When I was growing up in Asmara, the father of my childhood friend who was a plumber by trade owned FIAT 500 old model car [of interest, FIAT is an acronym and stands for Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino.] As it happened, close to one hundred thousand Italians were repatriated mostly from Asmara back to Italy in 1974 when Dergue came to power, most of them left their properties behind and in most cases transferred ownership to Eritreans who had worked for them for years.
And the father of my childhood friend was lucky enough not only to inherit the car but landed ownership of a plumbing service or plant as well. The car however outlived our teenage years albeit it was a bit bungled up as years went by. Where am I going with the story, you might ask. Well, as it turned out, there was a significant history related not to my childhood friend, his father or the Italian-boss but to that particular model—FIAT 500.
The repatriated Italians were second or third generation where the first settlers rendered Eritrea not only a colony per se but felt at home as they truly believed that it was their own and their own only. A few years before Eritrea was given away to Italians, the first settlers and the political milieu and military adventure that came with it gazed beyond what was later to be designated the Eritrean border—into the heartland. Emperor Yohannes IV clearly understood the intent and in 1886 wrote a letter to Menilek where the letter said, “With the help of God, they will depart again, humiliated and disgraced in the eyes of the whole world.”
As Harold Marcus, one of the leading authorities on Ethiopian history put it in his book “A History of Ethiopia”, when Emperor Yohannes wrote the letter, the Italians had already pushed further inland and occupied Saati, about 15 miles West of Massawa, and Wia, 20 miles to the South of the port. Moreover, Bahru Zewdie a notable historian also adds when he writes, “It had thus become evident that Yohannes’ earlier hopes of containing the Italians within the coast were futile.” He further adds, “Protests from Ras Alula Aba-Nega, the governor of Mereb Melash, that the Italians should abandon their advance posts were ignored. It was in such circumstances that Ras Alula opted to obtain by force of arms that he had failed to achieve by correspondence.”
On 25 January 1887, Ras Alula attacked the Italian fort at Saati. The following day, at Dogali, between Saati and Massawa, Ras Alula’s force intercepted 500 Italians sent to relieve the Saati garrison. As Bahru Zewdie put it, the relief force was completely decimated. News of the battle of Dogali was taken so hard in Italy and the call for revenge was heard in the streets as well as in the government chambers. It was in later years, FIAT the automaker decided to name one of its models, “FIAT 500” in memory and honor of the 500 Italian soldiers who had died at the battle of Dogali. My childhood friend’s father owned that car and in retrospect, not sure how I would have felt if my own father owned one—that particular model. Probably nothing, after all, it is just a car.
The Philologist cum-Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, in one of his aphorisms said, life is cyclical including history. There could be some elements of truth in it where one can see the striking similarity between Ras Alula’s intent and determination to safeguard what was his and TDF’s commitment and resolve to defend Tigray. The similarity doesn’t end there. As the Eritrean regime pushes to invade Tigray, Abiy Ahmed conspires with the Eritrean regime to do just that as Menilik later on conspired with the Italians against Emperor Yohannes and by extension Ras Alula Aba-Nega as well.
The surprise attack in Dogali is translated in TDF’s military tactics as ቆረጻ and one has to be TDF to master it where it feels copyrighted. As for Abiy Ahmed and the sycophants around him, only if they had a sense of history. As the Philosopher George Santayana put it, “those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” How true!
ዘልኣለማዊ ክብርን ሞገስን ንስዉኣትና
ትግራይ ዓደይ ወለላ ትስዕራ ኣላ!