Description of Emperor Tewodros II after He was Crowned

Emperor Tewodros II

When Emperor Tewodros II was crowned King, the British Consul Walter Plowden who knew well the political events of Ethiopia during the 1850s and had foretold the rising star of Kassa, the Emperor’s birth name, the freelance warrior from Qwara, described him as such:

The King Theodorus is young in years, vigorous in all manly exercises, of a striking countenance, peculiarly polite and engaging when pleased, and mostly displaying great tact and delicacy. He is persuaded that he is destined to restore the glories of the Ethiopian Empire and to achieve great conquests: of untiring energy, both mental and bodily, his personal and moral daring is boundless… When aroused his wrath is terrible, and all tremble; but at all moments he possesses a perfect self-control. Indefatigable in business, he takes little repose night or day: his ideas and language are clear and precise; hesitation is not known to him; and has no counsellors or go-between. He is fond of splendour, and received in state even on a campaign. He is unsparing in punishment — necessary in a wilderness as Abyssinia (at that time). He salutes his meanest (poor) subjects with courtesy, is sincerely though often mistakenly religious, and will acknowledge a fault committed to his poorest follower in a moment of compassion with sincerity and grace. He is generous to excess, and free from all cupidity, regarding nothing with pleasure or desire but munitions of war for his soldiers. He has exercised the utmost clemency towards the vanquished, treating them more like friends than enemies. His faith is signal: without Christ I am nothing.”

Description of What Happened to Tewodros II’s Body at Maqdala 1868

From this scene I strolled away to the northern gate, to where the dead body of the late Master of Magdala lay, on his canvas stretcher. I found a mob of officers and men, rudely jostling each other in the endeavour to get possession of a small piece of Theodore’s blood-stained shirt.

No guard was placed over the body until it was naked, nor was the slightest respect shown it. Extended on its hammock, it lay subjected to the taunts and jests of the brutal-minded. An officer, seeing it in this condition, informed Sir Robert Napier of the fact, who at once gave orders that it should be dressed and prepared for interment on the morrow.—Henry M. Stanley [Henry M. Stanley, Magdala: The Story of the Abyssinian Campaign, 1866-67.  Being the Second Part of the Original Volume Entitled “Coomassie and Magdala”, Leopold Classic Library,1896, p. 156.]

UK rejects Calls to Return Ethiopian Prince’s Remains

Prince Alemayehu, son of Emperor Tewodros II, as photographed in 1868 by Julia Cameron

This is a heartbreaking news. Last week, Buckingham Palace, and the UK government refused to return the remains of Prince Alemayehu, son of Emperor Tewodros II, to Ethiopia. Prince Alemayehu’s remains are still in Great Britain 150 years after his death. How preposterous is this! Few years ago, when the Ethiopian government asked, the British said that they could not identify his bones (Ethiopians urge Britain to return bones of ‘stolen’ prince after 150 years). Today, Ethiopians thought that now that there is a new occupant in Buckingham Palace, King Charles III, Prince Alemayehu’s remains will finally return home. However, Buckingham Palace said that returning his remains will not be possible, as it will disturb the resting place of several others in the vicinity. From not being able to identify his bones a few years ago (when in this day and age the remains of King Richard III of England have been identified 500 years after his death), to disturbing others buried there, it makes us wonder if they ever even took the time to look. These are the same people who only returned the hair of Emperor Tewodros II only in 2019. It is so painful to hear… it feels like part of Emperor Tewodros II is still stuck in England. As one looks at pictures of the young orphaned prince who arrived in the UK at the age of 7, and who died at the age of 18, there is so much pain in his face.

Below are snippets of the article; for the full version, go to the BBC.


Emperor Tewodros II

Buckingham Palace has declined a request to return the remains of an Ethiopian prince who came to be buried at Windsor Castle in the 19th Century.

Prince Alemayehu was taken to the UK aged just seven and arrived an orphan after his mother died on the journey. Queen Victoria then took an interest in him and arranged for his education – and ultimately his burial when he died aged just 18.

But his family wants his remains to be sent back to Ethiopia. We want his remains back as a family and as Ethiopians because that is not the country he was born in,” one of the royal descendants Fasil Minas told the BBC. It was not right” for him to be buried in the UK, he added.

… in a statement sent to the BBC, a Buckingham Palace spokesperson said removing his remains could affect others buried in the catacombs of St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle. It is very unlikely that it would be possible to exhume the remains without disturbing the resting place of a substantial number of others in the vicinity,” the palace said. The statement added that the authorities at the chapel were sensitive to the need to honour Prince Alemayehu’s memory, but that they also had “the responsibility to preserve the dignity of the departed“.

How Prince Alemayehu ended up in the UK at such a young age was the result of imperial action and the failure of diplomacy. In 1862, in an effort to strengthen his empire, the prince’s father Emperor Tewodros II sought an alliance with the UK, but his letters making his case did not get a response from Queen Victoria. Angered by the silence and taking matters into his own hands, the emperor held some Europeans, among them the British consul, hostage. This precipitated a huge military expedition, involving some 13,000 British and Indian troops, to rescue them [no diplomacy, always force and violence].  

British Camp at Zoola, Abyssinia expedition 1868-9 (Source: Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

The force also included an official from the British Museum. In April 1868 they laid siege to Tewodros’ mountain fortress at Maqdala in northern Ethiopia, and in a matter of hours overwhelmed the defences. The emperor decided he would rather take his own life than be a prisoner of the British, an action that turned him into a heroic figure among his people. 

Departure of the British expeditionary forces from Maqdala with the loot – Illustrated London News 1868

After the battle, the British plundered thousands of cultural and religious artefacts. These included gold crowns, manuscripts, necklaces and dresses. Historians say dozens of elephants and hundreds of mules were needed to cart away the treasures, which are today scattered across European museums and libraries, as well as in private collections. [In the case of Maqdala in 1868, it is said that 15 elephants and 200 mules were needed to cart away all the loot from Maqdala. British forces looted the place with no restrain].

The British also took away Prince Alemayehu and his mother, Empress Tiruwork Wube. [The loot was not enough… the young prince and the Empress too].

African Art Restitution: France puts out 9 Conditions

Rooster from Benin Kingdom (18th century)
Rooster from Benin Kingdom (18th century), exposed at the MET

A thief comes to your house, steals from you, and then years later when you try to recover what is yours, he gives you conditions for the return of what he looted from your house. Does it not sound unbelievable? This is what is currently going on with the restitution of African artifacts: everyday new conditions are given for the return of African art. Conditions such as “the works be well kept and exhibited after their return,” make no sense given that these objects in African cultures were mostly not used for art-sake but rather held functional values. It is sad, but hey, if you have no power, it is hard for others to return what they have stolen from you. Just because one artifact is returned here and there, it does not account for all of them. As stated countless times before, united we stand, divided we fall. As African nations ask for the return of what is rightfully theirs, each country should not go on its own to ask for the return of its national treasures, we should all be united. A couple of years back, Madagascar paid for the return of the belongings of Queen Ranavalona III. Similarly, this past April, Algeria recently got the return of a 17th-century manuscript written by the venerated leader of Algerian fight against colonialism Abd el Kader, which had been confiscated by French authorities in 1842; Algerian diaspora mobilized to combine money and resources to recover this Islamic manuscript. Being united will also help in countering conditions like “the object must not be claimed by another nation and the request cannot be accompanied by a request for monetary reparations,” especially since the current boundaries of African countries were formed after independence, thus there are bound to be common artifacts between countries.

Below are excerpts from The Art Newspaper. To learn more, also read new French laws on restitution of looted art on RFI, and Hyperallergic…  simply appalling.


Queen from Benin kingdom
Queen from Benin kingdom, exposed at the MET

France is finally releasing its long-awaited policy on the charged issue of the restitution of cultural property… The report was commissioned by President Emmanuel Macron [to ex-Director of the Louvre Museum Jean-Luc Martinez, who has since then been charged with complicity in fraud and concealing the artworks’ origins] and the government has already implemented some of its recommendations, most notably a bill on art looted by the Nazis, which will be discussed by the Senate on 23 May.

And a further two laws will be passed in coming months, … One could apply to items from the former colonies of Western empires, which the report defines in global terms, rather than just Africa and its former French dominions. The other pertains to human remains.

… Martinez tells the Art Newspaper that his report recommends studying the requests for restitutions by eight African countries to establish a “criteria of returnability”. Rather than basing this on an ideological or moral standpoint, he says he wishes to take a “pragmatic approach in order to define a framework policy of restitutions“.

He has come up with two main criteria as the basis for restitutions: “illegality and illegitimacy“. For example, according to French law at the time of France’s colonial invasion of Algeria in the early 19th century, weapons can be legally seized from an enemy but cultural goods had to be returned after battle. So the books and clothes of the rebel leader Abdelkader ibn Muhieddine (commonly known as Abdelkader) should have been given back to him when he surrendered, making their status in France “illegitimate“.

Likewise, if an officer handed looted goods to a French museum, as was the case for many objects looted from the Kingdom of Benin, the donation should be considered “illegal because such personal war booty is not allowed.” A key recommendation of the report is that requests for restitution be studied by a bilateral scientific commission which will publicly provide an opinion before the final decision of French courts [more bureaucracy].

… This report comes nearly six years after Macron publicly called for the “return of African heritage” during a state visit to Burkina Faso. And it has been four-and-a-half years since the academics Bénédicte Savoy and Felwine Sarr made the case for systematic restitutions to African countries. Since then, the issue has been somewhat downplayed, but it remains a sensitive subject.

Proverbe Yoruba sur l’importance des ancêtres / Yoruba Proverb on the Importance of Ancestors

Manuscript of Timbuktu (Source: Google Arts and Culture)

Si nous nous tenons debout, c’est parce que nous nous tenons sur le dos de ceux qui nous ont précédés (proverbe Yoruba – Nigeria, Benin).

If we stand tall it is because we stand on the backs of those who came before us (Yoruba proverb – Nigeria, Benin).

Africa’s Space Industry is Booming

Flag of Kenya

Several African nations are launching satellites. Just last month, Kenya launched its first operational satellite to space onboard a Space X rocket, developed by nine Kenyan engineers, with the goal of collecting agricultural and environmental data, including on floods, drought and wildfires, that authorities plan to use for disaster management and to combat food insecurity.

Flag of Djibouti

At the beginning of the year, Djibouti announced the construction of the first African spaceport. Djibouti’s President Ismail Omar Guelleh signed a technological cooperation agreement with the Chinese company Hong Kong Aerospace Technology to build a $1bn satellite and rocket launch site. Given Djibouti’s location near the equator, it is an attractive destination for the satellite launching while taking advantage of the Earth’s rotational speed. As Temidayo Oniosun, managing director at the consultancy Space In Africa, says, “none of the 54 satellites launched by African countries were launched from Africa,” …“Hopefully, this move will enable the launch of the first Africa-made satellite from African soil. This project, if successful, will also positively affect the industry across several countries and segments, lead to the establishment of new enterprises and new spinoffs, and would ultimately play a vital role in implementing a continentally driven space program.”

Flag of Angola
Flag of Angola

In January, Angolan President João Lourenço inaugurated the country’s first satellite control center. Its main task is to monitor the activity of the satellite “ANGOSAT 2“, launched in October with the help of Russia. The inauguration took place at Funda area within Luanda, the capital city of Angola and fully equipped with technical and technological means.

The same month, the African Union inaugurated the African Space Agency based in Cairo to highlight the importance of the space industry among all the goals for development of the continent.

Flag of Uganda

Uganda and Zimbabwe launched their satellites last November. The satellites named PearlAfricaSat-1 for Uganda, and ZimSat-1 for Zimbabwe, were launched aboard a Northrop Grumman Cygnus resupply spacecraft, which lifted off from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Africa has long been considered a latecomer in the space area. There are enormous needs across the continent, particularly in communication, education, agriculture, and science, thus reinforcing the need for Africa to quickly develop its space industry. The African space industry is expected to top $22 billion by 2026. In 2022, countries allocated a total of $539 million to their respective space programs.

Flag of Zimbabwe
Flag of Zimbabwe

The report says satellites could address agricultural challenges by measuring crop health, improve water management by monitoring drought, and track tree cover for more sustainable forest management. In a continent where less than a third of the population has access to broadband, more communication satellites could help people connect to the internet.

We applaud the amazing work, however how will the little countries in Africa benefit from these bursts from the neighboring countries? Is this a joint effort or just individual countries? We, as Africans, should unite! The enemies are too numerous for one to do it by itself. Will this not bankrupt some, and lead the projects to fail? All this brings to mind all the efforts Kadhafi had put in place to have a continental spaceport, space program and satellites to benefit the entire continent. Africa is ready: united we stand, divided we fall, and we need to unite for our efforts to have real impact the way Kwame Nkrumah and Muammar Gaddafi (Kadhafi) envisioned. 


Happy Mother’s Day 2023

Khadja Nin on the Cover of her album Sambolera

To celebrate all the mothers out there in the world, I thought of sharing this beautiful song by the Burundian singer Khadja Nin, “Mama,” from her widely acclaimed 1996 album Sambolera. Her song Mama is sung in both Kiswahili and Kirundi (for the chorus). It is very soulful, and deep. The song starts with Pygmees’ calls, which reminds us so much of the great Gabonese singer Pierre Akendengué, with whom Nin collaborated on the album. As she sings the chorus, one can imagine being transported on wings of birds, or taken off by the wind on a beach. Such a great reminder that in Africa, language can never be a barrier to stop Beautiful African Music. I dedicate it to all the mothers out there, and future mothers. Enjoy!