Between 1935 and 1940 Italy spent 53,000 million current lire for the war and civilian building projects in Ethiopia. This remarkable sum (no other power had spent so much money on the colonies, and in such a short time) reached over 10% of GNP in 1936, the year of greatest expenditure. According to a document elaborated by the Ministry for Italian Africa, total State expenditure for civilian works in Italian East Africa between 1937 and 1941 increased to about 10,000 million current lire, of which over 8,000 were spent on roads and about 2,000 for other building work. The total sum equalled 56% of the expenditure forecast by the government as necessary to provide the colonies with the indispensable civilian infrastructures (17,800 million lire). It is impossible to evaluate precisely the money invested by private citizens. Some Ministry of Italian Africa’s estimates only stated that total Italian investments were equivalent to about 4,000 million current lire. Lacking more reliable data, I believe it would be only fair not to underestimate the effects that valorisation of the empire had on the Italian economy, in terms of both increase in production and sales for military and civilian orders, as well as absorption of manpower and movement of capitals from Africa to Italy. In total, 823 building firms worked in Italian East Africa, with a capital investment of 800 million lire. The road building plan, directly conceived by Mussolini, met with several of the regime's aims: a political aim, because the new roads would represent, vis-à-vis the rest of the world, the unmistakable sign of fascism's new imperial civilisation; a military aim, because roads would open up the whole of the Ethiopian territory to the Italian army; moreover, road-building would also have great social relevance, by facilitating the migration and settlement of Italian colonists; finally, roads would also be financially important, because they would help develop a wider market for both Italian and local wares, and would involve thousands of building and transport firms in the actual construction works, as well as about 200,000 Italian and 100,000 African workers. During the busiest road building period (1937), 500 construction sites were active and 2 million q of cement, 70,000 q of iron and 25,000 q of dynamite were imported from Italy, whilst over 20 million m2 of roads were asphalted. The contribution of Italian manpower was calculated at about 23 million working days, while indigenous workers were alleged to have contributed 26 million working days. The remittances sent by workers to families back in Italy between 1935 and 1938 amounted to over 5,200 million current lire. The planning and building of the new Italian areas in Asmara and Addis Ababa, in which even Le Corbusier tried in vain to take part, was going to be just as important on the economic and symbolic level. The situation in Asmara was quite exceptional. The population, which in 1935 amounted to 4,000 Italians and 12,000 Africans, had grown in 1939 to 48,000 and 36,000 respectively. It was a phenomenon without precedents in history, determined by the town’s economic importance as a logistic base for the war. By 1938, over 12,000 civilian vehicles were already circulating in Eritrea (one every six inhabitants). Private housing therefore played a more relevant role in Asmara. Public expenditure for the war and the various building projects promoted economic growth in Eritrea, the region most endowed with infrastructures and productive factors, where most workers also possessed some basic education, thanks to a network of newly-created primary schools.
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