The Victory of Adwa Fosters Pan Africanism

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The Victory of Adwa Fosters Pan Africanism
The Victory of Adwa Fosters Pan Africanism

Africa-Press – Ethiopia. OLOMON DIBABA

Every year on March 1, Ethiopia and Africa mark the victory of the Battle of Adwa, in which Emperor Menelik II mobilized ill-equipped youth army of peasants, artisans, women and volunteers from all walks of life and ethnicity to repel Italian aggressors which received the blessings of the colonial powers in the Scramble for Africa in line with the resolutions of the Berlin Conference (1884-1885.)

Ethiopia was treacherously tricked and forced into a war with Italian colonialists due to the fact that Italy deliberately created a difference in meaning between the Amharic version and the Italian text of Article 17 of the Treaty of Wuchale which forces Ethiopia to conduct any foreign relations with other countries only through the Italian Government.

The treaty says: ”his Majesty the King of Kings of Ethiopia can [1] use the Government of His Majesty the King of Italy for all treatments that did business with other powers or governments.”

Consequently, Emperor Menelik II called upon the peoples of Ethiopia to defend their country and Ethiopians, where many thousands of peasant soldiers of all walks of life and ethnic groups responded to the call, swarming into battle fields.

Menelik’s famous declaration reads: “Now an enemy that intends to destroy our homeland and change our religion has come crossing our God-given frontiers digging in like a mole. Now, with the help of God, I will not allow him to have my country. You, my countrymen, I have never knowingly hurt you, nor have you hurt me. Help me, those of you with zeal and will power; those who do not have the zeal, for the sake of your wives and your religion, help me with your prayers,” (Gebre Selassie, Tarike zaman Zadagmawi Menile Negusa Nagast Ze-etyopya, 1966, p. 225.).

The victory of Adwa immediately ignited global resistance against colonialism in black Africa and anti-colonial movements across the globe. The spirit of Pan-Africanism was born.

The Battle of Adwa which took place on March 1, 1896 runs across the annals of both Ethiopian and African history, as the first victory of black Africa against a European colonial power. The nostalgia of the war still haunted not only Ethiopians but also fellow Africans and the entire black people in the world. The victory depicted the defiance and pride of Ethiopians, an attitude which was inherited by the national liberation movements in Africa in their struggle against colonialism.

The victory of Adwa illustrates the ingenuity of the leadership of Emperor Menelik, not only on the battle field but also on matters of foreign policy and diplomacy in which he was able to isolate Italy from seeking any diplomatic or political support. In fact the European powers of those days were the first to declare the victory at Adwa through their telegraphs and newspapers.

Compared to other wars of resistance that the peoples of Ethiopia had to fight, the victory of Adwa was a unique victory in the sense that its results were not short lived but surprisingly permanent.

At a period in time when the colonial powers attempted to demonstrate their invincibility, the victory at Adwa showed that the same victory can be repeated by Africans. This came true when a number of African countries gained their independence in the early 1960s. Besides, this was the first victory in the world against a powerful European power ever to be registered by black people.

As a nation tricked into signing the dubious Treaty of Wuchale, which led to the battle of Adwa over a century ago, Ethiopia should take lessons from that and be conscientious to shun similar blunder.

The different version of Article 17 finally changed the course of the agreement as it favored the Italians. Ethiopians could not benefit out of that deal even that article directly or indirectly reduced Ethiopia to the level of protectorate.

In wise and carefully crafted way, Ethiopian diplomats were able to win the Battle of Adwa and so the Italians lost their diplomatic fight though they were adamant to abandon Wuchale treaty.

The victory of Adwa is very symbolic and that is why it still resonates, however, still the nation has to learn the lessons and transmit it to the new generation.

This year, Ethiopia is celebrating the Battle of Adwa in a united action against those who vowed to disintegrate and destroy the statehood of the country in the Northern part of the country. As the result of the barbaric war that TPLF has declared on Ethiopia, millions of citizens are displaced in Amhara and Afar regions. The victory at the battle of Adwa was indeed a victory brought through the unity of the entire people of Ethiopia.

Emperor Menelik’s ability to win the loyalty of all the bickering factions in Ethiopia, who in the face of a common enemy put aside their differences, was able to mobilized troops from every corner of the country into the warfront. Unity was crucial in the face of a superior force on paper. The Rases put aside personal animosities and fiefdoms to march in unison to Adwa. Amongst them were Ras Makonnen, Ras Tekle Haymonot, Ras Mengesha Yohannes, Ras Sibhat, Ras Mikael, Ras Wole , and Ras Gebeyehu, who died fighting at Adwa.

According to Professor Richard Pankrust in his book “Reflections on the Battle of Adwa” the Ethiopian victory at the Battle of Adwa has remained a very important event in the shared recollection of the entire African people. It is the only secular episode in the whole history of Africa that has been celebrated for more than a century with unabated popular enthusiasm.

A phenomenon such as Adwa is a complex nexus of various historical processes with wide ranging but as yet not fully explored meanings. The contributors to this collection show that Adwa does not only reflect its time, but that it also transcends it, and that the aspirations and meanings attached with it have been a powerful constitutive force in the rise and evolution of modern Africa. Indeed, it is an event that awakened the hope for emancipation and the struggle against colonialism and racism among Africans in the colonies and in the Diaspora.

Menelik’s wife, the Princess Taitu, who commanded her own division, also commands respect in popular memory, and is often depicted as falling to her knees in prostration when the battle began and praying for victory. It was she who warned the Emperor about suspicious activities on the part of the Italian emissaries, scenting out political ploys under the cover of peace negotiations. Most important of all, she played a very strategic role by controlling the sources of water from the enemy.

Sehafe Te’ezaz Gebre Selassie, an eyewitness to the Battle of Adwa, concludes in his memoirs that no matter how organized an army may be, and no matter how sophisticated its arsenal of weapons, victory is only possible through God-given valor and skill. And in the Battle of Adwa, Menelik II proved the moral imperative in the struggle of Ethiopia against colonialism.

It is difficult to conclude that the history of the Battle of Adwa was well documented. The current generation and the future ones need to know the history of their country as it would serve as a source of inspiration for the young generation of these days and the future. The construction of a museum dedicated to the Battle of Adwa is a very important decision taken by the Addis Ababa City Administration. A Pan African University to be constructed in Adwa town in Tigray will also help to expand the history of the Battle by blending it with the anti-colonial history of the peoples of Africa.

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