Sunday, June 23, 2024
Commentary“United we stand, divided we fall”

“United we stand, divided we fall”

Popularized during World War II, the phrase “united we stand, divided we fall” is used on number of occasions to inspire and promote peace and unity. It is in that spirit that Ethiopians should be united to have peace and durable unity, writes Alem Asres.

The old cliché “it’s a small world” seems to have become a living reality – a reality brought about by previously unimaginable breakthroughs in land, sea, and air transportation and communication technologies. Indeed, we live in a small world where the old concept of a single ethnicity, religion, nationality or single national culture is no longer feasible or even desirable.

Internationally speaking, we have become neighbors, if not by our conscious choice, certainly, by our socio-economic and political circumstance. We are living in a planet where members of former colonial powers and their former subjects, as well as the children of former slaves and former slave masters are forced to sharing the same resources of the same planet – planet earth. It is truism to declare that we live in small and increasingly “interdependent” planet.

Yet this small, diverse, culturally pluralistic, economically and politically interdependent planet is characterized by increasing complexities, ideological contradictions, with ever increasing religious and ethnic conflicts. It is a planet divided into many segments – some segments, supported by their powerful allies, consuming more than their share of national resources, living in a villa, sending their offspring’s to study abroad, while the other segments of the society experiencing increasing social, economic and political stagnation characterized by mass poverty, disease and illiteracy.

Forced by the greedy “haves” increasing number of the “have nots,” have been and continue to exit their homeland in search of employment and personal safety. Because of lack of socio-economic progress to meet the ever increasing demands of growing population, combined with the ever increasing corruption, Ethiopia, like many of her sister states, have been losing her workforce and her skilled professionals trained at a great cost. The presence of more than millions of Ethiopians scattered all over the world in search of meaningful employment, is a living reminder of the challenges facing Ethiopia today.

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Ethiopia is a multiethnic, multicultural and multilingual nation with growing population of more than one hundred million, speaking over 80 different languages. Her population is composed of Oromo, Amhara, Somali, Tigray, Sidama, Gurage, Wolaita, Hadiya, Afar, Gamo, Slite, and Kefficho, with yet many unnamed populations present. The history of this ethnically, culturally and linguistically diverse nation not only predates any civilization known to mankind, but also it is a nation with its own written and spoken language shared by no other countries in the world that I know.

Popularized during World War II, the phrase “united we stand, divided we fall” is used on number of occasions to inspire and promote peace and unity. It is used here in that spirit calling for peace and durable unity.

The road to socio-economic progress, and thus, for building durable unity has not been an easy one for Ethiopians indeed. To understand why this is so, we need to glance at the country’s history briefly. The term “to glance” should be remembered while reading this article. Ethiopia’s “3,000 years of history”, starting with Axsumite Empire to the end of the Solomonic Dynasty, has been an ever ending struggle against homegrown and foreign enemies. Each encounter with the enemy, regardless of its sources, tends to postpone the country’s planned transformation from feudal to a modern state.  For example, convinced that he was destined to unite, restore, and modernize Ethiopia, Tewodros II proceeded to dismantle feudal system by defeating feudal lords and regional princes as well as various nobilities.

 In order to accomplish the task of the unification and modernization of the country, he actively recruited, instructors, engineers, and artisans of all kinds, from Europe to provide the technical assistance deemed necessary for building the new and united Ethiopia. His dream was short-lived because of home-grown oppositions as well as a British-sponsored expedition headed by General Robert Napier. “The Napier expedition” was sent not only to rescue European prisoners but also to “bring Emperor Tewodros to his knees”.  In addition, the expedition army destroyed the country by looting the treasury, church manuscripts, taking invaluable artifacts, books, burning farms and killing farm animals.  Learning the fact that the Emperor chose death rather than been captured by the British army, the expedition army took young Alemayehu, the Emperor’s son, as war trophy to their Queen.

Following Tewodros’s death, the baton of uniting and modernizing Ethiopia, was handed to Emperor Yohannes IV.  To carry out such task, first, Yohannes IV had to win the struggle for crown between himself and Tekle Giorgis. He defeated Tekle Giorgis, and was crowned as Emperor Yohannes IV. Unfortunately, Yohannes IV soon found himself embroiled in military struggles with two neighboring powers – Egypt and Sudan. First he had to fight off the forces of Khedive Ismail Pasha of Egypt, who was bent on bringing the entire Nile River basin under Egyptian control. 

On November 1875, the forces of the two nations met and the Ethiopians virtually wiped out “the entire Egyptian force, along with its many officers of European and North American background”. Moreover, Egypt, fearing that the defeat would “undermine the government of the Khedive, assembled a new force and sent to Ethiopia to avenge the defeat at Gundat”.  Once again, “the Egyptians were humiliated and defeated by Ethiopians at the Battle of Gura”. The second challenge to Yohannes IV’s rule came from Sudan. Muhammad Ahmad of Sudan, having proclaimed himself “the Mahdi”, turned his guns on Ethiopia and challenged Emperor Yohannes IV.  Responding to the challenge, Yohannes met the Mahdist army and defeated them at the Battle of Metemma. 

However, the Emperor died in 1889, from the fatal wound he received at Metemma. While Yohannes was kept busy fighting the Egyptians, and the Sudanese, as well as number of homegrown enemies in defense of Ethiopia, Italy saw a window of opportunity to occupy the port of Massawa unchallenged.  Once again, the task of uniting and modernizing Ethiopia was postponed and passed on to Menelik II of Shewa to carry on.

Born in 1844, Menelik II reigned between 1889 and 1913 and his reign witnessed the European rush to divide and rule the continent among themselves with no regard for African people.  Following the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885, which legitimatized and formalized the Scramble for Africa, the rush was intensified.  Participating super powers of the day, agreed to invade, occupy, and colonize Africa without fighting each other anymore over who gets which part of Africa.

The Berlin Conference gave Britain, France, German, Portugal, Spain, Belgium and Italy to occupy virtually the whole continent with its “10 million square miles of territory and more than 110 million” Africans to rule over. 

Africa was sliced like a pie, the pieces swallowed by seven rival nations with Italy remaining unhappy with her share of the pie. There was only one unsliced pie left in the entire continent and that pie was Ethiopia.  Italy let the other rival powers know that Ethiopia was hers and hers alone to conquer.

Determined to expand her East African territories and convinced that Ethiopians led by a feudal “King could hardly hope to withstand the advance of a modern army” Italy dispatched her well-armed and well-organized force led by General Oreste Baratieri who promised Rome that he “would bring Menelik in a cage”. Little did Baratieri know that Italy would “shortly to endure the bloodiest defeat ever endured by a colonial power in Africa”.  Thus, the First Italo-Ethiopian war was fought at Adwa with Ethiopians rendering a humiliating defeat to the military force of the Roman Empire and sending back General Baratieri without “Menelik in a cage”.

Moreover, the Battle of Adwa was seen as not only a turning point in modern African political history but also the defeat by less armed, ill-organized, and mostly by volunteer Ethiopians, and put an end to Italian dream of colonizing Ethiopia.  The “price of victory had been excruciating” to Ethiopians. Speaking of the human cost of the Battle of Adwa, one writer noted: “The Ethiopians had over 7,000 dead and 10,000 wounded, many of them crippled for life”, not to mention their properties destroyed. By 1930, the jigsaw-puzzled-map of Africa show, 90 percent of the continent was under European control with Ethiopia remaining independent.

I cannot help but wonder, what Ethiopia would look like today, if Menelik II had not stood his ground and said: “I have no intention of being an indifferent looker-on, if the distant powers have the idea of dividing up Africa”.  Having expressed his stance, Menelik II proceeded to expand Ethiopian territories to include Kaffa, Sidama, Wolaita and other kingdoms, before colonial powers gabble-up the rest of the continent. If it was not for Menelik’s determination, Ethiopia might have looked like Somalia at the end WW II.  To no fault of their own, Somalians found themselves divided into the British, Italian and French Somaliland.

Menelik II was considered by many observers of Ethiopian politics, as a “federalist who believed that the country would be strongest under a consolidated central Imperial Crown”. In keeping with the visions of the Emperors before him, Menelik restarted the unification and modernization processes of Ethiopia while keeping his eye on both internal and external enemies at the same time.  To his credit, Menelik established the first Council of Ministers composed of diverse ethnicities “who served the nation long after his death”.  During his reign, Menelik suppressed slave trade; established formal educational institution; found the first banking system; introduced the first postal system; electricity; telephone; telegraph; railway and motor car as well as modern plumbing. Upon his death in 1913, once again, the unfinished task of modernizing Ethiopia was left to Lij Iyasu and Empress Zewuditu whose reign saw very little transformative activities.

Benito Mussolini believed that expanding Italian territories of East Africa by conquering Ethiopia would restore Rome to her glorious past and would reverse the humiliating defeat suffered by Italians at the Battle of Adwa. Thus, with France and Britain agreed to remain neutral, Italy decided to put her plan to practice. On October 3, 1935, some five years after Emperor Haile Selassie I was crowned, Mussolini, with well-armed “400,000 soldiers in Eritrea and 285,000 in Somaliland” at his command, lunched the Second Italo-Ethiopian War.  Ethiopians, ones again have to fight such highly mechanized Italian army commanded by General Rodolfo Graziani – a man who promised Mussolini to deliver Ethiopia “with or without Ethiopians”. Italy occupied Ethiopia for five years while Haile Selassie was forced to live in exile and continue the struggle from abroad.

Since Graziani cannot deliver Ethiopia to Mussolini as promised, he decided to let no Ethiopians, especially educated ones, “left alive to tell the story”.  Observers of the Second Italo-Ethiopian War tell us that under Graziani’s order “educated men and women”, especially, those educated abroad, including students, monks, and deacons “were hunted down and killed in cold blood”. During the five years of occupation, Italians not only wiped out more than “75 percent of Ethiopians with some formal education”, but also left all national institutions in a state of shambles with no funds for reconstruction. With the process of the transformation of Ethiopia from feudal to a modern state put on hold, “many have attempted to conquer Ethiopia but none have succeeded”. Thanks to the thousands of brave women like Taytu Betul; and men like Tewodros II; Yohannes IV; Menelik II; Alula Abba-Nega; Balcha Abba Nefso; Kawa Tonna Gaga; Belay Zeleke; Zerai Deres; Abdissa Aga and Jagama Kello, just to name few, who stood together to keep the fire of freedom burring and the Ethiopian flag flying.

The main purpose of this article, in addition to calling for national unity, has been to examine why, generation after generation, when Ethiopians begin to see light at the end of the tunnel, forces either home or foreign-born rise-up to dim or to turn off that light. Even though there is no open threat coming from foreign powers with planes dropping bombs with mustard gas, tanks and soldiers armed with machine guns to stop Ethiopia from developing her economy today, it is not difficult to see three identifiable enemies which would prevent the country from developing her material and human capital. The first enemy has been and continues to be the reoccurring famine; the second one is made up of greedy loan sharks as well as corrupt and insidious government officials. The third one comes from few ethnocentric and misguided individuals living in diaspora. These individuals, while sitting in comfortable chairs and sipping Starbucks Coffee, use social media and YouTube, to call for the destruction of Ethiopia. They call for the break-up of the country by any means necessary to accomplish ethnic and regional autonomy for the group they think they represent.

Those of us who have seen and who are the unfortunate victims of war know that war of any kind is easy to start but difficult to stop. When it stops, it leaves behind widows, orphans, and communities destroyed. I know war, because my grandfather was machine-gunned in a market place by the Italians, for nursing and helping fellow Ethiopians to scape. My father who was planning to follow his father’s footstep and become a priest, was forced to take-up arms to revenge his father and defend his country, was also killed by the Fascist army. I was told that all this took place when I was just a toddler and still nursing. War waged by colonialist or by secessionist often employs innocent youth, and unemployed individuals who in the final analyses stand to lose while the advocates of war stand to cash-in.  As veteran of the Korean War, and one who has lost few of his best friends, I do not want to see Ethiopians killing Ethiopians anymore. I wish Ethiopians durable unity, strength, as well as, long and prosperous life.

Ed.’s Note: Alem Asres (PhD), (former Alemayehu Wondemagegnehu), earned his Doctorate of Philosophy in Social Foundations of Education with emphasis on Comparative and Multicultural Education from the University of Maryland, College Park. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected].


Contributed by Alem Asres


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