Significance of the Battle of Adwa to ascertain independence of black people

The scramble for Africa led to the division of the continent by the Europeans in the 19th century.

The Europeans paid little attention for the autonomy of African countries. Subsequently, the more powerful European nations hastily and hurriedly snatched up immense land in Africa.

At that time Italy had only unified lately in 1871. This delayed her from actively engaging in the colonization of Africa. It had been politically and economically weak in contrast to the prosperous and dominant countries of Britain and France. It had to accept the political arrangement of Europe at the time.

Its low status on the geopolitical arena constrained Italy to acquire the territories that were left over from the initial grab for colonizing or scrambling for Africa.

The sole remaining sovereign nation in Africa at the time was Ethiopia. Historians pointed out that Ethiopia at the time was a “highly traditional empirestate” based on the religious spirit of the ruling Solomonic dynasty. It was on record that the dynasty had descended directly from the biblical figure King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. The legend decreed that King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba hada child who was later known as King Menelik I in the 10th century B.C.

He became the founder of the ruling Ethiopian dynasty. In 1896, Italian envoys met with Emperor Menelik II under the pretense of establishing closer ties between their nations. It is on historic record that Emperor Menelik II and Italy came to an agreement and signed the Treaty of Wuchale. This treaty was initially based on the sale of land to the Italians.

Later on the Italians could claim the land as an Italian colony in the region. This was found out to be a treaty to appease the Italian desire of being a colonial power. After the signing of the treaty a dangerously negative concern arose.

The Italians had viciously and secretly inserted a legally binding addendum that forced Ethiopia to maintain all foreign relations through Italy. It also turned Ethiopia into an Italian protectorate.

The version of the treaty produced in Amharic did not include this, but rather affirmed Ethiopia’s presence as an autonomous kingdom. It had the choice of using Italy to conduct foreign affairs in a way it saw fit.

The honest Ethiopian ruler, Emperor Menelik II condemned the Italians for their deception. He asserted that the treaty was not valid. The bogus and sham treaty could not be recognized by the government of Ethiopia. The shameless imperialist Italians had to disagree, asserting Emperor Menelik II was well aware of the content and context of the agreement.

The Italians also threatened a military action to maintain their imaginary and newly instituted domination over Ethiopia. Ethiopia was an underdeveloped country that was totally underestimated by Italy at the time. It was believed that it could not resist any invading force. The imperialist force deployed its armed forces with pieces of artillery.

During the deployment of their army, European nations had notencountered effective resistance from African nations. As a result they attempted to establish supremacy and domination through military means.

The European military was technologically advanced as compared to most African nations. This situation encouraged Europeans, including Italians, to pursue their colonial aspiration of exploiting the natural resources of the African nations.

The white supremacist colonial powers had been engulfed with racial attitudes that had earnestly promoted cultural inferiority in Africa. Comparison of cultures was a baseless excuse for colonizing and civilizing the Africans with the wretched European ethos and beliefs of superiority. No culture, including art, music, literature and philosophy is compared to others.

They all belong to people that are created equal. In contrast to this stance, the European doctrine of the mission of civilization of Africa was a major feature of its approach.

The civilizing mission in spirit and principle gave European nations an excuse and validation for colonizing Africa. Its basic principle and practice was the duty to enlighten, educate and humanize the so called barbaric people of the Africa.

The doctrine of colonialism exposed the rationalization for ill-fated adventure, exploration and hunger for natural resources that led Italy to underestimate the ability and capacity of Ethiopia to defend itself against Italian invasion.

Though Italian forces were better equipped than the Ethiopian forces, Emperor Menelik managed to unite the freedom loving Ethiopians under the banner of preserving their independence. Italy was shocked by the ability and endurance of Emperor Menelik and his wife Empress Taytu in mobilizing an army of the required number and strength.

The battle took place on the first of March, 1896, and ended with the defeat and retreat of the Italian forces within a few hours.

Subsequently, the Italian soldiers had shamelessly lost the battle and abandoned some of their military hardware. Their defeat allowed for strengthening the coalition of Ethiopian forces to collect the fragments of the battle.

Thus, the Battle of Adwa was a devastating loss for Italy, and resulted in political discord within Italy. The general of the Italian Armed Forces, General Baratieri, led the Italian forces to the battle field. He was severely disciplined for his misconduct in the battle.

After the battle, Italy was forced to sign the Treaty of Addis Ababa which underlined the absolute autonomy of Ethiopia from foreign colonial rule. The importance and implication of the battle was far-reaching.

The victory was noted as a major inspiration and stimulation of the Pan-African movement. Moreover, Afro-American civil rights activists noted and asserted the importance of the victory of Adwa and promoted Ethiopia as an essence of the global unity of Africa. The Battle of Adwa was the sole victory Africa had against a European power.

This occurred at a time when Africa was in a complete subjugation and control by European colonialists. Furthermore, AfroAmericans took the victory as justification for their own valuable identity.

The victory and success was reflected as one of the primary causes for the rise of a PanAfrican vision of freedom. The Battle of Adwa assisted in altering the entrenched view that Africans were “no better than savages.” Ethiopian and African victory during that period has a long lasting significance which could not be erased from history.

To the Ethiopians, it gave a new perspective about the strength of their country. Before the battle the Ethiopians had always held the belief that they would never be able to mount strong resistance against European invasion.

The defeat at Adwa completely changed this perspective. It gave the Europeans a new perspective on Ethiopia and Africa. They noted that colonialist Italy was defeated by the heroic Ethiopian army and this surprised and humiliated them.

They were shocked to learn that the white supremacist race had lost. They suddenly had to rethink and change their beliefs and policies whendealing with Africa.

It was no longer a continent predominantly inhabited by primitivepeople. The victory became a source of pride and inspirations to Africans. To arouse his supporters against white racists in Jamaica and in the United states the well-known nationalist Marcus Garvey stressed heavily the victory at the battle of Adwa.

Using phrases “Ethiopia thou land of our fathers” the legendary Garvey was able to stress the “Back to Africa” movement slogan. It is important to note that the Battle of Adwa had also contributed to the history on the first defeat of the white race by blacks. It is important to note that the battle of Adwa had a long lasting effect on African history.

It was a challenge to European imperialist expansion in Africa. The various events that eventually led to the defeat of Italy signified the ability of Africans to organize themselves against external invasion. It revealed the ability of Africans to plan, organize and execute without alien forces.

There is, therefore, a need for most African countries to reexamine the Battle of Adwa as a reminder for their strength even in times of external and internal security challenges.

The Ethiopian people of all ethnic, tribal and provincial groups had greatly contributed to the victory of the Battle of Adwa.

Women had also contributed to the victory through helping at the battle fronts, supplying food, water and traditional medicines to the soldiers. It was through the successful coordination of efforts of all types of Ethiopian people by Emperor Menelik II that the victory of Adwa had become a reality.

Adwa was a significant battle that ed a turning point in the history of modern Africa. The victory at Adwa amplified Ethiopia’s image as defender of African independence.

It became a source of pride for Africans in any corner of the world. Under the leadership of Emperor Menelik II and his strategic military and nation building initiatives with his bold and influential wife Empress Taytu Bitul, the Ethiopians achieved a crushing defeat on the Europeans, in particular the Italians.

The question regarding the war strategy of Emperor Menelik II and his generals that blew the enemy in an all rounded defeat remained a puzzle for Europeans. They raise questions which they found impossible to respond to.

How it was possible for the Ethiopians to conquer the Italians and what was the motivation behind the patriotism of the Ethiopians? This question had no answer for the imperialists.

In fact, one question led to another endlessly. Finally blame games took place in the Italian political arena. The real question was related to the circumstances that led to the victory of the Africans over the Europeans in the age of imperialism.

The historic and academic significance of the battle of Adwa was that it demanded a full appreciation and reappraisal of African victory and ability to organize themselves without European leadership and initiatives.

Finally, the Victory of Adwa had remained a source of pride for all Ethiopians of future generations. This was also true for all Africans who had suffered from the rude treatment of the imperialists.

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


The Ethiopian   4 March  2022

Leave a Reply