Comparing a Nobel Peace Prize laureate Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Benito Mussolini could be inappropriate and would be considered like awarding that Prize to the later. What a horror! Yet, the covetous reasonings presented in October and November speech by PM Abiy to possess neighbor’s port in the Red Sea ‘by peace or by force’ have curious similarities to those presented by Mussolini when preparing to invade Ethiopia in 1935.
Mussolini’s white man’s burden
Mussolini and his Fascists “nuclear” reason to invade Ethiopia was to abolish slavery.(1)
For about a century until the end of the second world war, a persistent and insistent call mainly by the United Kingdom to abolish slavery placed Abyssinia on the spotlight and left an indelible stigma on the country.2 While the scourge was prohibited in many countries in name only, and while worst inhumane arm and leg amputation was taking place by “civilized colonizing Europeans”, the Belgian Leopold II for example, the two independent (non-colonized) African states, Abyssinia and Liberia alone carried the “torch” of Slave-States in Africa. Ironically, the white man’s burden was considered as a saviour from slavery.
Slavery, slave hunting, and slave transit plagued Abyssinia for millennia. It was the most visible aspect of life in the country so much so that starting in the 19th century almost every message from Europe and every European messenger sent to Ethiopia demanded the abolishment of slavery.3 Every treaty Ethiopia made with the big European nations had to contain a promise to abolish slavery. To be allowed to the League of Nations membership, Ras Teferi had to promulgate edicts to abolish it and promises to continue doing. Despite previous reservations, Italy agreed and voted for Ethiopia to be a member of the League in 1923 in the hope of convincing it to be an Italian protectorate. A couple years later, however, Italy under the same Mussolini who agreed for Ethiopia’s membership, started working against, to kick it out of the League accusing it of slavery.1 The witch hunt begun. Mussolini found in slavery an alibi to invade and colonize the country. PM Abiy Ahmed’s 21st Century version of “slavery” by using hunger as an alibi to possess a sea outlet that belong to his neighbors is the ultimate sinisterism that is too eerily sickening but must be contemplated here for all the world to see and comprehend.
Hunger, Abiy Ahmed’s Caricatural Burden
Next to slavery, famine was another Abyssinian plague since millennia. The northeastern Africa starting from Tanzania north to Egypt are breeding grounds for the most gregarious swarm of insect, and since biblical times the people there were periodically devastated by it. Famine and hunger cause by locust invasion, disease pestilence, the pernicious internecine war, and the lack of ingenuity and endeavour to harness the hardy environment left the people to their sort. Their only hope was stretching their hands to the skies. For the people of the region like the Abyssinians, every good, bad or ugly was attributed to God. Not celebrating as it deserves Saint Gabriel or Saint Mary Day that happens to fall on the day or the week prior to the fall of the swarms of locust was the perfect explanation for the devastation that ensued. Calamity was considered as the wrath of God.4
Now, the PM of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, is telling the world that the cause of all problems in his country is the wrath of not having a port. In no uncertain terms, PM Abiy Ahmed warned, if the fast-growing population of his country gets hungry tomorrow, it will be the fault of not having access to the Sea.5,6 A flagrant logical fallacy. Resource-wise, Ethiopia is one of the richest countries in Africa, capable of feeding its people and beyond. Incidentally, PM Abiy never stops boasting of his country’s wealth and capabilities, but when it comes to possessing what is not his, he is capable of declaring hunger and unleash millions of hungry Ethiopians to the neighborhood as he unambiguously declared that 5 million Ethiopians could migrate in search of food to each neighboring country.
Fabricating Story and History
Mussolini’s Fascists went as far as fabricating slavery stories and compiling documents containing unverifiable slave trade stories to nail and over-nail the coffin of accusations.7 In a similar manner, it was curious to see PM Abiy, during his October parliamentary presentation pointing to Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on a map of Africa implying it acquired ocean access after decolonization.5 This gave an idea for several Ethiopian scholars to invent history that never happened saying Republic of Congo (RC) gave DRC an outlet to the ocean through the principle of give and take.8,9
For various reasons, the people living in the coastal areas have their own countries and boundaries that were shaped more than a century ago in the same manner Modern Abyssinia (Ethiopia) was enlarged more than twice its size and shaped by the fate of history, war, and colonialism. The scramble for Africa, left no no-man’s land in Africa. It is worth reminding PM Abiy, there is no Antarctica in East Africa to go and grab freely a no-man’s port. Even in Antarctica, there is an international agreement that regulates the possession of a land for research purposes. The reason for the promulgation of the “United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea” was that there is no coast and port that is available for landlocked countries to be grabbed. So where does this delusion come from?
Delusions of Grandeur
Mussolini’s and his Fascist party were trying hard to mimic the Roman empire. Their characteristic insignia, the Roman Fasces, and their salutation stretching the right arm attest to that without the need for elaboration.10 Like Mussolini’s renamed Italy, Italian Empire, alluding to the roman empire after his invasion of Ethiopia, PM Abiy talked of the glories of Axumite civilization and alluded to Blue Nile and the Red Sea as being Ethiopian by declaring they are the life and death of Ethiopians. The problem of delusional expansionists is the expansion of their discourse going beyond space and time. They present what happened more than a thousand years back as if it happened yesterday and they consider themselves as the sole inheritors of glorious time and blood descendants of the glorious leaders. They try to act in the same manner as those ancient leaders. More interestingly, in so doing, these expansionists instinctively behave in the same manner.
Furthermore, after trying to exploit Axumite civilization, PM Abiy jumped more than a thousand years to 19th century to highlight the callous Ras Alula to claim possession of a Red Sea.5 Alula was pitiless, who murdered Eritreans especially those around Keren and western lowlands. He administered Mereb-Mlash (name for central part of Eritrea) for Emperor Yohannes IV, collecting tributes and looting in the name of chasing outlaws. He was also a military leader who defeated the Italians at Dogali, but with no vision to continue chasing them beyond Massawa despite his earlier boasting saying, “I will not go away until my horse drunk from the Red Sea.” This is what is recorded him saying in his conversation with father Duflot, when he was fighting the Egyptians a decade earlier, where he didn’t go anywhere beyond Gura’e at that time.11 This phrase could have been modified by PM Abiy when he quoted Alula as saying, “the Red Sea is the natural boundary of Ethiopia.” Megalomania elevates a boasting warlord to inspirational level. Why is Alula considered a murderer so hated in Eritrea? Here is an extract from Andrew Haggard, a colonel who accompanied Vice Admiral Hewitt in his mediation between Egyptians and Yohannes IV. Haggard was travelling from around Cheren eastward to Senhit in 1884 when he noted this.12
“Presently we came upon the traces of an Abyssinian raid, for Ras Alula had been recently over the border, and when he made a raid, it was on the system of the old English and Scottish Border raids. He burned, scattered, ravished, and destroyed, drove off the cattle and the women, and left a fertile country a desert behind him. Where we now were he had completely wrecked a caravan and killed a good many people. The debris was still scattered along the road for miles rags, paper, broken bottles, boxes, bones, every imaginable thing, strewn about in every direction.”
Economic Woes and Revenge
Beyond false alibi and megalomania, there were other common reasons for Mussolini’s and Abiy’s fantasy. In fact, analysts say the reason for using such fallacies is to cover the real reasons that for both were interestingly the same. One of these reasons was the economic woes that both faced. In Mussolini’s case, Italy was coming out victorious of the first world war, but with ~600,000 deaths, deception for not getting the lands that was promised to her, economic crisis, devaluation of its money and unemployment that persisted for years.13 Invading Ethiopia was seen bringing economic benefit as well as scoring diplomatic success in front of Italian European counterparts.
Similarly, PM Abiy’s Ethiopia just came out of the Tigray war with so many youngsters’ deaths, destitution and billions of dollars spent on the war and on showy state buildings and parks. The wrong allocation and misplaced priorities sent Ethiopian economy sliding freely down to arrive at payment default very recently. PM Abiy wants to get a Red Sea port to cover his mishandlings and economic woes. It is like the Amharic proverb አይጥ በበላ ዳዋ ተመታ (The weed pays for what the rat devastated). PM Abiy’s daring aggressive talk on its neighbors, particularly Eritrea, was also considered as an invasive diplomatic offence that tried to cover Ethiopia’s frustration of not being included in the Red Sea Forum organization.
The other reason for Mussolini attack on Ethiopia was the need of revenge. In his speech justifying the invasion of Abyssinia in October 1935, he said “we have been patient with Ethiopia for forty years”, clearly referring to the defeat of Italy by Abyssinia in 1896 at Adwa.13 Similarly, Abiy’s insistent reminder in his November speech that Ethiopia has never been defeated was a bold flagrant denial for its defeat by Mussolini in 1935 and by the Eritrean Freedom Fighters in 1991. Could this self-inflicting defense be a cover up for malicious vengeful intentions? Indeed, it looks like, unless it is also another way of denying the independence of Eritrea by wishfully considering it as Ethiopian and claim Red Sea in such overt self-dupery.
More curiously, when Mussolini planned his invasion of Ethiopia, king of Italy Emmanuel III was against it. Over a century later, in an eerily similar sentiment, based on her various public discourse, The Ethiopian president Sahlework Zewde appears to be clearly against the ongoing internal war in Ethiopia and the planning of external war by PM Abiy Ahmed.
Mussolini succeeded invading Ethiopia because of tacit silence of certain European countries and the inability of the League of Nations to defend its principles among others. History has shown us where such transgressions ended. PM Abiy Ahmed recent aggressive stance is not going anywhere either. No amount of false narrative, propaganda, machination is going to help him secure a sea outlet that he owns. More importantly, the methods he is using to obtain that is as destructive as that instigated by Mussolini.
PM Abiy subduing of TPLF left him emboldened to do the same with Fano as he is now trying to do the same with a neighboring country to the north, which has Greek Mythology written all over it. Consider this: When the Titans and Giants were defeated, Zeus was crowned the god of the earth; Hades got his wish of becoming the god of the underworld; Poseidon the god of the sea.14 What PM Abiy is trying to become is the god of the Horn of Africa, the god of the underworld, and the god of the Red Sea, all rolled into one.
Beyond mythology, however, the reality is this: That Ethiopia’s economic difficulties are neither the wrath of God, nor the mythological gods of the Red Sea, nor that of the underworld. It is the self-inflicting wrath molded in the old mindset of the feudal times where invade, defeat and spoils are the leading principles. Where modernity is manifested solely in the showy buildings and boasting economic growth spelled not to reflect the reality, but to cover the forest of poverty. PM Abiy in one of his discourses had, in passing, mentioned (rather questioned) why the countries of east Africa cannot form a union to manage rivers and the Red Sea. It was a great idea, but such monumental change cannot be attempted for the sake of Ethiopia, and not to please or cajole Abiy Ahmed because he is threatening the region to get a sea outlet by hook or by crook. Countries are sovereign, and decisions for sovereignty or forming a union like that of Europe is also a sovereign decision of every sovereign country.
This article was drafted before the January-1st 2024 Ethiopia-Somaliland memorandum of understanding (MoU) for Ethiopia to obtain a leased sea outlet in exchange for Somaliland’s recognition as a country and shares in the Ethiopian Airlines. The article was not modified following the MoU news, because the central theme it treated was PM Ahmed’s aggressive and very offensive approach in a manner that would automatically block any possible conversation with Eritrea in particular. This posture is still persistent despite PM Abiy unapologetic attempt to reword his “outlet by hook or by crook” stance and speech in October/November 2023. It is even more curious that following the MoU agreement with Somaliland, PM Abiy and his dignitaries congratulating each other of obtaining outlet to the Red Sea instead of the Gulf of Aden. The fixation on Red Sea exposes the goal of grandiose ambition more than the economic question. It is also a tell tell sign of wanting a victory by any means possible over the Red Sea for the realization of Abiy’s October overambitious assertion saying Red Sea is the life and death of Ethiopia. Red Sea if the life of all the countries that surround it, including Ethiopia and the world. It never is the death of any people. It could be the end of unreasonable hegemonic overambitious leaders who risk placing the people in pernicious warfare.
1 – Mussolini over Africa. Ridley F A. Wishart books Ltd. 1935
2 – Colonial Powers and Ethiopian Frontiers 1880–1884: Eds Sven Rubenson, Amsalu Aklilu, Shiferaw Bekele, and Samuel Rubenson. Lund University Press: Lund, 2021.
3 – Slavery in Abyssinia. Noel-Buxton L., 1932. 11(4), pp.512-526.
4 – The history of famine and pestilence in Ethiopia prior to the Founding of Gondar. Pankhurst R. 1979. The journal of Ethiopian Studies 10(2).
5 – https://youtu.be/MPOdp4s4XXE
6 – https://youtu.be/TwwyIQ12q6o?si=wSlRqXGkHHgv4g9p
7 – Memoradium of the Italian Government on Ethiopia: ~1935 differently dated collection of documents by Italia.
8 – https://www.eritreadigest.com/pm-abiy-co-bullying-belaboring-big-lying/ Originally Published at Awate.com in November 2023
9 – https://youtu.be/uFrGILLKzJc?si=zedS0CBxR6Q2wU8I
10 – Mussolini’s Gladius: The Double-Edged Sword of Antiquity in Fascist Italy. Schrader, K.W., 2016.
11 – Ras Alula and the scramble for Africa: a political biography: Ethiopia & Eritrea, 1875-1897.
Haggai E. 1996 Red Sea press.
12 – Under crescent and star. Haggard A., 1895. Blackwood.
13 – https://mrcatelli.weebly.com/uploads/5/6/5/7/56571255/mussolini-ethiopia_speech.pdf
14 – Ancient Greek Beliefs. Westmoreland P.L., 2007. Lee and Vance Publishing Co.