post Heruy Wolde-Sellasse

October 18th, 2009

Filed under: History Corner — Lissan Magazine @ 23:34

Heruy Wolde-Sellasse (1878-1938) was an Ethiopian writer and director of the government press who encouraged and significantly advanced the writing and publication of books in Amharic, Ethiopia’s national language.

Heruy Wolde-Sellasse was born on May 7, 1878, in Shoa. His early years are shrouded in mystery, but he probably was one of the gifted young men of humble origin whom Emperor Menilek selected for high civil service posts. Heruy’s interest in learning and literature first showed in his catalog of the Geez and Amharic manuscripts in Ethiopia. The third book to be printed in Addis Ababa, it appeared in 1911-1912.

Belattengeta Heruy Wolde Sellasse

When Ras Tafari (later Haile Selassie) was chosen as regent in 1917, Heruy was appointed mayor of Addis Ababa and director of the government press. In this latter capacity he considerably increased the printing of books, which were mostly of a devotional or educational kind, but which also included praise poems in honor of the Empress Zawditu and Ras Tafari and anonymous pamphlets in verse advocating modernization of the country. Heruy himself contributed several volumes: a biography of Emperor Yohannes, a collection of funeral songs, and a volume of moral meditations.

During the early 1920s Heruy traveled widely in Europe and the Middle East, accompanying the regent on his journeys, of which he wrote the official accounts: this was an excellent way of bringing knowledge of the outside world to the semiliterate Ethiopian audience. Besides producing further volumes devoted to religion, practical ethics, and the history of Ethiopia, he published an important collection of qenè, the traditional hymns of the Coptic Church. In 1927-1928 Heruy set up his own press in the hope of stimulating the production of creative literature more efficiently than could be done by the government press.

After Ras Tafari’s accession to the imperial throne as Haile Selassie in 1930, Heruy was appointed foreign minister. In spite of the duties of his office and of his travels to Japan and Europe, his literary activity continued unabated. In addition to his educational writings, he promoted the growth of Amharic prose fiction. The first novel in Amharic, by Afäwärq Gäbrä Lyasus, had been printed in Rome in 1909. The second was Heruy’s Thoughts of the Heart: The Marriage of Berhané and Seyon Mogasa (1930/1931), a slight story designed to discourage the Ethiopian custom of child marriage. More ambitious was The New World (1932/1933), which deals with a young Ethiopian who has an opportunity to study in Europe; on returning to his native country, he meets almost insuperable difficulties in his attempts to eradicate obsolete customs, to purify the corrupt clergy, and to introduce such emblems of Westernization as the telephone and the phonograph. This story, somewhat crude and unappetizingly edifying, is probably the first treatment of an African’s direct contact with Europe in African prose fiction.

One of Heruy’s most significant works of the early 1930s was the chronicle of his journey to Japan, a country which held peculiar fascination for Ethiopia because of its success in resisting European imperialism and in assimilating nonetheless the technological civilization of the West.

After the Italian invasion and the defeat of Ethiopia in 1936, Heruy followed the Emperor to his British exile. He died in the monarch’s residence in Bath on Sept. 29, 1938, after several months’ illness.

Further Reading
A section on Heruy is in Edward Ullendorff, The Ethiopians: An Introduction to Country and People (1960; 2d ed. 1965). A detailed discussion of Heruy’s writings is in Albert S. Gérard, Four African Literatures (1971).

source: Encyclopedia of World Biography

post Ardi: Man-ape Fossil

October 1st, 2009

Filed under: History Corner — Lissan Magazine @ 20:23

Human evolution just got a million years older: Man-ape fossil skeleton is closest thing yet to ‘missing link’
By David Derbyshire

She was just 4ft tall and weighed in at less than 110lbs when she roamed the forests 4.4 million years ago in what is now Ethiopia.

Small in stature, but hugely significant in scientific terms the skeleton is humankind’s oldest ancestor by almost a million years.

The ancient remains - nicknamed ‘Ardi’ by scientists - could be the closest thing yet to the mythical ‘missing link’.

Her discovery, reported in detail for the first time today, sheds new light on a crucial period of human evolution when our ancestors were leaving the trees and learning to walk upright.

DPA/ Drawing: J.H. Matternes

‘This is one of the most important discoveries for the study of human evolution,’ said Dr David Pilbeam, curator of palaeoanthropology at Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.

‘It is relatively complete in that it preserves head, hands, feet, and some critical parts in between.’

Ardi - short for Ardipithecus ramidus or ‘root of the ground ape’ -  was more man-ape than ape-man.

She lived a million years before the famous Lucy, the previous earliest skeleton of a human ancestor.

According to fossil hunters, the discovery of Ardi challenges the common wisdom about the last common ancestor of people and chimps.

‘This is not that common ancestor, but it’s the closest we have ever been able to come,’ said Dr Tim White, director of the Human Evolution Research Centre at the University of California, Berkeley who reports the discovery today in Science.

The first fossilised and crushed bones of Ardi were found in 1992 in Ethiopia’s Afar Rift. But it has taken an international team of 47 scientists 17 years to piece together, analyse and describe the remains in detail.

Read more:

source: mailonline

post New 3.4 Mill. Years Skeleton

October 1st, 2009

Filed under: History Corner — Lissan Magazine @ 19:33

Skeleton That Dates Back 3.4 Million Years Found in Ethiopia

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia - An Ethiopian scientist has discovered the well-preserved 3.4 million-year-old partial skeleton of a child hominid, which experts say should provide valuable information in the study of human evolution.

Dr. Zeresenay Alemseged, a palaeoanthropologist, told reporters in Addis Ababa Saturday they had found a fragment of a lower jaw and an exceptionally well-preserved partial skeleton, including the skull, of a child early hominid.

They were discovered in the Busidina-Dikika sector of the Afar region, in an area bordering the Republic of Djibouti. Busidina-Dukika lies south of Hadar, where numerous fossils of Austrolopithecus Afarensis, including the famous Lucy, have been discovered.

“This is probably the earliest well-preserved young hominid so far known,” he said, adding that the discovery would help in filling a gap between the earliest known hominids and those from later periods.

“The new hominid is an important addition which may fill in the gap between Lucy, which is dated to 3.2 million years, and a similar hominid species from Laetoli, Tanzania, and dated at 3.7 million years,” he said.

Alemseged, a post-doctoral research associate at the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University, led a mission to prehistoric sites in Busidina and Dikika in 1999 and 2000.

source:  The New York Times (

post Bob Kennedy in Ethiopia

August 10th, 2009

Filed under: History Corner — Lissan Magazine @ 21:34

Remembering Bobby Kennedy
Posted by John Coyne

The event at the Kennedy Center this week for Senator Ted Kennedy reminded me of the time that Bobby Kennedy came to Ethiopia back in the 60s.

As I have written elsewhere, here is a little known story about Bobby Kennedy and the time he met up with PCVs in Asmara, Eritrea. We go back to the summer of ‘66. Bobby had been to South Africa where he was a huge success with college students, and given his famous “Ripple of Hope Speech” that contains one of the most quoted paragraph in political speech making. The speech was written by Richard Goodwin and Adam Walinsky and delivered on June 6, 1966 in Cape Town.

The famous paragraph went this way: “It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or stikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

Traveling north, Bobby and his wife, Ethel, a few aides, and several press people from the U.S. arrived in Addis Ababa, and here Kennedy met with American officials, plus PCVs, on the lawn of the American Embassy, and early the next morning traveled to Asmara, Eritrea where the Ethopian Airlines plane touched down and there was another reception for Kennedy at the airport.

Invited to the airport were the ‘officials’ of the U.S. government stationed in Asmara [at the time we had an important military station in Asmara.] Meeting the senator were the heads of various in-country missions stationed in Asmara. Also invited to the early breakfast meeting/reception was the late George Blackmon, the APCD in Asmara, and a 1962-64 Ethiopian PCV.

When George arrived at the small Asmara airport he found a hand-full of PCVs clustred together outside of the building. They had biked out of town before teaching their morning classes in hopes of meeting Kennedy. A number of them were from New York, Kennedy’s home senate state. They told George that the guards wouldn’t let them inside to meet Kennedy. They weren’t on any official list of Americans. George, God bless him, told them to wait.

When Blackmon got inside he joined the reception line to shake hands with Kennedy. George was a big, likeable guy from Texas, over 6-6, outgoing and engaging. At the time he must have been 25 years old. When he shakes hands with Bobby, he tells Kennedy that a group of PCVs are outside the building and aren’t allowed inside to meet him. He tells Kennedy that they had biked out to see  him and he asks Bobby if he might “just step outside for a moment” to say  hello to the Volunteers.

Kennedy says, “take me to the Volunteers.”

So, George leads Bobby out of the reception, out of the airport building, out onto the lawn where Bobby sits down on the grass with the Volunteers and talks to them about being Peace Corps Volunteers in Ethiopia while they wait for the plane to refuel. Kennedy leaves the ‘official Americans’ inside the building. Let me tell you: the U.S. Embassy folks were not happy!

And that was Bobby Kennedy. It’s another example of what the Kennedys thought of the Peace Corps.


post Slavery within Africa

April 29th, 2009

Filed under: History Corner — Lissan Magazine @ 10:02

In most African societies, there was very little difference between the free peasants and the feudal vassal peasants. Vassals of the Songhay Muslim Empire were used primarily in agriculture; they paid tribute to their masters in crop and service but they were slightly restricted in custom and convenience. These non-free people were more an occupational caste, as their bondage was relative.

13th century Africa - simplified map of the main states, kingdoms and empires

There is adequate evidence citing case after case of African control of segments of the trade. Several African nations such as the Ashanti of Ghana and the Yoruba of Nigeria had economies largely depending on the trade. African peoples such as the Imbangala of Angola and the Nyamwezi of Tanzania would serve as intermediaries or roving bands warring with other African nations to capture Africans for Europeans. Extenuating circumstances demanding exploration are the tremendous efforts European officials in Africa used to install rulers agreeable to their interests. They would actively favor one African group against another to deliberately ignite chaos and continue their slaving activities.

Slavery in the rigid form which existed in Europe and throughout the New World was not practiced in Africa nor in the Islamic Orient. “Slavery”, as it is often referred to, in African cultures was generally more like indentured servitude: “slaves” were not made to be chattel of other men, nor enslaved for life. African “slaves” were paid wages and were able to accumulate property. They often bought their own freedom and could then achieve social promotion -just as freedman in ancient Rome- some even rose to the status of kings (e.g. Jaja of Opobo and Sunni Ali Ber). Similar arguments were used by western slave owners during the time of abolition, for example by John Wedderburn in Wedderburn v. Knight, the case that ended legal recognition of slavery in Scotland in 1776. Regardless of the legal options open to slave owners, rational cost-earning calculation and/or voluntary adoption of moral restraints often tended to mitigate (except with traders, who preferred to weed out the worthless weak individuals) the actual fate of slaves throughout history.

Slavery in Songhai
In most African societies, there was very little difference between the free peasants and the feudal vassal peasants. Vassals of the Songhay Muslim Empire were used primarily in agriculture; they paid tribute to their masters in crop and service but they were slightly restricted in custom and convenience. These people were more an occupational caste, as their bondage was relative. In the Kanem Bornu Empire, vassals were three classes beneath the nobles. Marriage between captor and captive was far from rare, blurring the anticipated roles.

Slavery in Ethiopia
Ethiopian slavery was essentially domestic. Slaves thus served in the houses of their masters or mistresses, and were not employed to any significant extent for productive purposes, Slaves were thus regarded as members of their owners’ family, and were fed, clothed and protected. They generally roamed around freely and conducted business as free people. They had complete freedom of religion and culture. It had been banished by its Emperors numerous times starting with Emperor Tewodros II (r. 1855-1868), although not eradicated completely until 1923 with Ethiopia’s ascension to the League of Nations.

Slaves taken from Africa

Trans Saharan trade
The very earliest external slave trade was the trans-Saharan slave trade. Although there had long been some trading up the Nile River and very limited trading across the western desert, the transportation of large numbers of slaves did not become viable until camels were introduced from Arabia in the 10th century. By this point, a trans-Saharan trading network came into being to transport slaves north. It has been estimated that from the 10th to the 19th century some 6,000 to 7,000 slaves were transported north each year.[5] Over time this added up to several million people moving north. Frequent intermarriages meant that the slaves were assimilated in North Africa. Unlike in the Americas, slaves in North Africa were mainly servants rather than labourers, and a greater number of females than males were taken, who were often employed as women of harems. It was also not uncommon to turn male slaves into eunuchs to serve as guardians to the harems.

Indian Ocean trade
The trade in slaves across the Indian Ocean also has a long history beginning with the control of sea routes by Arab traders in the ninth century. It is estimated that only a few thousand slaves were taken each year from the Red Sea and Indian Ocean coast. They were sold throughout the Middle East and India. This trade accelerated as superior ships led to more trade and greater demand for labour on plantations in the region. Eventually, tens of thousands per year were being taken.

Atlantic Ocean trade
The Atlantic slave trade developed much later, but it would eventually be by far the largest and have the greatest impact. The first Europeans to arrive on the coast of Guinea were the Portuguese; the first European to actually buy slaves in the region was Anto Gonalves, a Portuguese explorer. Originally interested in trading mainly for gold and spices, they set up colonies on the uninhabited islands of Sao Tome. In the 16th century the Portuguese settlers found that these volcanic islands were ideal for growing sugar. Sugar growing is a labour-intensive undertaking and Portuguese settlers were difficult to attract due to the heat, lack of infrastructure, and hard life. To cultivate the sugar the Portuguese turned to large numbers of African slaves. Elmina Castle on the Gold Coast, originally built by African labor for the Portuguese in 1482 to control the gold trade, became an important depot for slaves that were to be transported to the New World.

Increasing penetration into the Americas by the Portuguese created more demand for labour in Brazil–primarily for farming and mining. To meet this demand, a trans-Atlantic slave trade soon developed. Slave-based economies quickly spread to the Caribbean and the southern portion of what is today the United States. These areas all developed an insatiable demand for slaves.

As European nations grew more powerful, especially Portugal, Spain, France and England, they began vying for control of the African slave trade, with little effect on the local African and Arab trading. Great Britain’s existing colonies in the Lesser Antilles and their effective naval control of the Mid Atlantic forced other countries to abandon their enterprises due to inefficiency in cost. The English crown provided a charter giving the Royal African Company monopoly over the African slave routes until 1712.

Why African Slaves?
In the late 15th century, Europeans (Spanish and Portuguese first) began to explore, colonize and conquer the territory in the Americas. The European colonists attempted to enslave some of the Native Americans to perform hard physical labor, but found them unaccustomed to hard agrarian labor and so familiar with the local environment that it was difficult to prevent their escape. Their lack of resistance to common European diseases was another factor against their suitability for slavery. The Europeans had also noted the West African practice of enslaving prisoners of war (a common phenomenon among many peoples on all of the continents). European colonial powers traded guns, brandy and other goods for these slaves, but this had little effect on the Arabian and African trade. The African slaves proved more resistant to European diseases than indigenous Americans, familiar with a tropical climate and accustomed to agricultural work. As a result, regular trade was soon established.

Source of slaves
All three slave-trading routes tapped into local trading patterns. Europeans or Arabs in Africa very rarely mounted expeditions to capture slaves. Lack of people and the prevalence of disease prevented any widespread gathering of slaves by Europeans and other non-Africans. Local rulers were very rarely open to allowing groups of armed foreigners to enter their lands. It was far easier and more common to make use of existing African middlemen and slave traders. Slavery has been present in Africa for millennia, and still is today even with children, though some historians prefer to describe African slavery as feudalism, arguing it was more like the system that controlled the peasantry of Western Europe during the Middle Ages or Russia into the 19th century than slavery as it was practiced in the Americas.

The slaves came from many different sources. About half came from the societies that sold them. These might be criminals, heretics, the mentally ill, the indebted and any others that had fallen out of favor with the rulers. Little is known about the details of theses practices before the arrival of Europeans, and so it is difficult to tell if the number of people considered as undesirables was artificially increased to provide more slaves for export. It is believed that capital punishment in the region nearly disappeared since prisoners became far too valuable to dispose of in such a way.

Another source of slaves, comprising about half the total, came from military conquests of other states or tribes. It has long been contended that the slave trade greatly increased violence and warfare in the region due to the pursuit of slaves, but it is hard to provide evidence to prove this; warfare was certainly common even before slave hunting had added such an extra inducement.

For the Atlantic slave trade, captives were purchased from slave dealers in West African regions known as the Slave Coast, Gold Coast, and Cote d’Ivoire were sold into slavery as a result of a defeat in warfare. In the Bight of Biafra near modern-day Senegal and Benin, some African kings sold their captives locally and later to European slave traders for goods such as metal cookware, rum, livestock, and seed grain. Previous to the voyage, the victims were held in “slave castles” and deep pits where many died from multiple illnesses and malnutrition. Conditions were even worse in the Middle Passage across the Atlantic where up to a third of the slaves died en route.

source: courtesy of

post Ethiopia & Israel

April 27th, 2009

Filed under: History Corner — Lissan Magazine @ 21:42

Israel has been one of Ethiopia’s most reliable suppliers of military assistance, largely because Tel Aviv believed that if it supported Ethiopia, hostile Arab nations would be unable to exert control over the Red Sea and the Bab el Mandeb, which forms its southern outlet. During the imperial era, Israeli advisers trained paratroops and counterinsurgency units belonging to the Fifth Division (also called the Nebelbal–or Flame–Division). In the early 1960s, Israel started helping the Ethiopian government in its campaigns against the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF).

Even after Ethiopia broke diplomatic relations with Israel at the time of the October 1973 War, Israel quietly continued to supply military aid to Ethiopia. This assistance continued after Mengistu came to power in 1974 and included spare parts and ammunition for United States-made weapons and service for United States-made F-5 jet fighters. Israel also maintained a small group of military advisers in Addis Ababa.

In 1978, however, when former Israeli minister of foreign affairs Moshe Dayan admitted that Israel had been providing security assistance to Ethiopia, Mengistu expelled all Israelis so that he might preserve his relationship with radical Arab countries such as Libya and South Yemen. Nonetheless, although Addis Ababa claimed it had terminated its military relationship with Israel, military cooperation continued. In 1983, for example, Israel provided communications training, and in 1984 Israeli advisers trained the Presidential Guard and Israeli technical personnel served with the police. Some Western observers believed that Israel provided military assistance to Ethiopia in exchange for Mengistu’s tacit cooperation during Operation Moses in 1984, in which 10,000 Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jews; also called Falasha) were evacuated to Israel. In 1985 Tel Aviv reportedly sold Addis Ababa at least US$20 million in Soviet-made munitions and spare parts captured from Palestinians in Lebanon. According to the EPLF, the Mengistu regime received US$83 million worth of Israeli military aid in 1987, and Israel deployed some 300 military advisers to Ethiopia. Additionally, the EPLF claimed that thirty-eight Ethiopian pilots had gone to Israel for training.

In late 1989, Israel reportedly finalized a secret agreement to provide increased military assistance to Addis Ababa in exchange for Mengistu’s promise to allow Ethiopia’s remaining Beta Israel to emigrate to Israel. In addition, the two nations agreed to restore diplomatic relations (Israel opened an embassy in Addis Ababa on December 17, 1989) and to increase intelligence cooperation. Mengistu apparently believed that Israel–unlike the Soviet Union, whose military advisers emphasized conventional tactics– could provide the training and matériel needed to transform the Ethiopian army into a counterinsurgency force capable of defeating Eritrean and Tigrayan separatists.

During 1990 Israeli-Ethiopian relations continued to prosper. According to a New York Times report, Tel Aviv furnished an array of military assistance to Addis Ababa, including 150,000 rifles, cluster bombs, ten to twenty military advisers to train Mengistu’s Presidential Guard, and an unknown number of instructors to work with Ethiopian commando units. Unconfirmed reports also suggested that Israel had provided the Ethiopian air force with surveillance cameras and had agreed to train Ethiopian pilots.

In return for this aid, Ethiopia permitted the emigration of the Beta Israel. Departures in the spring reached about 500 people a month before Ethiopian officials adopted new emigration procedures that reduced the figure by more than two-thirds. The following year, Tel Aviv and Addis Ababa negotiated another agreement whereby Israel provided agricultural, economic, and health assistance. Also, in May 1991, as the Mengistu regime neared its end, Israel paid US$35 million in cash for permission to fly nearly 15,000 Beta Israel from Ethiopia to Israel.


post Ethiopia & Cuba

April 27th, 2009

Filed under: History Corner — Lissan Magazine @ 21:31

Cuba’s involvement with Ethiopia paralleled that of the Soviet Union. Prior to the outbreak of the Ogaden War, Havana, like Moscow, had been an ally of Somalia. After a series of Somali armed incursions into the Ogaden ruptured already tense relations between Addis Ababa and Mogadishu, Cuban president Fidel Castro Ruz visited the Horn of Africa and urged the two countries to join in forming a regional federation that also would include South Yemen, an “autonomous” Ogaden, an “autonomous” Eritrea, and Djibouti. After the failure of this initiative, Cuba began moving closer to Ethiopia, abandoning its ties with Somalia in the process.

In November 1977, two months after Somali forces had captured Jijiga, Cuban military advisers started to arrive in Ethiopia. By the end of the month, the Soviet Union had also begun a six-week airlift, later supplemented by a sealift, of Cuban troops. From the end of November 1977 to February 1978, Havana deployed approximately 17,000 troops to Ethiopia, including three combat brigades. Some of these troops had previously been stationed in Angola.

The Cuban presence was crucial to Ethiopia’s victory over Somalia. During the Derg’s early 1978 counteroffensive in the Ogaden, Cuban troops fought alongside their Ethiopian counterparts. With Cuban support, Ethiopian units quickly scored several impressive victories. As a result, on March 9, 1978, Somali president Mahammad Siad Barre announced that his army was withdrawing from the Ogaden.

After the Ethiopian victory in the Ogaden, attention shifted to Eritrea. By early 1978, the EPLF had succeeded in gaining control of almost all of Eritrea except the city of Asmera and the ports of Mitsiwa and Aseb. After redeploying its forces from the Ogaden to northern Ethiopia, Addis Ababa launched a counteroffensive against the EPLF during late 1978.

Although there is some disagreement, most military observers believe that Cuba refused to participate in the operation in Eritrea because Castro considered the Eritrean conflict an internal war rather than a case of external aggression. However, the continued presence of Cuban troops in the Ogaden enabled the Mengistu regime to redeploy many of its troops to northern Ethiopia.

A large Cuban contingent, believed to number about 12,000, remained in Ethiopia after the Ogaden War. However, by mid1984 Havana had reduced its troop strength in Ethiopia to approximately 3,000. In 1988 a Cuban brigade, equipped with tanks and APCs, was stationed in Dire Dawa to guard the road and railroad between Ethiopia and Djibouti, following attacks by Somali-supported rebels. A mobile battalion of various military advisers and an unknown number of Cuban instructors who were on the Harer Military Academy faculty also remained in Ethiopia.

After Ethiopia and Somalia signed an April 1988 joint communiqué intended to reduce tensions, Cuba decided to end its military presence in Ethiopia. The last Cuban troops left on September 17, 1989, thus terminating twelve years of military cooperation.


post Ethiopia & North Korea

April 27th, 2009

Filed under: History Corner — Lissan Magazine @ 21:23

Given the change in Soviet policy toward Ethiopia, Addis Ababa’s relations with North Korea took on added importance as the 1990s began. There was little information on the nature and scope of North Korean military assistance to Ethiopia, but most Western military observers agreed that it would be impossible for North Korea to duplicate the quantity and quality of weapons that the Soviet Union had been providing to the Mengistu regime. Nonetheless, beginning in 1985 P’yngyang deployed hundreds of military advisers to Ethiopia and provided an array of small arms, ammunition, and other matériel to the Mengistu regime.

In November 1985, North Korea provided Ethiopia a 6 million birr interest-free loan to be used to purchase equipment with which to construct a shipyard on Haleb Island, off Aseb. Planners expected the shipyard to produce wooden-hulled and steelhulled craft ranging in size from 5,000 to 150,000 tons displacement. (As of 1991, the shipyard had not been completed.) North Korea also had paid for the training of a 20,000-man special operations force at the Tatek military camp.


post Ethiopia & East Germany

April 27th, 2009

Filed under: History Corner — Lissan Magazine @ 21:05

Of all the East European nations that provided military assistance to Ethiopia, none played a more vital role than East Germany. Its importance to Addis Ababa derived not so much from its conventional military support, which at times was crucial to Ethiopian security, as from its involvement in Ethiopia’s intelligence and security services.

East Germany’s military relationship with the Mengistu regime started in 1977, when Socialist Unity Party of Germany leader Werner Lamberz visited Ethiopia three times (February, June, and December) to coordinate and direct the operations of the approximately 2,000 South Yemeni soldiers who were fighting against Somali forces in the Ogaden. East Germany also provided support to Soviet and Cuban pilots who flew helicopters and fighter-bombers on combat missions during the Ogaden War. Moreover, East Germany agreed to give ideological training to hundreds of Ethiopian officers. Even after the end of the Ogaden War, East Germany remained militarily active in Ethiopia. During the 1978 Ethiopian offensive against the EPLF, East German engineers, working in conjunction with their Soviet counterparts, reportedly built flanking roads, enabling Ethiopian tanks to come up behind EPLF lines. In addition, East German military advisers manned artillery and rocket units in Eritrea. Interestingly, in 1978 East Germany also sponsored unsuccessful peace talks between Ethiopia and the EPLF. When these discussions failed, the East German government abandoned diplomacy in favor of a military solution to the problem of Eritrean and Tigrayan separatism.

In May 1979, East Germany and Ethiopia signed an agreement formalizing military relations between the two countries. Then, on November 15, 1979, East German head of state Erich Honecker visited Ethiopia and signed a twenty-year Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation. In addition to calling for greater cooperation in politics, economics, trade, science, culture, and technology, the 1979 treaty also laid the groundwork for increased military assistance.

For most of the 1980s, East Germany, through its National People’s Army and its State Security Service, provided Ethiopia with diverse forms of military and intelligence assistance. Apart from military aid, such as automatic rifles, ammunition, artillery, and heavy vehicles, East Germany provided up to five months’ training in military and police tactics to members of the People’s Protection Brigades, which concentrated on routine police duties at the local level (see People’s Protection Brigades, this ch.). In 1982 East German intelligence advisers participated in that year’s Red Star campaign against Eritrean separatists. East German personnel often assumed control of Ethiopian army communications sites as, for instance, they did in mid-1988 in Asmera. In addition, East German security advisers reportedly acted as Mengistu’s personal bodyguard.

Even after the Soviet Union altered its policy toward Ethiopia in the late 1980s, East Germany remained Mengistu’s staunch ally. In mid-1989, for example, Honecker promised Mengistu fifty to sixty T-54/55 tanks that had been scheduled to be scrapped in a force reduction. However, after Honecker’s resignation and the emergence of a more broadly based government in late 1989, East German officials informed Addis Ababa that the military relationship between the two countries had been terminated and that all future arms deliveries had been canceled. In 1990 the 550 East German advisers and technicians stationed in Ethiopia were withdrawn. The end of the alliance between Ethiopia and East Germany further isolated the Mengistu regime and reduced the Ethiopian army’s ability to achieve a military solution in Eritrea and Tigray.


post Jerome Lobo

October 16th, 2008

Filed under: History Corner — Lissan Magazine @ 12:07

The Project Gutenberg eBook
“A Voyage to Abyssinia”, by Jerome Lobo
Edited by Henry Morley, Translated by Samuel Johnson


Jerome Lobo was born in Lisbon in the year 1593.  He entered the Order of the Jesuits at the age of sixteen.  After passing through the studies by which Jesuits were trained for missionary work, which included special attention to the arts of speaking and writing, Father Lobo was sent as a missionary to India at the age of twenty-eight, in the year 1621.  He reached Goa, as his book tells, in 1622, and was in 1624, at the age of thirty-one, told off as one of the missionaries to be employed in the conversion of the Abyssinians.  They were to be converted, from a form of Christianity peculiar to themselves, to orthodox Catholicism.  The Abyssinian Emperor Segued was protector of the enterprise.

Father Lobo was nine years in Abyssinia, from the age of thirty-one to the age of forty, and this was the adventurous time of his life.  The death of the Emperor Segued put an end to the protection that had given the devoted missionaries, in the midst of dangers, a precarious hold upon their work.  When he and his comrades fell into the hands of the Turks at Massowah, his vigour of body and mind, his readiness of resource, and his fidelity, marked him out as the one to be sent to the headquarters in India to secure the payment of a ransom for his companions.  He obtained the ransom, and desired also to obtain from the Portuguese Viceroy in India armed force to maintain the missionaries in the position they had so far won.  But the Civil power was deaf to his pleading.  He removed the appeal to Lisbon, and after narrowly escaping on the way from a shipwreck, and after having been captured by pirates, he reached Lisbon, and sought still to obtain means of overawing the force hostile to the work of the Jesuits in Abyssinia.  The Princess Margaret gave friendly hearing, but sent him on to persuade, if he could, the King of Spain; and failing at Madrid, he went to Rome and tried the Pope.  He was chosen to go to the Pope, said the Patriarch Alfonso Mendez, because, of all the brethren at Goa, the ‘Pater Hieronymus Lupus’ (Lobo translated into Wolf) was the most ingenious and learned in all sciences, with a mind most generous in its desire to conquer difficulties, dexterous in management of business, and found most able to make himself agreeable to those with whom there was business to be done.  The vigour with which he held by his purpose of endeavouring in every possible way to bring the Christianity of Abyssinia within the pale of the Catholic Church is in accordance with the character that makes the centre of the story of this book.  Whimsical touches arise out of this strength of character and readiness of resource, as when he tells of the taste of the Abyssinians for raw cow’s flesh, with a sauce high in royal Abyssinian favour, made of the cow’s gall and contents of its entrails, of which, when he was pressed to partake, he could only excuse himself and his brethren by suggesting that it was too good for such humble missionaries.  Out of distinguished respect for it, they refrained from putting it into their mouths.

Good Father Lobo gave up the desire of his heart, when it was proved unattainable, and returned to India six years after the breaking up of his work in Abyssinia, at the age of forty-seven.  He came to be head of the Provincials of the Jesuit settlement at Goa, and after about ten more years of active duty in the East returned in 1658 to Lisbon, when he died in the religious house of St. Roque in 1678, at the age of eighty-five.  A comrade of Father Lobo’s, Baltazar Tellez, said that Lobo had travelled thirty-eight thousand leagues with no other object before him but the winning of more souls to God.  His years in Abyssinia stood out prominently to his mind among all the years of his long life, and he wrote an account of them in Portuguese, of which the manuscript is at Lisbon in the monastery of St. Roque, where he closed his life.

Of that manuscript, then and still unprinted (though use was made of it by Baltazar Tellez in his History of ‘Ethiopia-Coimbra,’ 1660), the Abbe Legrand, Prior of Neuville-les-Dames, and of Prevessin, published a translation into French.  The Abbe Legrand had been to Lisbon as Secretary to the Abbe d’Estrees, Ambassador from France to Portugal.  The negotiations were so long continued that M. Legrand was detained five years in Lisbon, and employed the time in researches among documents illustrating the Portuguese possessions in India and the East.  He obtained many memoirs of great interest, and published from one of them an account of Ceylon; but of all the manuscripts he found none interested him so much as that of Father Lobo.  His translation was augmented with illustrative dissertations, letters, and a memoir on the circumstances of the death of M. du Roule.  It filled two volumes, or 636 pages of forty lines.  This was published in 1728.  It was on the 31st of October, 1728, that Samuel Johnson, aged nineteen, went to Pembroke College, Oxford, and Legrand’s ‘Voyage Historique d’Abissinie du R. P. Jerome Lobo, de la Compagnie de Jesus, Traduit du Portugais, continue et augmente de plusieurs Dissertations, Lettres et Memoires,’ was one of the new books read by Johnson during his short period of college life.  In 1735, when Johnson’s age was twenty-six, and the world seemed to have shut against him every door of hope, Johnson stayed for six months at Birmingham with his old schoolfellow Hector, who was aiming at medical practice, and who lodged at the house of a bookseller.  Johnson spoke with interest of Father Lobo, whose book he had read at Pembroke College.  Mr. Warren, the bookseller, thought it would be worth while to print a translation.  Hector joined in urging Johnson to undertake it, for a payment of five guineas.  Although nearly brought to a stop midway by hypochondriac despondency, a little suggestion that the printers also were stopped, and if they had not their work had not their pay, caused Johnson to go on to the end.  Legrand’s book was reduced to a fifth of its size by the omission of all that overlaid Father Lobo’s personal account of his adventures; and Johnson began work as a writer with this translation, first published at Birmingham in 1735.

H. M.


If you are interested in reading the online version of the book “Journey to Abyssinia” by Father Jerome Lobo and if you want to know more on his 9 years stay (1624 - 1633) in Ethiopia, please klick on the link below:

by Father Jerome Lobo.

Translated from the French by
Samuel Johnson
Cassell & Company, Limited:
London, Paris, New York & Melbourne 1887.

post My Abyssinian Journey II

August 24th, 2008

Filed under: History Corner — Lissan Magazine @ 23:23





During the sea passage I discovered that my Somali, Assan, a rather tall, thin man, with a hooked nose,  was an inveterate gambler. His chief attainment was talking and, being gifted with an elastic imagination, he never tired of boasting of the great feats he had done and of the elephants and lions he had shot. Nor did he forget to tell me what a good man I was. These Somalis are expert flatterers, and Assan might easily have deceived a less experienced person than myself, who had already gained a fair insight into Native character. Assan, like all Somali, was a Muhammadan. Among his companions on the boat was a man who had been a soldier in the French army and was returning home from Madagascar. He was a kind of half-bred Somali and Abyssinian. Assan introduced him to me as likely to be a valuable addition to the expedition and, as he had been under European discipline, I engaged him.

When we dropped anchor at Jibouti, a number of Native shows, said to have been captured for gun-running, were lying in the harbor. Djibouti, a French port, consists of a small town, comprising a few European hotels, stores and other buildings. The Natives are mostly Muhammadan Somalis. The place gave me the impression that European influence had not yet made itself much felt; for dirt and crime prevailed, and only a few days before two Frenchmen while out
shooting had been assassinated by the Natives a few miles north of the town. So far as I could make out, the Government had not moved in the matter, either to investigate the case or punish the murderers.

The physical aspect of the town might be summed up in three words dry, sandy, and hot. The houses, except in one quarter, where there was a large Native population, were of the usual kind to be found in any Eastern country two-storey buildings of white-washed stone. The hotels were built in the Continental style, with large verandahs on which little tables were set out. Numbers of carriages driven by Somali were standing or plying for hire. I did not ride in one, chiefly out of sympathy for the horses, which were so poor that they scarcely seemed to have strength to drag their load along. They were the poorest animals I have ever seen, consequent, I suppose upon there being no grazing and fodder being very expensive.

The railway is run by a French company, and was at that time conducted on very unbusinesslike lines, while the track was, to say the least of it, badly constructed. We were told that some part of it was scoured away after every shower of rain, and we were fortunate enough just to escape one of these washouts. The day after we reached Dire Daoua railhead, the line was washed away and all traffic stopped for over a fortnight. The railway was then about three hundred kilometres in length, and what it lacked in comfort it made up in charges. I forget the exact fare, but I know that it was one of the most expensive railway journeys I have ever taken.

The familiarity of the Natives with the whites was very marked, to anyone who had been in South or East Africa. I was travelling second-class, and in the same compartment there were two French ladies and a gentleman going up to Dire Daoua. A Somali got in and began to make a cigarette. A white man would never have thought of doing such a thing with ladies present, but no one seemed to take any notice. Shortly afterwards the white guard came in, and I thought
to myself, ” Now there’s going to be a row, and I shall see Mr. Somali kicked out. But nothing of the kind happened. The guard simply sat down by the Somali and asked him for a cigarette; they both lighted up and had a smoke together !


post My Abyssinian Journey

August 21st, 2008

Filed under: History Corner — Lissan Magazine @ 13:55




ABYSSINIA, Kenya’s mysterious, self-contained, and little ‘known neighbor, had always possessed a fascination for me, and
I had long hoped that some day the opportunity would come to explore the country far to the north of my earlier experiences in Africa.

When at length I made up my mind to journey into the unknown, the outlook was by no means good. I knew that with the limited funds at my disposal it was a gamble with fate, in which the penalty, if I failed, was certain bankruptcy. No one had a good word for my project. General opinion in Nairobi was dead against me. I was told that there was little chance of my getting to the border, six hundred miles away, across uninhabited and waterless wastes, or through tribes of hostile Natives, and that, should I succeed in my forlorn hope, it was most unlikely that the Abyssinians would permit me to cross
their frontier.

Some useful help came from one or two sources. Prince de ‘Chimay, a Belgian nobleman who was touring East Africa at the time, hearing of my proposed venture, asked if he might accompany me and offered his influence with the authorities. As it turned out, he was unable to come, but his co-operation at a critical time encouraged me, and is worthy of acknowledgment here.

A still more important factor was the advice and experience of Mr. W. N. (later Sir Northrup) McMillan, a well-known settler in Kenya Colony, who had travelled via Egypt and the Sudan into Abyssinia, and was a personal friend of the Emperor Menelik. A special permit from this august and dusky potentate was necessary to enter Abyssinia, and when a telegram arrived from Addis Ababa, its capital, saying, ” Emperor has given leave for Boyes and companion trading
expedition,” I knew this gentleman’s goodwill had translated itself into action. The companion referred to was the Prince de Chimay, who was staying with Mr. McMillan at the time.

However, I abandoned my plan of starting north overland from Nairobi a change in my original programme which I never regretted and decided to enter MeneHk’s country by sea via Mombasa and Jibouti. As it turned out, however, my change of plan resulted in a practical scheme which was within my compass, and enabled me to be the first trader to make the overland route from Addis Ababa to Nairobi and pioneer thereby a new trade route.

My main idea to make the expedition pay its way was to buy mules and horses, which, report informed me, could be obtained for from £2 to £5 each respectively in Abyssinia, but had a market value of £20 or £30 each in Nairobi. There was also the prospect of adding to my gains by hunting.

My first move was to transfer, through the agency of the National Bank of India, about £200 to the Bank of Abyssinia at Addis Ababa for my use on arrival; with a smaller sum in hand I proceeded to get together a minimum outfit. An assistant was essential, so I cast around for a man of the type to be relied upon to bear his share of the inevitable toil and hardships, and who would not mind roughing it or periods of scanty food.

There was no lack of vohmteers once the news had circulated around Nairobi that I was in earnest, and from the many applicants I selected a young Scandinavian, named Selland, who had worked before the mast and had had some years’ experience of African life. He had taken part in several Native wars, besides going through the South African campaign. A good shot and a hard-working, conscientious type of man, he impressed me as being just the sort of companion I needed, and I booked him third class as a practical test of endurance before committing myself with him into the interior. Any time I prefer to be alone rather than put up with the grousings and incapacity of an unsuitable subordinate.

Necessity compelled me to cut my coat according to my cloth and a man not willing to accept uncomplainingly the consequent frugality and risks that I was prepared to undergo myself in this adventure was of no use to me. I gave Selland clearly to understand that it was purely a speculation. I was starting on a route entirely new to me, not knowing what luck I was going to have, or whether I should make anything out of the venture. It might be that I should return to Nairobi absolutely broke, with no money to pay wages. Selland appreciated the risk, and was quite prepared to take the chances, leaving it to me to do the right thing by him. I never regretted taking him, for he came fully up to my estimation of him in every respect.

It soon proved that I had not underestimated the difficulties of the undertaking. As no one understands Swahili in Abyssinia, there was the language difficulty, but I considered myself fortunate to pick up a Somali who said he had been through Abyssinia before and knew the language. I engaged him as guide and interpreter.

I left Nairobi for Jibouti towards the end of March, 1906. by the French steamer ” Oxus,” which carried a good many French passengers from Madagascar. Amongst them was an Italian priest, whom did not recognize and who did not know me, but when we began to talk I found he was the missionary to whom I had given my house and farm in the Kikuyu country when I left it. It was a pleasure to meet him, for I was naturally very much interested to know how things were going in the Kikuyu country. The mission, founded in this manner, was the first in the northern Kikuyu country and remains to this day an active center of religious propaganda amongst the Wakikuyu.

…to be continued


post Armenians of Ethiopia

July 21st, 2008

Filed under: History Corner — Lissan Magazine @ 14:51

By Garbis Krajian

As a form of introduction, I was born in Ethiopia from Armenian parents. My family’s history in Ethiopia goes back over 150 years. From my father’s side, I am fortunate to trace my genealogy back five generations. From my mother’s side, I am only able to go back as far as my grandfather. Nonetheless!

Armenian Church in Addis (image: Flickr)

I grew up in the Arat Kilo region and still remember many of my childhood friends. I became fluent in Amharic and loved doing everything a child would do in our neighborhood. Ethiopia became my home country and home to almost all Armenians who live in Ethiopia. Right after the fall of the Emperor I left Ethiopia for Canada.

After living abroad for thirty years, I have returned to Ethiopia as an educator. Upon my arrival I learned that the once vibrant and prosperous Armenian community that numbered around 1,500 has dwindled to less than one hundred. The remaining twenty families still run the community school, a club and a church. On April 24th, like it has been done for the last 90 years, I also went to my church to pray for the soul of my ancestors.

It is estimated that over ten million Armenians and friends in one hundred fifty-two countries gathered in churches, community centers, and national assembly halls to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. I was one of sixty Armenians who congregated at St. George Armenian Church to pay tribute to my ancestors who were victims of the atrocities committed by the Turkish Ottoman Empire during the First World War. Needless to say, I could not think of being anywhere else in the world at this particular moment than this sacred place in Addis which is still situated in the same setting where I regularly prayed as a child until I was 19 years of age. This was the same site, where every year, on April 24th, a thousand or so Armenian-Ethiopians gathered to remember their ancestors, the children, and the elderly who were slaughtered by the Ottoman Army. In fact, what makes my conviction so much stronger is that I am the grandchild of one of the Forty Orphans, the “Arba Lijoch,” who survived the genocide and escaped to Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, these forty orphans were given shelter at the Armenian Monastery later to be adopted by Emperor Haile-Selassie. The Emperor brought them to Ethiopia, where they made this lovely country their home. These forty young men, who were a band had impressed the Emperor with their musical skills. Upon their arrival to Ethiopia, they were commissioned, under the directorship of Noubar Nalbandian, uncle of Nerses Nalbandian, to compose the National Anthem of Ethiopia. It remained as the anthem, “Teferi Marsh” or “Ethiopia Hoy,” until the arrival of the Dergue.

Before I move to the topic of my immediate concern, I pay much gratitude to all Ethiopians, present and past, for giving the Armenians a home for the last 100 years.
…Read the whole article.

About the author:
Garbis Kradjian is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a teacher of ethics courses. His current assignment is in Ethiopia and Zambia.

This article was published on Addis Tribune


post Tiya

July 15th, 2008

Filed under: History Corner — Lissan Magazine @ 18:10

Paul Tanner (UK):

Tiya in southern Ethiopia is an archeological site, which is distinguished by 36 standing stones or stelae. They are marking a large, prehistoric burial complex of an ancient Ethiopian culture.

A word commonly used regarding Tiya (including in the UNESCO documentation itself) is “Enigmatic”. Despite its inscription as long ago as 1980 remarkably little is known about the c35 strangely carved standing stones situated in a 200 metre square site 85 kms outside Addis Ababa. Which group of people created them? What is the meaning of the carvings? When were they erected? All is vague.

Tiya Stones (source Flickr)

We were told that a number of bodies had been found which had been carbon dated at between the 12th and 14th centuries. All appeared to have been warriors killed in battle. The layout of the stones certainly gives the impression of a row of head stones and graves beyond them. Many are carved with what are clearly swords but other motifs are less clear – a suggestion for a commonly occurring “fountain-like” shape is that it is a “false banana” tree – a significant plant in the drier areas of Ethiopia, providing all year round flour and leaves for houses etc. One flat stone is carved with a figure but there are no others, no script and no recognisable religious symbols from either Christianity or Islam (the 2 main religions of the region across the relevant period).

If you have a spare day in Addis and transport (you might just about make it return in a day on public transport on the road to Butajira but I wouldn’t bank on it) it is worth taking in this WHS (there is also a nice early hominid site and excellent new museum a few kms earlier at Melka Kunture). But the “fame” of inscription appears to have had little effect in the small village of Tiya nor on the site itself which just has a hut with a couple of guards also no doubt guarding each other for the entrance fees (30 birr for foreigners)! The prospects all around are totally rural and the site itself is covered by long grass. There are no signs and no literature. And almost no visitors!


post Aksum Obelisk Re-erection

July 14th, 2008

Filed under: History Corner — Lissan Magazine @ 11:11

Project launching June 2007
First phase June 2008

June 19, 2007
UNESCO launches the re-erection project of the Aksum Obelisk

The UNESCO World Heritage Centre today signed the contract with Lattanzi SRL construction company to begin the re-erection of the Aksum obelisk. Also known as Stela 2, it is the second largest stela on the Aksum World Heritage site in Ethiopia. Transported to Rome by the troops of Mussolini in 1937, it was returned by the Italian Government in April 2005. Weighing 150 tons and 24 meters high, the obelisk was cut into three pieces and transported by Antonov airplanes to Aksum. The obelisk was deposited in the stelae field, near its original location.

© UNESCO / Paola Viesi

The obelisk is around 1,700 years old and has become a symbol of the Ethiopian people’s identity. The significance of its return after 68 years, and the technical feat of transporting the obelisk and re-erecting it on site are on a par with other historic UNESCO projects, such as Abu Simbel, where entire Egyptian temples were removed from their original location to protect them from rising water due to the construction of the Aswan dam.

The total budget for the project is USD$2,833,985, funded by the Italian Government who also financed the transportation of the obelisk and the related studies undertaken by UNESCO in collaboration with the Ethiopian authorities and experts. Lattanzi has begun mobilizing its staff and equipment, and shall start the works as of mid July. The works will take place in two segments throughout a period of 18 months. During the first segment, a foundation for the obelisk will be built as well as a temporary steel tower for lifting the separate parts of the obelisk. In the second phase, the steel structure will be put in place and the obelisk lifted and placed in position. Finally, the surface of the obelisk will be cleaned and restored, and the steel support structure dismantled and removed.

The ruins of the ancient city of Aksum in the North East of Ethiopia mark the location of the Kingdom of Aksum, the most powerful state between the Eastern Roman Empire and Persia. The massive ruins of Aksum date from between the 1st and the 13th century A.D. The monolithic stelae were erected during the third and fourth centuries A.D. as funerary markers for deceased members of its elite. Aksum was inscribed on the World Heritage list in 1980.

The Ethiopian authorities plan to mark the end of their Ethiopian calendar year 2000 celebrations, held on 11 September 2008, by inaugurating the standing obelisk.

For more detailed information on the technical aspects and planning of the works, click on the link below.

Download detailed information (word document)


June 23, 2008
First phase of Aksum Obelisk re-installation successfully completed

The first phase of the re-installation works of the Aksum Obelisk, also known as Stele 2, in its original location at the World Heritage site in Aksum, Ethiopia was completed on 12 June 2008. The first of three blocks of the stele, which stands 24.3 metres high and weighs 152 tons, was successfully and smoothly mounted.

© UNESCO / Michel Ravassard

The Aksum Obelisk re-installation project, funded by the Italian Government and conducted by UNESCO contractor Croci Associati, is using an innovative high-technology approach, and its implementation represents a technical feat of colossal scale. The project has been prepared to ensure a zero-risk approach for the monument and the surrounding site. The successful mounting of the first block is an extremely important step confirming the soundness of the project’s complex design as well as the skills of the UNESCO contractors, the construction company Lattanzi and the supervision team (Croci Associati, SPC Engineering, and MH Engineering).
The remaining two blocks will be reinstalled from 16 to 31 July 2008, one year after the start of this exceptional project.

The inauguration ceremony will take place on September 4th. Photos and a press kit are available for more detailed information.


Properties inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List

* Cultural site Aksum (1980)
* Cultural site Fasil Ghebbi, Gondar Region (1979)
* Cultural site Harar Jugol, the Fortified Historic Town (2006)
* Cultural site Lower Valley of the Awash (1980)
* Cultural site Lower Valley of the Omo (1980)
* Cultural site Rock-Hewn Churches, Lalibela (1978)
* Cultural site Tiya (1980)

* Natural site inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger Simien National Park (1978)

Properties submitted on the Tentative List
* Konso-Gardula (paleo-anthropological site) (1997)
* Harar Walled Town (2001)
* Bale Mountains National Park (2008)



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