The Ethiopian Vice Minister of Finance ( Yilma Deressa ) to President Roosevelt 30


Ethiopia, as you know, was one of the first victims of the wave of aggression which started thirteen years ago in China and which has now swept with a fury, engulfing the entire world and bringing sorrow and desolation to a great majority of the world’s population and destruction and waste to their lands. Ethiopia, singularly, has been the first among the nations overrun by the aggressor to be returned to her own people.

When the time came to free our country from the yoke of the enemy, the Emperor and the nation gave full cooperation to our British allies. Ethiopian refugees, formerly dispersed to nations all over the world, returned to their homeland and joined the Emperor’s army of liberation. The patriotic armies, spurred onward by a fierce determination and a deep and abiding love for their country, [Page 104] made a concentrated attack on the rear of the enemy. Civilians joined with the liberating armies in the most effective manner—that of guerilla warfare—just as the civilian populations of dominated Europe are doing today. Every Ethiopian was anxious to do whatever he could to hasten the day of complete liberation. Every Ethiopian believed that our country, freed from the yoke of Axis domination, would serve as a beacon of encouragement to other countries temporarily overrun. The brave Chinese, the Czechs, the Poles, the Norwegians, the Dutch, the peoples of the East Indies could all take heart upon seeing Ethiopia freed and her people aided in the restoration of their land. As a matter of fact, all the peoples composing the United Nations would be reassured by this example of the Atlantic Charter31 “in action”.

But when victory was won, and our country was free from the enemy, our ally told the Emperor that Ethiopia was an Occupied Enemy Territory and would be administered as such until a special treaty was signed between His Britannic Majesty’s Government and the Emperor. The draft of the treaty was not presented to His Imperial Majesty for months, and in the meanwhile, every possible pressure was exercised to make the Emperor and the people of Ethiopia wish for the signature of a treaty in order to end the Occupied Enemy Territory Administration. During this time, industrial and mechanical equipment, means of transportation, telephone and electric lines, much needed and vital to the program of rehabilitation, were either removed from Ethiopia or wrecked.

The first draft of the agreement proposed amounted to the imposition of the status of a protectorate on Ethiopia. It was rejected by the Emperor. The actual agreement which is in force until January 1944 is regarded in Ethiopia as an agreement which imposes upon her Government conditions which are incompatible with either liberty or the exercise of her sovereign rights as a free nation. Its spirit is not in accordance with that of the Atlantic Charter. It was imposed upon her by pressure and is, therefore, regarded as having been signed under duress.

This agreement is due for revision next January. His Imperial Majesty has requested Your Excellency to use your good offices in affording him a competent American jurist to help him in this task and is appealing to the Government of the United States to give him diplomatic cooperation in the matter so that a settlement, consistent with the spirit of the Atlantic Charter might be reached.

Outlet to the Sea

It is recognized that in the world of tomorrow, the world which all freedom-loving peoples are striving to build, there must be a free [Page 105] interchange of the world’s resources. A nation to grow, must be able to export freely her native commodities and to secure in exchange needed supplies and equipment from other countries. Ethiopia, with, an area of 350 thousand square miles, a population of 14 million inhabitants and with vast natural resources, has been in the recent past without territory bordering on the sea. The development of our country has been hindered by this fact. Not having had a seaport resulted, unfortunately, in the inability of Ethiopia to import necessary arms and ammunition to defend herself before and during the time of the Italian invasion; this, in addition to the fact that as far back as 1884, certain nations through treaty,32 agreed between themselves not to allow such materials destined for Ethiopia to pass through territories dominated by themselves.

The people in what is now called Eritrea are ethnically and culturally akin to the Ethiopian people, and in times past, that territory was a province of Ethiopia called Hamassen. In 1940, during the attack on Eritrea from the Sudanese border, our British allies, by pamphlets dropped from airplanes, promised the people of Hamassen (the Eritreans) union with Ethiopia as a reward for deserting from their Italian conquerors.

His Imperial Majesty hopes that Your Excellency will use your good offices to help us effect this union and to secure a seaport for our country.

His Imperial Majesty has instructed me to convey to Your Excellency Ethiopia’s gratitude for the generous unilateral gesture on the part of Your Excellency to declare his country eligible to the benefit of Lend-Lease Aid. Ethiopia is a country which has been devastated by seven years of war, and, therefore, needs financial and material assistance to be rehabilitated. Financial difficulty is acute, and the primary equipment to run a government is lacking. His Imperial Majesty hopes that Your Excellency will recommend his country’s case to the Administration to secure a loan and to acquire the materials which are urgently needed.

His Imperial Majesty will be glad to have American citizens to advise him in financial, military, judicial, and other technical affairs. His Imperial Majesty will welcome the cooperation of American capital and technical skill to help him develop the natural resources of his country. It is further the feeling of His Imperial Majesty that Ethiopia can be of aid in supplying foodstuffs to needy European and [Page 106] Eastern nations during the post-war period of reconstruction. If help could now be given her in the form of technical aid and equipment, the temperate climate and fertile soil in the highlands of our country would lend themselves favorably to the production of important crops and cattle for food. Ethiopia would have the advantage of being much nearer to the needy territories than America, thereby effecting a saving in transportation and time. The people of Ethiopia are anxious to join with the people of the United States in their magnificent effort to rebuild a war-torn world.

Ethiopia is not unmindful of the asylum offered by the people of England to their Emperor during his stay there; the Ethiopian people are simply striving toward self-determination, the right of every free people, and look to America, the arsenal of democracy, for aid in the complete realization of this desire.

At a date convenient to Your Excellency, His Imperial Majesty will be pleased to pay a visit to Your Excellency to discuss matters affecting the future of his country.

Yilma Deressa
  1. This aide-mémoire was handed to President Roosevelt by Mr. Yilma Deressa during the course of an interview on July 13. President Roosevelt referred it to the Secretary of State on July 14 with the following comment: “I think this is extremely interesting. Will you talk to me about it? F. D. R.”
  2. Joint declaration by President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Churchill, August 14, 1941, Foreign Relations, 1941, vol. i, p. 367.
  3. Reference is probably to the Anglo-French exchange of notes of February, 1888, which established the protectorates known subsequently as French Somali-land and British Somaliland. Articles 5 and 6 stated “It is expressly agreed that the caravan road from Zeyla to Harrar … shall remain open.… The two governments engage to take all necessary measures to prevent the Slave Trade and the importation of gunpowder and arms in the territories subject to their authority.” See agreement between the Governments of Great Britain and France with regard to the Somali Coast, February 2 and 9, 1888, British and Foreign State Papers, vol. lxxxiii, pp. 674 and 675.