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Were Ethiopian leaders colonialist?

Ethiopian leaders such as Ras Alula Engida, Yohannes IV, Menelik II, and Haile Selassie are often regarded as being staunch anti-colonial leaders by many Ethiopian writers. In this article, we'll see how this portrayal of them isn't a very accurate one as it selectively ignores much of their collaboration with colonial forces.

Yohannes IV (born Kassay Mercha)
Ruled from: 1872 - 1889

For starters, Kassay Mercha of Tigray (later to be renamed Yohannes IV) is regarded as curbing colonialism by Ethiopian historians, a simple glance at his past shows that he came to power with the help of colonial British forces himself. It was not till Yohannes collaborated with British forces to dislodge emperor Tewodros did he become emperor himself. For his cooperations with the British, he ended up receiving British weapons and training of his troops, which led to his subsequent rise to power. Someone who worked with colonial forces to defeat their own countrymen certainly can not be taking as being anti-colonial.

Tewodros's death in 1868, which, like his life, was a turning point in his country's history, left Ethiopia again divided, and without a ruler. Three rival personalities then held power in different areas. The first to gain prominence was Wagshum Gobaze, the ruler of Amhara, Wag and Lasta, who was immediately crowned Emperor Takla Giyorgis at Gondar. He was, however, soon effectively challenged by Dajzmach Kasa Mercha of Tigray. The latter was militarily more pwerful, in part on account of the gift of arms he had received from the Napier expedition, and assiatance given him by a former member of the British force, John Kirkham, who had volunteered to train his army on European lines. Gobaze set out with 60,000 men to capture Adwa, the then capital of Tigray, but Kasa, making good use of his British guns, defeated him at the battle of Assam, on 11 July 1871. He then proclaimed himself Emperor Yohannes IV, on 21 January of the following year.The third contestant for power was Menilek, heir to the throne of Shawa, who had been one of Tewodro's prisoners at Maqdala, but escaped in 1865, and proclaimed himself king of his province. Though then the weakest of the three chiefs, he for a time laid ineffective claim to the imperial throne, which he was eventually to inherit. (2001, Richard Pankhurst, p.162)

 Kassa [Yohannes] for his cooperation by presenting him with six mortars, six howitzers, as well as 850 muskets, and a goodly supply of ammunition. This somewhat unexpected military windfall contributed greatly to his subsequent rise to power. (2001, Richard Pankhurst, p. 161.)

Through out most of his reign, Yohannes stayed in close contact with the British. He wrote many letters to British leaders and often regarded the British as his 'protector'.

"I have now another mother and another protector among the European kings and people: Only believe England as my country: if my country is fair in the religion and love of our Lord Jesus Christ we are one and near. I cannot believe that your Majesty shall separate me from your children." (1991, Okbazghi Yohannes, p. 41)

Ras Alula Engida
Ruled from: Was Yohannes' General

After the defeat of Yohannes by the Sudanese Mahdist, Ras Alula desperately tried to solicit the Italians for friendship, confirming that they can occupy all the lands up till the Mereb River (modern Eritrea), which is still the historical and modern border between Medri-bahri/Eritrea and Tigray/Ethiopia. Although by this point, it was evident that Ras Alula had already crossed the Mereb river and retreated back into Tigray, which completely ended his brief occupation over Medri-Bahri or Mareb Mellash as the Tigrayans called it. These following two quotes made by Ras Alula shows us without a doubt, that leaders of Tigray/Abyssinia of the late 19th century, were in alliance with the Italians for their political survival and that the regions of north of the Mereb river were foreign to them.

But if he [Menilek] gives as a present what is out of his door [the Marab Mellash] the present is of no value.You want the country to the Mareb (Eritrean highlands) to cultitivate your gardens, to build your houses, to construct your churches....? We can give it to you. [And not menilek.] Let the Italian soldiers come to Adwa, I shall come to meet them like a friend. (1996, Ḥagai Erlikh, p. 164)

"And you (Italians), why do you need to look for distant friends? We are neighbors (meaning Medri Bahri and Tigray) and can serve each other. You want the road to be open and I want the road to be open. You should guard to the Mereb River and I will guard it to Gondar and even beyond Gondar. We must be able to go to the coast to trade in order that our country (meaning Tigray) would flourish, with the help of God, Menelik is too far to be of any use to you. Let us make friendship between us. (1996, Ḥagai Erlikh, 164)"

Menelik II (born Sahle Maryam)
Ruled from:  1889 - 1913

 Although Menelik is regarded as fighting colonialism by Ethiopian scholars and others alike, it was Menelik himself who worked alongside with Italians colonialist, going as far as stating that he himself felt Italian and wished no greater desire then to visiting Italy. Menelik told then Italian representative to Abyssinia, Count Antonelli:

"that he loved Italy so much that he felt 'half Italian and no greater wish that to go there and see it' (1986, Chris Prouty, p. 57)

Menelik himself viewed the Italians as close allies and at times, his protectors. In a letter written to the then Italian King Umberto, Menelik begged the King of Italy to protect him from his enemies; namely Yohannes, and he reassured the Italian king that his region was theirs to share with.

"I beg Your Majesty to defend me against every one as I don't know what European kings will say about this let others know that this region is ours." (1986, Chris Prouty, p. 54)

Just like the Tigrayan leaders of Alula and Mengesha, Menelik of showa had asked the Italians to occupy Medri-Bahri (Eritrean highlands) as well, despite the fact that he had no control over that region.

"Via Antonelli's courier, Menelik informed the King of Italy that he would like the Italian soldiers to occupy Asmara, in order to discourage the imperial pretensions of Mengesha Yohannes (the son of Emperor Yohannes)." "There after," added Menelik, "God will give me the throne that for many years I have had the right to have." (1986, Chris Prouty, p.61)

Haile Selassie (born Tafari Makonnen) 
Ruled from: 1930 - 1935 and 1942- 1974

Menelik himself even stated that he was a 'Caucasian'. This non-African identity was also stated by Haile Selassie.

'I am not a Negro at all; I am a Caucasian' the Emperor Menelik told the West Indian pan-Africanist Benito Sylvian who had come to Addis Ababa to solicit the Emperor's leadership in a society for the 'Amelioration of the Negro race.' Haile Sellassie confirmed that view in a declaration to Chief H. O. Davis, a well known Nigerian nationalist, stating that the Ethiopians did not regard themselves as Africans, but as 'a mixed Hamito-Semitic people  (2006, John H. Spencer, p. 306)

When Halie Selassie was invaded by Mussolini's Italian forces in 1935, he had offered to sell large chunks of Ethiopia off to Italy for one and a half milliard Lira. Halie Selassie even offered to have Italian advisors to direct his policies, effectively offering to be a vessel, in return to hold on to some form of power. However, this last ditch effort to hold on to power was rejected by Mussolini.

In his desperate act to hold power, Haile Selassie now made a secret peace overture to Mussolini, sending a former Ethiopian Minister in Rome to contact the Italian consul in Djibouti. He offered to sell a large part of Ethiopia to Italy for one and half milliard Lira and to appoint six Italian advisors to direct the policy of his government. Mussolini sent sourteous reply to the intermediary, expressing his pleasure that the Negus had at last decided to negotiate directly with him; but he said the offer was unacceptable." (1997,  by Jasper Godwin Ridley, p.270)

After Haile Selassie fled to London, he snubbed the black nationalist Marcus Gravey because he was black.

When Haile Selassie fled to London, Gravey tried to contact him but was snubbed, and it was reported that "the emperor did not desire any contact with 'Negroes.'" (1963, Harold Robert Isaacs, p. 153)

Unhappy with the being snubbed, the famous Marcus Gravey wrote the following quote about Halie Selassie:

Mussolini of Italy has conquered Haile Selassie of Abyssinia, but he has not conquered the Abyssinians nor Abyssinia. The Emperor of Abyssinia allowed himself to be conquered, by playing white, by trusting to white advisers and by relying white Governments, including the white League of Nations.We can remember in 1920 inviting the Government of Abyssinia to send representatives to the International Convention of the Negro Peoples of the world in common with other Negro Conventions, the Abyssinian Government returned the communication unopened. Its policy then, as during the Italo-Abyssinian war, was no doubt to rely completely on the advice and friendship of white people. They ignored Negro relationship[s] from without and throttled Negro aspirations from within. The result was that they dragged along without any racial policy, except that of the ruling classes, believing themselves white and better than the rest, with a right to suppress the darker elements which make up the tremendous population. (2009, By Girma Menelik, p.57)

 Lastly, here's an Ethiopian ex-patriot explaining his struggle to defend his home from Italian occupation and his accounts of Haile selessie's last days before fleeing for England. Please fast-forward to 8:45 into the video for his eye-witness accounts.

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Were Ethiopian leaders colonialist? Reviewed by Admin on 3:02 PM Rating: 5


  1. ofcourse they were !!! let me put this way even the present day rulers are colonialist as marcus garvey stated "believing themselves white and better than the rest, with a right to suppress the darker elements which make up the tremendous population" i am kunama eritrean and i can connect with what the master saying of 10s years ago with present day eritrea, i am sure to the south my brothers gala afars dinka are suffering at the hands of these ruling class.

  2. are you saying Eritrean Kunama don't have same right as everyone else in the country?

  3. No I didn't say that, all I'm saying are other Ethiopian ethnic groups are suffering because of the racist leader in Ethiopia.

  4. Sorry my brother or sister for misunderstanding you. As an Eritran i would never put up with any kind of mistreatment of my people of any ethnic back round, by any one.

  5. The world will know how fake ethiopians really are.

  6. They r FAKE!,and worst racists and fabricators.But it is one thing an ordinary person fantasize, and another thing a leader of 80mil. talk such things shamelessly.

    If slave trade happen in their country I can imagine this midget telling the whites he is white and they telling him he is black, but that would never happen of course b/c after all they were taking fit people not a midget weak tenqualay like him.This is just pure: Inferiority complex, Pitiful people!

    I am so proud to be an Eritrean.A PROUD CHIWA HIZBI!!!

    LOng Live ERITREA!!


    "I am so proud to be an Eritrean.A PROUD CHIWA HIZBI!!!" LMFAOOOOO!!!!

  8. zazza agame dog whay are you here barking. we Eritreans are not interested in having a discussion about our history with you, stay a way form us fi****ing hasadat agame.

  9. this is crap, somebody is geolous of the greatness of black people looool feels good

  10. from an italian point of view i guess, i LOVE selassie 50 times more after this thanks

  11. this article is FAKE, this is like saying is like saying a triangle has 15 corners, stupid

  12. For those who say this is fake, go tell it to the authors who wrote it in their books and your granpa on the video who told us H.S. was a running coward ready to sell his country for personal gain. But for us eritreans it´s nothing new, we knew all this before but it´s cool to hear it from other people too. I have to forward this quotes to some fanatic rasta internet sights as well.

  13. haha, Eritreans please get busy to make history, you r new country and u got no history . stop middeleing ikn every aspect of life and try to caorrect the just began history of your which is way out of the good. you can not compit with Ethiopia, there is a big difference between u two, like the elephant and the fly. so felow you, life is not about competing , it is about making the best use of what your share is , though u got very little.

  14. the fact is we all shall never know the truth of how things really were till History starts to be written by Africans themselves rather then outsiders. Lot of things have been twisted and a lot has been re written and re published. wether kenya, rwandan, ethiopian, eritrean, nigerian etc...we all suffer one problem from the west.
    now look what a non african has caused, wrtting a history that isnt his and casuing an african and a fellow african fight by echanging words..
    that ha sbeen their plan always..
    from a brother mixed of 5 countries( a kenyan/tanzanian/ehtiopian MOTHER and a ugandan/rwandan FATHER

  15. Aigames shouldnt be worrying about Kunamas in Eritrea. Kunamas in Eritrea are now living a life equal with the rest of Eritreans. They are a respected members of our nation. You should worry about your minority regime that is hated by 94% of the population/

    Great Article BTW!
    Wotru Awate N'Hafash

  16. how does this encourage peace and business

  17. Jawar ·
    If you think Egyptians will come to terms with the idea of loosing their monopoly over the Nile, think again..they may be coming up with contingency plans but but that doesn't mean they will give up on their old and so far effective strategy of distracting ethiopia. if any thing they have intensified accordingly. a simple example is, During the cold war, their anti-ethiopia propganda in amharic by ElF used to be from far away in cairo, today it is in indipendent Eritrea in the name of Er-Tv manned and trained by Egyptians...I personally know a technician who trains far as they are concerned, Egypt has never had it so good in regards to getting closer to dismembering Ethiopia..
    God save ethiopia.

  18. Eritrea shall stand UNITED and live on FOREVER!

  19. Selassie was not a great leader by any means, has nothing to do with the melanin content of his skin. Ethiopia was blessed with many great leaders, unfortunately Selassie is not one of them. Read on how he came to power, there are mysterious circumstances around the death of one of the heirs after Lij Iyasu. Why do you think Ras Tafarai was not even considered for the throne? He is weak and spineless.

  20. lol funny eritrean losers!!!

  21. that's is why you fake eritreans are to scared to put your real names on this website and play nice in front of ethiopians when u see them fake ass wushas!

  22. Great Article,,,
    KEEP EXPOSING THE ETHIOPIAN "3000yrs fiction".
    Dear Editor,
    I wish you included how the Agames betrayed & backstabbed the Eritrean Raesi WoldeMicheal Solomon, just like they betrayed & backstabbed King Tedros of Gonder.

    Yohannes IV of Tigray
    From encyclopedia
    "Yohannes of Tigray was a sworn enemy of Emperor Tewodros II of Ethiopia, Yohaness gave logistical support to the British forces who arrived to defeat Emperor Tewodros in 1868.
    In gratitude, the British gave Yohannes of Tigray, a large number of modern firearms as they withdrew following their victory at Magdala.
    This helped him to control the province of Tigray".
    But, the SUDANESE slaughterd Yohaness in Metema & his head still remains in Sudan.

  23. WHY ARE WE ARGUING ON THIS PAGE? your doing what the whites want....they want us to stay divided and hate each other..look at them they are all united with their EU and illumanati and there running this world exploiting your countries. they made us have a 30 year when they could of easily granted us independance, they even brainwashed your leader and made him think he was white. the thrd world need to unite instead of endless arguments on the internet

  24. Funny Eritreans, you guys love to fabricate bad news about ethiopia.
    Eritrean economy is not even comparable with the Tigray region's economy, let alone the whole ethiopia. Very soon we will come to ur country to show u how to build schools, roads..... WE ARE PROUD OF OUR HISTROY AND LEADERS. WE DON'T NEED ERITREANS TO TELL US OUR HISTORY. LEAVE US ALONE PLEASE.

  25. Anonymous said...
    December 29, 2010 4:43 AM
    1.Funny Eritreans, you guys love to fabricate bad news about ethiopia.
    The above statement is more of an allegation than fact. Could you please provide some evidence of "fabrication of bad news about Ethiopia".(PSST! I am looking for a research paper or something similar not your point of view)
    2.Eritrean economy is not even comparable with the Tigray region's economy, let alone the whole ethiopia.
    Let's see. How may I ask did you come to this conclusion? Again, were is the evidence???
    3.Very soon we will come to ur country to show u how to build schools, roads.....
    OMG!!! Ethiopians coming to Eritrea to build schools and roads.. . First, you will never come to Eritrea. EVER!! So give that dream a rest. Two, if history can serve to make any forecast about the future, Eritreans do know that Ethiopians and building schools and roads don't go together especially when Eritrea is involved. But I digress! YOU WILL NEVER COME TO ERITREA!
    I think it is good for you to be proud of your "history" and leaders. I don't think an overwhelming majority of Eritreans could care less about the above statement, but whatever.
    Nobody is telling you anything. This article is merely a well researched point of view.
    Right back at you. BTW, what are you doing on an Eritrean website?

  26. Dear Admin:

    When I stumbled upon this article, I went to the "About" page to see if you have a vision for the website. Yes you guessed it, I did not find one so I'm forced to believe you don't have one yet or did not have time to put it up.. whichever the case maybe I would start from putting together a vision paragraph, that way people will know what your dream is and will decide for themselves whether to join you or stay-away. And my friend make sure your time spent is adding value like helping Eritreans who need your help, not necessarily giving money but maybe convincing tourists to go and see it.. just an idea..

    My thoughts about this article, "Were Ethiopian leaders colonialist?", I think we need to start to think out of the box, I strongly believe that Africa had enough share of hate so let's focus on what's next, you know move on.

    I like the name though. Catchy:)
    Your Ethiopian Brother.

  27. First thing comes to mind when i read this sort of stuff.......Italian colonial policies.. Here are the FACTS ABOUT ERITREA......

    Eritrea´s conflictual relationship with Ethiopia is based to a great extent on the ideological impact of Italian colonialism....The core of Eritrea´s political, cultural and economic identity is based
    on colonial premises. The first premise stated that Eritrea had a more
    developed economic infrastructure than Ethiopia......Italians also told them that Eritreans are superior (in terms of cultural and political
    sophistication) to other Ethiopians. Here it is important to note that
    the comparison is always made with Ethiopia and Ethiopians. The
    neighboring countries like Somalia and Sudan did not function as
    identity markers.

    The following is a piece of a research paper about Eritrea and their identity... If you want to read the whole..Here is the link....

  28. poor Ethiopians, of course you are proud of your fake history haha! That'a all you know!.. You people are the most delusional creatures that ever lived in this world. You are too busy bragging about you false history than to try to better yourselves and face reality. You are a disgrace to Africa! Your history is an embarrassment to the black race!

  29. take over or be taking over japan did the same thing

  30. Ruth please write about the revolution ladies who contributed their pussy to contribute for ur fighters in the arab lands. write about that leave Ethiopia for Ethiopians we are sick and tired of you parasites.

  31. Rahwa Tesfai GhermaiJuly 8, 2014 at 4:26 AM

    Atum metselelti asarare-akhum lek-E kem baAl izi-om iyu, atahasaseba PIA wiin lek-E kem-om. HESEBU, ab kendi ketekafe-u teweElu atum kahadti hezbom! MESEL SEB HALEWU ndeher HaQi alekom'si....


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