Adwa: A gear shifter for the black peoples’ victory over colonialism

It was back in the 16th century that slavery and colonialism began to take shape; and there had been various battles.

Each war has a similar outcome, where the aggressors took control of their colonies. And it has been a certain fact that whenever European aggressors began a war, it ended up colonizing the natives.

Adwa is however not among the list of such battles. The reverse is true when it comes to the Battle of Adwa, in 1896. The Europeans had control over the native peoples of the North America, Africa, Asia, Australia, and South America.

Almost all countries in all continents had once been under the rule of the European colonial powers.

It is the Ethiopians that stood against the aggressors. We Ethiopians pay the highest regard to our fathers for what they had done in the last decade of the 19th century at the Battle of Adwa, gave us a Victory Day.

In 1884-85, the Capital of German hosted a conference that is historically named as the Berlin Conference which aimed at the peaceful scramble of Africa among the Europeans.

Since Italy had a colonial possession over the port of Assab since 1882, the European powers decided that Italy should take over the whole Ethiopia as its colony. Before Italy brought its troops into the mainland, Ethiopians were hit hard by the Kefu Ken (Evil Days) from 1888-1892, where the famine, the plague and the rinderpest that robbed Ethiopia of its livestock.

According to some historical literatures, the rinderpest had killed more than 90 percent of the livestock and the famine and the plague had wiped out nearly a third of the population. Some political historians believe that it was the Italians who brought the rinderpest, an infectious viral animal disease to Ethiopia.

The Italians, according the political historians, knew that agriculture (mainly farming) was the mainstay of the populace and the cattle was used to plough the land. If, therefore, the cattle are wiped out, the economy would suffer and millions would fall under the trap of famine and no one would go out to the battle field to fight along with the Emperor, Menelik II. Whether the suspicion of the historians is right or wrong, the Italians took advantage of the situation to influence the Kingdom into submission.

They managed to sign a treaty with Emperor Menelik II. That historical treaty is known as the Treaty of Wuchale, named after the place where it had been signed. This is the treaty that leads the two countries into war since they couldn’t agree on the Italian version of the Treaty. Menelik was to discover that the language in the two versions of the treaty differed.

The Italian version effectively made Ethiopia Italy’s protectorate, in contrast to the Amharic version. Article 17 of the Treaty was what brought a disagreement and later on a war. A well-armed Italian army marched to the mainland until it was checked by the united force of traditional warriors, farmers and pastoralists that came from all corners of Ethiopia.

The major battle took place at Adwa, a town located in Northern Tigray and the outcome of the Battle of Adwa was shocking to Europeans, as the whole world witnessed the defeat of the Italians just within a day.

It was a great shame to the colonial powers and a pride for black people around the globe. Adwa made Ethiopia to be known as the only African country that hadn’t been colonized and it became a symbol of freedom for black people around the globe.

Adwa is a perfect witness to what united arms can achieve. Obeying to the national call of the Emperor for all Ethiopians who are capable enough to defend their country, family and religion, around 100,000 Ethiopians from all tribes and culture answered to the Emperor’s call and marched to the North with no modern weapons but with heart full of courage and a stronger cause. The Ethiopian troops wouldn’t have won the war without the relentless support of the women who had been with the troop all along the way.

The women had helped in providing foods, helping the wounded and encouraging the troops to fight hard. The role of the heroes, Empress Taytu wouldn’t be forgotten in history.

That fearless strategist and brilliant administrator had led 6,000 cavalry to the war front and came back with a victory. Much more respect to those women who were the backbone of the Ethiopian army. The Victory of Adwa has brought several changes. European colonial powers were in shock and feared that the same might happen to them.

The then Prime Minister of Italy, Francesco Crispi, resigned after the painful defeat that his army has suffered at Adwa. Following the Victory of Adwa, Italy was forced to unconditionally accept the sovereignty of Ethiopia. Adwa turned Ethiopia into a symbol of redemption and freedom for black people. Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. Du Bois, Bob Marley, George Padmore and others drew inspiration from the African victory.

The first Afro-Brazilian newspaper was named O Menelick, publishing pride in black identity and African connection with prominent women writers from 1915-1916. The green, yellow and red Ethiopian flag was adopted by several African countries after colonial liberation and a universal national anthem was created for black people. Having said all these, one major thing about colonialism is that it is about resources, economic intentions.

The colonizers didn’t come here in search of the sunlight. In order to provide inputs for their growing industries, they needed raw materials and other resources. Their capitalistic economic system brought them into an imperialist attitude.

The industrial revolution had forced them to scramble for more resources. Consequently, they aggressively colonized the African continent after the Berlin Conference agreement to scramble Africa.

The Europeans call it Berlin Conference and we Africans call it the Curse of Berlin. The means of exploiting resources back then was through a direct (political/ military) colonization whereas today’s means is through economic and cultural colonization.

There has been one TV advertisement in Ethiopia that exactly illustrates how we Africans have fallen into the traps of economic colonization. The ad goes like, a ‘patriot’ like father has been sitting near the door and his two children came to him rushing from outside and told him that ‘pap pap Italy came Italy came’.

The father picked his armor and began to chant a war cry. And the children said to him, ‘pap it is not the troops that came, it is the pasta.’ And the father calmed down and sang a welcoming song to the Italian pasta.

This TV ad nails the point clearly. The former colonizers are now importing raw materials from Africa and selling it back to Africans after manufacturing them. They import skin and hides (raw materials), export shoes and bags (finished products).

They import fruits and export canned juices. It is therefore to indicate that the colonial mentality of the Europeans would never fade away, so do our defense.

Adwa should never be about yesterday, it is about today and tomorrow. The military and political victory should be repeated in the economic arena. After all, colonialism is about economy. Dancing and chanting war cries alone every year wouldn’t be of any importance unless it advances to economic and cultural patriotism.

As they don’t sleep to divide us; we shall keep awakened and stay united. Adwa has shown us how united bare hands could tear apart a well-armed enemy.

Editor’s Note: The views entertained in this article do not necessarily reflect the stance of The


The   3 March  2022

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