Roberto Barattolo and the Eritrean Textile Industry

Cotonificio Barattolo Share Company

pictureRoberto Barattolo came to Eritrea in the 1930s, and within 30 years had the most successful textile industry in Africa. Eritrea became known been a major cotton producer; and the country’s history in textiles made it a perfect partner for the Zambaiti Group to form ZA.ER PLC. Born in 1909, Roberto Barattolo came to Eritrea in 1934 to found a commercial agency, Cotonificio Barattolo & Co. After the Second World War, he amassed capital in Eritrea, taking advantage of the economic opportunities to build Asmara’s first cotton textile factory. With production beginning in 1956, and Barattolo was able to gain a large share of the Ethiopian market. Cotonificio Barattolo quickly became the largest cotton mill in Eritrea.
The then pre-federated Eritrean government injected $315 thousand dollars into the company between 1956 and 1961, providing 30% of Cotonificio Barattolo’s capital. In less than a decade its production capacity had reached 20,000 spindles and 400 looms able to produce any kind of cotton, grey yarn and fabric. Cotton production grew from 1,836 tons in 1962 to 4,000 tons in 1965. Cotonificio Barattolo monopolized the Ethiopian and Eritrean markets, its first completion came in 1966 when the Ethiofabrics plant was founded.
 In 1965 Cotonificio Barattolo Share Co. acquired the Societa Impresito Africane (SIA) cotton plantation in Alighedir. Soon he was able to export knit wear to Europe and the Middle East. During its hey day SIA held remarkable assets such as:

  1. Agricultural land
  2. 1003 hectares of partially claimed land
  3. 578 kilometers of roads
  4. 13 steel bridges
  5. 39 concrete bridges
  6. 52 kilometers of telephone lines
  7. Bore wells
  8. An airfield at Alighedir
  9. The Ekit Airstrip
  10. Schools, churches mosques and infirmaries
  11. A power plant, meteorological station, pest control and plant disease center
  12. Irrigation reservoir able to hold 9 million cubic meters of water

The factory employed nearly 3,000 workers, of whom 70% were women. Its success was cut short when in 1975 the factory was nationalized by the DERG and Barattolo was forced to depart, though he eventually received compensation from the Italian government. The factory was renamed the Asmara Textile Company, although today it is still known by its nickname “Enda Barattolo,” which means “Barattolo’s place”.picture
This factory was also the site of civilian resistance during the Eritrean struggle for independence. The workers of the factory went on strike during February and March in 1982. This followed the Ethiopian management’s demand of unpaid labor. The Ethiopian military intervened and 75 workers were arrested. They were taken to the notorious prison, “Maryam Ghimbi”.
During the 1980’s production declined as the machinery began to deteriorate. After independence, the Eritrean Government turned down Cotonificio Barattolo’s offer to buy it back at a discount in 1992. The factory was later bought by Cotonificio Honegger for the Zambaiti group in 2004, and is now operated by ZA.ER PLC.