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The Ethiopian Emperor Who Defeated European Colonizers In The 1800s [Menelik II]

Abeto Menelik-Sahle Maryam of Ethiopia is the greatest figure of resistance against colonial invasion in Africa. Thanks to this African legend, Ethiopia is the only African country that has never been colonized.

In 1844, Menelik was born to the King Haile Menekot, governor of the Ethiopian province of Shewa. King Menekot died in battle against the Negus (The Emperor of Ethiopia), Tewodros II, and Menelik was captured and raised by the Negus as a son. Menelik, however, absconded in 1865 and took over the province of Shewa.

Twice, Menelik tried taking out the new Negus, Yohannes II by collaborating with the Egyptians and the French, but his affiliation with them failed, and so during Yohannes military campaign in 1875, Menelik submitted himself to the Negus, by walking towards the Emperor, head bowed, with a stone on the back of his neck to signify his submission. It was only then that the Emperor recognized him as the governor of Shewa.

Emperor Menelik II

Menelik raised a strong army, with them, he expanded his territories, and imposed his authority as Emperor after Yohannes’ demise, to the disadvantage of Yohannes’ son, Megesha. He was enthroned King Menelik II on March 25th, 1889.

The new King imposed his authority on the kingdoms of the empire, taking over lands that were supposed to be under his jurisdiction, established Addis Ababa as capital, and demanded that the colonial government in the region, recognized him as the Negus. On May 2, 1889, he signed the ill-famed treaty of Wichale [Ethiopian city].

The Italians, thinking Menelik was another subordinate, made him sign two treaties, one in Aramaic, to give him the ability to communicate with other foreign countries in Italian diplomacy, and the second in Italian, to make him in de facto, submit Ethiopia under Italian colonial government.

They believed he would be intimidated by the time he realized their ploy, but to their dismay, he would not be bought over with a bribe of two million weapons, but also demanded that his government be constituted to be equal with that of the Europeans, because according to him, he was a Christian among pagan Africans. Unfortunately, his reason was not bought.

The colonial government had a tradition of causing division among African leaders, before infiltrating them, in their usual custom, they tried to no avail to raise Ras Mangasha, King of Tigray against Menelik II. Rome also assigned Oreste Baratieri to subject Ethiopia under colonial power, the Italian governor of Eritrea which was then a colony, underestimating Menelik and his troops who he called savages, gathered 20,000 men, laid in ambush for Menelik and his men in Adwa.

While these happened, Menelik had surrounded a 1,000 man Italian army, requesting for the reopening of the Wichale treaty before their release. The Italian authority felt insulted, they then ordered Oreste Baratieri to attack Menelik II’s camp. African’s had a custom of communicating military orders through drums. This made the Italians wonder, as they couldn’t understand how people played music under such circumstance. May 1st, 1896, the famous battle of Adwa began.

Confused by the topography of the land, Baratieri’s men split into two, and the Negus and his troop penetrated and attacked them. Despite the obstacles, with guns, the Italians were at an advantage, this made the Negus consider retreating the next morning, but persuaded by his officers, he instead sent for a 25,000 man reinforcement who fought with such ferocity.

Menelik had bought sophisticated weapons from Russia. With 196,000 soldiers, 100,000 rifles and these dangerous weapons, 2,000 African soldiers who were in alliance with the enemy, 289 Italian officers, and 2918 European soldiers were killed, many were wounded, 954 Europeans were declared missing, and some others became captives of war. Menelik had won.

Menelik further expanded his territory, conquering lands under British protectorate after he re-adjusted the Wichale treaty to his advantage. Not long, the world had recognized Menelik II as the Negus of Ethiopia.

Menelik’s reign was one to stand out among many as he brought about the modernization of Ethiopia. He built the famous Addis Ababa-Djibouti railroad, installed phone lines and electricity, built health centers, postal offices, and developed an educational system in his country.

Menelik II fell ill and named his grand-son Iyasu his successor, instituting a ministerial government to stand in his stead in 1907, Iyasu was then a minor, so Empress Taytu exercised power in his stead. In 1910, the clergy and the government overthrew Empress Taytu through a coup, and in 1911, Iyasu took over the reins of power. In 1913, King Menelik II died at age 69.

Menelik remains one of the greatest Africans that lived. It is because of this African hero that Ethiopia is named the oldest independent nation in the world.

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