The Consul at Asmara (Smith) to the Secretary of State
[Received May 4.]
Sir: I have the honor to report to the Department that in accordance with the authority granted me in the Department’s telegram [Page 86]dated February 6, 10 p.m., I left Asmara at 5:00 a.m. on February 9th, motoring to Gura, and taking a U. S. Army plane to Addis Ababa, arriving about 9:30 a.m.
That morning I called on the Foreign Minister, Mr. E. Medhen, who had taken the post held by B. Lorenzo Taezaz, who was the Foreign Minister when I visited Addis Ababa in September, 1942. The new minister was a very polished gentleman, spoke English very well, and was much more impressive than his predecessor. I said that I presumed that my last telegram to him regarding the reopening of the American Legation at Addis Ababa had pleased him. This was the Department’s no. 21, dated February 3 [January 26], 5 p.m., to me, which I sent to the Minister of Foreign Affairs in clear on February 5th. (Enclosure no. 1).10 To my amazement, he had not received it and knew nothing about it. I gave him the substance of the telegram from memory.…
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General Conditions in Ethiopia
I managed to see a number of the officials I had interviewed during my trip last September, but was disappointed in the almost complete lack of anything new to report to the Department. Plans were progressing slowly, the attitude between the British and the Ethiopians had not altered, either for better or for worse, the British advisers said that the Ethiopians were as slow as ever to put into effect their suggestions, but had none better to suggest themselves, and, in general, the situation as outlined in my despatch no. 37 of October 8, 1942,11 still obtains. A few more small stores have been opened, but trade with the outer world is still almost non-existent.
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Interviews with the Emperor
On this trip I first saw the Emperor at a formal reception given at the Palace on the afternoon of February 9th, when he received General Maxwell and his staff, Colonel Clark, Commanding Officer of the Eritrea Service Command, and myself. That evening the Emperor gave a state dinner for General Maxwell and his staff. At this dinner there were a number of Ethiopian ladies, including the Empress, several Ethiopian ministers (War, Finance, Foreign Minister, Interior) but no British. On February 11th, General Maxwell gave a dinner to the Emperor at “The Residence of General Maxwell” as stated on the menu. The residence was the ex-Japanese Legation, where the General and his staff were housed by the Emperor. At this dinner the guests were about the same as at the Emperor’s dinner two evenings before, except that we had no Ethiopian ladies present. On [Page 87]the afternoon of the 11th the Emperor asked for an interview with General Maxwell, Colonel Clark and myself. No one else was present except the interpreter, Mr. Tafari Worg. On Friday, February 12th, the Emperor had a very lavish picnic, lasting from about noon until 5:00 p.m. On all of these occasions I had occasion to talk to the Emperor, sometimes in English, which he speaks haltingly, or through his very excellent interpreter, Mr. Worg.
Interview of February 11th
This interview was by far the most important event of my trip. The object of the meeting was the Emperor’s desire to place his views before the guest of the occasion, General Maxwell. The Emperor had prepared his notes very carefully, read from them in Amharic and Mr. Worg, the interpreter, translated the Emperor’s remarks to us, (General Maxwell, Colonel Clark and myself). I took fairly full notes of the interview, as I did not know that I would have an opportunity to have an aide-mémoire of the interview, prepared by the interpreter. However, the aide-mémoire differed so from the notes that I took that I am enclosing, for the Department’s information, copies of both. The aide-mémoire is attached as enclosure no. 2 and the notes that I, myself, took are attached as enclosure no. 3.12 General Maxwell was extremely careful not to permit the Emperor to expect too much from the United States, pointing out the difficulties of shipping and communications. I did not receive a copy of the list of the Emperor’s wants, but I understand from General Maxwell that, compared to some lists he has seen, it is quite reasonable! As General Maxwell planned to leave for the United States immediately, the list will probably be in the hands of the Lease-Lend authorities before the Department receives this despatch.
The American Legation
The Foreign Minister and the Emperor were both delighted with the information in the Department’s telegram no. 21 of February 3 [January 26], 5 p.m., and naturally look forward to the reopening of the American Legation in the near future. Although not requested to do so, I took it upon myself to see what possibilities there were for legation quarters, as the quarters formerly used as our legation are, in my opinion, quite out of the question. They are very much run down, in a sad state of disrepair, and the Italians have built up a native quarter about it, so that its location, if nothing else, makes it quite out of the question.
As mentioned above, General Maxwell and his staff were housed by the Emperor in the ex-Japanese Legation. I was impressed by this building, which, I understand, is owned by the Empress. It is already completely and tastefully furnished, has a large reception room, a [Page 88]large dining room, a breakfast room, seven or eight bed rooms and two baths. It is situated about a quarter of a mile from the Palace, has about six acres (my guess) about the house, gardens attractively laid out, ample garage space, servants’ quarters, etc. It would make a very attractive residence, and would be considered quite suitable in Europe. In Addis Ababa it stands out as something unique! The Belgian Government requested it for their Legation, but it was refused them. (See above.) I believe that this place could be secured for use as the American Legation, and am given to understand that the Empress is reserving it with that possibility in mind. At present it is used now and then by the Royal family for week-ends.
As for supplies, Mr. Howe, the British Minister, states that, except for staple foodstuffs, everything must be imported. He had just had four tons of supplies brought to him by road from Nairobi!
What is the United States to do for Ethiopia?
In all likelihood, the American Legation at Addis Ababa will be reopened. One of the reasons for this action is to have a representative of the Government at Addis Ababa with whom the Ethiopian Government can negotiate for help under the Lend-Lease program.
But it seems to me that not only the United States, but the United Nations might use Ethiopia as an experimental field for countries that have been the subject of aggression and then been liberated.…
It appears to me that we should use Ethiopia as an example of what the United Nations are to do for nations that have been overrun by the Axis juggernaut. The amount of help required is really not great. But why not give them help, and then publicize it to the world, pointing out that, just as Ethiopia was materially helped, experts sent to her country to advise and assist her, material assistance given her to start again the industries and agriculture disorganized by the Italian occupation, so would Poland, Belgium, France, Norway, the Netherlands and others be helped, but, of course, on a larger scale, for they would need help on a large scale. Should not this be the work of ex-Governor Lehman’s Foreign Belief and Rehabilitation Operations as well as the work of Lend-Lease authorities?
It seems to me that the United States and the United Nations are missing a fine opportunity here to encourage the peoples now living under the heel of the Axis powers. If we could point to Ethiopia and say, “See, this is what we did for Ethiopia. Help us throw out the Axis powers and much more will be done for you,” it would be a great help to raise the morale of the peoples now under the Axis powers.
Also, why not use Ethiopia as an experimental station for the Foreign Relief and Rehabilitation Operations? Send out a committee to study at first hand what the country needs to put it on its feet. Send out agronomists, timber experts, agricultural experts in general, for Ethiopia is not sufficiently advanced to be an industrial country. So let this organization try out different forms of organization on [Page 89]Ethiopia, so that, when the time comes, it will know what the best form of organization will be for it to use in the conquered countries of Europe when they are freed. Then time will be most valuable, and if we have a chance to experiment on a small scale in Ethiopia, it seems common sense to do so.
Very respectfully yours,