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Atse Yohannes’ IV Legacy Part 2

By Bereket Kiros
May 13, 2012

Emperor Yohannes IV, King of Zion and King of Kings of Ethiopia
 -Tigrai Online If Martin Luther King Jr. is right that the arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice. Our generation should not disdain like its predecessors pushed to the side the courage bravery, sacrifices that was made to preserve Ethiopian independence by the King of Kings, Yohannes IV, Emperor of Ethiopia. Our denial is not merely an inconvenient fact but it is a major stumbling block to our consciousness and understanding historical truth. This article isn’t about digging up malice and resentment among the past leaders of Ethiopia. It’s about examining the deliberate attempt to denial parochial critiques and reexamines the evidences, by anchoring historical truth on the right track. Despite, the all-out assault by some revisionist and chauvinist elements, their innuendos, falsifications and the dangers they mean to the Ethiopian existence will be dealt with by trying to restore the rightful place of Atse Yohannes legacy shaping our modern Ethiopia. Neither time nor history will forgive our generation that we do not have a proper monument for Ethiopia's greatest defender and protector. Beneath the veneer present and past leaderships of Ethiopia and Ethiopian’s, lurks a darker reality why honoring a great leader is at the backburners. The deeper answers lie definitely in the bowels of all those politicians and their sycophants, who try to bury the truth of this great son of Ethiopia.

The historical fact about Emperor Yohannes has been reduced as a short note, often utterly by disguised interpretations to fit the pattern of the status quo. Now and then it has become a totem for an array of religious identity and discontent. In the 19th century, European powers staked claims to virtually the entire Africa. European rule was enforced both by treaty and by conquest. What animates these narratives is disagreement the feuding and contending houses of the kings, but also the way how it was written by Ethiopian historians. Some of them went far as to belittle the contribution that was made, while glorifying the predecessors as wise and able men with extraordinary cunning traits. Emperor Yohannes legacy has to be raised for his great contribution in shaping Ethiopian statehood in a form of federalism and laid the legal foundation for centralized Ethiopia to his successor Atse Menelik.  

It is true Atse Tewodros seemed to set to make rapid progress towards uniting Ethiopia but also he encountered unexpected resistance centered on his conduct of rule.  “It is important, however, to keep in mind that Tewodros did not succeed in unifying Ethiopia…although Tewodros consumed an extraordinary amount of his time and energy to accomplish that goal…. In the end Tewodros left Ethiopia as divided as he had found it. When he committed suicide at Meqdella in 1868, moreover, a foreign army stood in the heart of the country. What then was his contribution or that of his contemporaries to the Survival of Ethiopian Independence.? Certainly, the obvious answer seems to be: none.  That, however, is not true. In his short reign, Tewodros important directions for his successors.” (The Survival of Ethiopian Independence P.173)

 Yohannes had two consuming ambitions: “To unify the Christian empire, splintered by civil war for the most of previous two centuries, and to expand its frontiers to the deserts beyond the eastern escarpment which had passed into hostile Muslim hands more than 300 years earlier. Crucial to both ambitions was the possession of Massawa.” (The Scramble for Africa white man’s conquest of the Dark Continent from 1876-1912 P. 471)

Atse Yohannes during his reign the only treaty he has signed was the Hewett Treaty named after William Hewett. Some scholars knowing or unknowingly tried to distort the facts of the Treaty to disparage the intelligence of Atse Yohannes that he was deceived both by British and Atse Menelik is an absurd. In 1884 Yohannes signed the treaty of Adwa with Ismael Pasha’s successors, the British. He agreed to help them against their new common enemy- the Mahdi- by giving safe conduct to the Egyptians garrisons marooned on the Sudanese frontier. In return, the British promised to let him have Bogos, the lowland province north of Tigre and assured him ‘British protection” to secure free transit through Massawa of all merchandise, including modern arms. Nothing has been said about who was to control Massawa itself. But Yohannes assumed that it was he who would reclaim Ethiopia’s ancient inheritance, the Red Sea pearl stolen by the Turks in the Sixteen century.” (The Survival of Ethiopian Independence p.472) During Emperor Yohannes IV reign, Ethiopia did gain some part of its territories that was occupied by Turks and Egyptians. On the other hand many of the chief Rases Welde Sillase of Begemder, Adal of Gojjam, and Haylu of Selewa, Dijjazmach Wibe, Wagshums Teferi and Kebede, Imam Amede of Wollo, and of course, Nigus Minilik all wanted to ally themselves with Egyptians.(The Survival of Ethiopian Independence p.367).

Getachew Haile in his latest article filled with onslaught and lies posted on Ethiomedia entitled “   went so far by ridiculing the Ethiopian history without being a historian. The self-appointed historian as he is, also graciously acknowledged by him the article was a fairytale regurgitating the lies that we are accustomed to hear, and went on to fabricate his insidious attacks at Atse Yohannes about the incident at Borumeda. His apparent lack of perception leads him to unfathomable mistake never seen among people who call themselves academicians. Paul B. Henze describes the events at Borumeda in the following statement “Yohannes called a religious conference at Borumeda in Wollo in summer of 1878 to settle the still seething doctrinal debates.  Dozens of senior clergymen came from Shoa. Tigray and Gojjam. In the debates, the Sost Lidet( Three Birth) concept popular in Shoa was condemned and the Kara Haymanot or Qebat ( Two Birth or Unctionist) doctrine was proclaimed by Yohannes as the only valid position in the presence of Menelik and Ras Adal of Gojjam. Christians, Muslims and Pagans were given two, three and five years respectively to conform”. (Layers of Time P. 150)

According to seven Rubenson “The Adwa peace treaty (Hewett Treaty) of 1884 was a diplomat victory for Ethiopia comparable to the military ones of Gundet and Gura. The combination of patience and sustained pressure had finally led up to a very favorable moment for negotiations, and the opportunity was not wasted. Ethiopia’s lost borderlands were recovered. Massawa was for all practical purposes made an Ethiopian port.”  (The Survival of Ethiopian Independence p. 361) The racial stigma of the colonizers was at full gear and the era for scramble of Africa was starting to shape. Britain was reluctant to hand over the port of Massawa to Ethiopians and preferred to handover to the Italians to help fellow white man.  If the British abandon the port according to the treaty Ethiopia would have taken the possession of the port. Britain has cast herself as dependable allay. Britain moves away from Yohannes in her own selfish interest greed and racism. The British duplicity and betrayal Massawa became an Italian possession. It is true that Atse Yohannes remained faithful to Hewett Treaty for two reasons. His commitment to protect Ethiopian church from Mahdists and removed them Egyptian garrison in order to create a buffer zone and possession of Massawa.

The “Hewett Treaty” champion was Alula who arranged the meeting for what was considered as a “moral and political victory” for Ethiopians in many accounts. The emperor demand that any treaty with Egypt be granted by Britain, a requirement which had seemed impossible in 1879, had become accomplished fact”. (Haggai Erlich Ras Alula and the Scramble for Africa p. 47)

According to Paul Henze, the Hewett Treaty was short lived because of two factors. In 1885 the Italian flag was raised together with Egyptian banner in Massawa because the British secretly conceded the Italian move, as the same Atse Yohannes was abstracted by revolt in Wollo. On the other front Atse Menelik was collaborating with Italians to remain neutral if conflict started and promised rifles. Atse Yohannes embroil war in three fronts i.e. Italy, Mahdists and Minilik to weaken Ethiopia. He chose to the external enemy the Mahdists and lost his life at near end of victory on 9 March 1889. (Layers of Time P. 156) Professor Getachew went on to say Atse Menelik as candid and clever leader but history tells otherwise.  Yohannes’s attempt to full his part of Hewett treaty a passage in a manuscript by the Mahdists historian  Ismailb, Abad al-Qadir, it appears that Alula’s role in these developments was not underestimated in Umm Durman:  When Yuhana (Atse Yohannes) ascended the throne of Abyssinia …he became proud exorbitant and insolent…and look to the land of Islam. And he sent his troops to the Red Sea coast where he took from the Turks (the Egyptians) several cities and put on the frontier the best of his men who are famous for cunning, bravery, and steadiness such as Ras Alula and others. Ras Alula was one of the famous and brave man in war, very experienced in the tactics of battle. He was a bone in the throats of British, Italians and Turks (Egyptian) Empires.  Ras Alula and the Scramble For Africa Haggai Erlich p. 127 )

Professor Sven Rubenson wrote in, “The death of Yohannes finally presented Minilik with the opportunity for which he had been waiting for almost 25 years. He had been a reluctant vassal, and his contribution in defense of Ethiopia’s territory and independence had so far marginal: In the very last year of Yohannes’s reign, however Minilik came perilously close to allying himself with Ethiopia’s potentially most dangerous enemy, Now he needed the Italians more than they needed him. He wanted the promise rifles and more if possible. ……He was certainly aware that he would be requested to pay in terms future territorial concessions as well, if he succeeded to hold his own and eventual replace Yohannes as Emperor. It was in this situation the treaty of Wichale was conceived in Rome in August-September 1888. In the draft treaty, these concessions were defined by a line starting Anifilla on the coast, passing by and including in the Italian colony the village of Halay, Hebo, Akrur, Asmara, and Seazega and, after having followed the Anseba a short distance, running in a straight line east to west so that Bogos and most of other districts once held by Egyptians would go to Italy.” (The Survival of Ethiopian Independence, p. 384-85) Menelik seal and signature on such Treaties stands as a testimony to his selfish scarifies of Ethiopian territory [Eritrea] as the single most reason as the source of our present predicament, a historical backlash. It is no longer impossible for Ethiopian educators to close their eyes to the fact Menelik conspired with the Italians for 5000 rifles with Antonelli to stay neutral in the war against Italians and Mahdists. When Menelik had been ordered by Yohannes to take position in the field against Mahdists after their retreat from Tana, Menelik agreed to act only as a peacemaker between Yohannes and Mahdists.

Minilik was natural ally of the Egyptians, because of the tension between him and Yohannes; it has been taken for granted almost that Minilik conspired with the Egyptians to open the way for himself to the throne. Because, again the tension Tigre and Shewa which has prevailed in Ethiopian politics ever since Minilik succeeded Yohannes, at the expense of the latter’s son Mengesha, the question of Minilik eventual treason has remained a live issue. (The Survival of Ethiopian Independence page 368 The Scramble for Africa white man’s conquest of the Dark Continent from 1876-1912 P. 473)

Haggai Erlich “ Menelik must have been very disappointed not to have gained Ras Alula’s submission, and it was believed that the emperor did not proceed to Aksum to be crowned because of Alula’s intransigence. Menelik consider the Ras as the moving sprit of Tigrean resistance to the new Shoan hegemony, and he instructed Ras Mengesha to exclude Alula from any military command and provincial government, only permitting him his private property. Menelik gave assurance to the Italian that Ras Alula, …The most offensive culprit in the Italian eyes, would be excluded from any command in Tigre.”  (Ras Alula and the Scramble For Africa Haggai Erlich p. 153 ) Those are the traits of canning traits according to the good professor.

It was sufficient to note here the desire of Atse Yohannes in the height of his reign his ambition to   restore Ethiopian lost territories access to Sea. He understood well that boundary maintenance has been uniquely important to the integrity of Ethiopia's survival because of her vulnerability to international politics. The image of the Red Sea as an historical territory is deeply rooted in Ethiopia's national consciousness in the past and the future. It is fair to say he was anguish over the question of Red sea and tried to find ways to avoid relinquishing any of the privileges that Ethiopia enjoyed for centuries having an outlet to the sea. At least insofar as it involved the loss of Massawa, surrender to Turks and Italians would be too high a price for Ethiopia to pay.

In November 1875, and 1876, Atse Yohannes defended the highlands of Tigrai against successive invasions by Ismael Pasha’s army from the sea.  On the second 12, 000 invading Egyptians armed with modern rifles and artillery officered by expatriate’s mercenaries, including some Americans were defeated. The outcome of the Gundet Sven Rubensen describes it in his book The Survival of Ethiopian Independence page 366. The Ethiopian Victory to two factors: “Yohannes ---------the ablest and most renewed African warrior of modern times; and the Abyssinians ------a desperately brave people”

Many self-appointed historians and ethnic bashers  trying to label Atse Yohannes that he was collaborated with British for the demise of Atse Tewodros.Remarkably, it is not uncommon today to hear cyber pundits narrow ethnic bashers to criticize Atse Yohannes have no shame. Dr. Ghelawdewos, who writes balanced and objective scholarly essays and who admires modern Ethiopian emperors including Tewodros, Yohannes, and Menelik, states, “Despite his popularity, however, the Ethiopian Church turned against Tewodros, and in retaliation the Emperor incarcerated the patriarch in solitary confinement at Meqdella. At this stage, Tewodros increasingly became paranoid and his mental capacity became questionable. He began cutting hands and legs of real and perceived enemies; he threw off people of the cliff of Meqdella, and massacred the clergy who were even in good terms with his regime. His cruel actions, thus, gave rise to various organized revolts, this time led by Dejach Bezbiz Kassa (future Emperor Yohannes of Ethiopia) in Tigray; Wagshum Gobeze (later Emperor Teklegiorgis) in Lasta; and Sahlemariam (who managed to escape from Meqdella) in Shewa.”(http://www.africanidea.org/emperor_tewdros.pdf">Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia article titled The Great Unifier: Emperor Tewodros II of Ethiopia)

If it was not Atse Yohannes’s far-sightedness and wisdom and diplomatic skill Ethiopia as we know today may not exist as a centralized Country. The irony is the double standard against Atse Yohannes while Atse Menelik collaboration with Italians to cede Ethiopian territory is somewhat justifiable. If history is to be judged anchoring times both have served well for Ethiopian survival. During Atse Yohannes his forces were in particular Tigrains were stretch and exhausted fighting against internal and external forces. 

The British withdrawal and direct involvement in Ethiopian affairs is not coincidental. It was the result of  Atse Yohannes Percy Arnold “In the ensuing talks Kassa agreed to collaborate with the British –and to provide them with provisions-on conditions that after the defeat of their common enemy Theodore, they would quickly leave the country, thus if all well went well, leaving him in a good position to seize Theodore’s crown to which he had long aspired. (Prelude to Magdala p. 317. http://www.tecolahagos.com/emperor_yohannes.htm" Tecola Hagos a writer and commentator on Ethiopian Politics sums it up as fallows on his article titled  Emperors Tewodros II, Yohannes IV, Menilik II, and the Myth of Colonialism With “ this new reevaluation and perspective in place on the life and deeds of Tewodros, any discussion on the alleged collaboration of Kassa Mirtcha or anyone else becomes more of an academic exercise than of substantive and useful understanding of an incident that after all resulted in benefits to the people of Ethiopia. Thus the alleged betrayal of Kassa Mirtcha must be examined with fresh insight for I have found from such records there were far more “blameworthy” leaders such as Gobeze, Menilik, Mestewat, Workit et cetera than Kassa for the “downfall” of Tewodros. Moreover, I believe Tewodros himself was the worst enemy to Tewodros more than anybody else.“

The life of Emperor Yohannes IV shows us his continuous struggle against the World powers of his time to preserve the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ethiopia . We should consider four of his dramatic military engagements: Emperor Yohannes IV  reign shows us his continuous struggle against the World powers to preserve the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ethiopia . To mention among four of his greatest military achievements and engagements:

1. Gundet, 16 November 1875 against Egypt  

2. Gura , 8-9 March 1876 against Egypt

3. Dogali, 26 January 1887 against Italy

4. Gallabat/Metema, 12 March 1889 against the Mahdists where Yohannes died in battle.The British were intimately involved with the political life of the people of Egypt and Sudan . In fact, at one time the British were completely controlling the foreign policy of those nations and were throwing their weight behind the schemes to undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ethiopia , a monumental mistake in their foreign policy, which ultimately and negatively affected everyone in the area dearly to this day.

The late Ato Zewede Gebre-Selassie summed it up Emperior Yohannese Leagecy as the followings, Yohannes IV emerged victrious and over a period of 17 years, able and methodically welded together Moderen Ethiopia much as we know it today. By the time of his trajic fall at the Battle of Metemma (1889) at the hands of Mahdists, Yohannes had left a united greatly expanded Ethiopia for his successors to consoldate and modernize.( Yohannese IV of Ethiopia: a Political Biography p.383)

The results of my inquires can mostly be defined in negative terms however, it is important this article highlights a basic traits of character evident throughout Emperior Yohanness commitement for unified Ethiopia.It is time to denounce the hypocracy of those who are trying to portray the defender, protector and a unifier of Ethiopia with a short note in Ethiopian history. Proffesor Getachaw, usual barrage of insult towards Oromo and unfounded fable the well-established lies to tarnish the repetition of to one of the greatest defender King of Kings Atse Yohannes is a sad saga that only comes from a man who have lost decency. The good professors have not slowed his ugly streak with age, still regurgitate filthy statements.

Professor Getachew Haile article is an absurd a fable history that doesn’t have merit in academic circle. He is appalling to the usual entrench hate mongers who made a habit manipulating the facts. When an academician distort or propagandize, some of us may go astray. He shines the article through his prism, so it comes out in precisely the colors he wants. His information is as shallow as his conclusions are vacuous. No wonder we are a nation divided.



Ghelawdewos Araia Ph.D. The Martyred King of Kings: Emperor Yohannes IV of Ethiopia (July 3 2006) retrieved March, 14, 2012 from http://www.africanidea.org/atse_yohannes.pdf

Sven Rubensen (1991). The Survival of Ethiopian Independence. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Kuraz publication Agency.

Tecola Hagos Emperors Tewodros II, Yohannes IV, Menilik II, and the Myth of Colonialism (October 15 2004) retrieved March, 14, 2012 from http://www.tecolahagos.com/emperor_yohannes.htm

Donald N. Levine (1974) Greater Ethiopia 2nd edition, the Evolution of a Multiethnic Society. Chicago & London, The University of Chicago Press.

Richard Pankhurst (1998) The people of Africa The Ethiopians a History. USA, Australia and Germany, Blackwell publishing.

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