all reckoning no place or name invokes, as Adwa does, an intense
patriotic feeling and national pride across Ethiopia’s multitude of
religious and cultural communities. This is indeed as it should be.
For it was in Adwa where, in 1896, a determined Ethiopian army
assembled from every part of the realm and smashed a European power
fortified by a state-of-the-art war machine.
Thus, as an epochal historical milestone with an enduring
continental dimension, the date on which the Battle of Adwa was
fought has, since 1897, been reverently set aside as a day of
remembrance in an annual public anniversary. Though not commensurate
with its far-reaching global importance, historical narratives,
memoirs, poems, and even plays have continued to be dedicated to the
heroes of this African Waterloo. All this is, of course, well and
fitting for no other historical event has afforded posterity the
luxury to bask in its crowning glory.
Alas, so far at least, Adwa has remained just that - a mere occasion
for ritualised official celebrations of ancestral sacrifice. Not
much effort has been exerted to explore new ways of reanimating the
ethos of Adwa to prevail against Ethiopia’s other erstwhile domestic
foe - poverty.
The present leadership is keenly aware that without a strong
economy, neither the sovereignty of the state is secure, nor does
pride in Ethiopia’s moments of glory make much sense. Indeed, past
glory that has no warrant in the present is hollow. It is this
realisation that has fired up the Ethiopian government to combine
the cherished legacies of the past with the promising prospects of
the present to usher in a virtual Renaissance.
A spectacular scope of imagination as doubtlessly as it is, the aim
is nothing less than lifting Ethiopia to approximate the level of
international stature and acceptance it once enjoyed during the
better part of the first millennium. Similarly, at a
non-governmental level, there seems to be a complementary change in
mindset with respect to new and creative ways of honouring
Ethiopia’s tradition of national resistance that resonates with the
current war Ethiopia is waging against the deadliest of all enemies
One such voluntary association that seeks to break new ground in
terms of how the spirit of Adwa should be re-appropriated is The
Other Face of Ethiopia. Among other projects designed to draw
attention to the less known salutary side of Ethiopia, The Other
Face of Ethiopia is dedicated to immortalising the spirit of Adwa
through comprehensive, modest, and ambitious projects, which include
the construction of an Adwa Cultural Center at the actual battle
Parallel to this grand and ambitious project but, nonetheless, a
fitting homage to the gallantry of those who fell at Adwa, The Other
Face of Ethiopia has other plans. Chief among its future activities
is the commissioning of academic publications and organising
scholarly seminars in the hope of recasting Adwa as a shared
heritage that belongs to the entire people of Africa; and, as a
permanent living reminder of the untapped collective potential of
the people of Africa to fully overcome the legacy of colonialism and
ultimately realise their loftiest aspirations.
It is as part of this project that on February 21, 2011, The Other
Face of Ethiopia held a fundraising book launch - Adwa to Africa -
at the National Theatre. It was attended by a huge audience of
businessmen, academics, writers, public figures, young students as
well as media practitioners. As any activity that bears the name of
Adwa instantly sparks great titillations, the whole audience eagerly
bought the new book no sooner than it was for sell.
As can be expected, most of the attendees, businessmen in
particular, swept by a surging sense of solidarity, purchased
thousands of copies earmarked for disbursal to school libraries
throughout the country.
Unfortunately, the write-up on the book launch that appeared in the
February 27, 2011, (Volume 11, Number 565) issue of Fortune left a
lot to be desired in that it failed to capture the prevailing upbeat
mood of the occasion.
In an eyebrow raising departure from the universal sense of
patriotism that any activity pertaining to Adwa generates in
Ethiopia, the Fortune article that appeared under no less an
inauspicious title - The Fine Line - chose a sarcastic tone of
reporting prejudicial to all concerned. Through insinuations and
innuendos, typical of the private press, the writer first goes to
great lengths to impute crass motives behind the business
community’s decision to purchase huge quantities of the book in
Consider, for instance, the following paragraph which constitutes
the linchpin of the article’s contention.
The article reads, “Gossip could not help but wonder what all these
businessmen saw in the book that garnered such enthusiasm as not
many of them could have read it. What could possibly be the motives
behind their generosity? Sneered at and apprehensive due to recent
actions taken by the government, many of the businessmen are seen in
the gossip corridors as wanting to buy political favour from the
powers that be. Suffice it to note that Sabela is known to have an
intimate friendship with Sebhat Nega (a.k.a. Aboy Sebhat), a father
figure and one of the founders of the TPLF, who now runs a foreign
policy think-tank. His presence at the National Theatre last week,
together with Speaker Kassa and Andreas Eshete, was a clear show of
the political weight put behind the launch of the book.”
There it is; what could be more cynical than this?
Had the Ethiopian business community not been known for its generous
contributions at every imaginable fundraising event, one might have
been tempted to credit the writer’s albeit unwarranted
second-guising. But, the whole society, including Fortune knows the
social consciousness level of the private sector in Ethiopia,
particularly its unselfishness when it comes to funding deserving
To interpret its generous contributions at the National Theatre
fundraiser as a clever gesture of ingratiating itself with the
powers that be is, therefore, an insult to everyone’s intelligence.
What is even more odious is the subtle allusion, implying that
political figures in Ethiopia throw their weight around to browbeat
the business community to underwrite whatever petty cause they might
be associated with.
To begin with, The Other Face of Ethiopia is a worthy cause which
deserves the support of all Ethiopians.
What could be a more noble public undertaking than to use the past
to change the present as The Other Face of Ethiopia has set out to
do in its own modest way?
Only a moral dwarf bereft of any sense of patriotism could criticise
the presence of high profile political personalities at an Adwa
Who else would distort the spirit with which these officials
attended the Adwa to Africa book launch as a ploy intended to
squeeze fat cheques from the rich?
The irony is that for years public officials were, unjustly no
doubt, criticised for lacking reverence to Ethiopia’s historical
symbols and icons. Now that some are visibly engaged in a voluntary
initiative dedicated to, as in this particular case, enlivening the
saga of Adwa, changes nothing as far as the private press is
concerned. All the same, their mere presence at fundraising
occasions for worthy causes is interpreted as extortionist indirect
pressure designed to milk the wealthy.
On a closer inspection, the writer of the Fortune article seems to
be uncomfortable with the effort to change the old image of
Ethiopia. This, of course, is not new to the private press. It is
common among its practitioners to lash out with vengeance whenever
they think that this country is making progress in any area of
endeavor. What, even by the standards of the shrill Addis Abeba
tabloids, struck many as shocking was that the Fortune article would
be unsparingly harsh on a topic that involved Adwa - one of the few
subjects that unites all Ethiopians despite their dissimilitude
regarding creed, ethnicity or political persuasion.
However, no matter the intensity of the negative media campaign, The
Other Face of Ethiopia is bound to achieve its goals as the source
from which it draws its strength is the spirit of Adwa. The decent
thing for Fortune to do is, therefore, to right the wrong done by
apologising to the business community and the volunteers of the Adwa
to Africa book launch which it harmed in a manifest lapse of