by Ulf Johan Lindahl

Emperor Menelik’s victory at the Battle of Adwa, on 1 March 1896, was a defining event for Ethiopia (Fig. 1). His army of 100,000 spear and gun-wielding soldiers, peasants, and men commanded by Ras Makonnen – father of the future Emperor Haile Selassie – crushed the Italian colonial army that had been expanding Eritrea by occupying regions of Ethiopia.

Menelik’s victory established Ethiopia as an independent nation in the horn of Africa surrounded by colonies ruled by Italy, Britain and France. Menelik’s advisor on foreign affairs was Alfred Ilg, a Swiss (Fig. 2). He travelled to Ethiopia in 1878 in response to a request for an engineer to
come to Ethiopia to assist the Emperor to modernize his country. In 1893, the Emperor granted Alfred Ilg and Léon Chefneux, a Frenchman, the rights to set up a private postal service and to construct a railway and telegraph line from Djibouti to Addis Ababa.