Treaty of Wuchale

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Treaty of Wuchale (also spelled Treaty of Ucciale; Italian: Trattato di Uccialli, Amharic: የውጫሌ ውል) was a treaty signed between the empire of Ethiopia and the kingdom of Italy. King Menelik II of Shewa, later the Emperor of Ethiopia, and Count Pietro Antonelli of Italy, on 2 May 1889, established the treaty after the Italian occupation of Eritrea. It was signed in the small Ethiopian town of Wuchale, from which the treaty got its name. The purpose of the treaty was to promote friendship and trade among the two countries.[1] It was a treaty to maintain a positive long lasting relationship between the two empires.[2] The treaty has twenty articles written in two languages, Amharic and Italian. There were slight differences between the Italian and the Amharic version of the treaty which created miscommunications between the two countries. Specifically, Article 17 of the treaty was translated differently between the two versions. This difference in translation created disagreement and resulted in the treaty being denounced by Menelik II in 1893.[3] When Menelik II denounced the treaty, Italy attempted to forcefully impose protectorate status over Ethiopia in the First Italo-Ethiopian War, which ended with Italy's defeat at the Battle of Adwa and the Treaty of Addis Ababa.[4]


Around the time the treaty was signed, European colonization was highly expanding in Africa. Vast territories of Eritrea and Somalia, Ethiopian bordering countries, were under the occupation of Italy. Italy desired to expand its territories by colonizing Ethiopia. Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia was highly resistant to this and agreed to establish a treaty instead. He yielded some territories of Ethiopia to Italy in return for assurance of Ethiopia's independence as well as financial and military assistance from Italy.[5]


Article one focuses on establishing a peaceful relationship between the two countries. It states that there shall be a peace between the King of Ethiopia and the King of Italy as well as their successors and their peoples. The second article deals with forming a diplomatic relationship between the two countries. It mentions that Ethiopia and Italy shall appoint agents in the other country's consular office. Article three creates permanent boundary lines between regions of Eritrea that are under Italy's control and regions of Ethiopia. It states which regions are under the control of which empire and marks the territory limit of each empire.

Article four, five, and six focus on specific regions that are located in the Italian regional zone; The monastery of Debra Bizen and Massawa, Eritrea. Article four states that the monastery of Debra Bizen shall remain under the control of the Ethiopian government but cannot be used for military purposes and Article five states that Ethiopia has to pay an eight percent port duty to import or export goods through Massawa. Article six states that the Emperor of Ethiopia can transport army from and through Massawa free of charges. Article seven declares that travel and trade exchanges between the two countries are allowed.

Article eight and nine focus on the rights people from Ethiopia's territories have while they are present in Italy's territories and vice versa. Article eight says the people in the Ethiopian and Italian territories exercise the same right while present in each other's territories and article nine states that these people have the freedom to exercise their religion at the territories they are present at. Article ten deals with disputes between residents of Ethiopian and Italian territories and states these disputes are to be resolved by delegates from both territories. Article eleven mentions that if an Ethiopian resident dies in an Italian territory and vice versa, his/her properties will be given to the territory he/she belongs to.

Article twelve and thirteen are regarding crimes. Article twelve states that when people commit crime, they shall be judged in their own territory despite where they commit the crime whereas article thirteen mentions that the kings of both empires are obliged to extradite people with criminal records who are sought by the government. According to article fourteen, the king of Ethiopia has the right to take any measures to fight slavery and slave trading in his territory. Menelik II opposed slavery and this article was an assurance that slavery will not be practiced in Ethiopian regions. Article fifteen validated the treaty in all territories of Ethiopia. Article sixteen sets rules and restrictions regarding future changes to the treaty. It states that this treaty can be amended after five years with a year notice before any change and articles regarding boundaries may not be amended. Article seventeen is written differently in the Ethiopian and Italian version of the treaty and is addressed in details below. Article eighteen states that the king of Ethiopia shall give preference to Italian nationalists if he has to choose to offer a privilege between a third state and Italy. Article nineteen mentions that the treaty shall be written in both languages and both versions shall present the same information. Article twenty states that this treaty shall be approved.[6]


The misunderstanding, according to the Italians, was due to the mistranslation of a verb, which formed a permissive clause in Amharic and a mandatory one in Italian.[7] In the Amharic version of the treaty, Article 17 states that “His Majesty the King of Kings of Ethiopia can use the Government of His Majesty the King of Italy for all treatments that did business with other powers or governments.”[6] According to this version, the Emperor of Ethiopia is granted a choice and is not mandated to use the Italian government to conduct foreign relations.[8] The Italian version stated that Ethiopia was obliged to conduct all foreign affairs through Italian authorities, in effect making Ethiopia an Italian protectorate, while the Amharic version gave Ethiopia considerable autonomy, with the option of communicating with third powers through the Italians.[9] In October 1889, the Italians informed all of the other European governments that Ethiopia was now an Italian protectorate because of the Treaty of Wuchale and therefore the other European nations could not conduct diplomatic relations with Ethiopia.[10] With the exceptions of the Ottoman Empire, which still maintained its claim to Eritrea, and Russia, which disliked the idea of an Orthodox nation being subjugated to a Roman Catholic nation, all of the European powers accepted the Italian claim to a protectorate.[10] Menelik II was not in favor of this and rejected protection from Italy. Unable to resolve this disagreement, the treaty was denounced by Menelik II and the Battle of Adwa followed.[11] The battle took place in Adwa and ended after two days with Ethiopia's victory, safeguarding its independence.[12]


  1. ^ "Text of Wuchale Treaty | 1889 Ethio-Italian Treaty". Horn Affairs. 17 August 2011. Retrieved 2 December 2019.
  2. ^ Ayele, Negussie. "Adwa 1896: Who was Civilized & Who was Savage?" Ethiopian Review, vol. 7, no. 2, 30 April 1997, pp. 50. ProQuest 198708282.
  3. ^ "Treaty of Wichale | Italy-Ethiopia [1889]". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2 December 2019.
  4. ^ "Treaty of Wichale | Italy-Ethiopia [1889]". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 4 December 2019.
  5. ^ "Chapter 2. Listing toward Adwa", The Battle of Adwa, Harvard University Press, 2011, pp. 23–33, doi:10.4159/harvard.9780674062795.c3, ISBN 978-0-674-06279-5
  6. ^ a b "Text of Wuchale Treaty | 1889 Ethio-Italian Treaty". Horn Affairs. 17 August 2011. Retrieved 4 December 2019.
  7. ^ "Languages of Diplomacy: Towards a Fairer Distribution". The Economist. 2 April 2013.
  8. ^ "Q9. What is the Wichale Sememenet? Did Menelik sell or lose Eritrea, as they say? or did Menelik save Ethiopia becasue [sic] of it?". Retrieved 4 December 2019.
  9. ^ Discussions include Chris Prouty, Empress Taytu and Menilek II (Trenton, NJ: The Red Sea Press, 1986), pp. 70-99; Marcus G. Harold, The Life and Times of Menelik II: Ethiopia 1844-1913 (Trenton: The Red Sea Press, 1995), pp. 111–134; and Hatem Elliesie, Amharisch als diplomatische Sprache im Völkervertragsrecht, Aethiopica (International Journal of Ethiopian and Eritrean Studies), 11, (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2008), pp. 235-244.
  10. ^ a b Rubenson, Sven (1964). "The Protectorate Paragraph of the Wichale Treaty". The Journal of African History. 5 (2): 243–283. doi:10.1017/S0021853700004837. JSTOR 179872.
  11. ^ Rubenson, Sven (July 1964). "The Protectorate Paragraph of the Wichalē Treaty". The Journal of African History. 5 (2): 243–283. doi:10.1017/S0021853700004837. ISSN 1469-5138.
  12. ^ "Gale-Institution Finder". Retrieved 4 December 2019.

Further reading[edit]

  • Sven Rubenson, "Chapter V: Trials of Strength with Egypt and Italy" in The Survival of Ethiopian Independence (Hollywood: Tsehai, 2003).
  • Carlo Giglio, "Article 17 of the Treaty of Uccialli" in Journal of African History VI, 2 (1965) pp. 221–235.
  • Paulos Milkias, Getachew Metaferia: The Battle of Adwa: Reflections on Ethiopia's Historic Victory Against European Colonialism, Algora 2005, ISBN 0-87586-415-5.