In the 19th century, European expansion into Africa was growing out of control. This expansion was for multiple reasons. Those reasons were primarily economic, social, political and having power (Ehiedu E. G. Iweriebor, “The Colonization of Africa”). Europe invaded and colonized many countries within Africa. However, there were two countries they were not able to colonize. Those places were Ethiopia and Liberia. Today, we will discuss the Battle of Adwa which was the first war between Ethiopia and Italy.
On March 1st, 1896, Ethiopia entered into one of its greatest battles known as the Battle of Adwa (Adowa). Adwa is described by Ray Jonas as “the story of Africans seeing to their own freedom” (blackpast.org). During this time, Emperor Menelik II was Ethiopia’s leader. Italy wanted to continue European colonization within Africa by taking over Ethiopia.
In 1885, the Italians made a move into what is now known as the Eritrean highlands (blackpast.org). This caused the Italians to gain control of territories “west and south of Massawa.” On May 2nd, 1889, Emperor Menelik II went into the Treaty of Wichale with Italy (britannica.com). This pact promised resources to Ethiopia (“30,000 muskets and 28 cannons”). However, the Italian government decided that this meant they held power over Ethiopia and had the right to control the country. Emperor Menelik II would not stand for this and officially condemned the treaty in 1893 (britannica.com). The Italians felt they could force Ethiopia into colonization, which led to the Battle of Adwa.
Knowing that a battle was coming, Emperor Menelik II gathered a force of more than 100,000 Ethiopians who were willing to defend their country. In 1895, the Italians moved into northern provinces in Ethiopia and considered these to be small victories (blackpast.org). The Italian forces felt they were making progress to successfully colonize Ethiopia, however Emperor Menelik II would not let this happen. He made the Europeans believe he did not have as many troops as them and that there was conflict among the forces. In actuality, he was preparing his people for battle.
General Oreste Baratieri, leader of the military of Eritrea, felt hesitant at going into battle with Ethiopia. They were lacking supplies and General Baratieri felt that waiting would be best. Spies for the Italian forces claimed that the Ethiopian troops were exhausting through their resources and were adamantly against withdrawing. They felt they should move forward because they believed they would be able to overtake the Ethiopian troops. Little did they know, Emperor Menelik II and his soldiers were ready and waiting to defend their home.
The Italians had an army of roughly 15,000 troops, and began to try to move in on the Ethiopian forces during the night of February 29th (blackpast.org). By the afternoon of March 1st, 1896, the Italian army was retreating back to Eritrea. The Ethiopian troops were successfully able to get ahead of the Italians before they were able to complete their strike. It is estimated that roughly 70% of the Italian forces were “killed or captured” (britannica.com). The Ethiopians were able to successfully defeat the Italians in this battle and protect their home. This victory for Ethiopia was a big deal as it demonstrated a sense of freedom for Ethiopians. In addition, this win for Ethiopia set Emperor Menelik II up as being considered one of the greatest rulers the country had.
In October of 1896, the Treaty of Addis Ababa was signed and considered the formal ending to the Battle of Adwa (britannica.com). This treaty heavily favored Ethiopia and brought about a sense of peace for quite some time. After the Battle of Adwa, Ethiopia was able to grow and prosper not having been colonized by the Europeans.
Above all, Emperor Menelik II and the Ethiopians who fought were able to successfully come together. They defeated those who were trying to take away what belonged to them; their freedom, peace, identity and home. It is truly incredible what they were able to accomplish when they decided to come together as one. Thinking about this brings about the question what can we as people succeed in when we come together?