Adwa: The Symbol of African Renaissance

Published on 15th April 2016

...It seems possible that the battle of Adwa heralds the rise of a new power in Africa...The suggestion has even been made-absurd as it appears at present – that this is the first revolt of the Dark Continent against domineering Europe.

In the 1880s following the Berlin Conference, Britain, France, Germany and Italy scrambled for Africa. The conference contributed a lot in terms of setting the strategic occupation of the continent. Consequently, western countries succeeded in overrunning many African states. Colonization spread in almost all parts of Africa.

Under colonization, black people from all corners of Africa were exposed to inhuman and degrading treatment just because unlike westerners, their colour was black. Blacks were victimized, tortured, intimidated and maltreated. In a nutshell, they were deprived of their freedom.

During the late 19th century, Ethiopia, unlike other African countries that had fallen under white supremacy was being administered by a local ruler “Menelik.” Donald Levine defines the then image of Ethiopia as a backwater with barbarous and uncivilized people in his historic book “Greater Ethiopia.” Though, the nation for the first time commenced to experience a modern and centralized government, the then image of Ethiopia and its people was not far less than this definition in the mind of white people across the world.

Italy was given a green light to aggressively deal with Ethiopia as per the pact of the scramble of Africa. Italians began marching into the central part of Ethiopia via the northern tip of Eritrea. Emperor Menelik who was informed in advance about the bellicose intent of Italy was busy in building a coalition from different parts of the country to repel and demolish Italy with patriotic zeal.

The fight between these two countries took place on 1 March 1896, at Adwa, the principal market town of the North of Ethiopia. Indeed on the battlefield, Italian troops were outnumbered. But they were armed with modern arsenals. While Ethiopians lacked most war attrition including logistics and trekked all the way to the battlefield barefoot, armed with traditional warfare materials, the valiant sons defeated and humiliated the invading troops. After fierce fighting, Ethiopians emerged victorious. In short, the enormous sentiment of courage and bravery that Ethiopian patriots were imbued with played a major role in terms of making General Barratries’ dream a nightmare. Adwa marked the official blast against white supremacy for the first time which had been casting a shadow on Africa’s nations.

Raymond Jonas an author of the book entitled the “Battle of Adwa” vividly depicts the showdown of Adwa as an outcome that turned upside down –how the battle was a hit on the side of Ethiopia.

George F.H. Barkeley, the pro-Italy British historian says that “From the broader stand point of politics and history, it seems possible that the battle of Adwa heralded the rise of a new power in Africa- we are reminded that the natives of that continent may yet become a military factor worthy of our closest attention. The suggestion has even been made- absurd as it appears at present – that this is the first revolt of the Dark Continent against domineering Europe.”

The renowned prolific writer and story teller of Ethiopia, Prof Bahru Zewde quotes the above Barkeley’s statement in his gripping book entitled The Modern Ethiopian History.

As an ordinary Ethiopian, driven primarily by the meaning of the first revolt of the Dark Continent against domineering Europe, I would say that there is a lesson that we can draw from Adwa.

First, the value of unity. I think it is a foregone conclusion for each of us that the battle of Adwa represents Ethiopian coalition efforts against a foreign enemy. The triumph would not have been possible without the partnerships of people of all backgrounds from all corners of the country. In the same vein, the present generation should take a lesson of the important value of harmony. It must believe in the team spirit.  An Amharic proverb states that “Fifty lemons prove a burden for a single individual but they serve adornments for fifty individuals (that take one each.)” Therefore, this mindset has to be part and parcel of our life and it must spur us forward to achieve set goals by taking aboard people that are necessary for the process. Adwa inspires every Ethiopian to be united and stand in solidarity. Such shared feelings also become robust and gain momentum whenever we peruse scripts, watch videos and even tune to music which affords a window into the true image of Adwa.

Second, commitment for a common goal is the other lesson that we should take into consideration while we commemorate Adwa. Ethiopia’s image then was a tarnished one— a barbarous and traditional people that were lagging behind the modernization peak of westerners at least from its counterpart Italy. Ethiopians were short of modern arsenals but, undaunted, they were committed to grab the bull by the horn and defy aggression. Ethiopia had enough reason not to fight with Italy and peacefully surrender, for their arsenals didn't allow them to confront their foes. However, they were unflaggingly committed to parry foreign administration. This is a good lesson for many of us despairing in realizing our goal for want of money and other equally compelling means. Adwa fighters became heroes from zero. They had only hope that they would emerge victorious over Italy without undermining what they had on their hand. Therefore, we should be wise, committed and fight for our own determined ends.

Third, the sense of patriotism was the basic ethic that materialized Adwa's victory. We should uphold that spirit and inject it countrywide in the field of economy, social and political activities to join the ranks of middle income countries by 2025. It is the sense of patriotism that made our fathers and mothers to shed their blood and defend territorial integrity. My high school teacher once told me that “the reason behind USA's development is the love of American citizens to their country.” With their overriding love of Ethiopia, The Adwa fighters chose freedom at the expense of “development under colonization.” Patriotism can be expressed in the form of hard work, determination, visionary bent, reasonableness, aversion to rent-seeking activities and ethical determination to achieve our objectives.

Adwa is an inspirational and motivational battlefield across the black community in the continent and throughout the world ever since. By 1900 nearly the whole continent had been carved up and placed under European rule. Only Ethiopia, which was able to fight off Italian invaders and Liberia that had been inhabited by freed slaves from the United States remained independent. Finally, Ethiopia was the sole African nation which said NO to white subordination and preserved its independence, which had endured for many centuries.

We extend our laudatory remarks to the heroic deed of those who conserved Adwa as a freedom corner for us. Adwa leaves positive impression on fellow citizens and has been an engine for us to look ahead and to re-think our grandeur that “we were great and we shall be great.” Adwa becomes a great lesson for us that we are living in the 21th century. It emboldens us to make a history, a history to be told to generations to come like the victory of Adwa. We hope to see a generation that works hard towards the Renaissance of mother Ethiopia and its flag.

By Bereket Sisay
Courtesy: The Ethiopian Herald.

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