By LAWRENCE ATIIILL
HIDDEN, perhaps, by more immediate issues,, a problem of immense importance lies in wait for us in Africa : the problem of the cultural and political future of the African races. Its solution will not be dictated by the white colonial powers alone. Africans, as the years pass, will have more and more say in it, and no one who knows the quick intelligence, racial pride and flair for politics of the Ethiopian can doubt that Ethiopia will play a leading part. Which way will she lead, towards or away from friendship and co- operation with the white races? The answer to that question is even today being shaped by the degree of friendship and under- standing which Ethiopia believes that she can find in us. I do not think she is finding very much.
We have done a lot for Ethiopia. We have restored her indepen- dence, lent or given her money, material, advice and services It is true that she should be very grateful to us. But it is also true that we have hurt, sometimes quite shockingly, the feelings of many Ethiopians. Naturally, after our professions at Geneva, they bitterly resented our failure to intervene in 1935. Those who preferred exile to acceptance of Italian rule, sore from defeat and inflamed by con- sciousness of high, if vain, endeavour, in many cases felt ignored and slighted in the lands which gave them refuge. Worst of all, the white element of the army of liberation, largely drawn from coun- tries where the colour bar prevails, left a trail of injured feelings which almost obscured its gift of freedom. Say, if you like, that it was done without intention. Blame, if you like, the hypersensitive- ness of the Ethiopian. But you will not change the fact.
Let us then face it. During the last decade psychological damage has been done to a generation of Ethiopians who will have a great deal to do with the direction of their future policy. So far, with all our benefactions, we have not managed to get across our sym- pathy and understanding of Ethiopia's difficulties and ambitions in anything like enough volume to make good that damage. One of the reasons for this is that, by and large, we have not understood. These have been some of the doubts. Is not Ethiopia, we have asked, still so wedded to barbarity as to be a difficult neighbour and a doubtful friend except in leading strings? Are the Emperor and his government, who, as we all know, can speak the language of civilisation admirably, really desirous or capable of enforcing its precepts? The very act of voicing these questions will hurt more feelings. But, to clear the air, they must be voiced and answered.
Ethiopia has its barbarous people. The nomads of Dahkalia are wild and treacherous. In the south and south-west tribal animosities, sometimes transgressing the borders of British territory, have expressed themselves in massacre and outrage. The Gallas and Somalis of the south-east have a long tradition of raid and counter- raid. Some of the fringes of our Empire within the last twenty years have shown a picture not dissimilar to this. Nearer the heart of Ethiopia there are strongholds of hill and forest where lawless men can harbour, and stretches of road where, as in Eritrea, high- way robbery occurs from time to time. These facts should neither be ignored nor overstressed, but because the wilder areas are those nearest to our borders conditions in them are too often taken as typical of Ethiopia generally. This is unjust.
Ethiopians on the whole, of both Amhara and Galla stock, are neither barbarous nor bloodthirsty. They are suspicious, but, their suspicions once dispelled, kindly and hospitable. They are poor in handicraft but rich in humour. They have a close and ancient social structure, capable of improvement and now in process of reform. The army of liberation did not like them, finding them sullen or strident, acquisitive and difficult. This was not unnatural after six years of foreign conquest and rule. But the mood has passed and their traditional courtesy has returned. As for their blood- thirstiness, the truly remarkable rarity of bloodshed and reprisals which has marked their emergency from foreign domination gives the lie direct to that.
No one who has followed his record can doubt the sincerity and devotion with which the Emperor, during all his years of power, has worked to raise his people in the civilised scale. But there is a common belief, how founded I do not know, that he is frustrated by a party of reaction which would welcome a return to feudalism and isolation. Of course, there are some more conservative than others among his Ministers and counsellors ; men loth to depart too drastically from a system of which they have long experience in favour of one of, to them, 1- iproved merit. But I doubt if there is one man of influence in the councils of the State who wishes to put back the clock or does not share the Emperor's determination to see Ethiopia acknowledged as a civilised and progressive nation.
On the other hand, there is a universal determination not to buy progress or prosperity at the cost of independence or prestige. Young Ethiopia especially is bent on proving that it can run its own show. It intends to make sure, perhaps at an economic sacrifice, that the admission of foreign enterprise does not mean big profits leaving the country in foreign pockets. It resents furiously anything that smacks of condescension, and looks at both sides of every gift, whether of ideas or more material things, to see if it has a string to it. This may make it prickly in negotiation and delay progress, but it is not unhealthy, reactionary or xenophobe.
There was a time when feudal chiefs in the strongholds of their provinces could snap their fingers at the central government. Those days have gone. In distant and difficult areas the Government's writ may run haltingly for lack of organisation, transport and communi- cations. There are outlaws who are hard to bring to book. In 1943 a rebellion staged by a small chief in the north was only crushed after heavy fighting. But throughout Ethiopia there is no self-con- stituted authority which seriously challenges, or seems to wish to challenge, that of the Emperor's Government. To meet the reason- able demands of neighbouring British administrations a special effort has been made, with considerable success, to police the unruly borders ; but, apart from this, the civilising influences of education, properly trained and paid police, and reformed administration may generally be said to be spreading in centrifugal ripples from the centre,
This, I think, is very different to the picture which many people have formed of Ethiopia. The unmitigated and widely published horrors of the slave-catching days are still remembered, sometimes with doubt as to whether they have quite vanished. There is no justification for that doubt. The abuses of the feudal system in the extortions and oppression practised by unpaid officials and their satellites were too well advertised by Italian propaganda to be for- gotten easily. I imagine that there are areas where this corpse still stirs, in spite of Government edicts. The growth of the Government's power to pay its servants will lay it once for all. Conversely, economic breakdown would revive it.
We must not try to over-understand Ethiopia. We shall never quite see through Ethiopian eyes, nor Ethiopians through ours. Nor must we under-estimate Ethiopian difficulties, the lack of money, of transport, of almost every material essential to efficient government. Education, the Emperor's special pigeon, deserving a chapter to itself, is hideously handicapped by shortage of books and teachers. The machinery of government creaks in many directions. But the motive force is there. That force springs from young Ethiopia's amazing zeal for education and progress. It may be callow, doomed to some degree of disappointment, apt to relapse into the unpractical. But it is real, generous and alive. It marks, to my mind, a most notable renaissance. I have lived with young Ethiopia for five years, and I know the warmth and depth with which it repays genuine sympathy. If we can find a way to show that we believe in it, that we really want it to succeed in its great adventure, that we do not suspect or despise or want to exploit it, we shall not fail to win a real friend in a world where real friendship grows too rare.