Adwa and Abyssinia’s Participation in the Scramble for Africa: Has that Relevance to the Ongoing Oromo protests?

Adwa and Abyssinia’s Participation in the Scramble for Africa: Has that Relevance to the Ongoing Oromo protests?

Mekuria Bulcha, PhD, Professor

Whenever an Oromo scholar or politician mentions Menelik or his conquest of Oromia, the scathing criticism that meets him or her is that history is irrelevant for the current crisis.  They are often advised to stop looking backwards and to focus on the future.  Meanwhile, the irony is that in the lead up to and weeks after the 121st anniversary of the Battle of Adwa, many Ethiopian scholars and politicians have been engaged in intense debate about this event. In fact, I am all for a debate about Ethiopian history; however, I was surprised when I read an article written by Teshome Borago entitled “Adwa: When Oromos fought Italy as Abyssinians” published on the Ethiomedia webpage on March 3, 2017. Borago wrote the article to commemorate the anniversary of Ethiopia’s victory over Italian forces at Adwa in 1896.  By and large, he talks about the victory of Adwa as an example of unity among the peoples of Ethiopia and calls on the peoples of Ethiopia to keep up that spirit of unity. But, the problem is that he did not stop there; he used the Oromo contribution to the victory at Adwa obliquely as a pretext to question the validity of Oromo grievances voiced by the ongoing protests. He laments the “new generation” Oromos’ failure to appreciate their forefathers’ contributions to the Adwa victory, and for not respecting the spirit of Adwa which was Ethiopian unity. He refers to their protests as an effort made in defense of “tribalism”. My criticism is that, using the victory of Adwa as a point of departure, Borago distorts not only Oromo and Ethiopian history, but also misrepresents the motives of the ongoing Oromo protests. Borago is not the only writer who has been labelling the Oromo struggle for freedom as a manifestation of “tribalism”, or to criticize Oromo views about Menelik and the creation of the Ethiopian state. There are dozens of commentators who, like him, have been distorting Oromo history and demonizing Oromo politics and scholarship. Haile Larebo has been one of the most vocal representatives of this group.

The views which are expressed in both Borago’s article and Larebo’s story about the Battle of Adwa, which was broadcast on March 22, 2017 on Aronios Radio are the points of departure for this article.  The purpose of the article is to critically assess the meanings of the Battle of Adwa for the Oromo and other non-Abyssinian peoples who were conquered and forcibly incorporated into the Ethiopian Empire by Menelik. The following questions will guide my discussion: (a) what were the conditions under which the Oromo and the other non-Abyssinian peoples participated in the Battle of Adwa? (b) What “benefits” did they derive from the victory at Adwa? (c) In what ways was the Battle of Adwa a turning point in Abyssinia’s participation in the Scramble for Africa? (d) What was the relationship between the peoples of the south including the Oromo and the Abyssinian state before and after Adwa?

Menelik’s army at Adwa: freemen, gabbars, captives and slaves

As Wendy James has aptly pointed out, “without the contributions of Ethiopia’s southern peoples, whose sweat and blood go unrecorded in Ethiopianist annals, the Battle of Adwa in 1896 might not have been won and Menelik II might not have gone on to build his empire.”[1] Obviously, one of those peoples were the Oromo. I am not denying Oromo contribution to the Ethiopian victory over the Italians at Adwa. My critique concerns the representation of the conditions under which their contribution occurred. I argue that Oromo human and material resources were not “contributed” voluntarily as Borago and Larebo want us to believe. By and large, they were robbed. To start, as Harold Marcus has stated, “Menelik had exploited the south and the south-west to purchase weapons.” He was “indirectly Ethiopia’s greatest slave entrepreneur and received the bulk of the proceeds” from the slave trade. Marcus wrote that being a Christian Menelik was not directly involved in the trade, but “Many slaves were however supplied by him.”[2] The “human merchandize” used in that trade were Oromos and others who were captured his conquest of the south. Pankhurst has also stated that “the supply of slaves was…swollen by large numbers of prisoners captured during Menelik’s southern campaigns.”[3] The evidence is extensive to present in this short article, but it is important to not here that Menelik covered in part the cost of the firearms used at Adwa with revenue from the export of human merchandize.

What is also equally important to understand is that the fighters who marched north carrying those firearms were not all freemen, but also a motley of captives, gabbars and slaves, including thousands of women. Most of them were Oromo, Walaita, Kambata and Gurage and were from territories which were conquered a decade or a few years prior to the Battle of Adwa.  They were used not only as fighters, but also providers of the services that made the fighting possible. They were bearers of firearms and supplies; they cooked for the fighters and looked after the horses and mules used by the fighters.  In this connection, a remarkable story emerges if we look closely at the case of Walaita which was conquered in 1894 just two years before the Battle. It is also interesting to note that Borago who writes that “several kingdoms volunteered and mobilized from every region in Ethiopia to fight at the Battle of Adwa” claims Walaita ethnicity.  According to archival evidence collected by the historian Tsehai Berhane-Selassie, one of the aims of the expedition against Walaita was slave raiding. She noted that it was carried out in order to replenish depleted manpower because of the severe famine of 1889-92, to pay outstanding debts to arms dealers, and to finance the impending war against the Italians.[4] Describing the battle the French business agent Gaston Vanderheym who accompanied Menelik on his campaign against the Walaita, expressed the “crushing effects” of newly acquired guns on the southern conquests as “some kind of infernal hunting were human beings rather than animals served as game” and “where no distinction was made between fighters and civilians.”[5] Prouty notes that according Menelik’s own chronicler, 118,987 Walaita were killed and 18,000 were enslaved. The King of Walaita Tona was wounded and captured and his kingdom was destroyed.[6] Martial de Salviac wrote that the captives were made to march in a single line in front of Menelik who “chose the most robust and had a cross marked on their hands with a sharp object.”[7] In fact, Menelik not only enslaved thousands of Walaita, he also drove 36,000 head of looted cattle all the way to Shawa. Two years later, the captives were used to transport food, weapons, ammunition from Shawa to Adwa in 1896.

The united country called Ethiopia, which according to Larebo and Borago existed centuries before Adwa, is a myth. The fact is that when he turned north to meet the Italians at Adwa, Menelik was in the midst of the conquest of the south. The entire Macha region – the Gibe and Leeqa states – was annexed only in 1886. Arsi was conquered in 1886 and Hararge in 1887. As indicated above, Walaita was conquered in 1894. The sores inflicted by the atrocities committed against the Oromo at Anole and Calanqoo in 1886 and 1887 by the conquering Abyssinian forces were still bleeding. Even Wallo’s conquest in the north was completed in 1878 after years of fierce battles between Menelik (then King of Shawa) and Emperor Yohannes IV on one side and the Wallo Oromo on the other.  What is most remarkable is Larebo’s assertion that the Ethiopian people were united from corner to corner at the time of Adwa. In his interview on Radio Atronos, he posits that there was not a single village in Ethiopia which did not send fighters to Adwa. The absurdity of this proposition is that the Gujii and Borana Oromo and more than 80 percent of what is today the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples (SSNP), Gambella, Benishangul, Ogaden were outside the reach of Menelik’s empire. Needless to stress that Larebo’s assertions are not true because the country not only lacked unity, but, geographically, Ethiopia as we know it today did not exist at that point.

Indeed, the Ethiopian empire was defended by the blood and bones of Oromo fighters, but their blood was shed not for love of country as Larebo and others would have us believe. While the Abyssinians were defending their freedom, the Oromo had no freedom to defend against the Italians. They had lost it to the Abyssinians during the preceding decade.  Their land was an Abyssinian colony. The “contribution” they were forced to make to the war effort saved the Abyssinians from European colonialism, but it did not help them to regain their own independence. There is no indication that they were beneficiaries of the victory over the Italians. In fact, as I will explain later, their contribution to the victory had reinforced colonial Abyssinian rule which Menelik had imposed on them a decade or two prior to the Battle of Adwa.

Ironically, like the naftanya elite, Borago and Larebo have few sympathetic words for the Oromo and the other conquered peoples of Ethiopia. It seems that they saw nothing wrong or immoral in the atrocities committed against them when they lay claim on Oromo loyalty to Menelik. They want the Oromo to see Menelik as their hero and an icon of their resistance against racism and colonialism. The Oromo admit that their forefathers had fought and defeated the Italian army together with Abyssinians. However, the war was not a joint undertaking, but an Abyssinian war with Italy. The Oromo were used as means to defend Abyssinia’s independence.  Few believe Larebo’s repetitious story about Menelik being the defender of the black race against white colonizers. As the Oromo scholar Tsegaye Araarsa has expressed the matter, to call the empire built by Menelik the beacon of black freedom is a blatant “distortion of history intended to galvanize legitimacy for his rule.”[8] It is a deceitful attempt to cleanse the history of the atrocious conquest from the stains of blood with which it was smeared. Given the great harm his conquest had inflicted upon them, one must be contemptuous of the Oromo to expect them to honor Menelik as their hero.  I know that there are Oromos who take pride in the valor which their forefathers had shown at Adwa, but I have also seen their pride giving way to bitterness as soon as they discover the “rewards” they had received for their heroic contributions to that victory. Several years ago one of the Oromo admirers of Menelik II sent me a note and a picture of the Oromo cavalry who fought at Adwa.

Adwa

Portrait of Oromo cavalry at Adwa

My friend who is an ardent “pan-Ethiopianist” was exhilarated when he read about the valor of Oromo fighters at the battle of Adwa in a book he came across. In the note he mentioned Fitawrari Gebeyehu as one of the heroes who made the victory at Adwa possible. Gebeyehu died in action leading the troops under his command in the forefront of the battle. However, he felt offended when he reflected on the fact that Gebeyehu’s name is rarely mentioned and his ethnic identity obscured by Ethiopian historiographers. He lamented, “The sad thing however is that Gebeyehu’s father’s name, Gurmu, is never mentioned in the history books. One day we will all be free from this and that type of racism little or big and the real patriots will be celebrated by all Ethiopians.” Gurmu is not a “genuine” Abyssinian name. However, Gebeyehu was not the only Oromo who was denied his social identity in Ethiopian history in that manner. Many Oromos who contributed to the defense of Abyssinia’s or Ethiopia’s independence were treated in that way. Even the ethnic origin of Haile Selassie’s grandfather was concealed. The reason was that the Abyssinian ruling elite were reluctant to recognize Oromos as partners in the making of Abyssinian-cum-Ethiopian history. As Hassen Hussein and Mohammed Ademo have expressed Gebeyehu’s “disappearance from Ethiopian history parallels the erasure of his people’s contributions from the country’s official historiography.” As the two authors have stated, “This is the root of Oromo ambivalence toward Ethiopia: the Oromo are good enough to fight and die for Ethiopia, but not live in it with their full dignity and identity.”[9] This also underpins the lukewarm Oromo attitude toward the history of Adwa.

That the role of Oromo fighters was crucial for Menelik’s victory at Adwa is undeniable, but the victory did not help them as a people in any manner. It is remarkable that Borago and Larebo who come from conquered and marginalized peoples in the south, the Walaita and Hadiya respectively, could miss the cause of the unenthusiastic Oromo feeling toward Ethiopia and “Ethiopiawinnet”. Presenting Oromo forefathers as significant players in defense of the Abyssinian Empire does not change that reality or disprove the fact that the empire was a colonial creation and the Oromo are its colonial subjects. The point is, the Oromo did not fight at Adwa as ethnic Abyssinians or citizens of Abyssinia as Borago and other commentators try to suggest. They fought for their colonizers. They were not the first people to fight a war for their enemies. Colonized peoples had done that throughout history. For example, over 1,355,300 Africans fought for the British in WWII.[10] They did not become Englishmen because of their contributions to British victory in that war.  They returned home and struggled for their independence. The Oromo have not been silent subjects because of the victory at the Battle of Adwa. Although their struggle has been sporadic, as reflected in the current uprising, the hope for independence is alive and strong.

Did the Abyssinians participate in the Scramble for Africa?

Teshome Borago is suggesting that a “united Ethiopia” was in place long before Adwa when he says “One has to wonder, how could [did] we win unless a multiethnic Ethiopian nation existed long before the so-called ‘Abyssinian colonization’? How can we defeat a European superpower without sharing a sense of common identity and destiny?” With these rhetorical questions he joins the numerous Habesha politicians and scholars who deny Abyssinia’s participation in the Scramble for Africa in the late nineteenth century. Concerning Abyssinia’s conquest and colonization of the Oromo and the other peoples in the south, the attitude of Habesha politicians’ and scholars’ is like that of climate change deniers. They ignore volumes of historical and scientific evidence that prove the reality of what they deny. However, to answer Borago’s questions, a multi-ethnic Abyssinian state and nation existed for sure long before the Scramble for Africa. Its main ethnic constituents were the Amhara and the Tigrayans with Agaw, Qimant, Falasha and Shinasha ethnicities. Its territorial base was, to a large extent, the current Amhara and Tigray Regional States and parts of highland Eritrea. One sees them as an Ethiopian nation since Abyssinia and Ethiopia often are interchangeably used.  In contrast, the Ethiopian nation Borago has in mind did not exist before Adwa and is not a reality even today. The reality Borago will not acknowledge is that in the Horn of Africa, there were nations like the Oromo, the Sidama, the Walaita, the Afar, Somali and the Kaficho that existed parallel to and independent from Abyssinia. The victory at Adwa not only saved Abyssinia from European colonization, it also encouraged Menelik to continue, with renewed vigour, the colonization of the rest of the Oromo territory and the greater part of what is now south and southwest Ethiopia. I will present, below, a summary of evidence gleaned from the works of scholars on Abyssinia’s colonial exploits during the Scramble for African. I will use “imperial ambitions”, “ideology” and “possession of firearms” as guiding themes to identify the parity of Abyssinia’s participation in the Scramble for Africa with that of the European imperialist powers of the day.

Imperial ambitions: The evidence for Abyssinian imperial ambitions is reflected in Menelik’s letter to European heads of state wherein he states “if Powers at a distance come forward to partition Africa between them … I do not intend to be an indifferent spectator.”[11] In the words of Gebru Tareke, impelled by “the appearance of European colonialist in the region”,[12] Menelik “embarked on a much larger scale of colonization in the 1880s” than what had been attempted previously. Bahiru Tafla wrote also that it was “European colonial acquisition in Africa [which] awakened imperialist interest in the minds of the Ethiopian rulers of the late nineteenth century.”[13] The influence of European imperialism on Menelik is articulated further by Elspeth Huxley who figuratively states that “the Abyssinians had caught a severe attack of the prevailing imperialist fever” and they “were the only Africans to join the scramble for Africa.”[14] In his Ethiopia: The Last Frontiers, John Markakis writes that Abyssinia “competed successfully in the imperialist partition of the region [Horn of Africa]. Not a victim but a participant in the ‘scramble’, Ethiopia doubled its territory and population in a burst of expansionist energy, and thereafter proudly styled itself the ‘Ethiopian Empire’. He notes that “the title [‘Empire’] is not a misnomer, since Ethiopia’s rulers governed their new possessions more or less the same way and for similar ends as other imperial powers were doing. The people who took the pride in calling themselves Ethiopians were known also as Abyssinians (Habesha).” He states that “Today’s ruling elite frown at the use of this name because it obstructs their effort to forge an inclusive Ethiopian national identity.”[15]Here, it is interesting to note that the Abyssinian use the term today, particularly in the diaspora, to differentiate themselves from other black peoples. When used as such, it has racial underpinnings as indicated by Hussein and Ademo in their article mentioned above.

Ideology: Asserting the colonial ideological factor in the creation of the Abyssinian empire, the conflict researcher Christian Scherrer notes that “European and Abyssinian colonialism occurred simultaneously, pursued similar interests, albeit from differing socio-economic bases, and this was reinforced by comparable colonial ideologies of the idea of empire and notion of ‘civilizing mission’ and the exploitation of the subjugated peoples.”[16] Writing on the ideological underpinnings of Menelik’s colonial conquests, Gebru Tareke, a historian from the north, has also stated that the Abyssinian ruling elite acted like the white colonial rulers in the rest of Africa. The language they used when describing their colonial subjects did not differ from the language the European colonialists were using. It was a language which was infused with stereotypes, prejudices and paternalism. He adds, “They [the Abyssinian elite] tried much like the European colonisers of their time, to justify the exploitability, and moral validity of occupation.” They “looked upon and treated the indigenous people as backward.”[17] One can add here that stereotypes and ethnic slurs about the Oromo, popular in Habesha discourse are the product of this colonial ideology.

Military technology: Obviously firearms were the other crucial elements in making the imperial colonial penetration of the African continent in the nineteenth century possible. Therefore, drawing parallels between the Abyssinian and European and Abyssinian colonial expansion during the Scramble, Margery Perham notes “The speed with which this great extension of the empire was made ….is explained by the …firearms which the emperor [Menelik] was obtaining from France and Italy. This same superiority was carrying the European powers at the same speed at the same time from the coast into the heart of Africa.”[18] The Swedish historian Norberg also says that “using the same military technology as the European powers”,[19] Menelik managed not only to conquer the neighbouring African territories, but was also able to garrison them with large forces called naftanya who controlled and lived on the conquered populations. As suggested by Richard Caulk, “the system of near serfdom imposed on wide areas of the south by the end of the nineteenth century could have not been maintained had the newcomers not been so differently armed.[20] A historian, Darkwah, notes that “Menelik succeeded in keeping the arms out of the reach of the [Oromo] enemy. He did this by imposing a strict control over the movement of firearms into his tributary territories and the lands beyond his frontiers.”[21]

Menelik was not a manufacturer of firearms, but was a keen importer of them. The bulk of firearms in his arsenal numbered around 25,000 in 1878.  According to Luckman and Bekele, he was able to import over one million rifles, a quantity of Hotchkiss guns and artillery pieces between 1880 and 1900.[22] For that purpose, he used more than a dozen French and Italian commercial agents and suppliers of firearms. In addition, European states were also supplying him with modern weapons in an attempt to use him as a proxy in their colonial scheme in northeast Africa.[23] As I will explain below, the support Menelik received from European powers in his Scramble for colonies was not limited to firearms; military training and diplomacy were also included.

Europeans in the making of the Ethiopian empire

The other dimension of the history of Abyssinia’s conquest of the south, which is bypassed silently by Ethiopian historiographers and is denied incessantly by Habesha politicians, is the involvement of European fortune seekers and mercenaries in the making of Menelik’s Empire. There is no research on how many Europeans were in his service but, whatever their number might have been, the role they played in his conquest of the south must have been significant.  Darkwah notes that “in 1877 a Frenchman named Pottier was employed in training a group of Shewan youths in European military techniques. Another Frenchman, Pino, was a regular officer in the army which was commanded by Ras Gobana. Swiss engineers, Alfred Ilg and Zemmerman were employed on, among other things, building bridges across the Awash and other rivers to facilitate movement.”[24]According to Chris Prouty, Colonel Artamonov together with other Europeans was attached to the forces commanded by Ras Tasamma Nadew in Ilu Abbabor. He adds that even Count Nicholas Leontiev, a colonel in the Russian army, was a commander of a force which was sent to conquer the southwest in the 1890s. Another Russian officer, Baron Chedeuvre was Leontiev’s second-in-command during the expedition. Several French and Russian medical officers were also attached to the Abyssinian forces, particularly those which were led by Menelik and European commanders. The Russian Cossack Captain Alexander Bulatovich wrote that with him, there were Lieutenants Davydov, Kokhovskiy and Arnoldi along with a command of Cossacks who had finished their term of service” and who were received in audience by Menelik and took leave from him and return to Russia in June 1898.[25]

Several advisors helped Menelik in different fields to build his Empire. The Swiss engineer, Alfred Ilg had served him in a variety of capacities including diplomatic contacts for 27 years. The Italians made not only material but also diplomatic contributions that enabled Menelik to compete effectively in the scramble for colonies. The idea and the contents of the circular letter which Menelik sent to European heads of state in 1891 delineating his territorial claims came, for example, from the Italian Prime Minister Francesco Crispi himself. Menelik was advised to send the letter to European heads of state because the European powers were about to meet in Paris and establish the boundaries of their colonies in Africa. The territories which were defined in the letter the Italians drafted for Menelik to claim extended “as far as Khartoum and to Lake Nyanza beyond the land of the Galla [Oromo].” [26]The territories were those which the Italians were planning to claim for themselves through Menelik as their proxy. However, the European support in firearms and diplomacy given to Menelik was a double-edged sword. It helped him to conquer the Oromo and amass resources to defeat the Italians at Adwa. That said, the conclusion we can draw is that Abyssinia’s participation in the Scramble for Africa is crystal clear. As the historian Haggai Erlich succinctly stated, “While rebuffing imperialism successfully in the north, Ethiopia managed to practice it in the south.”[27] It was also based on what is outlined above that Bonnie Holcomb and Sisai Ibssa have eloquently described the Abyssinian conquest of the south as manifestation of “dependent colonialism” and its outcome the “invention of Ethiopia”.[28] By that they meant the direct and indirect meshing of Abyssinian and European interests in the making of the Abyssinian-cum-Ethiopian Empire. Thus, notwithstanding the inconclusive arguments being orchestrated by denialists, the historical facts lead to the unescapable conclusion that Abyssinia was an active participant in the Scramble for Africa.

Where colonialism did not have race or color

Based on what I have described above, it is logical to construe that colonialism had no specific color or nationality in the Horn of Africa – its color was white and black and its nationality English, French, Italian or Abyssinian. The difference is in the degree of brutality used against the colonized peoples and the severity of exploitation exercised in the colonies. The intensity of demonizing Oromo scholars, activists and politicians who write and speak about the colonization of Oromia and the cacophony of denials expressed in the flora of written and oral commentaries will not change this historical truth.

That a black African force had defeated a white European army at Adwa in 1896 is beyond doubt. But, the representation of Adwa as an anti-colonial war and an African victory over colonialism is an atrocious lie. Indeed, Adwa was a turning point in the Scramble for colonies in the Horn of Africa; Menelik relinquished the role he was playing as an Italian proxy at the battle of Adwa, retained for himself the territories he had hitherto conquered using the firearms he had acquired partly from the Italians, with the understanding that they would be partners in the ownership of the territories he was conquering. He became a member of the colonialist club in his own right. In short, as colonialism lost its color at Adwa, military might became the decisive factor in the share of the African cake. The European mass media of the time reported that fact. The Spectator of 27 February 1897, for example, reflected the British view of the matter stating that, although Menelik, his queen, and his generals care little for human life, “this native dynasty of dark men,” nominally Christian is “orderly enough to be received into intercourse with Europe.” The European colonial powers recognized ‘the dynasty of dark men’, as their junior partner in the scramble for colonies. Soon after Adwa, both Britain and France negotiated and signed agreements that delineated the colonial borders with Abyssinia.

The whole story about the battle of Adwa is not written yet. Its bright side has been illuminated time and again. But it has ugly sides are deliberately concealed from proper scrutiny or distorted by self-appointed “gurus” of Ethiopian history with Professor Haile Larebo as their outstanding representative. In the following paragraphs, I will describe briefly some of the non-glamorous sides of the victory at Adwa, namely, the ‘recruitment’ of colonial subjects for the war efforts, their treatment in the aftermath of Adwa, and the atrocious treatment of black (Eritrean) prisoners of war.

The circumstances, under which the peoples of the south, such as the Oromo, who were conquered in the 1880s, and the Walaita, who were conquered by Menelik two years before the battle of Adwa, were made to march north and participate in the battle, remains uninvestigated. Did they march north to fight against Italian colonialism voluntarily? What had happened to them after the war? These questions are never raised or answered in the story. Were they rewarded for their contributions in the victory over the Italians? I will not delve into details, but the answer is a definitive ‘No’! They were, as indicated in the case of the Walaita, captives who were forced to march north and became cannon-fodder. The reward for those who had survived the war and returned home must have varied depending on their status. The probability for those who were slaves to remain as such was almost hundred percent. The probability that some were sold by their masters to cover expenses on their southward journey after the war or afterwards was significant. Thus, the Oromo, the Sidama and Walaita, who participated in the battle of Adwa, did not win any victory over colonialism for themselves. They helped a black colonialist to defeat a white colonialist in a war over colonies. They did not defend themselves or their peoples against the colonialists. They fought for their enemy and strengthened the grip of black imperialism on themselves by defeating its white Italian antagonist. It was after Adwa that Menelik imposed the notorious gabbar system on the conquered south. Slavery and the slave trade became even more rampant thereafter with the conquest of the rest of the south and southwest which became hunting grounds for captives and ivory.[29] Ironically, it was the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1936 which brought the outrageous institution and evil trade in human beings to an end. To suggest that it was a “united Ethiopia” that fought the Battle of Adwa or Ethiopia was united because of the victory achieved at Adwa is a charade.

In the interview he gave on March 22, 2017 to Radio Atronos, Larebo calls Menelik the most democratic emperor in world history and that Ethiopia was blessed to have had him as their ruler. However, this “most democratic” emperor had no mercy for black prisoners of war. In his book From Menelik to Haile Selassie II, (was used a history text book in grades four through seven in the 1960s in Ethiopia) the historian Tekle Tsadiq Mekuriya notes that “Menelik released the Italian and Arab [presumably Libyan] prisoners of war and gave them food and drinks, but he ordered with the approval of the head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Abuna Matewos, the mutilation of Eritreans caught fighting on the Italian side.”[30]According to another source, “The Italians taken prisoner were treated well but Ethiopian [Eritrean] troops (around 800) who had fought for the Italians were mutilated with their right hands and left feet being cut off.”[31] Where is the saint-like character Professor Larebo ascribes to Menelik? The cruelty with which the Eritreans were treated was similar to the crime committed against thousands of Oromo men and women whose arms and breasts were hacked off by the order of Menelik’s paternal uncle Ras Darge ten years earlier at Anole, in Arsi. The difference was that the Eritreans were Italian colonial soldiers while the Oromo were unarmed men and women who were invited to a meeting, which appeared to be for peacemaking, by Ras Darge many months after the Battle of Azule in September 1886. In that battle with the invading Abyssinian forces the Arsi Oromo lost some 12,000 warriors and were defeated.

(To be continued)

[1]James, W. “Preface” in Donham, D. & James, W. (eds.), The Southern Marches of Imperial Ethiopia: Essays in History and Social Anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986, p. xiv.
[2] Marcus, H. The Life and Times of Menelik II: Ethiopia 1844-1913. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
1975: 140, 73
[3] Pankhurs, R.  Economic History of Ethiopia, 1800-1935. Addis Ababa: Addis Ababa University press, 1968: 102.
[4] Berhane-Selassie, T. “Menelik II: Conquest and Consolidation of Southern Provinces”, B.A. Thesis, History Department, Addis Ababa University, 1969.
[5] Cited in  Prouty, C. Empress Taytu and Menelik II: Ethiopia 1883-1910, Trenton, NJ: The Red Sea Press, 1996
[6] Prouty, C. ibid. p. 115
[7] De Salviac, M. An Ancient People in the State of Menelik: the Oromo, Great African Nation. Translated into English by Ayalew Kanno. 1901/2006: 354-355
[8] Araarsa, Tsegaye, Facebook post on March 1, 2016
[9] Hussein, H. & Mohammed Ademo, M. “Ethiopia’s Original Sin”, World Policy Journal, Vol. XXXIII, No. 3, World Policy Institute, Fall 2016
[10] Plaut, M. “The Africans who fought in WWII, BBC November 9, 2009.
[11] Marcus, H. ibid.
[12] Tareke, Gebru. Ethiopia: Power and Protest. Lawrenceville, N.J: The Red Sea Press, 1996:40
[13] Bairu Tafla, in Asmé, 1905 [1987: 405, fn. 584] [14] Huxley,  E. White Man’s Country: Lord Delamere and the Making of Kenya, 1967: 38-9
[15]Markakis, M. Ethiopia: The Last Frontiers, James Currey, New York, 2011, pp. 3-4.
[16] Scherrer, C.  “Analysis and Background to the refugee Crisis: The Unsolved Oromo Question”, in Scherrer, C. & Bulcha, M. War Against the Oromo and Mass Exodus FromEthiopia: Voices of Oromo Refugees in Kenya and the Sudan, 2002, p. 27
[17]Tareke, Gebru, ibid. p. 71
[18] Perham, M. (1969). The Government of Ethiopia, London: Faber and Faber, 1969: 294
[19] Norberg, V. H. “Swedes as a Pawn in Haile Selassie’s Foreign Policy: 1924-1952”, in Modern Ethiopia, Tubiana, J. (ed.), Rotterdam: A.A. Balkema, 1980:328
[20] Caulk. R. “Firearms and Princely Power in Ethiopia in the Nineteenth Century”, Journal of African History, XIII (4)
[21] Darkwah, R.H.K. Shewa, Menelik and the Ethiopian Empire 1813-1889, London: Heinemann.  1975: 207.
[22] Luckman, R. & Bekele, D. “Foreign Powers and Militarism in the Horn of Africa”, Review of African Economy”, No. 30, 1984.
[23] Pankhurst, R.  Economic History of Ethiopia, 1800-1935. Addis Ababa, 1968: 21.
[24] Darkwah, R.H.K. ibid. pp. 58-9.
[25] Bulatovich A. Ethiopia Through Russian Eyes: A Country in Transition, 1896-1898, translated and edited by Richard Seltzer, Lawrenceville, N.J: The Red Sea Press. Two volumes combined in the English translation, 1900/2000: 162
[26] Marcus, H. ibid. p.124
[27] Cited in Markakis, J. ibid. p. 3.
[28] Holcomb, B. & Ibssa, S. (1990). The Invention of Ethiopia: The Making of a Dependent Colonial State in Northeast Africa, Trenton, N.J.: The Red Sea Press.
[29] See Darley, H. 1926. Slaves and Ivory: A Record of Adventure and Exploration in the Unknown Sudan, and Among the Abyssinian Slave-Raiders, for a vivid description of slave raiding by the conquerors in these areas in the 1920s.
[30] Tekle-Tsadik Mekuriya, The History of Ethiopia: From Emperor Tewodros to Emperor Haile Selassie. In Amharic. Addis Ababa: Berhan ena Selam, Printing Press. 7th Edition, 1961 Eth. C (1968). p. 98.
[31] See Dugdale-Pointon, T. Battle of Adwa, 1-2 March 1896,
http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_adwa.html, 19 February 2009. Accessed on 12 March 2017

19 Responses to Adwa and Abyssinia’s Participation in the Scramble for Africa: Has that Relevance to the Ongoing Oromo protests?

  1. whitestar March 27, 2017 at 7:43 pm #

    So what are you going to do about it oromo!? you can’t just complain forever, these people have decided to own you. can you blame them for writing the history the way they want? Go and free yourselves so you can control the narrative of your story.

  2. Hubba Bubba March 28, 2017 at 8:03 pm #

    It is good to know own roots and own history but again it is NOT good play victim endlessly so that it may not become a habit and a character pushing oneself down and living mainly in the moldy past by not being able to see the present from multiple perspectives with all the golden opportunities contained in it to shape once destiny far in to he future.

    One of the the best way is to try to be positive,feel energetic, plan as if you are going to live thousands of years and then fight as if you are going to die tomorrow.

    Whining is not an option but willing and winning steps are better options. What is the BIG DEAL here because we are living in an open world with limitless possibilities where Impossible is Nothing! When you find an open door try to go in through that door, when it is impossible to go in try another door. when it is impossible again, then make your own door. That is life!

    “Life is a song – sing it.
    Life is a game – play it.
    Life is a challenge – meet it.
    Life is a dream – realize it.
    Life is a sacrifice – offer it.
    Life is love – enjoy it.” ~Baba 🙂

  3. jobr March 28, 2017 at 8:33 pm #

    My father who is alive and kicking once told me that he still remembers the days Mesfin Sileshi (he was kown locally as dejash Mussun) used to burn down the tukuls of the people who were reluctant to join his resistance militia during the 2nd italian war. And that war came long after the formation of Minilik’s empire. The notion that the people of the annexed territories fought out of love for his empire is a myth.

  4. Oromian bateleur March 29, 2017 at 4:12 am #

    ” These people have deceided to own you “. It is true, because the parasites cannot survive without the host on which they feed for their survival. The host must endure something very bitter and unbearable to get rid of its parasites.

    In short explanation, it is true that many brave Oromos and other nations from the occupied southern Ethiopia have participated in Aduwa battle gallantly. But, the question is, were those gallant fighters campaigned voluntarly ? No, they were recruited/forced by the occupayers (Abyssinian conqerors ) to be at the Aduwa battle. Those individual Oromo campigners weren’t the representative of Oromo society, some of them were forced to go to the battle field, and some of them were blinded by short-lived power which the Habesha lords have given them.

  5. Aboma March 29, 2017 at 10:57 am #

    Can somebody, who knows their email address, forward this well-written piece to Haile Larebo and Teshome Borega?

    I Hope they will learn something from this.

  6. Adama March 30, 2017 at 12:56 am #

    The article does not make sense. The writer says Oromos did not voluntarily join menelik army and Oromos were only used as slaves and their cattle. Then the writer admits that many generals and leaders of the Abyssinia empire were Oromos too.

    Very confusing article.

    Plus, the writer says even the emperors like Haile selassie were half-Oromos. What does this prove?

    • Simsala Bim March 30, 2017 at 7:57 pm #

      Adama,

      “… What does this prove?” 🙂

      It proves that the gallant, brave and trusting patriotic Oromo Tigers fought for themselves and their neighbors, defeating all types of enemies and kept the current Ethiopia independent even though the tigers were manipulated like always and excluded by their foxy verbal artist neighbors for which reason the current Oromos must necessarily stand up together like the modern Tigers and take back their equality and justice by all means possible, whether within the Ethiopian framework or outside the Ethiopian framework. The usual endless Habasha naration have been told and retold but now the issue is how to unite and make concrete results and improve the lives and livings of the citizens. Those Habashas we are talking about eagerly are now themselves enslaved so are we angry at enslaved people or what? I am really confused now days. 🙂

    • Qaanqee March 31, 2017 at 3:37 pm #

      Ayte/Ato Simsala Bim,

      Try to understand the point/history from Oromo point of view first before rushing to comment. Nothing is inconsistent and false in this article. Whether they are general or ‘leaders’, they were all habesha control, and the Oromo military generals were recruited by region from the different Oromia states at the time. It is not who Haile Silassie was that mattered most but what he had been doing and whom he had been representing in political, economic, social and over all interests.

      • Qaaqnqee March 31, 2017 at 9:47 pm #

        Correction:

        The above comment is for ‘Adama’ not ‘Simsala Bim’.

  7. Tuli March 31, 2017 at 7:12 am #

    I don’t understand why such so called ‘intellectuals’ waste their time & our time without making any point? This article is self-contradictory in most cases, and deliver no point of argument. To argue against Menelik deeds is one thing, but to say Oromo warriors were forced conscripts were disgusting. I genuinely doubt if the writer is a sane person let alone a Professor?

    • Jabaadha Lola April 1, 2017 at 8:23 pm #

      Tuli, you are either delusional or ignorant of historical facts. I know Mekuria Bulcha from the time he joined the School of Sociology at the former Haile Sellassie I (now Addis Ababa University) University. He is an honorable person and scholar.

      How many well researched and footnoted article like the one above have you ever read?

      I congratulate Ayyaantu for keeping the article at the top all other recently posted ones.

      I appreciate what Professor Mekuria included in his well researched article.
      I hope he will stop addressing Menelik as Menelik II. As the so called Menelik I has never existed in any Jewish and other writings, its is advisable to simply call him Menelik. The name of Menelik I was from Kebra Negest (Glory of the Kings) which was believed to be written and compiled by a coptic priest in Cairo. It is full of fables.

      Since Larebo calls various areas with different ancient names, I hope Professor Mekuria Bulcha’s next article could address a cause for the change in names.

  8. Oromian bateleur March 31, 2017 at 11:01 am #

    @”Tuli”,

    before jumping to degrade the prominent Oromo Professor, learn how to spell your fake Oromo name behind which you are hidding naked and trying to deceive the Oromos.

    Oromos, beware, beware, be skeptical of their names, their names of plated gold.
    Deceit, so natural, but a wolf in sheep’s clothing is more than a warning !

  9. Hubba Bubba March 31, 2017 at 4:04 pm #

    The writer is an accomplished professor and a sane person to say the least. But the problem is that our professors like many other professors are presenting and directing their arguments statically as if nothing has changed under the sun, hence statically directing their against other professors and their political opponents rather than thinking about the problems on the ground in a dynamic way and then providing timely, viable and implementable problem solutions.

    If they can’t think dynamically update their angle of thinking and unite around current problems and provide solutions to issues I am afraid that we are going hear more of the same things we have been hearing for the last some 100 years, even though governments came and went several times within these periods.

    On the other hand anti Oromo cheap propagandist cunning foxes dressed in sheep skins are also constantly doing exactly the same if not more when they try to diminish and altogether cancel the great Oromo contributions, hoping to rob Oromo material and human resources in to the next century just like the past centuries. Fuvck them with the tick broom stick! 🙂

    In this sense it is even a blessing for Oromos to have their own intellectuals who defend the great Oromo legacy throughout historical times. Lets HOPE for the best!

    “There was never a night or a problem that could defeat sunrise or hope.” ~B.Williams

  10. Serawit April 1, 2017 at 9:28 am #

    Oromo bateleur, you are right in protesting the degrading of our Ethiopian Professor.
    But, I doubt that the Feranji letters are the right letters for the Oromo language to spell. The 3000 years old Ge’eez, the only full developed African letters are the best letters in spelling the Oromo language correctly.

    • Jabaadha Lola April 1, 2017 at 7:50 pm #

      Serawit: Gee’eez originated in Southern Arabia, Modern Yemen Arab Republic. It was from the region/place/tribe called Gee’zan or sometimes misspelled Jeezan. Arab scholars say: Geez was the original Arabic. Please google and make slight research on your own.

      Oromo scholars made research and found out the latin alphabet as the best way to write and communicate in Afaan Oromo. Stop pretending to know about Oromo better than Oromo scholars.

  11. kushman April 1, 2017 at 4:16 pm #

    Pirofeesar M.Bulcha galanni ke injifannoo Oromoo hat’uu.

    ኤርትራዊያን አገራቸውን ነፃ ለማውጣት ከአፍሪቃ ሃያሉን የኢትዮጵያን ጦር በሚፋለሙበት ግዜ ቡዙ ተስፋ የሚያስቆሩጡ የአበሲኒያ የእንቧይ ካብ ታሪከ ታሪኮች በኤርትራውያን ታጋዮች ላይ እንደ ተረት ተረት ይተረኩ ነበር።
    ለምሣሌ ፡
    — በምን ታዕምር ሦስት ሚሊዮን በ 60 ምሊዮን ላይ ድልን ይቃዳጃል?
    — እንኳን በምድር፣ በባህር ና በአየር የተደራጀ ዘመናዊ ጦር ያውም ከግማሽ ሚሊዮን መደበኛ ጦር ቀርቶ በጦርና ጎራዴ የጣሊያንን ታንኮች ያሸነፉ መሆናቸው።
    — ወዘተ ወዘተ………………………

    ታዲያ አንድ ሁሌ የማስታውሰው ነገር ቢኖር ኢሳያስ አፋን ወርቂ በ1988 ከአንድ የፈንጅ ጋዜጠኛ ጋር ያደረጉት ቃለ ምልልስ ነበር።
    በአበሻ ትረካ እንደ ኦሪስ ሠአት የተሞላው ጋዜጠኛ ኢትዮጵያን ይኮሩበታል የሚለውን የአበሻ የተረት ተረት ታሪኮችን ዘርዝሮ ከዚያም በመቀጠል ታዲያ ይህ ጦርነት በኤርትራውያን ከፍተኛ እልቅት ያስከትላል ብለህ አትሰጋም ወይ? ይለዋል።
    አፋን ወርቂም በሚገርም ታሪካዊ አጭርና ቁልጭ ባለች መልስ እንዲህ ብሎ መለሰለት –
    እኛ ኤርትራውያን እስከ ምናውቀው ድረስ ታሪክን የሚፈጥረው የሰው ልጅ ነው። ታሪክንም የሚገነባው የስው ልጅ ነው። ታሪክንም የሚያፈርሰውም የሰው ልጅ ነው። የኛም የኤርትራውያን መሠረታዊ ጥያቄ እኛም የሰው ልጆች to be or not to be መሆን ነው።
    እውነትም አልቀረም ከዚያች መልስ ቦኋላ በሦስት ዓመት ውስጥ ብቻ የሦስት ሽህ ታሪክ ተብዬ ተረት ተረት ሆኖ እርፍ።
    ኤርትራውያን የሰው ልጆች መሆናቸውን ለዓለም ማስመስከር ብቻ ሣይሆን አስገራሚ ታሪክ ለመጪው ትውልዳቸው ከማስረከባቸው አልፎ የጭቁን ህዝቦች አልንተኛ ለመሆን በቅተዋል።

    ከመቶ ሽህ በላይ ቅኝ ተገዢ ኦሮሚያውያን በሰሜን ጦርነት ወደው ሣይሆን ተገደው በከንቱ አልፈዋል። በቁጥር በአድዋ ካለፉት ቅኝ ተገዢዎች ከንቱ ህልፈት ይበልጣል።
    እንደማንኛው ቅኝ ተገዢዎች የቅኝ ገዢዎች ማገዶ ሆነው እንደ ዓመድ ቦነው ቀርተዋል።
    ቅኝ-ተገዢዎች በቅኝ ገዢዎች ተገደው እንደማገዶ ቢቃጠሉ የድሉ ተጠቃሚዎቹ ና የታሪኩ ኩራት የቅኝ ገዢዎች ሲሆኑ ለጭቁን ቅኝ-ተገዢዎች ግን ታሪካዊ ውርደት ሆኖ ይቀራል። ይህ ለፖለቲካ ፍጆታ ወዲያ ና ወዲህ የማይገላበጥ የቅኝ ገዢና ተገዢ ሥርዓት የሚፈጥረው መሠረታዊ ሓቅ ነው።

    አፍሮ- አሜሪካዊው መሃመድ አሊ የጭቁን ህዝቦች ኩራት ካደረገው አንዱ “ ያ በጠ ይፈንዳ እንጂ እኔን ምንም ያልበደሉኝን ቬትናሚያውያንን ዘሚቼ ሄጄ አልገልም።” ማለቱ ነበር።

    ጨሊ – ጨለንቆ የአበሲኒያን ግልፅና ስውር ባህሪን ፍርጥጦ እስከ አሁን ያሳየናል። ከመቶ ዓመታት በላይ በገደሉ ሜዳ ላይ የቀሩት የአባቶቻችን አጥንቶች በቂ ምስክር ናቸው። ያውም የአውሬ ጅብ ጎራ በሆነው ጨለንቆ።
    ታዲያ አውሬ የተባለው ጅብ ከመቶ ዓመታት በላይ የአባቶቻችንን አጥንቶች ሳይነካ በጨለንቆ ማቆየቱ አራት እግር ጅብ ምን ያክል ለኛ ክብር እንዳለው ያስመሰከረበት አስደናቂ ባህሪ ነው። ይህ የሚያስረዳን የአበሲንያ ቅኝ ገዢዎች ምን ያህል ከአውሬ ጅብ የባሱ አረመኔዎች መሆናቸውን ነው።

    ከአውሬ ጅብ ጋር በጋራ መኖር እንችላለን ግን ከአበሲኒያ ቅኝ ገዢዎች ጋር እንኳን በፈዴሬሽን ቀርቶ በኮንፈዴሬሽን መኖር ፈፅሞ የማይታሰብ ነው።
    ምክኒያቱም ዘይት ና ውሃ በተፈጥሮ አይዋሃዱም — በግድ ከፍተኛ የሙቀት ሃይል ካልታከለበት በስተቀረ። ግን እስከ መቼ???

    • Bushman April 1, 2017 at 8:32 pm #

      kushman,

      All the best! 🙂

      🙂 🙂 🙂

      🙂 🙂 🙂

  12. muqdisho man April 1, 2017 at 5:04 pm #

    lool

    this person called tuli, i saw same times comenting as an oromo person and insulting somalis,
    hahahah

    this tuli is real fake oromo. i am sure 100%

  13. muqdisho man April 1, 2017 at 5:07 pm #

    seems to me Tuli is tplf agent, spreading problems b/w somalis and oromo brothers and sisters.

    noway, everybody knews who are you now, bastard

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