Opinion: Patriots’ Victory Day and the Nile: Blood and water inks of generations

Ethiopian Patriots

Dejen Yemane Messele, @MesseleDejen

Addis Abeba, May 05/2020 – Marking the 79th anniversary of the patriots’ victory day over the five brief years (1936-1941) Italian occupation gives us the opportunity to remember the patriotic resistance of our forefathers and foremothers. Remembrance of the victory and the prices that the then Ethiopians had paid in turn teach us the values of patriotism and what should a patriot do for his/her country in the time when the national interest of his/her country is at stake.

History uncovers that Ethiopia’s longer independence and sovereignty are guarded by the blood and flesh of its beloved sons from the dawn of history to the present day. Celebrating this patriots’ day there are links we can connect to the patriotic resistance against the Italian occupation to today’s most pressing national interest. The issue of the Nile is the 21st century agenda which demands patriotism as our forefathers did in the 20th century. Patriot’s day and the Nile are two of the foremost blood and water inks of generations.

Decolonizing the Nile: Parallels with Patriots Resistance to Italy’s Colonial Ambition

The Nile has been colonized for centuries. Egypt’s hydro- hegemony over the Nile waters is an exploitation of the shared resource through the bread name of colonization.  Nile is legally and factually a colonized river. The laws where Egypt has vociferously defended its ‘historic and natural’ appropriations are the colonial period agreements. Factually, it’s Egypt which is with exclusive use of the Nile waters; Sudan is a passing remark. Italy, along with Britain and France, had its hands in the formative stages of colonial sentiments and rules over the Nile River. It is the remnants of the colonial powers agreements which transcended into the post-colonial conflicts over the Nile River.

Ethiopia’s GERD project is a historic move to counter hydro-hegemony and decolonization of the Nile River from unbalanced and inequitable use. This might coincide with Ethiopia’s victory at the battle of Adwa and Italy’s return for revenge. Ethiopia has heralded in the end of hydro-hegemony and the era of colonization by starting the construction of the GERD. Politically, it was a defeat for Egypt. Like Italy, Egypt came to change the history in the name of negotiations on filling and operating the dam. Its attempt to maintain the status quo of hydro-hegemony was seen in Washington D.C., the parallel of Walwal incident of the 1934. Italy’s propaganda of ‘barbaric Ethiopia’ and its mission to civilize the later was the then sanctioned discourse to get the support of other European powers. But Ethiopian intellectuals and patriots paid all the prices to disprove Italy’s sanctioned discourse and proved Ethiopia’s sovereignty as its counterparts.

Likewise, Egypt has developed a sanctioned discourse over the Nile River. The discourse presents the inextricable linkage of the Nile and Egypt which connotes the un-touchability of the river by other riparian states. All the existing scholarships are designed in favor of Egypt’s sanctioned discourses. Psychologically, the discourses are not less than colonization. Ethiopia’s persistence stand towards its unquestionable right over the Nile waters challenged the sanctioned discourses and more is yet to be done to reverse the actual sanctioned use of the water by Egypt. Ethiopia should show its readiness to implement all the 29 Blue Nile projects which were studied by the US Bureau of Reclamation (UOR) in the 1960’s. This will bring the end of Egypt’s sanctioned discourses and hydraulic mission. When Ethiopia’s hydraulic mission begins, Egypt’s hydraulic mission ends.[i]

The Washington Incident: Replica of the Walwal incident

Italy has started its longer ambition of colonization with a trial attack at the Walwal, on December 5, 1934. It was the pretext of Italy’s full invasion of Ethiopia on October 1935. The recent failed Nile negotiation which was brokered by the United States resembles to the historic walwal incident. It signals the very objective of our counterparts. It is a test of our diplomacy, national unity, and level of resistance. Thank you for our legal and technical teams we defended the walwal like incident of the Washington attempt. But that was a red light for us to get ready. The actual war over the Nile is yet to come. We don’t certainly know the plots and   plans of our counterparts. Whatever their plan we should get ready for everything. This is what the walwal incident remembers us. 

Reactions and Patriots Resistances to the Invader: Takeaways

Ethiopia had put trust on the defunct League of Nations though the League failed to keep its promises. The League was unable to restrain Italy. The historic duty to defend their sovereignty falls on the shoulders of Ethiopians.  The young Akililu Habtewold, the later diplomat, was one of the few intellectuals who countered Italy’s false propaganda against Ethiopia. He has written on French magazines about Ethiopia’s civilization and the abolition of slavery which has enabled Abyssinia’s membership to the League of Nation, the only African member to the league.

It was the moment when Ethiopians proved their heroism. They fought for their land without a leader. The emperor was in exile and the public was paying all price to the independence of their beloved country. Farmers organized in a patriot movement and blocked Italy from fully occupying the territory of Ethiopia except cities. Women patriots did an extraordinary job by then. Patriots fought for the independence of their country, not for the vacant throne. The throne was waiting for the exiled Emperor. Ethiopian patriots put an end to the ambition of fascist Italy and its leader Benito Mussolini.

Does this patriotism tell us something to our struggle for the equitable use of the Nile? Certainly, it tells us that we have to defend our country’s interest in realizing the GERD and readiness to pay all prices needed to its completion. GERD can be marked as the bedrock for our next plan on the use of the Nile waters. If this generation wishes to do history as its forefathers did in the 20th century, it is only through the inks of the Nile waters.  No situation, not Egypt, not Covid-19, not America, not election, not the Arab league, should impede us from realizing this flagship project. We should remain loyal to our country. Our struggle shouldn’t depend on the blessing of its leaders. The public knows more Ethiopia’s national interests than anybody. Our fights these days are not through artillery. Supporting the GERD with finance, diplomacy, public awareness and the like are the modalities to fight for ‘Ethiopia’s unquestionable right over the Nile River.

Our forefathers wrote history through their bloods and this is our turn to write history through water drops. The Nile presents us a 21st century patriotic challenges. Winning the war and the battles within the Nile politics are at our hands. 

Post-Italian Occupation: Ethiopia’s Golden Era of Diplomacy

Ethiopians are natural diplomats. This dates back to the Queen of Sheba’s travel to Jerusalem of King Solomon. It was through the arts of diplomacy that the Queen won the hearts and minds of the king and she had brought many precious gifts, including the Ark of the Covenant. The diplomatic art was practiced in the medieval period rulers of Ethiopia such as Lalibala, Na‘akuto La’ab, ‘Amda Seyon, Sayfa Ar’ad, Dawit, Zar‘a Ya‘qob, and Lebna Dengel.  Nile was influenced their diplomatic relationship with Egypt. They’d threatened Egypt with the blockage of Nile and forced Egypt to send abuns(patriarchs).[ii]

Post-Italian diplomacy was an exception of all times. Ethiopia has ushered in a golden diplomacy in convincing the winners of World War II to accept its participation in the Paris peace conference despite Italy’s and some of its allies’ oppositions. They had compelled Italy to pay compensation for the damages she has caused to Ethiopia due to its unlawful aggression. Our diplomats defended Libya’s, Kenya’s, Sudan’s, and Somalis territorial integrity before the assembly of the Paris peace conference. Our diplomats negotiated and adopted the Charter of the United Nations. History remembers the matchless price paid by the notable diplomats like H.E Akililu Habtewold, H.E. Lorenzo Taezaz, and other diplomatic delegations of the time. Needless to mention Eretria’s federation was the efforts of those diplomats.[iii]

This post-Italian occupation diplomacy success tells us that we have to win the Nile diplomatic war through determination and dedication. It is notorious that Egypt is in a swift coercive diplomacy towards GERD. She is performing the water war narrative as invented and expounded by Anwar Sadat and Boutros Boutros Ghali. We should use our gifted skills of diplomacy. It indeed seems that the art of diplomacy seems revived this time around. The legal, technical and diplomatic teams represented Ethiopia on the recently failed GERD negotiations saved us from a historic diplomatic defeat. They deserve applause. The younger team members are playing an unprecedented role in this Nile war. Their combination with the seasoned and veteran diplomats is superb. With this background, we should and can win both the war and the battle when it’s due. 

As a public, we should draw lessons of the courage, determination, and the art of patriotism from our patriots of the Italo-Ethiopian war period, and post-Italian diplomats. Hence today’s patriot’s day (yearbegnoch qen) linked us to the never stopping struggle over the Nile River, father of rivers (Abbay). Patriots Victory Day and the Nile are the blood and water inks of generations. We should derive the very spirits of Ras Abeb Aregay, Belay Zeleke, Lij Hailemariam Mamo, Gen. Jagema Kello, Geresu Duki, Umer Semeter, Shewareged Gedile, Abdisa Aga, and Zeray Deres, only few of the notable patriots who had fought for their country, Ethiopia. To see the Patriot’s Victory Day, Miazia 27 (May 5), 1941, Ethiopians went through the Graziani massacre of Yekatit 12. Liberty and victory never come for free. This time around our sacrifice is badly needed in many aspects in relation with GERD. We have to pay that price when that is due. AS

Editor’s Note: Dejen Yemane Messele is a PhD student, Addis Abeba University, College of Law and Governance Studies. He can be reached at engochayemane@gmail.com

[i] Turton, A.R, A Cryptic Hydropolitical History of the Nile Basin for Students of Hydropolitics. (StudyGuide for Pretoria University. 2000)

[ii] Haggai Erlich and Israel Gershoni(eds), The Nile: Histories, Cultures, Myths (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2000)

[iii] Aklilu Habtewold, Aklilu Remembers (Addis Abeba University Press, 2010)

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