884.6461 Tsana Dam/54

The Minister in Ethiopia (Southard) to the Secretary of State

No. 74

Sir: I have the honor to confirm my telegram of this date6 indicating that a proposal of the J. G. White Engineering Corporation for a conference in London on the Lake Tsana Dam matter could not conveniently and promptly at this time be placed before His Imperial Highness, Tafari Makonnen.

About every other time I have seen His Highness for conference, an average of two or three times a month, I have asked him about progress of the Lake Tsana proposition. He invariably replies that he is awaiting further word from the British Government as to a proposed conference. As suggested in various previous despatches on the subject I am strongly inclined to the opinion that he is in no hurry to push the matter.

There is much local rumor that the recent Italian accomplishment in the negotiation of a treaty of friendship7 and of an economic convention,8 already reported upon at length from this office, has encouraged the British Government to expect a compensating concession of some sort in accord with the spirit of the Anglo-Italian Agreement of December, 1925.9 From such knowledge of the situation as may be gained locally it would seem reasonable to credit a renewal, on this basis, of [Page 790] British hopes in connection with Lake Tsana. This doubtless affords an additional reason for the Prince Regent’s evident desire to postpone action in the Tsana matter.

His attention for some weeks past has been concentrated on his approaching coronation as King. Presumably also for a little while after that event on October 7th, 1928, he will not wish to be pressed on a matter of such potential difficulty in his international relations as that concerning the dam. His Highness always grants me an interview on request and I could doubtless see him fairly promptly, even in the enchantment of coronation matters. But I do not believe it discreet to urge the dam matter until his mind is in a more receptive state for business affairs. I expect to find an opportunity to submit the J. G. White proposal to him sometime after October 15th.

I deduce from the Department’s telegraphic instruction of October 1st, 1928, that the J. G. White Corporation has possibly heard directly from Doctor Martin. The Corporation suggests that Doctor Martin has gone to London for his health. That is probably true as he was not feeling well for some weeks before he left Addis Ababa. However, I opine that health matters do not necessarily provide the main or only reason for his journey. Other possible reasons have been suggested in previous despatches such, for instance, as my No. 51 of July 31st, 1928.10

I do believe that Doctor Martin is keen to see something definite done in the dam matter, whether American or British interests assume therein the principal role. He is sufficiently interested in the progress of Ethiopia to realize that the building of the dam will likely be an initial step in an economic development of considerable magnitude. But such knowledge of the situation as may be gleaned from local sources does not indicate that he is committed to American as opposed to British participation.

The coronation of Tafari as King may be taken as a possibly favorable influence towards decision in the Tsana Dam affair. Under his new title he will have more extensive power than heretofore. He will have authority to decide on his own initiative matters upon which he has previously had to consult the Empress with resulting considerable delay or vacillation in arriving at final results. I have no reason to suspect that the Empress has ever been opposed to American participation in the Tsana Dam construction, but I do believe that she would hesitate to place the final seal of her approval upon a project of such comparative consequence without thinking about it for a few years more. As one of the “old school” Ethiopians Her Majesty is inclined to distrust proposals for important changes in the country, and doesn’t like to make decisions concerning such.

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Should my opinion be correct that with his coronation as King the present Prince Regent will assume authority to decide entirely on his own initiative such matters as this Tsana one, we may expect earlier and more definite action than has heretofore been practicable or possible.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The Tsana Dam matter is always a live item in the business of this office. No opportunity is neglected to keep it before the Ethiopian Government. As previously reported, however, I am sometimes inclined to suspect the seriousness of Ethiopian intentions with regard actually to having this construction work undertaken. All is being done that is practicable to bring about an issue or a decision. Any developments of interest will be promptly reported to the Department, by mail or by telegraph according to circumstances.

I have [etc.]

Addison E. Southard
  1. Not printed.
  2. Treaty of amity, conciliation and arbitration, signed Aug. 2, 1928, League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. xciv, p. 413.
  3. Road convention, signed Aug. 2, 1928, ibid., p. 423.
  4. Exchange of notes respecting certain British and Italian interests in Abyssinia, Dec. 14 and 20, 1925, League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. l, p. 281.
  5. Not printed.