Ethiopia is an empire state. It consists of the core Abyssinian state, which was first founded by the Tigreans and then consolidated over centuries by the two ethnic groups of Abyssinia—Amhara and Tigreans. Emperor Menelik II (1889-1913) of the Amhara ethnic group is the creator of present day Ethiopia. First as a vassal king under emperor Yohannes IV (1871 - 1889) of Tigray, and later on as an emperor, Menelik conquered the Oromo and other non-Abyssinian peoples during the era of “scramble for Africa”. In conquering and incorporating these peoples’ territories, he transformed the core state of his ancestors into an empire state increasing its size by two-thirds.
Menelik sought and obtained acceptance by European powers as the only black partner in the “scramble for Africa”. The Abyssinians denied their identity with any black people. They gave their empire the name “Ethiopia” to claim legitimacy based on antiquity and divine authority of biblical proportion. At the same time, the idea of Abyssinia/Ethiopia as a Christian outpost and that the Abyssinians “have a much higher form of intelligence than do the purely Negro peoples of Africa” was strong among the colonial powers.
Menelik accomplished his colonial conquest by heavily investing in contemporary European weapons in a region where spear reigned. He also acquired advisers skilled in military science from European powers. He employed the strategy of divide-and-conquer to mobilize tribe against tribes, people against peoples.
Menelik and his successors, once defeated the Oromo people, targeted their national integrity by employing the strategy of divide and rule. Hereditary leaders were promoted from among the subjugated peoples to serve as intermediary between the myriad members of the colonial administration. The colonizers consisted of warlords, militias known as "naftenyas", and the clergy all of who were organized into decentralized feudal hierarchies subsisting on levies, slaves, and personal servitude of the subjugated peoples.
It is a historical fact that, on the one hand, the subjugated peoples suffered devastation of genocidal magnitude. On the other hand, slave trade, feudal levies and personal servitude of the peoples provided good life for the conquerors.
Sadly, European powers who were Menelik’s partners condoned the atrocities perpetrated against the Oromo and other victims of genocide. The major powers of the time were interested in opening up the region for trade and the Abyssinian emperor was considered as a partner in the “mission of civilizing pagans and barbarians.”
Emperor Haile Selassie (1930 - 36, 1941 - 1974) consolidated Menelik’s empire by utilizing the art of modern state machinery. With encouragement and technical assistance of foreign patrons, he introduced laws that institutionalized violence against the subject peoples. He ensured that state power was defined and differentiated. Military and civil administrations were rationalized. And he put them all for implementation under a central control to maintain absolute power mainly over the subjugated peoples of the empire. He abolished personal servitude and slavery; but he compensated the colonists for lost feudal rights and privileges—he gave them, by law, property rights over land originally confiscated by Menelik from the colonized peoples. He introduced modern educational system to produce man-power for the state apparatus as well as to serve as an instrument of cultural genocide against the subjugated peoples. He intensively and systematically promoted Abyssinian history, language, culture, and values to the detriment of the colonized peoples.
Unfortunately for the subjugated peoples, Haile Selassie regime’s cultural genocide disguised by the euphemism “social engineering,” was accorded all-round, enthusiastic support by the regime’s foreign allies. In the world then divided into western and eastern blocs, the western powers used the emperor’s regime to contain the expansion of communism in Africa. In return, the powers cooperated to give priority for his security concern, which was essentially the threat of resistance by oppressed peoples against his authority. They assisted him to organize a strong intelligence system as well as build and maintain the strongest military forces in sub-Sahara black Africa.
While members of the royal family, the nobility, and high ranking public officials and their cronies enjoyed life of luxury under Haile Selassie, the country suffered the evils of economic stagnation and natural disaster. Liberation struggles by the oppressed peoples, disillusions among the Abyssinian elites, disaffection by intellectuals in general about the performance of the empire, particularly poor development performance compared to those of newly independent African states, brought the downfall of the emperor’s regime.
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