By Ayele Bekerie, PhD.
This year marks the 122nd anniversary of Ethiopia’s historic victory of Adwa
Ethiopia (TADIAS) — In 1896, March was a historic month in Ethiopia, which drew the attention of the whole world. It was significant because of Ethiopia’s spectacular victory over the invading European nation – Italy, at the Battle of Adwa. According to the writing of the historian and social researcher Donald Levine, the black African nation, Ethiopia, irreversibly beat a European power ever since the domination of Europe over Africa.
When we think of and remember the Victory of Adwa, we should always recognize that the Ethiopian people, all together, were willing to sacrifice their lives in fighting against the foreign invader and maintain their national unity. Adwa is a common aim and a common future plan. We need to clearly understand the principle Adwa proved to us and express our ownership of the victory in practical terms. If Africa has to write and promote its own history, it will be obligatory to follow the Adwa principle. Adwa has been an icon for the anti-colonization struggle. Adwa has been an inspiration and hope for all the oppressed people.
Zewdie G/Silassie states the importance of the Victory of Adwa as, “this [victory] that covered
the European sky with clouds of sadness gave courage and hope of independence for people, in Asia or Africa, who were oppressed by the colonizers.”
The renowned historian, researcher and pan-African scholar W.E.B. DuBois commented on the Victory of Adwa noting that, “other people who are under colonization have to continue to fight for independence by taking Adwa as an example. They need to be determined to fight harder and make clear to the whole world that they don’t have to compromise living in freedom.”
The history of Adwa is a history that inspired African brothers and sisters who were deprived of their freedom by colonizers or racist regimes for a continued struggle. The victory served as a propelling factor for anti-colonial and pan-African movements that started in the 20th century and also helped them to establish institutions, such as the African Union.
Colonization was a power-based racist ruling system. It was a system that was filled with violence, abuse, resource exploitation or looting and was derogatory. When it was initially established, it was meant to keep Europeans superior and Africans inferior at all times. However, this hypocritical goal was dismantled by the determined struggles of Africans for freedom, following the example of Adwa.
The colonizers used to conceal their malevolent aim of coming to Africa by saying that they were coming to Africa to help Africans educate and develop.
The imperialists’ colonization conference took place in 1884-85 in Berlin, Germany. This was a
conference to negotiate the scrambling and partitioning of Africa without causing conflicts among the colonial powers themselves.
Africans had struggled against European colonization since its beginning and their struggles have been documented in history. The Algerians had fought against the French colonizers for over 17 years. In their struggle, they had used Islamism as their unifying instrument. Other nations also had similar struggles. Nevertheless, it hadn’t been possible for Africans to overcome their colonizers who had been all equipped with modern weapons, medications, technologies and industrial power.
The Sudan fighters in Omdurman had sacrificed a lot to defeat the British colonizers. In 1898, the Sudan lost 11,000 fighters while the Brits lost only 49 fighters. This was because the fighters of the colonizer led by General Kitchener were equipped with automatic machine guns.
Samori Touré of Mali fought the French colonizers for about 16 years in Guinea and Mali, with 30,000 soldiers and horseback fighters using home-made and imported weapons. This African anti-colonial hero was captured and exiled to Gabon and died there in 1900.
Furthermore, among the different people who resisted and fought against the colonial powers were the Ndebele people of Zimbabwe in 1896, the Asante people of Ghana in 1900, the Herero people of Namibia in 1904, and the Maji Maji anti-colonial forces of Tanzania in 1905-07.
Among the anti-colonial struggles of the 20th century, the Kenyan land and freedom movement, Zimbabwe’s freedom war from 1965-79, the Mozambique struggle from 1961-74, as well as Angola, Guinea Bissau, and Cape Verde’s movements are worth mentioning.
Yet, Ethiopia was the only nation that combated and overcame the colonial power. Ethiopia was able to protect its sovereignty as a result of the preparation for fighting at equal capacity and weapons: gun to gun, artillery to artillery, without being excelled by the technology the enemy had. Moreover, the people’s cooperation and ability to understand one another contributed a great deal towards the victory.
Virginia Lee Jacobs has put the exemplariness of Adwa – hence Ethiopia, for Africans in three ways. Ethiopia was an example for other African nations in their fight for freedom and against colonization. Ethiopia firmly imprinted her pride as a giant immovable mountain by refusing and winning white racist supremacy and served as a light of freedom for others. Finally, Ethiopia is a visible, tangible, living African icon of freedom.
When we also look at the colors of flags, several African countries, upon independence, chose to adopt the basic colors of the Ethiopian green, yellow and red flag as their symbol of freedom and identity, though arrangements vary.
Even out of Africa, if we look at the colorful carnivals celebrated all over the world by Caribbean decedents in Brooklyn, New York; Toronto, Canada; London, England; Miami, Florida; Detroit, Michigan; Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, the colorfulness comes from the green, yellow and red flags.
The well-known Reggae singers, including Bob Marley, had the three basic colors on their jackets, belts or drums. Thus, the choice of these colors to represent their freedom and identity including flags by about 30 African and Caribbean countries wasn’t accidental, but it was because they viewed Ethiopia as an icon of freedom and associated their historical fight for freedom with that of Ethiopia.
African leaders who led the anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggles and later who became leaders of their respective free nations witnessed the following about Ethiopia:
Kwame Nkurmah, while he was in school in London, said, “As long as Ethiopia is free, we all
believe that Africa will one day be free.”
The first president of Guinea Ahmed Sékou Touré, on his part, said, “The Ethiopian people are great people. They are great Africans; they have bravely fought and preserved their freedom, and they showed the way to freedom to the whole Africa.”
The great anti-apartheid fighter Nelson Mandela also gave an unforgettable description of Ethiopia by saying that Ethiopia is the source of his African identity.
Adwa is a reminder for the current proud generation to fight against any enemy for the sake of their identity, history, culture and religion. Ethiopians were victorious over the invading Italian force by having consciously gathered information, designed strategies, and being well prepared in advance. Further, they were united.
The deep love and knowledge that Adwa instilled in black people had astonishingly re-erupted after 40 years when the enemy invaded Ethiopia again and massacred thousands. Black Harlemites wanted to join the resistance against the Fascist invaders.
The outstanding victory of Adwa showed that African struggles could end colonization. The victory inspired people to fight for their freedom. Adwa is a timeless victory that enabled Africans all over the world to grow and prosper by maintaining their freedom and peace.
About the author:
Ayele Bekerie is an Associate Professor and Coordinator of PhD Program in Heritage Studies and Coordinator of International Affairs at Mekelle University’s Institute of Paleo-Environment and Heritage Conservation. Previously, he was an Assistant Professor at the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University. Ayele Bekerie is a contributing author in the acclaimed book, “One House: The Battle of Adwa 1896 -100 Years.” He is also the author of the award-winning book “Ethiopic, An African Writing System: Its History and Principles” — among many other published works.