Statement of Amb. Kwesi Quartey, Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Commission, at the Adwa Pan-African University Conference

April 22, 2018

Your Excellency Dr. Aby Ahmed, Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia,
Your Excellency Dr. Haile Mariam Desalegn, former Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, and my dear friend,
Your Excellency Seyum Mesfin, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia,
Your Excellency Dr. Workeneh Gebreyehu, Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia,
Your Excellency Debretsion Gebremichael, Honourable Minister of Communication and Information Technology,
Your Excellency the Rector of the Adwa Pan-African University,
Your Excellencies Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Religious Leaders,
Distinguished Scholars,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am deeply honoured and delighted to have received the invitation to participate in this Conference. I had missed the opportunity last year to have been present at the laying of the foundation stone. For me as a Ghanaian, a keen and avid student of African history of Pan-Africanism, and a self-confessed Pan-Africanist, just to have been invited to visit Adwa is a dream come true. To participate is a bonus.

I bring you the warm fraternal greetings of His Excellency Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chair of the African Union Commission, himself a veteran Foreign Minister of Chad, and an ardent Pan-Africanist in his own right.

Just last week, I had the privilege to visit Cuba, and laid a wreath on the tomb of companero Fidel Castro, on behalf of all of you. Cuba and Africa have very special relations, and more particularly, special relations with the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, where Cuban and Ethiopian soldiers shed sacred blood to defend the territorial integrity of this country.

As a result of this, an Ethiopian school, where a great number of Ethiopian students were trained, was established on the Isle of Youth in Cuba. The
Graduates from Cuba proudly called themselves Ethio-Cubans. In the Latin American School of Medicine, where I had an interaction with the African students, they were all suggesting that Africa needs a Pan-African University to train African students in science, technology and medicine. Little did I know that I would be coming here to Adwa and be afforded the historic opportunity to address a distinguished gathering such as this, in Adwa, of all places. Thank you, Honourable Minister, for this invitation.

Growing up in Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana, we were taught that the greatest African leader, Nelson Mandela, was in jail in South Africa, and that when he came out, all Africa will be liberated and united. We were also taught about the great battle fought and won by a black African country, Ethiopia, against the mighty Italians at a place called Adwa. We were taught that on 1st March 1896, this African country defeated the Italian army at the Battle of Adwa. Adwa marked the first victory of Africa over the colonialists. The victory at Adwa therefore marked a major psychological breakthrough for Africa and black people everywhere. It was also the beginning of the end of the myth of European superiority.

I recall that in a speech at a State Dinner in honour of Emperor Haile Selassie at the Ambassador Hotel in Accra on 1st December 1960, Kwame Nkrumah, the Ghanaian president, stated, and with your permission, I would like to quote:
“Your Imperial Majesty, I cannot express in words adequate to the occasion, the emotions and feelings aroused in the breast of every Ghanaian which your visit has invoked. Ethiopia, because of her existence as an ancient and freestate in Africa and the oldest continuously independent country in our continent, has always stood as a symbol of our political aspirations as a people. Ethiopia in our minds has stood for African freedom, African independence, African dignity and African self-respect. Even when we were not free, the struggle of Ethiopia to maintain her independence and integrity was regarded by us as our struggle. We always felt that so long as Ethiopia remained free, there was hope that we too would be free.

I remember so vividly how inflamed I became, when as an ardent African nationalist in Liverpool in 1935, I was greeted one morning by the glaring front page headlines of the British Press: “Mussolini Invades Ethiopia”. Your Imperial Majesty, we have not forgotten the excruciating experience which you and your people had to suffer when the fascist dictator Mussolini waged his treacherous war against Ethiopia. We remember how you trustingly placed your faith in the good intentions of the League of Nations and how that trust was betrayed, because the leading nations within the League used the organization as an instrument of vacillation to cover their acceptance of Italy’s imperialism.”

Your Excellencies,
No less a person than Nelson Mandela, in his work, No Easy Walk to Freedom, wrote that “Ethiopia has a special place in my imagination, and the prospect of visiting Ethiopia attracted me more strongly than a trip to France, England and America combined. I felt I would be visiting my own genesis, worthy of the roots of what made me an African.” Once again, Mandiba spoke for all Africa.

Prior to this victory at Adwa, Africa was, to the European interest, an object of conquest and domination. This was combined with contempt and racism. Such was the depth of arrogance that Hugh Trevor Roper, then Regis Professor of Modern History at Oxford, wrote contemptuously and arrogantly that African history did not exist and that, indeed, it had never existed. In his book The Rise of Christian Europe, Professor Hugh Roper wrote that the African past has little more to offer than “the unrewarding gyrations of barbarous tribes in picturesque but irrelevant quarters of the globe.” He was not alone. Another European historian, Erik Sik, on the History of Black Africa (1966), had this to say: “Prior to their encounter with Europeans, the majority of African people still lived a primitive barbaric life, many of them on the lowest level of barbarism. Therefore it is unrealistic to speak of their history in the scientific sense of the word – before the arrival of Europeans.”

Again, in the same vein, the French nobleman, Joseph Arthur de Robineau (1816-1879), who was the founder of the dubious pyramidal edifice of the different races wrote, in his essay on the Inequality of the Human Races, that “Blacks were stupid and frivolous, yellows craved mediocrity, and the whites were strong, intelligent and handsome.” Today, look at China, Japan and, indeed, Malaysia, as well as South Korea.

Against this background, Ethiopia, because of its long history of civilization and independent political culture and governance, possesses a special virtue that even enemies acknowledge. Apart from being the cradle of civilization, Ethiopia in the Greek alphabet literally meant “burnt face”, i.e. the black people. References in the Holy Book to Ethiopia is always a reference to Africa. So when on 24th April, 2017, President Museveni and then Prime Minister Haile Mariam Desalegn laid the foundation stone for the construction of the Adwa Pan-African University (APAU), this message echoed the words of George Washington Carver that “Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.” It is in this spirit that the African Union particularly welcomes the establishment of the Adwa Pan-African University (APAU).


The Ethiopian victory at Adwa blew apart the theoretical rationale which the colonial policy used for legitimizing the supposedly overall inferiority of the African, which became the historical cornerstone to justify the practice of racism and colonial rule in all its social and institutional forms in the economic, political and cultural life of Africa. The Adwa victory shattered the myth of European invincibility and superiority. Europeans were alarmed at the victory of a black African state over a metropolitan European power. Thanks to the leadership of Emperor Menelik II and the brave and valiant Ethiopian people.

The Adwa victory had a decisive impact on the psyche of blacks in general. This sense of black pride became manifest in Marcus Garvey’s Back to Africa movement and the development of Pan-Africanism. This eventually led to the independence of many African countries as well as the establishment of the Organization of African Unity, and today the African Union. The music of one Berhane Selassie always emphasized this point. The other name for Berhane Selassie was the Right Honourable Robert Nesta Marley, i.e. Bob Marley.

Italy’s drive to conquer the Horn of Africa is derived directly from the partition of Africa at the Berlin Conference of 1884/85, and the opening up of the Suez Canal in 1869. To pursue this goal, Italy penetrated the Red Sea and sent missionaries and traders to the region. Italy made inroads into Ethiopia via the Red Sea and Eritrea with the active connivance of Britain, France, and others. They sought to persuade the public about the benefits of colonial rule, and encouraged the newly-annexed Southern Region to rebel against Emperor Menelik II. They encouraged rivalry between Emperors Yohanes IV and Menelik II, and supplied weapons to both parties to get them to fight each other. Two agreements were signed between Italy and Menelik II to consolidate their relations. The first one was signed at Ankobar before the death of Emperor Yohanes IV, and the second was at Wuchale after his death. Article 17 of the Wuchale Treaty became the bone of contention. This is what led to the battle of Adwa in March 1896. In fact, it was Menelik’s rejection of the Wuchale Treaty that set the scene for the battle from which Ethiopia emerged as the trailblazer in the anti-colonial struggle in Africa and elsewhere in the world.

The main bone of contention between Italy and Ethiopia was the formulation of Article 17. Article 17 in the Italian text read Ethiopia must use Italy if she was to enter into any relation or dealings with other European powers. The Amharic text read Ethiopia could use Italy. By their interpretation, the Italians claimed to have rights of a protectorate over Ethiopia.

When Menelik heard of this, he rejected the Treaty of Wuchale. In September 1893, he denounced the Treaty and the whole idea of a protectorate. The Italians tried to collude with Ras Mangasha, the son of Emperor Yohanes IV, but, by the end of 1894, Mangasha was fed up with them, and was more concerned about the unity of his country than any claim to the throne. He therefore joined Menelik II and fought the Italians at the Battle of Adwa along with other Ethiopian patriots, both men and women. They demonstrated that in unity lies strength. I would like to emphasize this point, especially in relation to the noble art of statesmanship displayed by former Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Haile Mariam Desalegn.

The political impact of Adwa was felt in Africa and all the black world. Marcus Garvey, in 1929, wrote: “Look to Africa for the crowing of a black king. He shall be the redeemer.”

The following year, the Emperor of Ethiopia died. Ras Tafari ascended the throne, receiving the name Haile Selassie I, the King of Kings and the 225th ruler descended from Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. The beauty and intelligence of the descendant of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon is there for all to behold.

Langston Hughes, the African-American poet of the Harlem Renaissance, wrote:
“Africa, Sleeping Giant
You’ve been resting awhile,
And I see the lightening in your smile”.

Adwa was perhaps the most important battle in the history of imperialism. As a result, Ethiopia’s prestige was unique on the African continent. Ethiopia’s independence was secured and Italy was so shaken by the defeat that years later Italians could still hope for revenge. Moreover, every non-African oppressed people could boast of so successful an outcome after a military confrontation with a European power. The victory at Adwa called to the world’s attention the promise of a new Ethiopia and a new Africa.

Mussolini’s lust for an Italian Empire drove him to try to finish what the Italian army failed to do in their first attempt to subdue Ethiopia back in the late nineteenth century. In 1935, before the world realized the threat of Hitler’s Nazi Germany, Italy invaded and used mustard gas (chemical warfare) on the Ethiopian armies. Five years later, when the war was in full swing, Churchill would send troops from the Sudan to drive the Italians into the Red Sea.

This five-year period was as close as Ethiopians have ever been to being subjugated by an outside nation in its 4,000 years of existence. This is a point of pride for all Ethiopians and indeed for all Africa. It made Ethiopia a symbol of inspiration for all Africans in the USA, the Caribbean and Europe. This ancient civilization, that is Ethiopia, became a Christian civilization when Europe was still largely pagan. For black people who lived as second class citizens in the US, this independent African nation that resisted colonization was a statement of defiance against white supremacy.

Now, in the years leading up to the invasion, the world saw Italy and Ethiopia as proxies in the struggle between white oppression and black liberation. So when Joe Louis, (the brown bomber) and the Italian heavyweight champion met in the ring at the Yankee Stadium in New York in June 1935, the fighters became proxies for Italy and Ethiopia. Mussolini took an interest in Carneri as a symbol of Italy’s resurgence as a sort of Neo-Roman Empire. But eventually, the body work of Joe Louis (like Mohamed Ali) paid off. He knocked out the Italian in the 6th round. Blacks all over the world were jubilant.

W.E.B. Du Bois also wrote that: “the victory of Adwa was perceived by black people everywhere as their own victory against racism and oppression”.

Emperor Haile Selassie spoke quite a lot on Education and its importance to Freedom and Development. Why Education, he often asked. “From truth alone is born liberty and only an educated people can consider itself as really free and master of its fate. It is only with an educated people that representative and democratic organs can exercise their influence on national progress.” Again in 1925, when opening Library and night school, he said:
“Loyalty inspires understanding, and understanding co-operation; these are the clearest evidence of strength. It is education which allows people to live together, and makes them avoid the pitfalls of immorality. Truly the attainment of these aims is based on education, the helping of people to live together, to avoid indulgence, immorality and lawlessness.”

In 1935, Italy invaded Ethiopia again, for the second time. Haile Selassie went to exile and appealed to the League of Nations to observe international morality.

Ethiopia’s prestige in Africa consequent upon this victory, inspired other freedom fighters like Kwame Nkrumah towards the creation of the OAU, with Addis Ababa as Africa’s diplomatic capital. Thus the defeat of Italy at Adwa was the beginning of the decline of Europe as the centre of world politics. For a number of colonized Africans, the Ethiopian victory symbolized and signaled the promise of future emancipation.

That is why Ghana was always uncomfortable to have the statue of Kwame Nkrumah alone at the Headquarters of the African Union without that of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie the First, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Elect of God, Emperor of Ethiopia. This error will soon be rectified. The last Summit agreed by acclamation to erect a statue of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie at an appropriate location in the AU Headquarters.

I should like to conclude by quoting part of Kwame Nkrumah’s speech in honour of Emperor Haile Selassie in Accra.

“I wish to assure Your Imperial Majesty, that we do not regard you as a stranger here. You are in your home, you are in your own house. We look upon you as our elder brother and statesman. We wish you a happy stay among us and that when you leave, you will be able to take back with you happy memories of your visit to Ghana.

In commemoration of Your Imperial Majesty’s visit to Ghana, and in furtherance of the cultural links between our two countries, I have pleasure in informing Your Imperial Majesty of my decision to award four scholarships to students from Ethiopia to study in institutions in Ghana.

And now, Your Imperial Majesty, I come to a very pleasant duty, which is to present to you on behalf of the Government and people of Ghana, as a mark of our appreciation of your visit to Ghana. I have the honour to bestow on His

Imperial Majesty, Membership of the Exalted Order of the Star of Africa, which is the highest of our Ghanaian awards”.

It is against this background that we at the African Union, cannot wait to see the statue of His Imperial Majesty at the African Union Headquarters – so His Imperial Majesty and Osagyefo Kwame can continue their conversation together.

We consider the creation of this University at Adwa, this historic occasion, is an idea whose time has come. And no force on earth can stop an idea whose time has come – that is, the integration and unity of Africa.

Long live the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia!
Long live the African Union!

Thank you for your kind attention.

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