Repeating Victory of Adwa on War against Poverty

02 Mar 2017
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Solomon Dibaba/ ENA/

The Battle of Adwa in which Ethiopians demonstrated their heroic feat against Italy took place only 11 years after the Berlin Conference (1884-1885) in which European powers staged a massive colonial program for the partition of Africa also known in history as the scramble for Africa.

“…the Berlin Conference was meant to create harmony and alignment between colonial  powers and to reduce tension and competition among themselves in their quest of partitioning Africa” Dr. Kassahune Brehanu, Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations at Addis Ababa University said.

The Battle of Adwa that took place on the 1st of March 1896 was a stunning victory for Ethiopia and Africa at large. Besides, the victory resonated powerfully in post-emancipation America and the Caribbean’s where hierarchies of race and ethnicity were only beginning a process of challenge and renegotiation.

“The Battle of Adwa is the first victory by black people in the history of the world representing Ethiopia as the theater of victory and echoing in all over the world to where the black are living, in Africa and of course in Ethiopia”, Dr. Ahmed Hassan, Director of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies at Addis Ababa University said.

Dr. Ahmed added that the victory of Adwa came by as the result of the diplomatic and political skills exhibited by Emperor Menelik in cunningly isolating the Italians diplomatically so that the rest of the European powers will not join them for any level of support in the battle.

This historic victory later on became a living inspiration for the emergence of pan Africansim triggering the unity of Africans in the post independence Africa.

In the wake of the scramble for Africa, the Battle of Adwa had a greater impact on the development of Pan – Africanisim in the early 50s and 60s. Pan-African advocates including Emperor  Haile Selassie, Julius Nyerere, Ahmed Sekou Toure, Kwame Nkrumah and Muammar Gaddafi, grassroots organizers such as Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X, academics such as W. E. B. Du Bois, and others in the Diaspora were undoubtedly inspired by the outcomes of the Battle of Adwa.

It demonstrated that the invincible superiority of the European powers could be challenged by Africa whom the European powers considered as the Dark Continent. They claimed that they are bound to engage in a “civilizing mission” by skillfully concealing their deep seated and often professed desire to tap and exploit the natural resources of Africa for their newly emerging industries.

“The victory of Adwa, like many events in the Afro-American experience, became a kind of folk story that was well known to all blacks and passed among individuals within the black community in beauty parlors and barber shops, at church congregations, at various meetings and gatherings, and in family circles. (Sylvia M. Jacobs, The African Nexus- Black perspectives on European Partitioning of Africa, 1880-1922.)

In the word’s of another African American writer, “Adwa signaled the coming of a new day for African people and identified Ethiopia as God's chosen instrument for black redemption. The Christian Century, an influential black religious periodical wrote in an editorial entitled "Capturing and Holding Adwa" that Ethiopian victory produced throughout the world new appreciation of race, intellect and power. (William R. Scott, The Sons of Sheba's Race: Afro-Americans and the Italo-Ethiopian War. 1935-1941)

The armed superiority of the Italian invading forces was completely outweighed by an ill equipped army of peasants, artesian and Ethiopians from across the country in all walks of life numbering about 100,000. The army represented the nations, nationalities and peoples in the country with no distinction on race, religion or any local difference.

Ethiopians in all walks of life including barefoot farmers, tanners, weavers, potters, priests, metal workers, merchants heeded to the calls of Emperor Menelik and participated in the war. Warriors from almost every ethnic group in the country rallied behind the Emperor. This was a national resistance and a heroic feat against a colonial power from Europe.

Associate Professor Kassahune Brehanu shares the same view, “every ethnic group and people from all walks of life voluntarily participated in this war which clearly demonstrated the unity among the peoples of Ethiopia.”

The Ethiopian army composed of the youth got into face off and the battle raged against four brigades totaling 17,978 troops, with fifty-six artillery pieces.

Dr. Kasahune added “The Battle of Adwa was part of Italy’s colonial ambitions.  They already had their foothold in Somalia and Eretria and were eager to expand inwards into the Horn of Africa to create a larger territory under the Italian administration.”

Dr. Ahmed had this to say. “Very importantly those who decided to go to the Battle of  Adwa were the youth of those days  who were under 30. Those who were in the leadership of the time use the youth for the proper place.”

Political machinations and deceptions which started at the Treaty of Uchalle and the subsequent treachery that the Italians tried to play through Conte Antonelli were foiled by the wisdom of Empress Taitu who  also led a battalion of Ethiopian army to the battle of Adwa.

The victory at the battle of Adwa has been a pride of Ethiopians for hundreds of years but what is the implication of the battle for Ethiopian youth of modern times and for the current generation at large? Today the nation is battling against poverty which is the main enemy of the peoples of Ethiopia. The country has already set a vision to defeat poverty as it did on the battle of Adwa. The late Premier of Ethiopia, Prime Minister Melese zenawi once said:

As far as halving poverty is concerned, we will achieve it.  I have no doubt about it.  I believe by 2025 we will be a middle income country with a per capita income of at least $1,000 a year and at around that time, slightly before perhaps, we will be completely free of aid of any variety.”

Already, the peoples and government of Ethiopia are engaged in gigantic mega projects that would set the basis for achieving the national vision. Developments in infrastructures, manufacturing industries through industrial parks, health infrastructures, education, agriculture, and creation of carbon free economy, the struggle against terrorism and maintenance of regional peace and security are all the epicenters of a national agenda.

Responding to a question from the Guardian Newspaper on the relation between poverty and security, Prime Minister Hailemariam once said “We believe that poverty is the worst enemy that brings insecurity. We have to fight poverty tooth and nail. It’s essential. The more you reduce the poverty rate, the more secure the country will be”

As we celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of Adwa, the youth should remain mindful of the fact that as the youth in the days of the Battle of Adwa have defeated the aggressors, the youth in this generation should spearhead the battle against poverty in the spirit of democratic patriotism.

Youth development and creating a favorable ground for the participation of the youth in rolling back poverty are being implemented through government programs to ascertain the leading role of the youth in nation building.

Dr. Ahmed stressed that “we need to create an enabling environment for the youth so that they will be able to effectively participate in the development programs of the nation.”

The historic success at the Battle of Adwa has resulted from selfless commitment up to and including lives of farmers who fought the aggressors with primitive weapons. The present generation is not required to shed blood for any cause but to renew their commitments to rid the nation of the bondage of age old poverty.


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