Politics

Death To Fascism, Then and Now: How Ethiopia Fought Back Against Mussolini

Ethiopians were the first to fight fascism. With right wing nationalism on the rise again we can take a page from their book.

Weeks back, shortly after the horrific display of white supremacist violence that took place in Charlottesville, I had a conversation.


I yelled and ranted to a poor non-drunk soul about how fascists should be treated harshly and with no sympathy. I might have said something about utilizing methods they historically used to deal with those they said were inferior.

The conversation around the rise of white supremacist fascists, as exacerbated by the Trump regime, has taken a clever rhetorical turn where, instead of us speaking about the brutality and injustice and evil that these people clamor for, we out here talking about “free speech."

Free speech is cute and good and necessary, but when that speech advocates for the genocide of a group of people, when it turns into saying they should be subject to cruelty and oppression because of this faux-biological reason and that faux-biological reason, when that talk turns physical, fuck that, because we should not allow it to turn physical, we should be shutting that shit all the way the fuck down with whatever tools are at our disposal. We can't be out here allowing fascists to grow, giving them platforms to spread their dangerous yacubian ideologies. Because, when we do, really, really bad things happen to people.

Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia, in his study at the palace via Wikimedia

In 1936 the King of Ethiopia was in Geneva waiting to speak in front of the League of Nations, an international organization that was the precursor to the United Nations. Standing somewhere between 5'2 and 5'4 and sporting a short afro, the King of the then feudal empire of Ethiopia made his way to the podium. He readied himself to make a solemnly impassioned plea to the gathered body to aid his country against an invasion from Mussolini's fascist Italy.

A group of fascist Italian journalists waited for the Emperor to touch the stage.

During the onslaught of European colonialism known as the Scramble for Africa, Italy, failed to colonize Ethiopia, eventually being beaten back by Emperor Menelik II's forces at the decisive Battle of Adwa in 1896.

With the help of the fellow Orthodox Christian nation of Russia, who sent advisers and weapons, and diplomatic support from France and Great Britain, Ethiopia retained its independence, making it the only country in Africa to do so.

Defeated and demoralized, a stain on their twisted imperialistic European hubris, Italy would try again to take and rule Ethiopia in the twentieth century under the leadership of Benito Mussolini and his newly established and armed ideology of fascism.

Benito Mussolini inspecting troops during the Second Abyssinian War. via Wikimedia

In 1930, in violation of the Italo-Ethiopian Treaty of 1928, Italy constructed a fort in Ethiopian territory, near the Italian Somaliland border. Ethiopia protested the incursion. Tensions grew and a fight between the two sides erupted, taking the lives of around 110 Ethiopians and 30-50 Italians and Somalis. The League of Nations took a stance of neutrality, a neutrality that benefited Italy, deciding that neither side was at fault. Hoping to keep alive the possibility of Italy as an ally against the growing threat of Germany, France and the U.K. did not condemn the Italians.

A string of developments in the region, particularly Hitler's militaristic intentions, allowed Italy to operate freely in East Africa, their colonial ambitions unimpeded, they began to prepare for their jingoistic pursuits.

It was a green light for the fascists to begin a massive military buildup on the borders of Ethiopia, to finally, after the embarrassment of defeat in the 19th century, take what they believed to be rightfully theirs: Ethiopia.

Ethiopian Army 1935 via Wikimedia

With an Italian invasion imminent, Selassie readied the Army of the Ethiopian Empire, a force of around 500,000 poorly armed soldiers, many carrying just swords and spears. Understanding his country's stark disadvantage, Selassie issued a Mobilization Order that read, “Women with babies, the blind, and those too aged and infirm to carry a spear are excused." Everyone else was to head to Addis Ababa to defend the country.

“Anyone found at home after receiving this order will be hanged."

Though he could speak French, the official language of the League of Nations, the Emperor symbolically choose to address the body in his native Amharic. The Fascist Italian journalists in attendance broke out with loud jeers as the exiled Ethiopian leader began to speak. Pandemonium ensued.

The fascist were eventually removed by police, order restored. The Emperor then began again:

“I, Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia, am here today to claim that justice which is due to my people, and the assistance promised to it eight months ago, when fifty nations asserted that aggression had been committed in violation of international treaties."

With no official declaration of war, Italian General Emilio De Bono crossed the Mareb River into Ethiopia from Eritrea in the early morning hours of October 3, 1935. A few months later, the Ethiopians would win a victory in what became known as the Christmas Offensive, beating back the Italian forces. The defeat brought about the introduction of chemical warfare into the conflict. The Ethiopian offensive was eventually halted and rain of poisonous gas devastated Ethiopia and its population.

The emperor continued, “The very refinement of barbarism consisted in carrying ravage and terror into the most densely populated parts of the territory, the points farthest removed from the scene of hostilities. The object was to scatter fear and death over a great part of the Ethiopian territory. These fearful tactics succeeded. Men and animals succumbed. The deadly rain that fell from the aircraft made all those whom it touched fly shrieking with pain. All those who drank the poisoned water or ate the infected food also succumbed in dreadful suffering. In tens of thousands, the victims of the Italian mustard gas fell. It is in order to denounce to the civilized world the tortures inflicted upon the Ethiopian people that I resolved to come to Geneva."

Haile Selassie in Jerusalem via Wikimedia

The much larger country of Italy would be successful in their conquest, occupying Ethiopia from the end of the colonial war in May 5, 1936 until their defeat in WW2 during the East African Campaign in 1941. A diverse range of Allied forces from the British Empire, in addition to Ethiopian irregulars, the Free French and others participated in the campaign against the Axis power. At the war's end hundreds of thousands of civilians and combatants were killed or wounded.

Spain, who in 1936 erupted into a civil war after a group of conservatives known as the Nationalist orchestrated a coup against the democratically elected left leaning government, along with Ethiopia, became the first arenas of large scale war against the authoritarian ideology of fascism. With the large western powers that would come to form the Allied forces refusing to take decisive and concrete action to help the socialist, communist, and anarchist units that made up the Spanish Republicans or the Black African Ethiopians, the European fascist movement grew emboldened and stronger, expanding their fascists atrocities from Ethiopia and Spain further into Europe and the world, a conflict that would develop into the catastrophic loss of life that was WW2.

As he wound down the speech, Selassie asked the assembly, “what measures do you intend to take?"

As he walked away from the stage, he has been reported to have said “It is us today. It will be you tomorrow."

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Listen to Samthing Soweto’s Album ‘Isiphithiphithi’

Samthing Soweto's highly anticipated album is finally here.

One of the most anticipated albums of the year, Isiphithiphithi by Samthing Soweto is finally here.

The South African artist's project consists of 12 songs and features Makhafula Vilakazi, Shasha, Kabza De Small, DJ Maphorisa and Mlindo The Vocalist.

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South African Telenovela 'The River' has Been Nominated for an International Emmy

This is the popular telenovela's first International Emmy nomination.

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Photo (c) John Liebenberg

'Stolen Moments' Uncovers the Namibian Music That Apartheid Tried to Erase

The photo exhibition, showing at the Brunei Gallery in London, highlights artists from Namibia's underground scene between 1950-1980, a time of immense musical suppression prior to its independence.

Before its independence in 1990, a whole generation of Namibians were made to believe that their county had no real musical legacy. Popular productions by Namibian artists from previous eras were systematically concealed from the masses for nearly 30 years, under the apartheid regime—which extended to the country from South Africa following German colonization—depriving many Namibians of the opportunity to connect with their own musical heritage.

"Stolen Moments: Namibian Music Untold," a new exhibit currently showing at London's Brunei Museum at SOAS University of London, seeks to revive the musical Namibian musical traditions that the apartheid regime attempted to erase.

"Imagine you had never known about the musical riches of your country," said the exhibit's curator Aino Moongo in a statement of purpose on SOAS' site. "Your ears had been used to nothing but the dull sounds of country's former occupants and the blaring church and propaganda songs that were sold to you as your country's musical legacy. Until all at once, a magnitude of unknown sounds, melodies and songs appear. This sound, that roots your culture to the musical influences of jazz, blues and pop from around the world, is unique, yet familiar. It revives memories of bygone days, recites the history of your homeland and enables you for the first time to experience the emotions, joys and pains of your ancestors."

Photo (c) Dieter Hinrichs

The 'Stolen Moments" project began in 2010 in an effort to champion Namibia's unsung musical innovators. For the collection, Moongo and Assistant Curator, Siegrun Salmanian—along with a group of international scholars, artists, photographers and filmmakers—curated a large-scale photo exhibit that also features a 120-minute video projection, focusing on the dance styles of the era, along with listening stations, a sound installation that features "100-hours of interviews with musicians and contemporary witnesses," and displays of record covers and memorabilia from the period between 1950-1980.

The musicians highlighted, produced work that spanned a number of genres—a marker of the country's vast and eclectic underground scene. Artists like the saxophonist Leyden Naftali who led a band inspired by the sounds of ragtime, and the psychedelic rock and funk of the Ugly Creatures are explored through the exhibition, which also centers bands and artists such as The Dead Wood, The Rocking Kwela Boys, Children of Pluto and more.

"There are many reasons why you've never heard this music before," Moongo continues. "It was censored, suppressed, prohibited and made almost impossible to listen to. Its creators are either long gone or have given up on music making, by reasons of adversity, death and despair. And yet this beautiful music exists with a liveliness, as if it had never stopped playing. It is still in the minds of the few who can remember, with the ones who played it, and on those rare recordings that have survived in archives and record collections scattered around the globe. Allow me to share these stolen moments with you."

Photo (c) Dieter Hinrichs


Photo (c) John Liebenberg

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"Stolen Moments" is now showing at the Brunei Gallery in London and runs through Sept 21.

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Foul Language and Depictions of Rape Spur a Book Recall Campaign in Kenya

Kenya's Top Book seller pulls a South African book for youth due to foul language.

A main book supplier in Kenya, Text Book Centre, has announced that they would not stock a book due to its "vulgar and foul language." The book, Blood Ties, was written by South African author Zimkhitha Mlanzeli. The banning comes just after a video went viral in Kenya of a school child having a verbal outburst peppered with strong language. As reported by BBC, the removal was sparked by parents showing outrage after excerpts from the book were shared on twitter. These excerpts contained use of the f-word as well as a description of a rape scene.

As per their statement, the Text Book Centre claims they believe in "upholding high moral standards and raising generations of responsible citizens who are not only educated but ethical." The Kenyan publisher, StoryMoja, has defended the book in a statement of their own. They argue that the book is part of a new series showcasing books that deal with "contemporary societal issues" and that this particular book is a fictional story that grapples with the negative repercussions of peer pressure. "In actual fact, the book guides readers on the steps to take should they find themselves in a similar situation and underscores the sensitivity with which victims of sexual abuse should be treated." The statement also highlights the fact that the publishers had listed Blood Ties for readers in high school or above.


The discrepancy is that some schools have recommended the book as a reader – meaning for younger children aged 12 or 13 – though it has not been approved by the Kenyan Institute of Curricular Development (KICD), the entity in charge of managing texts used in schools. In a tweet, the KICD claimed that the book was not approved and that some teachers may be recommending texts without ensuring they were endorsed by the KICD. The dispute is sparking debate as to what should be taught in Kenyan schools.

As of late this morning, StoryMoja is in the process of recalling all copies of the book from stores and schools across Kenya. In a tweet they claim that it is because they have determined the language used in the book is the issue and not the subject matter.

Censorship is always a contested topic, just last month we reported on Nigerian authorities censoring a music video for "threatening security." Also, Kenya's censorship tactics have been in the global eye since a refusal to screen the film Rafiki for its homosexual heroines despite being lauded at international film festivals.

Here are some reactions from Kenyans on Twitter:





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