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German and Ottoman plots to involve Ethiopia in World War One

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The Warburg Institute

Woburn Square

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WC1H 0AB

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German and Ottoman plots to involve Ethiopia in World War One

Martin Plaut

A hundred years ago, Germany planned to draw Ethiopia into World War One, just as Britain used the Arab tribes to attack the Ottomans and their German allies.

In January 1915 a dhow slipped quietly out of the Arabian port of Al-Wajh. On board were a group of Germans and Turks, under the guise of the Fourth German Inner-Africa Research Expedition. Led by Leo Frobenius, adventurer, archaeologist and personal friend of the German Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II, its aim was nothing less than to encourage Ethiopia to enter World War One. They hoped to persuade Lij Iyasu, heir to the Ethiopian throne, that he should send his troops into battle. Berlin believed that an Ethiopian attack on Djibouti, Eritrea or Sudan would draw British and allied forces away from the Suez canal. This was a crucial lifeline for the allies: Britain's "jugular vein" allowing troops and supplies to be brought from Australia, New Zealand and India.

The Kaiser's aim came close to succeeding, and was only thwarted when the Ethiopian nobility and the Orthodox church, fearing that Iyasu had converted to Islam, overthrew the prince.

Martin Plaut, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies and former Africa editor BBC World Service News, will talk about the evidence available of this plot, and of the ramifications, if it had succeeded.


The Anglo-Ethiopian Society is affiliated to the University of London’s Centre of African Studies (CAS) and all of our events at SOAS are co-hosted with CAS.

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The Warburg Institute

Woburn Square

London

WC1H 0AB

United Kingdom

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