Wednesday 31 August 2011


An open letter to:
Mrs. Sandy Rowoldt Shell
African Studies Library
UCT Libraries
University of Cape Town
Rondebosch 7701
Western Cape, South>>>

Dear Mrs. Shell,

I read part of the story in which you tried to defame Emperor Menelik II as a “greatest slave entrepreneur.” Though it might have escaped you, by defeating an invading European power Emperor Menelik II has saved millions of people from being enslaved by Europeans. Moreover, within his country historians know that he wrote letters opposing slave trade to his subordinate chieftains.A famous letter which he wrote, but is perhaps unknown to you, is the one when he admonished an Oromo chief from being a “fengay,” a person disuniting family members for the purpose of selling some as slaves. The letter he wrote was to the Oromo chieftain, Aba Jiffar of Jima, in which Emperor Menelik asked him to stop selling his brethren. These are facts. Yet, a variety of indentured services within Ethiopia lasted for years.A group raiding another might have involved wholesale dislocations of one form or another. We also know that as I write European, Asian and other women are sold as sex slaves and for other services within their countries and to foreign lands. Indeed to the extent that there are buyers there will be sellers. It is a sad, sad, and dangerous world out there.

Mrs. Shell, according to your report, 204 young and old Oromo Ethiopians were sold for a few bushels of maize to Yemen on September 16 ,1888, but were freed and transported to South Africa. Indeed, the plight of the Ethiopians as apparently described by missionaries is sad and ugly, and we are all ashamed by it. Yet, you tell your reader that Emperor Menelik ruled from 1889-1913. Mrs. Shell, what happened before Menelik became Emperor?Why are you fixated on Emperor Menelik?

Mrs. Shell you reported that seventeen of the freed children returned to Ethiopia, bless their souls, while others stayed. For example, Mrs. Bisho Jarsa was married and stayed in South Africa as a teacher.We are all proud of Bisho Jarsa’s service to humanity. Mrs. Shell you wrote “She had been orphaned with her two brothers, as a result of the drought and disease that swept through Ethiopia in 1887, and left in the care of one of her father's slaves.” For reference, see URL:
Mrs. Shell, do you suppose that Emperor Menelik sold a slave to Bisho’s father who cared for her after she was orphaned? Because the slavery to Yemen occurred in 1888, you apparently assumed that Menelik was the slave trader. Where is the evidence for your defamatory assumptions?Where did you reconcile the labor relations, political history and governance of the late 19th century before showering us with your bombastic accusations?Indeed, central governance in Ethiopia is said to have started by Emperor Menelik II; but how successful was that effort prior to the 1896?

About a decade after the 1888 alleged slave trading to Yemen, a European army tried to penetrate deeper into Ethiopia.Menelik galvanized all Ethiopians irrespective of religion, region or origin to march in defense of the motherland, and the invading European army was decimated in a day’s battle at Adwa. The relatives of Mrs. Bisho Jarsa in Ethiopia and all others likely participated in the route of the invading European Army.All, including the families of people who might have been sold as slaves shared in that struggle and owned the sweet victory against a European army. As is often said some white persons live to refight the 1896 war of Adwa. Mrs. Shell, your unsubstantiated story of Emperor Menelik as the "greatest slave entrepreneur” cannot defame Emperor Menelik II, the pride of black people the world over. Your unsubstantiated allegation is a mark of poor scholarship on your part, on the part of your advisors and your department for allowing such shoddy work in a futile attempt to soil the name and fame of a giant. The BBC ought to be ashamed for broadcasting such shameful and unsubstantiated claim of yours.

Habte Giorgis Churnet


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