The significance of Ethiopian history for African dignity
By Prof. Mammo Muchie | October 30, 2008
“I am the only African emperor, and the Leader of all Negro peoples, including those still under foreign sway.” Emperor Haile Selassie, 1934, quoted in Baron Roman Prochaszka, Abyssinia the Powder Barrel: A book on the most burning question of the day, 1934, p.8
We came across a book written by Baron Roman Prochaszka with the title: Abyssinia The Powder Barrel, a book on the most burning question of the day, 1934. This book is a must read. We all must read it, Ethiopians and all in the region as well, if possible with annotated translations. We hope the book will be translated and it will reach at the grassroots level. This was a book distributed by the Italian Consul General to various libraries and Governments in the colonial world.
We thank Dr. Tesfatsion Medhanie who sent us this book. Incidentally, he is one of the few thinking and deeply concerned among our Eritrean brothers and sisters about the fate of the Horn of Africa region in general and Eritrean and Ethiopian relations in particular.
We have gone through the book and picked up some very important statements from which all of us can learn and may even help us to strengthen our resolve why in Ethiopia we cannot afford to follow any agenda other than the patriotic agenda, which must replace the ethnic divisive agenda to shape the future of this historically-virtuous and valiant nation with toleration, purpose and commitment.
Here we shall present in THREE parts both some of the statements from the book and a reflection of what we can learn from these statements to help us think deeply to sort ourselves out to help us change our contemporary negative attitude to Ethiopia’s future. The price that was paid to make Ethiopia was incalculable in history. It is not thus a simple matter to just play casually with the current misdirecting politics of ethnicism to destroy one of the few resistance nations in the world that continues to mean so much to recovering still African full humanity and dignity with freedom and unity.
2. Ethiopia’s leading role as a Pan-African enthusiast as told by its enemies!
How many of us are aware that the Ethiopian leaders during the scramble for Africa framed their resistance to colonialism to realise the overriding purpose of uniting Africa to free it from outside domination? How many of us know that they were convinced pan-Africanists from the way they articulated their visions in relation to the colonialism they resisted with all their power and cunning? How many of us know Bob Marley converted Emperor Haile Selassie’s historic speech for Africa in 1963 at the UN as lyrics to his song ‘war’, where both freedom and unity for Africa were firmly proclaimed to the world with conviction, purpose and sublime clarity!
This book is not for the faint-hearted. It is written with a violent normative position arguing mendaciously for the subjugation, humiliation, surrender and capitulation of Ethiopia to the world imperial and colonial system and its self-destruction by fanning inter-community strife and conflict. Moreover it is written from a fascist and white supremacist perspective, arguing forcefully why Ethiopia must be colonised, and why in particular Italian colonialism must be supported to subdue Ethiopia by the whole colonial world.
The writer admonishes the colonial world to go for the complete ‘eradication’ of Ethiopia, which he described in his own words as “this plague-spot in East Africa” (p.52)
The book is full of hysterical hate propaganda also against what it describes the’Amhara’ reminding us very much the hateful propaganda by the Nazis in Germany against Jews! The writer was Austrian by origin. This book was first written in German and was translated into English. He was anti-Semitic as fiercely as he was anti-Ethiopian!
3. What do we know about the Meaning of Ethiopia’s national resistance to Africa?
It is even more revealing that the world significance and meaning of Ethiopia’s resistance is better known by Ethiopia’s colonial enemies more than, it seems, by any one else. Arguably the significance of Ethiopia’s capacity not to surrender or capitulate to or refuse to be humiliated by the imperial and colonial system is largely recognised, if not appreciated by all who should do so today in Ethiopia.
That it inspired Africans the world over is also recognised by Africans from Herbert Julian (the African-American pilot), Marcus Garvey, and Nkrumah to Mandela, the Rasta’s and indeed many others.
What is little known to date is what Ethiopians themselves understood as the significance and meaning of their country’s largely lonely national resistance in the face of the colonial-imperial onslaught beyond their own shores to Africa and the world.
4. The Book: Abyssinia: the Powder Barrel: A book on the most burning question of the day!”
The above is the title of the book written by a person named Baron Roman Prochaszka (Abyssinia: the powder barrel described as a book on the most burning question of the day.) The author was said to be a lawyer in Addis Ababa until 1934 ‘pleading before the consular tribunals of the European states.” The translators-publishers are the British International News Agency, London from the German original. He was expelled just before the 1935 Italian fascist aggression from Ethiopia for his fascist activities in Ethiopia. His vengeance is to write this book which paradoxically the more he ravishes Ethiopia, the more one can read and is revealed also how great and inspiring the Ethiopian patriotic spirit has been at the time indeed. A spirit of patriotism that can only make every Ethiopian whose mental software is not infected by the ethnic entrepreneurial virus and indeed African proud.
Here is a white supremacist writing a book by arguing for the whole colonial-imperial world to unite and colonise Ethiopia by uniting the colonial powers and also by utilising cynically and maliciously the divide and rule strategy of pitting one group of Ethiopians against one another, whom he describes derogatorily as disparate and different ‘tribes’ exhibiting relations of one oppressor ‘tribe’ over the many disparate oppressed’ tribes.’
In the Foreword, he spreads the poisonous and divisive politics of ethincism/tribalism that continues to this day to distract the country, the people and the nation from focusing to learn to eat, educate and provide health for the people as a whole. The claim is made that ‘the opponents of anti-imperialism should bear in mind that the numerous non- Amharic (sic!!!) native tribes in Ethiopia, and these constitute by far the greater part of the total population of the empire, are themselves the victims of Abyssinian imperialism(sic!!!)” (p1)
In the Foreword also the writer concluded the following: “It is therefore utterly mistaken to represent the Abyssinian usurpers as being in any way oppressed and worthy of protection.”
The politics that pit vernacular speakers against each other under the guise of according them self-determination was fully elaborated in this book. The fascist strategy of using ethnicity to sow conflict, distrust and animosity by fanning the politics of self-determination of oppressed nationalities against the oppressor minority ‘Amhara’ who were said to number no more than 20 % of the population was spread with the intention and practice of both malice and hate.
It is remarkable that the politics of ethnicism was fully elaborated and used by the fascist and white supremacist writers of the 1930s for facilitating the colonisation of Ethiopia as a priority goal. If the country cannot be colonised, the formula was to sow and leave behind distrust and animosity amongst the people never to get the country to focus on issues that matter for the survival of Ethiopia.
Ethiopia cannot expect support and sympathy because they allege it is vernacularly and ethnically divided into ‘tribes’ and a vernaculars and ethnic group has privilege over others. They argued the country must be incinerated with mustard poison gas and phosgene to kill the people with genocidal intent and action, especially those marked as the ‘oppressor tribe’.
That is how ethinicm and the self-determination of ‘tribes’- what today the TPLF/EPDRF political party describes as ‘nations, nationalities and peoples’- was used to disorganise Ethiopians by dividing them so that the fascists can defeat Ethiopia’s united national resistance against them! Ethiopia’s struggle to resist colonialism seemed to have alarmed the white supremacists and fascists. They characterised the Ethiopian struggle as attacking “the entire colonial powers in Africa without exception.”
Nothing seems to be worse than to let Ethiopia, according to the fascist writer, remain peaceful. Any concession to let Ethiopia to emerge as a peaceful country is fraught with the danger that Ethiopia would grow the capability to provide leadership not only to the African world, but also to all those who are threatened with imperialism and colonialism throughout the world.
The writer said: “What we are witnessing is by no means a local frontier conflict between Abyssinia and Italy.”
He extolled Italy’s fascist aggression as history’s call ‘to be the first to take up the challenge in defence of European colonial achievements at this outpost.’ P.24
The fascists argue for self- determination of’ numerous peoples and tribes which inhabit the territory of the Ethiopian state’ they claim that if they had self-determination they would have enjoyed European influences and benefited “from the advantages that progressive colonization could confer upon the country.’”
They cast the Ethiopian anti- fascist struggle as championing the cause of all coloured peoples against the Europeans and American races.
The emperor was also accused for asking’ All Moslems must – come to the aid of Ethiopians in case of need.”
ETHIOPIA was also cast as a danger to her neighbours and the European colonies in Africa. When Italy thought it colonised Ethiopia, It established immediately the East African Italian empire consisting of ‘Italian Eritrea,’ Italian Somaliland and the newly occupied Ethiopia by boasting the spread of the new Roman empire in Africa!
The writer talked about the young Ethiopian movement that ‘aims at attacking and destroying western culture and civilisation in its entirety!’
The writer moaned that Ethiopians held with contempt white people claiming themselves to be…’infinitely superior to white people’ p.23
There is more to the book than we had put here. Suffice to highlight some of the evidently detestable and pernicious positions it promoted so carelessly against Ethiopia, Africa and indeed the entire colonised world at the time.
5. Concluding Remark: The similarities of the politics 1930s with our own the politics of 1970s!
The fascist writer used the concept of ‘the oppressor and oppressed tribes’ where the oppressed would be encouraged to revolt against those designated oppressors. The oppressed are also called upon to seek ’self-determination’ so that they can be under the ‘progressive influence ‘of fascism and colonialism free from ‘Abyssinian imperialism’!
What is extraordinary is how much the politics of oppressor and oppressed nationalities and the right to self-determination that emerged in the early 1970s in Ethiopia echoes and mirrors the views and languages of the fascist author who advocated openly and categorically to either destroy or enslave Ethiopia colonially by fanning self-determination of the oppressed ‘tribes.’
The story is all the more compelling and need to be told and retold as the concept of self-determination that our generation used comes not only from Marxism-Leninism but also from the fascists who tried tooth and nail to ‘eradicate Ethiopia’, if they cannot subjugate Ethiopia, to use their own words!!
Plan one of the fascists was to colonise Ethiopia. If they fail in this project, they laid the trap of the second project. That second project is indeed to destroy Ethiopia with self-determination for ‘the oppressed tribes’ (in the1930s lingo) from “Amhara Abyssinian colonialism or imperialism.” What changed in the political lingo of the 1970s is substituting ‘tribes’ for nationalities (the1970s lingo). The similarities are striking even today as we have people from our own homeland still railing against what they call “Abyssinian colonialism’, fanning the flames of hate politics against anyone who stands for pan-Ethiopian patriotism. Unfortunately for Ethiopians, this worn-out and divisive politics has been taken over by what Franz Fanon called the ‘useless classes in contemporary Ethiopia that must either lean to be useful or else leave the country to govern itself and find its soul and spirit as a valiant resistance- nation that fought colonialism earning even the grudging acknowledgment of those who were unable to kill her! It is remarkable how much the then noise from the fascists continues to be replayed with new actors wearing the mantle of democracy and social justice, but with consequences that may still disintegrate Ethiopia exactly as the fascists in the 1930s wanted the fate of the country to be.
Ethiopia means so much to Africa and the world, the imagination of so many people from all over the world was fired by her example of resistance, that it will have to live on and on for ever for the sake of not just Ethiopians but Africans and the formerly colonised people of the world.
Bob Marley’s ‘War” Song! turning speech by emperor Haile Selassie into music!
What life has taught me
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