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The Battle of Adwa and Ethiopians Heroic Achievement Culture

Tsegaye Tegenu, PhD
February 25, 2023

The victory of the battle of Adwa, which was fought against Italian colonialism on 1 March 1896, was the height of Ethiopians heroic achievement culture. It brought about a major turning-point in Ethiopian history. The international boundaries which marked the territorial limits of the country was drawn right after the victory of the battle of Adwa. The victory brough about pride in the national identity of Ethiopians and enhanced their inborn love of freedom and independence.

The battle of Adwa was not Ethiopians achievement alone.  It strengthened the spiritual and racial ties between the peoples of Ethiopia and other black peoples all over the world. Africans and blacks in North and South America appropriated the victory as their own. Adwa inspired hope and confidence in the struggle against colonialism. The victory heralded the ending of the nineteenth century European scramble for Africa. During those dark days, Adwa inspired pan-Africanists and leaders of liberation movements and laid the foundation for the Organization of African Union.

The secrete behind the success and significance of Adwa was Ethiopians long drawn culture of achievement. The Adwa generation had a talent of setting vision, a habit of hard work, strength of resolve, high sense of self-belief and cooperation culture to attain goals.  Their mindset was such that no obstacle stands in the way of achieving their goals. Regional lords and their armed forces used all means and methods to produce results they envisioned and planned. For the generation of Adwa, grown up in the tradition of military culture, the path to success was clear. Goal attainment costs, but they were gladly willing to scarify for it. There was no monetary payment to deliver battle results (see the book on the genesis and making of fiscal military state).

The Adwa leadership, who had a long experience in war mobilization, were honest, open, accountable and followed an agreed way and plan. They based their decision on factual information and focused on the big picture and goal (read about the battle of Amba Alage).  Regional lords were able to create an environment in which the rank and file of the army enthusiastically produced high performance. The leaders worked together with the rank and file, to track progress and rewards accomplishments. Expectations were clear and loyalty was recognized and rewarded. There was a culture of celebrating successes and recognition (there was shum shir after every battle).

The team environment and support culture were such that they created satisfaction and pride for everyone involved, leading to a self-sustaining achievement, “success breeds success”. Both the leaders and the rank file had values of will-power, self-confidence, perseverance, and desire to win. These traits were not only observed at individual level, but they were integrated in the cultural values of the Adwa generation.

On February 25, 2021, I wrote an article on the “The beauty of the battle of Adwa”. I quote “Adwa is an ideal form of beauty which combines the quality of bravery, self-sacrifice, love for others and a nation, fighting determination, devotion, loyalty, respect, teamwork, leadership, trust, hard work, gender equality, exemplary, etc.” These attributes tell us that the battle of Adwa had the whole package of an achievement culture.

My question, do we have now Adwa’s type of achievement culture at personal, interpersonal, organizational, and national levels.  Ethiopia is stuck in development and conflict traps. The country is now looking for a heroic generation that has an achievement cultural traits of Adwa. Ethiopia needs long-term economic prosperity vision, three-legged stool goals, appropriate strategies, qualified and principled leadership, teamwork, individual scarification, and an enabling environment to come out of the trap. History will measure and judge the current generation against the achievement culture of the Adwa generation.

For empirical evidence, please refer

Abdussamad H. Ahmad and Pankhrust, Richard, eds., (1998). Adwa: Victory Centenary Conference, 26 February-2 March 1996. IES. Addis Ababa University. 694 pages.

Tsegaye Tegenu, (1997), The Evolution of Ethiopian Absolutism. The Genesis and the Making of the Fiscal Military State, 1696-1913. Uppsala University. 286 pages.