Illusion or Reality: Is the town of Adwa growing in Leaps and bounds?
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Illusion or Reality: Is the town of Adwa growing in Leaps and bounds?

Professor Asayehgn Desta
Tigrai Online, May 8, 2017

The town of Adwa, Tigrai is growing in Leaps and bounds

On March 1, 1896 Ethiopian patriots achieved an unprecedented triumph against Italy’s aggressive colonization at the Battle of Adwa. It is exciting to know that the honorable Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Ato Haile Mariam Desalgne has laid down a commemorative monument dedicated to the establishment of the Adwa Pan-African University 120 years after this historic battle. Although the infrastructure in Adwa is currently inadequate, the prospective university center is key to Adwa’s future.


The university’s site is very close to the Enda Aba Girma Church, where the Italian Brigadier Vittorio Dabormid and the remaining Italian brigade was finally wiped out (Jonas, 2011). The stone monument was erected very close to the statue and burial place of the known Ethiopian hero, Ras Alula (Aga Nega). In addition, the University will be close by the church of Aba Germa, where some of the belongings of the Holiness Abuna Paulos, Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahado Church, are found.

The vision of the University is still evolving. It is hoped that the Adwa Pan-African University will have an unique competitive thematic niche. However, it is my assumption that the Adwa Pan-African University will be tailored to ensure and depict Ethiopia’s pride and inspiration for the victory of all black Africans who suffered under the yoke of enslavement and colonialism, especially within the context of the battle of Adwa (See Jonas, 2011 and Desta, 2011).

It is hoped that the Adwa Pan-African University will contribute to enlightenment and diffuse innovative and creative knowledge. More specifically, the Adwa Pan-African University should be tailored to serve as a primary source for the preservation of artifacts that are necessary to carry out research on the Battle of Adwa. In addition, to clarify the significance of the Battle of Adwa, the Adwa Pan-African University should uncover local resources and map out the landscape of Adwa (Desta, 2012). Currently, the so called ‘Museum for the Battle of Adwa’ that was inaugurated by ex-President Girma Wolde Giorgis has remained as a window dressing, with nice pictures of the initiators and erected posts that bear worn out and torn flags.

I see no reason why the Adwa Pan African University will not portray historical, cultural and artistic significance for the education of the global public if the various administrators and functionaries who administer the university remain committed to the aims of the projects and enough funds are allocated to carry out this project.

However, Prime Minister Haile Mariam needs to reconsider his statement of April 27, 2017 that ‘within the last six years that he visited the town of Adwa, it has grown in leaps and bounds’ (or in Amharic, amounts to the difference between the sky and the earth).’

Yes, the ramshackle Adwa hospital that provided inadequate services for decades is in the process of being repaired. The Queen Sheba Senior Secondary School is in the process of being renovated. And though not fully equipped, the crammed Queen Sheba Secondary School has now a new library built by the contributions made by the Ethiopian Diasporas. And at a tremendous cost to the residents, the center of the town has been remodeled. But these minuscule and illusionary changes should under no imagination make the Prime Minister openly say that the town of Adwa has grown in ‘leaps and bounds’.

The sober reality is that the town of Adwa has become decadent.  In case nobody had the guts to tell the Prime Minister, let it be crystal clear that over the years, the town of Adwa has deteriorated economically.

For example, when houses in commercial centers were trashed to expand the center of the town, the community was not given adequate notice and several small business owners were forced to flee. Some have already established their business in another large towns. Those who remain in the town waiting for the renovations to finish have remained unemployed. Those who don’t have family members have no other choice but to become destitute beggars, and reside in the existing churches and mosque compounds.

In addition, the government failed to take the trash of the depilated houses and deposit them in landfills, so the accumulated dirt became mud, which caused flash floods and created erosion during the rainy season. The fast-moving landslides then carried away the existing houses.  During the dry seasons, the dust causes major health problems to the residents, such as coughing, sneezing, and irritation of the eyes.

The once very competitive Queen Sheba School used to be regarded as the powerhouse for producing Ethiopia’s intellectuals. Now, it is now on the verge of collapse. Every year, few students pass the twelfth Ethiopian Leaving Certificate Exam. Most of those who graduate from the Technical and Vocational Educational Training (TVET) program do not remain in the town to contribute positive effects on the community or don’t undergo through internship before they graduate, making it harder to find employment.

The original Technical and Vocational Educational Training (TVET) Center that this author paid $30,000 USD to build is completely abandoned, despite being built in 2006. The trashed former TVET fully demonstrates that the local administrators are not interested in maintaining the welfare of the students, only in making their political leaders happy. As a result, the school has become a disincentive for other Diasporas not to give assistance for other community needed projects.

The classrooms that were built in the 1960s for the Queen Sheba Elementary School are now rented to businesses by the woreda administrators. The cadres have found it more beneficial to use the rental funds for administrative purposes instead of using the classrooms for student learning activities. Similarly, multimillion funds were promised by the known philanthropist Dawit Gebreegzabher for the establishment of historical sites and a modern language training recreation center in the town of Adwa. Though the project would have given the Adwa community real hope, so far, the government has not been willing to give the necessary permit.   

The historical churches at Yeha, which is in close proximately to the town of Adwa could have been fully utilized as a tourist paradise and as an economic multiplier to the Adwa community. Instead, nothing has been initiated to entice tourists.

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Therefore, the conclusion could be that the Prime Minister’s impression of the town of Adwa carries a great Ethiopian tradition of heroism of the past. And as the saying goes, it is better to be late than never. If the envisaged university has ascertained the seed money to start and has the necessary operational budget to run it effectively, the multiplier effect of the establishment of the Adwa Pan-African University will rekindle the town of Adwa. But as it stands now, objective reality clearly shows that over the years the town has been backsliding.

Though mapping the road forward is likely challenging, the establishment of the Adwa Pan African University in the town of Adwa with the blessing of Prime Minister Haile Mariam is indeed remarkable. In addition, the movers and shakers of this noble project need to be congratulated for their hard work.

Given that the modes operandi of the existing Ethiopian government are based on “Good Democratic Governance” one way of crosschecking the validity of some of the illusive statements that the local administrators might have given to the Prime Minister could be by asking some of the residents of the town of Adwa. After all, isn’t involvement of citizens in public life at the local level one of the tenants of a democratic system?


Desta, A. (2012). “Sustainable Local Development: The Revitalization of the Town of Adwa (Ethiopia) through community -Based Endogenous Projects.” Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences. Vol. 2, Issue, 2, pp. 34-41.  

Desta, A. 2011). “A note on the Economic Effects of Queen Sheba School on the Town of Adwa.”

Jonas, R. (2011). The Battle of Adwa: African Victory in the Age of Empire. Boston: Harvard University Press.

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