When talking about colonization in Africa, it is common to hear that Ethiopia and Liberia were never colonized by any of the European superpowers.
It might seem quite difficult to understand how an entire continent was colonized save for these two countries, knowing that colonization was due to a growing problem of unemployment, poverty, homelessness, social displacement from rural areas, along with many other factors which came about as a result of industrialization in Europe. This then led to the need for those countries to acquire colonies and export their people and its surplus capital to the continent, which at the time showed resistance but was ultimately taken control of.
So what made Ethiopia and Liberia special that it did not receive the same treatment as other African countries? Did they not have anything to offer or were the inhabitants of those lands smart enough to negotiate something for themselves?
Let’s go back in time to fully understand this better.
Liberia was indeed a colony but unlike other countries which were invaded by Europeans and taken advantage of, it was never breached.
The American Society for Colonization of Free People of Color of the United States (known simply as the American Colonization Society, ACS) created the Cape Mesurado Colony on the Grain Coast on 15 December 1821. This was further expanded into the Colony of Liberia on 15 August 1824. This colony was created for expatriated people of color (also known as non-whites).
The ACS was a group of white men who sort to displace free black people from the United States. They believed free black people had no place in America, so these black men were returned to Africa, the colony of Liberia (meaning land of the free).
Liberia received partial independence in 1839 through a commonwealth declaration, however, it wasn’t until the 26th of July, 1847, that Liberia did indeed attain liberty. During the era of colonization (or ‘scramble for Africa’ as some call it) in the 1880s which saw various European states attempt to colonize Africa, Liberia was ignored because it was still seen as a United States colony.
Also, when the first European colonies were formed in Africa, they were no more than just coastal trading posts. And what is today recognized as Liberia did not have a natural harbor that was good enough to be worth the trouble of setting up a trading post.
Ethiopia (formerly known as Abyssinia) on the other hand, could have been colonized by Britain and Italy if only they had succeeded. Britons had tried to take over Ethiopia by dethroning King Theodore. However, this plan failed and the Britons deemed Ethiopia unworthy of colonization.
Some years later, Italy tried to capture the region but failed woefully due to undermining the smartness of the Ethiopians who had successfully learned how to protect their land.
Ethiopia, under it sagacious military leader, Emperor Menelik II, organized a resistance which culminated in the battle of Adwa in 1896. One hundred thousand Ethiopian troops confronted the Italians and inflicted a decisive defeat that would go ahead to ensure their independence during the colonial rule.
It was also ultimately recognized as a legitimate state by European powers until Italy, under dictator Benito Mussolini, tried a second attempt at capturing the country, which they succeeded in doing.
Their success was, however, short-lived as the Allied States who won World War II, along with some rebel fighters, took Ethiopia from the hands of Mussolini and restored Haile Selassie as the emperor of Ethiopia.
Were Ethiopia and Liberia Really Colonized Or Not?
So there you have it. Ethiopia and Liberia were never colonized depending on which angle you look at it from. In a sense, they were, because at some periods in their history they were ruled by foreign powers. On the other hand, they were not if you are comparing their history with that of other African countries who were sorely colonized by European superpowers for long periods of time.