Italian Purchase of the Port of Assab by Giuseppe Sapetto

15 Nov, 1869

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Italian missionary Giuseppe Sapetto purchased the Port of Assab as Italy joins the European "Scramble for Africa" and racing to acquire land on the Red Sea coast of Africa

Italian Lazarist missionary Giuseppe Sapetto Italian Lazarist missionary Giuseppe Sapetto

Giuseppe Sapetto, an Italian Lazarist missionary, was entrusted by the Italian government with the task of obtaining a port on the Red Sea coast of Africa. This was following the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. Acting on behalf of an Italian shipping company, the Società Rubattino, he purchased the port of Assab in November 1869 from two local Danakil chieftains for 6,000 Maria Theresa Thalers. He returned to Assab in March 1870 to conclude the agreement, and purchased two further strips of territory. He later conducted a vigorous polemic against critics of these purchases, notably in his book Assab e i soui critici (1879).

The Italian government, by then desirous of bringing its nominal possessions at Assab under effective control, ordered Sapetto to return to Assab, and he arranged for the signature by the local chiefs of further agreements, notably one with the Sultan of Raheita, 30 miles (48 km) southeast of Assab, who, in September 1880, placed himself under Italian protection. Sapetto, who also attempted to open up contact with Muhammad Hanfari, the Sultan of Awsa in the south of the Danakil region, remained at Assab until January 1881. On his return to Italy he gradually dropped from public view. A man of scholarly interests as well as political ambition, he had attended the Fourth International Congress of Orientalists in Florence in 1878, and produced a number of learned writings, including Etiopia, a study of Ethiopian government, geography, and history, published in 1890. He died in relative obscurity in Genoa in 1895.

(Source: Richard Pankhurst)

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