Inspiration “After Adowa, Ethiopia became emblematic of African valour and resistance, the bastion of prestige and hope to thousands of Africans who were experiencing the full shock of European conquest, and were beginning to search for an answer to the myth of African inferiority … To articulate West African nationalist intelligentsia of lawyers, merchants, journalists, doctors and clergymen who had since the turn of the century persistently sought to share political power with the colonial ruler, the role of Ethiopia or Ethiopianism in nationalist thought and politics was great and inspiring … In separate African churches, Africans did and could protest imperial rule and build articulate leadership to oppose the domineering and discriminating actions of the colonial officials.” (Taken from SKB Asante, in his study of Ethiopianism in West Africa.) “Ethiopia has need of no one. She stretches out her hands to God.” (Emperor Menelik, February, 1897).
“There was never a time when united that Ethiopians lost to an enemy; it is non-existent in history.” (Emperor Menilek II, 1909) “I am a woman. I do not like war. But I would rather die than accept your deal.” Etige Taitu Bitul, Wife of Menelik II “The focus on modern Ethiopia by people of African descent started during the age of segregation and colonialism. In an Africa partitioned by European powers at the Congress of Berlin, where no African representatives were present, independent Ethiopia represented a kingdom and a beacon for idealists who promoted the freedom of Africa and other Blacks around the world.
This was emphasized when Ethiopian forces defeated invading Italians at the Battle of Adowa in 1896.”(http://blackexpat. com/new/magazine/black-in-the-dayafro- american-and-afro-caribbeanexpats- in-ethiopia/) It is now 122 years since the Great Adwa African victory. This significant event should have been recognised with a world heritage site a long time back. Still very little is known about the rich Africa struggle heritage let alone the need to draw lessons to build a better African future. It is urgent that the constructive and positive heritage of liberation struggles from every part of Africa be studied and resurrected in order to re-educate and wean generations of Africans to know what their struggle heritage entails. The glorious past, particularly of early Africa and resistance to numerous imperial advances, and the stolen legacy should be recovered. The battle of Adwa in 1896 epitomises successful resistance against colonialism. It has come to be recognised as one of the most significant African liberation struggles that took place during the time of the European Scramble for Africa. The victory lives on providing enduring lessons for all of us. All Ethiopians through the depth and breadth of the land from Oromo to Eritrea were mobilised and contributed richly to the success of the Adwa victory.
This was not a victory of the leaders, or one ethnic group. This was a national victory with a wider African and indeed world significance. It was and remains an exemplary episode in demonstrating what a united people can achieve with the support of the African Diaspora and the anti-colonialists in the Global South and even in Italy and the rest of Europe too! Adwa was a major anti-colonialist battle fought by all Ethiopians, under the skillful leadership of Emperor Menelik and Empress Taitu.
This victory resonated well beyond the Ethiopian and indeed the African continent. It represented the clash between colonialism and liberation on a world-scale. Every year during ‘Yekatit’ (February) or March Adwa can provide the occasion to appreciate fully the international significance of the Ethiopian victory over the world colonial project in Africa. The failure to put this victory in the context of the wider challenges which confronted Africa before, during and after the nineteenth century needs to be corrected.
The Adwa Victory constitutes a crucial chapter in the record of African resistance and liberation. It armed generations of Africans with the confidence of victory to engage in resistance and liberation. It attracted attention as far as the Caribbean and the Americas, not to mention Europe and the rest of Africa. It reversed the imperial-colonial project’s design to populate Africa with Europeans like they did with America. It deserves to be celebrated both as a significant episode in its own right and as a memory serving well the emerging communities of resistances in the African world never again to surrender to neo-colonial tyranny. The battle of Adwa continues to live on in the eternal river of time as the best expression of Ethiopianism for resisting effectively the world imperialcolonial project.
This struggle by a relatively small and weak country, against Italy – with also support from all the imperial powers that tore to pieces Africa at the Scramble for Africa in Berlin in 1885 – is still relevant today. It was a united and not divided Ethiopia that brought about the victory. It was the strategic thinking of the leadership that made a big difference. The support of the African Diaspora, and anticolonial forces across the world was inspirational.
Promotion of Ethiopianism on a World Scale According to Shepperson, the period from 1872 to 1928 is called ‘the classical period of Ethiopianism because it was at this time that it exercised its greatest political influence and was most widely noticed in the European, American and African press’.1 By the early 20th Century Ethiopianism emerged among African anti-colonial activists as a subtle method of challenging colonial rule by combining Christian and secular nationalist traditions to promote the idea of African capacity for organisation-building without European tutelage.
Although Ethiopianism originated as a religious movement, it was significant in establishing the demand for the emancipation of the peoples of African descent inside and outside Africa. Ethiopianism asserted that African history, civilisation and culture are sources of pride and fountainhead of European culture. After discussion with those who formed the Ethiopian church on the wider meaning of the designation Ethiopia, all agreed that according to the propesies it literally refers to all non-European people.2 Glenda Kruss explained that Ethiopianism involved an awareness of the history and vaues of African culture.
African history and culture became a source of pride with emphases laid on glorious African kings and empires and on the widely held belief that African culture and civilisation had been the fountainhead of European culture. The political aspiration of the Ethiopian leadership saw the ideal chance for its own ascent in the eviction of the European and removal of slavery from the African continent.3 The 1829 Ethiopian Manifesto The 1829 Ethiopian Manifesto was written by Robert Alexander Young, a slave preacher, in defence of Black man’s rights in the scale of universal freedom. In it, Young addresses both Black and White people. Young identifies people in the African diaspora as Ethiopians. He tells Ethiopians they only enjoy a few of their birth rights because some are enslaved.
He writes to Ethiopians and all slaves in the hope of making them aware of how mistreated they have been. Young questions how his skin colour plays a part in making him eligible for God’s gift. Why is the case that white skin is considered more eligible to receive God’s gift? He asks for freedom for everyone because it is given to everyone by God and not by mortal men. When he addresses white men, he accuses them of denying slaves their rights, and lets them know regardless of their mortal riches and social standing, under the eyes of God, they’ll pay for their actions in heaven. He identifies himself as being descended from Africa, and says there is a connection between all black people from all parts of the world. He says black women, men, and children have the same heritage because of Psalm 68:31 which goes on to say princes come out from Egypt and Ethiopia will soon stretch its hands to God.
The 1896 Ethiopian Manifesto
- The 1896 Ethiopian Manifesto calls for all Africans across the globe:
- To unite together Christians of the African race and various denominations in the name of Jesus Christ to solemnly work towards and pray for the day when Africa people shall become an African Christian nation.
- To demand by Christian and lawful methods the equal recognition of the African and allied peoples the rights and privileges accorded to Europeans and to place on record the great wrongs inflicted upon the African by the racist people and Governments of Europe and America and to urge upon the Christians who wish to be clear of African blood on the day of God’s judgment to make restitution.
- To pursue steadily and unswervingly the policy Africa for Africans and look for and hasten by prayer and united effort the forming of the African Christian nation by God’s power and in his own time and way. Ethiopians, in the face of their inequality even after they had appropriated Western religious and cultural forms – Christianity and civilisation – were protesting their exclusion on all levels, and without any loss of time that Africans must assert confidently they could be equal to Europeans.
The African leadership reacted to the erosion of African political power, its economic well-being and its social stability by establishing independent bodies exclusively for Africans. Ethiopianism is for Africa is for Africans, Africans are for humanity and Humanity is for God! Enduring Lessons from the Great Adwa African Victory the Adwa victory provided practical expression to Ethiopianism: self-worth, dignity, unity, resistance, confidence self-reliance and freedom from colonialism. Africans united as humans, not giving in to the tribal ‘divide and rule’ tactics colonialists left behind which still persists as vile ethnicism. Adwa Victory changed the relationship between Ethiopia and Europe. It is remarkable that from 1896-1906, Pan- African intellectuals like the Haitian, Benito Sylvain, visited Ethiopia four times. In 1903-1904 William H Ellis, of Cuban-American descent, visited Ethiopia twice with plans for Ethiopian economic development and the resettlement of African-Americans. Marcus Garvey immortalised Ethiopia by incorporating the spirit of resistance of Adwa in his National Black Anthem.
In 1904 Haiti’s 100th Centenary of Independence was celebrated in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. A Guard of Honour of Ethiopians volunteered and they fired several rifle rounds and shouted their slogan: ‘Long Live Haiti! Long live the Ethiopia of America!’ Benito Sylvain got permission from Emperor Menelik for the celebration and he represented both Ethiopia and Haiti in the 1900 Pan-African Congress. Emperor Menelink after 1896 was appointed as honorary president of the Pan-African Association. In the same way that the spiritual values of Ethiopianism laid the foundation for Pan-Africanism to unite all Africans to fight colonialism and apartheid, these same values – self-worth, dignity, pride, agency and freedom are needed to realise the African renaissance today. This will enable Africa to emerge as an independent, strong and proud leader rather than mere follower of former colonial powers in the 21st century. We must all join together, learning to remove divisions and realise fully the benefits of unity. The Adwa Victory must continue highlighting Ethiopianism for Africa, the Global South and oppressed in the world.
All Ethiopians who are currently living in what is known as Ethiopia must appreciate they are privileged to be associated with Ethiopia. They all must know Ethiopia is more than the country it is now. They must cherish the honour of being Ethiopians forever. The least they can do is unite and learn the culture of dialogue to make Ethiopia live ever in the eternal river of time.
Erecting lasting heritage monuments It is not acceptable that the great and historic Adwa African Victory is not celebrated as it should be in Adwa where the battle took place. When the European powers denounced the victory as ‘a foul crime’, there should have been serious effort to educate generations by creating in Adwa, Tigray province, a great historic heritage site. That has not been done. Let us call for all Africans to unite and establish a great Pan-African Adwa Victory heritage site on the 122 years anniversary day on March 1, 2018 or Yekatit 23, 2009. This should be recognised by UNESCO as a world heritage site.
There should also have been Pan- African efforts to promote the heritage site and its meaning by establishing a special university. Let all cooperate to establish a Pan-African Adwa Victory inspired university open to all in the Global South and the rest of the world who wish to work for the unity of all humanity by learning Pan-Africanism for completing African liberation. It must be an Adwa Pan-African University and not a Pan-African university in Adwa. It must resurrect the spiritual, struggle and indigenous knowledge heritage of all Africans in the world. Let there be statues also erected in Adwa of all the key leaders and let there be a museum detailing how the battle was won decisively. There should be all the records, remembering the way the strategy was designed to create a decisive victory including the key quotes from the leaders by establishing a historic site with global significance.
This will make Adwa become a learning site for all in the world to visit like Axum, Labella, Gondar and other historic places. There should be a special library both physical and digital in Adwa to record and show all the African struggle histories, not just Adwa’s alone. Let Adwa inspire all the struggles that we should all remember enabling the Africana world never to surrender to any form of injustice ever again. We ask the African Union and all the African Governments from Ethiopia to all the AU member states including the Ethiopian-African Diasporas, and all from the Global South to be actively involved and contribute without fail to highlight the 122 Years of this project.
This can be done by the African Union taking the decision by making March 1 every year a Special Day for the Great African Adwa Victory and urging African states to make the month an educational month for African unity and Renaissance by learning from Africa’s great struggle heritage. Let us advance the African unity and renaissance agency project identity to be fully promoted and realised before 2063! Let all learn how to combine Ethiopianism with Pan- Africanism and the African Renaissance with the struggle heritage of the Great Adwa African Victory Spirit. Let us together build a memorable heritage. All Africans can create the ability together to deal with and respond to challenges with a united voice, rather than making 54 noises that can easily get ignored, and take action to realise African solutions to African problems by relying on and using Africa’s spiritual knowledge and struggles heritages.
This makes Ethiopia go beyond becoming a mere nation; Ethiopia is a civilisation, history and humanity combined. It is not just history. It is not just civilisation. It is not just philosophy. It is not just humanity. It is a great synthesis of all of them. It gave spirituality – Africa for Africans, Africans for humanity and humanity for God. It is a great inspiration just by sheer sense of its very being becoming recognised as the provider of liberation resources to all humanity in the world.
Ethiopianism explains philosophically her historical presence as evidence providing so much spiritual strength, confidence, independence, self-worth and freedom to those who were denied their humanity and their right to worship God as Christians. Ethiopianism remains relevant now also to continue the spiritual inspiration to all the oppressed that continue to suffer from a world that is driven by ideas that are ontologically shallow and epistemologically dry. What Makes the Great Adwa African Victory unique is it reinforced this Ethiopianism philosophy across the world. Raymond Jonas said, “Nearly a hundred years before the abolition of apartheid, Adwa set in motion the long unraveling of domination of Africa, just as it provoked a re-thinking of seemingly settled issues about race… Adwa is part of our global heritage.
It was one of those events we call ‘world-historical’ because we can readily imagine the world – our world, taking a different path had events gone differently.” 4 Let Ethiopia continue to provide this powerful spiritual food to the world. Let those who currently live in Ethiopia learn to protect this treasure forever by preferring a culture of dialogue to any other form of resolving any type of conflict that Ethiopia may go through from now on. Let us all unite to agree that we treasure Ethiopia to live on in the eternal river of time. Ethiopia is full of knowledge and wisdom, having never been colonised, with a distinctive identity of her destiny tied to God despite innumerable difficulties, threats and obstacles in her journey over thousands of years.
Ethiopia has a unique distinction in the universe for empowering those that were disempowered, for humanising those that were dehumanised, spiritualising those that were denied their right to worship God and inspiring and strengthening those oppressed to resist oppression.
By Mammo Muchie
This article has previously appeared on The Thinker Journal, its has been republished with permission