Born this very day August 17, 1844, Emperor Menelik II, was, by far the most enlightened leader, most astute politician and diplomat, most progressive of all previous generation of kings. He was the most judicious leader and trailblazer of Ethiopia’s modernization.
He started most everything that we know today; the first hospital, the first modern school, the first motor roads, the first rail system, the first telephone and postal system, the first modern ministerial cabinet, the first…. the list is staggering and very well documented.
You would want to ask, “How did this person of the people manage to achieve the re-unification of Ethiopia and requisite stability to launch a modernization effort that continues to this day?” I asked the same question and found the answer to be very simple and often overlooked.
Menelik proved to be a very astute student. During his stay in Gonder from age 10 to 20 as political prisoner of Emperor Tewodros (albeit treated with dignity), he learned in earnest that Tewodros’s mission to bring about the end of Zemene Mesafinit (the reign of princes) which fractured the country and dragged her through decades of civil war was of paramount importance. But he also learned Emperor Tewodros failed to garner the complete loyalty of subdued princes and regions because he used excessive force and failed to re-instate the defeated princes to their position of influence in exchange for loyalty. No sooner had the emperor and his expeditionary forces left the region, the little princes rebelled against the emperor forcing a costly second and third campaigns and which the country did not afford. “There has to be another way!” Menelik must have pondered.
He also learned from Emperor Yohannes’s folly – like Emperor Tewodros’s, it was more or less characterized by the same “stick-and-tick” approach to administration. Menelik knew that Yohannes’s overzealous commitment to protect and defend the orthodox faith and his intolerance to the followers of Islam brought about his demise. Menelik must have sworn never to repeat these mistakes.
Menelik’s reign was unlike his predecessors. It became very inclusive, tolerant and respectful of the cultural, religious and other values of the regions he re-instated into the Ethiopian nation. Once his adversaries pledge allegiance to his rule and to Ethiopia they were left to preside over their territory and people provided they observed the law of the land including the anti-slavery law.
Menelik’s victory at the battle of Adowa had earned him great respect and admiration both at home and abroad. His war arsenal was enriched by arms left behind of fleeing Italians. It was also the worst of time since locust and poor rain had depleted the grain stock of the country. On the other hand, he had to stop the northward incursion of England in the south and north-west of Ethiopia and the east and north-east incursion of France and Italy for the scramble for Africa had intensified. Despite the war fatigue and hunger, he had to launch campaigns to the south and east. He halted the British at Lake Rudolf and that is how we earned the present day southern boarder of Ethiopia. He also stopped the British, French and Italians in the east. Only a leader who is well loved and respected could have pulled a campaign right after a huge campaign that defeated and imperial power at Adowa. The British knew better and never dared challenge Menelik at Rudolph. This, my friends, is how we got what we now call Mother Ethiopia.
Many fictive stories have been told in attempts to label Menelik as a colonizer and as one who surrendered Eritrea to Italy. Nothing can bee further from the truth. Communists and liberation movements routinely create an enemy in order to rally support from the not-so-learned. It is a common propaganda tactic perfected by Goebel of Hitler fame. “Repeat untruth enough time and if you manage to at least create doubt in people’s mind, you have won the propaganda war”. I hate to say our “Liberation Fronts” are Goebel disciples.
Happy Birthday Emperor Menelik and thank you for all your efforts!
You want to hear his recorded voice? He was reciprocating to the only recorded good will message of Queen Victoria to Emperor Menelik. (Copy/paste if you are not linked)