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Taitu and the role of Ethiopian women in military leadership

​​By Mina Yirga

The role of women in military leadership throughout Ethiopian history is a topic that has generally received scant attention until just recently. This is certainly somewhat of an injustice considering that there have been many notable instances in which women played a tremendous role during seminal moments in Ethiopia’s history. Amongst these women are Yodit ‘Gudit’, Empress Seble Wongel and Empress Elleni. Perhaps best known amongst all of these extraordinary women was Etege Taitu Bitul, the wife of Emperor Menelik II, who played one of the most critical (but also most underreported) roles in one of the most critical military campaigns of this country’s history.
Taitu and Menelik
Taitu Bitul was born in 1851, the third of four children in an aristocratic Ethiopian family which claimed descent from the Solomonic dynasty. After four failed marriages, Taitu Bitul married King Menelik of Shewa who was later crowned Emperor Menelek II of Ethiopia. Taitu is acknowledged to have wielded political power as the wife of Menelik, both before and after he was crowned Emperor in 1889. She was very suspicious about the hidden agendas that may arise either from foreigners or other Ethiopians. The uneasy and highly skeptical empress was also known for providing firm counsel that frequently countered Menelik’s initial impulses given his considerably more trusting nature. 

War with Italy
One of the main triggers for the outbreak of war in 1895 was the signature of the Treaty of Wuchale, the Italian translation of which (in particular Article XVII) made Ethiopia a de facto colony of the Italian Empire. In fact, the manner in which this treaty was signed and then later rejected by Ethiopia may have been highly indicative of the intricate interaction between Menelik and Taitu. It was she who told Count Antonelli (Italian envoy at the time) in what was to be the precursor for war with Italy, “{quotes}I am a woman and I do not love war, but rather than accepting this [Article XVII of the Wuchale Treaty] I prefer war.{/quotes}” When Antoneli proposed that the treaty be abrogated on condition that Menelik was not to seek the protection of any other European power because that would be a slight to Italian honor, her immediate rejoinder was, “…we also have our honor to protect.”, in effect making war inevitable and leading eventually to the standoff between the two armies in Tigray at the end of 1895. 

On the battlefield
Far from simply arranging for the support of Menelik’s armies during the campaign of Adwa, Taitu actually led her own contingent comprised of at least 5000 infantry and 600 cavalry. She was responsible for a number of both tactical and strategic level decisions in addition to actually leading her army into battle on at least one occasion. One of her most critical contributions to victory over the Italians was in forcing the unconditional surrender of the heavily fortified Italian garrison at Mekele in the run up to Adwa. When the Ethiopians realized that frontal attacks against these fortifications would be useless, Taitu came up with a plan to capture the Italian’s water supply and subsequently sent up to 900 of her own troops to do so leading to the capitulation of the garrison only 2 weeks later. Furthermore, at the main battle of Adwa, she maintained tactical command of her own army (though held mostly in reserve) in addition to providing logistical support to others through the use of her 10-12,000 strong women in the camp. Her memorable call for the troops to fight on still resonates to this very day, “Courage! Victory is ours. Strike!”

After Menelik
When Menelik's health began to decline around 1906, Taitu began to make decisions on his behalf. Taitu and Menelik did not have any children and when he died in 1913, he was succeeded by his grandson from a daughter of a previous marriage, Lij Iyasu. Taitu is believed to have been somewhat active in the plot that eventually removed Emperor Iyasu V from the throne in 1916, and replaced him with her step-daughter, Empress Zauditu. Zauditu, Menelik II's daughter by yet another previous marriage, had always been close to Empress Taitu, and was additionally married to Taitu's nephew, Ras Gugsa Welle.

Following that, Taitu was banished to the old Palace at Entoto, next to the St. Mary's church she had founded years before, and where her husband had been crowned Emperor. Taitu lived out the rest of her life at the old palace next to the Entoto Maryam Church overlooking Addis Ababa, where she died on February 11, 1918. She is buried next to her husband at the Taeka Negest Ba'eta Le Mariam Monastery in Addis Ababa
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Queen of ShebaMakeda

Queen of Sheba (960 B.C.) (also known as Makeda, Makebah-Tamar, Malikat Saba; Ge’ez: Nigist Saba; Hebrew: מלכת שבא‎; Malkat Shva; Arabic: ملكة سبأ‎)Makeda is best known as the beautiful, wealthy, and intellectual queen who tested Solomon with riddles, is a somewhat mysterious figure in ancient texts, and little has been verified about her life.

Even basic details such as her given name and the exact location of her kingdom remain uncertain. Nevertheless, she has fascinated and inspired African American, Ethiopian, Islamic, and Jewish cultures for nearly three thousand years.She was a monarch of the ancient kingdom of Sheba and is referred to in Habeshan history, the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the Qur’an. Sheba was an ancient name for Abyssinia, a kingdom on the Red Sea in the vicinity of modern Ethiopia and Yemen.In Ancient times Ethiopia was also known as Nubia, Kush, Aksum, Abyssinia and Sheba.

One thousand years before Christ, Ethiopia was ruled by a line of virgin queens. The one whose story has survived into our time was known as Makeda, “the Queen of Sheba.” Her remarkable tradition was recorded in the Kebra Nagast, or the Book of the Glory of the Kings [of Ethiopia], has been held in the highest esteem and honour throughout the length and breadth of Abyssinia for a thousand years at least, and even to-day it is believed by every educated man in that country to contain the true history of the origin of the Solomonic line of kings in Ethiopia.

The Bible tells us that, during his reign, King Solomon of Israel decided to build a magnificent temple. To announce this endeavor, the king sent forth messengers to various foreign countries to invite merchants from abroad to come to Jerusalem with their caravans so that they might engage in trade there.At this time, Ethiopia was second only to Egypt in power and fame. Hence, King Solomon was enthralled by Ethiopia’s beautiful people, rich history, deep spiritual tradition and wealth.

​He was especially interested in engaging in commerce with one of Queen Makeda’s subjects, an important merchant by the name of Tamrin.She gave the king 120 talents of gold, and of spices very great store and precious stones; there came no more abundance of spices as these which the Queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon.” (Kings 10:10)The Biblical passage refers to the gifts Makeda presented King Solomon of Israel on her famed journey to visit the Judean monarch. But Makeda’s gifts to Solomon extended beyond material objects; she also gave him a son, Menelik.

​The boy’s remarkable resemblance to his grandfather prompted Solomon to re-christen Menelik. Solomon later re-named his son after his own father, the legendary King David.Menelik’s line continued down to the 20th century with the last ruler of Ethiopia the “conquering lion of Judah” & his descendants who have all descended directly from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.New DNA evidence reveals close links between Ethiopia and groups outside of Africa. Some Ethiopians have 40-50 percent of their genomes that match more closely with populations outside of Africa than those within.Clearly, centuries after her death, the Queen of Sheba still holds sway over the imaginations of people far beyond her time period and her geographical location. 
Menen Asfaw

​​

Empress Menen Asfaw (Baptismal name Walatta Giyorgis)[1] (25 Magabit 1883 Ethiopian Calendar, 3 April 1891 Gregorian Calendar[2][3] – 15 February 1962) was the wife and consort of Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia. Empress Menen was the daughter of Asfaw, Jantirar of Ambassel. She was a direct descendant of Emperor Lebna Dengel, through Emperor Gelawdewos and his daughter Princess Enkulal Gelawdewos and this genealogy was deleted from the official history of Etege Menen.[citation needed] The title of Jantirar has traditionally belonged to the head of the family holding the mountain fortress of Ambassel, and Jantirar Asfaw was one of them. Her mother was Woizero Sehin Mikael, half-sister of Lij Iyasu (Iyasu V), and daughter of Negus Mikael of Wollo. Woizero Sehin's mother, Woizero Fantaye Gebru, was a direct descendant of Emperor Susenyos I in the "Seyfe Melekot" line.[citation needed] Empress Menen and Emperor Haile Selassie were the parents of six children:Princess Tenagnework, Prince Asfaw Wossen (Emperor-in-Exile Amha Selassie I), Princess Tsehai, Princess Zenebework, Prince Makonnen, Duke of Harar, and Prince Sahle Selassie


       AFRICAN WOMEN LEADERS

Leaders Through The Ages

Women have played important roles in community since the beginning of time. The innate tendency that women have for nurturing and taking care of their own render them loyal citizens of their various communities. As a result, women readily contribute towards the development of their communities, and in some instances are willing to go the extra mile in order to sustain the societies they belong to.

From the various Queens of Ethiopia to the traditional Queen Mothers like Yaa Asantewa of Ghana, to political leaders like former Senegalese Prime Minister, Mame Madior Boye women leaders in Africa have gone to great lengths to defend the rights of their people and to facilitate development.


The Controversy Surrounding African Women Leaders

One cannot ascertain when or where the stigma against women leaders stemmed from. However there seems to be widespread reasons for why people think women should not take active part in leadership and governance.

The argument about the “biological clock” seems to be the most popular case against women leaders. In many African societies, it is believed that as a result of a woman’s metabolism and her duty of bearing and bringing up children, she has little time for any thing other than the upkeep of her household.

Although it is valid that the maintenance of a household and upbringing of children is time consuming, it seems that the proponents of this argument forget that the leaders in their societies were also brought up by women or maternal figures. In effect, African women do have the capacity to create a positive influence in the lives of people. Perhaps women leaders are even more adept at being leaders than their male counterparts as they spend a great part of their lives being unofficial leaders.

Another excuse used against the participation of women in leadership is the fact that they are usually sensitive and emotional and as such would not be able to perform to the best of their ability in stressful situations. True, women are usually very emotional. But does this necessarily have to be a bad thing? The empathy that women feel for people and situations make them better able to understand the people they are leading and this motivates them to work even harder to achieve the goals of the community.

A typical example is the case of Yaa Asantewa, the Ghanaian Queen mother of Ejisu who’s empathy for her people the Akans motivated her to fight for the protection of her people and land against the British colonists. Although she eventually exiled to Seychelles, she was able to inspire the Asante army to fight for the protection of their land and in effect, the Asante kingdom prevailed. Even today, it is one of the most diverse and rich ethnic groups in West Africa.


Demographics And Women

Women account for about 50% of the world’s total population. Unfortunately, two-third’s of the women population is illiterate. In addition, the world percentage of women in parliament is currently 16.6%. In Africa, a greater percentage of the total African population consists of women and female children.

From all indications, women form a dominant part of the global society yet their involvement in societal and global affairs is quite limited as compared to the participation of their male counterparts. In order for a more progressive development of the world, it is necessary that more women are educated and supported in their career pursuits and particularly in leadership situations.


The Way Forward

In order to encourage more women to participate in leadership and government, it is necessary that the community and world as a whole give them the support needed. Instead of downplaying the efforts of African women, people could encourage them either by listening to their views in an objective manner, participating in women initiated activities, and helping eradicate the social stigma and discrimination against women in leadership and African women in general.

It is undoubted that financial constraints could prove as a problem for African women leaders but with the relative acceptance of women leaders in countries like the U.S., U.K, Canada and Germany, and the support of organizations like the United Nations Development Fund for Women, these constraints could be overcome.

Queen of Kano (Nigeria)
1580-1582 


Source: Guide to Women Leaders

Politically Active Empress Uelete Rufael
( Ethiopia)
1724


Source: Guide to Women
Leaders
 

Queen Mother Ndlorukazi Nandi of the Zulu Kingdom
(South Africa) 
1815-1827


Source: Guide to Women Leaders 

Queen Mother Nana Yaa Asantewaa of Edweso (Ghana)
1887-1900

 
Source: Guide to Women Leaders


President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (Liberia)
2006 - Present

Source: The Liberian Dialogue




The First African Woman Pilot

By Negest Abate

Fifty four years ago, Weizero (MS) Asegedech Assefa, born from a privileged Ethiopian family, became the first female pilot; by breaking barriers in a totally male dominated field.

When she was asked what motivated her to became a pilot, she said that one day she was having a conversation with a group of men as she often did, when someone told the group about the new flying school within the Ethiopian Airlines that was open to anyone who paid the required fee.

To the surprise of all the men, she immediately said “I want to take the class “She recalls that they didn’t take her seriously- after all she was a woman.  As the only woman among a group of men, she finished the assigned courses and passed the exam.  First, she practiced flying; with the supervision of the flight instructors. Then she flew solo. She describes both of her instructors were very supportive and recalls that they encouraged her in every way they could.  Neither of her instructors was culturally Ethiopian.


One was an African- American who felt a strong connection to Ethiopia. The other was Eastern European. She spoke of this instructor with great admiration, praising his teaching skills and describing that she learned a great deal from him.  The more she practiced the more she fell in love with flying. She particularly; enjoyed looking down from the air.

Asegedech described a memorable event that occurred while she was still practicing.  Frightened by turbulence she called her flight instructor for assistance only to find that he was asleep. She recalls that she was quite surprised, but fortunately, she was able to manage the situation.

When asked how she managed to attend flying class in a country where women were often confined to traditional female roles, such as cooking and raising children, she said she was always different from others. Unlike other women, she never had to do any house work.  She was always interested in all sorts of outdoor activities and sports, such as swimming, won an award in a swim competition, target shooting, horseback riding, and travelling. She also liked collecting guns which were given to her by those close to her.

She described that her picture and her story were all over the newspaper. In fact, someone told Emperor Haile Selasse about her. The emperor then asked her to meet with him at the Imperial Palace. She received a lot of praise from the emperor for her accomplishment. He asked her who her father was.  The emperor immediately recognized her father, and complimented her by telling her that she was as brave as her father. He also ordered that her tuition be paid in full so that she could further her flying career.  She said that she was thrilled that she was about to learn how to fly big international planes while prior to that all of her flights had been domestic.

When she was asked if she realized that she was breaking barriers by becoming not only the first Ethiopian woman pilot, (but also the first African woman pilot, surprisingly, she said that at the time, she was not interested in whether she was the first woman pilot. She said she was just simply doing what she loved doing best.

When asked why she stopped flying, she said that she hadn’t wanted to stop. Unfortunately the men in the flight club started fighting. As a result, the club closed and the money that supported her flight was lost in the process. “Then some of us wanted to buy a private plane and wanted to continue flying” she said. She stated that her cousin, Daniel, purchased a plane and that she was in the process of acquiring one from Italian merchants in the country who were selling small planes.  Her cousin Daniel died in a plane crash after taking flight despite a bad weather warning. She recalls that this was a blow for her and a huge setback in her pursuit.

Asegedech, has been living in the United States since 1969.  She was asked why she didn’t pursue her flying passion here. She said that it was too difficult to finance, and that is was difficult to find a flight school. She also stated that she hadn’t planned to live in the United States for so long. She also admitted flying was her hobby, and that she never considered it her career.

She was asked what she tells her friends about being the first woman pilot. First of all, I don’t like to talk about myself.  In fact I sometimes get irritated when some of my friends  start talking about the past, and telling others who I was. “Some of my American Friends don’t believe me when I tell them.

I flew airplanes that I was once a pilot until they see some of my photographs to prove it

Her advice for young girls today is, “you have to have self-confidence and faith in your ability”.  She says that she didn’t actively recruit other girls to take up flying as a career.  She recalled that she only spoke to two girls and that one of them did started flying class. Unfortunately, when she saw a flight accident, she immediately withdrew from her lessons. When she was asked about living abroad, she answered that she is very content, that she has what she needs, and that is what matters to her.

When she was asked about living abroad, she answered that she is very content, that she has what she needs, and that is what matters to her.

Source: http://ethiopianwomenmela.blogspot.com

Asegedech Asefa The First Ethiopian woman Pilot

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Friday, October 15, 2010

New York (Tadias) – She may not be the first Ethiopian woman pilot, but Captain Amsale Gualu Endegnanew is just as pioneering. She is the first female to become captain in the history of Ethiopian Airlines.

According to the company, the pilot was at controls of a next generation Bombardier airplane for her historic flight, which she performed over domestic routes on October 14, 2010. “Captain Amsale proudly took off her first flight from the left hand seat of the flight deck of a Q-400 aircraft from Addis Ababa to Gondar then to Axum and finally returned back to Addis Ababa after a total of 3.6 flight hours,” the airline announced in a press release.

“Captain Amsale joined Ethiopian Airlines Pilot Training School on July 10, 2000 and started her career as first officer on November 26, 2002. Since then, she has trained and worked on Fokker-50, 757 and 767 aircraft as first officer. Captain Amsale has been able to complete successfully all the necessary training requirements and passed through rigorous checks to gain her four stripes. She has a total of 4475 flight hours under her belt when she becomes the commander-in-chief of her flight.”

In a brief statement following her groundbreaking flight, Captain Amsale said this moment has been a long time coming. “It is a great privilege to become the first female captain of the national carrier,” she said. “I have been trained and passed through various ladders at Ethiopian Airlines.”

“The company has been very supportive of my efforts to realize my vision of becoming a captain,” she added.

Congratulating her on the occasion, Weyzero Elizabeth Getachew, a Senior Vice President for Human Resource Management and the highest ranking female executive in the airline said, “Captain Amsale’s success is a great achievement on her part and it is also an achievement for the airline. It is my hope that other females will be inspired by her success and Ethiopian will see more female candidates in the near future.” The country’s flag-career currently has four female pilots working as first officers.

- See more at: http://www.tadias.com/10/15/2010/ethiopian-airlines-appoints-first-female-captain/#sthash.UisqndIY.dpuf


Amsale Gualu Endegnanew Ethiopia's First female Captain

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OUR INSPIRATION

Everyday the people below keep us strong. Reminding us that everyday is a challenge but if we stick to our goals we will triumph.


“The nice thing about teamwork is that you always have others on your side”

Heroes