Italy's Colonies in the War

[The American Review of Reviews, January 1918]

The vivifying influence of the great war has been even more noticeable in the colonies of the powers composing the Entente than in the home countries themselves, and it has led in France, and more especially in Italy, to a greatly intensified use of the latent powers of the colonial possessions.

The failure on the part of Italy to utilize and develop the resources of her .African colonies in the past served to support the discredit cast by many Italians upon the colonial policy of that country, the critics affirming that the new acquisitions were essentially and irremediably unproductive. When Italy embarked in the war it was realized that she must solve without delay the problem of placing the colonial administrations in such a condition that while the demands upon the mother country were reduced to a minimum, the contributions furnished by the colonies should be increased to a maximum. Some of the results attained in this direction are presented by Signor Aldobrandino Malvezzi in Nuova Antologia:

As a consequence of the new policy the colonies of Eritrea and Somaliland have not only been self-sufficing during the past two years, in spite of drought and the drawbacks occasioned by the prevalence of epizoötic diseases, but have been able to contribute to an appreciable extent toward the needs of the home country.

In Eritrea the preparation of canned meats for export, to be used in the Italian army, has been quite successfully carried on since 1913, but the output was notably increased after the beginning of the war, and a contract to furnish 8,000,000 cans of meat annually for a three-year period has been made by the packers Torrigiani with the Italian War Department.

Other valuable exports are hides to the value of over 17,000,000 lire in the three years, 1915, 1916, and 1917, while the value of the nuts of the ivory-palm, used in button manufacture, as are those so largely imported by us from Colombia and Ecuador, was $140,000 in 1915, $200,000 in 1916, and reached a still higher figure in 1917. Moreover, the production of cereals has been so much intensified that with the coming year the colony will not only be self-sustaining, but will be able to export grain to Italy in considerable quantity.

A still more important contribution of Eritrea to Italy's war needs comes from the rich deposits of chlorate of potash, which is exported not only to the mother country, but also to France, England, and Japan. Considerable exports of grain have also been made from Somaliland, as well as of hides, of which $200,000 worth were sent in 1916, and the same amount in the first half of the year just ended.

Italy's most recent conquest, Tripoli, would have proved a much richer source of supply than her other colonies, were it not for the disturbed political conditions in this region, where the authority of the mother country was not yet firmly established when the war broke out. In spite of these drawbacks, however, every effort is being made to develop the agricultural resources of this colony, and already with fair success.

But if Italy cannot under present conditions draw from Tripoli the supplies she might otherwise find there, this colony has furnished her with a large, contingent of workers, who are employed in manufacture and for labor of various kinds. They are subjected to military control and are under the supervision of colonial officials who understand their language and customs. The writer emphasizes the fact that in making the fullest economic use of her colonies in this crisis, Italy is really doing them the best possible service toward the development of their resources, the result being a strengthening of the ties that bind them to the mother country.

When the war shall have come to an end, Europe will have to organize and discipline the native workers in the colonies under intelligent direction. After having made the natives participate in the tasks of war it will be both wise and just to associate them with those of peace. In this way, in the vast colonial field, a practical application will be found for the principle of elevating the moral and material standards of the peoples, a principle for the defense, of which we are engaged in a conflict against oppression. For Italy her colonies should not be merely exploited as were those of Spain, nor should they be allowed to fall as ripe fruit from the parent tree; they should become members of a single living organism extending beyond the natural confines of the home country.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald

The Headlong Fury