8:15 PM – 9:15 PM (UAE Time)
Bahru Zewde - Emeritus Professor of History, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia
On 1 March 1896, Ethiopian forces led by Emperor Menelik achieved a historic
victory over Italian colonial incursion at the Battle of Adwa. That victory put
an end to Italian colonial aspirations over Ethiopia and ensured the continued
existence of Ethiopia as an independent sovereign state. Moreover, it was one of
the factors that inspired the Pan-Africanist movement, which held its first
congress in 1900. When Fascist Italy once again invaded Ethiopia in 1935
intending to erase the shameful memory of Adwa, that act galvanized the black
world around Ethiopia as few other events have done before or since. The wave of
solidarity for Ethiopia that the Fascist invasion provoked has been likened to
the anti-apartheid movement of the second half of the twentieth century. Not
only were there various fund-raising events, but thousands of volunteers
expressed their readiness to fight on the side of Ethiopia.
After Ethiopia’s liberation from Fascist Italian occupation in 1941, Emperor
Haile Selassie began to play a prominent role in African affairs by initiating a
policy of awarding scholarships to students from other African countries and
acting as a mediator between the two camps who had contrasting visions of
continental unity. This mediatory role resulted in the holding of a summit in
Addis Ababa in May 1963, which culminated in the birth of the Organization of
African Unity (OAU), upgraded into the African Union (AU) in 2002.
While Ethiopia was celebrated and venerated abroad, some critical local
Ethiopian voices began to rise as early as the first decade of the twentieth
century. Reformist intellectuals started to voice concern that Ethiopia’s
independence would be short-lived if it were not accompanied by modernity. They
recommended a host of reforms ranging from the institutionalization of
governance to the expansion of education and the assurance of social justice.
The gentle prodding of these pioneers of change was amplified by the Ethiopian
student movement in the 1960s and 1970s, which argued stridently for revolution
rather than reform. The outcome was the Ethiopian Revolution of 1974, which
opened a new chapter in Ethiopian history and its relations with Africa.