It began in a calm and colorful manner. President Sahlework Zewde lays down a floral wreath at Menelik Square to kick off the 127th anniversary of the battle of Adwa. On March 2, 1896, Emperor Menelik II and Empress Taytu Betul led their forces to victory over the invading Italian Colonial Army. At Menelik Square, where many people were dressed in traditional attire, the President and her entourage joined the people who were already there. Contrary to many people’s expectations, the President left the square shortly after laying the flower.
Thousands of people, young and old, gathered in Menelik Square to celebrate Adwa’s victory. Citizens from throughout Addis Ababa spent a week preparing to demonstrate what they had for this occasion. Several of them are dressed in costumes reminiscent of those worn by the army that fought against the Italians at the close of the 19th century. The event included the ancient war songs Shilela and Kererto, which were sung to excite the warriors as they prepared for battle at the Battle of Adwa. T-shirts featuring images of Emperor Menelik and Empress Taytu were also widely worn.
The celebration at Menelik Square did not come to an end as colorfully as it had begun. The conclusion was quite awful. Suddenly, city and federal police officers encircled the area, telling attendees that the festivities had to cease and that they should move to Mesqel Square, where the government wanted them to continue the commemorative gathering. Many refused to adhere to the government’s schedule. When police began ordering people out of the square and nearby neighborhoods, angry celebrants took refuge in St. George Church.
As brutal police officers began beating celebrants who refused to leave Menelik Square, tear gas, plastic, and lethal bullets were fired, and individuals were beaten. Many people ran for their lives, leaving their shoes behind, to avoid being hit by the police truncheon. Ethiopia’s human rights watchdog, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, said that one person had died and that many others had been hurt. The Commission found that “security forces overreacted and needlessly beat people, used tear gas, plastic and lethal bullets, and other excessive measures, including on older persons and children during the national celebration in Menelik Square, causing at least one death, several bodily injuries, and distress.”
By Mesfin Solomon