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COURSE PACK 2017
AFST: African Intellectual Tradition
4 Readings:
“When Ethiopia Stunned the World.”
Emperor Haile Selassie
Patrice Lumumba
Thabo Mbeki
2-4
5 – 11
12 – 14
15 – 18
****
1
“When Ethiopia Stunned the World.” Review: The Battle of Adwa:
African Victory in the Age of Empire by Raymond Jonas
(Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2011). April Review, 2012.
Review by Robert Clemm
This is the story of a world turned upside down. So begins The Battle of Adwa: African Victory in the Age of Empire. While no attribution is suggested, it is likely Raymond Jonas had in
mind the famous ballad played by the British at their surrender at Yorktown. As much as the victory by the colonials was a rebuke to conventional wisdom so the battle of Adwa was to European attitudes towards Africans during the Age of Imperialism.
The Battle of Adwa in 1896 was the result of Italian encroachments south of their colony of
Eritrea on the Red Sea. Though bound by the Treaty of Wichale (1889) to friendship, the Italians
and Ethiopians had different opinions about the nature of that friendship. This was the famous
“mistranslation” where the Italian treaty indicated Ethiopia would be a protectorate of Italy,
while Emperor Menelik II argued no such wording existed in his copy. After the Italians occupied the northern Ethiopian city of Adigrat Menelik summoned his forces and defeated the Italians at the battle of Amba Alage.
In response to this defeat thousands of Italian troops were ferried to Eritrea and, with great
pressure from Rome to attack quickly, General Oreste Baratieri advanced and, due to a series of
blunders by his subordinate commanders, his force was overwhelmed. Aside from numerous casualties, one mission reported roughly 3,600 dead though the exact number remains unknown,
the Ethiopians also captured 1,900 Italians and 1,500 Askari (African soldiers serving in the Italian armed forces). The scope and scale of this victory – the campaign covered more miles than
Napoleon’s advance into Russia – should rank alongside any European campaign in the 19th century and assured Ethiopia as the only independent nation, apart from Liberia, in Africa at that
time.
The Battle of Adwa is far from a simple battle narrative. Jonas structures the book into three
sections covering the background, the battle, and the aftermath. By far the greatest effort on his
part was uncovering a treasure-trove of Italian memoirs whose accounts humanize the battle. His
narrative navigates seamlessly between commanders and commoners and sheds new light the
conflict. The most difficult aspect of this review is summarizing this work but three themes
emerge.
First, Jonas illustrates the fractured nature of Italian imperialism. As Adwa is held up as a
symbol of resistance to colonialism it is ironic that Italy is given the position of imperialist
archetype. If any quality typifies Italian colonial efforts it would not be jingoism but apathy. The
Italian statesman Marquis d’Azeglio, after Italian unification, commented that “We have made
Italy. Now we must make Italians.” Italy was divided along religious, political, and regional
lines. It was hoped by some, such as Prime Minister Crispi, that imperialism would improve the
standing of the Italian government within the nation and across Europe. But even this small
2
clique of colonialists demanded their aims be accomplished on the cheap.
It was just such pressure to win cheaply and quickly that made General Baratieri advance instead of his preferred defensive stand. The concern for cost was tied to the strong anti-colonial
movement in Italy, due to having so recently been occupied by Austria, which was distinct in Europe. In response to the first defeat at Amba Alage students from the University of Rome
marched through the street chanting “Viva Menelik!” and after Adwa there were legislative calls
to abandon Africa entirely. This domestic scene is important as the willingness of Italy to accept
defeat ensured Adwa was an Ethiopian success.
Second, Emperor Menelik II is shown to be a complex and engaging historical figure as well
as a crafty politician. Too often heroes lose their humanity in the effort to place them on a
pedestal and Jonas does admirable work in fleshing out the reality of Menelik. He documents the
complex political web that Menelik had to navigate, and the admirable support he received from
his wife Empress Taytu. It is hard not to see this marriage, linking the southern Shoa (Menelik)
and northern Tigray (Taytu) regions of Ethiopia, as important as the one between Ferdinand and
Isabella in unifying Spain. Jonas illustrates how Menelik slowly solidified his position, even using the Italians to help crush a rival claimant to his throne, and assured that Ethiopia entered the
Battle of Adwa with a stronger domestic commitment to the conflict than his opponents.
Jonas also underscores Menelik’s strategic acumen. For example, the Italians occupied the
city of Adigat for over a year before Menelik confronted them. Rather than a sign of weakness,
as the Italians believed, he used that delay to import European weapons to such an extent that his
artillery outclassed those of the Italians. Jonas even offers the intriguing hypothesis that the supposed “mistranslation” of the Treaty of Wichale, the entire basis for the conflict, was a strategic
choice. Jonas suggests that Menelik used his protectorate status to his advantage, such as a loan
of four million lire from Italy used to purchase weapons, until his position was strong enough to
claim there was a “mistranslation.” These aspects of the story prevent Jonas’ work from becoming a hagiography and leave the reader with respect for Menelik’s decisions. These include his
choices after the battle, such as not invading Eritrea and his care of the Italian prisoners, which
preserved his strong negotiating position and assured he did not undo the effort he made in the
European press, including a colored lithograph in Vanity Fair the 19th century equivalent to a
Time cover, to foster sympathy for Ethiopia.
Third, Jonas illustrates how Adwa became a symbol for African, and African-American, resistance despite Menelik himself. Menelik saw Adwa as a way to solidify his rule and preserve
his independence. The desire to see Ethiopia as a symbol of resistance came from others. Benito
Sylvain of Haiti, a pan-African visionary, traveled to Ethiopia in 1904 to help celebrate Haiti’s
hundredth anniversary of independence. As Haiti was home of the first successful slave revolt,
Sylvain saw a kindred spirit in Menelik. Far from finding a receptive audience, Menelik agreed
that the “the negro should be uplifted” but noted that he was of little value as he was Caucasian.
For a leader who had secured his position with the Dervishes against Italy by appealing to common “blackness” this suggests a malleable definition of race which Menelik would adopt based
on his political goals. Much of the symbolism surrounding Adwa came from others, such as
W.E.B. DuBois and others in the global African diaspora, after the end of the First World War.
Jonas claims that Adwa served as the model for future anti-colonial efforts. His narrative
suggests that other resistance fighters learned lessons from the Ethiopian experience, such as using the press to build public sympathy. But the reader must infer them. In fact, exposing how the
3
symbolism of Adwa developed far after the battle and divorced from Ethiopian support undercuts
so much of the received wisdom that it is hard not to imagine most of the “lessons” are ex post
facto rationalizations from other de-colonial conflicts. While he suggests that Adwa “set in motion the long unraveling of European domination of Africa” it is, again, a point the reader must
accept on sentiment rather than evidence. Ethiopia was a shock to European self-assurance but
was quickly forgotten which is why Europe was, again, shocked by Japanese victory against
Russia in 1905.
Whatever the practical lessons Adwa provides, Jonas’ book the Battle of Adwa documents
the figures, both large and small, that took part in such a major turning point in history exceptionally well. His excellent archival work helps the reader see into the decisions made by the
leaders, and humanizes the soldiers facing the consequences of these decisions, on both sides and
leaves the reader leaves with a rich understanding of the significance of a battle which turned the
world upside down.
Published in ORIGINS: Current Events in Historical Perspective, The History Departments
at The Ohio State University and Miami University. Retrieved August 21, 2017 from
(http://origins.osu.edu/review/when-ethiopia-stunned-world).
4
APPEAL TO THE LEAGUE OF NATIONS
Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia
June 1936. Geneva, Switzerland
“I, Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia, am here today to claim that justice which is due to
my people, and the assistance promised to it eight months ago, when fifty nations asserted that
aggression had been committed in violation of international treaties.
There is no precedent for a Head of State himself speaking in this assembly. But there is also
no precedent for a people being victim of such injustice and being at present threatened by abandonment to its aggressor. Also, there has never before been an example of any Government proceeding to the systematic extermination of a nation by barbarous means, in violation of the most
solemn promises made by the nations of the earth that there should not be used against innocent
human beings the terrible poison of harmful gases. It is to defend a people struggling for its ageold independence that the head of the Ethiopian Empire has come to Geneva to fulfill this
supreme duty, after having himself fought at the head of his armies.
I pray to Almighty God that He may spare nations the terrible sufferings that have just been
inflicted on my people, and of which the chiefs who accompany me here have been the horrified
witnesses.
It is my duty to inform the Governments assembled in Geneva, responsible as they are for
the lives of millions of men, women and children, of the deadly peril which threatens them, by
describing to them the fate which has been suffered by Ethiopia. It is not only upon warriors that
the Italian Government has made war. It has above all attacked populations far removed from
hostilities, in order to terrorize and exterminate them.
At the beginning, towards the end of 1935, Italian aircraft hurled upon my armies bombs of
tear-gas. Their effects were but slight. The soldiers learned to scatter, waiting until the wind had
rapidly dispersed the poisonous gases. The Italian aircraft then resorted to mustard gas. Barrels
of liquid were hurled upon armed groups. But this means also was not effective; the liquid affected only a few soldiers, and barrels upon the ground were themselves a warning to troops and to
the population of the danger.
It was at the time when the operations for the encircling of Makalle were taking place that
the Italian command, fearing a rout, followed the procedure which it is now my duty to denounce
to the world. Special sprayers were installed on board aircraft so that they could vaporize, over
vast areas of territory, a fine, death-dealing rain. Groups of nine, fifteen, eighteen aircraft followed one another so that the fog issuing from them formed a continuous sheet. It was thus that,
as from the end of January, 1936, soldiers, women, children, cattle, rivers, lakes and pastures
were drenched continually with this deadly rain. In order to kill off systematically all living creatures, in order to more surely to poison waters and pastures, the Italian command made its aircraft pass over and over again. That was its chief method of warfare.
5
Ravage and Terror
The very refinement of barbarism consisted in carrying ravage and terror into the most
densely populated parts of the territory, the points farthest removed from the scene of hostilities.
The object was to scatter fear and death over a great part of the Ethiopian territory. These fearful
tactics succeeded. Men and animals succumbed. The deadly rain that fell from the aircraft made
all those whom it touched fly shrieking with pain. All those who drank the poisoned water or ate
the infected food also succumbed in dreadful suffering. In tens of thousands, the victims of the
Italian mustard gas fell. It is in order to denounce to the civilized world the tortures inflicted
upon the Ethiopian people that I resolved to come to Geneva. None other than myself and my
brave companions in arms could bring the League of Nations the undeniable proof. The appeals
of my delegates addressed to the League of Nations had remained without any answer; my delegates had not been witnesses. That is why I decided to come myself to bear witness against the
crime perpetrated against my people and give Europe a warning of the doom that awaits it, if it
should bow before the accomplished fact.
Is it necessary to remind the Assembly of the various stages of the Ethiopian drama? For 20
years past, either as Heir Apparent, Regent of the Empire, or as Emperor, I have never ceased to
use all my efforts to bring my country the benefits of civilization, and in particular to establish
relations of good neighbourliness with adjacent powers. In particular I succeeded in concluding
with Italy the Treaty of Friendship of 1928, which absolutely prohibited the resort, under any
pretext whatsoever, to force of arms, substituting for force and pressure the conciliation and arbitration on which civilized nations have based international order.
Country More United
In its report of October 5th 193S, the Committee of Thirteen recognized my effort and the
results that I had achieved. The Governments thought that the entry of Ethiopia into the League,
whilst giving that country a new guarantee for the maintenance of her territorial integrity and independence, would help her to reach a higher level of civilization. It does not seem that in
Ethiopia today there is more disorder and insecurity than in 1923. On the contrary, the country is
more united and the central power is better obeyed.
I should have procured still greater results for my people if obstacles of every kind had not
been put in the way by the Italian Government, the Government which stirred up revolt and
armed the rebels. Indeed the Rome Government, as it has today openly proclaimed, has never
ceased to prepare for the conquest of Ethiopia. The Treaties of Friendship it signed with me were
not sincere; their only object was to hide its real intention from me. The Italian Government asserts that for 14 years it has been preparing for its present conquest. It therefore recognizes today
that when it supported the admission of Ethiopia to the League of Nations in 1923, when it concluded the Treaty of Friendship in 1928, when it signed the Pact of Paris outlawing war, it was
deceiving the whole world. The Ethiopian Government was, in these solemn treaties, given additional guarantees of security which would enable it to achieve further progress along the specific
path of reform on which it had set its feet, and to which it was devoting all its strength and all its
heart.
6
Wal-Wal Pretext
The Wal-Wal incident, in December, 1934, came as a thunderbolt to me. The Italian provocation was obvious and I did not hesitate to appeal to the League of Nations. I invoked the provisions of the treaty of 1928, the principles of the Covenant; I urged the procedure of conciliation
and arbitration. Unhappily for Ethiopia this was the time when a certain Government considered
that the European situation made it imperative at all costs to obtain the friendship of Italy. The
price paid was the abandonment of Ethiopian independence to the greed of the Italian Government. This secret agreement, contrary to the obligations of the Covenant, has exerted a great influence over the course of events. Ethiopia and the whole world have suffered and are still suffering today its disastrous consequences.
This first violation of the Covenant was followed by many others. Feeling itself encouraged
in its policy against Ethiopia, the Rome Government feverishly made war preparations, thinking
that the concerted pressure which was beginning to be exerted on the Ethiopian Government,
might perhaps not overcome the resistance of my people to Italian domination. The time had to
come, thus all sorts of difficulties were placed in the way with a view to breaking up the procedure; of conciliation and arbitration. All kinds of obstacles were placed in the way of that procedure. Governments tried to prevent the Ethiopian Government from finding arbitrators amongst
their nationals: when once the arbitral tribunal a was set up pressure was exercised so that an
award favorable to Italy should be given.
All this was in vain: the arbitrators, two of whom were Italian officials, were forced to recognize unanimously that in the Wal-Wal incident, as in the subsequent incidents, no international
responsibility was to be attributed to Ethiopia.
Peace Efforts
Following on this award. the Ethiopian Government sincerely thought that an era of friendly
relations might be opened with Italy. I loyally offered my hand to the Roman Government. The
Assembly was informed by the report of the Committee of Thirteen, dated October 5th, 1935, of
the details of the events which occurred after the month of December, 1934, and up to October
3rd, 1935.
It will be sufficient if I quote a few of the conclusions of that report Nos. 24, 25 and 26 “The
Italian Memorandum” (containing the complaints made by Italy) was laid on the Council table
on September 4th, 1935, whereas Ethiopia’s first appeal to the Council had been made on December 14th, 1934. In the interval between these two dates, the Italian Government opposed the
consideration of the question by the Council on the ground that the only appropriate procedure
was that provided for in the Italo-Ethiopian Treaty of 1928. Throughout the whole of that period,
moreover, the despatch of Italian troops to East Africa was proceeding. These shipments of
troops were represented to the Council by the Italian Government as necessary for the defense of
its colonies menaced by Ethiopia’s preparations. Ethiopia, on the contrary, drew attention to the
official pronouncements made in Italy which, in its opinion, left no doubt “as to the hostile intentions of the Italian Government.”
From the outset of the dispute, the Ethiopian Government has sought a settlement by peaceful means. It has appealed to the procedures of the Covenant. The Italian Government desiring to
keep strictly to the procedures of the Italo-Ethiopian Treaty of 1928, the Ethiopian Government
7
assented. It invariably stated that it would faithfully carry out the arbitral award even if the decision went against it. It agreed that the question of the ownership of Wal-Wal should not be dealt
with by the arbitrators, because the Italian Government would not agree to such a course. It
asked the Council to dispatch neutral observers and offered to lend itself to any inquiries upon
which the Council might decide.
Once the Wal-Wal dispute had been settled by arbitration, however, the Italian Government
submitted its detailed memorandum to the Council in support of its claim to liberty of action. It
asserted that a case like that of Ethiopia cannot be settled by the means provided by the
Covenant. It stated that, “since this question affects vital interest and is of primary importance to
Italian security and civilization” it “would be failing in its most elementary duty, did it not cease
once and for all to place any confidence in Ethiopia, reserving full liberty to adopt any measures
that may become necessary to ensure the safety of its colonies and to safeguard its own interests.”
Covenant Violated
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