years to  

locate any precious metals and demonstrate that he 

could exploit them. A virtually impossible task.  

Nevertheless, the concession

caught Colli's interest for its   

sheer size and strategic position.

Lying along the contested border with  

the newly proclaimed Anglo-Egyptian Sudan and 

south of Lake Tana, Europeans' geographical  

knowledge of the region remained scant.

The British military and the Italian  

Geographical Society had both sent missions to 

study and map the region and its many rivers,  

including the Baro and the Birbir, that fed Lake 

Tana, which was the source of the Blue Nile.  

Moreover, these rivers produced new trade 

routes. The Baro river known as the Sobat  

in Sudan was navigable during the rains, and 

as a result, goods in southwestern Ethiopia  

could now travel to Khartoum and then 

up the Nile to the Mediterranean rather  

than overland across Ethiopia into the Red Sea.

The importance of these rivers to the Nile and  

this region's potential wealth in minerals,

as well as ivory, coffee, rubber and  

people made them particularly interesting 

to Emperor Menelik, as well as the British,  

who would do anything to ensure the steady 

flow of the Nile waters. The Italians and French,  

by contrast, understood that Britain's laser focus 

on the Nile waters offered up opportunities to  

carve out concessions for themselves in Ethiopia.

In 1906, the three European powers made a treaty  

dividing Ethiopia into zones of influence. The 

British surrounding Lake Tana. You can see... 

British surrounding Lake Tana, which would be 

this region here. The French controlling the  

rail line from Djibouti to Addis Ababa and the 

Italians were given kind of vague promises about  

Western Ethiopia. Prasso and this concession 

were thus of great interest to the ministry. 

Prasso, for one, for his knowledge of the region, its 

resources, politics and people in its concession  

as a concrete example of Italy's economic 

and political interest in its so-called

zone of influence. In his missive 

to Rome, Colli warned his superiors that it would  

"be a shame for the concession to fall into 

foreign hands." However unlikely, if  

Prasso ever managed to discover mineral riches 

in the area and then succeeded in obtaining a  

permanent concession to mine them, he would 

have immense tract of territory at his disposal. 

True, the concession was granted to Prasso as 

a private citizen and not as a representative  

of Italy, but to Consul Colli that was tantamount 

to obtaining a small slice of Ethiopia for  

la grande patria just a decade after Italy's 

failed attempt to occupy and colonize Ethiopia.

Over the next 30 years, the Italian Foreign 

Ministry and its representatives in Addis 

hungrily eyed Prasso's concession 

and the companies he formed from it. 

Colli deemed Prasso to be an unscrupulous and 

single-minded operator whose only goal was to  

exploit his concession. In other words, the man 

could not be trusted to further Italian imperial  

interests. Time and time again, the ministry 

attempted to secure Prasso's concession in Italian  

hands by trying to arrange for Italian investors 

to buy a controlling share of Prasso's company. 

With each disappointment, their appetite 

only grew. Studying Alberto Prasso and his  

strategically located concession from 1905 

to 1935, I trace the evolution of Italian colonial  

strategy in Ethiopia, from the immediate wake 

of the Italian defeat at Adowa in 1896,  

to the eve of the Italian invasion in 1935. Within 

these years, I identify three phases in Italian  

imperial strategy. The first I called emigrant 

imperialism, and dated roughly from 1896 to 1927. 

The second I referred to as economic 

penetration. And this was the language  

used precisely by the regime itself, and it dated 

from around 1927 to 1934. And the third phase,  

of course, was the violent occupation. 

And this began more or less in 1934 and 1935.  

Drawing on historian Mark Choate's concept of 

emigrant empire, I argue that emigrant imperialism  

relied upon small Italian entrepreneurs and 

adventurers like Prasso using their own  

resources, as well as local contacts and knowledge 

to develop enterprises in parts of the world  

like Ethiopia, Tunisia, Brazil and Argentina.

From the perspective of the Ministry of Foreign  

Affairs, supporting such enterprises required 

little attention and public resources. At worst,  

their legal troubles and various demands were 

headaches for the Italian legation. At best,  

an enterprise like Prasso's could bring an immense 

tract of territory under Italian influence and  

produce scarce gold for Italian state coffers. 

However, emigrant imperialists were unreliable. 

The government always doubted if their loyalties 

lay with the Madrepatria or if these men were  

more attached to their countries of settlement, 

or in Prasso's case attached to Ethiopia,  

or if they were only allied with their own kin 

and themselves. While emigrant imperialism was  

characterized by the Italian government aiding 

Italian entrepreneurs, emigrant entrepreneurs,  

and their varied and uncoordinated 

industries in hopes that these resulting  

enterprises might benefit the metropole,

economic penetration was state-sponsored  

coordinated investment in distinct regions. 

Economic penetration differed from emigrant  

imperialism on two major points. First, the 

fascist regime sought to aggressively draw in  

the capital and interests of Italian capitalist 

classes. These people and their capital,  

according to the regime's ideology, would provide 

the spiritual as well as economic and political  

basis for colonization. Second, the 

regime sought to strategically and intentionally  

target specific regions for exclusive 

Italian economic and political influence. 

Ultimately, economic penetration was 

intended to lay the groundwork for  

imperial expansion broadly defined.

Thus many commercial enterprises connected to 

this policy were involved in infrastructure  

projects such as roads and port facilities, and 

these companies engaged in espionage and built  

relationships with local elites in order to erode 

the central power of the Ethiopian imperial court. 

Finally, the Italian imperialists frustrated with 

their efforts, resorted to a violent invasion and 

direct occupation. Studying Italian colonial 

strategy in Ethiopia from the post-Adowa period  

to the eve of the fascist invasion also reveals 

certain continuities. First, Italian colonial  

strategy in the Horn of Africa was largely 

carried out by the same group of nationalists and  

experts affiliated with the Ministry of Foreign 

Affairs and the Italian Geographical Society. 

These men were the experts on both the 

region, in both academic  

and diplomatic circles. For the most part, they 

were committed nationalists and imperialists who  

had no qualms of accommodating themselves 

within the fascist regime and pursuing the  

same policies more vigorously. Second, Italian 

colonial strategy in all three phases relied  

upon the labor, capital, and expertise of African 

Italians and members of the Ottoman diaspora. 

Italian imperialists in the Ministry of Foreign 

Affairs believed that Italian enterprises in  

Ethiopia, like Prasso's, could be financed 

through a combination of state and private  

capital and ultimately used to secure 

Italian interests and engage the Italian  

population in colonial projects. The rest of 

my book manuscript reveals these same kinds  

of common combinations persisted throughout the 

Italian occupation of Ethiopia from 1936 to 1941. 

Third, while illustrating the Ministry of 

Foreign Affairs' persistent interests in Ethiopia  

and the escalating force they are willing to use 

to achieve their aims, I do not understand this as  

evidence of the regime's long-standing intention 

to invade and occupy Ethiopia. Rather, I argue  

that the Italian regime developed many strategies 

to destabilize and exploit Ethiopia and its people. 

They understood a military occupation as one 

among many of these strategies. Thus, as dead as  

this debate may be in Italian history, I think 

it is worth repeating, especially in the imperial  

context, and given current circumstances that 

the fascist regime and its strategy in Ethiopia  

did not represent a break with the policies 

pursued by the liberal Italian state. Rather,  

the fascist regime built on these strategies 

and was willing to carry them out with greater  

force and intention than its predecessor.

I am thus emphasizing the Italianness of  

this imperial strategy as opposed 

to its fascist particularities. So  

how did an Italian from Mongardino d'Asti 

obtain an extensive concession in western  

Ethiopia just a few years after the Italians' 

failed invasion? I argue that Alberto Prasso  

obtained its concession by the mere luck of being 

in the right place at the right time. But he was  

able to maintain his concession over many years 

by effectively tacking between his identities  

and connections with Ethiopia and Italy.

He was, in my opinion, the quintessential  

emigrant imperialist. Prasso spent his first 

years in Ethiopia conducting mineralogical  

surveys in the southwest, which Menelik was 

in this time attempting to incorporate into  

his empire through both brute force and strategic 

alliances. As a surveyor, Prasso frequently sent  

news and accounts of the people 

he met, the resources he saw,  

and the places he traveled to Ras Tasemma,

the Amhara governor of Iluu Abbaboor,  

and Ras Wolde Giyorgis, the governor of Kaffa. 

He even sent news to court. This information  

likely helped each of these men coordinate and 

conduct raids to extract tribute and punish  

local people who resisted their authority. Thus, 

from his first years in Ethiopia, Prasso likely  

served as an agent of the Ethiopian Imperial 

bureaucracy and its rule in southwestern Ethiopia. 

Similarly, I understand Menelik's decision to grant 

Prasso a concession, another strategy for  

extending the Ethiopian imperial rule into 

southwestern Ethiopia. Menelik granted numerous  

concessions, including to foreigners in this 

region in these years. Granting a concession  

gave substance to the Empire's territorial 

claims and allowed the court to collect new  

tax revenue without necessarily forcing the 

emperor to dedicate soldiers or to wage war. 

Concessionaires alone would be responsible for 

negotiating with people locally and rendering  

their enterprises profitable. It cost 

the emperor little to grant a concession,  

but if the concessionaire were 

successful, the emperor could  

rely on a secure flow of tax revenue from 

a region formerly outside of his control.  

While luck may have secured 

Prasso's concession initially, it was  

his skill as an emigrant imperialist that 

allowed him to keep it for the next 30 years. 

Like many Italian emigrants, Prasso cultivated 

ties with key people in his country of settlement,  

namely the emerging Ethiopian imperial 

bureaucracy, while maintaining his identity and  

status as an Italian and a European. His ability 

to engage with all three groups allowed Prasso

not only to keep his concession in the midst 

of immense political turmoil within Ethiopia,  

but also to manipulate a succession of financiers, who

were eager to obtain a share of Ethiopia's riches,  

but ultimately ignorant of the country.

The first person who tried to remove the  

concession from Prasso's hands was the Italian 

Consul in Addis, Colli. Count Colli repeatedly  

tried to interest reliable, patriotic Italian 

investors in becoming majority shareholders in the  

company, which Prasso formed to finance a survey 

missions and eventually exploit the concession.

As majority shareholders, the 

company in this concession

would remain in Prasso's hands in name only.

But Colli's aspirations were quickly dashed.  

Italians were reticent to invest in imperial 

ventures. Indeed, most Italians did not trust the  

banks, let alone the stock market, and preferred 

to invest in family businesses or real estate.  

To address this problem, the Ministry of 

Foreign Affairs and Italian imperialist  

developed various investment vehicles 

such as the Società Coloniale Italiana,  

which was founded in 1907. Backed primarily 

by capital from the Ministry of Finance, 

these companies were created to invest in 

concessions in Ethiopia and allow Italians  

to expand their commercial and political 

influence relative to the British and French.

Colli's attempts to interest these 

groups, however, were to no avail. No  

matter how reassured they might have been 

by government offices, first and foremost,  

they aimed to profit for their shareholders. Each 

time, these enterprises declined for two reasons. 

First, they could not invest the capital that 

Prasso demanded. And second, they deemed the  

investment too risky. They were unsure of the 

potential mineral resources in the region,  

and they were not convinced that Prasso could 

secure a permanent contract. In the Ministry of  

Finance and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs 

ultimately did not have the leverage or if they  

did, the willingness to use it to force these 

companies to invest and process enterprise. 

Unable to attract Italian investors, Colli 

reluctantly realized that the legation had  

little choice but to support Prasso in 

his many legal battles with successive  

financiers. Between 1907 and 1921, Prasso's 

financiers included a Greek banker based in  

Alexandria named George Zarvudachi, the Italian 

Panelli brothers, likewise based in Alexandria,  

who were suspected of smuggling arms and 

other things in southwestern Ethiopia, 

and a group of British investors that included 

Miles Backhouse, the former governor of the  

Bank of Abyssinia, and John Ramsden, one 

of the largest plantation owners in the  

Straits Settlement, now known as Penang, and in 

British East Africa. Each of these partnerships  

quickly soured. Prasso financiers accused them of 

spending money irresponsibly, of overselling the  

concessions potential and of never using the money 

invested to actually begin mining operations. 

By all accounts, Prasso's included, he 

accepted this money but never began mining,  

let alone making the promised fixed capital 

investments needed to create an efficient,  

modern mining operation. Each in their turn sued 

Prasso for failing to abide by their agreements.

In these legal battles, Prasso used his 

knowledge of Ethiopian law and his  

connections in Addis to secure favorable outcomes.

But he did not rely on his Ethiopian allies alone.  

He also kept the Italian legation duly informed 

about his legal battles, which in turn defended  

Prasso against his foreign investors as a means 

of extending Italian influence. For example,  

when Prasso's first business partners, the Greek 

banker and the Italian smugglers, filed a lawsuit  

against him in the Mixed Tribunal in

Alexandria, Italy's local diplomatic  

representatives were alerted to the case 

by friend Ferdinando Martini, an important  

Italian statesman, diplomat in the Horn, and the 

former governor of the Italian colony of Eritrea.

Afraid that the concession might 

"fall into foreign hands," 

Martini encouraged the Italian authorities to, 

and I paraphrase here, interest themselves in  

the case, such that the concession, once freed 

from pending legal matters, could be placed in  

the hands of Italian capitalists. While there 

is no proof that this political intervention  

influenced the outcome of Prasso's lawsuits 

in Alexandria, it is worth noting that in  

both cases, the court sided with Prasso.

But the tribunal's decision once handed  

down was moot. The Ethiopian court had, in the 

intervening years, nullified Prasso's concession on  

the grounds that no work had been undertaken. With 

the contract nullified, Prasso requested a new  

concession covering the same area, which was 

granted. This maneuver thus freed Prasso of his  

legal obligations to give to his financiers, while 

also allowing him to develop the same concession. 

The episode reveals that Prasso was able to 

draw on his connections to the Italian Legation  

and the Ethiopian Imperial Court to defend his 

interests when challenged by foreign investors. 

Perhaps Prasso's emigrant imperialism can best 

be exemplified by his own family. In his memoirs,  

Prasso recounts being “given” a 

woman, who he calls Uoletta Miriam,  

although that certainly would had not been the name she 

was born with, who had been taken captive  

by a subordinate of Ras Wolde Giyorgis in a 

raid in the Omo delta in southern Ethiopia.  

Ouletta Miriam more or less remained with Prasso for 

the remainder of her life, serving as guide,  

translator, caretaker and concubine. 

She bore him a son, Adolfo, around 1906. 

Likely, Prasso saw his son's mixed heritage as 

an asset in that, Prasso believed, his cultural  

competencies and his heritage entitled him to 

an insider status in both Ethiopia and Europe.  

Unlike many Italians at the time, Prasso 

immediately registered Adolfo as an Italian  

citizen. He had also educated 

first in Addis Ababa in Alexandria before  

sending him to Europe to study in Turin and 

then at the Royal School of Mines in London. 

Prasso designated Adolfo as his heir, had 

him trained as an engineer and appointed  

him to direct the mine, as well as 

negotiate with European financiers.  

Over time, Prasso's ties with the Ethiopian 

imperial court appear to have grown stronger, even  

after his initial patrons, Ras Tasemma and Ras 

Wolde Giyorgis died and southwest Ethiopia became  

more closely enmeshed in the Ethiopian empire.

In November 1922, Prasso obtained a second  

concession, known as the Birbir Concession. 

This concession was much smaller, but much more  

wealthy. It included the mineral-rich region of 

Jubdo. In his memoirs, he credits Ras Tasemma's  

son, Dejjach Makonnen Endelkachew, with securing the 

concession on his behalf. At this point, Prasso  

must have felt quite secure in his influence.

Dissatisfied that the concession only allowed  

him to survey, and not exploit, he enjoined 

the Italian minister in Addis, Vivalba, to  

raise the matter with Ras Täfäri himself. 

Prasso also lobbied the court personally,  

and he eventually won his concession with the 

right to exploit whatever minerals he found. Thus,  

in these years, we see that Prasso 

single mindedly sought to secure and  

exploit his concessions in Western Ethiopia.

To that end, whenever he needed to make a new  

business deal or renew his concession, he used 

his knowledge of Ethiopia, its languages,  

customs and law, and his connections with certain 

members of the elite to his advantage. Likewise,  

Prasso was also aware of the strategic location 

of his concession and its importance to his  

native Italy. He thus counted on the Italian 

authorities to repeatedly intervene on his behalf.

As many emigrant imperialists before him,

Prasso tacked between his identity within  

Ethiopia and within Italy to secure 

his concessionary rights, which,  

if unintentionally, maintained Italy's claim 

to the Foreign Ministry in Western Ethiopia. 

Fascist regimes seizure of power in 1922 did 

not ultimately bring wholesale change to the  

Foreign Ministry or the Ministry of Colonies. 

The political appointees such as the Minister  

and the Undersecretary would change, but the 

offices were largely stacked with experts,  

such as the ethnologist Alberto Pollera, the orientalist Enrico Cerulli,  

and the diplomat Jacopo Gasparini, whose 

knowledge and contacts made them irreplaceable. 

Moreover, there was little need to replace these 

men. They were mostly patriotic nationalists  

who shared the fascist regime's ambition to 

solidify the nation's independence and power  

abroad by building an empire. As the fascist 

and the established diplomatic corps  

accommodated one another in Rome, they 

largely pursued an intensified version  

of the Liberal government's policy, using the same 

companies such as the Società Coloniale Italiana. 

Mussolini relied on nationalists such as Luigi 

Federzoni to direct foreign and imperial policy. 

As Minister of the Colonies, Federzoni 

called on “the courage of private capital” to  

undertake “audacious overseas enterprises”. 

Federzoni and others believe that Italian  

capitalists would provide the economic and 

political foundation for the colonization,  

as well as a kind of spiritual leadership.

Prasso and his mining concessions received renewed  

attention from the ministries after he arranged 

for his company to be presented as an investment  

opportunity to the Italian Geographical Society, 

Italy's most important imperial lobby presided  

over by Federzoni in early 1924. The concessions 

were made retain their strategic value, while their  

mineral value, material value increased as the 

Birbir Concession began to produce important  

quantities of platinum for the global market.

The concession thus remained valuable to Italy,  

but Prasso remained a liability. The ministry 

spent the next years trying to make the  

Italian electrochemical giant, the firm 

Montecatini, the majority shareholder  

in Prasso's company. They argued that the 

firm had the resources and expertise to  

exploit the mineral deposits and secure the 

concession rights on behalf of the regime. 

Montecatini was Italy's largest copper, pyrite, and 

fertilizer producer. In addition to fertilizers,  

the company operated hydroelectric 

power plants in Italy and Tunisia,

a French protectorate with a large Italian 

population. At the same time, Montecatini  

as securing an alliance with Mussolini 

that would make the firm the primary fertilizer  

for the nation during the Battle for Grain,

the regime's campaign for food autarky.

While the regime was working to 

aggressively interest Montecatini,  

Prasso was busy pursuing other investors. 

He dispatched Adolfo to negotiate with Paribas  

bank, which frequently collaborated 

with the Italians on foreign investments  

and charged him with forming a stock company 

with French investors to develop the Birbir  

Concession. Adolfo was also sent to London to 

see if he could interest investors there as well.

Perhaps considering how his prior investors had 

withdrawn so quickly, Prasso wanted to form  

multiple companies on his concessions, dividing 

it into multiple zones with respective rights in  

order to have a more conservative, secure footing.

Yet, Prasso responded enthusiastically  

when Colli informed him of Montecatini's 

intention to invest in Prasso's operations.  

He wrote to Colli that he was rushing to Rome 

to meet with Montecatini's representatives,  

delightfully weighed down by the 12 kilograms 

of metal he had mined that year. But news of  

Prasso's travels quickly dried up. Apparently, the 

Baro and Sobat river river became too shallow  

to navigate, effectively stranding 

him in Jubdo. Colli and the Italian Legation,

however, assumed Prasso would cancel his 

dealings with the French and the British  

as they had instructed and make an agreement 

with Montecatini. To ensure Prasso's concession  

was not canceled, Colli intervened directly with 

on Prasso's behalf with Ras Täfäri,  

informing him of the work Prasso  

had undertaken and the company that  

Prasso was about to form.

Prasso, however, had other plans.  

He went ahead and formed his French company, 

approving it with the Ethiopian Minister of  

Mines, all the while keeping the Italian Legation 

in the dark by strategically bribing a postal  

worker in the Legation's telegraph office. The 

whole episode thus is largely reminiscent of  

Colli's attempts to interest companies 

in Prasso's concession a decade earlier. 

Except in this case, Prasso effectively 

served to deceive the Italians.  

While this time the regime was able to strongarm 

a suitable firm into investing, Prasso continued  

to operate as an emigrant imperialist, drawing 

on his connections and resources in Ethiopia,  

as well as the competition between European 

powers for economic influence in the region  

in order to make the most favorable deal.

And the Italian investors were simply not  

offering the best deal. Prasso in addition to 

his company with Paribas made agreements with two  

British companies and by 1932 was rumored to be 

in talks with Consolidated Goldfields, an immense  

British mining company with operations in the 

Transvaal, Australia, Siberia and the Americas.  

So this whole episode marks a turning point for 

Italian imperialists, at least with  

respect to the relationships to Prasso.

They grew increasingly convinced that the  

Ethiopian government was intentionally favoring 

the French and the British over  

Italian, but Federzoni sought to cool their 

heads. He argued that it remained in Italy's  

interest to work quietly through companies rather 

than create a diplomatic route. Frustrated by the  

fact that the Italians could not raise enough 

capital to finance concessions like the British,  

French, Germans and other imperial powers,

an official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,  

likely Count Luigi Orazio Vinci-Gigliucci, 

the future minister in Abbis, proposed in  

commission to study economic enterprises in  

Ethiopia and to systematically present enterprises to 

Italian investors. But such a commission would  

be able to kind of sift through requests and 

identify enterprises worthy of such investment. 

And here you can see some of Prasso's mining 

operations. Tracing how the Italians obtained  

possession of Prasso's concession reveals a 

subtle, yet significant transformation in Italian  

political strategy. The liberal and early fascist 

regime's desultory efforts to encourage private  

investment in imperial enterprises, developed 

into a muscular action plan that brought together  

skilled men from Italy's diplomatic corps in the 

financial class and specially designed investment  

vehicles, which combine public and private 

capital, all backed by the state's course of force.

Referred to by Italian diplomats 

themselves as economic penetration,

this policy aimed to use Italian 

investment to strategically and  

systematically target specific regions and 

resources for exclusive Italian influence.  

They engaged more Italian capitalists in 

undertaking and managing these enterprises.  

And finally, economic penetration served to 

erode the power of the Ethiopian imperial  

state. Many commercial enterprises connected 

to this policy aimed to construct and control  

key infrastructure such as roads and ports.

They also served as political cover for Italian  

agents to sow division between regional 

elites and the Ethiopian Imperial Court.  

This new imperial strategy and its relationship to 

previous strategies is best illustrated by Jacopo  

Gasparini, the central architect of the fascist 

regime's economic penetration and geopolitical  

action in the Horn of Africa. In 

his obituary, written by his fascist colleague,  

he is described as a man who was "born to 

the colonial politics of old Italy" and  

was still "attached to some

ideas of the surpassed  

tactics of the colonial administration."

As such, Gasparini could articulate  

the differences between the fascist Italy's 

new colonial strategies and that of its  

predecessors. This he summarized up as

"I worked for 20 years having  

only weak governments at my back and an Italy 

that didn't want any problems. Now we have at  

our backs a strong government and a strong Italy.

We all know how to take vigorous political action."  

Gasparini thus argued that Italian 

colonial strategy under the fascist regime  

did not differ from the liberals in terms of its 

content, but rather in terms of the resources, the time,  

men and money that they were willing to dedicate 

to pursuing their ambitions. Under Gasparini's  

leadership, the fascist regime's Ministry of 

the Colonies and Ministry of Foreign Affairs  

developed even more powerful companies such as the 

Società Anonima Patto Italo-Etiopico, simply known  

as SAPIE. Backed primarily by state capital,

like their predecessors, these companies also  

engaged private investors and entrepreneurs from 

Italy's dynamic industrial class. In the case of  

SAPIE, Gasparini brought in Antonio Marescalchi, 

a manufacturer of seaplanes who participated in a  

large consortium of manufacturers, banks, 

and airlines aimed at making Italy an  

international hub for air travel. Together, 

Gasparini and Marescalchi represented the new  

Italian imperialism, which merged Italy's dynamic 

industrial and financial class with its cunning  

liberal diplomats and bureaucrats who knew how to 

operate with little capital and little spectacle. 

Gasparini quickly dispatched Marescalchi to Paris, 

where he was to befriend Prasso, who was again in  

legal troubles with his French financiers and 

convince them to invest with the Italian SAPIE.  

Meanwhile in Rome, Count Vinci, soon to become 

the Italian Minister in Addis Ababa, sought  

to secure funding that SAPIE would need to 

buy the majority stake in Prasso's company. 

Vinci made two interrelated political and 

economic arguments. First, he argued that neither  

the British nor the French had abided by the 1906 

agreement, which he claimed had assigned Western  

Ethiopia to Italy. He argued that the British now 

were no longer interested in Lake Tana  

alone, but also in all of the Trinity tributaries 

feeding into the source of the Blue Nile. 

He suggested that Prasso's British partners 

were agents of the intelligence services.  

Secondly, he argued that Italy needed to secure, 

through immense financial extensions and force,  

if necessary, concessions like Prasso's in order 

to combat Britain and France's domination of  

the global economy. In particular, Britain's 

privileged place and its access to gold had  

produced financial capitalists to a degree 

unseen in Italy, which then invested in  

concessions like Prasso, which in turn brought 

more gold and more platinum to British shores. 

Citing the amount of gold acquired in the past 

two years by the British and French banks,  

Vinci argued that they were insulating their 

economies against global turbulence. Writing  

just a few weeks before Italy left the 

gold standard again in December 1934,  

Vinci's arguments about Italy's persistent 

structural disadvantages in the global economy,

even in its own zone of influence in remote 

Western Ethiopia, must have made Mussolini smart. 

State financing to push a private stock company 

to purchase a mine in western Ethiopia must  

have appealed as an apt solution to the problem 

that Vinci presented. Vinci concluded,  

"It is necessary to act if we do not want also 

this area of our interest to be irremediably  

compromised. We can no longer content ourselves 

with pieces of paper and the rights that these  

pieces of paper give us.

But we must look

to give them substance by 

taking action. Like all other powers do,  

where they can and as they can, especially the 

British." Vinci's reports reveal the degree of  

resentment that many Italian officials, be 

they nationals, fascists or liberals, felt  

towards the British Empire. They argued that 

the British Empire size and resources created a  

structural inequality amongst the European powers, 

especially Italy, and that the British sought to  

obscure this under the mantle of individual 

rights, free trade and private enterprise. 

The thinking was that this inequality allowed 

Britain to take more than its fair share of the  

globe's resources, including gold and platinum, and that only 

an active, dynamic policy of coordinated public  

and private investment could

shift the scales in Italy's favor. 

Fully persuaded, the Ministry of Finance 

authorized increasing SAPIE's financing,  

not once, but twice in order to allow 

it to secure Prasso's French company. 

Ultimately, it was not the British firms that 

stood in SAPIE's way, but it was Prasso and  

his friends on the board of the French company. 

Twice, Marescalchi and Gasparini tried to obtain  

a majority share position in Prasso's French firm, 

and twice they failed. Only in 1935 did SAPIE manage  

to obtain the majority share first, because one of 

the British firms created as a subsidiary of the  

French company, had decided to end its contract.

And secondly, because Prasso's French investors,  

whatever their affection may have been towards 

Prasso himself, decided it was safer to go with  

the Italian group, seeing the escalation of 

conflict along the border between the Italian  

colony of Eritrea and Ethiopia. The experience, 

however, confirmed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs  

long held belief that Prasso, even now in his 

sixties, could not be trusted to place national  

interests over his single-minded pursuit of gold.

Moreover, Prasso's close ties to the Ethiopian  

government made him a threat to the company, 

which had been bought at such a high price and to  

the Italian invaders. A few months after SAPIE 

seized control of his company, Prasso was secretly  

arrested and imprisoned for two years. All of 

his business correspondence was sent through SAPIE's  

representatives in order to hide his arrest and 

ensure that Prasso did not manage to

resecure his concession again, say by having 

Haile Selassie declare the concession void in  

re-awarding the same concession again to Prasso. 

As it happened, dozens of times within a year,  

the Italian army was pushing to occupy Prasso's 

concession using their informants and Jubdo,  

who included Prasso's son, to negotiate with 

the Ethiopian resistance comprised of the  

Western Oromo Confederation and the Ethiopian 

Provisional Government in Illu Abbaboor. 

Ultimately tracing the evolution of Italian 

colonial strategy from the turn of the century to

the occupation of southwestern Ethiopia in late 

little. What did change under the fascist was 

the Italian government's willingness to dedicate  

unprecedented resources and to use coercive 

force to substantiate claims to Ethiopia's land,  

people, and real or potential resources. In the 

immediate wake of Adowa, Italy used emigrant  

imperialists or concessionaires like Prasso to 

extend its commercial and political influence.

Emigrant imperialists provided 

interpersonal connections, local knowledge  

and linguistic and cultural competencies which 

were invaluable to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs  

as it attempted to extend Italy's reach into 

overseas markets and its political influence. 

Yet the imperialists were dissatisfied with 

the kind of material and political gains that  

could be made using the strategy, especially in 

Ethiopia. In diplomatic treaties and negotiations,  

they perceived that their interests and 

so-called rights were constantly being  

subordinated to those of the British and French. 

This was matched by the fact that the Italians,  

even with the support and active engagement 

of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, could  

not force a marriage between an Italian 

capital and concessions like Prasso's. 

In response, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs 

sought to rewrite Italy's perceived structural  

disadvantage through economic penetration of the 

Ethiopian market or the targeted investment of  

specific regions and industries, backed by immense 

state financing, partnered with experts from both  

the ministry and private enterprise, as well as 

the convert coercive force of the fascist state,  

both within Europe and in Ethiopia.

The fascist regime was willing to use  

ever more men, money and force 

to achieve this end. Thank you.  

Thank you so much, Noelle, for that 

amazingly interesting and intricate landscape  

of imperialism and commercialism in Ethiopia.

And Hollian, let me turn to you for the  

commentary at this point. Thank you. Sure. Well, 

thank you, Noelle, for that fascinating exploration  

of the various stages, strategies and tensions 

of Italian Empire in the Horn of Africa. 

I'm going to keep my comments somewhat brief 

because I'm hoping that we'll have some great  

questions. And I'm going to warn everyone that 

I'm coming at this as an Africanist rather  

than a Europeanist. So I'm sure that some 

of the questions that I'm going to pose  

are going to be somewhat different from 

some of the Europeans' in the room. 

I'll start with one of the things that I 

thought was most compelling about the paper,  

which was actually the methodology. And so 

I think this is a really excellent example  

of how biography can produce micro histories of 

global dynamics. And so through this kind  

of rather juicy story of Alberto Prasso, I think 

it's actually more juicy in the written version,  

the chapter that I've read. But through

this story, you are able to trace  

both the financial networks and the often very 

intimate politics that formed what you're calling  

emigrant imperialism. So that's a new concept 

to me, this idea of emigrant imperialism.  

And I think it would be fruitful for us 

to unpack that a little bit further in our  

discussion today. And so in particular, when I 

was reading your paper and in listening to the  

presentation today, I found myself comparing 

the dynamics described to imperial contexts  

that I'm perhaps a bit more familiar with.

So I'm thinking here of work on various company  

states in South and Southeast Asia, and the 

sort of Creole societies that we've got in  

Batavia, for example. But also more recent work 

on international investments and European family  

firms this use of the term family firms, in 

intersecting Atlantic and Indian Ocean trades,  

including the financing of the 

Atlantic and Indian Ocean slave trades. 

And also, to a certain extent, these new 

histories of capitalism, a new histories  

of infrastructure and extractive economies 

in Africa. And so I guess my first kind of  

overarching comment or question really is about the 

utility and necessity of thinking across empires.  

So I think this is a particularly pertinent 

question for the Horn of Africa. As you show,  

this was a site of intense imperial competition.

So this is really a key space from which we  

might be able to counter or at least nuance the 

British-French bias of much of the scholarship  

on European colonialism in Africa. And so 

I'd like you to say, I'd like to invite you  

to say a little bit more about the position 

of Italian Empire in that historiography,  

and also to open up a broader discussion 

of the character of continuity between  

liberal and fascist empire that you're drawing.

And I've noticed in the beginning of your talk, you  

made a point that this was a sort of,

these were Italian strategies, you're  

really quite specifically talking about Italian 

Empire. But I do see comparisons across that. So  

I'd like to ask you to sort of say a bit more about 

how you are situating Italian Empire more broadly. 

I also thought it is very interesting that

towards the end, you're really kind  

of emphasizing the particular limits to Italian 

capital that maybe the British did not experience  

in the region. So that comparison, I think, 

is very useful in thinking across empires in a  

connected way as well as in a comparative one. 

But of course, the whole was not just the site  

of European empire, of competing European empires.

Perhaps in some ways the most important player in  

Prasso's story was the Ethiopian Empire. And you 

also allude to the Ottomans in the region, the  

long history of the Ottomans in the region. So 

I'd love to hear a little bit more about that.  

So, you know, we've been discussing this recently, 

the sort of Ethiopian exceptionalism, right? 

The idea of the Ethiopian Empire 

and also the sort of infrastructures that  

it put into place in the region are 

really at the heart of this, still  

I would say, somewhat pervasive idea of Ethiopian 

exceptionalism in the regional scholarship.  

So it's obviously been long celebrated as a rare 

African holdout against European imperialism.  

But this more recent scholarship has 

also investigated Menelik and his successors  

as their state, as an agent of colonialism 

itself, right? As a form of colonialism that  

is in some ways comparable to the European 

empires that are competing in the region. 

And my understanding 

of this is, this is particularly  

a scholarship that is concerned with 

Western Ethiopia, Southwest Ethiopia in  

terms of the region of expansion, but also 

a region of kind of continuing tributary  

relationships with existing states 

and local elites in the area.  

And so I was also interested in, you suggested, 

you made a comment about the relationships that  

the Italians were trying to establish 

with these local elites in Western Ethiopia. 

And so I think that would be something that would 

be interesting to hear more about. And also,  

I would like to invite you to kind of explain a 

little bit more about how you're intervening on  

complementing these histories of African empire

or non-European empire in the region.  

So I think there are two themes that really 

stand out in your paper that help us to think  

about empire in useful ways. The first is

what Fred Cooper et al.

have termed "the tensions of empire". And, you know, 

when I was writing this before, I was thinking  

that the Alberto Prasso's story really draws our 

attention to these tensions between the incessant  

mobility of capital and the imperatives of 

territorial control. But there's also a sort of,  

you know, that quote that you had on pieces 

of paper really got me thinking about also the  

kind of tensions one might have between kind 

of speculative capital and colonial capital. 

And so kind of these, I mean Prasso, he's 

such a interesting character. He's quite a  

naughty historical character in many ways. And 

he's sort of in tension with sort of conservative  

capitalists in the metropole as well. 

So there's several kind of tensions that I think  

his story brings out. The second is this question of 

intermediaries, which is a topic that's  

received quite a lot of attention in studies of 

indirect rule in Africa, or I think you allude  

to this idea of informal empire and this 

resurgence of interest in the informal empire. 

And obviously, Alberto Prasso, he relied very heavily 

on various kinds of African and possibly even  

Ottoman intermediaries. And it was 

these connections with patrons,  

rulers and enslaved Ethiopians, and the woman 

that he had a child with was very interesting  

to me. Obviously, these various kinds of 

relationships are really at the heart of  

his tense relationship with the Italian state.

But I also thought it was very interesting  

to kind of turn that question of intermediaries on 

its head somewhat and think about how if we unpack  

the imperial strategies of the Ethiopian state 

in perhaps a sort of a longer historical view,  

we can maybe think about how Prasso was also 

acting as an intermediary for the Ethiopian  

Empire and that is maybe a way into kind 

of thinking about the nature of the Ethiopian  

state and the ways in which it is interacting 

with other imperial projects in this moment. 

So that kind of returns me to method. I think, I 

mean, you've excavated a really impressive array  

of sources to build this picture of Alberto 

Prasso's life. And I do think that there is,  

I'm sure there's something to be said about 

what sources are available for writing this  

history from a different perspective, 

maybe more of an Ethiopian perspective. 

And I know this is not necessarily what you are 

most concerned about, but it is something that  

I'm interested in. And so one of the things that 

I guess I could, I want to ask you finally is to  

what extent can we maybe use a micro history 

of Prasso's life as a lens through which we  

can actually foreground more consistently the 

actions and opinions and conceptual frameworks  

of the Ethiopian actors, with 

which he is interacting. I am thinking there  

in terms of, there is some, at least in your, in 

what I've read, reference to his relationship to  

Ethiopian laborers, but also I got a sense that 

maybe he's also working with Ethiopian traders as 

well. And so just sort of trying to use 

this micro history in a way that gets at  

these varied actors in a different way. 

I'll leave it at that. Shall I respond?  

Thank you so much, Hollian. I want to discuss 

all of this more with you and have some book  

recommendations I'll ask for. But I think the 

best place to begin is kind of with more of a  

background on Ethiopia itself, which I kind of 

cut from this talk in part because of length. 

But Ethiopia and I think perhaps the most 

important historiographical source I was working  

from, as I was writing this case study,

is actually [. . .] PhD dissertation 

and he writes precisely following the

publishing of Neocolonialism and  

British Gentlemanly Capitalism 

and Overseas Expansion. And he's looking at  

the Gambella concession, which is a British 

trading post operated on the Baro River,  

but also comes up in his account because he's 

actually such a fake figure that because of his  

role as this intermediary, as you say, between 

the Ethiopian imperial state and this periphery  

and his status as a European, which in a sense 

gives him access in the way that other Ethiopians 

were not given access to European financiers 

and political circles. He's kind of continually  

brought up. So I also thought it was important 

to actually tell his story incomplete rather than  

necessarily have him always as this 

figure on the background.

So Ethiopia at this point in time, if we go 

back in history, you know, the 19th century,  

Egypt and the Ottomans are basically expanding 

down the Red Sea coast. And when the  

Ottomans basically fall back, the Italians come 

in and take over these posts. And so this is  

really much how the Italians become involved 

in East Africa, they see these ports  

like, it's just port cities, it's Massawa, it's 

Mogadishu, they see them as opportunities and  

then they slowly and slowly encroach further 

and further and towards Ethiopia. 

It's hard to say that was ever even, depending 

on who was in power, there was more or a more  

explicit and or a less explicit intention for 

conquest. 1896 is led by [. . .] and he

has this idea of conquest, but it's very kind of 

anomalous within the Italian state, which I think,  

you know, the concept of the emigrant empire here 

kind of comes in. And I returned to that in a minute. 

So when the Italians arrive, when Prasso arrives, 

kind of the most important people in Ethiopia  

are, not the most important people, but 

the people who are kind of creating networks  

linking the Horn to wider European markets, and 

the Indian Ocean, and wider African markets, are a  

number of people who have kind of come with the 

Ottomans and are part of the Ottoman diaspora. 

So this includes a lot of Greek, Jewish, kind 

of Leventine traders, Syrians who end up a kind  

of operating strategic posts within the Ethiopian 

government and within kind of Ethiopian commercial  

society as bankers, as custom house owners, 

including in regions like Illubabor.  

And so these are the people that Prasso is in a 

sense most akin to when he arrives in Ethiopia. 

And you can see that actually Prasso's 

predecessor and a predecessor concessionaire  

is the man who was a Manchester-born

Syrian named Hasid Ydibli,

who is operating basically as its own

personal fiefdom, this region.  

And he eventually gets transferred to [. . .]

to manage the tax revenue there. But  

it's really a way for the Ethiopian state, which 

doesn't quite hold these regions at this point. 

As you know, direct occupational control to extract 

tax revenue from them. And so this is kind of a  

way in which Menelik who understands kind of the 

limitations of his forces after 1896, is trying  

to hold on to this territory, as the British 

are claiming it, as the French are claiming it,  

by actually substantiating that 

territory through granting concessions. 

And if you look at Ethiopian law, kind 

of the very act of granting a concession is  

a claim to imperial sovereignty because of 

the way in which under Ethiopian law, land  

is basically all public domain that 

is then granted by the sovereign  

to be used in more or less in different 

indefinite periods to various individuals.  

So it's really this act of extending sovereignty.

So Prasso comes in as this intermediary. I do  

think he's very alike the Greeks and the Armenians 

and these various Ottoman intermediaries. And  

that's actually something that I bring up in 

my next chapter is how the Italians try to  

distance their settler population from these 

kinds of intermediaries, because that's very  

similar to Italian emigrant imperialism, 

what I call emigrant imperialism.

I think it's very helpful to kind of go 

back to the oldest history, the old renaissance  

history of Italian merchant capitalism. And in that 

Italians are migrant populations of a Genovese,  

they kind of travel around the world. They 

establish merchant houses and customs houses  

in various port cities. They're not necessarily 

interested in controlling vast amounts of land,  

particularly because they just don't have the 

resources, but rather in controlling kind of  

nodal points and trade that allows them to either 

make profits or to exact tax revenue. 

So that's really kind of the role that these 

immigrant imperialists are playing. They're  

establishing businesses, they're placing 

themselves as kind of networks that link the  

Metropole to various parts of the world. And it's 

not necessarily required a lot of state backing,  

no state risk involved, but it does generate state 

income in that these people send remittances. They  

establish companies that are engaged in trading 

with Italy and they kind of become important  

people locally like Prasso, who if Prasso had been 

so inclined, could have advocated for Italian  

interests with the Ethiopian Imperial Court. I 

actually have no idea whether he did or he didn't,  

simply because those archival records 

from the Ethiopian perspective are, to my 

knowledge, entirely... I think they 

exist, but I don't think they're available.  

Of course, there's maybe another way I can get 

about this, and I'm looking at published memoirs  

and papers and things like that to kind of 

understand who we interacted with, because he  

interacted with incredibly important people.

Ras Tasamma, in the last year of his life as the  

regent of Ethiopia after Menelik's death. 

So there should be archival evidence 

there. I just need to get through it.  

So I want to kind of speak to these kind of 

broader tensions and maybe I'll just kind of  

answer one of your questions and then we'll 

see if I can move on to Q&A, if there is any.  

I think it's really important to kind of lift the 

British and French bias and to also think kind of  

across empires and think about these continuities.

And that's kind of one of the exciting things  

about studying the Italian empire, is that 

precisely because of these capital shortages,  

it operates in a very different way. And in a 

sense it doesn't confine to our neat geographical  

borders. You know, this is the British Empire or 

this is the French Empire, and in a sense shows  

the certain porousness that might,

in my opinion, reflect a greater  

reality of what imperialism was and is.

And so that's why I like to look at capital  

and I like to look at businesses and I like to 

look at people. And so I think thinking about Italy  

and thinking also about Prasso's role in 

kind of substantiating and expanding as an  

intermediary of the Ethiopian empire really 

changes the kind of narrative of British  

and French contest over this region as kind of 

the headquarters of the Nile and responsible for  

feeding all of the Egyptian delta and

important agricultural investments there. 

So I'm going to stop there. If there's any 

other questions, we can keep going.

If there are other parts of what Hollian has 

just offered, I think you could continue to  

respond for the moment. Or Hollian, if you have 

interventions to make at this point, you as well.  

Yeah, the connection kind of cut, 

it was a little unstable at one point, 

so I didn't hear everything 

that Hollian said. Oh, okay. 

Particularly when you were talking about 

infrastructures and capital. Well, I was just  

sort of drawing comparisons between historiographies,

really, in terms there is a kind of a  

new burgeoning scholarship of the new history of 

capitalism in Africa, which is really interested  

in these questions of financial networks and how 

these are kind of facilitating really forms of  

what we used to call neocolonialism.

And you use the term neocolony at one  

point in your paper and I was just interested in it.

It comes from [. . .], who refers to Ethiopia  

as the first... the argument of his dissertation is 

that Ethiopia is basically the first neocolonial  

concession in Africa. In terms of... In terms of 

the companies operating in the southwest.  

Well, I also think this is a

very interesting question that's  

particular to the Horn of Africa, because I'm also 

thinking about recent work on Egypt, right?

And the veiled protectorate and the sort of the 

central role that finance capital is playing  

in these forms of informal empire. And I think 

that's what you ended up saying, that  

the Italian case really does maybe present a more 

realistic view of empire in some ways, right?  

As it's speaking to these kind

of complex financial networks  

that actually do form empire in

these areas that are not I mean,  

yes, territorial colonialism is obviously an 

important dynamic on the continent of Africa. 

But even in those spaces, you have mining 

companies that have some form  

of sovereignty and actually provide a continuity 

between formal empire and neocolonialism. And  

so there is some dynamics that I think 

are particularly interesting in the Horn of  

Africa and in Ethiopia in particular, that 

really have a lot to teach us about  

thinking about empire more broadly.

Yeah, as I was preparing I  

just reread Philip Stern's The Company-State, and I 

thought that was perfect. Another book on the  

relationships and contracts, and I think

that was actually a really good... in India.  

And so I thought it was a very good 

example of how... So Philip Stern's book  

makes the argument that the early modern 

company is in essence a akin in its forms  

and in its rights to a kind of nation in 

that it possesses many of the same kind  

of qualities and powers as a sovereign power.

And in some sense, you can think in the early  

modern world about how companies were, in essence, 

rivals to nation states as a way of consolidating  

power. And I think if you particularly look 

at empires, you can kind of actually see this  

playing out far past the early modern world 

all the way up until as I've shown, 1930  

and perhaps even afterwards. Particularly if 

you look at the involvement of various  

companies in Ethiopian postwar period 

and in the Horn of Africa more broadly. 

So I thought that that was a really helpful way of 

also thinking about Prasso and it also confines to  

the kind of ways in which concessionaires, not so 

much Prasso, but usually his predecessor really  

exercised power. He had his own personal 

army, his predecessor, which he used and  

kind of became a big problem, obviously. 

And then actually they bring him back,  

they bring back this army around the 

time Prasso was there to govern. 

And he becomes the governor of the 

region, the guy who led the army,  

who's also not Ethiopian. He's Yemeni, I believe.

He governs the province actually up until 1935.  

So there really is this interplay 

between capital and companies.  

And I think it's also important to think about 

companies not just in their liberal formation,  

but also how companies were 

construed in Africa by Africans,  

and that it's not necessarily a, you 

know, invention of European liberalism. 

Well, I mean, that's where the interesting 

comparisons that you're drawing between  

someone like Prasso and these Armenians 

and Greeks and traders who had... I mean,  

they have a much longer history in the region. 

I do wonder about this question of the  

continuity between liberal and fascist empire. 

It's out of my wheelhouse, to be honest. 

As you mentioned, that this is 

a big debate in Italian   

historiography. A dead debate. A dead

debate, sorry, the dead debate. But I do wonder  

it's not really a sort of part of this story, but 

about really the kind of ideologies of difference  

that, you know, have defined

colonialism in other historiographies.

And, you know, one of the things that stands 

out about Prasso is, I would call him, being  

sort of a Creole actor or, you know,

he lives a rather Creole life, at least. 

And I wonder whether there is 

with this sort of shift to more  

direct investment by the Italian state 

in the kind of latter stage that you  

identify. Is that accompanied by shifting 

ideologies of racial difference?  

I think it depends always on the who.

I can say that under Italian law at  

the time that Adolfo Prasso was registered as a 

citizen and up until the Italian invasion, under  

Italian law, Italo-Ethiopian children, just like 

Italo-Eritrean children and Italo-Somali children,  

were recognized as Italian citizens so 

long as their father recognized them. 

That didn't mean that it was done that often. 

And actually Prasso notes that when he did it,  

it wasn't often done. And it doesn't mean that 

it did not raise concerns within the Italian  

Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Actually, 

the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs  

constantly refers to Adolfo Prasso in kind of 

racially derogatory terms in their correspondence,  

even though by 19 Adolfo Prasso

winds up marrying a Belgian woman,  

and it looks like his father's very

upset about this marriage and they  

have a big falling out.

And after this period,  

Adolfo becomes the main informant of the Italian 

Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the company  

and its actions and basically works on their 

behalf as a spy also in Western Ethiopia to kind of secure  

that Gasparini can take over this 

region. And he actually continues with that during  

the Italian occupation and invasion of Ethiopia.

He's one of the main informants and he's actually  

sent as a diplomat to negotiate the surrender of 

Western Ethiopia. So when the Italians invade,  

they basically get stopped at 1936 in Addis 

Ababa, but kind of in the historiography that's,  

you know, they declare the empire and the war 

is over. And in Europe, that's kind of it's  

all said and done.

Actually, that's  

a complete fiction that Mussolini somehow got in 

everybody's eyes. He barely occupied the country.  

They couldn't even get people to

and from Asmara and Addis Ababa.

Particularly in Western Ethiopia, there's a 

provisional government that was established by  

Haile Selassie before he left for  

Geneva and then back. And there's  

the Western Oromo Confederation, which 

is led by a Oromo in Western Ethiopia,  

who bring a proposal to the League of Nations to 

themselves declared a British protectorate so that  

they will not be colonized by the Italians.

So Adolfo Prasso is actually sent to negotiate  

with both the Western Oromo Confederacy and the 

provisional government and to have this  

region surrender. And he ends up being killed 

by the Black Lions who are also in this region  

at the time. And this kind of is one of 

the main like massacres that the Italians  

like to talk about a lot and memorialized.

And he's only one of two Italo-Africans in the  

war who gets awarded a gold, he gets awarded a big 

important medal, and he actually gets memorialized  

publicly because his face is in the paper and 

everything, but that eventually disappears.  

But initially, he's kind of seen as this very 

important figure. So there's this weird...  

It's clear that they think about race

and they don't think about Alberto and  

or Adolfo as equivalent, but they also realize 

that Alberto Prasso is kind of like not the most,  

what they call, not the most

indigenized of the Italians in Ethiopia. 

They compare him to one of his business partners 

who dresses as an Ethiopian and lives there. And  

they think he's totally unacceptable. And they 

actually were considering replacing Prasso with  

this business partner. But they decided 

that process more European and therefore  

more acceptable, despite all of their problems 

with him. So race is clearly there, but I'm not  

sure whether it's necessarily more important 

than their strategic interests at this moment. 

And I think that's a really interesting 

way of thinking about how they're  

how they're willing to kind of manipulate 

that for their advantage in this period.  

I think that final comment just shows

the incredible richness of this biography  

that you've chosen, as Hollian was saying, as a 

method for understanding this period, imperialism,  

commercialism, the intersections, fascism.

I mean, it's an amazingly rich story out of which  

you've told us so much about the constellation 

of forces in this area at this time. I mean,  

it's really quite extraordinary. So, 

really, thank you for that wonderful  

insight and thank you, Hollian, for your 

extraordinarily penetrating questions. They were  

really great. That really helped to open it up.

So just a final word to our audience also.  

Thank you for participating and please 

continue to follow us on our website  

and on Facebook for future talks. So for 

now, thank you so much to both of you.

Duration: 01:17:13