Legacy of Atse Yohannes IV
Although the full history of Atse
Yohannes IV has yet to be written, a hundred and twenty years have passed
since one of the greatest Ethiopian leaders sacrificed his life (on the
10, March 1889) to safeguard Ethiopia’s independence against local
enemies and outside invaders that threatened to undermine Ethiopia’s
sovereignty and existence.
The role of Atse Yohannes IV as a
pioneer in the creation of Ethiopia is undeniably clear and not contested.
The collective historical consciousness of Ethiopians demands honoring a
great leader, like others before and after him.
Attempts to have a proper monument
for Ethiopia's greatest defender and protector of Ethiopia’s freedom
has, for the most part, been thwarted by fanatic followers of Islam in
present day Ethiopia financed by foreign forces and in collaboration with
the current Ethiopian regime that has opted to believe that the history of
Ethiopia is only one hundred years old. What is being witnessed so
far is a movement of endless political deception and a one-sided reading
of Ethiopian history skewed to fit the interests of a regime.
We categorically denounce the latest
provocation in Mekelle by surrogates of the regime who are responsible for
the destruction of a memorial foundation for Yohannes IV after 120 years
of silence. This is the second
time that the Atse Yohannes IV first stone foundation monument to honor
the value and dedication of the fallen warrior in Mekelle is destroyed
under the watchful eyes of the leadership in Mekelle.
A commercial bank named after the great warrior and defender of
Ethiopia named Atse Yohannes IV Bank was also forced to change its name or
close its doors.
Memorializing Atse Yohannes IV has
been a charged issue for a few minority groups who put their loyalty to
their faith more than their country. It is not difficult to surmise the
influence exerted by powerful individuals close to the regime who have
made a pledge to derail a cause at heart to the Ethiopian people. The
institutional silence following the vandalization of the foundation for
Atse Yohannes IV monument is a case in point.
A marriage of convenience has
given birth to many pseudo-analysts and self-made-experts that are willing
to lie and distort facts. Now the time has come to take a fresh approach
to defend the national interest of Ethiopia and Ethiopians. Donald N. Levine,
of the scholars of Ethiopian history, in the book
“Greater Ethiopia: The Evolution
of a Multiethnic Society ,
Yohannes is often remembered for his policy of pressuring Muslim leaders
in Wollo to convert to Christianity ---a policy grounded on desperately
important national political reasons---he should also be remembered for
having many Muslims in his entourage and assigning Muslims to position in
his court, as he is fondly remembered by some of the Muslims of Northern
Tigray today. That he was not such religious fanatic as he has often been
portrayed is shown by his willingness to propose an alliance with the
Sudanese Mahdists against England”.
Atse Yohannes’s opponents took
advantage of the incursion of Egyptians and Mahdists and embark on
spreading Islamization. Almost all negative comments about Emperor
Yohannes come from some religious fanatics with an axe to grind. Sven Rubenson
professor of history, describes the following sentiment of Ethiopians in
that era “To the vast majority of the Ethiopians this was a religious
war, a battle against the decedents of Hagar, the Ismailities ….who had
come from across the sea to destroy God’s people.” It was an era of great
hostility and mistrust during which the two religions threatened each
other to influence their respected faith.
It would be naïve and
unpatriotic to reduce his love of country and faith about Ethiopian unity.
Did Emperor Yohannes exert influence, yes he did, for unity of Ethiopia
and had a positive lasting outcome. He was a defender of the Christian
faith and integrity of Ethiopia like other defenders of his time. He was
more concerned with the renegades who choose their faith to assist
followers of the same faith to spread Islam. As noted by the great
historian Professor Richard Pankhurst in his book, “The
Peoples of Africa the Ethiopians A history” page 168, “At Boru
Meda, Yohannes also decided to take action against Muslims of Wollo, whose
leaders had assumed the militant religious title of Imam. They were
reported to be actively propagating Islam among animist populations on the
empire periphery. The emperor feared that such determined protagonist of
Islam might win over to the Egyptian cause”. The Emperor’s
suspicion was confirmed as per the report in January 1869 to the French
government and as documented by Richard Pankhurst “The Egyptians policy
may modify itself or cease its activity, but it never changes. A catholic
Abyssinia, with a disciplined administration and army, a friend of the
European powers, is a danger for Egypt. Therefore she must either take
Abyssinia and Islamize it or retain it in anarchy and misery.”
The Survival of Ethiopian
independence page 290. This did not give Atse Yohannes much choice.
Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia article titled
Martyred King of Kings: Emperor Yohannes IV of Ethiopia
on his concluding remarks puts eloquently “some writers could have a
misperception of the times and misconception of Yohannes and his policy in
running political affairs. Some, for instance, argue that Yohannes was
anti-Moslem and he even declared Ethiopia a solely Christian nation. As I
have argued in my book, Ethiopia: The Political Economy of Transition
(1995)7 there is no doubt that Yohannes was in favor of one Christian
religion and this is certainly wrong….. Yohannes did not order the
conversion of Moslems without reason. Long before Metema, Gura’e and
Gundet, Khedive Ismael ordered the conversion of Christians in the Habab,
Bogos, Mensa’e and Massawa areas. And the dervish, in effect, wrought a
Jihad war against Ethiopia. The only way to end the distractive pattern is
to embark in defense of Ethiopian territory.
In 1526 Ahmad ibn Ibrahim (Gran) raid and embark a total
distraction used scorched-earth tactics, destroying churches and burned
crops and massacring villagers. He declares Jihad a holy war against
Ethiopia. Conversion of “the
unbeliever” was an essential part of Muslim duty. Jihad movement has
served to spread Islam. Thanks to the Portuguese and Atse Lebne-Dengel
managed to save Ethiopia from the jaws of defeat and mayhem. Those
historical lessons played active role in shaping the present Ethiopia.
The oral unfounded history is based
on myth and personal dislike of Atse Yohannes.
Some are heaping personal insults and unfounded criticisms of his
legacy. Such sinister motive doesn’t have any moral, political, or
educational value to us, but only creates doubt about their own person and
intentions. It is a futile attempt at nullifying Ethiopian national pride
and history. We must encourage and support his thankless toil.
Professor Tecola Hagos on his article titled Emperors
Tewodros II, Yohannes IV, Menilik II, and the Myth of Colonialism “There
is no question that next to Emperor Zra Yacob, Emperor Yohannes was the
most devoted and faithful servant of the Church of Ethiopia. He
established great holdings and churches throughout his reign. Even at a
time he was a struggling contender with limited means he devoted almost
all of his personal fortune to buy land and built a church and sanctuary
for Ethiopian pilgrims who traveled to the Holy City of Jerusalem. It is
his foundational holding that Ethiopian pilgrims visit when they travel to
Jerusalem to this day. His fear of God, humility, and sense of justice,
and above all his sense of duty is unmatched by any Ethiopian Emperor or
leader ever.” We have to
appreciate the Emperor’s wisdom to his wisdom to be able to unite
Ethiopia that remained intact until 1993.
As it was clearly described in one
of the Khalifa’s letter to Yohannes: And later we have written you the
same as the Mahdi had written to you and told you that if you do not act
according to our command [i.e. adopt Islam] there will be no alternative
to the entrance of the armies of the Islam into your territories, their
fighting you and their killing of your men.
Ras Alula and the scramble for Africa page 128. Despite the absences
of historical investigation few relayed on rumors to minimize the degree
to which the Khalifa’s were at the core of the aggression. Emperor
Yohannes, he had to ensure the security and territorial integrity of
Ethiopia. It is perhaps difficult for many of us to capture the feeling of
the time when religion war and religious foreign policy was intertwined.
Such a threat by Khalifa should be taken seriously to analyze why Emperor
Yohannes forced to march to Metema. The war was forced upon him and he has
to defend Ethiopia. His nation was threatened with immediate danger and a
danger that cannot avoided.
We should learn from the past to
insure justice and human dignity to all Ethiopians; and Ethiopian
territory and unity that must be preserved at any cost. History is the
reflection of our past failures and successes, weaknesses and strengths.
Nevertheless, a handful of figures attempt to twist the truth to fit their
agenda and continue to impede the sacrifices and the efforts of our people
and deserving leaders.
Political expediency has
triggered the authoring of flimsy and rubbish ideas aimed at provoking and
getting emotional appeal to distract people from seeking factual answers
to legitimate rational questions. Instead of coming up with prudent
political program some of us continued to engage our readers in a
vindictive agenda of looking to gather sympathizers. Such activity is one
of the great tragedies hindering our development to advance our causes in
the future. Some of our brothers are paralyzed by religion and faith.
When we do move out of such inertia
we engage ourselves in making lofty generalizations to outsmart fellow
Ethiopians. It is ironic that some of us have chosen not to act when sad
and unpleasant situation unfolds in front of our eyes. The only way we
love our Ethiopia is when we defend her legacy. Let us stop all the
bickering and think for a moment and cast a glance back on history. Our
people are proud having lived independently and tolerate to
each other in the midst of common enemy that was our source of our
cultural wealth. Atse Tewodros, Atse Yohannes and Atse Menilek responded
in heroic measures and unified our Ethiopia as well as guaranteed the
preservation of her independence.
March 16, 2012
Ghelawdewos Araia Ph.D. The Martyred King of Kings: Emperor Yohannes IV of Ethiopia (July 3 2006) retrieved March, 14, 2012 from http://www.africanidea.org/atse_yohannes.pdf
Rubensen (1991). The Survival of Ethiopian Independence. Addis Ababa,
Ethiopia Kuraz publication Agency.
Hagos Emperors Tewodros II, Yohannes IV, Menilik II, and the Myth of
Colonialism (October 15 2004)
retrieved March, 14, 2012 from http://www.tecolahagos.com/emperor_yohannes.htm
N. Levine (1974) Greater Ethiopia 2nd edition, the Evolution of
a Multiethnic Society. Chicago & London, The University of Chicago
Pankhurst (1998) The people of Africa The Ethiopians a History. USA,
Australia and Germany, Blackwell publishing.
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