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Remembering Menelik II

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Editor: In the 1790’s, West Indian history recorded the success of African slaves under the Negro general Toussaint L’Ouverture. He inflicted defeat on the French armies to establish Haiti as the world’s first Negro republic in 1801.{{more}}

In similar vein, and in March, our month of Heroes, Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia also brought the pedigree of Africans to world attention.

On 01 March, 1896, his crushing defeat of the Italians at Adowa established Ethiopia firmly as a sovereign, independent state. In the 19th century, it made his country unique in Africa in terms of resisting the Europeans, hell-bent on dividing Africa among themselves.

It caused great shock in Europe that a European power could have been so decisively defeated by an African power. In 1911, the appalling atrocities committed by the Italians against the Tribesmen of Libya were said to be in revenge for the defeat at Adowa.

Nonetheless, Menelik’s victory, taken in context of this year 2011 being designated to the people of African descent, signalled to the Europeans that the natives and descendants of the African continent were never to be taken lightly. Indeed, European maps in which they had presumptuously named Ethiopia as “Italian Abyssinia” in anticipation of an Italian conquest had to be hastily re-drawn.

Menelik II died in 1913 but had made lasting progress in removing debilitating tribalism from many divided provinces and restoring the power of Ethiopia’s central Government. The name of his new capital, Addis Ababa, translates as “new flower” – a suggestion of renaissance, of new beginnings.

Perhaps in March 2011, Vincentians’ month of Heroes, Menelik’s achievements still hold a real lesson for us.

Steve J. Wyllie