Saturday 7 February 2015

Martyr Osman Saleh Sabbe on, “My Mission to Abyssinia 1887”

Part of the preface that martyr Osman Saleh Sabbe, wrote to the Arabic Translation of the book, “My Mission to Abyssinia 1887” by Gerald H. Portal:

“The book is a historical account of a voyage to Abyssinia intended to distribute the Turkish heritage between Italy (that came to the region encouraged by Britain in order to face the French influence in the red sea), and Abyssinia, which the British found to be a prospective ally useful in suppressing the Mahdi revolution in the Sudan.

In order to understand the circumstances  of the voyage narrated by Portal,  the envoy -  a British Council in Egypt then -  we have to refer to an earlier voyage led by another  British envoy namely Admiral  Hewett  in 1884. Admiral  Hewett met Emperor Johannes  and reached an agreement whereby Britain ceded to Abyssinia,  the possessions of the  Ottoman Empire in the Red Sea region that was under Khedive proxy administration (for the British) , including the garrisons in the Eritrean highlands , Keren plateau, as well as Massawa port and environs. This was in consideration of  the participation of Abyssinia in the war against the Mahdist government in the Sudan. Britain took such rights by virtue of its dominance in the Egyptian state of affairs after the failure of the Orabi revolution in 1882.

The forces of the Egyptian Khedive and its allies of Eritrean leaders was disgracefully defeated by the forces of Emperor Yohannes in Guraa and Qandit in the Eritrean highlands  in 1875 and 1876. The Khedive was forced under the mediation of Britain to withdraw its forces from that region leaving behind all arms and ammunition for the Ethiopian Army. They also paid a ransom of 20 millon Terezza Riyals to free prince Ismail Pash, who a captive of Yohannes forces, then.
Britain did not fulfill its promises to Yohannes, yet it opted to encourage Italy to occupy the Eritrean coast because Abyssinia- as Portal indicated, was not in a position to defend those positions against any ship(sent by any European power). Britain was preoccupied in restricting the French influence emanating from Djibouti.

Portal’s mission failed as he did not succeed to dissuade Yohannes from his plans to attack Italy and takeover the Eritrean coast. Thus Yohannes advanced with his enormous army towards Eritrea. The vanguard of his army, under the leadership of Alula, occupied Asmara, Ginda , Aylet and Keren and defeated the Italian garrison in Doggali , in the outskirts of  Massawa.  The forces of Alula, inflicted atrocities, persecution, looting and massacres against the local people. In the meantime, an unexpected incident took place.  The incident was the  provocative actions (committing offences) along the Sudanese border by the Northern Abyssinian leader  led the Mahdist forces to retaliate. 

The Mahdists, thus marched to Gonader- the historical Abyssinian capital city- looted its churches  and inflicted grave damages before withdrawing back to its bases. Upon receiving news about the Sudanese raid, Yohannes was extremely furious, cancelled his plan to occupy Eritrea and instead headed to the Sudanese border to teach his enemies (in faith and nation) a lesson. He was a religious bigot to the extent of ordering a decree of christening all Muslims in Ethiopia. In this expedition, he met his fate. He was killed in the Gallabat battle of 1889. The Italians occupied the rest of the Eritrean territories after brutally crushing sporadic national resistance by the colonial forces. “ End quote.

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