Emperor Yohannes IV and the demise of Egyptian’s dream over Nile

Yohannes IV was Ethiopia’s emperor from 1872 to1889. He succeeded to the Ethiopian throne on 21 January 1872 four years after the death of Emperor Thewodros. Like his predecessor Yohannes IV was a strong, progressive ruler, but he had to spend most of his time repelling military threats from Egypt, Italy, and the Mahdists.

He was confronted by Khedive Isma’il Pasha of Egypt, who sought to bring the entire Nile River basin under his rule in 1875. It was difficult time for Ethiopia as there were also internal conflicts among war lords. The Egyptians sought that as an opportunity to invade Ethiopia but they were wrong. The Egyptians marched into northern Ethiopia from their coastal possessions around the port of Massawa.

Yohannes pleaded with the British to stop their Egyptian allies, and even withdrew from his own territory in order to show the Europeans that he was the wronged party and that the Khedive was the aggressor. However, Yohannes soon realized that the Europeans would not stop the Khedive of Egypt and so he gathered up his armies and marched to meet the Egyptian force. After the Egyptians had advanced into Ethiopia, Emperor Yohannes drew them into battle. The two armies met at Gundat on the morning of 16 November 1875. The Egyptians were tricked into marching into a narrow and steep valley and were wiped out by Ethiopian gunners surrounding the valley from the surrounding mountains. Virtually the entire Egyptian force, along with its many officers of European and North American background, were killed. Emperor Yohannes put the Ethiopian flag on area as a reminder of the victory for all.

Young men joined his army from all parts of the country. News of this huge defeat was suppressed in Egypt for fear that it would undermine the government of the Khedive. A new Egyptian force was assembled and sent to avenge the defeat at Gundat. The Egyptians were defeated again at the Battle of Gura (March 7 – 9, 1876), where the Ethiopians were led again by the Emperor, and general Ras Alula. His victories not only ended any Egyptian desires on the territory, but also brought him much captured weaponry turning his army into the first well-equipped military force in Ethiopian history.

In 1869, the Suze Canal opened in eastern Egypt and it made it easier for European ships to effortlessly reach Ethiopia. Italy – the next aggressor in 1885 – occupied the Red Sea port of Massawa and began to expand inland, only to be soundly defeated by Yohannes in 1887. Ethiopian forces, led by Emperor Yohannes, beat the Italians at the battle of Dogali in the far north of the country. In the same year, the Islamic revivalist Dervishes forces, gaining ground in the Sudan, invaded Ethiopia, devastating the old Ethiopian capital city of Gonder. Emperor Yohannes fought the Dervishes severely and at the close of another Ethiopian victory, he was killed at the Battle of Metema in March 1889.

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