Q. 9. "What is the Wichale Sememenet? Did Menelik sell or lose Eritrea, as they say? or did Menelik save Ethiopia becasue of it?"
The Wichale treaty was a treaty of amity and commerce signed between Menelik and Count Pietro Antonelli of Italy at the town of Wichale on 2 May 1889, two months after the corronation of Menelik. The Wichale treaty was one of the many treaties of commerce and frendship signed between the kings and the princes of Ethiopia and European countries: Sahle Selasie of Shewa signed a treaty with France and Bretain in 1841-43; Ras Wolde Selasie, ruler of Tigray (1805), Ras Ali II of Yejju (1840s), Dejazmach Wube of Semen and Tigray, Emperor Yohannes IV, to mention some. (See, Rubenson, S. (1976), The Survival of Ethiopian Independence, pp.29-54; Rubenson, Getachew Haile and Hunwick (eds.) Acta Aethiopica: Correspondence and Treaties, 1800-1854. Addis Ababa 1987; Public Record Office London, Ref. F.O.1-13, pp. 191-201, 232-237).
What makes the Wuchale Treaty different from the rest was the historical period, the scramble for Africa, which inspired European states to forge ulterior motives in shaping of treaties. In the colonial thinking of the period, establishment of protectorate over an African territory was closely tied up with the exclusive right to conduct or control its foreign affairs. And that was what Italy tried to achieve by giving different version to article XVII of the treaty. The Italian text of this article read:
"His majesty the king of Ethiopia consents to avail himself (or use) of the Italian government for any negotiations which he may enter into with all the other powers of governments". The Amharic version differ significantly: "The emperor of Ethiopia, for all maters that he wants with the kings of Europe, it is possible for him to communicate with the assistance of the Italian government". According to the Amharic version, Menelik could, had the right or authority to request the good office of the Italian government in matters of foreign relations, if or when he so wanted. But the wording of the Italian implied obligation. Italy wanted this article XVII in order to claim protectorate over Ethiopia in conformity with General Act of Berlin that made possible for a European power to declare a unilateral claim of protectorate. (for further discussion, see Rubenson, S. 1964. Wichale XVII. The Attempt to Establish a Protectorate over Ethiopia. Addis Ababa).
The second part of the question, as I understand it refers to the paradox why Menelik did not push the Italians out from Mereb Melash (Eritrea) after his victory at the battle of Adwa? One finds such paradoxical encounters even back to the period before Adwa. Emperor Yohannes IV had defeated the Egyptian force, first at the battle of Gundet (1875), and for the second time at the battle of Gura (1876). The emperor, however, did not force the Egyptian out from Keren and other regions, in spite of the modern rifles he had captured from the enemy force. Rather the Emperor preferred to renew friendship with Egypt (See, Zewde Gebre Selassie, Yohannes IV of Ethiopia. chapter three). Once again, in 1888, this time against Italy, the Emperor mobilized 60 000 to 70 000 army and besieged the Italian force at Seati for months. Instead of dislodging the Italians out of Saati, the emperor decamped and returned to south. To remind you, earlier, January 1887, the Emperor's chief general, Ras Alula had defeated the small detachments of the Italian force at Dogali, a victory which he could not pursue (See, Zewde Gebre Selassie, chapters IX & X). What was this recurrent problem which repeated itself at the battle of Adwa?
Every battle had its own given circumstance in the context of which decisions were taken. But the paradox that the victor at the same time stood as a loser must have certain explanation. As I see it there was a common denominator to the recurrent problems of the battles mentioned above. This was related to the very system of military organization of the Ethiopian state of the period. As you can imagine this is not the place to discuss the structural problems of the army, but for your consideration I shall raise the following points:
With regard to manpower, the Ethiopian army was based largely on the peasantry. There was a massive recruitment of peasants in return for tax exemption as field force and/or as auxiliary forces. The regular part of the army, "professional" troops, were attached to the Gibi-palace, and their number was relatively small. In other words peasant-soldiers constituted higher proportion in the composition of the military force. (Indeed, it is very difficult to produce statistic as we have only estimates, and, above all, the period was marked by a rapid change and it is difficult to be precise on the format of the army; for an insight to such structural problem and change see, Tsegaye Tegenu, The System of Military Organization of the Ethiopian State during the Nineteenth Century, Department of History, Uppsala University, 15 December 1993). Peasant-soldiers, according to the tradition, had only campaign obligation, and once the campaign was over they wanted to go back to their family and farm land.
Provisioning, the supply of food to a large and moving body of army was another area of consideration. In the battle of Adwa around 100 000 soldiers participated and fought, and these troops were in the fields for about 150 days. During the time of campaigns soldiers were supposed to bring Senq from their own sources which would last for about twenty days, and for the rest of the days they had to be feed by different means for which the commandant Ras was responsible. The system of provisioning was not modern, while the common soldiers prepare for the twenty days, the Ras, generals organize their own supply system. The following is an example how the Azaz of the Menelik palace prepared food for the campaign:
a) to make Birz drinks 600-800 mules were packed with honey. One mule carried two Gundo of honey (about 36 kilo), the total pack would be enough for an average of 336 000 people.
b) For one month about 100 Tanika butter was packed, if multiplied by a number of camapign days, a total of 500 Tanika-butter was needed.
c) 600-800 mules were packed with food stafs. If one Dawula (92 Killo) was enough for 500 people, totally an avarage of 80 tons of food staff was packed for the camapaign.
d) three Frida cattle meat was needed for 1000 people for a day. (For the figures see Zekre Neger, pp. 50-51, calculation is mine).
I have left out items such as mutton, pepper, salt. Please note that this preparation was only for Menelik. There were at least ten generals with a large number of troops for whom a provision had to be organized. In the figure 100 000, the large number of followers such servants who prepared food and drinks, men who fetched fire wood, and the many auxiliary forces of the army were not counted, and they had to be feed as well. On top of this you have tens of thousands of war horse, mules, cattle for slaughter, sheep, donkeys and other transport animals. Imagine the task of feeding all these animals: daily they need water and fodder. Menelik aim was to march to Hamasen highlands, for the province of Tigray could not support all these forces, who had already exhausted their provision after four months of continues march. It was when Menelik and his generals were discussing the problems of provision and alternatives, that the Italians came and surprised them with attack at Adwa. (See Gebre Selassie, Dagmawi Menelik Tarik, pp. 257-261).
According to the tradition of battles, the Ethiopian troops of the period had a strategical and tactical objectives based on the urgency of bringing the enemy force to engagement and get, if possible, decisive victory. In other words battles were not fought only with limited means, but also for limited objectives. Ignoring the problems around weapon and command hierarchy, what alternatives could have been present for Menelik, if we consider only the economic scale of the war: mobilising, moving and supplying the large body of army, what may be termed the "nuts and bolts" of war. I wish I have time to discuss more, for today I wind up here. Please send me questions to make a preparation for our next column.