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The Battle of Ras Mekonnen

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By Mulugeta Haile

Ras Mekonnen was one of the greatest Ethiopians who died before he lived up to his potential-becoming Emperor of Ethiopia. His Amhara, Tigrai, and Oromo ethnicity helped him become a shuttle-diplomat, bringing peace to regions that did not comply with Emperor Menelik’s central government.

Ras Mekonnen

Due to his Tigrai identity he was able to march to the region of Tigrai and accord peace with Ras Mengesha, the son of Emperor Yohannes, who had rebelled

against Emperor Menelik. His Oromo ethnicity coupled with his father-in-law’s Muslim and Oromo heritage helped him win the favor of locals to eventually become the first Governor of Harar. With 82 mosques and 102 shrines, Harar is the fourth holiest city of the Islamic world. Ras Mekonnen’s introduction of Christian settlers into the region could have been like Israel and Palestine with ongoing conflicts. However, the Ras transformed Harar into a unique hub for people of multi-religious and multi-ethnic backgrounds to live in peace and harmony. Even though he did not live to see it, every ground-breaking vision the Ras initiated in Harar was a success story.

Education was a quintessential element to Ras Mekonnen. In 1900, he sent a young Tekle Hawariat to Russia who later became the author of the first written Ethiopian Constitution. At home the Ras established the first school in his palace compound. His son, Lij Tafari, (The Emperor of Ethiopia) Lij Imeru, (The Most Beloved Ras), Lij Beshawered, (The first mayor of Deredawa), Zewdie Belaynhe (The first Ministry of Labour), and Dr. Malaku (The first degree holder from the U.S., and founder of EWF) were the products of the Harar’s school.

When Lij Taferi, Lij Imeru, and Lij Beshawered moved to Addis Ababa to join the Emperor Menelik School, the school’s professor had to create a special class because their knowledge was more advanced than the rest of the local students, such as Lij Iyasu, the grandson of Emperor Menelik (The leader of Ethiopia from 1913-16).

In 1901, Ras Mekonnen provided means and materials to build the first hospital in Harar at his own expense. Joseph Vitalien, a black Diaspora, was his private doctor and later that of Emperor Menelik. Dr. Vitalien was also mentor to Lij Tafari who became the first Ethiopian Emperor who claimed blacks in the Diaspora as his own subjects.

In 1903, the Ras introduced Haji Abdullahi Sadiq, a native Harari, to Emperor Menelik. The Haji was an adventurer and a master in trade throughout the Middle East. While the Haji was in Istanbul he met Robert Skinner, a US ambassador during the Ottoman Empire. Skinner came to Ethiopia as the first U.S. envoy with the Haji’s connection. Two years later Haji Sadiq became the first Ethiopian envoy to the U.S. and presented Emperor Menelik’s message to President Theodor Roosevelt.

The first high official of Emperor Menelik in Europe was Ras Makonnen. The Ras went to Italy to sign The Treaty of Wuchale in 1892. After he signed the treaty, he learned that this treaty had two different versions. Afework Geberyesus, was a student in Rome, helped him to understand the Italian version, which stated that Ethiopia was a colony of Italy. Upon arrival in Addis Ababa, the Ras informed Emperor Menelik that his signature at Wuchale in Ethiopia was also approved the power of Italy over Ethiopia.

To strengthen Harar’s linkages with the Red Sea and Indian Ocean trade routes, Ras Mekonnen appointed Sheik Mohammed Ali, an Indian business man as a Bejirond(Treasurer) of the Harar. The Sheik was in charge of merchant vessels that were deployed on the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. Sheik Mohammed helped the Ras’ army with advanced weapons. It was not by accident that the Ras’ army was armed to the teeth at the battle of Adwa.

The Ras foresaw an inevitable war looming ahead and used Zeila, the Somali port, to secure sufficient equipment and manpower. On his way to the battle, the Ras stopped in Addis Ababa to meet with Emperor Menelik.

Emperor Menelik, after visiting the Ras’s army, with admiration was believed to have said, “አልጋው ያንተ አይደለም ወይ መኮንን?” (Doesn’t the Throne belong to you Makonnen?). The Ras replied, “እኔ አልጋውን ልጠብቅ እንጂ ልገለብጥ አልመጣሁ” (I am here to protect the throne not overthrow it.)

The predicament of Ras Mekonnen before the war broke out; there was a rumor in Addis Ababa that the Italians were using Ras Mekonnen to overthrow the throne of Emperor Menelik. On the other hand, the Ras had the intention of solving the Ethio-Italian’s crisis through diplomacy. He kept writing to the Italian generals while still marching to the battles. His diplomatic effort was taken as cowardice by the Italian generals while Empress Taytu considered it as a fulfillment of the plot against her husband, Emperor Menelik.

The Ras, in the middle of this dilemma, marched 1640 km to face the enemy while Menelik and Taytu’s huge armies were behind him. If he did not receive a response letter securing a peaceful solution from the Italians he would be forced to begin the war before they arrived. However, if he failed to do either, he probably would have been detained by Empress Taytu’s men as a traitor.

With this background, the Ras had to begin his first battle against the Italian and its alien forces (Eritreans, Somalians, and Libyans). The Ras’ first victory at the battle of Amba Lage had paved a way to the victory of Mekele, and Adwa, which put Ethiopia’s, Emperor Menelik, and Empress Taytu’s names on the international arena.

The following article is translated from the book of His Excellency, Heruy Wolde Selassie, which depicted the prelude of the Battle of Adwa from the bird’s eye view.

Enjoy the reading

“The battle of Ambalage was led by Ras Mekonnen as a commander in chief. Ras Makonne and Ras Mikayel on the rear side, Ras Mangesha and Ras Alula on the right flank, Ras Wolay on the left, and Fetwarari Gebeyehu on front. Headed on horseback, each led their army towards to the Italian trench.

“To avoid bloodshed, Ras Mekonnen wrote the following message to the Italian Major Pietro Toselli, ‘Though I am here to fight, I still don’t want bloodshed so I would advise you to lead your camp and retreat. Emperor Menelik with his army is advancing swiftly; please let us avoid this preventable war. I have also an unanswered letter which I wrote to your boss, General Oreste Baratieri, I hope your help to get the answer to my letter.’

“Major Toselli’s answer was ‘The letter has reached to Geneal Baratieri and his response would come in due course. However, if your intention is peaceful, you should have waited in your camp for the answer.’

“Ras Mekonnen concluded that peaceful settlement was not attainable and decided to proceed. Fetawrari Gebyhu’s army advanced throughout the night, and at day break it reached the Italian trench and the Italians started to shoot.

“When the heavy sound of gunfire exchanged between Fetawrari Gebyhu’s army and the Italian, the rest of the Ethiopian army advanced quickly from all sides to join Fetawrari Gebeyhu. In a few minutes, the Italian trench was encircled. From the left, as the Ras Wolay’s army pushed forcefully, the Italian army started retreating to the hill and began to fire the mortar from the distance. From the center, the armies of Ras Mekonnen and Ras Michael jumped over the trench and dashed to the hill. They mixed themselves with the Italian army and fought fiercely hand to hand with sword and shield. From the right side, Ras Mangesha’s and Ras Alula’s armies ran into the rear side and began a surprise attack. Within one hour, the Italian army was completely defeated, and tried to escape, however, the passage was too narrow so they decided to throw themselves from the 400 meter-high cliff while only a few succeeded in escaping and most were forced to surrender.

“Major Toselli was a courageous soldier and refused to surrender and fought until he was killed. The casualties from both sides were numerous, the Italian lost about three thousand, and one thousand on the Ethiopian side with many injured.

“After the victory, the Ethiopian soldiers assembled themselves in various groups and began to weep and cry to mourn their dead. When Ras Mekonnen heard the weeping and crying, he chided. Standing in the middle of his army he said, ‘My friends, this is not a time to weep but to rejoice.

“It is a great honor to die for our country and for our Emperor, instead you should now address your heroic deeds,’ upon which the mood changed into war songs. They boasted about their captives and captured weapons.

“After this, Ras Makonen ordered that all dead bodies should be buried, irrespective of whether they are Ethiopians or Italians. He personally attended the burial ceremony of Major Toselli and ensured that it was done honorably.

“After Ras Mekonnen wrote a report to Emperor Menelik he marched to the next battle ground, Mekele. In his report, he mentioned that Fetawrari Gebeyhu and Kengazmach Taffese have been detained because they had breached the principle of the war; they laid their army into battle without informing to the Command Center.”

What continued in Mekele and Adwa are the histories of triumph of the united people of Ethiopia, which sent a message to the attendees of the Berlin conference that their intentions would not come to pass in Ethiopia.

I will leave you with final statement of General Baratari, the commander in chief of the Italian army, which he wrote only a few hours before he began the battle of Adwa, “The battle spirit of my soldiers is so high, but the enemy’s is fearless and belittle death.”

Happy 124th Adwa’s victory Day!!!



  1. What a story, it is such story that be fitted on the Black History Month.
    The victory of Adwa is the victory of the peace loving people of the world.
    Emperor Menelik, Emperess Tayetu, and Ras Mekonnen were the defenders of the blacks heartage
    Happy VD

  2. Can somebody reach to Spike Lee to do a great movie on the battle of Adwa ? Every time I read bout Adwa’s victory, I fell like i dont know anything. Our children dont read the black history but I am sure they will look if the above article put it on big screen. African Americans film makers must get together to re tell this true story to coming generations

  3. We are ready to celebrate this great black victory day this afternoon in Jhonsburg South Africa. Give thanks for the article zehabesha

  4. Let us salute the Great Emperor Menelik, the Great Tayetu, and the Great Diplomat & General Ras Mekonnen. They made the Black History Month an everyday the World history.
    Happy VD

  5. The black people in America instead of cry about slavery all the time, why don’t you talk about the heroic deeds of the Black Emperor & generals who defeated the white generals. Black women why don’t you talk about Empress Tayetu war victory instead of Rosa park who went to jail for not getup from his sit ? Tayetu defeated white men at the battle field but we still talk about Rosa Park as if there was no blacks hero such as Tayetu a war genera. this generation deserve to hear quite often about Adwa victory.

  6. *BORN FREE! March 1st 1896 Ethiopia Defeated Italy at the Battle of Adwa & kept Ethiopia as the Only African Country to have NEVER BEEN COLONIZED. Ras Tafari Frontline SoulJah Celebrates Globally. Here QueenMother Nana Ananse with Local ARC: Atlanta Rastafari Community* 👑 ❤ ⚖

  7. GERD must be reconstructed by the victory spirit of Adwa. We must act like Rad Mekonen who was loyal to his leader, Emperor Menelik & Ethiopa.

  8. Ato Mulugeta Haile exaggerated the genealogical pedigree of Ras Makonnin. The Ras does not have Tigre genealogy–at all. Ras Makonnin was the son of Wald Mikaele Gudessa …later the name of Ras’s father was changed to Walda Mikale- Ras’s Mother was Princess Tanagn-Warq, the daughter of Negus Sahle Sellasie of Shawa Both parents of the Ras was Amhara(manze) and Oromo (Abichoo) of Showa in Central Ethiopia. one needs to be careful narrating biographical history to fit one’s hyperbolic and embroidered history that never was!

  9. Ato Mulugeta Haile did not exaggerate the heartage of Ras Mekonnen. Please read the book by Ato Berehun Kebede entitled ” Ye Aste Haile Selassie Tarik” will help you from being wrong. Dear Buraqqa Dorry
    please read also the history of the Amhara’s ruling class from where they came from. It was not by accident that Ras Mekonnen was a governor of Tigria for two years.

  10. Ato Mulugeta wrote the short history of Ras Mekonnen almost in a naked plain truth form.Emperor Haile Selassie in his book ” Hiwotena Ye ethiopia ermega” indicated Wold Melkot,his ancestor name with out mentioned from which ethinc he came from. But Ato Berheun kebede elaborated in detal in his book that Haile Selassie’ ancestors was from the region of Temben of Tigria. According to Ato Berheun’s book, Ras Mekonnen was a family member of Yiman Kerestos from an arstocrst family. He also narreted that Wold Melkot, who immigrated to Showa, Duba region where he was blend with Oromo family. I read Ato Mulugeta’s article critically to find error but I find none except to find his extreme love and admiration for Ras Mekonen. It’s ok one must to have a love & admiration before he sits to write his subject. To day in DNA age we can’t say I am so & so so & so on ethinc. We all are a descendant of Denkenesh, Lucy. Thanks Ato Mulugeta

  11. The victory of Adwa is the victory of the United ethinc people of Ethiopia. It was not only “the Oro-Amhara”, which is the plot coined by Yared Tibebu & Dr Dagachew Asfa, former EPRP & now opportunist. Yared is now out but Dr Dagachew is flirting until he gets ministreal position.
    Viva Menelik
    Viva Tayetu

  12. Mulugeta is always sharing with his readers historical facts and is a genuine Source of Information regarding Ethiopia.Maximum Respect

  13. Damos gracias y Alabanzas!!!
    Todos los Etíopes orgullosos de su pueblo…. Orgullosos de su tierra!!!
    Honor y Gloria a todos los soldados que defendieron nuestra Ancestral y milenaria Etiopía 🌍🇪🇹👑

  14. Greetings from New York, Mulugeta. Thanks so much for the excellent article on Ras Makonnen who  had clearly  shown the world that Ethiopia could not tolerate humiliation by lawless forces. The one hundred twenty fourth anniversary of the Adwa victory was most significant. You mention the good American, Robert Skinner, in your article.  In 1903, Skinner travelled from Dire-Dawa  to Addis Ababa by foot. He did not, unfortunately, cross Kesem River to Bulga, my home district. Instead, he followed the Minjar route. Skinner respected and admired Emperor Menelik and Ras Maklonnen. In 1936, he was US Ambassador to Turkey.  From there he had, interestingly, addressed a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt in which he said that Ethiopia was denied justice when ruthless  Mussolini attacked its historic land. Ethiopia, he added, could stand on its own against her enemies but she faced problems with her friends. The President agreed with his ambassador. Girma Abebe

  15. Drake Stevenson

    Spike Lee’s movie titled ” DO THE RIGHT THING ” has been banned from Ethiopia by the Ethiopian LATE PRIME MINISTER HAILEMARIAM DESALEGN’S REGIME.

  16. At the time Italy was in continuous war after war , across the globe so we let you have Adwa after we really found out how barbaric Ethiopians are, we went back after Adwa not because we failed but because we didn’t want to colonize cannibals.

    Smithsonian Magazine › smart-news
    New Orleans Apologizes for 1891 Lynching of Italian-Americans | Smart …

  17. In thr spirt of Ras Mekonnen who was a diplomat & war’s general, We must complete the GEDR. It is our time to do the work like Ras Mekonnen did his part in defending he fought for Emperor Menelik & Ethiopia. God help Ethiopia

  18. I would like to get in touch with the author. Can you please forward me the author’s email address? I am also a historian, working on a dissertation in Ethiopian history. My email is

  19. Guissepe,

    ቬነዲግ (Venecia)በሄድኩበት ጊዜ የቱርስቶቹ ማይለ ላይ ብቻ ሳይሆን የተንቀሳቀስኩት፣ ወደ ሌሎቹ የከተማው ክፍሎችም ተንቀሳቅሸ ነበር:: ታድያ የሆነ የከተማው ክፍል ዘንዳ ስዘዋወር፣ አንድ ትንሽ ሆቴል የሚመስል ቤት ዘንዳ በትልቁ ADUA የሚል ፅሑፍ አያለሁኝ:: በጣም ተገረምኩና ከጎኑ ያለው የሆኑ ነገሮችን የሚሸጥ ቤት ውስጥ ገባሁና ዴስኩ(Theke)ዘንዳ የቆመውን ሰውዬ፣ “ይሄ ከጎንህ ያለው ቤት ከምን ተነስቶ ነው ዓድዋ የሚለውን ስም ይዞ የሚገኘው?” ስል ጠየኩት:: ሰውየውም ትክ ብሎ አየኝና በመልኬ ከዚያው ከወደ ዓድዋ አካባቢ የምመነጭ ልሆን እንደምችል ሳይገምትና ሳይደርስበት አልቀረም፣ በክፉኛም ህሊናው ተመትቶ ከማፈሩም የተነሳ ነው መሰለኝ፣ መልሶችን በቃልና በተግባርም ሰጠኝ፣ “አላውቅም፣ አላውቅም” የሚለውን ቃል ይወረውርልኛ በወደ ዴስኩ ስር ተደበቀ…..!!! አንተም የዚህን ሰውዬ ህሊና ተግባራትን ተከትለህ ብታፍር ይሻልሃል::

  20. Dear Guissepe, you are clearly mistaken by your cannibalism comment. Ethiopians were not eating human meat but instead were eating raw cattle meat as they are accustomed to do even today. Italy is the true barbaric by going and trying to conquer and enslave other countries. But in this case Italy met their match and clearly lost several battles including the battle in ADWA and you are trying to make excuses. Don’t be a soar looser. Try to be TRUE to the facts.

    Ethiopians are civilized as you can read from the quote in the article above:
    “After this, Ras Makonen ordered that all dead bodies should be buried, irrespective of whether they are Ethiopians or Italians. He personally attended the burial ceremony of Major Toselli and ensured that it was done honorably.”

  21. ይሄን ፁፍ ከማንበቤ በፊት መጀመሪያ አስተያየት የሰጡትን ሰዎች መልክት ነበር ያነበብኩት፡፡ አስተያያተቻው ሳበኝና በአቶ ሙሉጌታ የተፃፈውን አነበብኩት፡፡ የድሬዳዎ ልጅ ስለሁንኩኝ የበለጠ የሐረረ ታሪክ አስደሰተኝ፡፡ የድሮ የድሬ ልጆች ከሚባሉት ውስጥ አንዱ ነበርኩኝ፡፡ በራስ መኮንን የተሰራችው የፍቅርና የመቻቻል ሐረር ዛሬ በእነ አቶ ጃዋር አህመድ ልዩ ሰበካ ጥላቻ የነገሰባት ከታማ ሆናለች፡፡ ዩኒስኮ (UNICO)የፍቅር ከተማ ብሉ የዛሬ 14 አመት ሲሰይማት ይድሮዋን ሐረረን በማስታወስ እንደሆነ የዬኒስኮ(UNICO) ሰራተኛ ነግሮኛል፡፡ የነሐጂ ሳዲቅና የመሐመድ አሊ ታሪክ መፃፉ አስደሰተኝ፡፡ የድሮ የሐረር ሕዝብ ደግነትና ለዛ ተመልሶ ይመጣ ይሆን፡፡ አላህ ይርዳን፡፡

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