Anglo-Ethiopian Relations 1869-1906: A Study of British Policy in Ethiopia

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Anglo-Ethiopian Relations 1869-1906: A Study of British Policy in Ethiopia. By K. V. Ram. New Delhi, India: Concept Publishing Company, 2009. Pp. xv, 262; maps, bibliography, index. Rs 6.50 cloth.

The present work examines British foreign policy in Northeast Africa during the era of high imperialism, with a primary focus on Ethiopia. Building upon his previous book, which considered an earlier period, the author's principal argument is that "British policy was motivated and guided by strategic considerations" (p. 245), with economic concerns playing a minimal role. The work thus aims to extend Robinson and Gallagher's influential interpretation of British imperialism to Northeast Africa.

Following an introduction that outlines the broad contours of British policy towards Ethiopia, the work proceeds chronologically. The first chapter sets the stage by examining British policy debates in the aftermath of the 1968 Napier Expedition, while the second and third chapters trace the increasing impact of Britain's Egyptian interests on its Ethiopian policy, from its reluctant support of Egypt's invasion in 1872-1876 to the Hewett Treaty of 1884. Chapter 4 examines Britain's informal support for Italian expansion following the occupation of Egypt and the Mahdist revolt in Sudan, while Chapter 5 examines the growing gap between British and Italian aims in the 1890s. Chapter 6 examines Ethiopian-British relations through border negotiations involving Somaliland, Sudan, and British East Africa, while Chapters 7 and 8 describe the intricate imperial politics surrounding the Djibouti railway concession and the Tripartite Treaty of 1906. A conclusion presents the author's main argument.

Unfortunately, there are a number of significant problems with this work. One major shortcoming is the author's failure to address the existing literature related to his subject. Diplomacy and the drama of imperial politics in Northeast Africa have been well studied by specialists,1 but the author rarely acknowledges, complicates, or otherwise engages the arguments of even the authoritative works. As a result, it is somewhat unclear what his specialized study adds to our understanding of this period. In addition, and perhaps more significantly, the author does not sufficiently engage the substantial body of scholarship devoted to the dynamics of British imperialism. Although the author clearly aligns himself with Robinson and Gallagher in the conclusion, it is only in Chapters 7 and 8 that the interplay between "the official mind" and economic considerations in the formulation of policy is evident. In addition, the author's analysis in earlier chapters periodically contradicts this later argument (cf. …