Ethiopia’s Adwa Legacy: A Comparative Reflection by Prof. Ayele Bekerie

Mountains of Adwa. (Photo: by Ayele Bekerie)

Tadias Magazine

Updated: February 25, 2024

New York (TADIAS) – In the following article, Professor Ayele Bekerie, Coordinator of the PhD Program in Heritage Studies at the Institute of Paleo-Environment and Heritage Conservation at Mekelle University in Ethiopia, reflects on the international significance of Ethiopia’s 128th anniversary of the victory at Adwa this coming week. In his piece, Professor Ayele – who is the author of “One House: The Battle of Adwa 1896 -100 Years” – compares, Ethiopia’s success at Adwa with Haiti’s triumph over Napoleon’s French army much earlier in the Western Hemisphere, which, like Adwa, also inspired global Pan-African movements. However, as Professor Ayele points out, despite their well-deserved and proud history, both countries have yet to achieve the peace, stability, and long-term economic prosperity that follow for this and future generations.

Special thanks to Professor Ayele Bekerie for his years of research and dedication to educating all of us about the importance of preserving Ethiopia’s Adwa legacy, including through his annual articles in Tadias Magazine for the past 20 years, and his call for Ethiopia’s victory at Adwa to be included as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This weekend at Columbia University here in New York, Professor Ayele, who used to live in New York and taught at Cornell University before returning to Ethiopia, was honored with a Certificate of Recognition by The Ethiopian Community Mutual Assistance Association (ECMAA) for his commitment to the topic. We congratulate Professor Ayele on a well-deserved recognition. Below is his latest article

Haiti and Ethiopia: Triumphs Against Colonialism, Inspirations of Pan-Africanism”

By Ayele Bekerie, PhD

February 25, 2024

Ethiopia — The Haitian Revolution, a revolution that started as insurrections, resulted in the abolition of enslavement and the establishment of an independent Black state in the then Santo Domingo and now Haiti. The revolt that included “coalition of Africans, Mulattoes, Maroons, Commanders, House Slaves, Field Slaves and Free Blacks” began in 1791 and culminated in 1804 with perhaps the first successful abolition of slavery in the Americas and the Caribbean.

The Battle of Adwa, on the other hand, dealt a deadly first blow against expansive settler or non-settler colonialism in Africa and elsewhere. The victory at Adwa scrambled the agreements made among Europeans on “smoking table” at Berlin in 1884/85. It was twelve years later, in 1896, an Ethiopian army decisively defeated the Italian army, thereby inscribing the beginning of the end of colonialism in Africa and elsewhere. The Battle took place at a time when the colonial era was well advanced throughout the African continent. The Haitian Revolution and the Battle of Adwa represent epic struggles and successful resistance against a global system of oppression, otherwise called European colonialism.

According. To Ngugi Wa Thiango, under the Slave Trade, the African body is commodified, under the Slave Plantation System, Africa supplies unpaid labor that works the sugar and cotton fields, under colonialism, Africa supplies raw materials, such as gold, diamonds, copper, uranium, coffee, cocoa – without having control over the prices. He further explained that, at present, the neocolonial system set to prevent complete decolonization and agency through the entanglement of debts, debt servicing, and conditionalities that turn Arica into a net exporter of the very capital it most needs.

In Haiti, the enslaver and the enslaved are outsiders. The island originally belonged to Arawak Indians, who were almost wiped out by the new colonizers: the Spaniard and the French. After they decimated the Indians, the French, the British, the Dutch, the Portuguese and the Spaniards were engaged in trade in enslavement. Millions were captured and loaded on ships for horrendous journeys to the Americas and the Caribbean to work in various plantations under brutal conditions. “Of all the major Caribbean islands, Haiti was the most brutal towards the enslaved Africans with 10% of the population dying every year under French colonial rule” .The passage over the Atlantic was called the Middle Passage in which large numbers of captured Africans lost their lives before they even reached their final destinations.

Haitians were originally from West Africa and Central Africa, spanning from Senegal to the Congo. Most Haitians practice both Vodoun and Roman Catholicism, in syncretic form. Secret societies were formed to fight against enslavement under the cover of traditional religious practices. Secret gatherings gave the enslaved moments of seeing each other as fellow human beings. Even for few hours, those moments enable the enslaved to plan and act on living free. The enslaved successfully conducted a revolt that resulted in the formation of a Black Republic in the Western Hemisphere.

The successful revolt in Haiti just like the successful and irreversible victory at the Battle of Adwa, became a source of inspiration for all enslaved Africans and colonized people in the Caribbean, the Americas as well as Africa. Resistance against the systems has increased after the Haitian Revolution and victory at Adwa. For instance, the Louisiana territories carried out armed resistance against the French system of enslavement. Napoleon, as a result, was forced to sell the territories to the United States.

Early in the 19 th century, Haiti helped Brazil, Guyana, Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Peru, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Bolivia to obtain their independence. Various modes of resistance proliferated right after the successful revolt in Haiti. Some managed to self-liberate themselves, others mutinied by burning the sugar cane or cotton plantations. In Haiti, the uprisings against enslavement was led by leaders such as Toussaint Louverture (1743-1803), Henri Christophe (1767-1820) and Jean Jacques Dessalines (1758-1806).

Santo Domingo was regarded by far the most profitable colonial estate to France. France prospered from exploited labor. Enslaved Africans worked hard and died young and penniless. As property of the system, they were denied basic rights. They were condemned to forced and harsh labor for life. Any attempt to veer off from the orders and the master meant harsh deadly punishment. They were treated inhumanely and = subjected to daily humiliations.

France managed to accumulate enough wealth to become a global power of the era. A system that relied on brute force is, however, bound to face resistance. Human beings are created to live free and, therefore, Haitians conducted a series of insurrections until they were able to dismantle slavery and form their own independent state. Traditions that were brought from Africa formed the basis of their resistance. Enslaved Africans and their supporters would hold a series of secret meetings to organize and act against the system of slavery.

Among the main causes of the Haitian Revolution was the French Revolution. The revolt for equality, dignity and brotherhood of the French people was taken to heart by the enslaved in Haiti. The French Revolution of 1789 “touched off uprisings among enslaved Africans in the Caribbean.”

Haiti and Ethiopia, who were regarded as unresolved problems of European colonization, have been suffering “considerable political and economic repercussions ever since.” The majority of the people in both countries have been leading precarious lives. Stability and peace are remote and internecine conflicts continue to undermine the quest for leading the lives the people want.

Dr. Benito Sylvain of Haiti had the opportunity to establish contact with Ethiopia when he travelled to Addis Ababa from Paris immediately after Adwa victory in 1896 and he met with Emperor Menelik II. Sylvain sought leading roles for Ethiopia and Haiti in Pan-African movements. He also represented the two countries at the first Pan-African Conference in London in 1900.

The symbolic and historic significance of Haiti and Ethiopia to the protracted struggle against colonialism cannot be ignored nor underestimated. The people of Haiti and Ethiopia have changed the course of global history. Pan-African Movements were immensely inspired by Haitians’ victory over Napoleon’s army and Ethiopians’ decisive defeat of the would-be Italian colonizers.

The historic accomplishments of Ethiopians and Haitians did not get as much coverage and recognition. It is time that a new Pan-African movement draw a workable plan of cooperation so that the people of Haiti and Ethiopia lead meaningful lives.

Happy 128th Adwa Victory Anniversary!


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