The Treaty of Wuchale: African Victory over European Expansionism

In March 1896, a well-disciplined and massive Ethiopian army did the unthinkable—it routed an invading Italian force and brought Italy’s war of conquest in Africa to an end. In an age of relentless European expansion, Ethiopia had successfully defended its independence and cast doubt upon an unshakable certainty of the age—that sooner or later all Africans would fall under the rule of Europeans. The battle of Adwa marked Ethiopia’s victory against Italian colonization. It all started with the treaty of Wuchale. The short documentary below gives you an idea about it. This indeed was the biggest, the only, African defeat of European expansionism and ugly scramble for Africa. Enjoy!

Treaty of Wuchale: The Treaty which led to European Colonialism’s Defeat in Africa

Battle_of_adwa2
Edition of the Petit Journal of August 1896 titled: “Negus Menelik II at the Battle of Adwa”

In Africa, Ethiopia is the only country which was never colonized by a European power. This was the result of the famous Battle of Adwa on March 1, 1896, which marked the Ethiopian victory against Italian colonialism. The Battle of Adwa against Italy arose from the deceitful 1889 Treaty of Wuchale between the Ethiopian Empire and Italy, a treaty whose article 17 had two different meanings in Amharic and Italian versions: The Amharic version recognized the sovereignty of Ethiopia and its relationship with Italy as just a diplomatic partnership, while the Italian version made Ethiopia Italy’s protectorate The moment that discrepancy/trickery was uncovered, Empress Taytu Betul was the first to agitate Emperor Menelik II and other men to stand up for liberty, and dignity against Italian aggression. I am publishing here the Treaty of Wuchale. Special thanks to the Horn Affairs website for publishing the English version in its entirety. Some claim that Article 3 actually paved the way for Italians to claim Ethiopian lands (Eritrea). Well, here is the document of one of those treacherous treaties signed or rather forced upon Africans by European powers. Thank goodness for Taytu Betul, Menelik II, and their team of loyal and intelligent ministers and interpreters. I have attached the pdf version too.

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Treaty of friendship and trade between the kingdom of Italy and the Empire of Ethiopia (Treaty of Wuchale)

ethiopia
Map of Ethiopia before 1911

His Majesty King Umberto I of Italy and Menelik His Majesty The King of Kings of Ethiopia, in order to make meaningful and lasting peace between the two Kingdoms of Italy and Ethiopia have agreed to conclude a treaty of friendship and commerce .

And His Majesty the King of Italy having delegated as his representative, Count Pietro Antonelli, Commander of the Crown of Italy, Knight SS. Maurice and Lazarus, his extraordinary posted by His Majesty the King Menelik, whose full powers were found in good and due form, and His Majesty the King Menelik concluded in his name as King of Kings of Ethiopia, agreed and concludes the following Articles:

Article 1. There will be perpetual peace and friendship between His Majesty the King of Italy and His Majesty the King of Kings of Ethiopia and between their respective heirs, successors, servants and protected populations.

Article 2. Each Contracting Party shall be represented by a diplomatic agent accredited to I’altra and may appoint consuls, agents and consular officers in the other.
Such officials shall enjoy all the privileges and immunities according to the customs of the European governments.

Map of Eritrea
Map of Eritrea

Article 3. To remove any ambiguity about the limits of the territories over which the two Contracting Parties shall exercise sovereign rights, a special commission composed of two delegates and two Ethiopians will draw on Italian soil with special signals a permanent boundary line whose strongholds are established as below:
a) the line of the plateau will mark the Ethiopian-Italian border;
b) from the region Arafali Hala, Sagan and Asmara are villages in the Italian border;
c) Adi and Adi Nefas Joannes Bogos will be on the side of the Italian border;
d) by Adi Joannes a straight line extended from east to west will mark the border between Italy and Ethiopia.

Article 4. The monastery of Debra Bizen with all their possessions will remain the property of the Ethiopian government but will never use it for military purposes.

Article 5. The caravans from or to Massawa to Ethiopian territory pay on one single law of the customs entry of 8 per cent on the value of the goods.

Menelik_II_ethiopia
Emperor Menelik II, of Ethiopia

Article 6. The trade of arms and ammunition from or through Massawa to Ethiopia will be free for the only King of Kings of Ethiopia.
Whenever they want to get the passage of such kinds will make regular application to the Italian authorities, bearing the royal seal.
The wagons with load of weapons and ammunition will travel under the protection and cover of Italian soldiers until alconfine Ethiopia.

Article 7. The subjects of each of the two Contracting Parties will be free to enter, travel, go out with their merchandise and effects in the other country and will enjoy greater protection of the Government and its employees.
And, therefore, strictly forbidden to people on both sides armed contractors to meet many or few and pass their borders in order to impose itself on people and groped by force to provide food and livestock.

Article 8. The Italians in Ethiopia and Ethiopians in Italy or Italian possessions can buy or sell, take or lease and in any other manner dispose of their property no less than the natives.

Article 9. And fully guaranteed in both states the option for other subjects to practice their religion.

Article 10. Any disputes or quarrels between the Italians in Ethiopia will be defined by the Italian in Massawa or his delegate.
The fights between Italians and Ethiopians will be defined by the Italian in Massawa or his delegate and a delegate of the Ethiopian.

Taytu_Betul5
Empress Taytu Betul of Ethiopia

Article 11. Dying in an Italian in Ethiopia or an Ethiopian in Italian territory, the local authorities were carefully kept all his property and held at the disposal of government to which the deceased belonged.

Article 12. In any event, circumstance or for any Italians accused of a crime will be judged by the Italian.
That is why the Ethiopian authorities shall immediately deliver to the  Italians in Massawa accused of having committed a crime.
They also accused the Ethiopians of crime committed on Italian soil will be judged by the Ethiopian.

Article 13. His Majesty the King of Italy and His Majesty the King of Kings of Ethiopia is obliged to deliver criminals who may have become refugees, to escape punishment by the rulers of one on the other domains.

Article 14. The slave trade was against the principles of the Christian religion, His Majesty the King of Kings of Ethiopia is committed to prevent it with all his power, so that no caravan of slaves can cross its member.

Article 15. This Treaty shall be valid throughout the Ethiopian Empire.

Article 16. While in the present Treaty, after five years from the date of signature, one of two High Contracting Parties may wish to introduce some modifications to do so, but he must prevent the other a year earlier, while remaining firm and every single concession on territory.

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The Battle of Adwa, 1896

Article 17. His Majesty the King of Kings of Ethiopia can [1] use the Government of His Majesty the King of Italy for all treatments that did business with other powers or governments.

Article 18. If His Majesty the King of Kings of Ethiopia intends to grant special privileges to nationals of third state to establish businesses and industries in Ethiopia, will always be given, under equal conditions, preference to the Italians.

Article 19. This treaty being drafted in Italian and Amharic and the two versions agree with each other perfectly, both texts shall be deemed official, and will in every respect equal faith.

Article 20. This Treaty shall be ratified.

In witness whereof, Count Pietro Antonelli on behalf of His Majesty the King of Italy, His Majesty the King of King Menelik of Ethiopia, in his own name, signed and affixed their seal to this Treaty, at the camp Uccialli of 25 miazia 1881 corresponding to May 2, 1889.

Imperial Seal of Ethiopia
For His Majesty the King of Italy Pietro Antonelli

Ratification of MS, Monza, September 29, 1889

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[1] Article 17 has an obligatory sense in the Italian language version of the Treaty.

Taytu Betul: the Great Ethiopian Empress who Said ‘NO’ to Colonization

Empress Taytu Betul of Ethiopia
Empress Taytu Betul of Ethiopia

After learning about the origin of the name Addis Ababa, from Empress Taytu Betul‘s visit to its location, I could not help but talk about the Empress herself.  Who was Taytu Betul?

Well, Taytu Betul was Emperor Menelik II‘s third wife and was thereby Empress of Ethiopia.  She was his confidante, a loyal wife, a commander, and a brilliant military strategist.

Taytu Betul (also Taitu Betul), whose name Taytu means Sunshine, was a sunshine for her nation when it was about to fall into the hands of the Italian colonizer.  Perhaps, there would not have been the famous Battle of Adwa on March 1, 1896, which marked the Ethiopian victory against colonialism, without Empress Taytu, for she inspired it.

Emperor Menelik II, of Ethiopia
Emperor Menelik II, of Ethiopia

Empress Taytu Betul was born in Wollo from a Christian and Muslim family.  She had a comprehensive education and was fluent in Ge’ez, the classical Ethiopian language; which was a rare achievement for a woman at the time, as education was mostly reserved for boys.  Taytu was the third of four children in an aristocratic family related to the Solomonic dynasty of Ethiopia.  Her uncle, Dejazmach Wube Haile Maryam, was the ruler of Tigray and much of Northern Ethiopia in the 1840s, and a rival of Emperor Tewodros II.  Her father’s family were the ruling family of Semien province, claiming descent from Emperor Susenyos I.  Her grandfather was Ras Gugsa, a member of the powerful ruling family of Yejju, of Oromo origin, which had ruled as Regents in Gondar during the Zemene Mesafint (“Era of the Princes”).  After four failed marriages, Taytu Betul was married to Emperor Menelik II (he was still King of Shewa at the time) in 1883 in a full communion church service and thus fully canonical and insoluble, which Menelik had not had with either of his previous wives (whom he had divorced).  Their marriage was not just about romance but was also a political marriage sealing alliances with the northern regions of Begemder, Lasta, Semien, and Yeju.  She remained his wife until his death in 1913.

The Battle of Adwa, 1896
The Battle of Adwa, 1896

Empress Taytu was a loyal and respectful wife to her husband Emperor Menelik II.  According to royal historians, she was co-equal with Menelik, who always consulted her prior to making important decisions.  She was the one who pushed him to declare war against Italy at the Battle of Adwa—tearing up the 1889 Treaty of Wuchale between the Ethiopian Empire and Italy, a treaty whose article 17 had two different meanings in Amharic and Italian versions: The Amharic version recognized the sovereignty of Ethiopia and its relationship with Italy as just a diplomatic partnership, while the Italian version made Ethiopia Italy’s protectorate.  The moment that discrepancy was uncovered, Empress Taytu was the first to agitate the hesitant Emperor and other men to stand up for liberty, dignity and against Italian aggression. 

Edition of the Petit Journal of August 1896 titled: "Negus Menelik II at the Battle of Adwa"
Edition of the Petit Journal of August 1896 titled: “Negus Menelik II at the Battle of Adwa”

Empress Taytu, as a military strategist, facilitated the downfall of Italy at the Battle of AdwaShe had her own battalion, which she bravely commanded in the battlefield, fighting in the frontline and motivating men against retreat.  She also mobilized women, both as fighters and nurses of wounded soldiers.   At the Battle of Mekelle, she advised Ras Mekonen to cut off the water supply to the Italians in order to disgorge them from their entrenched and heavily fortified positions at Endeyesus Hill on the eastern part of Mekelle City.  Taytu was also the receiver and analyzer of intelligence information collected by spies, which historians have characterized as of crucial importance to the Ethiopian victory at the battleThis information enabled Menelik to attack the Italians, at a site of his choosing, at Adwa instead of Adigrat, near the Eritrean border where the Italians expected to have a relative logistical advantage.  The Italians were hoping that Menelik would meet them in Adigrat, close to where they had a well-protected military base.

Empress Taytu Betul in Le Petit Journal of March 1896
Empress Taytu Betul in Le Petit Journal of March 1896

Independence and cooperation defined Taytu’s relationship with Emperor Menelik II.  Their marriage was that of equals characterized by trust, respect and reciprocity.  After Menelik was incapacitated due to strokes in 1906, she essentially governed the country, angering all the rivals to the throne.  She was ousted from power in 1910.  After Menelik II’s death in 1913, she was banished to the old palace at Entoto.

Taytu Betul was an authentic Ethiopian leader.  Her deeds at a critical moment in Ethiopian history not only saved Ethiopia from European colonization, but it also paved the way for the decolonization of Africa.  Her advice and action resulted in the defeat of the Italian army at the 1896 Battle of Adwa, a mighty European army defeat at the hands of Africans.  Taytu strongly defended national interests by overcoming challenges both from within and from without.  Just as there was no Menelik II without Taytu Betul, there would have been no Ethiopia without Taytu’s great strength, courage, devotion, and determination. Taytu Betul was truly Ethiopia’s sunshine, and should forever be remembered as one of the greatest empresses of Ethiopia and of Africa as a whole.  Please check out Tadias.com which has outstanding information on this great empress.  Enjoy this video about the Battle of Adwa.