Last night our school commemorated one of the most important events in Ethiopian history: the defeat of General Oreste Baratieri’s Italian army by Emperor Menelik II’s Ethiopian forces at Adwa on March 1, 1896.
A little background: By the late 1800s, every country in Africa was under colonial rule except Liberia and Ethiopia. The Italians were late to the colonization party but had by then annexed Somaliland and Eritrea, both bordering Ethiopia. The addition of Ethiopia would position Italy as a solid colonial power.
The Italians had made a treaty with Menelik in 1889 that turned out to read differently in Italian and Amharic. The Amharic version said that Ethiopia would give certain areas over to Italy in exchange for independence; the Italian version said that all foreign affairs had to be transacted through Italian authorities. The First Italo-Ethiopian War ensued.
I won’t get into the whole story of the final battle of that war. The gist of it is that the Italians thought they had a sure thing at Adwa, but it turns out that they made some fatal tactical errors. One of those was seriously underestimating the Ethiopian army. When it was all done, Menelik II had preserved Ethiopia’s independence and the country was recognized from then on as a sovereign state. Lesson learned: don’t mess with Menelik.
I found an interesting take on Ethiopian history in this blog post. I have no idea who the author is and I’m not going to vouch for the absolute truth of anything he says, but if you don’t mind strong opinions and a few f-bombs then you might be entertained.
A popular Ethiopian singer, Teddy Afro, recently produced this music video celebrating the Battle of Adwa. Students here were playing it on their laptops a lot this week.