Highlights of the Month
Uhuru Kenyatta Partakes in Victory of Adwa Celebrations
“I was honored to join Ethiopians on the momentous occasion when they celebrate the historic defeat of colonial forces by their brave warriors led by Emperor Menelik II in 1896 near the town of Adwa in the Tigray Region.” Uhuru Kenyatta, President of Kenya Deputy Mayor Promises to Erect an Adwa Monument in Addis Speaking to the cheerful crowd gathered around the equestrian statue of Emperor Menelik II, the Deputy Mayor promised to erect a monument in commemorating the Victory of Adwa. The Deputy Mayor Takele Uma said, “Addis Ababa shall build a monument worthy of the valor and sacrifice of the patriots, a monument we can learn from, as there is a lot we can always learn from the heroes of the Battle of Adwa.” The statue of Menelik II encircled by the jovial crowd was erected by Hale Selassie I on Nov 2, 1930, the eve of his coronation, in honor of Emperor Menelik II.
Speaking during the unveiling of the statute, Haile Sellasie I said, “Although this statue can in no way stand as a symbolic example of all he achievements Emperor Menelik II made for Ethiopia, We are erecting this statue because as human beings, there is nothing more We can do.” Further, he noted, “Many are the Emperors who, in the past, worked commendably for their country. However, we know of no king, thus far, who has a statue erected in his name.” Some ninety years later, Emperor Haile Sellasie has his statue erected in the compound of the African Union in recognition of his contribution to African Unity.
Victory Day Celebrations
Here in Addis, the 123rd anniversary of the Victory of Adwa was celebrated colorfully, featuring elderly patriots shouting battle cries as well as children and youngsters with heads wound with Shema (turbans). The promise of the Deputy Mayor of Addis, Takele Uma, to build a statue in the African Capital in honor of the heroes of Adwa was another highlight of the ceremony.
In recent years, dozens of youth have been traveling annually from Addis to the venue of the battle in the town of Adwa, following the very route on which the army had marched 123 years ago.
How Did We Get to Adwa?
Before Ethiopia and Italy fought with guns, they battled mentally. The Italian envoy Cont Antonelli tried to put Ethiopia under Italian protectorate through carefully chosen words he used in the Treaty of Wuchale. The contentious Article 17 of the Italian version of the treaty said that Ethiopia had agreed to conduct all of her dealing with Europe through Italy. The Amharic version on its part said that Ethiopia may conduct her business dealings with Europe through (with the help of) Italy. The former implied commitment to remain under Italian protectorate while the later left Ethiopia at liberty to use Italy’s help — or not. The terms of the agreement in the Italian version came to the attention of Ras Mekonnen, who was on a visit in Italy, with the help of an Ethiopian residing there, who read about it on the newspaper. Ras Mekonnen immediately told the Italian envoy to correct the story. He did not. The terms of the agreement were to be corrected after the Battle of Adwa where Italy was vanquished.
St. George’s Helping Hand at Adwa
The Battle of Adwa was fought and won on the very day of the monthly Feast of St George, March the first, 1896. On that day St George was seen at Adwa in the battlefield. Thus, nearly all local paintings of the Battle of Adwa include the image of St George on his white horse. (see picture). St Georges Tabot, a replica of the ark of the covenant dedicated to him, which partook in the battle, is now seated in the St George Cathedral at the heart of Addis, opposite the Menelik II Square, where the Adwa Victory Day is annually celebrated. Emperor Menelik II built the St George’s Cathedral in Addis Ababa in 1896, the very same year he won the victory with the help of St George and right after he got back to his capital Addis. St George is one of the highly venerated saints of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
What Sets the Victory of Adwa Apart?
In the second half of the nineteenth century, especially, over last few decades, Ethiopians were already battling with invaders and winning victories. But, no victory in any of the numerous earlier battlefields could match the victory at Adwa. The victory at Adwa in 1896 captured the attention of European states as well as that of the people in their vast colonies. After the victory of Adwa the name Ethiopia became synonymous with independence, carving a well-cherished image in the minds of Africans and Afro-Americans. The Victory of Adwa is unique including for the following reasons. Adwa: A Disruptor of Perspectives
The African victory at Adwa was a disruptor of two mindsets: One, of complacency and another, of despair, which the oppressor and the oppressed, respectively, took for granted. Adwa demonstrated that it was possible to disrupt the status quo of injustice, that the relationship of bondage was neither natural nor a given. After Adwa, the ruler could no longer feel entitled to rule, just as the colonized could not quietly submit to oppression.
Adwa as a Proof of a Longstanding Promise
Even before Adwa, Ethiopia promised a homeland to “the blacks in America, the West Indies and Europe and Africa itself.” They all drew inspiration from the Ethiopia mentioned do dozens of times in Scriptures. Of particular relevance was verse: “Ethiopia shall stretch her hands unto God.” (Ps 68:31) Ethiopia was, thus, associated with the hope for spiritual redemption to come from on high with her as the agent to make it happen. Then came the victory at Adwa, perhaps, as a proof of her unleashing the power of God to vanquish the invader. Hence, the black peoples everywhere knew that it was their victory, too. The victory at Adwa stimulated the energies of South African blacks in the early years of the Ethiopian church movement. Adwa stirred black people to reassess themselves and reassert their rights. It offered a hope and a potential home for all dreamers of better life. In the 1920s Marcus Garvey stirred the movement of black people who identified themselves with Africa, as some called themselves "Ethiopians” and others Rastafarians, after Ras Teferi, the name of Haile Sellasie I before his coronation. Some Rastafarians have actually come to Ethiopia and have settled here. And they came to Ethiopia not to preach, as their compatriots who went to other parts, says Donald levin in his Greater Ethiopia, but looking for a homeland whose culture they wished to absorb and in which they wanted “to establish roots.” [Pic: Marcus Garvey, Rastafarians, the Equestrian Statue of Menelik II] And it all boils down to the victory at Adwa, the victory of Africa, the victory which inspired and unified Africans and Afro-Americans to yearn for freedom and independence and, importantly, to fight for it.
Adwa as the Reason for Vengeance
Just as Ethiopia captured the dreams of the oppressed people everywhere, it had also created enemies including of course the loser at the Battle of Adwa. Already, in the very day of the Victory of Adwa the seeds of vengeance were sewn. Four decades, and it was time of harvest. One of the cruelest outpouring of vengeance happened on 21 February 1937 following the attempt at the life of Graziani. The five years of occupation caught the attention of the world, reigniting and strengthening black solidarity and Pan-Africanism. It came to an end only with the onset of WW II in 1941.
Adwa as a Reason the World Rallied Behind Ethiopia
Her role as the standard-bearer of independence had so endeared Ethiopia to black people the world over that fellow Africans were deeply disturbed when Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935, forty years after Adwa. The threat to the “spiritual fatherland” was a direct affront to all people of African descent who cherished the freedom and independence Ethiopia embodied. Thus, many stood up to help, volunteering to fight by the side of Ethiopians. Some held nightly prayers, on behalf of Ethiopia. Many African leaders reflected on the fate of Ethiopia, some cursing the invader, others putting their hope on the Victory of Adwa where Ethiopians had demonstrated their resolve never to submit to subjugation. Kwame Nkrumah was upset by the threat posed to the cherished image of Ethiopia that he was stirred to make a pledge to do his share to stop colonialism.
Articulating the belief at the time, Jomo Kenyatta spoke of how Ethiopia would respond to the invasion: “Ethiopia, with Her Emperor leading, relies on her soldiers, her courage, her traditions. There will be no concessions; Ethiopia will fight, as she always has fought, to preserve her independence against this encroachment of Imperialism.” Perhaps, Kenyatta should have included in the list the ultimate source of Ethiopia’s strength, her God to whom it stretches out her hand. But Kenyatta didn’t stop there. Instead, he teamed up with the leaders of Jamaica and Somaliland, among others, to establish the International African Friends of Abyssinia, paving the way for the convening in 1945 of the Pan-African Congress at Manchester.
St George helped Ethiopia win the day at Adwa, just as the nightly prayers of the African brothers during the invasion of the 1930s helped expel the invader within five years.
Veterans who faced Italy twice Dejach Balcha Safo
Born in 1963, Dejach Balcha Safo was at his prime when he went to Adwa in 1896 and returned victorious. Old age did not stop him in 1928 from asking Emperor Haile Sellasie I to join the campaign: “I heard of the attack on your soldiers…and I know that they are going to battle. I fought by the side of Menelik at Adwa, and I demand my place by you!” The Emperor was touched by the offer, thanked Balcha “for being prepared to died for your country.” But he did not grant Balcha’s request; instead, he told him: “Your place is here, Balcha, I can make good use of you, and for the actual fighting I have younger generals.” (Prevail, Jeff Pearce, p 34) In 1936 Balcha died fighting for his country.
Ras Mulugeta Yigezu
Another veteran who knew the taste of the victory at Adwa was Ras Mulugeta (1865-1936). U