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Today Ethiopians are celebrating with immense pride the 128th Great Adwa Victory, inarguably the most seminal moment in Ethiopia’s history. On March 2, 1896, Ethiopians from practically all of the country’s regions and ethnic groups who had mobilized at Adwa in response to the call of Emperor Menelik II displayed unrivaled heroism to defeat the invading Italian army—the largest and most well-equipped European army ever deployed in Africa at the time. The unprecedented defeat of a European colonial power by an African nation, whose troops possessed nothing more than vastly inferior weaponry in comparison to the Italians and an unflagging love for their country, was an incredibly momentous event that resulted in a paradigm shift in global perception. Our fearless forefathers achieved the most improbable of feats because they were bound by a bond of unity. As Ethiopians all over the world commemorate the day with solemnity, we should never forget the patriotism of our ancestors.

Ethiopia has remained independent throughout history thanks to the sacrifices paid by its iron-willed people. The citizens of the nation harbored grievances against the despotic kings who had ruled over them for centuries when they marched in their hundreds of thousands to repel numerous foreign aggressions against the motherland. Particularly during the Era of the Princes (1769-1855), a period when Ethiopia was divided within itself into several regions with no effective central authority, thousands perished in conflicts for control of power and territory even as the vast majority of the population were dispossessed of their lands and forced to serve as serfs under feudal lords. Nevertheless, Ethiopians have never negotiated away their nation’s sovereignty. Such fervent nationalism is the very defining character which made it possible for them to achieve an extraordinary victory at Adwa and leave a proud legacy for posterity.

The Adwa victory has had ramifications that are still relevant to this date. It holds immense historical and cultural significance for present-day Ethiopia. Aside from etching Ethiopia’s name in the annals of history, it secured its independence and shattered the myth of European invincibility. The triumph came to be a powerful symbol of African bravery and resistance, a beacon of hope to millions of Africans and black people all over the world who were the victims of humiliating European conquests. In fact, the victory and the ensuing recognition of Ethiopia’s sovereignty became rallying points for later African nationalists during their struggle to free Africa from the yoke of colonialism. It also inspired the activists and leaders of the Pan-African movement and the civil rights movement of African Americans. Following the successful culmination of the anti-colonial struggle they waged against their European masters, Africans chose Ethiopia to be the seat of their continental organization, the Organization of African Unity and its successor, the African Union.

Although the Adwa victory has played a crucial role in shaping Ethiopia’s national identity by bringing together various ethnic and regional groups in the face of a common enemy, thereby serving as a source of inspiration and national pride, successive Ethiopian generations since then have shamefully failed to capitalize on the glorious opportunities it has availed us with to extricate ourselves from the myriad of challenges besetting us and scale greater heights. We have done a disservice to the high regard that black people used to have for us and turned Ethiopia into a fractious nation that is not at peace with itself.

Over a million Ethiopians have died in the last five decades with even more displaced from their homes and forced to flee overseas due to internecine conflicts fueled by the political elite. The poisonous politics the latter have espoused and continue to espouse is traumatizing Ethiopians to this day. Consequently, a country that epitomized tolerance and harmony for long has become synonymous with intolerance and discord. The proliferation of self-serving individuals and groups on all ends of the political spectrums who exploit opportune moments to settle old scores and prefer to resolve differences through force rather than a civilized discussion does not bode well for the future of Ethiopia. At a time the world is venerating the Adwa victory, we are mired in a cycle of violence which diminishes the fundamental values it embodies. This state of affairs cannot and must not be tolerated any longer.

Presently Ethiopians find ourselves at a critical juncturein our history where it is of vital importance to forge a national consensus with a view to consummate Ethiopia’s unfinished nation-building project.  We have to demonstrate the same patriotism that our heroic forefathers exhibited towards this end instead of going at each other over ethnic, religious, cultural, linguistic and political differences. The interest of the nation and its citizens must not be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. Those who do so are desecrating the legacy of the Adwa victory. The awe-inspiringachievementof fearless Ethiopians at Adwa must not be allowed to be sullied by element which have nothing better to do than sow the seeds of conflict and destruction. The Adwa victory stands as a testament to the unwavering spirit and resilience of the Ethiopian people. As we honor the heroes of Adwa and their enduring legacy, it is incumbent on all Ethiopians to go beyond paying lip service to the importance of the victory and emulate the exploit of our forebears by joining hands to vanquish the twin enemies of poverty and incessant violence that are bedeviling Ethiopia.

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