Adwa Vs the 1974 Ethiopian Revolution (Kindeneh Endeg)

Adwa Victory - emperor Menelik - Ethiopia - Patriotism
Statue of Emperor Menelik in Addis Ababa

Kindeneh Endeg
June 22, 2019

No, Adwa day is not already upon us, in case anyone is wondering. It is almost four months since the last one came and went and the next one is more than eight months away. So the reader can rest assured that there is no confusion there.

Meaning both the author of the present essay and the editors of the online journals where it appears go along with it, in spite of and ignoring such discrepancy in calendar. Ignore the otherwise untimeliness of the piece, we might add, out of deliberate/conscious authorial and editorial decision that Adwa should know no such seasonal bounds; that every day should be Adwa day, that there should be no such thing as awaiting appropriate time when it comes to talking about and celebrating Adwa. Not so much out of disregard to the old adage that “there is time for everything”, as out of respectfully begging to differ with the wisdom therein when it comes to Adwa. For there is indeed such a thing as certain things being timeless, and Adwa is one, without a doubt, hands down.  

Talking about and celebrating Adwa, should therefore always come natural to us. We should always happily and readily oblige ourselves to it, anytime anywhere, year in and year out, and refuse to have it any other way.

For it is Adwa we are talking here. And year round marking and dedication of calendar to it is the least we can do. For we owe Adwa at least that much; as Ethiopians, as Africans, as Orientals and ultimately as human beings. That is what, if at all it is going to have any luck, the present essay seeks to demonstrate. Thereby, if nothing else, helping the present author save face, taking care of any need for apology for the otherwise untimeliness of the piece.

One is still in order though, i.e., apology. In order, if not for the timing, then certainly for clumsiness of the essay. Clumsiness to do with issues of coherence, style, etc, which regrettably makes any promise that one will have fun reading the piece quite a tall order to deliver on.

A lame, yet somehow legitimate excuse for the clumsiness has to do with the unlikely genesis of the essay. That it was never originally written with a wider readership in mind. Put together in haste, it was meant to be just a draft note for limited circulation among collages at the AAU. But it so happens that some of those colleagues while devastatingly honest not to venture any consolation whatsoever when it comes to the clumsiness, at the same time insist that any such stylistic and linguistic shortcomings should not be allowed to take away from the relevance of the insights and fresh approach to the subject matter evident in the essay that makes it too important to be confined within such small circle. That I should therefore submit a finalized draft of it for publication in a learned journal, and even more importantly, I should share it with the wider public.

As anyone in academia is aware, the two recommendations hardly go together, that is, scholarly publication and reaching out the wider public. Hence my decision to take a rain check on the former in favor of addressing the latter.

With the preference to forego academic publication for reaching out the wider public, also came my decision that if I have to do this, I might as well do it in a manner and context that makes it worthy and relevant to our contemporary national predicaments, than just revisiting an important historical topic just for its own sake. Meaning it should have something to contribute and inform ongoing debates on existential national issues.  

Hence the comprehensive title I come up with, Adwa Versus the 1974 Revolution. Which means what the reader will be looking for is, a series of sorts, where I will try to demonstrate how indeed the two, that is Adwa and the 1974 Revolution are radical antithesis of each other, and the crossroad, many agree with alarm that Ethiopia is currently in, can be seen as a result of the dynamic of the inherent contradiction between the two starting to play out. How the dynamics is going to resolve itself is any ones guess. One hopes that Adwa emerges victorious, for the alternative is no alternative at all.

With that said, herein below is the present installment in two parts, i.e., the dense and incoherent essay እንደ ወረደ (the only significant difference with the original draft being the decision to split it here into two and some stuff I had to remove for being deemed not quite relevant to the current audience)

Part I: Menilik, Anko-Bar, Adwa

If there is one name, that stands out most and figures prominently in the history modern encounter between Ethiopia and the West, it is Menilik. And that, needless to say, is primarily because of Adwa. Which the West somehow seems unwilling and/or incapable of forgetting and getting over with no matter how much time might have lapsed ever since. That is since the military confrontation (battle being the wrong designation that downgrades and reduce the significance and far reaching implications of a millennial event into the details of a one day military confrontation) between Menilik’s Ethiopia and Italy, the decisive battle of which took place at Adwa, March 1, 1896 (hence Adwa becoming the shorthand for the entire phenomenon).

And why or how could it! The West has a very good, legitimate, reason not to let go or forget, much less forgive and move on. For what we have in Adwa is more than just a war, more than a one day military showdown. It was the ultimate millennial confrontation of two worlds, Occident Vs Ethiopia/Africa/Orient, each side complete with their distinctive ideologies/worldviews and the kind of behavior, the respective, rival/adversarial worldviews inform and sanction both at home and abroad. Put simply, that of the West/Occident, ideology which says or had as its primary motto, “we went, we saw and we conquered”, while that of Ethiopia/Africa/Orient one, that consisted of the reaction/antithesis; “Yes you might have gone and seen but you have no right to conquer, possess, plunder, defile, disfigure, despoil, murder, devour, etc, simply because you think you can” to that of its Western/Occidental counterpart.

Put differently, that of Occident, ideology, that sanctions and relishes “Might is Right” as somehow legitimate, as long as one is capable of it. Sort of, “sell it don’t smell it”, attitude when it comes to violence. While that of Ethiopia/Orient/Africa one that disavow and renounces that. That is reject violence as something that should have no place whatsoever as an acceptable way of assuming and preserving power and authority at home, and as a legitimate principle, underlying or governing foreign policy, abroad.

That is what Adwa was about, and needless to say, Ethiopia/Africa/Orient emerged victorious and prevailed over Occident with all the attendant implications and far reaching ramifications of such outcome to the respective, rival, ideologies described above.

If this has never been as obvious and self-evident as it should have been, it is thanks to all the literature on the topic (i.e., the voluminous academic and popular writings on Adwa) that unfortunately aims at and does more to obscure and suppress the truth than illuminate.

As such, the first step towards the realization of the far reaching significance and ramifications of Adwa might be the need to note an aspect of Adwa so far over looked (if not in fact intentionally suppressed by Occident). Which is that Adwa was a war/military confrontation that was fought between “superior monkeys”, superior, yet monkeys nonetheless, and “civilized men”. As such the outcome was supposed to be given, a foregone conclusion, favoring the latter, i.e., “civilized men”.

Only it didn’t. Not only did the outcome disprove and overturn what was supposed to be such foregone conclusion, but even more important to note, Menilik officially entered the war almost literally per those set terms, meaning, acknowledging his side as the army of “superior monkeys”.

One among the pile of evidence substantiating that, i.e., that Menilik’s team entered the arena wearing a shirt that says, “the Superior Monkeys”, is the meaning of his pre-Adwa capital, አንኮ-በር which means (both in Geez and Amharic), ዝንጀሮ-በር literally gateway to “monkey land”.

In turn the reason Menilik decided to take upon himself the racial insult and derision of Occident against the black race –(which needless to say is still rampant, among others evident from the way it manifests itself in football fields throughout the West where black athletes and players are honored with the slur on a regular bases, i.e., being called “monkeys”)– has to do with the fact that it is more than just a racial slur (I hope I do not have to further digress from the central issue here to dignify with any rejoinder the idiotic claim of many Menilik haters that he in fact denied his blackness, such as Menilik allegedly declining to open the first Pan-Africanist conference held in Manchester in 1905,. I mean how stupid can we be not to realize that this was but a cheap shut on the part of Occident concocted out of thin air as part of its desperate attempt at minimizing damage after Adwa …)

Indeed never being just an ordinary racist slur, Occident’s assertion that the Black race is but no more than a “superior monkey”, goes deep into the very heart of the history of encounter between the West and Ethiopia/Africa. That is, history, to speak of the last 500 years alone, dominated by history of slavery and colonialism. To the limited purpose at hand, the fact that Menilik willingly took the insult to himself and do so, specifically, as will be demonstrated, in connection to Adwa means that he was essentially saying, “over my dead body” to European colonial scramble for Africa underway at the time.

Meaning Menilik was assuming the task of being a spokesperson and defender of not just the entire continent of black Africa but the entire black race all over the world at the time. Which means that Adwa was never just about defending Ethiopia, it was every bit about defending and standing up for the entire continent of Black Africa as well as the entire Black race the world over (if not even about the victims of Occidental colonial and racial excesses and abuses wherever they might be throughout the world).

Yet the reader is bound to be incensed and react with what might certainly appear at first sight as only a legitimate and well founded objection to the above assertion on my part that; a/ it is simply an exaggerated claim, that reads way too much into and  blow out of all tolerable proportions, the significance of a one day event, b/even if it were the case that Adwa was indeed about the entire black race than just Ethiopia, one wonders if, even with victory, Menilik did not in the end came far short of anything that could remotely constitute significant delivery on any such wider and ambitious scope.

That is certainly the position of Menilik’s critics and detractors, who would give my contention stated above no chance whatsoever, as opposed to dismiss it out of hand as rubbish not worth a minute of their ልሂቅ and ራዲካል thought and reflection. For one, there is the most indisputable fact that no amount of outrageous and unfounded assertion, as they would see it, on my part, could simply wish away. Namely, the alleged fact that, let alone of defending the entire continent, much less the entire black race throughout the world, Menilik proved unwilling or incapable of extending his victory even up to liberating Eritrea.  

The popularity of the above critique especially of late, that is the claim that the scope of Menilik’s ambition was in fact too narrow, myopic and limited, that far from deserving any credit for being a pioneering hero of Pan-Africanism for his record in connection to Adwa, Menilik is in fact responsible for the secession of Eritrea, is such that it is derailing and bedeviling  March 1, i.e., the annual commemoration of Adwa, by effectively turning it into a day of national mourning, the significance of the whole phenomenon being turned upside down and reread as an event of national disaster.

Yet, as much as impossible to ignore, to dwell on such digression anymore than necessary is to inadvertently give the ድንቄም ልሂቅ ልሂቃን or the ድንቄም ራዲካል ራዲካል pseudo-intellectual Menilik haters behind such bedeviling of the Adwa memorial, more recognition than they deserve. For to bring down any discussion of Adwa to the level of the various idiotic allegations meant to justify narrow-minded, tribal and parochial political agenda (not to say mercenary agenda as well, as one also seriously suspects in the case of some) on the part of the pseudo-intellectual Menilik haters, would be a huge disservice to its, that is Adwa’s glory. (That otherwise, the various assertions of Menilik haters could be demonstrated as having no base whatsoever in reality, and as such very simple to debunk point by point is something the present author could promise to return to in another installment, including the fact that Menilik is never responsible for the secession of Eritrea. That though the superficial/ግልብ nature of their alleged scholarly ልሂቅና is nowhere near anything that would allow them discover or appreciate it, there is such a thing called ፈረቃ which is a sort of arrangement underlying what I call the Pan-Oriental/African coalition against any colonial aggression of Occident. The relevance of which, that is ፈረቃ to the Eritrean issue being such that according to the arrangement while it was the responsibility of Menilik to defend hinterland of Black Africa, which he did at Adwa, the task of defending መረብ ምላሽ was supposed to be the responsibility of Ottoman Turkey. Unfortunately the Ottomans failed to do that, meaning failed to do their share of responsibility per the principle of ፈረቃ. The Ottomans failed to do so, worth adding in passing here, not out of reluctance as opposed to the fact that the state of their power at the time was simply such that they were not in a position to carry out the task. Hence the success of Italy to hold on to Eritrea… But Alas, what a long way to bring the fake scholars up to speed on this one!! Who would have none of that and would rather carry on in their Meninik bashing, as long as they have their  lofty and highflying but empty and pretentious intellectual terms and phraseology scavenged from here and there, making up for and embellishing their otherwise ግልብ, quite gibberish and off-the-cuff  assertions on the subject…)

For the truth is that Menilik did in fact more than deliver on the wider international promises of Adwa. So once again, my plea to the reader to bear with me here …. Though a promise that I might not succeed to deliver on, I will try to be as brief and concise as possible lest something so important be lost amid my disjointed rambling…

So to start with, if the far reaching ramifications of Adwa have not been as obvious as they should have been for Ethiopians in particular and the non-West in general, it has to do with the monopoly of Occident in “knowledge” production (the term knowledge under quotation mark because what passes for knowledge in the case at hand is often than not unfounded assertions, distortions, willful perversions of the truth of the story and outright inventions of falsehood —such as the alleged denial of his blackness by Menilik referred to above, or the claim that Adwa failed to deliver on the promises of victory because Menilik failed to capitalize on it, etc). The result being, among other things, the success of Occident so far to blind even the most patriotic and perceptive among us not to see and recount about Adwa anything other than, the role of a storekeeper, that is, counting bullets, number of troops, etc, i.e., details of one day military confrontation.

Meaning in the first instance for the real and comprehensive picture or story to emerge with all its complexities and far reaching significance, we need to comprehend Adwa in its totality, meaning by tracing its origin, if not to Anole ( which though ought to have been the case, unfortunately impossible to do so here, for that would make the story more complicated than manageable within the limited scope at hand) then at least to Wuchale, that is, to the events and things associated with the signing and subsequent fate of Wuchale Treaty.

That is; first the meaning of especially the infamous Article XVII/17 of the treaty that would emerge as the principal bone of contention between the two signatories, that is, Ethiopia and Italy, then the unilateral abrogation of the Treaty by Menilik prior to the battle of Adwa, and then official annulment of the whole thing as part of the post Adwa comprehensive peace treaty between Ethiopia and Italy. In other words, as will be explained shortly, the things I just relate about Wuchale, need to be appreciated as much if not even more important than the military engagement and victory of Adwa— (though again the two need to be treated as interrelated subsets of a coherent whole, complex system, with Anko-Bar as its central operating system, than something that can be taken apart).

Doing so will go a long way to help us appreciate the meaning and significance of the whole event as not just a seminal/foundational to Ethiopianism/Pan-Africanism (modern edition of course), but as something that had already realized the success of these movements. Meaning that the success of Ethiopianism/Pan-Africanism and anti-racial discrimination movements of Black people elsewhere in the US, the Caribbean etc, have already been something realized by Adwa, or more comprehensively, by the phenomenon signified by the AnkoBar-Wuchale-Adwa, triplet, which rendered the actual success of these movements which came to pass in the late 1950s and early 1960s, i.e.; anti-colonial liberation movements throughout Africa and the non-west,  concluding with achievement of independence and that of the Civil Rights movement in the US, among others, concluding with the scraping of Jim Crow in the 1960s, just a matter of time and only a matter of detail, after Adwa, where they are realized.

But, how, for heaven’s sake? The reader is bound ask rather impatiently, I can sense.

That is what the next two sections are going to be all about. That is analyses and explanation as to how indeed, though something that sounds too good to be true, the above is indeed the case and nothing less.   

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