GERD Symbolizes the Incarnation of the Victory of Adwa



History repeats itself, but not in exactly in the same manner. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam which was commissioned in 2011 is a living symbol and incarnation of Ethiopia’s shift from the victory of the Battle of Adwa on March 1, 1896, years to battling poverty.

Ethiopia and Africa mark the victory at the Battle of Adwa, in which Emperor Menelik II mobilized ill-equipped youth army of peasants, artisans, women and volunteers from all walks of life and ethnicity to repel Italian aggressors who received the blessings of the colonial powers in the Scramble for Africa in line with the resolutions of the Berlin Conference (1884-1885.)

Ethiopia was tricked and forced into a war with Italian colonialists due to the fact that Italy deliberately created a difference in meaning between the Amharic version and the Italian text of Article 17 of the Treaty of Wuchale which forced Ethiopia to conduct foreign relations with other countries only through the Italian Government.

His Majesty the King of Kings of Ethiopia can [1] use the Government of His Majesty the King of Italy for all treatments that did business with other powers or governments.

Consequently, Emperor Menelik II called upon the people of Ethiopia to defend their country; and the Ethiopians, about 100,000 peasant foot soldiers of all walks of life responded swiftly into battle in which the representatives of all nations and nationalities and people mostly youth participated.

Menelik’s famous declaration reads:

Now an enemy that intends to destroy our homeland and change our religion has come crossing our God-given frontiers digging in like a mole. Now, with the help of God I will not allow him to have my country. You, my countrymen, I have never knowingly hurt you, nor have you hurt me. Help me, those of you with zeal and will power; those who do not have the zeal, for the sake of your wives and your religion, help me with your prayers. (Gebre Selassie, Tarike Zeman Zedagmawi Menlik Negusa Nagast Ze-Etyopya, 1966, p. 225.)

The Victory of Adwa immediately ignited global resistance against colonialism in black Africa and anti-colonial movements across the globe. The spirit of Pan-Africanism was born.

The Battle of Adwa which took place on March 1, 1896 runs across the annals of both Ethiopian and African history, as the first victory of black Africa against a European colonial power. The nostalgia of the war still haunted not only Ethiopians but also fellow Africans and the entire black population in the world. The victory depicted the defiance and pride of Ethiopians, an attitude which was inherited by the national liberation movements in Africa in their struggle against colonialism.

The Victory of Adwa illustrates the ingenuity of the leadership of Emperor Menelik, not only on the battle field but also on matters of foreign policy and diplomacy in which he was able to isolate Italy from seeking any diplomatic or political support. In fact the European powers of those days were the first to declare the victory at Adwa through their telegraphs and newspapers.

Compared to other wars of resistance that the people of Ethiopia had to fight, the Victory of Adwa was a unique victory in the sense that its results were not short lived but surprisingly permanent.

At a period in time when the colonial powers attempted to demonstrate their invincibility, the victory at Adwa showed that the same victory can be repeated by Africans. This came true when a number of African countries gained their independence in the early 1960s. Besides, this was the first victory in the world against a powerful European power ever to be registered by black people.

After more than 100 years, Ethiopia once again declared another analogical and historical call to build the largest dam in Africa which effectively symbolizes economic, social, and political and the quest for peaceful development in the spirit of Pan-Africanism and Agenda 2063. The victory of the Battle of Adwa which triggered spirit of Pan-Africanism also resonated in the construction of the biggest dam in Africa- the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

GERD, a dam expected to generate 6450 MW of electric power is also being built on the basis of self-reliance in which citizens donate money or buy treasury bonds. Ethiopia taught the rest of Africa to be self-reliant in both cases.

Ethiopia, however, foiled another brand of treachery and conspiracy in 2011 in which the country was denied fund from abroad to build the dam and was forced to use her own resources right in the country.

Downstream neighboring countries seriously doubted if Ethiopia can build a dam of greater magnitude but thanks to the commitment of the government and selfless support of the public, GERD has become a reality and irreversible until it is completed.

As a nation tricked into signing the dubious Treaty of Wuchale, which led to the Battle of Adwa over a century ago, Ethiopia should take lessons from that and be conscientious to shun similar blunder.

The different version of Article 17 finally changed the course of the agreement, which it favored the Italians. Ethiopians could not benefit out of that deal, even that article directly or indirectly reduced Ethiopia to the level of protectorate.

In order not to repeat mistakes in agreement like that of the Wuchale Treaty Ethiopia needs to have diplomatic strength, curiosity, understanding and at the same time looking into the details of agreements from the interest point that could benefit on the basis of give and take.

Wise and carefully crafted way Ethiopian diplomats were able to win the Battle of Adwa and so the Italians lost their diplomatic fight though they were not adamant to abandon Wuchale Treaty.

The Victory of Adwa is very symbolic and that is why it still resonates. However, still the nation has to learn the lessons transmitted to the new generation.

Unwearyingly negotiating on issues related to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, Ethiopia executed the first round filling of the dam on July, 2020 GERD. Despite the crude diplomacy of the Trump administration and internal challenges, the country went ahead with negotiations and also carried on the filling in line with the Declaration of Principles 2015.

It is evident that Egypt and recently Sudan have left no stone unturned and use Machiavellian diplomacy to force Ethiopia sign a treaty that denies its sovereign rights to use the waters of Blue Nile (Abay) and other water resources. So, lessons should be learned from the Treaty of Wuchale and others while reaching agreement on GERD with downstream countries.

Ethiopian shouldn’t allow history to repeat itself because of zealous treaty that leads to a sheer hypocrisy which ultimately ends in treachery agreement as the GERD is a living icon and manifestation of Ethiopia’s move from the victory of the Battle of Adwa to the fight of poverty.