WHOSE ‘VICTORY’ WAS ADWA? WHOSE VICTORY IS IT TODAY?
Today, Tuesday, March 2, 2021, Ethiopia celebrates the 125th anniversary of Adwa ‘victory’. Deeply divided, troubled, in the most distractive war against itself and having in office the most insensitive, incompetent and violent ‘leader’ of all time, the country celebrates Adwa as a victory for sovereignty at a time when Adwa—the very place the ‘victory’ was won is under the effective control of a foreign army—Eritrea. One hundred twenty-five years after defeating Italy, Ethiopia lacks national consensus about the meaning of its Adwa ‘victory’. A country of nations, multiple religions, cultures, and more importantly, a country of multiple historical consciousnesses, Ethiopia possesses competing, contradictory interpretations about Adwa.
There is a very good reason for deep divisions and contradictory interpretations of Adwa. Menilek won many ‘Adwa victories in the south’—Calanqoo, Azule, Walaita and many more—before he actually won Italians at Adwa in 1896 and broke the independence and sovereignty of numerous nations, including the Oromo, in the south. The nations in the south lost their agricultural and pastoral lands, subjugated to servitude, became Gabbar on their own land, and of course, Menilek sold hundreds of thousands of people into slavery. BTW, Menilek was not only a governor, but he was also the richest slave trader too. The nations in the south had their languages and cultures subjugated under the empire’s project of Amharization. And perhaps the worst of all, the nations who were defeated by Menilek’s ‘Adwa victories in the south’ were not only discarded from Ethiopia’s national historical narratives of all forms but had their own historical consciousness come under epistemological violence of the empire.
Because of such ‘victories’ in the south, Menilek was able to intimidate local lords and enlist thousands of soldiers from the region for his war with Italians. Menilek bought the modern firearms and ammunitions used at Adwa for the resources—gold, ivory, coffee, hides, skin, and slaves—he robbed through wars and intimidation from the colonised south. Menilek won Italians at Adwa on March 2, 1896, primarily because of the material and human resources he drew from the south. As Menilek admitted in his circular letter to European powers on April 21 1891, he was, like the seven European states, competing for colonies in Africa. Yes, Menelik was a coloniser, and Ethiopia was mainly built as a colonial state. H. Erlich (1986) summarises the root of Ethiopia’s historical divides in a sentence, ‘While rebuffing imperialism successfully in the north, Ethiopia managed to practice it in the south.’
The battle of Adwa was a battle fought between two invading colonial powers, one a white European (Italy) in charge of a multiracial army and the other a black lord commanding black soldiers. Adwa was a colonial war, and the result was imperial Ethiopia—an empire of nations that sought to create a nation-state with a coherent national identity. Menilek’s project had failed and failed spectacularly.
So, should all Ethiopians celebrate Adwa ‘victory’ today or in the future? Well, should Africans and Asians who fought multiple colonial/imperial wars for the British empire celebrate the victories? No. Doing so would be a disappointment to millions of people around the world. Those who benefited from Adwa, whatever the result, may think they have all reasons to commemorate the ‘victory’ of their father, Menilek, more appropriately their immiyye. Doing so would be a disappointment to millions, particularly in the historically colonised peoples, in what is today Ethiopia. Proud nations in Ethiopia today, including Tigray, has no single purpose or reason in celebrating Menilek’s ‘victory’. Doing so would be an insult to their identity, historical consciousness, their own language and culture and will amount to an outright rejection of what they have fought for over the last several decades.
Via E .H