Sunday, March 28, 2010

Were Ethiopian leaders colonialist?

Ethiopian leaders such as Ras Alula Engida, Yohannes IV, Menelik II, and Haile Selassie are often regarded as being staunch anti-colonial leaders by many Ethiopian writers. In this article, we'll see how this portrayal of them isn't a very accurate one as it selectively ignores much of their collaboration with colonial forces.

Yohannes IV (born Kassay Mercha)
Ruled from: 1872 - 1889

For starters, Kassay Mercha of Tigray (later to be renamed Yohannes IV) is regarded as curbing colonialism by Ethiopian historians, a simple glance at his past shows that he came to power with the help of colonial British forces himself. It was not till Yohannes collaborated with British forces to dislodge emperor Tewodros did he become emperor himself. For his cooperations with the British, he ended up receiving British weapons and training of his troops, which led to his subsequent rise to power. Someone who worked with colonial forces to defeat their own countrymen certainly can not be taking as being anti-colonial.

Tewodros's death in 1868, which, like his life, was a turning point in his country's history, left Ethiopia again divided, and without a ruler. Three rival personalities then held power in different areas. The first to gain prominence was Wagshum Gobaze, the ruler of Amhara, Wag and Lasta, who was immediately crowned Emperor Takla Giyorgis at Gondar. He was, however, soon effectively challenged by Dajzmach Kasa Mercha of Tigray. The latter was militarily more pwerful, in part on account of the gift of arms he had received from the Napier expedition, and assiatance given him by a former member of the British force, John Kirkham, who had volunteered to train his army on European lines. Gobaze set out with 60,000 men to capture Adwa, the then capital of Tigray, but Kasa, making good use of his British guns, defeated him at the battle of Assam, on 11 July 1871. He then proclaimed himself Emperor Yohannes IV, on 21 January of the following year.The third contestant for power was Menilek, heir to the throne of Shawa, who had been one of Tewodro's prisoners at Maqdala, but escaped in 1865, and proclaimed himself king of his province. Though then the weakest of the three chiefs, he for a time laid ineffective claim to the imperial throne, which he was eventually to inherit. (2001, Richard Pankhurst, p.162)

 Kassa [Yohannes] for his cooperation by presenting him with six mortars, six howitzers, as well as 850 muskets, and a goodly supply of ammunition. This somewhat unexpected military windfall contributed greatly to his subsequent rise to power. (2001, Richard Pankhurst, p. 161.)

Through out most of his reign, Yohannes stayed in close contact with the British. He wrote many letters to British leaders and often regarded the British as his 'protector'.

"I have now another mother and another protector among the European kings and people: Only believe England as my country: if my country is fair in the religion and love of our Lord Jesus Christ we are one and near. I cannot believe that your Majesty shall separate me from your children." (1991, Okbazghi Yohannes, p. 41)

Ras Alula Engida
Ruled from: Was Yohannes' General

After the defeat of Yohannes by the Sudanese Mahdist, Ras Alula desperately tried to solicit the Italians for friendship, confirming that they can occupy all the lands up till the Mereb River (modern Eritrea), which is still the historical and modern border between Medri-bahri/Eritrea and Tigray/Ethiopia. Although by this point, it was evident that Ras Alula had already crossed the Mereb river and retreated back into Tigray, which completely ended his brief occupation over Medri-Bahri or Mareb Mellash as the Tigrayans called it. These following two quotes made by Ras Alula shows us without a doubt, that leaders of Tigray/Abyssinia of the late 19th century, were in alliance with the Italians for their political survival and that the regions of north of the Mereb river were foreign to them.

But if he [Menilek] gives as a present what is out of his door [the Marab Mellash] the present is of no value.You want the country to the Mareb (Eritrean highlands) to cultitivate your gardens, to build your houses, to construct your churches....? We can give it to you. [And not menilek.] Let the Italian soldiers come to Adwa, I shall come to meet them like a friend. (1996, Ḥagai Erlikh, p. 164)

"And you (Italians), why do you need to look for distant friends? We are neighbors (meaning Medri Bahri and Tigray) and can serve each other. You want the road to be open and I want the road to be open. You should guard to the Mereb River and I will guard it to Gondar and even beyond Gondar. We must be able to go to the coast to trade in order that our country (meaning Tigray) would flourish, with the help of God, Menelik is too far to be of any use to you. Let us make friendship between us. (1996, Ḥagai Erlikh, 164)"

Menelik II (born Sahle Maryam)
Ruled from:  1889 - 1913

 Although Menelik is regarded as fighting colonialism by Ethiopian scholars and others alike, it was Menelik himself who worked alongside with Italians colonialist, going as far as stating that he himself felt Italian and wished no greater desire then to visiting Italy. Menelik told then Italian representative to Abyssinia, Count Antonelli:

"that he loved Italy so much that he felt 'half Italian and no greater wish that to go there and see it' (1986, Chris Prouty, p. 57)

Menelik himself viewed the Italians as close allies and at times, his protectors. In a letter written to the then Italian King Umberto, Menelik begged the King of Italy to protect him from his enemies; namely Yohannes, and he reassured the Italian king that his region was theirs to share with.

"I beg Your Majesty to defend me against every one as I don't know what European kings will say about this let others know that this region is ours." (1986, Chris Prouty, p. 54)

Just like the Tigrayan leaders of Alula and Mengesha, Menelik of showa had asked the Italians to occupy Medri-Bahri (Eritrean highlands) as well, despite the fact that he had no control over that region.

"Via Antonelli's courier, Menelik informed the King of Italy that he would like the Italian soldiers to occupy Asmara, in order to discourage the imperial pretensions of Mengesha Yohannes (the son of Emperor Yohannes)." "There after," added Menelik, "God will give me the throne that for many years I have had the right to have." (1986, Chris Prouty, p.61)

Haile Selassie (born Tafari Makonnen) 
Ruled from: 1930 - 1935 and 1942- 1974

Menelik himself even stated that he was a 'Caucasian'. This non-African identity was also stated by Haile Selassie.

'I am not a Negro at all; I am a Caucasian' the Emperor Menelik told the West Indian pan-Africanist Benito Sylvian who had come to Addis Ababa to solicit the Emperor's leadership in a society for the 'Amelioration of the Negro race.' Haile Sellassie confirmed that view in a declaration to Chief H. O. Davis, a well known Nigerian nationalist, stating that the Ethiopians did not regard themselves as Africans, but as 'a mixed Hamito-Semitic people  (2006, John H. Spencer, p. 306)

When Halie Selassie was invaded by Mussolini's Italian forces in 1935, he had offered to sell large chunks of Ethiopia off to Italy for one and a half milliard Lira. Halie Selassie even offered to have Italian advisors to direct his policies, effectively offering to be a vessel, in return to hold on to some form of power. However, this last ditch effort to hold on to power was rejected by Mussolini.

In his desperate act to hold power, Haile Selassie now made a secret peace overture to Mussolini, sending a former Ethiopian Minister in Rome to contact the Italian consul in Djibouti. He offered to sell a large part of Ethiopia to Italy for one and half milliard Lira and to appoint six Italian advisors to direct the policy of his government. Mussolini sent sourteous reply to the intermediary, expressing his pleasure that the Negus had at last decided to negotiate directly with him; but he said the offer was unacceptable." (1997,  by Jasper Godwin Ridley, p.270)

After Haile Selassie fled to London, he snubbed the black nationalist Marcus Gravey because he was black.

When Haile Selassie fled to London, Gravey tried to contact him but was snubbed, and it was reported that "the emperor did not desire any contact with 'Negroes.'" (1963, Harold Robert Isaacs, p. 153)

Unhappy with the being snubbed, the famous Marcus Gravey wrote the following quote about Halie Selassie:

Mussolini of Italy has conquered Haile Selassie of Abyssinia, but he has not conquered the Abyssinians nor Abyssinia. The Emperor of Abyssinia allowed himself to be conquered, by playing white, by trusting to white advisers and by relying white Governments, including the white League of Nations.We can remember in 1920 inviting the Government of Abyssinia to send representatives to the International Convention of the Negro Peoples of the world in common with other Negro Conventions, the Abyssinian Government returned the communication unopened. Its policy then, as during the Italo-Abyssinian war, was no doubt to rely completely on the advice and friendship of white people. They ignored Negro relationship[s] from without and throttled Negro aspirations from within. The result was that they dragged along without any racial policy, except that of the ruling classes, believing themselves white and better than the rest, with a right to suppress the darker elements which make up the tremendous population. (2009, By Girma Menelik, p.57)

 Lastly, here's an Ethiopian ex-patriot explaining his struggle to defend his home from Italian occupation and his accounts of Haile selessie's last days before fleeing for England. Please fast-forward to 8:45 into the video for his eye-witness accounts.


11 Responses to "Were Ethiopian leaders colonialist?"
Anonymous said...
April 2, 2010 6:45 PM

ofcourse they were !!! let me put this way even the present day rulers are colonialist as marcus garvey stated "believing themselves white and better than the rest, with a right to suppress the darker elements which make up the tremendous population" i am kunama eritrean and i can connect with what the master saying of 10s years ago with present day eritrea, i am sure to the south my brothers gala afars dinka are suffering at the hands of these ruling class.

Anonymous said...
April 18, 2010 9:19 AM

are you saying Eritrean Kunama don't have same right as everyone else in the country?

Anonymous said...
April 23, 2010 3:13 AM

No I didn't say that, all I'm saying are other Ethiopian ethnic groups are suffering because of the racist leader in Ethiopia.

Anonymous said...
April 24, 2010 1:14 PM

Sorry my brother or sister for misunderstanding you. As an Eritran i would never put up with any kind of mistreatment of my people of any ethnic back round, by any one.

Anonymous said...
April 27, 2010 4:48 PM

The world will know how fake ethiopians really are.

Anonymous said...
April 28, 2010 5:29 AM

They r FAKE!,and worst racists and fabricators.But it is one thing an ordinary person fantasize, and another thing a leader of 80mil. talk such things shamelessly.

If slave trade happen in their country I can imagine this midget telling the whites he is white and they telling him he is black, but that would never happen of course b/c after all they were taking fit people not a midget weak tenqualay like him.This is just pure: Inferiority complex, Pitiful people!

I am so proud to be an Eritrean.A PROUD CHIWA HIZBI!!!


Anonymous said...
April 28, 2010 4:02 PM


"I am so proud to be an Eritrean.A PROUD CHIWA HIZBI!!!" LMFAOOOOO!!!!

Anonymous said...
April 29, 2010 12:07 PM

zazza agame dog whay are you here barking. we Eritreans are not interested in having a discussion about our history with you, stay a way form us fi****ing hasadat agame.

Anonymous said...
May 4, 2010 7:38 AM

this is crap, somebody is geolous of the greatness of black people looool feels good

Anonymous said...
May 4, 2010 7:48 AM

from an italian point of view i guess, i LOVE selassie 50 times more after this thanks

Anonymous said...
May 4, 2010 7:55 AM

this article is FAKE, this is like saying is like saying a triangle has 15 corners, stupid

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