The Italo-Ethiopian treaty

The Italo–Ethiopian Treaty of 1928 stated that the border between Italian Somaliland and Ethiopia was 21 leagues (roughly 118.3km) from and parallel to the Banaadir coast. Both countries seemed content with this agreement and on 29 September 1934, even released a joint statement renouncing any aggression against each other.

Walwal/Welwel is the location of an Oasis, situated close to the Border between Ethiopia and Italian owned Somalia.

In 1930, Italy had built a fort at the oasis, in a boundary zone between the nations, which due to the nature of the terrain, was not well defined, although the Ethiopians certainly considered it within their border. This meant the existence of the fort was a violation of the existing treaty.

Emperor Haile Selassie of Abyssinia reviews his soldiers, 1935


The fort was not discovered until November of 1934, when Ethiopian border troops were accompanying and Anglo-Ethiopian Boundary Commission on a survey in the area and stumbled upon the Italian presence.

Whilst the British members of the party left the area swiftly to avoid being caught up in an international incident, the Ethiopians loudly protested.


Shortly afterwards, on 22 November 1934, a thousand Ethiopian troops arrived at the fort and requested that the 60-man Somalian garrison under Italian command, vacate the area. The Somalian commander refused the request and alerted Captain Cimmaruta, the Italian commander of the nearby garrison of Uarder.

Ethiopian border troops.


​With this refusal, tensions started to build with both sides refusing to back down. The Ethiopian forces repeatedly tried to intimidate the Italian Somalian forces by threatening to attack and the Italians responded by flying military aircraft over Ethiopian positions (and on one occasion actually firing a burst of machine fire into the ground close to the Ethiopians.)

The Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie, protested strongly at the Italian presence in the area while the Italians demanded an apology for Ethiopian aggression and financial compensation. The League of Nations attempted to mediate but failed, ultimately blaming neither side for the events, which did little to defuse the situation.

A determined looking Emperor Haile Selassie, striking a suitably no-nonsense pose.

Fighting breaks out

​Then, from 5-7 December – and for reasons which remain a mystery – fighting broke out between the two forces. Italians claimed the Ethiopians initiated the conflict by opening fire with rifles and machine guns, while the Ethiopians claim the Italians started it when they attacked with tanks and aircraft.

The resulting clash resulted in the deaths of 107 Ethiopian soldiers and 50 Italians and Somalis and was used by Mussolini as justification to invade Ethiopia, sparking off the Second Italo-Abyssinian War.