Almost 90 years after being seized by Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime, Italy has formally returned Ethiopia’s first plane, known as Tsehay, in a historic gesture celebrated by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
The red two-seater aircraft, named in honor of Emperor Haile Selassie’s princess daughter, was handed over by the Italian government. Abiy expressed pride on social media, marking the official return of “Tsehay.”
Constructed in 1935 during Emperor Selassie’s rule, Tsehay was a collaborative effort between German pilot Herr Ludwig Weber and Ethiopian engineers. In December 1935,
Weber piloted the plane on its maiden flight, covering a distance of approximately 30 miles (50 km) from Addis Ababa, lasting around seven minutes. Abandoned in Addis Ababa in May 1936 as Italian forces approached the city, the aircraft had accumulated about 30 hours of flight time.
Historical accounts reveal that the plane was requisitioned and transported to Italy after Mussolini’s occupation of Ethiopia, then known as Abyssinia, in 1935.
The fall of Addis Ababa to the fascists in the subsequent year marked a dark chapter in history. The aircraft, housed at the Italian Air Force Museum since 1941, was considered a “unique specimen” by the Italian defence ministry.
Guido Crosetto, the Minister of Defence, emphasized the symbolic significance of the return, stating, “This delivery represents a very strong message that, in the aftermath of the Italy-Africa summit, [Italy] wants to highlight the strong bond between our two countries and wants to emphasize the value of dialogue and the importance of international cooperation.”
The official handover occurred amidst the Italy-Africa summit in Rome, attended by leaders and representatives from 45 African nations. The summit unveiled the “Mattei plan,” inspired by Enrico Mattei, the founder of Eni, the oil company.
The policy aims to support African countries in developing their natural resources and improving their economies. The presence of leaders from Tunisia, Senegal, Kenya, the Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe, Somalia, and other nations underscores the importance of fostering dialogue and cooperation between Italy and Africa.
The return of Tsehay marks a significant step in rectifying historical injustices, highlighting the enduring value of international collaboration and diplomatic gestures to strengthen bonds between nations.