Ethiopia has been celebrating the Battle of Adwa when Menelik II and his troops took apart an Italian army trying to invade the country. However, it’s worth correcting a point being made in the Ethiopian press – it was not the first victory of black troops over white colonisers, not at all. Not even the first of native troops armed in traditional style against European troops with machine guns and the rest.
Rather, it was something much more important, it was part of the first war in which the colonisers were entirely beaten off, the country not colonised. Ethiopia was pretty much the only African country which did manage this which is what makes the achievement so important.
Thus the Battle of Adwa is worth celebrating, certainly, but not quite for this reason:[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Ethiopians colorfully today celebrate the 123rd anniversary of the Battle of Adwa, considered as the first victory of black people over Western colonizers.[/perfectpullquote]
That’s not really quite it. A couple of decades earlier the Zulus took apart a British army for example at Isandlwhana:[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] The Zulus were equipped mainly with the traditional assegai iron spears and cow-hide shields, but also had a number of muskets and old rifles. The British and colonial troops were armed with the modern Martini-Henry breech-loading rifle and two 7-pounder (3-inch, 76 mm) mountain guns deployed as field guns, as well as a Hale rocket battery. Despite a vast disadvantage in weapons technology, the numerically superior Zulus ultimately overwhelmed the poorly led and badly deployed British, killing over 1,300 troops, including all those out on the forward firing line. The Zulu army suffered anywhere from 1,000 to 2,500 killed. The battle was a decisive victory for the Zulus and caused the defeat of the first British invasion of Zululand. The British Army had suffered its worst defeat against an indigenous foe with vastly inferior military technology. [/perfectpullquote]
That’s a victory, certainly. But it’s a victory in a battle, not in the war. Adwa was more than that:[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] The 123rd anniversary of Adwa victory is celebrated across the country on Saturday, March 2, 2019. On March 2, 1986, the invading Italian colonial army suffered a blowing defeat at the battle of Adwa, in northern Ethiopia. The political meaning of the decisive military victory over the Italian colonial army was that Ethiopia not only managed to maintain its independence but also inspired other African countries to continue the struggle against colonialism. [/perfectpullquote]
Stopping the Europeans from nicking the country is indeed an achievement on a different scale from merely beating up some small portion of them in the one engagement. For in all the other examples more European troops did come back and did steal the country – not in this one and that’s the difference.