Adowa, Ethiopia, emblem of African valour and resistance

March 1, 2016, marked 120 years of Adwa’s decisive African victory. In 2015 it was 70 years of the 5th Pan-African Congress and the 60 years of the Bandung Conference. Still very little is known about the rich African struggle heritage let alone the need to draw lessons to build a better African future. It is urgent that the constructive and positive heritage of liberation struggles from every part of Africa be studied and resurrected in order to re-educate and wean generations of Africans to know what the struggle heritage entails. The glorious past, particularly of early Africa and resistance to numerous imperial advances, and the stolen legacy should be recovered. The battle of Adwa in 1896 epitomises successful resistance against colonialism. It has come to be recognized as one of the most significant African liberation struggles that took place during the time of the European Scramble for Africa. The best highway of African liberation is symbolized by the successful resistance of the 1896 Adwa victory. It lives on, providing enduring lessons that all should pay close attention to always.

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Internally in Ethiopia, all the varied groups from Oromo resident areas to Eritrea were mobilized and contributed richly to the success of the Adwa by all Ethiopians through the depth and breadth of the land.

This was not a victory of the leaders, or one ethnic group. This was a national victory with a wider African and indeed world significance. It was and remains an exemplary episode in demonstrating what a united people can achieve with the support of the African Diaspora and the anti-colonialists in the Global South and even in Italy and the rest of Europe too! Adwa Victory was a major anti-colonialist battle fought by all Ethiopians, under the skillful leadership of Emperor Menelik and Empress Taitu. This victory resonated well beyond the Ethiopian and indeed the African borders. It represented the clash between colonialism and liberation on a world-scale. Every year during ‘Yekatit’ (February or March) Adwa can provide the occasion to appreciate fully the international significance of the Ethiopian victory over the world colonial project in Africa. The failure to put this victory in the context of the wider challenges which confronted Africa before, during and after the nineteenth century needs to be put right. Adwa victory highlighted Ethiopianism’s anti-imperial-colonial project significance convincingly. It is a matter of historical record that the Adwa victory signaled the beginning of the end of the Scramble for Africa. This victory constitutes a crucial chapter in the record of African resistance and liberation. It armed generations of Africans with the confidence of victory to engage in resistance and liberation. It attracted attention as far as the Caribbean and the Americas, not to mention Europe and the rest of Africa. Adwa victory reversed the imperial-colonial project’s design to populate Africa with Europeans like they did with America. It deserves to be celebrated both as a significant episode in its own right and as a memory serving well the emerging communities of resistances in the African world never again to surrender to neo-colonial tyranny. The battle of Adwa is not just a memory of the past. It continues to live on in the eternal river of time as the best expression of Ethiopianism for resisting effectively the world imperial-colonial project.

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This event which took place 120 years ago by a relatively small and weak country, against Italy - with also support from all the imperial powers that tore to pieces Africa at the Scramble for Africa in Berlin in 1885 - which was also becoming lately a formidable, highly armed and ambitious new colonial power, is still relevant today. It is united and not divided Ethiopians that brought the victory to a full realization. It is the strategic thinking of the leadership that made a big difference. The support of the African Diaspora and anti-colonial forces across the world was inspirational.

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“After Adowa, Ethiopia became emblematic of African valour and resistance, the bastion of prestige and hope to thousands of Africans who were experiencing the full shock of European conquest, and were beginning to search for an answer to the myth of African inferiority... To articulate West African nationalist intelligentsia of lawyers, merchants, journalists, doctors and clergymen who had since the turn of the century persistently sought to share political power with the colonial ruler, the role of Ethiopia or Ethiopianism in nationalist thought and politics was great and inspiring ... In separate African churches, Africans did and could protest imperial rule and build articulate leadership to oppose the domineering and discriminating actions of the colonial officials." Taken from S.K.B. Asante, in his study of Ethiopianism in West Africa.

“Ethiopia has need of no one. She stretches out her hands to God.” (Emperor Menelik, February, 1897).

“There was never a time when united that Ethiopians lost to an enemy; it is non-existent in history.” (Emperor Menilek II, 1909)

“I am a woman. I do not like war. But I would rather die than accept your deal." Etige Taitu Bitul, Wife of Menelik II

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The Adwa Africa Victory should have been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Struggle, a resource for generations to value and keep learning from. There should have been Pan-African education to promote the African Struggle Heritage Adwa Victory represents by establishing a special university. This should have been established at least at the centennial period when Adwa African victory was commemorated. The university should be open to all in the Global South and the rest of the world who wish to work for the unity of all humanity by learning Pan-Africanism.

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