Fri 4 May, 2018 07:33 am
The Legacy of Atse Tewodros II: The Quintessential Jegna of Ethiopia
BY TEODROSE FIKRE ON MAY 7, 2017
We live in the age of anti-heroes where those who have taken the mantle of leaders think the meaning of sacrifice is to wait until they vacate political office before they make millions of dollars. The zeitgeist is all about self; pursuing wealth is painted as virtue and audacity is defined through the prism of self-gratification. Scan through the history books and the litany of moral giants is astounding—men and women like Martin Luther King, Theodore Roosevelt, Joan of Arc and Mother Theresa, to name just a few of many—gave of themselves in order to advance humanity. The past has been flipped on its head; we are now beset by imps who feed themselves while starving the public of hope.
Where have my heroes gone I ponder frequently. We have entered into a paradigm where the moral giants of the past have been replaced with mental midgets who thrive for themselves while paying lip service to the people that they lead. This is why most of us feel like the world is going to the dogs; in a time that sorely needs leadership above else, we are being led in too many quarters by vacuous demagogues who are guiding us right into the wilderness. Perhaps, at a time like this, it is wise to take a pause and reflect on the past in order to figure out a way forward.
It is with this in mind that I write today about one of the greatest leaders who is rarely mentioned in the history books. Atse Tewodros II was a once king of Ethiopia who united a fractured nation through one part sheer tenacity and another part benevolence befitting of a monk. If there was ever a story that comes closest to that of a real life Robin Hood, Atse Tewodros is the person that fits the mold perfectly. Yet, even in my native land Ethiopia, few people know his real life story and fewer still understand what motivated him to sacrifice his life in order to protect his nation from the clutches of European hegemony.
The Battle of Adwa is noted as one of the most astonishing military victories ever recorded in the history books. By the middle of the 19th century, most of what is now referred to as Africa was carved up into areas of influence by western imperialists. Nations such as France, Great Britain, Spain and Belgium saw it as their God given right to subjugate once free men into a life of perpetual oppression. Consequently, genocides equal to the evils of Hitler were committed upon the continent which was once called Ethiopia for more than a century by the forefathers of the globalist elites who are currently bleeding the entire planet.
One speck of space stood out in “Africa”; a nation that remained intact since biblical times refused to give their hands to colonial devils. Where Ethiopia stood in defiance against tyranny, Italy saw an opportunity to join the imperialist club. Thus, in 1891 Italy invaded Ethiopia. They came with a spirit of Julius Caesar bellowing “Veni, vidi, vici” aiming to restore the Roman empire by subduing a free nation. Ethiopian jegnas (heroes) had other plans; as Italians came at us with guns saying “veni, vidi”, we sent them backward packing with a fond embi (no). A unified Ethiopian army reduced the hubris of Rome into ashes at Adwa. The victory of Ethiopians in Adwa was a defining moment in the history of “Africa”—the arrogance of greed was undone by a people who were united by love and a sense of purpose.
The battle of Adwa would not have been possible had it not been for the tenacity and leadership of Atse Tewodros II. Before Atse Tewodros rose to power, Ethiopia was beset with strife, internecine warfare and perpetual battles; leaders were more worried about enriching themselves than they were about serving their people. Ethiopia was in the era known as Zemene Mesafint, the age of princes, a time that saw the oldest continuous empire crumbling under the weight of selfishness and rulers who served only their egos. This is how empires fall; when rulers turn away from serving and instead lead with hubris and arrogance, the fiber of a nation gets eaten away by wickedness. Pride, after all, goeth before destruction.
It was Atse Tewodros II who stepped into the vacuum of leadership and decided to lead with grit and valor. A man who was of the people, Atse Tewodros was the unlikeliest of kings because he was a man who was more servant than he was royal. Before he gained the throne, Atse Tewodros went by the name of Kassa Hailu. Young Kassa was raised by a single mother after his parents parted ways. Kassa’s mother took him back to Gondar, Ethiopia when he was still a child. It was in Gondar where Hailu planted his roots and would return one day become emperor and keep in tact the lineage of kings that traces their roots back to Judah—that is why Ethiopia is named the tribe of Judah.
Though he was born into royalty and his family tree was full of noblemen, Kassa would end up living a life of hardship as both he and his mother saw their fair share of struggles. In fact, Kassa was often derided by the elites of his time and he was derided by the elites for being a son of a peasant. A quasi-caste system made life unbearable for the every day citizens of Ethiopia during the age of princes. The story of Atse Tewodors II and the influences hardship had on his faith and his treatment of his fellow Ethiopians is one that is seldom mentioned these days because neo-colonialists who deploy their puppets in “Africa” and throughout the world would rather celebrate fame than honor a life of service.
As long as we are busy chasing the pleasure of the flesh, the easier it is to subdue people into a life of material bondage. Kassa Hailu was far from a materialist, he was the quintessence of a prince for true royalty is gained through integrity not by inheritance. Between a life of labor and a time he spent at a monastery earlier in life in order to flee persecution would imbue in the soul of Kass Hailu at once an abiding faith in God and an identification with the struggles of the common man. In Ethiopia, the life and legacy of Menelik II and Haile Selassie are often celebrated but little acclaim is given to Atse Tewodros II by authorities, it is better to be quiet about a nobleman like Atse Tewodros than to praise him and be gauged according to his legacy.
Hardship would end up being a blessing for Kassa; while the nobility were busy living a life of royalty, Kassa saw up close and personal struggles the lower rung of society were going through. It was this perspective that gave birth to Kassa’s fierce determination to unite Ethiopia as one and to end the Zemene Mesafint. Before he gained power, Kassa became a “shifta”, another word for bandit in Amharic. What the elites gave him as an insult, Kassa wore as a badge of pride as he went about reclaiming the excesses the bankrupt nobility hoarded for themselves and instead gave the riches of Ethiopia back to the people. The leadership of Kassa was legendary; not only did he give back to the people, he refused to do as leaders always do and gave very little to himself. The lion’s share went to the pride, Atse Tewodros’s royalty was found in this spirit of giving.
It was this selflessness and care for the people that earned him the undying loyalty of his troops and the people as a whole. Feed the people and the people will be an army that will follow leaders who nourish their hopes them through any fire that is before them. Kassa started off as a bandit and in time became king of the entire nation. A legacy was filled when he became emperor for a prophecy told of a king who would one day unite Ethiopia. That is why Kassa Hailu took on the name of Atse Tewodros II, the prophecy called for a king named Tewodros to do exactly as Kassa did. Though every leader is flawed, there has never been and most likely will never be a king as admirable and resolute as Atse Tewodros II.
Atse Tewodros II took Ethiopia away from the flames of selfishness and turned her instead towards the light of unity and togetherness. He planted the seeds of Adwa even though a betrayal by his own countrymen would lead to his demise. Atse Tewodros’s defiance towards the British empire and Queen Victoria led to his untimely death . Great Britain turned to the chicanery of diplomatic warfare and inducing civil strife by way of factionalism to destabilize the kingdom of Ethiopia. The British did not become the most powerful empire in the history of mankind by pure luck; they mastered the art of inverting the strength of nations into a weakness by fomenting conflicts from within.
After destabilizing the nation, the British shortly thereafter invaded Ethiopia. Though the troops of Atse Tewodros fought with valor and courage, their distinction in battle was not enough to overcome the technological superiority of the British army and their advanced weaponry. At the battle of Magdala, the Ethiopian army was decimated by the ruthless British army and Atse Tewodros was faced with a choice. Be taken prisoner and in the process have Ethiopia become a colony of the British or give his life for his country so that future generations would fight for freedom at all cost. Kassa Immanuel Gebrekidan conveyed a quote that is attributed to Atse Tewodros:
“I know this game” said Atse Tewodros when an offer was made to him by British officers. “First, traders and the missionaries; then the ambassadors; then the cannon. It is better to go straight to the cannon.”
Atse Tewodros perished in Magdala but his spirit came roaring back in waves at the battle of Adwa. Life is truly poetic, Adwa was the name of a dormant volcano, on March 1st, 1891, the volcano erupted and shook the world with the fire of independence which was fed by the unconquerable soul of Atse Tewodros II.
Queen Victory’s treachery did not stop at Mgdala. As imperialists do to this day, she then “adopted”, rational people call it kidnapping, Alemayehu who Atse Tewodros’s son through his second wife Tiruwork. This was done in order to diminish the legacy of Atse Tewodros and to make sure that his legacy would not give birth to yet another jegna. But where the Brits stole a branch of Atse Tewodros II in order to subvert history, they could not destroy his roots. Atse Tewodros II had other children, including one Mesesha Tewodros who was born out of wedlock. Queen Victoria took the prince Alemayehu but left behind someone she thought was the lesser. Hubris leads to the fall of empires; it is humility before God that gives rise to nations from the dust of oppression. There is another prophecy that awaits Ethiopia yet—a psalms that will usher in a melody of freedom and netsanet. Tyranny cannot wash away the truth of the past nor can it undo a redemption that is promised for the continent that gave birth to humanity.
There is a reason why one Western “scholar” after another have villified Atse Tewodros II for the past century and a half. It’s ironic how puppets of the status quo are lionized by the “free press” while those who stood for their people and stood against oppression are continually maligned as evil. It’s like the devil works in reverse as his foots soldiers try their hardest to white wash the legacy of Atse Tewodros in order to erase his ability to inspire people to rise against tyranny. Here is the best way to figure out the frauds from the real, if the mainstream media and duplicitous “established” educators embrace a figure, you can discount that person as utter fraudulence.
If the same lot try to defame otherwise honorable people with “scholarly” lies, you better believe there is an agenda behind those mercenaries who come to Ethiopia pretending to be teachers when they are really working for their corporate and colonialist masters. Let me get my story about my nation from Ethiopians instead of depending on double dealing outsiders who have not a care about the plight of Ethiopians other than using the pain and suffering of people in order to sell their books. Modern day pharisees you see kill the messenger once and then assassinate his character by way of professors, educators, and historians. This is how the history has been written by the victor for ages using the blood of the defeated as the ink. But the ink of truth is mightier than the ink that is used to spread lies.
The souls of jegnas (heroes) never die; where their lives are taken by oppressors, their spirits are reborn in future generations. I write this article in light of a current singer in Ethiopia named Teddy Afro who has taken in his heart the courage of Atse Tewodors. Instead of being about just money and singing about nothingness, Teddy Afro has made it his purpose to sing about unity and love of a nation. Our names become our destiny in this way, Teddy Afro’s real name is Tewodros Kassahu, Teddy Afro took on the spirit of Kassa Hailu and Atse Tewodros in order to sing love and unity into the people. This is the reason I wrote about Teddy Afro not too long ago and praised him for his musical genius. I’ve been listening to Teddy Afro’s new song “Tewodros” on repeat while writing this song—melodies sang of past valor served as the inspiration for this prose.
I will write more about Atse Tewodros in the coming months for one article is not enough let along books to recount the story of the force of nature of a once Solomonistic king. Atse Tewodros II rose to power in order to unite his nation and he died in order to keep his people united. He could have gone the way of modern leaders and chose to live in mansions and castles and fractured the nation by way of colonial appeasement and ethnic federalism. Instead he walked with the very people he led and he bled for the very nation he loved. This is the stuff of legends; but in honesty, this is the genetic make up of jegnas. Heroes are not the ones who lead through titles; heroes are ones who sacrifice as they serve. #UnitedEthiopia
“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” ~ Joseph Campbell
Some key dates in Ethiopia's history:
4th century - Christianity becomes the state religion.
1855-1868 - Reign of Emperor Tewodros II, who lays the foundation for the modern Ethiopian state.
1896 - Invading Italian forces are defeated by the Ethiopians at Adwa; Italy recognises Ethiopia's independence but retains control over Eritrea.
1935-1941 - Fascist-ruled Italy invades, deposes Emperor Haile Selassie and annexes Ethiopia, before being driven out by British, Commonwealth and Ethiopian resistance forces.
1962 - Haile Selassie annexes Eritrea, which becomes an Ethiopian province.
1974 - Haile Selassie overthrown in military coup. The Marxist Derg regime takes over.
1977-79 - Thousands of government opponents die in "Red Terror" orchestrated by Derg leader Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam.
1984-85 - Worst famine in a decade strikes; Western food aid sent.
1991 - Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front captures Addis Ababa, forcing Col Mengistu to flee the country.
1993 - Eritrea becomes independent following a referendum.
1999-2000 - Ethiopian-Eritrean border war.
Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict, 20 years on: Brothers still at war
On the 20th anniversary of the Eritrea-Ethiopia war, an opportunity for sustainable peace may finally be on the horizon.
The Ethiopian-Eritrean War of 1998-2000 erupted 20 years ago today, when the two countries went to war over the scrubby and desolate plains of Badime that are hardly useful for anything. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea, former comrades-in-arms who fought side by side and defeated one of Africa's largest and best-trained army, morphed into absolutists. Belligerent narratives swiftly became dominant, causing a structural breakdown of communications between the two countries.
The result was a bloody and senseless WWI-style trench warfare in which tens of thousands of soldiers run into machine guns, tanks and artillery fire in waves. The war left an estimated 100,000 dead and more than a million displaced.
The war also had a devastating effect on the social fabric and the economy of the two countries. Both countries resorted to nationalist framings of identity, territory, and shared history, precipitating conflicting narratives. Both countries diverted scarce resources from vital public services and developmental endeavours into weapons procurement.
At the height of the war, Ethiopia increased the total size of its army from 60,000 to 350,000 and increased its defence expenditure from $95m in 1997/98 to $777m in 1999/2000. Overall, the cost of the war for Ethiopia was nearly $3bn.
In the meantime, the size of Eritrea's army increased to 300,000 (almost 10 percent of the population) through National Service Conscription following the outbreak of the war, and the government has been using the intractable stalemate between the two countries as a justification not to demobilise the unsustainably high number of troops for a small nation like Eritrea.
The outbreak of the war between the two countries was universally described as astonishing and bewildering. Scholars and commentators across the world, exasperated by the senselessness of the conflict over an imaginary line that runs through the craggy piece of land, offered various explanations ranging from Eritrea's economic woes to the divergent ideologies between the leadership of the two countries and Ethiopia's desire to regain access to the sea.
What is clear, however, is that the border dispute that was presented as the official reason behind the outbreak of the war was simply a mask for other much deeper and complex problems and hegemonic aspirations.
Although officially an armed conflict between two sovereign nations, the Ethiopian-Eritrean War was largely viewed as a conflict between the ruling elites belonging to Peoples' Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) and the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), the two political movements which dominated the politics of the two countries at the time. At most, it is a conflict between the Tigrinya speaking people of the Eritrean highlands, and the Tigrayans of Ethiopia. As Gerbru Asrat, former Politburo member of the TPLF observed, "only Tigray, not the whole of Ethiopia, is Eritrea's target."
Though the underlying political and economic differences were far from being insurmountable, the animosity, rage, scorn and bitterness between these two movements and their leadership made a political resolution impossible.
The Algiers Agreement
After the fall of Badme to Ethiopia, the series of international mediation efforts within the Organization of African Unity and other multilateral organisations culminated in the adoption by the two countries of the Algiers Peace Agreement. In June of 2000, the two countries agreed to "permanently terminate military hostilities" and establish a "neutral Boundary Commission" that will have full authority to delimit and demarcate the boundaries. The peace treaty, which was also signed by the United States, the European Union, the African Union, and the United Nations, as guarantors, authorised the Commission to issue a "final and binding" decision. In April 2002, the Boundary Commission rendered its decision, ruling that the flashpoint town of Badme is part of Eritrea. Ethiopia refused to comply with the decision, setting the stage for a stalemate that still reverberates across the Horn of Africa.
The political stalemate that ensued from the war and stubbornly persisted for two decades proved to be exclusivist and alienating. The conflict shattered family lives of millions of people on both sides of the border. It deprived landlocked Ethiopia of access to Eritrean ports. It cut off Eritrea from access to the largest market in the region. Both countries diverted massive resources from their already meagre budgets for military activity and still have thousands of troops manning their borders. In pursuit of their respective interests, the two countries engaged in hostile activities against one another, making a rapprochement even more difficult.
The dispute between the two countries has also been a vital factor of intractability for the Horn of Africa region. In 2006, Ethiopia sent troops to Somalia to fight the Islamic Courts Union. Although Ethiopia's targets were Eritrean advisors in Mogadishu and Ethiopia's concern about the long-term consequences of Eritrean influence in Somali politics, Ethiopia announced the war as part of the "global war on terror" to garner US financial and diplomatic support. The US fell for the ruse and became a key sponsor of Ethiopia's mission.
Despite the intensity of the hostilities, the political landscaping is shifting, and there is a growing recognition by all the parties that the status quo is unsustainable.
Driven by both domestic and regional considerations, Ethiopia sought to build a reputation as a critical partner in the "global war on terror", becoming a key ally of the West and one of the top recipients of the Counterterrorism Partnership Fund and the Department of State's East Africa Regional Strategic Initiative. Ethiopian leaders used this alliance with the West to isolate and contain Eritrea, playing a key role in the 2009 US-sponsored UN arms sanction against Eritrea imposed for its alleged support of "terrorist" movements. Although a UN panel of experts found no evidence of Eritrean support and recommended the lifting of the sanctions, the Security Council extended the sanctions in November 2017.
In 2016, Eritrea reportedly leased the Port of Asab to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) who set up a military base there. Although Eritrea denied the report, there are credible claims that UAE is developing the base and using it for the war effort in Yemen.
Despite the intensity of the hostilities, the political landscaping is shifting, and there is a growing recognition by all the parties that the status quo is unsustainable.
In a gesture of reconciliation, Ethiopia's brand-new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, expressed his readiness to resolve the differences between the two countries through dialogue. "With the government of Eritrea," he said, "we want from the bottom of our hearts that the disagreement that has reigned for years to come to an end." Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, from the Oromo ethnic group, has a unique chance of ending the stalemate and opening a new chapter towards a peaceful coexistence by highlighting the transformative economic and social opportunities peace would bring both sides. He does not have the baggage that Meles Zenawi had and has a much better room for manoeuvre than his predecessor, Hailemariam Desalegn.
However, the real test he faces is going beyond reconciliatory gestures or diplomatic pleasantries attempted by his predecessors. Most importantly, Abiy must commit Ethiopia to full compliance with the Commission's decision and reverse Ethiopia's legally and politically unsustainable position on Badme. He must send a clear signal to the Eritreans and the international community that Ethiopia will honour its end of the deal. Eritrea has the weight of an internationally binding judgement on its side and is right to demand Ethiopia's compliance with that decision.
This would serve as a critical confidence-building measure between the two countries, and would pave the way towards the complex and gruelling task of working through the political and economic conditions that led to the war that ripped the fabric of the two societies apart.
There is also a change in attitude in Washington and Brussels. On April 22, Undersecretary of State for African Affairs Donald Yamamoto visited Eritrea and there are reports that the current administration is open to talks. Europeans have already begun engaging with the Eritrean government. Under pressure to address the refugee crisis, they have been engaging the government and they would not hesitate to end the sanctions and support a peace initiative between the countries.
The peaceful resolution of the Ethiopian and Eritrean conflict would strengthen regional stability and restore confidence and resilience to the economy of both countries. It is imperative for all those who care about the long-term stability and economic viability of the region to do everything they can to help the two countries move beyond the senseless war that wrought so much suffering on both people.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial stance.