The history of the military of Ethiopia goes way back to the start of the Ethiopian kingdoms in as from 980 BC (Baker, 2016). As a country, its presence in many conflicts within the horn of Africa is well-known, considering that it is one of the only other African countries that were not colonized during the scramble and partition for African countries. As a result, the leadership at that time managed to create an army that was modern and conversant with tactical warfare. Most of the conflicts that the Ethiopian military took part in were with Italy as it was the same nation which attempted to raid and colonize it from the fact that it was a country rich in various minerals.
The origin of the army traditions of Ethiopia backtrack to the earliest version of the history of the country. The fact that it is a nation that is located in between eastern and central African countries implies that political invasions from both sides were predominant during the early times of the country. For instance, in the year 1579, the army defused an attempt by the Ottoman Empire to expand its boundaries from Massawa (Baker, 2016). Besides that, the same military was a force of recon against the Egyptians as it earned the victory in the year 1876. The war between the two took place in Gura and under the leadership of Emperor Yohannes IV. According to writings from Clapham, the Abyssinian army at some point suffered from superiority complex which may have been present in the wars in Adwa, Gura, and Gundet. The orders from the emperor of the country dictated that Director Nikolay Leontiev come up with the first battalion that would consist of personnel from the normal Ethiopian army in the year 1899 (Berhe, 2017). He pioneered in the formation of the battalion that is regarded as the first of its kind, as its kernel had a company of volunteers who came in from Senegal as former sharpshooters. These specialized people had received their training from the French and Russian officers who were also specialists in sharp shooting. Around the same time, it is worth noting that there was the formation of the first orchestra of the military.
The first and the most fruitful victory by the military was that which they earned during the Battle of Adowa, where the threat was from Italians who wanted to conquer the territory. The victory is the most fruitful as it is the one which ensured that Ethiopia stayed as an independent state. The battle was fought on the 1st day of March in the year 1896 against the Italian military at the backyard of Adwa town, and it was the battle which decided the fate of the Italo-Ethiopian war (Berhe, 2017). Emperor Menelik II struck a major blow against the Italians with the victory as he was assisted by other Ethiopian nobles who included Ras Makonnen, Ras Mengesha Yohannes, Sebhat Aregwi, Negus, and Alula Abanega. The success of the army was dependent on the proper implementation of the headquarters of Menelik, despite the fact that the adverse conditions and the presence of the feudal system of arrangement. One of the adverse conditions was the fact that the army did not have military weapons considering that the 100,000 batches of modern rifles sent by ship from Russia did not arrive as the ship was sabotaged by the authorities of the British and Italians (Vadala, 2011). The feudal system of organization was also another factor which made it hard for the Ethiopian military to win, considering that most people who formed the army were peasants. However, the military advisers from Russia played a crucial role in the war, and so did the volunteers who were to fulfill the mission of Leontiev. They told Menelik II that the only way of achieving victory was by destroying the firepower of the enemy, and ensuring that there was a full blast battle. Hence, when the attacks began, the Ethiopian army attacked through one wave after the other to a point where they overpowered the Italians (Vadala, 2011).
The success of the British in capturing Uganda, Kenya, and Sudan meant that the Ethiopians were facing a threat from the British, now that they had defeated the Italians. The danger from the British only went down after the Second Boer war had already begun in the year 1899. Learning from the previous battle with the Italians, the army had developed a better sense of effectiveness, hence it easily dealt with the British and the threat they posed. Besides that, the many expeditions of the Ethiopian army deterred the expansion of the British colony into their territory (Baker, 2016). Alexander Bulatovich, one of the advisers to Menelik on matters regarding the army indicated that many people thought of the Abyssinian army as one that was not disciplined, probably because the previous win against the Italians did not prove that they were efficient. However, he stated that it was an army that was unique and organized in a special way. Each individual considered the army as part of them and hence needed to be ready at all times for war. In the year 1901, the first officers of the Ethiopian army traveled to Russia for training as per the agreement between the Russian government and Menelik II. By the end of 1913, 40 Ethiopian army personnel had received training (Baker, 2016).
The modernization process of the army happened under Tafari Mekonnen who later came to be known as Haile Selassie I. He developed an elite squad of bodyguards called the Kebur Zabagna in 1917 who had the sole responsibility of attending to the emperor. They received their training in France and Belgium before a military training school was started in the year 1935 in Holeta. The aviation of the army started in 1929 with four biplanes and two pilots from France. Before the invasion by the Italians in 1935, the air force had developed as it had thirteen planes and four pilots. However, these efforts were not enough as the army was defeated by the Italians in the period between 1935 and 1936, and was colonized for the first time by a foreign nation (Vadala, 2011). That did not last for long as the British colonialists came in and helped reorganize the Ethiopian army besides chasing away the Italians who had invaded the country. Later on, the aviation sector was expanded where more planes were purchased.
The start of 1991 the leader of the Ethiopian army at that time was Mengitsu who was overpowered by supporters of the People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) (Vadala, 2011). The fact that there was no financial help from Cuba and the Soviet Union meant that the army was not getting the necessary funding as before. However, the commands of the army contained the First Revolutionary Army in Harar, the Second Revolutionary Army in Asmera, and the third, fourth and fifth revolutionary armies in Kombolcha, Nekemte, and Gondar. The defeat of the national military in 1991 marked the start of rule by the army of the guerilla fighters, though that only lasted for two years as in 1993 the government that was led by the Tigrayan made the announcement that it was going to create a new army which would consist of people from multiple ethnic backgrounds. Considering that the Soviet Union was no longer present, the government sought out to get help from the western countries. The United States was particularly active in these efforts, though there was some interruption from the fact that the army needed mobilization to take part in the war against Eritrea (Berhe, 2017).
The Ethiopian-Eritrean war took place in the year 1998 and the main reason for that was the fact that both countries were fighting for the Badme region. As the war went on, the commander of the Ethiopian army recalled some of the retired personnel who did a lot with regards to making the Ethiopian army gain victory. While the United Nations came in to resolve the issue by stating that the region of Badme belongs to Eritrea, Ethiopia did not accept the results of the finding but promised to maintain peace and not attack the neighboring state. Since then and after the 9/11 attacks, the Ethiopian army and that of the US have taken part in joint training efforts in a bid to counter terrorist attacks, especially since intelligence indicated of the Al Shabaab, an Al-Qaeda affiliated group from Somalia (Berhe, 2017). Besides fighting with the US army against terrorists, the army is also involved in peacekeeping missions for the United Nations and the African Union. The two major peacekeeping missions that the army has taken part in include the ones in Darfur and Liberia.
Baker, R. (2016). The Ethiopian army and political stability: prospects and potentials. Middle Eastern Studies, 6(3), 331-339. doi: 10.1080/00263207008700156
Berhe, M. (2017). The Ethiopian post-transition security sector reform experience: building a national army from a revolutionary democratic army. African Security Review, 26(2), 161-179. doi: 10.1080/10246029.2017.1297581
Vadala, A. (2011). Elite Distinction and Regime Change: The Ethiopian Case. Comparative Sociology, 10(4), 636-653. doi: 10.1163/156913311x590664
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