Ethiopia has been celebrating the Battle of Adwa when Menelik II and his troops took apart an Italian army trying to invade the country. However, it’s worth correcting a point being made in the Ethiopian press – it was not the first victory of black troops over white colonisers, not at all. Not even the first of native troops armed in traditional style against European troops with machine guns and the rest.
Bedecked in lion mane collars, warriors’ headdresses and military fatigues, thousands of Ethiopians descended on Addis Ababa’s main squares to celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of Adwa – one of Ethiopia’s finest hours in the battlefield.
It was in the northern town of Adwa 123 years ago that poorly-armed Ethiopians – clad in such attire – routed an Italian force that sought to expand Rome’s fledgling 19th century colonial empire.
The victory that preserved Ethiopia’s independence in 1896 resounded elsewhere in Africa, becoming a rallying point for Africans a generation later as they bid to end colonial rule.
“I call myself independent because my fearless fathers fought the battle from all corners of the country,” said 27-year old Bonsa Kuma, who arrived in the capital on horseback.
“I rode for two days to get here to remember my heroes,” he told Reuters.
The event was also used by some Ethiopians to call for unity at a time of persistent ethnic strife that has left over 2 million people displaced due to violence in the last two years.
“Adwa for me is a sign of freedom and a sign of unity of the country. Today’s generation should learn the importance of unity and abstain from clashing on the basis of ethnicity,” said Tiki Gebreab, a 36-year old Addis Ababa resident who attended the celebrations.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed also joined a chorus of calls to end violence.
“The young generation of today should repeat the victory of Adwa by defeating current challenges and barriers,” Abiy said in remarks published by state-owned media.