Italian Libya: 'colonization by demographics'

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Jon G.
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Italian Libya: 'colonization by demographics'

Post by Jon G. » 20 Feb 2007 18:52

I recently read a series of old geographics journals articles about Italian Libya. I will try and compress the information from these articles into a more compact form here. I hope we can set a discussion about Italy's ambitions for Libya rolling.

When Italy captured Libya from the Osmannic Empire in 1912 they basically took over a 680,000 square miles large patch of sand. Unlike neighbouring Tunisia Libya was not a very fertile land. The Libya of classical times had served as part of Rome's North African granary, but climate changes and general neglect following the disintegration of Roman society had turned the land into a desert. Libya held little promise as an economic asset for Italy, and initial evaluations about Libya's potential as an outlet for Italian emigrants were decidedly pessimistic. Indeed, it appears that a major motive for the Italian capture of Libya was to forestall Libya becoming part of French North Africa.

Apart from the coastal strip, Libya was not peaceful until the 1930s - Tripolitania was only fully subjugated in 1925, and Cyrenaica - where the best farmland, such as it was, could be found - only fell under full Italian control in 1932. The Fezzan (the great Libyan interior) only fell to the Italians in 1930. Cyrenaica and the Fezzan fell to a successful campaign waged by Graziani, reputedly with great ruthlessness - as much as 90% of Libyan livestock was slaughtered by Graziani's men and many native Libyans were imprisoned in great camps. Other native Libyans fled to neighbouring countries. Although Italo Balbo's rule (see below) brought more peaceful times and many refugess returned, there were still about 60,000 displaced Libyans in Tunisia in 1939.

It was consequently something of a backwater which came under Italo Balbo's governorship in 1934. It's been speculated that Mussolini had Balbo appointed as governor of Libya in order to remove a possible political rival from the center of power in Italy. 1934 was also about the time when notions of empire took the front seat over purely economic considerations over the feasability of developing Italy's overseas territories into true colonies. Libya would remain a liability to the Italian treasury - in 1935, the exports of Libya amounted to 61,000,000 lire whereas the imports were worth 398,000,000 lire, Balbo's various schemes for developing Libya's economy notwithstanding.

Balbo came to be the proponent of colonization by demographics, the transfer of Italian settlers to North Africa intended to permanently alter the demographic make-up of Libya.

Image
Italo Balbo with Italian settlers, 1938. Photo from the RAI's website

Balbo spent the first years of his governorship proposing a series of administrative changes - for example, the coastal parts of Libya were to be divided into four provinces - the Misurata, Tripoli, Benghazi and Derna - which were to become parts of Italy proper, much like Algeria administratively was split up into departments which were part of metropolitan France. At first the colonization went slowly:

Code: Select all

  
        Year    Persons
        1931     1,102
        1932     1,328
        1933     3,586
        1934     3,675
        1935     1,281
        1936       959
        1937     1,556
        1938    20,000
        1939    10,802
...but in 1938 Balbo formulated the Ventimila plan, according to which 20,000 settlers would be relocated to Libya each year for five years, starting in 1938. The eventual goal was 500,000 Italians in Libya by 1950. The transfer of 20,000 colonists in 1938 attracted great public interest and good press for Balbo - perhaps that was the
reason why Mussolini ordered that future transfers of emmigrants to Libya were to be conducted more quietly.

The immigration data, above, only account for Italians relocated to Libya as part of government-funded programmes. Military personnel, civil servants etc. who did not relocate permanently, or who relocated without their families, are not included in the numbers above. According to the 1931 census, there were 37,300 Italians and naturalized Italians in Libya as of April 21st that year. As of April 21st 1936, this number had increased to 63,722. The estimated number of Italians in Libya was 140,000 by the end of 1940, still not counting military personnel, civil servants and so on.This should be held against an overall population of Libya of 654,716 in 1931 and 732,973 in 1936. The major ethnic groups in Libya's population were, apart from the Italians, Arab-Berbers, Black Africans and, interestingly, about 28,500 Jews in the 1936 census, mostly settled in Tripoli. One black African tribe in Benghazi (unnamed in the articles I've read) retained its own language and culture, otherwise the black population was fully integrated with the rest of Libya's population in language, religion etc.

The Italian colonization of Libya as envisioned by Italo Balbo was overwhelmingly agricultural - settlers were intended to grow the land from large collective-style communal farms (called 'demographica' in Fascist nomenclature) with everything provided by the state - housing, roads, and all-important water from very deep wells dug with modern techniques. Under this scheme, farmers would initially surrender all their crops to the central colonial authority, and gradually buy their way out of the debt incurred by all the things provided by the state until they would finally own their farms. The average demographica farm plot was 80 acres in size - very respectable by European standards. The settlers were hand-picked by a Fascist emigration agency, underlining the planned nature of the programme. About 2/3 of them were North Italians.

The Italian settlers were to concentrate on vines, olives, tobacco and various other cash crops, as well as the usual range of cereals - raising livestock would remain the province of the indigenous population. Native Libyans also formed a small part of the demographica communes. It would be interesting to compare the Italian plans for the development of Libya with similar plans for the economic and demographic development of Italian East Africa.

The Italian plans for developing Libya into a self-sufficient part of Italy and an outlet for immigration were cut short by the war. The demographica of Cyrenaica were evacuated in 1942 because of the war; most remaining colonists relocated to Italy proper. By 1947 there were only an estimated 40,613 Italians left in Libya, and their numbers continued to dwindle into the 1950s.

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Bronsky
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Re: Italian Libya: 'colonization by demographics'

Post by Bronsky » 05 Mar 2007 21:31

Jon G. wrote:Indeed, it appears that a major motive for the Italian capture of Libya was to forestall Libya becoming part of French North Africa.
Italy lost out to France in the struggle to get Tunisia, which is where most Italian emigrants had gone. When the French got Tunisia in 1882, the European population had more Italians than French. Just as Algeria was a second-best to Egypt in the case of France, Libya was second-best to Tunisia for Italy.

I didn't know about the additional motive of blocking further French expansion. It may well have been a motive, as to whether the French were really planning to go there, on the face of it that sounds unlikely but you never know.
Jon G. wrote:Apart from the coastal strip, Libya was not peaceful until the 1930s - Tripolitania was only fully subjugated in 1925, and Cyrenaica - where the best farmland, such as it was, could be found - only fell under full Italian control in 1932.
The Italians lost most of Libya to the Senussi rebellion during WWI, they didn't try to defend it, contenting themselves to hold an enclave around Tripoli from which they could stage their comeback after the war.

That is exactly what they did, but it also indicates that what European population was there must have been concentrated around Tripoli, with none in Cyrenaica until the 1930s.
Jon G. wrote:The immigration data, above, only account for Italians relocated to Libya as part of government-funded programmes. Military personnel, civil servants etc. who did not relocate permanently, or who relocated without their families, are not included in the numbers above. According to the 1931 census, there were 37,300 Italians and naturalized Italians in Libya as of April 21st that year. As of April 21st 1936, this number had increased to 63,722. The estimated number of Italians in Libya was 140,000 by the end of 1940, still not counting military personnel, civil servants and so on.
In 5 years (1931-36) the population of the colony is supposed to have increased by 12,000 from new settlers and by 14,500 from natural increase, this out of an initial population of 37,000.

Now, I'm sure that Italian settlers did their utmost to fulfill the Duce's prophecy, and there musn't have been much in the way of alternative entertainment, but this translates to a 6% demographic growth rate between 1931 and 1936, and going to almost 10% afterwards..

Are you sure that the figures don't include expatriates?
Jon G. wrote:This should be held against an overall population of Libya of 654,716 in 1931 and 732,973 in 1936.
So Italians started at 5.7% of the total population, but accounted for 34% of the growth rate, going therefore to 8.7% in 1936.
Jon G. wrote:The average demographica farm plot was 80 acres in size - very respectable by European standards.
...but not necessarily so by colonial standards, given that this was poor farmland. French North African farmers had larger estates than their counterparts in metropolitan France.
Jon G. wrote:The demographica of Cyrenaica were evacuated in 1942 because of the war; most remaining colonists relocated to Italy proper.
Do you, by any chance, have figures for this traffic?

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Post by Jon G. » 06 Mar 2007 10:38

Bronsky wrote:...I didn't know about the additional motive of blocking further French expansion. It may well have been a motive, as to whether the French were really planning to go there, on the face of it that sounds unlikely but you never know.
An initial motive was also to provide Italy with a colonial outlet for immigration, rather than scattered Italian settlements in places such as Chile. But all Italian governors - also post-1922 - prior to Balbo considered Libya wholly unsuitable for large settlements. It was only when Balbo came around that plans for large scale emigration were put in motion.
The Italians lost most of Libya to the Senussi rebellion during WWI, they didn't try to defend it, contenting themselves to hold an enclave around Tripoli from which they could stage their comeback after the war.

That is exactly what they did, but it also indicates that what European population was there must have been concentrated around Tripoli, with none in Cyrenaica until the 1930s.
The Italian conquest of Libya outside Tripolitania was gradual, with Graziani using methods similar to Kitchener's during the Boer War. According to the article which I'm taking my numbers from, there were 14,993 Italians and assimilated Europeans present and 14,507 resident in Benghazi in the 1931 census and 34,802/17,551 in the 1936 census.
In 5 years (1931-36) the population of the colony is supposed to have increased by 12,000 from new settlers and by 14,500 from natural increase, this out of an initial population of 37,000.

Now, I'm sure that Italian settlers did their utmost to fulfill the Duce's prophecy, and there musn't have been much in the way of alternative entertainment, but this translates to a 6% demographic growth rate between 1931 and 1936, and going to almost 10% afterwards..

Are you sure that the figures don't include expatriates?
I'm only sure that the figures for the official settlement programme which I quoted above don't include expats.

The 12,000 increase only includes settlers which were part of the official emigration programme - unofficial emigration accounts for at least 50% of the increase in Italians in Libya from 1931 to 1936 according to the demographer. That gives a more reasonable, if still high, natural increase of about 2,500.
This should be held against an overall population of Libya of 654,716 in 1931 and 732,973 in 1936.
So Italians started at 5.7% of the total population, but accounted for 34% of the growth rate, going therefore to 8.7% in 1936.
...by which time the settlement programme had not peaked yet. However, returning refugees, 'unofficial' emigrants, and some under-numeration of natives in the 1931 census can explain the remainder of the growth. The 1936 census was conducted with the cooperation of local chiefs and religious leaders, unlike the 1931 census which was made on a strict de facto basis.
The average demographica farm plot was 80 acres in size - very respectable by European standards.
...but not necessarily so by colonial standards, given that this was poor farmland. French North African farmers had larger estates than their counterparts in metropolitan France.
Yes, it was poor farmland, but the focus on money crops such as tobacco and olives show that the Italians hoped to turn their Libyan venture into a surplus business in the long term.

Also, the fascist demographica communes perhaps underline Libya's unsuitability for farming; the associated outlays for deep water drilling, dune control etc. meant that emigration and settlement for purposes of farming were centrally directed.
The demographica of Cyrenaica were evacuated in 1942 because of the war; most remaining colonists relocated to Italy proper.
Do you, by any chance, have figures for this traffic?
Unfortunately not. Most data come to a grinding halt already in 1939. I'd be interested in knowing whether colonists who abandoned their demographica went directly to Italy, or if they perhaps just relocated to Tripolitania and /or Tunisia before going to Italy.

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Post by Bronsky » 06 Mar 2007 11:10

Jon G wrote:According to the article which I'm taking my numbers from, there were 14,993 Italians and assimilated Europeans present and 14,507 resident in Benghazi in the 1931 census and 34,802/17,551 in the 1936 census.
Assuming there's an "inTripoli" lurking in after "present, it means that there were 14,993 in Tripoli, 14,507 in Benghazi and 7,800 elsewhere in 1931, against 34,802 in Tripoli, 14,507 in Benghazi and 11,369 elsewhere in 1936. Is my assumption correct?
Jon G wrote:The 12,000 increase only includes settlers which were part of the official emigration programme - unofficial emigration accounts for at least 50% of the increase in Italians in Libya from 1931 to 1936 according to the demographer. That gives a more reasonable, if still high, natural increase of about 2,500.
Right, that's the part that I had missed. Doubling the immigration rate gives a 1.5% annual demographic growth rate which is definitely high, but at least humanly conceivable.
Jon G wrote:Yes, it was poor farmland, but the focus on money crops such as tobacco and olives show that the Italians hoped to turn their Libyan venture into a surplus business in the long term.
Let's not forget that olive oil and tobacco were pretty much staples at the time.
Jon G wrote:I'd be interested in knowing whether colonists who abandoned their demographica went directly to Italy, or if they perhaps just relocated to Tripolitania and /or Tunisia before going to Italy.
When I complete typing in the convoy stuff, there may be an indication of the number of evacuated civilians though it will naturally be incomplete (air transport carried wounded and civilians on the return leg).

I'm pretty sure that no appreciable number went to Tunisia, as the border was closed and the Italians couldn't force the Tunisian authorities to accept immigrants. The earlier population that had taken refuge in Tunisia from Graziani's tender mercies were nomad "settling" in oases in the Tunisian southern desert. Italian colonists wouldn't have done that.

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Post by Jon G. » 07 Mar 2007 09:04

Bronsky wrote:
Jon G wrote:According to the article which I'm taking my numbers from, there were 14,993 Italians and assimilated Europeans present and 14,507 resident in Benghazi in the 1931 census and 34,802/17,551 in the 1936 census.
Assuming there's an "inTripoli" lurking in after "present, it means that there were 14,993 in Tripoli, 14,507 in Benghazi and 7,800 elsewhere in 1931, against 34,802 in Tripoli, 14,507 in Benghazi and 11,369 elsewhere in 1936. Is my assumption correct?
No... all numbers I gave above are for Benghazi. I confess mild ignorance over just what constitutes the difference between 'resident' and 'present', except that military personnel explicitly aren't included in the 1936 resident population numbers. The full breakdown by province reads thusly:

Code: Select all

                    1931                 1936
              Present  Resident    Present  Resident

Libya total   49,407   47,609      115,637   66,525

Provinces:

Tripoli       28,271   27,795       44,511   40,760

Misurata       2,062    1,903        3,065    2,391

Benghazi      14,993   14,507       34,802   17,551

Derna          3,469    2,782       32,585    5,555

Libyan Sahara    612      622          674      238
...Balbo's settlement scheme aimed particularly for thinly populated areas in an already thinly populated country; most immigrants prior to the 1930s had settled in Tripoli.
Bronsky wrote:...Doubling the immigration rate gives a 1.5% annual demographic growth rate which is definitely high, but at least humanly conceivable.
Yes, even a 1.5% annual growth rate is very high - particularly when you consider that there were 1,664 present males per 1,000 present females in 1931 and 2,826 present males per 1,000 present females in 1936... but then, the 50% 'unofficial' emigration rate could be higher.
Let's not forget that olive oil and tobacco were pretty much staples at the time.
True, but nobody had attempted to grow them in Libya since ancient times when the climate was better. The choice of crops must have been part reason why Libya remained a liability to the Italian colonial treasury.
When I complete typing in the convoy stuff, there may be an indication of the number of evacuated civilians though it will naturally be incomplete (air transport carried wounded and civilians on the return leg)...
Such numbers would be very interesting to see; there's ample indication from the demographer's forecasts that unofficial Italian immigration to Libya continued well into 1940.

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Re: Italian Libya: 'colonization by demographics'

Post by Futurist » 09 Jun 2020 02:41

@Bronsky: Did a lot of French people want to settle in Egypt--at least if France would have actually managed to conquer it?

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