Sultanate of Aussa

The Sultanate of Aussa was a kingdom that existed in the Afar Region in eastern Ethiopia in the 18th and 20th centuries. It was considered to be the leading monarchy of the Afar people, to whom the other Afar rulers nominally acknowledged primacy.

Sultanate of Aussa
Aussa Sultanate
Aussa on modern map of Africa
Common languagesAfar, Arabic
Sunni Islam
Historical eraEarly modern period to Interwar period
76,868 km2 (29,679 sq mi)
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Imamate of Aussa
Italian East Africa
Today part ofEthiopia

The Ethiopian Empire nominally laid claim to the region but were met with harsh resistance as is known with the Afars and their skilled desert warfare in contrast to other areas of the empire and thus Aussa remained independent.[3]

The Sultan Yayyo visited Rome along with countless other nobility from across East Africa to support the creation of Italian East Africa.[4] This marked the end of the region's independence and it was disestablished and incorporated into Italian East Africa as a part of the Eritrean Governorate and the Harar Governorate.

The Sultanate was then incorporated into the Ethiopian Empire after World War II, but enjoyed considerable autonomy under Ethiopia until the rise of the Derg in the 1970s.


Imamate of Aussa

Afar society has traditionally been divided into petty kingdoms, each ruled by its own Sultan.[5]

The Imamate of Aussa was carved out of the Sultanate of Harar and the Adal Sultanate in 1577, when Muhammed Jasa moved his capital from Harar to Aussa (Asaita) with the split of the Adal Sultanate into Aussa and the Sultanate of Harar.[6]

In 1647, the rulers of the Emirate of Harar broke away to form their own polity. The Imamate of Awsa was later destroyed by the local Mudaito Afar in 1672. Following the Awsa Imamate's demise, the Mudaito Afars founded their own kingdom, the Sultanate of Aussa. At some point after 1672, Aussa declined in conjunction with Imam Umar Din bin Adam's recorded ascension to the throne.[6]


In 1734, the Afar leader Data Kadafo, head of the Mudaito clan, seized power and established the Mudaito dynasty.[7][8] This marked the start of a new and more sophisticated polity that would last into the colonial period.[8] The primary symbol of the Sultan was a silver baton, which was considered to have magical properties.[9] The influence of the sultanate extended into the Danakil lowlands of what is now Eritrea.[10]

After 15 years of rule, Kadafo's son, Muhammäd Kedafu, succeeded him as Sultan. Muhammäd Kadafo three decades later bequeathed the throne to his own son, Aydahis, who in turn would reign for another twenty-two years. According to Richard Pankhurst, these relatively long periods of rule by modern standards pointed to a certain degree of political stability within the state.[8]

Sultan Mahammad ibn Hanfadhe defeated and killed Werner Munzinger in 1875, who was leading an Egyptian army into Ethiopia.[11]

Colonial period

In 1865, the newly unified Italy bought Asseb from a local Sultan (which became the colony of Eritrea in 1890), and led Sultan Mahammad to sign several treaties with that country. As a result, the Ethiopian Emperor Menelik II stationed an army near Aussa to "make sure the Sultan of Awsa would not honor his promise of full cooperation with Italy" during the First Italo–Ethiopian War.[12]

Second Italo-Abyssinian War

The meeting between Mussolini and the Sultan of Aussa

During the Second Italian-Ethiopian War, the Sultan Mahammad Yayyo (grandson of Mohammed Hanfade illalta) agreed to cooperate with the Italian invaders.[13]

By 1st April 1936, Italian troops completed the occupation of the rich Sultanate of Aussa, bordering on French Somaliland. [14]As a result, in 1943 the reinstalled Ethiopian government sent a military expedition that captured Sultan Muhammad Yayyo and made one of his relatives Sultan.[15]

Sultan Mohamed Yayyo at Palazzo Venezia in Rome

Upon a visit to Rome, Sultan Mohamed Yayyo met Benito Mussolini and declared a speech of his loyalty towards the Italian Empire in Palazzo Venezia.[16]

Revival within modern Ethiopia

Sultan Alimirah often came into conflict with the central government over its encroachment on the authority of the Sultanate. Aussa, which had been more-or-less self-governing until the Sultan's ascension in 1944, had been greatly weakened in power by the centralising forces of Haile Selassie's government. In 1950 he withdrew from Asaita for two years in opposition, returning only two after following mediation by Fitawrari Yayyo.[17] The Sultan sought to unite the Afar people under an autonomous Sultanate, while remaining part of Ethiopia; they had been divided amongst the provinces of Hararghe, Shewa, Tigray, and Wollo.[18]

In 1961, when it was clear the Eritrean federal arrangement was headed towards its demise, 55 Afar chieftains in Eritrea met and endorsed the idea of an Ethiopian Afar autonomy. Following the dissolution of Eritrea's federal government and its transformation into a centrally-administered province, Afar leaders met again in Assab in 1963 and supported the creation of an autonomous region. In 1964, Afar leaders went to Addis Ababa to present Haile Selassie with their proposal, but the effort came up empty-handed.[18] Despite these encroachments and conflicts, the Sultan remained fundamentally loyal to the Emperor and Ethiopia; in turn, while he did not achieve the autonomous sultanate he desired, he enjoyed an appreciable level of autonomy in the areas of the Sultanate, almost unique amongst the many petty kingdoms incorporated into the Ethiopian state in the late 19th century. For example, while the government appointed a governor to the awrajja (district) of Aussa proper, the governor, rather than taking up residence in the capital of Asaita, instead sat in Bati, which was outside the district entirely.[19]

In 1975, Sultan Alimirah Hanfare was exiled to Saudi Arabia, but returned after the fall of the Derg regime in 1991. Upon Alimirah Hanfere's death in 2011, his son Hanfere Alimirah was named his successor as sultan.[20]

Sultan Alimirah Hanfare of Afar with Emperor Haile Selassie on the right and the Emperor's son Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen on the left

List of Sultans

  • Kandhafo 1734–1749
  • Kadhafo Mahammad ibn Kadhafo 1749–1779
  • Aydahis ibn Kadhafo Mahammad 1779–1801
  • Aydahis ibn Mahammad ibn Aydahis 1801–1832
  • Hanfadhe ibn Aydahis 1832–1862
  • Mahammad "Illalta“ ibn Hanfadhe 1862–1902
  • Mahammad ibn Aydahis ibn Hanfadhe 1902–1910
  • Yayyo ibn Mahammad ibn Hanfadhe 1902–1927
  • Mahammad Yayyo 1927–1944
  • Alimirah Hanfare 1944–1975, 1991–2011
  • Hanfare Alimirah 2011-2020
  • Ahmed Alimirah 2020

See also


  1. "ITALIANS CONQUER AUSSA SULTANATE; Occupy Sardo, in Center of Rich Area, and Dominate Red Sea Caravan Trails. LINE BISECTS ETHIOPIA Rome Sees Early Submission of Haile Selassie -- Britain's Attitude Chief Worry". The New York Times. April 1936.
  2. "ITALIANS CONQUER AUSSA SULTANATE; Occupy Sardo, in Center of Rich Area, and Dominate Red Sea Caravan Trails. LINE BISECTS ETHIOPIA Rome Sees Early Submission of Haile Selassie -- Britain's Attitude Chief Worry". The New York Times. April 1936.
  3. Thesiger, Wilfred (1935). "The Awash River and the Aussa Sultanate". The Geographical Journal. 85 (1): 1–19. doi:10.2307/1787031. JSTOR 1787031.
  4. Sbacchi, Alberto (1977). "Italy and the Treatment of the Ethiopian Aristocracy, 1937-1940". The International Journal of African Historical Studies. 10 (2): 209–241. doi:10.2307/217347. JSTOR 217347.
  5. Matt Phillips, Jean-Bernard Carillet, Lonely Planet Ethiopia and Eritrea, (Lonely Planet: 2006), p.301.
  6. Abir, p. 23 n.1.
  7. Abir, pp. 23-26.
  8. Pankhurst, Richard (1997). The Ethiopian Borderlands: Essays in Regional History from Ancient Times to the End of the 18th Century. Red Sea Press. ISBN 0932415199.
  9. Trimingham, p. 262.
  10. AESNA (1978). In defence of the Eritrean revolution against Ethiopian social chauvinists. AESNA. p. 38. Retrieved 23 December 2014. Later in their history, the Denkel lowlands of Eritrea were part of the Sultanate of Aussa which came into being towards the end of the sixteenth century.
  11. Edward Ullendorff, The Ethiopians: An Introduction to Country and People, second edition (London: Oxford University Press, 1965), p. 90. ISBN 0-19-285061-X.
  12. Chris Proutky, Empress Taytu and Menilek II (Trenton: The Red Sea Press, 1986), p. 143. ISBN 0-932415-11-3.
  13. Anthony Mockler, Haile Selassie's War (Brooklyn: Olive Branch Press, 2003), p. 111.
  14. Trimingham, p. 172.
  15. Mussolini, Benito (1939). Scritti E Discorsi Di Benito Mussolini Volume 12. pp. 214–215.
  16. "Sultan Ali Mirah Hanfare Passed Away". Archived from the original on 3 December 2013. Retrieved 25 November 2013.
  17. Yasin, Yasin Mohammed (2008). "Political history of the Afar in Ethiopia and Eritrea1" (PDF). GIGA Institute of African Affairs. 42 (1): 39–65. Retrieved 25 November 2013.
  18. Zewde, Bahru (March 2012). "Ethiopia: The Last Two Frontiers (Review)". Africa Review of Books. 8 (1): 7–9.
  19. AFAR News Toronto v.01 (July 2011) Archived 2016-04-14 at the Wayback Machine


  • Mordechai Abir, The era of the princes: the challenge of Islam and the re-unification of the Christian empire, 1769-1855 (London: Longmans, 1968).
  • J. Spencer Trimingham, Islam in Ethiopia (Oxford: Geoffrey Cumberlege for the University Press, 1952).
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