The Battle of Adwa: Adwa for Pan-Africansim


(Solomon Dibaba: ENA)

The Battle of Adwa was not fought for years, months or weeks. It was a victory decided on a single Sunday of 1896 almost 123 years ago. The events that led to this battle were actually triggered by the treachery exhibited on the part of Italy is creating a deliberate discrepancy between the Amharic and Italian contents of Article 17 of the Treaty of Wuchalle.

The annals of the victory of Adwa resonated through the world and became a living inspiration for Pan-Africansim. It was a battle fought and won against World Empire represented by colonialism.

The strategic thinking of Emperor Menelik II and the unity of the peoples of Ethiopia was blended together to bring about the victory of Adwa.

According to Captain Moltedo, an Italian journalist who covered parts of the Battle of Adawa, “… the army of the Habesha was drawn from all ethnic groups and nationalities in the country. They were fighting along with their horses, mules and donkeys. Women, old persons, the youth, priest,    participated in the war.” (Quoted by Paulos Nnogno in his book “Menelik II). Therefore, the Battle of Adwa depicted the real essence of Ethiopiansim in diversity.

Ethiopians of all walks of life and ethnicity contributed to this victory in the spirit of Ethiopiansim which helped to inspire not only the anti-colonial struggle but also the spirit of Pan Africansim which prevails even today.

The concept of Ethiopiansim historically encompassed not only Ethiopia proper but also the entire Sub-Sahara Africa as the name was originally given to all “burned face peoples” by the Greeks. Ethiopiansim with its diversity transcended all boundaries and refereed to all black people.

Adwa is not only in the realm of memory as it is still relevant today for all Ethiopians and for all African countries who struggle against poverty, destitution and the effects of peripheral capitalism.

The Battle of Adwa was a heroic response to the ‘Scramble for Africa’ which was charted out by the European colonialists in the decisions of the Berlin Conference of the 1984-1985. This victory constitutes a crucial chapter in the record of African resistance and liberation. It attracted attention as far as the Caribbean and the Americas, not to mention Europe and the rest of Africa.

Pan-Africansim, which is an offshoot of Ethiopiansim, passed through several stages. World Union of Ethiopians (Africans), formed as the African Association in 1897 from outside Africa. The Pan-African Congress, which was founded by Sylvester Williams in 1900, who was in direct contact with Emperor Menelik at the time.  Cuban-Americans, Haitians and African Diaspora from Brazil all were inspired by the Adwa Victory of 1896. (Network of Ethiopian Scholars, March 1, 2013).

The unexpected victory at Adwa spurred the birth of a Pan-African solidarity that was evident in America. The African-American Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois was a major spokesman for freedom for Black Africans. He also edited the “Crisis” magazine, the voice for the NAACP. He devoted a whole chapter of his book, “The World and Africa,” to a history of Ethiopia as a state, while promulgating Ethiopia as an idea of global African unity (Abebe Hailu, The Battle of Adwa Changed Ethiopia and the World, The Washington Informer, March 2,2016).

In order to articulate and bring to fruition the concept of Pan-Africanism, several congresses were held in Europe. The driving forces behind the various Pan-African conferences such as the ones that were convened in London (1900, 1921, and 1923), Paris (1919), New York (1927), and Manchester (1945) were Diaspora Africans: African Americans and Afro-Caribbean. Henry Sylvester Williams, a barrister from Trinidad, called for the 1900 Pan-African conference (he coined the word “Pan-Africa”) and William Burghardt DuBois, from the US, convened the 1919 Pan-African conference. (Richard Pankhurst, The Battle of Adwa.)

The great leaders including Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, President Kwame Nikrumah of Ghana, President Seku Toure of Guinea, President Gamel Abdel Nasser of Egypt, President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and 27 other Heads of States sponsored the cardinal ideas of Pan­-Africansim.

The relationship between Ethiopiansim and Pan-Africansim can best be explained by the late Nelson Mandella in his speech to the Free Ethiopian Church of South Africa. Ethiopianism became a generic term to describe a whole range of the black man’s efforts to improve his religious, educational and political status in society.

“Fundamental tenets of the Ethiopian Movement were self-worth, self-reliance and freedom. These tenets drew the advocates of Ethiopianism, like a magnet, to the growing political movement. That political movement was to culminate in the formation of the ANC in 1912. It is in this sense that we in the ANC, we, trace the seeds of the formation of our organization to the Ethiopian Movement of the 1890s” (Nelson Mandela, Speech to the Free Ethiopian Church of South Africa).

Considering the strategic goals of Pan Africans, one can safely conclude that the Battle of Adwa is not over yet. The current reforms in Ethiopia, the countries attempts to become the energy hub of Africa and its role in networking Africa with infrastructural development, the commissioning of African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) are all intertwined with the lofty goals of Pan-Africansim whose seed was germinated in Ethiopia more than 100 years back in the spirit of the Battle of Adwa.

Ethiopia was always frail when the leaders of various principalities in the country fought against each other and the nation was strong only when its people’s are united.

After a historic feat of the Battle of Adwa in which the Ethiopians showed their age old unity, today, the country is grappling with ethnic conflicts that contradict the spirit of Adwa. The history of this country shows that diversity was and will remain a glaring color for the unity of this country.

The spirit of Adwa needs to be effectively mainstreamed in all aspects of Pan-Africansim’s goals in continental unity against the obstacles to African development including poverty, terrorism, human and arms trafficking, health hazards like HIV/AIDS as well as Ebola, gender inequality, problems related to quality education, continental infrastructure development, promotion of peace in Africa, economic issues related to AfCFTA, unemployment, promotion of political will towards democracy and good governance in the continent.  

For young Ethiopians, the battle ground has already shifted from real fight on the ground towards a mental battle for attitudinal change in every aspect of life. The future of Ethiopia and Africa at large is shaped by enabling the youth so that they can contribute to the development of Ethiopia and the continent at large.

In the near future Pan-African University will be commissioned in the very area where the Battle of Adwa was fought and won. The university according to Ethiopian authorities will conduct extensive researches on the lofty goals of Pan-Africansim and other issues related to Adwa and the larger Africa.

The victory of Adwa still resonates in the minds of Ethiopians who fought not only at Adwa but also in the peace keeping missions in the African region under AMISOM in Somalia, Abiye on the border between South Sudan and the Republic of Sudan. Ethiopia is implementing Pan-Africansim in peace keeping, infrastructure development and several areas of activities linked to African economic integration.