One Sad Memory, One Glad Celebration

African sunset

The SAD One

When I returned to Ethiopia in the 90’s I had the ‘run-around’! I went with all the paperwork settled by both ends to become Associate Professor at the Black Lion (the large University) Hospital. The paperwork was not enough for a newly inducted set of hierarchy. So I was allocated as ‘Head of the Department’ at the soon to be opened Kidus Paulos Hospital (St Paul’s). Before it opened I was twice demoted to become another surgeon on the second surgical department in that hospital. In addition I was employed by the University on a contract – to be paid a salary, which was not exorbitant but livable. The contract was made in Ethiopian birr when the US dollar bought 2 Ethiopian birr. Within weeks without warning US$1 equalled 6 birr. At the moment it is nearly US$=30 birr. So my wage was effectively reduced by two thirds. I was still paid at the two birr level! Then the Kidus Paulos was slow in opening.

After pleading negotiations I was permitted to work at the Menelik II Hospital until Kidus Paulos opened. But I was paid from the Yekatit Asara Hulet hospital. Which brings us to “The Sad Memory” mentioned above.

Yekatit is a month of the Ethiopian Calendar. Asara hulet is the number twelve. (February 19th in our calendar – our calendars don’t match.) So why is that a sad memory?  It is quite a story….

During their occupancy of Ethiopia 1936-41,  the Italians had apparently built a huge poison chemical factory near Mogadishu in Italian Somalia. They had 37,000 gas masks kept for their own use. The fear, from an Ethiopian point of view, was that they themselves were a major target for attack by chemical warfare. In a failed attempt to assassinate  the Italian Viceroy of East Africa, Marshal Rodolfo Graziani; he was injured but several Italians were killed. The Italian response was over the next 3 days to slaughter over 30,000 Ethiopians, including about 20,000 in Addis Ababa (at that time 20% of the population of Addis!) Talking to local people they say that, as part of this slaughter, 1,000 people were lined up near the Sidist Kilo corner in Addis and the Italians shot every tenth one. The Yekatit Hospital is built at Sidist Kilo and there is a monument there until this day. Italians still walk and work in Ethiopia. The Emperor, on his return from exile in Britain after the Italians were driven out, said that they should be forgiven. Not many Italians, however, are seen out and about on February the 19th!

The GLAD One

If you look in your computer to see if an African Nation has ever conquered an invading European force unaided you are given “The Battle of Adwa”.  I can find no other. The Italian invasion discussed above was the second of their major attempts to conquer Ethiopia.  In 1896 the Italians planned to enlarge their empire in Africa. They already had Eritrea as a base. In the end after much fighting the countries faced each other at Adawa. Without trying to go into great detail the following facts seem to be basically true.

  • The Ethiopians had a much larger force being on home soil. Roughly 80,000 to 20,000
  • The Italians had much the better war machinery.
  • There was previously after some squirmishes an agreement between Ethiopia and Italy with different wording in the Italian and Ethiopian copies. Menelik II acted on his copy which meant having discussions with Europe without going through Italian sources. Italy by their copy of the agreement obviously saw Ethiopia as a subject nation and invaded.
  • On March 1st 1896 the Italians were routed. The story is complex but the victory complete and is celebrated with vigour every year.

 

Dominic Cartier

One thought on “One Sad Memory, One Glad Celebration

  1. It is interesting that the Ethiopians won that battle. If you read “The Territorial Imperative” by Robert Ardrey, he postulates that the home ground advantage amongst animals is almost unbeatable and usually it is relevant in human nations as well. EG the Russians couldn’t defeat Afghanistan, and neither have the Americans and her friends been able to defeat them Unless they bring to bear some extreme method of total annihilation.

    Liked by 1 person

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