Ethiopian Scholars: Architects and Products of Flawed History
Visiting Professor of Econometrics
University of Dar es Salaam
September 03, 2003
Every country, nation or nationality is expected to have a history of its own.
We have been repetitively told that we can all learn from history-emulate or
replicate the positive aspects and making sure that the negative components
are either rectified or not repeated. We learn from our or other’s history provided
that the sequences of historical events are correctly recorded and objectively
analyzed. I happen to be an applied statistician by profession; in this field
we have a sub discipline which we call Time Series Analysis. This discipline
is nothing but an empirical analysis of historical data. For example one may
wish to study past growth of GDP or aggregate income; the historical data are
plotted on a graph in order to detect past patterns of growth or decline. Next
the investigator tries to objectively identify the reasons or causes for the
past growth or decline. This approach presupposes that to the best of the statistician’s
ability, the historical data is recorded with minimum errors or biases. Otherwise
what ever conclusion the statistician makes could not only be misleading but
he may be offering wrong income policy prescriptions. The same analogy should
apply when scholars study and interpret a country’s or peoples or event history.
It goes without saying that historians bear a burden of heavy responsibility
when documenting events of historical significance and it is incumbent upon
them to interpret their findings as objectively as possible.
When one reads or cruises over the various books and narratives written on Ethiopia’s
past by Ethiopian scholars, one may conclude that there is a lot to be desired.
Not only are Ethiopian scholars subjective and selective but also their interpretation
of historical events and personalities seems to be highly flawed. They fail
to foresee the undesirable consequences of their flawed narratives on the future
unity and sovereignty of their country. They may have to take joint responsibility
for the sad state of affairs that Ethiopia is in.
In this exercise an attempt will be made to show how Ethiopian scholar/historians
viewed their leaders over the past century and half (1855-2003). During this
extended period, Ethiopia was ruled by four emperors, one colonel and the ones
currently in power-the Weyanes. There were also three other leaders, Teklegiorgis,
Eyasu and Zewditu but these were of little consequence - either their reign
was brief or they were simply sidelined-. Ethiopian historians have made heroes
out of the four so called emperors and Colonel Mengistu. Their verdict on the
status of the Weyane leadership is not out yet. We will summarize the deeds/misdeeds
of the four emperors along with the other two and check whether they deserve
to be declared as heroes.
2. The Reign of Theodros (1855-1868)
Theodros ascended to power in 1855 at the age 33. He is believed to be from
humble background and Ethiopian scholars credit him for uniting Ethiopia from
the era of principalities (Mesafintis) without ever mentioning the means he
followed to reach to the top. European travellers who were in and around Gondar
during his reign have documented that Theodros was selfish and quick tempered..
Alan Morehead, in his book 'The Blue Nile' describes Theodros as ‘……a mad dog
set loose……’ in reaction of his treatment of both Ethiopians and foreigners.
Few months after he took power and after claiming that he had liquidated potential
pretenders to the throne, the country begins to disintegrate again and moves
towards anarchy. It is believed that Theodros spent most of his 13 years reign
moving from one place to the other, killing most of his enemies and many of
his friends. The way he was committing crimes against humanity is simply horrendous.-
putting hundreds of would be conspirators in thatched huts, locking and then
setting them on fire, throwing hundreds of prisoners and opponents into the
deep precipice of Magdela, burning towns such as Gonder, imprisoning his brothers,
relatives, foreign travellers and emissaries, looting and vandalizing villages.
In the end he ended up being so unpopular and paranoid; he feared for his life
and with his few remaining followers fortified and confined himself to the mountain
top of Magdala. Finally he ended his life while resisting capture by Napier’s
British expedition. Theodros was succeeded by Teklegiorghis whose reign did
not even last three years.
This is the personality of Theodros. One finds it difficult to comprehend why
Ethiopian scholars admire, adore, glorify and make a hero out of such character.
This is nothing but a flawed interpretation of history.
3. The reign of Yohannes (1871-1889)
Yohannes defeats Tekleghiorghis his brother in law (husband of his sister) captures
him and literally blinds him by inserting a hot iron bar into his eyes! (What
a moronic character!). This is not an allegation; it is simply the truth as
it appears in a standard Ethiopian historical text authored by non other than
Tekletsadik Mekuria, the so called Ethiopian historian. (In a later edition
of the book the author withdraws the above allegation probably after protests
and intimidations by the Yohannes royal house.) It should be noted that Yohannes
victory over Tekleghiorgis was due to the fact that his army was equipped with
modern weaponry; he was rewarded with armaments by the British Napier expedition
for his anti Ethiopian services and for his treasonous activities against Theodros.
Once Yohannes ascends to power in 1871 he gives Ethiopian Moslems an ultimatum-either
convert to Christianity or else. Many brave Ethiopian Moslems defied the edict;
as a result thousands were massacred, disfigured and were forced to out-migrate
to safe heavens such as Eritrea and Sudan. During the emperor’s regime there
was a rebellion in Gojjam region-Yohannes and his army march to the province,
plunder and ravage the country side and leave the place completely ransacked.
In the end Yohannes was defeated and beheaded in the battle of Metema while
fighting the Mahdists of Sudan (1889). It is widely believed that the Ethiopian
Moslems who were forced to leave their homeland because they did not wish to
succumb to the Emperor’s wild edict were responsible for his humiliating defeat.
It is the Yohannes type misfits that the present day Ethiopian scholars admire
and revere. They have named streets, airports and schools after them. This should
not have been the case and that is why one can safely conclude that the Ethiopian
history books are highly flawed.
4. The reign of Menelik
When Yohannes passes Menelik comes into the picture (1889-1913). Like Yohannes,
Menelik came to power through treacherous and treasonable activities. He ‘stabbed
Yohanees in the back’ by aligning himself with the Italians; at that time the
latter were arch enemies of Yohannes; Menelik also failed to support Yohannes’s
bid to ‘defend’ Ethiopia from the Mahdists. He was probably praying that Yohannes
would die in the battle field so that he will take over……and that is exactly
what happened. Treason number one for Menelik. Current Ethiopian scholars and
politicians regard Menelik as the architect of modern Ethiopia. This is not
true; the stark reality is that, Menelik was a typical colonizer and an active
participant in the scramble for Africa. He forcibly subdued the Oromos, the
Welaitas, Kembatas, Afars, Somalis, Aderes and many other nations and nationalities
in the South, Southwest and East of present day Ethiopia.. He imposed an archaic
Menz type culture on these otherwise proud people. He forced them to change
their religion, values cultures and in some instances their truly democratic
traditions (such as the Gada system). He treated the vanquished as slaves ready
to be sold in an auction like market.
It should be noted that Menelik’s conquest of the South was not a ‘walk in’;
he did encounter stiff resistance especially from the Welaitas, Arssi Oromos
and the Aderes of Harar. He was able to defeat them using the relatively modern
weapons he acquired from the Italians via Asseb. After defeating the southern
nations and nationalities, he appointed his own native Amharas to be the warlords.
Any historian with a slight semblance of objectivity cannot label Menelik as
a hero. He is not –pure and simple. On the contrary many Ethiopian scholars
admire this so called hero to the extent of almost worshiping him. This is nothing
but a deliberate distortion of historical facts. Given this attitude, there
is no way for the present day Ethiopian scholars to gain respect and credibility
from the Oromos, Kambatas, and other oppressed nationalities.
5. The Reign of Haile selassie
The next ‘major’ emperor of the Ethiopian empire is Teferi Mekonnen alias Haile
Selassie (his imperial name is almost one km. long!). The real heir apparent
to Menelik’s throne was his grand son Eyasu. He was 17 years old when he became
a national leader (what a shame) and only stayed in power for three years (1913-1916).
As expected he was ousted by Teferi in the usual Abyssinian approach-through
treason. This time Teferi’s pretext for overthrowing Eyasu was his Islamic lineage
and tendency as well as the fact that he was not a Shoan Menz par excellence!
Once in power (1916-1930 as a regent 1931-1974 as an emperor) Teferi made a
dummy out of Zewditu - the new empress - by sidelining her on the archaic pretext
that she is a woman; he put his children and relatives in high places and placed
behind the bars any would be opponent. Four years after he was crowned as emperor,
Ethiopia was invaded by Fascist Italy. Instead of undertaking a protracted warfare,
Haile selassie briefly appeared in Maichew battlefield not to fight but for
a photo show; he abandoned his rug tag army and immediately returned to Addis;
few days later he fled to Britain by a royal cruiser liner that was waiting
him in Djiboutti. With him he took his family, relatives and what ever was available
in the treasury.
Haileselassie was residing in Bath, Britain waiting and praying for a miracle
to happen… and….. BINGO!!.....miracle did happen….Italy along with Germany declared
war on Britain. With the assistance of the British, Haile selassie was on his
way to Ethiopia via Sudan after five years of seclusion.
Ethiopian scholars/historians declared Haile selassie as the liberator. Again
this is far from the truth. The plain fact is that Italians in Ethiopia were
defeated by the British not by Haile selassie and his forces. By the time he
arrived in Khartoum in 1941 he did not have a credible army; he just assembled
few hundred recruits from among the Ethiopian refugees in the Sudan and hired
a military adviser in the name of Colonel Wingate (a weird character).
Before Haile selassie crossed the Ethio Sudan border via Gojjam (he was scared
to use Gonder as an entry point because there were many patriots waiting to
capture him…..remember Blata Takkele!!!...….) the British had already occupied
most of Ethiopia by attacking Italian lines from the North that is from Sudan,
via Eritrea…to Ethiopia and from the South, via Kenya and British Somali land
to Ethiopia. In other words by the time Haile selassie crossed into Ethiopia,
he did not face any resistance. Every thing was ‘ready made’ for him. When Haile
selassie arrived in Debre Marcos, General Cunningham’s British army had already
occupied the capital Addis Abeba. The British officers instructed and warned
Haile selassie to stay in Debre Marcos and not move south to Addis. The British
military were about to declare Ethiopia as a conquered enemy territory thereby
establishing a colonial administration. Haile selassie was believed to be in
a state of depression. It was only through Churchill’s instruction and the sympathy
the British had for the Ethiopians that Haile selassie was finally allowed to
proceed to Addis Abeba and hoist the Ethiopian flag. Even then Ethiopia was
still under British domination until 1944.
Contrary to what Ethiopian scholars lead us to believe Haile selassie cannot
be a hero…..this is another one of a series of making a hero out of a villains.
As of late
Ethiopian scholars also seem to be divided on whether Haile selassie was a hero
or not. Those who were active during hid reign label him as a hero; Mengistu
and his intellectual followers call him a villain; Weyane and their sympasizers
don’t even know how to label him.
6. Mengistu and the Weyanes
We have two more ‘villains’ to go before we reach the twenty first century.
This time I will try to be brief as many people know who Mengistu is and who
the Weyanes are. One of the most vicious tyrants of the twentieth century is
Mengistu (1974-1991). It will be time and energy consuming to narrate the atrocities
and misdeeds of this psychopath. As usual he climbed to power through treason
and deception by demystifying the invincibility of Ethiopian emperors; he simply
murdered Haile selassie, massacred his grand children and relatives, his ministers
and generals - one by one. He assassinated thousands of Ethiopians including
many of the products of Ethiopia’s flawed history. He launched the so called
‘red terror’ whereby thousands of children, adults and elders were massacred
in broad day light; he charged a fee for parents who wish to take their dead
relatives. In the end his half a million Ethiopian army was decimated by the
gallant freedom fighters of Eritrea. Without showing any resistance he fled
to Zimbabwe with his children and relatives. Mengistu is probably the most coward
among Ethiopia’s so called heroes.
Last and least we have the current leaders of Ethiopia-the Weyanes-. Fortunately
they are not yet declared as heroes by the Ethiopian scholars. The ethnic group
where the Weyane hail from constitute only 5% of the Ethiopian population making
them unfit to lead a country of 65 million. Setting this aside for the moment,
the Weyanes are the worst pathological liars of their kind. Because of this
built - in habit, whatever they utter today is forgotten or denied the next
day (witness Seyoum Mesfin’s statements following the border ruling and afterwards).
The Weyanes claim to have given Ethiopian ethnic groups their right to self
rule and yet they arrest, torture and kill their best leaders; they claim that
they are for free press and yet they are very brutal against journalists, they
claim that the Ethiopian economy has shown magnificent progress and yet they
have 14 million people on the verge of starvation and death, they claim that
they have introduced a free market and yet they have depleted the Ethiopian
treasury through capital flight to Tigrai and abroad. They claim that they stand
for peace in the region and yet they opened war on a neighbor (Eritrea) whereby
more than 100 000 mostly non Tigrean Ethiopians are believed to have been perished.
They claim that they will abide by the decision of the boundary commission and
yet they refuse to go along in the demarcation process. More can be said, has
been said and will be said about the current misfits running the country. As
usual they came to power through treason and deception. Chances are that they
may not stay there much longer. It is every body’s hope that, this may be the
right time for Ethiopians to change leadership through democratic and peaceful
means. Unfortunately this is doubtful.
We have gone over the true activities of six so called leaders that led Ethiopia
down the drain over the past 148 years (1855-2003). They include four self styled
emperors, one military dictator and the Weyanes. From their actions and reactions
they cannot be declared as heroes. If at all there is anything to learn from
them it is not to be or act like them and if possible not to remember them.
One wishes that this tendency of ‘wrong hero worship’ should be put to a close.
To the contrary this is not what the so called Ethiopian scholars and historians
are propagating. It appears that there is little one can do because these same
scholars are the product of Ethiopian flawed history. Because of this ‘wrong
hero worship’ Ethiopian scholars, historians and their followers claim to be
proud that they are Ethiopians. Surely they can be proud of Ethiopia’s good
climate, the hospitality of the people, its ethnic mosaic and her other positive
attributes. To be proud of their villain leaders is simply an act of irresponsibility
with symptoms of Fascism and Nazism.
Unless this ‘wrong hero worship’ is checked, unless the products of Ethiopia’s
flawed history come to their senses, unless they have a South African type truce
and reconciliation, unless Ethiopian chauvinists atone, recant and publicly
apologize for their ancestors’ misdeeds Ethiopia will be there for more trouble.
If the Ethiopians scholars - both within the country and in the Diaspora - do
not return to their senses they will continue to be a problem, not only for
Ethiopia but also for its neighbours. Their recent postings and utterances suggest
that they are unlikely to return back to sanity. In my next posting I will try
to summarize current activities of the so called Ethiopian scholars cum historians.