But We Built Roads for Them

The Lies, Racism and Amnesia that Bury Italy's Colonial Past

Published Date: April 1, 2024


In the fiery political debates in and about Italy, silence reigns about the country’s colonial legacy. By reducing European colonial history to Britain and France, Italy has effectively concealed an enduring phenomenon in its history that lasted close to 80 years (1882 to 1960). It also blots out the history of the countries it colonized in Northeastern Africa.

Italian colonial history began in 1882 with the acquisition of Assab Bay and came to a formal end only on July 1, 1960 when the Italian flag was lowered in Mogadishu, Somalia. It began well before Mussolini’s rise to power and lasted for many years thereafter. It involved both the Kingdom of Italy in the liberal period and the Republic of Italy after World War II.

Francesco Filippi challenges the myth of Italians being “nice people” or “good” colonialists who simply built roads for Africans. Despite extensive historiography, the collective awareness of the nations conquered and the violence inflicted on them remains superficial, be it in Italy or internationally. He retraces Italy’s colonial history, focusing on how propaganda, literature and popular culture have warped our understanding of the past and thereby hampered our ability to deal with the present.

As in his previous No. 1 Italian bestseller Mussolini Also Did A Lot of Good, Filippi pits historical facts against tenacious popular myths about Italy and Italy’s colonial history.

With a Foreword by Robin Philpot, publisher of Baraka Books.

The original Italian title is Noi però gli abbiamo fatto le strade, Le colonie italiane tra bugie, razzismi et amnesie. © 2021 Bollati Boringhieri editore, Torino

Francesco Filippi is a historian of mentalities and an educator who has specialized in the relationship between memory and the present. He is co-founder of Deina, an association that organises trips of memory and training courses all over Italy. Filippi is the author of five books including the Italian bestseller Mussolini Also Did A Lot of Good (Baraka Books 2021). He lives in Trento, Italy.

Domenic Cusmano is a Montreal communications professional, photojournalist, and translator whose previous translations include books from Italian and French into English. Publisher and editor of Accenti Magazine, he holds degrees from the Université de Montréal and McGill University. His work as a photojournalist has taken him throughout Europe, Africa, and South America.


“Francesco Filippi returns to confront the history of mentality and with one of the most tragic and least known themes of Italy’s recent past. And he does it with his usual style at the same time documented and ironic, relying on a large amount of research re-interpreted in the light of some brilliant personal insights. In this way the author retraces the short parable of Italian colonialism.” L’indicie dei libri del mese

“Filippi points out brilliantly that the roots of a false consciousness grow out of a widespread stereotype of the Italians as ‘good people.’ (…) his book warns us against ‘prejudice’ from believing we know when we don’t know…” Giovanni de Luna, La Stampa

About Mussolini Also Did A Lot of Good

“We are indebted to Mr. Filippi for his skilled passion in establishing a proper analysis for those who seek to counter the supporters of Mussolini’s tyrannical reign.” Truby Chiaviello, Primo Magazine

“Chapter by chapter, point by point, Filippi dislodges propaganda with fact, answers mirage with astringent sunlight, and dispels nostalgia with body-counts.” George Elliott Clarke

“an antidote to all the nonsense still circulating about fascism…. Filippi is almost surgical in the way he reestablishes the context.” La Repubblica Book of the Month

“In the existing climate, Francesco Filippi’s scalpel is of utmost importance” Le Monde

“Francesco Filippi’s book is very timely and relevant … a lesson on a past that simply doesn’t go away.” Corriere Della Sera

This work has been translated with the contribution of the Centre for Books and Reading of the Italian Ministry of Culture.

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