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HAILU: The Battle of Adwa Changed Ethiopia and the World

Abebe Hailu, Special to The Informer | 2/28/2014, 5 p.m.
"The Battle of Adwa" (Courtesy of A. Davey via Wikipedia)

Among Taytu's army was a force of cannoneers that rained fire down onto the Italians in the valley of Adwa. After their kingdom was secured, during their reign the king played the good and beloved king. The empress played the strict monarch. This good cop/bad cop division of duties and politics helped ensure their long reign.

Adwa Affected America

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.

In 1936 there were some so-called black riots in Harlem. These were really just demonstrations against the treatment of Ethiopia by the Western powers. No property damage or casualties were declared. John Hope Franklin wrote a book, "From Slavery to Freedom," that helped Black Americans to become more worldly in their politics. African-American communities adopted the words "Ethiopia" or "Abyssinia" to rename their churches to push the idea of black global unity.

"… Ethiopia shall stretch forth her hands …"

These words are from the biblical Psalm 68:31 and seem to reflect the modern global rise of a Pan-African vision of freedom. After the success of Ethiopia against colonial rule, some began to think of forming a United States of Africa. Others broadened their political views to include black societies throughout the world, as well as members of the African diaspora. A racial Pan-Africanism began to grow around the globe.

Ethiopia, as an idea of black solidarity, did indeed stretch forth her hands. Pan-African conferences were called in America and England during the early 1900s. Ethiopia grew in esteem among the global community upon her admittance to the League of Nations in 1923. This also thwarted any future movement by Europeans to colonize the nation, and shattered the centuries old negative myths that Africans were no better than "savages."

The victory at Adwa helped produce a new phase of Pan-Africanism. It planted the seed of unity and cooperation of blacks throughout the world. It helped to break the yoke of colonialism in a united way. The African-American abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, summed up the forces unleashed by the victory at Adwa, and could have used his famous quote to fit the Ethiopian struggle: "It's better to die free, than live as a slave."