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The Victory Of Adwa (Fall 2012)

            Adwa is a town located in Northern part of Ethiopia. The town of Adwa has great part in Ethiopia’s history. The Victory of Adwa was named after this historic town where Ethiopia fought against strong power Italia nevertheless the battle of Adwa surprisingly ended Ethiopia defeating Italy and was able to secure its sovereignty. The victory marked Ethiopia to be the only country that has never been colonized besides Liberia.

            Ethiopia is a country located in Easter part of Africa geographically more known as the horn of Africa. The country shares its border with Eritrea, Djibouti, Kenya and Sudan. It has a population of 80 million. More than 70 languages are believed to be spoken. Amhara Tigre and Oromo are major ethnic groups. Amharic is the official language of the country. When the word Ethiopia is mentioned what come to people mind are famine, poverty and hunger. The single story that has been told has changed the image of the country for so many years. The 1984 famine that caused 1 million people to death was documented by BBC Journalist called Michael Buerk described the magnitude of the famine as “a biblical famine in the 20th century and the closest thing to hell on earth” He helped by covering the catastrophe and brought the story in to the world attention. Many organization and countries came in to aid. When the Ethiopia’s 1984 famine is mentioned the live band Aid that was organized by British Artists Bob Geldof is also remembered.  He campaigned for the cause and mobilized the world to rally to save many lives by bringing the world together on one event. Many joined   the cause by fund raising money and food assistances. Live band event Aid was able to reach the world through television since then Ethiopia is known with the single story of famine. 

            Even though the good cause were able to save many lives in Ethiopia. Ever since then Ethiopia has been considered a land of poverty starvation, hunger. When I am asked the question where you from and answer I am from Ethiopia what comes to people mind is the single story of famine, starvation. This stereotype has existed until today.  This is why I decided to share the untold story of ADWA symbol of freedom for Ethiopia more over for the people of Africa. I wanted to tell to my readers that other than the single famine Ethiopia has also other history that should be told. The history of Adwa that impacted the African Nation.

            The 19th century was driven by mixtures of the history forces such as politics and government, economics and religion. It was a time characterized by power computation among European powers.  Powerful western countries were craving to expand economic, political and religion influences. Africa was an easy Target for the powerful countries like French; Belgium Italy came to Africa to invade and colonize African countries.  Since the western countries were industrializing their economy there was a demand in natural resources. Africa found to be perfect continent to fulfill the European power demand for natural resources. 

            The Berlin conference that was held in 1884 in Germany included Austria, Belgium Denmark France Germany, British, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain and U.S.A. The major architects who played key roles in the scramble   of African lands were France, Germany, Great Britain and Portugal. The conference ended by defining geographical boarders and dividing Africa in to fifty states .The powerful European countries agreed to subject Africa in to new political, cultural era.  These powerful countries decided to share the land by dividing the African countries.  The African countries fell under the possession of the European colonial powers.  The abundant natural resources and large, unexplored virgin land of the continent gave its resources and exploitation opportunities for western powers; moreover the opportunity for spread Christian evangelism to reach Africa was on its way. The Berlin conference gave its blessing to Italy to colonize Ethiopia.  Following the Berlin conference the neighboring Eretria fell under the new rule of Italy.  Even though Italy helped the Eritrea in construction of infrastructures, construction of roads, bridges and expansion of Catholic  by convincing  people that their presence is to enlighten people and develop the country they faced  resistance .   Meanwhile Italy and Ethiopia signed a treaty called the treaty of “WuChali”. It was signed by king Menelik of Ethiopia and Pietro Antonelli of Italy. The treaty grants Italy lands in Northern Ethiopia boarder areas to Eritrea So that Italia would provide Ethiopia with weapons. However the Italians tricked king Menilik by signing two versions of the treaty one in Ethiopian Amharic language and the other one in Italian language. The Italian version of the treaty denied Ethiopia to be sovereign country. It stated that “Ethiopia deals its foreign affairs through Italian.” King Menelik learned that he was deceived and betrayed. He denounced the Italians and rejected the treaty. When the Italian realize the treaty failed they came with another plan. They plot to get rid of Menelik by organizing king Menelik‘s rivals within the country. They tried to convince the regional governor Ras Mengisha to stand against King Menelik by promising him weapons, money and power. Their strategies failed as Ras Mengesha rejected the offer. The final option the Italian considered was invading Ethiopia by force, leading to the battle of Adwa.

            In 1986 Ethiopia led by King Menelik fought against powerful Italy. Italy was strong in its military and advanced in military weapon. King Menelik had about 100.00 fighters most of them are peasants equipped with spears and limited riffles. The Italian army led by General Baraterie with well-trained troops about 20,000. The Italian underestimated with the assumption that tribalism divided Ethiopia so that would make it hard to unite as one nation and fight against them. Nevertheless the assumption was proved to be wrong. King Menelik was able to unite the country for the war effort by declaring total war. The war was fought from March 1st to 2nd march of 1896. Italian force was defeated suffering causalities on both sides. Beyond losing the war defeated by black power meant a great deal to Italia. They suffer psychologically and emotionally.

            Ethiopia secured its independence and the victory of Adwa changed the course of history in Africa.  At a time where negative racial attitudes towards black people were manifested the victory of Adwa had historical importance to the people in Africa. It brought a sense of racial equality, its psychological and emotional impact were tremendous. It made other African Countries that were suffering under colonialism to have hope for freedom. The victory also proved that African could fight and win war. It forced European powers to look back reconsider   their judgment, and engaged in diplomacy.  Black people, freedom loving white people and Asian celebrated the victory of Adwa. 

            The Italian force was defeated the battle of Adwa because of strategic mistakes and luck was also played a role to determine the outcome of the battle.   The Italian failed to know the enemy they were fighting. They did not have full understanding of the Ethiopian army capacity. When the Italian were preparing for the battle they rely more on inciting fight  with in the Ethiopia between various regional governors  they calculated on exploiting conflicts ,more so they were  highly engaged in encouraging internal revolt. They failed to realize the Ethiopian monarchy had a strong hold and built a system that every individual in Ethiopia abides to the king. Religion and government during that time work together. Majority of Ethiopia being devoted Orthodox Christian the priests campaigned and called on the people of Ethiopia to defend their religion they preached that the Italians were to take their religion away. Given the poor technology advancement in military equipment, communication transportation in Ethiopia the Italian army Generals did not expect King Menelik would be able to mobilize the people of Ethiopia to get 100.000 soldiers. The Italian army strategies were based on the European war strategies which was completely different from African system. The war cost Italy more resources than they thought it would cost them.

            According to Robert clemm review of Raymond Jonas book (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press, 2011) he described it as “This is the story of a world turned upside down.  So begins The Battle of Adwa: African Victory in the Age of Empire. While no attribution is suggested, it is likely Raymond Jonas had in mind the famous ballad played by the British at their surrender at Yorktown. As much as the victory by the colonials was a rebuke to conventional wisdom so the battle of Adwa was to European attitudes towards Africans during the Age of Imperialism. “

            The battle of Adwa proved king Menelik’s leadership skill. His wife Empress Taytu was also significant figure during the battle. Empress Taytu played great role in campaigning for the war effort. These were the words of the empress to the Italian army " If it is your wish, start the war next week. Nobody is afraid. We will see when you turn into action. Don't ever think that we are not willing to sacrifice our comfort and die for our country. Giving one’s life for the country is an honorable death. I do not want to keep you here; it is getting dark; I am sure you have a lot of things to do to put your threats into action. I am a woman. I do not like war. However, I would rather die rather than accepting your deal “She was known the most influential person in King Meneliks political affairs. The capital city of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa was named by empress Taytu its English translation is new flower. Empress Taytu has always been remembered for her unique and extraordinary personality in the struggle of freedom. She left her legacy to Ethiopian woman and to the women in general that the role of a woman was as important as men in every aspect of life. Her founded city Addis Ababa today is Like African capital city. The African union was established in the city of Addis Ababa. It serves as being the headquarter of African union by hosting African summits and international Assembly till today.

            In other parts of Africa countries that were ruled by the colonial powers benefited from their colonizing countries the building of infrastructures, roads, hospitals expansion of education system, Electricity and factory nevertheless colonialism its negative consequences were to remain for years to come. Racism, ethnic violence, Tribalism are some of the consequences of colonialism. The psychological and emotional consequences of colonialism in Africa have remained generation after generation. 

            Unlike the other African countries The Victory of Adwa was able to escape the impacts of colonialism most importantly the psychological and emotional impacts of colonialism in Ethiopia. To Other African countries Ethiopia was seen symbol freedom. Most African countries were inspired by the victory. Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, many other African  freedom fighters and activists whom the story of Adwa was able to inspire. This is why some   African countries when they finally declared their independence they made their flag based on the Ethiopian flag green, yellow, red. 

            The victory of Adwa preserved Ethiopia’s sovereignty, cultural identity, religion. Above all the victory of Adwa remained as a symbol of freedom for Ethiopia and the oppressed people of Africa.

  1. Wikipedia. Retrieved Nov 20, 2012, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adwa
  2. Raymond Jonas The battle of Adwa. African Victory in the Age of Empire. Retrieved date 
  3. Nov.20, 2012, http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674052741
  4. Battle of Adwa history.  Retrieved Nov 21, 2012, http://www.ethiopians.com/ad-h-emp.html
  5. First Italo-Ethiopian War: Battle of Adwa. Date retrieved Nov 22, 2012 http://militaryhistory.about.com/od/battleswars1800s/p/adwa.htm 
  6. Wikipedia. Live band. Retrieved Nov 21, 2012 Aid   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Live_Aid
  7. Robert clemm. When Ethiopia Stunned the World. Retrieved Nov, 21, 2012 http://ehistory.osu.edu/osu/reviews/reviewview.cfm?id=117
  8. Kennedy Hickman. First Italo-Ethiopian War: Battle of Adwa. Date retrieved Nov 22, 2012 http://militaryhistory.about.com/od/battleswars1800s/p/adwa.htm