Italian East Africa

Italian Somaliland

Italian East Africa





Quick reference

General issues: Italian colony 1938-1941

Country name on general issues: Africa Orientale Italiana

Currency: 1 Lira = 100 Centesimi 1938-1941

Population: 18 000 000 in 1931

Political history Italian East Africa

Postal history Italian East Africa

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Italian East Africa is located in eastern Africa. In 1936, Italian East Africa is formed from the three Italian possessions in the Horn of Africa: Italian Eritrea, Italian Ethiopia and Italian Somaliland. Only having become a united kingdom in 1861, Italy is late to have joined the European powers in the race for colonies. In the late 1860’s and the 1870’s, Italy establishes a presence in Eritrea and Somaliland. Eritrea becomes an Italian protectorate in 1888 and an Italian colony in 1890. Somaliland follows suit, becoming a protectorate in 1889 and a colony in 1905. Italian ambitions in the 19th century to colonize Ethiopia are thwarted when, in 1896, the Italians are defeated decisively by Ethiopia. The ambition to colonize Ethiopia is revived under the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini. Italy, in 1935, again invades Ethiopia and this time Italy comes out victorious. In May 1936, Ethiopia is annexed as an Italian colony. The Italian king, Victor Emanuel, assumes the title emperor of Ethiopia and appoints a viceroy to administer the colony.

Italian East Africa is formed shortly after the annexation of Ethiopia in June 1936. The viceroy of Ethiopia is appointed governor general to whom the governors of the 6 governates, into which Italian East Africa is divided, report. The borders of the governates of Eritrea and Somalia are adjusted, when compared to the colonial borders, in order to establish ethnically more homogeneous governates.

South African forces - forming an important part of the British forces in the 1940-1941 East Africa Campaign - with a captured Italian flag

South African forces – forming an important part of the British forces in the 1940-1941 East Africa Campaign – with a captured Italian flag

Upon the outbreak of WWII in 1940, Italy, from Italian East Africa, invades British Somaliland which it will occupy and annex to Italian East Africa until 1941. The British are quick to respond. In 1940, the East Africa Campaign is launched, and by 1941 the Italian administration of Italian East Africa capitulates. Pockets of Italian resistance will exist until 1943, when Italy capitulates also in the European theater. Italy will de jure cede its colonial possessions in 1947 at the peace treaty following the end of WWII.

The British establish military administration in the occupied territories of Italian East Africa. Ethiopia is largely restored to its sovereignty in 1942 – parts being under British administration until 1948 and 1954 respectively. Eritrea will, in 1952, be federated with Ethiopia. Outright annexation of Eritrea in 1962 sparks a war of independence that, after three decades, will lead to a de facto independent Eritrea in 1991 – the de jure recognition following in 1993. The administration of the former Italian Somaliland is, in 1950, transferred back to Italy – now as the United Nations trust territory of Somalia. In 1960, Somalia will gain independence and join with British Somaliland, thus forming the republic of Somalia as we know it until today.

Postal history Italian East Africa

Postal history Italian East Africa

1938 – An eagle attacking a lion, symbolism for Italy attacking Ethiopia.

The constituent parts of Italian East Africa each have their own postal history. For Italian Eritrea, stamps have been issued from 1893 – for Italian Somaliland, from 1903 by the Benadir Company and, from 1905, by the Italian colonial administration. For Ethiopia, stamps have been issued from 1894 – first, under the terms of a concession granted to a minister of the imperial court and, from 1908, by the imperial administration. Upon annexation by Italy, the issues of imperial Ethiopia are superseded by a single issue for Italian Ethiopia, while at the same time the issues for Italian Eritrea and Italian Somaliland came to be used widely in Ethiopia.

Italian East Africa has issued stamps from 1938 to 1941. The stamps issued are designs specific for Italian East Africa and designs also used in Italian Libya. Although resources used are not explicit about this, one would expect the stamps of Italian East Africa to have been used in British Somaliland while annexed to Italian East Africa in 1940-1941.

The stamps of Italian East Africa are, from 1941, superseded by stamps issued by the British military administration. In Italian Ethiopia these would be stamps of Great Britain used until 1942 when Ethiopia resumed issuing stamps. In Italian Eritrea these would be the issues for the Middle East Forces until superseded by issues specifically for Eritrea in 1948. Finally, in Italian Somaliland the issues for the Middle East Forces are used initially, followed by the issues for the East African Forces. In 1948, these were superseded by issues specifically for Italian Somaliland.

Overprints exist on postage stamps and revenues of Italian East Africa – the overprint reading ‘British occupation’ and a new face value. These were prepared, but withdrawn before being issued. The Michel catalog has a listing for these issues.

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