Ethiopia Military

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Wars and invasions

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The strategic location of Ethiopia
Ethiopia is geographically located along the international waterway of the Red sea. Furthermore, the Ethiopian highlands are the sources of the Akobo, the Baro, the Abay, the Didesa, the Tekeze-Setit, and the Atbara river systems in the west. These major headstreams of the Nile river system connects Ethiopia with the Mediterranean Basin.

The western river system jointly contribute more than 80% of the Nile waters for the neighbouring countries of the Sudan and Egypt. The Wabe Shebele and the Juba river systems are found in the east, and they water mainly Somalia.

This strategic location and the wealth of water resources have made Ethiopia the object of foreign wars of aggression ever since the advent and interference of the Portuguese and the Turks in the internal and regional affairs of the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, the Middle East, the Horn of Africa, and Egypt in the sixteenth century. The recent advent of imperialism, and the construction of the Suez Canal, further increased the vulnerability of Ethiopia to foreign invasions.

In more detail, the advent and interference of the Portuguese and the Turks in the internal affairs of Ethiopia during the second quarter of the sixteenth century set in motion the concomitant events of nation-wide civil wars and ethnic migrations.

These civil wars and ethnic migrations drastically weakened the central institutions and power of the Ethiopian state, and led to the era of regional princes and warlords until the restoration of the former by Tewodros II in the 1850’s.

Second, between 1557 and 1589, the Turks from the Red Sea ports of Suakin and Mitsiwa made a series of some 15 invasions into the northern regions of Ethiopia and caused great losses of lives and property before they were expelled.

Third, in their unsuccessful attempts to bring the country and people of Ethiopia under the colonial rule of the Portuguese Crown and the Catholic church, the Portuguese missionaries and soldiers initiated civil and religious wars in Ethiopia during the first three decades of the seventeenth century until their expulsion in 1632.

Fourth, between 1816 and 1885, from their frontier garrisons of Mitswa, Gadaref, Kassala, Tajura, and Zeila, the Ottoman-Egyptian forces of aggression conducted a series of territorial invasions and occupations against Ethiopia.

The former’s defeat at the battles of Gundat and Gura in 1875 and 1876, respectively, by Ethiopian armies, greatly contributed to the national bankruptcy of Egypt and to its final occupation by the British in 1882.

Fifth, between 1886 and 1889, the Sudanese Mahdists also made a series of invasions against Ethiopia from the Gonder and Welega frontiers.

They were defeated at the great battles of Nejo and Metema in 1888 and 1889, respectively, at the hands of Ethiopian armies. The Ethiopian defeat of the Mahdists greatly hastened the Sudanese defeat and occupation by the Anglo-Egyptian forces in the 1890’s which lasted until 1956.

(Source: National Atlas of Ethiopia)


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