Editor’s Note: This long article was written by Ethiopia’s honorable son and significant scholar, Professor Mammo Muchie in 2008 but due to its relevance and reverberations to today’s scenarios and events, we have re-posted it here as it is. Read his profile HERE.
The significance of Ethiopian history for African dignity
“I am the only African emperor, and the Leader of all Negro peoples, including those still under foreign sway.” Emperor Haile Selassie, 1934, quoted in Baron Roman Prochaszka, Abyssinia the Powder Barrel: A book on the most burning question of the day, 1934, p.8 “I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him.” Abraham Lincoln
We came across a book written by Baron Roman Prochaszka with the title: Abyssinia The Powder Barrel, a book on the most burning question of the day, 1934. This book is a must read. We all must read it, Ethiopians and all in the region as well, if possible with annotated translations. We hope the book will be translated and it will reach at the grassroots level. This was a book distributed by the Italian Consul General to various libraries and Governments in the colonial world.
We thank Dr. Tesfatsion Medhanie who sent us this book. Incidentally, he is one of the few thinking and deeply concerned among our Eritrean brothers and sisters about the fate of the Horn of Africa region in general and Eritrean and Ethiopian relations in particular.
We have gone through the book and picked up some very important statements from which all of us can learn and may even help us to strengthen our resolve why in Ethiopia we cannot afford to follow any agenda other than the patriotic agenda, which must replace the ethnic divisive agenda to shape the future of this historically-virtuous and valiant nation with toleration, purpose and commitment.
Here we shall present in THREE parts both some of the statements from the book and a reflection of what we can learn from these statements to help us think deeply to sort ourselves out to help us change our contemporary negative attitude to Ethiopia’s future. The price that was paid to make Ethiopia was incalculable in history. It is not thus a simple matter to just play casually with the current misdirecting politics of ethnicism to destroy one of the few resistance nations in the world that continues to mean so much to recovering still African full humanity and dignity with freedom and unity.
2. Ethiopia’s leading role as a Pan-African enthusiast as told by its enemies!
How many of us are aware that the Ethiopian leaders during the scramble for Africa framed their resistance to colonialism to realise the overriding purpose of uniting Africa to free it from outside domination? How many of us know that they were convinced pan-Africanists from the way they articulated their visions in relation to the colonialism they resisted with all their power and cunning? How many of us know Bob Marley converted Emperor Haile Selassie’s historic speech for Africa in 1963 at the UN as lyrics to his song ‘war’, where both freedom and unity for Africa were firmly proclaimed to the world with conviction, purpose and sublime clarity!
This book is not for the faint-hearted. It is written with a violent normative position arguing mendaciously for the subjugation, humiliation, surrender and capitulation of Ethiopia to the world imperial and colonial system and its self-destruction by fanning inter-community strife and conflict. Moreover it is written from a fascist and white supremacist perspective, arguing forcefully why Ethiopia must be colonised, and why in particular Italian colonialism must be supported to subdue Ethiopia by the whole colonial world.
The writer admonishes the colonial world to go for the complete ‘eradication’ of Ethiopia, which he described in his own words as “this plague-spot in East Africa” (p.52)
The book is full of hysterical hate propaganda also against what it describes the’Amhara’ reminding us very much the hateful propaganda by the Nazis in Germany against Jews! The writer was Austrian by origin. This book was first written in German and was translated into English. He was anti-Semitic as fiercely as he was anti-Ethiopian!
3. What do we know about the Meaning of Ethiopia’s national resistance to Africa?
It is even more revealing that the world significance and meaning of Ethiopia’s resistance is better known by Ethiopia’s colonial enemies more than, it seems, by any one else. Arguably the significance of Ethiopia’s capacity not to surrender or capitulate to or refuse to be humiliated by the imperial and colonial system is largely recognised, if not appreciated by all who should do so today in Ethiopia.
That it inspired Africans the world over is also recognised by Africans from Herbert Julian (the African-American pilot), Marcus Garvey, and Nkrumah to Mandela, the Rasta’s and indeed many others.
What is little known to date is what Ethiopians themselves understood as the significance and meaning of their country’s largely lonely national resistance in the face of the colonial-imperial onslaught beyond their own shores to Africa and the world.
4. The Book: Abyssinia: the Powder Barrel: A book on the most burning question of the day!”
The above is the title of the book written by a person named Baron Roman Prochaszka (Abyssinia: the powder barrel described as a book on the most burning question of the day.) The author was said to be a lawyer in Addis Ababa until 1934 ‘pleading before the consular tribunals of the European states.” The translators-publishers are the British International News Agency, London from the German original. He was expelled just before the 1935 Italian fascist aggression from Ethiopia for his fascist activities in Ethiopia. His vengeance is to write this book which paradoxically the more he ravishes Ethiopia, the more one can read and is revealed also how great and inspiring the Ethiopian patriotic spirit has been at the time indeed. A spirit of patriotism that can only make every Ethiopian whose mental software is not infected by the ethnic entrepreneurial virus and indeed African proud.
Here is a white supremacist writing a book by arguing for the whole colonial-imperial world to unite and colonise Ethiopia by uniting the colonial powers and also by utilising cynically and maliciously the divide and rule strategy of pitting one group of Ethiopians against one another, whom he describes derogatorily as disparate and different ‘tribes’ exhibiting relations of one oppressor ‘tribe’ over the many disparate oppressed’ tribes.’
In the Foreword, he spreads the poisonous and divisive politics of ethincism/tribalism that continues to this day to distract the country, the people and the nation from focusing to learn to eat, educate and provide health for the people as a whole. The claim is made that ‘the opponents of anti-imperialism should bear in mind that the numerous non- Amharic (sic!!!) native tribes in Ethiopia, and these constitute by far the greater part of the total population of the empire, are themselves the victims of Abyssinian imperialism(sic!!!)” (p1)
In the Foreword also the writer concluded the following: “It is therefore utterly mistaken to represent the Abyssinian usurpers as being in any way oppressed and worthy of protection.”
The politics that pit vernacular speakers against each other under the guise of according them self-determination was fully elaborated in this book. The fascist strategy of using ethnicity to sow conflict, distrust and animosity by fanning the politics of self-determination of oppressed nationalities against the oppressor minority ‘Amhara’ who were said to number no more than 20 % of the population was spread with the intention and practice of both malice and hate.
It is remarkable that the politics of ethnicism was fully elaborated and used by the fascist and white supremacist writers of the 1930s for facilitating the colonisation of Ethiopia as a priority goal. If the country cannot be colonised, the formula was to sow and leave behind distrust and animosity amongst the people never to get the country to focus on issues that matter for the survival of Ethiopia.
Ethiopia cannot expect support and sympathy because they allege it is vernacularly and ethnically divided into ‘tribes’ and a vernaculars and ethnic group has privilege over others. They argued the country must be incinerated with mustard poison gas and phosgene to kill the people with genocidal intent and action, especially those marked as the ‘oppressor tribe’.
That is how ethinicm and the self-determination of ‘tribes’- what today the TPLF/EPDRF political party describes as ‘nations, nationalities and peoples’- was used to disorganise Ethiopians by dividing them so that the fascists can defeat Ethiopia’s united national resistance against them! Ethiopia’s struggle to resist colonialism seemed to have alarmed the white supremacists and fascists. They characterised the Ethiopian struggle as attacking “the entire colonial powers in Africa without exception.”
Nothing seems to be worse than to let Ethiopia, according to the fascist writer, remain peaceful. Any concession to let Ethiopia to emerge as a peaceful country is fraught with the danger that Ethiopia would grow the capability to provide leadership not only to the African world, but also to all those who are threatened with imperialism and colonialism throughout the world.
The writer said: “What we are witnessing is by no means a local frontier conflict between Abyssinia and Italy.”
He extolled Italy’s fascist aggression as history’s call ‘to be the first to take up the challenge in defence of European colonial achievements at this outpost.’ P.24
The fascists argue for self- determination of’ numerous peoples and tribes which inhabit the territory of the Ethiopian state’ they claim that if they had self-determination they would have enjoyed European influences and benefited “from the advantages that progressive colonization could confer upon the country.’”
They cast the Ethiopian anti- fascist struggle as championing the cause of all coloured peoples against the Europeans and American races.
They quote Emperor Haile Selassie as follows:’ I am the only African emperor, and the leader of all Negro peoples, including those still under foreign sway… we must regard all Europeans not only as foreigners but as enemies.” We think the quote “We must regard all Europeans as… “enemies” is an exaggerated propaganda to isolate Ethiopia in Europe and America.
The emperor was also accused for asking’ All Moslems must – come to the aid of Ethiopians in case of need.”
ETHIOPIA was also cast as a danger to her neighbours and the European colonies in Africa. When Italy thought it colonised Ethiopia, It established immediately the East African Italian empire consisting of ‘Italian Eritrea,’ Italian Somaliland and the newly occupied Ethiopia by boasting the spread of the new Roman empire in Africa!
The writer talked about the young Ethiopian movement that ‘aims at attacking and destroying western culture and civilisation in its entirety!’
The writer moaned that Ethiopians held with contempt white people claiming themselves to be…’infinitely superior to white people’ p.23
There is more to the book than we had put here. Suffice to highlight some of the evidently detestable and pernicious positions it promoted so carelessly against Ethiopia, Africa and indeed the entire colonised world at the time.
5. Concluding Remark: The similarities of the politics 1930s with our own the politics of 1970s!
The fascist writer used the concept of ‘the oppressor and oppressed tribes’ where the oppressed would be encouraged to revolt against those designated oppressors. The oppressed are also called upon to seek ’self-determination’ so that they can be under the ‘progressive influence ‘of fascism and colonialism free from ‘Abyssinian imperialism’!
What is extraordinary is how much the politics of oppressor and oppressed nationalities and the right to self-determination that emerged in the early 1970s in Ethiopia echoes and mirrors the views and languages of the fascist author who advocated openly and categorically to either destroy or enslave Ethiopia colonially by fanning self-determination of the oppressed ‘tribes.’
The story is all the more compelling and need to be told and retold as the concept of self-determination that our generation used comes not only from Marxism-Leninism but also from the fascists who tried tooth and nail to ‘eradicate Ethiopia’, if they cannot subjugate Ethiopia, to use their own words!!
Plan one of the fascists was to colonise Ethiopia. If they fail in this project, they laid the trap of the second project. That second project is indeed to destroy Ethiopia with self-determination for ‘the oppressed tribes’ (in the1930s lingo) from “Amhara Abyssinian colonialism or imperialism.” What changed in the political lingo of the 1970s is substituting ‘tribes’ for nationalities (the1970s lingo). The similarities are striking even today as we have people from our own homeland still railing against what they call “Abyssinian colonialism’, fanning the flames of hate politics against anyone who stands for pan-Ethiopian patriotism. Unfortunately for Ethiopians, this worn-out and divisive politics has been taken over by what Franz Fanon called the ‘useless classes in contemporary Ethiopia that must either lean to be useful or else leave the country to govern itself and find its soul and spirit as a valiant resistance- nation that fought colonialism earning even the grudging acknowledgment of those who were unable to kill her! It is remarkable how much the then noise from the fascists continues to be replayed with new actors wearing the mantle of democracy and social justice, but with consequences that may still disintegrate Ethiopia exactly as the fascists in the 1930s wanted the fate of the country to be.
Ethiopia means so much to Africa and the world, the imagination of so many people from all over the world was fired by her example of resistance, that it will have to live on and on for ever for the sake of not just Ethiopians but Africans and the formerly colonised people of the world.
Bob Marley’s ‘War” Song! turning speech by emperor Haile Selassie into music!
What life has taught me
I would like to share with
Those who want to learn
Until the philosophy which hold one race
Superir and another inferior
Is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned
Everywhere is war, war, war
That until there is no longer first class
And second class citizens of any nation
Until the colour of a man’s skin
Is of no more significance than
The colour of his eyes
Me say war
That until the basic human rights is equally
Guaranteed to all, without regard to race
Dis a war
That until that day
The dream of lasting peace, world citizenship
Rule of international morality
Will remain in but a fleeting illusion
To be perused, but never attained
Now everywhere is war, war
And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes
That hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique
South Africa in sub human bondage
Have been toppled, utterly destroyed
Well every where is war, me say war
War in the east, war in the west
War up north, war down south
War, war, rumours of war
And until that day, the African continent
Will not know peace, We Africans will fight
We find it necessary and we know we shall win
As we are confident in the victory
Of good over evil
Good over evil
Good over evil
Good over Evil
Good over evil.
The significance of Ethiopian history for African dignity (Part II)
“Our liberty is meaningless unless all Africans are free.” – Emperor Haile Selassie Speech at the Launch of the OAU in 1963. “African nationalism is meaningless, dangerous, and anachronistic, if it is not at the same time pan-Africanism.” – Julius K .Neyerere
“Borders are scratched across the hearts of men,
By strangers with a calm, judicial pen
And when the borders bleed, we watch with dread
The lines of ink across the map turn red.” – Anonymous
In Part I, we have introduced the book entitled Abyssinia: The Powder Barrel, a book on the most burning question of the day.
What is revealing is how far this fascist writer estimated the power of Ethiopia’s national resistance and its meaning and significance for wider Africa and indeed the world. This is not something that we Ethiopians have been made aware of. So we continue from Part I and present both the various statements from the fascist author and what we can glean from it as lessons with respect to its contemporary resonance to Ethiopia’s uncertain future.
2. It is the Success of the Ethiopian Anti-Colonial Struggle the Fascists Wanted to Bury
It seems that Ethiopia stood for African unity roughly from the end of the Era of the Princes to the coming of the military regime in 1974 objectively by the resistance it put up against the world colonial-imperial system! In the Post World War II period Ethiopia did have clear policies as well to do many things to support other African freedom fighters: from training Mandela and others to providing scholarships to many fellow African brothers and sisters.
Emperor Haile Selassie worked closely with Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, where in the Long Walk to Freedom, former president of South Africa Nelson Mandela relates his conversation with Julius Neyerere where support from Ghana to the ANC and not just to other parties like the PAC in South Africa will come quickly if Mandela gets the support of Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie to win Ghana’s support.
It seems the Pan-African agenda continued under the post-war imperial regime too, where like Dr. Nkrumah, Emperor Haile Selassie appeared to say Ethiopia’s national independence is incomplete without the entire Africa’s full independence and freedom from colonialism! Subsequent Ethiopian politicians have not expressed even a fraction of that vision and understanding linking Ethiopia’s destiny with Africa’s destiny as that expressed by the late Ethiopian emperor.
Ethiopia’s incoherence of its relation with Africa came after the ideological period replaced the patriotic and African national era after 1974. After 1974, “ pro–former Soviet Union ally eliciting internationalism, and after 1991 ethnic federalism” replaced Ethiopian-African patriotism where the virtues of love and brotherhood and concern for African anti-colonialism were subordinated to the degradation of preferred alliance with the former Soviet Union (1974-1991), and later the narrow selfish politics of ethnic and vernacular identity(1991-?). No wonder, today Ethiopia’s relation with the rest of Africa mirrors the incoherence of its internal inter community relations. What is there from Ethiopia to spread to the rest of Africa, ethnic division, split and war between Eritrea and Ethiopia, war with Somalia, identity politics and division under the guise of self-determination?
If Ethiopia’s politics since 1974 is a mirror, what the rest Africa sees in it is not a model or example of her heroic national resistance exemplified from the period of the end of the Era of the Princes to 1974, but a problem to avoid that came with the strange and alien notion of fanning and exacerbating differences, ethnicism and the confounding complexities in identity politics that have together resulted in a virulent mostly anti- African and ant-Ethiopian unity politics today! This negative politics of drawing ethnic borders has been pursued by the political and intellectual useless elite that are still at large ruining the nation that has a distinguished and recognised record for playing a pivotal role as a leading promoter of African dignity, self-respect and historical identity in particular whilst providing a historical example for the entire anti-colonial and anti-imperial world struggle in general.
The book also reveals inadvertently the epic nature of the Ethiopian national resistance. The positive data of national resistance is not only good for Ethiopia but also even more important to recover the full dignity and humanity of Africans the world over, which is still yet to be fully attained in spite of the progress made thus far.
3. The Significance of the pre-1974 Period of Ethiopian History
To be sure the period from the end of the era of the princes to 1974 was not without its gross deficiencies that has no doubt contributed to the emergence of the ideological period since 1974.Owing to the many social inequities and feudal injustices and unfair rules, the deficiencies in social justice, human rights and democracy was stark. The feudal class relation was a big constraint to promoting sustainably the patriotic virtue that Ethiopia exemplified by its history of national resistance to spread African unification by positioning Ethiopia as a leader.
Whilst recognising their gross deficiencies in terms of lack of social justice and democracy, we must nevertheless caution all not to allow these evident deficiencies to eclipse and override the virtues they had by placing Ethiopia firmly on the world map to promote African unity by a national resistance with such powerful meaning to African history and African destiny.
Despite the feudal constraints, the national awareness of linking Ethiopia’s national destiny with Africa was fully appreciated. In the pre-1974 period, we must acknowledge this whatever our views are on the deficiencies and oppressions that we are right to denounce from that period.
Those who oppose feudalism did go to the extreme extent of devaluing this important national achievement and used the thesis used by the fascists of the self-determination of oppressed nationalities or tribes to undermine the Ethiopian-African combined patriotic national project. What in reality was needed was to change feudalism by building on the Ethiopian-African national patriotic combined project, and not use the excuses of fighting feudalism at the expense of a united national Ethiopian-African project for doing so by unleashing dissipative and disintegrative impulses legitimised by borrowed ideology.
There is a strong need to promote Ethiopian patriotism where love for Ethiopia means also love for Africa without hating anyone, any other country, nation, people, or race, religion, ethnic group and gender more than ever now. The national project is positive to ones own nation, it does not have anything to do with spreading hate to any other nation.
In this effort to change the paradigm from ethnic narrow nihilism into broader Ethiopian-African patriotism, the relevance of what Ethiopia did through its epic history of non-surrender and non-capitulation to the colonial system remains hugely significant and meaningful for the present and future. Historical memory is useful to excavate to build the patriotic agenda and push it forward without any apologies or concessions to any special group interest.
2. The Fascist Formula: Either Colonise and Humiliate Ethiopia or Permanently Disable Ethiopia by fanning inter-ethnic strife!
The book openly and disgustingly advocates the destruction of Ethiopia by whipping inter tribal contradictions against what it calls the ‘Amhara ‘and ’Abyssinian imperialism’.
The writer decried: “Actually, there is no such thing as a unified Abyssinian people, but merely an Amharic minority amounting to about 20% of the total population.” (P.70)
He continued to argue that if Italy were to fail to colonise the country, Ethiopia must remain permanently weakened and crippled by making sure deep distrust and animosity is spread through the veins and arteries of every ‘tribe’ in Ethiopia.
It is not against class; it is not against feudalism that the fascist writer railed against, but against what he calls the ‘Amhara’ as a people. It is not even directed at the ruling class drawn from them. It is a whole people as a people who were marked and targeted by inciting others to rebel and overcome them for possible extinction. Nothing short of the destruction of the ‘Amhara’ has been advocated with such careless and casual sociological classification and the deeply unattractive ideology of fascism to exterminate a whole community. It is the hate politics that preceded the dropping of exterminator poison gas on the areas inhabited predominantly by Amharic language speakers. It is a crime that has not found any proper historical justice and redress to this day.
The hideous fascist author writes using very much the language that we see bandied about by Ethiopia’s own home grown contemporary ethnic entrepreneurs: “For it should always be remembered that the majority of the peoples constituting the population of Ethiopia are themselves the oppressed, while the ruling Amharic Abyssinians are the oppressors” (p.79).
The formula of advocating ‘self-determination for the oppressed tribes’ was to realise the objective of planting and sowing inter-tribal strife in Ethiopia without end.
The writer expresses the “Abyssinian colonial thesis” to advocate and justify territorial as opposed to cultural and social ‘self-determination with dry and cold cynicism!
He said: “Emperor Menelik established his rule over peoples and tribes differing entirely from each other in race, religion and history. The Italians thus had just as much right to the ruleship of Ethiopia as the Abyssinians.”(Emphasis added!) p.54
Translated into the current situation, it means anyone has a right to rule the various communities in Ethiopia as long as the communities can be dispersed and are not united to put up a common front of resistance against those who wanted to rule them by dividing them either internally or externally.
Finally, the writer admonishes the colonial world to go for the complete ‘eradication’ of Ethiopia, which he described in his own words as “this plague-spot in East Africa” (p.52)
4. Concluding Remark
Ethiopia’s history is known by its enemies and friends outside Ethiopia as having produced a ‘resistance-liberation historical logo’ not only for Ethiopia, but also Africa and even the previously colonized world as well.
Many nations and peoples outside contributed to the Ethiopian struggle knowing full well the meaning and significance of the resistance and liberation logo that Ethiopia’s history provided in the mortal confrontation between Ethiopia and the colonial system.
What remains troubling is the self-understanding of the current generation of Ethiopians to the history made by previous generations. More often than not the tendency is to denigrate that history and not build from what is worthy to create a future that is even more worthy and historical. This generation lacks historical appreciation, depth and imagination and keeps conflating internal oppressions with the larger imperial and colonial menace that Ethiopia successfully countered by resisting at various levels including diplomatic and non-diplomatic efforts.
This must change now. But all should invest in making the effort to change. There is no value in creating more useless elites by creating more divisions. What kind of elites did the division of Eritrea and Ethiopia bring? Can we truly say that the ruling elites are useful as we have them now? If, by using the self-determination of nationalities, peoples and nation’s politics, we create a number of useless elites to miss–run the breakaway states, are we contributing to a future that guarantees wellbeing or ill-being to the people?
It is remarkable to see how the current politics since the 1970s uses a divisive and fracturing politics where those who came to power managed to do so by saying either we get territorial self-determination for ones identified nationality together with others or we go it alone. Some still continue to stress of going it alone and seem to prefer to be alone territorially more than to come together to forge a shared collective history and destiny together.
Some are supported by those who went alone and made their own states and to this day continue to incite and fan inter-community strife while claiming they stand for one Ethiopia.
According to the previous World Bank president, the African ruling elites spend 5 billion dollars on travel alone annually while India spends a mere 20 million dollars. One wonders what spending billions on travel will do for Africa’s wellbeing by the ruling elites. Do these rulers unite and offer a strong Africa perspective to whatever challenges Africa face today?
If Ethiopia splits, the budget for the travel of the useless classes of rulers will rise but the people’s condition is likely to remain unaltered. Ethiopians must go back to their history in order to create even a stronger history and civilisation on the foundation of unity in their diversity.
The significance of Ethiopian history for African dignity (Part III)
“It is a well-known fact that we always recognise our homeland when we are about to lose it.” – Albert Camus “Do not forget your history and destiny.” – Bob Marley
In part III we concentrate on the generational mistakes that require courage from all of us to admit and try to correct it. All must learn to show humility: those of us who have survived the Red Terrors; and those also who uphold the so-called ‘the nation, nationalities and peoples’ mechanistic-reductionism to an ethnic formula by erecting ambiguous and self-serving programmes of either with Ethiopia as it is if possible, or without Ethiopia if not possible (See the TPLF’s1976 Manifesto); and today’s mushrooming vernacular-ethnic based political parties populating the country’s political space under the spurious guise of promoting democracy. All must re-evaluate their politics by factoring in the relevant but up to now much ignored Ethiopia’s positive historical data. It is not too late. All can learn to know history, and with knowledge must come also humility for the sake of getting Ethiopia completely on the direction that unites rather than permanently fractures. We call on all to show humility before the judgment court of history and pay respect to the achievements of those who bequeathed a historical logo of national resistance that has inspired not only our own people but Africans at home and in the Diaspora and all those colonised peoples the world over.
As far as India, Ghandi was making collections to help the Ethiopian resistance in the 1930s, and African Americans were ready to fight with Ethiopia. We must never try to devalue a historical achievement of resistance that meant a lot to all those who struggled against the imperial-colonial system. The historical record of standing up against the colonial system qualifies Ethiopia to be a respected historical nation and indeed a civilisation-nation, and not to be fought as many of our ethnic entrepreneurs have made it a habit to an extent of costing us both the loss of both this history and Ethiopia itself.
All thoughtful people who respect the hard earned historical achievements must also respect Ethiopia’s history and its significance for both Ethiopia’s future and Africa’s future. Get up, and stand up for the right to respect this history and even better still build on it instead of disorientating such a worthy nation with all sorts of half-baked ideas that have miss-directed the effort to transform and modernise the country.
Let the country, having beaten one great humiliation, which is, fascist colonialism, should be enabled by its own children to focus and concentrate with one goal to defeat the second unacceptable humiliation. That is the call is to enjoin all of us to learn to unite with purpose and commitment to feed all the people irrespective of race, religion, ethnic origin, language or beliefs as an urgent priority.
2. Learn from Mistakes: Appreciate Ethiopian History of Resistance and Experience to build from it to Shape Ethiopia’s Future
The generations in the post-war period have ignored what is critical: the significance of Ethiopia’s history of national resistance and the historical logo it provided for African colonial freedom. All those who have ignored and paid lip service to their history and who refuse to build their future by recognising their historical achievements will suffer. Ethiopia continues to suffer for such oversight and hubris.
Today the elite have substituted ideology by devaluing the importance of a national-patriotic project for building the future by due appreciation of the country’s rich historical experience. We must admit we were wrong as a generation to do so. Ignoring and not being able to build on Ethiopia’s notable historical achievement is a generational mistake that we must all accept with humility and begin to learn from our mistake if we are truly honest and respect the people, the country, the nation, Africa and all justice loving people who suffered colonial humiliation in one form or another in the world.
Not only was it wrong to eclipse Ethiopia’s historical achievement with ideology, but also the ideology we spread was not fully understood and historically contextualised. It was an ideology that was also ill-digested, never fully grasped by all those who fanned it out with a pamphleteering culture which still has not left us at all. Such a disposition and proclivity keep subverting our best intentions. We suffer from a lack of depth in our reflection and our inability to integrate the new from the outside with the realities inside Ethiopia. We lack deeper understanding with the history, context and social practice of our people, nation and country. We cannot say those who rule us either care or show any concern to understand. We cannot say those who are in opposition except those who stand for Pan-Ethiopian national patriotic agenda also fully understand history. What Fanon called the ‘useless classes of elites’ remain useless? But we must encourage and incentives them to learn to become useful and productive. We must also learn to appreciate what deserves genuinely appreciation.
The ideology that was imposed on the hapless nation ‘the right to self-determination including secession’ was like adding water to oil and hope to get a new compound. It became too irrelevant to unite the nation to focus on issues that matter. It, in fact, has been encouraging to foster ethnic vernacular agitation contrary to the ideology which claimed by promoting this ideology, the nation will be united!
Another country which is a historical and civilisation nation like Ethiopia had elites that were not what Fanon would call the useless classes! The society, the history and the culture were able to give anything that came from outside to have Chinese characteristics: Christ, Buddha, Mohammed and Marx – their teachings went to China but were given Chinese characteristics and were re-shaped with a hybrid synthesis and imagination with their Confucian tradition, history, culture and philosophy.
We cannot say that everything that came to Ethiopia also was re-founded and re-shaped with Ethiopia’s core histories and values. That is where our generations failed Ethiopia not to learn, but learn badly and destructively. It is always good to learn from outside, but it is also important to select what to learn and how to learn, and appropriate lessons well rather than engage in hollow mimicry.
3. The Generation that Fanned ethnicism must learn to reject the Ideology of such sub-nationalism!
We can see that ideology of ethnicism that has been applied fully now in Ethiopia has been one that has been enunciated with such mendacity by the Austrian fascist whose statements in his book on ‘tribes’ resemble eerily with all those who fan the erroneous concept of “Abyssinian imperialism’ today. All those who claim that Ethiopia is an ‘invention,’ it does not exist, became paradoxically and inadvertently strange bedfellows with the fascist writer whose book we have introduced for all to read. When the fascists spread the ugly notion that only ‘Amharas’ stand for Ethiopia, that was a gross insult to all the people, however diverse they are, from those who fought against Italian aggression from the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean! It is the disservice to all the patriots drawn from all the diverse communities that fought valiantly for Ethiopia.
The fascist writer himself admits the resistance against Italy was every where: Some examples he cites (See pp-48-49). Amongst others the author mentioned ‘The Abyssinian tribe of the Anauks”, “the Abyssinian border tribe from the Province of Dankali” and others! So it is not only ‘Amharas’ but other Ethiopians from every part of the country have fought by the own admission of the fascist writer.
It is clear the isolation of ‘Amharas’ was more an ideological gimmick to divide and rule, and also to target them for poison gas aerial bombardment, than a true record of what took place. It was not based on a real appreciation of who was actually fighting Italian fascism. Everyone fought from the ordinary peasant to the emperor of the time in Ethiopia valiantly. If that emperor had not been Haile Selassie, any other person in his position would also have led the resistance. It has been acknowledged despite poorly armed resistance fighters with outnumbered Italian troops; Ethiopia held its own and even scared the Italian aggressors by holding on the resistance for nearly a year before the Italians entered the Capital.
The misuse and abuse of the name ‘Amhara’ serves clearly ulterior motives. It is nothing but a gross insult to all the other communities and vernacular groups that have equally fought them from Eritrea to the inhabitants of the Omo River in the South?
The fascists claim that Ethiopia’s anti-colonial resistance is anti-white and an anti- European race, which too is a strong propaganda ploy to isolate Ethiopia in the League of Nation. In fact, many white people did support the Ethiopian cause.
Has not, for example, Ethiopian resistance been supported by Italian anti-colonialists, Sylvia Pankhurst, Spencer, Swedes, Russians, Americans, Mexicans and many others. Ethiopia’s resistance and the leaders of the resistance were not anti-foreign. They were anti-fascist, anti-colonial. They must be respected not condemned for their stand. History must recognise their efforts.
We should make a wake-up call on our generation including those who now rule or miss-rule the region from Eritrea to the Indian Ocean in Somalia to be humble and acquire high knowledge with high humility and recognise that those who passed paying the price must be recognised and not condemned. The best recognition is to preserve the Ethiopia that they fought and died for! Nothing will vindicate their sacrifice than to keep Ethiopia strong, alive and developing!
4. My generation has been wrong and we need to respect and learn from History!
My generation was right to raise issues of social justice, human rights, social solidarity and democracy, but this should not have been at the expense of Ethiopia’s historical achievements. It should have built the new social change on that historical achievement rather than negate history and Ethiopia together. The generation should have derived an agenda of patriotism with social justice and democracy that would have made its contribution relevant and enduring, the country to develop and complete the haphazard efforts of the earlier era to undertake modernisation.
No one can accuse my generation that their intention was not noble. But there is no doubt that the consequence from lack of generational historical sense has cost Ethiopia dearly.
My generation of Ethiopians with intentions to do no harm ended up doing huge harm by not understanding the significance of Ethiopia’s national resistance not only to Ethiopia’s future but also for Africa and indeed the colonised world as a whole, which their predecessors understood so clearly, as conceded even grudgingly by an Austrian arch fascist enemy of Ethiopia! Instead of building on a patriotic agenda from Ethiopia’s historical achievement and develop a robust development strategy to transform the people, the country, the society, the economy and the nation irreversibly to get out of the low poverty equilibrium trap, ‘the history averse and history condemning’ elites created a false ideological agenda that played entirely into those who always wanted to eliminate the country. The Ethiopia that bore the shining example of non-surrender and non-capitulation to the world imperial-colonial system has thus been entangled in a web of conflict, war, poverty, growing social inequalities and threat of disintegration ever since!
My generation must recognise that we were too dismissive and condescending with little or no knowledge of the significance and meaning of Ethiopia’s national history of resistance against the world colonial system to consolidating Ethiopian unity with diversity nationally and with African unity continentally.The fascist author himself told us very clearly their plan to eradicate Ethiopia by inciting and intensifying intra-tribal contradictions and conflicts! Reading the book indeed sends shivers to ones spines seeing the length to which the colonial and imperial powers have gone to make Ethiopia remain permanently in a state of destructive conflict. To this day, Ethiopia has not come out of the seemingly endless state of conflict, war and hunger! It seems to have fallen under arrogant ruling elites whom Fanon describes as a “useless class” who still do not know how to oppress the people except by threatening to kill them with sub-level ‘tribalism’, violence and massive deception and disinformation.
5. Ethiopians in the Resistance were Aware of the Significance of Ethiopia’s Wider Role to Africa
We have always been told what Ethiopia meant based on the views of others from Africa and outside. We never were able to tell the history of what Ethiopians themselves understood by relating the larger significance and meaning of their national resistance to Pan-African unity.
When Ethiopia was attacked we know many Africans within Africa, African Americans, Caribbean’s and others tried to help in any way they can. When this is well known, what is not known is how much Ethiopia itself in terms of policy not just example of resistance stood for the dignity and liberty of the Africans the world over. Ethiopians can only be proud that their country had the wisdom and the principle, the spirit of independence and the courage to stand not only for itself but the whole African world since the European Scramble for Africa until 1974.
Ironically this side of Ethiopia’s role was revealed by its enemies who feared that Ethiopia’s victories can derail the entire colonial-imperial project. It is incredible how much they overestimated Ethiopia’s role not only in Africa but also in even mobilising what we may call now the then colonised world!
They were so afraid of this side of Ethiopia’s role; they concocted a double strategy of uniting the colonial world to limit Ethiopia’s capabilities despite the ability of some of the emperors (e.g. notably Emperor Menelik) to exploit weaknesses in their ranks.
Today Ethiopia continues to suffer from the formula the colonial powers laid for sustaining the seeds of internal conflict to realise their larger objective of weakening Ethiopia’s national resistance and acquire the surrender from Ethiopia they wished desperately to get, which they never got. That the imperial-colonial system wanted Ethiopia to surrender and capitulate is well known, given the numerous conquests, unequal treaties and double standards for Ethiopians and Europeans in Ethiopia. That they never managed to get it is a real testament to the spirit of Ethiopia that we must always cherish and celebrate- a history of national resistance never to surrender to colonial enslavement at whatever cost for Africa!
What is better known is Ethiopia’s capacity never to have surrendered or capitulated to the imperial and colonial system. What comes as surprisingly new to us is the cost paid by Ethiopia for never surrendering or continuing to mount national resistance no matter how difficult the challenges! The colonial powers seemed to have been affronted and took Ethiopia’s success as insolence to be rectified only by its complete paralysis by sowing the seeds of conflict and destruction in the country using the right to self-determination of’ tribes’ as a weapon.
Nothing short of Ethiopia’s extinction to continue as a viable nation was the conventional colonial plan. That Ethiopia existed despite this deliberate strategy to destroy her says more about the resiliency and tenacity of Ethiopians than any concession to let her exist by the imperial-colonial system.
6. Concluding Remark
The history of how Ethiopia survived must be told and re-told tirelessly. Those who do not want this history to be told must be resisted. Without an understanding and awareness of this history, the destiny of this nation will not be secured for good.
Today Ethiopia should have been in a much better situation than it is now in the 21st century. We must excavate what went wrong and learn never to ignore or demonise Ethiopia’s history if we wish to discover quickly a worthy direction so that the people can have adequate food, shelter, clothing, education, health and infinite well being. It is never too late to learn and to change paradigm from what creates division and conflict to what brings unity, perspective and foresight to move mountains with the nation, people and country living in perpetual solidarity, justice and human rights! A new perspective that appreciates history is needed to change the destructive politics into a constructive politics for change.
The real puzzle is this: Why in the 1930s a fierce proponent of Ethiopian colonial enslavement wrote this odious book holding fast a position that Ethiopia was potentially able of giving leadership for entire Africa and even to the extent of recognising its potential to support and be an example to the rest of the non-colonising and non-imperialist world?
- What did Ethiopia mean to its colonial enemies? It meant either a country that must be colonised or destroyed. No other option existed. If not colonisable, use self-determination of ‘tribes’ against the oppression of ‘Abyssinian imperialism’ to break it up and weaken it to a point of complete annihilation.
- What did it mean to other Africans who stood by Ethiopia and its history of national resistance as a great inspirer by expressing nothing but pan-African resistance to restore African dignity and humanity?
- What did it mean to Ethiopians who were resisting colonialism and imperialism and who fought and passed a national history of resistance as a positive data? Ethiopia meant a lot. First they were also Pan-Ethiopian patriots and understood their role as such. They were not only Ethiopian patriots; they were also Pan-African patriots. Moreover they were a shining example to the colonised world. History will be kind to them. They were not perfect. They were not democrats. Their social policy was more traditional than scientific; neither fair nor imbued with justice at the local level… They did not undertake land reform. But they stood against the colonial world and left a country that, if the generations that follow were equally committed to Pan-Ethiopian patriotism and Pan-African patriotic nationalism, Ethiopia could have been playing an inestimable and positive role in Africa and the world today.
- What does today’s Ethiopia’s own generation understand by the history of Ethiopia’s epic national resistance not to be colonised and not to be broken up into pieces? Do the current generations understand Ethiopian history and anti-colonial record as part and parcel of the sum total of pan-African history or do they understand it as the sworn enemies of Ethiopia who left no stone unturned to colonise or break it up? This is a great challenge to all those who have been playing politics in Ethiopia. Face the challenge or quit doing your destructive politics! The first is to show humility and recognise mistakes committed against Ethiopia, the people and the nation.
This generation must learn to rededicate themselves to undertake a painful evaluation of its errors, recommit themselves to build politics away from ethnicism to Ethiopian patriotic civic national citizenship, build pan-Ethiopian and pan-African institutions with resolve, determination, knowledge and historical foresight, and create a united patriotic passion and sentiment in order to transform the country rapidly to emerge as a strong developed nation in the 21st century playing a positive role to overall African development and structural transformation.
This generation of politicians that have scattered as ethnic entrepreneur-politicians must stop implementing a politics of difference and identity that splits Ethiopia. They must stop copying what worked for the colonialist/fascist project and go for an alternative pan –Ethiopian and Pan-African manifesto to rebuild Ethiopia with the principle of unity with diversity and not enmity. It is remarkable after nearly 80 years from the 1930s the colonialist manifesto is being implemented in Ethiopia by home grown ethnic entrepreneur- politicians from different parts of the country.
We must reject singling out the ‘Amhara or the Amhar-Tigrean people’ or the so-called ‘Abyssinian colonialism’ thesis for spreading hate and unproductive politics. It is the hate politics of the fascist era that made the innocent people to be incinerated with poison gas.
In fact the areas where the ‘Amhara’ live that was deliberately selected by the fascists with evil cruelty to drop poison gas and commit genocide should have had a national memorial museum with full compensation for all that suffered from those who committed this perfidy. A patriotic Government in Ethiopia would not have any hesitation to create this national museum in recognition of those that perished fighting fascist aggression and to bequeath historical lessons for future generations.
Those in power must mend their ways and drop the ideology of ethnic federalism and learn to appreciate Ethiopian and African patriotic history by going with a big-bang for Pan-Ethiopian and Pan-African unity and civilisation with humility.
Those in opposition must equally adopt pan-Ethiopian and Pan-African visions and programmes by building from Ethiopian history a future for all citizens irrespective of religion, language, ethnic origin, belief, ideology and any other difference.
The ethnic nationalist parties must stop blaming a whole community for any wrongs of the past. There are some who continue to fight what they call’ Abyssinians’, sometimes this Portuguese invented name in the 15th century is applied to ‘Amharas’, at other times, it is used to include and lump together ‘Amhara-Tigre.’ Abyssinia is a derogatory term. Ethiopians must reject it and use the proper name Ethiopia whose people may be diverse but are and must be united to a man to transform their country together.
The fascists blamed the ‘Amhara people’ for not allowing other tribes to be civilised by them. Such a wholesale blame of a whole community and even a leader issued from such community is nothing but primitive.
Finally, Ethiopia should aim high and not split itself into pieces. It will always be making big mistakes not to build its future on its proved and tried national historical achievement. The future is bright as long as we learn to back cast from our history to forecast our collective destiny as Ethiopians and Africans with patriotism that endows our personality with virtue and solidarity without prejudice to any other nation and people on this earth. Let us plough on the right terrain and walk the right path and begin to talk the politics that can stimulate the productive direction that makes real difference to our peoples’ lives.
He can be reached at www.sarchi-steid.org.za and www.ihis.aau.dk
Taken from the
Ethiomedia.com – An African-American news and views website.
Read the book here – Abyssinia-The Powder Barrel
or a better copy here – Abyssina- The Powder Barrel