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Afe-Qesar Afework Gebreyesus, the man who served Italian invaders

Afe-Qesar Afework Gebreyesus, the man who served Italian invaders twice, first by helping them convince Lij Gugsa Darge to join their invasion against his cousin Emperor Menelik II in 1896, and then again as a leading collaborator during the Fascist occupation from 1936 to 1941.

In 1895 the Italians lured Lij Gugsa Darge, son of Ras Darge Sahle Selassie from his school in Switzerland into Italy. They persuaded him to betray his country and stand with Italy. The Italians promised Lij Gugsa that after they defeated his cousin Menelik II, they would place him on Menelik’s throne and make him Emperor. They were helped in convincing Gugsa that this would be a good idea by Afework Gebreyesus, then a student in Italy who was another person who would become famous for repeated betrayal of his country. When Menelik II marched north from Addis Ababa to confront the Italian invasion, he left his uncle Ras Darge Sahle Selassie as Regent in his abscence. The Italians hoped that they could turn Ras Darge against his nephew by revealing to him that his son was on their side and that they would place him on the Imperial throne. However the senior prince of the House of Shewa was not what the Italians thought he would be. Ras Darge not only remained loyal to his Emperor and his country, he also disowned his son and had his name blotted from the family genealogy. The Italians were crushed at Adwa and Lij Gugsa lost everything, his family, his country, and every shred of respect he could have once expected as a member of the Imperial dynasty. He is barely a footnote in most histories of the era. He died an exile, forgotten and unmourned.

Afe-Qesar Afework Gebreyesus in the picture below was another figure of betrayal. His betrayal was repeated. Sent to Italy in his youth for higher education he became deeply enamored with that land to the point that his loyalties to his homeland were compromised. While is is well known for his formidable contribution to Amharic literature, all that is stained by his repeated disloyalty. His first act as stated was helping to pursuade Lij Gugsa Darge to betray his country and his family and join the Italians in the hopes of gaining the throne. When Italy invaded Ethiopia and brought Gugsa with them, Afework accompanied him as his aide de camp. However, after the Ethiopian victory.

Afework abandoned Gugsa to his own devices and managed to squeeze his way back into favor by exploiting familial ties to Empress Taitu via her mother. Taitu however soon developed a distaste for him (she did not particularly respect Ethiopians who became overly westernized in their clothing and lifestyles) and his refusal to marry a bride she had suggested and instead marrying an Italian woman further alienated her from him. The final straw was when she entrusted him with a significant sum of money to purchase religious paintings in Italy for St. Mary’s Church at Entoto. When the paintings arrived they were far below the quality that the Empress expected and she was convinced that he had purchased cheap paintings in order to pocket the rest of her money.

There was a terrible scene and Taitu is said to have cursed him saying she wished he would be crucified. He left Ethiopia vowing never to return while she lived. Ironically he wrote a poem extolling her virtues when she died in order to play up his blood ties to her in his efforts to be rehabilitated. He had already written praises of Lij Iyasu in that effort, and then when Lij Iyasu fell, he wrote even more fulsome praises of Empress Zewditu and the Regent Ras Tafari. He was rehabilitated by Ras Tafari (Emperor Haile Selassie) who was eager to use the few western educated Ethiopians in his modernization drive. However a leopard doesn’t change its spots.

Afework Gebreyesus still loved Italy and eagerly latched onto the fascists when they invaded in 1935. He became a devoted collaborator and was even given the title of Afe-Qesar (the fascist equivalent to Afenegus as the King of Italy used Qesar or Caesar instead of Negus as his claimed title as Emperor of Ethiopia). Upon the liberation of Ethiopia from occupation Afework Gebreyesus was convicted of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment. He died under house arrest in Jimma a few years later.

Solomon Kibriye

Ethiopians for Constitutional Monarchy

4 thoughts on “Afe-Qesar Afework Gebreyesus, the man who served Italian invaders”

  1. Ittu Aba Farda

    Was this man raised to hate his country or did he have personal issues with both emperors? From this article I understand that he was tried and sentenced to lifetime house arrest. What was his explanation for working with an enemy who used the deadly mustard gas on his countrymen/women? There must be an old court record some where in the archives over there. This guy betrayed his motherland not only once but twice. He was lucky he did not face the gallows which shows the magnanimity of our people and also the late emperor. Twice! What was wrong with that guy? What was the matter with him?

  2. Ittu Aba Farda, the previous leaders were not revengeful Menelik has done the same thing, after he fought and defeated King Tona and King of Gojam. Their spiritual devotion is overwhelmed than their material life. By the way I would like to thank your regular contribution to your country in the form of critical and regular comments.

    1. Ittu Aba Farda


      I was talking to one of my lifetime friends about this story of an unrepentant traitor and wondering what drove the man insanely hateful of his own country and it’s people. My friend contemplated a variety of reasons. He told me that in those days there was a strong affinity based on regionalism. Both emperors were from the same region and this traitor might not which caused him to be madly resentful of both rulers. The other reason we both contemplated was he might have been a paid agent to Italy, someone who sold his soul to the devil. Even in our time there were such sellouts who succumbed to enticing bread crumbs from the KGB in the 1960’s and 70’s. I came across such accusations after reading memoirs of those from that era where KGB recruited the brightest among Ethiopian students during that era with some of them ended up being merciless murderers and high ranking officials in Mengistu’s regime. This guy betrayed his country in its dire states not once but twice. Did he have undiagnosed mental issues? I will leave that to the qualified shrinks among us.
      Thank you for your kind remarks. In this sunset of my life I had decided to write what is on my mind about issues affecting that gem of the colored we still hold very dear and glued to our hearts.

  3. Kidane Alemayehu

    Please see the following link which, among other things, relates the fact that it was Bitwodded (later) Afeworq Gebreyesus who informed Ras Mekonnen that Article 17 of the Wuchale Treaty was against Ethiopia’s interests:

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