Abeto Menelik-Sahle Maryam of Ethiopia is the greatest figure of resistance against colonial invasion in Africa. Thanks to this African legend, Ethiopia is the only African country that has never been colonized.
He was born to the King Haile Menekot in 1844. His father was the governor of the Ethiopian province of Shewa. However, King Menekot died in battle against the Negus (the Emperor of Ethiopia), Tewodros II, and his son was captured and raised by the Negus as a son. In 1865, Menelik absconded and took over the province of Shewa.
Menelik tried taking out the new Negus, Yohannes II twice by collaborating with the Egyptians and the French, but his affiliation with them failed. Therefore, during the Yohannes military campaign in 1875, he submitted himself to the Negus, by walking towards the Emperor with his head bowed and a stone on the back of his neck to signify his submission.
It was only then that the Emperor recognized him as the governor of Shewa.
Menelik raised a strong army and expanded his territories with their help. He imposed his authority as the Emperor after Yohannes’ demise to the disadvantage of Yohannes’ son, Megesha.
On the 25th of March 1889, he was enthroned as King Menelik II.
The new King imposed his authority on the kingdoms of the empire, took over lands that were supposed to be under his jurisdiction and established Addis Ababa as its capital. The King demanded that the colonial government in the region recognized him as the Negus.
On May 2, 1889, he signed the ill-famed treaty of Wichale [Ethiopian city].
The Italians who thought thinking Menelik was another subordinate, made him sign two treaties, one in Aramaic, to give him the ability to communicate with other foreign countries in Italian diplomacy, and the second in Italian, to make him in de facto, submit Ethiopia under Italian colonial government.
They believed he would be intimidated by the time he realized their ploy, but to their dismay, he would not be bought over with a bribe of two million weapons. Rather, he demanded that his government be constituted to be equal with that of the Europeans, because according to him, he was a Christian among pagan Africans. Unfortunately, his reason was not bought.
Since the colonial government in their custom, had a tradition of causing division among African leaders, before infiltrating them, tried to raise Ras Mangasha, King of Tigray against Menelik II but all ended in vain.
Also, Rome assigned Oreste Baratieri to subject Ethiopia under colonial power. Orestes was the Italian governor of Eritrea who underestimated Menelik and his troops – he referred to them as savages. He gathered 20,000 men and laid an ambush for Menelik and his men in Adwa.
While this was happening, Menelik had surrounded a 1,000 man Italian army and requested for the reopening of the Wichale treaty before their release. The Italian authority felt insulted and ordered Oreste Baratieri to attack Menelik II’s camp.
As we are aware that Africans had a custom of communicating military orders through drums, this made the Italians wonder, as they couldn’t understand how people played music under such circumstance.
On the 1st of May 1896, the famous battle of Adwa began.
The Baratieri’s men split into two as they were confused by the topography of the land. The Negus and his troop penetrated and attacked them.
Despite the obstacles, the Italians were at an advantage with guns, so this made the Negus consider retreating the next morning. But menelik was persuaded by his officers and instead of falling back, he sent for a 25,000 man reinforcement that fought with so much ferocity.
Earlier, Menelik had bought sophisticated weapons from Russia. With 196,000 soldiers, 100,000 rifles and these dangerous weapons, 2,000 African soldiers who were in alliance with the enemy; 289 Italian officers, and 2918 European soldiers were killed. A lot were wounded, 954 Europeans were declared missing, and some others became captives of war.
Eventually, Menelik won the battle.
The Negus further expanded his territory, conquered lands under British protectorate after readjusting the Wichale treaty to his advantage. Not long after, the world recognized Menelik II as the Negus of Ethiopia.
His reign was one which stood out among many, as he brought about the modernization of Ethiopia. He built the famous Addis Ababa-Djibouti railroad, installed phone lines and electricity, built health centers, postal offices, and developed an educational system in his country.
Menelik II fell ill and named his grand-son Iyasu as his successor. The Negus instituted a ministerial government to stand in his stead in 1907. Then, Iyasu was a minor, so Empress Taytu exercised power in his stead.
Three years after, the clergy and the government overthrew the Empress through a coup. She eventually died in 1911 and Iyasu took over the reins of power.
In 1913, King Menelik II died at the age 69.
Menelik II remains one of the greatest Africans that lived. It is because of this African hero that Ethiopia is named the oldest independent nation in the world.