March 1: Celebrate Ethiopia’s Defeat of Italy At Adwa; A Victory Against European Imperialism

This article was published in the March 2017 Newsletter of the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington DC. If you read the headlines of  the European press following Italy’s defeat in 1896, you will see that this battle shook the foundations of European Imperialism to its core. 

Victory at Adwa- A Victory for Africa

Ethiopia’s victory against Italy at Adwa on March 1, 1896, profoundly shaped the future of Ethiopia.

Lawrence Freeman

March 1, 2017

The battle of Adwa is probably the most renowned and historic battle in Ethiopian history. This celebrated victory by the Ethiopian army helped define the future of their nation, as one of only two non-colonized countries in Africa. The defeat of a European colonial empire by an African country, following the “Scramble for Africa” after the 1884-1885 Berlin conference a decade earlier, is not only a source of enduring pride and nationalism for Ethiopians, but also an inspiration to other Africans, who took up the fight for independence six decades later. Some historians suggest that this victory also led to the idea for the Pan-African movement. As a result, it is no surprise that on May 25 1963, Ethiopia under the rule of Emperor Haile Selassie was a founding member of the Organization of African States-OAS.

Adwa, also known as Adowa, and in Italian Adua, was the capital of the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia. A late comer to grabbing territory in Africa, Italy began colonizing Somaliland and Eritrea in the 1880s. It was from the vantage point of Eritrea from where Italy launched its campaign against Ethiopia. The immediate pretext of the invasion was a dispute of Article 17 of the 1889 Treaty of Wuchale. Italy insisted that the treaty stated that Ethiopia had to submit to its imperial authority, thus effectively making Ethiopia a colony of the Kingdom of Italy. The Ethiopians resisted Italy’s military enforcement of its version of the treaty, leading to the outbreak of war in December 1894, with the Italian imperialists occupying Adwa and moving further south into Ethiopian territory. On March 1, 1896, King Menelik II, who, commanded a force of over 70,000, defeated the Italian army, killing 7,000 of their soldiers, wounding 1,500, and capturing  3,000 prisoners, routing their enemy, and forcing them to retreat back to their colony of Eritrea. It has been speculated that, if Menelik had pursued the retreating Italian troops, and driven them off of the continent, it might have prevented a second Italian invasion. On October 3, 1935, Italy led by fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, launched its second military incursion into sovereign Ethiopia territory. Five years later in 1941, Ethiopia once again drove the Italian invaders out of their country. The 1896 defeat of a European nation, considered an advanced country, by Ethiopia, viewed as a backward Africa country, led to riots on the streets of Italy and well deserved consternation in the capitals of European powers.

Without taking the time now to review the ninety years of Ethiopian history following this famous battle, the military defeat of Ethiopia’s dictatorial Derg Regime in 1991 brings us to the beginning of contemporary Ethiopia. When the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front-EPRDF assumed control of the government in 1991, it was led by the now deceased, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who initiated the economic policies that have guided Ethiopia for over 25 years. It was Meles Zenawi’s intellectual leadership, in particular his understanding of the indispensable role of the state in fostering economic development that distinguishes Ethiopia today from all other sub-Saharan African nations. For him the state was not “a night watchman,” but rather an active participant promoting economic growth for the benefit of its people. Ethiopia is a poor country. with a population approaching one hundred million, not endowed with rich mineral or hydrocarbon resources, and repeatedly struck by drought. Yet it has emerged in recent years with a rapidly growing economy. This is the result of Zenawi’s legacy that created a leadership with a self-conscious commitment to use the powers of the state to build an integrated infrastructure platform, which has served to drive the economy forward. This is clearly evident in Ethiopia’s Growth and Transformation Plans I and II, which set ambitious economic goals five years into the future, along with its proposed thirty year road construction plan. Since the EPRDF took over the responsibility of governing the nation, more than thirty new universities have been created, graduating more students that can be easily employed.

In collaboration with China, Ethiopia operates the first electrified train in sub-Saharan Africa, traveling 750 kilometers in seven hours from Addis Ababa to Djibouti, establishing a port to export Ethiopia’s products. Their highway system consisting of toll roads, highways, and all weather roads will connect their light manufacturing industries to the port in Djibouti via their new rail line.   As a result of coherent policy planning in energy infrastructure, the Gibe III hydroelectric power plant has now added 1,872 of megawatts to the country’s electricity grid, and over the next two years, the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam (GERD) will add an additional 6,000 megawatts, making Ethiopia the second largest producer of power in sub-Saharan Africa, behind South Africa.  The next step to develop the Horn of Africa is for Ethiopia, Sudan, and Kenya to extend their rail lines to become the eastern leg of an East-West railroad. Thus would transform Africa by connecting the Gulf of Eden/Indian Ocean with the Atlantic Ocean , creating an economic corridor that would literally revolutionize the economic power of the continent; contributing to the ending of poverty, hunger, and war.

One cannot deny the success of Ethiopia’s unique path of development, nor can one omit the important role contributed to this process by Ethiopia’s successful resistance to foreign occupation; thus never having to suffer the dehumanizing effects of colonialism.

African Union Commission chief praises AU-China partnership

Moussa Faki Mahamat

Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairperson of the African Union (AU) Commission, has extolled the partnership between the 55-member pan-African bloc and China in different arenas.

The AU Commission chief made the remarks at the opening of the 32nd AU summit on Sunday in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, with the attendance of African leaders, foreign diplomats, and other prominent personalities.

Speaking of the AU-China partnership, Mahamat said that the two sides have been enjoying unprecedentedly dynamic partnership in various areas.

The successful Forum of China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) summit in Beijing in September 2018 demonstrated “the unprecedented dynamism” of the partnership between the two sides, he said.

In September 2018, AU officially launched the AU representational office in Beijing, he recalled, indicating that it would further strengthen the partnership.

“The remarkable success of FOCAC held in Beijing in September 2018 illustrates the unprecedented dynamism of our partnership,” Mahamat said.

“The opening of an AU office in Beijing will obviously strengthen this multifarious and fruitful partnership, including the strategic dialogue between the AU Commission and the People’s Republic of China,” he added.

Chinese support for AU peace and security totals $180 million

BRICS, China, and Ethiopia Promote Industrialization

BRICS ministers adopt new industrial action plan

The industry ministers from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) adopted a new action plan to deepen industrial cooperation among the five nations, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies said in a statement on Sunday. Davies and his counterparts from the BRICS grouping attended a meeting in Hangzhou, China where industrial and manufacturing matters were discussed and which culminated in the adoption of a seven-point action plan. “The action plan states that the world economy is still in a period of profound adjustment after the international financial crisis,” Davies said.

 “Industrial sectors, the manufacturing sector and the service sectors related to it in particular, have become key factors in sustaining mid- and long-term economic development.” At the meeting, the ministers acknowledged that the new industrial revolution of digitisation among other things will change traditional production flows and business models that will give rise to new industrial forms.

The following seven points have been identified as key in the action plan:

       strengthen industrial capacity cooperation 

       strengthen the coordination and match-making in the field of industrial policies

       promote the cooperation in the development of new industrial infrastructure

       expand cooperation in technological development and innovation

       deepen cooperation in the field of small and medium enterprises (SMMEs)

       strengthen cooperation in standard area

       facilitate all-round cooperation with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)

He emphasized that industrial development strategies and investment cooperation have to grapple with the potential threats in particular in the context of high unemployment.  Davies said the industrial development cooperation between the Brics countries can be used as a springboard to foster growth and development and create work opportunities. BRICS countries will focus on using their respective rich natural and human resources and broad domestic markets to broaden industrial capacity and policies, while working together in developing new industrial infrastructure and technology.

Chinese investment leads way as Ethiopia opens to outside

As Ethiopia, the most populous nation in East Africa, is spreading its economic relations across the globe, investment from the world’s most populous nation China is playing a prominent role. Ethiopia, with a population of some 100 million, is a country on the move with rail, air and road infrastructure projects and an ambitious industrialization plan.

Ethiopia keenly needs investment from industrial giants like China to give its burgeoning population, which is estimated to grow by 2 million annually, ample employment opportunities. According to the Ethiopian Investment Commission (EIC), there have been 279 Chinese companies with more than 571-million-U.S.-dollars worth of investment, creating more than 28,300 jobs in Ethiopia between January 2012 and January 2017.

Huajian Industrial Holding Company Limited, a Chinese company that has a long-term investment plan in Ethiopia, is operating two plants in the country. Yin Xinjun, Vice General Manager at Ethiopia Division of Huajian Industrial Holding Company Limited, says Huajian’s decision to have its first plant in Ethiopia stems from the country’s firm desire for industrialization. In fact, a personal call for more investment by late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi during an August 2011 visit to China is what motivated initially Huajian to invest in Ethiopia, says Yin. According to Yin, Huajian’s investment in its first African plant had overcome several challenges, including logistical ones. Huajian initially had to transport its goods through an overcrowded highway from the plant in landlocked Ethiopia to Djibouti port. The problem has been partially solved with the construction of the 85-km Addis Ababa-Adama Expressway funded partly by the Export-Import Bank of China (China EXIM bank) and built by China Communications Construction Company (CCCC). The 500-million-dollar expressway was inaugurated in May, 2014.

Huajian also had to face intermittent power and water outages. The Ethiopian government later solved this problem through a special water and power line for the Eastern Industry Zone where Huajian’s first plant is located. Overcoming these challenges, Huajian currently employs more than 4,000 Ethiopians with a plan to increase employment to 50,000 people by 2022. Having established a plant in the Dukem industrial zone, 37 km south of Addis Ababa, Huajian is currently building a massive 138-hectare international light industry city in Addis Ababa. With the completion of the light industry city, Huajian foresees increasing its export revenue from 30 million dollars in 2016 to 4 billion dollars by 2022

However Western critics warn Ethiopia of being trapped in a neo-colonial relationship and some Ethiopians wonder if the Ethiopia-China relationship comes at the expense of other countries. Gedion Jalata, Program Manager of Africa China Dialogue Platform at Oxfam International, says both views miss the mutual beneficial and sovereignty respecting aspect of the bilateral relations. Jalata points out that Ethiopia is one of the beneficiaries of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative.

While Ethiopia is attracting massive Chinese investment in infrastructure projects, the Ethiopian government has set its sight in particular on Chinese involvement in industry parks. Ahmed Shide, Ethiopia’s Minister of Transport, says the country plans to utilize Chinese built infrastructure to boost its industrial exports. Shide is especially keen on the 4.2-billion-dollar Chinese built and financed 756 km Ethiopia-Djibouti electrified rail line to boost its industrial exports.