The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Lecture - ONLINE - Of Power and Anxiety: The Creation of the Imperial Ethiopian Navy

Quentin Holbert

Wednesday 28th February 2024

Online event starting at 19:00 GMT - Public lecture (all welcome to join).

Note - Register for the event on Eventbrite and you'll be emailed a Zoom link shortly before the event.


The recent announcements of an agreement between Ethiopia and Somaliland to construct a port rekindled international interest in a landlocked Ethiopia’s attempts to procure a navy. Just over seventy years earlier, Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie announced the creation of the Imperial Ethiopian Navy (IEN). While it has received significantly less scholarly attention than the army, the navy is an important symbol of Ethiopia’s late imperial period.

Dr. Quentin Holbert will discuss the historical background of Ethiopia’s first naval force since antiquity. Despite its centralization in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, the African state was isolated from international trade on account of its lack of port access. All trade, whether exporting potash or importing modern armaments, had to go through a European-controlled colony. In the aftermath of Ethiopia's liberation from Fascist Italy in the early 1940s, the emperor advocated for an Ethiopian military port. The federation with Eritrea in 1952 marked the first time in three centuries that Ethiopia had a corridor to the ocean and was the beginning of the IEN.

The desire for and development of an Ethiopian navy in the mid-twentieth century reflected existing anxieties and challenges. The emperor perceived the IEN as necessary to showcase Ethiopia’s status as a great power through events like the Massawa Navy Days ceremony, although maintaining an expensive navy was impractical for existing security concerns. Existing social hierarchies and challenges with political corruption were also reflected in the formation of the navy’s officer and enlisted ranks. This presentation is based on a book chapter published in African Navies: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives and research from Dr. Holbert’s doctoral dissertation.


Please reserve your place soon to avoid disappointment.

Eventbrite Tickets - Online Talk - Of Power and Anxiety: The Creation of the Imperial Ethiopian Navy



First Published in News File Winter 2023

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