The Journal of African History



Border Conflict and Chiefly Power

TRADING IN SLAVES IN BELA-SHANGUL AND GUMUZ, ETHIOPIA: BORDER ENCLAVES IN HISTORY, 1897–1938


ABDUSSAMAD H. AHMAD a1
a1 Addis Ababa University

Abstract

Like other empires in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, expansion and slavery went hand in hand in Ethiopia, contrary to imperial justifications based on the abolition of the slave trade and slavery. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the Ethiopian empire incorporated the northwestern border enclaves of Bela-Shangul and Gumuz into greater Ethiopia. Having obtained the subordination of the local Muslim warlords, the emperor then demanded tribute from them in slaves, ivory and gold. Slaves were used as domestics in the imperial palace at Addis Ababa and the houses of state dignitaries and as farm labor on their farms elsewhere in the country. Responding to the demands of the central government as well as their own needs, borderland chiefs raided local villages and neighbouring chiefdoms for slaves. Expanding state control thus led to intensified slave raiding and the extension of the slave trade from the borderlands into the centre of the empire in spite of Ethiopia's public commitment to end slavery and the slave trade as a member of the League of Nations. The end of slavery in Ethiopia only came with the Italian occupation in 1935.