A grand victory that changed the course of global history, politics

It was the darkest period of world history as the transatlantic slave trade transported between 10 million and 12 million enslaved Africans across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas followed by colonialism. Europe on the other hand was culminating power; emboldened itself by this inhumane act and sought to scramble Africa. The attitude was the white race is invincible and can conquer and subjugate other races. The black and other races under subjugation have also been influenced by this view and were on the edge of losing hope.

In fact, Europeans succeeded conquering many places in Africa and elsewhere with no or little resistance. Black people and other races continued to be treated inhumanly. At the juncture of this, another formidable power Italy thought it can easily beat the Ethiopian force and make the country its colony. As per the Berlin Conference, Italy claimed Ethiopia to be its colony and without delay, it went on attacking Ethiopia.

The assumption was Italy to defeat Ethiopia easily and make its colony as other European countries did across the African continent. But the result of the war was the opposite and stunned the world.

Ethiopia defeated well-armed Italian forces at Adwa in 1896. Ethiopian victory is believed to have changed the course of history as it was the first African victory over white powers who thought they are unbeatable and superior in nature.

The Battle of Adwa was no ordinary battle because its repercussions were far-reaching and its impact goes well beyond Ethiopia and Africa. Some writers and scholars characterize the historic Battle of Adwa and the Ethiopian victory as the most defining victory for the entire black people of the world against European white supremacist ideology.

Historian Raymond Jonas says Adwa’s victory saved Africans from being totally colonized and depopulated by Europeans as America. “ There were a couple of firsts that are built into the story of Adwa and one of them is that this is the first time that an African army had definitively defeated the European Army. There had been setbacks before. The British had a terrible setback in their war with the Zulu a few years earlier but it was a setback.

The victory of the Ethiopians was definitively meant that Ethiopian sovereignty was defended successfully and that made Ethiopia the only African country not to be colonized during the period of high Empire. That’s astonishing to think about it was astonishing that it’s still astonishing now at the time and what made it especially I think important was the common sense in the late 19th century had it that Africa was going to suffer the fate that the Americas suffered that they would be colonized and populated by Europeans. Adwa in a very dramatic fashion put that scenario into doubt.”

As a direct result of the battle, Italy signed the Treaty of Addis Ababa, recognizing Ethiopia as an independent state. Adwa made Ethiopia at the center of global politics. Its victory over Italy hope for the African Diaspora to sustain pan Africanism movement and it also ignited freedom struggles across the globe. “The storyline Adwa and Menelik dramatically enhanced the stature of Ethiopia throughout the African Diaspora. Some such as Benito Sylvain of Haiti saw Ethiopia as a beacon a kind of zion and made the pilgrimage from the Americas to the core Menelik.

Others such as Booker T. Washington and W Dubois became virtual pilgrims who elaborated an Ethiopia of the imagination.”

Ethiopian historian Bahru Zewde also says “few events in the modern period have brought Ethiopia to the attention of the world as has the victory at Adwa”. Adwa influenced and inspired Africans to embark on liberation struggles from forces of colonialism and Imperialism. Afrocentric scholar, Molefe Asante also heightens Adwa to have a signifying place in African history and pan Africanism movement.

“After Adwa, Ethiopia became emblematic of African valor 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 and black inferiority as well as invoking a strong sense of Pan-Africanism towards to people of African-American origins who had suffered equally appalling injustices at the time and many centuries before.”

The result of the war dented western powers’ thoughts of invincibility and questioned the thought of colonialism. For Italians, it was an embarrassing defeat sending a complete shock and disbelief. It was met with a mixture of anger and jubilation. Protests and riots occurred in several Italian cities against the government of Prime Minister Francesco Crispi. Students from the University of Rome chanted ‘Viva Menelik!’ in their protests. For leftist and anti-colonialist groups, Adwa would support their cause to end Italy’s colonial ambitions and their aims were met with increased public support as a petition signed by 100,000 was drawn up calling for an end to Italy’s colonial project.

For Ethiopians who have studied and researched further on the victory of Adwa, Adwa isn’t just a victory Ethiopia to celebrate alone. It is the victory of mankind. Mankind pursues equality and freedom in spite of differences in colors, gender, or other things. Ethiopian filmmaker Professor Haile Gerima says Adwa made a global impact. He emphasized it is a historical precedent that Africans built an attitude to defeat western powers later.

“Adwa is a history-making event to all progressive people, also to all pan Africanists, to Africans specifically Ethiopians. It is a very important significant movement. One it says imperialism, colonialism, and well-armed power can be defeated by spirit and minds who knows history. It was so significant to all nonwhite people even in Iran they celebrated widely. I have personally seen archives in Paris. At the dawn of defeat at Adwa, Sudanese people who were in constant struggle with Ethiopians danced for a whole week in honor of the triumph of Ethiopians and defeat of Italians. To me, it isn’t just a temporary feel-good boost. It is an impact that made a global echo. Later on a lot of pan Africanist Nkrumah, Nasir, and even Mandela, it is a historical precedent that said yes they can be defeated.”

Ethiopian Legendary artist Egigayehu Shibabaw (GIGI) also relates it with the equality of mankind. In her song, Adwa, she narrates how Ethiopians sacrificed their lives for honor, dignity, and pride.

Slowly but surely, African freedom struggles became successful. And many African states with moral and material support of Ethiopia became independent in the 1960s. The spirit of Ethiopian victory at Adwa however was the gear factor behind Africa’s later independence. For this, Pan Africanists Nkrumah described Ethiopia in his poem “Ethiopia shall rise” as

Ethiopia, bold cradle of Africa’s ancient rule

And fertile school

Of our African culture;

Ethiopia, the wise

Shall rise

And remold with us the full figure

Of Africa’s hopes

And destiny.

Marcus Garvey also wrote “Look to Africa for the crowing of a black king. He shall be the redeemer.” His famous writing has impacted later Pan Africanism movements globally. Ras Taferianism and other cultural and political movements happened due to this.

Raymond Jonas believes Adwa is a world heritage as it symbolizes dignity and freedom. “Around the globe, Adwa gave the lie to the inevitability of European domination both political and racial. By the 1890s were passed for common sense predicted a future for Africa that mirrored that of the United States where native populations were given way before an irresistible tide of European settlers.

Assumptions about political domination and racial superiority were thus entwined and by setting that one autumn shattered pious certainties about the other. Instead, Ethiopia stood as an island of dignity and freedom a stubborn exception within otherwise colonized Africa. For all these reasons Adwa deserves a privileged place not only for Ethiopia and Ethiopians but for all of us. It was an event with global consequences and that’s why it deserves the commemoration we offered today. This great African victory has generally changed the world positively as gives hope to people who were in the plight of servitude and subjugation.

Africans and the nonwhite people in the world conceived hope to return their self-worth, dignity, confidence, and freedom from colonialism. In today’s world where there is the independence of African and other countries in the world, where blacks and Asians are being treated with relative dignity won’t possible if not for Adwa’s victory.



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