Adwa: when Oromos fought Italy as Abyssinians | By Teshome M. Borago

11 mins read

As we celebrate the 121st anniversary of Ethiopia’s victory against Italy at the Battle of Adwa, it is important to put our current polarized politics in perspective. We usually pointout Adwa’s pan-African symbolism and it’s role as an inspiration for black people worldwide. But we often overlook Adwa’s importance when it comes to our historic ethnic relations not only inside Ethiopia, but also inside the former Abyssinian kingdoms.

Decades before this battle happened in 1896, Ethiopia was a loose union of various competing parts and regional kingdoms that virtually took turns to rule the whole, from a revolving center. For example, when Emperor Menelik II rose to power, he had to win over northern friends and foes alike; and create alliance with his Shewan Oromo kins, in order to become King of Shewa and later King of Ethiopia. It is hard to imagine that Ethiopia would win the Adwa war if all these competing kingdoms did not collaborate and provide the necessary manpower. This is why, if we were to believe the false basis of the current poisonous ethnic-politics today, Ethiopia would have actually LOST the war in Adwa. How else can we explain what happened that year? One has to wonder, how could we win unless a multiethnic Ethiopian nation existed long before the so-called “Abyssinian colonization”? How can we defeat an European superpower without sharing a sense of common identity and destiny? How did our people who are supposed to hate each other today, managed to unite with one purpose as one people over a century ago, if there was nothing already tying them together pre-war? Something does not add up.
History shows that several kingdoms volunteered and mobilized from every region in Ethiopia to fight at the Battle of Adwa. From Tigray down to Harar; from Wollo in the east to Gojjam in the West, every Ethiopian province joined the central army of Shewa ( which was then a kingdom of both Amharic and Oromo speakers.)
So when TPLF and some Oromo elites preach anti-Ethiopia propaganda today, let us not forget that many of the Ethiopian generals in Adwa were actually Oromos: including Dejazmach Balcha Safo, Ras Gugsa Welle of Yejju Oromo and Empress Taytu Betul who led the Gondar troops, Fitawurari Gebeyehu Gora who led the Raya Oromo forces and Ras Mohammed (Mikael) Ali who led the Wollo Oromo horsemen into Adwa.
Another symbol of the unity of our ancestors was that many of our leaders were already ethnically mixed for many generations: for example, the general (and future Defense minister) Fitawrari Habte Giorgis Dinagde, Ras Mekonnen and even Emperor Menelik (whose maternal side is Oromo). The fact that all these Adwa heroes were mixed to a small or large degree with an Oromo ancestry is proof that people already assimilated during previous generations of the Abyssinian kingdoms. Therefore today, it is hard to find a pure Oromo, pure Amara or any pure tribe. There is no such thing. All those Ethiopian patriots fought for our country as Ethiopians FIRST and foremost. Our heroic ancestors did not claim to be “Oromo-first”or “Amhara-first.” In fact, Oromigna speakers living in northern Ethiopian provinces of Gondar and Wollo fought Italy as Abyssinians, since Oromos were major players inside the Abyssinian Solomonic dynasty for centuries before. Which is why northern Oromos are Abyssinians.
During a discussion forum in 1997, Professor Donald Levine tried to teach Meles Zenawi that Ethiopia has already evolved into a multiethnic country. But the shameless Meles Zenawi defended his apartheid system and told the Professor;

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“Axum means nothing for the Gurage. Lalibela means nothing for the Oromo.”
How ironic that Meles made such a horrible statement, because one of the major generals that went to Tigray to fight in Adwa was Fitawrari Habte Giorgis Dinagde. He was a famous warrior who was born from a mixed Gurage and Oromo family. How wrong Meles was about Ethiopian history!
Some European historians have tried to minimize the significance of our victory in Adwa by hiding the enormous military advantage the Italians had on Ethiopia; in regards to artillery, arms, ammunition and other equipments. But the fact was the Ethiopian army did not have enough weapons to match Italy; so we were considered weak by conventional warfare standards. Therefore, our soldiers’ morale and troops mobilization were the two key factors to our success. In retrospect, we can truly say that the strength of our UNITY was the reason for our triumph in Adwa.
And today, more than ever, it is time to rekindle that Ethiopian spirit of unity and patriotism. It is time to come together; not just as Oromos, Welaytas, Amharas, Tigre’s etc, but to rise together as Ethiopians FIRST. We are not just a collection of tribes. We are one people, one Ethiopians under God. Sadly, due to TPLF’s assault on Ethiopiawinet the last 25 years, Ethiopiawinet has been forced to retreat to urban cities like Addis Ababa. As Neamin Zeleke said recently, Ethiopiawinet is alive and kicking in every cosmopolitan region of Ethiopia, where millions of people do not have one ethnic identity but multiple mixed ancestry. Even some people who blindly claim to be from one ethnic group actually do so because of imposed newfound political identity; not due to ancestral or biological identity. Ethiopiawinet supersedes all other identities and it should remain an umbrella concept that unites every Ethiopian. So Let us open our minds and hearts. Temporary identities based on politics only benefit the politicians of the day. Fake identities based on dialects are not permanent because language evolves. Many of us who speak Amharic or Oromigna today did not have ancestors who spoke Amharic or Oromigna many centuries ago. It is time to break all barriers and unite again as one people.
Until more Ethiopians accept that we have a shared history, shared land, interweaved identity and common destiny; it will be nearly impossible for us to unite again and establish a democratic country. As we witnessed the “Oromo protests” and “Amhara protests” last year, such ethnic-based enclaves may revolt one by one and alone against the TPLF dictatorship. But such isolated and fragmented revolts or protests are fruitless. They are useless. It is important to create a new inclusive movement that embraces both our diversity and our shared ancestral roots; values multilingualism, multiculturalism and democracy. It is important that all Ethiopians, ( including the urban, mixed and cosmopolitan Ethiopians) become part of a movement for fundamental transformation in Ethiopia. Otherwise, we will never have the consensus necessary for a lasting change. We can not build a real democracy based on tribal nationalism and a backward federalism land system that divides us into “natives” vs “aliens” or “guests” vs “hosts.” Ethiopia needs civic nationalism, not ethnic nationalism.
No matter which tribal group gains power in Addis Ababa, it will never have the mandate to govern. In TPLF, we already have seen the result of a tribal based movement. It does not work. It is too narrow and undemocratic. Some of us vilify TPLF as evil people but they are normal humans just like all of us. But their abnormal tribal system of governance has created a trust gap with other Ethiopians so TPLF may never giveup power peacefully. Similarly, an Oromo-led or Amhara-led regime will never work either, because we live in a country of minorities. In fact, the biggest ethnic group in our country is the mixed-Ethiopian. No group is superior and every group must own Ethiopiawinet in order to change Ethiopia.
As one of the larger community of Ethiopians, Oromos can play a special and constructive role in democratizing Ethiopia. Unfortunately, the new generation Oromos (both at home & Diaspora) are led by former OPDO elites, not by progressives. Instead of rejecting the status quo of tribalism under TPLF, Oromo activists are defending it. Some Oromo activists actually want to be more woyane than woyane. Instead of challenging the system on paper, they are hoping to implement it even more. Oromos need to change this mentality. It is time to restore their Ethiopiawinet. Today’s Ethnic politics is inherently incompatible with liberal democracy and individual rights. It is time for a paradigm shift in Ethiopian politics.

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1 Comment

  1. This is the pride of the colored and will remain so to eternity. Baratieri thought he was the only one who knows about the single and double enveloping battle formations. Boy way he deadly wrong!!! We can only say that he met his real master at the battlefield of Adwa on that glorious day. Dabormida thought he will have an open season scandalizing those drop dead beauty ladies from Tigray, Amhara, Oromia and many other origins. But he died squealing like a pig in a rut. He was properly told that he was in the wrong house and at the wrong time when every Oromo, Amhara, Tigray man was fit in a really foul mood. You just don’t barge in and start poking an aggravated African lion. You just don’t. He was excited by what he thought he would be doing with the women captives the next day that he did not see that he was marching North thinking he was heading South. Boy, boy, boy!!! He ended up smack into the awaiting pincers of my Barentu cavaliers. Ooh wee!!!! Say it again!!! Ooh wee!!!! I am in a good mood now!!!!
    I am glad to know that you share my pride. That ‘impossible, unimaginable’ feat is not the pride only to just two of us but it should be to every colored and every human being that demand and expect respect. That day proved once and for all that intelligence in everything including during an all out war fare is not the sole property of only one or two races. It had crossed the color line long before it is recognized. That day at Adwa was not just another Zulu uprising or Mahdist War and it was not a variety of the Boxer Rebellion. It might have been the inspiration for these fights for freedom and numerous others. It was rather a day when those ‘bunch of niggas’ locked horn with a much more powerful army and beat the tar out of the enemy until everyone thought he robbed a bank. It was an earth quake with 9.9 on the Richter Scale!!! Didn’t all other European powers rushed to recognize our people as a sovereign nation in just days and weeks following the victory at Adwa? Can anyone tell me where else such a recognition happened before or after March 1, 1896? I can boldly say that the liberation of Africa had begun on March 1, 1896. You can stand me up at the gates of hell but nothing can be done to me to recant my bold claim. Full Stop!!! You tell me one European power, one, who signed on a dotted line saying ‘I am beaten in a fair fight and will never plan another war’ on the colored. Only one, right? Abyssinia, right? That ain’t Puerto Rico! That was not Minnesota! That was not Formosa either. That was the country of the Oromos, Amharas, Tigrayans, Afars, Issas and many other people of the colored. After all this intoxicating pride that has afflicted you and I, it makes you wonder how ashamed those Askaris felt when they found themselves prisoners of war along with those who were bossing them around just a day before. Their situation then was understandable but what they did on that fateful day was historically inexcusable. Being swayed for a piece of bread crumbs is in any living thing nature but planning a war with a demeaning European aggressor and shoot down a peaceful/generous neighbor is the most shameful act. It was written well in the history book that the most damage inflicted upon my great uncles and cousins on that historic day was not from the muzzles of the Italians but from the Askaris themselves. Very disgusting behavior indeed!!! May be Askarism was a viral infection like HIV and it is still a ravaging sickness. You know what I mean?!!!!!
    And there is one extremely important matter anyone who claims to be the descendant of those gallant men and women. In that battle, Amharas died. On that indisputably glorious day, Oromos had died. On that field of Adwa Tigrayans and others had died. You see, after they were cut down by the bullets of the aggressor Italian soldiers and faceless Askaris, the human blood that flowed, the Abyssinian blood that reddened the rivers of Tigray did not flow segregated on ethnic lines but rather flowed rolled into one. That and that alone drove me into a rash of goose bumps throughout my Almighty created human body. It just sends me into a trance!!! A pride that Shall not, Can not, be taken away from you and I!!!!

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