Before Adwa there was the International Victory of Wuchale (Part II)

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

By Kindeneh Endeg 
July 3, 2019

Wuchale Vs the Berlin Conference

In the preceding section/installment, I argued that understanding the significance and far reaching ramifications of Adwa–as a truly millennial, international revolutionary event, that turned the world upside down, as everyone knew it at the time– requires a comprehensive approach that treats the phenomenon in its totality, such as, by tracing its origin at least to the Wuchale Treaty. In order to appreciate that, among other things, we need to bear in mind the fact that; 

a/ unlike what most of us might think, much of colonialism, that is the success of the West to place most of the non-West under its colonial domination, throughout the period from the late 19th century to the 1960s, did not happen or come about by way of actual military conquest. It was realized by means of what were known as Treaties of Protection/Protectorate Agreements, like the Wuchale Treaty.

b/ The moral /intellectual/ideological base and legitimacy of such Treaties of Protection otherwise called Protectorate Agreements in turn rest on the central premise of the so called “civilizing mission”, i.e., the conventional colonizing discourse asserted by Occident at the time that colonialism was basically an altruistic and charitable act, which the west had to undertake on behalf and for the benefit of the non-West in general and Black Africa in particular. Treaties of Protection were allegedly part of the effort to realize that. According to the premise underlying this assertion, making it all necessary was the fact that, unlike westerners, those throughout the non-West happen to suffer from a collective disorder called “dependency complex”. Allow me to quote at some length, M.Mannoni, one of the brilliant psychologists of Occident active in the early 20th century, who is sure to do an excellent job expounding that using the case of the Madagascan, as a case in point, as follows;

It is the destiny of the Occidental to face the obligation laid down by the commandment Thou shalt leave thy father and thy mother. This obligation is incomprehensible to the Madagascan. At a given time in his development, every European discovers in himself the desire .. . to break the bonds of dependency, to become the equal of his father. The Madagascan, never! He does not experience rivalry with the paternal authority, “manly protest,” or Adlerian inferiority—ordeals through which the European must pass and which are like civilized forms . . . of the initiation rites by which one achieves manhood . . .

As much as too cavalier to constitute anything “scientific” or amenable to verification by empirical evidence, if not in fact downright racist to the core, Mannoni’s assertion above is no joke that can be dismissed lightly, as one would be tempted to do otherwise. For it is hardly personal. It is something taken very seriously and institutionally sanctioned by the West. Such that, most important to our central point at hand, it is, in a way, what is ratified and institutionalized by the Berlin Conference, convened in 1884-85, to establish the principles and ground rules on how to partition Africa among Western colonial powers. The specific objectives of the Berlin Conference include devising mechanisms on; a/how to realize colonial occupation of the non-West (especially Black Africa) on the cheap, i.e., with the least human and material cost possible to the colonizer (because remember, colonialism was sold as a non-profit outreach, thus as much as willing to be obliged to undertake mission as their “white man’s burden”, the Western agents wanted to make sure to minimize the cost, meaning the burden as much as possible)  b/how to also achieve that without the Western powers risking going to war with each other in the process (never mind the contradiction to the nature of the enterprise as a non-profit outreach, which is part of how the whole Wuchale crises would expose the whole endeavor as anything but that, i.e., altruistic charity) . 

One of the procedures ratified by the Conference to achieve these objectives is called “the principle of effective occupation” (may not be the exact wording). Even more important to mention for our purpose at hand is what the signatories of the Berlin Conference-(which consisted of 14 Western Powers including the US, and of course with no single participant whatsoever from the side of would be colonies)- also agreed upon as one of, if not the primary mechanisms by which any of the signatories would satisfy the requirements of “effective occupation” in their respective bids to assert entitlement over a certain would be colonial territory. Which is providing proof of Treaty of Protection/Protectorate Agreement they have entered or signed with the “Tribal Chief/s” of the would be colonial territory in question. To explain this  by example, according to this procedure what would be required of say, Britain, to assert entitlement, over a certain would be British colony in Africa, say Kenya, so that no other signatory of the Berlin conference would lodge a rival claim on the same country, in this case Kenya, is solicit a piece of paper which Britain could provide to the rest of signatories of the Berlin Conference as a copy of the document of Treaty of Protection that Britain had signed with the “Tribal Chief/s” of the territory in question, in this case Kenya. The rest of signatories of the Berlin Conference would then proceed to endorse the piece of paper submitted by Britain as enough proof that automatically entitles Britain as the undisputed colonial power over Kenya. That means with no further requirement on the part of Britain to reinforce or back up its claim and entitlement as the sole, legitimate colonial power with “effective occupation” of Kenya, with anything other than a piece of paper, such as evidence of the existence of substantial boots on the ground (as the contemporary usage would have it) or proof of any British colonial administrative infrastructure, no matter how rudimentary, in the process of being set up by the British there, i.e., Kenya. 

Even more important for our purpose at hand, the signatories of the Berlin conference would also proceed to endorse each others claim of having satisfied the requirement of “effective occupation” on any would be colonial territory with the piece of paper each would claim to contain the terms of Protectorate Agreement they signed with various “Tribal Chief/s” as sufficient ground for the purpose, without any need to verify or double-check the veracity of the documents from the side of the native signatories, i.e., the alleged “Tribal Chiefs”. 

Meaning, to explain it in a manner directly relevant to the central point at hand, when Italy submitted a copy of its version of the Wuchale Treaty to the signatories of the Berlin Conference by way of satisfying the requirements of “effective occupation” that entitled it as the exclusive colonial power over Ethiopia, the rest of the signatories automatically proceeded to endorse that. Meaning endorse Italy’s Version of the Wuchale Treaty as sufficient ground to recognize Italy’s entitlement as the sole, legitimate Colonial master of Ethiopia,  without any need to put their endorsement of Italy’s claim on hold, pending, verification of the authenticity of the Italian copy by comparing it with that of the Amharic Version, (mind you the very fact of having a “native” version, that is Amharic Version being in itself a unique feature of the Wuchale Treaty, an advantage allowed by virtue of the existence of a vernacular literary language complete with its own script, which was not the case especially for most of sub-Saharan Africa, where often than not there would be no such “native” version to counter-check the Western versions of the various Protectorate Agreements.) 

Yet as much as baffling, to expect the last point to be otherwise, that is to expect  the Berlin Conference to have any provision that requires consulting “Tribal Chiefs” as part of the mandatory requirements of ratifying Protectorate Agreements would be totally unrealistic. For that would simply defeat the purpose of the entire colonial enterprise. Meaning for the Berlin Conference to have any room for that would be to go against the logic or premise of colonialism as a “civilizing mission”.  For, remember, the non-western native is supposed to be a minor with dependency complex. Which in turn, that is the fact of the poor non-western native having a “dependency complex” which made him totally incapable of making it in this world without the helping hand of a western protector is what necessitated the entire colonial enterprise in the first place. 

In other words, at the heart of the whole colonial enterprise was, as Mannoni puts it, the fact that the non-western in general and the black African in particular had  “dependency complex”. Meaning he could age and get old but never grow up. That is grow up and attain a level of maturity enough to stand on his own and assume the responsibilities of independent adulthood. Hence his need for a protectorate, ሞግዚት, that is literally a baby sitter, a nanny, who could constantly look after him and make sure that he does not do anything stupid that might cause him harm. 

Meaning in short, the entire Western colonial enterprise that had at its height most of the non-western world under the colonial occupation of the west, rest on the assertion of what also recalls the well known, old, western catchphrase, “the negros are big children”. Which means the Negro in particular and the non-western in general essentially, literally remains, as Occident also asserts, an imbecile (which means someone who has an IQ of a minor child age 3 to 7), still a generous improvement on what Occident would often resort to when it is in a bad mood, i.e., blacks being, at best, “superior monkeys”. Assertion which extends from the Berlin Conference to the League of Nations to the UN, justifying, in the case of the League of Nations, the so called Mandate system whereby the League of Nation would assign a certain territory in the non-West to a Western colonial Power as caretaker ሞግዚት where the western power in question would take on the burden, the “altruistic” task of administering the territory in question until such time that the people of the territory in question attain the ability of “self-rule”, meaning graduate from their imbecile status (with the help of the tutelage of the Mandatory power to that end) to adulthood, maturity, which is also the basis for UN Trusteeships, not that different from the mechanism of League of Nations mandate system.   

So what does that have to do with Wuchale and its role in spelling the bankruptcy of the whole colonial enterprise qua enterprise, even more than Adwa, thereby making the significance when viewed in its totality global that ushered in freedom and independence to every victim of Western colonial and racial abuse everywhere in the world, than just about defending and preserving the independence of Ethiopia (minus Eritrea)? The answer is everything. 

How? First the content of the Italian version of Article XVII/17 of the Treaty of Wuchale that would emerge as the main cause of disagreement between the two countries, which stipulate a binding commitment on the part of Menilik’s Ethiopia to conduct all its foreign relations, both bilateral and multilateral only through the good office of Italy (read the mature Western, civilized, protector/tutor/guardian/caretaker of the imbecile native), rest on the premise of “dependency complex” of the non-western in general and the African, “the Negro” who is “a big child” in particular. Meaning for its legitimacy the content of Article XVII/17 of the Treaty depends on the premise that Menilik in particular and Ethiopians in general were imbeciles, who cannot do without some western protector, in this case Italy. Who, i.e., Italy, took on the burden, that is conducting Ethiopia’s foreign relations per stipulated in Article XVII of the Wuchale Treaty,  as a matter of civilizing mission, meaning altruistic act of charity, which accrued it that is Italy no benefits of its own whatsoever, otherwise it does not constitute altruistic charity, that is “taking the burden of some imbecile”, in this case Menilik, on the part of Italy as its “white man’s burden”. 

In turn, Menilik’ subsequent refusal to abide by article 17 of the treaty and eventually his move to unilaterally pull out of and abrogate the Wuchale Treaty in its entirety up on the refusal of Italy to amend article 17 in a manner acceptable to Menilik, meaning in a manner that does not treat him as an imbecile, implies that Menilik refused to be reduced to and treated as an imbecile, “superior monkey”. In turn that means he rejected the central premise on which the entire edifice of colonialism rested, without which, that is if Menilik had to have his way, as he demonstrated by his unilateral rejection and abrogation of the entire Treaty, — colonialism would have no legitimacy, meaning the colonizer would have no purpose, no such thing as “civilizing mission”.  

Yet Italy decided to go to war over the issue, i.e., to right the wrongs committed by Menilik rejecting Wuchale Treaty. A decision, in and of itself, that is,  Italy’s decision to settle the whole crises at the battle field, having far reaching ramifications in terms of exposing and discrediting colonialism in its entirety, meaning making it a matter of time before it collapse altogether for it has lost its self-evident legitimacy. Meaning as will be shown, on the one hand Menilik’s decision to unilaterally pull out from the Treaty, on the other hand the decision of Italy to go to war to enforce the Treaty, already spell the bankruptcy of colonialism, thereby making the 1960s eventuality where western colonial powers were forced to grant independence to their colonies one by one, only a matter of time. For what we are talking about here, to put it in the most straightforward manner possible is not just እጸድቅ ብየ ባዝላት ተንጠልጥላ ቀረች. It is more of እጸድቅ ብላ ልዘልሽ ላለችው የታዛይዋ መልስ —አሄሄ ተነቃቅተናል፡፡ ሞኝሽን ፈልጊ፡፡ ልዘል ብለሽ ፈጥፍጠሸ ልትገይኝ፡፡ ጽድቁ ቀርቶ በቅጡ በኮነነሽ እንዳልልሽ በባለቤቱ ስራ መግባት ይሆናል፡፡ 

ማለት እምችለውን ግን እልሻለሁ፤ ይሄውም እጸድቅ ብየ ላልሽው ስራሽ ያውጣሽ፡፡ በኔ በኩል ግን አመሰግናለሁ፡፡ በራሴው መራመድ ስለምችል ያንች ማዘል ይቅርብኝ፡፡ 

And the response of the one offering the charitable act, እንዴት እንዴት አንቺ… ልዘል ባልኩ እንዲህ ያለ ጥጋብ፡፡ ቆይ! አፈር ድሜ አስግጨ ለዚህ የጥጋብ መልስሽ እጅና እግርሽን ቆርጨ እድሜ ልክሽን በንፉቅቅ ካላስኬድኩሽ ራስሽ እኔ አይደለሁም፡፡ እክክክ…

That is how Adwa, or, more precisely the Wuchale crisis leading up to it, expose western colonialism in its entirety as nothing but grand hypocrisy, the alleged “civilizing mission” at the heart of the various Protectorate Agreements, self-serving myth than self-evident altruistic mission on the part of the West. Such that when the alleged beneficiary entitled to the benefit by virtue of being an imbecile incapable of assuming independence and self-responsibility, whose burden the West offers to take up refuses to be helped, the west, as opposed to welcoming the decision as relief on its part, saying  “well then, as you wish, … I tried”, it would rather go to war, so as not to be denied of the hardship of taking the burden of the imbecile, backward barbarian. 

As such, the only thing that would have saved colonialism with all its “grand hypocrisy”, once Italy decided to settle matters in the battle field would have been the conclusion of the ensuing battle with indisputable and conclusive victory on the part of Italy as something of a foregone eventuality. 

How?  Because the outcome of the war with the Italian side emerging victorious would have still vindicated the central premise, on which the “civilizing mission”, that is the legitimacy of colonialism as an altruistic act on the part of Occident rested, namely the utter imbecility, “the dependency complex” of the non-western in general and the black African “the superior monkey” in particular. Indisputable and conclusive victory favoring the Italian side would have vindicated such premise/assertion at the heart of colonialism, that is “the Negro”  being “a big child”, because translated to Adwa, its conclusion with victory favoring the Italian side would have proved the cause of the war being Menilik’s imbecility. That is Menilik and his people being the quintessential “superior monkeys”, or at best imbecile collectively suffering for the most classic case of “dependency complex”, having a brain or IQ of a minor child devoid of even basic/elementary sense of self preservation. 

Meaning victory favoring the Italian side would have still salvaged colonialism by vindicating its central assertion, which is the absolute necessity of protection, representation, of the non-western by the West, protecting him, that is the non-westerner even from himself, such that without that “the Negro” as the “big Child”, he is, would be sure to expose himself to danger … As the outcome of Adwa with victory of Italy would have proved, which is that the only thing that would have saved Menilik and his country, following such victory of Italy, would have been the mercy of the victorious Italians —that otherwise, though he could not realize it, as the imbecile he was, Menilik had already signed his death warrant and along with him the demise of his country with his persistent decision to engage the Mighty Occidental Power in battle, decision which proved his lack of basic sense of self preservation, since nothing good was bound to come out of such reckless decision.

Well. We all know what happened. That is against all odds, the “superior monkey”, that is the irrational and reckless imbecile from አንኮ-በር happened not just to hold his own, but emerged victorious over the civilized western mighty power. 

Hence Adwa as indeed the victory of the imbecile (if a human being that is) otherwise “superior monkey”, did in fact more than delivered on its promises of international humanism. Do so in the first instance by literally removing the anathema, ስዱቡን ከስድቡም በላይ ውግዘቱን በመሻር…That is more than just an ordinary slur (as noted in the previous section/installment) by removing and overturning the anathema that condemned the non-western slavery and colonial subjugation of the superior western/white race. Which as asserted by leading scientists of the modern west, is nothing but what is sanctioned and proven as the normal, natural order of things. Say, as famously asserted by a leading scientific authority of the west Lapouge saying “It must not be forgotten that [slavery] is no more abnormal than the domestication of the horse or the ox.”  Or as famously expounded by Ernest Renan one of the pioneers and towering figures of western Enlightenment humanism worth quoting at some length. So let us listen to E. Renan tell it like it is; 

The regeneration of the inferior or degenerate races by the superior races is part of the providential order of things for humanity. With us (meaning with westerners), the common man is nearly always a déclassé nobleman, his heavy hand is better suited to handling the sword than the menial tool. Rather than work, he chooses to fight, that is, he returns to his first estate. Regere imperio populos, that is our vocation. Pour forth this all-consuming activity onto countries which, like China, are crying aloud for foreign conquest. Turn the adventurers who disturb European society into a ver sacrum, a horde like those of the Franks, the Lombards, or the Normans, and every man will be in his right role. Nature has made a race of workers, the Chinese race, who have wonderful manual dexterity and almost no sense of honor; govern them with justice, levying from them, in return for the blessing of such a government, an ample allowance for the conquering race, and they will be satisfied; a race of tillers of the soil, the Negro; treat him with kindness and humanity, and all will be as it should; a race of masters and soldiers, the European race. Reduce this noble race to working in the ergastulum like Negroes and Chinese, and they rebel. In Europe, every rebel is, more or less, a soldier who has missed his calling, a creature made for the heroic life, before whom you are setting a task that is contrary to his race, a poor worker, too good a soldier. But the life at which our workers rebel would make a Chinese or a fellah happy, as they are not military creatures in the least. Let each one does what he is made for, and all will be well.

That is what Adwa demolishes from its foundation. For Renan is not your everyday hooligan shooting “monkey” to a black athlete at some stadium for having nothing better to do. As noted above he is one of the shining lights of Western Enlightenment humanism in the 19th century. Hence his, a learned view that represent mainstream, “scientific” ideology that sanction slavery and colonialism of the “non-West” by the west as only normal, the natural order of things. Hence what I meant by Adwa ስዱቡን ከስድቡም በላይ ውግዘቱን መሻር ከመሰረቱ መናድ. 

That Adwa was indeed such a millennial confrontation of the two Worlds each complete with their respective ideologies as described in the previous section, and as such the result that favor the Ethiopia side indeed a revolution that turn the convention that justify colonialism and racial abuse based on the principle “might is right” is also evident in the very meaning of the term itself, though no one has ever bothered to inquire. That as quoted below the meaning of the very name Adwa, (depending on the initial that is አ or ዐ…) demonstrates how it was indeed about the Mighty and arrogant trying to have his way preying on the weak and defenseless simply because he can, regardless of any consideration of justice, rule of law, human rights, etc, Versus the champion of those values, that is the rule of law, justice, etc making sure to punish such inequity and transgression, in a manner commensurate to the nature and magnitude of the crime; 

አደዋ-  መጥረግ፤ መጋፍ፤ መግፋት፤ ማስገለል፤ መኮስተር፤ መሰብሰብ፤ አፍሶ መጣል መወርወር፤ ማሽቀንጠር ለጉድፍ፡፡

ዐዲው/ዐድዋ፤ መሻገር፤ ማለፍ፤ መዝለል፤ አልፎ ተራምዶ መሄድ፤ ወንዝን ሕግን ትዛዝን

ዕድው፤ ያለፈ፤ የተሻገረ፤ አልፎ የሄደ ወንዝን፤ ሕግን፤ ትዕዛዝን

 Adwa Vs Geneva 

But we can up the ante even further here. Do so by comparing Adwa, say, with the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. With the view to demonstrate how, the humanism of Menilik, such as underlying the whole Adwa phenomenon, far from parochial having any room for the various injustices and oppressions he is accused of perpetrating locally, was in fact one that champions a truly international humanism that go beyond and surpasses any of its international counterparts, such as the 1948, UN, Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Ratified by the newly formed UN in 1948 among others the UDHR affirm and express commitment of the UN to ensure the right of every individual (the quotation not the actual words of the official document); 

“ to life, liberty, and security of person; to freedom of conscience, religion, opinion, expression, association, and assembly; to freedom from arbitrary arrest; to a fair and impartial trial; to freedom from interference in privacy, home, or correspondence; to a nationality; to a secure society and an adequate standard of living; to education; and to rest and leisure. The declaration also affirms the rights of every person to own property; to be presumed innocent until proven guilty;…”

Yet western colonial domination of the non-west, racial discrimination of mostly blacks in the US, by definition constituted the anti-thesis of the lofty and flowering words of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights above. Which means that the UN was supposed to be duty bound to call out the injustices of colonialism and racial oppression still rampant at the time of the ratification of UDHR in 1948 as well as persist well beyond its ratification in 1948 into the 1960s…

Needless to say, none of that happened. Instead the French had to kill 90,000 in Madagascar, one million in Algeria, to mention but few before they could let go these countries and grant them independence. Closer home, the British (according to a recent study) had brutally murdered 80,000 Kenyans for no crime whatsoever other than the victims demanding independence, meaning demanding rights enshrined in the UDHR of the UN ratified in 1948, to be owners of their own land, to have the right to life, etc…. 

Yet not a single perpetrator of the crimes above was brought to justice by the UN. The story is no different in the case of the victims of the Civil Right Movement in the US. Meaning no such thing as even a lip service about sanction against France, Britain, the US, on the part of the UN, for the atrocities in question, not even a single French, British, Belgian, Portuguese etc, colonial official brought before any UN tribunal for questioning as responsible for any of the atrocities….

Why, because in the strict sense the crimes and atrocities such as mentioned above did not constitute human rights crimes per enshrined in the UDHR. Why, because they were committed against sub-humans, who by way of justifying the injustice and violence the West always assert, understood only the language of violence. Meaning therefore the perpetrators committed no crime against humanity, because their victims were no humans, as opposed to “superior monkeys”. Thus at best the atrocities in question, acts of cruelty against animals … Hence not something covered in the UDHR of the UN, hence the atrocities no business of Geneva to meddle with…    

Hence one of the connections to Adwa, the repeat of what Adwa exposed about the grand hypocrisy of colonialism being an ultraistic act of charity, in that the alleged “burden takers”, that is the western colonial powers would rather torture, imprison, kill and cause the disappearance of as many people of their respective colonial territories as they could before they would let go… Meaning their sense of mission and devotion to the “civilizing mission” as charitable act to the people of their colonies such that they would rather kill the alleged beneficiaries of the ultraistic act than see the latter forego the benefits of the charity out of stupidity…

Second Adwa already proactively foresaw that the 1948 UN human rights charter was bound to be rather provincial, the scope of its definition of a human being limited to only white westerners, than universal in its definition of a human being. Such that crime committed by westerners against the non-west does not count as a crime according to its scope of the definition of a human being….

Adwa thus far more advanced in its international scope as it disprove the west that the non-western is but no more than “superior monkey”, thus the need for subjecting him to western tautology, even by force for his own benefit.

So in the end the victims of colonialism and racial oppression attend freedom and independence not as a result of any progress of western notion of humanism that finally acknowledged the non-western as a human being entitled to the protection and guarantees of Human Rights, such as enshrined in the UDHR. 

No the non-west managed to overcome the injustices of colonialism and racial oppression not as a result of any advancement or progress with regard to Occident’s humanism that finally acknowledged the formers humanity, but in spite of that…. That is achieved following the example set by Adwa.

Meaning the “superior monkey” had to realize that he was on his own when it comes to fighting and prevailing over Occidental excesses and abuses sanctioned by the latter’s parochial sense of humanism as demonstrated by Adwa. 

Meaning the non-West had to finally attain freedom and independence from colonialism and racial oppression while the West still remain barbarian adhering and steadfastly holding on to the law of the jungle, that is the principle that Might is Right. So the West had to relinquish its colonial and racial oppression because it was forced to… as was the case in Adwa.

But what does all this have to do with the 1974 Ethiopian revolution as somehow the antithesis of Adwa, as suggested in the overall title to which this essay is part?

For the answer and explanation the upcoming two installments.  


Editor’s note: Views reflected in the article reflect views of the writer, not borkena’s view. To publish article on borkena, please send submissions to

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