Category Archives: Ethiopia

Political Winds in Kenya’s Elite, 1930s

From White Mischief: The Murder of Lord Erroll, by James Fox (Open Road Media, 2014), Kindle pp. 46-47:

Before long, out of boredom and an acute sense of his own abilities, the ruling instinct in Erroll began to assert itself and to bloom, encouraged by Lord Francis Scott, who recognised his natural talent for politics. The opportunities for power in that community were infinite: it was a tidy constituency and there was a marked absence of competition. The Premier Earl of Scotland was likely to be a figure of some weight, and he also expressed some forceful political sentiments. In 1934 he became a paid-up member of the British Union of Fascists. Nellie Grant, Elspeth Huxley’s mother, described Erroll’s exploits on Oswald Mosley’s behalf in her posthumously published book, Letters from Africa:

11th December 1934. Wednesday last was Joss Erroll’s meeting at the (Muthaiga) Club to explain British fascism. There were 198 people there, no less, and a very good-tempered meeting, as everybody cheered to the echo what anyone said. British fascism simply means super loyalty to the Crown, no dictatorship, complete religious and social freedom, an “insulated Empire” to trade with the dirty foreigner, higher wages and lower costs of living … All questions and answers cheered to the roof … Whenever Joss said British fascism stands for complete freedom, you could hear Mary Countess [Molly] at the other end of the room saying that within five years. Joss will be dictator of Kenya.

The following year Mussolini invaded Abyssinia, and Joss Erroll dropped his membership in the British Union of Fascists. Instead he was elected, aged thirty-four, to the Presidency of the Convention of Associations, the “settlers’ parliament”—a separate and unofficial rival to the Legislative Council. Eileen Scott, who described Erroll as “much improved,” was at the election.

To my surprise and delight, contrary to the expectations of most people. Joss Erroll was voted to the chair, largely outnumbering the Left Wing, and most of the executive are sound men too. It is a pity Joss hasn’t had a year’s more practice and experience; he has a brain like lightning, and it is difficult for him to listen patiently to this slow minded, if sound, community. However, it is a great step in the right direction, he is very able and a gentleman. Nearly everyone expected a Bolshie to be elected.

Leave a comment

Filed under Britain, democracy, Ethiopia, Italy, Kenya, migration, nationalism, war

Market for Mercenaries in Mughal India

From African Samurai, by Geoffrey Girard and Thomas Lockley (Hanover Square, 2019), Kindle pp. 155-157:

Afghans, Turks, Persians, Africans, Arabs, Mongols and Portuguese all flocked to the Indian subcontinent to make their fortunes in war.

Even so, the need for soldiers far surpassed the influx of voluntary global mercenaries. As a solution, African boys like Yasuke were forcibly brought to India and trained to become slave soldiers.

Many free Africans also made the journey, seeking the same opportunities as the Turks, Arabs or Portuguese. But the vast majority were children captured in Africa, as Yasuke had been, and sold to foreign slavers in coastal ports, most often Zeila (now in northern Somalia), or Suakin (in modern-day Sudan). Here, their young lives were traded for salt, Indian cloth or iron bars along with other commodities such as guns. If not immediately put to work on dhows or galleys, they were taken on Arab, Ottoman or Indian ships, north toward Egypt, Arabia, Turkey and Europe, or east toward Persia and India.

During the voyage, slave traders often chose to invest in their slaves, educating or even mutilating them to gain more profit at the next stage of sale. For instance, while some were taught their letters, many more young boys were castrated. Handsome eunuch slaves fetched astronomical prices partly because only 10 percent of the victims survived the cut. By the time the captives reached northern India, almost a fourth of those who’d boarded ships in Africa had perished. On arrival in India, the Africans found themselves in slave markets, where they were again sold and taken farther afield to wherever trade routes and eager customers waited—places like Gujarat, the Gulf of Cambay, the Deccan, Cochin (modern-day Kochi), and to Portuguese Goa.

First arriving in Gujarat in northern India, Yasuke and the others had been herded into underground cells, with only street-level barred windows for light and air. The conditions were dark, airless, cramped and horrific. (On the ships, they’d been kept above deck and out of chains, doing simple maritime chores.) He was thirteen now; the voyage from Africa had taken almost a year—as the ships he traveled on stopped to trade or take shelter from adverse weather on the way. He’d been stripped, subjected to a full body examination and checked that he’d not been overly damaged by punishments or abuse on the way from Africa. The slavers who inspected Yasuke were themselves of African origin, perhaps having passed through exactly the same slave cells years before. Their appraising eyes summed up the young Yasuke, observed his size and growth potential and purchased him on the spot.

He was now a member of a military caste called Habshi—African warriors, often horsemen, who fought for local rulers or were loaned out by a mercenary band leader to whomever was willing to pay. Some of these bands numbered in the thousands, but most were only a few hundred strong. The Indians called the Africans Habshi—a word derived from “Abyssinia,” the ancient name for Ethiopia—because a large majority of the Africans destined for India had started their sea journeys there. During the span of recorded history, it is estimated that as many as eleven million Africans were trafficked to India as slaves, primarily to be used as soldiers. During Yasuke’s time, when soldiers were in peak demand, estimates reach into the tens of thousands.

Yasuke spent his first years in India training to use weapons, to ride a horse, to kill and fight. Too valuable to be used as mere fodder (the weakest slaves, who were judged to have little military worth, were often used as human shields, driven before the main force to absorb bombardments), he took the field only after training. Throughout, he would have been both brutalized and baptized into the cult of the killer, through actual battle, but also by carrying out commissions such as executions for his new masters. In his teens, he’d likely supped with assassins, marched and fought beside fifty thousand men, helped slaughter entire villages, joked and bet as comrades fought to the death in camp over some village girl, missing token or misheard comment. He also grew taller and his muscles hardened. He learned to kill with his hands. To ignore the gore and screams of new friends and foe alike. By eighteen, he was a valuable warrior. Now training young boys, as he’d once been a lifetime ago. His body a chronicle of ever-fading scars, a book written in blood.

Leave a comment

Filed under Arabia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Europe, Iran, labor, migration, military, Portugal, slavery, Somalia, South Asia, Sudan, Turkey

An African Mercenary Arrives in Japan, 1579

From African Samurai, by Geoffrey Girard and Thomas Lockley (Hanover Square, 2019), Kindle pp. 19-20:

Yasuke was in his early twenties, no more than twenty-three.

He’d been a soldier for half his life, visited a dozen sultanates, kingdoms and empires. A young warrior who knew himself and more of the world than most ever do.

He was a very tall man, six-two or more—a giant for his time, comparable to meeting a seven-footer by today’s standards. He was also muscular by the standards of any day, thanks to relentless military drill and a childhood, and lineage, built on a diet of abundant meat and dairy.

Arriving in Japan, Yasuke’s eclectic attire revealed his familiarity with a much wider world. He was primarily dressed, quite smartly, in Portuguese clothing—baggy pantaloons to stop mosquito bites, a cotton shirt with a wide flat collar, a stylish doublet of dark velvet. But he carried a tall spear from India, its blade crafted into an unusual wavy shape with two “blood grooves” cut into the steel to make the blade lighter while still sturdy. He also carried a short curved Arab dagger at his side; both weapons shone like mirrors with constant attention from Yasuke’s whetstone. His dark head was wrapped in a stark white turban-like cloth to protect it from the sun.

This was not, clearly from his garb alone, Yasuke’s first arrival somewhere new, someplace utterly foreign. He was, rather, an experienced and well-traveled man in an ever-shrinking world.

He’d been on the move since he was a boy. From the swamps and plains of his birthplace on the banks of the Nile, to the mountains and deserts of northeast Africa, the fertile coasts of the Arabs, dusty Sind and the green of Gujarat. He’d likely fought alongside, and against, Hindus, Muslims, Africans, Turks, Persians and Europeans, and escaped death as a teenage soldier countless times before being employed by Valignano in Goa. The abducted child soldier was now simply the soldier. Well trained in weapons, strategy and security. Even, thanks to time spent beside leaders from several cultures, conversant in diplomacy. His experience and skills were of a caliber sought across the whole world, highly in demand among the rich and powerful.

This unexplored Japão (as the Portuguese called it) was merely the next place he was to be for some time as he put those same skills to work and did the job of protecting an employer and staying alive. The tide, he understood, must be taken when it comes.

Leave a comment

Filed under Ethiopia, Japan, migration, military, Portugal, religion, Sudan

Achieving Parity via Hybridity

From A Power in the World, by Lorenz Gonschor (Perspectives on the Global Past, U. Hawaii Press, 2019), Kindle Loc. 194ff:

Japan’s late nineteenth-century developments are perfect examples of what scholars have termed the use of similitude and selective appropriation to create a hybrid system in order to achieve parity. Hawai‘i-based Swiss scholar Niklaus Schweizer describes parity as “an effort to be taken seriously by the Western powers, to be accepted as an equal and to be accorded the civilities and privileges established by international law,” adding that “the preferred option in Polynesia was to achieve at least a degree of parity with the West” (2005, 177), a statement that is true not only for Polynesia. In the nineteenth century, transforming one’s political institutions to some degree to achieve such diplomatic parity was a goal most emerging non-Western nation-states shared. One of the ways to do so was the use of what historian Jeremy Prestholdt calls the strategy of similitude—a transformation of certain forms of behavior, cultural protocols, and aesthetic standards—to make them similar to those of the West. Prestholdt defines similitude as “a conscious self-presentation in interpersonal and political relationships that stresses likeliness” (2007, 120). Superficially akin to assimilation under colonial coercion, similitude is voluntarily done by a society outside colonial control yet confronted with Western imperial hegemony. Mentioning the international relations of nineteenth-century Hawai‘i, Siam, and Madagascar as further examples, Prestholdt describes similitude “as a mode of self-representation [that] links symbols and claims to sameness in order to leverage relationships with the more powerful” (120). Rarely, however, would a country push similitude to the point of sameness with the West, but rather appropriate Western elements selectively, resulting not in cultural assimilation but rather in cultural and political hybridity, preserving aspects of traditional governance and culture while also embracing modern technology and the Western model of the nation-state as well as Western cultural protocols. In the case of Hawai‘i, geographer Kamanamaikalani Beamer uses the concept of hybridity, based on an earlier conceptualization by Homi Bhabha (1994, 159–160), “to illustrate the ways in which Hawaiian rulers used traditional structures and systems of knowledge in an attempt to construct a modern nation-state” because “they were modifying existing structures and negotiating European legal forms which created something new, neither completely Anglo American nor traditionally Hawaiian, but a combination of both” (Beamer 2008, 30, 177).

In many cases, such strategies clearly paid off. As a result of their selective use of similitude to hybridize their societies and political systems, which resulted in the achievement of at least a degree of recognition by the Western powers, Japan, Thailand, Iran, Turkey, and Ethiopia never became colonies, an enormous source of pride for their inhabitants to this day.

Leave a comment

Filed under Ethiopia, Hawai'i, Iran, Japan, Madagascar, nationalism, Polynesia, Thailand, Turkey

Il Duce’s Status in 1943

From The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944, Volume Two of the Liberation Trilogy, by Rick Atkinson (Henry Holt, 2007), Kindle pp. 137-139:

His ashy pallor and sunken cheeks made Benito A. A. Mussolini look older than his fifty-nine years and hardly the “head devil” that Roosevelt now called him. He still shaved his head, but more to hide his gray than in a display of Fascist virility. Because of his vain refusal to wear eyeglasses, Mussolini’s speeches were prepared on a special typewriter with an enormous font. Duodenal ulcers—some claimed they were “of syphilitic origin”—had plagued him for nearly two decades, and his diet now consisted mostly of stewed fruit and three liters of milk a day. A German officer in Rome reported, “Often in conversation his face was wrenched with pain and he would grab his stomach.” Once he had demonstrated vigor to photographers by scything wheat or by rubbing snow on his bare chest. Now, wary of assassins, he lolled about the Palazzo Venezia, in a back room with tinted windows and the signs of the zodiac painted on the ceiling. Sometimes he lolled with his mistress, Clara Petacci, the buxom, green-eyed daughter of the pope’s physician, whose wardrobe was filled with negligees and goose-feather boas personally selected by Mussolini.

He had risen far since his modest boyhood as a blacksmith’s son in the lower Po Valley, and he would fall even farther before his strutting hour on the stage ended. As a young vagabond he had been an avowed socialist, stalking the streets with brass knuckles in his pocket and reciting long passages from Dante. His politics devolved to ultranationalism and the Fasci di Combattimento, which he founded in Milan in 1919 and which was the precursor to the Fascist party he rode to power in 1922. By the late 1920s, he had extirpated Italian parliamentary government to become an absolute tyrant—il Duce, the Leader—cleverly accommodating both the Vatican and the popular monarchy of King Victor Emmanuel III. With an autodidact’s quick mind and bombastic oratory, he raised national confidence, stabilized the lira, built a modern military, and boosted farm production by reclaiming vast tracts of swampland. The trains, famously, ran on time. His invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 helped destroy the League of Nations; he empowered Hitler by showing how easily Western democracies could be cowed and by condoning Germany’s Anschluss with Austria. The Führer’s gratitude led to the Pact of Steel in May 1939. “Believe, Obey, Fight,” the Fascist motto advised, and hundreds of thousands of Italian women surrendered their wedding rings to be melted down for Mussolini’s war effort. In Italian cinemas, moviegoers rose as one when the Duce strode across the screen in newsreels; he also required Italians to stand during radio broadcasts of armed forces communiqués, often delivered at one P.M. to ensure a captive audience in restaurants.

Lately the country was getting to its feet mostly for bad news. Italy’s colonial adventures in Eritrea, Somaliland, Abyssinia, and North Africa had been ruinous. Without informing Berlin, Mussolini also had invaded Greece, only to require German help to stave off catastrophe. Rome declared war on supine France in 1940, but thirty-two Italian divisions failed to overwhelm three French divisions on the Alpine front. The Italian air force had been gutted in Libya; two-thirds of the Italian army fighting in Russia had been destroyed; 40 percent of Italian soldiers on Crete reportedly lacked boots; and three-quarters of the merchant fleet had been sunk in the lost-cause effort to resupply North Africa. Raw materials, from cotton to rubber, were now dispensed by the Germans, who even provided the fuel that allowed Italian warships to leave port. About 1.2 million Italian soldiers served on various foreign fronts, along with 800,000 in Italy; but few had the stomach to defend the homeland, much less fight a world war. A German high command assessment on June 30 concluded, “The kernel of the Italian army has been destroyed in Greece, Russia, and Africa…. The combat value of Italian units is slight.”

Since December 1942, Mussolini had vainly urged Hitler to draw back from the Eastern Front, or even to forge a separate peace with Moscow. With combat casualties approaching 300,000, Italy found itself in the “ridiculous position of being unable either to make war or to make peace.”

In July 1943, King Victor Emmanuel III replaced Mussolini as prime minister with colonial war-hero General Pietro Badoglio, 1st Duke of Addis Ababa and former viceroy of Italian East Africa.

Leave a comment

Filed under Africa, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Italy, Mediterranean, military, nationalism, USSR, war

Africa’s New Leaders vs. Mobutu, 1996

From Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa, by Jason Stearns (Public Affairs, 2011), Kindle Loc. 993-1030:

By mid-1996, Museveni [of Uganda] and Kagame [of Rwanda] had stitched together an impressive alliance of African governments behind their drive to overthrow Mobutu. The war that started in Zaire in September 1996 was not, above all, a civil war. It was a regional conflict, pitting a new generation of young, visionary African leaders against Mobutu Sese Seko, the continent’s dinosaur. Never had so many African countries united militarily behind one cause, leading some to dub the war Africa’s World War. Unlike that war, however, the battle for the Congo would not be carried out in trenches over years, leading to millions of military casualties. Here, the battles were short and the number of soldiers killed in the thousands, figures dwarfed by the number of civilians killed. Unlike World War II, the African allies banded together not against aggressive expansionism, but against the weakness of the enemy.

The leader of this coalition was its youngest, smallest member: Rwanda. It was typical of the RPF, who had played David to Goliath several times before and would do so again later. At the outset, it seemed to be the perfect embodiment of a just war: Kigali was acting as a last resort based on legitimate security concerns.

What seems obvious in hindsight—that Mobutu’s army had been reduced to a mockery of itself, that Mobutu’s hold on power had crumbled—was a vague hypothesis in RPF intelligence briefings at the time. When Kagame told his officers that they would go all the way to Kinshasa, they nodded politely but in private shook their heads. That was a journey of over 1,000 miles, through unknown terrain, similar to walking from New York to Miami through swamps and jungles and across dozens of rivers. They would have to fight against 50,000 of Mobutu’s soldiers as well as perhaps 50,000 ex-FAR and Interahamwe. It seemed impossible. “We never thought we could make it all the way to Kinshasa,” Patrick Karegeya, the Rwandan intelligence chief, told me.

It is easy to forget, now that greed and plunder claim the headlines as the main motives for conflict in the region, that its beginnings were steeped in ideology. The Rwandan-backed invasion was perhaps the heyday of the African Renaissance, riding on the groundswell of the liberation of South Africa from apartheid, and of Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Rwanda from dictatorships. It was an alliance motivated in part by the strategic interests of individual governments, but also by a larger spirit of pan-Africanism. Not since the heyday of apartheid in South Africa had the continent seen this sort of mobilization behind a cause. For the leaders of the movement, it was a proud moment in African history, when Africans were doing it for themselves in face of prevarication from the west and United Nations. Zimbabwe provided tens of millions of dollars in military equipment and cash to the rebellion. Eritrea sent a battalion from its navy to conduct covert speedboat operations on Lake Kivu. Ethiopia and Tanzania sent military advisors. President Museveni recalled: “Progressive African opinion was galvanised.”

Absent from these talks, however, were the Congolese. Their country was to be liberated for them by foreigners who knew little to nothing of their country. And of course, these foreigners would soon develop other interests than just toppling Mobutu. Within several years, the Congo was to become the graveyard for this lofty rhetoric of new African leadership as preached by Mbeki, Albright, and many others. Freedom fighters were downgraded to mere marauding rebels; self-defense looked ever more like an excuse for self-enrichment. Leaders who had denounced the big men of Africa who stayed in power for decades began appearing more and more like the very creatures they had fought against for so many decades.

In 1996, however, the future remained bright.

Leave a comment

Filed under Congo, democracy, economics, Eritrea, Ethiopia, nationalism, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, war, Zimbabwe

Ethiopia’s Discovery of Europe, 1306–1458

The December 2010 issue of the Journal of World History (on Project MUSE) has a very interesting article by Matteo Salvadore on “An Ethiopean Age of Exploration: Prester John’s Discovery of Europe, 1306–1458.” Here are some excerpts (footnotes omitted, links added).

Before the age of European expansion overseas and the Portuguese circumnavigation of Africa, Renaissance Italy became a common destination for scores of Ethiopian monks and dignitaries. These travelers presented themselves on the European scene as active agents of transcontinental discovery: interested in learning more about a region they regarded as the ultimate center of organized Christianity, they became the protagonists of an Ethiopian age of exploration. This article examines the dynamics of interaction between Italian elites and Ethiopian travelers throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The episodes of interaction here considered had lasting consequences for Ethio-European relations: they engendered dynamics of reciprocal understanding based on a common religious identity that ran counter to ideas of African and black inferiority that represented the cultural norm for much of the modern period. Ethiopians became in fact agents of discovery and purveyors of geographical knowledge in an era when the dominating paradigm of difference was grounded not in racial but rather in religious identity….

In 1122 a foreign visitor to Rome was audacious enough to introduce himself to Pope Callistus II‘s (1119–1124) entourage as a representative of “Patriarch John of India.” We know that by virtue of his alleged relation with Prester John the visitor was treated with deference throughout his sojourn. This is the first recorded encounter between a European sovereign and a Patriarch—or Prester—John who, together with his supposed representative, had by all means not even a remote connection to the rulers of Ethiopia. Less than fifty years later, in 1165, Byzantine emperor Manuel Komnenos (1143–1180) received a long letter through which a self-declared Prester John sought alliances with his European peers. It is undisputedly a forgery; the circumstances surrounding the drafting of the letter remain rather obscure, and a variety of theories have been advanced. What we know is that the author—most likely European—compiled a compendium of geopolitical knowledge injected with fragments of information about the distant Orient. In the twelfth century, Prester John is the quintessential representative of a distant and largely unknown Christian might, which by virtue of its faith embodies a very peculiar type of other. Prester John epitomizes a remote Christian world, thought superior to a debased Western Christianity that was losing its confrontation with Islam both in Jerusalem and in Southern Europe. It is telling that certain passages of the mentioned letter that meant to shed light on the reality of his kingdom had been inspired by St. Augustine’s City of God. In an era of defeat and regression for the Christian powers of Europe, Prester John seems to have been an icon used to exorcise the power of Islam and soothe the anxiety of the European elites.

The popularity of the imaginary sovereign was such that in 1177 Pope Alexander III (1159–1181) addressed a letter to “Prester John, the illustrious and magnificent John King of the Indies.” The letter epitomizes the Catholic Church’s effort to expand its rule over the known and unknown lands of the world as well as an attempt to find allies for the anti-Muslim cause. The idea of Prester John engendered a positive European outlook on the unknown and was instrumental to later efforts to explore and map the wider world during the European age of exploration. It stimulated the interest of European monarchs in overseas exploration, particularly in the quest for allies against Islam. In the second half of the thirteenth century, after the acquisition of a greater—or rather, less confused—understanding of the East, European elites relocated the imaginary sovereign from Asia to Africa. A number of chronicles compiled at the turn of the thirteenth century abounded with references to Prester John, yet his actual location became more and more the object of controversy. As the Mongols reached into Europe in 1237 and displayed traits that did not coincide with the European image of Christian piety, the figure of the pious Christian king from the Far East gave way again to that of the heathen barbarian. In the same years travelers to the Far East returned to Europe with information about the exploits of the Mongol Empire. The Mongols were not Christians and the fabulous Christian kingdom was nowhere to be found, yet the myth of Prester John grew larger.

These are some of the contingencies that eventually engendered Prester John’s relocation to Ethiopia, but what is the bigger picture beyond them? The thirteenth century in Europe was a period of unprecedented knowledge production about the Far East. Before the rise of the modern explorer, traders started to gather information from distant lands and carry it through unsafe and discontinuous networks of communication back to Europe. If we look beyond the intricate network of first- and secondhand accounts we see the emergence of a new European awareness of the East: the wave of knowledge production emerged from the cradle of a still-infant capitalist world economy whose expansion facilitated the flow of information between continents and imposed innovative standards of geographic and political knowledge….

As Rome was struggling to regain Jerusalem in the second half of the thirteenth century, Ethiopia experienced the so called Solomonic restoration, a dynastic shift that brought about a period of unprecedented state building. At the end of the thirteenth century, Ethiopia emerged from more than a century of Zagwe rule (1137–1270) that abruptly ended when Yekuno ‘Amlak (1270–1285) was anointed Ethiopian emperor in 1270. At first sight the passage from one dynastic tradition to the other seems to have had a much more political than religious meaning as both dynasties were Christian. However, the restoration initiated a period of dramatic change both in the religious and secular realms. Taddesse Tamrat offered a compelling overview of the period and referred to the changes triggered in the late 1200s as “outward movements of both Church and States.” The Ethiopian nobility initiated an intermittent but long-lasting policy of expansion and consolidation across the highlands and laid out the defining elements of one of the most resilient monarchies in world history by giving birth to a military-religious complex—the sword and the cross—that would define the history of Ethiopia throughout the modern era.

The transformation and political consolidation of the Ethiopian highlands that started with Yekuno ‘Amlak was continued by his successor, Yagbe Ṣeyon (1285–1294), crowned emperor as Solomon in 1285. Did the news of the restoration reach Rome and Nicholas IV’s ear, enticing his curia to reach out to a potential ally? There is not enough evidence to know whether the letter addressed to “Imperatori Aethiopiae Illustri” was indeed directed to the Ethiopian emperor, but we do know that by the end of the thirteenth century the activity within the still-undefined boundaries of an embryonic contact zone acquired momentum. In a way we could argue that the emergence of an Ethio-European encounter was the result of parallel expansionist attitudes emerging on both sides of the contact zone….

Until the end of the thirteenth century, Christian Ethiopia had maintained a good record of collaboration and coexistence with Islam on both the international and domestic fronts. Ethiopian Muslims had long been an integral part of the local economy and had been instrumental to Ethiopia’s contribution to the regional economy of the Red Sea basin. Furthermore, the Ethiopian Church had been receiving its ‘abuna ([fn:] literally meaning “our fathers” in Ge’ez, … used in Ethiopia to identify leading clerics, heads of monasteries, and the head of the Ethiopian Church) from the patriarch of Alexandria as part of a complex process of mediation between different economic and religious interests competing along the shores of the Nile. One could say that until the rise of a new Ethiopian system in the early fourteenth century, the relation between Christianity and Islam in Ethiopia developed along the line of Muhammad’s plea to “leave the Ethiopians alone,” a plea that had been reciprocated with a partial integration of the Ğabarti on the highlands.

This is the backdrop against which a little-known group of Ethiopians officially opened the age of Ethiopian exploration in 1306. The first recorded encounter in the Ethio-European contact zone took place in an era when, on both sides, otherness was shaped by similar anxieties at a moment when both sides were redefining their relationship with Muslims. Presumably, Wedem Ra’ad sent a delegation of thirty Ethiopians to Europe, most likely for the purpose of forging an anti-Islam alliance with European coreligionists.

Leave a comment

Filed under Ethiopia, Europe, religion

Japan Through Ethiopian Eyes, early 1900s

From Mutual Interests? Japan and Ethiopia before the Italo-Ethiopian War, 1935-36, by J. Calvitt Clarke III, presented at the Florida Conference of Historians in 2000 (endnote references omitted):

Many Japanese wished to join the West in Africa’s exploitation, and some saw Ethiopia as a potential gateway. In 1899, Dr. Tomizu Hirondo, a professor of law at Tokyo Imperial University, published a short pamphlet, Afurika no Zento [The Future of Africa]. Admiring Cecil Rhodes and Harry Johnson, he concluded that Japan had to expand its influence and profit in Africa before Europeans completely controlled the continent. During the First World War, recalling Tomizu, some Japanese wanted to send troops to occupy Germany’s African territories [just as the Japanese Navy occupied Germany’s Micronesian colonies in 1914—J.].

The Japan Mail Steamship Company began regular service to Europe via the Suez Canal when the Tosa Maru left Japan in March 1896 and arrived in London in May. Stopping at Port Said, Japanese merchantmen set up direct commercial connections with Africa for the first time. Tokyo got first hand information on Africa by sending official economic missions, establishing consular offices, and by using the information networks established by shipping companies and trading houses. Japan designed its economic penetration to secure a cheap and stable supply of raw materials, especially cotton, as well as to capture markets. By 1899, silk thread from Japan was entering Ethiopia through Harar. And by 1918, Japanese cloth had superseded American unbleached muslin, which had dominated Ethiopia’s imports.

European colonialism in Africa, however, blocked Japan’s military and political penetration and confined Japan’s African relations to trade and commerce. Not necessarily by choice, Japan could and did claim “clean hands in Africa.”…

Young, educated Ethiopians responded. One of them, the future foreign minister Heruy Wolde Sellassie, published in 1932 Dai Nihon [Great Japan] in which he explained that, “Ethiopia was not knowledgeable of the situation in the East until the [Russo-Japanese] war. Because of the war, we learned tremendous amount about Japan from Russians living in Ethiopia, and our Ethiopian people started to admire courageous Japan.”

An Eritrean intellectual, Blatta Gabra Egziabher … was one of many young Ethiopians who saw Japan as a living example for Ethiopia in liquidating feudalism and developing capitalism through the agency of the modern state and revolution from above. Called “Progressive Intellectuals,” “Young Ethiopians,” or simply “Japanizers,” these foreign educated, young intellectuals stressed the similarities bonding the two non-Western nations. These included myths of eternal dynasties and similar histories in overcoming European powers. Japan’s dramatic and rapid transformation from a feudal society—like Ethiopia’s—into an industrial power by the end of the nineteenth century attracted Ethiopians. Further, Japan’s military victories convinced these Japanizers that they too could master western scientific and technological skills and turn them against Europeans. The appearance of the Japanizers created contradictions within the feudal ruling classes, enlightening some while hardening others. Hence arose the conflict between what one Marxist scholar has called the “liberal,” “enlightened feudalists” on the one hand and “ultra feudalists” on the other.

Gebre Heywet Baykedagn well-represents the ideas of the Japanizers. Born in 1886, he studied in Germany and Austria, and returned to Ethiopia in 1905. Exiled in 1909, he returned in 1911 to become palace treasurer and head of customs for Menelik’s grandson and heir, Lidj Iyasu. Convinced of the need for sweeping administrative and fiscal measures, by 1914, Gebre Heywet had become a confidant of Täfäri Makonnen—the future Emperor Hayle Sellase….

Japan’s victory over Russia impressed Prince Täfäri, an ardent student of military matters, and his trusted adviser, Heruy. Täfäri, whose original interest in Japan probably had been inspired by his father, Ras Makonnen, understood that Japan and the United States were the new centers of the world economy. By 1906 when Ras Makonnen died, the thirteen year-old Täfäri clearly had developed his goal, an essential part of which was to draw on the Japanese model. Japan had proved that a non-European nation could embrace modernization and stand as a cultural and technical equal to Europe….

As emperor, [RasHead’] Täfäri imitated the Japanese Emperor in his “attitude of exclusiveness,” because he thought it would help create “an imperial dignity lacking in Ethiopia.” Later as the Italo-Ethiopian war was brewing, the British Minister to Ethiopia, Sir Sidney Barton, explained: “the Emperor has always been interested in the achievements of Japan and his imagination sees similarities between the two countries which—however incredible it may seem to foreign observers—lead him to dream of Ethiopia as the Japan of Africa.”…

Ethiopia’s constitution of 1931 shows Japanese influence. Modeled on the Meiji Constitution of 1889, it concentrated and made more emphatic imperial power than did the Japanese. A Russian-educated intellectual and “Japanizer,” Takle-Hawaryat Takla-Maryam, wrote the draft of the Ethiopian Constitution, and the Emperor with his advisers Heruy and Ras Kasa modified it.

Even more dramatically, Foreign Minister Blaten Geta Heruy, special envoy of the Ethiopian emperor, left Addis Ababa on September 30, 1931, bound for Japan. Officially, his party was visiting to repay the Japanese Emperor for Japan’s representation at the recent coronation in Addis Ababa. In cultivating mutual relations, Heruy also wanted to see if the Ethiopians could carry out their plan for modernization along Japanese lines. Heruy and his mission were grandly treated. He later wrote: “Upon our arrival in Japan, I heard people’s joyful cries. Many Japanese citizens awaited us at the port waving Ethiopian and Japanese flags. The route to the hotel was flooded with people acclaiming us. Everywhere we went, it was the same phenomenon.”…

The Japanese welcome had impressed Heruy. After returning to Ethiopia, in 1932 he published a book to introduce Japan to his countrymen. Entitled Mahdara Berhan Hagara Japan [Japan: The Source of Light], it was probably the first book by an African to make a serious attempt to introduce Japan to Africans. It was translated into Japanese as Dai Nippon [Great Japan] and published with a preface by the former foreign minister Sidehara in Tokyo in 1934….

It would seem the true reason for Heruy’s journey to Japan in 1931, however, was to seek arms and munitions from the Japanese government. But then, Japan was dealing with the Manchurian Incident and had worries other than supplying arms and munitions to Ethiopia.

Heruy’s admiration for Japan as a model alarmed the Western powers that had no wish to see a second Japan—this one in Africa. One European wrote in 1935 that during the previous four years Ethiopia had “embarked, with the close cooperation of Japan, on a life-and-death struggle with the white race, the consequences of which are incalculable.” He added that Italy was fighting the battle for sake of all colonial powers in Africa….

Despite the fervent adulation by Japanese civilians, in the end Heruy got none of the tangible aid he had hoped to get. Japan’s government eventually adapted itself to Italy’s conquest of the Ethiopian Empire by exchanging recognitions with Italy—Ethiopia for Manchukuo. This led in turn to the Anti-Comintern Pact, a wartime alliance, and, ultimately, to mutual devastation and defeat for Italy and Japan. Ethiopia, on the other hand, in 1941 became the first Axis-occupied country to be liberated.

Leave a comment

Filed under Ethiopia, Japan, nationalism

Practical Problems of Genocide Tribunals

From After the Killing Fields: Lessons from the Cambodian Genocide, by Craig Etcheson (Texas Tech U. Press, 2006), pp. 183-187 (footnote references omitted):

When one examines the details of how tribunals are structured, it becomes clear that no solution can yield a completely satisfactory outcome on all the competing values at stake. We see, for example, a range of approaches to the question of personal jurisdiction, that is, who should be prosecuted in a genocide tribunal. Though the approaches vary widely, each of them has both advantages and disadvantages with respect to the question of impunity. Cambodia’s 1979 People’s Revolutionary Tribunal prosecuted only two people, leaving many other culpable senior leaders untouched, along with the thousands of people who carried out the actual killing. The ICTR has indicted and/or prosecuted more than seventy people, but this is totally unsatisfactory to many Rwandans, who find tens of thousands of genocide perpetrators living among them. The ICTY has indicted some 150 individuals, creating a large and time-consuming caseload but still leaving many perpetrators harmless in the former Yugoslavia. The Ethiopian courts are prosecuting more than 5,000 suspects, though that process has been criticized for violating the rights of the accused, and in any case it still leaves low-level perpetrators beyond the reach of the law. In Rwanda, more than 100,000 persons suspected of involvement in the genocide have languished in detention for years with no prospect that they will ever receive fair trials in a court of law, solely due to the fact that the sheer numbers of accused overwhelm the capacity of the Rwandan justice system. As a practical matter, then, there may be no ideal solution to the problem of personal jurisdiction for the crime of genocide….

Another challenge in achieving justice for the Cambodian genocide has to do with the question of temporal jurisdiction, or the span of time during which applicable crimes may be prosecuted. The proposed Khmer Rouge tribunal would limit its temporal jurisdiction to the period between April 17, 1975, and January 7, 1979. Thus, only criminal acts that were committed in that time frame could be prosecuted by the Khmer Rouge tribunal. This makes sense, insofar as that was the period during which the Khmer Rouge controlled Cambodia ‘s capital and also the period of the most intense killing by the Khmer Rouge, but it is also true that the Khmer Rouge executed and otherwise abused many innocent people prior to April 17, 1975, and they also continued to carry out atrocities long after they were driven from power on January 7, 1979. By limiting temporal jurisdiction to this period, people who were victimized by the Khmer Rouge at any time outside of that tightly constricted time frame might feel as if they have been denied justice for the crimes committed against them and therefore that impunity continues to reign….

A similar set of questions could be raised with respect to the subject matter jurisdiction, or what crimes will be prosecuted. For example, a growing body of evidence suggests that rape was common at the lower levels of the Khmer Rouge security organization, particularly the rape of female prisoners who were slated for execution. Recent precedents established by the ad hoc international criminal tribunals mean that when rape is assessed as having been systematic or widespread, this could constitute a war crime or a crime against humanity. Rape in war is always a war crime, but what is new under these recent precedents, where widespread or systematic, is that it can now trigger the doctrine of “command responsibility,” putting senior leaders at risk for the crimes of their subordinates. In the Cambodian case, however, the available evidence suggests that whenever the top leadership of the Khmer Rouge uncovered such “moral” infractions by their cadre, those accused of such acts faced summary execution. Consequently, the top Khmer Rouge leaders can argue that they did everything possible to suppress such crimes, and therefore they cannot be held responsible. If, due to the limited definition of personal jurisdiction, only top leaders are prosecuted, but they are absolved of responsibility for rapes, then any woman who was raped by a lower-level Khmer Rouge cadre or soldier may feel that she has not received justice and that impunity continues. Again, it would seem that there is no universally satisfactory way to address the problem of impunity for crimes on the scale of those carried out under the Khmer Rouge.

Another set of questions has to do with the extent of international involvement in a tribunal. The ICTY, the ICTR, and the ICC are in the nature of international experiments in combating impunity. As such, these judicial institutions have been fraught with start-up difficulties. They are also enormously expensive undertakings—which is one reason that several members of the UN Security Council were reluctant to see a similar model implemented in the case of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge. A major advantage of the ad hoc international tribunals is that they tend to provide the highest legal standards of international justice, but in so doing, they also require a great deal of time and money in order to render justice to only a small minority of the perpetrators. Moreover, with the ICTY seated in the Netherlands, and the ICTR in Arusha, Tanzania—both at some distance from the territories where the crimes were actually committed—the surviving victims who have the greatest right and need to see justice done in most cases are simply too far from the court to see any justice being done at all. On the other hand, in the Rwandan domestic prosecutions, in a country where the legal profession and the courts were totally destroyed during the genocide, the relative lack of international involvement can be seen as a factor contributing to the procedural shortcomings of the process and the long delays in rendering justice for the victims and the accused alike. The same might be said of the Ethiopian prosecutions.

Thus, there seems to be no optimum level of international involvement in tribunals designed to combat impunity. If the tribunal is entirely internationalized and seated outside the territory where the crimes were committed, there is a danger that those most in need of seeing justice done will not perceive any effective impact on impunity. Those few perpetrators who find themselves before the court will be prosecuted under alien laws and in an unfamiliar language, all far away from the scene of the crime. On the other hand, when tribunals are conducted strictly as a national affair in the immediate aftermath of terrible devastation, local judicial and political conditions may not be strong enough to deliver fair and impartial justice, as we saw with the People’s Revolutionary Tribunal in 1979. However, it may turn out that the proposed mixed model for Cambodia—with internationals on the court and with the proceedings conducted where the crimes occurred—could be a good compromise to balance these competing values.

On balance, then, when we look under the hood of international tribunals at their internal workings, it is clear that there is no ideal, one-size-fits-all solution. When weighed against the enormity of the crimes at issue, questions of personal, temporal, and subject matter jurisdiction, along with the degree of international involvement, generally tip the scales of justice toward an unsatisfying outcome.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cambodia, Ethiopia, NGOs, Rwanda, U.N., Yugoslavia

Ethiopia, 1978: One More Equal Than Others

From The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence, by Martin Meredith (PublicAffairs, 2005), pp. 245-248:

In September 1976 the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP), drawing support from the labour unions, teachers and students, all vehemently opposed to military rule, embarked on a campaign of urban terrorism against the Derg and its civilian ally, the All-Ethiopian Socialist Movement, usually known by its Amharic acronym, Meison. An assassination attempt was made on Mengistu in the centre of Addis Ababa in September, the first of nine such attempts. Scores of officials and supporters of the Derg were murdered. The Derg in turn sent out its own murder squads…. By mid-1977 the EPRP was effectively destroyed. In the final phase of the red terror, to establish his own supremacy, Mengistu turned on his Meison allies, destroying them too. The young generation of intellectual activists, who had so avidly supported the revolution were all but wiped out.

Mengistu’s hold over other parts of Ethiopia was nevertheless precarious. By mid-1977 the Ethiopian army in Eritrea had lost most major towns and controlled little more than Asmara and the ports of Massawa and Assab. In July 1977 Somalia, deciding the time was ripe to take advantage of the Derg’s preoccupation with Eritrea and other revolts, launched a full-scale invasion of the Ogaden. By August the Somalis controlled most of the Ogaden. In September they captured Jijiga, an Ethiopian tank base, and pressed on towards the town of Harar and the rail and industrial centre of Dire Dawa, the third largest city in Ethiopia.

What rescued Mengistu from military defeat was massive intervention by Soviet and Cuban forces, determined to prop up his Marxist regime. In November 1977 the Soviets mounted a huge airlift and sealift, ferrying tanks, fighter aircraft, artillery, armoured personnel carriers and hundreds of military advisers to Ethiopia. A Cuban combat force numbering 17,000 joined them. Led by Cuban armour, the Ethiopians launched their counter-offensive in the Ogaden in February 1978, inflicting a crushing defeat on the Somalis. The full force of the Ethiopian army, supported by the Soviet Union, was then turned on Eritrea.

At the fourth anniversary celebrations marking the overthrow of Haile Selassie in 1978, Mengistu sat alone in a gilded armchair covered with red velvet on a platform in Revolution Square in Addis Ababa watching a procession of army units and civilian groups pass before him. Then he returned to his headquarters at the Grand Palace. Having succeeded in holding the old empire together, he liked to portray himself as following a tradition of strong Ethiopian rulers. Indeed, Mengistu came to be compared with the Emperor Tewodros, a nineteenth-century ruler who started his career as a minor local chieftain, fought his way up to take the Crown and then strove to reunite the empire after a period of disintegration. At official functions at the Grand Palace, while members of the Derg stood respectfully to one side, Mengistu chose to preside from the same ornate chair that Haile Selassie had once favoured.

One of his ministers, Dawit Wolde Giorgis, once a fervent supporter of the revolution, recalled his growing sense of disillusionment.

At the beginning of the Revolution all of us had utterly rejected anything having to do with the past. We would no longer drive cars, or wear suits; neckties were considered criminal. Anything that made you look well-off or bourgeois, anything that smacked of affluence or sophistication, was scorned as part of the old order. Then, around 1978, all that began to change. Gradually materialism became accepted, then required. Designer clothes from the best European tailors were the uniform of all senior government officials and members of the Military Council. We had the best of everything: the best homes, the best cars, the best whisky, champagne, food. It was a compete reversal of the ideals of the Revolution.

He recalled, too, how Mengistu changed once he had gained complete control.

He grew more abrasive and arrogant. The real Mengistu emerged: vengeful, cruel and authoritarian. His conduct was not limited by any moral considerations. He began to openly mock God and religion. There was a frightening aura about him. Many of us who used to talk to him with our hands in our pockets, as if he were one of us, found ourselves standing stiffly at attention, cautiously respectful in his presence. In addressing him we had always used the familiar form of ‘you’, ante; now we found ourselves switching to the more formal ‘you’, ersiwo. He moved into a bigger, more lavish office in the Palace of Menelik. He got new, highly trained bodyguards – men who watched you nervously, ready to shoot at any time. We now were frisked whenever we entered his office. He began to use the Emperor’s cars and had new ones imported from abroad – bigger, fancier cars with special security provisions. Wherever he went he was escorted by these cars packed with guards, with more riding alongside on motorcycles.

He concluded: ‘We were supposed to have a revolution of equality; now he had become the new Emperor.’

You get the same result every single time a revolutionary thug promises equality—and begins to deliver it with the help of other revolutionary thugs. Every French Revolution yields a new Robespierre—and then a new Napoleon.

1 Comment

Filed under Cuba, Eritrea, Ethiopia, labor, language, military, USSR, war