Menelik II is the Least of my Worries: A Note to the Apologists of Empire

Tsegaye R Ararssa


menelik2This is a short memo to the Ethiopian extreme right activists who charge us that we trivialize Menelik II’s persona and his deeds. While we note trivializing of such figures as a mode of critical engagement is legitimate and so doing is long overdue, I like to say that Oromos are not interested in doing so. I like to say that Menelik II is the least and the last of our Oromo worries. Here is why:

Menelik II is the last and least of my worries now.

If you worry about his image, that is fine. Do worry about it.

If you think he put you to shame because he said he is not black, that is your problem.

If he falsified your chants about TIKUR SEW, or if he destabilized the false narrative regarding him as the messiah of the black race, that too is your headache, not mine.

Do you want to interpret and reinterpret what he said when he said he is not a negro, go ahead and do it. By all means.

Do you want to study what he meant when he said he is Caucasian (a black Caucasian at that!), please be my guest. I will give you a hundred years for you to worry about what he said or didn’t say.

I worry more about what he did. I worry about the legacy of slavery he left behind him. I worry about the life of over 70, 000 slaves in his own court that were unaccounted for. I worry about the millions and millions of black Africans (peoples of the wider South) who were massacred by his barbaric army. I worry about the millions of lives that are left unaccounted for. I worry about the legacy of genocide, slavery, dispossession, displacement, enserfment/enslavement, land alienation, cultural erasure (attempted and real denationalization), and war and violence he left behind.

I worry about the legacy of lawlessness, plunder, and wanton destruction of lives and nature that he left us as a legacy.

I worry about the legacy of empire that still suffocated the urge to take a step towards democracy. I worry about the anti-democratic urge that the Ethio-political elite–left and right–manifest every day.

I worry about the evil system he installed and the trauma the people live with to date.

As you worry about his image, we worry about the future that, hopefully, distances itself away from his legacy.

We will start doing so by removing his statue from the city. (We will reinstall it in Angolela (his birth place) or Ankober (his capital)–if they want to keep it there. Or, alternatively, we will be happy to put it in one of our museums in Addis, preferably in the premises of the Oromo Cultural Center in Finfinne.

We will ensure that his life and legacy should be memorialized, not monumentalized.

We will demand that his statue falls. The people will make sure that the statue falls. If the elite get enlightened and act in a civilized manner–which is a constitutional deficiency for them–we will pull it down ceremoniously. If not, the public will vandalize it and pull it down. After all, they have done it before to Lenin’s and Mengistu’s statues in my own life time. And it will fall.

For now though, we have another problem: Menelik III in the shape of EPRDF.

Yes, I have a contemporary Menelik to worry about. I have a regime that follows his track and re-enacts his violence in the name of ‘development,’ ‘renaissance,’ and ‘securing the state’ (from terrorists) etc.

So, for those of you who worry about Emperor Menelik’s image, please keep doing that as, obviously, you have nothing better to do. But leave us alone. To those wanna be apologists of Menelik, I have only a wry smile: there is something ironic, something strangely funny, about a man from Wolayta (who speaks Amharic as a second language, that only with an accent) to try to pass as an Oromo to defend Menelik’s image.

I am sure you don’t really understand it. But I will break it to you, Folks: Menelik won’t appreciate it when you, especially YOU, try to blacken him. No, he was a proud ‘Caucasian’. A black Caucasian at that. Don’t take it away from him, please. And don’t take the joke away from us. Pleaaaaaaase!