History Section

Spotlight: Ethiopian Sports Journalist Fekrou Kidane Reflects on 60th Anniversary of Abebe Bikila’s Rome Victory

Abebe Bikila celebrating after his historic victory at the Summer Olympics in Rome on September 10th, 1960. (Photo: Wikimedia)

Tadias Magazine

By Tadias Staff

Updated: September 10th, 2020

Los Angeles (TADIAS) — This week marks the 60th anniversary of Abebe Bikila’s legendary victory at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome where the Ethiopian athletics icon became the first African Olympic gold medalist.

“The day was Saturday, September 10th, the eve of Enqutatash (Ethiopian New Year),” recalls veteran journalist Fekrou Kidane — the first Ethiopian sports reporter who started his career in 1957 and who now lives in Paris. “The Ethiopian marathon team included Abebe Bikila and Abebe Wakgira who finished seventh.”

Fekrou vividly remembers the sentiment from spectators and the international media who, as far as they were concerned, had perceived the African athletes as an afterthought. “Nobody noticed their presence until about 20 kilometers into the competition when Abebe Bikila and the Moroccan long-distance runner Rhadi Ben Abdesselam, who finished second, emerged as frontrunners.”

“To make things even more interesting Abebe was running barefoot, further astounding the audience,” Fekrou shares in a recent letter he wrote to Tadias, reflecting on the 60th anniversary of Abebe Bikila’s Rome victory.

“When the runners reached Piazza di Porta Capena and Abebe noticed the Axum Obelisk, that was looted from Ethiopia by Mussolini’s troops less than two decades earlier during world War II, something hit him and he just bolted leaving everyone behind.” The rest is history.

According to the World Athletics Federation Abebe’s milestone victory “remains, arguably, one of the most significant landmark moments in [sports]. When Abebe Bikila – running barefoot – became the first black African to win an Olympic marathon gold medal on the streets of Rome it was without doubt one of the most iconic moments of the 1960 Games.”


Ethiopian journalist Fekrou Kidane, who is affectionately known as Gashe Fekrou, is pictured at his home in Paris, France. He was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Ethiopian Sports Journalists Association (ESJA) in 2018. (Photo by Arefe via AIPS media)

As Fekrou recalls, the following day was Enqutatash and Abebe’s historic victory gave Ethiopia a double celebration — a new year and a hero’s welcome home that culminated with a parade and the Order of the Star of Ethiopia awarded to Abebe by Emperor Haile Selassie among other gifts.

Abebe Bikila passed away on October 25th, 1973 at the young age of 41 following deteriorating health from a car accident a few years prior, but his place in history as the first African Olympian gold medalist continues to inspire generations of runners from his native country and beyond.

Watch: Abebe Bikila’s victory at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome on September 10th, 1960 (IOC)

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In U.S. New Museum Honors African American Pilot Who Fought for Ethiopia

When the Italo-Ethiopian war broke out in the 1930's Col. John C. Robinson, an American aviator and activist, left his family in the U.S. and went to Ethiopia to fight alongside the Ethiopians. He was celebrated as the "Brown Condor" for his heroic service in the Ethiopian Air Force against Fascist Italy. (Courtesy of International Council for the Commemoration of Col. John C. Robinson)

Tadias Magazine

By Taias Staff

Published: August 19th, 2020

New York (TADIAS) — American pilot Col. John C. Robinson, who was nicknamed “The Brown Condor” is best known for his heroic commanding of the Ethiopian Air Force during the country’s legendary war against Fascist Italy in the 1930′s. Col. Robinson, who was also known as the “Father of the Tuskegee Airmen,” was one of many African Americans who had volunteered to assist Ethiopia in its time of need during Wold War II.

Now a new museum called the Brown Condor Mississippi Heritage Aviation Museum is scheduled to open in the city of Gulfport, Mississippi. “John C. Robinson is the reason we are building this museum,” the project manager, Francisco Gonzalez told local media, noting that Colonel Robinson is one of many featured aviation heroes from throughout the state. “We wanted to honor him-an African-American-first one to fight in combat in a foreign land.” Gonzalez added: “He fought for the Ethiopian Air Force when they were being invaded by Mussolini. He grew up in Gulfport during the Segregation era. He fell in love with aviation when he saw a pilot land in Gulfport’s Jones Park. He told his father he was going to be a pilot.”

According to Ethiopian historian Ayele Bekerie: “When the Italo-Ethiopian War erupted, [Robinson] left his family and went to Ethiopia to fight alongside the Ethiopians. In his book The Sons of Sheba’s Race: African-Americans and the Italo-Ethiopian War, 1935-1941 (Blacks in the Diaspora) William R. Scott, who conducted thorough research in documenting the life and accomplishments of John Robinson, wrote about his ability to overcome racial barriers to go to an aviation school in the United States. In Ethiopia, Robinson served as a courier between Haile Selassie and his army commanders in the war zone.”

The International Council for the Commemoration of Col. John C. Robinson, which was established a few years ago to help promote his legacy in Ethiopia and the U.S. notes: “Col. John C. Robinson was an inspiring African American aviation pioneer and a brave Ethiopian war hero. He was instrumental in the formation of what was to become the Tuskegee Airmen of WWII fame, led Ethiopian Air Forces against Italian aggression, and trained numerous military and civilian pilots for Ethiopia. Among his many accomplishments, he established the first African American owned airline and pilot school in Chicago, USA, and founded the American Institute School in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. After sacrificing his life for Ethiopia, Col. Robinson is finally receiving his due recognition.” Robinson died in a plane crash in Ethiopia in 1954. He is buried at Gullele cemetery in Addis Ababa.”

Per WXXV-TV, the new museum “doesn’t just showcase relics and heroes’ tales. There are plenty of photo ops for everyone and interactive, hands-on exhibits to learn from and train our aviation heroes of tomorrow…They will learn the importance of flying an airplane.”

The Brown Condor Mississippi Heritage Aviation Museum is scheduled to open in late September.

Related:

Brown Condor Mississippi Heritage Aviation Museum set to open soon

From Tadias Archives: African American & Ethiopia Relations

Ethiopian & African American Relations: The Case of Melaku Bayen & John Robinson

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Timely Reflection: The Long Ethiopian Century

From empire to fascist occupation to communism, Ethiopia experienced all the turbulent upheavals of the 20th century. As its leader embarks on a risky reform effort, two recent literary works bring this vital history out of the shadows. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

The American Interest

In October 2019, Ethiopian Prime Minister and soon-to-be Nobel laureate Abiy Ahmed did something uncommon for a sitting head of state: He released a book. Abiy’s Medemer, which roughly translates to “coming together” in the Amharic language, is not a typical politician’s memoir, but rather a cross between a manifesto and a self-help book. Medemer makes the case for Abiy’s ambitious reforms as a means of modernizing Africa’s second most populous country, while positing a new national ethos for the ethnically diverse and increasingly polarized nation. In a country torn by internal conflict, Abiy is asking citizens to rediscover a sense of common heritage and destiny while embracing political compromise.

The question of history, and particularly how Ethiopians frame their history, should be at the heart of any discussion of Abiy’s agenda. As an Ethiopian friend once opined to me, “History? We have too much history. I would prefer less.” Fair. In its own way, Ethiopia experienced the characteristic upheavals of the 20th century—imperial decadence and decline, fascist invasion, communist dictatorship—as much as any country, along with an appropriately enduring affinity for the VW Bug.

At the dawn of the century, Ethiopia was a multi-ethnic empire that had been ruled for more than 600 years by a dynasty claiming descent from the biblical Solomon. On the eve of World War I, Ethiopia was one of only two African states to have avoided complete colonization by European powers, having successfully defeated an Italian invasion in 1895-96. Italy waged a second, more successful assault under Mussolini in 1935, forcing Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie into exile. The Italians could never fully pacify Ethiopia, however, and in 1941, a British-led army expelled Mussolini’s forces and restored Selassie to his throne. Selassie’s dynasty ended in 1974, when the emperor was deposed and subsequently killed by young Marxist-leaning officers amid mass protests.

Thus began the brutal dictatorship of the Soviet-backed Derg (meaning “the committee,” a fittingly Orwellian name), under which tens of thousands were executed and untold others died of famine. The leaders of the Derg were themselves toppled in 1991 by a coalition of rebel forces that has ruled ever since. And it is this regime that is now undergoing a fundamental transformation under Abiy, who took power in April 2018 on the back of massive protests. As the country approaches national elections tentatively set for [next year], the most optimistic commentators are hoping Abiy can solidify Ethiopia’s transition from a one-party state to a democracy, while others fear the country may be headed towards a Yugoslavia-style breakup.

Unfortunately, there are relatively few English-language histories of Ethiopia available to those looking to understand the nation’s uncertain present. But for the general reader hoping to get a glimpse of Ethiopia’s recent past, two literary works examine the country’s transformation in the 20th century through the intimate perspective of an ordinary woman.

In The Wife’s Tale, Aida Edemariam deftly melds personal history with exquisite prose to explore the 97-year life of her grandmother, Yetemegnu. An unlikely focus for a biography, Yetemegnu is illiterate for most of her life. She never holds public office. She leaves Ethiopia only once, for a pilgrimage to Jerusalem toward the end of her life. But Yetemegnu demonstrates courage and resilience in a way that only a common woman thrust into extraordinary circumstances could. She does not pause to reflect on the historical weight of revolutions or invasion, as we might expect in the memoirs of a politician or activist. In these moments, her concerns are limited to ensuring her family’s safety. Her response when informed that the Derg has appropriated some of her properties: “Let them. As long as they don’t take my children.”

Yetemegnu’s story begins on her wedding day in the early 1920s. She is eight years old, confused, and apprehensive. She is about to be married to a man two decades older who is a priest in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. She will bear him ten children, not all of whom survive childhood, and outlive her husband by several decades—but the 1,600-year-old institution of the Tewahedo church will remain central to all aspects of her life. Her status as a priest’s wife grants Yetemegnu a degree of wealth, prestige, and a sense of community for most of her life. But her husband gets caught up in bitter clerical politics that eventually land him in prison, producing severe hardship for the family. While resenting the venal priests responsible for her husband’s downfall, Yetemegnu’s veneration of the Virgin Mary never wavers.

Yetemegnu’s faith faces no shortage of trials. The war with Italy introduces her community to the horrors of modern warfare, such as aerial bombardment and chemical weapons. Yetemegnu becomes aware of the moral ambiguities inherent in war: there are brave guerrilla fighters undaunted by Haile Selassie’s flight into exile, but so too are there opportunistic collaborators, feuding rivals within the resistance camp, and lifelong brigands who rob under the guise of patriotism.

The Italian invasion is not the focus of The Wife’s Tale, however, and specific political developments are generally peripheral to the narrative. Edemariam’s strength as a writer is in capturing the ambience of an evolving society. Globalization is both a curse and a blessing: An airplane takes Yetemegnu’s son away to medical school in a distant land called Canada, but a telephone alleviates her ensuing isolation by allowing her to speak with her grown children from afar. The Cold War is never mentioned by name, but a palpable sense of suspicion, ideological division, and fear falls upon society when the Derg takes power. Amid the executions and disappearances of the “Red Terror,” one of Yetemegnu’s relatives jokes that all the foreign political terminology being thrown around—feudalism, proletariat, capitalism—might as well be describing pharmaceuticals.

The Wife’s Tale is written in a style bordering on magical realism, in which Yetemegnu’s experiences are recounted not as a clear chronology of events but rather as she might have remembered these episodes later in life: as a contortion of emotions; as inner dialogues, lucid dreams, and unsettling premonitions; and as sensory experiences like the growling of a deep-seated hunger. Edemariam forgoes some narrative clarity in her effort to transport the reader into Yetemegnu’s world. It is a risky approach, but ultimately a successful one. With the power of her description, the reader can envision the rolling hills of Ethiopia’s highlands, smell the aromas of incense and coffee beans wafting through a house mid-morning, and hear the ancient chants of priests filling a church hewn into a mountainside. Edemariam likewise brings her descriptive talents to bear with poignant effect when describing the darkest chapters in Yetemegnu’s life, such as her miscarriage or her husband’s imprisonment.

Not unlike Yetemegnu, the protagonist of Maaza Mengiste’s The Shadow King is based on an overlooked historical figure: the female resistance fighter in the Second Italo-Ethiopian War (1935-1937). The Shadow King is the second novel by Mengiste, who grew up in Addis Ababa immersed in stories of the war. The novel follows Hirut, an orphan and domestic servant who transcends her obscure existence to become one of the legendary arbegnoch or “patriots” who wage a guerrilla war against the Italians after Haile Selassie’s conventional armies are defeated. With a story arc similar to a Greek drama—complete with chapters narrated by a female chorus—the novel sheds light on the underexplored experiences of female arbegnoch.

This war is probably better known in the West than any other period in Ethiopian history, though for reasons that have little to do with Africa. Western coverage of the war has tended to focus on its implications for European geopolitics. Seven years after Kellogg and Briand had deemed war démodé, Italy’s aggression made a mockery of the effete League of Nations, and this at a time when its future already appeared in doubt following Japan’s 1931 annexation of Manchuria. The League authorized ineffective sanctions against Italy in November 1935, a month after the invasion, but abandoned them eight months later, by which point Italy’s conquest was a fait accompli. By 1937 all but six countries had recognized Italy’s occupation of Ethiopia. France and Britain were sympathetic to Selassie but feared that a forceful response to the invasion would drive Italy into the arms of Nazi Germany at a time when a Rome-Berlin axis was not yet certain.

While many in the West were indignant at Mussolini’s invasion, few were anything but condescending towards the Ethiopians. In the eyes of the Western press, the Ethiopians were alternatively docile victims or disorderly and incompetent bandits. The implicit message seemed to be that Ethiopia’s domination, while perhaps tragic, was unavoidable. Indeed, the Italians themselves framed the war as an historical inevitably rooted in their natural superiority. An Italian soldier in Mengiste’s novel is tasked with photographing Ethiopian prisoners of war for propaganda, the subtext of which is clear: Ethiopians are a ferocious people, but they will ultimately end up in Italian chains.

Mengiste’s novel is an effort to correct this narrative. She is not the first to attempt this, but none have done so with such poetic vigor. Mengiste’s Ethiopian soldiers are David to the industrial Goliath of Fascist Italy. At one point, two Ethiopians armed only with a rifle and a sword disable a tank as the Soldati stand stunned. But it is not simply their underdog status that defines the Ethiopians’ fight in Mengiste’s telling—it is also their outrage. Outrage over Italian atrocities, naturally, but also over something greater: A sense of indignation that arises when a nation with an unwavering sense of its own exceptionalism is on the brink of losing its sovereignty. Ethiopia was a civilization at a time when the Romans were mere peasants, as one of Mengiste’s characters boasts. In another instance, a commander asks his troops on the eve of battle if they will die for Ethiopia. A peasant soldier responds with an answer reminiscent of George Patton: “First I’ll kill.”

For its patriotic message, The Shadow King does not whitewash Ethiopian history. The social inequality of the time is ever-present in its pages. Hirut’s employer, Kidane, is the well-respected son of a legendary warrior of the first Italian war, but to Hirut he is patronizing and abusive. Kidane’s wife, Aster, is yet crueler, though she grows more sympathetic as we learn in graphic detail about her ordeal as a child bride and the death of her only child. And if Mengiste seeks to present Ethiopian women as the unsung heroes of the war, she is honest about the class divisions among them. When Aster defies her husband to raise a unit of female fighters (Kidane insists that the women tend to camp per tradition), one of the women assembled scoffs at Aster’s notion that there is any patriotic solidarity among them. The Asters of the world do nothing but take from hard-working peasant women, she insists.

The shortcomings of Ethiopia’s imperial state are most clearly embodied in the character of Haile Selassie, with whom Mengiste takes some artistic liberties while remaining fundamentally faithful to the historical record. The emperor is distant and indecisive at crucial moments in the war. In several scenes, he sits frozen in front of a projector as Italian newsreels of the invasion flicker across the screen. The novel’s plot hinges on Selassie’s decision to flee into exile while his armies are still attempting to hold the Italians at bay, a decision that would come to haunt him. The novel opens and closes in 1974 amid massive protests against the ailing emperor, perhaps Mengiste’s way of reminding us that Selassie’s aloofness would contribute to his demise.

The 1974 revolution, which is the focus of Mengiste’s previous novel, lies at the heart of a crisis of Ethiopian identity that persists to this day. The 1960s and 70s saw a notable awakening of ethnic consciousness in Ethiopia, first in opposition to Selassie’s regime and later against the Derg and its Marxist-infused Ethiopian nationalism. This sentiment was particularly acute among ethnic groups that felt historically marginalized or had been on the periphery of the imperial state.

All of Ethiopia’s emperors hailed from the country’s northern highlands—the predominant setting of both The Wife’s Tale and The Shadow King—and all but one was ethnic Amhara. The imperial state tended to elevate Amhara culture as the culture par excellence and made efforts to promote Amharic as the nation’s lingua franca. To many of the ethnonationalist movements that gained prominence beginning in the late 1960s, Ethiopia’s emperors were not so much noble state-builders as conquerors and despots. The modern Ethiopian state, in this view, was a product of African settler colonialism of which non-Amhara were the victims. These narratives are themselves simplistic and deserve scrutiny to be sure, but their salience is undeniable.

After the Derg’s demise in 1991, the tension inherent in reconciling such ethnonationalist narratives came to the fore. Most of the ethnic-based guerrilla forces that toppled the Derg had their roots in the student protest movements of the preceding decades. Influenced by Lenin and Stalin’s theories of ethnicity, they considered “the national question” to be the defining issue for Ethiopia and consequently implemented a controversial system of ethnic federalism that persists to this day. As the American historian Harold G. Marcus noted at the time:

Ethiopia will have to create a new official culture reflecting the nation’s diversity. In recent history, the state has been identified with the Semitic-speaking, Christian population, and since World War II, specifically the dominant Amhara culture. For the non-Christian, non-northerner, the cost was assimilation into an alien culture.

Nearly three decades later, developing this official culture remains a central challenge for Ethiopia. Under the current regime, politics is largely a competition between the elites of various ethnic-based factions. As the historian Bahru Zewde puts it somewhat counterintuitively, the “stresses and strains of [the] contradictory postures” of these elites “were to form the political bedrock of post-1991 Ethiopia.” Since coming to power in 2018, Prime Minister Abiy has stressed the need to rekindle a pan-Ethiopian nationalism, hence Medemer. However, his liberalization efforts have also exacerbated ethnic divides, in no small part because many elites see stoking ethnic tension as a way to secure or increase their influence in an uncertain new political landscape. Last year alone more than 1.5 million Ethiopians were internally displaced as a result of ethnic-based conflict.

The thorny issue of ethnic representation is particularly salient as Ethiopia prepares for this summer’s elections, which international observers consider a key bellwether of Ethiopia’s transition under Abiy. But the tension between ethnic self-determination and national unity will not be resolved with one poll. As Ethiopian human rights activist Yoseph Badwaza recently told me, “Ethnicity will be the defining issue in Ethiopian politics for the foreseeable future.”

It would seem intuitive that ethnonationalist grievances and aspirations anywhere are rooted in complex and controversial histories. Few would analyze the 2017 Catalan independence referendum or the rise of AfD without considering the legacies of Francisco Franco or the post-war division of Germany. Yet Western commentary on Africa can be disappointingly ahistorical. When ethnicity is discussed, it is often in crude terms that reduce Africans to caricatures of inscrutably and implacably hostile tribes. Alternatively, African political issues are frequently framed through a reductive economic lens that would suggest that reaching certain development benchmarks is the panacea to a society’s ills. These approaches are short-sighted if not patronizing, insofar as they presume that historical debates do not underpin politics in Africa.

Edemariam and Mengiste’s works were not written to explain Ethiopia’s current political crisis. But anyone seeking to understand its roots would do well to read both. Each work introduces the reader to a compelling and overlooked history that evokes both pride and contention among Ethiopians, recalling the pithy remark of historian Gebru Tareke: “There are few countries in Africa that are as enriched and burdened by the past as Ethiopia.”

Last March, Abiy delivered an address during celebrations for the anniversary of the Battle of Adwa, the decisive triumph over Italy in 1896 that made Ethiopia a symbol of anti-colonial resistance across Africa. “The young generation of today should repeat the victory of Adwa by defeating current challenges and barriers,” Abiy remarked.

It was no accident that Abiy singled out this generation. Much like the members of the student movement who helped topple Selassie before turning on the Derg, many of the younger Ethiopians whose protests helped propel Abiy to power now challenge his authority. Ethiopia’s youth population, which is under-employed and expanding, expects its government to provide better economic opportunities. Ethiopian youths, like those anywhere, are also keen to address injustices real or perceived. Unsurprisingly then, many of them have found a voice for their frustrations in ethnonationalism. Reports of ethnic violence in Ethiopia these days often implicate roving bands of disaffected young men, perhaps the most combustible demographic throughout history.

The situation in Ethiopia is precarious, and it’s anyone’s guess as to where the country is headed from here. Looking ahead, Abiy and his coterie, or perhaps an entirely new generation of leadership, may yet find a way to channel the most inspiring elements of Ethiopia’s heritage into a sort of Medemer that binds together the country’s diverse elements without erasing their unique identities. Unlike the Battle of Adwa, which was over by noon the day it began, such a transformation would be gradual, undramatic, even quotidian. But it would be just as crucial to the nation’s future as any battlefield victory ever was.

This article written by James Barnett, a journalist covering East Africa, first appeared in: Volume 15, Number 5 of The American Interest magazine.

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African Union Celebrates Empress Taytu as Legendary Black Woman

'Celebrating Taytu Betul Empress of Ethiopia who together with her husband Emperor Menelik II led the army to battle at Adwa where they won one of the most important victories of any African army against European colonialist aggression," African Union shared on Twitter marking Africa's Women's Day on July 31st, 2020. (Photo: AU)

Tadias Magazine

By Tadias Staff

Updated: August 1st, 2020

New York (TADIAS) — Empress Taytu who played a key role in helping to secure Ethiopia’s historic victory at the battle of Adwa in 1896 has been honored by the African Union as a legendary Black woman on Africa’s Women’s Day that was held online on Friday, July 31st.

‘Celebrating Taytu Betul Empress of #Ethiopia who together with her husband Emperor Menelik II led the army to battle at Adwa where they won one of the most important victories of any #African army against European colonialist aggression #LegendaryBlackWomen #AfricasWomensDay,” African Union shared on Twitter.

Empress Taytu, who was the wife of Emperor Menelik and founder of Ethiopia’s capital Addis Abeba, was among several acclaimed Black women from around the world recognized by the continental organization. They included Dr Condoleezza Rice who was “the first Black woman to serve as Secretary of State of the United States; Marie Van Brittan Brown who was “the first person to develop a patent for closed circuit television security which became the foundation for the closed circuit television systems CCTV used everywhere” as well as singer and civil rights activist Aretha Franklin who was the “first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Ethiopia’s Derartu Tulu who was the first African woman to win an Olympic gold. Additional honorees include literary icon and civil rights activist Maya Angelou and TV host, Philanthropist and businessperson Oprah Winfrey for ‘redefining media as the first Black woman to host a national TV talk show in the USA and for supporting the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls based in South Africa.”

Below is a slide show of images as shared on Twitter by the African Union:


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Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam – Making of Second Adwa: By Ayele Bekerie

The author of the following article Dr. Ayele Bekerie is an associate professor at the Department of Heritage Studies, Mekelle University in Ethiopia. (Picture: The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam via Twitter)

The Ethiopian Herald

By Ayele Bekerie (Ph.d.)

In 1896, Ethiopia registered one of the most decisive victories in the world at the Battle of Adwa by defeating the Italian colonial army. As a result, Adwa marked the beginning of the end of colonialism in Africa and elsewhere. Now, again, Ethiopia is on the verge of registering the second decisive victory, which is labeled the Second Adwa, by building and completing the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Abay/Nile River within its sovereign territory based on the cardinal principle of equitable and reasonable use of shared waters.

Operationalizing GERD means leveling the playing field so that Ethiopia also uses the shared waters and be able to converse with the lower riparian countries, on issues big and small, as equals. Egypt and Sudan affirmed their sovereignty and secure their socio-economic progress by building dams in their territories. Likewise, Ethiopia will make a critical contribution to peace and development in north east Africa, by engaging in an equitable and reasonable use of the Abay waters.

Abay River has a long history. Some of the major world civilizations were built on the banks and plateaus of the river. The River encompasses a wide array of natural environments and human habitations. Mountains, lakes, swamps, valleys, lagoons, moving rivers are places of farming, cattle raising or fishing. It is also a mode of transportation for dhows and steamers go up and down the river valley. In the ancient times, history has recorded positive relations between ancient Egyptians and Ethiopians. Trade thrived for a long period of time between the dynastic Egypt and what Egyptians call the Land of the Punt. Ancient Egyptians obtained their incense and myrrh as well as numerous other products from the Puntites. Egyptians revered and held the Puntites in high regard. They also paid homage to what they call the ‘Mountains of the Moon’ in East Africa. They recognized the mountains or the plateaus as sources of their livelihoods.

In modern times, relations turned unequal and imperialism dictated that brute force should be the arbiter of international relations. Colonialism created the center and periphery arrangements in which there were citizens and subjects. Abay was also defined and put into use in the context of serving the motherland, that is Great Britain in the 19th century CE. Modern Egypt inherited the strategic plan Britain has prepared with regard to the long-term use of the Nile waters. Britain developed a plan to make the whole Nile Basin serve the interests of Egypt. Dams were built in Egypt whereas reservoirs for Egyptian Aswan High Dam were built in Sudan, Uganda, South Sudan other upper riparian countries. With independence and with the unilateral construction of the Aswan High Dam, Egypt pursued a policy of hegemony. It fabricated a narrative that purported historic and natural rights to Nile waters. The treaties of 1902, 1929 and 1959 are used to justify its hegemony. The only agreement that Ethiopia signed together with Egypt and Sudan was the 2015 Declaration of Principles Trilateral Agreement.

The 1902 Treaty was between Britain and Ethiopia. Britain sought to control the sources of the Nile rivers and therefore signed a treaty with Emperor Menelik II in essence agreeing not to impound the river from one bank to the other. In 1929, Britain signed an agreement with Egypt that gave veto or hegemonic power regrading the use and management of the waters. Britain signed the agreement on behalf of its colonial territories in equatorial Africa. With independence, the agreement became null and void. Julius Nyerere, the first president of Tanzania, rejected the 1929 Treaty by arguing that Tanzania was no longer a colonial subject nor a signatory of the treaty and therefore would not be bound by it. Nyerere’s argument later labeled the Nyerere Doctrine, which states that “former colonial countries had no role in the formulation and conclusion of treaties done during the colonial era, and therefore they must not be assumed to automatically succeed to those treaties.” As an independent and never-colonized country, Ethiopia had nothing to do with the 1929 Treaty. It is indeed absurd, even immoral for Egypt to cite the treaty in its argument with Ethiopia.

The 1959 Treaty was solely between Egypt and Sudan. The treaty allocated the entire waters of the Nile to Egypt and Sudan. Egypt was allocated 55 billion cubic meters of water, while Sudan got 14 billion cubic meters of water. The treaty was arranged by Britain to serve it neocolonial interest in the region. The treaties are not only outdated, they are also outrageous, for they privilege Egypt, a country that does not contribute a drop to the waters of the River.

Invented narratology of Egypt’s historical and natural rights is central to her arguments to keeping the vast amount of the waters to herself. She brings an argument of ‘the chosen people’ by claiming that Egypt is the ‘Gift of the Nile.’ It passionately advances unilateral and hegemonic use of the waters to herself by distorting the notion of the gift. Gift implies giver and receiver. Further, the receiver ought to acknowledge to giver of the gift. After taking the gift, displaying or acting against the giver is tantamount to biting the hand that feeds. The notion of reciprocity and cooperation among the givers and receivers of the Gift should have been the basis of life in the Nile Basin. Instead we have a government in Egypt that pursue a policy of conflict and escalation in the region.

Egypt, following the long Pharaonic rule, fell under the rule of outsiders for over two millenniums. Among the outsiders were the Greeks, the Byzantines, the Romans, the Arabs, the Turks and in modern times, the French and the British. The occupation and annexation of the territory by outsiders may be quite unique. It is such distinct history that gave a sense of aloofness and duplicity to the Egyptian elites, particularly in their interactions with the upper riparian countries. To-be-like the colonizers have become the norm in Egypt. It is not unusual for Egypt to continue looking at fellow Africans with jaundiced eyes, attempting to perpetuate hierarchical and unequal relations.

Egypt continues to preach policies that are written during the colonial times. For her, the gift means controlling and regulating the Nile waters from the sources to the mouths at all times. Egypt’s need supersedes the needs of all other riparian countries. The ever-expanding demand of the Egyptians for the Nile waters made it difficult to reach win-win agreements among the people of the Nile Basin. Unlike the fellaheen of the past, the resident on the banks of the Nile, seeks water for drinking, navigation, generation of electricity, irrigation and recreation. Export crops, vegetation and fruits take a good portion of the waters. Manufacturing industries also consume their share of the water. The cottons grown on the most fertile alluvial soils of the valley are the most preferred raw materials for the cotton mills of Liverpool and Manchester in Britain. The mode of production and distribution of goods and services in modern Egypt tend to favor a regiment of hostility and hegemony to upper riparian countries.

Ancient Egyptians used the Nile waters for farming and navigation. They used the waters to sustain lives and to build cultural monuments and temples, such as the pyramids. They burn incense and spread green grasses in their temples in honor of the mountains of the moon, which they attribute as the sources of the Nile waters. Ancient Egyptians made best use of the waters. They built a civilization and shared the outcome of it with the rest of the world, let alone its southern neighbors in Africa. Ancient Egyptians gave us calendar, writing systems, religion, architecture, wisdom, and governance.

Even those who occupied Egypt in ancient times immersed themselves in tieless traditions of ancient Egypt. The Greeks established themselves in Alexandria. The French scholars deciphered the hieroglyphics, thereby opening the gates of Egyptian knowledge for the world to share and learn from.

The soils and waters of the Nile transformed ancient Egypt perhaps into the greatest power on earth for over three millenniums. Moreover, ancient Egyptians had the longest trade and cultural relations with the Land of the Punt, a reference to upper riparian countries in the Horn of Africa. It is therefore incumbent upon the modern Egyptians to uphold the traditions established by their ancestors and see cooperation and friendship with Ethiopians of the old and the new, that is with the people of Africa.

While Egypt and Sudan built dams in their sovereign territories, Ethiopia did not until she took the bold move to start building one on the mighty Abay River. GERD is nine years old. It is bound to be completed within the next two years. BY making GERD a fact on the ground, Ethiopia will be in a position to ascertain her sovereignty, framing her arguments on the right to use and share the waters, so to speak, dam-to-dam conversations among the tripartite states.

Egypt’s authority with regard to Nile waters is rooted in its ability to build the Aswan High Dam and century storage on Lake Nasser. Such a strategic move allowed her to talk substance and be able to prosper. It also allowed her to establish institutions to generate knowledge on the hydrology of the Nile. Its Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation is one of the largest and well-financed ministries’ in the country. Even the propagation of distorted information about GERD is facilitated by the presence of thousands of highly trained water engineers and technologists, who are not ashamed of advancing the nationalist agenda. In the process of furthering the interest of Egypt, the narrative about the Nile Rivers turned Egypt-centered. Her army of engineers and technologists and diplomats have infiltrated international organizations in large numbers. The financial institutions, such as the World Bank and IMF, are under the influence of Egypt. Egypt falsely exaggerates her water needs and place herself as utterly dependent on the Nile waters. Her arguments do not address the presence of trillions cubic meters of aquifer and the feasibility of turning the salt water of the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea into fresh potable water.

It is in this context that Ethiopia has to remain focused on her agenda of building and using GERD. Doing so will be the only way to force Egypt from her false narrative. GERD will stop Egypt the pretense of claiming to be the sole proprietor of the Nile waters. The Arab League is heavily influenced by Egypt. It is a mouthpiece of Egypt. Its conventions often are the reflections of its sponsors. IT is also ineffective when it comes to serious issues, such as the Palestinian question, the Yemen and Syrian Civil Wars. The League may provide an international platform to Egypt, but its declarations are toothless.

The European Union, at present, is advocating for equitable use of the waters and favor negotiated settlement of outstanding issues. Britain, given her neocolonial interest in Egypt and Sudan, she may side with Egypt. Since she is the mastermind of the strategic plan of the entire Nile Basin, including the selection of sites of the dams as well as their constructions. Since Britain is on its way out of EU, reasonable and equitable use of the Nile waters in a cooperative manner may become central element of EU’s Nile River policy. On the contrary, Britain prepared the master plan for Egypt to become the super power of the Nile Basin. It is therefore our duty to see to it that EU and Britain compete to earn our attention. Refined diplomacy is needed on our part to make a case for our legitimate use of the Abay River and its tributaries.

The Arab League and EU are two separate international organizations. While the Arab League is in the fold of Egypt, EU maintains a cordial relation with Ethiopia. The Arab League is not known in solving issues within or without. Even in the recent convention of the League, countries, such as Qatar, Djibouti, Sudan and Somalia disagreed with the final decision and urged the tripartite countries of the eastern Nile Basin to solve their problems by themselves.

In short, Egypt is making noise, perhaps louder noise by going to the Arab League or EU. The UN Security Council refused to preside over the issue and advised the parties to continue their negotiations. GERD paves the way for real cooperation among the riparian countries.

Egypt built the Aswan High Dam in collaboration with the then Soviet Union with the intent of utilizing the Nile waters to the maximum level. Egypt deliberately placed the Dam near its southern border so that it takes maximum advantage of the water for reclamation and other uses of water throughout Egypt, including the Sinai, across the Suez Canal. For the High Dam to remain dominant, Egypt was directly or indirectly involved in designing and building dams in Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda, and Congo Democratic Republic. The dams or canals in the Equatorial Plateau are designed at sites that serve as reservoirs for Aswan. They are designed to release water on a regular or monitored bases so that Aswan always gets a predictable amount of waters. The artificial lake, Lake Nasser is not only growing in volumes, but it is also displacing hundreds of thousands of Nubians from their homes, temples and farmlands both in southern Egypt and northern Sudan. The destruction on ancient heritages in Upper Egypt and Lower Nubia to make space for the massive lake is incalculable.

As stated earlier, modern Egypt anchors itself primarily on Arab nationalism. The attempt to politicize Islam and to perceive Ethiopia as a Christian country often fails to generate support for the elites of Egypt. Islam is present in Ethiopia since its inception in the seventh century CE. Ethiopia gave sanctuary to the first followers of the Prophet. Islam, in the present-day Ethiopia, is influential. It is playing a significant role in shaping the society. On the other hand, Egypt’s Pan-African identity has been let loose since the end of the great ancient Egyptian kingdoms. Modern Egypt was established by Ottoman and Arab rulers. It can be argued that Egypt’s approach to Africa is tainted with paternalism. Egypt enters into agreement with the upper riparian countries in as long as it is free of challenging her self-declared water quota.

The Nile Basin Initiative remained frozen because of Egypt’s refusal to join the Secretariat with a headquarter in Entebbe, Uganda. Sudan is also hesitating to join the group, even so it has a good chance of reversing its position, given the new transitional government in there. Egypt is working actively to divide the member states of the Initiative. Recently, Tanzania was awarded a dam, entirely paid by the Egyptian Government, on a river that does not flow into the Nile. Again, the intent is to drive Tanzania out of the Initiative and to protect the so-called water quota of Egypt. AU is established to advance the interests of member states. It would make a lot of sense to address the issues of the Nile waters within the AU. Unfortunately, Egypt refuses to commit to such an approach and, instead, run to Washington and to the UN Security Council to hoping to force Ethiopia into submission. Threats and making noise are empty and no one will buckle under such sabre rattling. Further, AU does not condone the colonial and hegemonic mentality of the Egyptian elite rulers. In fact, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), in its press release of June 23, 2020, regarding GERD, has endorsed AU as key arbiter to solve issues of the Nile waters. According to CBC, “the AU has a pivotal role to play by expressing to all parties that a peaceful negotiated deal benefits all and not just some on the continent.”

Egypt sticks to the status quo. That is Egypt wants to control and regulate the waters of the Nile Basin from its sources on the mountains of north east Africa to its mouth in the Mediterranean Sea. It wants to stay as a major user and owner of the Nile waters. Egypt wants to turn the entire Nile Basin as its backyard. Egypt invented a quota for itself and Sudan without consulting or involving the upper riparian countries. The principle of equity and reasonable use of shared water has no place in the Egyptian lexicons. Therefore, Egypt’s unprincipled approach and practice in the use and management of the Nile waters resulted in protracted conflicts in the basin. The initiative to silence guns would remain sterile as long as Egypt remains unwilling to share the Nile waters.

Nine years ago, Ethiopia laid the foundation for the building of GERD. That was a decision of a sovereign country entitled to use its natural resources, while at the same time acknowledging the rights of the lower riparian countries. That was a decision that eventually resulted in the beginning and the continuation of the Dam. That was a decision that injected sense to the discourse of the Nile waters. That was a decision that paves the way for Egypt to look south and to enter into negotiations with Ethiopia.

Given the hegemonic use of the Nile waters by Egypt, Ethiopia is obligated to carry out a non-hegemonic project on the River. It is obligated to tell her own story to the international community. The whole world has to know that Ethiopia provides 86% of the Nile waters. It makes substantial water contributions to both White and Blue Nile Rivers. Historically, Ethiopia gave birth to Egypt, geographically speaking. It is the water and soils of Ethiopia that created to most fertile banks and deltas of the Nile. Huge alluvial soils were carried to Egypt from Ethiopia. The replenishment of the Nile Valley with fertile soils of Ethiopia is an annual event. The facts on the ground calls for real cooperation and collaboration among all the riparian countries.

The academia of Egypt is committed to advancing the so-called historic rights claim. It is working, cadre-style, to justify the upholding of the status quo. Academia continues to perpetuate the false paradigm and associated Egypt-centered knowledge productions. It is also provided with unlimited funds to equate the River with Egypt only. Alternatively, it is the African and African Diaspora intellectuals who would force Egypt to make a paradigm shift. It is the well-meaning people of the world who would persuade Egypt to come to her senses.

The Nile waters belong to all the people who live in its basin, banks, delta and valleys. The basin constitutes one tenth of Africa’s landmass and a quarter of the total population of Africa. Equitable and fair use of the waters by all the riparian countries ought to be the governing principle. There has to be a paradigm shift from Egypt-centered regimen to multi-centered use and management of the waters. Multi-centered approach paves the way to basin-wide economic and socio-cultural development.

To conclude, Egypt ought to concede that the status quo cannot stand. It has to recognize that the Nile Basin is home to 400 million people. It is only through the principles of cooperation and equity that the people will have a chance to have better lives. It is in the spirit of affirming the sanctity of one’s sovereignty that Ethiopia began to build GERD. The completion and the operation of GERD is bound to be the second victory of Adwa. CBC puts it best when it states that “the Gerd project will have a positive impact on all countries involved and will help combat food security and lack of electricity and power, supply more fresh water to more people and stabilize and grow the economies in the region.” As much as the first victory of the Battle of Adwa inspired anti-colonial movements and struggle, GERD, as a second Adwa victory, which is bound to inspire economic, democratic and social justice movements.

Ed.’s Note: Dr. Ayele Bekerie is an associate professor at the Department of Heritage Studies, Mekelle University.


UPDATE: PM Hails 1st Filling of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam


Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s statement, read out on state media outlets, came a day after he and the leaders of Egypt and Sudan reported progress on an elusive agreement on the operation of the $4.6 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the largest in Africa. (Photo: Satellite image of Ethiopia’s Dam/ Maxar via AP)

The Associated Press

By ELIAS MESERET

Updated: July 22nd, 2020

Ethiopia’s leader hails 1st filling of massive, disputed dam

ADDIS ABABA (AP) — Ethiopia’s prime minister on Wednesday hailed the first filling of a massive dam that has led to tensions with Egypt, saying two turbines will begin generating power next year.

Abiy Ahmed’s statement, read out on state media outlets, came a day after he and the leaders of Egypt and Sudan reported progress on an elusive agreement on the operation of the $4.6 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the largest in Africa.

The first filling of the dam’s reservoir, which Ethiopia’s government attributes to heavy rains, “has shown to the rest of the world that our country could stand firm with its two legs from now onwards,” Abiy’s statement said. “We have successfully completed the first dam filling without bothering and hurting anyone else. Now the dam is overflowing downstream.”

The dam will reach full power generating capacity in 2023, the statement said: “Now we have to finish the remaining construction and diplomatic issues.”

Ethiopia’s prime minister on Tuesday said the countries had reached a “major common understanding which paves the way for a breakthrough agreement.”

Meanwhile, new satellite images showed the water level in the reservoir at its highest in at least four years, adding fresh urgency to the talks.

Ethiopia has said it would begin filling the reservoir this month even without a deal as the rainy season floods the Blue Nile. But the Tuesday statement said leaders agreed to pursue “further technical discussions on the filling … and proceed to a comprehensive agreement.”

The dispute centers on the use of the storied Nile River, a lifeline for all involved.

Ethiopia says the colossal dam offers a critical opportunity to pull millions of its nearly 110 million citizens out of poverty and become a major power exporter. Downstream Egypt, which depends on the Nile to supply its farmers and booming population of 100 million with fresh water, asserts that the dam poses an existential threat. Sudan is in the middle.

Negotiators have said key questions remain about how much water Ethiopia will release downstream if a multi-year drought occurs and how the countries will resolve any future disputes. Ethiopia rejects binding arbitration at the final stage.

Sudanese Irrigation Minister Yasser Abbas on Tuesday told reporters that once the agreement has been solidified, Ethiopia will retain the right to amend some figures relating to the dam’s operation during drought periods.

Abbas also said the leaders agreed on Ethiopia’s right to build additional reservoirs and other projects as long as it notifies the downstream countries, in line with international law.

“There are other sticking points, but if we agree on this basic principle, the other points will automatically be solved,” he said.

Years of talks with a variety of mediators, including the Trump administration, have failed to produce a solution.


Ethiopia, Egypt Reach ‘Major Common Understanding’ On Dam


The statement came as new satellite images show the water level in the reservoir behind the nearly completed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is at its highest in at least four years. (Getty Images)

The Associated Press

Updated: July 21st, 2020

Ethiopia’s prime minister said Tuesday his country, Egypt and Sudan have reached a “major common understanding which paves the way for a breakthrough agreement” on a massive dam project that has led to sharp regional tensions and led some to fear military conflict.

The statement by Abiy Ahmed’s office came as new satellite images show the water level in the reservoir behind the nearly completed $4.6 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is at its highest in at least four years.

Ethiopia has said the rising water is from heavy rains, and the new statement said that “it has become evident over the past two weeks in the rainy season that the (dam’s) first-year filling is achieved and the dam under construction is already overtopping.”

Ethiopia has said it would begin filling the reservoir of the dam, Africa’s largest, this month even without a deal as the rainy season floods the Blue Nile. But the new statement says the three countries’ leaders have agreed to pursue “further technical discussions on the filling … and proceed to a comprehensive agreement.”

The statement did not give details on Tuesday’s discussions, mediated by current African Union chair and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, or what had been agreed upon.

But the talks among the country’s leaders showed the critical importance placed on finding a way to resolve tensions over the storied Nile River, a lifeline for all involved.

Ethiopia says the colossal dam offers a critical opportunity to pull millions of its nearly 110 million citizens out of poverty and become a major power exporter. Downstream Egypt, which depends on the Nile to supply its farmers and booming population of 100 million with fresh water, asserts that the dam poses an existential threat.

Negotiators have said key questions remain about how much water Ethiopia will release downstream if a multi-year drought occurs and how the countries will resolve any future disputes. Ethiopia rejects binding arbitration at the final stage.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi stressed Egypt’s “sincere will to continue to achieve progress over the disputed issues,” a spokesman’s statement said. It said the leaders agreed to “give priority to developing a binding legal commitment regarding the basis for filling and operating the dam.”

Sudanese Irrigation Minister Yasser Abbas told reporters in the capital, Khartoum, that once the agreement has been solidified, Ethiopia will retain the right to amend some figures relating to the dam’s operation during drought periods. “Generally, the atmosphere was positive” during the talks, he said.

Abbas said the leaders agreed on Ethiopia’s right to build additional reservoirs and other projects as long as it notifies the downstream countries, in line with international law.

“There are other sticking points, but if we agree on this basic principle, the other points will automatically be solved,” he said.

Both Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and Ethiopia’s leader called Tuesday’s meeting “fruitful.”

“It is absolutely necessary that Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, with the support of the African Union, come to an agreement that preserves the interest of all parties,” Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairman of the AU commission, said on Twitter, adding that the Nile “should remain a source of peace.”

Years of talks with a variety of mediators, including the Trump administration, have failed to produce a solution.

Now satellite images of the reservoir filling are adding fresh urgency. The latest imagery taken Tuesday “certainly shows the highest water levels behind the dam in at least the past four years,” said Stephen Wood, senior director with Maxar News Bureau.

Kevin Wheeler, a researcher at the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, told the AP last week that fears of any immediate water shortage “are not justified at this stage at all and the escalating rhetoric is more due to changing power dynamics in the region.

However, “if there were a drought over the next several years, that certainly could become a risk,” he said.


As Seasonal Rains Fall, Dispute over Nile Dam Rushes Toward a Reckoning


Satellite images released this week showed water building up in the reservoir behind the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. (Photo: Maxar Technologies/EPA, via Shutterstock)

The New York Times

Updated July 18th, 2020

After a decade of construction, the hydroelectric dam in Ethiopia, Africa’s largest, is nearly complete. But there’s still no agreement with Egypt.

CAIRO — Every day now, seasonal rain pounds the lush highlands of northern Ethiopia, sending cascades of water into the Blue Nile, the twisting tributary of perhaps Africa’s most fabled river.

Farther downstream, the water inches up the concrete wall of a towering, $4.5 billion hydroelectric dam across the Nile, the largest in Africa, now moving closer to completion. A moment that Ethiopians have anticipated eagerly for a decade — and which Egyptians have come to dread — has finally arrived.

Satellite images released this week showed water pouring into the reservoir behind the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam — which will be nearly twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty. Ethiopia hopes the project will double its electricity production, bolster its economy, and help unify its people at a time of often-violent divisions.

#FillTheDam read one popular hashtag on Ethiopian social media this week.

Seleshi Bekele, the Ethiopian water minister, rushed to assuage Egyptian anxieties by insisting that the engorging reservoir was the product of natural, entirely predictable seasonal flooding.

He said the formal start of filling, when engineers close the dam gates, has not yet occurred.

Read more »

Conflicting Reports Issued Over Ethiopia Filling Mega-dam

Bloomberg

By Samuel Gebre

July 15, 2020

AP cites minister denying that dam’s gates have been closed

Ethiopia began filling the reservoir of its giant Nile dam without signing an agreement on water flows, the state-owned Ethiopian Broadcasting Corp. reported, citing Water, Irrigation and Energy Minister Seleshi Bekele — a step Egypt has warned will threaten regional security.

The minister denied the report, the Associated Press said.

The development comes two days after the latest round of African Union-brokered talks over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam failed to reach a deal on the pace of filling the 74 billion cubic-meter reservoir. Egypt, which relies on the Nile for almost all its fresh water, has previously described any unilateral filling as a breach of international agreements and has said all options are open in response.

Egypt is asking Ethiopia for urgent and official clarification of the media reports, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Sudan’s irrigation ministry said in a statement that flows on the Nile indicated that Ethiopia had closed the dam’s gate.

Ethiopia, where the 6,000-megawatt power project has become a symbol of national pride, has repeatedly rejected the idea that a deal was needed, even as it took part in talks.

“The inflow into the reservoir is due to heavy rainfall and runoff exceeded the outflow and created natural pooling,” Seleshi said later in Twitter posting, without expressly denying that the filling of the dam had begun. Calls to the ministry’s spokesperson for comment weren’t answered.

The filling of the dam would potentially bring to a head a roughly decade-long dispute between the two countries, both of which are key U.S. allies in Africa and home to about 100 million people. Their mutual neighbor, Sudan, has also been involved in the discussions and echoed Egypt’s misgivings over an impact on water flows.


Ethiopia Open to Continue Nile Dam Talks Amid Dispute With Egypt


The Blue Nile river flows to the dam wall at the site of the under-construction Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia. (Photographer: Zacharias Abubeker/Bloomberg)

Bloomberg

Updated: July 15, 2020,

Ethiopia pledged to continue talks with Egypt and Sudan on the operation of its 140-meter deep dam on the Nile River’s main tributary, but said demands from downstream nations were thwarting the chances of an agreement.

The three states submitted reports to African Union Chairman and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa after 11 days of negotiations ended on Monday without an agreement. The AU-brokered talks were held amid rising tensions with Ethiopia planning to start filling the reservoir, and Egypt describing any damming without an agreement on water flows as illegal.

“Unchanged stances and additional and excessive demands of Egypt and Sudan prohibited the conclusion of this round of negotiation by an agreement,” Ethiopia’s water and irrigation ministry said Tuesday in a statement. “Ethiopia is committed to show flexibility” to reach a mutually beneficial outcome, it said.

The Nile River is Egypt’s main source of fresh water and it has opposed any development it says willcause significant impact to the flow downstream. Ethiopia, which plans a 6,000 megawatt power plant at the facility, has asserted its right to use the resource.

The two are yet to conclude an agreement over the pace at which Ethiopia fills the 74 billion cubic-meter reservoir, given the potential impact on the amount of water reaching Egypt through Sudan. Ethiopia’s statement didn’t mention anything conclusive on when it plans to start filling the dam.

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry didn’t reply to a request for comment on Tuesday. Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told a local TV talk-show on Monday that President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s administration seeks to reach an agreement that safeguards the interests of all stakeholders.

Read more »

Photos: Satellite Images of GERD Show Water Rising (UPDATE)


The images emerge as Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan say the latest talks on the contentious project ended Monday with no agreement. Ethiopia has said it would begin filling the reservoir this month even without a deal. But Ethiopian officials did not immediately comment Tuesday on the images. An analyst tells AP that the swelling water is likely due to the rainy season as opposed to official activity. (Photo: Maxar Tech via AP)

The Associated Press

Updated: July 14, 2020,

New satellite imagery shows the reservoir behind Ethiopia’s disputed hydroelectric dam beginning to fill, but an analyst says it’s likely due to seasonal rains instead of government action.

The images emerge as Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan say the latest talks on the contentious project ended Monday with no agreement. Ethiopia has said it would begin filling the reservoir of the $4.6 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam this month even without a deal, which would further escalate tensions.

But the swelling reservoir, captured in imagery on July 9 by the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1 satellite, is likely a “natural backing-up of water behind the dam” during this rainy season, International Crisis Group analyst William Davison told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

“So far, to my understanding, there has been no official announcement from Ethiopia that all of the pieces of construction that are needed to be completed to close off all of the outlets and to begin impoundment of water into the reservoir” have occurred, Davison said.

But Ethiopia is on schedule for impoundment to begin in mid-July, he added, when the rainy season floods the Blue Nile.

Ethiopian officials did not immediately comment Tuesday on the images.

The latest setback in the three-country talks shrinks hopes that an agreement will be reached before Ethiopia begins filling the reservoir.

Ethiopia says the colossal dam offers a critical opportunity to pull millions of its nearly 110 million citizens out of poverty and become a major power exporter. Downstream Egypt, which depends on the Nile to supply its farmers and booming population of 100 million with fresh water, asserts that the dam poses an existential threat.

Years of talks with a variety of mediators, including the Trump administration, have failed to produce a solution. Last week’s round, mediated by the African Union and observed by U.S. and European officials, proved no different.

Read more and see the photos at apnews.com »


PM Abiy Says Unrest Will Not Derail Filling of Nile Dam


Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said Tuesday the recent violence was specifically intended to throw Ethiopia’s plans for the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam off course. Abiy, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, also criticised politicians who he suggested were trying to profit from Hachalu’s killing to undermine his government. “You can’t become a government by destroying the country, by sowing ethnic and religious chaos,” he said. (AP photo)

AFP

July 7th, 2020

Addis Ababa (AFP) – Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said Tuesday that recent domestic unrest would not derail his plan to start filling a mega-dam on the Blue Nile River this month, despite objections from downstream neighbours Egypt and Sudan.

Violence broke out last week in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa and the surrounding Oromia region following the shooting death of Hachalu Hundessa, a popular singer from the Oromo ethnic group, Ethiopia’s largest.

More than 160 people died in inter-ethnic killings and in clashes between protesters and security forces, according to the latest official toll provided over the weekend.

Abiy said last week that Hachalu’s killing and the violence that ensued were part of a plot to sow unrest in Ethiopia, without identifying who he thought was involved.

On Tuesday he went a step further, saying it was specifically intended to throw Ethiopia’s plans for the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam off course.

“The desire of the breaking news is to make the Ethiopian government take its eye off the dam,” Abiy said during a question-and-answer session with lawmakers, without giving evidence to support the claim.

Ethiopia sees the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam as essential to its electrification and development, while Egypt and Sudan worry it will restrict access to vital Nile waters.

Addis Ababa has long intended to begin filling the dam’s reservoir this month — in the middle of its rainy season — while Cairo and Khartoum are pushing for the three countries to first reach an agreement on how it will be operated.

Talks between the three nations resumed last week.

Ethiopian officials have not publicised the exact day they intend to start filling the dam.

But Abiy on Tuesday reiterated Ethiopia’s position that the filling process is an essential element of the dam’s construction.

“If Ethiopia doesn’t fill the dam, it means Ethiopia has agreed to demolish the dam,” he said.

“On other points we can reach an agreement slowly over time, but for the filling of the dam we can reach and sign an agreement this year.”

-Ethiopia ‘not Syria, Libya’-

Abiy, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, also criticised politicians who he suggested were trying to profit from Hachalu’s killing to undermine his government.

“You can’t become a government by destroying a government by destroying the country, by sowing ethnic and religious chaos,” he said.

“If Ethiopia becomes Syria, if Ethiopia becomes Libya, the loss is for everybody.”

A number of high-profile opposition politicians have been arrested in Ethiopia in the wake of Hachalu’s killing.

Some of them, including former media mogul Jawar Mohammed, have accused Abiy, the country’s first Oromo prime minister, of failing to sufficiently champion Oromo interests after years of anti-government protests swept him to power in 2018.

Abiy defended his Oromo credentials on Tuesday. “All my life I’ve struggled for the Oromo people,” he said.

“The Oromo people are free now. What we need now is development.”

‘It’s my dam’: Ethiopians Unite Around Nile River Mega-Project


The Blue Nile flowing through the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. The project is passionately supported by the Ethiopian public despite the tensions it has stoked with Egypt and Sudan downstream. (AFP)

AFP

Updated: June 29th, 2020

Last week, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s press secretary took a break from official statements to post something different to her Twitter feed: a 37-line poem defending her country’s massive dam on the Blue Nile River.

“My mothers seek respite/From years of abject poverty/Their sons a bright future/And the right to pursue prosperity,” Billene Seyoum wrote in her poem, entitled “Ethiopia Speaks”.

As the lines indicate, Ethiopia sees the $4.6 billion (four-billion-euro) Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam as crucial for its electrification and development.

But the project, set to become Africa’s largest hydroelectric installation, has sparked an intensifying row with downstream neighbours Egypt and Sudan, which worry that it will restrict vital water supplies.

Addis Ababa plans to start filling next month, despite demands from Cairo and Khartoum for a deal on the dam’s operations to avoid depletion of the Nile.

The African Union is assuming a leading role in talks to resolve outstanding legal and technical issues, and the UN Security Council could take up the issue Monday.

With global attention to the dam on the rise, its defenders are finding creative ways to show support — in verse, in Billene’s case, through other art forms and, most commonly, in social media posts demanding the government finish construction.

To some observers, the dam offers a rare point of unity in an ethnically-diverse country undergoing a fraught democratic transition and awaiting elections delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Abebe Yirga, a university lecturer and expert in water management, compared the effort to finish the dam to Ethiopia’s fight against Italian would-be colonisers in the late 19th century.

“During that time, Ethiopians irrespective of religion and different backgrounds came together to fight against the colonial power,” he said.

“Now, in the 21st century, the dam is reuniting Ethiopians who have been politically and ethnically divided.”

-Hashtag activism-

Ethiopia broke ground on the dam in 2011 under then-Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who pitched it as a catalyst for poverty eradication.

Civil servants contributed one month’s salary towards the project that year, and the government has since issued dam bonds targeting Ethiopians at home and abroad.

Nearly a decade later, the dam remains a source of hope for a country where more than half the population of 110 million lives without electricity.

With Meles dead nearly eight years, perhaps the most prominent face of the project these days is water minister Seleshi Bekele, a former academic whose publications include articles with titles like “Estimation of flow in ungauged catchments by coupling a hydrological model and neural networks: Case study”.

As a government minister, though, Seleshi has demonstrated an ear for the catchy soundbite.

At a January press conference in Addis Ababa, he fielded a question from a journalist wondering whether countries besides Ethiopia might play a role in operating the dam.

With an amused expression on his face, Seleshi looked the journalist dead in the eye and responded simply, “It’s my dam.”

In those five seconds, a hashtag was born.

Coverage of the exchange went viral, and today a Twitter search for #ItsMyDam turns up seemingly endless posts hailing the project.

At recent events officials have even distributed T-shirts bearing the slogan to Ethiopian journalists, who proudly wear them around town.

-Banana boosterism-

Some non-Ethiopians have also gotten in on #ItsMyDam fever.

Anna Chojnicka spent four years living in Ethiopia working for an organisation supporting social entrepreneurs, though she recently moved to London.

In March, holed up with suspected COVID-19, she began using a comb and thread-cutter to imprint designs on bananas.

Her #BananaOfTheDay series has included bruises portraying the London skyline, iconic scenes from Disney movies and the late singer Amy Winehouse.

But by far the most popular are her bananas related to the dam, the first of which she posted last week showing water rushing through the concrete colossus.

On Thursday she posted a banana featuring a woman carrying firewood, noting that once the dam starts operating “fewer women will need to collect firewood for fuel”.

The image was quickly picked up by an Ethiopian television station.


Ethiopia, Egypt & Sudan Agree to Restart Talks Over Disputed Dam


Early Saturday, Seleshi Bekele, Ethiopia’s water and energy minister, confirmed that the countries had decided during an African Union summit to restart stalled negotiations and finalize an agreement over the contentious mega-project within two to three weeks, with support from the AU. (Satellite image via AP)

The Associated Press

Updated: June 27th, 2020

The leaders of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia agreed late Friday to return to talks aimed at reaching an accord over the filling of Ethiopia’s new hydroelectric dam on the Blue Nile, according to statements from the three nations.

Early Saturday, Seleshi Bekele, Ethiopia’s water and energy minister, confirmed that the countries had decided during an African Union summit to restart stalled negotiations and finalize an agreement over the contentious mega-project within two to three weeks, with support from the AU.

The announcement was a modest reprieve from weeks of bellicose rhetoric and escalating tensions over the $4.6 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which Ethiopia had vowed to start filling at the start of the rainy season in July.

Egypt and Sudan said Ethiopia would refrain from filling the dam next month until the countries reached a deal. Ethiopia did not comment explicitly on the start of the filling period.

Ethiopia has hinged its development ambitions on the colossal dam, describing it as a crucial lifeline to bring millions out of poverty.

Egypt, which relies on the Nile for more than 90% of its water supplies and already faces high water stress, fears a devastating impact on its booming population of 100 million. Sudan, which also depends on the Nile for water, has played a key role in bringing the two sides together after the collapse of U.S.-mediated talks in February.

Just last week, Ethiopian Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew warned that his country could begin filling the dam’s reservoir unilaterally, after the latest round of talks with Egypt and Sudan failed to reach an accord governing how the dam will be filled and operated.

After an AU video conference chaired by South Africa late Friday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi said that “all parties” had pledged not to take “any unilateral action” by filling the dam without a final agreement, said Bassam Radi, Egypt’s presidency spokesman.

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok also indicated the impasse between the Nile basin countries had eased, saying the nations had agreed to restart negotiations through a technical committee with the aim of finalizing a deal in two weeks. Ethiopia won’t fill the dam before inking the much-anticipated deal, Hamdok’s statement added.

African Union Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat said the countries “agreed to an AU-led process to resolve outstanding issues,” without elaborating.

Sticking points in the talks have been how much water Ethiopia will release downstream from the dam if a multi-year drought occurs and how Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan will resolve any future disagreements.

Both Egypt and Sudan have appealed to the U.N. Security Council to intervene in the years-long dispute and help the countries avert a crisis. The council is set to hold a public meeting on the issue Monday.

Filling the dam without an agreement could bring the stand-off to a critical juncture. Both Egypt and Ethiopia have hinted at military steps to protect their interests, and experts fear a breakdown in talks could lead to open conflict.

Related:

Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to agree Nile dam in weeks

Ethiopia agrees to delay filling Nile mega-dam, say Egypt, Sudan

Clock Ticks On Push to Resolve Egypt-Ethiopia Row Over Nile Dam

The Grand Renaissance Dam is seen as it undergoes construction on the river Nile in Guba Woreda, Benishangul Gumuz Region, Ethiopia. (REUTERS photo/Tiksa Negeri)

Reuters

Updated: June 26th, 2020

CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt is counting on international pressure to unlock a deal it sees as crucial to protecting its scarce water supplies from the Nile river before the expected start-up of a giant dam upstream in Ethiopia in July.

Tortuous, often acrimonious negotiations spanning close to a decade have left the two nations and their neighbour Sudan short of an agreement to regulate how Ethiopia will operate the dam and fill its reservoir.

Though Egypt is unlikely to face any immediate, critical shortages from the dam even without a deal, failure to reach one before the filling process starts could further poison ties and drag out the dispute for years, analysts say.

“There is the threat of worsening relations between Ethiopia and the two downstream countries, and consequently increased regional instability,” said William Davison, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group.

The latest round of talks left the three countries “closer than ever to reaching an agreement”, according to a report by Sudan’s foreign ministry seen by Reuters.

But it also said the talks, which were suspended last week, had revealed a “widening gap” over the key issue of whether any agreement would be legally binding, as Egypt demands.

The stakes for largely arid Egypt are high, for it draws at least 90% of its fresh water from the Nile.

With Ethiopia insisting it will use seasonal rains to begin filling the dam’s reservoir next month, Cairo has appealed to the U.N. Security Council in a last-ditch diplomatic move.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is being built about 15 km (nine miles) from the border with Sudan on the Blue Nile, the source of most of the Nile’s waters.

Ethiopia says the $4 billion hydropower project, which will have an installed capacity of 6,450 megawatts, is essential to its economic development. Addis Ababa told the U.N. Security Council in a letter this week that it is “designed to help extricate our people from abject poverty”.

The letter repeated accusations that Egypt was trying to maintain historic advantages over the Nile and constrict Ethiopia’s pursuit of future upstream projects. It argued that Ethiopia had accommodated Egyptian demands to allow recent talks to move forward before Egypt unnecessarily escalated by taking the issue to the Security Council.

Ethiopia’s government was not immediately available for comment.

Egypt says it is focused on securing a fair deal limited to the GERD, and that Ethiopia’s talk of righting colonial-era injustice is a ruse meant to distract attention from a bid to impose a fait accompli on its downstream neighbours.

Both accuse each other of trying to sabotage the talks and of blocking independent studies on the impact of the GERD. Egypt requested U.S. mediation last year, leading to talks over four months in Washington that broke down in February.

“PROGRESS”

The resort to outside mediation came because the two sides had been “going round in vicious cycles for years”, said an Egyptian official. The stand-off is a chance for the international community to show leadership on the issue of water, and help broker a deal that “could unlock a lot of cooperation possibilities”, he said.

Talks this month between water ministers led by Sudan, and observed by the United States, South Africa and the European Union, produced a draft deal that Sudan said made “significant progress on major technical issues”.

It listed outstanding technical issues however, including how the dam would operate during “dry years” of reduced rainfall, as well as legal issues on whether the agreement and its mechanism for resolving disputes should be binding.

Sudan, for its part, sees benefits from the dam in regulating its Blue Nile waters, but wants guarantees it will be safely and properly operated.

Like Egypt it is seeking a binding deal before filling starts, but its increasing alignment with Cairo has not proved decisive.

Technical compromises are still available, said Davison, but “there’s no reason to think that Ethiopia is going to bow to increased international pressure”.

“We need to move away from diplomatic escalation and instead the parties need to sit themselves once again around the table and stay there until they reach agreement.”

UN to Hear Ethiopia-Egypt Nile Dam Dispute


The behind-closed-doors meeting [set for Monday in New York] was requested by France, according to diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity. It came after the latest talks between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan ended without an agreement. (Bloomberg)

Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) — The United Nations Security Council will discuss for the first time Monday a growing dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia over a giant hydropower dam being built on the Nile River’s main tributary, diplomats said. The behind-closed-doors meeting was requested by France, according to the diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity. It came after the latest talks between Egypt, Ethi

The behind-closed-doors meeting was requested by France, according to the diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity. It came after the latest talks between Egypt, Ethiopia and mutual neighbor Sudan ended last week with Ethiopia refusing to accept a permanent, minimum volume of water that the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam should release downstream in the event of severe drought.

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry subsequently asked the UNSC to intervene, calling for a fair and balanced solution. Ethiopia has threatened to start filling the dam’s reservoir when the rainy season begins in July, with or without a deal. That’s a step that Egypt, which relies on the Nile for almost all its fresh water, considers both unacceptable and illegal.

Ethiopia remains resolute that a so-called declaration of principles agreement signed by Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan in 2015 allows it to proceed with damming the GERD.


Dear Ethiopia & Egypt: Nile Dam Update


Nefartari with Simbel and St. Yared holding a Simbel, which is called Tsenatsil in Amharic and Ge’ez.

The Africa Report

By Meklit Berihun, a civil engineer and aspiring researcher in systems thinking and its application in the water/environment sector.

Dear Egypt

My dear, how are you holding up in these trying times? I hope you are faring well as much as one can given the circumstances. And I pray we will not be burdened with more than we can bear and that this time will soon come to pass for the both of us.

Dearest, I hear of your frustration about the progress—or lack thereof—on the negotiations over my dam. That is a frustration I also share. I look forward to the day we settle things and look to the future together.

Beloved, though your approach has recently metamorphosed in addressing your right to our water—officially stating you never held on to any past agreements—the foundation, that you do not want to settle for anything less than 66 percent of what is shared by 10 of your fellow African states, remains unchanged. I must be honest: I cannot fathom how you still hold on to this.

Read more »

Dear Ethiopia,

By Nervana Mahmoud, Doctor and independent political commentator on Middle East issues. BBC’s 100 women 2013.

Thank you for your letter.

The fate of our two countries has been linked since ancient times, as described in Herodotus’s book An Account of Egypt, Egypt is the “gift of the Nile,” “it has soil which is black and easily breaks up, seeing that it is in truth mud and silt brought down from Ethiopia by the river.”

It is sad you question Egypt’s African identity. It may sound surprising to you, but the vast majority of Egyptians are proud Africans. In 1990, my entire family was glued to the television, showing our support for Cameroon against England, in the World Cup. Last year, Egypt hosted the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations. Many Egyptians supported Senegal and Nigeria, who played Arab teams, in the final rounds because we see ourselves as Africans.

Unfortunately, I do not believe that you — our African brothers — appreciate the potential disastrous impacts of your Grand Renaissance Dam (GERD) on our livelihood in Egypt.

Read more »

AP Interview: Egypt Says UN Must Stop Ethiopia on Dam Fill

AP Interview:: Ethiopia To Fill Disputed Dam, Deal or No Deal


This satellite image taken May 28, 2020, shows the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile river in the Benishangul-Gumuz region. In an interview with The Associated Press Friday, June 19, 2020, Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew said that Ethiopia will start filling the $4.6 billion dam next month. (AP)

The Associated Press

By ELIAS MESERET

Updated: June 19th, 2020

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — It’s a clash over water usage that Egypt calls an existential threat and Ethiopia calls a lifeline for millions out of poverty. Just weeks remain before the filling of Africa’s most powerful hydroelectric dam might begin, and tense talks between the countries on its operation have yet to reach a deal.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Ethiopian Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew on Friday declared that his country will go ahead and start filling the $4.6 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam next month, even without an agreement. “For us it is not mandatory to reach an agreement before starting filling the dam, hence we will commence the filling process in the coming rainy season,” he said.

“We are working hard to reach a deal, but still we will go ahead with our schedule whatever the outcome is. If we have to wait for others’ blessing, then the dam may remain idle for years, which we won’t allow to happen,” he said. He added that “we want to make it clear that Ethiopia will not beg Egypt and Sudan to use its own water resource for its development,” pointing out that Ethiopia is paying for the dam’s construction itself.

He spoke after the latest round of talks with Egypt and Sudan on the dam, the first since discussions broke down in February, failed to reach agreement.

No date has been set for talks to resume, and the foreign minister said Ethiopia doesn’t believe it’s time to take them to a head of state level.

The years-long dispute pits Ethiopia’s desire to become a major power exporter and development engine against Egypt’s concern that the dam will significantly curtail its water supply if filled too quickly. Sudan has long been caught between the competing interests.

The arrival of the rainy season is bringing more water to the Blue Nile, the main branch of the Nile, and Ethiopia sees an ideal time to begin filling the dam’s reservoir next month.

Both Egypt and Ethiopia have hinted at military steps to protect their interests, and experts fear a breakdown in talks could lead to conflict.

Ethiopia’s foreign minister would not say whether his country would use military action to defend the dam and its operations.

“This dam should have been a reason for cooperation and regional integration, not a cause for controversies and warmongering,” he said. “Egyptians are exaggerating their propaganda on the dam issue and playing a political gamble. Some of them seem as if they are longing for a war to break out.”

Gedu added: “Our reading is that the Egyptian side wants to dictate and control even future developments on our river. We won’t ask for permission to carry out development projects on our own water resources. This is both legally and morally unacceptable.”

He said Ethiopia has offered to fill the dam in four to seven years, taking possible low rainfall into account.

Sticking points in the talks have been how much water Ethiopia will release downstream from the dam during a multi-year drought and how Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan will resolve any future disputes.

The United States earlier this year tried to broker a deal, but Ethiopia did not attend the signing meeting and accused the Trump administration of siding with Egypt. This week some Ethiopians felt vindicated when the U.S. National Security Council tweeted that “257 million people in east Africa are relying on Ethiopia to show strong leadership, which means striking a fair deal.”

In reply to that, Ethiopia’s foreign minister said: “Statements issued from governments and other institutions on the dam should be crafted carefully not to take sides and impair the fragile talks, especially at this delicate time. They should issue fair statements or just issue no statements at all.”

He also rejected the idea that the issue should be taken to the United Nations Security Council, as Egypt wants. Egypt’s foreign ministry issued a statement Friday saying Egypt has urged the Security Council to intervene in the dispute to help the parties reach a “fair and balanced solution” and prevent Ethiopia from “taking any unilateral actions.”

The latest talks saw officials from the U.S., European Union and South Africa, the current chairman of the African Union, attending as observers.

Sudan’s Irrigation Minister Yasser Abbas told reporters after talks ended Wednesday that the three counties’ irrigation leaders have agreed on “90% or 95%” of the technical issues but the dispute over the “legal points” in the deal remains dissolved.

The Sudanese minister said his country and Egypt rejected Ethiopia’s attempts to include articles on water sharing and old Nile treaties in the dam deal. Egypt has received the lion’s share of the Nile’s waters under decades-old agreements dating back to the British colonial era. Eighty-five percent of the Nile’s waters originate in Ethiopia from the Blue Nile.

“The Egyptians want us to offer a lot, but they are not ready to offer us anything,” Gedu said Friday. “They want to control everything. We are not discussing a water-sharing agreement.”

The countries should not get stuck in a debate about historic water rights, William Davison, senior analyst on Ethiopia with the International Crisis Group, told reporters this week. “During a period of filling, yes, there’s reduced water downstream. But that’s a temporary period,” he said.

Initial power generation from the dam could be seen late this year or in early 2021, he said.

Ethiopia’ foreign minister expressed disappointment in Egypt’s efforts to find backing for its side.

“Our African brotherly countries should have supported us, but instead they are tainting our country’s name around the world, and especially in the Arab world,” he said. “Egypt’s monopolistic approach to the dam issue will not be acceptable for us forever.”


Tussle for Nile Control Escalates as Dam Talks Falter


The Blue Nile river passes through the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam near Guba, Ethiopia. (Getty Images)

Bloomberg

Updated: June 18th, 2020

A last ditch attempt to resolve a decade-long dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia over a huge new hydropower dam on the Nile has failed, raising the stakes in what – for all the public focus on technical issues – is a tussle for control over the region’s most important water source.

The talks appear to have faltered over a recurring issue: Ethiopia’s refusal to accept a permanent, minimum volume of water that the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, or GERD, should release downstream in the event of severe drought.

What happens next remains uncertain. Both Ethiopia and Sudan – a mutual neighbor that took part in the talks – said that progress had been made and left the door open to further negotiation. Yet the stakes in a region acutely vulnerable to the impact of climate change are disconcertingly clear.

Ethiopia has threatened to start filling the dam’s reservoir when the rainy season begins in July, with or without a deal, a step Egypt considers both unacceptable and illegal. In a statement late Wednesday, Egypt’s irrigation ministry accused Ethiopia of refusing to accept any effective drought provision or legally binding commitments, or even to refer the talks to the three prime ministers in an effort to break the deadlock. Ethiopia was demanding “an absolute right” to build further dams behind the GERD, the ministry said.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry threatened on Monday to call for United Nations Security Council intervention to protect “international peace and security” if no agreement was reached. A day later his Ethiopian opposite, Gedu Andargachew, accused Egypt of “acting as if it is the sole owner of the Nile waters.”

Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris even warned of a water war. “We will never allow any country to starve us, if Ethiopia doesn’t come to reason, we the Egyptian people will be the first to call for war,” he said in a tweet earlier this week.

Although both sides have played down the prospect of military conflict, they have occasionally rattled sabers and concern at the potential for escalation helped draw the U.S. and World Bank into the negotiating process last year. When that attempt floundered in February, the European Union and South Africa, as chair of the African Union, joined in.

“This is all about control,” said Asfaw Beyene, a professor of mechanical engineering at San Diego State University, California, whose work Egypt cited in support of a May 1 report to the UN. The so-called aide memoire argued that the GERD and its 74 billion cubic meter reservoir are so vastly oversized relative to the power they will produce that it “raises questions about the true purpose of the dam.”

National Survival

Egypt’s concern is that once the dam’s sluices can control the Nile’s flow, Ethiopia could in times of drought say “I am not releasing water, I need it,” or dictate how the water released is used, says Asfaw. Yet he backs Ethiopia’s claims that once filled, the dam won’t significantly affect downstream supplies. He also agrees with their argument that climate change could render unsustainable any water guarantees given to Egypt.

Both sides describe the future of the hydropower dam that will generate as much as 15.7 gigawatts of electricity per year as a matter of national survival. Egypt relies on the Nile for as much as 97% of an already strained water supply. Ethiopia says the dam is vital for development, because it would increase the nation’s power generation by about 150% at a time when more than half the population have no access to electricity.

Read more »


UPDATE: Ethiopian Army Official Says Country Will Defend Itself Over Dam (AP)


A general view of the Blue Nile river as it passes through the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia. (Getty Images)

The Associated Press

By ELIAS MESERET

Updated: June 12th, 2020

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — Ethiopia’s deputy army chief on Friday said his country will strongly defend itself and will not negotiate its sovereignty over the disputed $4.6 billion Nile dam that has caused tensions with Egypt.

“Egyptians and the rest of the world know too well how we conduct war whenever it comes,” Gen. Birhanu Jula said in an interview with the state-owned Addis Zemen newspaper, adding that Egyptian leaders’ “distorted narrative” on Africa’s largest hydroelectric dam is attracting enemies.

He accused Egypt of using its weapons to “threaten and tell other countries not to touch the shared water” and said “the way forward should be cooperation in a fair manner.”

He spoke amid renewed talks among Ethiopian, Sudanese and Egyptian water and irrigation ministers after months of deadlock. Ethiopia wants to begin filling the dam’s reservoir in the coming weeks, but Egypt worries a rapid filling will take too much of the water it says its people need to survive. Sudan, caught between the competing interests, pushed the two sides to resume discussions.

The general’s comments were a stark contrast to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s remarks to lawmakers earlier this week that diplomacy should take center stage to resolve outstanding issues.

“We don’t want to hurt anyone else, and at the same time it will be difficult for us to accept the notion that we don’t deserve to have electricity,” the Nobel Peace Prize laureate said. “We are tired of begging others while 70% of our population is young. This has to change.”

Talks on the dam have struggled. Egypt’s Irrigation Ministry on Wednesday called for Ethiopia to “clearly declare that it had no intention of unilaterally filling the reservoir” and that a deal prepared by the U.S. and the World Bank in February serves as the starting point of the resumed negotiations.

Ethiopia refused to sign that deal and accused the U.S. of siding with Egypt.

Egypt said that in Tuesday’s talks, Ethiopia showed it wanted to re-discuss “all issues” including “all timetables and figures” negotiated in the U.S.-brokered talks.

President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi discussed the latest negotiations in a phone call with President Donald Trump on Wednesday, el-Sissi’s office said, without elaborating.

Egypt’s National Security Council, the highest body that makes decisions in high-profile security matters in the country, has accused Ethiopia of “buying time” and seeking to begin filling the dam’s reservoir in July without reaching a deal with Egypt and Sudan.

Ethiopia Seeks to Limit Outsiders’ Role in Nile Dam Talks (AFP)


Ethiopia sees the dam as essential for its electrification and development, while Sudan and Egypt see it as a threat to essential water supplies (AFP Photo)

AFP

Updated: June 11th, 2020

Addis Ababa (AFP) – Ethiopia said Thursday it wants to limit the role of outside parties in revived talks over its Nile River mega-dam, a sign of lingering frustration over a failed attempt by the US to broker a deal earlier this year.

The Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam has been a source of tension in the Nile River basin ever since Ethiopia broke ground on it nearly a decade ago.

Ethiopia sees the dam as essential for its electrification and development, while Sudan and Egypt see it as a threat to essential water supplies.

The US Treasury Department stepped in last year after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi put in a request to his ally US President Donald Trump.

But the process ran aground after the Treasury Department urged Ethiopia to sign a deal that Egypt backed as “fair and balanced”.

Ethiopia denied a deal had been reached and accused Washington of being “undiplomatic” and playing favourites.

On Tuesday Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan resumed talks via videoconference with representatives of the United States, the European Union and South Africa taking part.

The talks resumed Wednesday and were expected to pick up again Thursday.

In a statement aired Thursday by state-affiliated media, Ethiopia’s water ministry said the role of the outside parties should not “exceed that of observing the negotiation and sharing good practices when jointly requested by the three countries.”

The statement also criticised Egypt for detailing its grievances over the dam in a May letter to the UN Security Council — a move it described as a bad faith attempt to “exert external diplomatic pressure”.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed reiterated Monday that his country plans to begin filling the dam’s reservoir in the coming weeks, giving the latest talks heightened urgency.

The short window makes it “more necessary than ever that concessions are made so a deal can be struck that will ease potentially dangerous tensions,” said William Davison of the International Crisis Group, a conflict prevention organisation.

One solution could involve Ethiopia “proposing a detailed cooperative annual drought-management scheme that takes Egypt and Sudan’s concerns into account, but does not unacceptably constrain the dam’s potential,” he said.

The EU sees the resumption of talks as “an important opportunity to restore confidence among the parties, build on the good progress achieved and agree on a mutually beneficial solution,” said spokeswoman Virginie Battu-Henriksson.

“Especially in this time of global crisis, it is important to appease tensions and find pragmatic solutions,” she said.

Join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook.

In Pictures: Rep. John Lewis by Ethiopian American Photographer Gediyon Kifle

Children of the photographer Gediyon Kifle meeting with Congressman John Lewis at his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. two years ago. (c)Gediyon Kifle www.PhotoGK.com

Tadias Magazine

By Tadias Staff

Updated: July 31st, 2020

New York (TADIAS) — The following is a slide show of pictures courtesy of Ethiopian American Photographer Gediyon Kifle celebrating civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis who passed away last Friday at the age of 80.

Rep. John Lewis, who was one of the heroes of the American civil rights movement, was a speaker at the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King gave his famous “I have a dream” speech. As AP noted: “He was best known for leading some 600 protesters in the Bloody Sunday march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, [Alabama]. At age 25 — walking at the head of the march with his hands tucked in the pockets of his tan overcoat — Lewis was knocked to the ground and beaten by police. His skull was fractured, and nationally televised images of the brutality forced the country’s attention on racial oppression in the South. Within days, King led more marches in the state, and President Lyndon Johnson soon was pressing Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act. The bill became law later that year, removing barriers that had barred Blacks from voting.”

“Mesmerized by John Lewis’ humility and fighting sprit” since he was a child and “inspired by his sacrifice during the last decade or so,” Gediyon shares that it has been “a privilege to photograph him and see him up close.” He added: “To experience his calming presence and generosity. And to introduce him to my children. A day I will never forget. A man I will never forget.”

Here are the photos courtesy of Gediyon Kifle:

Related:

Obama delivers call to action in eulogy for Lewis, likens tactics by Trump and administration to those by racist Southern leaders who fought civil rights


Former president Barack Obama criticized the government’s use of force against peaceful protesters at Rep. John Lewis’s (D-Ga.) funeral on July 30, 2020 in Atlanta. (The Washington Post)

Former president Barack Obama delivered a call to action in his eulogy Thursday of late congressman John Lewis, urging Congress to pass new voting rights laws and likening tactics by President Trump and his administration to those used by racist Southern leaders who fought the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

Obama, speaking for 40 minutes at the pulpit where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once preached, tied Lewis’s early life as a Freedom Rider to the nationwide protests that followed the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. He compared today’s federal agents using tear gas against peaceful protesters, an action that Trump has cheered on, to the same attacks Lewis faced on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., in 1965.

“Bull Connor may be gone, but today we witness with our own eyes police officers kneeling on the necks of Black Americans,” the nation’s first Black president said at Lewis’s final memorial service. “George Wallace may be gone, but we can witness our federal government sending agents to use tear gas and batons against peaceful demonstrators. We may no longer have to guess the number of jelly beans in a jar in order to cast a ballot, but even as we sit here there are those in power who are doing their darndest to discourage people from voting.”

Obama slams government response to policing protests, says democracy must be ‘nurtured’

Obama was one of three former presidents — along with George W. Bush and Bill Clinton — to honor the late congressman at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. A fourth, 95-year-old Jimmy Carter, too frail to travel, sent a tribute note read from the podium.

Read more »


John Lewis to be honored by Biden, lawmakers and the public as he lies in state at the Capitol

Updated: July 27th, 2020

The body of the late congressman John Lewis made a final journey Monday to the capital’s civil rights landmarks, pausing at the Martin Luther King Jr. and Lincoln memorials, before he lies in state at the same spot in the Capitol as presidents and other national leaders.

The motorcade took the casket of Lewis (D-Ga.) past the Lincoln Memorial, where he was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington, and the newly minted Black Lives Matter Plaza outside the White House, where the civil rights icon made his last public appearance in early June. As “Amazing Grace” could be heard, the hearse paused at the plaza.

Lewis, who was diagnosed in late December with pancreatic cancer, died July 17.

“To see him there, to see him there from one generation into the future, we’re so blessed,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “He was a titan of the civil rights movement. He was the conscience of the Congress.”

After an arrival ceremony in the Capitol’s Rotunda, a host of high-profile people will get to pay their respects inside the building, a group that will bring the 2020 presidential campaign front and center. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will be among those who will honor Lewis.

Lewis will be only the second black lawmaker to lie in state in the Capitol, after his close friend, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), who died in October lay in state in National Statuary Hall.

Like Cummings, whose casket was then positioned in front of the door to the House chamber for the public to pay tribute, Lewis’s casket will be moved out of the Rotunda.

Read more »

Obama, Biden, White House and Others Pay Tribute to Rep. John Lewis (UPDATE)


In this 2015 photo, Rep. John Lewis joins hands with President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, former president George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush during a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday march at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. (Reuters photo)

The Washington Post

John Lewis tributes pour in from leaders across the country

The tributes to Rep. John Lewis poured in Saturday morning, as leaders from across the political spectrum expressed gratitude and reverence for the civil rights icon’s commitment to racial justice, even at great personal cost.

“I first met John when I was in law school, and I told him then that he was one of my heroes. Years later, when I was elected a U.S. Senator, I told him that I stood on his shoulders,” former president Barack Obama wrote in a eulogy on Medium. “When I was elected President of the United States, I hugged him on the inauguration stand before I was sworn in and told him I was only there because of the sacrifices he made.”

The Georgia Democrat, who died Friday at 80, spoke at the 1963 March on Washington. Lewis led the march for voting rights across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., in 1965in what became known as “Bloody Sunday.” Lewis suffered a brutal beating by police who violently confronted the demonstrators with bullwhips and nightsticks.

It was appropriate then that his final public act was to visit the newly named Black Lives Matter Plaza on a street leading to the White House — a symbol of the progress the country has made on issues of racial justice and the work that still needed to be done.

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), who accompanied Lewis on that visit, described him “as the conscience of Congress . . . the conscience of our nation.”

“John Lewis had faith in our nation and in the next generation,” she wrote on Twitter. “He warned us not to get lost in despair. So, in this moment of grief, we are hopeful — we are hopeful that, collectively, we can live up to his legacy.”

John Lewis to Black Lives Matter protesters: ‘Give until you can’t give anymore’

Former vice president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, released a stirring statement on behalf of himself and his wife, Jill.

“We are made in the image of God, and then there is John Lewis,” Biden began. “How could someone in flesh and blood be so courageous, so full of hope and love in the face of so much hate, violence, and vengeance?”

“He was truly a one-of-a-kind, a moral compass who always knew where to point us and which direction to march,” Biden wrote.

Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, called Lewis “the truest kind of patriot.”

“He believed America could be better, even live up to its highest founding ideals of equality & liberty for all. He made good trouble to help us get there. Now it’s up to the rest of us to carry on his work,” she tweeted.

Read more »


John Lewis, Lion of Civil Rights and U.S. Congress, Dies at 80


President Barack Obama presents a 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom to U.S. Rep. John Lewis during a ceremony at the White House in Washington on Feb. 15, 2011. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi confirmed Lewis’ passing late Friday night, calling him “one of the greatest heroes of American history.” (AP Photo)

The Associated Press

Updated: July 18th, 2020

ATLANTA (AP) — John Lewis, a lion of the civil rights movement whose bloody beating by Alabama state troopers in 1965 helped galvanize opposition to racial segregation, and who went on to a long and celebrated career in Congress, died. He was 80.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi confirmed Lewis’ passing late Friday night, calling him “one of the greatest heroes of American history.”

“All of us were humbled to call Congressman Lewis a colleague, and are heartbroken by his passing,” Pelosi said. “May his memory be an inspiration that moves us all to, in the face of injustice, make ‘good trouble, necessary trouble.’”

The condolences for Lewis were bipartisan. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Lewis was “a pioneering civil rights leader who put his life on the line to fight racism, promote equal rights, and bring our nation into greater alignment with its founding principles. ”

Lewis’s announcement in late December 2019 that he had been diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer — “I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now,” he said — inspired tributes from both sides of the aisle, and an unstated accord that the likely passing of this Atlanta Democrat would represent the end of an era.

The announcement of his death came just hours after the passing of the Rev. C.T. Vivian, another civil rights leader who died early Friday at 95.

Lewis was the youngest and last survivor of the Big Six civil rights activists, a group led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that had the greatest impact on the movement. He was best known for leading some 600 protesters in the Bloody Sunday march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.

John Lewis 1940-2020


In this Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2007, file photo, with the Capitol Dome in the background, U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington. Lewis died Friday, July 17, 2020. (AP Photo)

At age 25 — walking at the head of the march with his hands tucked in the pockets of his tan overcoat — Lewis was knocked to the ground and beaten by police. His skull was fractured, and nationally televised images of the brutality forced the country’s attention on racial oppression in the South.

Within days, King led more marches in the state, and President Lyndon Johnson soon was pressing Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act. The bill became law later that year, removing barriers that had barred Blacks from voting.

“John is an American hero who helped lead a movement and risked his life for our most fundamental rights; he bears scars that attest to his indefatigable spirit and persistence,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said after Lewis announced his cancer diagnosis.

Lewis joined King and four other civil rights leaders in organizing the 1963 March on Washington. He spoke to the vast crowd just before King delivered his epochal “I Have a Dream” speech.

A 23-year-old firebrand, Lewis toned down his intended remarks at the insistence of others, dropping a reference to a “scorched earth” march through the South and scaling back criticisms of President John Kennedy. It was a potent speech nonetheless, in which he vowed: “By the forces of our demands, our determination and our numbers, we shall splinter the segregated South into a thousand pieces and put them together in an image of God and democracy.”

It was almost immediately, and forever, overshadowed by the words of King, the man who had inspired him to activism.

Lewis was born on Feb. 21, 1940, outside the town of Troy, in Pike County, Alabama. He grew up on his family’s farm and attended segregated public schools.

As a boy, he wanted to be a minister, and practiced his oratory on the family chickens. Denied a library card because of the color of his skin, he became an avid reader, and could cite obscure historical dates and details even in his later years. He was a teenager when he first heard King preaching on the radio. They met when Lewis was seeking support to become the first Black student at Alabama’s segregated Troy State University.

He ultimately attended the American Baptist Theological Seminary and Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. He began organizing sit-in demonstrations at whites-only lunch counters and volunteering as a Freedom Rider, enduring beatings and arrests while traveling around the South to challenge segregation.

Lewis helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was named its chairman in 1963, making him one of the Big Six at a tender age. The others, in addition to King, were Whitney Young of the National Urban League; A. Philip Randolph of the Negro American Labor Council; James L. Farmer Jr., of the Congress of Racial Equality; and Roy Wilkins of the NAACP. All six met at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York to plan and announce the March on Washington.

The huge demonstration galvanized the movement, but success didn’t come quickly. After extensive training in nonviolent protest, Lewis and the Rev. Hosea Williams led demonstrators on a planned march of more than 50 miles from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama’s capital, on March 7, 1965. A phalanx of police blocked their exit from the Selma bridge.

Authorities shoved, then swung their truncheons, fired tear gas and charged on horseback, sending many to the hospital and horrifying much of the nation. King returned with thousands, completing the march to Montgomery before the end of the month.

Lewis turned to politics in 1981, when he was elected to the Atlanta City Council.

He won his seat in Congress in 1986 and spent much of his career in the minority. After Democrats won control of the House in 2006, Lewis became his party’s senior deputy whip, a behind-the-scenes leadership post in which he helped keep the party unified.

In an early setback for Barack Obama’s 2008 Democratic primary campaign, Lewis endorsed Hillary Rodham Clinton for the nomination. Lewis switched when it became clear Obama had overwhelming Black support. Obama later honored Lewis with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and they marched hand in hand in Selma on the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday attack.

In a statement following his death, President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Lewis as a “giant” who became “the conscience of the nation.”

Lewis also worked for 15 years to gain approval for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Humble and unfailingly friendly, Lewis was revered on Capitol Hill — but as one of the most liberal members of Congress, he often lost policy battles, from his effort to stop the Iraq War to his defense of young immigrants.

He met bipartisan success in Congress in 2006 when he led efforts to renew the Voting Rights Act, but the Supreme Court later invalidated much of the law, and it became once again what it was in his youth, a work in progress. Later, when the presidency of Donald Trump challenged his civil rights legacy, Lewis made no effort to hide his pain.

Lewis refused to attend Trump’s inauguration, saying he didn’t consider him a “legitimate president” because Russians had conspired to get him elected. When Trump later complained about immigrants from “s—hole countries,” Lewis declared, “I think he is a racist … we have to try to stand up and speak up and not try to sweep it under the rug.”

Lewis said he’d been arrested 40 times in the 1960s, five more as a congressman. At 78, he told a rally he’d do it again to help reunite immigrant families separated by the Trump administration.

“There cannot be any peace in America until these young children are returned to their parents and set all of our people free,” Lewis said in June, recalling the “good trouble” he got into protesting segregation as a young man.

“If we fail to do it, history will not be kind to us,” he shouted. “I will go to the border. I’ll get arrested again. If necessary, I’m prepared to go to jail.”

In a speech the day of the House impeachment vote of Trump, Lewis explained the importance of that vote.

“When you see something that is not right, not just, not fair, you have a moral obligation to say something, to do something. Our children and their children will ask us ’what did you do? what did you say?” While the vote would be hard for some, he said: “We have a mission and a mandate to be on the right side of history.”

Lewis’ wife of four decades, Lillian Miles, died in 2012. They had one son, John Miles Lewis.


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From Tadias Archives: African American & Ethiopia Relations

Former U.S. President Barack Obama is the first American leader to visit Ethiopia while in office. (Photo by Pete Souza / The White House)

Tadias Magazine

June 7th, 2020

Publisher/Editor’s note: Over the years Tadias has featured several original stories highlighting the long history of people to people relations between African Americans and Ethiopians dating back more than 200 years and covering literature, art history and politics. The latter aside, this friendship culminated when former U.S. President Barack Obama, America’s first Black president, became the only sitting U.S. president to visit Ethiopia and address the African Union from its headquarters in Addis Ababa five years ago this summer. In light of current events and in solidarity with the growing Black Lives Matter protest in the United States we are republishing these articles to spotlight the timeless and enduring cross-cultural relationships that were often forged under difficult historical circumstances.

Harlem: African American and Ethiopian Relations


Jazz great Duke Ellington toasts with Emperor Haile Selassie after receiving Ethiopia’s Medal of Honor in 1973. (Photo: Ethiopiancrown.org)

Tadias Magazine

By Tseday Alehegn

August 2008

New York (TADIAS) – Ethiopia stands as the oldest, continuous, black civilization on earth, and the second oldest civilization in history after China. This home of mine has been immortalized in fables, legends, and epics. Homer’s Illiad, Aristotle’s A Treatise on Government, Miguel Cervante’s Don Quixote, the Bible, the Koran, and the Torah are but a few potent examples of Ethiopia’s popularity in literature. But it is in studying the historical relations between African Americans and Ethiopians that I came to understand ‘ Ethiopia’ as a ray of light. Like the sun, Ethiopia has spread its beams on black nations across the globe. Her history is carefully preserved in dust-ridden books, in library corners and research centers. Her beauty is caught by a photographer’s discerning eye, her spirituality revived by priests and preachers. Ultimately, however, it is the oral journals of our elders that helped me capture glitters of wisdom that would palliate my thirst for a panoptic and definitive knowledge.

The term ‘Ethiopian’ has been used in a myriad of ways; it is attributed to the indigenous inhabitants of the land located in the Eastern Horn of Africa, as well as more generally denotive of individuals of African descent. Indeed, at one time, the body of water now known as the Atlantic Ocean was known as the Ethiopian Ocean. And it was across this very ocean that the ancestors of African Americans were brought to America and the ‘ New World.’

Early African American Writers

Although physically separated from their ancestral homeland and amidst the opprobrious shackles of slavery, African American poets, writers, abolitionists, and politicians persisted in forging a collective identity, seeking to link themselves figuratively if not literally to the African continent. One of the first published African American writers, Phillis Wheatly, sought refuge in referring to herself as an “Ethiop”. Wheatley, an outspoken poet, was also one of the earliest voices of the anti-slavery movement, and often wrote to newspapers of her passion for freedom. She eloquently asserted, “In every human breast God has implanted a principle, it is impatient of oppression.” In 1834 another anti-slavery poet, William Stanley Roscoe, published his poem “The Ethiop” recounting the tale of an African fighter ending the reign of slavery in the Caribbean. Paul Dunbar’s notable “Ode to Ethiopia,” published in 1896, was eventually put to music by William Grant Still and performed in 1930 by the Afro-American Symphony. In his fiery anti-slavery speech entitled “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” prominent black leader Frederick Douglas blazed at his opponents, “Africa must rise and put on her yet unwoven garment. Ethiopia shall stretch out her hand unto God.”

First Ethiopians Travel to America

As African Americans fixed their gaze on Ethiopia, Ethiopians also traveled to the ‘New World’ and learned of the African presence in the Americas. In 1808 merchants from Ethiopia arrived at New York’s famous Wall Street. While attempting to attend church services at the First Baptist Church of New York, the Ethiopian merchants, along with their African American colleagues, experienced the ongoing routine of racial discrimination. As an act of defiance against segregation in a house of worship, African Americans and Ethiopians organized their own church on Worth Street in Lower Manhattan and named it Abyssinia Baptist Church. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. served as the first preacher, and new building was later purchased on Waverly Place in the West Village before the church was moved to its current location in Harlem. Scholar Fikru Negash Gebrekidan likewise notes that, along with such literal acts of rebellion, anti slavery leaders Robert Alexander Young and David Walker published pamphlets entitled Ethiopian Manifesto and Appeal in 1829 in an effort to galvanize blacks to rise against their slave masters.


Reverend Dr. Calvin O. Butts, III, current head of the Abyssinia Baptist Church in Harlem, led a delegation of 150 to Ethiopia in 2007 as part of the church’s bicentennial celebration. (Photo: At Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, New York on Sunday, November 4, 2007/Tadias)

Adwa Victory & ‘Back to Africa’ Movement

When Italian colonialists encroached on Ethiopian territory and were soundly defeated in the Battle of Adwa on March 1, 1896, it became the first African victory over a European colonial power, and the victory resounded loud and clear among compatriots of the black diaspora. “For the oppressed masses Adwa…would become a cause célèbre,” writes Gebrekidan, “a metaphor for racial pride and anti-colonial defiance, living proof that skin color or hair texture bore no significance on intellect and character.” Soon, African Americans and blacks from the Caribbean Islands began to make their way to Ethiopia. In 1903, accompanied by Haitian poet and traveler Benito Sylvain, an affluent African American business magnate by the name of William Henry Ellis arrived in Ethiopia to greet and make acquaintances with Emperor Menelik. A prominent physician from the West Indies, Dr. Joseph Vitalien, also journeyed to Ethiopia and eventually became Menelik’s trusted personal physician.

For black America, the early 1900s was a time consumed with the notion of “returning to Africa,” to the source. With physical proof of the beginnings of colonial demise, a charismatic and savvy Jamaican immigrant and businessman named Marcus Garvey established his grassroots organization in 1917 under the title United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) with branches in various states. Using the success of Ethiopia’s independence as a beacon of freedom for blacks residing in the Americas, Garvey envisioned a shipping business that would raise enough money and register members to volunteer to be repatriated to Africa. In a few years time, Garvey’s UNIA raised approximately ten million dollars and boasted an impressive membership of half a million individuals.

Notable civil rights leader Malcolm X began his autobiography by mentioning his father, Reverend Earl Little, as a staunch supporter of the UNIA. “It was only me that he sometimes took with him to the Garvey U.N.I.A. meetings which he held quietly in different people’s homes,” says Malcolm. “I can remember hearing of ‘ Africa for the Africans,’ ‘Ethiopians, Awake!’” Malcolm’s early association with Garvey’s pan-African message resonated with him as he schooled himself in reading, writing, and history. “I can remember accurately the very first set of books that really impressed me,” Malcolm professes, “J.A. Rogers’ three volumes told about Aesop being a black man who told fables; about the great Coptic Christian Empires; about Ethiopia, the earth’s oldest continuous black civilization.”

By the time the Ethiopian government had decided to send its first official diplomatic mission to the United States in 1919, Marcus Garvey had already emblazoned an image of Ethiopia into the minds and hearts of his African American supporters. “I see a great ray of light and the bursting of a mighty political cloud which will bring you complete freedom,” he promised them, and they in turn eagerly propagated his message.

The Harlem Renaissance & Emigrating to Ethiopia


A headline by the Chicago Defender announcing the arrival of the first Ethiopian diplomatic delegation to the United States on July 11, 1919.

In 1919 an official Ethiopian goodwill mission was sent to the United States, the first African delegation of diplomats, in hopes of creating amicable ties with the American people and government. The four-person delegation included Dejazmach Nadew, Ato Belanteghetta Hiruy Wolde Selassie, Kentiba Gebru, and Ato Sinkas. Having been acquainted with African Americans such as businessman William Ellis, Kentiba Gebru, the mayor of Gondar, made a formal appeal during his trip for African Americans to emigrate to Ethiopia. Arnold Josiah Ford, a Harlem resident from Barbados, had an opportunity to meet the 1919 Ethiopian delegation. Having already heard of the existence of black Jews in Ethiopia, Ford established his own synagogue for the black community soon after meeting the Ethiopian delegation. Along with a Nigerian-born bishop named Arthur Wentworth Matthews, Ford created the Commandment Keepers Church on 123rd Street in Harlem and taught the congregation about the existence of black Jews in Ethiopia. Meanwhile, in the international spotlight, 1919 was the year the League of Nations was created, of which Ethiopia became the first member from the African continent. The mid 1900s gave birth to the Harlem Renaissance. With many African Americans migrating to the north in search of a segregation-free life, and a large contention of black writers, actors, artists and singers gathering in places like Harlem, a new culture of black artistic expression thrived. Even so, the Harlem Renaissance was more than just a time of literary discussions and hot jazz; it represented a confluence of creativity summoning forth the humanity and pride of blacks in America – a counterculture subverting the grain of thought ‘separate and unequal.’


Commandment Keepers Synagogue. (Photography by Chester Higgins. ©chesterhiggins.com)

As in earlier times, the terms ‘Ethiopian’ and ‘Ethiop’ continued to be utilized by Harlem writers and poets to instill black pride. In other U.S. cities like Chicago, actors calling themselves the ‘National Ethiopian Art Players’ performed The Chip Woman’s Fortune by Willis Richardson, the first serious play by a black writer to hit Broadway.

In 1927, Ethiopia’s Ambassador to London, Azaj Workneh Martin, arrived in New York and appealed once again for African American professionals to emigrate and work in Ethiopia. In return they were promised free land and high wages. In 1931 the Emperor granted eight hundred acres for settlement by African Americans, and Arnold Josiah Ford, bishop of the Commandment Keepers Church, became one of the first to accept the invitation. Along with sixty-six other individuals, Ford emigrated and started life anew in Ethiopia.

Ethiopian Students in America: Mobilizing Support

In November 1930, Haile Selassie was coronated as Emperor of Ethiopia. The event blared on radios, and Harlemites heard and marveled at the ceremonies of an African king. The emperor’s face glossed the cover of Time Magazine, which remarked on black news outlets in America hailing the king “as their own.” African American pilot Hubert Julian, dubbed “The Black Eagle of Harlem,” had visited Ethiopia and attended the coronation. Describing the momentous occasion to Time Magazine, Hubert rhapsodized:

“When I arrived in Ethiopia the King was glad to see me… I took off with a French pilot… We climbed to 5,000 ft. as 50,000 people cheered, and then I jumped out and tugged open my parachute… I floated down to within 40 ft. of the King, who incidentally is the greatest of all modern rulers… He rushed up and pinned the highest medal given in that country on my breast, made me a colonel and the leader of his air force — and here I am!”

Joel Augustus Rogers, famed author and correspondent for New York’s black newspaper Amsterdam News, also covered the Coronation of Haile Selassie and was likewise presented with a coronation medal.

After his official coronation, Emperor Haile Selassie sent forth the first wave of Ethiopian students to continue their education abroad. Melaku Beyan was a member of the primary batch of students sent to America in the 1930s. He attended Ohio State University and later received his medical degree at Howard Medical School in Washington, D.C. During his schooling years at Howard, he forged lasting friendships with members of the black community and, at Emperor Haile Selassie’s request, he endeavored to enlist African American professionals to work in Ethiopia. Beyan was successful in recruiting several individuals, including teachers Joseph Hall and William Jackson, as well as physicians Dr. John West and Dr. Reuben S. Young, the latter of whom began a private practice in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, prior to his official assignment as a municipal health officer in Dire Dawa.


African American professionals in Addis Ababa – 1942: Kneeling, left to right, Andrew Howard Hester, Edward Eugene Jones, Edgar E. Love. Standing, left to right, David Talbot, Thurlow Evan Tibbs, James William Cheeks, the Reverend Mr. Hamilton, John Robinson, Edgar D. Draper (Photo: Crown Council of Ethiopia)

Italo-Ethiopian War 1935-1941

beyan1.jpg
Melaku Beyan

By the mid 1930s the Emperor had sent a second diplomatic mission to the U.S. Vexed at Italy’s consistently aggressive behavior towards his nation, Haile Selassie attempted to forge stronger ties with America. Despite being a member of the League of Nations, Italy disregarded international law and invaded Ethiopia in 1935. The Ethiopian government appealed for support at the League of Nations and elsewhere, through representatives such as the young, charismatic speaker Melaku Beyan in the United States. Beyan had married an African American activist, Dorothy Hadley, and together they created a newspaper called Voice of Ethiopia to simultaneously denounce Jim Crow in America and fascist invasion in Ethiopia. Joel Rogers, the correspondent who had previously attended the Emperor’s coronation, returned to Ethiopia as a war correspondent for The Pittsburgh Courier, then America’s most widely-circulated black newspaper. Upon returning to the United States a year later, he published a pamphlet entitled The Real Facts About Ethiopia, a scathing and uncompromising report on the destruction caused by Italian troops in Ethiopia. Melaku Beyan used the pamphlet in his speaking tours, while his wife Dorothy designed and passed out pins that read “Save Ethiopia.”

In Harlem, Chicago, and various other cities African American churches urged their members to speak out against the invasion. Beyan established at least 28 branches of the newly-formed Ethiopian World Federation, an organ of resistance calling on Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia throughout the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. News of Ethiopia’s plight fueled indignation and furious debates among African Americans. Touched by the Emperor’s speech at the League of Nations, Roger’s accounts, and Melaku’s impassioned message, blacks vowed to support Ethiopia. Still others wrote letters to Haile Selassie, some giving advice, others support and commentary. “I pray that you will deliver yourself from crucifixion,” wrote one black woman from Los Angeles, “and show the whites that they are not as civilized as they loudly assert themselves to be.”

Although the United States was not officially in support of Ethiopia, scores of African Americans attempted to enlist to fight in Ethiopia. Unable to legally succeed on this front, several individuals traveled to Ethiopia on ‘humanitarian’ grounds. Author Gail Lumet Buckley cites two African American pilots, John Robinson and the ‘Black Eagle of Harlem’ Hubert Julian, who joined the Ethiopian Air Force, then made up of only three non-combat planes. John Robinson, a member of the first group of black students that entered Curtis Wright Flight School, flew his plane delivering medical supplies to different towns across the country. Blacks in America continued to stand behind the Emperor and organized medical supply drives from New York’s Harlem Hospital. Melaku Beyan and his African American counterparts remained undeterred for the remainder of Ethiopia’s struggle against fascism. In 1940, a year before Ethiopia’s victory against Italy, Melaku Beyan succumbed to pneumonia, which he had caught while walking door-to-door in the peak of winter, speaking boldly about the war for freedom in Ethiopia.

colonerobinson1_inside.jpg
Above: Colonel John C. Robinson arrives in Chicago after heroically
leading the Ethiopian Air Force against the invading Mussolini’s
Italian forces.
(Photo via Ethiopiancrown.org)

Lasting Legacies: Ties That Bind

Traveling through Harlem in my mind’s eye, I see the mighty organs of resistance that played such a pivotal role in “keeping aloft” the banner of Ethiopia and fostering deep friendships among blacks in Africa and America. I envision the doors Melaku Beyan knocked on as he passed out pamphlets; the pulpits on street corners where Malcolm X stood preaching about the strength and beauty of black people, fired up by the history he read. The Abyssinia Baptist Church stands today bigger and bolder, and inside you find the most exquisite Ethiopian cross, a gift from the late Emperor Haile Selassie to the people of Harlem and a symbol of love and gratitude for their support and friendship.


Left, Emperor Haile Selassie presenting the cross to Reverend Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., on May 27, 1954. (Photography by Marvin Smith). Right, Rev. Dr. Calvin Butts, the current head of the Abyssinia Baptist Church.

Several Coptic churches line the streets of Harlem, and the ancient synagogue of the Commandment Keepers established by Arnold Ford continues to have Sabbath services. The offices of the Amsterdam News are still as busy as ever, recording and recounting the past and present state of black struggles. Over the years, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture has carefully preserved the photographic proofs of the ties that bind African Americans and Ethiopians, just in case the stories told are too magical to grasp.The name ‘Ethiopia’ conjures a kaleidoscope of images and verbs. In researching the historical relations between African Americans and Ethiopians, I learned that Ethiopia is synonymous with ‘freedom,’ ‘black dignity’ and ‘self-worth.’ In the process, I looked to my elders and heeded the wisdom they have to share. In his message to the grassroots of Detroit, Michigan, Malcolm X once asserted, “Of all our studies, history is best qualified to reward our research.” It is this kernel of truth that propelled me to share this rich history in celebration of Black History Month and the victory of Adwa.

In attempting to understand what Ethiopia really means, I turn to Ethiopia’s Poet Laureate Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin. “The Ethiopia of rich history is the heart of Africa’s civilization,” he said. “She is the greatest example of Africa’s pride. Ethiopia means peace. The word ‘ Ethiopia’ emanates from a connection of three old Egyptian words, Et, Op and Bia, meaning truth and peace, up and upper, country and land. Et-Op-Bia is land of upper truth or land of higher peace.”


Poet Laureate Tsegaye Gebremedhin reading an article about him on the 10th issue of Tadias Magazine, which was dedicated to African American & Ethiopia Relations. (Photo © Chester Higgins, Jr.)

This is my all-time, favorite definition of Ethiopia, because it brings us back to our indigenous roots: The same roots that African Americans and the diaspora have searched for; the same roots from which we have sprung and grown into individuals rich in confidence. Welcome to blackness. Welcome to Ethiopia!

The Case of Melaku E. Bayen and John Robinson: Ethiopia, America and the Pan-African Movement


Photo: Melaku E. Beyan. (Wikimedia)

Tadias Magazine

By Ayele Bekerie, PhD

Updated: April 18th, 2007

New York (TADIAS) — Seventy two years ago, African Americans of all classes, regions, genders, and beliefs expressed their opposition to and outrage over the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in various forms and various means. The invasion aroused African Americans – from intellectuals to common people in the street – more than any other Pan-African-oriented historical events or movements had. It fired the imagination of African Americans and brought to the surface the organic link to their ancestral land and peoples.

1935 was indeed a turning point in the relations between Ethiopia and the African Diaspora. Harris calls 1935 a watershed in the history of African peoples. It was a year when the relations substantively shifted from symbolic to actual interactions. The massive expression of support for the Ethiopian cause by African Americans has also contributed, in my opinion, to the re-Africanization of Ethiopia. This article attempts to examine the history of the relations between Ethiopians and African Americans by focusing on brief biographies of two great leaders, one from Ethiopia and another one from African America, who made extraordinary contributions to these relations.

It is fair to argue that the Italo-Ethiopian War in the 1930s was instrumental in the rebirth of the Pan-African movement. The African Diaspora was mobilized in support of the Ethiopian cause during both the war and the subsequent Italian occupation of Ethiopia. Italy’s brutal attempt to wipe out the symbol of freedom and hope to the African world ultimately became a powerful catalyst in the struggle against colonialism and oppression. The Italo-Ethiopian War brought about an extraordinary unification of African people’s political awareness and heightened level of political consciousness. Africans, African Americans, Afro-Caribbean’s, and other Diaspora and continental Africans from every social stratum were in union in their support of Ethiopia, bringing the establishment of “global Pan-Africanism.” The brutal aggression against Ethiopia made it clear to African people in the United States that the Europeans’ intent and purpose was to conquer, dominate, and exploit all African people. Mussolini’s disregard and outright contempt for the sovereignty of Ethiopia angered and reawakened the African world.

Response went beyond mere condemnation by demanding self-determination and independence for all colonized African people throughout the world. For instance, the 1900-1945 Pan-African Congresses regularly issued statements that emphasized a sense of solidarity with Haiti, Ethiopia, and Liberia, thereby affirming the importance of defending the sovereignty and independence of African and Afro-Caribbean states. A new generation of militant Pan-Africanists emerged who called for decolonization, elimination of racial discrimination in the United States, African unity, and political empowerment of African people.

One of the most significant Pan-Africanist Conferences took place in 1945, immediately after the defeat of the Italians in Ethiopia and the end of World War II. This conference passed resolutions clearly demanding the end of colonization in Africa, and the question of self-determination emerged as the most important issue of the time. As Mazrui and Tidy put it: “To a considerable extent the 1945 Congress was a natural outgrowth of Pan-African activity in Britain since the outbreak of the Italo-Ethiopian War.”

Another of the most remarkable outcomes of the reawakening of the African Diaspora was the emergence of so many outstanding leaders, among them the Ethiopian Melaku E. Bayen and the African American John Robinson. Other outstanding leaders were Willis N. Huggins, Arnold Josiah Ford, and Mignon Innis Ford, who were active against the war in both the United States and Ethiopia. Mignon Ford, the founder of Princess Zenebe Work School, did not even leave Ethiopia during the war. The Fords and other followers of Marcus Garvey settled in Ethiopia in the 1920s. Mignon Ford raised her family among Ethiopians as Ethiopians. Her children, fluent speakers of Amharic, have been at home both in Ethiopia and the United States.

Pan-Africanists in Thoughts & Practice

Melaku E. Bayen, an Ethiopian, significantly contributed to the re-Africanization of Ethiopia. His noble dedication to the Pan-African cause and his activities in the United States helped to dispel the notion of “racial fog” that surrounded the Ethiopians. William R. Scott expounded on this: “Melaku Bayen was the first Ethiopian seriously and steadfastly to commit himself to achieving spiritual and physical bonds of fellowship between his people and peoples of African descent in the Americas. Melaku exerted himself to the fullest in attempting to bring about some kind of formal and continuing relationship designed to benefit both the Ethiopian and Afro-American.” To Scott, Bayen’s activities stand out as “the most prominent example of Ethiopian identification with African Americans and seriously challenges the multitude of claims which have been made now for a long time about the negative nature of Ethiopian attitudes toward African Americans.”

The issues raised by Scott and the exemplary Pan-Africanism of Melaku Bayen are useful in establishing respectful and meaningful relations between Ethiopia and the African Diaspora. They dedicated their entire lives in order to lay down the foundation for relations rooted in mutual understanding and historical facts, free of stereotypes and false perceptions. African American scholars, such as William Scott, Joseph E. Harris, and Leo Hansberry contributed immensely by documenting the thoughts and activities of Bayen, both in Ethiopia and the United States.

Melaku E. Bayen was raised and educated in the compound of Ras Mekonnen, then the Governor of Harar and the father of Emperor Haile Selassie. He was sent to India to study medicine in 1920 at the age of 21 with permission from Emperor Haile Selassie. Saddened by the untimely death of a young Ethiopian woman friend, who was also studying in India, he decided to leave India and continue his studies in the United States. In 1922, he enrolled at Marietta College, where he obtained his bachelor’s degree. He is believed to be the first Ethiopian to receive a college degree from the United Sates.

Melaku started his medical studies at Ohio State University in 1928, then, a year later, decided to transfer to Howard University in Washington D.C. in order to be close to Ethiopians who lived there. Melaku formally annulled his engagement to a daughter of the Ethiopian Foreign Minister and later married Dorothy Hadley, an African American and a great activist in her own right for the Ethiopian and pan-Africanist causes. Both in his married and intellectual life, Melaku wanted to create a new bond between Ethiopia and the African Diaspora.

Melaku obtained his medical degree from Howard University in 1936, at the height of the Italo-Ethiopian War. He immediately returned to Ethiopia with his wife and their son, Melaku E. Bayen, Jr. There, he joined the Ethiopian Red Cross and assisted the wounded on the Eastern Front. When the Italian Army captured Addis Ababa, Melaku’s family went to England and later to the United States to fully campaign for Ethiopia.

Schooled in Pan-African solidarity from a young age, Melaku co-founded the Ethiopian Research Council with the late Leo Hansberry in 1930, while he was student at Howard. According to Joseph Harris, the Council was regarded as the principal link between Ethiopians and African Americans in the early years of the Italo-Ethiopian conflict. The Council’s papers are housed at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University. At present, Professor Aster Mengesha of Arizona State University heads the Ethiopian Research Council. Leo Hansberry was the recipient of Emperor Haile Selassie’s Trust Foundation Prize in the 1960s.

Melaku founded and published the Voice of Ethiopia, the media organ of the Ethiopian World Federation and a pro-African newspaper that urged the “millions of the sons and daughters of Ethiopia, scattered throughout the world, to join hands with Ethiopians to save Ethiopia from the wolves of Europe.” Melaku founded the Ethiopian World Federation in 1937, and it eventually became one of the most important international organizations, with branches throughout the United States, the Caribbean, and Europe. The Caribbean branch helped to further solidify the ideological foundation for the Rasta Movement.

Melaku died at the age of forty from pneumonia he contracted while campaigning door-to-door for the Ethiopian cause in the United States. Melaku died in 1940, just a year before the defeat of the Italians in Ethiopia. His tireless and vigorous campaign, however, contributed to the demise of Italian colonial ambition in Ethiopia. Melaku strove to bring Ethiopia back into the African world. Melaku sewed the seeds for a “re-Africanization” of Ethiopia. Furthermore, Melaku was a model Pan-Africanist who brought the Ethiopian and African American people together through his exemplary work and his remarkable love and dedication to the African people.

Another heroic figure produced by the anti-war campaign was Colonel John Robinson. It is interesting to note that while Melaku conducted his campaign and died in the United States, the Chicago-born Robinson fought, lived, and died in Ethiopia.

robinson.jpg
Above: John Robinson

When the Italo-Ethiopian War erupted, he left his family and went to Ethiopia to fight alongside the Ethiopians. According to William R. Scott, who conducted thorough research in documenting the life and accomplishments of John Robinson, wrote about Robinson’s ability to overcome racial barriers to go to an aviation school in the United States. In Ethiopia, Robinson served as a courier between Haile Selassie and his army commanders in the war zone. According to Scott, Robinson was the founder of the Ethiopian Air Force. He died in a plane crash in 1954.

Scott makes the following critical assessment of Robinson’s historical role in building ties between Ethiopia and the African Diaspora. I quote him in length: “Rarely, if ever, is there any mention of John Robinson’s role as Haile Selassie’s special courier during the Italo-Ethiopian conflict. He has been but all forgotten in Ethiopia as well as in Afro-America. [Ambassodor Brazeal mentioned his name at the planting of a tree to honor the African Diaspora in Addis Ababa recently.] Nonetheless, it is important to remember John Robinson, as one of the two Afro-Americans to serve in the Ethiopia campaign and the only one to be consistently exposed to the dangers of the war front.

Colonel Robinson stands out in Afro-America as perhaps the very first of the minute number of Black Americans to have ever taken up arms to defend the African homeland against the forces of imperialism.”

John Robinson set the standard in terms of goals and accomplishments that could be attained by Pan-Africanists. Through his activities, Robinson earned the trust and affection of both Ethiopians and African Americans. Like Melaku, he made concrete contributions to bring the two peoples together. He truly built a bridge of Pan African unity.

It is our hope that the youth of today learn from the examples set by Melaku and Robinson, and strive to build lasting and mutually beneficial relations between Ethiopia and the African Diaspora. As we celebrate Black History Month in the United States, let us recommit ourselves to Pan-African principles and practices with the sole purpose of empowering African people. The Ethiopian American community ought to empower itself by forging alliances with African Americans in places such as Washington D.C. We also urge the Ethiopian Government to, for now, at least name streets in Addis Ababa after Bayen and Robinson.

I would like to conclude with Melaku’s profound statement: “The philosophy of the Ethiopian World Federation is to instill in the minds of the Black people of the world that the word Black is not to be considered in any way dishonorable but rather an honor and dignity because of the past history of the race.”

To further explore the history of Ethiopian & African American relations, consult the following texts:

• Joseph E. Harris’s African-American Reactions to War in Ethiopia 1936-1941(1994).

• William R. Scott’s The Sons of Sheba’s Race: African-Americans and the Italo- Ethiopian War, 1935-1941. (2005 reprint).

• Ayele Bekerie’s “African Americans and the Italo-Ethiopian War,” in Revisioning Italy: National Identity and Global Culture (1997).

• Melaku E. Bayen’s The March of Black Men (1939).

• David Talbot’s Contemporary Ethiopia (1952).

In Pictures: Harlem Rekindles Old Friendship With Ethiopia


This photograph of Emperor Haile Selassie was presented by Abyssinian members as an appreciation gift to Reverend Butts. (Photo: Tadias)

Tadias Magazine

By Tadias Staff

November 6, 2007.

New York - Members of Harlem’s legendary Abyssinian Baptist Church congregated together on Sunday, November 4th to describe their recent travel to Ethiopia and to brainstorm ways in which they could play a meaningful role in the nation’s economic and social development.

It was the first time that the group had met since their return from their historic trip. The church sent 150 delegates to Ethiopia this fall as part of its bicentennial celebration and in honor of the Ethiopian Millennium.

The meeting officially opened with Abyssinian members presenting an appreciation gift to Reverend Butts – a photograph of Haile Selassie, which they believe to be the Emperor celebrating the 25th anniversary of his reign. The photo had recently been purchased in Addis Ababa, after having been discovered lying covered in dust in a back room at one of the local shops (souks), according to church members who presented the gift.

Reverend Butts thanked the members and reiterated how much he enjoyed his stay in Ethiopia. “We are focusing on Ethiopia,” Butts said, “because our church is named after this nation. We also believe that Ethiopia is the heart of Africa. What happens here may be replicated elsewhere on the continent. It is the seat of the African Union.”


Raymond Goulbourne, Executive Vice President of Media Sales at B.E.T. He is already thinking about purchasing a home in the old airport area of Addis Ababa and starting a flower farm business with Ethiopian partners. (Photo: Tadias)


Adrienne Ingrum, Publishing Consultant and Book Packager, chats with Tseday Alehegn, Editor of Tadias Magazine. Ms. Ingrum is working on a proposal to create a writers cultural exchange program. (Photo: Tadias)

Both local Ethiopian media and the U.S. press had given coverage to the congregation’s two-week journey. While in Ethiopia, Reverend Butts received an honorary degree from Addis Ababa University. The celebration included liturgical music chanted by Ethiopian Orthodox priests, manzuma and zikir performed in the Islamic tradition, and Gospel music by the Abyssinian Church Choir.


Jamelah Arnold, member of the Abyssinian Baptist Church delegation to Ethiopia. (Photo: Tadias)

The Abyssinian Church members visited schools, hospitals and NGOs in addition to touring towns and cities in Northern Ethiopia and Addis Ababa.

As they discussed various charity work, Reverend Butts encouraged the group to brainstorm ideas on how to make the maximum impact through volunteer work guided by the Abyssinian Baptist Church. Reverend Butts also shared the invitation that he had received from the Ethiopian Government to make a second group trip back to Ethiopia with the intention of meeting business men and women with whom they could start joint business ventures.

“We should think about the economic impact that our trip has made – we have invested close to $8 million dollars and we focus not just on charity but also on developing business opportunities.”

A spokesperson from the Ethiopian Mission to the United Nations addressed the group and mentioned the recent reorganization of Ethiopia’s foreign ministry, which now includes a “Business and Economy Department” that focuses on joint business ventures.


Ethiopian-American social entrepreneur Abaynesh Asrat (middle), Founder and CEO of Nation to Nation Networking (NNN), accompanied the group during their Ethiopia trip. (Photo: Tadias)

In addition, an initiative to involve more youth in volunteer work in Ethiopia was presented. Possible charity work suggested by the Abyssinian Baptist Church members included providing soccer uniforms for a team in Lalibela, assisting NGO work in setting up mobile clinics, aiding priests in their quest to preserve and guard ancient relics, creating a writers cultural exchange program, providing young athletes with running shoes, and improving education and teacher training.

Reverend Butts reminded the audience that civic participation is also another avenue that the church could focus on.

“Our ability to influence public policy – this too will be a great help to Ethiopia,” he said.

“We should write our congressmen and senators and let them know that we’re interested in seeing economic and social projects with Ethiopia’s progress in mind.”


Brenda Morgan. (Photo: Tadias)


Sheila Dozier, Edwin Robinson, and Dr. Martha Goodson. (Photo: Tadias)

Reverend Butts thanked his congregation for sharing their ideas and experiences and expressed his hope to once again make a return pilgrimmage to do meaningful work in Ethiopia. Perhaps, even set up a permanent center from where the work of the Abyssinian Baptist Church could florish from one generation to another.

In 1808, after refusing to participate in segregated worship services at a lower Manhattan church, a group of free Africans in America and Ethiopian sea merchants formed their own church, naming it Abyssinian Baptist Church in honor of Abyssinia, the former name of Ethiopia.

In 1954, former Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Selassie I, presented Abyssinian’s pastor, Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., with the Ethiopian Coptic Cross. This cross has since become the official symbol of the church.


Related:

Spotlight: The Chicago Defender, One of America’s Oldest Black Newspapers

President Obama Becomes First Sitting U.S. President to Visit Ethiopia

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The Making of Global Adwa: By Professor Ayele Bekerie

Below is a timely essay by Professor Ayele Bekerie dedicated to the 124th anniversary of Ethiopia's victory at the Battle of Adwa. It's published today in honor of Black History Month. (Image: The town of Adwa. Photo by Ayele Bekerie)

Tadias Magazine

By Ayele Bekerie, PhD

February 1st, 2020

The Making of Global Adwa: An Essay Dedicated to 124th Anniversary of Ethiopia’s Victory at the Battle of Adwa

Ethiopia (TADIAS) — At the beginning of March 1896, the Ethiopians, at the Battle of Adwa, startled the world. They decisively defeated the Italian/European army, an army trained and armed for a colonization mission. The victory not only put to a halt Italians’ colonial ambition in Ethiopia, but it also sent shockwaves throughout Europe. The victory undoubtedly marked the beginning of the end of colonialism in Africa. The victory also marks the beginning of the end of the notion of nativism and European white supremacy.

As The New York Times of March 3, 1896 puts it, ‘Italy’s Terrible Defeat’ was the most astonishing news, in the world. At the end of the 19th century, a history was made with the victory at the Battle of Adwa. It was perhaps by far the most discussed about and newsworthy event of the time. When the victory was announced to the world, the world in return began to pay attention to Adwa, or for that matter, to Ethiopia. The more the deed is channeled through the media in various languages in Africa, Europe and the Americas, the more people began to admiringly and amusedly, depending which side you were on, sought to connect to the event by learning more about or identifying with Adwa. Europeans, who were already became comfortable with their vast colonial territories and subjects, were shaken to the core. The colonial rule they instituted, be it direct or indirect, was bound to fall apart. Adwa emerged with multiple meanings and interpretations encompassing almost the whole world.

The victory, in particular, became a relevant news to those whose freedom was snatched and subjected to colonial/nativist rule. It directly and intimately appealed to them. It offered them a lesson that they wanted to put into practice by intensifying their struggles against colonial domination and subjectivity. News released from London, New York and Paris reached all the other cities and the continents of the world. Adwa, according to news reports, was arguably the most widespread breaking news story at that time. It was a story that instantly made the words, such as Adwa, Menelik, Taitu, Alula, Balcha and Mekonnen household terms. The purpose of this paper is to find ways to return Adwa to its global status by constructing major cultural and educational centers near the site of the battlefield. There is an urgent need to make Adwa memorable beyond the ritual annual celebration. It seeks worldwide support to make Adwa a dynamic global center of excellence for Pan-African solidarity and learning.

With the victory, Adwa became a term of global significance. It is a term that people, throughout the world, instantly recognize. They recognize Adwa because Adwa set to inspire the colonized to rise up against their colonial oppressors. Adwa charts the immense possibilities to resist European hegemony and falsely fabricated supremacy. Adwa is the proof for rejecting the notion of supremacy. Adwa has to shine and shine forever, for freedom is a sacred attribute that everybody deserves, black or white. What can be done to turn what has become the global-scale event to permanency? How can we transform Adwa so that it becomes a global heritage and cultural center?

As we are celebrating the 124th anniversary of the victory, we must think of re-turning Adwa as a dynamic site of global significance. In fact, we need to make Adwa an enduring global site and world heritage by establishing, for instance, a Pan-African institution of higher learning and cultural center in Adwa. Adwa, as pointed out before, ought to be registered as tangible cultural heritage or as tangible cultural landscape. Moreover, Adwa should not only be qualified to become a federal city, but it should also achieve a status of globality where the citizens of the world engage in research and education beneficial to all humanity. Imagine, a Pan-African center of excellence where Africa’s history and culture are studied, published and disseminated in the context of world history and culture. Adwa and what happened there in 1896 should set the stage for the world community to engage in research and education with focus and emphasis on equality and dignity of fellow humans.

We need to systematically study the event of March 1896 in Adwa, because the tendency to become inattentive to persistent Italian colonial ambition made Ethiopia pay a heavy price. The Italians tried to colonize the country for the second time in 1935. This time the Italians came prepared, actually overprepared, for they used banned chemical weapons to annihilate the Ethiopian army. Adwa did not repeat itself at Maichew, the battleground in which the Fascist Italian forces used weapons of mass destruction to kill thousands of poorly prepared and armed Ethiopian forces in 1935.

Despite the Italians invasion and occupation of Ethiopia from 1935 to 1941, our patriots never gave up and courageously resisted the occupation. Eventually, the Italians were pushed out of Ethiopia. The two events taught a lesson to Ethiopians to protect and defend their independence at all times.

In Adwa, the plan to construct a standalone and permanent cultural center and institution of higher learning is under review. Having divided the plan into phases, the Adwa Pan-African University’s (APAU) Coordinating Committee has convened local, regional and international conferences, rallied regional and federal governments, drafted the charter and concept paper, charted plan of action and selected a consortium of architects to design the University.

At the moment, phase 2 of the plan is proceeding. The architects are designing the University’s buildings and landscape. APAU commands a 135-hectare of hilly land at the north-east part of the City. The location has a spectacular view of the now famous and historic chains of Adwa mountains, such as Abune Gerima, Kidane Mehret, Gesseso, Semayata and Raeyo. Soloda mountain is an ever-present mountain with a dominant view from any part of the City. The hilltop of the University provides a great view of Soloda. It also presents a panoramic view of the City itself. Almost all the historic churches and monasteries as well as mosques not to mention the cityscapes provide a spectacular view from the hill.

It is a common knowledge that establishing a university has the capacity to transform a city. This has already been proven in places, like Mekelle, Bahrdar, and Hawassa. Mekelle almost literally changed from a modest city to an international and dynamic city with a population expanding into half a million. One of the main contributing factors for Mekelle’s development is the presence of Mekelle University.

Given the proximity of Adwa to Aksum, an ancient city, the two combined are capable of providing ample opportunities to further develop tourism, local and international. Aksum and Adwa, from the perspective of long Ethiopian history, should be developed jointly, thereby creating a platform to tell ancient and contemporary stories of the great land.


This is a picture taken in April 2018 in Adwa. The women are celebrating the decision to establish Adwa Pan African University in Adwa. (Photo by Ayele Bekerie)


The Site of an International Conference on the Establishment of Adwa Pan-African University. The historic mountains of Adwa served as a background. (Photo by Ayele Bekerie, April 2018)


Owning Adwa: The reenactment of the Battle of Adwa in Adwa by the Adwa Journey (YeAdwa Guzo) Team and members of the National Theatre, March 1, 2017. (Photo by Ayele Bekerie)

The Queen of Sheba, Menelik I and the Arc, St. Yared, the great chant composer, Ras Mekonnen Wolde Mikael, the Commander of the Victorious Ethiopian Army, Taitu Bitul, the co-leader and strategist, Fitawrari Gebeyehu, the brave and ferocious military leader, Liqe Meqwas Abate BwaYallew, the finest gunner, Dejach Balcha, army general and fearless fighter, Ras Alula, the finest military strategist and tactician, Ras Sebhat, the realist and the critical rejoinder of the Ethiopian cause, Teferi Hagos, the defector and the helper of the cause, and Awalom, the master spy and also the defender of the cause, are just few great names of the great ancient and contemporary land. These are names permanently inscribed, from heritage point of view, in the symbols and meanings of Ethiopia. They are indelible national landmarks.

Adwa, to further highlight its importance in Ethiopian history, was the final and an irreversible site of engagement. Italians were creeping along to expand their African colonial territory by first moving into Eritrea and later into Ethiopia by occupying places, such as Adigrat. They ventured up to Amba Alage where Major Tosseli’s battalion was crushed and he lost his life. Tosseli was dreaming to become the Italian Livingstone or Rhodes. A graduate of a military academy, he was one of the most ardent advocates of restoring the past Roman glory by extending Rome in north-east Africa. Tosseli preached empire and attempted to rally Italians to his passionate but wicked colonial mission. Fortunately, the Italians were not enthused. War in far away places and paying sacrifices to a colonial gamble was not attractive enough to them. Tosseli had to do the mission almost by himself, accompanied by 2000 Italians and ascaris or mercenaries.

Tosseli, the nativist or the theoretician and the military strategist par excellence, did not realize that the natives have gone far enough to constitute themselves as one people. They have already created and maintained a country that is striving to accommodate diversity. They have written treatises and voluminous works of religious living. And they had the state of mind to willingly resist and fight foreign enemies. If we have to state the facts, the Ethiopians embraced Christianity and welcomed the emergence of Islam long before Italy became a modern country. Tosseli’s theory of empire lacked several attributes. He failed to fully understand the people he wanted to diminish into colonial subjects.

Lt. Colonel Galliano, the other nativist, ordered the construction of a fortress 70 meters high, 16 feet deep at the ground level and 6 feet thick at the top in Mekelle. He built the fortress around the Endayesus Hill. He built bunkers and hidden windows to mount the guns and the artilleries. He also built three defensive perimeters using trenches, barbed wires, sharp pieces of woods and broken glasses. He also secured temporarily a source of water not far from the hill. And yet, he did not manage in this monster-like fortress to stay for few months and he was plucked out of it by gallant Ethiopian forces.

Ras Mekonnen, the commander of the Ethiopian army, fresh from a victory at Amba Alage, arrived in Mekelle and established a camp not far from the hill. The siege of the fortress was immediate. They asked Galliano to vacate the fortress and a series of negotiations were conducted to reverse the siege.

Galliano refused and the ensuing battle that lasted for about two weeks resulted in heavy casualities among Ethiopians. An estimated 500 Ethiopians lost their lives. It was then Empress Taitu who came up with the idea of blocking the water source of the Italians. She recruited about 500 soldiers to block the water. The blockade was very successful and Galliano was forced to surrender and vacate the fortress. The Ethiopians immediately dismantled the fort. The spring water source was renamed Mai Aneshte or woman’s water in honor of Empress Taitu Bitul.

Amba Alage was the place where Ethiopians showed for the first time that they would fight to keep the integrity and honor of the country, regardless of their ethnic background. For the first time, Shoans, Hararis and Tigrayans forces formed an organic alliance to confront the colonial Italian army and won.

Amba Alage, Mekelle, and Adwa taught us extremely valuable lessons in the context of national identity formation. In a complex multiethnic society, to think of self-determination as an end by itself is to invite an irreconcilable disaster. In all the three battlefields, the patriotic forces put to good use of what they have in common. They successfully pulled their forces and resources together to form and uphold air-tight unity which turned out to be a winner, a big winner.

The Tigrayans, the Shoans, the Hararis in Amba Alage and Mekelle and in Adwa, virtually all the ethnic groups affirmed their complex sense of identity and were able to execute a battle plan with irreversible and triumphal outcome. The patriots charted once and for all the critical significance of prioritizing country to ethnicity. The deeds of Adwa also solidified the Ethiopian sense of modernity. Issues can and ought to be resolved by upholding the cardinal value of unity. It was the united force of the country that defeated the Italian army. Our unity paves the way, even if we continue not to seize it, for just and democratic way of doing things. It is critical at this juncture to remind ethnonationalists that Adwa is not only a foundation of our contemporary state and nationhood, but it is also a global phenomenon serving as a symbol of freedom and independence, agency and personhood to all humankinds. In this spirit, APAU will be built and serve us all.

APAU is being established on the basis of Pan-African principles and practices. By systematically documenting, researching and narrating the stories of African people, we contribute to broaden the public square, the democratic space, global conversations and the equality of human beings. It is time for the citizens of the world to participate in the building of local and global Adwa. Placing African history on the stage of world history has paramount importance to peaceful human ventures in the 21st century.

Adwa then Adwa now provides an extremely useful lessons to the whole world. Adwa rhymes with freedom and independence. Adwa reinforces the dignity of all human beings. Adwa, therefore, needs to be remembered with permanent cultural center and an institution of higher learning. The project that started to globalize Adwa, some four years ago, has gone through phases and, at the moment, a consortium of architects is designing the buildings and the landscapes of APAU. Adwa is eternal.


About the author:
Ayele Bekerie is an Associate Professor and Coordinator of PhD Program in Heritage Studies and Coordinator of International Affairs at Mekelle University’s Institute of Paleo-Environment and Heritage Conservation. Previously, he was an Assistant Professor at the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University in the United States. Ayele Bekerie is a contributing author in the acclaimed book, “One House: The Battle of Adwa 1896 -100 Years.” He is also the author of the award-winning book “Ethiopic, An African Writing System: Its History and Principles” — among many other published works.

Related:
The Concept Behind the Adwa Pan-African University: Interview with Dr. Ayele Bekerie
Ethiopia: The Victory of Adwa, An Exemplary Triumph to the Rest of Africa
Adwa: Genesis of Unscrambled Africa
119 Years Anniversary of Ethiopia’s Victory at the Battle of Adwa on March 1st, 1896
Reflection on 118th Anniversary of Ethiopia’s Victory at Adwa
The Significance of the 1896 Battle of Adwa
Call for the Registry of Adwa as UNESCO World Heritage Site

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PM Abiy Ahmed Becomes First Ethiopian to Receive Nobel Prize

2019 Peace Prize Laureate Abiy Ahmed Ali, Prime Minister of Ethiopia since April 2018, is the first Ethiopian to be awarded a Nobel Prize. This year's prize is also the 100th Nobel Peace Prize. (Image: Nobel Media)

The Associated Press

Nobel winner Abiy says ‘hell’ of war fueled desire for peace

STOCKHOLM (AP) — The winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize says his horrifying experiences as a young Ethiopian soldier informed his determination to seek the end of a long conflict with a neighboring country.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed spoke at Oslo City Hall during the ceremony in Norway’s capital where he received his Nobel on Tuesday, saying: “War is the epitome of hell for all involved. I know because I was there and back.”

Abiy won the prize, in part, for making peace with Eritrea after one of Africa’s longest-running conflicts. Abiy served in the army during the war.

“Twenty years ago, I was a radio operator attached to an Ethiopian army unit in the border town of Badame,” he recalled. “I briefly left the foxhole in the hopes of getting a good antenna reception….It only took but a few minutes. Yet upon my return I was horrified to discover that my entire unit had been wiped out in an artillery attack.”


Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is presented by the Chair of the Nobel Committee Berit Reiss-Andersen, left, during the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony in Oslo City Hall, Norway, Tuesday Dec. 10, 2019. (NTB Scanpix via AP)


Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed makes a speech during the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony in Oslo City Hall, Norway, Tuesday Dec. 10, 2019. (Scanpix via AP)


Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed poses for the media after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize during the award ceremony in Oslo City Hall, Norway, Tuesday Dec. 10, 2019. (NTB Scanpix via AP)


Norway’s King Harald, Queen Sonja, left, Crown Prince Haakon, second right, and Crown Princess Mette-Marit poses for the media with 2019 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Abiy Ahmed in the Royal Palace in Oslo, Tuesday Dec. 10, 2019, ahead of the award ceremony. NTB Scanpix via AP)


Text: Abiy Ahmed Ali – Nobel Lecture

© THE NOBEL FOUNDATION

Nobel Lecture given by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate 2019 Abiy Ahmed Ali, Oslo, 10 December 2019.

“Forging A Durable Peace in the Horn of Africa”

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses,
Distinguished members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee,
Fellow Ethiopians, Fellow Africans, Citizens of the World
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honored to be here with you, and deeply grateful to the Norwegian Nobel Committee for recognizing and encouraging my contribution to a peaceful resolution of the border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

I accept this award on behalf of Ethiopians and Eritreans, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the cause of peace.

Likewise, I accept this award on behalf of my partner, and comrade-in-peace, President Isaias Afeworki, whose goodwill, trust, and commitment were vital in ending the two-decade deadlock between our countries.

I also accept this award on behalf of Africans and citizens of the world for whom the dream of peace has often turned into a nightmare of war.

Today, I stand here in front of you talking about peace because of fate.

I crawled my way to peace through the dusty trenches of war years ago.

I was a young soldier when war broke out between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

I witnessed firsthand the ugliness of war in frontline battles.

There are those who have never seen war but glorify and romanticize it.

They have not seen the fear,
They have not seen the fatigue,
They have not seen the destruction or heartbreak,
Nor have they felt the mournful emptiness of war after the carnage.

War is the epitome of hell for all involved. I know because I have been there and back.

I have seen brothers slaughtering brothers on the battlefield.

I have seen older men, women, and children trembling in terror under the deadly shower of bullets and artillery shells.

You see, I was not only a combatant in war.

I was also a witness to its cruelty and what it can do to people.

War makes for bitter men. Heartless and savage men.

Twenty years ago, I was a radio operator attached to an Ethiopian army unit in the border town of Badme.

The town was the flashpoint of the war between the two countries.

I briefly left the foxhole in the hopes of getting a good antenna reception.

It took only but a few minutes. Yet, upon my return, I was horrified to discover that my entire unit had been wiped out in an artillery attack.

I still remember my young comrades-in-arms who died on that ill-fated day.

I think of their families too.

During the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, an estimated one hundred thousand soldiers and civilians lost their lives.

The aftermath of the war also left untold numbers of families broken. It also permanently shattered communities on both sides.

Massive destruction of infrastructure further amplified the post-war economic burden.

Socially, the war resulted in mass displacements, loss of livelihoods, deportation and denationalization of citizens.

Following the end of active armed conflict in June 2000, Ethiopia and Eritrea remained deadlocked in a stalemate of no-war, no-peace for two decades.

During this period, family units were split over borders, unable to see or talk to each other for years to come.

Tens of thousands of troops remained stationed along both sides of the border. They remained on edge, as did the rest of the country and region.

All were worried that any small border clash would flare into a full-blown war once again.

As it was, the war and the stalemate that followed were a threat for regional peace, with fears that a resumption of active combat between Ethiopia and Eritrea would destabilize the entire Horn region.

And so, when I became Prime Minister about 18 months ago, I felt in my heart that ending the uncertainty was necessary.

I believed peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea was within reach.

I was convinced that the imaginary wall separating our two countries for much too long needed to be torn down.

And in its place, a bridge of friendship, collaboration and goodwill has to be built to last for ages.

That is how I approached the task of building a peace bridge with my partner President Isaias Afeworki.

We were both ready to allow peace to flourish and shine through.

We resolved to turn our “swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks” for the progress and prosperity of our people.

We understood our nations are not the enemies. Instead, we were victims of the common enemy called poverty.

We recognized that while our two nations were stuck on old grievances, the world was shifting rapidly and leaving us behind.

We agreed we must work cooperatively for the prosperity of our people and our region.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today, we are reaping our peace dividends.

Families separated for over two decades are now united.

Diplomatic relations are fully restored.

Air and telecommunication services have been reestablished.

And our focus has now shifted to developing joint infrastructure projects that will be a critical lever in our economic ambitions.

Our commitment to peace between our two countries is iron-clad.

One may wonder, how it is that a conflict extending over twenty years, can come to an amicable resolution.

Allow me to share with you a little about the beliefs that guide my actions for peace.

I believe that peace is an affair of the heart. Peace is a labor of love.
Sustaining peace is hard work.

Yet, we must cherish and nurture it.

It takes a few to make war, but it takes a village and a nation to build peace.

For me, nurturing peace is like planting and growing trees.

Just like trees need water and good soil to grow, peace requires unwavering commitment, infinite patience, and goodwill to cultivate and harvest its dividends.

Peace requires good faith to blossom into prosperity, security, and opportunity.

In the same manner that trees absorb carbon dioxide to give us life and oxygen, peace has the capacity to absorb the suspicion and doubt that may cloud our relationships.
In return, it gives back hope for the future, confidence in ourselves, and faith in humanity.

This humanity I speak of, is within all of us.

We can cultivate and share it with others if we choose to remove our masks of pride and arrogance.

When our love for humanity outgrows our appreciation of human vanity then the world will know peace.

Ultimately, peace requires an enduring vision. And my vision of peace is rooted in the philosophy of Medemer.

Medemer, an Amharic word, signifies synergy, convergence, and teamwork for a common destiny.

Medemer is a homegrown idea that is reflected in our political, social, and economic life.

I like to think of “Medemer” as a social compact for Ethiopians to build a just, egalitarian, democratic, and humane society by pulling together our resources for our collective survival and prosperity.

In practice, Medemer is about using the best of our past to build a new society and a new civic culture that thrives on tolerance, understanding, and civility.

At its core, Medemer is a covenant of peace that seeks unity in our common humanity.

It pursues peace by practicing the values of love, forgiveness, reconciliation, and inclusion.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I come from a small town called Beshasha, located in the Oromia region of Western Ethiopia.

It is in Beshasha that the seeds of Medemer began to sprout.

Growing up, my parents instilled in me and my siblings, an abiding faith in humanity.

Medemer resonates with the proverb, “I am my brother’s keeper. I am my sister’s keeper.”

In my little town, we had no running water, electricity, or paved roads. But we had a lot of love to light up our lives.

We were each other’s keepers.

Faith, humility, integrity, patience, gratitude, tenacity, and cooperation coursed like a mighty stream.

And we traveled together on three country roads called love, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

In the Medemer idea, there is no “Us and Them.”

There is only “US” for “We” are all bound by a shared destiny of love, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

For the people in the “Land of Origins” and “The 13 Months of Sunshine,” Medemer has always been second nature.

Ethiopians maintained peaceful coexistence between the followers of the two great religions because we always came together in faith and worship.

We, Ethiopians, remained independent for thousands of years because we came together to defend our homeland.

The beauty of our Ethiopia is its extraordinary diversity.

The inclusiveness of Medemer ensures no one is left behind in our big extended family.

It has also been said, “No man is an island.”

Just the same, no nation is an island. Ethiopia’s Medemer-inspired foreign policy pursues peace through multilateral cooperation and good neighborliness.

We have an old saying:
“በሰላም እንድታድር ጎረቤትህ ሰላም ይደር”
“yoo ollaan nagayaan bule, nagaan bulanni.”

It is a saying shared in many African languages, which means, “For you to have a peaceful night, your neighbor shall have a peaceful night as well.”

The essence of this proverb guides the strengthening of relations in the region. We now strive to live with our neighbors in peace and harmony.

The Horn of Africa today is a region of strategic significance.

The global military superpowers are expanding their military presence in the area. Terrorist and extremist groups also seek to establish a foothold.

We do not want the Horn to be a battleground for superpowers nor a hideout for the merchants of terror and brokers of despair and misery.

We want the Horn of Africa to become a treasury of peace and progress.

Indeed, we want the Horn of Africa to become the Horn of Plenty for the rest of the continent.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

As a global community, we must invest in peace.

Over the past few months, Ethiopia has made historic investments in peace, the returns of which we will see in years to come.

We have released all political prisoners. We have shut down detention facilities where torture and vile human rights abuses took place.

Today, Ethiopia is highly regarded for press freedom. It is no more a “jailor of journalists”.

Opposition leaders of all political stripes are free to engage in peaceful political activity.

We are creating an Ethiopia that is second to none in its guarantee of freedoms of expression.

We have laid the groundwork for genuine multiparty democracy, and we will soon hold a free and fair election.

I truly believe peace is a way of life. War, a form of death and destruction.

Peacemakers must teach peace breakers to choose the way of life.
To that end, we must help build a world culture of peace.

But before there is peace in the world, there must be peace in the heart and mind.

There must be peace in the family, in the neighborhood, in the village, and the towns and cities. There must be peace in and among nations.

Excellencies, ladies, and gentlemen:
There is a big price for enduring peace.

A famous protest slogan that proclaims, “No justice, no peace,” calls to mind that peace thrives and bears fruit when planted in the soil of justice.

The disregard for human rights has been the source of much strife and conflict in the world. The same holds in our continent, Africa.

It is estimated that some 70 percent of Africa’s population is under the age of 30.

Our young men and women are crying out for social and economic justice. They demand equality of opportunity and an end to organized corruption.

The youth insist on good governance based on accountability and transparency. If we deny our youth justice, they will reject peace.

Standing on this world stage today, I would like to call upon all my fellow Ethiopians to join hands and help build a country that offers equal justice, equal rights, and equal opportunities for all its citizens.

I would like to especially express that we should avoid the path of extremism and division, powered by politics of exclusion.

Our accord hangs in the balance of inclusive politics.

The evangelists of hate and division are wreaking havoc in our society using social media.

They are preaching the gospel of revenge and retribution on the airwaves.

Together, we must neutralize the toxin of hatred by creating a civic culture of consensus-based democracy, inclusivity, civility, and tolerance based on Medemer principles.

The art of building peace is a synergistic process to change hearts, minds, beliefs and attitudes, that never ceases.

It is like the work of struggling farmers in my beloved Ethiopia. Each season they prepare the soil, sow seeds, pull weeds, and control pests.

They work the fields from dawn to dusk in good and bad weather.

The seasons change, but their work never ends. In the end, they harvest the abundance of their fields.

Before we can harvest peace dividends, we must plant seeds of love, forgiveness, and reconciliation in the hearts and minds of our citizens.

We must pull out the weeds of discord, hate, and misunderstanding and toil every day during good and bad days too.

I am inspired by a Biblical Scripture which reads:
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”

Equally I am also inspired by a Holy Quran verse which reads:
“Humanity is but a single Brotherhood. So, make peace with your Brethren.”

I am committed to toil for peace every single day and in all seasons.

I am my brother’s keeper. I am my sister’s keeper too.

I have promises to keep before I sleep. I have miles to go on the road of peace.

As I conclude, I call upon the international community to join me and my fellow Ethiopians in our Medemer inspired efforts of building enduring peace and prosperity in the Horn of Africa.

ሰላም ለሁላችንም፤ ለሰላም አርበኖች እንዲሁም ለሰላም ወዳጆች።

I thank you!


The 2019 Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony is underway in Oslo, Norway. The main highlight of the event is the lecture by this year’s Nobel Laureate PM Abiy Ahmed, who is the first Ethiopian to receive the prestigious international award.

WATCH LIVE: 2019 Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2019

Announcement

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2019 to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali for his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and in particular for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea. The prize is also meant to recognise all the stakeholders working for peace and reconciliation in Ethiopia and in the East and Northeast African regions.

When Abiy Ahmed became Prime Minister in April 2018, he made it clear that he wished to resume peace talks with Eritrea. In close cooperation with Isaias Afwerki, the President of Eritrea, Abiy Ahmed quickly worked out the principles of a peace agreement to end the long “no peace, no war” stalemate between the two countries. These principles are set out in the declarations that Prime Minister Abiy and President Afwerki signed in Asmara and Jeddah last July and September. An important premise for the breakthrough was Abiy Ahmed’s unconditional willingness to accept the arbitration ruling of an international boundary commission in 2002.

Peace does not arise from the actions of one party alone. When Prime Minister Abiy reached out his hand, President Afwerki grasped it, and helped to formalise the peace process between the two countries. The Norwegian Nobel Committee hopes the peace agreement will help to bring about positive change for the entire populations of Ethiopia and Eritrea.

In Ethiopia, even if much work remains, Abiy Ahmed has initiated important reforms that give many citizens hope for a better life and a brighter future. He spent his first 100 days as Prime Minister lifting the country’s state of emergency, granting amnesty to thousands of political prisoners, discontinuing media censorship, legalising outlawed opposition groups, dismissing military and civilian leaders who were suspected of corruption, and significantly increasing the influence of women in Ethiopian political and community life. He has also pledged to strengthen democracy by holding free and fair elections.

In the wake of the peace process with Eritrea, Prime Minister Abiy has engaged in other peace and reconciliation processes in East and Northeast Africa. In September 2018 he and his government contributed actively to the normalisation of diplomatic relations between Eritrea and Djibouti after many years of political hostility. Additionally, Abiy Ahmed has sought to mediate between Kenya and Somalia in their protracted conflict over rights to a disputed marine area. There is now hope for a resolution to this conflict. In Sudan, the military regime and the opposition have returned to the negotiating table. On the 17th of August, they released a joint draft of a new constitution intended to secure a peaceful transition to civil rule in the country. Prime Minister Abiy played a key role in the process that led to the agreement.

Ethiopia is a country of many different languages and peoples. Lately, old ethnic rivalries have flared up. According to international observers, up to three million Ethiopians may be internally displaced. That is in addition to the million or so refugees and asylum seekers from neighbouring countries. As Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed has sought to promote reconciliation, solidarity and social justice. However, many challenges remain unresolved. Ethnic strife continues to escalate, and we have seen troubling examples of this in recent weeks and months. No doubt some people will think this year’s prize is being awarded too early. The Norwegian Nobel Committee believes it is now that Abiy Ahmed’s efforts deserve recognition and need encouragement.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee hopes that the Nobel Peace Prize will strengthen Prime Minister Abiy in his important work for peace and reconciliation. Ethiopia is Africa’s second most populous country and has East Africa’s largest economy. A peaceful, stable and successful Ethiopia will have many positive side-effects, and will help to strengthen fraternity among nations and peoples in the region. With the provisions of Alfred Nobel’s will firmly in mind, the Norwegian Nobel Committee sees Abiy Ahmed as the person who in the preceding year has done the most to deserve the Nobel Peace Prize for 2019.


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Revisiting the Works of Ethiopia’s 17th-Century Philosopher Zera Yacob

Near Lalibela, the location of Zera Yacob’s cave. (Photo: Magnum)

Aeon Media

The African Enlightenment: The highest ideals of Locke, Hume and Kant were first proposed more than a century earlier by an Ethiopian in a cave

The ideals of the Enlightenment are the basis of our democracies and universities in the 21st century: belief in reason, science, skepticism, secularism, and equality. In fact, no other era compares with the Age of Enlightenment. Classical Antiquity is inspiring, but a world away from our modern societies. The Middle Ages was more reasonable than its reputation, but still medieval. The Renaissance was glorious, but largely because of its result: the Enlightenment. The Romantic era was a reaction to the Age of Reason – but the ideals of today’s modern states are seldom expressed in terms of romanticism and emotion. Immanuel Kant’s argument in the essay ‘Perpetual Peace’ (1795) that ‘the human race’ should work for ‘a cosmopolitan constitution’ can be seen as a precursor for the United Nations.

As the story usually goes, the Enlightenment began with René Descartes’s Discourse on the Method (1637), continuing on through John Locke, Isaac Newton, David Hume, Voltaire and Kant for around one and a half centuries, and ending with the French Revolution of 1789, or perhaps with the Reign of Terror in 1793. By the time that Thomas Paine published The Age of Reason in 1794, that era had reached its twilight. Napoleon was on the rise.

But what if this story is wrong? What if the Enlightenment can be found in places and thinkers that we often overlook? Such questions have haunted me since I stumbled upon the work of the 17th-century Ethiopian philosopher Zera Yacob (1599-1692), also spelled Zära Yaqob.

Yacob was born on 28 August 1599 into a rather poor family on a farm outside Axum, the legendary former capital in northern Ethiopia. At school he impressed his teachers, and was sent to a new school to learn rhetoric (siwasiw in Geéz, the local language), poetry and critical thinking (qiné) for four years. Then he went to another school to study the Bible for 10 years, learning the teachings of the Catholics and the Copts, as well as the country’s mainstream Orthodox tradition. (Ethiopia has been Christian since the early 4th century, rivalling Armenia as the world’s oldest Christian nation.)

In the 1620s, a Portuguese Jesuit convinced King Susenyos to convert to Catholicism, which soon became Ethiopia’s official religion. Persecution of free thinkers followed suit, intensifying from 1630. Yacob, who was teaching in the Axum region, had declared that no religion was more right than any other, and his enemies brought charges against him to the king.

Yacob fled at night, taking with him only some gold and the Psalms of David. He headed south to the region of Shewa, where he came upon the Tekezé River. There he found an uninhabited area with a ‘beautiful cave’ at the foot of a valley. Yacob built a fence of stones, and lived in the wilderness to ‘front only the essential facts of life’, as Henry David Thoreau was to describe a similar solitary life a couple of centuries later in Walden (1854).

For two years, until the death of the king in September 1632, Yacob remained in the cave as a hermit, visiting only the nearby market to get food. In the cave, he developed his new, rationalist philosophy. He believed in the supremacy of reason, and that all humans – male and female – are created equal. He argued against slavery, critiqued all established religions and doctrines, and combined these views with a personal belief in a theistic Creator, reasoning that the world’s order makes that the most rational option.

In short: many of the highest ideals of the later European Enlightenment had been conceived and summarised by one man, working in an Ethiopian cave from 1630 to 1632. Yacob’s reason-based philosophy is presented in his main work, Hatäta (meaning ‘the enquiry’). The book was written down in 1667 on the insistence of his student, Walda Heywat, who himself wrote a more practically oriented Hatäta. Today, 350 years later, it’s hard to find a copy of Yacob’s book. The only translation into English was done in 1976, by the Canadian professor and priest Claude Sumner. He published it as part of a five-volume work on Ethiopian philosophy, with the far-from-commercial Commercial Printing Press in Addis Ababa. The book has been translated into German, and last year into Norwegian, but an English version is still basically unavailable.

Read more »


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President Obama Becomes First Sitting U.S. President to Visit Ethiopia

US president Barack Obama arrives aboard Air Force One in Addis Ababa on July 26, 2015 becoming the first American leader to visit Ethiopia. (AP photo)

The Associated Press

Barack Obama, the US president, has landed in Ethiopia, beginning a two-day stay and becoming the first American leader to visit Africa’s second most populous nation.

The president’s jet touched down at Addis Ababa’s international airport on Sunday after a short flight north from the Kenyan capital Nairobi, and he was greeted on the tarmac by Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.

The visit will include talks with the Ethiopian government, a key strategic ally but criticised for its record on democracy and human rights.

Obama will also become the first US president to address the African Union, the 54-member continental bloc, at its headquarters.

He will also hold talks with regional leaders on the civil war in South Sudan.

AU Commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma hailed what she said will be an “historic visit” and a “concrete step to broaden and deepen the relationship between the AU and the US”.


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Tribute to Ethiopia Scholar Don Levine: Reflections & Photos

Prof. Donald N. Levine signing his book at Tsehai Publishers journal launching ceremony in Los Angeles -- November 27, 2006 at Ramada Hotel / Culver City. (Photograph courtesy of TSEHAI Publishers)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Updated: Thursday, April 9th, 2015

New York (TADIAS) — Professor Donald N. Levine, who passed away on Saturday, April 4th at the age of 83, is being remembered by his friends in Ethiopia and the Diaspora as a beloved Ethiopianist, educator, sociological theorist, author, collaborator, advocate, mentor, sensei and friend.

In addition to his well-known credentials as a respected scholar of Ethiopian studies, Levine was also an Aikido sensei and the co-founder of the first Aikido dojo in Awasa, Ethiopia.

Below are reflections and photos sent to us from Don Levine’s friends and colleagues in the U.S. and Ethiopia. Feel free to send us your own reflections at staff@tadias.com. We’ll keep this page updated.

From Tesfaye Tekelu
Aikido Ethiopia & Awasa Youth Campus

“Don was a mentor, a teacher, a sensei and in many ways a father figure to me. I have known him for more than 12 years and he has taught me, trained me, supported me like a father would a son. He was the architect of our project. He helped me found Aikido Ethiopia and the Awasa Youth Campus (Action for Youth & Community) and supported and guided us until the last day of his life. He loved our country and the people, and he was talking about Ethiopia days before he passed away. We will cherish his work and continue working on what we started in our country. Rest in peace, Ethiopiawiwu ye Selam Arbegna.”

From Dag Andargachew
Washington, D.C.


Dag Andargachew and Don Levine. (Courtesy photo)

I’ve known Don’s work for many years and had the pleasure of meeting him 15 years ago when he was in the Bay Area for a meeting. We kept in touch since then and got to hang out again in 2003 when he came back to California to visit an Ethiopian that was imprisoned. Afterwards we went to Yoga Mandala in Berkeley for their 1st anniversary yoga session which was my first ever yoga class!! After that day I was a regular student at that studio till I left the Bay Area and have been hooked on yoga ever since! Thank you Don!!!!

Fast forward a few years and I was living in Addis for a couple of years and had the honor to help Don with administrative staff – organizing meetings, meet and greet events etc. when he came to Ethiopia in Jan 2008, to meet with human rights activists & leaders as well as recently released journalists. I also had the privilege to organize a meeting for him with Gash Mesfin (Prof. Mesfin), who had also been recently released from prison. It was an awesome opportunity for me to sit amongst these two giants and listen-in to their conversation, debate and old stories.

I have driven with Gash Liben to Awasa to check out AYC’s overall progress as well as the setup of the dojo and saw him in action in his beloved Aikido.

It was a pleasure to be around Don and to see him interact with ease with the young, not so young, important officials/diplomats and not so important people attentively and with respect!

Interestingly I found out that my Dad was an undergrad student at AAU when Don first came to Ethiopia and was one of the people that taught him Amharic. I’m glad they got to hang out after so many years in Chicago when my Dad was visiting, and again in Addis when Don visited last.

Don is a true sensei in the whole sense of the word!!

From Mel Tewahade
Denver, Colorado


Don Levine (second from right) with Menze family in Amhara region of Ethiopia. (Courtesy photo)

I am blessed to have known Dr. Don N. Levine. The God that created heaven and earth is pleased in this Easter day, to receive his servant and our friend into his kingdom. May his writing and teaching touch many lives forever and ever. He has willingly accepted and loved being Ethiopian. He dedicated 55 years of his life studying, writing, teaching, advocating and praying for Ethiopia and Ethiopians. He encouraged all of us to dig deeper into the spirit of Menze and Shoa. He also showed us to live our lives with abundance. He reminded me that Queen of Sheba took gold and incense when she visited King Solomon in Jerusalem. He motivated us to develop our skill of negotiation that our ancestors had once mastered. He showed us how to express what we want with class and dignity using what our ancestors called Wax and Gold. He wanted to show Ethiopians not to be ashamed of our history and heritage. For that alone I am eternally grateful. Gashe Liben, as he is called by his Ethiopian name, We will continue your work and be true to ourselves. May you rest in peace.

From Elias Wondimu, Founder of TSEHAI Publishers
Los Angeles, California


(Courtesy of Tsehai Publishers)

I was blessed enough to work with Gash Liben on several initiatives. To mention a few, he was an editorial advisor and author of TSEHAI Publishers, editorial board member and regular contributor of the International Journal of Ethiopian Studies, and a founding board member and senior scholar of the Ethiopian Institute for Nonviolence Education and Peace Studies, but most of all he was one of the few people who took time to answer any questions that I may have. For me, I lost a mentor, a major supporter, and a collaborator on all of my projects, and an author extraordinaire that I had the privilege of publishing his very last book (Interpreting Ethiopia) among other writings and his classic book: Wax and Gold.

The reaction of our people from across international borders is not due to one or few of his successful writings, but it is due to his life-long engagement with Ethiopia and his advocacy to her citizens’ dignity wherever they might be. What we lost today is not only an acclaimed scholar, but a dear friend of our people and a citizen of the world who cares deeply for its future.

From Professor Ayele Bekerie
Mekele, Ethiopia

Professor Donald Levine, the Ethiopianist Insider Remembered

It was June 2004 and the Honorary Doctorate recipients for the 2004 Addis Ababa University Commencement were assembled in the Office of the University’s President prior to our march to Genet Hall of the Sidist Kilo Campus where the Commencement ceremony took place. Among the recipients were Professor Donald Levine, the Late Professor Ali Mazrui and Professor Ephrem Isaac. I accompanied Professor Ali Mazrui to the event from the US. As we passed the Ras Mekonen Hall, Professor Levine looked up the door of the Hall and excitedly pointed the motto of the University posted at the top. He asked us if we know the meaning of the motto written in Ge’ez.

Kulu Amekeru Wezesenaye Atsneu,” Professor Levine read the motto loud. He then quickly shared with us the meaning as if to free us from the instant question he posed to us. The motto, which translates to “Test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good,” was known to Professor Levine since his time as a Professor in the then Haile Selassie I University over fifty years ago. The motto became part of our conversation as we marched to Genet Hall. This anecdote typifies the nature and personality of Professor Levine and his extraordinary immersion into Ethiopian history, culture and society.

Professor Levine has always maintained an insider view, that is, he studied the language, assumed the position of being empathic with the culture and looked at the history and culture of the people Ethiopia from the inside out. Professor Levine was so intimate with the field of Ethiopian Studies that he was able to produce, as most agree, two outstanding and classical books on aspects of Ethiopian culture and society: Wax and Gold: Tradition and Innovation in Ethiopian Culture (1967) and Greater Ethiopia: The Evolution of Multiethnic Society (1974).

While Wax and Gold demonstrates the extent and depth of Professor Levine’s understanding of the nuances and complexities in Amharic language and the people who speak it, Greater Ethiopia expanded his scholarly reach within Ethiopian Studies and he ably argued in favor of Ethiopian multiethnic identity. These two books are by far widely quoted and referenced works in the field of Ethiopian Studies. Of course, Professor Levine wrote 5 books and a hundred journal articles. He successfully conducted scholarly works in Social Theory, Ethiopian Studies and the Martial Arts.

Professor Levine to many Ethiopians at home and abroad is known as Gashe Liben. This is an earned name. He earned the most gracious and affectionate title as a result of his remarkable accessibility to Ethiopians and their organizations, be it in social, cultural, educational and political settings. Gashe Liben prefaced many books authored by Ethiopian or Ethiopianist scholars. He contributed a great deal of articles for various journals in Ethiopian Studies. He organized international conferences and gave many media interviews. Gashe Liben helped several Ethiopians with their immigration cases.

More importantly, he always offered his advice, critical but balanced, with regard to current issues of Ethiopia. He always cautioned fellow Ethiopians to seize the moment and get engaged with the modernization of Ethiopia informed by tradition. He urged us to stop missing opportunities.

To me, Professor Levine’s seminal contribution in the field of Ethiopian Studies was his definition and articulation of what he calls the Ethiopian national epic. The professor argued that Kebre Negest is a national epic or mythology. A people with national epic, according to him, are a people with deep-rooted identity. A people confident of their identity are capable and willing to defend it. True, the mythology has to be expanded and should include the multiple mythologies of our people. But as a tribute to Professor Levine, we should all agree that our multiethnic identity is founded on a great epic of a great people.

From Kidist Tariku, Coordinator of Ethiopia’s Long Live the Girls program
Hawassa, Ethiopia

We are very sad to lose such a loving and intelligent man. His name and work always remains in our organization’s history. He is our founder; he will always be respected and loved for what he did for our community. May his soul rest in peace.

Long Live the Girls is a girls’ empowerment program through creative writing initiative founded in 2012 through a partnership between Action for Youth & Community Change & Break Arts: International Arts & Education Collaborative. Using creative writing to spark the imagination and see the world as if it could be otherwise, our model for engagement is unique — we create safe spaces for girls and women to speak and write with freedom, often using both political and poetic documents as the springboard for conversation, writing & performance.

From Dr. Theodore M. Vestal
Professor Emeritus, Oklahoma State University


Ted Vestal. (Courtesy photo)

A Tribute to Professor Donald Levine

Ethiopia lost a stalwart friend, scholar and benefactor of the common good with the death of Professor Donald Levine this week in Chicago. His books about Ethiopia, especially Wax and Gold and Greater Ethiopia, are classical studies of the society, history, and culture of the Land of Prester John that so fascinated him. His many articles and public addresses about Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa leave a profound legacy for Ethiopians to ponder in the years to come. His thoughts about Ethiopia and prescriptions for its future were informed by his life as superbly trained American academic and public intellectual.

Don came to Chicago fresh out of high school and took advantage of the University of Chicago’s accelerated degree program begun during the university’s presidency of Robert Hutchins. In a seven year span from 1950 through 1957, he completed his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees in Sociology and went to Ethiopia to undertake field work. He resided in a rural Manz, an Amhara area and learned firsthand about the people and their ways. He studied Amharic and could converse with the subjects of his research. He then became a professor at Haile Selassie I University where he was teaching during the attempted coup in 1960. Levine joined the faculty at his alma mater, the University of Chicago, in 1962 and rose through the academic ranks to become Professor of Sociology and holder of the endowed Peter B. Ritzma chair. He also served as Dean of the College in the 1980s.

Levine’s teaching, speaking, and writing about Ethiopia reflected his grounding in the Chicago method of higher education characterized by independent thought and criticism that is created in the interest of the progress of society. In his continuing dialogue with and about Ethiopia, Don was open-minded and welcomed different points of view. In the process of doing this, he extended the bounds of understanding and wisdom about that ancient land. He epitomized the great professor of cultural studies: one who lived and worked among the people, took part in their festivals and celebrations, learned the language, and studied the literature and great books of their tradition. This “Dean of Ethiopianists” as I fondly called him, set a high bar for those who aspire to study and understand Ethiopia.

I met Don for the first time when we served as international election observers in Addis Ababa during the 1992 general elections. As a two-man team, among other things, we visited several precincts and noted some concerns about electoral activities that were included in the African-American Institute’s An Evaluation of the June 21, 1992 Elections in Ethiopia. We subsequently met in Ethiopian-related meetings all over the world, and he was a pleasure to be with. His devotion to searching for the truth about Ethiopia was inspirational. He will be missed.

From Chuck Schaefer
Valparaiso University, Indiana


(Courtesy photo)

Don Levine will be genuinely missed. He had a profound influence on Ethiopian studies. As his grad student, mention of his name open doors for me in Ethiopia even in the dark days of the Derg in the mid 1980s. Deans and/or Vice Ministers may not have always agreed with Don’s “greater Ethiopia” thesis, but they knew it and respected the deep sociological analysis that was at its core.

He was the father of American Ethiopianists. His rapacious appetite for all things involving Ethiopia meant that he served on dissertation committees of sociologists (of course), anthropologists, religious scholars, historians (including myself), linguists, political scientists and probably in a number of other disciplines both here and in Great Britain. To a degree he defined the Ethiopian character in the waining years of the Imperial era, and his “wax & gold” dichotomy ensured that all subsequent scholars had to reckon with Ethiopians as complex, conniving, compassionate peasants and peers alike.

Perhaps Don’s most enduring contribution was his deep understanding of social mobility up and down Ethiopia’s feudal ladder. This made writing a dissertation that would pass his inspection a difficult task, for the normal tropes like social classes had to bend and mend themselves to the realities of Ethiopia’s multiple paths to upward and, simultaneous, downward mobility. Even simple translation had to either be thrown out or appropriately nuanced. For Don, western univocal translation of texts was like paring down a Rembrandt painting to a charcoal sketch, for he was transfixed by the ambiguity inherent in Amharic, its texture, rich meanings and multiple depths of interpretation.

I dropped by Don’s house to discuss an issue related to the 1960 coup d’etat this past summer while Don and Andrew DeCort were editing proofs of “Interpreting Ethiopia.” To the last he was a scholar and a teacher.

I will miss him.

From Ashenaphy Fentie
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia


Ashenaphy Fentie. (Google Profile)

Donal N. Levine, a distinguished and great Ethiopianist of all time just passed away at the age of 83. He published important works such as, “Greater Ethiopia”, “Wax and Gold” and “Translating Ethiopia”. GREATER ETHIOPIA is his iconic book that I suggest as a must-read by every Ethiopian. As far as impartiality, evident history and the common past of the Horn are the concerns, I personally do not know any other single writer, both from Ethiopia and abroad that can be credited like Levine. He was much more patriotic to Ethiopia than even those Ethiopians, who think they are historians.

Those of you, who are not familiar with Levine and his works, please, read “Greater Ethiopia” and some of his journals on Ethiopian Studies, then you will find out for yourselves who this man really was. He actually was one of the very reasons that brought me into the study of history. I’m so so inspired by him, and very sad we lost him so soon. Regarding the history of Ethiopia and the Horn in general, I believe, no other single writer has ever taken us as far as Levine already did. His sociological studies of the Horn conducted in the late 1960s and his related conclusive theory of the study were incredibly proven to be accurate 40 years later, by the young and contemporary science of Population Genetics.

Rest in peace, our hero Donald Nathan Levine. Thank you for your irreplaceable and immortal contributions in the history and sociology of our beloved Ethiopia.

From Mulugeta Wodajo
Bethesda, Maryland

I had known Don for close to 60 years when we were both graduate students at Chicago and Columbia University, respectively. His two books on Ethiopia, Wax and Gold and Greater Ethiopia have been considered “must read” classics about our country’s society, history and culture ever since they were first published in the 1960s and ‘80s, respectively. He had recently completed another book for publication also on Ethiopia. He had shown me the finished manuscript of that book less than a year ago; hopefully it will see the light of day very soon. Additionally, he had previously published three major books and numerous articles in professional journals in his field of expertise, social anthropology, that were highly valued by experts in that field. He was a highly regarded professor of sociology at Chicago University until his retirement a few years ago and continued to do so from time to time, even after his retirement..

While doing field work for his first book, Wax and Gold, in Menz in the late 1950’s, he took on the name “Liben”, after a close Menzie friend he got to know well during his field work. Many of his Ethiopian friends, including myself, used to call him by that name until the very end. That pleased him a great deal as one could see from his reaction when called by that name. More recently, he also adopted the name of “Gebre Ethiopia” as he considered himself a genuine servant of our country.

I will greatly miss Don. He was one of the few friends left from those bygone years. He has now joined the great Ethiopian scholars – Ethiopian as well as foreigners – gone forever from our midst. May he rest in peace!

From Alemayehu Fentaw Weldemariam
Boston, Massachusetts


From right: Don, Alex and Hans. (Courtesy photo)

In memoriam: Donald Nathan Levine, 1931-2015

I have known Donald Levine at close range. He was a great friend, spiritual father, and mentor. I would have called him “an intellectual soulmate,” as he has referred to me in a note he wrote on his last book, Social Theory As Vocation (2015). To give you a sense of his generosity, when he learnt that I ended up jobless and without a means to support myself and my family in Addis Ababa after my return from Europe as a result of Jimma University’s decision to dismiss me from my teaching job in absentia, he extended his helping hand. He sent me money and books on several occasions whenever he finds people traveling to Addis Ababa. He was a frequent interlocutor from a distance and we used to exchange tones of emails between Addis Ababa where I was living and Chicago where he was based. Then I came to the US upon his invitation in October 2011. I audited one of his seminar courses on George Simmel at the University of Chicago, practiced aikido on the matt under him at the University of Chicago Dojo, arranged for me to audit Nathan Tarcov’s seminar course on Leo Strauss at the Committee on Social Thought, and generously vetted me to be part of one of the panels in the International Conference on George Simmel in 2011. It was also a great honor and pleasure to have helped him with two of his last books, Interpreting Ethiopia and Social Theory As Vocation, in which he has generously acknowledged my assistance.

Levine was a keen student of Ethiopian civilization for over half a century. His initial scholarly encounter with Ethiopia dates back to 1958 when he, as a young postdoctoral fellow, started his ethnographic work living among the “extraordinarily handsome people in a setting of great natural beauty and [an] [idyllic] climate” of North Shoa, Ethiopia, which “offers a gate through time to a state of being that is richly medieval.” (1965). That ethnographic fieldwork resulted in his Ethiopian classic Wax & Gold (1965). In the realm of Ethiopian studies, he is also most famous for his magisterial book Greater Ethiopia (1974), which has long been considered a major contribution to understanding the phenomena of ethnic diversity and national unity in Ethiopia. Shortly before his death, he managed to put together a collection of essays on Ethiopia, Interpreting Ethiopia (2014), in which he offers his observations on the ethos and worldview, education and literature, history, politics, and cross-national connections of the cultural area that he calls Greater Ethiopia. Levine’s oeuvre is the outcome of a serious scholarly odyssey through Ethiopian civilization over space and time. He has travelled extensively through every quarter of the cultural area that he fondly calls “Greater Ethiopia” –from Massawa to Jimma, from Addis to Aksum. His intellectual odyssey pushed the frontiers of Ethiopian Studies, extending the reach of his research from the culture of the Amhara, in Wax & Gold, to that of a multiethnic society, in Greater Ethiopia, from Aksum As a Seedbed Society to Reconsidering Ethiopian Nationhood, as necessitated by the advent of the internet and immigration.

In explaining what provided the bond that has continued to link him with Ethiopian over the years, he went on record, in one of his personal communication with me, saying: “the greatest thing in life is “aimless camaraderie,” as Frank H. Knight called it. Much of what has bonded me to Ethiopians over the years has been the joy of aimless camaraderie in their company.” Those of us who had the privilege to meet him in Chicago or Addis know what he means by the joy of the interaction in aimless camaraderie with fellow Ethiopians.

Besides his scholarly engagement with Ethiopia, Levine was also an activist. His more activistic engagement dates back to his critical 1961 article on Haile Sellassie’s authoritarianism, which cost him his teaching job at the Haile Selassie I University. He was an ardent advocate of freedom in Ethiopia. More often than not, he voiced his concerns for academic freedom, free press, free association, free and fair elections, and loyal opposition in Ethiopia. It was in the spirit of public service that he gave a testimony before the U.S. Congress on the human rights abuses of the Dergue in 1976, engaged himself in a critical analysis of the Addis Ababa University fiasco in 1993, gave a spirited acceptance speech in defense of academic freedom at the award of an honorary doctorate from Addis Ababa University in 2004, where he emphasied the traditional mission of AAU as a university by reciting the Geez motto: “Kulu Amekeru Wezesenaye Atsneu” (Examine everything, and hold fast to what is best). Indeed, the dialogic turn that he brought to bear upon sociology and Ethiopian studies has also oriented his activistic engagement. It has been his lifelong wish and prayer for Ethiopians of all generation and walks of life to transcend the limitations inherent in their cultures soda as to dissolve the either/or metazez wey meshefet (“obey or rebel”) mentality through dialogue.

In both his scholarly and activistic odysseys, what always strikes me as quite distinctive of Levine is the strength of his character. He was as much courageous in his scholarship as much as he was in his activism. In his activism, he never succumbed to fears of retribution. He criticized the incumbent as well as the opposition in an even-handed manner. In his scholarly pursuits, he refused to succumb to political correctness, which he once described to me in a personal communication as: “Political correctness is the hobgoblin of little minds. That’s the kind of statement that corrupts the search for truth, IMHO. The Janjero who committed human sacrifice can be glossed as culturally inferior to the Dorzes who created polyphonic music and beautiful weavings as central expressions of their cultures.”

Donald Levine is a towering figure in Chicago sociology and social thought in the same league as Robert Park, George Mead, Albion Small, John Dewey, Edward Shils, and Arnaldo Momigliano. Hi sociological oeuvre includes critical interpretations of Auguste Comte, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, Talcott Parsons, Robert Merton, S.N. Eisenstadt, and above all Georg Simmel. In the realm of social theory, his work focused on bringing into fruitful dialogue, if not reunifying the sociological traditions and imaginations, in a book venture that he titles Visions of the Sociological Tradition (1995). One evening during my visit at the University of Chicago in November 2011, as we were walking to his home where he generously hosted me for the first week, he started telling me how sociology used to be as big as Humpty Dumpty and how it had a terribly great fall in the 1960s. And after Humpty Dumpty had that fateful fall and it broke into pieces, all sociologists and social theorists that came “couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty in his place again.” That was exactly what he wanted to do with his magisterial book Visions of the Sociological Tradition in which he wrote, “For most of its first century as an institutionalized discipline, the proponents of sociology envisioned it as a unified field. The vision was elusive and consensus hard to come by. Yet for all their profound differences about what sociology should be and do, its principal spokesmen —figures like Durkheim, Simmel, Weber, Park, and Parsons—agreed that sociology should be framed as a coherent enterprise demarcated by clear and defensible boundaries. The narratives constructed by Park and Burgess, Sorokin, Parsons, and others were part of the more general effort to justify’ such a unified vision.”(259)

In his Festschrift, Hans Joas and Charles Camic extol Levine’s achievements in the field of social theory as follows:

the idea that dialogue among different intellectual perspectives is a paramount cognitive and ethical objective in its own right, particularly in the context of the current postdisciplinary age—receives its fullest development at the hands of University of Chicago sociologist Donald N. Levine, whose extensive writings on the subject provide the point of departure for the twelve essays in this volume. As a distinguished theorist and historian of sociological thought, Donald Levine has been closely familiar with these pluralist currents within sociology throughout his career….


Related:
Donald Levine, sociologist and former dean of the College, 1931-2015 (UChicago News)‎
Friend of Ethiopia Don Levine Passed Away

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119 Years Anniversary of Ethiopia’s Victory at the Battle of Adwa on March 1st, 1896

Adwa Mountains. (Photo: By Chester Higgins. Jr.)

Tadias Magazine
By Ayele Bekerie, PhD

Updated: Sunday, March 1st, 2015

Adwa, Ethiopia (TADIAS) –119 years ago, on March 1, 1896, at the Battle of Adwa, the unexpected happened. Ethiopia, an African country, defeated Italy, a European country. The defeat was decisive and the victory was permanent. More than 100,000 Ethiopian troops, who were led by Emperor Menelik II, were mobilized from all corners of the country and marched to victory at the battle that lasted less than half-a-day. The victory was so decisive, according to Fitawrari Tekle Hawariat, the 20,000 Italian and their ‘native’ soldiers were rushing to surrender and to be declared prisoners of war.

On March 1, 1896, Ethiopians not only kept their sovereignty and independence, but they also taught a lesson to Italians, for that matter to European colonizers. The lesson was that their colonization agenda’s last chapter was written at Adwa. Adwa, therefore, marked the beginning of a new chapter of anti-colonialism and decolonization and end of colonial occupation in Africa and elsewhere. Ethiopia unburdened what the poet Kipling labeled ‘the white man’s burden,’ that is, the pseudo civilizing missions of the Europeans in Africa. Adwa has demonstrated that Africans can and should always be perceived and accepted as subjects of their own histories and civilizations.

The whole world has noted the able leadership of Emperor Menelik II and Empress Taitu Bitul, their gallant generals (the Balambrasoch the Girazmachoch, the Dejazmachoch, the Fitawrariwoch), brave soldiers (Geberewoch, Negadewoch, Setoch, Yeigg Balemuyawoch, Yehaimanot abatoch) at the Battle of Adwa. Their remarkable achievements have been recorded in many languages in the leading news outlets of the time. The libraries of the world have beefed up their shelves by including books about the Battle. To this day, like the historian Raymond Jonas’s (2011) The Battle of Adwa: African Victory in the Age of Empire, the Battle continues to generate new historical narratives. Persons and institutions in the Americas, Europe and Africa, according to Professor Kifle Selassie Beseat of UNESCO, named themselves Menelik, Taitu, Allula and Mekonnen in an attempt to stamp and permanently record for generations their memories of Adwa. In short, the unexpected and triumphal outcome of the Battle speaks to Adwa’s eternity.

When the people heeded the call of their leader, there were no mass media, no radio, and no television. Once Menelik’s Negarit (War Drum) drummed, the message spread and heard by the people throughout the country. Menelik’s Awaj was positively responded to and able-bodied men and women reported to duties in their respective districts, woreda, awaraja and provinces. The historic march to Adwa took more than two months. Along the way to Adwa, fellow Ethiopians, those who had to remain behind assumed logistical roles and offered provisions, such as food and pack animals, to the troops. The Battle took place at the site and time of Ethiopians’ choosing. The Italians were actually outnumbered and outmaneuvered and by mid-day the War was over and the Italians are rushing to surrender in thousands, as noted by Fitawarai Tekle Hawariat.

Adwa proves the common purpose and determination of the Ethiopians. It is an evidence for putting diverse human and natural resources into effective national use. It was an affirmation of what I call Ethiopian nation-ity with all its imperfections. With Adwa, Ethiopians created a new Ethiopia that belongs to diverse ethnic and religious groups. It is the fundamental basis of our national unity.

Adwa marks Ethiopia’s own state of modernization, despite all its limitations and internal contradictions. Ethiopians made it clear at Adwa that a people who are fully aware of their history are capable and willing to rise up and defend their God-given rights. Adwa will always remain a critical precursor to a just world. Adwa reminds the world that there cannot be a world order in which few are supreme and the majority are mere colonial subjects. It is also a catalyst to the present push to national economic development in the country.

According to the distinguished Ethiopian Studies’ curator and archivist Richard Pankhurst, Ethiopia had won or further affirmed international diplomatic recognition. In the months following the victory at Adwa, Emperor Menelik II signed treaties of friendship with major European powers of the time, such as Britain and France. In other words, the victory secured Ethiopia’s modern borders and its lasting effects extended far beyond Ethiopia to all the lands of colonization and subjugation. As George Berkeley, the pro-Italian historian, puts it, the victory was ‘a military factor worthy of our [the West] closest attention.’ Undoubtedly Ethiopia frustrated and brought it to a halt Europe’s deliberate intention to colonize the entire continent of Africa. Ethiopia became a symbol of dignity, respect and freedom for Africans, for that matter, for all colonized people all over the world.

The celebration of the victory at the Battle of Adwa is just and should take place both at home and abroad. This is because Adwa celebrates the little people, the ignored, the neglected, the negatively stereotyped, the other, the oppressed and the colonized. The victory speaks to the hopes and aspirations of the majority of the people in the world. Adwa rhymes with justice, agency and human equality and therefore, once a year in March, it is celebrated with enthusiasm.

History is characterized by nuances and complexities and it is resistant to hasty generalizations. The full account of historical details enable historians to generate narratives of the past, which is a guide to the present and a source of vision to the future. Some like to cherry-pick only some aspects of historical truths and put them into political spin. I would like to argue that the attempt, in some circles, to discredit the gallant leaders of Adwa would be short-lived. History is progressive and only a careful and studied analysis and interpretation of events and deeds help a society to move forward and to bring about peace, democracy and prosperity.

The victory achieved at Adwa set the stage to our social, economic, and cultural history. The freedom and independence that we enjoy today are informed by the outcome at the battlefield of Adwa. Adwa saved us from becoming an extension of colonial Italian history. Adwa made us remained ourselves. Adwa was possible because we were a people, a nation-state, that is, fully self-conscious.

To conclude, we celebrate Adwa because it was a battle won to affirm the universality of human dignity. Human beings, regardless of their geographical locations and income levels, have certain inalienable rights, which cannot be violated by force. We celebrate Adwa because it ushered to the world that the only peace acceptable is peace with justice. I would argue, in this regard, Adwa has made its contribution to what we call the modern world.

We celebrate Adwa, as it is stated repeatedly, for it is a prelude to decolonization in Africa and elsewhere. We celebrate Adwa for it has charted a new paradigm in international relations and diplomacy. International organizations, such as the United Nations, UNESCO, AU would not have been possible in the pre-Adwa global colonial order. Adwa is celebrated annually for it is an eternal symbol of dignity and freedom.



Ayele Bekerie is an Associate Professor at the Department of History and Heritage Management at Mekelle University.


Related:
Reflection on 118th Anniversary of Ethiopia’s Victory at Adwa
The Significance of the 1896 Battle of Adwa
Call for the Registry of Adwa as UNESCO World Heritage Site

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Pictures: Taitu Hotel A Precious National Treasure Burns in Ethiopia

A painting of Empress Taitu hangs inside the now burned-out historic Itegue Taitu Hotel in Addis Ababa at the conference room located on the top floor of the building called "Ergebe Bete." (Photograph: Facebook)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Tuesday, January 13h, 2015

New York (TADIAS) — For more than a century Ethiopia’s iconic Taitu Hotel in Addis Ababa, which was badly burned by a raging fire last weekend, had stood tall bearing the namesake of its founder and the most admired woman in Ethiopian history — Itegue Taitu Bitul who was also one of the leading architects of Ethiopia’s winning strategies at Battle of Adwa on March 1st, 1896.

Empress Taitu opened the hotel a few years after Adwa as the nation’s first full-service hotel prompted by the increasing number of international dignitaries and travelers visiting Ethiopia after the country’s decisive victory against Italian colonial powers at Adwa. Encyclopaedia Aethiopica notes that for a time the Hotel was nicknamed Bollotatos Hotel for its Greek manager. Taitu Hotel was favored by Emperor Menelik as well as Ethiopian students returning from overseas and the political elite of the times. According to historian Ayele Bekerie, an Associate Professor at the Department of History & Cultural Studies at Mekelle University, Ethiopia hosted a reception at Taitu Hotel in 1903 in honor of the centennial anniversary of the Haitian revolution. Furthermore, Taitu Hotel was where war correspondents and photojournalists from around the globe covering the second Italian invasion of Ethiopia were housed in 1935.

Professor Ayele had written extensively about the significance of that era in modern African history and beyond. “Following the war Taitu and Menelik shared the enormous task of building a newly reconstituted country with diverse population and cultures,” notes Professor Ayele. He shared an article honoring Taitu for Women’s History Month two years ago published here. “Empress Taitu Bitul was actively involved in Menelik’s government. It is worth mentioning that she was married to Menelik at the age of forty-three and she was four years older than him,” Professor Ayele states. “Taitu’s pioneering and enduring work in politics, economics, culture, social welfare, military have added to the definition and implementation of a national agenda. The founding of Addis Ababa as a new capital city allowed people to migrate and settle in this new town from all regions of the country.”

Professor Ayele says the Taitu Hotel is a monument not only to the timeless legacy of our forefathers and mothers who kept Ethiopia free, but also stood as a tribute to the woman who established the capital city that today millions of residents call their home. “Taitu Hotel is one of the most important historic landmarks of Addis Ababa,” he said. “Terribly saddened by what happened. It is a precious national treasure. I am hopeful that the building will be restored as soon as possible.”

Below are photos courtesy Professor Ayele, who visited Taitu Hotel’s burned site on Monday morning along with images from Facebook and other media sources.



Related:
Ethiopia’s Historic Landmark Taitu Hotel Sustains Fire Damage

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Forty Years After Lucy’s Ethiopia Discovery: A Conversation with Donald Johanson

Dr. Donald Johanson discovered the famous fossil 'Lucy' in Ethiopia forty years ago on November 24th, 1974. (Photograph Courtesy: Institute of Human Origins, Arizona State University)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Monday, November 24th, 2014

New York (TADIAS) – At the exact spot in Hadar, Ethiopia — where American paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson discovered Lucy (Dinkinesh) forty years ago this month — a stone marker with a little outline drawing of Lucy commemorates the 24th of November 1974 written in Amharic, English and the local Afar language. Dr. Johanson notes that currently there are six or seven research teams working in the Afar region and a number of those are under the direction of Ethiopian scientists. “There is the wonderful work that Zeresenay Alemseged has done in the Dikika area where he found Selam (Lucy’s baby), and research that is being done by Yohannes Haile-Selassie of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and Berhane Asfaw who is in Addis Ababa,” Johanson said in a recent interview with Tadias Magazine following his presentation at the Explorers Club in New York on November 17th entitled Forty Years After Lucy’s Discovery. “I think that the future of paleoanthropology in Ethiopia will be in the hands of these and other Ethiopian scholars.”

“Lucy had a major effect in bringing Ethiopia to the world’s attention as having a record of human evolution over the last six million years,” Dr. Johanson told Tadias. “And scientists from around the world continue to come to Addis Ababa to study these fossils, which are all stored in the national museum, and continue to make comparisons with Lucy. This has become a cornerstone for the understanding of human origins.” According to Dr. Johanson, 400 specimen of Lucy’s species reside at the Ethiopian National Museum. Lucy was the first major discovery in the Afar region and drew the attention of many archaeologists and anthropologists to the possibility of more findings in Ethiopia.

How did Lucy get her name? “Following my discovery, we were in our camp celebrating and a Beatles tape was playing,” Dr. Johanson shared. “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was the name of the album and the song called Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds was playing and a member of the team suggested that we name the fossil Lucy and the name stuck.” But I thought since she was found in Ethiopia she should also have an Ethiopian name. And Ato Bekele Nigussie Gamie from the Ministry of Culture who was the Director General said ‘Why don’t you call her Dinkinesh?’ That’s her Ethiopian name.”

As Lucy continues to shape the science of archaeology and evolution Dr. Johanson has been reflecting on what this research can tell us about today’s technology-driven fast-paced world. “The understanding of the common origin of all people from Africa provides an important perspective that we should try to act in a way that has better results in preserving our environments because we are the species in control, and if we are going to continue to survive in the future we need to be careful in preserving the natural world on which we depend,” Dr. Johanson asserts. “But also as humans it is our duty to cooperate with one another in a much better way than we are today. After all we are a single common species that meets the same challenges.”

We asked Dr. Johanson if he had seen the new movie Lucy featuring actress Scarlet Johansson and wherein she connects with her ancestor Lucy.

“Oh yeah, yes I have watched it, I enjoyed it very much,” he responded.

Video: Don Johanson – Lucy’s Legacy: Our African Origins


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Report and Photos: ‘Lion of Judah Dinner’ Held in Tulsa, Oklahoma

The writer of the following article, Professor Ted Vestal, is pictured at the dinner in Tulsa, Oklahoma on June 18th, 2014. He is the author of the book: "The Lion of Judah in the New World." (Courtesy photo)

Tadias Magazine
By Ted Vestal, PhD | OP-ED

Published: Sunday, July 6th, 2014

Tulsa, Oklahoma (TADIAS) – On June 18th, Oklahoma University (OU), Tulsa’s Center for Democracy and culture and the Oklahoma State University (OSU) Office of International Studies and Outreach sponsored a very special “Lion of Judah Dinner” celebrating the 60th anniversary of the first visit to Oklahoma by a reigning foreign head of state, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia. A sold-out audience of 54 enthusiastic attendees, a cross-section of the local populace, gathered at Harwelden Mansion overlooking the Arkansas River in Tulsa to view artifacts from the land of Prester John, eat traditional Ethiopian food, and learn about the close and historic ties of Ethiopia with Oklahoma. Dr. David Henneberry, OSU’s Associate Vice President, Division of International Studies and Outreach, joined Prof. Rodger Randle, Director of OU’s Center for Democracy and Culture and former Mayor of Tulsa and former Peace Corps Volunteer, in welcoming the guests and providing background about the Emperor’s visit and its significance to the state. The dinner was the city’s first public ceremony honoring an African country and its people.

During the Emperor’s first state visit to the United States in 1954, he made a singular stop in his 7,000 mile tour of the country to thank the people of Oklahoma for assisting in modernizing agriculture and education in his nation. Haile Selassie was an iconic figure of the 20th Century, a defender of the principle of collective security before the League of Nations, military commander of the first Allied victory in World War II, champion of the United Nations whose troops fought for the UN in Korea and the Congo, Cold-war ally of the United States, staunch anti-colonialist, and a noted Pan-Africanist and founding father of the Organization of African Unity. The Emperor was honored with a reception and dinner in Stillwater that was described as “the social event of the century” in Oklahoma. The timing of the visit and its venue were auspicious. Only one month before the U.S. Supreme Court had handed down its landmark case, Brown v. Board of Education, ending racial segregation in public schools. The Emperor and his entourage were honored at a racially integrated event in an officially segregated state.

Haile Selassie held a special audience for the family of the late Dr. Harry Bennett, the president of Oklahoma A&M who established Oklahoma’s connections with Ethiopia through President Truman’s Point Four program. At the Tulsa celebration, Thomas E. Bennett, Jr., grandson of President Bennett spoke about his family’s memories of meetings with the Emperor. Tulsans Judy Burton, whose father was chief executive of Ethiopian Airlines (EA) from 1955-1960, and David Duke, who instructed EA mechanics the finer points of airplane engine maintenance in 1964 talked about their time in Addis Ababa. Patricia Vestal, who taught art at the Creative Arts Center of Haile Selassie I University from 1965-1966, reminisced about attending a reception at Jubilee Palace and having Halie Selassie attend her students’ art show. Ethiopianist Ted Vestal spoke about the Emperor’s state visit and gave details about the Oklahoma segment of the journey.

Before the program, photographer Hoyt Smith, a Peace Corps Volunteer teacher at Tafari Makonnen School in Addis Ababa from 1962-1965, showed slides from his collection while guests dined with a traditional Ethiopian meal of injera and wat. For a departing gift, filmmaker Mel Tawahade presented all attendees with a copy of his video “Point Four Ethiopia.”



Related:
Reflection: The 60th Anniversary of Emperor Haile Selassie’s Visit to OSU

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Muslims of Multicultural Ethiopia

An old man enjoys tea in the ancient city of Harar, Ethiopia, the fourth holy city of Islam and a World Heritage site with 82 mosques and 102 shrines dating back to the 10th century A.D. (Photo: Flickr)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Monday, September 9, 2013

New York (TADIAS) – Recently, according to the Ethiopian government, there is a real concern about the rise of a small, imported and militant sect that is spreading a foreign brand of radical Islam in the country. The new phenomenon of “religious extremism” has become a rally-poster issue in Ethiopia. State-sponsored media has also attempted to link the two-year old Friday protests demanding the release of jailed religious leaders as efforts supported by these same sects.

What seems to be missing from the public view, however, are independent voices that can add to the state sponsored interfaith council that is pushing only a one-size-fits-all slogan rather than seeking long term solutions.

It begs the question: How about the majority of Ethiopian Muslims? What do they want? There is a need for the government to open up the space for an all inclusive dialogue without political bias. In fact, Article 27 of Ethiopia’s constitution bars the state from meddling in religious affairs. If anything the recent show of force by police against demonstrators would not bring permanent closure to this festering crisis. So far the interfaith committee has produced no viable solutions either, except to repeat and amplify selected speeches of minority religious fanatics that authorities say are becoming a major threat. Straightforward answers are hard to come by; queries by journalists remain without response.

Ethiopian religious history is an intricate recording of Christian, Jewish and Muslim citizens who have lived side by side enjoying relative freedom to worship freely. To the west of the country, the gated city of Harar is considered the 4th holiest city for Muslims and is listed as a World Heritage site. While the Kebre Negest book cites the introduction of Judaism to ancient Ethiopia through the line of King Solomon, it is an Ethiopian Christian king who saw it fit to grant asylum to the relatives of the Muslim prophet Mohammed who were fleeing religious persecution. The prophet is recorded to have said “Abyssinia is a land of justice in which no one is oppressed,” and forbidding “holy war” against Ethiopia. Today the Al Nejashi mosque in the northern region of Tigray still stands as one of Islam’s oldest mosques.

Given the current heated politicization of religion in the country, it may seem almost an afterthought that Ethiopia’s heritage actually includes the beginning of the world’s three major Abrahamic faiths. A quick scan of the last millennium by itself reveals that many empires and leaders have come and gone, but the spiritual and multicultural fabric of the Ethiopian people have remained intact.

Additional highlights are included in the following timeline, which we hope will serve as an independent and interactive historical data visualization, and as a starting point for the development of a more well-rounded backdrop to the current issue of religious freedom and its implications.


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Italy’s Racism Is Embedded

Soldiers of the Italian army beside a bust of Mussolini in Ethiopia, in 1934. (Photograph: Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS)

The Guardian

By Maaza Mengiste

Last week in Rome three mannequins doused in fake blood were discovered in front of a municipal building ahead of a visit from Italy’s first black minister, Cécile Kyenge. Flyers scattered around the area declared: “Immigration is the genocide of peoples. Kyenge resign!” This is only the latest in a succession of shocking attacks and threats since Kyenge took office in April. She’s been compared to an orangutan by a former government minister; likened to a prostitute by a deputy mayor; and had bananas thrown at her while making a speech.

Her appointment has not only shed light on the country’s problems with racial tolerance, it has begun to strip away at the Italian stereotype: Italians are friendly and kind, love to laugh, and enjoy the good life. They are, after all, more Mediterranean than European, a bit disorganised, but more likely to welcome you with open arms than insult or threaten you. It is a concept that goes by the term Italiani brava gente: “Italians are decent people”. It was this idea that drew me to Italy as the subject for my new book. It ran counter to the experiences of my grandfather and his generation, who fought against the Fascist invasion of Ethiopia and endured a five-year Italian occupation. That contradiction took me to Rome, where I lived for an extended time, and where I researched Italy’s colonial-era archives.

Read more at The Guardian.

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Donald Edward Crummey (1941-2013)

Professor Donald Edward Crummey died on Friday, August 16th, 2013 at age 72. He began his research and teaching career in Ethiopia where he worked at Addis Ababa University from 1967 to 1973.

Obituary

By Bahru Zewde

Published: Thursday, August 29, 2013

“There is one fewer of us now, and we were never many to start with!”

That was how Don conveyed to me the passing away of Taddesse only last May. A loaded sentence which had a premonition of his own frail condition, as he was battling the cancer that eventually claimed his life. But, few of us thought that his departure would be so imminent, following fast on the heel of Taddesse’s. Donald Crummey passed away in Urbana, Illinois, on Friday 16 August, 2013.

The sentence also highlights the merciless assault that Death has chosen to inflict on those who have dedicated their lives to the study of Ethiopian history – beleaguered as it is in many other respects as well. In the past decade alone, we have lost so many of our professional colleagues – Harold Marcus, Berhanou Abebe, Zewde Gebre Sellassie, Merid Wolde Aregay, Hussein Ahmed, Taddesse Tamrat – and now Don Crummey.

Taddesse’s and Don’s lives were intertwined in so many ways. They were more or less contemporary doctoral students at the School of Oriental and African Studies of London University in the mid-1960s – the golden age of African studies. They both did their research on the interplay of religion and politics – as can be seen from their dissertations, which were both published in the same year (1972) by Oxford University Press, Taddesse’s as Church and State, Don’s as Priests and Politicians. They also had a common daughter – Hiwote Taddesse Tamrat, biological daughter of Taddesse and Almaz and adoptive daughter of Don and Lorraine. Both Taddesse and Don were adoring husbands and loving fathers, blessed with three children each and with a number of grandchildren.

My memory of Don takes me nearly five decades back – to 1967, when he joined the Department of History of Haile Sellassie I University, as Addis Ababa University was then known. I was then a third year student. He had come fresh from his doctoral studies at SOAS. He was preceded by Richard Caulk, who had joined the Department in 1966. Both of them were members of that generation of African and Africanist historians who were to transform the teaching and research of African history all over the continent. As it happened, both had as their supervisor at SOAS the great and amiable scholar of Southern Sudan, Richard Gray.

Richard and Don left – in different ways – lasting imprint on my generation of Ethiopian historians . On the surface, one could not think of more contrasting personalities – Richard tempestuous and unsparing, Don more sedate and understanding; Richard clean-shaven and Don with his trademark patriarchal beard. This last feature could hardly escape the notice of the traditional painter who was commissioned to paint the staff members of the Department in the early 1970s; the painting still hangs in the Department chairperson’s office.

The Senior Essay – the mandatory thesis that students had to write for their BA – was the medium through which they imparted their methodological skills to their students. The result was a crop of outstanding BA theses, many of them on the thitherto ignored southern part of the country, mostly written by systematically tapping oral sources. Quite a few of them were comparable to MA theses in many other universities. This breakthrough in Ethiopian historiography – a veritable methodological revolution – was to continue into the early 1970s.

It was also during his stay at Haile Sellassie I University that Don was to turn his attention, from the vantage point of his doctoral research, to understanding the enigmatic figure of Emperor Tewodros. The result was two influential articles on his policy and personality – his modernizing zeal and his violence – which appeared, respectively, in the Journal of African History and the Journal of Ethiopian Studies.

Don and Lorraine were generous hosts during their stay in Addis Ababa, inviting students and colleagues to sumptuous meals at their homes. For some reason, the thing that always sticks in my mind is the Renault 4 that Don used to drive – an intrepid machine that traversed long distances throughout the country without a hitch. It became as much his trademark as his beard. Long after he left Addis, Don also recalled on so many occasions the scary mid-night drive down what was popularly known as “the question mark” – the tortuous road going down from Fit Bar (the man gate of the Menilek Palace) to where Sheraton Addis is standing today – as he was rushing to Princess Tsehay Hospital while Lorraine was in labour to give birth to their third child, Naomi.

In 1973, Don left Haile Sellassie I University for the institution that was destined to be his permanent academic home – the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). For four decades thereafter, he was to use that base to lead a fruitful and successful academic career, rising to full professorship at the Department of History in 1983 and serving as Director of the Centre for African Studies from 1984 to 1994. Indeed, it was under his directorship that the Centre, after graduating from a program to a centre status, attained a pre-eminent position in the league of such establishments in the United States.

His teaching and research at UIUC left an even more enduring impact. His undergraduate teaching, where he created and developed six of the over twenty courses that he taught, earned him the Distinguished Teaching Award of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 1987 and the Humanities Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2006 of the same college. But it was through his supervision of doctoral theses, which continued after he became Emeritus Professor in 2006, that his legacy would remain with us. He supervised fourteen PhD dissertations between 1986 and 2011, eight of them on Ethiopian topics and six of these by Ethiopian students. As it happened, both his first and his last student were Ethiopian (Abudssamad H. Ahmad and Habtamu Mengiste, respectively).

He also broadened his African links by developing a collaborative research and training arrangement with Egerton University in Kenya. While Director of the Centre for African Studies, he created a study abroad program for undergraduate and graduate students of that university. Indeed, three of the PhD dissertations he supervised were to be on Kenya, two of them by Kenyans.

But it was Ethiopia, where he conducted two seminal research projects, which remained the primary focus of his research. The first was the land tenure project in Gondar and Gojjam. Apart from helping to uncover a corpus of rich documents that throw new light on the land tenure systems of the concerned regions, the project helped to train two of his PhD students – Shumet Sishagne and Daniel Ayana. The project was rounded off with a magisterial work on the history of Ethiopia’s land tenure, Land and Society in the Christian Kingdom of Ethiopia: From the Thirteenth to the Twentieth Century (2000).

The second project, done in collaboration with the Institute of Ethiopian Studies, was a reassessment of the environmental history of northern Ethiopia, focusing on Wollo. Don was able to set up an impressive multi-disciplinary team, involving a geographer, two historians, a development analyst and a botanist. In addition, the project benefited from short-term visits of experts in ancillary disciplines. The preliminary findings of the research were published in 1998 in a special issue of the Journal of Ethiopian Studies. While the other members of the team then went on to pursue other projects, Don continued to broaden those findings into yet another seminal study of the environmental history of Ethiopia. Alas, he succumbed to the illness that had been diverting his attention of late before that book could see the light of day.

Donald Crummey was the winner of many awards and research grants, including an NEH research grant for his land tenure project, grants from the Macarthur Foundation for the planning and execution of his environmental history project, as well as Fellowships from Fulbright and the National Humanities Center. He has authored two major books on Ethiopian history, co-edited five works on African history, in addition to publishing over fifty articles and dozens of contributions to the Hamurg-based Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, of whose editorial committee he was also a member. A dedicated reviewer of books for many journals, particularly the Journal of African History, he has some sixty-five reviews to his credit. He was also a regular and active participant of the International Conference of Ethiopian Studies series, serving as the North American representative of its International Organizing Committee from 1882 to 1888.

At the onset of his illness, Don used to keep his friends and colleagues updated with a regular health bulletin. But, apparently as his condition assumed a serious turn, he gave up that habit. So, his departure must come as a shock to many.

Donald Crummey is survived by his wife, Lorraine, his three children Rebecca, Matthew and Naomi as well as his five grandchildren Zoey, Siobhan, Valentin, Willa and Inigo. He is going to be sorely missed not only by his immediate family but also by his former students and colleagues as well as the Ethiopianist community at large.

May his soul rest in peace.

Related:
Donald Crummey (The News Gazette)

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Google Honores Abebe Bikila

(Image credit: Abebe Bikila Google Doodle)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Updated: Thursday, August 8, 2013

New York (TADIAS) – Athletic legend Abebe Bikila was honored on Wednesday with an artistic version of the Google logo. The double Olympic marathon champion who is most remembered for winning a gold medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics while running barefoot was featured with the Google Doodle on August 7th, 2013 on what would have been his 81st birthday.

“I wanted the whole world to know that my country, Ethiopia, has always won with determination and heroism,” Abebe is famously quoted as saying shortly following his memorable victory in Rome.

Abebe Bikila died on October 25, 1973 at the age of 41. He remains a national Ethiopian hero and an international sports legend.

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Poet-Playwright Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin

Poet Laureate Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin. (Cover Illustration: Ezra Wube/Tsehai Publishers)

Tadias Magazine
By Dagnachew Teklu

Updated: Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Washington D.C (TADIAS) – The life and accomplishments of Ethiopian poet and playwright, Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin, was celebrated last Friday in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland. The event highlighted Fasil Yitbarek’s book entitled Soaring on Winged Verse, which is the official biography of Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin — one of Africa’s most important literary figures. The gathering, which was hosted by Taitu Cultural Center during its popular monthly poetry night YeWeru Gitm Mishit on July 26th, was attended by a large number of people from the Ethiopian community including families and friends of the late Poet Laureate who would have marked his 77th birthday this August.

The biography was printed by Tsehai Publishers in 2011 and is dedicated “to those whose creative inspirations springs from their love of Ethiopia.” In his book, Fasil chronicles the remarkable story of Mr. Tsegaye’s humble beginnings in rural Ethiopia from the town of Boda, near Ambo, to become one of the most recognized men of letters in the country as well as one of the most prolific and acclaimed writers of his generation. The poet’s distinguished resume spans luminary works of more than 45 plays and an influential collection of Amharic poetry entitled Isat Woy Abeba (Blaze or Bloom).

Poet Laureate Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin passed away in February 2006 at the age of 69 while receiving medical treatment in New York. His body was flown back to Ethiopia and buried at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa.

In a Q&A with Tadias Magazine, Fasil said Soaring on Winged Verse is based on several interviews, which he conducted in New York with the late Tsegaye some ten years ago at the poet-playwright’s request.

“We used to meet once a week for a couple of hours and I was able to record about 30 cassettes on various occasions,” Fasil said. However, Tsegaye passed away before they completed the interviews for the book, and he fondly recalled their weekly sessions as “unforgettable moments in my life.” Fasil said he was able to fill the gap through further research of both published and unpublished sources.

“I was lucky to be chosen by Tsegaye to write this book.” Fasil added.

Yodit Tsegaye, one of Tsegaye’s daughters agreed, “We really appreciate Fasil’s determination to finish the memoir,” she said. “This book tells us what we didn’t know about our father.”

Below are photos from the event.



You can learn more about the book and order your own copy at www.tsehipublihers.com. “Soaring on Winged Verse” is also in the process of being translated into Amharic.

Related:
Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin, Ethiopian Poet Laureate, Dies at 69 (The New York Times)
Tadias Interview: Samuel Wolde-Yohannes on his Book ‘Ethiopia: Culture of Progress

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Ethiopian Domestic Help Abuse Headlines From the Middle East

Below is an interactive timeline highlighting media reports of Ethiopian migrant worker abuse in the Middle East. (Photos: YouTube)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Tuesday, July 23, 2013

New York (TADIAS) – Ever since Alem Dechasa killed herself in Lebanon following her widely publicized videotaped beating last year, Jomo Tariku, who resides in a suburb of Washington, D.C., has been compiling news reports going as far back as the 1990s documenting Ethiopian migrant worker abuse in the Middle East.

The crowdsourcing website, dedicated to Alem who was the mother of two children, keeps track of employer abuse in the region that often leads to suicide, kidnapping, enforced servitude, murder, defacement, mutilation, scarification by sharp objects, boiling water or chemicals, rape, torture, burning, beating, hot ironing, and starvation.

The following is an interactive timeline organized and filtered using the reports that has so far been collected. We hope the visual data would assist policymakers in Ethiopia and elsewhere to better assess the gravity and the long history of the issue.



Related:
Changing Ethiopia’s Media Image: The Case of People-Trafficking (TADIAS)
Video: Ethiopian migrants tell of torture and rape in Yemen (BBC)
Video: Inside Yemen’s ‘torture camps’ (BBC News)
BBC Uncovers Untold People-Trafficking, Torture of Ethiopians in Yemen (TADIAS)
Meskerem Assefa Advocates for Ethiopian Women in the Middle East (TADIAS)

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Photos: United Nations Marks OAU-AU 50th Anniversary

At the United Nations in New York on Wednesday, June 26th, 2013. (Photo: Tadias Magazine)

Tadias Magazine
By Tseday Alehegn

Published: Thursday, June 27th, 2013

New York (TADIAS) – The African Union Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations in New York hosted a “High level Panel Discussion and Workshop” on Wednesday June 26th inside the UN building marking the 50th anniversary of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the predecessor to the African Union (AU), headquartered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The event opened with a remark by Ambassador Tete Antonio of the Permanent Observer of the AU to the UN, who delivered an introductory message from Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Chairperson of the AU Commission and the first woman to lead the organization. Statements were also made by the head of the African Group for the month of June 2013, Mr. Roble Olhaye, Permanent Representative of Djibouti to the United Nations.

The keynote speaker was Dr. Ali A. Mazrui, the famed academic and political writer on African and Islamic studies as well as North-South relations. During his speech Professor Mazrui, who turned 80 last year, proposed that the AU, which currently has no real authority to make binding decisions for all of Africa’s 54 states, perhaps should establish a permanent member council similar to the U.N. with a rotating chairmanship. He suggested the body should be made up of 4 or five countries, one from each region based on size of population: “Nigeria from the West, Egypt from the North, Ethiopia from the East and South Africa from the South.”

Mazuri also recalled Nelson Mandela’s memorable interview with Ted Koppel on ABC’s Nightline on February 15th, 1990, soon after he was released from his 27-year imprisonment. “Most people would look at the last 27 years of your life or at the life of someone who has spent the last 27 years in prison and say to themselves “what a waste.” What about you?,” the ABC host had asked. “That is true, to spend 27 years at the prime of your life is a tragedy and I regret those years that I have wasted in prison,” Mandela had responded. “But there are very positive aspects too because I had the opportunity to think about problems and to reflect on my mistakes.” Mandela added: “I also had the opportunity of reading very widely and especially biographies and I could see what men sometimes from very humble beginnings were able to lift themselves with boot strings and become international figures and men that are useful to society in their own community and to the world.”

The gathering also included screenings of a short documentary focusing on the history of the founding of the OAU in Addis Ababa on May 25th, 1963 as well as a trailer of a film highlighting the organization’s 50th anniversary celebrations .

Below is a slideshow of images from the panel discussion:

Watch: Feb. 15, 1990: Nelson Mandela Interview with Ted Koppel on ABC’s Nighline


Related:
Yadesa Bojia Reflects on African Union Flag on 50th Anniversary (TADIAS)
The African Union Turns 50: Voices From Ethiopia — Past and Present (TADIAS)

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Hydropolitics Between Ethiopia and Egypt: A Historical Timeline

From top left: Emperor Haile Selassie, President Gamal Abdel Nasser, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, President Hosni Mubarak, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and President Mohamed Morsi. (Photos: Creative commons)

Tadias Magazine

By Tadias Staff

Published: Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

New York (TADIAS) — Hydropolitics flare up is not new to Africa’s Nile Basin region. The world’s longest river, which flows northwards and criss-crosses eleven countries, has been a particular point of tension between Egypt and Ethiopia for a long time; especially when it comes to the equitable sharing of the water resource for economic development.

In 1959, the colonial-era Waters Agreement between Egypt and Sudan was signed before all the upriver countries had achieved independence — namely Tanzania (1961), Uganda (1962), Rwanda (1962), Burundi (1962), and Kenya (1963) — excluding Ethiopia from the deal. Emperor Haile Selassie who was incensed by the snub, responded by ending the Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s 1,600 year relationship with the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church in Alexandria.

According to a newly launched historical data visualization web site, TimeLine Ethiopia, the colonial era agreement had allocated 55.5 billion cubic meters of water annually to Egypt while Sudan was given 18.5 billion cubic meters, which represented 99% of the average annual flow of the Nile river.

That same year Haile Selassie decided to commission a $10 million American-led study entitled “Land and Water Resources of the Blue Nile Basin: Ethiopia.” The seventeen volume report finalized in 1964 served as the blueprint and beginning of Ethiopia’s mission to build multiple dams on the Blue Nile and its tributaries.

Egypt, under the leadership of Gamal Abdel Nasser, retaliated against Haile Selassie’s initiative by clandestinely supporting armed insurrections in the northern parts of Ethiopia in order to foment civil war and unrest in the country. According to Wikipedia Nasser was also simultaneously busy overseeing the construction of a high dam in Egypt to satisfy his country’s “ability to control floods, provide water for irrigation, and generate hydroelectricity seen as pivotal to Egypt’s industrialization.”

Fast forwarding to current times, when Ethiopia’s former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi re-initiated the project to accomplish unrealized ambitions for Ethiopia, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, did not welcome the effort.

In 2013 Ethiopia’s diverting of waters to complete the Grand Renaissance Dam project has been met by high-level Egyptian agitation including discussions of sabotage on live television.

Below is an interactive timeline of the Nile dispute courtesy of TimeLine Ethiopia.

Related:

Tom Campbell: America Would Be Wrong to Favor Egypt in Water Rift (OC Register)

Egypt’s Nile Threats Weaken Case to Secure Water: Shinn (Bloomberg)

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Ketema Yifru: The Architect Behind the OAU

Emperor Haile-Selassie conferring with his foreign minister, Ketema Yifru. (The Ethiopian Reporter)

The Ethiopian Reporter

By YONAS ABIYE

A country is best represented by its people or leadership and leaders are the ones who are of the people by the people and for the people.

As a result, leadership shapes the character, behavior and culture of its people and the country.

A country’s good or bad image is determined by the good or bad image of its leader.

In this regard, it is the right time for Ethiopia to talk about the demonstration of the above facts.

Ethiopia is hosting one of the biggest continental events. As a seat of the continent’s grandest institution, Addis Ababa is colorfully celebrating the Golden Jubilee of Organization of African Unity/African Union (OAU/AU). Because of this all eyes are focused here.

Fifty-four African countries are represented and have convened here to celebrate the union.

This historical advantage has lifted the country’s image to the highest stage. So who to be praised? No doubt, its brightest leaders. Certainly, Emperor Haile-Selassie I. He is considered by many to be the Father of Africa. In the last half of the 20th century, Haile-Selassie’s name has never been omitted whenever the OAU is mentioned. It seems that His Majesty had amassed all the credit for the country’s success in the formation of OAU.

However, little attention is given to those who were doing the work behind the scenes. Sometimes, the success of these individuals goes unnoticed.

Obviously, one Ethiopian has been overshadowed by Emperor Haile-Selassie’s grace and reputation regarding the OAU. The man who looks to be left under the surface is the architect and the master whose role was instrumental. Also he is the person who was able to make Addis Ababa the home of the OAU.

He is the late Ketema Yifru, Haile-Selassie’s Foreign Minister He is rarely heard of and that is why some call him the “unsung hero” while others describe him as the “Amed Afash” (a person who is negatively rewarded).

After serving as a foreign minister for ten years from (1961 to 1971) he spent eight years in prison when the Derg was in power.

Ketema Yifru was also recognized by the media as having played a prominent role in the creation of Africa’s regional organization.

In a recently published article on his personal blog, Ketema Yifru’s son, Mekonnen Ketema quoted that his father as saying:

“Based on the discussions I had with my father as well as his taped and written interviews, I now clearly understand what he meant when he said, ‘Only a few are aware of the hard work and all the effort that brought about the creation of the OAU.’ Most of the public is not aware of the shuttle diplomacy, the closed door negotiations, and all the tireless effort, in general, that paved the way towards creating the OAU. In addition, the majority of the public are not aware of the fierce diplomatic battle that was fought by a number of states to have the OAU headquartered in their respective capital cities.

Read the full article at: www.thereporterethiopia.com.

Related:
AU Celebrates 50-Year Anniversary At Landmark Summit in Ethiopia (Video)
African Union leaders mark 50th anniversary in Ethiopia (BBC)
The African Union Turns 50: Voices From Ethiopia (TADIAS)
The OAU: Fifty years on (BBC News)
African Union Celebrates 50th Year (AP)
Watch: AU anniversary video spotlight (Economist)
Yadesa Bojia Reflects on African Union Flag on 50th Anniversary (TADIAS)

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The African Union Turns 50: Voices From Ethiopia — Past and Present

The African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (Photo courtesy AU Commission)

Tadias Magazine
By Nuhamin Daniel and Benno Muechler

Updated: Saturday, May 25th, 2013

Addis Ababa (TADIAS) – It must have been some time around 1970. Solomon Kurabachew doesn’t remember exactly when he met his future wife, but at the time he was employed as an accountant at the OAU, where Lakatch, now his wife of 40 years, also worked as a secretary. In a recent interview at their home here in Addis Ababa, the couple shared with us their memories of how they met each other because of their work at the Organization of African Unity, which is the predecessor to the African Union (AU). On Saturday, May 25th the AU celebrated its 50th anniversary.

Each day after work, Solomon said, he drove home with two colleagues past the Emperor’s palace. And on the way once he spotted Lakatch and two of her friends waiting for a taxi. “So, one day when the three of us saw them again, we thought: ‘Oh, these girls are always standing here,’” Solomon recalled. “Why not give them a lift?” At first, Mr. Solomon said, the connection started out as “Selam and ciao.”

“Then lastly, me and one of my friends decided to talk to them so my friend and I stepped out of the car –one of the guys stayed in the car –and we said hello to the women and offered to give them a lift,” he remembered. “They said ‘No.’” But that was before Lakatch relented in giving him her phone number.

When Solomon began working at OAU in 1968, Mobutu Sese Seko was the chairman and the OAU’s nickname was the ‘Dictators’ Club.’ The heavily criticized institution is still a work in progress, but over the past five decades it has also been source of job security for many professionals like Solomon and Lakatch. And in recent years the newly inaugurated state-of-the-art conference center and office complex — a $200 million gift from the government of China — has added to the local economic boom.

For Fantahun Haile Michael, AU’s current project coordinator, the entity is not perfect, but “It’s the the only continental forum we do have.”

In an interview at his office inside the new building, Mr. Fantahun, who previously served as Ethiopia’s ambassador to North Korea and Zimbabwe, said the AU has no power to make binding decisions for all of Africa’s 54 states, but it does its best given all the constraints.

“Ultimately we’re trying to change the continent in order to better, for good, the lives of African citizens,” he said. As to his own employment at the AU: “It’s not about thinking about our own life, our well-being because we’re paid well,” he said. “That’s not something that should give us ultimate happiness. Ultimate happiness is how much we’re trying to change Africa.”

There sat another gentleman under a tree in the morning sun, dressed in a worn-out gray sweater, outside the AU compound, away from the basketball court, where from Mr. Fantahun’s office window view a few women played dribble. Teshome Kinfe Woldegiorgis, 24, is waiting for customers. Teshome washes cars and makes about 100 Birr a day, that’s before he quit his job at the AU that paid less.

“When I started at the AU, I was really excited,” said Teshome who made 400 Birr a month. “But that changed when I saw how conditions were.

Teshome grew up in the neighborhood around AU. After finishing grade 10 at school, he tried to make ends meet as a shoe shiner. One of his customers worked at the AU and got him a job as a waiter. Teshome served top officials like UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. After two years, he left his job.

“I remember that my feet were bleeding one day because I had to walk so much. And all that for only 400 Birr a month. I applied for other jobs that were better paid, but I never got a reply. You spend the whole day with top officials like the AU chairperson, Jean Ping. But you can’t even afford a new pair of pants with the money you earn every month.“

Kebede Assefa is one of those city residents who had to move to make way for the construction of the new AU building. He works as a barber some hundred meters down the street in a district of huts made of mud and iron sheet. A smelly river with yellow foam on the surface meanders under a bridge. The area will be demolished soon. Fortunately, this time, the city gave those losing their properties at least new housing. It was different when his old dwelling was demolished some years ago, he said. He is still waiting for compensation. Nevertheless, Mr. Kebede, who has only one leg since his car accident and now cuts hair while leaning on a crutch, thinks positively of the AU. “What can you say if the area here is to be developed?” he asked. “This district is really ugly. We need to grow. Why should it remain like this?”

At Solomon and Lakatch’s living room, “It was love at first sight,” Lakatch said, after Solomon noted that she had given him her phone number on his second try. Like the AU, the family of Solomon and Lakatch has grown since the early 1970s. The pictures of their four married children and five grandchildren hang on the walls of their living room. Also, just like the AU, the couple moved to a new home. While this one is much smaller and was not built by the Chinese, the old house next door accommodates a Taiwanese and a German who would probably have never come to Addis if the AU had not made the city become a regional center for aid agencies and the international media.

Mr. Solomon left the OAU in 1986 and worked at the delegation of the European Union in Addis until his retirement age. Maybe the AU will become an EU one day, he said. “Yes, working at the EU was more comfortable, but having double the number of EU member states makes life also more difficult for the AU.”

“At the African Union, on the other hand, there are so many different characters,” Mr. Solomon said while Lakatch boiled coffee in a pot placed on charcoal in the background. “It’s not a small organization. There are the French, the English-speaking, the Arabs. There are a lot of communication gaps between us. But at the EU, there are only two languages — French and English. You can communicate, you can understand each other.”

Nuhamin Daniel is a journalist based in Addis Ababa. Benno Muechler is a freelance correspondent for German Public Radio (Deutschlandfunk) from Ethiopia.

Related:
Photos: United Nations Marks OAU-AU 50th Anniversary (TADIAS)
AU Celebrates At Landmark Summit in Ethiopia (Video)
Ketema Yifru: The Architect Behind the OAU (The Ethiopian Reporter)
The OAU: Fifty years on (BBC News)
African Union Celebrates 50th Year (AP)
Watch: AU anniversary video spotlight (Economist)
Yadesa Bojia Reflects on African Union Flag on 50th Anniversary (TADIAS)

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Letter From Harar: Dr. Clyde Kindell’s ‘Fond Memories of Ethiopia’ — Photos

In these photos taken in the 1960s, Dr. Clyde Kindell, President of Alemaya College, hosts Emperor Haile Selassie and Jomo Kenyatta at the agricultural school in Harar. (Courtesy photographs)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Updated: Thursday, May 9th, 2013

New York (TADIAS) – In the summer of 1966 when Dr. Clyde R. Kindell, the last American President of Alemaya College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts in Ethiopia, was preparing to return home to the United States, he received a letter from the Governor of Harar whom he had befriended during his eight-year stay in the country, which he kept as a memento.

The document, shared with Tadias, was written on June 11th, 1966 and signed by Fitwarai Tewahade Woldeyes. “Dear respected friend, I am very sorry to hear from your letter of 30th Ginbot 1958 EC [Ethiopian Calendar] that you are completing your term as the president of the Agriculture College of Alemaya and going back to your country,” it said. “I consider your departure as losing one of those highly esteemed Ethiopians not as a foreigner going back to his country.”

The governor goes on to inform Dr. Kindell that had he been younger he too would have chosen to enroll at Alemaya College. Nonetheless, “I am very grateful to learn from your diligence, honesty, and tact of making others work through cooperation,” he wrote. “Please, therefore, accept my heartfelt thanks and I wish you a bright future in all your endeavors.”

Upon his return to the United States, Dr. Kindell became president of Murray State College in Oklahoma, where he worked for 27 years until he retired in 1994.

In a recent phone conversation with Tadias Magazine from his current home in Denison, Texas, Dr. Kindell, now 86-years-old, shared his recollections of Ethiopia.

“To this day I am still in touch with the children of Fitwarai Tewahade, including Mel,” he said, referring to filmmaker and businessman Mel Tewahade, producer of the documentary Point Four, which explores the history of America’s “Point Four” foreign policy and its impact in Africa and Asia.

“I have fond memories of Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people,” said Dr. Kindell, who traveled to Ethiopia under Oklahoma State University’s Point Four agricultural program in the late 1950s. “My daughter was born in Jimma.”

Mel Tewahade told Tadias the letter was penned by his late father as a farewell and thank you to Dr. Kindell. “Since my father was the Mayor of the city of Harer and governor of surrounding region, he had frequent interaction with the American staff at Alemaya and that’s how the two developed their friendship,” he said.

Mel said that part of his father’s job was “to ensure that Americans were safe and any misunderstanding between them and the residents living around Alemaya was quickly and peacefully resolved, as well as security matters, such as attempting to reduce the use of Khat (Chat) in and around the school and developing a market for Alemaya grown potato.”

Dr. Kindell, who was 31-years-old when he first arrived in Ethiopia, served for two years as the Director of Instruction and Research at the Jimma Agriculture Technical School before taking the helm at Alemaya in Harar. He noted that he reported directly to Emperor Haile Selassie, who was the Chancellor of the nation’s university system.

“The Emperor was like a father figure to me,” Dr. Kindell said. “He would scold me from time to time, mostly for not learning Amharic fast enough.”

Dr. Kindell shared his “vivid memory” of an encounter he had with Emperor Haile Selassie in November 1963 as the Emperor prepared to leave for Washington, D.C. to attend President Kennedy’s funeral. “The Emperor had great respect and admiration for John F. Kennedy because they had met and Kennedy had sought his advice,” he said. “He was very saddened by his death.”

Speaking of Kennedy, Mel added that he has released another movie called Peace Corps in Ethiopia highlighting one of Kennedy’s legacies. “It was screened at Kotebe Teacher Training College in September 2012,” he said. “It was shown at the 50th year reunion of returned Peace Corps volunteers who served in Ethiopia and Eritrea.”

“The film is the history of Peace Corps involvement in Ethiopia from 1962 to 1976″ Mel said. “We interviewed several volunteers and asked them to share their experience. Senator Harris Wafford of Pennsylvania and former director of Peace Corps in Ethiopia, outlines the contribution that Emperor Haile Sellasie made to the success of the program, and the support that Peace Corps got from President Kennedy and the director of Peace Corps Sargent Shriver.”

As to his own reminiscence of growning up near the school, Mel pointed out that the view from his father’s car window still remain fresh in his mind. “My most favorite of this time was the drive I used to make with my dad to Alemaya,” he said. “The lake was beautiful and there were plenty of fruit stands around the town of Alemaya. It was breathtaking.”

And back on the phone Dr. Kindell recalled, “So one day my wife and I had the Emperor over for dinner and all his family and other dignitaries were present,” he said. “I finally manged the courage to say, ‘Your Majesty, Ene bizu amarigna memar alchalkum.’”

Dr Kindell continued: “He sort of chuckled, and never bothered me about my language skills again.”

Below is a digital copy of the letter courtesy of Mel Tewahade:

Photos: Dr kindell hosting Emperor Haile Selassie and Jomo Kenyatta at Alemaya College


To learn more about Mel Tewahade’s film “Point Four,” please visit the website www.pointfourethiopia.com.

Related:
Filmmaker Interview About the Movie ‘Point Four
Haile Selassie in America: Q & A with Professor Ted Vestal

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The Significance of the 1896 Battle of Adwa

March 1st, 2013 marked the 117th year anniversary of the Battle of Adwa and historian Ayele Bekerie shares an essay on the historic victory. (Photo: Mountains of Adwa/File)

Tadias Magazine
By Ayele Bekerie, PhD

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Published: Friday, March 1st, 2013

Mekelle, Ethiopia (TADIAS) – In 1896, eleven years after the Berlin Conference, the Ethiopian army decisively defeated the Italian military at the Battle of Adwa. It was a resounding victory because it aborted Italia’s ambition to establish a colonial foothold in Ethiopia. On March 2, 1896, The New York Times reported with a headline: “Abyssinians Defeat Italians; Both Wings of [General] Baratieri’s Army Enveloped in an Energetic Attack.” On March 4, 1896, The New York Times featured another story about “Italy’s Terrible Defeat.” NYT also stated “three thousand men killed, sixty guns and all provisions lost.” It further indicated how high the defeat’s impact has reached by referring to the Pope who “is greatly disturbed by the news.” “The terrible defeat” sent shock waves throughout Europe and the colonized world. It was the first time that a non-white people had defeated a European power. According to Teshale Tibebu, the victory the Ethiopians had achieved over Italy was different than other battles won by African forces. This was permanent.

While Europeans saw the defeat as a real threat to their vast colonial empires in Africa, Asia, the Americas and the Caribbean, the colonized subjects in these territories understood the event as the beginning of the end of colonialism. Adwa as Davidson aptly puts it has become a prelude to decolonization in Africa. Clearly the victory at the Battle of Adwa lends itself to multiple meanings and interpretations, depending upon perspectives and stances in relation to colonialism. The purpose of this piece is to look into the interpretations of the event from the perspectives of the colonized and how the victory brought about the idea of global Ethiopia. It can be argued that the Battle has further enhanced the symbolic significance of Ethiopia in Africa, the Americas and the Caribbean. Ethiopia has become a symbol of the anti-colonial movements throughout the world. The Battle may have also given geographical and historical certitude to Ethiopia. The Battle of Adwa is another significant symbol in the imaginary of the idea of Ethiopia. This paper looks into the symbolic importance of Adwa in the conception and development of pan-African solidarity and identity.

Ethiopia at the time of the Battle was a highly traditional empire-state where kings and nobilities ruled over a predominantly agrarian people. Modes of rules were not only dictated by customs and personal whims, they were also exploitative. Adwa then ushered a new paradigm to alter or reform the tradition, to replace it with a modern system of centralized and unified government. While the symbolic significance of the Battle successfully echoed the call for freedom and independence and an end to colonial domination abroad, the full meanings of Adwa have yet to be fully realized within Ethiopia. Adwa suggests the power of indigenous multiple voices voluntarily cooperating to defeat and challenge the European colonial order.

Virtually all the regions, religions, linguistic groups, aristocrats and peasants pulled their resources together to formulate and execute a strategy of victory. By their actions the Ethiopians were not only affirming the power and immense possibilities of unity in diversity, but they were placing issues of freedom and internal reform at the top of the national agenda. Adwa necessitates a new set of directions interspersed with broader definition and application of freedom so that all those who participated in the Battle would be able to participate in the affairs of their country. As Maimre puts it, “from the perspectives of the thousands who participated in the campaign of Adwa, the resistance to the Italian invasion embodies the aspiration for freedom, equality and unity as well as the rejection of colonialism.”

Adwa reminds the Shoan nobility to let freedom ring from northern highlands to the rift valleys, the river basins, the plain lush fields of Arussi and the salty Danakil depressions. Adwa presents a unique opportunity to reconfigure the empire-state. Unfortunately, absolutism and imperial glory overshadowed and undermined the emancipatory route suggested by the historic event of Adwa. Adwa presses on the monarchy to modernize and to let the people involve in the political process through constitutional means. Unfortunately, the leaders resisted internal reform or introduced ineffective and nominal elements of modernity. Absolute monarchy, imitative and nominal modernization and detached and non-transformative tradition were pursued and, to this date, insist on clinging to the status quo. The status quo is the cause of immense poverty and disenfranchisement for the vast majority of the people in the country.

Adwa’s magnificent victory is a model in as far as people of various cultures, religions and languages willingness to assemble for a purpose. 100,000 Ethiopian troops took positions on the fields and mountains of Adwa to encircle and defeat the enemy. The multi-cultural army paid the ultimate sacrifice when about nine thousand of its soldiers died at the Battle. With their sacrifice, they set the stage for the birth of a new Ethiopia where the reach of freedom, politically and economically, would be more egalitarian. The model, unfortunately, was not pursued in post-Adwa Ethiopia. The model of voluntary cooperation and coexistence has yet to be implemented in the twenty first century Ethiopia. The model has yet to break the cycle of poverty and endless violent conflicts in the Horn of Africa.

While the victory is certainly a major milestone in Ethiopian history, Menelik and his successors failed to fully appreciate and adopt the new reality that emerged (locally and internationally) as a consequence of the victory. The meaning and reach of freedom hampered by intolerance to internal criticism and resistance to reform the monarchy. Internationally, most historians agree that Adwa opened the way for the ultimate demise of colonialism in Africa and elsewhere.

Adwa is significant because it disturbed the colonial order in the world. Colonial subjects interpreted Adwa as a call to resist and defeat colonialism and racial oppressions through out the world. With Adwa, they have a permanent symbol and a constant reminder that colonialism was wrong and it ought to be defeated. No system is just in as long as it treats human beings as objects and fodders to exploitative and profitable economic systems. Citizen subject is a right that cannot be denied and that should be exercised if at all freedom is a universal right of peoples and communities. Adwa, to most historians, is an African victory. The 1884-85 Berlin Conference was convened to divide up the entire continent of Africa and assign colonial territories to European powers. The Europeans allocated the Horn of Africa to Italy. Italy’s unsuccessful military push in Ethiopia was a part of the European colonial order in Africa.

In preparation for this essay, I conducted field and library research in Ethiopia and abroad. I visited the town of Adwa in September 2006 and March 2012. Adwa is only 25 miles west of the ancient city of Aksum. I made the journey to Adwa in search of memorial markings, to participate in the 116th Battle of Adwa Anniversary, to pay tribute to the war heroes and heroines, to converse with residents and to visit relevant institutions and museums. The Battle of Adwa is known locally as 1886, the Ethiopian calendar year for 1896.

I also had a chance to examine archival documents in the Institute of Ethiopian Studies at Addis Ababa University and the National Archive in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The National Archive has, among other books, manuscripts and papers written in local languages and scripts, a rich collection of documents encompassing the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries of the Common Era in Ethiopian history. I particularly read and copied relevant documents from the archival collections of Belata Mersea Hazen Wolde Qirqos, Doctor Dejazemach Zewde Gebre Selassie, Dejazemach Kebede Tessema, and Aleqa Taye Gebre Mariam. Recent publications of memoirs in Amharic by former palace officials or associates, such as Fitawrari Tekle Hawariat Tekle Mariam and Dejazemach Zewde Retta, have also helped a great deal to elucidate historic events. Tsehafe Tezaz Gebre Selassie’s Tarike Zemen Ze Dagmawi Menelik Neguse Negest Ze Ethiopia (Historical Period of Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia) is a useful source of the Battle. Gebre Selassie served as a personal chronicler of the Emperor.

The collection donated to the National Archive by Belata Merse Hazen Wolde Qirqos includes a critical essay entitled Atse Menelikena Ethiopia (Emperor Menelik and Ethiopia) written by a great Ethiopian scholar, Gebre Hiwot Baykedagn. His essay criticizes Ethiopian historians for failing to engage in critical interpretations of the past. He also points out the achievements and failures of Emperor Menelik II. Another scholar who was trained in Europe, Afeworq Gebreyesus wrote the biography of Emperor Menelik. The work is regarded as serious and fruitful. Gebre Hiwot Baykedagn criticizes the book for lack of balance in the appraisal of the leadership of Emperor Yohannes II in comparison to Emperor Menelik. In addition, almost ten years ago, I participated in a book project to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the Battle of Adwa. The book, One House: The Battle of Adwa 1896-100 Years, edited by Pamela S, Brown and Fasil Yirgu, has contributors, such as the Late Laureate Tsegaye Gebre Medhin, Richard Pankhurst, and Teshale Tibebu. My contribution is entitled “How Africa Defeated Europe.”

Menelik’s (Abba Dagnew) success at the Battle of Adwa may be attributed to the following factors: One, he surrounded himself with great advisors, such as Empress Taitu Bitul, Fitawarari Habte Giorgis Dinegde (Abba Mechal) and Ras Mekonnen, a nephew and father of Emperor Haile Selassie.

Menelik was a popular leader, skillful diplomat, and good listener. Menelik believed in reconciliation. Those who revolted against him once defeated they were immediately pardoned and allowed, unfortunately, to retain their original privileged position. Menelik was keenly aware of the colonial expansionist ambition of the French, British and Italians in the region. As a result, he actively sought and acquired modern weapons from Europe. He even bought a large quantity of weapons from the Italians. He also fully exploited the rivalries among the three colonizers. More importantly, out of a long war experience, together with his ministers, regional kings, he developed a winning war plan.

Menelik’s war declaration was widely heeded and welcomed throughout the country, a clear affirmation of his popularity. Menelik’s declaration is an important literary document in the context of preparation, the will to fight and become victorious at the Battle of Adwa. Menelik appealed to love of family, religion and country. He reminded Ethiopians that the intention of the enemy is to take away the core values and traditions cherished by the people. Menelik declared (translation mine):

“Up until now, through the grace of God, who permitted me to live by destroying my enemies and expanding the territorial boundaries of our country. It is also through the grace of God that I am ruling. Therefore, I have no fear of death. More importantly, God has never let me down and I am confident that he will let me be victorious again.”

“At this time, another enemy has entered our territory by crossing our God given sea. His objective is to destroy the country and to change the religion. As a result of a major cattle disease that devastated a large number of our livestock and brought great sufferings to our farmers and pastoralists in the last few years, I remained quiet and patient to numerous hostile provocations. And yet the enemy continued to dig dipper in the ground like a hog.”

“Now God willing or with God’s help, I will not surrender my country. My fellow country folks, I do not believe that I disappointed you in the past. You have not also disappointed me. If you are strong, then help me with your strength to fight the enemy. If you are not strong, I seek your moral support for the sake of your children, wife and religion. If, on the other hand, you seek lame excuse not to join the national campaign against our enemy, I will be upset and I will not have mercy on you, I will punish you. My campaign begins in October, and I expect volunteers from Shoa to gather in Woreilu by mid October.”

This article is well-referenced and those who seek the references should contact Professor Ayele Bekerie directly at: abekerie@gmail.com.

About the Author:
Ayele Bekerie is an Associate Professor at the Department of History and Cultural Studies at Mekelle University.

Related:
The 1896 Battle of Adwa: Empress Taitu Bitul, The Visionary Co-Leader
Call for the Registry of Adwa as UNESCO World Heritage Site (Tadias)


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Women’s History Month 2013: Spotlight on Empress Taitu Bitul

Empress Taitu Bitul, one of the key leaders at the decisive Battle of Adwa on March 1st, 1896. Ayele Bekerie reflects on her contributions in celebration of Women's History Month 2013. (Photos: wikimedia)

Tadias Magazine
By Ayele Bekerie, PhD

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Updated: Friday, March 1st, 2013

Mekelle, Ethiopia (TADIAS) – Empress Taitu Bitul was actively involved in Menelik’s government. She exemplified the possibility of reform and transformation from within. She was a persistent critic of the nobilities and ministers of Menelik. Born in Wollo from a Christian and Muslim family, Taitu had a comprehensive early training in traditional education. She was fluent in Ge’ez, the classical Ethiopian language. Mastering Ge’ez was a rare achievement for a woman at that time. Education is often the privy of male children, who continue their traditional schooling in the churches and monasteries for an extended period of time. Those who passed the arduous levels of scholarship would be allowed to serve as deacons and later priests in the thousands of churches and monasteries throughout the country. Their studies include Ge’ez literature, chant, choreography and translation. Besides, Taitu was a great benefactor of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. She contributed land and building materials to several important monasteries. She also supported the Ethiopian Church in Jerusalem, Israel.

Taitu was married to Menelik at the age of forty-three and she was four years older than him. Apparently Menelik’s reverence for Taitu was in part dictated by custom. He was being respectful to an elder. On the other hand, the deference might have been earned as a result of the loyalty Taitu brought to the marriage from important northern regions of Begemedir, Lasta and Yeju. Clearly the marriage was more than romance; it was in fact, a political marriage intended to calm the competing Rases of the northern region. According to Qegnazematch Tadesse Zewelde, Taitu was co-equal with Menelik, who consulted her prior to making important decisions.

Taitu was known for her courage and uprightness. She urged the Emperor to reject the now infamous Wuchale Treaty of 1889 as soon as the discrepancies between the Italian and the Amharic versions were discovered by Aleqa Atsme Giorgis, a historian and a councilor to the Emperor. Taitu led her own battalion at the Battle of Adwa. At the Battle of Mekelle, she advised Ras Mekonen to cut off the water supply to the Italians in order to disgorge them from their entrenched and heavily fortified positions at Endeyesus Hill on the eastern part of Mekelle City. Tadesse also identifies Taitu as the receiver and analyzer of intelligence information collected by spies, such as Basha Awalom Haregot and Gebre Igziabher. Historians characterize the intelligence data obtained by Awalom and Gebre Igzabher as crucial importance to the Ethiopian victory at the battle. The information enabled Menelik to attack the Italians, at a site of his choosing, at Adwa instead of Adigrat, near the Eritrean border where the Italians expected to have a relative logistical advantage. The Italians were hoping that he would meet them in Adigrat, close to where they had a well-protected military base.

Because of the many absences of the Emperor from the capital city, Taitu virtually managed the affairs of the government in consultation with key ministers. Menelik conducted several campaigns both in the north and southern part of the country against his old and new rivals.

From the royal residence in Addis Ababa, a city that she founded, Taitu made a concerted effort to break the monopoly of political power by Shoan nobility. She used every opportunity to diversify the power base through marriage and other means. Through weddings, she weaved a complex web of partnerships between the Shaon nobilities and those of the northern highlands. It is true that she favored her relatives to be close to power. She presided over many arranged marriages favorable to her cousins whom she anticipated to take over from Menelik. And yet she spoke her mind and consistently defended national interests. Regardless, her removal from power at the end of Menelik’s reign and his prolonged illness soon after the battle, the opportunity to further pursue the full meaning of Adwa was not seized.

Following the war Taitu and Menelik shared the enormous task of building a newly reconstituted country with diverse population and cultures. Differing qualities of two great Ethiopians crystallized into an effective and successful leadership. Independence and cooperation defined Taitu’s relationship with Emperor Menelik II. Their marriage was that of equals characterized by trust, respect and reciprocity.

Taitu Bitul was an authentic Ethiopian leader. Her deeds at a critical moment in Ethiopian history not only saved Ethiopia from European colonization, but it also paved the way to decolonize Africa. Her advice and action resulted in the defeat of the Italian army at the 1896 Battle of Adwa. Taitu epitomized Ethiopian leaders at their best. She consistently fought hard for the public good. She knew and defended national interests by overcoming challenges both from within and from without. Her leadership immensely contributed to the process of nation building and modernization at the beginning of the 20th century.

Unfortunately, Taitu was forced out of power unceremoniously during Menelik’s long illness and later death. Lij Iyasu, the heir to the throne, failed to cooperate with her or at least to seek her counsel. Iyasu was overthrown by anti-Taitu group of Shoan nobility, three years after he assumed power at the age of fourteen. To her credit, Empress Zewditu who succeeded Iyasu maintained good relations with Taitu, but power had shifted to Ras Taferi, the regent who became Emperor Haile Selassie.

Taitu’s pioneering and enduring work in politics, economics, culture, social welfare, military have added to the definition and implementation of a national agenda. She pushed for common issues that united Ethiopians. The founding of Addis Ababa as a new capital city allowed people to migrate and settle in this new town from all regions of the country.

While the two books made an effort to document the biography of Taitu, Ambassador Mengiste Desta offers a more detailed chronology and contextual explanation than Tadesse Zewelde. Tadesse, on the other hand, utilizes primary sources and eyewitness accounts in his readable narrative.

Mengiste also turns his publication into a campaign to build a memorial for Taitu in Addis Ababa. He is urging committees organized to carry out the project to bring it to fruition. In an attempt to highlight the importance of a public tribute, the forward of Mengiste’s book is written by the Coalition of the Ethiopian Women Association that was established in 1996.

Menelik’s skills of military strategy and diplomacy are combined with Taitu’s good judgment, loyalty and vision of seeking and maintaining cohesive national interests. Taitu, unlike Baafina (the ex-wife who sought to undermine the king), consulted, caucused, shared and reinforced strong leadership with the Emperor. The married couple and partners became formidable leaders to face and resolve many challenges both in times of war and peace. They made Ethiopia’s transition to modernization an irreversible march of time.

It is also important to remember that Taitu brought to the union her northern experience and knowledge given her link to Gondar, Semen, Begemedir and Yeju nobilities. In addition to her insight of the inner workings of Atse Yohannes and Atse Tewodros’s palaces. In other words, the marriage can be characterized both as political and as the saying goes yacha gabecha.

Taitu insisted on remaining a respected person (not a dependent) by seeking ways to improve her life through education, a rare and groundbreaking approach given our entrenched and backward notion and praxis on gender. She studied Ge’ez in Gojam at Debre Mewe monastery. She also composed poetic verses both in Ge’ez and Amharic. Taitu, who is known as the light of Ethiopia, also played harp and kirar (a remarkable combination of spiritual and secular musical instruments) and designed decorative curtains for churches and monasteries.

What is more impressive is Taitu’s contribution to governance and nation building. She fully engaged herself in activities that significantly contributed to national interests. She named Addis Ababa (New Flower) as a permanent seat of the central government. She ran the administration during the frequent absences of Menelik from the Capital, originally located at Addis Alem before it was moved to nearby Entoto. She built a house in a land fenced to mark holding by the Shoan king, Negus Sahle Selassie, who is Menelik’s grandfather. The building commenced while Menelik was in Harar in a military campaign for an extended period of time. Upon his return, he approved the initiative and moved with her into the new house in Addis Ababa. (Negus Sahle Selassie shares credits with Taitu in regards to the founding of the city)

Taitu opened Addis Ababa’s first modern hotel, now known as Itege Hotel, a little more than a century ago and she also became its first manager. The restaurant serves local and international cuisines. Again Atse Menelik supported her entrepreneurship by becoming a regular customer of the establishment and by encouraging the nobilities and government officials to patronize the business. Besides inaugurating yengeda bet, she has launched and encouraged both local and international tourism.

In an attempt to modernize the Ethiopian economy and to counter the heavy handedness of the Abyssinan Bank, a foreign firm, Taitu started a domestic financial institution where indebted traders were able to obtain loans and continue commerce.

She set up the first wool factory in collaboration with experts from Turkey and India thereby paving the way for possible Ethiopian industrial age. Taitu also used local raw materials to manufacture candles. Church costumes were designed and made by tailors in an organized fashion thanks to her innovative efforts.

On a religious front, Taitu established the historic Menbere Tsehay Entoto Mariam church. She also commissioned the construction of a multi-storied home in Jerusalem to be used by priests and pilgrims from Ethiopia.

These are some of the accomplishments of Taitu. By any measurement, she is a treasure that deserves a national monument and her legacy continues to inspire the young generation to know, build and defend the country.

This piece is well-referenced and those who seek the references should contact Professor Ayele Bekerie directly at: abekerie@gmail.com.

About the Author:
Ayele Bekerie is an Associate Professor at the Department of History and Cultural Studies at Mekelle University.

Related:
Today in History: 117 Years Ago Colonial Ambitions Were Put in Check
Call for the Registry of Adwa as UNESCO World Heritage Site (Tadias)

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Lucy Makes Last Stop in California, Then Off to Ethiopia

The famous fossil Lucy returned home to Ethiopia on Wednesday May 1st, 2013 after a six-year tour in the United States. (Photo: Tadias file)

Tadias Magazine

By Tadias Staff

Saturday, February 16th, 2013

Los Angeles (TADIAS) – The famous Ethiopian fossil Lucy (Dinkenesh) will soon end her controversial six-year tour of the United States, making her last public stop at The Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California where she is on display through April 28th before heading back to Ethiopia later this Spring.

“Recently, Ethiopia expressed a desire to bring Lucy back, particularly so an exhibit at the National Museum of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa could coincide with the African Union’s next meeting in May,” reports the Orange County Register in southern California where the last exhibition is being held. “So the Bowers show will be the last chance for people outside of Africa to see the famous and important fossil.”

The 3.2 million years old Lucy was rushed out of Ethiopia in the summer of 2007 under a cloud of controversy over the ancient fossil’s safety and the financial motive behind Ethiopia’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism’s decision to approve the tour in exchange for millions of dollars despite reservations by experts. The famous bones were shunned among others by The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., which refused to display the fossil citing concerns that the remains were too fragile for touring and travel.

At the time authorities had hoped the exhibition would enhance the country’s image abroad. “Ethiopia has an image problem,” Gezahgen Kebede, the honorary consul general at the Ethiopian Consulate in Houston and one of the leading proponents of bringing Lucy to the United States had told The New York Times. “The bigger thing in my opinion is to teach people about Ethiopia,” he said.

The show entitled Lucy’s Legacy: The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopia and sponsored by the Houston Museum of Natural Science eventually appeared in New York and Seattle in 2008 and 2009. However, media reports at the time estimated that attendance in Seattle was less than half of what was projected. “The Seattle people, they just flunked it because they really didn’t do their homework in terms of solid advertising and how to penetrate the demographics,” Mr. Kebede, who had not seen the exhibition in Seattle, told NYT. “There are people in Seattle who didn’t know this exhibit was there.”

“Lucy is our ambassador of good will,” Amin Abdulkadir, Ethiopia’s minister of culture and tourism told the OC Register regarding the current California exhibition. “Lucy is our icon. She helps build the image of our country. It’s very good in terms of trade, investment and tourism.”

In between the controversy, Lucy was electronically scanned by researchers at The University of Texas at Austin, in collaboration with the Ethiopian government, and the first digital image of the world’s most famous human ancestor was created in the University’s High-resolution X-ray CT Facility.

The fossilized remains were discovered by American paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson in 1974 in the Afar region of Ethiopia. According to Johanson, an official at the Ministry of Culture, Bekele Negussie, gave Lucy her Ethiopian name Dinkenesh shortly after the landmark discovery. As to the inspiration for Lucy, Johanson shared its origins with Tadias Magazine a few years ago: “I was there with my girlfriend Pamela, and the Beatles song ‘Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds’ was playing on a small radio…that’s how she was named.”

Click here for a closer look at the California exhibit.


If You Go:
Lucy’s Legacy: The Hidden Treasure of Ethiopia
Where: Bowers Museum, 2002 N. Main St., Santa Ana
When: Through April 28
Hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays
How much: $13-$15 adults,
$10-$12 for seniors and students,
free for children under 12
Call: 714-567-3600
Online: bowers.org

Related:

Famous fossil Lucy leaves Ethiopia for controversial U.S. tour (AP)

In Seattle, They Didn’t Love Lucy (The New York Times)

Lucy at the Discovery Times Square Exposition in New York (TADIAS)

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Mississippi to Ethiopia: Understanding ‘Brown Condor’

Col. John Charles Robinson poses for New York cameras on May 18, 1936, after his return from the Ethiopian War. The Gulfport, Mississippi native is wearing the insignia of the commander of the Imperial Ethiopian Air Force. (Photo: Courtesy Potomac Books/The Sidney Rushing Collection)

By KAT BERGERON — Special to the Sun Herald

One more thread to unravel the mystery of the “Brown Condor” is now on national bookshelves.

This forgotten Mississippi Coast hero, a daring aviator who survived a dog fight with the son of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, encouraged other blacks to fly when it was taboo in Jim Crow America.

He helped change a ragtag Ethiopian military into a force against fascism, itself a form of the racism the Brown Condor faced in his own country.

Before the latest biography, enough was known of Col. John C. Robinson, born in Gulfport’s Big Quarter in 1905, to pique the interest of Mississippi writers and researchers who produced a book and newspaper articles and conducted an academic symposium.

Yet, to most Americans, even those enthralled by military and black history, the Mississippian who was once the best known black pilot in the world is an unknown.

Phillip Thomas Tucker hopes his “Father of the Tuskegee Airmen: John C. Robinson” will bring more awareness. The 329-page biography was published earlier this year by Potomac Books.

“The catch-22 with the Robinson story is that nobody knows about it,” Tucker said in a recent phone interview. “You mention the name and it doesn’t ring any bells. This book was written to shed light on what really happened. The Brown Condor was an early aviation pioneer and a war hero.”

Click here to read more at sunherald.com.

BBC on Capt Mamo Habtewold : An Ethiopian Hero of the Korean War

Sixty years ago, Ethiopia was at war. Not in Africa, but thousands of miles away in Korea. This is the story of [Capt Mamo Habtewold] one Ethiopian officer who won a US gallantry award. (BBC)

BBC News Magazine

By Alex Last

In 1951, the Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Selassie, decided to send thousands of troops to fight as part of the American-led UN force supporting South Korea against the communist North and its ally, China.

They were called the Kagnew battalions and were drawn from Haile Selassie’s Imperial Bodyguard – Ethiopia’s elite troops.

Capt Mamo Habtewold, now 81 years old, was then a young lieutenant in the 3rd Kagnew Battalion. He clearly remembers a send-off from the Emperor himself, as he was about to leave for the other side of the world.

Continue reading at BBC.

Haile Selassie in America: Q & A with Professor Ted Vestal

Emperor Haile Selassie was the only African leader who attended President John F. Kennedy’s funeral on November 25, 1963. (Photograph credit: John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Updated: Thursday, September 6, 2012

New York (TADIAS) – In the end, Emperor Haile Selassie died in prison, officially of natural causes but widely rumored to have been killed without trial by a military junta, apparently suffocated to death and buried under a toilet for more than seventeen years. Prior to that, however, the late emperor whose remains has since been moved to its current resting place at Kidist Selassie (Holy Trinity) Cathedral in Addis Ababa, was a long-reigning ruler of Ethiopia for more than four decades. He had been fiercely criticized for his reluctance to share power, and praised as visionary for his single-minded policy of modernization. According to a new book by Theodore M. Vestal, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Oklahoma State University — who has done an extensive research about the emperor’s foreign visits, particularly to the United states — Haile Selassie was a world-class globe trotter as well, traveling the world on behalf of Ethiopia, forging diplomatic, military and commercial relationships from Africa to North America, and along the way subtly promoting the country’s brand as a mysterious and mystical land, as well as an attractive tourism and investment destination.

Haile Selassie was indeed the first Ethiopian leader that ventured out for extended travels throughout Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and to North and South America. In a recent interview with Tadias Magazine, Professor Vestal said, the emperor’s relentless pursuit of international diplomacy had big impact on how the rest of the world viewed Ethiopians.

“The Emperor was a fast learner, and I think his travels abroad in 1922 and 1924 were important milestones in his education,” Professor Vestal said, referring to his trip abroad as a young man before his coronation. “He took in all the tourist sites, met royal and not-so royal leaders, and assuaged his passion to know more about the latest mechanical wonders of Europe.” He added: “Haile Selassie also discerned how Ethiopia and Africa were viewed by foreigners.”

“His trip was a public relations triumph of the first magnitude, and he made a positive impression on many who had little if any contact with Africans, much less a ruler with an extraordinary entourage,” Professor Vestal continued. “His warm reception and demonstrative press coverage provided an appropriate gloss on the image of Ethiopia as a nation of note that had been earned on the field of battle at Adwa.”

Vestal noted that the Emperor’s travels inspired some of his domestic “agenda of modernization” that he pursued “as best he could” in the face of “conservative” critics at home.

“He beheld how other monarchs ruled and tried to follow their best practices in his own reign and for his own purposes,” Vestal noted.

Below is the rest of our interview with Professor Ted Vestal about his most recent book: The Lion of Judah in the New World, which explores Emperor Haile Selassie’s travels to the United States and shaping of Americans’ attitude towards Africa.


Dr. Ted Vestal (Courtesy photo)

TADIAS: In the chapter entitled A Lion in the Streets you noted that Emperor Haile Selassie’s first visit to America coincided with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Brown v. Board of Education. Given the Emperor’s travels to racially segregated states at the time please tell us a bit more about this unique moment in history.

Ted Vestal: At the time of the Emperor’s first state visit to the United States in 1954, racial discrimination was still practiced and enforced by law in the southern states of the old Confederacy and in some of the border states. In 1896 (the same year as the Battle of Adwa), a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court had given approval to the “separate but equal” doctrine that became the legal basis of segregation practices and Jim Crow laws under which African-Americans were “second-class citizens” lacking equal opportunities in education and employment. During the post-World War II era, however, the ideas of “humane democracy” of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal were having an important effect in bettering the position of the African-American in American life. Growing numbers of African-Americans began to improve their economic status by entering professions, businesses, and higher paying occupations. During the war, the color line was abolished by many employers and labor unions, while the man-power shortage, the government’s hiring of African-Americans for federal positions and requiring “no discrimination” clauses in federal contracts all contributed to this development.

Except for certain areas in the “deep” South, segregation was being brought to an end in public places such as hotels, theaters, restaurants, and recreational facilities. African-Americans all over the country were voting in larger numbers–sometimes requiring the aid of the Supreme Court to accomplish this. The lot of the African-American in transportation, education, and housing was likewise improved by the Court’s decisions. The ideas of the New Deal became a force creating a deep-seated change in American mores, with many people convinced that the maintenance of a caste system was inconsistent with the twentieth century idea of America as a constitutional democracy. Despite these changes, Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal wrote in 1944 that “the status accorded the Negro in America represents nothing more and nothing less than a century-long lag of public morals.”

This changed on 17 May 1954, when the Supreme Court rendered perhaps the most fateful judicial decision of the twentieth century—Brown v. Board of Education. For the first time, the Court met head-on the moral challenge of the separate but equal doctrine in public schools and in a unanimous decision declared that doctrine unconstitutional. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote the opinion of the Court declaring that separate facilities were inherently unequal and violated the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution. In the years that followed, segregation on the basis of race slowly came to an end, and African-Americans were more fully integrated into American life. At the time of Haile Selassie’s 1954 visits to Oklahoma and Louisiana, however, segregation was still in full sway in those states, and the Emperor’s acclaim broke down the color bar and tossed the moral question of racial biases squarely into the forum of American public opinion. Hence, the Emperor’s state visit played a role in hastening integration in the United States.

TADIAS: You cited Henry Morton Stanley as “probably one of the first Americans to visit Ethiopia” in the 1800s. Please tell us a bit more about him and his work as a correspondent for the New York Herald.

Ted Vestal: Stanley was an intriguing character who was an adventurer and explorer and who might have been responsible for the spread of sleeping sickness in Central Africa. A Welsh immigrant, he came to the United States at the age of eighteen in 1859. He had the distinction of serving in both the Confederate and Union armies and the Union navy during the Civil War. Stanley subsequently became a journalist and covered international events for U.S. newspapers, going to, among others, such “exotic” locales as the Ottoman Empire in 1860, the American frontier West in 1867 (where he reported on the work of the Indian Peace Commission), Abyssinia and the Napier expedition of 1868, present day Tanzania where in 1871 he searched for and “found” the “lost” Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone, the Congo River whose source he found in 1874, and Equatoria in the southern Sudan where he led the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition in 1886. The New York Herald and Britain’s Daily Telegraph were Stanley’s most important newspaper employers, and Belgium’s King Leopold II was his patron in some of his expeditions of discovery in Africa. Stanley wrote about his adventures and explorations in a series of books, the most popular of which were Through the Dark Continent (1878) and In Darkest Africa (1890). In the 1890s he returned to Britain where he was knighted and served in Parliament from 1895-1900. He died in London in 1904.

TADIAS: Your book states that it was during the era of Emperor Menelik that formal diplomatic ties were forged between Ethiopia and the United States. Robert Skinner was the American diplomat sent to Ethiopia with the task of negotiating the first commercial treaty between the two nations. What were some of the main negotiation points of this first treaty?

Ted Vestal: In 1903, Skinner made it clear that commercial interests were the sole basis for contact between the two nations. Emperor Menelik appreciated the fact that the United States had no colonial or political ambitions in Africa and might serve as buffer against imperialist European powers in the region. The United States sought to expand trade with Ethiopia, the only non-colonized country in the region, in ways that were not available in the colonized nations of Africa. Skinner hoped to promote U.S. exports, which he thought would have “the power to transform Ethiopia.” His attitude has been called “free-trade imperialism” or “informal empire” by historians. Ethiopia, having successfully defended its independence at the Battle of Adwa, was a prime target for the American mission. The country did not need the blessings of European colonialism for it to move into a new stage of social and economic development. The Americans wanted Ethiopians to develop their acquisitive faculties to give them a taste for more wants and hence more consumerism. Peasants would have to be the driving force in such a change because the manufacturing sector was in its infancy. The purchasing power of the Ethiopians was small, but if their desire for foreign manufactured goods could be increased, they might respond by harvesting larger crops and raising more livestock to increase their dollar holdings. The increased trade that Skinner dreamed of would require a social and economic revolution in which largely self-sufficient farmers would be more driven by the profit motive. Although the Skinner treaty was ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1910 and was valid for ten years, trade between the two countries was limited until after World War II. Emperor Menelik was still more interested in the purchase of arms during the remaining years of his reign.

For the most recent writing on the subject, see Amanda Kay McVety, “Enlightened Aid: U.S. Development as Foreign Policy in Ethiopia,” Foreign Affairs, Sept/Oct 2012.

TADIAS: Haile Selassie’s visit to America also jump-started President Truman’s famous “Point Four Program,” which you point out “emphasized the distribution of knowledge rather than money.” Can you elaborate on some of the developments that arose from this program?

Ted Vestal: The purpose of the Point Four Program was to share American “know-how” with developing nations. In Ethiopia, the greatest legacy of Point Four was the establishment of modern agricultural instruction, research, and extension in the country. The Imperial College of Agriculture at Alemaya and the Jimma Agricultural High School were major U.S.-inspired initiatives in Ethiopian education that have endured and grown into significant centers of learning today. The multi-million dollar Point Four Program went through a series of name changes and morphed into the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) that, under whatever moniker, was responsible for many programs that benefited Ethiopia, including crop and livestock protection, teacher training, vocational trade schools, health programs, nurse education, malaria eradication, the creation of mapping and national archives, a Blue Nile basin survey, regional development, national airlines training, public administration, and the provision of university faculty and administration. The ties established between Ethiopia and Oklahoma State University under the country’s very first Point Four contract have been maintained to the present day as the longest continual relationship between an American university and a Sub-Saharan African nation. The good will initiated by the Point Four Program doubtlessly influenced the choices of many Ethiopians to pursue further education in the United States and even to immigrate to the New World when government oppressions at home forced them to leave.

TADIAS: Haile Selassie’s tour of America also included going to visit the Boeing Aircraft Plant. Ethiopian Airlines remains one of Boeing’s loyal customers to date and recently became the only African airline to acquire the Dreamliner. What can you tell us about the development of this historic relationship?

Ted Vestal: Although Ethiopian Airlines had been established in 1946 as a joint venture with the U.S. airline TWA (Trans World Airlines) with the acquisition of five U.S. Government surplus C-47 aircraft and had developed into the backbone of Ethiopia’s infrastructure, it was not until 1960 that Ethiopian was to purchase Boeing planes (720-Bs) to usher in the jet age. I do not know the story behind the Emperor’s tour of the Boeing factory in Seattle during his 1954 state visit. His advisor, John Spencer, who accompanied Haile Selassie on the trip, had been instrumental in setting up the agreement with TWA and served on the corporation’s board. Perhaps Spencer as well as the Ethiopian/TWA executives in Ethiopia had foreseen Boeing’s becoming a leader in commercial jet air craft and had arranged for the factory visit. It was a prophetic event, for Boeing was to enjoy great success in designing and building both military and commercial jet aircraft in the years following. Indeed, Boeing planes have been in service at Ethiopian Airlines continuously since 1962 when the first two Boeing 720-B aircraft landed at the newly constructed Bole Airport. As U.S. Ambassador Ed Korry explained to me, the Emperor was wily in requesting American aid to purchase state of the art jets for Ethiopian so that the airline could maintain its status as Africa’s finest airline. Having purchased the aircraft, Haile Selassie then had to have funds to build airports large enough for them to land and take off—funds that the United States was willing to provide. That was how Ethiopia’s first four modern airports were constructed. In September, the Ethiopian Airlines-Boeing tie will be part of a poignant reunion when one hundred Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who began teaching in Ethiopia fifty years ago will journey back to the land of their service on a new, top-of-the-line Ethiopian Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

TADIAS: Can you summarize how the historical diplomatic ties between America and Ethiopia has shaped each country?

Ted Vestal: The diplomatic ties between the two nations were not very dynamic until the mid-1930s and the Italo-Ethiopian war. Although Ethiopians had encouraged American businesses to consider trade and investment in Ethiopia ever since the Skinner mission in 1903, other than occasional official visitors, Ethiopia did not develop a diplomatic presence in the United States until 1935, and even then there was no embassy in Washington.

During the Italian-Ethiopian crisis of 1934-1935, the United States took a neutral stance on the grounds of “non-interference in European conflicts” and because the matter had been given to the League of Nations. Shortly after Italian forces occupied Addis Ababa in 1936, the United States, which did not recognize Rome’s annexation of Ethiopia, shut down its legation. U.S. diplomacy during the Italian crisis reflected the American policy goal of staying out of international entanglements and avoiding war.

Following the liberation of Ethiopia and America’s declaration of war on the Axis powers in 1941, the two nations became allies. The United States sent military assistance under a Lend Lease agreement, and Emperor Haile Selassie sought additional American aid to replace British influence in his country. Ethiopia and the United States reestablished diplomatic relations in 1943 with the United States opening a new legation along Entoto Road and Ethiopia sending its first resident minister to Washington. The Emperor sought American support for Ethiopian access to the Red Sea and the return of Eritrea—aspirations which eventually were realized with help from the United States. The U.S. Air Force subsequently flew an Ethiopian delegation to San Francisco to attend the founding conference of the United Nations in 1945. Thus U.S. diplomatic ties paid a role in assisting Ethiopia’s becoming a leading advocate of collective security in the fledgling UN. During the Korean conflict in 1950-1953, Ethiopia sent an armed battalion that fought alongside other United Nations forces. Ethiopia’s Kagnew battalion was transported to Korea on American ships and worked closely with U.S. forces in combat. Ethiopian forces later served with UN troops in the Congo in the 1960s. These contributions were greatly admired in the United States.

In the immediate post-World War II era, Ethiopian-American diplomatic relationships were shaped by the developing Cold War. Containment of the Soviet Union and its allies became America’s primary foreign policy after 1947. The United States and Ethiopia signed a treaty of amity and economic relations in 1951 and a Point Four technical assistance agreement the following year. This was the beginning of a U.S. foreign aid program that was to become the largest in Africa. The United States continues to be a strong financial supporter of Ethiopia today.

In the 1950s U.S. diplomacy focused on acquiring military access and communications facilities in Ethiopia, keeping communist influence out of the country, and maintaining a government that reflected pro-Western positions in international and regional arenas. Ethiopia wanted American assistance in expanding and modernizing its military, help with modernization of the economy, and political support for the incorporation of Eritrea, control over the Ogaden, and U.S. aid should there be any threats to its sovereignty. To the present time, Ethiopia and the U.S. military continue to have close connections.

In 1962, the first group of Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs), a majority of whom served as secondary school teachers, came to Ethiopia. In the mid-1960s, about half of the secondary school teachers in the country were PCVs. During the next eleven years, more than 2,500 PCVs were to serve in Ethiopia in diverse capacities with various ministries and agencies (in the 1990s, PCVs again were assigned to Ethiopia and operate there today). With the large increase in military assistance, Point Four aid, and the Peace Corps, many Americans worked in Ethiopia in the 1960s and early 1970s. At the same time, more Ethiopians were sent to the U.S. for higher education or military training.

In 1963 following the creation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia became even more important to U.S. diplomacy. The U.S. hoped Haile Selassie would serve as a moderating influence within the OAU and in contacts with African leaders.

Ethiopian-U.S. diplomatic ties enabled Haile Selassie to modernize and increase the size of his military forces to be one of the largest and best equipped in Africa. From the 1950s until the end of Haile Selassie’s reign, Ethiopia received about 80 percent of all U.S. military aid for Africa and one-fifth of American economic assistance. This financial support probably had extended the longevity of the Emperor’s rule. The Ethiopian-U.S. military agreements, however, resulted in Arab hostility and, as the Cold War escalated, gave the Soviets a base for intervention in Somalia. This eventually led to the Soviets becoming dominant in Ethiopia during the Derg era and to the U.S. switching its support to Somalia in the 1970s and 1980s.

Through diplomacy, the United States maintained a military listening post in an area strategic to protecting shipping lanes from Arab oil-exporting countries. In a way, diplomatic ties with Ethiopia were a learning experience for the United States during the years that led to the end of colonialism throughout the continent and the 1960s, “the decade of Africa.” Over a long period, Ethiopia was a stable, moderate friend of America that by trial and error supported its best ally in Africa. Ethiopia benefitted in many ways from the military and economic development funds that were the equivalent of rent for Kagnew Station. The greatest legacy of the diplomatic ties of the two countries, however, has been the friendship between the people of Ethiopia and the United States which has persisted regardless of what paths were taken by the governments of the two nations.

TADIAS: And last but not least, please tell us about your personal and academic interest in Ethiopia and how it began?


Professor Ted Vestal

Ted Vestal: Like many Americans who were in colleges and universities during the 1950s, I knew little about Africa, much less about Ethiopia during my student days. There were few opportunities, even in major graduate programs such as Stanford’s, to study “the developing world.” African nations were a part of political science courses on colonial systems or “British Empire studies.” Emperor Haile Selassie was well known to my generation because of his memorable speech before the League of Nations in 1936 that was included in Allied propaganda films and shorts during World War II. His speech, in its entirety, also was published in many international relations or international organization texts. Other than newsreels of the Italo-Ethiopian War and liberation, there was sparse information about Ethiopia. By the time I was in college, I had heard of Oklahoma State University’s work in agriculture in Ethiopia, work that enjoyed an excellent reputation. I also knew of the Emperor’s visit to Oklahoma in 1954. A few years later, in 1960, I had become intrigued with President Kennedy’s idea of a Peace Corps. By that time, I had a wife and two children and didn’t think there was any way I could be a part of the new organization that JFK started shortly after his inauguration. Then I heard of something called the Peace Corps staff that worked with PCVs overseas, and I applied immediately. Through the good offices of my friend and college classmate, Bill Moyers, I was invited to go to Washington and eventually was interviewed by Peace Corps Director Sargent Shriver. He offered me a staff position in Ethiopia, and I began to seriously study that nation while working in Peace Corps/Washington. In DC, My wife and I were most fortunate to study Amharic with one of Ethiopia’s greatest linguists, Tadesse Beyene, who was a graduate student at Georgetown University at the time. He taught us much in a short time—and much more about Ethiopia than just the spoken language. When the Emperor came on his second state visit to the U.S. in 1963, I was on Pennsylvania Avenue cheering as he and Kennedy drove by in an open convertible. A short time later, I observed Haile Selassie marching in the procession of world leaders at Kennedy’s funeral.

When we arrived in Addis Ababa in 1964, my education went into high gear. Living and working in Ethiopia for over two years was the best learning experience one could have about the country and its people. I was privileged to visit all the nation’s provinces and to meet Ethiopians from all walks of life. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know—a situation that has continued throughout my life.

After my Peace Corps service, I maintained an interest in Ethiopia but did not want to return there during the time of the repressive dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam and the Derg. During the horrendous famine in Ethiopia in 1984, I suffered from what Conner Cruise O’Brien called “the shock of non-recognition” when reading about conditions there, and I decided to write my version of what was happening. I wrote an article, “Ethiopia’s Famine: A Crises of Many Dimensions,” that was immediately published by the Royal Institute for International Relations in London in its journal The World Today. Thereafter, I was in demand to write and speak about Ethiopia and its problems. After the Derg fell in 1991, I was a consultant to the Transitional Government of Ethiopia and served as an international election observer in the 1992 national elections. I became involved in the process of writing a new constitution for the country and was asked to testify before the Committee on Foreign Affairs, U.S. House of Representatives, on “Ethiopia: The Challenges Ahead.” I was active in International Conferences of Ethiopian Studies, and I was able to get back to Ethiopia every few years to interview a host of Ethiopians. Starting in 1995, I wrote expert witness affidavits or testified in some 120 political asylum cases of Ethiopians and Eritreans seeking to escape tyranny and human rights abuses. This experience was a significant part of my education and informed my writing on Ethiopia: A Post-Cold War African State published by Praeger in 1999 and other works. Now as an emeritus professor, I continue to think about and to write about Ethiopia and its fascinating people and to enjoy the friendship of some of their best and brightest folk.
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Click here to learn more and get a copy of Professor Ted Vestal’s book.

Cover photo: At President Kennedy’s burial service at Arlington National Cemetery on November 25, 1963. Among the world leaders pictured with Haile Selassie include General Charles de Gaulle of France; Ludwig Erhard of Germany; Queen Frederica of Greece; King Baudoin of Belgium; and other mourners. (Photo credit: Cecil Stoughton, White House/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston).

Related:
Rarely Seen White House Photos Featuring Emperor Haile Selassie

Emperor Haile Selassie is greeted by President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy upon his arrival at Union Station in Washington, D.C on October 1st, 1963. (Kennedy Library and Museum)


President John F. Kennedy and Emperor Haile Selassie meeting at the White House, October 1963.

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Photo Journal From Addis Ababa: Nation Bids Farewell to Meles

Addis Ababa's ubiquitous Taxi - mini buses - all over the city could be seen displaying posters of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi on the day of his state funeral on September 2nd, 2012. (Photo by Marie Claire Andrea for Tadias Magazine)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Updated: Monday, September 3, 2012

Addis Ababa (TADIAS) – Thousands of mourners made their way to Meskel Square in Addis Ababa on Sunday to pay their final respects to late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. The state funeral was attended by several African heads of state and hundreds of diplomats from around the world. The U.S. delegation was led by Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

The official ceremony mourning the death of a sitting head of government was the first for the country in more than 80 years.

The PM’s body was laid to rest at the Holy Trinity Cathedral, where other prominent Ethiopian political and cultural figures are buried, including former Emperor Haile Selassie. A 21-gun salute marked the end of the official ceremony for Meles’ funeral.

Below are photos by Marie Claire Andrea for Tadias Magazine.

In Pictures: Nation pays final respect to late PM Meles Zenawi (TADIAS)

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In Pictures: Ethiopian Airlines’ First Dreamliner Touch Down in D.C.

Ethiopian Airlines' new Dreamliner landed at Dulles International Airport on Wednesday, August 15, 2012. (Photo by Gediyon Kifle for TADIAS)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Updated: Thursday, August 16, 2012

New York (TADIAS) – Ethiopian Airlines’ first Dreamliner touched down at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. today where it was greeted with a welcoming ceremony and a diplomatic reception.

Ethiopian became the only airlines outside of Asia to own and operate Boeing’s most advanced plane.

The new plane landed in D.C. in route to Ethiopia where it is expected to be met by a much bigger celebration at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa on Aug. 17th.

Here are photos from the D.C. welcoming ceremony.

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At the 1960 Olympics in Rome an Ethiopian Athlete Stunned the World

Abebe Bikila wins the Olympic marathon in Tokyo in 1964. Four years earlier he won the marathon at the Rome Olympics, breaking the world record–and he did it barefoot. (AP)

Click here to listen: BBC Remembers Abebe Bikila

VIDEO: 5 Athletes From History Who Have Overcome The Odds (The Huffington Post)



The Huffington Post

By Hunter Stuart

Abebe Bikila: Unknown Ethiopian Runner Wins Marathon Barefoot (Rome, 1960)

Abebe Bikila, an unknown Ethiopian runner, won the marathon at the Rome Olympics, breaking the world record–and he did it barefoot.

Bikila was from a tiny village in rural Ethiopia and didn’t even start running until he was 24 years old. At the time, he was working for the Emperor’s Guard and had been noticed by a Swedish coach who was hired by the Ethiopian government to spot potential athletes.

Although Bikila had won multiple marathons in Ethiopia, his finishing times weren’t good enough to get him noticed. He wasn’t even slotted to go to the Rome Olympics in 1960, but he was sent in place of a teammate who had injured himself.

Bikila was completely unknown when the marathon began. Commentators couldn’t even pronounce his name. What got him noticed was his bare feet, which many in the audience and the media found funny. The marathon route in Rome was drawn to showcase the city’s splendor, and therefore the runners passed dozens of references to colonialism, hegemony, and fascism. At one point, Bikila passed a 1,700 year old monument that Mussolini had plundered from his native country during World War II.

When Bikila won the race, although he ran it barefoot, he beat the world record, and became the first black African to win an Olympic gold medal. At a time when Africa was beginning to emerge from colonial rule, Bikila became the symbol of an entire continent’s resurgence.

Read more at The Huffington Post.

Related:
Abebe Bikila: Athletic Legend Honored With Google Doodle (TADIAS)

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New Research Finds Evidence that Supports Queen of Sheba Legend

Ethiopians long-ago genetic mixing with populations from Israel and Egypt is a legacy of the Queen of Sheba and her companions, say researchers. (Photo: Painting of the Queen of Sheba - The National Museum, Addis Ababa)

By Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience

The Queen of Sheba’s genetic legacy may live on in Ethiopia, according to new research that finds evidence of long-ago genetic mixing between Ethiopian populations and Syrian and Israeli people.

The Queen of Sheba, known in Ethiopia as Makeda, is mentioned in both the Bible and the Quran. The Bible discusses diplomatic relations between this monarch and King Solomon of Israel, but Ethiopian tradition holds that their relationship went deeper: Makeda’s son, Menelik I, the first emperor of Ethiopia, is said to be Solomon’s offspring.

Read more.

Ethiopia’s Konso Hometown Join UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Ethiopia's Konso tribe are celebrating their hometown joining the UN's list of World Heritage Sites. (AFP, Aaron Maasho)

By Jenny Vaughan (AFP)

KONSO, Ethiopia — The booming drums and lusty singing of Ethiopia’s Konso tribe, celebrating their hometown joining the UN’s list of World Heritage Sites, echoed down the road that winds through lush green hills.

When the revellers came into sight, there was an explosion of colour — women in bright orange skirts and men in striped neon yellow and red shorts, heads topped with decorative feathers and cowhide masks. Under the blazing midday sun, Konso residents brandishing animal skin shields chanted as they streamed through the streets, followed by a full marching band. Hundreds of Konso people turned out in their famed town, 600 kilometres (375 miles) southwest of Addis Ababa, for the recent formal inauguration of their inclusion in UNESCO’s heritage list.

Read more at AFP.

Call for the Registry of Adwa as UNESCO World Heritage Site

This year marks the 116th year anniversary of Adwa and historian Ayele Bekerie offers a call for the registry of the Battle of Adwa as World Heritage. (Photo: Mountains of Adwa by Ayele Bekerie)

Tadias Magazine
History | Opinion

By Ayele Bekerie, PhD

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Published: Thursday, March 1, 2012

Ethiopia was brought to the world’s attention in 1896 when an African country with no industry of weaponry and with mostly bare-footed soldiers, defeated Italy, a modern European country, at the battle of Adwa. The 116th Year anniversary of the victory is being celebrated on March 1st in Ethiopia. This year I am fortunate enough to celebrate the victory in Adwa by attending the fifth annual conference on the history and meaning of the Battle of Adwa. It is also celebrated throughout the world, for Adwa stands for human dignity, freedom and independence. As such its significance is universal and its story should be told repeatedly. Its narrative ought to be embraced by young and old, men and women. The Battle Adwa should be listed as a World Heritage.

To Teshale Tibebu, “the Battle of Adwa was the largest battle between European imperialism and African resistance.” According to Donald Levine, “the Battle of Adwa qualifies as a historic event which represented the first time since the beginning of European imperial expansion that a nonwhite nation had defeated a European power.” The historic event has brought or signaled the beginning of the end of colonial world order, and a movement to an anti-colonial world order.

It was a victory of an African army in the true sense of the word. The Battle was planned and executed by African generals and intelligence officers led by Emperor Menelik II, who was born, brought up, and educated in Ethiopia. It was a brilliant and indigenous strategy that put a check to the colonial aims and objectives, which were originally conceived and agreed upon at the Berlin Conference of 1885. European strategy to carve Africa into external and exclusive spheres of influence was halted by Emperor Menelik II and Empress Taitu Betul at the Battle of Adwa. The Europeans had no choice but to recognize this African (not European) power.

Universality of the Victory at the Battle of Adwa

The African world celebrated and embraced this historic victory. In the preface to the book An Introduction to African Civilizations With Main Currents in Ethiopian History, Huggins and Jackson write: “In Ethiopia, the military genius of Menelik II was in the best tradition of Piankhi, the great ruler of ancient Egypt and Nubia or ancient Ethiopia, who drove out the Italians in 1896 and maintained the liberties of that ancient free empire of Black men.” Huggins and Jackson analyzed the victory not only in terms of its significance to the postcolonial African world, but also in terms of its linkage to the tradition of ancient African glories and victories.

Emperor Menelik II used his “magic wand” to draw all, the diverse and voluntary patriots from virtually the entire parts of the country, into a battlefield called Adwa. And in less than six hours, the enemy is decisively defeated. The overconfident and never to be defeated European army fell under the great military strategy of an African army. The strategy was what the Ethiopians call afena, an Ethiopian version of blitzkrieg that encircles the enemy and cuts its head. Italians failed to match the British and the French in establishing a colonial empire in Africa. In fact, by their humiliating defeat, the Italians made the British and the French colonizers jittery. The colonial subjects became reenergized to resist the colonial empire builders.

Adwa and Ethiopia’s Nationhood

Adwa irreversibly broadened the true boundaries of Ethiopia and Ethiopians. People of the south and the north and the east and the west fought and defeated the Italian army. In the process, a new Ethiopia is born.

Adwa shows what can be achieved when united forces work for a common goal. Adwa brought the best out of so many forces that were accustomed to waging battles against each other. Forces of destruction and division ceased their endless squabbles and redirect their united campaign against the common enemy. They chose to redefine themselves as one and unequivocally expressed their rejection of colonialism. They came together in search of freedom or the preservation and expansion of the freedom at hand. In other words, Adwa offers the most dramatic instance of trans-ethnic cooperation.

Leadership

Emperor Menelik II could have kept the momentum by reforming his government and by allowing the many forces to continue participating in the making of a modern and good for all state. Emperor Menelik II, however, chose to return back to the status quo, a status of exploitative relationship between the few who controlled the land and the vast majority of the agrarian farmers. It took another almost eighty years to dismantle the yoke of feudalism from the backs of the vast majority of the Ethiopian farmers.

As far as Emperor Menelik’s challenge to and reversal of colonialism in Ethiopia is concerned, his accomplishment was historic and an indisputable fact. It is precisely this brilliant and decisive victory against the European colonial army that has inspired the colonized and the oppressed throughout the world to forge ahead and fight against their colonial masters.

Menelik’s rapprochement, on the other hand, with the three colonial powers in the region may have saved his monarchial power, but the policy ended up hurting the whole region. The seeds of division sown by the colonizers, in part, continue to wreck the region apart.

Realizing the need to completely remove all the colonizers as an effective and lasting way to bring peace and prosperity in the region, the grandson of the Emperor, Lij Iyassu attempted to carve anti-colonial policy. He began to send arms to freedom fighters in Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia. He entered into a treaty of peace and cooperation with the Austrians, the Germans and the Turks against the British, Italians and the French. Unfortunately, the rule of Lij Iyassu was short-lived. The tri-partite powers colluded with the then Tafari Makonnen to successfully remove him from power.

Adwa symbolizes the aspirations and hopes of all oppressed people. Adwa catapulted Pan-Africanism into the realm of the possible by reigniting the imaginations of Africans in their quest for freedom throughout the world. Adwa foreshadowed the outcome of the anti-colonial struggle in Africa and elsewhere. Adwa is about cultural resistance; it is about reaffirmation of African ways. Adwa was possible not simply because of brilliant and courageous leadership, but also because of the people’s willingness to defend their motherland, regardless of ethnic, linguistic and religious differences.

Call for the Registry of the Battle of Adwa as World Heritage

A World Heritage Site is a site of ‘cultural and/or natural significance.’ It is also a site so exceptional, according to UNESCO, as to transcend national boundaries and to be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity. The 1896 final Battle of Adwa and the successive preceding battles at sites, such as Mekelle between Ethiopia and Italy qualify, we argue, as a World Heritage Site. The victory achieved at the Battle of Adwa set the stage for international relations among nations on the basis of mutuality, reciprocity and transparency. Decolonization in Africa began with a victory against Italian colonial aggression in the Horn of Africa.

The Battle of Adwa was a global historic event, for it was a battle heroically and victoriously fought against colonialism and for freedom. It was a battle that stopped the colonial aggressions of Europeans in Africa. It was a battle that taught an unforgettable lesson to Europeans. They were reminded that they may co-exist or work with Africans, Asians or the Americans, but they cannot dominate them or exploit their resources indefinitely. Domination gives rise to resistance and the Battle of Adwa made it clear that domination or aggression can be decisively be defeated.

The mountains of Adwa, the mountains of Abi Adi Worq Amba and the hills of Mekelle ought to be marked as natural historic sites and, therefore, together with the battlefield, they should be protected, conserved and promoted in the context of its historic importance and ecological tourism.

Background on UNESCO World Heritage Sites:

At present, 900 sites are on World Heritage list. Only 9% of the World Heritage sites are in Africa, while 50% of them are in Europe and North America. While Ethiopia succeeded to have only 9 World Heritage sites, Italy has registered so far 43 sites! In Africa, the Battlefields of South Africa have registered as a World Heritage. Several Battles are registered throughout the world and throughout history and it is time that the Battle of Adwa is included in the list.

Adwa was a story of common purpose and common destiny. The principles established on the battlefield of Adwa must be understood and embraced for Africa to remain centered in its own histories, cultures and socioeconomic development. We should always remember that Adwa was won for Africans. Adwa indeed is an African model of victory and resistance. As Levine puts it: “Adwa remains the most outstanding symbol of the ‘mysterious magnetism’ that holds Ethiopia together.”

It is our contention that the Battle of Adwa was a battle that paved the way for a world of justice, mutual respect and co-existence. The Battle of Adwa was a battle for human dignity and therefore its story should be universally recognized and be told again and again. Registering the Battle will ensure the dynamic dispersion of its narrative in all the discourses of the world.

The lessons of the Battle of Adwa ought to be inculcated in the minds of young people so that they would be able to appreciate humanity as one without hierarchy. The Battle of Adwa reminds the young people that no force is powerful enough to impose its will against another people. Ethiopians, despite their disadvantage in modern weaponry, decisively defeated the Italian Army at the Battle of Adwa.

The Battle of Adwa and its cluster, as a great source of timeless inspiration for freedom and independence, should be registered as a World Heritage. This is because that event fulfills the following criterion: the Battle of Adwa is “an important interchange of human values.” Adwa enshrines freedom to everyone.

This piece is well-referenced and those who seek the references should contact Professor Ayele Bekerie directly at: abekerie@gmail.com.

About the Author:
Ayele Bekerie is an Associate Professor at the Department of History and Cultural Studies at Mekelle University. He was an Assistant Professor at the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University. Bekerie is a contributing author in the acclaimed book, “One House: The Battle of Adwa 1896 -100 Years.” He is also the author of the award-winning book “Ethiopic, An African Writing System: Its History and Principles” — among many other published works.

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Ethiopia: What’s Missing in African Union’s New Building?

The new towering complex that opened in Addis Ababa on January 28, 2012 overlooks a vast conference centre where African heads of state will meet for years to come.

Tadias Magazine
History | Editorial

Updated: Saturday, February 11, 2012

New York (TADIAS) – The forecourt of the recently inaugurated African Union building in Addis Ababa – a $200m complex funded by China as a gift to the AU – features a beautiful statue of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, one of the founders of the OAU. It is fitting that Dr. Nkrumah is honored for the role he played in African liberation struggles and the Pan African movement. It is also equally deserving and historically accurate to extend the recognition to other leaders who were involved in the formation of the organization.

On May 25, 1963, less than 22 years after Ethiopia fought and retained her independence from military occupation and annexation into the colony of Italian East Africa, several Heads of State from 32 newly independent African countries gathered in Addis Ababa. The meeting brought together various factions from across the continent that held differing views on how to achieve union among the emerging, decolonized African countries – an issue that also preoccupied the continent’s press and academics at the time.

(Photograph: The statue of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah in Addis Ababa. Photo credit: us-africarelations updates)

One such promiment group, “The Casablanca bloc,” led by President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, argued for the federation of all African states. A second group of countries called “The “Monrovian bloc”, led by Léopold Senghor of Senegal, preferred a more gradual economic cooperation. Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia offered a diplomatic solution and brokered the establishment of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), now renamed the African Union (AU). The assembly settled its headquarters in Addis Ababa and entrusted Haile Selassie with the very first of its rotating chairmanships. Gamal Abdul Nassar of Egypt and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana served as subsequent OAU leaders.

Today, however, we should not only remember the founders of the AU, but also embrace our modern day heros like Nelson Mandela who continue to give us renewed hope that ‘African union’ can be more than a name on a brick tower. By acknowledging our past legacy and embracing current inspiring leaders we can begin to set our sights on a new morning in Africa.

Related:
A Chinese gift, an Ethiopian omission and a screaming Shame (The Africa Report)
Ethiopians give lacklustre welcome to Kwame Nkrumah statue (The Independent)
AU’s lavish new home hit by statue row (Reuters)
Ethiopia’s Conundrum : A statue for Nkrumah or Selassie? (The Africa Report)
African Union opens Chinese-funded HQ in Ethiopia (BBC)

Video: President John Evans Atta Mills of Ghana Unveils Nkrumah’s Statue In Addis Ababa

Interview: Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Photographer Gediyon Kifle

The crowd at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C on Sunday, January 15, 2012. (Photo by Gediyon Kifle)

Tadias Magazine

By Tadias Staff

Published: Monday, January 16, 2012

New York (TADIAS) – This year marks the first MLK day celebration since the unveiling of the new memorial at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

We followed up with photographer Gediyon Kifle who has been documenting the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial project for over a decade.

“I have worked on the project for 12 years photographing everything from the design competition to the dedication by President Obama,” Gediyon told TADIAS in a recent interview. “I was initially hired to document the submitted design competitions — that’s how my relationship with the foundation started.” Gediyon added: “It has been a great privilege to witness the process with my own eyes through three presidents including President Clinton and President Bush.”

The MLK memorial features a 30-foot granite sculpture, located near Washington, D.C.’s Tidal Basin between the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials. It includes a crescent-shaped inscription wall containing 14 excerpts from some of Dr King’s most memorable speeches.

According to the park’s web site: “The memorial is envisioned as a quiet and receptive space, yet at the same time, powerful and emotionally evocative, reflecting the spirit of the message Dr. King delivered and the role he played in society.”

The monument has also been a point of controversy with conflict topics ranging from the memorial’s location at the National Mall and giving a Chinese sculptor the contract, to Dr. King’s facial expression as depicted on the statue. The most recent criticism came from author Maya Angelou who protested an inclusion of an incorrectly paraphrased quote, which the poet said makes the civil rights leader sound ‘arrogant.’ Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced a change will be made regarding the latter complaint shortly.

(Photo of Gediyon Kifle by David Sharp)

For Gediyon the most memorable moments were photographing the people who had either known Dr. King or were inspired by him. “Congressman John Lewis specifically,” he said, referring to the civil rights legend from Atlanta, Georgia. “Every time he speaks it feels like you are in that zone, at that moment, he has a way of expressing and talking about it and it feels like he is speaking about an incident that happened yesterday.” He added other figures: “People like Jesse Jackson who was there with him, and Ambassador Andrew Young. And there is the family, his children, his sister, and his wife before she passed away, hearing them speak and photographing them gives you a sense of closeness to his legacy.”

“I have tremendous respect and admiration for the people who made this happen,” Gediyon said. “A small group of them, they raised 120 million dollars, and built a memorial for a peacemaker placed near presidents and military heroes. That’s a big accomplishment that some thought would never materialize.”

Gediyon was born in Ethiopia and came to the United States with his family when he was 10 years old. “Ever since then I have pretty much lived on the East Coast. I attended East Tennnessee State University and studied Mass communication. I did not study photography,” he said. “But I paid my way by doing photography work. It all began with my mother giving me a Canon camera when I was ten years old. I give my mother credit for giving me my first toy. There has never been a dull moment since then.”

Regarding his experience with the MLK project, Gediyon said: “When you take a break and think about it, the historical magnitude of the work kind of jolts you. I mean an ordinary man being honored with a memorial between Lincoln and Jefferson. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine being in his skin, a person who was being poked from every side. And he was saying ‘be patient.’ He was 39 years old when he died. He was ahead of his time!”


Related:

MLK’s Invitation from Haile Selassie in 1964 (TADIAS)

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New Film: Rarely Seen White House Photos

A new film entitled "Point Four" highlights several seldom-seen White House images. (Photos: The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum)

Tadias Magazine

By Tadias Staff

Published: Friday, December 16, 2011

New York (TADIAS) – Some rarely-seen historical images from the Kennedy White House years, showing the President and First Lady hosting Emperor Haile Selassie, are part of an upcoming documentary about Haramaya University, an agricultural technical college that was established in 1956 in Ethiopia as a joint project between the two nations.

The film entitled Point Four borrows its name from President Harry Truman’s 1949 inaugural address in which he announced a technical assistance program for developing countries that later became known as “The Point Four Program.” It was so named because it was the fourth foreign policy objective outlined in the speech. The Point Four program resulted in America’s close partnership with Ethiopia in helping to establish some of the country’s technical higher-education institutions.

Mel Tewahade, Denver-based producer of the film, said he discovered the photographs while conducting research for the Point Four documentary. “I ran into some amazing stuff, both stills and films,” Mr. Tewahade said. “We are using less than five percent of what we have collected. He added: “Some of the photos came from presidential libraries, others from the Library of Congress, and the rest from individuals and private collections. All of the Kennedy photos are included in the film.”

Here are some of the images:


Emperor Haile Selassie is greeted by President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy upon his arrival at Union Station in Washington, D.C on October 1st, 1963. (Photo: The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum)


President John F. Kennedy and Emperor Haile Selassie meeting at the White House, October 1963. (Photo: The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum)

Click here to View more photos.

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Related:

An Interview With Documentary Filmmaker Mel Tewahade (Curve Wire)

Point Four: A Film About Haramaya University (TADIAS)

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Point Four: A Film About Haramaya University

Mel Tewahade (center) working on his new documentary “Point Four” about Haramaya University - formerly Alemaya College. (Courtesy photo)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Thursday, November 24, 2011

New York (TADIAS) – A new documentary entitled Point Four highlights the history of Haramaya University, an agricultural technical campus in Ethiopia established in 1956 in collaboration with the U.S. government and with assistance from Oklahoma State University. Formerly known as Alemaya College, the institution was officially inaugurated by Emperor Haile Selassie on January 16, 1958.

The film borrows its name from President Harry Truman’s 1949 inaugural address in which he announced a technical assistance program for developing countries that later became known as “The Point Four Program.” It was so named because it was the fourth foreign policy objective outlined in the speech. The Point Four program resulted in America’s close partnership with Ethiopia in helping to establish some of the country’s technical higher-education institutions.

“The documentary is about a US foreign policy that was successfully implemented in Ethiopia,” said Mel Tewahade, the film’s Denver-based producer. He noted: “The Alemaya College was established with the help of Oklahoma State University. Oklahoma State provided the expertise and Ethiopia provided the funds.”

The film is narrated by the director and features interviews with Americans who were involved with the program in Ethiopia as well as Ethiopian graduates from the school. “My inspiration to make the movie is to honor all the great people including my own father who worked hard to establish this agricultural college,” Mr. Tewahade said. “As a kid I traveled to Alemaya from our house in Harar and I have a pleasant memory of the place.”

You can learn more about the film at www.pointfourethiopia.com.

Related:
An Interview With Documentary Filmmaker Mel Tewahade (curve Wire)

Watch the trailer:

‘Point Four’ Trailer from Aashish Mayur Shah on Vimeo.

The Moving Story of an Ethiopian Teacher in South Africa

Bisho Jarsa, trained as a domestic servant, went to South Africa to become a teacher.

BBC News
Sandra Rowoldt Shell
University of Cape Town

When Neville Alexander used to visit his maternal grandmother Bisho Jarsa as a boy, he never suspected the extraordinary story of how she had come from Ethiopia to the South African city of Port Elizabeth.

Bisho was one of a group of Ethiopian slaves freed by a British warship in 1888 off the coast of Yemen, then taken round the African coast and placed in the care of missionaries in South Africa.

“We were overawed in her presence and by the way she would mumble to herself in this language none of us understood,” recalls Mr Alexander, now 74.

This was Ethiopia’s Oromo language, Bisho’s mother tongue, which she reverted to as she grew older.

Mr Alexander, who was a political prisoner in the 1960s, sharing Robben Island with Nelson Mandela, is today one of South Africa’s most eminent educationists.

He remembers his younger siblings asking their mother, Dimbiti: “What’s Ma talking about… what’s the matter with her? What’s she saying?”

Their mother would respond: “Don’t worry about Ma… she’s just talking to God.”

When he was in his late teens, his mother told him about his Ethiopian origins but Mr Alexander thinks even she may not have known all the details, which he only discovered when he was in his fifties.

He found out that the freed Ethiopians had all been interviewed on their arrival in South Africa.

The story began on 16 September 1888, when Commander Charles E Gissing, aboard the British gunship HMS Osprey, intercepted three dhows carrying Ethiopians to the slave markets in the Arabian port of Jeddah.

Read more at BBC News.

Interview: Yemane Demissie Talks About His Latest Film on Haile Selassie

Above: Episodes in the Life & Times of Emperor Haile Selassie was screened at the Schomburg on Thursday, May 26, 2011.

Tadias Magazine
Events News

Updated: Friday, May 27, 2011

New York (Tadias) – The 8th Annual Sheba Film Festival featured the New York premiere of Yemane Demissie’s film Twilight Revelations: Episodes in the Life & Times of Emperor Haile Selassie. The screening took place at the Schomburg Center on Thursday, May 26th.

The documentary, which features rare archival footage coupled with exclusive interviews and firsthand accounts, takes a fresh look at the mixed legacy of one of the most controversial African monarchs in modern history. Emperor Haile Selassie is widely admired abroad for his memorable appeal at the League of Nations in 1936 during the second Italian invasion of Ethiopia, as well as for his continental leadership role in the 1950′s and 1960′s during the decolonization of most African countries. History also remembers him for his administrative failures at home and for presiding over one of the most archaic land tenure systems in the world. Although credited for his commitment to establishing modern institutions and nurturing a new class of academics and professionals in Ethiopia, he is also criticized for his prolonged neglect of reform voices and the unsustainable poverty of the vast majority of his people – which would eventually bring about the abrupt and unceremonious end to his rule.

Below is our recent interview with Filmmaker Yemane Demissie who is also an Assistant Professor at the Kanbar Institute of Film & Television at NYU.


Yemane Demissie. (Photo via NYU)

Tadias: It is clear that you’ve made a conscious effort to tell a balanced story. The film documents the highs and lows of the Emperor’s reign. Why do you think people remain fascinated by Haile Selassie almost four decades after he was deposed by a popular revolt?

YD: Apart from the five-year intermission during the Italo-Ethiopian War, the Emperor was in power from 1916 until 1974. That is long enough to make it possible for two generations of Ethiopians to be born and come of age during his reign. But in addition to the length of his sovereignty, his significant national and international contributions, his personality, and his leadership style contribute to the fascination. In the end, however, charisma is never the sum of the parts.

Tadias: The documentary also touches upon the more human side of the person. We hear from some of his family members about his role as a father, other interviewees discuss his daily routine, such as his regular early morning physical exercise, etc. You also incorporate some fascinating images that capture the Emperor in private moments. What do you most want people to take away from this film?

YD: That nearly six decades of leadership cannot be reduced to a triumph, [such as] the 1963 establishment of the OAU in Addis Ababa, or a fiasco, the 1973 famine. That a lot more research is wanting since there is so much we don’t know about the Emperor and his era. I also need not point out that it’s impossible to convey six decades of leadership in 58 minutes, the length of the documentary. That empathy is crucial if one wants to learn.

Tadias: One of the most dramatic moments in the film comes during the 1960 coup attempt against the emperor while he was traveling abroad. We know that you have dedicated a whole movie exploring this subject. Can you tell us a bit about the coup, its leaders, and why the revolt was a significant historical event?

YD: In December 1960, General Mengistu Neway, the head of the Imperial Bodyguard, his younger brother, Ato Girmame Neway, the intelligence tsar, Colonel Workeneh Gebeyehu, and a circle of their supporters attempted to overthrow the Emperor while he was on a state visit to Brazil. When the coup d’état failed, the leaders executed most of the government officials they had detained — including the acclaimed patriot leader, Ras Abebe Aregay — and fled. Ato Girmame Neway and Colonel Workeneh Gebeyehu died before they were captured and their corpses were hung publicly. General Mengistu Neway was taken captive. He was given a trial in which he expressed himself openly. A copy of the trial transcriptions can be found at the Institute of Ethiopian Studies. At the end of the trial, he was found guilty and condemned to death.

For a number of years before the coup, a not insignificant number of the intelligentsia had began to express its discontent and frustration, albeit it discretely, with and about the imperial administration. These young people believed that the Emperor and his administration were, at best, dithering, or at worst, blocking the political, social, economic and cultural changes that they deemed were essential and overdue.

The coup was a significant event for many reasons. I can think of two at the moment: First, the lack of significant civic bodies or institutions, such as independent press, political parties, professional associations, labor unions, in which differing views and proposals could be discussed openly and seriously and then implemented or rejected, encouraged the belief in force as the only path to change. Second, for many of the educated young men and women who came of age immediately following the coup d’état the leaders of the putsch became champions of change.

Tadias: Even though the film consists of several interviews, we do not see the face of the interviewer, and except on two occasions we don’t hear the interviewers voice either. How would the film be different if the audience had heard the questions? How did most of the interviewed individuals react off-camera to the questions?

YD: I used “chapter headings” before each “episode” to make sure that the topic at hand was not confusing. The only time you heard the interviewer’s, my voice, was when its absence would have caused confusion. Had I included my voice, the chain-like flow of the narratives would have been shattered. Many of the responses were selections from much longer explanations and anecdotes. Part of my job as the editor was to distill and synthesize. This approach is not unusual in documentary filmmaking.

Tadias: In the last scene you actively interject and ask a follow-up question. What spurred this break in style?

YD: I decided to use that section because it was moving and powerful. Since Ato Mamo Haile, the interviewee, asked me a question directly, breaking the fourth wall, I had to reply. If I had technically muted my response the segment would not have worked. After experiencing a film in which the subjects addressed an invisible person off camera for about 56 minutes, the shift, with Ato Mamo addressing the camera directly, becomes noticeable and affective. By breaking the fourth wall, Ato Mamo poses a question not only to me but to the viewer. That was why I switched styles.

Tadias: Were there any rules you set for yourself about what you would or wouldn’t discuss on camera?

YD: I wouldn’t say rule but approach. There is vast amount of literature about the Emperor and his era written primarily by journalists or scholars who specialize in that time period. Since that information was readily available, I targeted primary sources or first hand accounts from individuals whose observations were not as readily available.

Tadias: What were some of the biggest challenges in making this film?

YD: One of many [challenges] was constructing a narrative when so many of the key participants were killed by the military junta or have died of old age or poor health without leaving any record of their work or observations.

Tadias: Why did you name the film “Twilight Revelations”?

YD: I hope the answer to that question becomes evident after a viewing of the film.

Tadias: Thank you Yemane and see you on Thursday at the Schomburg Center!

If You Go: (This event has passed)
The 8th Annual Sheba Film Festival
The New York premiere of “Twilight Revelations”
Episodes in the Life & Times of Emperor Haile Selassie
Thursday, May 26th, 2011 7PM (Admission: $12)
The Schomburg Center (515 Malcolm X Boulevard, 135th St)
Director Yemane Demissie will be present for the Q&A session following the screening.
Click here to watch the trailer.

A Polishman among Ethiopians – Haaretz.com

Above: Not that many people outside the Ethiopian Jewish community knew who Jacques Faitlovitch was. (Moti Milrod)

Haaretz.com
By Ofer Aderet
Published: May 20, 2011

An odd sculpture recently appeared on the Tel Aviv University campus, following a complex, transcontinental, logistical operation. It was designed in London, assembled in Italy and shipped by sea to Israel. The artwork consists of metal pipes emerging upward from the ground, splitting, and winding around two palm trees. “This expresses continuity and departure,” said the sculpture’s designer, Israeli-born architect Ron Arad, in a phone call from London.

The sculpture is a memorial to Ethiopian Jews who left their homes between 1977 and 1985 for the exhausting, traumatic journey to Israel. The trek took them from Ethiopia to Sudan, and across mountains, deserts, rivers and forests; they faced hunger, thirst, illness, harassment and arrest before winding up in refugee camps…The statue was commissioned and financed by Michael Benabou, a French-Jewish businessman and a member of the French Friends of Tel Aviv University, which provides scholarships to Ethiopian-Israeli students. Two years ago he decided it was time to dedicate a memorial to these students’ community. “It is a tribute to the operation that brought them to Israel, commemorates their suffering, and expresses hope for their future,” he said by phone from Paris…The relationship between the Jews of France and Ethiopia began a century ago, with one man who devoted his life to the latter community. The new sculpture stands opposite Tel Aviv University’s central library, where a small, crowded room on the second floor stores the archives of that man, researcher Dr. Jacques Faitlovitch, who died in 1955.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

The Battle of Adwa 115 Years Later

Above: The battle of Adwa, depicted in this painting, was an African victory that put a check to the colonial aims and objectives against the continent, which were originally conceived and agreed upon at the Berlin Conference of 1885.

Opinion/History
Adwa Rhymes with Pan-Africanism and Addistu Ethiopia
By Ayele Bekerie, PhD
ayele_author.jpg

Published: Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Mekelle, Ethiopia – As much as ancient Ethiopia inspired the development of Pan-Africanist movements and organizations throughout the African world, contemporary Ethiopia’s history has also its symbolic significance with respect to the establishment of the African Union. Pan-Africanism refers to intellectual movements dedicated to a complete liberation of the people of Africa and the African Diaspora from all forms of colonialism. They have been movements of self-definition, political and cultural emancipations. I am arguing that the movements, in part, were inspired by the historic and permanent victory at the Battle of Adwa one hundred and fifteen years ago.

Ethiopia was brought to the African world’s attention in 1896 when Ethiopia, an African country, defeated Italy, a European country, at the battle of Adwa. According to Donald Levine, “the Battle of Adwa qualifies as a historic event which represented the first time since the beginning of European imperial expansion that a non-white nation had defeated a European power.”

It was a victory of an African army in the true sense of the word. The Battle was planned and executed by African generals and spies led by Emperor Menelik II, who was born, brought up, and educated in Ethiopia. It was a brilliant and indigenous strategy that put a check to the colonial aims and objectives, which were originally conceived and agreed upon at the Berlin Conference of 1885. European strategy to carve Africa into external and exclusive spheres of influence was halted by Emperor Menelik II and Empress Taitu Betul at the Battle of Adwa. The Europeans had no choice but to recognize this African (not European) power.

The African World celebrated and embraced this historic victory. In the preface to the book An Introduction to African Civilizations With Main Currents in Ethiopian History, Huggins and Jackson write: “In Ethiopia, the military genius of Menelik II was in the best tradition of Piankhi, the great ruler of ancient Egypt and Nubia or ancient Ethiopia, who drove out the Italians in 1896 and maintained the liberties of that ancient free empire of Black men.” Huggins and Jackson analyzed the victory not only in terms of its significance to the postcolonial African world, but also in terms of its linkage to the tradition of ancient African glories and victories.

Emperor Menelik II used his “magic wand” to draw all, the diverse and voluntary patriots from virtually the entire parts of the country, into a battlefield called Adwa. And in less than six hours, the enemy is decisively defeated. The overconfident and never to be defeated European army fell under the great military strategy of an African army. The strategy was what the Ethiopians call afena, an Ethiopian version of blitzkrieg that encircles the enemy and cuts its head. Italians failed to match the British and the French in establishing a colonial empire in Africa. In fact, by their humiliating defeat, the Italians made the British and the French colonizers jittery. The colonial subjects became reenergized to resist the colonial empire builders.

Adwa irreversibly broadened the true boundaries of Ethiopia and Ethiopians. People of the south and the north and the east and the west fought and defeated the Italian army. In the process, a new Ethiopia is born.

Adwa shows what can be achieved when united forces work for a common goal. Adwa brought the best out of so many forces that were accustomed to waging battles against each other. Forces of destruction and division ceased their endless squabbles and redirect their united campaign against the common enemy. They chose to redefine themselves as one and unequivocally expressed their rejection of colonialism. They came together in search of freedom or the preservation and expansion of the freedom at hand.

Emperor Menelik II could have kept the momentum by reforming his government and by allowing the many forces to continue participating in the making of a modern and good for all state. Emperor Menelik II, however, chose to return back to the status quo, a status of exploitative relationship between the few who controlled the land and the vast majority of the agrarian farmers. It took another almost eighty years to dismantle the yoke of feudalism from the backs of the vast majority of the Ethiopian farmers.

As long as Emperor Menelik’s challenge to and reversal of colonialism in Ethiopia is concerned, his accomplishment was historic and an indisputable fact. It is precisely this brilliant and decisive victory against the European colonial army that has inspired the colonized and the oppressed through out the world to forge ahead and fight against their colonial masters.

Menelik’s rapprochement, on the other hand, with the three colonial powers in the region may have saved his monarchial power, but the policy ended up hurting the whole region. The seeds of division sown by the colonizers, in part, continue to wreck the region apart.

Realizing the need to completely remove all the colonizers as an effective and lasting way to bring peace and prosperity in the region, the grandson of the Emperor, Lij Iyassu attempted to carve anti-colonial policy. He began to send arms to freedom fighters in Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia. He entered into a treaty of peace and cooperation with the Austrians, the Germans and the Turks against the British, Italians and the French. Unfortunately, the rule of Lij Iyassu was short-lived. The tri-partite powers colluded with the then Tafari Makonnen to successfully remove him from power.

Adwa symbolizes the aspirations and hopes of all oppressed people. Adwa catapulted Pan-Africanism into the realm of the possible by reigniting the imaginations of Africans in their quest for freedom throughout the world. Adwa foreshadowed the outcome of the anti-colonial struggle in Africa and elsewhere. Adwa is about cultural resistance; it is about reaffirmation of African ways. Adwa was possible not simply because of brilliant and courageous leadership, but also because of the people’s willingness to defend their motherland, regardless of ethnic, linguistic and religious differences.

Adwa was a story of common purpose and common destiny. The principles established on the battlefield of Adwa must be understood and embraced for Africa to remain centered in its own histories, cultures and socioeconomic development. We should always remember that Adwa was won for Africans. Adwa indeed is an African model of victory and resistance.

Publisher’s Note:
This piece is well-referenced and those who seek the references should contact Professor Ayele Bekerie directly at: abekerie@gmail.com.

About the Author:
Ayele Bekerie is an Associate Professor at the Department of History and Cultural Studies at Mekelle University. He was an Assistant Professor at the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University. Bekerie is a contributing author in the highly acclaimed book, “One House: The Battle of Adwa 1896 -100 Years.” He is also the author of the award-winning book “Ethiopic, An African Writing System: Its History and Principles” — among many other published works.

What Do Ronald Reagan and Haile Selassie Have in Common?

Above: The men governed two different worlds in separate era, but their mark on global politics have stood the test of time.

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Sunday, Febraury 6, 2011

New York (TADIAS) – In remembrance of President Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday (Sunday, Febraury 6), TIME Magazine lists 25 other political icons from around the world that match Regan’s charisma or share similar historical status for having left enduring impressions on global affairs.

The list is an eclectic collection of inspirational leaders, freedom fighters, reformers as well as dictators and monarchs. Among those highlighted include The Egyptian Queen Cleopatra, Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Mohandas Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, Abraham Lincoln, Charles de Gaulle, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Simón Bolívar, Kim Il-Sung, Vladimir Lenin, Benito Mussolini, Mao Zedong, Franklin Roosevelt, and last but not least Haile Selassie.

Regarding the Ethiopian Emperor, TIME stated: “That he was ultimately deposed by a military discontented with his regime should not eclipse his contribution to African solidarity. Selassie gave Ethiopia its first constitution and convened the earliest meeting of the Organization of African Unity.” Historians also agree that while celebrated abroad as the father of modern Africa, the Emperor’s aloofness towards the impoverished majority in his own country, coupled with his prolonged neglect of reform voices, would eventually bring about the abrupt, unceremonious end to his rule.

Like President Reagan, Haile Selassie exhibited a commanding presence on the world stage. TIME magazine noted that “he is perhaps most widely remembered for the speech he gave before the League of Nations in 1933 as the legions of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini stormed his ill-equipped nation. The League did little to prevent Ethiopia’s defeat, but Selassie’s appeal, uttered movingly in his native Amharic, would serve as a pillar in the struggles against colonialism and fascism. With a firm internationalist bent, the last Ethiopian monarch eventually saw his country become a charter member of the United Nations. A TIME “Man of the Year” who claimed descendance from the biblical King Solomon, he ushered the continent he had unified into a distinctly African modernity.”

Click here to view the full list at TIME.com

Video: Reflecting on Ronald Reagan’s Legacy (PBS)

Ethiopian Christ icon found 500 years on

A 15th century Ethiopian icon of the infant Christ child sitting on his mother's knee can be revealed after it was cleaned by a British charity (Photo: BNPS)

Telegraph

9:35AM GMT 23 Dec 2010

The central panel of the triptych had over the centuries become blackened with the sprinkling of perfume that the monks use as they worship.

The hugely important and stunning painted wood panel is now visible in its original coloured glory, showing a pale-faced Jesus with black curly hair and rosy cheeks.

His hand has three digits raised and two down as if blessing the person looking at him.

He has a halo and is wearing a gown and is perched on his mother’s knee and she too has a halo.

The monks at the Monastery of St Stephen on an island in Lake Hayq in the north of the African country believe the icon, known as The One Who Listens, to be miraculous. Read more.

Ethiopian Airlines Appoints First Female Captain

Above: Captain Amsale Gualu Endegnanew (right) who made history by becoming the first female captain at Ethiopian Airlines. (ET)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Friday, October 15, 2010

New York (Tadias) – She may not be the first Ethiopian woman pilot, but Captain Amsale Gualu Endegnanew is just as pioneering. She is the first female to become captain in the history of Ethiopian Airlines.

According to the company, the pilot was at controls of a next generation Bombardier airplane for her historic flight, which she performed over domestic routes on October 14, 2010. “Captain Amsale proudly took off her first flight from the left hand seat of the flight deck of a Q-400 aircraft from Addis Ababa to Gondar then to Axum and finally returned back to Addis Ababa after a total of 3.6 flight hours,” the airline announced in a press release.

“Captain Amsale joined Ethiopian Airlines Pilot Training School on July 10, 2000 and started her career as first officer on November 26, 2002. Since then, she has trained and worked on Fokker-50, 757 and 767 aircraft as first officer. Captain Amsale has been able to complete successfully all the necessary training requirements and passed through rigorous checks to gain her four stripes. She has a total of 4475 flight hours under her belt when she becomes the commander-in-chief of her flight.”

In a brief statement following her groundbreaking flight, Captain Amsale said this moment has been a long time coming. “It is a great privilege to become the first female captain of the national carrier,” she said. “I have been trained and passed through various ladders at Ethiopian Airlines.”

“The company has been very supportive of my efforts to realize my vision of becoming a captain,” she added.

Congratulating her on the occasion, Weyzero Elizabeth Getachew, a Senior Vice President for Human Resource Management and the highest ranking female executive in the airline said, “Captain Amsale’s success is a great achievement on her part and it is also an achievement for the airline. It is my hope that other females will be inspired by her success and Ethiopian will see more female candidates in the near future.” The country’s flag-career currently has four female pilots working as first officers.

Who is Ethiopia’s first female pilot?

Some say Weyzero Asegedech Asefa, who became a pilot post World War II, is the first Ethiopian female pilot. While others argue that Weyzero Mulumebet Emeru, whose flight training was interrupted when the Italians envaded Ethiopia in 1936, holds the title of first Ethiopian female pilot.

More photos courtesy of Ethiopian Airlines via Nazret.com

Learn more about Ethiopian airlines at ethiopianairlines.com.

Related:
Interview with Girma Wake: Former CEO of Ethiopian Airlines (Capital Ethiopia)
Video: Ethiopian TV on the First Female Captain at Ethiopian Airlines

World’s first illustrated Christian bible discovered at Ethiopian monastery

A page from the Garima Gospels - the world's oldest Christian book found in remote monastery in Ethiopia - BNPS

By DAILY MAIL REPORTER
Last updated 5th July 2010

The world’s earliest illustrated Christian book has been saved by a British charity which located it at a remote Ethiopian monastery.

The incredible Garima Gospels are named after a monk who arrived in the African country in the fifth century and is said to have copied them out in just one day.

Beautifully illustrated, the colours are still vivid and thanks to the Ethiopian Heritage Fund have been conserved.

Abba Garima arrived from Constantinople in 494 AD and legend has it that he was able to copy the gospels in a day because God delayed the sun from setting.

Read more at the Daily Mail.

Related News:
Replica of the Axum obelisk to be installed at City of Axum Park in Denver
The Denver Daily News
Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and Mayor Ato Hagos Gebrewahid of Axum, Ethiopia, and others will meet at 9 a.m. in the City of Axum Park, located at the corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Birch Street, to break ground on more than $620,000 in improvements, funded through the Better Denver Bond Program, Capital Improvement Funding and a Park Hill Thriving Communities Grant. The park is named for Denver’s ninth sister city. These renovations include a new playground, picnic shelter, new basketball court, benches, a concrete promenade and a new irrigation system for the park. Hickenlooper also will present Hagos with a scale replica of the obelisk that will be installed at the park as part of Denver’s One Percent for the Arts.

Axum: Denver’s Sister City Park

Axum, Ethiopia is a city over 2,500 years old which is located in the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray. It is reported to have been the capital city of the legendary Queen of Sheba. Recently unearthed ruins of a complex and sophisticated palace are claimed to be that of the queen. Archaeological expeditions currently underway in the area are discovering more artifacts attesting to very high levels of engineering and architectural achievements, including a number of obelisks dating back almost 2,500 years which are still standing in the city. It is said that Ethiopia is the last resting place of the Ark of the Covenant, and that, in fact, the Ark is kept at the holy church of Saint Mary of Zion in Axum. It is interesting to note that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, one of the oldest Christian institutions in the world, is perhaps the only ohne to use replicas of the Ark in its prayer rituals for centuries. As the center of ancient Ethiopia, Axum has a rich historical, cultural, and religious heritage which remains to be fully discovered through future research.

In November of 1995, an official delegation, including Mayor Wellington Webb, Mrs. Webb, and other prominent Denver personalities visited Axum. As a result of this visit, Axum named a street in their city, “Denver Street.”

Axum became a sister city in 1993.

Axum Park is located at Martin Luther King Boulevard and Cherry Street.

Source: Denvergov.org

Assumptions and Interpretations of Ethiopian History (Part II)

Figure 3: Hatse Bazin’s Stela at Aksum (Photo: Ayele Bekerie)

Tadias Magazine
By Ayele Bekerie
ayele_author.jpg

Published: Monday, March 15, 2010

Click here to read part one of this article.

Who are the authors of the external paradigm?

New York (Tadias)- Sergew (1972) represents the Ethiopian scholars who look at the Ethiopian history from outside in, one of the most ardent proponents of the external origin of Ethiopian history and civilization is Edward Ullendorff. In the preface to his book The Ethiopians: An Introduction to Country and People, Ullendorff (1960) wrote:

This book is principally concerned with historic Abyssinia and the cultural manifestations of its Semitized inhabitants – not with all the peoples and regions now within the political boundaries of the Ethiopian Empire.

The constituent elements of the external paradigm are thus “historic Abyssinia” and “Semitized inhabitants.” Regarding the name Abyssinia, Martin Bernal (1987), in his book Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, Vol 1, wrote: “It should be made clear that the name ‘Abyssynia’ was used precisely to avoid ‘Ethiopia,’ with its indelible association with Blackness. The first American edition of Samuel Johnson’s translation of the 17th-century travels of Father Lobo in Ethiopia and his novel Rasselas, published in Philadelphia in 1768, was entitled The History of Rasselas, prince of Abissinia: An Asiatic Tale! Baron Cuvier equated Ethiopian with Negro, but categorized the Abyssinians – as Arabian colonies – as Caucasians.”

On the question of “Semitized inhabitants, Bernal (1987) appears to agree with Ullendorff. Bernal stated, “The dominant Ethiopian languages are Semitic.” I must add, however, Bernal now claims the origin of what is generally accepted as Afro-Asiatic or “Semitic” languages is Ethiopia. The possible diffusion of the Afro-Asiatic languages from Ethiopia to the Near East since Late Paleolithic times have also been emphasized by Grover Hudson (1977; 1978). This claim by itself is a major challenge to the South Arabian or external paradigm. Ullendorff’s claim that “the Semitized inhabitants of historic Ethiopia” had South Arabian origin has become difficult to sustain. It is, however, exemplary to look into the writings of Ullendorff in order to bring to light the process of linking the Ethiopian history to an external paradigm.

According to Ullendorff, “no student of Ethiopia can afford to neglect the connection between that country and South Arabia. Among those who have recognized this vital link are Eugen Mitwoch, while leo Reinsch is the undisputed master of the Semitic connection with the Hamitic (Kushitic) languages of Ethiopia.” Hamitic/Semitic divide, of course, was nothing but a means to keep the Ethiopian people divided.

His divisiveness even became clearer in the following statement: “The Abyssinians proper, the carriers of the historical civilization of Semitized Ethiopia, live in the central and northern highlands. From the mountain of Eritrea in the north to the Awash valley in the south we find this clearly distinguishable Abyssinian type who for many centuries has maintained his identity against the influx of Negroid peoples of the Nile Valley, the equatorial lakes, or the Indian Ocean littoral.” What is surprising is this outdated argument of physical anthropology that remained unchallenged until very recently. It is also unfortunate that a significant portion of the Ethiopian elite would buy such erroneous assertion.

The outline of Ethiopian history constructed by Ullendorff begins with “South Arabia and Aksum.” And the outline has been duplicated and replicated by a significant number of Ethiopian historians. For instance, Sergew used similar “external” approach in his otherwise very important book entitled Ancient and medieval Ethiopian History to 1270. Sergew (1972) wrote, “Ethiopia is separated from Southern Arabia by the Red Sea. As is well known, the inhabitants of South Arabia are of Semitic stock, which most probably came from Mesopotamia long before our era and settled in this region. … For demographic and economic reasons, the people of South Arabia started to migrate to Ethiopia. It is hard to fix the date of these migrations, but it can be said that the first immigration took place before 1000 B.C.11 Sergew essentially echoed the proposition advanced by Ethiopianits, such as E. Littmann (1913), D. Nielson (1927), J Doresse (1957), H.V. Wissman (1953), C. Conti Rossini (1928), M. Hoffner (1960), A. Caquot and J. Leclant (1955), A. Jamme (1962), and Ullendorff (1960).12 The Ethiopianists almost categorically laid down the external or South Arabian paradigmatical foundation for Ethiopian history.

Challenges of the External Paradigm from Without

In Aksum: An African Civilisation of Late Antiquity, Stuart Munro-Hay (1991) writes: “The precise nature of the contacts between the two areas [South Arabia and Ethiopia], their range in commercial, linguistic or cultural terms, and their chronology, is still a major question, and discussion of this fascinating problem continues.”13 What is notable in Munro-Hay’s interpretation is the very labeling of the Aksumite civilization as an African civilization. Its impact may be equivalent to Placid Temples’ Bantu Philosophy. At a time when Africans are labeled people without history and philosophy, the Belgian missionary in the Congo inadvertently overturned the Hegelian reduction of the so-called Bantu. Temples elevated the Bantu (African) by wanting to observe him in the context of reason and logic, that is, philosophy.

By the same token, Aksum: An African Civilisation dares to place or locate Aksum in Africa. That by itself is a clear shift of paradigm, from external to internal. It is an attempt to see Ethiopians as agents of their history. It is an attempt to question the validity of the south Arabian origin of the Ethiopian history and civilization.

Jacqueline Pirenne’s proposal has also convincingly challenged the validity of the external paradigm as the source of Ethiopian history. Pirenne suggests that the influence is in reverse, i.e., the Ethiopians influenced the civilization of the South Arabians. She reached her ‘ingenious’ conclusion after “weighing up the evidence from all sides, particularly aspects of material culture and linguistic/paleographic information.” Pirenne is essentially confirming the proposal made by scholars such as DuBois and Drusilla Dungee Houston, two African American vindicationist historians, who, in the early 1900s, wrote arguing that South Arabia was a part of ancient Ethiopia.

Another landmark in the refutation of the South Arabian paradigm comes from the Italian archaeologist, Rodolofo Fattovitch, who linked the pre-Aksumite culture to Nubia, “especially to Kerma influences, and later on to Meroe.” After more than three decades of extensive research and publications, Fattovitch in 1996 made the following conclusion: “The present evidence does not support the hypothesis of migration from Arabia to Africa in late prehistoric times. On the contrary, it suggests that Afro-Arabian cultures developed in both regions as a consequence of a strong and continuous interaction among the local populations.” Recent archaeological evidence from Asmara region also appeared to support the conclusion reached by Fattovitch. “Archaeologists from Asmara University and University of Florida, based on preliminary excavations in the vicinity of the Asmara, seemed to have found an agricultural settlement dated to be 3,000 years old.”

Challenges of the External Paradigm from Within

Among the Ethiopian scholars, Hailu Habtu (1987) presents a very strong case against the external paradigm. As far as Hailu is concerned, “the formulation of Ethiopian and other African historiography by European scholars at times suffers from Afro-phobia and Eurocentrism.” Hailu utilizes linguistic and historical linguistics evidence to challenge the external paradigm. Most importantly, Hailu suggested a new approach in the reading of the Ethiopian past by declaring the absence of “Semito/Hamitic dichotomy in Ethiopian tradition.” Hailu cites the works of Murtonen (1967) to question any significant linguistic connection between Ge’ez and the languages of South Arabia. According to Murtonen, “Ancient South Arabic is more closely related to northern Arabic and north-west Semitic rather than Ethiopic.” He also cites Ethiopian sources, such as Kibra Nagast or the Glory of Kings and Anqatsa Haimanot or the Gate of Faith.

Another Ethiopian historian who challenged the external paradigm is Teshale Tibebu. Teshale (1992) poignantly summarizes the argument as follows: “That Ethiopians are Semitic, and not Negroid; civilized, and not barbaric; are all images of orientalist semiticism in Western Social Science. Ethiopia is considered as the southwestern end of the Semitic world in Africa. The Ethiopian is explained in superlative terms because the ‘Negro’ is considered sub-human. That the heavy cloud of racism had been deeply embedded in the triplicate4 intellectual division among Social Sciences, orientalism, and anthropology – corresponding to Whites, ‘orientals’ (who included, Semitic people, who in turn included Ethiopians), and Negro and native American ‘savages,’ respectively – is common knowledge nowadays. … Ethiopians have always been treated as superior to the Negro but inferior to the White in Ethiopianist Studies because of the racist nature of the classification of the intellectual disciplines. It is quite revealing to see that more is written on Ethiopia in the Journal of Semitic Studies than in the Journal of African History.”

Perhaps the most persistent critique of the external paradigm was the great Ethiopian Ge’ez scholar, Aleqa Asras Yenesaw. Aleqa Asras categorically rejected the external paradigm as follows:

The notion that a Semitic fringe from South Arabia brought the writing system to Ethiopia is a myth.

1. South Arabia as a source of Ethiopian civilization is a political invention;

2. South Arabia was Ethiopian emperors inscribed a part of Ethiopia and the inscriptions in South Arabia.

3. There is no such thing as Sabaen script; it was a political invention designed to undermine Ethiopia’s place in world history.

Paleontological Evidence Places the Origin in Africa

Of course, Ethiopia in terms of place and time emerged much earlier than the name itself. The formation of a geographical feature called the Rift Valley predates in millions of years the word Ethiopia. It was in the Rift Valley of northeast Africa, thanks to the openings and cracks, that paleontologists have been able to unearth the earliest human-like species. At least 5 million years of human evolution has taken place before the naming of Ethiopia. Dinqnesh, Italdu, Garhi, ramidus or afarensis are names assigned within the last thirty years, even if they predate Ethiopia by a much longer time periods.

Ethiopia’s beginning, in paleontological terms, was in what we now know as southern Ethiopia. The Afar region is primal, for it is the cradle of human beings. The people of this region may have experimented with the oldest stone technology to develop our initial knowledge about plants and animals. They may have also experimented with languages and cultures so as to create groups and communities. They may have also been the first to map varying residential sites by moving from one locality to another.

In other words, the history of human beings begins in Africa, more specifically in the Rift Valley regions of northeast and southern Africa. As a result, African history is central to the early development of human beings. As the oldest continent on earth, it has been particularly valuable in the study of life. To many, Africa has made one of the most important, if not the most important contributions: the emergence of the earliest human ancestors about five million years ago. Evidence has shown that all present humans originated in Africa before migrating to other parts of the world. Paleontology is providing an incredible array of information on human origin. Furthermore, gene mapping and blood test are useful methods in the understanding of human beginnings in Africa.


Figure 4: Paleontological Site at Melka Kunture, central Ethiopia (Photo by
Ayele Bekerie)

Ethiopia has become one of the most important sites in the world in the unearthing and understanding of our earliest ancestors. Among the earliest human-like species found in Ethiopia are: Aridepithecus ramidus (4.4 – 4.5 myo), Australopithecus afarensis also known as Dinqnesh (3.18 myo), and Australopithecus garhi (2.5 – 2.9 myo). A. ramidus (an Afar word for root) is one of the earliest hominid species found in Aramis, Afar region by a team including Tim White and Berhane Asfaw. A. afarensis is widely considered to be the basal stalk from which other hominids evolved. Dinqnesh was found in Hadar, Afar region by Donald Johanson and his team in 1974. In addition, the oldest stone tools or the earliest stone technology, which is dated 2.5 million years old, was found in the Afar region by an Ethiopian paleontologist, Seleshi Semaw and his team in 1998.

Furthermore, Ethiopia has also provided us with a concrete fossil evidence for the emergence of modern human species, Homo sapiens, about 160, 000 years ago, again from the Afar region of Ethiopia. The fossil evidence supports the DNA evidence that traced our common ancestor to a 200,000-year-old African woman.23 “Geneticists traced her identity by analyzing DNA passed exclusively from mother to daughter in the mitochondria, energy-producing organelles in the cell.”24 Likewise, scientists from Stanford University and the University of Arizona have conducted a study to find the genetic trail leading to the earliest African man or Adam. According to this Y chromosome study, the earliest male ancestors of the modern human species include some Ethiopians, whose descendants populated the entire world.

According to Berhane Asfaw, an Ethiopian paleontologist, Edaltu, the probable immediate ancestor of anatomically modern humans and the 160,000-year-old fossilized hominid crania from Herto, Middle awash, Ethiopia, “fill the gap and provide crucial evidence on the location, timing and contextual circumstances of the emergence of Homo sapiens in Africa.”

In other words, as Lapiso Dilebo puts it, “Ethiopia is the primordial home of primal human beings and that ancient Ethiopian civilization ipso facto and by recent archaeological findings precedes chronologically and causally all civilizations of the ancients, especially that of Egyptian and Greco-Roman civilizations.”

I am also devoting more space to the paleontological aspect of Ethiopian history to show the way toward a paradigm shift in the reading of the Ethiopian past. It is very clear that humanity has gone through a set of dynamic evolutionary processes in Africa. What we now know as Ethiopia is central to part of an evolutionary transformation, which is attested by the presence of more than 87 linguistic groups that eventually emerged in it.

I think it will be fascinating to look into the historical convergence and divergence of all these linguistic/cultural groups, of course, from inside out.

Towards the People-Centered History of Ethiopia

A people-centered Ethiopian history will have at least the following foundations of material cultures. I would like to identify them as pastoral, inset and teff civilizations. Distinct communities and ways of lives have been established and perpetuated on the bases of these three civilizations in three major ecological zones. Moreover, we observe the emergence of national traditions and identity through the interactions of these civilizations.

Pastoral civilizations tend to concentrate in the lowlands or dry or semi dry lands of Ethiopia. The civilization is also conducive to coexist with the traditions and practices of both inset and teff civilizations. The inset civilization covers a wide region in the south and southwest, in an area known as woina dega or an ecological zone between the lowland and the highlands of Ethiopia. It is a tradition that is deeply rooted among the peoples of Wolaita, Gurage Betoch, Keffa and numerous other nationalities of the south. Teff civilization is the civilization encompassing central and northern Ethiopia that is the mountainous region of Ethiopia. It is important to note that I use the term civilization to denote the social, economic and cultural institutions that are established and sustained by the people. Pastoral, inset and teff are primary occupations of the people, but the essence of their lives is not entirely dominated by them.


Figure 5: Bete Giorgis Church at Lalibela, northern Ethiopia
(Photo by Ayele Bekerie)

What are the main characteristics of these civilizations? The civilizations are home grown and deeply rooted. In other words, the people have succeeded in mastering ways of life that can be passed on from generations to generations. Furthermore, the civilizations are allowed to flourish in a pluralistic environment. In other words, they are civilizations that embrace or tolerate multilingual and multi-religious expressions. In all the three cases, we witness the presence of monotheistic or indigenous religious traditions, multiple linguistic expressions and patterns of social structures and functions under the umbrellas of these civilizations.

It is my contention that such inward approach may help us to fully understand, for instance the Gada age-grade system of the Oromos. The Gada system is regarded as one of the most egalitarian democratic system invented by the Oromos. The system allows the entire community to fully participate in its own affairs. All age groups have roles to play, events to chronicle and responsibilities to assume. I just can’t imagine how we can achieve modernity, or for that matter post-modernity in governance and development, without seriously considering such a relevant practice.

The inset civilization tends to allow its male members to venture to other professions far from home. A case in point would be the Gurages and the Dorzes. The Gurages are active in trading and business through out the country. The Dorzes are the weavers and cloth makers from homegrown resources for the larger population. Inset does not take a lot of space. A well-fertilized acreage at the back of the residential home may have enough inset plants, which are capable of meeting the carbohydrate needs of the entire household throughout the year.

Teff is part of the plow culture of the highlands. Just like inset, teff culture is unique to Ethiopia. No traces of teff or inset cultures are found in South Arabia. It is indeed in these significant material cultures that we begin collecting data in order to construct the long and diverse history of Ethiopia.
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Slideshow: Photos used in this article

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Publisher’s Note: We hope this article will spark a healthy discussion on the subject. The piece is well-referenced and those who seek the references should contact Professor Ayele Bekerie directly at: ab67@cornell.edu.

About the Author:
Ayele Bekerie is an Assistant Professor at the Africana Studies and Research Center of Cornell University. He is the author of the award-winning book “Ethiopic, An African Writing System: Its History and Principles” Bekerie is also the creator of the African Writing System web site and a contributing author in the highly acclaimed book, “ONE HOUSE: The Battle of Adwa 1896-100 Years.” Bekerie’s most recent published work includes “The Idea of Ethiopia: Ancient Roots, Modern African Diaspora Thoughts,” in Power and Nationalism in Modern Africa, published by Carolina Academic Press in 2008 and “The Ancient African Past and Africana Studies” in the Journal of Black Studies in 2007.

Assumptions and Interpretations of Ethiopian History (Part I)

Figure 1: A Close view of a stela from Tiya, central Ethiopia. The carvings on the stela symbolize the Inset (False Banana) Civilization. (Photo by Ayele Bekerie)

Tadias Magazine
By Ayele Bekerie
ayele_author.jpg

Published: Monday, March 8, 2010

New York (Tadias) – The purpose of this essay is to interrogate assumptions in the reading of our past and to suggest new approaches in the construction of Ethiopian history.

I contend that the long history and its resultant diversity have not been taken into consideration to document and interpret a history of Ethiopia. In fact, what we regard as a history of Ethiopia is mostly a history of northern Ethiopia and their links to the Arabian Peninsula. This is because historical narratives have been shaped by external paradigms. The assumptions and interpretive schemes used to construct Ethiopian history are extracted from experiences and traditions other than our own. Almost all history texts begin from the premises that the history and civilization of Ethiopia have had an external origin. It is also my contention that the centrality of the external paradigms in the interpretations of Ethiopian history has created a hierarchy of national identity (the civilized north vs. the pre-historic south) and culture (written vs. oral traditions) among the polity.

The history of northern Ethiopia is regarded by several writers as “superior” to the history of the rest of Ethiopia. The history of the north, not only has been constructed to have a non-African orientation, but also the historical values of its two major institutions: the monarchy and the church are allowed to dominate. I argue that a history that is constructed on the basis of external paradigms is divisive, neglects the South, too monarcho-tewahedo centric, and privileges the North. Furthermore, the external based history cannot even guarantee the unity among the northerners. What are these external paradigms? Who are there authors? Why did they remain so prevalent in our construction of Ethiopian history? What prevents from pursuing an Ethiopia-centered (people-centered) interpretations and construction of Ethiopian history?

It took a revolution to fundamentally change our assumptions and interpretations. Languages, religions and cultures are no longer presented in hierarchical forms. There are no superior or inferior religious or linguistic traditions within the country. This is not to suggest that equity in diversity has been achieved in the country. But it is safe to say that the country is moving towards plurality and unity in diversity.

In this paper, I will also attempt to address these and related questions with the intent of searching and developing internal paradigms rooted in the observed and narrated traditions of the diverse and yet remarkably intertwined communities of cultures and languages in the place we call Ethiopia.

One of the most persistent and most pervasive themes in the Ethiopian history and historiography until very recently was the theme of “the South Arabian or the South Semitic origin of the major part of the Ethiopian civilization and culture, including its writing system, its religion, its languages, agricultural practices and dynasties.” According to this external paradigm, the history of the Ethiopian people begins with the arrival and settlements of the “culturally superior” people from South Arabia, the Greater Middle East, including Jerusalem, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Lebanon. These ‘Semitic’ people supposedly brought with them to the highlands of Ethiopia their languages and, most importantly, their writing system and agricultural practices, such as terracing and ploughing. The external paradigms are still pervasive and, despite the facts to the contrary, they continue to distort the Ethiopian history.

In fact, the South Arabian origin of Ethiopian history and civilization is so pervasive, almost all accountings of Ethiopia are prefaced or began their introductory chapters by highlighting the external factors. It is as if Ethiopia is fathered and mothered or at worst adopted by guardians who came from elsewhere. It is a strategy that places Ethiopia in a permanent state of dependency, from its emergence to the present.

As I argued before, what is the logic of beginning a history of a people or a country from an external source? It is my contention that a history of a people that begins with an external source is quite problematic. It would not be the history of the Ethiopian people, but the history of south Arabians in Ethiopia. Since history narrates or records the material and cultures of all peoples, it is important that we seek conceptions, construction and narration of the Ethiopian history from the inside.

Ever since its conception by the “father” of Ethiopian Studies, Hiob Ludolf (1624-1704CE) of Germany, in the 17th and 18th centuries of our era, the external paradigms became a kind of scholarly tradition among both the Ethiopianists and the Ethiopian scholars. Very few scholars have raised questions regarding the external origin of the Ethiopian polity. Before I explore this assertion further, let me provide some background information on the history of the term Ethiopia.

What is Ethiopia?

Ethiopia is a term by far the most thoroughly referenced and widely recognized both in the ancient and the contemporary world. It is a term associated with people, place, religions and cultures unarguably from the continent of Africa, and to some extent Asia. In fact, at one time, Ethiopia was almost synonymous with continental Africa. Only Ancient Libya and Ancient Egypt were known or recognized as much as Ethiopia in Africa. It is a term deeply explored by both ancient and contemporary writers, theologians, historians, philosophers and poets. Ethiopia is known since antiquity and, as a result, has been a source of legends and mythologies. All the great books of antiquity made probing references to Ethiopia. The term, etymologically speaking, has its origin in multiple sources.


Figure 2: Stelae Park at Tiya, central Ethiopia. Statues of Inset Culture. (Photo by Ayele Bekerie)

Ethiopians insist that the term originated from the word Ethiopis, who was one of the earlier kings of Ethiopia. Ethiopians also point out that the term is a combination of Eth and Yop, terms attributed to a king of Ethiopia who resided by the source of the Blue Nile. There are also others who link the term with incense, thereby tracing it to the land of incense.

Given these suppositions that are primarily presented based on oral traditions, it is incumbent upon us to dig deeper into our past, in order to come to terms with our Ethiopian identity. It is interesting to note that the ancient historians had a better understanding of the Ethiopian past and wrote profusely, from Homer to Herodotus, from Siculus to Origen.

According to Snowden, “Aeschylus is the first Greek to locate Ethiopians definitely in Africa.” ‘Io, according to the prophecy of Prometheus, was to visit a distant country, and a black people, who lived by the waters of the sun, where the Ethiopian river flowed, and was to go to the cataract where the Nile sent forth its stream from the mountains.”

Snowden identifies Xenophanes as the first to apply to Ethiopian physical characteristics that include flat-nosed black-faced features. “Fifth-century dramatists wrote plays involving Ethiopian myths, made references to Ethiopians, and included intriguing geographical details such as snows in the Upper Nile which fed the waters of the Nile.”
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Slideshow: Photos used in this article

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Publisher’s Note: Part two of this article will be published on Monday, March 15, 2010. It will explore the following points: Who are the authors of the external paradigm?; Challenges of the External Paradigm from Without; Challenges of the External Paradigm from Within; Paleontological Evidence Places the Origin in Africa; and Towards the People-Centered History of Ethiopia. This piece is well-referenced and those who seek the references should contact Professor Ayele Bekerie directly at: ab67@cornell.edu

About the Author:
Ayele Bekerie, is an Assistant Professor at the Africana Studies and Research Center of Cornell University. He is the author of the award-winning book “Ethiopic, An African Writing System: Its History and Principles” Bekerie is also the creator of the African Writing System web site and a contributing author in the highly acclaimed book, “ONE HOUSE: The Battle of Adwa 1896-100 Years.” Bekerie’s most recent published work includes “The Idea of Ethiopia: Ancient Roots, Modern African Diaspora Thoughts,” in Power and Nationalism in Modern Africa, published by Carolina Academic Press in 2008 and “The Ancient African Past and Africana Studies” in the Journal of Black Studies in 2007.

The Not-So-Lost Ark of the Covenant

A fallen Stela facing the Saint Zion Maryam Church in Aksum, Ethiopia. (Photo by Ayele Bekerie)

Tadias Magazine
By Ayele Bekerie, PhD

ayele_author.jpg

Published: Monday, December 21, 2009

New York (TADIAS) – “We don’t have to prove it to anyone. [If] you want to believe, it’s your privilege. If you don’t want to believe, it’s your own privilege again.”

The Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC), offered the above response to Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. of Harvard University when asked to provide ‘a piece of evidence’ for the Ark of the Covenant during an interview for a PBS documentary film in 2003 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Patriarch, in perhaps most memorable moment of the interview, reminded the learned professor from Harvard that the Ark and its meaning to Ethiopians, is a matter of faith and not proof.

The Ark of the Covenant, which registers close to three thousand years (one thousand years of amete alem or zemene bluei (Old Testament) and two thousand years of amete mehret or zemene hadis (New Testament)) of history, beginning with the period of Queen Makeda (also known as Queen of Sheba) of Aksum. The Ark has been established as a central tenet of Christianity in Ethiopia. It captures the true essence of faith to at least 40 million believers in the ancient-centered Ethiopia and the EOTC’s dioceses all over the world. Its people’s communication to Igziabher is mediated through this sacred prescribed relic. The purpose of this essay is to narrate a history of the Ark and its relevance from a perspective of Ethiopian history and culture.

The EOTC, according to Abuna Yesehaq teaches, “Igziahaber is one Creator, one Savior, and redeemer for all humankind.” It also teaches, based on the ecumenical council’s confessions that Jesus Christ was not in two natures but rather one. The two natures were one nature united without any degree of separation, thus, making Christ both perfect God and perfect person simultaneously.

According to Abba Gorgorios, the Ark or what Ethiopians call tabot is linked to the Old Testament and the freedom of the Hebrew Israelites. Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt; he was accompanied by two tablets that were inscribed with asertu qalat which were given to him by the Amlak of Abraham, Yisahq and Yacob on Mount Sinai (debre sina). Moses was further instructed by Amlak to build a container (tabot) for the tablets or what Ethiopians call tsilat and a temple.

Abba Gorgorios described the tabot not only as a safe and secret station for the tsilat, but it is also a site of spiritual revelation, the revelation of Amlak’s limitless mercy. The tabot is like a throne and at the time of its coronation (negse), it is revealed spiritually to the faithful. Among the various Old Testament traditions Ethiopia decided to incorporate to its form of Christianity is the tradition of the Ark.

The Ark, which is brought out of its inner sanctum during important church festivals, is not a physical representation of Igziabher (God). The Ark is believed to carry the presence of God and Ethiopia is perhaps the first country in the world to accept the Old Testament faith. The Ark is an accepted tradition among the Oriental Churches. For instance, the Copts referred to it as Luhe. The Eastern Churches, on the other hand, do not embrace the Ark in their faith.

According to Sergew Hable Selassie, Abu Salih, the Armenian traveler and author, was the first foreigner who made a reference to the existence of the Ark of the Covenant in Ethiopia. He described the Ark in which are the two tables of stone, “inscribed by the finger of God with the Ten Commandments.”

The Ark of the Covenant may have been a source of mystery and curiosity for people like Henry Louis Gates, Jr., but for Ethiopian Christians, it is the rock of their faith. There have been countless conjectures regarding the Ark’s fate and final resting place, but the Ethiopian Christians locate the Ark or what they call Tabot at the center of their faith. While the rest of the world sees it, at best, as a source of inspiration to write mystery novels, construct countless theories or make adventurous films, “the Ethiopians believe that the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Ethiopia from Jerusalem with the return of Menelik I after his famous visit with his father, the King Solomon.”

Writers such as Graham Hancock at present or James Bruce in the eighteenth century make their fortunes or earn their fame by dedicating or investing their lives to ‘discover’ the not-so-lost Ark of the Covenant or other ancient relics. To Ethiopians, Menelik I also brought the Kahinat of the Old Testament and many Old Testament books.

The EOTC is a member of the family of Orthodox churches, such as the Coptic, Greek, Armenian, Syrian, Indian, Russian and Serbian churches. “Together with the Roman Catholic Church and the Byzantine Orthodox Church, the Orthodox Churches were a single church for four centuries until they split apart at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 CE.” The EOTC has 32 dioceses in Ethiopia. It has also dioceses in Jerusalem, the Caribbean, South America, the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and several sites in the rest of Africa. The EOTC has 40 archbishops, 400 thousand clergy and 30, 000 parish churches.


Figure 2: The Faithful praying and waiting for tsebel (holy water) by the fence of the
Chapel where the Ark is kept. Across is another view of Saint Zion Maryam Church.
(Photo by Ayele Bekerie)

The story of the not-so-lost Ark of the Covenant is widely known, but only Ethiopians claim that they are its keepers. Legend has it that the Ark is endowed with enough power, if approached too closely or touched, to strike mortal beings dead. These aspects of the Ark has been extrapolated and exploited in movies such as Raiders of the Lost Ark. Its power may have also encouraged the Ethiopians to always keep it under wrap. Not only that, at the core of the ecclesiastical, liturgical and doctrinal teachings and practices of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahado Church, the centrality of the Ark becomes quite evident.

The Ark is, in fact, the most sacred and defining symbol of the Church, which is one of the oldest churches in the world. Ethiopians wholeheartedly believe that the original Ark was brought to Ethiopia from Jerusalem by Menelik I, a creation of royal affairs between the Queen of Sheba of the Aksumites and King Solomon of the Israelites. Menelik I, according to Ethiopian tradition, was a consolidator of a new dynasty found by his mother, approximately 3,000 years ago.


Figure 3: The Chapel for the Ark of the Covenant. (Photo by Ayele Bekerie)

It is important to note that organized and orderly system of government did not begin with Queen of Sheba in Ethiopia. There were a series of rulers prior to the rise of the Queen. The Queen succeeded in elevating her empire to a global status by wisely adopting Judaism. The extent of her wisdom even becomes clearer when the rule of her son became irreversibly and forever linked to the great symbol: the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark, in the Ethiopian context, is a great source of tradition and continuity. With established rituals, the faithful maintain a sense of connection to Igziabher and through religious pilgrimage; they ensure the vitality of their religion.

I concede that the story of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon has several versions both within and without Ethiopia. For instance, the origination of the Queen’s Arabian name, Bilqis, is a derivative of a “vast and confused skein of traditions and tales.” The Queen is cited by some Arabian sources as having been born in Mareb, the capital of the Sabean Empire, and as being the successor of her father. The grand temple of the Mahram Bilqis in Mareb still bears her name, and according to local folklore, her spirit surrounds the temple and nearby dam.

In Hebrew traditions, the Old Testament refers to the Queen as “Queen of Sheba” and in the New Testament she is the “Queen of the South” or Azeb. The Ethiopians, on the other hand, not only they use these biblical names, but they have also added their own name, Negest Makeda.

In the Ethiopian text of the Kebra Nagast, an elaborate version that places the Queen at the center of the tale is rendered. The Ethiopian source distinguishes itself by devoting its focus on Makeda’s son Menelik I. In fact, the tradition of Menelik I belongs more to ancient Ethiopia than the Arabian Peninsula.

The Ark’s holy pedestal is in a chapel next to Saint Maryam Zion Church in Aksum, the holy city of Orthodox Christianity. Georgelas observes, “If most places draw guests inside for a transformative experience, Aksum’s unassuming chapel does the opposite. By shrouding itself and its holy treasure in mystery, it gains its power by remaining unseen – a sacred place that can’t be entered or directly experienced, only imagined and believed.” Georgelas is expressing the views of those who see the Ark and its ‘discovery’ as their potential source of glory. The Ethiopians never entertain such a view. However, keenly recognizing the undying interest of adventurers or enemies to wrest the Ark from them, they came up with a strategy of keeping it safe and secure.

The Ark is replicated thousands of times so that its presence within the faith and history of Ethiopia remains uninterrupted from one generation to another. The replication is also a strategy to secure the ever presence of the Ark by making it next to impossible to remove the Ark from the chapel. In addition, the Ark is guarded by a succession of monks who, once anointed, remained in the Chapel or the chapel grounds until they die. Their sole duties are to protect the Ark.


Figure 4: Celebrating the day of Saint Maryam in the month of September at Saint
Zion Maryam Church. (Photo by Ayele Bekerie)

Munro-Hay’s The Quest for the Ark of the Covenant documents and narrates the medieval history of Ethiopia, particularly the history of the monarchy, the church and the contending forces against these two major institutions both from within and without. Among the well-documented medieval history, a reader finds the attempt by the Catholic Church to destroy the Ethiopian Church during the rule of Emperor Susenyos quite fascinating. “On 11 December 1625, at Danquaz, an Emperor of Ethiopia, Susenyos, knelt before a Catholic Patriarch to offer obedience to the Roman Pontiff, Urban VII.” His short-lived conversion triggered a bloody civil war where millions of Ethiopians died. It is important to note, however, “In a dramatic and successful effort to preserve their most sacred relic, some priests fled with the Holy Tabot of Aksum, as the Catholic faith grew stronger.” Ethiopians also succeeded in restoring their faith thanks to the martyrdom of Takla Giorgis, the son-in-law of Susenyos and many others. In 1628, Takla Giorgis smashed the sacred ornaments of the Catholics placed in the Holy of Holies of the Aksum Church. After 11 years and six months stay in Digsa, the eastern highlands of Eritrea, the Ark of the Covenant was returned to Aksum.

Menelik I also began, as a result of his successful transfer of a holy relic and royal blood, the Solomonic line of dynastic rulers, who ruled Ethiopia until 1974. Emperor Haile Selassie was the last ruler to claim a line of this mythologized and enduring dynasty in Ethiopian history. The Ark is, therefore, at the center of both church and state formations and consolidations in Ethiopia. The two institutions not only functioned in tandem, but they have also played defining roles by delineating some of the cultural, political, social and economic parameters of Ethiopia.

The Ark became the basis for establishing the divine lineage of Ethiopian monarchy in addition to centering the faithful to a unique form of Christianity. The Ark as a central symbol of Christianity is exclusively an Ethiopian phenomena. The Ark is called Tabot in the Ethiopian languages and its sacredness is maintained by always keeping it wrapped and placed in the inner most circle or citadel, Qidist, of the Church. As a matter of faith, Ethiopians always insist that they possess the original Ark. The holy relic, however, has had a tremendous impact on both Judaism and Christianity. Despite intense controversies associated with the relic, particularly with regard to its existence, the established and regularly observed religious rituals of the Ark in Ethiopia, has assured undying interest in it throughout the world.

The remarkable marriage between the Old Testament and the construction of Ethiopian Orthodoxy is perhaps captured with the picture below. The fallen largest obelisk is shown together with Tsion Maryam Church in Aksum. According to oral traditions, the Ark of the Covenant’s supreme power sliced the obelisk out of the rock and set it into place.


Photo by Ayele Bekerie.

The Ethiopians’ assured insistence in possessing the Ark ought to be seen in the context of Biblical history and in their desire to see themselves within it. The Ark is tied to the histories of the Israelites and Ethiopians. While the tradition of the Israelites, as amply described in the Old Testament, settled with the story of the lost Ark, the Ethiopian tradition is constituted on the belief that the not-so-lost Ark is in Aksum.

According to Hoberman, The Ark suddenly disappeared in the sixth century BCE, perhaps at the time of the Babylonian invasion and destruction of the temple of Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar led the Babylonian army. The Ark was originally housed in a temple built by King Solomon in Jerusalem circa 970 – 930 BCE. Most biblical scholars also acknowledge that the Ark was originally built by Israelites. It was Moses, the prophetic leader of the Israelites, who placed the original stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, which he obtained from God atop Mount Sinai. The Ethiopians call the Ten Commandments asertu qalat.

The Ethiopian source for the Ark of the Covenant is the authoritative and the scared book, Kebra Nagast (Glory of Kings). This ancient book, in the main, narrates how the Ark was transferred from Jerusalem to Aksum and proclaimed as the most important symbol of the Church. Kebra Nagast vividly describes the journey of Makeda (Negesta Saba or the Queen of Sheba) to Jerusalem to ascertain King Solomon’s greatness and wisdom and in the process how Menelik was begotten. When the son came of age, “he went to visit his father, and on his return journey was accompanied by the first born sons of some Israelite nobles, who, unbeknown to Menelik, stole the Ark and carried it with them to Ethiopia.” Geogelas claims that the son of the high priest of Jerusalem, Azariah stole the Ark and Menelik only learned that the Ark had been stolen on his journey back to Ethiopia. Menelik still continued on his journey after hearing of the theft, and brought the Ark to Aksum.

The Ark, Hoberman writes, became the source of much elation, for it is the outward symbol of God’s holy presence. Ethiopians also see the relic’s ‘safe and secure’ presence in Aksum as legitimate heirs to the kings of Israel and Judah. The Ark marks the decision to switch from an indigenous religion to Judaism, which later became transformed, voluntarily and peacefully, into Ethiopian Christianity.

It is important to note that the switch from traditional religion to Judaism or the addition of Christianity to the belief system was voluntary. This method of religious adoption is instrumental in the creation and maintenance of indigenous traditions. There were no religious wars or invasions in the process. In fact, the conscious decision to incorporate these two monotheistic religions may have paved the way for creative adaptation and for the proliferation of literary and artistic traditions in Aksum and beyond. To the faithful, the Ark made Ethiopia “the second Zion; Aksum, the new Jerusalem.”

The continuity of a remarkable tradition becomes apparent nationally four times a year during Gena (the Feast of Nativity), Timqat (the Feast of the Glorious Baptism), Tinsaé (the Feast of the Holy Resurrection), and Mesqel (the Feast of the Illuminating Cross). The event that the Ark is magnified the most is on January 18th in conjunction with the celebration of Timkat or Epiphany. The replicas of the Ark or tabotat are brought out of the Churches and paraded through the streets in the presence of a sea of colorfully costumed and purely joyous believers throughout the country. An observer describes the ceremony as follows:

“On their heads the priests carried the tabotat, wrapped in ebony velvet embroidered in gold. Catching the sight of the scared bundle, hundreds of women in the crowd began ululating – making a singsong wail with their tongues – as many Ethiopian women do at moments of intense emotion.”

There are also special annual celebrations of the coronation of tabotat in revered sites, such as Geshen Mariam on September 21, Tsion Mariam on November 21, Qulubi Gabriel on December 19 (As an undergraduate student at the then Alemaya College and now Horemaya University, I affirmed my faith, which was passed on from my parents, by walking from Alemaya to Qulubi for the annual festival and spiritual ecstasy by attending yequlubi Gabriel tabot neges.), Abo Gebre Menfus Qedus on October 5, Gena or Christmas in Lalibela on December 29, Timkat or Epiphany in Gondar on January 11. It is very common for the faithful to make pilgrims at least once to all these sites.

I trust Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., will be willing to reconsider to revise his mode of thinking regarding the not-so-lost Ark. I am sure, if he makes another ‘wandering’ trip to what he correctly calls the holy land, he will not ask the Patriarch for a ‘piece of evidence.’ Rather he may deploy his creative talent to narrate the extraordinary achievement of Ethiopians who succeeded in weaving an ancient tradition of the Ark and its unseen power to their sense of identity, continuity and inter-nationality.

The Monarchy may have gone, but tabot is negus in Ethiopia. The Ethiopians, without a doubt, believe the original Ark is located in a chapel of St Mary of Zion Church in Aksum. The replica of the Arc is found in over 30, 000 churches throughout the country as well as in Europe, Asia and the Americas. The Ark is central to the religious belief of the Christian Ethiopians. The Ark’s centrality in Ethiopian Christianity is bound to persist for generations to come.

Hymns to not-so-lost of the Ark, hymns to the majestic shrine, hymns to the visible embodiment of the presence of Igziabher, for it signifies the hybridity of our expressive and visual signposts drawn from the ancestral past to integrate into our much diverse and broader present Ethiopian culture.

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Publisher’s Note: This article is well-referenced and those who seek the references should contact Professor Ayele Bekerie directly at: ab67@cornell.edu

About the Author:
Ayele Bekerie is an Assistant Professor at the Africana Studies and Research Center of Cornell University. He is the author of the award-winning book “Ethiopic, An African Writing System: Its History and Principles” Bekerie is also the creator of the African Writing System web site and a contributing author in the highly acclaimed book, “ONE HOUSE: The Battle of Adwa 1896-100 Years.” Bekerie’s most recent published work includes “The Idea of Ethiopia: Ancient Roots, Modern African Diaspora Thoughts,” in Power and Nationalism in Modern Africa, published by Carolina Academic Press in 2008 and “The Ancient African Past and Africana Studies” in the Journal of Black Studies in 2007.

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An Exquisite Pocket Watch And The Emperor Who Owned It

A pocket watch made for Ethiopian Emperor Menelik II, dating back to 1893, was recently sold at an auction in Geneva.

Tadias Magazine

By Tadias Staff

Published: Monday, November 23, 2009

New York (TADIAS) – An exquisite pocket watch, made for Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia, dating back to 1893, was recently sold at Sotheby’s auction block in Geneva at price of 52,500 Swiss Franc, the equivalent of 51,595.95 U.S. dollars.

According to a catalogue issued by Sotheby’s, the historical watch, featuring white enamel dial with Ethiopian numerals as the hour indicator, “was a gift to Léon Chefneux in recognition of his contribution to the implementation of Ethiopia’s first railway line, as inscribed on the inside of the case ‘Don de Sa Majesté Menelik II Empereur d’Ethiopie’.”

This pocket watch, however, is also a symbol of the larger-than-life personality of one of the most celebrated monarchs in Ethiopia’s modern history. Emperor Menelik’s first claim to international reputation occurred in 1896 when his army scored a decisive victory against invading Italian forces, marking the first time that an African country had defeated a European colonial power.

As the Ethiopian historian Bahru Zewde noted, “Few events in the modern period have brought Ethiopia to the attention of the world as has the victory at Adwa.” News reports describing Italian soldiers fleeing in panic sent shockwaves throughout Europe. In Italy, riots broke out and the government of Prime Minister Francesco Crispi was forced to resign. Italy eventually signed the Treaty of Addis Ababa – recognizing the independence of Ethiopia.

Elsewhere in the world, shouts of “Viva Menelik” would emerge as a battle cry for anti-colonial movements. For those who still lived under the yoke of racial discrimination, Ethiopia’s victory “would become a cause célèbre,” writes Scholar Fikru Negash Gebrekidan, “a metaphor for racial pride and anti-colonial defiance.” Soon, inspired by the Emperor, African Americans and Blacks from the Caribbean Islands began to make their way to Ethiopia. In 1903, accompanied by Haitian poet and traveler Benito Sylvain, an affluent African American business magnate by the name of William Henry Ellis arrived in Ethiopia to greet and make acquaintances with Menelik. A prominent physician from the West Indies, Dr. Joseph Vitalien, also journeyed to Ethiopia and eventually became the Emperor’s trusted personal physician.

King Menelik’s era is also characterized by his attempts to modernize his empire. Menelik introduced the country’s first telephone and telegraph lines and presided over the inaugurations of the nation’s first bank and post office.

The Emperor’s colorful personality has been described by generations of writers, but none more vividly than the one offered by 37-year-old American diplomat named Robert P. Skinner. In 1906, Mr. Skinner, who had been appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt to negotiate a commercial treaty with the African kingdom, published a memoir detailing his encounter with the charismatic head of state.

“The emperor was amazed when I handed him a project of treaty written in his own language by Professor Littmann, of Princeton University,” writes Mr. Skinner. “He said that it was remarkable that a man who had had only the opportunities for study afforded by books should have such a command of the language as Professor Littmann.”

Skinner goes on to describe Menelik’s intellectual curiosity and his affinity for technological advances. He highlights that the Emperor kept abreast of international affairs via Reuter news service, which used the telegraph line to provide news. The Emperor also received weekly dispatches through the Ethiopian postal service, which were then translated into Amharic for his review.


Emperor Menelik II.

“He knew of our war with Spain, he knew something of our war with Great Britain, and he had a realization, though vague, of our might and power,” says Ambassador Skinner. “His thirst for information is phenomenal.” When Skinner presented Menelik with a signed copy of President Roosevelt’s photo, he carefully studied the image with an expression of familiarity with the subject. The American writes: “He had heard, evidently, a good deal about the President, whose personality interested him much. He knew him to be sportsman, and hoped that he would one day visit Ethiopia. He wanted to know his age, and how he had come to be President.”

Skinner described the Emperor’s sense of humor and adventurous spirit as in a scene during a gift exchange at the palace luncheon hosted by Menelik in honor of the American delegation. No sooner had the visitors finished demonstrating the latest model American rifle, the Emperor grabbed the gun and proceeded to aim it at the dining room doorway without leaving his seat, causing the invited Ethiopian dignitaries to run for cover. “There was immediately a wild stampede for cover on the part of the satellites while the imperial hand pulled the trigger,” muses Skinner. “The Emperor’s eyes showed that he appreciated the humor of the situation.” And Menelik later intimates his love of joking to Skinner: “I am going to my country place in Addis Alem next week,” he said, “and I shall be accompanied by many officers. I expect to amuse myself with these cartridges. I shall be able to teach some of my officers to show courage under fire.”

However, the tone was decidedly serious when the Americans unveiled a ‘writing-machine.’ “The practical mind of the Emperor developed the question immediately,” writes Ambassador Skinner. “Why can’t we have an Amharic typewriter?” Skinner quotes a French gentleman, Mr. Léon Chefneux, who was present at the occasion as having replied to the Emperor as follows: “whereas we had only 26 letters in our alphabet, it would require 251 characters for the Amharic language, and the construction of a machine containing so many figures presented practical difficulties.”

Mr. Chefneux was the gentleman whose family until recently had owned Emperor Menelik’s pocket watch that was auctioned in Geneva.

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Related:

Picture of the Week: Emperor Menelik’s Pocket Watch

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The Africans who fought in WWII

Above: Jagamo Kello, middle, left home at just 15 to fight
Italian invaders.

BBC
By Martin Plaut
The 70th anniversary of World War II is being commemorated around the world, but the contribution of one group of soldiers is almost universally ignored. How many now recall the role of more than one million African troops? Yet they fought in the deserts of North Africa, the jungles of Burma and over the skies of Germany. A shrinking band of veterans, many now living in poverty, bitterly resent being written out of history. For Africa, World War II began not in 1939, but in 1935. Italian Fascist troops, backed by thousands of Eritrean colonial forces, invaded Ethiopia. Emperor Haile Selassie was forced to flee to the UK, but others, known as Patriots, fought on. Among them was Jagama Kello. Fifteen years old at the time, he left home and raised a guerrilla force that struck at the Italian invaders. Read more.

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The Italian invasion of Ethiopia and the black response

A Conversation with Haile Gerima

We spoke with the internationally acclaimed director Haile Gerima about his latest film Teza. (Photo: Gezaw Tesfaye)

Tadias Magazine

By: Martha Z. Tegegn

Updated: Friday, April 2, 2010

New York (TADIAS) – For filmmaker Haile Gerima the travails of life are much like moving images – “a constant journey of restlessness and complexity, until the final rest.”

Haile’s latest film, the critically acclaimed Teza, focuses on the tumultuous years of the Mengistu era, as told by an idealistic Ethiopian doctor who recounts dreams and nightmares.

We spoke with Haile at his Sankofa bookstore, conveniently located across from Howard University where he has been teaching film since 1975.

But first, here is a sneak preview of Teza:

Teza’s main character, Anberber, experiences nightmares reflecting back to the chaotic years in Ethiopia following the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie. Do you think this painful memory is also collectively shared by Anberber’s generation in the Diaspora?

HG: Oh, Certainly. In fact, a lot of people would ask me, “Is it biographical?” I say, no it is a collective experience. It’s a stolen story of a whole lot of people. So the generation that this film speaks to is an idealistic generation, who were sent abroad by governments or by personal ambition, to bring the tonic that would transform their society. Therefore, you have a generation that was leaving the country as if they were sent to go and bring the medicine and cross the river and comeback. Yet, the journey is more complex. When you cross the Atlantic and the threshold of the so-called modern society, you enter in to a new orbit and your journey becomes more complicated. For me, and especially my generation of Ethiopians of the 1970’s and late 60’s, this is the dilemma that dramatized even their well-intended political dream into a nightmare. So it is a generational, I would say, biography.

What memories do you have of that time? Are they reflected in your film?

HG: Well I would say, how genuine young Ethiopian men and women were about changing Ethiopia. How much they cared, how much they loved their country was unquestionable, but at the same time you know you can destroy the object of love if it is possessively displaced. In other words, the dogmatic nature of that generation was such that they arrogantly thought they had the formula for transforming Ethiopia. It left them a confused generation.

The film was shot in Ethiopia and Germany but the story was based here in America. It was first written for America. I remember long ago weekend meetings (of Ethiopians) at the international student center near UCLA or at UCLA. We left all the priorities of our personal life to meet on the issue of country. That is the most amazing experience, but at the same time, we were also feeding a very dangerous dogma to each other. A dogma that swallowed the very generation in its prime age. I was in these meetings. Of course, I got out at a certain point because I couldn’t digest my own tendencies of disappearing in this generational political culture. When we shot the film in Germany we shot in the actual place where Ethiopian students were meeting. It doesn’t matter where we were, Ethiopian men and women of my generation in Paris, in Rome, in Cologne or Frankfurt or Seattle, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, or San Francisco. They were doing the same activity and basically reading almost the same books, and these books were taken as Biblical prophecies to transform Ethiopia. And, in the end, we lost so many powerful Ethiopian young men. Brilliant young men and women were lost in this confusion, in this chaotic period. So I know vividly these people that I dedicate the film to. I remember their eyes and how genuine they were. These are not bad people. They were not selfish. They just disappeared in the chaos.

Do you think the current generation is lost in the chaos of individualistic attitude?

HG: Well, you know I think it is a very different generation. Completely different generation. And I don’t know the historical circumstances. I don’t know what would become of them. But it is a generation that is so disillusioned it has no internal strength. Most Ethiopians are not strong inside, that is why they need external jackets and hair-dos, lipsticks, earrings, cars and TV to say “I am somebody.”

Some people would say well it is that political confusion that created this alienated generation, but I always say every generation has a responsibility to be compassionate to be collective-minded and fair and just. You see it in America – young people marching for poor people or against racism etc..so young Ethiopians at this point, they might have personal experiences to use as explanations, but in my view if I have to say it, I find them very confused and very external-oriented, materialistic-oriented. And to me I am not against hair change or lipstick or earrings, but I think inner strength is more important to say “I believe this and I am somebody inside.”

On the other hand you can see a lot of Ethiopians are very successfully involved in the economic foundation of America — they have restaurants. We never thought about restaurants, we never thought about businesses. We all thought we were sent to bring medicine from abroad and cure our people. There was so much trachoma in my village. When you come from those circumstances you don’t have time for personal ambitions. Instead you start thinking “There must be something I could do before I die” or “what is the purpose of living?”

What is purpose of living? Let me put it this way…what is life in the eyes of a cinematographer?

HG: Life is a cinema, constant journey of restlessness complexity, until the final rest. Life for me is constant struggle to have your say in this world to have your story be presented as a valid story.

What is the main message that you want the audience to take away from this film?

HG:The purpose of Teza is really like childhood morning dew. When I was growing up, I would sense the morning from the water caressing my legs while walking through the grass – the morning dew (English for Teza). This type of childhood experience is being lost, and so I am trying to preserve my childhood and I am trying to preserve my generation. And I am trying to remember the mistakes we made especially when we became brutal toward each other – shooting each other, killing each other. I don’t like killing, I never liked killing I don’t know how my generation made its cultural trademark to kill each other because of political differences. These are the reasons I try to work for myself first. People have to take it and see what it does for them, but for me, I am processing the whole confusion that I was part of.

Is Teza historical fiction or is it based on a true story? What in particular inspired you to make the film?

HG: Let me tell you, every time I go to Ethiopia I find mothers asking me to return their sons from the war. A war between two ‘families’ – Eritrea and Ethiopia. A woman who has ‘clogged’ her eyes crying for the past two or three years will lament “bring back my son to me. Can you give me my son? I don’t want your money, I want you to give me my son.” How does one deliver this woman’s request? You are only a filmmaker, you are not an army. How would you fulfill her request? This is the challenge that I face every time I go to Ethiopia. I am faced by the reality of peasants, working people, servants in homes – they all confront me. And so for me the film is like vomiting toxic. In doing so you exorcise your own.

I don’t have the power to make people see my movie, I have no other agenda. If they see it I am grateful. To me, the primary task of this movie is to vomit it, now the inspiration is really my helplessness. Teza’s main character, Amberber, felt completely helpless in one scene when soldiers come to take a son, and the mother was saying give me back my son, he is not armed, he is just confused scholar who got back to his country to his mother, to his umbilical cord in search of his childhood. He is always walking in the landscape because that is where he grew up but the reality kept coming in front of him like a stage play. So, my inspiration is my inability to do something about what the Ethiopian people are going through, then and now. This is what my helplessness is. Other people have a more dramatic source of inspiration. My inspiration is me being helpless, powerless, not having enough resources.

Teza said to have taken 14 years to make, why did it take so long? And what were the challenges in executing it?

HG: Many Ethiopians in my view do not understand the power of culture. When Westerners make film they know it is about their collective culture. We, on the other hand, don’t see how significant it is to preserve our people’s culture, from day one, as it is invoked by descendents. As it resonates through the younger generation. We don’t invest on culture. For instance, Ethiopians in America, if they put twenty dollars a month aside for the transformation of Ethiopian art, for the preservation of Ethiopian culture and tradition, Ethiopia would also have a population that is mentally restructured and confident and capable of making its own history. To create a critically brilliant society you have to have a dramatic cultural transaction.

Can you say a bit more about the leading actors in the film? How you found them and cast them?

HG: None of the characters had acted before. Most of them came to me raw, but they had amazing potential and gift that I was able to say ‘Oh! This person will give me what I want.’ Some of the actors in the village, like the woman who plays Amberber’s mother, has never acted. She doesn’t even know what acting is, but she knocked people out because she was so genuine, truthful, and most of all she understood and felt the story. She lived in the era and I was able to work with her to get what I wanted. So, for me there is what you call ‘gift,’ and in filmmaking half of it is luck. You know, you try and sometimes you mis-cast. I am proud of the cast in Teza, and I didn’t care if they didn’t know acting because I was very confident of making sure that I don’t paralyze them by mystifying acting. I know how to demystify acting, that is part of my education my orientation. I practiced a lot even during Sankofa, Bush Mama, I made movies with non-actors and actors too. The non-actors have done amazing work, so for me when auditioning people I am looking untangle a range of talent, and get the best out of what I want rather than cast corrupted actors who will not be genuine.


Actresses Araba Evelyn Johnston-Arthur, Veronika Avraham, director Haile Gerima and actors Abeye Tedla and Aaron Arefe attend the ‘Teza’ photocall at the Piazzale del Casino during the 65th Venice Film Festival on September 2, 2008 in Venice. (Getty Images)

What is your favorite film? Why?

HG: The problem with this question is that it is flawed. Favorite film doesn’t exist but what happens is, films inspire me. One of them is ‘The Hour of the Furnaces‘ from Argentina, but the most powerful film that resonates with my childhood experience is a Japanese film called The Island and another Swedish film called My Life as a Dog, and an Italian film called The Bicycle Thief. So it is a range of films – kind of like puzzle work. There are a lot of films that animated my life and resonated with me.

You talk about the influence your parents had on you growing up and how it inspired you to become a storyteller, can you talk about that?

HG: You know, when I was growing up we sat around the fire and my grandmother would always tell a story. And to me that is the foundation of film – storytelling. My father was a playwright and he wrote plays and I participated in different capacities in my father’s plays. And my mother was always full of stories and most nights we had no television, no film to go to. Our TV and TV dinner was fireside chats. Hearing stories from the elders played a major role in my development, as well as kept alive my continued quest to connect to their lifestyle, their aesthetics. I didn’t know it was important to do so then, but now I go out of my way to preserve it. To me, Ethiopia has a lot to offer to an artist. It is a country that has the audacity to invent without imitation. The storytelling is the kind of orientation that I am very blessed and grateful about.

What advice do you have for young aspiring Ethiopian filmmakers? Or anyone that wants to prosper in the artistic world of cinematography?

HG: One is to give your heart fully — to jump and get into it all the way. Not to apologize, not to be inhibited by going to school or not going to school. Or by ‘knowing’ film or not. If you have the urge to tell a story just jump with everything within you. But once you jump in, it is not enough to jump in, now you have to kick if you don’t want to drown, and so the hard work is the process of learning more by yourself through your work.

Every film that I make is my university. I learn so much from my mistakes and I consider my films the most imperfect films because I am always learning to do better from film to film. The kind of filmmakers that young people should aspire to be is to consistently learn from their own films. Watch movies, study paintings and color. Color as simple as it sounds is complex. Understand culture that is fundamental. Film in the end is built in this powerful development of your sensory organs to light, to shadows. This doesn’t come just by wanting to be a filmmaker. You have to go out of your way. Young people should know that one doesn’t become a filmmaker individually but, rather from a collective view. Don’t forget not only to learn what to do but also learn what not to do as well.

Many of your films are financed by independent sources outside the U.S or the community….what makes it easy for you to find funding outside but challenging in the U.S?

HG: I got tired of asking people who don’t value my story to fund my films. In Europe, I found individuals who said ‘Let me join this guy.’ Yes, it takes me years to convince people. that is why it took fourteen years to find the money I needed to start filming in 2004. The first shooting took place in Ethiopia for eight weeks. Then it took me two more years to find the German part – six day shoot. In the end it is luck that I found intellectuals who were predisposed to my right to tell my story and that they want to be part of the storytelling. Mostly because I prefer low budget, I have more freedom to control my film. Even by American standards, I am the freest independent filmmaker who owns his own films. And if I enter into a relationship I never relinquish the power of the filmmaker where other people come to decide for me. I would rather have less money and more freedom.

Where do you find the time and energy to do all this?

HG: From the story, the story keeps me charged.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our audience?

HG: Thank you to Tadias. I know how you guys insist to exist. And I know how difficult it is for magazines to exist. I hope you guys continue to sustain, to struggle to be innovative, to find an alternative way of making sure that you don’t disintegrate and close and collapse. I am impressed that you are at least here in the cyber world – you exist. I am very impressed with that.

Thank you so much Prof. Gerima and we wish you continued success!

HG: Thank you!


Related:

Lacking Shelter at Home and Abroad (NYT Movie Review)

Teza, Portrait of an Ethiopian Exile (The Village Voice)

Join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook.

History of Ethiopian Church Presence in Jerusalem

Ethiopian monks on the roof of Christianity’s holiest shrine in Jerusalem. (Wikimedia)

Tadias Magazine

Editor’s Note:

Updated: Saturday, April 25, 2009

New York (TADIAS) – The following piece was first published on the print issue of Tadias Magazine in the context of the July 2002 brawl that erupted on the roof of Christianity’s most holy place between Ethiopian and Egyptian monks.

“Eleven monks were treated in hospital after a fight broke out for control of the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the traditional site of Jesus’s crucifixion, burial and resurrection”, wrote Alan Philps, a Jerusalem based reporter for the Daily Telegraph.

“The fracas involved monks from the Ethiopian Orthodox church and the Coptic church of Egypt, who have been vying for control of the rooftop for centuries.”

We have republished here part of the original article from our archives with a hope that it may generate a healthy discussion on the subject.

Deir Sultan, Ethiopia and the Black World

By Negussay Ayele for Tadias Magazine


Main entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (27/03/2005), Easter Sunday. This image is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution.

Unknown by much of the world, monks and nuns of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, have for centuries quietly maintained the only presence by black people in one of Christianity’s holiest sites—the Church of the Holy Sepulchre of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem.

Through the vagaries and vicissitudes of millennial history and landlord changes in Jerusalem and the Middle East region, Ethiopian monks have retained their monastic convent in what has come to be known as Deir Sultan or the Monastery of the Sultan for more than a thousand years.

Likewise, others that have their respective presences in the area at different periods include Armenian, Russian, Syrian, Egyptian and Greek Orthodox/Coptic Churches as well as the Holy See.

As one writer put it recently, “For more than 1500 years, the Church of Ethiopia survived in Jerusalem. Its survival has not, in the last resort, been dependent on politics, but on the faith of individual monks that we should look for the vindication of the Church’s presence in Jerusalem…. They are attracted in Jerusalem not by a hope for material gain or comfort, but by faith.”

It is hoped that public discussion on this all-important subject will be joined by individuals and groups from all over the world. We hope that others with more detailed and/or first hand knowledge about the subject will join in the discussion.

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Above: Painting on the wall of the Ethiopian part of the church of the Holy
Sepulcher. Photo by Iweze Davidson.

Accounts of Ethiopian presence in Jerusalem invoke the Bible to establish the origin of Ethiopian presence in Jerusalem.

Accordingly, some Ethiopians refer to the story of the encounter in Jerusalem between Queen of Sheba–believed to have been a ruler in Ethiopia and environs–and King Solomon, cited, for instance, in I Kings 10: 1-13.

According to this version, Ethiopia’s presence in the region was already established about 1000 B.C. possibly through land grant to the visiting Queen, and that later transformation into Ethiopian Orthodox Christian monastery is an extension of that same property.

Others refer to the New Testament account of Acts 8: 26-40 which relates the conversion to Christianity of the envoy of Ethiopia’s Queen Candace (Hendeke) to Jerusalem in the first century A.D., thereby signaling the early phase of Ethiopia’s adoption of Christianity. This event may have led to the probable establishment of a center of worship in Jerusalem for Ethiopian pilgrims, priests, monks and nuns.

Keeping these renditions as a backdrop, what can be said for certain is the following: Ethiopian monastic activities in Jerusalem were observed and reported by contemporary residents and sojourners during the early years of the Christian era.

By the time of the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem and the region (634-644 A.D.) khalif Omar is said to have confirmed Ethiopian physical presence in Jerusalem’s Christian holy places, including the Church of St. Helena, which encompasses the Holy Sepulchre of the Lord Jesus Christ.

His firman or directive of 636 declared “the Iberian and Abyssinian communities remain there” while also recognizing the rights of other Christian communities to make pilgrimages in the Christian holy places of Jerusalem.

Because Jerusalem and the region around it, has been subjected to frequent invasions and changing landlords, stakes in the holy places were often part of the political whims of respective powers that be.

Subsequently, upon their conquest of Jerusalem in 1099, the Crusaders had kicked out Orthodox/Coptic monks from the monasteries and installed Augustine monks instead. However, when in 1187 Salaheddin wrested Jerusalem from the Crusaders, he restored the presence of the Ethiopian and other Orthodox/Coptic monks in the holy places.

When political powers were not playing havoc with their claims to the holy places, the different Christian sects would often carry on their own internecine conflicts among themselves, at times with violent results.

Contemporary records and reports indicate that the Ethiopian presence in the holy places in Jerusalem was rather much more substantial throughout much of the period up to the 18th and 19th centuries.

For example, an Italian pilgrim, Barbore Morsini, is cited as having written in 1614 that “the Chapels of St. Mary of Golgotha and of St. Paul…the grotto of David on Mount Sion and an altar at Bethlehem…” among others were in the possession of the Ethiopians.

From the 16th to the middle of the 19th centuries, virtually the whole of the Middle East was under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire. When one of the Zagwe kings in Ethiopia, King Lalibela (1190-1225), had trouble maintaining unhampered contacts with the monks in Jerusalem, he decided to build a new Jerusalem in his land. In the process he left behind one of the true architectural wonders known as the Rock-hewn Churches of Lalibela.

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Above: Lalibela. This image is licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution.

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Above: Lalibela. This image is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution.

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Above: Lalibela. This image is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution.

The Ottomans also controlled Egypt and much of the Red Sea littoral and thereby circumscribed Christian Ethiopia’s communication with the outside world, including Jerusalem.

Besides, they had also tried but failed to subdue Ethiopia altogether. Though Ethiopia’s independent existence was continuously under duress not only from the Ottomans but also their colonial surrogate, Egypt as well as from the dervishes in the Sudan, the Ethiopian monastery somehow survived during this period. Whenever they could, Ethiopian rulers and other personages as well as church establishments sent subsidies and even bought plots of land where in time churches and residential buildings for Ethiopian pilgrims were built in and around Jerusalem. Church leaders in Jerusalem often represented the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in ecumenical councils and meetings in Florence and other fora.

During the 16th and 17th centuries the Ottoman rulers of the region including Palestine and, of course, Jerusalem, tried to stabilize the continuing clamor and bickering among the Christian sects claiming sites in the Christian holy places. To that effect, Ottoman rulers including Sultan Selim I (1512-1520) and Suleiman “the Magnificent” (1520-1566) as well as later ones in the 19th century, issued edicts or firmans regulating and detailing by name which group of monks would be housed where and the protocol governing their respective religious ceremonies. These edicts are called firmans of the Status Quo for all Christian claimants in Jerusalem’s holy places including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which came to be called Deir Sultan or the monastery (place) of the Sultan.

Ethiopians referred to it endearingly as Debre Sultan. Most observers of the scene in the latter part of the 19th Century as well as honest spokesmen for some of the sects attest to the fact that from time immemorial the Ethiopian monks had pride of place in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Deir Sultan). Despite their meager existence and pressures from fellow monks from other countries, the Ethiopian monks survived through the difficult periods their country was going through such as the period of feudal autarchy (1769-1855).

Still, in every document or reference since the opening of the Christian era, Ethiopia and Ethiopian monks have been mentioned in connection with Christian holy places in Jerusalem, by all alternating landlords and powers that be in the region.

As surrogates of the weakening Ottomans, the Egyptians were temporarily in control of Jerusalem (1831-1840). It was at this time, in 1838, that a plague is said to have occurred in the holy places, which in some mysterious ways of Byzantine proportions, claimed the lives of all Ethiopian monks.

The Ethiopians at this time were ensconced in a chapel of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Deir Sultan) as well as in other locales nearby. Immediately thereafter, the Egyptian authorities gave the keys of the Church to the Egyptian Coptic monks.

The Egyptian ruler, Ibrahim Pasha, then ordered that all thousands of very precious Ethiopian holy books and documents, including historical and ecclesiastical materials related to property deeds and rights, be burned—alleging conveniently that the plague was spawned by the Ethiopian parchments.

Monasteries are traditionally important hubs of learning and, given its location and its opportunity for interaction with the wider family of Christendom, the Ethiopian monastery in Jerusalem was even more so than others. That is how Ethiopians lost their choice possession in Deir Sultan.

By the time other monks arrived in Jerusalem, the Copts claimed their squatter’s rights, the new Ethiopian arrivals were eventually pushed off onto the open rooftop of the church, thanks largely to the machinations of the Egyptian Coptic church.

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Above: The roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in
Jerusalem, where Ethiopians maintain the only presence
by black people in Christianity’s holiest shrine. This image
is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution.

Although efforts on behalf of Ethiopian monks in Jerusalem started in mid-19th Century with Ras Ali and Dejach Wube, it was the rise of Emperor Tewodros in 1855 in Ethiopia that put the Jerusalem monastery issue back onto international focus.

When Ethiopian monks numbering a hundred or so congregated in Jerusalem at the time, the Armenians had assumed superiority in the holy places. The Anglican bishop in Jerusalem then, Bishop Samuel Gobat witnessed the unholy attitude and behavior of the Armenians and the Copts towards their fellow Christian Ethiopians who were trying to reclaim their rights to the holy places in Jerusalem.

He wrote that the Ethiopian monks, nuns and pilgrims “were both intelligent and respectable, yet they were treated like slaves, or rather like beasts by the Copts and the Armenians combined…(the Ethiopians) could never enter their own chapel but when it pleased the Armenians to open it. …On one occasion, they could not get their chapel opened to perform funeral service for one of their members. The key to their convent being in the hands of their oppressors, they were locked up in their convent in the evening until it pleased their Coptic jailer to open it in the morning, so that in any severe attacks of illness, which are frequent there, they had no means of going out to call a physician.’’

It was awareness of such indignities suffered by Ethiopian monks in Jerusalem that is said to have impelled Emperor Tewodros to have visions of clearing the path between his domain and Jerusalem from Turkish/Egyptian control, and establishing something more than monastic presence there. In the event, one of the issues that contributed to the clash with British colonialists that consumed his life 1868, was the quest for adequate protection of the Ethiopian monks and their monastery in Jerusalem.

Emperor Yohannes IV (1872-1889), the priestly warrior king, used his relatively cordial relations with the British who were holding sway in the region then, to make representations on behalf of the Ethiopian monastery in Jerusalem.

He carried on regular pen-pal communications with the monks even before he became Emperor. He sent them money, he counseled them and he always asked them to pray for him and the country, saying, “For the prayers of the righteous help and serve in all matters. By the prayers of the righteous a country is saved.”

He used some war booty from his battles with Ottomans and their Egyptian surrogates, to buy land and started to build a church in Jerusalem. As he died fighting Sudanese/Dervish expansionists in 1889, his successor, Emperor Menelik completed the construction of the Church named Debre Gennet located on what was called “Ethiopian Street.”

During this period more monasteries, churches and residences were also built by Empresses Tayitu, Zewditu, Menen as well as by several other personages including Afe Negus Nessibu, Dejazmach Balcha, Woizeros Amarech Walelu, Beyenech Gebru, Altayeworq.

As of the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th Century the numbers of Ethiopian monks and nuns increased and so did overall Ethiopian pilgrimage and presence in Jerusalem.

In 1903, Emperor Menelik put $200, 000 thalers in a (Credileone) Bank in the region and ordained that interests from that savings be used exclusively as subsidy for the sustenance of the Ethiopian monks and nuns and the upkeep of Deir Sultan. Emperor Menelik’s 6-point edict also ordained that no one be allowed to draw from the capital in whole or in part.

Land was also purchased at various localities and a number of personalities including Empress Tayitu, and later Empress Menen, built churches there. British authorities supported a study on the history of the issue since at least the time of kalifa (Calif) Omar ((636) and correspondences and firmans and reaffirmations of Ethiopian rights in 1852, in an effort to resolve the chronic problems of conflicting claims to the holy sites in Jerusalem.

The 1925 study concluded that ”the Abyssinian (Ethiopian ) community in Palestine ought to be considered the only possessor of the convent Deir Es Sultan at Jerusalem with the Chapels which are there and the free and exclusive use of the doors which give entrance to the convent, the free use of the keys being understood.”

Until the Fascist invasion of Ethiopia in the 1930’s when Mussolini confiscated Ethiopian accounts and possessions everywhere, including in Jerusalem, the Ethiopian presence in Jerusalem had shown some semblance of stability and security, despite continuing intrigues by Copts, Armenians and their overlords in the region.

This was a most difficult and trying time for the Ethiopian monks in Jerusalem who were confronted with a situation never experienced in the country’s history, namely its occupation by a foreign power. And, just like some of their compatriots including Church leaders at home, some paid allegiance to the Fascist rulers albeit for the brief (1936-1941) interregnum.

Emperor Haile Sellassie was also a notable patron of the monastery cause, and the only monarch to have made several trips to Jerusalem, including en route to his self-exile to London in May, 1936.

Since at least the 1950s there was an Ethiopian Association for Jerusalem in Addis Ababa that coordinated annual Easter pilgrimages to Jerusalem. Hundreds of Ethiopians and other persons from Ethiopia and the Diaspora took advantage of its good offices to go there for absolution, supplication or felicitation, and the practice continues today.

Against all odds, historical, ecclesiastical and cultural bonding between Ethiopia and Jerusalem waxed over the years. The Ethiopian presence expanded beyond Deir Sultan including also numerous Ethiopian Churches, chapels, convents and properties. This condition required that the Patriarchate of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church designate Jerusalem as a major diocese to be administered under its own Archbishop.

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Above: Timket (epiphany) celebration by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo
Church on the Jordan River, considered to be the place where Jesus was
baptized. Jan. 1999. Photo by Iweze Davidson.

Ethiopia and Black Heritage In Jerusalem

For hundreds of years, the name or concept of Ethiopia has been a beacon for black/African identity liberty and dignity throughout the diaspora. The Biblical (Psalm 68:31) verse , “…Ethiopia shall soon stretch forth her hands unto God” has been universally taken to mean African people, black people at large, stretch out their hands to God (and only to God) in supplication, in felicitation or in absolution.

As Daniel Thwaite put it, for the Black man Ethiopia was always “…an incarnation of African independence.”

And today, Ethiopian monastic presence in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre or Deir Sultan in Jerusalem, is the only Black presence in the holiest place on earth for Christians. For much of its history, Ethiopian Christianity was largely hemmed in by alternating powers in the region. Likewise, Ethiopia used its own indigenous Ethiopic languages for liturgical and other purposes within its own territorial confines, instead of colonial or other lingua franca used in extended geographical spaces of the globe.

For these and other reasons, Ethiopia was not able to communicate effectively with the wider Black world in the past. Given the fact that until recently, most of the Black world within Africa and in the diaspora was also under colonial tutelage or under slavery, it was not easy to appreciate the significance of Ethiopian presence in Jerusalem. Consequently, even though Ethiopian/Black presence in Jerusalem has been maintained through untold sacrifices for centuries, the rest of the Black world outside of Ethiopia has not taken part in its blessings through pilgrimages to the holy sites and thereby develop concomitant bonding with the Ethiopian monastery in Jerusalem.

For nearly two millennia now, the Ethiopian Church and its adherent monks and priests have miraculously maintained custodianship of Deir Sultan, suffering through and surviving all the struggles we have glanced at in these pages. In fact, the survival of Ethiopian/Black presence in Christianity’s holy places in Jerusalem is matched only by the “Survival Ethiopian Independence” itself.

Indeed, Ethiopian presence in Deir Sultan represents not just Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity but all African/black Christians of all denominations who value the sacred legacy that the holy places of Jerusalem represent for Christians everywhere. It represents also the affirmation of the fact that Jerusalem is the birthplace of Christianity, just as adherents of Judaism and Islam claim it also.

The Ethiopian foothold at the rooftop of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the only form of Black presence in Christianity’s holy places of Jerusalem. It ought to be secure, hallowed and sanctified ground by and for all Black folks everywhere who value it. The saga of Deir Sultan also represents part of Ethiopian history and culture. And that too is part of African/black history and culture regardless of religious orientation.

When a few years ago, an Ethiopian monk was asked by a writer why he had come to Jerusalem to face all the daily vicissitudes and indignities, he answered, “because it is Jerusalem.”


About the Author:
Dr. Negussay Ayele is a noted Ethiopian scholar. He is the author of the book Ethiopia and the United States, Volume I, the Season of Courtship, among many other publications. He lives in Los Angeles, California.

Royal Monuments Recall the Lost Glory of an African Empire

Source: Archaeology:
A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Of Obelisks and Empire
By Mark Rose
Photographs by Chester Higgins, Jr.

Royal monuments and ancient accounts recall the lost
glory of an African kingdom

In the first century A.D., an unknown merchant recorded details of the Red Sea trade, and mentioned Adulis, the harbor of “the city of the people called Aksumites” to which “all the ivory is brought from the country beyond the Nile.” The ruler of Aksum, he wrote, was Zoskales, who was “miserly in his ways and always striving for more, but otherwise upright, and acquainted with Greek literature.” Just two centuries later, the philosopher Mani (ca. A.D. 210-276) included Aksum as one of the four great empires, along with Rome, Persia, and Sileos (possibly China). And in 274, envoys from Aksum took part in the triumphal procession staged by the emperor Aurelian when he paraded the captured Queen Zenobia of Palmyra, fettered with gold chains, through Rome.

Today, Aksum is a dusty, regional market town of about 50,000 in northern Ethiopia. If people have heard of it, perhaps it is on account of another queen: the Biblical Sheba. According to the Kebra Nagast (Book of the Glory of the Kings), an early-14th-century compilation that chronicles Ethiopia’s rulers, Solomon and Sheba had a son, Menelik, who brought the Ark of the Covenant from Jerusalem to Aksum. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church maintains that the Ark is still kept within the precinct walls of the Church of Tsion (Mary of Zion) in Aksum. Read more.

Related: Embracing Ethiopia By CHESTER HIGGINS

Chester Higgins, Jr.

Tadias Magazine
By Chester Higgins, Jr.
Photo Updated: April 21st, 2009

New York (Tadias) – Long before I set foot in Ethiopia, the name itself summoned images of Biblical proportion for me and, I believe, for many other African Americans as well. In the Bible, ‘Ethiopia’ is a place of refuge, an amazing mystical land.

Then with the advent of Marcus Garvey and African nationalists, who rallied against the Italian invasion of Ethiopia during the Second World War, Ethiopia became a symbol of resistance to Colonialism. In the 1960s, when Emperor Haile Selassie appeared on national TV during a state visit to the US, millions more African American imaginations burned with the knowledge of an independent African people.

Not until the 1970s did the image and concept of Ethiopia, inspired by the reggae music of Bob Marley, gain extraordinary prominence in the minds of a young generation of African Americans. The Rastafarian Movement’s efforts to re-define the sanctity of Ethiopia and re-cast Emperor Selassie in a sacred light caught the imagination of young people as they swayed to reggae music. A new light had come out of Africa, but the beam started in the diaspora, this time in Jamaica.

In 1969 I had the good fortune to make a portrait of the renowned Harlem historian and teacher Dr. John Henrik Clarke. He was deeply committed to Africa and African people. My young mind was a parched field, and the many hours I spent with him, asking questions and hearing his answers, fertilized and watered that dry soil. Through him, my knowledge and understanding of Ethiopia grew. Dr. Clarke had this effect on thousands of Harlem residents and on students at Hunter College and Cornell University.

In 1973, on my first journey to Ethiopia, I attended the tenth anniversary conference of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), now called the African Union (AU). That year the conference was held in Addis Ababa. I came to photograph African heads of state; I wanted to share with African Americans my view of rulers responsible for African people.

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Above: Emperor Haile Selassie (1973).
Photo by Chester Higgins.

For me the most significant ruler, the most interesting leader, turned out to be Emperor Haile Selassie. In my new book, Echo of the Spirit: A Photographer’s Journey (Doubleday 2004), I write: “…As I waited at the Addis Ababa airport for a glimpse of arriving dignitaries, my attention was pulled from the action around the arriving airplanes to a group of men making their way across the tarmac. I could sense the power of one man in particular before I could even see him.” Although he was of such small stature that he was dwarfed by the others alongside him, something about his aura so profoundly moved me that I lowered the camera so I could see him with both eyes. Only after he passed me did I learn that I had been in the presence of His Majesty Haile Selassie, the Emperor of Ethiopia.

Returning from that trip, I began to seek out Ethiopian students at Ethiopian restaurants and conferences to discuss my experience, encountering a mixed reception and political discontent. The students were receptive to my interest in their country, although none shared my enthusiasm for the emperor. Through the many students I have met over the years, I have discovered informative books and begun attending the Horn of Africa Conference, held annually at the City College of New York.

In July 1992, I returned to Ethiopia with my son Damani as my photography assistant. As I wrote in my book Feeling the Spirit: Searching the World for the People of Africa (1994), “The memory of being in his [Emperor Haile Selassie I] presence has remained an inspiration in my personal life. Damani, who has locked his hair, shares my love of His Majesty and reggae, the music of the Rastafarians who worship Selassie.”

So far I have been to Ethiopia about a dozen times. On each visit, I use my camera to make a record of contemporary and ancient Ethiopia. Spending weeks at a time, I have traveled in the North to the cities of Mekele, Gondar, Lalibela, Aksum, Bahir Dar, Dessie and Yeha. In the South, I have recorded sites and ceremonies in Nazareth, Debra Ziet, Awassa, Tiya and Tutafella.

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Above: Fasilides Castle. Photo by Chester Higgins.

Ethiopia is indeed home to the earliest humans. In the National Museum in Addis are the bones of Dinquinesh, or Lucy, dating back almost 4 million years. In Aksum, I have seen the monumental mains of tombs and obelisks from earliest kingdoms. Also in Aksum, in 1000 BCE, Makeda, Queen of Sheba, turned away from the old faith of the Nile River cultures — the worship of the Sun that climaxed as the ancient Egyptian religion — and embraced the faith of the Hebrews. Here, too, Emperor Ezana converted to Christianity in 324 CE. The richness of the historic and photographic appeal of Ethiopia is revealed for me especially in the ancient monolithic stone churches of Lalibela and the more ancient Moon Temple in Yeha.

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Above: Yeha Temple. Photo by Chester Higgins.

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Above: Axum Tomb. Photo by Chester Higgins.

Today, Ethiopian people stand tall and proud, their feet planted securely on the land of their fathers and under the sky of their mothers. Ethiopians work hard, believe hard, and are driven hard to persevere by the vicissitudes of nature and life.

It has been a pleasure getting to know Ethiopia and her people.


Learn more about Chester Higgins at:chesterhiggins.com

Out of Ethiopia, Educated in Israel, and Back to Africa to Help

Above: Israeli navy soldiers walk towards a prayer ceremony
held on the Ethiopian Jews’ Sigd holiday on a hill overlooking
Jerusalem. The prayer is performed by Ethiopian Jews every
year to celebrate their community’s connection and
commitment to Israel. About 80,000 Ethiopian Jews live in
Israel, many of them came in massive Israeli airlifts during
times of crisis in Ethiopia in 1984 and 1991. (AP)

Tadias Magazine
By Howard M. Lenhoff and Nathan Shapiro,
(Former Presidents of the American Association for
Ethiopian Jews)

Updated: Monday, April 6, 2009

New York (Tadias) – Today Ethiopian Jews who were rescued from Africa during Operation Moses in 1984 and subsequently educated in Israel, are returning to Africa to help educate orphans who survived the genocide in Rwanda. Is this the start of a unique new stage in the history of the Jews of Ethiopia?

Just 35 years ago fewer than 200 Ethiopian Jews were residents of Israel. Then, in 1974, the American Association for Ethiopian Jews (AAEJ) began its grassroots efforts to rescue and bring to Israel those who were suffering in Africa. Could we ever imagine that by 2009 over 100,000 Ethiopian Jews would become Israeli citizens?

It is good to know that we helped fulfill Hillel’s proverb of “To save a soul, is to save a nation.” AAEJ and Isreali rescues from the Sudan refugee camps between 1979 and 1984-5 began the saga; then Operations Solomon and Sheba brought close to 10,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel. The year 1991 saw the culmination of these heroic rescue campaigns in the dramatic airlift of Operation Solomon when 14,235 Ethiopian Jews were brought to safety. Thus, Israel in partnership with the AAEJ and other activists, and the U.S.A., did actually save a nation. (See Black Jews, Jews and other Heroes: How Grassroots Activism Led to the Rescue of the Ethiopian Jews, by Howard Lenhoff, Gefen, Jerusalem, 2007.)

As presidents of the American Association for Ethiopian Jews between 1978 and 1993, when we disbanded, we continue to take pride in the fruits of that mission today. Not only are the Ethiopian Jews living as free people in Israel, but their successes have continuously inspired and enriched the lives of tens of thousands of Israeli and American Jews who supported their rescue and adjustment in Israel.

Now we are thrilled to see the Ethiopian Jews bringing something else quite special to further enrich the multi-cultural nature of Israeli society and the status of Israel among the nations of the world: The Beta Yisrael are becoming an essential link in giving hope for a new life to orphans in Rwanda!

The JTA has already reported news of the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village presently being constructed by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) in Rwamagana, Rwanda. The village is modeled after the Youth Aliyah Village of Yemin Orde, which was started to assist orphans from the Holocaust, and which played a major role in assisting the Ethiopian orphans, especially those who had lost their parents in the refugee camps of Sudan just before Operation Moses twenty-five years ago.

Why are we excited? Because nearly a dozen Ethiopian Israeli volunteers will be participating in the training of the Rwandans as resident teachers and staff of the orphans at the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village. All of these volunteers are Ethiopian Jews who escaped the poverty and wars of Ethiopia to become Israelis. Now they are returning to offer humanitarian assistance on behalf of Israel to save another nation in Africa.

The Israeli staff person serving as Deputy Director of Informal Education is the well-educated Ethiopian Jew, Shimon Solomon. He is assisted by a former Ethiopian paratrooper and animal husbandry expert, Dror Neguissi, who will serve as coordinator for the Ethiopian Israelis who will be volunteering at the village over the course of the next year.

The idea for the project was conceived in November 2005 and by January of this year 18 housing units had been built, each of them home for 16 Rwandan orphans. In March, during a field visit by the JDC, a remarkable episode took place. Will Recant, former Executive Director of the AAEJ, and now an Assistant Executive Vice President at JDC and the acting JDC Director on this project, observed a most beautiful and engaging exchange when Dror Neguissi went from house to house with his laptop to share with for the Rwanda orphans a PowerPoint illustrating his personal journey from Ethiopia to Israel. First there were photographs illustrating life as an Ethiopian Jew growing up in a typical village in rural Africa. Next he showed photographs of the trek through the Sudan and the refugee camps where thousands of Ethiopian Jews lost their lives. He concluded with photos of the Beta Yisrael orphans at Yemin Orde and in Israel.

The Rwandan students were surprised and moved by the presentation. They identified with Dror, who like them, had suffered and lost family in Africa, and like them, was African. The story gave them hope; maybe they too could go on to prosper.

Just think: What if Israel were to train many more of the Ethiopian Jews, to form an Israeli Peace Corps to educate orphans of Rwanda and of other African countries who are trying to survive the bloodshed, disease, and famines which plague them?

The journey of these Ethiopian volunteers is iconic; they’ve traveled out of Ethiopia, became educated in Israel, and returned back to Africa to help their African brethren. Thirty five years ago American Jews were campaigning for the rescue from the squalid refugee camps of the Sudan of the Ethiopian Jews including those who are now volunteers in Rwanda. Today we pray for Israel to train and send more of its Ethiopian Jews to help the destitute orphans of Africa.

For more information, contact H. M. Lenhoff, Prof. Emeritus, University of California, at 662-801-6406.

Remembering Adwa: Ethiopia’s Victory in 1896 Halted Italy’s Ambitions in Africa

Above: The Battle of Adwa, painting by an unknown
Ethiopian artist. The painting depicts the Battle of Adwa,
fought between Italy and Abyssinia on March 1, 1896.
(Photo – © The British Museum – 2007)


Tadias Magazine

By Ayele Bekerie

Published: Monday, March 2, 2009

New York (Tadias) – On March 1, 1896, eleven years after the Berlin Conference or what historians call ‘the Scramble for Africa’, the Ethiopian army led by Emperor Menelik II decisively defeated the Italian army at the Battle of Adwa. Adwa is a town located in the northern part of Ethiopia, near the Ethiopian and Eritrean border. Virtually all the regions, religions, linguistic groups, aristocrats and peasants pulled their resources together to formulate and execute a strategy of victory. By their actions the Ethiopians were not only affirming the power and immense possibilities of unity in diversity, but they were placing issues of freedom and internal reform at the top of the national agenda.

Adwa necessitates a new set of directions interspersed with broader definition and application of freedom so that all those who participated in the Battle would be able to have a say in the affairs of their country. As Maimre Mennesemay puts it, “from the perspectives of the thousands who participated in the campaign of Adwa, the resistance to the Italian invasion embodies the aspiration for freedom, equality and unity as well as the rejection of colonialism.”

With regard to the African World, as much as ancient Ethiopia inspired Pan-Africanist movements and organizations, contemporary Ethiopia’s history also has its significance in the struggle against colonialism and racial oppression. Contemporary Ethiopia was particularly brought to the African world’s attention on March 1, 1896 when Ethiopia, an African country, defeated Italy, a European country, at the battle of Adwa. It has been 113 years since the Ethiopians decisively defeated the Italians. As we celebrate the victory, it is important to revisit the meaning and significance of the historic victory, for Adwa is an indelible mark of freedom.

According to Donald Levine, “the Battle of Adwa qualifies as a historic event which represented the first time since the beginning of European imperial expansion that a nonwhite nation had defeated a European power.” The Berlin Conference of 1885, a conference of European colonial powers that was called to carve up Africa into colonial territories, found its most important challenge in this famous battle. European strategy to divide Africa into their spheres of influence was halted by Emperor Menelik II and Empress Taitu Betul at the Battle of Adwa. The Europeans had no choice but to recognize this African (not European) power.

The African World celebrated and embraced this historic victory. In the preface to the book An Introduction to African Civilizations With Main Currents in Ethiopian History, Huggins and Jackson wrote: “In Ethiopia, the military genius of Menelik II was in the best tradition of Piankhi and Sheshonk, rulers of ancient Egypt and Nubia or Ethiopia, when he drove out the Italians in 1896 and maintained the liberties of that ancient free empire of Black men.” Huggins and Jackson analyzed the victory not only in terms of its significance to the postcolonial African world, but also in terms of its linkage to the tradition of ancient African glories and victories.

Menelik used his remarkable leadership skill to draw all (highlanders and lowlanders, Christians and Muslims, northerners and southerners) into a battlefield called Adwa. And in less than six hours, the enemy is decisively defeated. The overconfident and never to be defeated European army fell under the great military strategy of an African army. The strategy was what the Ethiopians call afena, an Ethiopian version of blitzkrieg that encircles the enemy and cuts its head. Italians failed to match the British and the French in establishing a colonial empire in Africa. In fact, by their humiliating defeat, the Italians made the British and the French colonizers jittery. The colonial subjects became reenergized to resist the colonial empire builders.

Adwa irreversibly broadened the true boundaries of Ethiopia and Ethiopians. People of the south and the north, the east and the west fought and defeated the Italian army. In the process, a new Ethiopia is born. Adwa solved once and for all the question of Ethiopiawinet. The Ethiopian army crossed many rivers to reach the battlefield. In the process, it managed to establish trust and andenet. Adwa affirms that there is no Habesha or Abyssinia, but one Ethiopia. Adwa is a blueprint for multiethnic and multireligous Ethiopia.

Adwa shows what can be achieved when united forces work for a common goal. Adwa brought the best out of so many forces that were accustomed to waging battles against each other. Forces of destruction and division ceased their endless squabbles and redirect their united campaign against the common enemy. They chose to redefine themselves as one and unequivocally expressed their rejection of colonialism. They came together in search of freedom or the preservation and expansion of the freedom at hand.

Menelik could have kept the momentum by reforming his government and by allowing the many forces to continue participating in the making of a modern and good for all state. Unfortunately Menelik chose to return back to the status quo, a status of exploitative relationship between the few who controlled the land and the vast majority of the agrarian farmers. And yet, Adwa is a constant reminder of a movement for the establishment of a democratic and just society.

As long as Menelik’s challenge to and reversal of colonialism in Ethiopia is concerned, his accomplishment was historic and an indisputable event. It is precisely this brilliant and decisive victory against the European colonial army that has inspired the colonized and the oppressed through out the world to forge ahead against their colonial masters.

Menelik’s rapprochement with the three colonial powers in the region, namely Italy, France and Britain, may have saved his monarchial power, but the policy ended up hurting the whole region. The seeds of division sown by the colonizers, in part, continue to wreck the region apart. Realizing the need to completely remove all the colonizers as an effective and lasting way to bring peace and prosperity in the region, the grandson of the Emperor, Lij Iyassu attempted to carve anti-colonial policy. He began to send arms to freedom fighters in Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia. He entered into a treaty of peace and cooperation with the Austrians, the Germans and the Turks. Unfortunately, the rule of Lij Iyassu was short-lived.

Adwa symbolizes the aspirations and hopes of all oppressed people. Adwa catapulted Pan-Africanism into the realm of the possible by reigniting the imaginations of Africans in their quest for freedom throughout the world. Adwa foreshadowed the outcome of the anti-colonial struggle. Adwa is about cultural resistance; it is about reaffirmation of African ways. Adwa was possible not simply because of brilliant and courageous leadership, but also because of the people’s willingness to defend their motherland, regardless of ethnic, linguistic and religious differences. Adwa was a story of common purpose and common destiny. The principles established on the battlefield of Adwa must be understood and embraced for Africa to remain centered in its own histories, cultures and socioeconomic development. We should always remember that Adwa was won for Africans. Adwa indeed is an African model of victory and resistance.

—–
Publisher’s Note: This article is well-referenced and those who seek the references should contact Professor Ayele Bekerie directly at: ab67@cornell.edu

About the Author:
ayele_author.jpg
Ayele Bekerie, an Assistant Professor at the Africana Studies and Research Center of Cornell University, is the author of the award-winning book “Ethiopic, An African Writing System: Its History and Principles” (The Red Sea Press, 1997). Bekerie’s papers have been published in scholarly journals, such as ANKH: Journal of Egyptology and African Civilizations, Journal of the Horn of Africa, Journal of Black Studies, the International Journal of Africana Studies, and the International Journal of Ethiopian Studies. Bekerie is also the creator of the African Writing System web site and a contributing author in the highly acclaimed book, “ONE HOUSE: The Battle of Adwa 1896-100 Years.” Bekerie’s most recent published work includes “The Idea of Ethiopia: Ancient Roots, Modern African Diaspora Thoughts,” in Power and Nationalism in Modern Africa, published by Carolina Academic Press in 2008 and “The Ancient African Past and Africana Studies” in the Journal of Black Studies in 2007. Bekerie appears frequently on the Amharic Service of Voice of America and Radio Germany. He is a regular contributor to Tadias Magazine and other Ethiopian American electronic publications. His current book project is on the “Idea of Ethiopia.”

Leo Hansberry, Founder of Ethiopian Research Council

Historian and anthropologist William Leo Hansberry's research was posthumously edited by Joseph E. Harris and printed in two volumes by Howard University Press: "Pillars in Ethiopian History" (1974), and "Africa and Africans as Seen by Classical Writers" (1977).

Tadias Magazine

By Ayele Bekerie

Published: Monday, February 23, 2009

New York (TADIAS) – William Leo Hansberry (1894-1965) was the first academician to introduce a course on African history in a university setting in the United States in 1922. He taught a History of Africa, both ancient and contemporary, for 42 years at Howard University. He gave lectures on African history both in the classrooms and in public squares here at home and in Africa. Thousands of students and ordinary people took his history lessons and some followed his footsteps to study and write extensively about historical issues. Among the seminal contribution of Hansberry is the academic reconstruction and teaching of Ancient African History. His proposal to develop an Africana Studies as an interdisciplinary field not only visualized the centrality of African History, but also laid down the groundwork for eventual establishment of Africana Studies institutions in the United States and Africa.

Hansberry, who studied at Harvard, Oxford and University of Chicago, was an exemplary scholar-activist. He firmly and persistently engaged in disseminating historical knowledge on Africa beyond the classroom. Even though he was not able to complete his PhD dissertation, he evidently demonstrated a remarkable research and writing skills. It is time for Howard University to recognize the immense contributions of Hansberry by organizing a major conference and by naming the Department of African Studies, William Leo Hansberry Department of African Studies. He served as a research associate to the great African American scholar, W.E.B. DuBois. Among his former students were Chancellor Williams (The Destruction of Black Civilization (1987) , and John Henrik Clarke (the author of several books, author of the blueprint for Africana Studies at Cornell University, the distinguished professor of African History at Hunter College, a leading theorist and the founder of the African Heritage Studies Association).

This great man of antiquity, founder of the Ethiopian Research Council, the forerunner of Ethiopian Studies, and genuine friends of African students, died without getting his due recognition from Howard or elsewhere. In fact, it was close to his time of death that he got a few recognitions in his country. His great accomplishments were duly recognized in Africa, particularly in Ethiopia and Nigeria. To this date, no building or sections of building has been named after him at Howard. This is in contrast to former prominent professors of Howard, such as Alain Locke.

Conceptualizing, writing and teaching what Leo Hansberry calls pre-European History of Africa and Africana Studies at a time of open denial and advancement of notion of African inferiority will always remain as his great legacy. In fact, I like to argue that William Leo Hansberry might have been the person who coined the word Africana. One of the most comprehensive outlines he prepared is entitled “Africana and Africa’s Past” and published by John Doe and Company of New York in 1960.

(Photo of William Leo Hansberry)

The term eventually became a useful conceptual word for interdisciplinary approaches and methodologies in the field of Africana Studies, that is, the study of the peoples and experiences of Africa, African America, the Caribbean as well as the Black Atlantic by gathering and interpreting data obtained from a range of disciplines, such as History, Political Science, Archaeology, Anthropology, Psychology, Sociology, Economics, Literature and Biology. My department is named Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University with interdisciplinary focus on Africa, African America and the Caribbean. Until very recently, Africana Center was the only center that has used the term Africana. Now institutions like Harvard and others have adopted the conceptual word. The purpose of this paper is to revisit the approaches and writings of William Leo Hansberry on History of Africa as well as Africana Studies in light of the findings of the last forty years.

Claims made by Leo Hansberry, such as the African origin of human beings, the migrations of human beings out of Africa to populate the world, the link between the peoples and civilizations of Egypt, Nubia and Alpine Ethiopia, the civilizations of Western Sudan in medieval times, are no longer in dispute. Several archaeological and archival findings have confirmed his claims. Lucy or Dinqnesh, the 3.1 million years old human-like species, currently touring the major cities of the United States, is major evidence affirming Africa’s place as a cradle of human beings.

The intervention of enslavement and massive economic activities associated with it suppressed, distorted or destroyed much of the facts and histories of Africa. Hansberry and his associates argued tirelessly and fearlessly, in spite of academic ostracism and harassment, to research, construct and teach African history. The publication of UNESCO History of Africa in 8 volumes and the establishment of Departments of History and Africana Studies in the United States, Europe and Africa, particularly in the 1960s, are clear evidence of the correctness and rightness of Hansberry’s approach to history. Hansberry’s diligent and determined search for Africana Antiqua is rooted in his now famous proposition: “It was, in the main, the ruin which followed in the wake of Arab and Berber slave trade in the late Middle Ages and the havoc was wrought by the European slave trade in more recent times that brought about the decline and fall of civilization in most of these early African states.”

He then framed his argument for persuasion in the following manner: “On the strength of the now available information about ancient and medieval Africa, together with the published reports relating to the continent in Stone Age times, it is now certain that Africa has been, throughout the ages, the seat of a great succession of cultures and civilizations which were comparable in most respects and superior in some aspects to the cultures and civilizations in other parts of the world during the same period.” In fact, it is time for Oxford, Harvard and University of Chicago to posthumously award him an honorary doctorate degree.

Leo Hansberry did graduate work at Oxford, Harvard and Chicago Universities and yet none of them were prepared to award him with a PhD degree. His intellectual strategy to dismantle the lingering impact of enslavement by researching and teaching about ancient African civilizations was challenged aggressively, both from within and from without throughout his academic career at Howard University. He taught for over forty years at Howard University in the history department. Thousands of students took his African history courses, and yet his title did not go beyond an instructor.

In the absence of promotion and grants, he persisted in teaching and researching Africa in antiquity. He was denied a grant from the Rosenwald Fund and his Rockefeller grant was terminated while he was studying at Oxford University. He did manage to get a Fulbright scholarship that allowed him to visit sites of antiquities in Africa. Throughout his ordeals, his source of great strength was his wife, Myrtle Kalso Hansberry, who not only supported him, but she also collaborated in his research by serving as “his research assistant, translator, grammarian, and counselor.” In addition, she taught for many years in the Public School System of the District of Columbia. At present, his two daughters are the custodians of his writings and manuscripts. It is my hope that they will be able to find an appropriate institution to house his works.

Leo Hansberry was born in 1894 in Mississippi. His father taught history at Alcorn College, a historically Black Institution of Higher Learning. No information is provided on his mother. His early years (1894-1916) coincided with era of Jim Crow, Negrophobia, and constitutional disenfranchisement of the vast majority of African Americans. He was also exposed at the same time to a tradition of resistance and Black Nationalism. Leo Hansberry, however, came from a family with rich intellectual tradition, including his niece, Loraine Hansberry, the great playwright and author of a Broadway play A Raising in the Sun. His parents, both educators, nurtured him with self-pride and self-worth so as to instill in him a desire to pursue a pioneering academic field with a persistent focus on Africana Studies and history of Africa, particularly ancient Africa.

(Photo of Playwright and author Loraine Hansberry, Leo Hansberry’s niece)

Leo Hansberry inherited his father’s library, for his father died while he was young. Home schooling (long before it became a common practice in the United States) might have been the reason behind his confidence and determination to pursue “Africana Antiqua” in his own terms. His father’s library served him as a source what John Henrik Clarke, his former student, calls ‘more and more information’ on Africa. According to Kwame Wes Alford, a major breakthrough in his search for Africa took place after he read W.E.B.DuBois’s book The Negro (1915). The book provided him with ‘more information’ on African long history, cultures and civilizations. The book freed him from a state of psychological bondage. Later in his academic career, he became an important source of information on African history to W.E.B. Dubois.

Leo Hansberry studied at Harvard University from 1916 to 1920. It was during this period that he read all the books suggested by DuBois’s reading list. He got his masters at Harvard, but left Harvard before earning a PhD degree.

By 1920, Hansberry recognized the conceptual importance of interdisciplinarity, the cross-discipline approach to a field of study, and, in fact, became the first African American scholar to establish African Studies in the United States. In 1922, he actually became the first scholar to develop and teach courses in African history at Howard University. African history was not offered in any of the American universities at that time.

Hansberry had meaningful relationships with WEB DuBois, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, the founder of the United Negro Improvement Association, James Weldon Johnson, the author of ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing,’ Carter G. Woodson, the author of The Miseducation of the Negro and Frank Snowden, the author of Blacks in Antiquity.

“Hansberry led the African American and Diaspora contingent in support of Ethiopia as president of the Ethiopian Research Council (ERC) during the Italo-Ethiopian War.” ERC is a forerunner of Ethiopian Studies. His vision of broader conception of the field, however, was not pursued when the field is established in Ethiopia. The field is defined by focusing on not only alpine Ethiopia, but also on the history and cultures of northern Ethiopia. Southern Ethiopia and the histories and cultures of the vast majority of the people of Ethiopia did not get immediate attention. Furthermore, the idea of Ethiopia is a global idea informed by histories and mythologies of ancient Africa. In other words, the idea and practice of Ethiopia should be broadened in order to integrate the multiple dimensions of Ethiopia in time and place.

Leo Hansberry writes with such simplicity and clarity, it is indeed a treat to read his treatises. The renowned Egyptologist W.F. Albright of Johns Hopkins University noted the considerable writing skill of Hansberry. He acknowledged the “vivid style and clearness and cogency” of Hansberry’s writing.

Leo Hansberry counseled and assisted African students for 13 years at Howard University. Among the students who took his class was Nnamide Azikiwe, the first president of Nigeria. He was also a good friend of Kwame Nkrumah, the first prime minister of Ghana. Hansberry was instrumental “in founding the All African Students Union of the Americas in the mid-1950s.” “With William Steen and the late Henrietta Van Noy, he co-founded in 1953 the Institute of African-American Relations, now the African-American Institute” with its headquarter in New York City. According to Smyke, Hansberry was also the “prime mover in the establishment of an Africa House for students in Washington.”

(Photo: Nnamide Azikiwe, the first president of Nigeria, was one of Leo Hansberry’s African students)

In 1960 his former student Dr. Azikiwe, the first elected president of Nigeria, conferred on him the University of Nigeria’s second honorary degree, and at the same time inaugurated the Hansberry School of Africana Studies at the University. In 1964 Hansberry was selected by the Emperor Haile Selassie Trust to receive their first prize for original work in African History, Archaeology, and Anthropology in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

In 1963, Hansberry gave a series of lectures in the University of Nigeria at Hansberry College of African Studies, Nsukka Campus. His main topic was “Ancient Kush and Old Ethiopia.” He described it as “a synoptic and pictorial survey of some notable peoples, cultures, kingdom and empires which flourished in the tropical areas of Nilotic Africa in historical antiquity.”

With regard to his sources, he used the English translations of Egyptian, Assyrian, Nubian and Ethiopian manuscript documents and inscriptions. He cited Breasted’s Records of Ancient Egypt; Luckenbill’s Assyrian Records; Budge’s Annals of Nubian Kings; and Budge’s History of Nubia, Ethiopia and Abyssinia. The Classical references are to be found in various modern editions of the authors mentioned. Access to archaeological reports may be found in the great national and larger university libraries. For the introduction to the history of ancient Nubia, A.J. Arkell’s History of the Ancient Sudan may be read with considerable profit.

His subtopics were Cultural and Political Entities (The peoples and cultures of Lower Nubia, 3000 -1600 BCE ; Kerma Kushites of Middle Nubia, 2500 – 1500 BCE; Kushite kingdoms of Napata and Meroe in Lower Middle and Upper Nubia, 1400 BCE – 350 CE; Peoples and cultures of the Land of Punt (Eritrea and the Somalilands), 3000 BCE – 350 CE; The Ethiopian (‘Abyssinian’) kingdom of Sheba (according to the Kebra Nagast), 1400 to 100 BCE; and the Ethiopian Empire of Aksum, 100 BCE to 600 CE. These geographical and historical designations have been conformed by a series of archeological studies in the last fifty years. It is also clear from this important chronology that Ethiopia is a term used by both Nubia and present-day Ethiopia.

In his sub-topic II, he outlined, in greater detail, some notable primary sources of information.

1. Egyptian traditions concerning Punt or Ethiopia as the original homeland of Egypt’s most ancient peoples and their culture.

2. Kushite traditions (as recorded by Diodorus Siculus) to the effect that Egypt was ‘at the beginning of the world’ nothing but a vast swamp and remained such until it was transformed into dry land by alluvium brought down from the land of Kush by the River Nile.

3. Kushite traditions (as recorded by Diodorus Siculus) to the effect that earliest ‘civilized’ inhabitants of Egypt and the basic elements of their civilization were derived from a common ancestral stock.

4. Genesaical traditions (Genesis X) to the effect that the Ancient Kushites and the Ancient Egyptians were derived from a common ancestral stock.

5. Egyptian historical records detailing numerous peaceful commercial missions from Egypt to Kushite countries and the Land of Punt for the purpose of procuring many valuable and useful products which were lacking in Egypt but abundant in ‘the good lands of the south.’

6. Egyptian inscriptions on stone and other types of written records commemorating defensive and offensive efforts of various pharaohs to the safeguard Egypt from military attacks and invasions by Kushites pushing up from the South.

7. Biblical and Rabbinical traditions, and the testimony of Flavius Josephus concerning the relationships of Moses, the great Hebrew lawgiver, with the Ancient Kushites.

8. The surviving annals of Nubian kings on the Kushite conquest of and relationships with, Egypt in the 8th and 7th centuries BCE; notably: -

a. Piankhy’s Conquest Stele
b. The inscriptions of king Taharka
c. The Memphite stele of King Shabaka
d. Tanutamen’s reconquest stele

9. Biblical, Assyrian and Classical (Greek and Roman) historical references and traditions concerning the national and international activities of Kushites kings of the 8th and 7th centuries BCE.

10. Surviving Nubian Annals on the careers of Kushite kings who flourished between the 7th century BCE and the 6th century CE, notably: -

a. Inscriptions of Aspalta – 6th century BCE
b. Stele of Harsiotef – 4th century BCE
c. Stele of Nastasen – 4th century BCE
d. Inscriptions of Netekaman and Amantere – 1st century BCE
e. Stele of Amenrenas – 1st century BCE
f. Stele of Teqerizemani – 2nd century CE
g. Stele of Silko – 6th century CE

11. Myths, legends, traditions and historical reference relating to peoples and cultures of Ancient Kush and Old Ethiopia which are preserved in the surviving writings of Classical (Greek and Roman) poets, geographers and historians; notably: -

a. Homeric and Hesiodic traditions concerning the ‘blameless Ethiopians.’
b. Arctinus of Miletus and Quintus of Smyrna on the exploits of ‘Memnon Prince of Ethiopia’ in the Trojan War.
c. Classical traditions (as preserved in Ovid’s Metamorphoses) concerning the unusual misfortunes of Cephus, the king, and Cassiopeia, the queen, of Old Ethiopia, and the extraordinary experiences of their daughter, the princes Andromeda.
d. Herodotus, ‘the father of history’, on the ill-fated attempt of Cambyses, king of Persia, to invade the homeland of the Ancient Kushites.
e. Stories of Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus concerning the mutiny of the mercenaries in the Egyptian army and their enrollment in the military service of the King of Kush.
f. Heliodorous’s Aethiopica on the disastrous attempt of a Persian governor of Egypt to seize emerald mines belonging to the Kushite domain.
g. The alleged visit of Alexander of Macedon to ‘Candace, Queen of Kush’ according to the remarkable (but no doubt apocryphal) story preserved in the Romance of Alexander the Great, which is attributed, perhaps without foundation, to Callisthenes of Olynthus.
h. Diodorus Siculus’ account of the attempted religious and political reforms of Ergamenes, king of Kush in circa 225 BCE.
i. Plutarch and Dion Cassius on the friendly relationships between Cleopatra and the Queen of Kush.
j. Strabo, Pliny the Elder, etc., on a. the invasion and defeat of the Romans in Upper Egypt by the queen of Kush; and b. the subsequent defeat of the Kushite queen and the invasion of her country by a Roman Army.
k. Numerous Greek and Latin references to the unstable political and military relationships between the Kushites and the Roman and Byzantine overlords of Egypt during the period between the 1st and 6th century CE.
l. John of Ephesus on the circumstances under which Christianity became the State religion of Nubia towards the middle of the 6th century CE.

12. The Kebra Nagast and the Book of Aksum on the traditional history of Ethiopia from the 14th century BCE until the 4th century CE.

13. Ethiopian traditions concerning Queen Makeda (c. 1005 – c.955 BCE) who is generally believed by the Ethiopians, and by many others, to have been ‘the Queen of Sheba’ of Biblical renown.

14. The text of a long historical inscription – commemorating the military exploits of a powerful, but unnamed Ethiopian warrior king – which was anciently inscribed on a great stele set up in the Ethiopian seaport –city of Adulis where it was seen and copied by Cosmas Indicopleustes in c. 530 CE but which has since disappeared, and is now known to us only through Cosmas’ copy.

15. Four long inscriptions on stone set up by the Aksumite king Ezana (c. 319 – c. 345 CE); the texts of three of these commemorate Ezana’s achievements while he was still a devotee of the ancestral religion, while the text of the fourth and last is an account of events which occurred after his acceptance of Christianity as the State religion of his empire.

Here are some excerpts taken from Hansberry’s article on a history of Aksumite Ethiopia:

“The ancient kingdom of Aksum, according to its own annals and other reliable testimony, transformed itself into a Christian state about the year A.D. 333, which was, it will be remembered, only about a decade after Christianity had been made the state religion of the Roman Empire.” (p. 3-4)

“The present kingdom of Ethiopia is history’s second oldest Christian state. For several centuries after it became a Christian nation, the kingdom of Axum shared with the Byzantine Empire universal renown as one of the two most powerful Christian states of the age; and, of the Christian sovereigns of that period, none deserved and enjoyed more than certain Axumite kings, a wider reputation as Defenders of the Faith.” (p. 4)

Although relationships between the Byzantine Empire and the Christian kingdoms of Ethiopian lands were rather close during the 4th, 5th and 6th centuries, the continued decline of European Civilization, as an aftermath of the barbarian invasions and the rise and expansion of Islam, put an end to such relationships for several hundred years.” (p. 4)

“In the time of the Crusades, relationships between the Ethiopian Christians and the European brothers of the same faith were, however, revived, and considering the great distance which separated them – remained exceptionally close until well down into early modern times.” (p. 4)

“During these centuries, the old kingdom of Aksum was more commonly known in European lands as the Empire of Prester John; and mutual intercourse between those widely separated parts of Christendom exercised a profoundly significant influence upon the course of world affairs that period. For it was out of European efforts, first, to re-establish, and then, to maintain, relationships with the Empire of Prester John, that arose those international developments which ultimately resulted in the discovery of America and the establishment of the ocean-route to Indies.” (p.4-5)

“Toward the end of the 18th Century, Edward Gibbon declared that Ethiopia in the Middle Ages was ‘a hermit empire’ which ‘slept for a thousand years, forgetful of the world by which it was forgot.’ As the proceeding review indicates, it is now known that this point of view is widely at variance with the historical facts; but is it quite true that, despite the significant part that Ethiopia long has played in mankind’s stirring and storied past, the world at large, at least in our own times, is singularly unfamiliar with the history of that ancient land.” (p. 5)

William Leo Hansberry’s life is a reflection of the struggle of African Americans to recover and reclaim their past. It is also an integral part of the rich intellectual tradition of the African Diaspora. It is a persistent attempt, in spite of the enormous difficulties, to construct and own one’s own historical memory. It is after all history that guides the present and the future. Hansberry charted a great tradition of intellectual discourse and community activism, which are still important attributes for the 21st century.

—–
Publisher’s Note: This article is well-referenced and those who seek the references should contact Professor Ayele Bekerie directly at: ab67@cornell.edu

About the Author:
Ayele Bekerie is an Associate Professor at the Department of History and Cultural Studies at Mekelle University. He was an Assistant Professor at the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University. Bekerie is a contributing author in the highly acclaimed book, “One House: The Battle of Adwa 1896 -100 Years.” He is also the author of the award-winning book “Ethiopic, An African Writing System: Its History and Principles” — among many other published works.

Historians See Parallels Between Lincoln and Obama

Above: Left: President Obama speaks during Lincoln
Bicentennial Celebration in Rotunda of US Capitol in Washington,
DC, 12 Feb 2009 (AFP Photo). Right: Abraham Lincoln, 1865
Alexander Gardner, Albumen silver print (National Portrait Gallery)

VOA
By Cindy Saine
Washington
12 February 2009

President Barack Obama has often said that one of his heroes is America’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.

President Obama has made no secret of his admiration for Abraham Lincoln, often invoking his name and his memory. Mr. Obama kicked off his presidential campaign two years ago at the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois where Mr. Lincoln gave his famous “House Divided” speech.

When Barack Obama took the oath of office last month, he put his hand on the same Bible Abraham Lincoln used to swear his oath.

Wednesday, Mr. Obama attended a performance at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where President Lincoln was assassinated in 1865. He told the crowd that even in the middle of the American Civil War, Lincoln insisted on finishing the U.S. Capitol building as a symbol of unity.

“It is this sense of unity that is so much a part of Lincoln’s legacy,” Mr. Obama said. “For despite all that divided us – north and south, black and white – he had an unyielding belief that we were, at heart, one nation, and one people.”

Acclaimed presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin says she believes Mr. Obama feels a genuine connection to Abraham Lincoln. Read More.

Ethiopia & Black America: The Forgotten Story of Melaku & Robinson

Ethiopian & African American Relations
The Case of Melaku E. Bayen and John Robinson

By Ayele Bekerie

Updated: Sunday, August 24, 2008

New York (Tadias) – In 1935, African Americans of all classes, regions, genders, and beliefs expressed their opposition to and outrage over the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in various forms and various means. The invasion aroused African Americans – from intellectuals to common people in the street – more than any other Pan-African-oriented historical events or movements had. It fired the imagination of African Americans and brought to the surface the organic link to their ancestral land and peoples.

The time was indeed a turning point in the relations between Ethiopia and the African Diaspora. Harris calls 1935 a watershed in the history of African peoples. It was a year when the relations substantively shifted from symbolic to actual interactions. The massive expression of support for the Ethiopian cause by African Americans has also contributed, in my opinion, to the re-Africanization of Ethiopia. This article attempts to examine the history of the relations between Ethiopians and African Americans by focusing on brief biographies of two great leaders, one from Ethiopia and another one from African America, who made extraordinary contributions to these relations.

It is fair to argue that the Italo-Ethiopian War in the 1930s was instrumental in the rebirth of the Pan-African movement. The African Diaspora was mobilized in support of the Ethiopian cause during both the war and the subsequent Italian occupation of Ethiopia. Italy’s brutal attempt to wipe out the symbol of freedom and hope to the African world ultimately became a powerful catalyst in the struggle against colonialism and oppression. The Italo-Ethiopian War brought about an extraordinary unification of African people’s political awareness and heightened level of political consciousness. Africans, African Americans, Afro-Caribbean’s, and other Diaspora and continental Africans from every social stratum were in union in their support of Ethiopia, bringing the establishment of “global Pan-Africanism.” The brutal aggression against Ethiopia made it clear to African people in the United States that the Europeans’ intent and purpose was to conquer, dominate, and exploit all African people. Mussolini’s disregard and outright contempt for the sovereignty of Ethiopia angered and reawakened the African world.

Response went beyond mere condemnation by demanding self-determination and independence for all colonized African people throughout the world. For instance, the 1900-1945 Pan-African Congresses regularly issued statements that emphasized a sense of solidarity with Haiti, Ethiopia, and Liberia, thereby affirming the importance of defending the sovereignty and independence of African and Afro-Caribbean states. A new generation of militant Pan-Africanists emerged who called for decolonization, elimination of racial discrimination in the United States, African unity, and political empowerment of African people.

One of the most significant Pan-Africanist Conferences took place in 1945, immediately after the defeat of the Italians in Ethiopia and the end of World War II. This conference passed resolutions clearly demanding the end of colonization in Africa, and the question of self-determination emerged as the most important issue of the time. As Mazrui and Tidy put it: “To a considerable extent the 1945 Congress was a natural outgrowth of Pan-African activity in Britain since the outbreak of the Italo-Ethiopian War.”

Another of the most remarkable outcomes of the reawakening of the African Diaspora was the emergence of so many outstanding leaders, among them the Ethiopian Melaku E. Bayen and the African American John Robinson. Other outstanding leaders were Willis N. Huggins, Arnold Josiah Ford, and Mignon Innis Ford, who were active against the war in both the United States and Ethiopia. Mignon Ford, the founder of Princess Zenebe Work School, did not even leave Ethiopia during the war. The Fords and other followers of Marcus Garvey settled in Ethiopia in the 1920s. Mignon Ford raised her family among Ethiopians as Ethiopians. Her children, fluent speakers of Amharic, have been at home both in Ethiopia and the United States.

Melaku E. Bayen: Pan-Africanists in Thoughts & Practice
beyan12.jpg
Melaku E. Bayen

Melaku E. Bayen, an Ethiopian, significantly contributed to the re-Africanization of Ethiopia. His noble dedication to the Pan-African cause and his activities in the United States helped to dispel the notion of “racial fog” that surrounded the Ethiopians. William R. Scott expounded on this: “Melaku Bayen was the first Ethiopian seriously and steadfastly to commit himself to achieving spiritual and physical bonds of fellowship between his people and peoples of African descent in the Americas. Melaku exerted himself to the fullest in attempting to bring about some kind of formal and continuing relationship designed to benefit both the Ethiopian and Afro-American.” To Scott, Bayen’s activities stand out as “the most prominent example of Ethiopian identification with African Americans and seriously challenges the multitude of claims which have been made now for a long time about the negative nature of Ethiopian attitudes toward African Americans.”

The issues raised by Scott and the exemplary Pan-Africanism of Melaku Bayen are useful in establishing respectful and meaningful relations between Ethiopia and the African Diaspora. They dedicated their entire lives in order to lay down the foundation for relations rooted in mutual understanding and historical facts, free of stereotypes and false perceptions. African American scholars, such as William Scott, Joseph E. Harris, and Leo Hansberry contributed immensely by documenting the thoughts and activities of Bayen, both in Ethiopia and the United States.

Melaku E. Bayen was raised and educated in the compound of Ras Mekonnen, then the Governor of Harar and the father of Emperor Haile Selassie. He was sent to India to study medicine in 1920 at the age of 21 with permission from Emperor Haile Selassie. Saddened by the untimely death of a young Ethiopian woman friend, who was also studying in India, he decided to leave India and continue his studies in the United States. In 1922, he enrolled at Marietta College, where he obtained his bachelor’s degree. He is believed to be the first Ethiopian to receive a college degree from the United Sates.

Melaku started his medical studies at Ohio State University in 1928, then, a year later, decided to transfer to Howard University in Washington D.C. in order to be close to Ethiopians who lived there. Melaku formally annulled his engagement to a daughter of the Ethiopian Foreign Minister and later married Dorothy Hadley, an African American and a great activist in her own right for the Ethiopian and pan-Africanist causes. Both in his married and intellectual life, Melaku wanted to create a new bond between Ethiopia and the African Diaspora.

Melaku obtained his medical degree from Howard University in 1936, at the height of the Italo-Ethiopian War. He immediately returned to Ethiopia with his wife and their son, Melaku E. Bayen, Jr. There, he joined the Ethiopian Red Cross and assisted the wounded on the Eastern Front. When the Italian Army captured Addis Ababa, Melaku’s family went to England and later to the United States to fully campaign for Ethiopia.

Schooled in Pan-African solidarity from a young age, Melaku co-founded the Ethiopian Research Council with the late Leo Hansberry in 1930, while he was student at Howard. According to Joseph Harris, the Council was regarded as the principal link between Ethiopians and African Americans in the early years of the Italo-Ethiopian conflict. The Council’s papers are housed at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University. At present, Professor Aster Mengesha of Arizona State University heads the Ethiopian Research Council. Leo Hansberry was the recipient of Emperor Haile Selassie’s Trust Foundation Prize in the 1960s.

Melaku founded and published the Voice of Ethiopia, the media organ of the Ethiopian World Federation and a pro-African newspaper that urged the “millions of the sons and daughters of Ethiopia, scattered throughout the world, to join hands with Ethiopians to save Ethiopia from the wolves of Europe.” Melaku founded the Ethiopian World Federation in 1937, and it eventually became one of the most important international organizations, with branches throughout the United States, the Caribbean, and Europe. The Caribbean branch helped to further solidify the ideological foundation for the Rasta Movement.

Melaku died at the age of forty from pneumonia he contracted while campaigning door-to-door for the Ethiopian cause in the United States. Melaku died in 1940, just a year before the defeat of the Italians in Ethiopia. His tireless and vigorous campaign, however, contributed to the demise of Italian colonial ambition in Ethiopia. Melaku strove to bring Ethiopia back into the African world. Melaku sewed the seeds for a “re-Africanization” of Ethiopia. Furthermore, Melaku was a model Pan-Africanist who brought the Ethiopian and African American people together through his exemplary work and his remarkable love and dedication to the African people.

Colonel John Robinson
colonerobinson1_inside1.jpg
Colonel John C. Robinson arrives in Chicago after heroically
leading the Ethiopian Air Force against the invading Mussolini’s
Italian forces.
(Ethiopiancrown.org)

Another heroic figure produced by the anti-war campaign was Colonel John Robinson. It is interesting to note that while Melaku conducted his campaign and died in the United States, the Chicago-born Robinson fought, lived, and died in Ethiopia.

When the Italo-Ethiopian War erupted, he left his family and went to Ethiopia to fight alongside the Ethiopians. According to William R. Scott, who conducted thorough research in documenting the life and accomplishments of John Robinson, wrote about Robinson’s ability to overcome racial barriers to go to an aviation school in the United States. In Ethiopia, Robinson served as a courier between Haile Selassie and his army commanders in the war zone. According to Scott, Robinson was the founder of the Ethiopian Air Force. He died in a plane crash in 1954.

Scott makes the following critical assessment of Robinson’s historical role in building ties between Ethiopia and the African Diaspora. I quote him in length: “Rarely, if ever, is there any mention of John Robinson’s role as Haile Selassie’s special courier during the Italo-Ethiopian conflict. He has been but all forgotten in Ethiopia as well as in Afro-America. [Former Ambassodor Brazeal mentioned his name at the planting of a tree to honor the African Diaspora in Addis Ababa.] Nonetheless, it is important to remember John Robinson, as one of the two Afro-Americans to serve in the Ethiopia campaign and the only one to be consistently exposed to the dangers of the war front.

Colonel Robinson stands out in Afro-America as perhaps the very first of the minute number of Black Americans to have ever taken up arms to defend the African homeland against the forces of imperialism.”

John Robinson set the standard in terms of goals and accomplishments that could be attained by Pan-Africanists. Through his activities, Robinson earned the trust and affection of both Ethiopians and African Americans. Like Melaku, he made concrete contributions to bring the two peoples together. He truly built a bridge of Pan African unity.

It is our hope that the youth of today learn from the examples set by Melaku and Robinson, and strive to build lasting and mutually beneficial relations between Ethiopia and the African Diaspora. The Ethiopian American community ought to empower itself by forging alliances with African Americans in places such as Washington D.C. We also urge the Ethiopian Government to, for now, at least name streets in Addis Ababa after Bayen and Robinson.

I would like to conclude with Melaku’s profound statement: “The philosophy of the Ethiopian World Federation is to instill in the minds of the Black people of the world that the word Black is not to be considered in any way dishonorable but rather an honor and dignity because of the past history of the race.”
—-

About the Author:
ayele_author.jpg
Ayele Bekerie was born in Ethiopia, and earned his Ph.D. in African American Studies at Temple University in 1994. He has written and published in scholarly journals, such as , ANKH: Journal of Egyptology and African Civilizations, Journal of Black Studies, The International Journal of Africana Studies, and Imhotep. He is an Assistant Professor at the Africana Studies and Research Center of Cornell University. He is a regular contributor to Tadias Magazine.

To further explore the history of Ethiopian & African American relations, consult the following texts:

• Joseph E. Harris’s African-American Reactions to War in Ethiopia 1936-1941(1994).

• William R. Scott’s The Sons of Sheba’s Race: African-Americans and the Italo- Ethiopian War, 1935-1941. (2005 reprint).

• Ayele Bekerie’s “African Americans and the Italo-Ethiopian War,” in Revisioning Italy: National Identity and Global Culture (1997).

• Melaku E. Bayen’s The March of Black Men (1939).

• David Talbot’s Contemporary Ethiopia (1952).



A Visitor from Ethiopia Discovers Harlem in 1931

By Jody Benjamin

Updated: Saturday, August 23, 2008

New York (Tadias) – ON A WINTER NIGHT IN 1931, as many Depression-era New Yorkers prepared for a lean Chanukah or Christmas, a room inside a residential building at 29 W. 131st Street, was filled with an expectant crowd.

Those gathered in the modest sanctuary of Harlem’s Commandment Keepers congregation were anticipating a special visitor from Ethiopia.

Just before 9 p.m., Taamrat Emmanuel walked into the room. A thin, bearded man in his early 40s, with eyes like deep wells, Emmanuel was a European-educated Beta Israel originally from Jenda, near Gondar Ethiopia. He had traveled far and wide advocating on behalf of his ethnic minority, which had maintained their Judaic beliefs for centuries in remote mountain areas. Now he found himself in the most important black cultural center, and the largest city, of the United States. The African-American and African-Caribbean congregation, led by rabbi Wentworth A Matthew, rose to its feet. A cornetist played the solemn anthem: Ethiopia, thou Land of Our Fathers. Its lyrics included lines like:

Ethiopia, thou land of our fathers
Thou land where the gods loved to be
As storm cloud at night suddenly gathers
Our armies come rushing to thee!

Although the song may have been unfamiliar to Emmanuel, it would have had special resonance for those who had come to see him. It was the anthem of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association and was sung at the start of each meeting. Many of Matthew’s congregation had also been members of the UNIA and held fast to its principles. Also, the song was written by Arnold Ford, a rabbi and musician well-known to the Hebrews, and Benjamin E. Burrell. Ford was a mentor to Matthew, who in turn would go on to be an eminent leader and institution-builder among black Hebrews, descendants of American and Caribbean slaves who believed Judaism to be their true faith.

cks_harlemnew.JPG
Above: Harlem’s Commandment Keepers congregation building.
Photo/Tadias

Emmanuel was escorted to a seat as Matthew extended him the warmest of fraternal greetings.

It may be difficult to imagine, from the perspective of the 21st century internet age, the magnitude of that moment to those present. In today’s multi-culti United States, black people from scattered parts of the world tend to wear their national or ethnic identities as shields, like protective armor designed to keep away “strangers” while scuffling toward the ever-elusive goal of the “American Dream.” Many regard the concept of Pan-Africanism as hopeless, even misguided, idealism.

Back then, however, steadfast Garveyites believed they were watching their dreams morph into reality before their very eyes. Each week seemed to bring ever more hopeful news.

The coronation of Haile Selassie had been widely covered in the United States, not only in publications such as Time Magazine, where Selassie was pictured on the cover, but in newsreels that were screened in movie houses nationwide as well as extensively in the black press.

For many blacks in this country, it was the first time they had ever heard an African country and leader spoken of reverentially or seen such pageantry associated with a free black nation. And because it was Ethiopia, a land with such a storied ancient past, they could glimpse the evidence that the propaganda which had been drummed into them for centuries – that Africa had no history worthy of respect – was simply not true.

The historian Rayford Logan described the impact the coronation was having on Americans unaccustomed to such images of Africa:

“When the pictures of the coronation…of Ras Tafari as joint leader with his aunt, Empress Zawditu of Abyssinia, flashed on the screen of a northern theater, one could distinctly sense the shock that disoriented the audience,’’ Logan wrote in the The Southern Workman.(1)

“These coronation pictures…did not conform to the usual behavior pattern. First of all, no white man was anywhere in evidence. Then, the new emperor was brown; his aunt was Negroid; their chiefs were Negroes; the army of 40,000 was black.”

At the very moment Emmanuel was in Harlem, rabbi Ford was in Ethiopia. He had traveled there a year before, in order to perform at the coronation of Haile Selassie. He also hoped to spot out the possibility of his followers to emigrate to the African country, then one of only two on the Continent not in the grasp of European colonial powers. After a series of setbacks and delays, he had finally managed to secure an offer of land and had sent back word for others from the Harlem community should join him.

Leaving Ethiopia at a Young Age
AS A TEENAGER, TAAMRAT EMMANUEL HAD BEEN PLUCKED FROM ETHIOPIA TO EUROPE by the Polish-born rabbi and scholar Jacques Faitlovich. In the late 19th century, British missionaries had converted Emmanuel’s parents from Judaism to Christianity. Faitlovich met the family in Asmara in 1905, after he had been traveling in Ethiopia to investigate the fate of Ethiopian Jews, or “Falasha” as they were then called. Faitlovich wanted to return so-called “lost” Ethiopian Jews into the larger Jewish fold, and so he reconverted the family back to Judaism.

Later, Faitlovich took two teenaged Ethiopians back with him to Europe: one was Getie Jeremias, the other was Emmanuel. Faitlovich’s aim was to educate the boys so that they might become leaders among their people back home. Their presence in Europe would also help to convince Western Jews to support their African brethren who had maintained a very ancient form of the religion.

Emmanuel stood out as the more promising of the two students.(2) He spent about two years in Marseilles, France before being sent to study a number of years in Florence, Italy, where he lived during the First World War.

After the war, Emmanuel returned to Addis Ababa where Faitlovich appointed him headmaster of a school set up to educate so-called “Falashas,” or Beta Israel. Emmanuel ran the school for a few years, despite a number of difficulties. Facilities were poor and students had to travel great distances to come to board there since most Beta Israel lived in rural areas far from the capital. Emmanuel hoped to build a school closer to a Beta Israel community near Gondar in northwestern Ethiopia. He was frustrated by the meager funds he received from Westerners to support his aims.

By the late 1920s, Faitlovich had begun to focus on getting help from Jews in the United States. He and Taamrat came to New York with the help of the American Jewish Pro-Falasha Committee, which had been arranging speaking engagements for them around town.

In New York, however, it was a time of great cultural ferment. Among other issues, two agendas were competing at the same time. Just as Faitlovich was trying to drum up interest among Jews to help return so-called “lost” Ethiopian Jews into the larger Jewish fold, many African descendants in this country were looking to the homeland of their ancestors as a possible refuge from the entrenched racism and severely limited opportunities they faced in the United States.

Once in New York, Emmanuel journeyed to Harlem where he met rabbi Ford in 1928 or 1929.(3) It is not clear whether Ford contributed financially to Emmanuel’s cause, but the encounter proved timely for Ford, solidifying his apparently growing desire to build concrete ties with Ethiopia.

That is because Emmanuel was but the latest of a number of Ethiopians who had been traveling to the US to get African descendants – especially skilled professionals — interested to help modernize Ethiopia. Others included Malaku Bayen, a medical student at Howard University, Kantiba Gabrou, a former mayor of Gondar and Warqnneh Martin, the distinguished physician and diplomat. It is believed that Ford first met Gabrou in Harlem in 1919, while Gabrou was visiting the US as part of an official friendship diplomatic delegation sent by Selassie after the First World War.

A decade later, not long after his encounter with Emmanuel, the Harlemite left for Africa.

beyan11.jpg
Above: Malaku Bayen, a medical student at Howard
University in the 1930′s. He is believed to be the first
Ethiopian to receive a college degree from the U.S.

Taamrat Emmanuel Addressed the Audience in French and West Africans Assisted as Interpreters.

All of this would have been known to many who came to listen to Emmanuel at the Commandment Keepers Congregation the night of December 23, 1931. A press statement written after the event notes that several native-born Africans, including some from French colonies, were in the audience. They were needed, it turned out, as translators because Emmanuel did not speak English. A bilingual man from French Guinea gave a short talk to the congregation about Africa, then translated for Emmanuel who addressed the audience in French.

“He assured [the audience] that he was the same as they and was very proud to be,’’ according to the statement, which is archived at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York.

Whether the Ethiopians and the black New Yorkers actually shared a common heritage had been a point of considerable controversy. This was true not only with regard to the Jewish question, but also among the larger community. So much so that popular black historian J.A. Rogers addressed the topic in his 1930 book, The Real Facts About Ethiopia, by attempting to reassure his American readers, “Ethiopia has always shown her friendliness to such Aframericans as have visited her.”

Among Matthew’s congregation, the controversy heated up considerably in the weeks just before Emmanuel’s talk. On December 2, The Amsterdam News ran a brief story that the local chairman of the American Pro-Falasha committee had publicly “denounced for the second time Harlem’s Negro adherents of the [Jewish] faith as fakes in a Jamaica [Long Island] meeting.”

In the article, Rabbi Matthew responded to the charge by Dr. Norman Salit with a challenge of his own saying that he was willing to debate the matter publicly.

“His statement that Harlem’s temples are a grotesque phenomena rising out of the mystic sensitivity of the Afro American played upon by charlatans is absolutely false,” Matthew said.

After his talk, an audience member asked Emmanuel about the issue. The controversy may have seemed strange to Emmanuel, unaccustomed as he must have been to the intricacies of American racial politics.

Under Faitlovich’s tutelage, he had been counseled against the development of any race consciousness or nationalist sentiment other than the brand of religious Zionism favored by Faitlovich, according to Shlomo Levy, Assistant Professor of History at Northampton Community College in Pennsylvania.

Yet Emmanuel, and Faitlovich’s other Ethiopian students, had their own ideas on the matter.

“As they traveled and read, they became aware of how the Western world viewed them and how their own leaders treated them,” said Levy.

Striking a balance between his identity as an Ethiopian and a Jew was an issue that would follow the Emmanuel throughout his life.

According to Levy, “Emmanuel’s struggle to find a balance between preserving a healthy respect for the traditions of the Beta Israel, while at the same time trying to forge a meaningful relationship with European Jewry, proved to be illusory.”

That night in 1931, however, the prospect of expanding ties between two disparate, far flung branches of Africa’s family might have seemed not only hopeful, but tangible. Emmanuel tried to play peacemaker.

“Mr. Salit is a friend,” Emmanuel said in response to the question, according to the press statement.

“But when [Salit] made the statement [I] was indeed surprised because he is sufficiently educated to know that he has neither historical nor biblical proof for his statement.”

The statement concluded by noting that Emmanuel: “begged that we drop the matter and forget about it.”


About the Author:
Jody Benjamin is an Associate Editor of the African American National Biography, to be published by Oxford University Press in 2008. He is working on a non-fiction book about the black Hebrews.

Sources:
1. Logan, Rayford W., Abyssinia Breaks into the Movies, The Southern Workman, August, 1929

2. Trevisan Semi, Emanuela, La correspondance de Taamrat Emmanuel: Intellectuel juif d’Ethiopie dans la premiere moitie du XX siecle, Torino : Editrice L’Harmattan Italia, 2000

3. Scott, William Randolph. The Sons of Sheba’s Race: African Americans and the Italo-Ethiopian War 1935-1941, Bloomington : Indiana University Press, c1993

Cover photo: Trevisan Semi, Emanuela, La correspondance de Taamrat Emmanuel: Intellectuel juif d’Ethiopie dans la premiere moitie du XX siecle, Torino: Editrice L’Harmattan Italia, 2000



Ethiopian & African American Relations: The Case of Melaku Bayen & John Robinson

Melaku Bayen (left) and Colonel John C. Robinson (right) arrives in Chicago after heroically leading the Ethiopian Air Force against the invading Mussolini’s Italian forces. (Wikimedia commons)

Tadias Magazine
By Ayele Bekerie, PhD

Published: Friday, August 22nd, 2008

New York (TADIAS) – In 1935, African Americans of all classes, regions, genders, and beliefs expressed their opposition to and outrage over the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in various forms and various means. The invasion aroused African Americans – from intellectuals to common people in the street – more than any other Pan-African-oriented historical events or movements had. It fired the imagination of African Americans and brought to the surface the organic link to their ancestral land and peoples.

The time was indeed a turning point in the relations between Ethiopia and the African Diaspora. Harris calls 1935 a watershed in the history of African peoples. It was a year when the relations substantively shifted from symbolic to actual interactions. The massive expression of support for the Ethiopian cause by African Americans has also contributed, in my opinion, to the re-Africanization of Ethiopia. This article attempts to examine the history of the relations between Ethiopians and African Americans by focusing on brief biographies of two great leaders, one from Ethiopia and another one from African America, who made extraordinary contributions to these relations.

It is fair to argue that the Italo-Ethiopian War in the 1930s was instrumental in the rebirth of the Pan-African movement. The African Diaspora was mobilized in support of the Ethiopian cause during both the war and the subsequent Italian occupation of Ethiopia. Italy’s brutal attempt to wipe out the symbol of freedom and hope to the African world ultimately became a powerful catalyst in the struggle against colonialism and oppression. The Italo-Ethiopian War brought about an extraordinary unification of African people’s political awareness and heightened level of political consciousness. Africans, African Americans, Afro-Caribbean’s, and other Diaspora and continental Africans from every social stratum were in union in their support of Ethiopia, bringing the establishment of “global Pan-Africanism.” The brutal aggression against Ethiopia made it clear to African people in the United States that the Europeans’ intent and purpose was to conquer, dominate, and exploit all African people. Mussolini’s disregard and outright contempt for the sovereignty of Ethiopia angered and reawakened the African world.

Response went beyond mere condemnation by demanding self-determination and independence for all colonized African people throughout the world. For instance, the 1900-1945 Pan-African Congresses regularly issued statements that emphasized a sense of solidarity with Haiti, Ethiopia, and Liberia, thereby affirming the importance of defending the sovereignty and independence of African and Afro-Caribbean states. A new generation of militant Pan-Africanists emerged who called for decolonization, elimination of racial discrimination in the United States, African unity, and political empowerment of African people.

One of the most significant Pan-Africanist Conferences took place in 1945, immediately after the defeat of the Italians in Ethiopia and the end of World War II. This conference passed resolutions clearly demanding the end of colonization in Africa, and the question of self-determination emerged as the most important issue of the time. As Mazrui and Tidy put it: “To a considerable extent the 1945 Congress was a natural outgrowth of Pan-African activity in Britain since the outbreak of the Italo-Ethiopian War.”

Another of the most remarkable outcomes of the reawakening of the African Diaspora was the emergence of so many outstanding leaders, among them the Ethiopian Melaku E. Bayen and the African American John Robinson. Other outstanding leaders were Willis N. Huggins, Arnold Josiah Ford, and Mignon Innis Ford, who were active against the war in both the United States and Ethiopia. Mignon Ford, the founder of Princess Zenebe Work School, did not even leave Ethiopia during the war. The Fords and other followers of Marcus Garvey settled in Ethiopia in the 1920s. Mignon Ford raised her family among Ethiopians as Ethiopians. Her children, fluent speakers of Amharic, have been at home both in Ethiopia and the United States.

Melaku E. Bayen: Pan-Africanists in Thoughts & Practice

Melaku E. Bayen

Melaku E. Bayen, an Ethiopian, significantly contributed to the re-Africanization of Ethiopia. His noble dedication to the Pan-African cause and his activities in the United States helped to dispel the notion of “racial fog” that surrounded the Ethiopians. William R. Scott expounded on this: “Melaku Bayen was the first Ethiopian seriously and steadfastly to commit himself to achieving spiritual and physical bonds of fellowship between his people and peoples of African descent in the Americas. Melaku exerted himself to the fullest in attempting to bring about some kind of formal and continuing relationship designed to benefit both the Ethiopian and Afro-American.” To Scott, Bayen’s activities stand out as “the most prominent example of Ethiopian identification with African Americans and seriously challenges the multitude of claims which have been made now for a long time about the negative nature of Ethiopian attitudes toward African Americans.”

The issues raised by Scott and the exemplary Pan-Africanism of Melaku Bayen are useful in establishing respectful and meaningful relations between Ethiopia and the African Diaspora. They dedicated their entire lives in order to lay down the foundation for relations rooted in mutual understanding and historical facts, free of stereotypes and false perceptions. African American scholars, such as William Scott, Joseph E. Harris, and Leo Hansberry contributed immensely by documenting the thoughts and activities of Bayen, both in Ethiopia and the United States.

Melaku E. Bayen was raised and educated in the compound of Ras Mekonnen, then the Governor of Harar and the father of Emperor Haile Selassie. He was sent to India to study medicine in 1920 at the age of 21 with permission from Emperor Haile Selassie. Saddened by the untimely death of a young Ethiopian woman friend, who was also studying in India, he decided to leave India and continue his studies in the United States. In 1922, he enrolled at Marietta College, where he obtained his bachelor’s degree. He is believed to be the first Ethiopian to receive a college degree from the United Sates.

Melaku started his medical studies at Ohio State University in 1928, then, a year later, decided to transfer to Howard University in Washington D.C. in order to be close to Ethiopians who lived there. Melaku formally annulled his engagement to a daughter of the Ethiopian Foreign Minister and later married Dorothy Hadley, an African American and a great activist in her own right for the Ethiopian and pan-Africanist causes. Both in his married and intellectual life, Melaku wanted to create a new bond between Ethiopia and the African Diaspora.

Melaku obtained his medical degree from Howard University in 1936, at the height of the Italo-Ethiopian War. He immediately returned to Ethiopia with his wife and their son, Melaku E. Bayen, Jr. There, he joined the Ethiopian Red Cross and assisted the wounded on the Eastern Front. When the Italian Army captured Addis Ababa, Melaku’s family went to England and later to the United States to fully campaign for Ethiopia.

Schooled in Pan-African solidarity from a young age, Melaku co-founded the Ethiopian Research Council with the late Leo Hansberry in 1930, while he was student at Howard. According to Joseph Harris, the Council was regarded as the principal link between Ethiopians and African Americans in the early years of the Italo-Ethiopian conflict. The Council’s papers are housed at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University. At present, Professor Aster Mengesha of Arizona State University heads the Ethiopian Research Council. Leo Hansberry was the recipient of Emperor Haile Selassie’s Trust Foundation Prize in the 1960s.

Melaku founded and published the Voice of Ethiopia, the media organ of the Ethiopian World Federation and a pro-African newspaper that urged the “millions of the sons and daughters of Ethiopia, scattered throughout the world, to join hands with Ethiopians to save Ethiopia from the wolves of Europe.” Melaku founded the Ethiopian World Federation in 1937, and it eventually became one of the most important international organizations, with branches throughout the United States, the Caribbean, and Europe. The Caribbean branch helped to further solidify the ideological foundation for the Rasta Movement.

Melaku died at the age of forty from pneumonia he contracted while campaigning door-to-door for the Ethiopian cause in the United States. Melaku died in 1940, just a year before the defeat of the Italians in Ethiopia. His tireless and vigorous campaign, however, contributed to the demise of Italian colonial ambition in Ethiopia. Melaku strove to bring Ethiopia back into the African world. Melaku sewed the seeds for a “re-Africanization” of Ethiopia. Furthermore, Melaku was a model Pan-Africanist who brought the Ethiopian and African American people together through his exemplary work and his remarkable love and dedication to the African people.

Colonel John Robinson

Colonel John C. Robinson

Another heroic figure produced by the anti-war campaign was Colonel John Robinson. It is interesting to note that while Melaku conducted his campaign and died in the United States, the Chicago-born Robinson fought, lived, and died in Ethiopia.

When the Italo-Ethiopian War erupted, he left his family and went to Ethiopia to fight alongside the Ethiopians. According to William R. Scott, who conducted thorough research in documenting the life and accomplishments of John Robinson, wrote about Robinson’s ability to overcome racial barriers to go to an aviation school in the United States. In Ethiopia, Robinson served as a courier between Haile Selassie and his army commanders in the war zone. According to Scott, Robinson was the founder of the Ethiopian Air Force. He died in a plane crash in 1954.

Scott makes the following critical assessment of Robinson’s historical role in building ties between Ethiopia and the African Diaspora. I quote him in length: “Rarely, if ever, is there any mention of John Robinson’s role as Haile Selassie’s special courier during the Italo-Ethiopian conflict. He has been but all forgotten in Ethiopia as well as in Afro-America. Nonetheless, it is important to remember John Robinson, as one of the two Afro-Americans to serve in the Ethiopia campaign and the only one to be consistently exposed to the dangers of the war front.

Colonel Robinson stands out in Afro-America as perhaps the very first of the minute number of Black Americans to have ever taken up arms to defend the African homeland against the forces of imperialism.”

John Robinson set the standard in terms of goals and accomplishments that could be attained by Pan-Africanists. Through his activities, Robinson earned the trust and affection of both Ethiopians and African Americans. Like Melaku, he made concrete contributions to bring the two peoples together. He truly built a bridge of Pan African unity.

It is our hope that the youth of today learn from the examples set by Melaku and Robinson, and strive to build lasting and mutually beneficial relations between Ethiopia and the African Diaspora. The Ethiopian American community ought to empower itself by forging alliances with African Americans in places such as Washington D.C. We also urge the Ethiopian Government to, for now, at least name streets in Addis Ababa after Bayen and Robinson.

I would like to conclude with Melaku’s profound statement: “The philosophy of the Ethiopian World Federation is to instill in the minds of the Black people of the world that the word Black is not to be considered in any way dishonorable but rather an honor and dignity because of the past history of the race.”

—-
To further explore the history of Ethiopian & African American relations, consult the following texts:

• Joseph E. Harris’s African-American Reactions to War in Ethiopia 1936-1941(1994).

• William R. Scott’s The Sons of Sheba’s Race: African-Americans and the Italo- Ethiopian War, 1935-1941. (2005 reprint).

• Ayele Bekerie’s “African Americans and the Italo-Ethiopian War,” in Revisioning Italy: National Identity and Global Culture (1997).

• Melaku E. Bayen’s The March of Black Men (1939).

• David Talbot’s Contemporary Ethiopia (1952).

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Queens, Spies, and Servants: A History of Ethiopian Women in Military Affairs

Above: These female war veterans are pictured in Addis
Ababa’s Menelik Square in 1973 at a ceremony to commemorate
an early victory against the Italians. Photo by Shemelis Desta
(BBC)

By Tseday Alehegn

Chronicles of war and military prowess are plentiful in Ethiopia’s historical literature. Growing up we are effortlessly taught the virtues of honor and duty, which have bestowed sovereignty to generation after generation of Ethiopians. Countless retelling of tales depicting the early and decisive victory at the battle of Adwa remain ever fresh in our proud minds and hearts; the feeling only to be outdone by the resoluteness of heroes who ended the Italian occupation of Ethiopia during the Second World War. Indeed, it is as the 17th century writer Almeida wrote of us: “In war they are reared as children, in war they grow old, or the life of all who are not farmers is war.”

The emphasis on military virtues becomes more palpable when we recognize the unique manner in which Ethiopians chose to fight off their external enemies. From earliest times, both women and men were encouraged to participate in mobilization and preparation efforts. Depicting the atmosphere during the battle of Adwa in 1896, historian G.F. Berkeley observes how the Ethiopian army was not merely organized as a segment of the population, but rather as an entire collective that had integrated the occurrence of war into its normal day-to-day activities. He points out, “It’s not an army [it is] an invasion, the transplanting of the whole people.” No one was left behind. While men served as soldiers they brought along with them their wives who in turn became involved either as civilian participants or as military combatants. What rights, titles, honors men claimed for their valor women were able to do the same.

Females were traditionally not allowed to inherit land unless the father died before the daughter married or there were no sons in the family. However, women would be able to claim property after serving in military mobilization efforts. In an uncommon way, the ability of women to participate on the warfront initiated change to their otherwise lower societal status. Not all participation in war, however, was voluntary as is clearly depicted in the following 19th century edict by the leader Ras Gugsa: “One who does not join the army of Gugsa, man and woman, will lose his genital and her breast respectively.”

Historians have estimated that an average of 20,000 to 30,000 women have participated in the campaign of Adwa alone. While the majority served in non-violent chores such as food preparation and nursing of the wounded, a significant portion served as soldiers, strategists, advisors, translators, and intelligence officers. Women from the aristocracy worked alongside maids and servants thereby breaking norms in class separation.

Female Military Strategists & Combatants:

At a time when women in most parts of the world were relegated to household chores, the number of Ethiopian women in the late 17th century participating in war expeditions against foreign aggressors was on the rise. Whereas most war decrees at this time encouraged all Ethiopians to fight occupation attempts, in 1691 Emperor Iyasu issued one of the first proclamations to curtail the rapid growth of women soldiers. The chronicles report:

“The king had the herald proclaim that the girls of the country must not ride
astride mules, because at this time these girls had adopted the practice of doing
so, tightening the belts of their shirts, covering their heads with their shammas and holding a long spear in their hand..marching in expeditions like men.”

Queen Yodit is one of the earliest-mentioned Ethiopian female leaders who fought spiritedly in battles. She successfully overthrew the powerful Aksumite kingdom, but because many churches and historically important sites were destroyed in the process her reign is infamously described as the dark era. Between 1464 and 1468, under the leadership of King Zere Yaqob, women’s expansion into political positions became more evident. Historian Richard Pankhurst notes how Zere Yaqob “established a women’s administration by appointing his daughters and relatives to key provinces.”

King Zere Yaqob’s wife, Queen Eleni, was an equally formidable and astute military strategist, and was largely responsible for the arrival in 1520 of the Portuguese as one of the first diplomatic missions. Predicting the appetite of Turks in invading Ethiopia’s coastline she proposed a joint attack strategy to the Portuguese leadership against the Egyptians and the Ottoman Turks. Sylvia Pankhurst records her letter to the Portuguese summoning a coalition. Queen Eleni is to have written:

“We have heard that the Sultan of Cairo assembles a great army to attack
your forces…against the assault of such enemies we are prepared to send
a good number of men-at-arms who will give assistance in the sea bound
areas…If you wish to arm a thousand warship we will provide the necessary
food and furnish you with everything for such a force in very great abundance.”

The Turks were soundly defeated. Years later Queen Seble Wongel was able to draw on the help of the Portuguese in defeating Ahmed Gragn’s muslim expansion into Ethiopia. In February 1543 her army fought at the battle of Woina Dega where Gragn succumbed to his death.

Harold Marcus documents Queen Worqitu’s history as the warrior queen who helped Menelik gain his crown. In 1865 Queen Worqitu of Wollo granted Menelik a safe route through her territory as the future monarch successfully escaped from King Tewodros’ prison.

The effect of her support in aiding Menelik to power is recorded in Ethiopia’s ensuing transformation from a ‘land of kings’ to a nation ruled by a ‘king of kings.’

Perhaps the most famous queen involved in military affairs is Empress Taitu, wife of Emperor Menelik II. In the battle of Adwa Empress Taitu is said to have commanded an infantry of no less than 5,000 along with 600 cavalry men and accompanied by thousands of Ethiopian women. Her strategy to cut off the invading Italian army’s water supply led to the weakening of the enemies warfront.

Following her example, Itege Menen avidly participated in battles taking places during the ‘Era of the Princes.’ Fighting against the incursion of the Egyptians, she is said to have had 20,000 soldiers under her command. Likewise, during the Italo-Ethiopian occupation, Princess Romanworq Haile Selassie upheld the tradition of women going to the battlefront and she fought alongside her husband.

Intelligence Officers, Advisors, and Translators:

Intelligence work was key in Ethiopia’s gaining the upper hand against fascist Italy and here too women played a significant role in information gathering. Through the establishment of the Central Committee of ‘Wust Arbegnoch’ (Inner Patriots) women members helped provide soldiers with intelligence information as well as arms, ammunition, food, clothing, and medicine. Sylvia Pankhurst also records how the female patriot Shewa Regged had organized an elite Ethiopian intelligence service to gather more arms while leading the Ethiopian guerilla fighters to the locale of Addis Alem to defeat an Italian fortification. Pankhurst recounts Shewa Regged’s resilience in her biography as follows:

“She was captured by the Italians and tortured by them with electricity to compel her to disclose her accomplices; despite all their cruelties, she preserved silence.”

Queen Taitu’s role as advisor is also well known. In depicting the wariness and foresight of Queen Taitu, historian R. Greenfield records her advise to Emperor Menelik and his cabinet regarding the Italian encroachment. She warns:

“Yield nothing. What you give away today will be a future ladder against your
fortress and tomorrow the Italians will come up it into your domains. If you
must lose lands lose them at least with your strong right arms.”

Her dedication and subsequent victory in preserving Ethiopia’s sovereignty won her the title “Berhane ZeEthiopia” (Light of Ethiopia). Her official seal bore this distinguished title.

In the role of translator, Princess Tsehay Haile Selassie served her country by accompanying the Emperor to the League of Nations and aiding in Ethiopia’s call for support from the International Community. The Plea falling on deaf ears the League soon dissolved as the Italians persisted on invading the last free African stronghold. Plunged into war, Empress Menen is to have asserted “Women of the world unite. Demand with one voice that we may be spared the honor of this useless bloodshed!”

Non-Combatant Efforts:

The role of women in Ethiopian military history will remain largely untold if their work as non-combatants is not recalled. It is in this position that the majority of women of the lower class contributed in strengthening Ethiopia’s defense. While some uplifted the morale of the fighting contingent through popular battle songs and poetry, others labored for the daily nourishment and overall well-being of the soldiers. The record of Ethiopia’s long-standing independence will be incomplete without the recognition of thousands of women servants who accompanied women and menfolk of the aristocracy in battle after battle. Maids and servants were responsible for the gathering and preparation of food and other administrative roles. The traveler and writer James Bruce stresses the diligence of these women during war expeditions. He writes in earnest:

“I know of no country where the female works so hard… seldom resting
till late at night, even at midnight grinding, and frequently up before
cockcrow. Tired from the march, no matter how late, water must be brought,
fuel collected, supper prepared by the soldiers’ wife…and before daylight, with
a huge load, she must march again.”

When not involved in presiding over day-to-day affairs women helped out in the clearing of roads, digging of trenches, and nursing of the wounded. In the same spirit, during the Italo-Ethiopian war, Princess Tsehay Haile Selassie helped mobilize women of all classes in efforts to provide gas masks, clothes, rations and bandages to the civilian population to protect against frequent Italian air raids and mustard gas attacks.

In commemoration of the anniversary of the Battle of Adwa, it is appropriate to recognize the achievements of Ethiopia’s women who helped in the creation of a one-of-a-kind defense system, which has successfully deterred foreign aggression not for a few years, but for thousands.

Publisher’s Note: This article is well-referenced and those who seek the references should contact Tseday Alehegn directly at: tseday@tadias.com

About the Author:
tseday_author.JPG
Tseday Alehegn is the Editor-in-Chief of Tadias Magazine. Tseday is a graduate of Stanford University (both B.A. & M.A.). In addition to her responsibilities at Tadias, she is also a Doctoral student at Columbia University.

Harlem: African American and Ethiopian Relations

Jazz great Duke Ellington toasts with Emperor Haile Selassie after receiving Ethiopia's Medal of Honor in 1973. (Photo: Ethiopiancrown.org)

Tadias Magazine

By Tseday Alehegn

New York (TADIAS) – Ethiopia stands as the oldest, continuous, black civilization on earth, and the second oldest civilization in history after China. This home of mine has been immortalized in fables, legends, and epics. Homer’s Illiad, Aristotle’s A Treatise on Government, Miguel Cervante’s Don Quixote, the Bible, the Koran, and the Torah are but a few potent examples of Ethiopia’s popularity in literature. But it is in studying the historical relations between African Americans and Ethiopians that I came to understand ‘ Ethiopia’ as a ray of light. Like the sun, Ethiopia has spread its beams on black nations across the globe. Her history is carefully preserved in dust-ridden books, in library corners and research centers. Her beauty is caught by a photographer’s discerning eye, her spirituality revived by priests and preachers. Ultimately, however, it is the oral journals of our elders that helped me capture glitters of wisdom that would palliate my thirst for a panoptic and definitive knowledge.

The term ‘Ethiopian’ has been used in a myriad of ways; it is attributed to the indigenous inhabitants of the land located in the Eastern Horn of Africa, as well as more generally denotive of individuals of African descent. Indeed, at one time, the body of water now known as the Atlantic Ocean was known as the Ethiopian Ocean. And it was across this very ocean that the ancestors of African Americans were brought to America and the ‘ New World.’

Early African American Writers

Although physically separated from their ancestral homeland and amidst the opprobrious shackles of slavery, African American poets, writers, abolitionists, and politicians persisted in forging a collective identity, seeking to link themselves figuratively if not literally to the African continent. One of the first published African American writers, Phillis Wheatly, sought refuge in referring to herself as an “Ethiop”. Wheatley, an outspoken poet, was also one of the earliest voices of the anti-slavery movement, and often wrote to newspapers of her passion for freedom. She eloquently asserted, “In every human breast God has implanted a principle, it is impatient of oppression.” In 1834 another anti-slavery poet, William Stanley Roscoe, published his poem “The Ethiop” recounting the tale of an African fighter ending the reign of slavery in the Caribbean. Paul Dunbar’s notable “Ode to Ethiopia,” published in 1896, was eventually put to music by William Grant Still and performed in 1930 by the Afro-American Symphony. In his fiery anti-slavery speech entitled “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” prominent black leader Frederick Douglas blazed at his opponents, “Africa must rise and put on her yet unwoven garment. Ethiopia shall stretch out her hand unto God.”

First Ethiopians Travel to America

As African Americans fixed their gaze on Ethiopia, Ethiopians also traveled to the ‘New World’ and learned of the African presence in the Americas. In 1808 merchants from Ethiopia arrived at New York’s famous Wall Street. While attempting to attend church services at the First Baptist Church of New York, the Ethiopian merchants, along with their African American colleagues, experienced the ongoing routine of racial discrimination. As an act of defiance against segregation in a house of worship, African Americans and Ethiopians organized their own church on Worth Street in Lower Manhattan and named it Abyssinia Baptist Church. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. served as the first preacher, and new building was later purchased on Waverly Place in the West Village before the church was moved to its current location in Harlem. Scholar Fikru Negash Gebrekidan likewise notes that, along with such literal acts of rebellion, anti slavery leaders Robert Alexander Young and David Walker published pamphlets entitled Ethiopian Manifesto and Appeal in 1829 in an effort to galvanize blacks to rise against their slave masters.


Reverend Dr. Calvin O. Butts, III, current head of the Abyssinia Baptist Church in Harlem, led a delegation of 150 to Ethiopia in 2007 as part of the church’s bicentennial celebration. (Photo: At Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, New York on Sunday, November 4, 2007/Tadias)

Adwa Victory & ‘Back to Africa’ Movement

When Italian colonialists encroached on Ethiopian territory and were soundly defeated in the Battle of Adwa on March 1, 1896, it became the first African victory over a European colonial power, and the victory resounded loud and clear among compatriots of the black diaspora. “For the oppressed masses Adwa…would become a cause célèbre,” writes Gebrekidan, “a metaphor for racial pride and anti-colonial defiance, living proof that skin color or hair texture bore no significance on intellect and character.” Soon, African Americans and blacks from the Caribbean Islands began to make their way to Ethiopia. In 1903, accompanied by Haitian poet and traveler Benito Sylvain, an affluent African American business magnate by the name of William Henry Ellis arrived in Ethiopia to greet and make acquaintances with Emperor Menelik. A prominent physician from the West Indies, Dr. Joseph Vitalien, also journeyed to Ethiopia and eventually became Menelik’s trusted personal physician.

For black America, the early 1900s was a time consumed with the notion of “returning to Africa,” to the source. With physical proof of the beginnings of colonial demise, a charismatic and savvy Jamaican immigrant and businessman named Marcus Garvey established his grassroots organization in 1917 under the title United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) with branches in various states. Using the success of Ethiopia’s independence as a beacon of freedom for blacks residing in the Americas, Garvey envisioned a shipping business that would raise enough money and register members to volunteer to be repatriated to Africa. In a few years time, Garvey’s UNIA raised approximately ten million dollars and boasted an impressive membership of half a million individuals.

Notable civil rights leader Malcolm X began his autobiography by mentioning his father, Reverend Earl Little, as a staunch supporter of the UNIA. “It was only me that he sometimes took with him to the Garvey U.N.I.A. meetings which he held quietly in different people’s homes,” says Malcolm. “I can remember hearing of ‘ Africa for the Africans,’ ‘Ethiopians, Awake!’” Malcolm’s early association with Garvey’s pan-African message resonated with him as he schooled himself in reading, writing, and history. “I can remember accurately the very first set of books that really impressed me,” Malcolm professes, “J.A. Rogers’ three volumes told about Aesop being a black man who told fables; about the great Coptic Christian Empires; about Ethiopia, the earth’s oldest continuous black civilization.”

By the time the Ethiopian government had decided to send its first official diplomatic mission to the United States in 1919, Marcus Garvey had already emblazoned an image of Ethiopia into the minds and hearts of his African American supporters. “I see a great ray of light and the bursting of a mighty political cloud which will bring you complete freedom,” he promised them, and they in turn eagerly propagated his message.

The Harlem Renaissance & Emigrating to Ethiopia


A headline by the Chicago Defender announcing the arrival of the first Ethiopian diplomatic delegation to the United States on July 11, 1919.

In 1919 an official Ethiopian goodwill mission was sent to the United States, the first African delegation of diplomats, in hopes of creating amicable ties with the American people and government. The four-person delegation included Dadjazmatch Nadou, Ato Belanghetta Herouy Wolde Selassie, Kantiba Gabrou, and Ato Sinkas. Having been acquainted with African Americans such as businessman William Ellis, Kantiba Gabrou, the mayor of Gondar, made a formal appeal during his trip for African Americans to emigrate to Ethiopia. Arnold Josiah Ford, a Harlem resident from Barbados, had an opportunity to meet the 1919 Ethiopian delegation. Having already heard of the existence of black Jews in Ethiopia, Ford established his own synagogue for the black community soon after meeting the Ethiopian delegation. Along with a Nigerian-born bishop named Arthur Wentworth Matthews, Ford created the Commandment Keepers Church on 123rd Street in Harlem and taught the congregation about the existence of black Jews in Ethiopia. Meanwhile, in the international spotlight, 1919 was the year the League of Nations was created, of which Ethiopia became the first member from the African continent. The mid 1900s gave birth to the Harlem Renaissance. With many African Americans migrating to the north in search of a segregation-free life, and a large contention of black writers, actors, artists and singers gathering in places like Harlem, a new culture of black artistic expression thrived. Even so, the Harlem Renaissance was more than just a time of literary discussions and hot jazz; it represented a confluence of creativity summoning forth the humanity and pride of blacks in America – a counterculture subverting the grain of thought ‘separate and unequal.’


Commandment Keepers Synagogue. (Photography by Chester Higgins. ©chesterhiggins.com)

As in earlier times, the terms ‘Ethiopian’ and ‘Ethiop’ continued to be utilized by Harlem writers and poets to instill black pride. In other U.S. cities like Chicago, actors calling themselves the ‘National Ethiopian Art Players’ performed The Chip Woman’s Fortune by Willis Richardson, the first serious play by a black writer to hit Broadway.

In 1927, Ethiopia’s Ambassador to London, Azaj Workneh Martin, arrived in New York and appealed once again for African American professionals to emigrate and work in Ethiopia. In return they were promised free land and high wages. In 1931 the Emperor granted eight hundred acres for settlement by African Americans, and Arnold Josiah Ford, bishop of the Commandment Keepers Church, became one of the first to accept the invitation. Along with sixty-six other individuals, Ford emigrated and started life anew in Ethiopia.

Ethiopian Students in America: Mobilizing Support

In November 1930, Haile Selassie was coronated as Emperor of Ethiopia. The event blared on radios, and Harlemites heard and marveled at the ceremonies of an African king. The emperor’s face glossed the cover of Time Magazine, which remarked on black news outlets in America hailing the king “as their own.” African American pilot Hubert Julian, dubbed “The Black Eagle of Harlem,” had visited Ethiopia and attended the coronation. Describing the momentous occasion to Time Magazine, Hubert rhapsodized:

“When I arrived in Ethiopia the King was glad to see me… I took off with a French pilot… We climbed to 5,000 ft. as 50,000 people cheered, and then I jumped out and tugged open my parachute… I floated down to within 40 ft. of the King, who incidentally is the greatest of all modern rulers… He rushed up and pinned the highest medal given in that country on my breast, made me a colonel and the leader of his air force — and here I am!”

Joel Augustus Rogers, famed author and correspondent for New York’s black newspaper Amsterdam News, also covered the Coronation of Haile Selassie and was likewise presented with a coronation medal.

After his official coronation, Emperor Haile Selassie sent forth the first wave of Ethiopian students to continue their education abroad. Melaku Beyan was a member of the primary batch of students sent to America in the 1930s. He attended Ohio State University and later received his medical degree at Howard Medical School in Washington, D.C. During his schooling years at Howard, he forged lasting friendships with members of the black community and, at Emperor Haile Selassie’s request, he endeavored to enlist African American professionals to work in Ethiopia. Beyan was successful in recruiting several individuals, including teachers Joseph Hall and William Jackson, as well as physicians Dr. John West and Dr. Reuben S. Young, the latter of whom began a private practice in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, prior to his official assignment as a municipal health officer in Dire Dawa.

african_americans_professionals1.jpg
African American professionals in Addis Ababa – 1942. Kneeling, left to right: Andrew
Howard Hester, Edward Eugene Jones, Edgar E. Love. Standing, left to right: David Talbot, Thurlow
Evan Tibbs, James William Cheeks, the Reverend Mr. Hamilton, John Robinson, Edgar D. Draper

(Photo: Crown Council of Ethiopia)

Italo-Ethiopian War 1935-1941

beyan1.jpg
Melaku Beyan

By the mid 1930s the Emperor had sent a second diplomatic mission to the U.S. Vexed at Italy’s consistently aggressive behavior towards his nation, Haile Selassie attempted to forge stronger ties with America. Despite being a member of the League of Nations, Italy disregarded international law and invaded Ethiopia in 1935. The Ethiopian government appealed for support at the League of Nations and elsewhere, through representatives such as the young, charismatic speaker Melaku Beyan in the United States. Beyan had married an African American activist, Dorothy Hadley, and together they created a newspaper called Voice of Ethiopia to simultaneously denounce Jim Crow in America and fascist invasion in Ethiopia. Joel Rogers, the correspondent who had previously attended the Emperor’s coronation, returned to Ethiopia as a war correspondent for The Pittsburgh Courier, then America’s most widely-circulated black newspaper. Upon returning to the United States a year later, he published a pamphlet entitled The Real Facts About Ethiopia, a scathing and uncompromising report on the destruction caused by Italian troops in Ethiopia. Melaku Beyan used the pamphlet in his speaking tours, while his wife Dorothy designed and passed out pins that read “Save Ethiopia.”

In Harlem, Chicago, and various other cities African American churches urged their members to speak out against the invasion. Beyan established at least 28 branches of the newly-formed Ethiopian World Federation, an organ of resistance calling on Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia throughout the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. News of Ethiopia’s plight fueled indignation and furious debates among African Americans. Touched by the Emperor’s speech at the League of Nations, Roger’s accounts, and Melaku’s impassioned message, blacks vowed to support Ethiopia. Still others wrote letters to Haile Selassie, some giving advice, others support and commentary. “I pray that you will deliver yourself from crucifixion,” wrote one black woman from Los Angeles, “and show the whites that they are not as civilized as they loudly assert themselves to be.”

Although the United States was not officially in support of Ethiopia, scores of African Americans attempted to enlist to fight in Ethiopia. Unable to legally succeed on this front, several individuals traveled to Ethiopia on ‘humanitarian’ grounds. Author Gail Lumet Buckley cites two African American pilots, John Robinson and the ‘Black Eagle of Harlem’ Hubert Julian, who joined the Ethiopian Air Force, then made up of only three non-combat planes. John Robinson, a member of the first group of black students that entered Curtis Wright Flight School, flew his plane delivering medical supplies to different towns across the country. Blacks in America continued to stand behind the Emperor and organized medical supply drives from New York’s Harlem Hospital. Melaku Beyan and his African American counterparts remained undeterred for the remainder of Ethiopia’s struggle against fascism. In 1940, a year before Ethiopia’s victory against Italy, Melaku Beyan succumbed to pneumonia, which he had caught while walking door-to-door in the peak of winter, speaking boldly about the war for freedom in Ethiopia.

colonerobinson1_inside.jpg
Above: Colonel John C. Robinson arrives in Chicago after heroically
leading the Ethiopian Air Force against the invading Mussolini’s
Italian forces.
(Photo via Ethiopiancrown.org)

Lasting Legacies: Ties That Bind

Traveling through Harlem in my mind’s eye, I see the mighty organs of resistance that played such a pivotal role in “keeping aloft” the banner of Ethiopia and fostering deep friendships among blacks in Africa and America. I envision the doors Melaku Beyan knocked on as he passed out pamphlets; the pulpits on street corners where Malcolm X stood preaching about the strength and beauty of black people, fired up by the history he read. The Abyssinia Baptist Church stands today bigger and bolder, and inside you find the most exquisite Ethiopian cross, a gift from the late Emperor Haile Selassie to the people of Harlem and a symbol of love and gratitude for their support and friendship.


Left, Emperor Haile Selassie presenting the cross to Reverend Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., on May 27, 1954. (Photography by Marvin Smith). Right, Rev. Dr. Calvin Butts, the current head of the Abyssinia Baptist Church.

Several Coptic churches line the streets of Harlem, and the ancient synagogue of the Commandment Keepers established by Arnold Ford continues to have Sabbath services. The offices of the Amsterdam News are still as busy as ever, recording and recounting the past and present state of black struggles. Over the years, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture has carefully preserved the photographic proofs of the ties that bind African Americans and Ethiopians, just in case the stories told are too magical to grasp.The name ‘Ethiopia’ conjures a kaleidoscope of images and verbs. In researching the historical relations between African Americans and Ethiopians, I learned that Ethiopia is synonymous with ‘freedom,’ ‘black dignity’ and ‘self-worth.’ In the process, I looked to my elders and heeded the wisdom they have to share. In his message to the grassroots of Detroit, Michigan, Malcolm X once asserted, “Of all our studies, history is best qualified to reward our research.” It is this kernel of truth that propelled me to share this rich history in celebration of Black History Month and the victory of Adwa.

In attempting to understand what Ethiopia really means, I turn to Ethiopia’s Poet Laureate Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin. “The Ethiopia of rich history is the heart of Africa’s civilization,” he said. “She is the greatest example of Africa’s pride. Ethiopia means peace. The word ‘ Ethiopia’ emanates from a connection of three old Egyptian words, Et, Op and Bia, meaning truth and peace, up and upper, country and land. Et-Op-Bia is land of upper truth or land of higher peace.”

This is my all-time, favorite definition of Ethiopia, because it brings us back to our indigenous roots: The same roots that African Americans and the diaspora have searched for; the same roots from which we have sprung and grown into individuals rich in confidence. Welcome to Ethiopia!


About the Author:
Tseday Alehegn is the Editor-in-Chief of Tadias Magazine.

Related:
In Pictures: Harlem Rekindles Old Friendship With Ethiopia (TADIAS)
Ethiopian & African American Relations: The Case of Melaku E. Bayen and John Robinson (TADIAS)

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Schomburg Center Hosts Discussion on Ethiopia’s Religious History

At NYC's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture on Sunday, June 22, 2008. (Photo: Tadias )

Tadias Magazine
Events News

Published: Monday, June 23, 2008

New York (TADIAS) – This past Sunday, at Harlem’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a panel discussion entitled “Ethiopia: The Three Faiths” attracted a diverse and large audience. The event hosted by Beta Israel of North America foundation began with cultural dances from the Indian subcontinent and an Ethiopian dance troupe called Keremela.

The panel included Dr. Ephraim Isaac, Director of the Institute of Semitic Studies at Princeton University; Dr. Ayele Bekerie, Professor of Africana Studies at Cornell University, Dr. Said Samatar, Professor of African History at Rutgers University; and Dr. Yohannes Zeleke, an archaeologist, anthropologist, and historian as well as the former curator of the National Museum of Ethiopia.

Dr. Zeleke shared information regarding the recent archaeological findings in Axum including the unearthing of the Queen of Sheba’s palace and an alter for the Arc of the Covenant by the University of Hamburg.

“These findings were already made 26 years ago, but they are being verified now” he said. He also discussed the Jewish culture and heritage of the pre-Aksumite empire, until 330 A.D. when Christianity took over as the official state religion.

“The only place in the world, when the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed, where Jewish rulers still reigned was in Ethiopia,” he told the audience. “Ethiopian Jews were not foreigners, they are part of the ancient culture of Ethiopia.”

Dr. Said Samatar described Ethiopia’s historic role in providing sanctuary for the earliest Muslims. He shared the story of King Armah (Negash) and his decision to grant refuge to the family of the Prophet Mohammad, who arrived at Aksum while fleeing from their pagan persecutors.

“Negash held court and asked both the Quraish tribal members and the family of Mohammad to state their case” he notes. Sharing the exchange of words between the Ethiopian Christian King and those in the court, Samatar described how a Christian King refused bribes and granted sanctuary to the fleeing Muslims in Aksum.

“Mohammad didn’t forget the generosity of the Negash,” he said, “and in the sayings (hadith) of the Prophet that have been recorded and passed on for generations, it is noted that ‘Abyssinia is a land of justice in which no one is oppressed.’”

“In effect,” Samatar said “that meant that no jihad could be waged against the Kingdom of Abyssinia.”

Samatar also pointed to the presence of Islam’s oldest mosque, located in Aksum. “Islam may well have come to Ethiopia before the new religion flourished in Mecca” he said. Samatar mentioned that Ethiopia’s King had read the Prophet’s letter himself, and turning to the Schomburg’s audience, he asked the question:

“Did the King read Arabic?”

Dr. Ayele Bekerie then expounded on the relations between King Armah and his Meccan counterparts, noting new findings that King Armah, who provided sanctuary to the Prophet Mohammed’s followers, had been born in Mecca after his father, Wosen Seged, one of the sons of Atse (Emperor) Gebre Mesqel, the son of Atse Caleb, had been taken to Arabia as a military commander and had been captured as a slave by Persians and sold in Mecca. Armah was born to a Meccan woman and he later bought his freedom, returned to Ethiopia, and replaced his brother as King of Aksum.

“So it is likely that he was familiar with the Prophet Mohammad as well as being able to speak Arabic” Bekerie points out.

As to the king’s forefathers, Bekerie says: “Emperor Gebre Mesqel (King Armah’s grandfather), like his father Emperor Caleb, conducted military campaign in defense of the Christians, but he returned to Ethiopia safe.”

Bekerie provided the audience with a summary of Christianity in Ethiopia and the Tewahedo Orthodox church in particular. He noted its separation from the Chalcedonian council in 5th century A.D. and the translation of the earliest bibles from Greek to Ge’ez as well as the establishment of monasteries by the nine saints of Syria who arrived in Abyssinia while fleeing from Byzantine persecution.

Noting the depths of religious convictions in Ethiopia Bekerie noted that leaders come and go but faith remains a constant in the lives of the Ethiopian people. One good way to celebrate the millennium therefore, would be to celebrate the depths of Ethiopia’s interfaith history and culture.

“Ethiopia is one of the few countries in the world guided by religious tolerance for more than a millennium” he said. “Ethiopia can serve as a model for interfaith space.”

Samatar and Zeleke equally stressed the need to recover the goodwill between the three faiths in their closing commentaries.

“In the fourth millennium we need to work towards the building of a federation that is worthy of the children of the Queen of Sheba”, Samatar concluded to an enthusiastic round of applause from the audience.



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St. Yared – the great Ethiopian composer

An artist rendering of St Yared, the great Ethiopian composer, who lived in Aksum almost 1500 years ago.

Tadias Magazine

By Ayele Bekerie
ayele_author.jpg

Updated: Nov 29, 2007

New York (TADIAS) – In his latest song dedicated to the Ethiopian Millennium and entitled Musika Heiwete (Music is My Life), the renowned Ethiopian popular singer, Teddy Afro (Theodros Kassahun) traces the geneaology of his music to classical Zema or chant compositions of St. Yared, the great Ethiopian composer, choreographer and poet, who lived in Aksum almost 1500 years ago.

Teddy, who is widely known for his songs mixed with reggae rhythms and local sounds, heart warming and enlightening lyrics, shoulder shaking and foot stomping beats, blends his latest offering with sacred musical terms, such as Ge’ez, Izil, and Ararary, terms coined by St. Yared to represent the three main Zema compositions.

In so doing, he is echoing the time tested and universalized tradition of modernity that has been pioneered and institutionalized by Yared. Teddy seems to realize the importance of seeking a new direction in Ethiopian popular music by consciously establishing links to the classical and indigenous tradition of modernity of St. Yared. In other words, Teddy Afro is setting an extraordinary example of reconfiguring and contributing to contemporary musical tradition based on Yared’s Zema.

An excellent example of what I call tradition of modernity, a tradition that contains elements of modernity or the perpetuation of modernity informed by originative tradition, is the annual celebration of St. Yared’s birthday in Debre Selam Qidist Mariam Church in Washington D.C. in the presence of a large number of Ethiopian Americans.

The Debteras regaled in fine Ethiopian costume that highlights the tri-colors of the Ethiopian flag, accompanied by tau-cross staff, sistra and drum, have chanted the appropriate Zema and danced the Aquaquam or sacred dance at the end of a special mass – all in honor of the great composer.

The purpose of this article is to narrate and discuss the life history and artistic accomplishments of the great St. Yared. We argue that St Yared was a great scholar who charted a modernist path to Ethiopian sense of identity and culture. His musical invention, in particular, established a tradition of cultural dynamism and continuity.


Figure 1: An artist rendering of St Yared while chanting Zema accompanied by sistrum, tau-cross staff. The three main zema chants of Ge’ez, Izil, and Araray which are represented by three birds. Digua, a book of chant, atronse (book holder), a drum, and a processional cross are also seen here. Source: Methafe Diggua Zeqidus Yared. Addis Ababa: Tensae Printing Press, 1996.

Zema or the chant tradition of Ethiopia, particularly the chants of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, is attributed to St. Yared, a composer and a choreographer who lived in Aksum in the 6th century AD. He is credited for inventing the zema of the Church; the chant that has been in use continuously for the last almost 1500 years.

It is indeed a classical tradition both musically and culturally. St Yared’s chants are characterized as subtle, spiritually uplifting, and euphonic. St Yared’s composition draws its fame both in its endurance and institutionalization of a tradition to mark the rhythm of life, the life of the faithful.

By composing chants for all natural and spiritual occasions, St. Yared has also laid down the foundation for common purpose and plurality among various ethnic, linguistic and regional groupings of the Ethiopian people. Elaborate visual representation of chants, the introduction of additional musical instruments, movements and performances by Ethiopian scholars have further enriched and secured the continuity and dynamism of the tradition to the present.

Furthermore, the music has become the central defining ritualistic feature of all the major fasts and feasts, appropriately expressing and performing joys and sorrows with the faithful in the or outside of the Church.

Saint Yared, the great Ethiopian scholar, was born on April 5, 501 A.D. in the ancient city of Aksum. His father’s name was Adam, whereas his mother’s name was Tawkelia. He descended from a line of prominent church scholars. At the age of six, a priest named Yeshaq was assigned as his teacher. However, he turned out to be a poor learner and, as a result, he was sent back to his parents. While he was staying at home, his father passed away and his mother asked her brother, Aba Gedeon, a well known priest-scholar in the church of Aksum Zion, to adopt her son and to take over the responsibility regarding his education.

Aba Gedeon taught The Old and New Testaments. He also translated these and other sacred texts to Ge’ez from Greek, Hebrew and Arabic sources. Even if Aba Gedeon allowed St. Yared to live and study with him, it took him a long time to complete the study of the Book of David. He could not compete with the other children, despite the constant advice he was receiving from his uncle. In fact, he was so poor in his education, kids used to make fun of him. His uncle was so impatient with him and he gave him several lashes for his inability not to compete with his peers.

Realizing that he was not going to be successful with his education, Yared left school and went to Medebay, a town where his another uncle resided. On his way to Medebay, not far from Aksum, he was forced to seek shelter under a tree from a heavy rain, in a place called Maikrah. While he was standing by leaning to the tree, he was immersed in thoughts about his poor performance in his education and his inability to compete with his peers. Suddenly, he noticed an ant, which tried to climb the tree with a load of a seed. The ant carrying a piece of food item made six attempts to climb the tree without success. However, at the seventh trial, the ant was able to successfully climb the tree and unloaded the food item at its destination. Yared watched the whole incident very closely and attentively; he was touched by the determined acts of the ant. He then thought about the accomplishment of this little creature and then pondered why he lacked patience to succeed in his own schooling.

He got a valuable lesson from the ant. In fact, he cried hard and then underwent self-criticism. The ant became his source of inspiration and he decided to return back to school. He realized the advice he received from his uncle was a useful advice to guide him in life. He begged Aba Gedeon to forgive him for his past carelessness. He also asked him to give him one more chance. He wants all the lessons and he is ready to learn.

His teacher, Aba Gedeon then began to teach him the Book of David. Yared not only was taking the lessons, but every day he would stop at Aksum Zion church to pray and to beg his God to show him the light. His prayer was answered and he turned out to be a good student. Within a short period of time, he showed a remarkable progress and his friends noticed the change in him. They were impressed and started to admire him. He completed the Old and New Testaments lessons at a much faster pace. He also finished the rest of lessons ahead of schedule and graduated to become a Deacon. He was fluent in Hebrew and Greek, apart from Ge’ez. Yared became as educated as his uncle and by the young age of fourteen, he was forced to assume the position of his uncle when he died.

Yared’s Zema is mythologized and sacralized to the extent that the composition is seen as a special gift from heaven. One version of the mythology is presented in Ethiopian book Sinkisar, a philosophical treatise, as follows: “When God sought praise on earth, he sent down birds from heaven in the images of angels so that they would teach Yared the music of the heavens in Ge’ez language. The birds sang melodious and heart warming songs to Yared. The birds noticed that Yared was immersed in their singing and then they voiced in Ge’ez:

“O Yared, you are the blessed and respected one; the womb that carried you is praised; the breasts that fed you the food of life are praised.”

Yared was then ascended to the heavens of the heaven, Jerusalem, where twenty-four scholars of the heaven conduct heavenly choruses. St Yared listened to the choruses by standing in the sacred chamber and he committed the music to memory. He then started to sing all the songs that he heard in the sacred chambers of the heaven to the gathered scholars. He then descended back to Aksum and at 9 a.m. (selestu saat) in the morning, inside the Aksum Zion church, he stood by the side of the Tabot (The Arc of the Covenant), raised his hands to heaven, and in high notes, which later labeled Mahlete Aryam (the highest), he sang the following:

“hale luya laab, hale luya lewold, hale luya wolemenfes qidus qidameha letsion semaye sarere wedagem arayo lemusse zekeme yegeber gibra ledebtera.”

With his song, he praised the natural world, the heavens and the Zion. He called the song Mahlete Aryam, which means the highest, referring to the seventh gates of heaven, where God resides. Yared, guided by the Holy Spirit, he saw the angels using drums, horns, sistra, Masinko and harp and tau-cross staff instruments to accompany their songs of praise to God, he decided to adopt these instruments to all the church music and chants.

The chants are usually chanted in conjunction with aquaquam or sacred dance. The following instruments are used for Zema and aquaquam combination: Tau-cross staff, sistra and drum. St Yared pioneered an enduring tradition of Zema. Aquaquam and Qene. These are musical, dance and literary traditions that continue to inform the spiritual and material well being of a significant segment of the Ethiopian population.

It is important to note that, as Sergew Hable Selassie noted “most of Yared’s books have been written for religious purposes.” As a result, historical facts are interspersed with religious sentiments and allegorical renderings.

According to Ethiopian legend, St.Yared obtained the three main Zema scores from three birds. These scores that Yared named Ge’ez, Izil, and Araray were revealed to him as a distraction from a path of destruction. According to oral tradition, Yared was set to ambush a person who repeatedly tried to cheat on his wife. In an attempt to resolve such vexing issue, he decided to kill the intruder. At a place where he camped out for ambush, three birds were singing different melodies. He swiftly lent his ears to the singing. He became too attracted to the singing birds. As a result, he abandoned his plan of ambush. Instead, he began to ponder how he could become a singer like the birds. Persistent practice guided by the echo of the melodies of the birds, fresh in his memory, ultimately paid off. Yared transformed himself to a great singer and composer as well as choreographer. Yared prepared his Zema composition from 548 to 568 AD. He had taught for over eleven years as an ordained priest.

Yared’s zema chants have established a classic Zema Mahlet tradition, which is usually performed in the outer section of the Church’s interior. The interior has three parts. The Arc of the Covenant is kept in Meqdes or the holiest section.

EMPEROR GEBRE MESQEL, THE CULTURAL PHILANTHROPIST

The Ethiopian emperor of the time was Emperor Gebre Mesqel (515-529), the son of the famous Emperor Kaleb, who in successfully, though briefly, reunited western and eastern Ethiopia on both sides of the Red Sea in 525 AD.

Emperor Gabra Masqal was a great supporter of the arts; he particularly established a special relationship with St. Yared, who was given unconditional and unlimited backing from him. The Emperor would go to church to listen to the splendid chants of St. Yared.

The Emperor was ruling at the peak of Aksumite civilization. He consolidated the gains made by his father and consciously promoted good governance and church scholarship. Furthermore, he presided over a large international trade both from within and without Africa.

According to Ethiopian history, Emperor Gabra Mesqel built the monastery of Debre Damo in Tigray, northern Ethiopia in the sixth century AD. It is the site where one of the nine saints from Syria, Abuna Aregawi settled. St Yared visited and performed his Zema at the monastery. The chants and dance introduced by Yared at the time of Gebra Mesqel are still being used in all the churches of Ethiopia, thereby establishing for eternity a classical and enduring tradition.

ST YARED’S MUSICAL COMPOSITION

St Yared created five volumes of chants for major church related festivals, lents and other services and these volumes are:

The Book of Digua and Tsome Digua, the book of chants for major church holidays and Sundays, whereas the book of Tsome Digua contain chants for the major lent (fasting) season (Abiy Tsom), holidays and daily prayer, praise and chant procedures.

Digua is derived from the word Digua, which means to write chants of sorrow and tearful songs. Digua sometimes is also called Mahelete Yared or the songs of Yared, acknowledging the authorship of the chants to Yared. Regarding Digua’s significance Sergew Hable Selassie writes, “Although it was presented in the general form of poetry, there are passages relating to theology, philosophy, history and ethics.”

The Book of Meraf, chants of Sabat, important holidays, daily prayers and praises; also chants for the month of fasting.

The Book of Zimare, contain chants to be sang after Qurban (offerings) that is performed after Mass. Zemare was composed at Zur Amba monastery.

The Book of Mewasit, chants to the dead. Yared composed Mewasit alongside with Zimare.

The Book of Qidasse, chants to bless the Qurban (offerings).


Figure 2. An illustrated Zema chant text and notes from the Book of Digua (Metshafe Digua Zeqidus Yared), p. 3.

Yared completed these compositions in nine years. All his compositions follow the three musical scales (kegnit), which he used to praise, according to Ethiopian tradition, his creator, who revealed to him the heavenly chants of the twenty-four heavenly scholars.


Figure 3. The front cover of Metshafe Digua Zeqidus Yared (Book of Digua). The cover shows the five volumes of Yared’s Zema composition: Digua, Tsome Digua, Miraf, Zimare, and Mewasit. Processional Ethiopian cross, drum, sistrum, and tau-cross staff are also illustrated in the cover.

Each of these categories are further classified with three musical scales (Kegnitoch) that are reported to contain all the possible musical scales:

Ge’ez, first and straight note. It is described in its musical style as hard and imposing. Scholars often refer to it as dry and devoid of sweet melody.

Izel, melodic, gentle and sweet note, which is often chanted after Ge’ez. It is also described as affective tone suggesting intimation and tenderness.

Ararai, third and melodious and melancholic note often chanted on somber moments, such as fasting and funeral mass.

Musical scholars regard these scales as sufficient to encompass all the musical scores of the world. These scales are sources of chants or songs of praise, tragedy or happiness. These scales are symbolized as the father, the son and the Holy Spirit in the tradition.

The composer Yared wrote the notes of the Digua on parchment and he also composed ten musical notations. The notations were fully developed as musical written charts in the 17th century AD. This took place much earlier than the composition of the musical note using seven alphabetic letters within the Western tradition. St Yared named the ten musical notations as follows: Yizet, Deret, Rikrik, Difat, Cheret, Qenat, Hidet, Qurt, Dirs, and, Anbir.

The ten notations have their own styles of arrangement and they are collectively called Sirey, which means lead notations or roots to chants. The notations are depicted with lines or chiretoch (marks).


Names and signs of St. Yared zema chant. The names are written in Ge’ez in the second column. The signs are in the third column.

According to Lisane Worq Gebre Giorgis, Zema notes for Digua were fully developed in the 16th century AD by the order of Atse Gelawedos. The composers were assembled in the Church of Tedbabe Mariam, which was led by Memhir Gera and Memhir Raguel. The chants, prior to the composition of notations, learned and studied orally. In other words, the chants were sang and passed on without visual guidance. Oral training used to take up to 70 years to master all the chants, such as Digua (40 years), Meraf (10 years), Mewasit (5 years), Qidasse (10 years), and Zimare (15 years). The chant appeared in the written form made it easier for priests to study and master the various chants within a short period of time.

The ten Zemawi notations are designed to correspond with the ten commandments of Genesis and the ten strings of harp. The notes, however, were not restricted to them. In addition, they have developed notations known as aganin, seyaf, akfa, difa, gifa, fiz, ayayez, chenger, mewgat, goshmet, zentil, aqematil, anqetqit, netiq, techan, and nesey.

The composition of the Digua Zema chant with notations took seven years, whereas mewasit’s chants were completed in one year, zemare’s in two years, qidasse in two years, and meraf remained oral (without notations) for a long time until it also got its own notations.

The two leading scholars were fully recognized and promoted by the King for their accomplishments. They were given the title of azaze and homes were built for them near Tedbabe Mariam Church. While their contributions are quite significant, St Yared remains as the key composer of all the Zemas of the chants. He literally transformed the verses and texts of the Bible into musical utterances.


Figure 4. A sample page from St Yared’s zema or chant composition from Metsafe Digua Zeqidus Yared.

The ten chants are assigned names that fully described the range, scale and depth of Zema. Difat is a method of chanting where the voice is suppressed down in the throat and inhaling air. Hidet is a chant by stretching one’s voice; it is resembled to a major highway or a continuous water flow in a creek. Qinat is the highlighted last letter of a chant; it is chanted loud and upward in a dramatic manner and ends abruptly. Yizet is when letters or words are emphasized with louder chant in another wise regular reading form of chant. Qurt is a break from an extended chant that is achieved by withholding breathing. Chiret also highlights with louder notes letters or words in between regular readings of the text. The highlighted chant is conducted for a longer period of time. Rikrik is a layered and multiple chants conducted to prolong the chant. Diret is a form of chant that comes out of the chest. These eight chant forms have non-alphabetic signs. The remaining two are dirs and anber which are represented by Ethiopic or Ge’ez letters.

Yared’s composition also includes modes of chant and performance. There are four main modes. Qum Zema is exclusively vocal and the chant is not accompanied by body movement or swinging of the tau-cross staff. The chant is usually performed at the time of lent. Zimame chants are accompanied by body movements and choreographed swinging of the staff. Merged, which is further divided into Neus Merged and Abiy Merged are chanted accompanied by sistrum, drums, and shebsheba or sacred dance. The movements are fast, faster and fastest in merged, Neus Merged, and abiy merged respectively. Abiy Merged is further enhanced by rhythmic hand clappings. Tsifat chant highlights the drummers who move back and forth and around the Debteras. They also jump up and down, particularly with joyous occasions like Easter and Christmas.

St. Yared’s sacred music is truly classical, for it has been in use for over a thousand years and it has also established a tradition that continues to inform the spiritual and material lives of the people. It is in fact the realization of the contribution of St.Yared that earned him sainthood. Churches are built in his name and the first school of music that was established in the mid twentieth century in Addis Ababa is named after him. By the remarkable contribution of St. Yared, Ethiopia has achieved a tradition of modernity. It is the responsibility of the young generation to build upon it and to advance social, economic, and cultural development in the new millennium.

—–
Editor’s Note: This article is well-referenced and those who seek the references should contact Professor Ayele Bekerie directly at: ab67@cornell.edu

About the Author:
Ayele Bekerie was born and raised in Ethiopia. He earned his Ph.D. in African American Studies at Temple University in 1994. He has written and published in scholarly journals, such as, Journal of Egyptology and African Civilizations (ANKH), Journal of Black Studies, The International Journal of Africana Studies, and Imhotep. He is also the author of Ethiopic: an African Writing System, a book about the history and principles of Ethiopic (Ge’ez). He is a Professor at Cornell University’s Africana Studies and Research Center. He is a regular contributor to Tadias Magazine.

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Queens, Spies, and Servants: A History of Ethiopian Women in Military Affairs

Above: These female war veterans are pictured in Addis
Ababa’s Menelik Square in 1973 at a ceremony to commemorate
an early victory against the Italians. Photo by Shemelis Desta
(BBC)

By Tseday Alehegn

Chronicles of war and military prowess are plentiful in Ethiopia’s historical literature. Growing up we are effortlessly taught the virtues of honor and duty, which have bestowed sovereignty to generation after generation of Ethiopians. Countless retelling of tales depicting the early and decisive victory at the battle of Adwa remain ever fresh in our proud minds and hearts; the feeling only to be outdone by the resoluteness of heroes who ended the Italian occupation of Ethiopia during the Second World War. Indeed, it is as the 17th century writer Almeida wrote of us: “In war they are reared as children, in war they grow old, or the life of all who are not farmers is war.”

The emphasis on military virtues becomes more palpable when we recognize the unique manner in which Ethiopians chose to fight off their external enemies. From earliest times, both women and men were encouraged to participate in mobilization and preparation efforts. Depicting the atmosphere during the battle of Adwa in 1896, historian G.F. Berkeley observes how the Ethiopian army was not merely organized as a segment of the population, but rather as an entire collective that had integrated the occurrence of war into its normal day-to-day activities. He points out, “It’s not an army [it is] an invasion, the transplanting of the whole people.” No one was left behind. While men served as soldiers they brought along with them their wives who in turn became involved either as civilian participants or as military combatants. What rights, titles, honors men claimed for their valor women were able to do the same.

Females were traditionally not allowed to inherit land unless the father died before the daughter married or there were no sons in the family. However, women would be able to claim property after serving in military mobilization efforts. In an uncommon way, the ability of women to participate on the warfront initiated change to their otherwise lower societal status. Not all participation in war, however, was voluntary as is clearly depicted in the following 19th century edict by the leader Ras Gugsa: “One who does not join the army of Gugsa, man and woman, will lose his genital and her breast respectively.”

Historians have estimated that an average of 20,000 to 30,000 women have participated in the campaign of Adwa alone. While the majority served in non-violent chores such as food preparation and nursing of the wounded, a significant portion served as soldiers, strategists, advisors, translators, and intelligence officers. Women from the aristocracy worked alongside maids and servants thereby breaking norms in class separation.

Female Military Strategists & Combatants:

At a time when women in most parts of the world were relegated to household chores, the number of Ethiopian women in the late 17th century participating in war expeditions against foreign aggressors was on the rise. Whereas most war decrees at this time encouraged all Ethiopians to fight occupation attempts, in 1691 Emperor Iyasu issued one of the first proclamations to curtail the rapid growth of women soldiers. The chronicles report:

“The king had the herald proclaim that the girls of the country must not ride
astride mules, because at this time these girls had adopted the practice of doing
so, tightening the belts of their shirts, covering their heads with their shammas and holding a long spear in their hand..marching in expeditions like men.”

Queen Yodit is one of the earliest-mentioned Ethiopian female leaders who fought spiritedly in battles. She successfully overthrew the powerful Aksumite kingdom, but because many churches and historically important sites were destroyed in the process her reign is infamously described as the dark era. Between 1464 and 1468, under the leadership of King Zere Yaqob, women’s expansion into political positions became more evident. Historian Richard Pankhurst notes how Zere Yaqob “established a women’s administration by appointing his daughters and relatives to key provinces.”

King Zere Yaqob’s wife, Queen Eleni, was an equally formidable and astute military strategist, and was largely responsible for the arrival in 1520 of the Portuguese as one of the first diplomatic missions. Predicting the appetite of Turks in invading Ethiopia’s coastline she proposed a joint attack strategy to the Portuguese leadership against the Egyptians and the Ottoman Turks. Sylvia Pankhurst records her letter to the Portuguese summoning a coalition. Queen Eleni is to have written:

“We have heard that the Sultan of Cairo assembles a great army to attack
your forces…against the assault of such enemies we are prepared to send
a good number of men-at-arms who will give assistance in the sea bound
areas…If you wish to arm a thousand warship we will provide the necessary
food and furnish you with everything for such a force in very great abundance.”

The Turks were soundly defeated. Years later Queen Seble Wongel was able to draw on the help of the Portuguese in defeating Ahmed Gragn’s muslim expansion into Ethiopia. In February 1543 her army fought at the battle of Woina Dega where Gragn succumbed to his death.

Harold Marcus documents Queen Worqitu’s history as the warrior queen who helped Menelik gain his crown. In 1865 Queen Worqitu of Wollo granted Menelik a safe route through her territory as the future monarch successfully escaped from King Tewodros’ prison.

The effect of her support in aiding Menelik to power is recorded in Ethiopia’s ensuing transformation from a ‘land of kings’ to a nation ruled by a ‘king of kings.’

Perhaps the most famous queen involved in military affairs is Empress Taitu, wife of Emperor Menelik II. In the battle of Adwa Empress Taitu is said to have commanded an infantry of no less than 5,000 along with 600 cavalry men and accompanied by thousands of Ethiopian women. Her strategy to cut off the invading Italian army’s water supply led to the weakening of the enemies warfront.

Following her example, Itege Menen avidly participated in battles taking places during the ‘Era of the Princes.’ Fighting against the incursion of the Egyptians, she is said to have had 20,000 soldiers under her command. Likewise, during the Italo-Ethiopian occupation, Princess Romanworq Haile Selassie upheld the tradition of women going to the battlefront and she fought alongside her husband.

Intelligence Officers, Advisors, and Translators:

Intelligence work was key in Ethiopia’s gaining the upper hand against fascist Italy and here too women played a significant role in information gathering. Through the establishment of the Central Committee of ‘Wust Arbegnoch’ (Inner Patriots) women members helped provide soldiers with intelligence information as well as arms, ammunition, food, clothing, and medicine. Sylvia Pankhurst also records how the female patriot Shewa Regged had organized an elite Ethiopian intelligence service to gather more arms while leading the Ethiopian guerilla fighters to the locale of Addis Alem to defeat an Italian fortification. Pankhurst recounts Shewa Regged’s resilience in her biography as follows:

“She was captured by the Italians and tortured by them with electricity to compel her to disclose her accomplices; despite all their cruelties, she preserved silence.”

Queen Taitu’s role as advisor is also well known. In depicting the wariness and foresight of Queen Taitu, historian R. Greenfield records her advise to Emperor Menelik and his cabinet regarding the Italian encroachment. She warns:

“Yield nothing. What you give away today will be a future ladder against your
fortress and tomorrow the Italians will come up it into your domains. If you
must lose lands lose them at least with your strong right arms.”

Her dedication and subsequent victory in preserving Ethiopia’s sovereignty won her the title “Berhane ZeEthiopia” (Light of Ethiopia). Her official seal bore this distinguished title.

In the role of translator, Princess Tsehay Haile Selassie served her country by accompanying the Emperor to the League of Nations and aiding in Ethiopia’s call for support from the International Community. The Plea falling on deaf ears the League soon dissolved as the Italians persisted on invading the last free African stronghold. Plunged into war, Empress Menen is to have asserted “Women of the world unite. Demand with one voice that we may be spared the honor of this useless bloodshed!”

Non-Combatant Efforts:

The role of women in Ethiopian military history will remain largely untold if their work as non-combatants is not recalled. It is in this position that the majority of women of the lower class contributed in strengthening Ethiopia’s defense. While some uplifted the morale of the fighting contingent through popular battle songs and poetry, others labored for the daily nourishment and overall well-being of the soldiers. The record of Ethiopia’s long-standing independence will be incomplete without the recognition of thousands of women servants who accompanied women and menfolk of the aristocracy in battle after battle. Maids and servants were responsible for the gathering and preparation of food and other administrative roles. The traveler and writer James Bruce stresses the diligence of these women during war expeditions. He writes in earnest:

“I know of no country where the female works so hard… seldom resting
till late at night, even at midnight grinding, and frequently up before
cockcrow. Tired from the march, no matter how late, water must be brought,
fuel collected, supper prepared by the soldiers’ wife…and before daylight, with
a huge load, she must march again.”

When not involved in presiding over day-to-day affairs women helped out in the clearing of roads, digging of trenches, and nursing of the wounded. In the same spirit, during the Italo-Ethiopian war, Princess Tsehay Haile Selassie helped mobilize women of all classes in efforts to provide gas masks, clothes, rations and bandages to the civilian population to protect against frequent Italian air raids and mustard gas attacks.

In commemoration of the anniversary of the Battle of Adwa, it is appropriate to recognize the achievements of Ethiopia’s women who helped in the creation of a one-of-a-kind defense system, which has successfully deterred foreign aggression not for a few years, but for thousands.

For original referenced-version of this article please click here

About the Author:
tseday_author.JPG
Tseday Alehegn is the Editor-in-Chief of Tadias Magazine. Tseday is a graduate of Stanford University (both B.A. & M.A.). In addition to her responsibilities at Tadias, she is also a Doctoral student at Columbia University.

Ethiopian Monks maintain the only presence by black people in Jerusalem

Above: The roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, Christianity’s most holy place, where Ethiopians monks have lived for a very, very long time. This image is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution.

Publisher’s Note:

This article was first published in January 2003. The piece appeared in the context of the July 2002 brawl that erupted on the roof of Christianity’s most holy place between Ethiopian and Egyptian monks.

“Eleven monks were treated in hospital after a fight broke out for control of the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the traditional site of Jesus’s crucifixion, burial and resurrection”, wrote Alan Philps, a Jerusalem based reporter for the Daily Telegraph.

“The fracas involved monks from the Ethiopian Orthodox church and the Coptic church of Egypt, who have been vying for control of the rooftop for centuries.”

As part of our Millennium series on the relationship between Ethiopia and the African Diaspora, we have selected part of the original article from our archives with a hope that it may generate a healthy discussion on the subject.

Deir Sultan, Ethiopia and the Black World
By NEGUSSAY AYELE

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Above: Main entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Date: 27/03/2005, Easter Sunday. This image is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution.

Unknown by much of the world, monks and nuns of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, have for centuries quietly maintained the only presence by black people in one of Christianity’s holiest sites—the Church of the Holy Sepulchre of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem.

Through the vagaries and vicissitudes of millennial history and landlord changes in Jerusalem and the Middle East region, Ethiopian monks have retained their monastic convent in what has come to be known as Deir Sultan or the Monastery of the Sultan for more than a thousand years.

Likewise, others that have their respective presences in the area at different periods include Armenian, Russian, Syrian, Egyptian and Greek Orthodox/Coptic Churches as well as the Holy See.

As one writer put it recently, “For more than 1500 years, the Church of Ethiopia survived in Jerusalem. Its survival has not, in the last resort, been dependent on politics, but on the faith of individual monks that we should look for the vindication of the Church’s presence in Jerusalem…. They are attracted in Jerusalem not by a hope for material gain or comfort, but by faith.”

It is hoped that public discussion on this all-important subject will be joined by individuals and groups from all over the world. We hope that others with more detailed and/or first hand knowledge about the subject will join in the discussion.

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Above: Painting on the wall of the Ethiopian part of the church of the Holy Sepulcher. Photo by Iweze Davidson.

Accounts of Ethiopian presence in Jerusalem invoke the Bible to establish the origin of Ethiopian presence in Jerusalem.

Accordingly, some Ethiopians refer to the story of the encounter in Jerusalem between Queen of Sheba–believed to have been a ruler in Ethiopia and environs–and King Solomon, cited, for instance, in I Kings 10: 1-13.

According to this version, Ethiopia’s presence in the region was already established about 1000 B.C. possibly through land grant to the visiting Queen, and that later transformation into Ethiopian Orthodox Christian monastery is an extension of that same property.

Others refer to the New Testament account of Acts 8: 26-40 which relates the conversion to Christianity of the envoy of Ethiopia’s Queen Candace (Hendeke) to Jerusalem in the first century A.D., thereby signaling the early phase of Ethiopia’s adoption of Christianity. This event may have led to the probable establishment of a center of worship in Jerusalem for Ethiopian pilgrims, priests, monks and nuns.

Keeping these renditions as a backdrop, what can be said for certain is the following: Ethiopian monastic activities in Jerusalem were observed and reported by contemporary residents and sojourners during the early years of the Christian era.

By the time of the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem and the region (634-644 A.D.) khalif Omar is said to have confirmed Ethiopian physical presence in Jerusalem’s Christian holy places, including the Church of St. Helena, which encompasses the Holy Sepulchre of the Lord Jesus Christ.

His firman or directive of 636 declared “the Iberian and Abyssinian communities remain there” while also recognizing the rights of other Christian communities to make pilgrimages in the Christian holy places of Jerusalem.

Because Jerusalem and the region around it, has been subjected to frequent invasions and changing landlords, stakes in the holy places were often part of the political whims of respective powers that be.

Subsequently, upon their conquest of Jerusalem in 1099, the Crusaders had kicked out Orthodox/Coptic monks from the monasteries and installed Augustine monks instead. However, when in 1187 Salaheddin wrested Jerusalem from the Crusaders, he restored the presence of the Ethiopian and other Orthodox/Coptic monks in the holy places.

When political powers were not playing havoc with their claims to the holy places, the different Christian sects would often carry on their own internecine conflicts among themselves, at times with violent results.

Contemporary records and reports indicate that the Ethiopian presence in the holy places in Jerusalem was rather much more substantial throughout much of the period up to the 18th and 19th centuries.

For example, an Italian pilgrim, Barbore Morsini, is cited as having written in 1614 that “the Chapels of St. Mary of Golgotha and of St. Paul…the grotto of David on Mount Sion and an altar at Bethlehem…” among others were in the possession of the Ethiopians.

From the 16th to the middle of the 19th centuries, virtually the whole of the Middle East was under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire. When one of the Zagwe kings in Ethiopia, King Lalibela (1190-1225), had trouble maintaining unhampered contacts with the monks in Jerusalem, he decided to build a new Jerusalem in his land. In the process he left behind one of the true architectural wonders known as the Rock-hewn Churches of Lalibela.

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Above: Lalibela. This image is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution.

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Above: Lalibela. This image is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution.

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Above: Lalibela. This image is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution.

The Ottomans also controlled Egypt and much of the Red Sea littoral and thereby circumscribed Christian Ethiopia’s communication with the outside world, including Jerusalem.

Besides, they had also tried but failed to subdue Ethiopia altogether. Though Ethiopia’s independent existence was continuously under duress not only from the Ottomans but also their colonial surrogate, Egypt as well as from the dervishes in the Sudan, the Ethiopian monastery somehow survived during this period. Whenever they could, Ethiopian rulers and other personages as well as church establishments sent subsidies and even bought plots of land where in time churches and residential buildings for Ethiopian pilgrims were built in and around Jerusalem. Church leaders in Jerusalem often represented the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in ecumenical councils and meetings in Florence and other fora.

During the 16th and 17th centuries the Ottoman rulers of the region including Palestine and, of course, Jerusalem, tried to stabilize the continuing clamor and bickering among the Christian sects claiming sites in the Christian holy places. To that effect, Ottoman rulers including Sultan Selim I (1512-1520) and Suleiman “the Magnificent” (1520-1566) as well as later ones in the 19th century, issued edicts or firmans regulating and detailing by name which group of monks would be housed where and the protocol governing their respective religious ceremonies. These edicts are called firmans of the Status Quo for all Christian claimants in Jerusalem’s holy places including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which came to be called Deir Sultan or the monastery (place) of the Sultan.

Ethiopians referred to it endearingly as Debre Sultan. Most observers of the scene in the latter part of the 19th Century as well as honest spokesmen for some of the sects attest to the fact that from time immemorial the Ethiopian monks had pride of place in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Deir Sultan). Despite their meager existence and pressures from fellow monks from other countries, the Ethiopian monks survived through the difficult periods their country was going through such as the period of feudal autarchy (1769-1855).

Still, in every document or reference since the opening of the Christian era, Ethiopia and Ethiopian monks have been mentioned in connection with Christian holy places in Jerusalem, by all alternating landlords and powers that be in the region.

As surrogates of the weakening Ottomans, the Egyptians were temporarily in control of Jerusalem (1831-1840). It was at this time, in 1838, that a plague is said to have occurred in the holy places, which in some mysterious ways of Byzantine proportions, claimed the lives of all Ethiopian monks.

The Ethiopians at this time were ensconced in a chapel of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Deir Sultan) as well as in other locales nearby. Immediately thereafter, the Egyptian authorities gave the keys of the Church to the Egyptian Coptic monks.

The Egyptian ruler, Ibrahim Pasha, then ordered that all thousands of very precious Ethiopian holy books and documents, including historical and ecclesiastical materials related to property deeds and rights, be burned—alleging conveniently that the plague was spawned by the Ethiopian parchments.

Monasteries are traditionally important hubs of learning and, given its location and its opportunity for interaction with the wider family of Christendom, the Ethiopian monastery in Jerusalem was even more so than others. That is how Ethiopians lost their choice possession in Deir Sultan.

By the time other monks arrived in Jerusalem, the Copts claimed their squatter’s rights, the new Ethiopian arrivals were eventually pushed off onto the open rooftop of the church, thanks largely to the machinations of the Egyptian Coptic church.

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Above: The roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, where Ethiopians maintain the only presence by black people in Christianity’s holiest shrine. This image is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution.

Although efforts on behalf of Ethiopian monks in Jerusalem started in mid-19th Century with Ras Ali and Dejach Wube, it was the rise of Emperor Tewodros in 1855 in Ethiopia that put the Jerusalem monastery issue back onto international focus.

When Ethiopian monks numbering a hundred or so congregated in Jerusalem at the time, the Armenians had assumed superiority in the holy places. The Anglican bishop in Jerusalem then, Bishop Samuel Gobat witnessed the unholy attitude and behavior of the Armenians and the Copts towards their fellow Christian Ethiopians who were trying to reclaim their rights to the holy places in Jerusalem.

He wrote that the Ethiopian monks, nuns and pilgrims “were both intelligent and respectable, yet they were treated like slaves, or rather like beasts by the Copts and the Armenians combined…(the Ethiopians) could never enter their own chapel but when it pleased the Armenians to open it. …On one occasion, they could not get their chapel opened to perform funeral service for one of their members. The key to their convent being in the hands of their oppressors, they were locked up in their convent in the evening until it pleased their Coptic jailer to open it in the morning, so that in any severe attacks of illness, which are frequent there, they had no means of going out to call a physician.’’

It was awareness of such indignities suffered by Ethiopian monks in Jerusalem that is said to have impelled Emperor Tewodros to have visions of clearing the path between his domain and Jerusalem from Turkish/Egyptian control, and establishing something more than monastic presence there. In the event, one of the issues that contributed to the clash with British colonialists that consumed his life 1868, was the quest for adequate protection of the Ethiopian monks and their monastery in Jerusalem.

Emperor Yohannes IV (1872-1889), the priestly warrior king, used his relatively cordial relations with the British who were holding sway in the region then, to make representations on behalf of the Ethiopian monastery in Jerusalem.

He carried on regular pen-pal communications with the monks even before he became Emperor. He sent them money, he counseled them and he always asked them to pray for him and the country, saying, “For the prayers of the righteous help and serve in all matters. By the prayers of the righteous a country is saved.”

He used some war booty from his battles with Ottomans and their Egyptian surrogates, to buy land and started to build a church in Jerusalem. As he died fighting Sudanese/Dervish expansionists in 1889, his successor, Emperor Menelik completed the construction of the Church named Debre Gennet located on what was called “Ethiopian Street.”

During this period more monasteries, churches and residences were also built by Empresses Tayitu, Zewditu, Menen as well as by several other personages including Afe Negus Nessibu, Dejazmach Balcha, Woizeros Amarech Walelu, Beyenech Gebru, Altayeworq.

As of the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th Century the numbers of Ethiopian monks and nuns increased and so did overall Ethiopian pilgrimage and presence in Jerusalem.

In 1903, Emperor Menelik put $200, 000 thalers in a (Credileone) Bank in the region and ordained that interests from that savings be used exclusively as subsidy for the sustenance of the Ethiopian monks and nuns and the upkeep of Deir Sultan. Emperor Menelik’s 6-point edict also ordained that no one be allowed to draw from the capital in whole or in part.

Land was also purchased at various localities and a number of personalities including Empress Tayitu, and later Empress Menen, built churches there. British authorities supported a study on the history of the issue since at least the time of kalifa (Calif) Omar ((636) and correspondences and firmans and reaffirmations of Ethiopian rights in 1852, in an effort to resolve the chronic problems of conflicting claims to the holy sites in Jerusalem.

The 1925 study concluded that ”the Abyssinian (Ethiopian ) community in Palestine ought to be considered the only possessor of the convent Deir Es Sultan at Jerusalem with the Chapels which are there and the free and exclusive use of the doors which give entrance to the convent, the free use of the keys being understood.”

Until the Fascist invasion of Ethiopia in the 1930’s when Mussolini confiscated Ethiopian accounts and possessions everywhere, including in Jerusalem, the Ethiopian presence in Jerusalem had shown some semblance of stability and security, despite continuing intrigues by Copts, Armenians and their overlords in the region.

This was a most difficult and trying time for the Ethiopian monks in Jerusalem who were confronted with a situation never experienced in the country’s history, namely its occupation by a foreign power. And, just like some of their compatriots including Church leaders at home, some paid allegiance to the Fascist rulers albeit for the brief (1936-1941) interregnum.

Emperor Haile Sellassie was also a notable patron of the monastery cause, and the only monarch to have made several trips to Jerusalem, including en route to his self-exile to London in May, 1936.

Since at least the 1950s there was an Ethiopian Association for Jerusalem in Addis Ababa that coordinated annual Easter pilgrimages to Jerusalem. Hundreds of Ethiopians and other persons from Ethiopia and the Diaspora took advantage of its good offices to go there for absolution, supplication or felicitation, and the practice continues today.

Against all odds, historical, ecclesiastical and cultural bonding between Ethiopia and Jerusalem waxed over the years. The Ethiopian presence expanded beyond Deir Sultan including also numerous Ethiopian Churches, chapels, convents and properties. This condition required that the Patriarchate of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church designate Jerusalem as a major diocese to be administered under its own Archbishop.

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Above: Timket (epiphany) celebration by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church on the Jordan River, considered to be the place where Jesus was baptized. Jan. 1999. Photo by Iweze Davidson.

Ethiopia and Black Heritage In Jerusalem

For hundreds of years, the name or concept of Ethiopia has been a beacon for black/African identity liberty and dignity throughout the diaspora. The Biblical (Psalm 68:31) verse , “…Ethiopia shall soon stretch forth her hands unto God” has been universally taken to mean African people, black people at large, stretch out their hands to God (and only to God) in supplication, in felicitation or in absolution.

As Daniel Thwaite put it, for the Black man Ethiopia was always “…an incarnation of African independence.”

And today, Ethiopian monastic presence in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre or Deir Sultan in Jerusalem, is the only Black presence in the holiest place on earth for Christians. For much of its history, Ethiopian Christianity was largely hemmed in by alternating powers in the region. Likewise, Ethiopia used its own indigenous Ethiopic languages for liturgical and other purposes within its own territorial confines, instead of colonial or other lingua franca used in extended geographical spaces of the globe.

For these and other reasons, Ethiopia was not able to communicate effectively with the wider Black world in the past. Given the fact that until recently, most of the Black world within Africa and in the diaspora was also under colonial tutelage or under slavery, it was not easy to appreciate the significance of Ethiopian presence in Jerusalem. Consequently, even though Ethiopian/Black presence in Jerusalem has been maintained through untold sacrifices for centuries, the rest of the Black world outside of Ethiopia has not taken part in its blessings through pilgrimages to the holy sites and thereby develop concomitant bonding with the Ethiopian monastery in Jerusalem.

For nearly two millennia now, the Ethiopian Church and its adherent monks and priests have miraculously maintained custodianship of Deir Sultan, suffering through and surviving all the struggles we have glanced at in these pages. In fact, the survival of Ethiopian/Black presence in Christianity’s holy places in Jerusalem is matched only by the “Survival Ethiopian Independence” itself.

Indeed, Ethiopian presence in Deir Sultan represents not just Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity but all African/black Christians of all denominations who value the sacred legacy that the holy places of Jerusalem represent for Christians everywhere. It represents also the affirmation of the fact that Jerusalem is the birthplace of Christianity, just as adherents of Judaism and Islam claim it also.

The Ethiopian foothold at the rooftop of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the only form of Black presence in Christianity’s holy places of Jerusalem. It ought to be secure, hallowed and sanctified ground by and for all Black folks everywhere who value it. The saga of Deir Sultan also represents part of Ethiopian history and culture. And that too is part of African/black history and culture regardless of religious orientation.

When a few years ago, an Ethiopian monk was asked by a writer why he had come to Jerusalem to face all the daily vicissitudes and indignities, he answered, “because it is Jerusalem.”


About the Author:
Dr. Negussay Ayele is a noted Ethiopian scholar. He is the author of the book Ethiopia and the United States, Volume I, the Season of Courtship, among many other publications. He lives in Los Angeles, California.

First Ethiopian Delegation to the U.S. in 1919 Made Headlines

The Chicago Defender newspaper covered the first Ethiopian delegation's visit to the U.S. in 1919.

Tadias Magazine

By Liben Eabisa

Updated: May 11th, 2007

New York (TADIAS) – The arrival of the first Ethiopian diplomatic delegation to the United States on July 11, 1919 made headlines in Chicago, where journalists eagerly awaited their opportunity to meet and interview the delegation.

At the time Woodrow Wilson was serving as the 28th President of the United States. In Ethiopia, Empress Zawditu, the eldest daughter of Emperor Menelik, was the reigning monarch.

Dejazmach Nadew, Empress Zawditu’s nephew and Commander of the Imperial Army, along with Ato Belanteghetta Hiruy Wolde Sellassie, Mayor of Addis Ababa, Kentiba Gebru, Mayor of Gonder, and Ato Sinkas, Dejazmach Nadew’s secretary, comprised the first official Ethiopian delegation to the United States in the summer of 1919.

The main purpose of their trip was to renew the 1904 Treaty of Amity (Friendship) between the United States and Ethiopia (brokered when President Theodore Roosevelt authorized US Ambassador Robert P. Skinner to negotiate a commercial treaty with Emperor Menelik).

The treaty had expired in 1917. This four-man delegation to the United States became known as the Abyssinian mission.

The delegation headed to the White House in Washington D.C. after their brief stay in Chicago.


Empress Zawditu of Ethiopia (In office: 1916 to 1930) and US President Woodrow Wilson (In office: March 4, 1913 – March 4, 1921). Photos: Public Domain.

The group visited the U.S. at a time when blacks were by law second-class citizens and in some places the most common crime against American blacks was lynching. Before leaving Chicago, a reporter for the Chicago Defender, an African American newspaper, asked the Ethiopian delegation what they thought about lynching in the U.S. The representatives responded “[We] dislike brutality… lynching of any nature, and other outrages heaped upon your people.”

African-Americans were inspired to see a proud African delegation being treated with so much respect by U.S. officials. Newspapers reported that in honor of the delegation’s visit “the flag of Abyssinia, which is of green, yellow, and red horizontal stripes, flew over the national capitol.”

The Chicago Defender reported that the delegation expressed their support for the struggle of American blacks and gave them words of encouragement. A member of the press had inquired if the group had advice to African-Americans. Ato Hiruy Wolde Sellassie, who spoke fluent English, replied: “Fight on. Don’t Stop.”

The Ethiopian presence at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, dressed in their traditional white robe and pant attire attracted large attention.

Upon arriving in Washington D.C. they took up residence at the former Lafayette Hotel and awaited their formal presentation at the White House.

“It perhaps is of much interest to know that the Abyssinian religion is the oldest Christian religion in the world”, Captain Morris, the delegation’s chaperon, told reporters. “The queen of Sheba, who visited Solomon was once their queen, and the present ruler is descended from the queen of Sheba.”

The Ethiopian Mission enjoyed an overall warm welcome and before returning to Ethiopia they toured the cities of New York and San Francisco. They also visited an Irish Catholic cathedral, a Jewish synagogue, the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Harlem, and Yellowstone National Park.

—-
About the Author:
Liben Eabisa is Co-Founder & Publisher of Tadias Magazine.

Related:

History: US- Ethiopia Complicated Alliance

Ethiopia: US-Africa Relations in Trump Era

A Memoir of First US Diplomat’s Meetings With Emperor Menelik

African American and Ethiopian Relations

President Obama Becomes First Sitting U.S. President to Visit Ethiopia

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The Case of Melaku E. Bayen and John Robinson: Ethiopia, America and the Pan-African Movement

Photo: Melaku E. Beyan

Tadias Magazine
By Ayele Bekerie, PhD

Updated: April 18th, 2007

New York (TADIAS) — Seventy two years ago, African Americans of all classes, regions, genders, and beliefs expressed their opposition to and outrage over the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in various forms and various means. The invasion aroused African Americans – from intellectuals to common people in the street – more than any other Pan-African-oriented historical events or movements had. It fired the imagination of African Americans and brought to the surface the organic link to their ancestral land and peoples.

1935 was indeed a turning point in the relations between Ethiopia and the African Diaspora. Harris calls 1935 a watershed in the history of African peoples. It was a year when the relations substantively shifted from symbolic to actual interactions. The massive expression of support for the Ethiopian cause by African Americans has also contributed, in my opinion, to the re-Africanization of Ethiopia. This article attempts to examine the history of the relations between Ethiopians and African Americans by focusing on brief biographies of two great leaders, one from Ethiopia and another one from African America, who made extraordinary contributions to these relations.

It is fair to argue that the Italo-Ethiopian War in the 1930s was instrumental in the rebirth of the Pan-African movement. The African Diaspora was mobilized in support of the Ethiopian cause during both the war and the subsequent Italian occupation of Ethiopia. Italy’s brutal attempt to wipe out the symbol of freedom and hope to the African world ultimately became a powerful catalyst in the struggle against colonialism and oppression. The Italo-Ethiopian War brought about an extraordinary unification of African people’s political awareness and heightened level of political consciousness. Africans, African Americans, Afro-Caribbean’s, and other Diaspora and continental Africans from every social stratum were in union in their support of Ethiopia, bringing the establishment of “global Pan-Africanism.” The brutal aggression against Ethiopia made it clear to African people in the United States that the Europeans’ intent and purpose was to conquer, dominate, and exploit all African people. Mussolini’s disregard and outright contempt for the sovereignty of Ethiopia angered and reawakened the African world.

Response went beyond mere condemnation by demanding self-determination and independence for all colonized African people throughout the world. For instance, the 1900-1945 Pan-African Congresses regularly issued statements that emphasized a sense of solidarity with Haiti, Ethiopia, and Liberia, thereby affirming the importance of defending the sovereignty and independence of African and Afro-Caribbean states. A new generation of militant Pan-Africanists emerged who called for decolonization, elimination of racial discrimination in the United States, African unity, and political empowerment of African people.

One of the most significant Pan-Africanist Conferences took place in 1945, immediately after the defeat of the Italians in Ethiopia and the end of World War II. This conference passed resolutions clearly demanding the end of colonization in Africa, and the question of self-determination emerged as the most important issue of the time. As Mazrui and Tidy put it: “To a considerable extent the 1945 Congress was a natural outgrowth of Pan-African activity in Britain since the outbreak of the Italo-Ethiopian War.”

Another of the most remarkable outcomes of the reawakening of the African Diaspora was the emergence of so many outstanding leaders, among them the Ethiopian Melaku E. Bayen and the African American John Robinson. Other outstanding leaders were Willis N. Huggins, Arnold Josiah Ford, and Mignon Innis Ford, who were active against the war in both the United States and Ethiopia. Mignon Ford, the founder of Princess Zenebe Work School, did not even leave Ethiopia during the war. The Fords and other followers of Marcus Garvey settled in Ethiopia in the 1920s. Mignon Ford raised her family among Ethiopians as Ethiopians. Her children, fluent speakers of Amharic, have been at home both in Ethiopia and the United States.

Pan-Africanists in Thoughts & Practice

Melaku E. Bayen, an Ethiopian, significantly contributed to the re-Africanization of Ethiopia. His noble dedication to the Pan-African cause and his activities in the United States helped to dispel the notion of “racial fog” that surrounded the Ethiopians. William R. Scott expounded on this: “Melaku Bayen was the first Ethiopian seriously and steadfastly to commit himself to achieving spiritual and physical bonds of fellowship between his people and peoples of African descent in the Americas. Melaku exerted himself to the fullest in attempting to bring about some kind of formal and continuing relationship designed to benefit both the Ethiopian and Afro-American.” To Scott, Bayen’s activities stand out as “the most prominent example of Ethiopian identification with African Americans and seriously challenges the multitude of claims which have been made now for a long time about the negative nature of Ethiopian attitudes toward African Americans.”

The issues raised by Scott and the exemplary Pan-Africanism of Melaku Bayen are useful in establishing respectful and meaningful relations between Ethiopia and the African Diaspora. They dedicated their entire lives in order to lay down the foundation for relations rooted in mutual understanding and historical facts, free of stereotypes and false perceptions. African American scholars, such as William Scott, Joseph E. Harris, and Leo Hansberry contributed immensely by documenting the thoughts and activities of Bayen, both in Ethiopia and the United States.

Melaku E. Bayen was raised and educated in the compound of Ras Mekonnen, then the Governor of Harar and the father of Emperor Haile Selassie. He was sent to India to study medicine in 1920 at the age of 21 with permission from Emperor Haile Selassie. Saddened by the untimely death of a young Ethiopian woman friend, who was also studying in India, he decided to leave India and continue his studies in the United States. In 1922, he enrolled at Marietta College, where he obtained his bachelor’s degree. He is believed to be the first Ethiopian to receive a college degree from the United Sates.

Melaku started his medical studies at Ohio State University in 1928, then, a year later, decided to transfer to Howard University in Washington D.C. in order to be close to Ethiopians who lived there. Melaku formally annulled his engagement to a daughter of the Ethiopian Foreign Minister and later married Dorothy Hadley, an African American and a great activist in her own right for the Ethiopian and pan-Africanist causes. Both in his married and intellectual life, Melaku wanted to create a new bond between Ethiopia and the African Diaspora.

Melaku obtained his medical degree from Howard University in 1936, at the height of the Italo-Ethiopian War. He immediately returned to Ethiopia with his wife and their son, Melaku E. Bayen, Jr. There, he joined the Ethiopian Red Cross and assisted the wounded on the Eastern Front. When the Italian Army captured Addis Ababa, Melaku’s family went to England and later to the United States to fully campaign for Ethiopia.

Schooled in Pan-African solidarity from a young age, Melaku co-founded the Ethiopian Research Council with the late Leo Hansberry in 1930, while he was student at Howard. According to Joseph Harris, the Council was regarded as the principal link between Ethiopians and African Americans in the early years of the Italo-Ethiopian conflict. The Council’s papers are housed at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University. At present, Professor Aster Mengesha of Arizona State University heads the Ethiopian Research Council. Leo Hansberry was the recipient of Emperor Haile Selassie’s Trust Foundation Prize in the 1960s.

Melaku founded and published the Voice of Ethiopia, the media organ of the Ethiopian World Federation and a pro-African newspaper that urged the “millions of the sons and daughters of Ethiopia, scattered throughout the world, to join hands with Ethiopians to save Ethiopia from the wolves of Europe.” Melaku founded the Ethiopian World Federation in 1937, and it eventually became one of the most important international organizations, with branches throughout the United States, the Caribbean, and Europe. The Caribbean branch helped to further solidify the ideological foundation for the Rasta Movement.

Melaku died at the age of forty from pneumonia he contracted while campaigning door-to-door for the Ethiopian cause in the United States. Melaku died in 1940, just a year before the defeat of the Italians in Ethiopia. His tireless and vigorous campaign, however, contributed to the demise of Italian colonial ambition in Ethiopia. Melaku strove to bring Ethiopia back into the African world. Melaku sewed the seeds for a “re-Africanization” of Ethiopia. Furthermore, Melaku was a model Pan-Africanist who brought the Ethiopian and African American people together through his exemplary work and his remarkable love and dedication to the African people.

Another heroic figure produced by the anti-war campaign was Colonel John Robinson. It is interesting to note that while Melaku conducted his campaign and died in the United States, the Chicago-born Robinson fought, lived, and died in Ethiopia.

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Above: John Robinson

When the Italo-Ethiopian War erupted, he left his family and went to Ethiopia to fight alongside the Ethiopians. According to William R. Scott, who conducted thorough research in documenting the life and accomplishments of John Robinson, wrote about Robinson’s ability to overcome racial barriers to go to an aviation school in the United States. In Ethiopia, Robinson served as a courier between Haile Selassie and his army commanders in the war zone. According to Scott, Robinson was the founder of the Ethiopian Air Force. He died in a plane crash in 1954.

Scott makes the following critical assessment of Robinson’s historical role in building ties between Ethiopia and the African Diaspora. I quote him in length: “Rarely, if ever, is there any mention of John Robinson’s role as Haile Selassie’s special courier during the Italo-Ethiopian conflict. He has been but all forgotten in Ethiopia as well as in Afro-America. [Ambassodor Brazeal mentioned his name at the planting of a tree to honor the African Diaspora in Addis Ababa recently.] Nonetheless, it is important to remember John Robinson, as one of the two Afro-Americans to serve in the Ethiopia campaign and the only one to be consistently exposed to the dangers of the war front.

Colonel Robinson stands out in Afro-America as perhaps the very first of the minute number of Black Americans to have ever taken up arms to defend the African homeland against the forces of imperialism.”

John Robinson set the standard in terms of goals and accomplishments that could be attained by Pan-Africanists. Through his activities, Robinson earned the trust and affection of both Ethiopians and African Americans. Like Melaku, he made concrete contributions to bring the two peoples together. He truly built a bridge of Pan African unity.

It is our hope that the youth of today learn from the examples set by Melaku and Robinson, and strive to build lasting and mutually beneficial relations between Ethiopia and the African Diaspora. As we celebrate Black History Month in the United States, let us recommit ourselves to Pan-African principles and practices with the sole purpose of empowering African people. The Ethiopian American community ought to empower itself by forging alliances with African Americans in places such as Washington D.C. We also urge the Ethiopian Government to, for now, at least name streets in Addis Ababa after Bayen and Robinson.

I would like to conclude with Melaku’s profound statement: “The philosophy of the Ethiopian World Federation is to instill in the minds of the Black people of the world that the word Black is not to be considered in any way dishonorable but rather an honor and dignity because of the past history of the race.”

—-
About the Author:
Ayele Bekerie was born in Ethiopia, and earned his Ph.D. in African American Studies at Temple University in 1994. He has written and published in scholarly journals, such as , ANKH: Journal of Egyptology and African Civilizations, Journal of Black Studies, The International Journal of Africana Studies, and Imhotep. He is an Assistant Professor at the Africana Studies and Research Center of Cornell University. He is a regular contributor to Tadias Magazine.

To further explore the history of Ethiopian & African American relations, consult the following texts:

• Joseph E. Harris’s African-American Reactions to War in Ethiopia 1936-1941(1994).

• William R. Scott’s The Sons of Sheba’s Race: African-Americans and the Italo- Ethiopian War, 1935-1941. (2005 reprint).

• Ayele Bekerie’s “African Americans and the Italo-Ethiopian War,” in Revisioning Italy: National Identity and Global Culture (1997).

• Melaku E. Bayen’s The March of Black Men (1939).

• David Talbot’s Contemporary Ethiopia (1952).

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African American & Ethiopian Relations

Above: Commandment Keepers Synagogue in Harlem, NYC.
Photography by Chester Higgins. ©chesterhiggins.com

By Tseday Alehegn

Ethiopia, also called Yaltopya, Cush, and Abyssinia, stands as the oldest, continuous, black civilization on earth, and the second oldest civilization in history after China. This home of mine has been immortalized in fables, legends, and epics. Homer’s Illiad, Aristotle’s A Treatise on Government, Miguel Cervante’s Don Quixote, the Bible, the Koran, and the Torah are but a few potent examples of Ethiopia’s popularity in literature. But it is in studying the historical relations between African Americans and Ethiopians that I came to understand ‘ Ethiopia’ as a ray of light. Like the sun, Ethiopia has spread its beams on black nations across the globe. Her history is carefully preserved in dust-ridden books, in library corners and research centers. Her beauty is caught by a photographer’s discerning eye, her spirituality revived by priests and preachers. Ultimately, however, it is the oral journals of our elders that helped me capture glitters of wisdom that would palliate my thirst for a panoptic and definitive knowledge.

The term ‘Ethiopian’ has been used in a myriad of ways; it is attributed to the indigenous inhabitants of the land located in the Eastern Horn of Africa, as well as more generally denotive of individuals of African descent. Indeed, at one time, the body of water now known as the Atlantic Ocean was known as the Ethiopian Ocean. And it was across this very ocean that the ancestors of African Americans were brought to America and the ‘ New World.’

Early African American Writers

Although physically separated from their ancestral homeland and amidst the opprobrious shackles of slavery, African American poets, writers, abolitionists, and politicians persisted in forging a collective identity, seeking to link themselves figuratively if not literally to the African continent. One of the first published African American writers, Phillis Wheatly, sought refuge in referring to herself as an “Ethiop”. Wheatley, an outspoken poet, was also one of the earliest voices of the anti-slavery movement, and often wrote to newspapers of her passion for freedom. She eloquently asserted, “In every human breast God has implanted a principle, it is impatient of oppression.” In 1834 another anti-slavery poet, William Stanley Roscoe, published his poem “The Ethiop” recounting the tale of an African fighter ending the reign of slavery in the Caribbean. Paul Dunbar’s notable “Ode to Ethiopia,” published in 1896, was eventually put to music by William Grant Still and performed in 1930 by the Afro-American Symphony. In his fiery anti-slavery speech entitled “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” prominent black leader Frederick Douglas blazed at his opponents, “Africa must rise and put on her yet unwoven garment. Ethiopia shall stretch out her hand unto God.”

First Ethiopians Travel to America

As African Americans fixed their gaze on Ethiopia, Ethiopians also traveled to the ‘New World’ and learned of the African presence in the Americas. In 1808 merchants from Ethiopia arrived at New York’s famous Wall Street. While attempting to attend church services at the First Baptist Church of New York, the Ethiopian merchants, along with their African American colleagues, experienced the ongoing routine of racial discrimination. As an act of defiance against segregation in a house of worship, African Americans and Ethiopians organized their own church on Worth Street in Lower Manhattan and named it Abyssinia Baptist Church. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. served as the first preacher, and new building was later purchased on Waverly Place in the West Village before the church was moved to its current location in Harlem. Scholar Fikru Negash Gebrekidan likewise notes that, along with such literal acts of rebellion, anti slavery leaders Robert Alexander Young and David Walker published pamphlets entitled Ethiopian Manifesto and Appeal in 1829 in an effort to galvanize blacks to rise against their slave masters.

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Above: Reverend Calvin Butts.
©chesterhiggins.com

Adwa Victory &‘Back to Africa’ Movement

When Italian colonialists encroached on Ethiopian territory and were soundly defeated in the Battle of Adwa on March 1, 1896, it became the first African victory over a European colonial power, and the victory resounded loud and clear among compatriots of the black diaspora. “For the oppressed masses Adwa…would become a cause célèbre,” writes Gebrekidan, “a metaphor for racial pride and anti-colonial defiance, living proof that skin color or hair texture bore no significance on intellect and character.” Soon, African Americans and blacks from the Caribbean Islands began to make their way to Abyssinia. In 1903, accompanied by Haitian poet and traveler Benito Sylvain, an affluent African American business magnate by the name of William Henry Ellis arrived in Ethiopia to greet and make acquaintances with Emperor Menelik. A prominent physician from the West Indies, Dr. Joseph Vitalien, also journeyed to Ethiopia and eventually became the Emperor’ trusted personal physician.

For black America, the early 1900s was a time consumed with the notion of “returning to Africa,” to the source. With physical proof of the beginnings of colonial demise, a charismatic and savvy Jamaican immigrant and businessman named Marcus Garvey established his grassroots organization in 1917 under the title United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) with branches in various states. Using the success of Ethiopia’s independence as a beacon of freedom for blacks residing in the Americas, Garvey envisioned a shipping business that would raise enough money and register members to volunteer to be repatriated to Africa. In a few years time, Garvey’s UNIA raised approximately ten million dollars and boasted an impressive membership of half a million individuals.

Notable civil rights leader Malcolm X began his autobiography by mentioning his father, Reverend Earl Little, as a staunch supporter of the UNIA. “It was only me that he sometimes took with him to the Garvey U.N.I.A. meetings which he held quietly in different people’s homes,” says Malcolm. “I can remember hearing of ‘ Africa for the Africans,’ ‘Ethiopians, Awake!’” Malcolm’s early association with Garvey’s pan-African message resonated with him as he schooled himself in reading, writing, and history. “I can remember accurately the very first set of books that really impressed me,” Malcolm professes, “J.A. Rogers’ three volumes told about Aesop being a black man who told fables; about the great Coptic Christian Empires; about Ethiopia, the earth’s oldest continuous black civilization.”

By the time the Ethiopian government had decided to send its first official diplomatic mission to the United States, Marcus Garvey had already emblazoned an image of Ethiopia into the minds and hearts of his African American supporters. “I see a great ray of light and the bursting of a mighty political cloud which will bring you complete freedom,” he promised them, and they in turn eagerly propagated his message.

The Harlem Renaissance & Emigrating to Ethiopia

In 1919 an official Ethiopian goodwill mission was sent to the United States, the first African delegation of diplomats, in hopes of creating amicable ties with the American people and government. The four-person delegation included Dadjazmatch Nadou, Ato Belanghetta Herouy Wolde Selassie, Kantiba Gabrou, and Ato Sinkas. Having been acquainted with African Americans such as businessman William Ellis, Kantiba Gabrou, the mayor of Gondar, made a formal appeal during his trip for African Americans to emigrate to Ethiopia. Arnold Josiah Ford, a Harlem resident from Barbados, had an opportunity to meet the 1919 Ethiopian delegation. Having already heard of the existence of black Jews in Ethiopia, Ford established his own synagogue for the black community soon after meeting the Ethiopian delegation. Along with a Nigerian-born bishop named Arthur Wentworth Matthews, Ford created the Commandment Keepers Church on 123rd Street in Harlem and taught the congregation about the existence of black Jews in Ethiopia. Meanwhile, in the international spotlight, 1919 was the year the League of Nations was created, of which Ethiopia became the first member from the African continent.The mid 1900s gave birth to the Harlem Renaissance. With many African Americans migrating to the north in search of a segregation-free life, and a large contention of black writers, actors, artists and singers gathering in places like Harlem, a new culture of black artistic expression thrived. Even so, the Harlem Renaissance was more than just a time of literary discussions and hot jazz; it represented a confluence of creativity summoning forth the humanity and pride of blacks in America – a counterculture subverting the grain of thought ‘separate and unequal.’

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Above: Commandment Keepers Synagogue. ©chesterhiggins.com

As in earlier times, the terms ‘Ethiopian’ and ‘Ethiop’ continued to be utilized by Harlem writers and poets to instill black pride. In other U.S. cities like Chicago, actors calling themselves the ‘National Ethiopian Art Players’ performed The Chip Woman’s Fortune by Willis Richardson, the first serious play by a black writer to hit Broadway.

In 1927, Ethiopia’s Ambassador to London, Azaj Workneh Martin, arrived in New York and appealed once again for African American professionals to emigrate and work in Ethiopia. In return they were promised free land and high wages. In 1931 the Emperor granted eight hundred acres for settlement by African Americans, and Arnold Josiah Ford, bishop of the Commandment Keepers Church, became one of the first to accept the invitation. Along with sixty-six other individuals, Ford emigrated and started life anew in Ethiopia.

Ethiopian Students in America: Mobilizing Support

In November 1930, Taffari Makonnen was coronated as Emperor of Ethiopia. The event blared on radios, and Harlemites heard and marveled at the ceremonies of a black king. The emperor’s face glossed the cover of Time Magazine, which remarked on “negro newsorgans” in America hailing the king “as their own.” African American pilot Hubert Julian, dubbed “The Black Eagle of Harlem,” had visited Ethiopia and attended the coronation. Describing the momentous occasion to Time Magazine, Hubert rhapsodized:

“When I arrived in Ethiopia the King was glad to see me… I took off with a French pilot… We climbed to 5,000 ft. as 50,000 people cheered, and then I jumped out and tugged open my parachute… I floated down to within 40 ft. of the King, who incidentally is the greatest of all modern rulers… He rushed up and pinned the highest medal given in that country on my breast, made me a colonel and the leader of his air force — and here I am!”

Joel Augustus Rogers, famed author and correspondent for New York’s black newspaper Amsterdam News, also covered the Coronation of Haile Selassie and was likewise presented with a coronation medal.

After his official coronation, Emperor Haile Selassie sent forth the first wave of Ethiopian students to continue their education abroad. Melaku Beyan was a member of the primary batch of students sent to America in the 1930s. He attended Ohio State University and later received his medical degree at Howard Medical School in Washington, D.C. During his schooling years at Howard, he forged lasting friendships with members of the black community and, at Emperor Haile Selassie’s request, he endeavored to enlist African American professionals to work in Ethiopia. Beyan was successful in recruiting several individuals, including teachers Joseph Hall and William Jackson, as well as physicians Dr. John West and Dr. Reuben S. Young, the latter of whom began a private practice in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, prior to his official assignment as a municipal health officer in Dire Dawa, Harar.

Italo-Ethiopian War 1935-1941

By the mid 1930s the Emperor had sent a second diplomatic mission to the U.S. Vexed at Italy’s consistently aggressive behavior towards his nation, Haile Selassie attempted to forge stronger ties with America. Despite being a member of the League of Nations, Italy disregarded international law and invaded Ethiopia in 1935. The Ethiopian government appealed for support at the League of Nations and elsewhere, through representatives such as the young, charismatic speaker Melaku Beyan in the United States. Beyan had married an African American activist, Dorothy Hadley, and together they created a newspaper called Voice of Ethiopia to simultaneously denounce Jim Crow in America and fascist invasion in Ethiopia. Joel Rogers, the correspondent who had previously attended the Emperor’s coronation, returned to Ethiopia as a war correspondent for The Pittsburgh Courier, then America’s most widely-circulated black newspaper. Upon returning to the United States a year later, he published a pamphlet entitled The Real Facts About Ethiopia, a scathing and uncompromising report on the destruction caused by Italian troops in Ethiopia. Melaku Beyan used the pamphlet in his speaking tours, while his wife Dorothy designed and passed out pins that read “Save Ethiopia.”

In Harlem, Chicago, and various other cities African American churches urged their members to speak out against the invasion. Beyan established at least 28 branches of the newly-formed Ethiopian World Federation, an organ of resistance calling on Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia throughout the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. News of Ethiopia’s plight fueled indignation and furious debates among African Americans. Touched by the Emperor’s speech at the League of Nations, Roger’s accounts, and Melaku’s impassioned message, blacks vowed to support Ethiopia. Still others wrote letters to Haile Selassie, some giving advice, others support and commentary. “I pray that you will deliver yourself from crucifixion,” wrote one black woman from Los Angeles, “and show the whites that they are not as civilized as they loudly assert themselves to be.”

Although the United States was not officially in support of Ethiopia, scores of African Americans attempted to enlist to fight in Ethiopia. Unable to legally succeed on this front, several individuals traveled to Ethiopia on ‘humanitarian’ grounds. Author Gail Lumet Buckley cites two African American pilots, John Robinson and the ‘Black Eagle of Harlem’ Hubert Julian, who joined the Ethiopian Air Corps, then made up of only three non-combat planes. John Robinson, a member of the first group of black students that entered Curtis Wright Flight School, flew his plane delivering medical supplies to different towns across the country. Blacks in America continued to stand behind the Emperor and organized medical supply drives from New York’s Harlem Hospital. Melaku Beyan and his African American counterparts remained undeterred for the remainder of Ethiopia’s struggle against colonization. In 1940, a year before Ethiopia’s victory against Italy, Melaku Beyan succumbed to pneumonia, which he had caught while walking door-to-door in the peak of winter, speaking boldly about the war for freedom in Ethiopia.

Lasting Legacies: Ties That Bind

Traveling through Harlem in my mind’s eye, I see the mighty organs of resistance that played such a pivotal role in “keeping aloft” the banner of Ethiopia and fostering deep friendships among blacks in Africa and America. I envision the doors Melaku Beyan knocked on as he passed out pamphlets; the pulpits on street corners where Malcolm X stood preaching about the strength and beauty of black people, fired up by the history he read. The Abyssinia Baptist Church stands today bigger and bolder, and inside you find the most exquisite Ethiopian cross, a gift from the late Emperor to the people of Harlem and a symbol of love and gratitude for their support and friendship.

haile_powel.jpg
Above: Emperor Haile Selassie,
Reverened Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.,
on May 27, 1954.

Several Coptic churches line the streets of Harlem, and the ancient synagogue of the Commandment Keepers established by Arnold Ford continues to have Sabbath services. The offices of the Amsterdam News are still as busy as ever, recording and recounting the past and present state of black struggles. Over the years, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture has carefully preserved the photographic proofs of the ties that bind African Americans and Ethiopians, just in case the stories told are too magical to grasp.The name ‘Ethiopia’ conjures a kaleidoscope of images and verbs. In researching the historical relations between African Americans and Ethiopians, I learned that Ethiopia is synonymous with ‘freedom,’ ‘black dignity’ and ‘self-worth.’ In the process, I looked to my elders and heeded the wisdom they have to share. In his message to the grassroots of Detroit, Michigan, Malcolm X once asserted, “Of all our studies, history is best qualified to reward our research.” It is this kernel of truth that propelled me to share this rich history in celebration of Black History Month and the victory of Adwa.

In attempting to understand what Ethiopia really means, I turn to Ethiopia’s Poet Laureate Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin. “The Ethiopia of rich history is the heart of Africa’s civilization,” he said. “She is the greatest example of Africa’s pride. Ethiopia means peace. The word ‘ Ethiopia’ emanates from a connection of three old black Egyptian words, Et, Op and Bia, meaning truth and peace, up and upper, country and land. Et-Op-Bia is land of upper truth or land of higher peace.”

This is my all-time, favorite definition of Ethiopia, because it brings us back to our indigenous African roots: The same roots that African Americans and black people in the diaspora have searched for; the same roots from which we have sprung and grown into individuals rich in confidence. Welcome to blackness. Welcome to Ethiopia!

About the Author:
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Tseday Alehegn is the Editor-in-Chief of Tadias Magazine. Tseday is a graduate of Stanford University (both B.A. & M.A.). In addition to her responsibilities at Tadias, she is also a Doctoral student at Columbia University.



 

 

 

 

 

 

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