About a week ago, we celebrated the 76th Patriots’ Victory day. Each year on this day people identify with the patriotic movement, the independence movement, as well as the progressive ideas promoted back then. The action, the courage, the ideas of the patriots serve as an example for all Ethiopians.
But not everyone thinks that way. I recently got into an argument with people who think these patriots shouldn’t be celebrated and there is no victory achieved what so ever. We should have been colonized, we got nothing out of being uncolonized, just an empty brag about our ancestor’s history that won’t benefit this generation in anyway. We are poor and hopeless. Colonized or not we still want to leave this damned country and live in the western ones. But, if only the Europeans colonized us we would have had the strongest Economy, more infrastructures, and maybe a happily ever after. Look at South Africa, they tell me. It has the greatest economy in the continent. And look at us, the poorest country in the world.
Contrary to the views of some, colonialism left Africa worse off than it would have been without foreign conquest. First of all, we have to know colonizing countries was not charity. They only colonized places they could get a return from. This was usually resources, or sometimes strategic advantage.
Telling me I got nothing out of not being colonized is questioning my personal integrity, my personal belonging, my country, my home. History isn’t reminiscing or being stuck in old times. You build today or tomorrow on yesterday path… Or else, you will miss your path and cause havoc. When one knows his history very well, they will have deep level of confidence and identity. As the honorable Marcus Garvey said “People without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture are like a tree without roots.” We all can channel the energy of our patriots and their braveness into our daily lives, passion and work routines.
Our sense of pride have already surpassed us by being the center of inspiration for Pan Africanism. Historical victories such as the Adwa battle have already created a sense of pride among a lot of conscious black people all over the world. So, tell me, how can we wish for the opposite?
They’re telling me that we should have given up and sell out everything for what? Money? Money can’t buy us pride, decency and integrity. I know we take that for granted because we already have it. But I tell you those things are not worth any materials. People who wish that we had been colonized just for the sake of this generation being rich and economically sufficient like those colonized and supposedly are better than us, are in my view self-centered. As cliché as many people find it, we should all ask ourselves what we can do for our country instead of what our country did for us.
You say South Africa is rich because it was colonized? I say no. South Africa has vast mineral and mineral reserves including the largest gold reefs, platinum, and diamond deposits on Earth. As you can imagine, this made the country incredibly wealthy. And it resulted in an immense immigration of Europeans seeking fortunes and bringing with them skills and money. Many were entrepreneurs and developed businesses that supported large companies and all other businesses that are common in a usual society. And one can’t deny that cheap labor is certainly another reason for the country’s prosperity, sadly it’s the black South Africans that are victims of this. The country is also home to the largest port in Africa, with many shipping companies being located there, which is also another factor.
However, the country’s GDP being among the top and having cities full of sky scrapers doesn’t mean life is easy for its people. Years of social and economic inequality were not magically repaired. Although South Africa is considered a middle-income nation, about 36 percent of the population lives in poverty. Issues such as government corruption, violent crime and HIV/AIDS outbreak left millions of poor blacks with little or no improvement in their lives.
To say that Africa’s socioeconomic problems are solely the result of European colonization would not be fair. However, the aftermath of decades of isolation and discouragement formed by European colonialism has far-reaching effects. Today, natural resources from the entire continent of Africa create less revenue for African nations than for the Western multinationals extracting them. This tradition of Western powers exploiting African resources is long-established; the fact that it still happens today is clear evidence that colonialism is the root of modern-day socioeconomic issues in the continent.
Let’s get back to our Ethiopia. If we look at the ancient history of our country we can see that Ethiopia was one of the most powerful states in the world. The Kingdom of Sheba was considered the first true African indigenous state. It was not established by foreign conquerors and was said to be the site of the enigmatic Ark of the Covenant. And there is the Axum Dynasty. Which was established in 500 BC based in the town of Axum. It became the ancient city of Ethiopian civilization and a powerful kingdom. The Axumites were renowned for their fine architecture, crafts and skills, in particular as masons and metal workers, which they retain to this day. Greek traders knew Aksum as the center of an empire, which had trade links with India, Arabia, Rome, Egypt, Persia and Greece. That Ethiopia was the one Atse Tewodros II used to refer as ታላቋ ኢትዮጵያ. That Ethiopia was built by its own citizens who clearly didn’t need to be under the ruling of the westerners to get to where they were.
Why do we take South Africa or Nigeria or some country as an example anyway? If it’s economic growth we are concerned about we can look at how China and South Korea got to here without being colonized. Unless we are too lazy and we want to take the easy way, which is to sell out our dignity, pride and most of all our country. I ask those who want wealth so much that they wish for foreign occupation, what would you have done with the money anyway? Would you spend it on your country and its people? Probably not. Why would anyone help the thing they sacrificed for their own gain?
Those who have the misguided idea that the colonizers brought improved government systems to Africa, it is not true! African political institutions were equal to any to be found in the world at the time. The Egyptian/Aksum civilizations and most of all the Oromo Geda system are great examples that show Africans already had a sophisticated government system.
The colonizers brought with them, their own culture, and ways of living, this has all but destroyed African culture as various cultural artifacts were destroyed in their wake. African names, dresses, even hair were considered inferior and barbaric, even worse that colonial mentality of African inferiority still persists in countries that were colonized today.
Below is an excerpt from a letter written by king Leopold II of Belgium to his Colonial Missionaries in the Congo.
‘‘Convert always the blacks by using the whip. Keep their women in nine months of submission to work freely for us. Force them to pay you in sign of recognition-goats, chicken or eggs-every time you visit their villages. And make sure that niggers never become rich. Sing every day that it’s impossible for the rich to enter heaven. Make them pay tax each week at Sunday mass. Use the money supposed for the poor, to build flourishing business centers. Institute a confessional system, which allows you to be good detectives denouncing any black that has a different consciousness contrary to that of the decision-maker. Teach the niggers to forget their heroes and to adore only ours. Never present a chair to a black that comes to visit you. Don’t give him more than one cigarette. Never invite him for dinner even if he gives you a chicken every time you arrive at his house.’’
So, tell me does it look like people in countries which were colonized benefited from it?
That could have been our grandparents who would have to go through that, if our country was to be colonized. Do we really want to live off the blood and suffering of those who were there to go through it? Wouldn’t that be selfish of us?
In conclusion, I cannot find a single positive benefit of colonization except Western education, which the missionaries would have given for free anyways and which Ethiopia had already begun the process of acquiring by sending state sponsored students. And the irony of it is that even those students were wiped out by the Westerns themselves, Italians to be specific, when the Fascists massacred 30,000 civilians on the 19th February 1937. So, we clearly cannot consider that as a benefit. Colonization was humanity at its worst and we escaped from it thanks to our brave patriots!
Thank you to all of those who gave themselves so that I may be free to live in my country of Ethiopia. There are no words to express the heartfelt thank you that is within me. I will conclude with this short but truly insightful experience of Professor Mesfin Woldemariam.
“…ኬንያ ናይሮቢ አንዲት መዝናኛ ቤት ተገኝቼ እየተዝናናሁ ነው። ቤቱ እንደ ፓርቲ ቤት ያለ ነው። ባንዱ ጥግ መጠጤን ይዤ፣ የዳንሱ ወለል ላይ ጥንድ ጥንድ ሆነው የሚደንሱ ወጣቶችን አያለሁ።
በዚህ መሃል የባሕር ኃይል የደንብ ልብስ የለበሱ እንግሊዛዊያን ነጮች ገቡ። አንዱ እንግሊዛዊ ቀጥታ ወደ ዳንስ ወለሉ ሄደና ከወዳጁ ጋር እየደነሰ ያለውን ኬንያዊ በካልቾ መታው። ኬንያዊው ተርበድብዶ የሴት ወዳጁን ጥሎ ገሸሽ አለ። እንግሊዛዊውም ከዛች ኬንያዊት ጋር መደነስ ጀመረ። በእንግሊዛዊው ድርጊት በጣም ተናደድኩ። ከመቀመጫዬ ተስፈንጥሬ ተነሳሁና ወደ ዳንስ ወለሉ አመራሁ። እኔም እንግሊዛዊውን በካልቾ ጠልዤ ኬንያዊቷን ተቀበልኩ። ጥቂት ካስደነስኳትም በኋላ ለተቀማው ኬንያዊ አስረከብኩ። ይህን ፈፅሜ ወደ መቀመጫዬ ሳመራ እንግሊዛዊው የጠየቀኝ አንድ ጥያቄ ነበር ፦ “ኢትዮጵያዊ ነህ?” የሚል።”
(ፕሮፌሰር መስፍን ወ/ማርያም)