Abyssinians salute a picture of Benito Mussolini after Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935. Ian Campbell’s The Addis Ababa Massacre gives an incisive account of the 1937 slaughter of 30,000 people. Popperfoto / Getty Images.
Abyssinians salute a picture of Benito Mussolini after Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935. Ian Campbell’s The Addis Ababa Massacre gives an incisive account of the 1937 slaughter of 30,000 people. Popperf

Book review: The Addis Ababa Massacre, when Ethiopia ran with blood

Italy, at the dawn of the 20th century, was Europe’s poor man. Rome looked with bitterness at its European neighbours. They had vast colonial possessions abroad. Italy, recently unified, was an upstart. Its greatness lay behind it. An intense desire to reclaim what was lost ignited the imaginations of Italy’s most revered luminaries.

Gabrielle D'Annunzio, Italy's greatest poet and dramatist, exhorted his compatriots to restore their nation's illustrious past through territorial conquest. His play The Ship mixed sex and violence with an hypnotic message of empire and glory. Its premiere in 1908 culminated with crowds spilling out into the streets chanting the most memorable dialogue from the performance: "Fit out the prow and set sail for the world."

In 1911, on the 50th anniversary of the country’s founding, Italy proceeded to conquer Libya. Italy’s brutality stands out even in what became the most brutal century in human history. Italian forces in Tripoli, in the words of one observer, went “mad with the lust for blood.

All the Arabs they met, men, women and children, even babes at the breast – were shot down without trial.” About 4,000 Arabs, it is estimated, were butchered by Italians in Libya over three days in October 1911.

The zealous rush to restore Italy’s lost greatness through conquest not only predated fascism by a decade but fascism, it might be argued, grew in part from the bruised national ego that prompted Italians to impose themselves on defenceless people in faraway lands.

“Remember,” the Italian military commander Rodolfo Graziani told his forces as they “pacified” Libya by rounding up Arabs into concentration camps, “you are Italians, Romans, and remember that your forebears were once in this country”.

Italy, in its self-conception, had not only been destitute by virtue of not having an empire. It had also to confront the humiliating fact that it had been routed by an African power when it set out to build an empire in the 19th century. Italy’s military defeat in 1896 to Ethiopia was a special wound in the long list of grievances that underpinned its renewed search for grandeur on the world’s stage. This time, it made extensive preparations before advancing on Ethiopia.

It built a chemical weapons factory on 30 acres of land near Mogadishu in Somalia. The quantities of lethal gases produced at that facility were so large that no fewer than 17 warehouses had to be propped up to store them. The Italians stockpiled 35,000 gas masks for their own safety.

Ethiopians stood no chance as the Italians showed up in 1935. They were gassed on the ground and strafed from the skies. Ethiopia was overwhelmed. Bruno Mussolini, son of the Duce, wrote newspaper articles about clusters of Ethiopians “bursting open like a rose” when bombed from above. He admitted to finding this spectacle “most amusing”.

Despite its savagery, Italy regarded itself as an agent of civilisation in Africa. Tens of thousands of Ethiopians were exterminated, the journalist George Steer wrote bitterly, so “that civilisation should prevail”.

Pope Pius XI congratulated Italians on a “beautiful victory by a great and good people”. The defeat of 1896 was avenged and Italy now had an empire.

Much of this history forms the background to The Addis Ababa Massacre: Italy's National Shame, Ian Campbell's blow-by-blow account of the killings supervised and undertaken by Italian forces in the Ethiopian capital in 1937.

Empire, Campbell shows in this masterly history, did not temper the bloodlust of Italians. Ethiopia’s invasion, for all its horrors, had been swift. Its occupation was a protracted calvary. Ethiopian prisoners were frequently used for target practice, shot first in the testicles and then in the chest. Graziani, installed as fascist Italy’s viceroy in Addis Ababa, was under strict instructions from the Duce to execute all prisoners.

No self-respecting people could endure the sadism that passed for civilised governance. And in February 1937, grenades were hurled at Graziani as he delivered a speech before an Ethiopian audience. Graziani survived. No Italians were killed. But amid the confusion, Italian soldiers opened fire with heavy machine guns at the Ethiopian audience.

As the crowds dispersed, the exits were sealed off. What ensued, Campbell writes, was a holocaust. This was not a moment of madness. Throughout the day, Italian soldiers and Blackshirts ran amok in the streets and suburbs of the city. They split the heads of Ethiopians they captured with pickaxes and shovels. Every native was a target.

“Men, women and children were taken unawares and killed indiscriminately and without explanation. Going home for lunch or stopping for a chat, unsuspecting and defenceless, they were ruthlessly struck down in broad daylight in the main streets … among the eucalyptus groves and the hedgerows, around market stalls, on bridges, in tiny lanes and narrow alleys.”

The killings were accompanied by loot. Italian Blackshirts made trips to the bank to cash in the jewellery they seized from their victims. Upper-class neighbourhoods of Addis Ababa were spared only because Italians coveted the properties.

More than 19,000 Ethiopians were killed in Addis Ababa by the time the Italians had exhausted themselves. (Across Ethiopia, the figure is north of 30,000.) Eyewitnesses to the massacre gathered ample evidence, including photographs of Italians posing with severed heads of Ethiopians.

The English suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst led an heroic effort to indict Graziani and the Italian apparatus of occupation. It was only when Britain went to war with Italy that Addis Ababa was liberated and Haile Selassie, the exiled Ethiopian emperor, made a triumphant return to his capital.

Campbell, in one of the most affecting passages in this arresting book, contrasts the magnanimity of the emperor with the conduct of the Italians, many thousands of whom still lurked around in Addis Ababa.

In a passionate speech that enumerated the many crimes committed by Italy, the man cast by Rome as a primitive barbarian urged his people not to “repay evil with evil”. “Do not indulge in the atrocities which the enemy has been practising,” he told them. “Take care not to spoil the good name of Ethiopia by acts that are worthy of the enemy.”

A militia of 10,000 Ethiopians was among the crowd that listened to emperor Selassie; they went home without harming a single Italian.

Selassie sought justice through legal means. His efforts were frustrated by London. Campbell has unearthed a top-secret letter written by Winston Churchill in 1944, after the fall of Rome, instructing his envoy in Italy to protect Pietro Badoglio, the man who had gassed Ethiopians and was listed in Addis Ababa’s dossier of evidence as the top war criminal. The British government headed by Churchill went to extraordinary lengths to discredit eyewitness accounts of the Addis Ababa massacre and London eventually thwarted Selassie’s bid for Ethiopia’s inclusion in the UN War Crimes Commission.

The British government’s behaviour, in contrast to the solidarity and activism of its people, was a shameful coda to the story of Italy’s occupation of Ethiopia. Campbell delicately calls Churchill’s actions “curious”. But the unwillingness to see white Europeans prosecuted for crimes against black Ethiopians was in keeping with Churchill’s overall world view. He was an unabashed white supremacist who mobilised his nation against Nazi Germany, and not, as his hagiographers relentlessly strive to portray him, a champion of universal freedom and neutral justice. An early advocate, by his own admission, of “using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes”, Churchill would have seen Graziani and Badoglio as kindred spirits, not embodiments of evil.

The consequence of Churchill’s prejudice was that no Italian was ever prosecuted for crimes in Ethiopia. For its part, Italy, far from exhibiting remorse, clamoured in earnest for sovereignty over Ethiopia. And the United Nations, rather than throwing out this demand, debated it. And finally, when Italy and Addis Ababa restored diplomatic relations, the Italians did not feel the need to apologise for their past.

It’s as if the occupation of Ethiopia and the massacre of Addis Ababa never occurred. In 2012, a rightwing mayor in an Italian town erected a statue to Graziani. It has since become a site of protest, drawing crowds of Italians who want their country to own up to its record in Africa.

Ian Campbell has performed a tremendous service by rescuing from historical neglect and European propaganda the stories of the victims of 20th-century Italy’s homicidal push for greatness. Eighty years have passed since the massacre of Addis Ababa. It is still not too late for Rome to make a full apology to Ethiopia.

Kapil Komireddi is a frequent contributor to The Review.


Through Her Lens: The stories behind the photography of Eva Sereny

Forewords by Jacqueline Bisset and Charlotte Rampling, ACC Art Books



55kg brown-black belt: Amal Amjahid (BEL) bt Amanda Monteiro (BRA) via choke
62kg brown-black belt: Bianca Basilio (BRA) bt Ffion Davies (GBR) via referee’s decision (0-0, 2-2 adv)
70kg brown-black belt: Ana Carolina Vieira (BRA) bt Jessica Swanson (USA), 9-0
90kg brown-black belt: Angelica Galvao (USA) bt Marta Szarecka (POL) 8-2


62kg black belt: Joao Miyao (BRA) bt Wan Ki-chae (KOR), 7-2
69kg black belt: Paulo Miyao (BRA) bt Gianni Grippo (USA), 2-2 (1-0 adv)
77kg black belt: Espen Mathiesen (NOR) bt Jake Mackenzie (CAN)
85kg black belt: Isaque Braz (BRA) bt Faisal Al Ketbi (UAE), 2-0
94kg black belt: Felipe Pena (BRA) bt Adam Wardzinski (POL), 4-0
110kg black belt final: Erberth Santos (BRA) bt Lucio Rodrigues (GBR) via rear naked choke

The specs

Engine: 1.8-litre 4-cyl turbo
Power: 190hp at 5,200rpm
Torque: 320Nm from 1,800-5,000rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch auto
Fuel consumption: 6.7L/100km
Price: From Dh111,195
On sale: Now

Signs of heat stroke
  • The loss of sodium chloride in our sweat can lead to confusion and an altered mental status and slurred speech
  • Body temperature above 39°C
  • Hot, dry and red or damp skin can indicate heatstroke
  • A faster pulse than usual
  • Dizziness, nausea and headaches are also signs of overheating
  • In extreme cases, victims can lose consciousness and require immediate medical attention
UAE currency: the story behind the money in your pockets
Company Profile

Name: HyveGeo
Started: 2023
Founders: Abdulaziz bin Redha, Dr Samsurin Welch, Eva Morales and Dr Harjit Singh
Based: Cambridge and Dubai
Number of employees: 8
Industry: Sustainability & Environment
Funding: $200,000 plus undisclosed grant
Investors: Venture capital and government

Confirmed bouts (more to be added)

Cory Sandhagen v Umar Nurmagomedov
Nick Diaz v Vicente Luque
Michael Chiesa v Tony Ferguson
Deiveson Figueiredo v Marlon Vera
Mackenzie Dern v Loopy Godinez

Tickets for the August 3 Fight Night, held in partnership with the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi, went on sale earlier this month, through www.etihadarena.ae and www.ticketmaster.ae.

The specs: Fenyr SuperSport

Price, base: Dh5.1 million

Engine: 3.8-litre twin-turbo flat-six

Transmission: Seven-speed automatic

Power: 800hp @ 7,100pm

Torque: 980Nm @ 4,000rpm

Fuel economy, combined: 13.5L / 100km

Company Profile

Name: Raha
Started: 2022
Based: Kuwait/Saudi
Industry: Tech Logistics
Funding: $14 million
Investors: Soor Capital, eWTP Arabia Capital, Aujan Enterprises, Nox Management, Cedar Mundi Ventures
Number of employees: 166


Company name: Revibe
Started: 2022
Founders: Hamza Iraqui and Abdessamad Ben Zakour
Based: UAE
Industry: Refurbished electronics
Funds raised so far: $10m
Investors: Flat6Labs, Resonance and various others

Day 1 results:

Open Men (bonus points in brackets)
New Zealand 125 (1) beat UAE 111 (3)
India 111 (4) beat Singapore 75 (0)
South Africa 66 (2) beat Sri Lanka 57 (2)
Australia 126 (4) beat Malaysia -16 (0)

Open Women
New Zealand 64 (2) beat South Africa 57 (2)
England 69 (3) beat UAE 63 (1)
Australia 124 (4) beat UAE 23 (0)
New Zealand 74 (2) beat England 55 (2)

Without Remorse

Directed by: Stefano Sollima

Starring: Michael B Jordan



Company name: Almouneer
Started: 2017
Founders: Dr Noha Khater and Rania Kadry
Based: Egypt
Number of staff: 120
Investment: Bootstrapped, with support from Insead and Egyptian government, seed round of
$3.6 million led by Global Ventures

Company profile

Company name: Hayvn
Started: 2018
Founders: Christopher Flinos, Ahmed Ismail
Based: Abu Dhabi, UAE
Sector: financial
Initial investment: undisclosed
Size: 44 employees
Investment stage: series B in the second half of 2023
Investors: Hilbert Capital, Red Acre Ventures


Company name: Klipit

Started: 2022

Founders: Venkat Reddy, Mohammed Al Bulooki, Bilal Merchant, Asif Ahmed, Ovais Merchant

Based: Dubai, UAE

Industry: Digital receipts, finance, blockchain

Funding: $4 million

Investors: Privately/self-funded

Everybody Loves Touda

Director: Nabil Ayouch 

Starring: Nisrin Erradi, Joud Chamihy, Jalila Talemsi

Rating: 4/5

The Africa Institute 101

Housed on the same site as the original Africa Hall, which first hosted an Arab-African Symposium in 1976, the newly renovated building will be home to a think tank and postgraduate studies hub (it will offer master’s and PhD programmes). The centre will focus on both the historical and contemporary links between Africa and the Gulf, and will serve as a meeting place for conferences, symposia, lectures, film screenings, plays, musical performances and more. In fact, today it is hosting a symposium – 5-plus-1: Rethinking Abstraction that will look at the six decades of Frank Bowling’s career, as well as those of his contemporaries that invested social, cultural and personal meaning into abstraction. 

The five pillars of Islam

1. Fasting

2. Prayer

3. Hajj

4. Shahada

5. Zakat

Three trading apps to try

Sharad Nair recommends three investment apps for UAE residents:

  • For beginners or people who want to start investing with limited capital, Mr Nair suggests eToro. “The low fees and low minimum balance requirements make the platform more accessible,” he says. “The user interface is straightforward to understand and operate, while its social element may help ease beginners into the idea of investing money by looking to a virtual community.”
  • If you’re an experienced investor, and have $10,000 or more to invest, consider Saxo Bank. “Saxo Bank offers a more comprehensive trading platform with advanced features and insight for more experienced users. It offers a more personalised approach to opening and operating an account on their platform,” he says.
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25 Days to Aden

Author: Michael Knights

Pages: 256

Available: January 26


1. Mathieu van der Poel (NED) Alpecin-Fenix - 3:45:47

2. David Dekker (NED) Jumbo-Visma - same time

3. Michael Morkov (DEN) Deceuninck-QuickStep   

4. Emils Liepins (LAT) Trek-Segafredo

5. Elia Viviani (ITA) Cofidis

6. Tadej Pogacar (SLO UAE Team Emirates

7. Anthony Roux (FRA) Groupama-FDJ

8. Chris Harper (AUS) Jumbo-Visma - 0:00:03

9. Joao Almeida (POR) Deceuninck-QuickStep         

10. Fausto Masnada (ITA) Deceuninck-QuickStep