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Menelik II: Glorification of a Fifth Columnist

By Berhane Kahsay Tigrai Online, March 1, 2019

Menelik II: Glorification of a Fifth Columnist and a traitor
Menelik was a traitor who connived with the Mahdists, the Egyptians and the Italians and he has nothing to do with the victory of Adwa except brutality and shame.

Menelik is adored and highly regarded by the Amahras but intensely detested by the rest of the Ethiopian people especially the Oromos. While Emperor Yohannes of Ethiopia was fighting foreign enemies in the North, Menelik was expanding his areas of influence south and eastwards. He treated the subjugated people in the most barbaric and harshest way possible; in Wollaita alone 120,000 people were massacred when they refused to submit to his rule.  In their own land, the conquered were considered as second class citizens and were forced to work as serfs for the Shoan nobility who controlled large swathes of fertile arable lands.

The humiliation meted out by Menelik against the Oromos is felt to this day. On a number of occasions, the OLF demanded the demolition of his statue in Piazza as they found it to be a vivid reminder of their people’s utter mistreatment at his hands; it was a common practice among the Oromos to change their names in order to mask their identities and escape ridicule. Even now, the way many Amharas view the Oromos is not markedly different from that of their forefathers. But the current federal system has given the Oromos the opportunity to be the masters of their own affairs, which they did not have when the Amharas ruled the country for over a century. At this juncture, Oromia has become the number one destination for foreign investors, and the regional government appears to be determined to keep this going at an accelerated rate.      


Menelik was not only brutal to his subjects, but he was also a traitor who connived with the Mahdists, the Egyptians and the Italians to bring about the defeat of Emperor Yohannes in order to crown himself as the king of Ethiopia. For his troubles, he received large quantities of weapons from the enemies of the country which he later used during the battle of Adwa. In 1887 alone, Menelik received a huge cache of Remington rifles and a substantial amount of money when he secretly signed the ‘’Convention of Neutrality’’ with the Italian invaders,  which was clearly an alliance against Emperor Yohannes.  The Emperor was not discouraged by this despicable deed, and, instead, concentrated his efforts into defeating the Italians once and for all. Unfortunately, he had to abandon this and hurriedly made his way to Gondar to confront the invading Mahdists. His intention was to return later to decisively deal with the Italians once he was finished with the Muslim intruders.

The Emperor fought the Mahdists with tremendous courage for a considerable period and victory was within his sight. Unfortunately, the near triumph was turned into a defeat and the Emperor was killed, and his head was decapitated and given to the Dervish’s leader as a trophy. Teklehaimanot of Gojjam who was in Gondar well before the Emperor’s arrival was so scared he decided to run leaving the enemy behind to go on the rampage. Menelik was pussyfooting and never came to the aid of the Emperor. The death of Emperor Yohannes must have been a great relief to Menelik and the terrified Italians, who instantly came out of their trenches and made their way southwards. It is patently clear that Menelik and Teklehaimanot played a significant part in his death, and if he had not been sidetracked by the Mahdists and the fifth columnists Menelik and Teklehaimanot, the Italians would have been decimated by the Emperor’s commander, Ras Alula Aba Nega.      

Only two months after the Emperor’s death, Menelik signed the Wuchale treaty of 2 May 1889 conceding Eritrea to the Italians, notwithstanding the valorous manner with which it was defended for nearly two decades by the Emperor’s Commander, Ras Alula. The Italians abrogated the treaty, and this led to the battle of Adwa. Thanks to the leadership of Ras Alula and the intelligence gathering skills of Basahi Awalome Haregote, Menelik was able to decisively defeat the Italians. The Italians were in disarray and it was possible to expel them from Ethiopian land all together. But Menelik chose not to, and signed the Treaty of Addis Ababa on the 23rd October 1896, sealing the fate of Eritrea.  Ras Aluala asked Menelik for cavalry to drive the Italians to the ‘’sea’’ but this was declined. No doubt the Emperor’s commander would have finished off the Italians as he did in Dogali had he been given the chance to do so.

Thanks to Menelik, we are still tussling with the Eritrean issue 116 years later. During the Eritrean struggle for independence, 1961-1991, the casualties on the Eritrean side were 140,000 and on the Ethiopian side, 1.4 million. The recent Ethio-Eritrea border war resulted in the loss of 123,000 lives on both sides; thousands of people were dislocated from their homesteads, and millions of people have been forced to live as refugees in various parts of the world.


Emperor Yohannes fought the Egyptians, Mahdists and Italians for seventeen years and yet there isn’t a statue erected anywhere in Ethiopia as a recognition for maintaining the territorial integrity of the country under very adverse conditions. A Street is named after him around Ethiopia hotel in Addis Ababa and it is written as Yohannes instead of Emperor Yohannes. There is a statue of Menelik in Piazza and Emperor Theodore’s Sebastopol Mortar in Churchill Avenue round-about, why shouldn’t there be statues for Emperor Yohannes and Ras Alula in the capital?  There was a statue of Alula in Eritrea but this was demolished by the myopic Shabiya as they did not want to be reminded of the inescapable fact that Eritrea has always been part and parcel of Ethiopia.

It was not only Eritrea that Menelik gave away, he also had a hand in letting Djibouti be part of the French protectorate when he agreed the border demarcation with the French in 1887. This was further affirmed in 1945 and 1954 by successive Amhara rulers effectively denying Ethiopia access to the sea. Menelik made Ethiopia landlocked and the country is currently spending billions of dollars for using the ports of neighbouring countries. The small contribution made by Menelik such as the construction of a railway line linking Addis Ababa with Djibouti and the few telephone lines erected here and there have been eclipsed by his treachery and the catastrophic role he played in making Ethiopia port-less just to quench his lust for power.  A slim chance that arose in 1991 should have been seized upon to rectify the intractable problems left behind by Manlike. 

The marginalisation of the people of the South and north started by Menelik continued by successive Amhara leaders, and led to the proliferation of liberation movements organised along ethnic lines such as the OLF and the TPLF. The relentless efforts to break the Tigrian spirit, and the vain attempt to adulterate their identities never materialised. Even brute force such as the aerial bombardments of Makelle Monday market and Hawzen, and the incorporation fertile lands from Western and Southern Tigray into Gondar and Wello respectively, failed to subdue the Tigrian people. Their nationalism remained as solid as ever and the TPLF took advantage of this to deliver a partial mortal blow to Amhara domination. We now have a democratic country, and for the first time in history, the rights of all ethnic groups irrespective of their sizes are guaranteed by the constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. We should gloat and glorify this achievements and not outright treachery and double dealing.

Originally published on July 12, 2012 on Tigrai Online. We are republishing it because the same arguments keep repeated every year when we celebrate the battle of Adwa and historical account on both sides so apart.

Clarification from the author.

Dear all,

As Tigrai online admin pointed out , I am not in anyway shape or form blaming all Amharas. It is patently clear that the poor and destitute have nothing to do with the crimes committed by Menelik and his successors. I would have thought that it was obvious I was referring to the elite.

Many thanks

Berhane Kahsay

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