By Abel Merawi

AdwaMarch 2, 2020 ( -- It was early Sunday morning on March 1, 1896. The place was Adwa. Two warring sides were holding position, ready to fight. On one side, there were the brave children of Ethiopia with their Emperor beside them. They were not all trained soldiers; they were people from all walks of life. Devoid of fear they stood there; ready to fight in a just war so as to defend their land and the freedom it represents. On the other side, there were the conceited Italian soldiers with their commanders. They were unwelcome visitors in the land of the free people. For them, justice has nothing to do with it for they were blinded with the greed of an expansionist. They took black people for granted. Little did they know this was the day the white people tasted defeat for the first time. Behold! A single day was all it took Ethiopia to defeat Italy.  

The victory of Adwa is both historic and symbolic. For those who are willing to see, it represents true patriotism and the power of unity. Don’t worry; I am not going to bore you with the factual details of the battle by talking about how more than 100,000 Ethiopians fought in the war. I won’t talk of how Article 17 in the Treaty of Wuchale in 1889 was the cause of the war. These and similar facts can be found in history lessons and archives. But I will talk of how it became a beacon of hope for Africans. I will also talk about the symbolic lesson for present-day Ethiopia – a country lacking unity and abundant with false narration of ethnic and religious division.

The victory of Adwa took just a day, but the preparation took months. One of the lessons of Sun Tzu in the ‘Art of War’ is regarding preparation. In war, as in other things, victory is the result of a well-thought-out plan and a true leader is praised not just for bravery but also for knowledge and strategy. Emperor Menelik II possessed these qualities because the preparation for war did not begin immediately after the first provocation of Italy. It took months of preparation to rally the people of Ethiopia from every part of the country. The diplomatic work was also attended since the Emperor sent Alfred Elge to Europe, who wrote about the hypocrisy of Wuchale Treaty in various newspapers, letting the world know the real reason for war. Furthermore, Ethiopians were feeding false information to Italian spies. For instance, they were feeding the Italians false information; such as the betrayal of Ras Mekonen and Nigus Teklehaimanot, and the Emperor’s death by being struck by lightning. This made the Italians believe that they were fighting against a weak and disintegrated army.  

The battle of Adwa was not just a war between Ethiopia and Italy. It was a war of free and independent Africa against colonizers. The victory was a lesson for both the colonizers and all the colonized nations around the world. It showed without any shred of doubt that Europe was not superior to the rest of the world and that they can be defeated. Donald N. Levine states, “The stunning victory at Adwa required Europeans to take Ethiopia and Africa more seriously. It not only initiated a decade of negotiations with European powers in which nine border treaties were signed, it made Europeans begin to reconsider their prejudices against Africans.”  The lesson was also for other African colonized nations. It sparked hope of future emancipation for the colonized nations. The victory of Adwa inspired African leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana, Jomo Kenyatta in Kenya and Nnamdi Azikiwe in Nigeria. It also led to the pan-African movement by inspiring even leaders in the West Indies, including Marcus Garvey from Jamaica. While a student in London, Kwame Nkrumah said, “As long as Ethiopia is free, we all believe that Africa will one day be free.”

There is a lesson for our present-day politicians to be learned from the victory of Adwa. Being a leader of a country then is remarkably different from being a leader now. At the time, the Emperor did not simply command the people to fight but joined them in battle. Emperor Menelik II and Empress Taitu began their journey from Addis Ababa with their army by ordering the army from the South to join them at Wereilu and from the West around Lake Ashenge. The Emperor ordered the troops to walk for only five hours a day, which helped the Emperor to observe the love and allegiance of the people in every region. On their way, the army was encouraged and given provisions by farmers. This inspired the people and increased the number of troops that joined them on their way. Presently, the role of politicians and all those who claim to be leaders of the people has changed dramatically. They tell the people to sacrifice their lives for their ethnic group while they themselves seat comfortably safe from any danger whatsoever. They are detached from the people to the extent that the lives of millions of people become a political game for them. Ethiopia needs true leaders who share in the people’s pleasure and pain.   

Ethiopians living in this free land that demanded the sacrifice of our ancestors need to learn a valuable lesson too. The various ethnic groups have been living in harmony throughout history by forming ties in religion, trade, and intermarriage. Donald N. Levine explains how Adwa offers a profound multiethnic collaboration that expressed great national patriotism. He states, “Even from the perspective of modern world history, Adwa represented a relatively rare struggle for national independence waged by a coalition of diverse ethnic groups.” Despite the facts, it is common and shameful to find Ethiopians who spread falsehood about the ethnic division of Ethiopia with evil intentions. Well, the facts of Adwa prove otherwise. Just to mention some of the leaders who led the people in the battle of Adwa, we find: Ras Alula, Ras Mengesha, and Ras Sibhat of Tigray, Dejazmatch Bahta of Akale Guzae, Wag Shum Guangul of Lasta, Ras Mikael of Wallo, Negus Takla-Haymanot of Gojjam, Ras Gobena and Dejazmatch Balcha of the
Mecha Oromo, Ras Wele of the Yejju Oromo, Fitawrari Tekla of Wollega, Ras Makonnen of Harar, as well as Fitawrari Gebeyehu (who died fighting at Adwa) and Ras Abate of Shoa. Just as the leaders, the more than 100,000 troops were also from every part of Ethiopia with different religions. Little differences did not blind them from realizing the fact that they are all Ethiopians.  

Finally, let us celebrate the Victory of Adwa in the spirit of genuine unity. The day should remind the mentally colonized Ethiopians about the meaning of sovereignty and freedom. Ethiopia is now facing internal enemies that try to profit from the division and conflict amongst the people. All of us must remember the power we have in unity against any enemy. Let us honor the heroic people of Ethiopia by creating a strong and unified country.


Abel Merawi is Addis Ababa-based contributor for He can be reached through this form.

Other articles by Abel Merawi:

The Origins of Law

Determinants of Market Value: Part II

Determinants of Market Value: Part I

Your life Matters Too

Manifestations of Artistic Expression

Achievements vs Natural Accidents

The Grip of Sacrifice

Injustice is Never Justifiable

Education Demands of the Future

Job Security, Life and the Unpredictable Future

The Shift From Racism to Culturism

Sacrificing Meaning for Power?

Culture and Market Forces

Intersubjective Reality

Seeking Cosmic Justice

National Myths: Makers and Destroyers of Nations

Are We Truly Free?

Maturity: The Prerequisite to Freedom and Democracy

Loyalty to Truth, Not to Group

The Value of Work

The Flaws with Ethiopian Political System

Intellectuals and the People

Where Are Our Pathfinders?

The Allegory of the Cave and Its Lessons to Leaders

The Truth Behind Humanity

The Seven Virtues

The Seven Deadly Sins

What is the right thing to do?

Building National Identity

Adey Abeba and the Spirit of Change

Mob Violence

Living the Truth as a Human Being

Hubris - The Tragedy of Not Learning from Others

The Era of Group Mentality: Us vs Them

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