March 1, 2014
By De Birhan – Opinion
It is March 1. This is a special day for people who resisted oppression and colony the world over and particularly Africans and Ethiopians, who for the first and last time definitively defeated a European colonial confrontation.
The Battle of Adwa was a fierce battle held in the town of Adwa (Adowa), Tigray Northern Ethiopia, on March 1, 1896 between General Oreste Baratieri of Italy who advanced with an army of 17,700 men and 56 guns versus Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia who faced the Italians with an approximately 90,000 fighters (20,000 of whom had no guns as Professor Paulos Milkias notes in The Battle of Adwa: Reflections on Ethiopia’s Historic Victory Against European Colonialism) armed with a large number of spears and cavalries. Kennedy Hickman in his article “First Italo-Ethiopian War: Battle of Adwa” explains that the invasion began when Italy invaded Ethiopia with the intention of colonising Ethiopia in 1895. The wise Emperor Menelik did not act until March 1, 1896 buying a time so that he would organise and prepare himself well and also the invading forces run out of food and get exhausted. The specific cause for the war is the signing of the Treaty of Wuchale with the Italians on May 2, 1889 which had put Ethiopia under Italy’s protectorate. It was the Italian version of article 17 of the treaty that remained controversial until they went to test each other’s muscle. There is a good book written on the Battle of Adwa for those interested to read by Raymond Jonas (PhD) “The Battle of Adwa African Victory in the Age of Empire”.
In this historic and yet unrepeated victory, Northern colonisers came to the halt of thinking that Africans can and do really defend, and even defeat a more technologically advanced power. Adwa changed the rule of the game. As Ethiopians often mention the ‘we are the only independent uncolonised country’ verbatim, other colonised nations from India to South Africa and Jamaica always cite Ethiopia and Menelik as their inspiration and courage behind their liberation.
I am putting this article together to say that Africa and all colonised people of the world deserve to honour the little sung hero Menelik who lived from 17 August 1844 to 12 December 1913 as a King of Shewa from 1866–89 and then the Emperor of Ethiopia from 1889 to his death. Menelik is most remembered for being the only King that has effectively, definitively and completely defeated a European colonising nation in the soils of Africa and returned them back to where they came from. He also led his country into stability, unity and economic and techonological transformation with the aim of putting it in par with the ‘modern’ North. Getachew (2005) states that after Adwa Ethiopia had relative peace and development for forty years, until the WWII and there were “no further military expeditions” after Menelik consolidated the Ethiopian territory.
Why should we have Emperor Menelik’s Statue in every African country?
A culture of recognition – A very straightforward and simplistic argument on the why question is due to the positive and useful international culture of recognition. Appreciating those that have done their part for the betterment, freedom, and progress of humanity is a virtuous culture. Naming centers, roads, cities or even erecting the statue of distinguished human beings has been a remarkable culture of our planet especially post the Second World War. People who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country and the freedom of their people have been remembered and celebrated for their great deeds and service to humanity; though our own Menelik is little remembered. Can we name a country in the world where the names of Mahatma Gandhi, Che Guevara and Nelson Mandela to name a few are not known or something has not been named after them? No, you would at least find people who very well know about these celebrities or centres, roads, items bearing their names or even their statues. Is Menelik II any less in terms of his deeds? Why has he not gained such an recognition or even a little remembrance for what any other country or leader in the world succeeded in achieving; beating a colonising empire and passing a liberated, sovereign and proud nation state that extended to the subsequent liberation of Africa and other colonies.
The moral benevolence of Adwa. Beyond the practical reinforcements and support that Ethiopia gave to colonised countries in the world post the Adwa victory, Menelik’s name and success gave a moral boost to many Africans and black people that were under the yolk of colonisation. From South Africa to Jamaica across the Caribbean, Menelik’s name and victory gave an impetus, energy and reinvigorated their courage to fight back. It whispered to them “Yes you can also be free, you are not cursed people declared to live colonised”.
For Menelik is a role model. The role model argument of why Africans need a statue of HIM Menleik II is based on my reading of an article by Dr. Getachew Metaferia “Ethiopia: A Bulwark against European Colonialism and its Role in the Pan-African Movement,” . Getachew argues that the battle of Adwa sent two main messages one to the European colonialists and the second to Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora. The author says personally Menelik was a wise leader, who demonstrated a high degree of “inclusiveness and decentralisation” by including people of all ethnics, cultural backgrounds in his Army leadership, listened to the advice of his council, brought in modernisation and equalised his wife, Empress Taytu to the extent of leading a battle and reconnaissance.
Getachew after explaining the details of the battle and theoretically and historically relating the victory of the battle to the formation and consolidation of the Pan Africanism and Ethiopianism movements reasons,
Thus, Ethiopia proper became a symbol of independence and resistance against colonialism. It was increasingly associated with Black Nationalism and resistance movements. Ethiopia and Ethiopianism became a rallying point and remained the unifying core for Africans of the Diaspora and later for the Africans in the continent in their struggle for independence. That symbol of resistance also influenced African Americans in their political struggle to free themselves from slavery. …the influence was also seen in the religious realm too when many Ethiopian orientated, independent churches were established in the U.S., Sierra Leone’s Native Pastorate, Transvaal province of South Africa, Zimbabwe.
The author notes “as a movement, Ethiopianism emboldened Blacks to rise up and challenge social injustice, racial discrimination, and colonial domination.”
Getachew then summaries the implications of Adwa to the Diaspora Africans and Africans in Africa; first it disproved the misconception of the inferiority of the Africans; Adwa was evidence that, given the right leadership, unity of purpose, and a galvanization of resources, Africans can protect and promote their national interest. It had psychological, social and political implications for all African, and especially for African Americans of the time.
According to Getachew, as much as Africans and the African Diaspora had benefited from Ethiopia’s success and victory, Ethiopia also benefited from them. For example, the first African American to arrive at Empror Menelik’s Court in 1897 was a highly educated young Haitian named Benito Sylvain “seeking the assistance of Emperor Menleik to create an international Black organisation to help ameliorate the condition of the Black race.” Benito Sylvain later became Aide-de-Camp to Emperor Menelik and represented Menelik at the London Pan-African Conference in 1900. Emperor Menelik’s efforts and his contributions to the welfare of Blacks worldwide were acknowledged at that meeting and Menelik was made an honorary member of the Pan-African Association. In general, in this fine piece of academic work, Gteahcew describes Menelik as a role model for those in the Diaspora who made the first legitimate invitation for the African Diaspora to come back home. Menelik’s victory and spiritual and moral magnanimity trickled up to the establishment of the African Union in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia in 1963.
Some of these implications that Dr. Getachew listed or those I did mention such as the moralistic, spiritual, inspirational and resource benefits and implications of the battle or its mastermind Emperor Menelik had on Africans and all those that resisted colonialism and all forms of subjugation and oppression has been given disservice as we have ignored, rejected and forgot it. This piece may appear to have been presented in a generic manner as it is not possible time-wise and space-wise to go into a deeper and analytical discussion of the pros and cons and the for argument of my proposal. But they are bold and clear. Menelik was an exceptional and magnanimous black leader and deserves a remembrance; at least a statue in every African city.
The proposal may not please all; both inside and outside. There are many who have grudges against the victory of Adwa and Emperor Menelik II. Yes we are not arguing Menelik was an angel of no errors, he had monumental errors both at the domestic and international level. We are arguing Menelik’s good deeds are historical and exceptional and his errors were not due to lack of goodwill but due to context, time and circumstances. Pointing the scars and faults of the past is as easy as nitpicking the weaknesses and typos of this article however recognising your own past and learning from the positives to build on it a positive future of reconciliation and international integration to the end of obliterating “… the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned” is an edgy task requiring balls and benignity.
Last time I initiated a campaign and petition for the erection of HIM Haileselassie’s statue in the new premises of the African Union (AU) in Addis Abeba along with Kewame Nkrumah, it was given a deaf ear. Despair does not befall on us, yet! We have now come with this petition.
The initiative of erecting monuments and statues of HIM Emperor Menelilk II is not an order neither it is a beseeching plea. It is a rather cordial call of remembering the real founder of an independent Africa! Does he not deserve statues, streets, buildings and centres named after him in at least the four corners of Africa?