Field and river

20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (ICES20)
Mekelle University, Ethiopia

"Regional and Global Ethiopia - Interconnections and Identities"
1-5 October, 2018

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Zaccaria MASSIMO, Università degli Studi di Pavia

Labour historians have always been reluctant to consider military service as work. The general tendency has been to relinquish the issue to military historians, who unfortunately have showed little interest in military labour. The same attitude has characterised Africanist scholarship, which for too long has ignored and marginalised research in the field of military studies. From 1912, the year in which the first Eritrean troops were sent to Libya, the Italian administration faced a shortage of conscripts that was partially addressed by tapping neighbouring countries, like Ethiopia and Yemen. In effect, soldiers were workers in possession of particularly sought after professional skills that facilitated their international mobility. The original nucleus of the Schutztruppe in German East Africa included among its ranks Sudanese recruited in Cairo as well as from Portuguese East Africa. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that in 1912, Dante Odorizzi, regional commissioner of Assab (Eritrea), discussing the mobility he had noticed among the Afar, pointed out how there had been some who had gone as far as Dar al-Salam in order to enroll in the Schutztruppe, or to Kassala and Ghedaref, to join the Sudanese army. This paper analyses Italian recruitment practices in Ethiopia and Yemen, two countries that contributed tens of thousands of men to the Italian colonial armies in Eritrea and Somalia. The paper will illustrate and discuss the transnational dimension of military work in this part of Africa and will show how transnational mobility represented, in recruitment and service practices, one of the major features of military labour in the Horn of Africa.