Abebe was the offspring of two distinguished families. His mother, Aaskal Gobena was the daughter of Ras Gobena Dache, the legendary general of Emperor Menelik II. Abebe’s father, Aregai Bechere, was Afenugus (Mouth of the King- Honor Judge) and later held the most coveted title of Nibured (High Priest) of Axum.
As a young man, Abebe was one of the first modern military trainees in Ethiopia, and upon graduation was promoted to be the commander of the Municipal Military officers of Addis Ababa with the rank of Balambaras (the first rank in administrative hierarchy).
In 1936, when Emperor Haile Selassie marched to the battle of Mychew to engage the invading Italian army, Abebe remained in Addis Ababa on duty.
After the war was over and the Emperor departed to England,the Fascist army advanced to the city of Addis Ababa. Abebe and his 17 friends were among the first men to form guerrilla fighting. Within a year, his group reached to more than 10 thousand and later to more than 20 thousand patriots which enabled him to control the entire lowlands of Northern Shoa province. During the struggle, he rose up to the rank of Ras, which made him the only Ethiopian to earn this title while the Nation was still under fascist occupation. In the territory under his control, he showed his capacity as a great soldier, like his grandfather, Ras Gobena, and as a wise administrator, in the footsteps of his Nibured father, which enabled him to work with all engaged to liberate Ethiopia.
Throughout the five years as a guerilla leader, he was in close contact with the Emperor, usually through hermits, who crossed the wild desert with his messages. Aba Wold Tensaye, Aba Agaest, Aba Yerdaw, Aba Wold Maryam, and Aba Tesfa- Tsion were a few outstanding among the many. Out of the five hermits, the first three were known for travelling to Jerusalem by foot, before the fascists occupied Ethiopia. Another young messenger, Mr. Demisae Wold Amanuel, who is still alive, travelled for forty five days along with two deacons to Kenya to meet Mr. Lorenzo Ta- izaz, who delivered the Emperor’s message in French at the League of Nations.
In 1937, Ras Abebe had taken part in an attempt to retake the capital city of Addis Ababa, and his army had almost reached the Imperial Palace before being stopped by two heavy battalions.
The story of Ras, who maintained the patriotic resistance within a radius of fifty miles of Addis Ababa, was always a headline on “The Voice of Ethiopia” newspaper in New York and on “New Times and Ethiopian News”, in London and in other parts of the world newspapers.
After five years of struggle, and when the Emperor’s army advanced from the East, Ras met him at Feche, and they marched together to the Capital triumphantly. During the march, Ras flew the flag that never ceased to fly throughout the five years of struggle.
After the fall of the Axis powers in Europe, his name and picture were widely spread in the mainstream media of Europe. In fact, there was a high expectation to see him lead the delegate of Ethiopia in Europe.
When the Emperor’s administration was restored, Ras was appointed first as a provisionalprovincial Governor, the Minister of the Interior, and the Minister of Defense.
Tekalign Gedamu, a former vice president of The African Development Bank, in his great book, Republican on the Throne, described him: “ Abebe had a sharp intellect, was endowed with a remarkable capacity to unravel knotty issue, possessed a keen sense of justice, an ability to delineate the seminal from the peripheral, and the knack to pull together the essential strands of complex issues into an intelligible summary which often led to solution. Above all, he had led issues without fear or favor.”
In 2011, three Italians by the name of Carmelo, Stephens, and Matthias, the sons of Fascist soldiers who were stationed in the Northern Shoa during the war, came to Ethiopia to pay their tribute to Ras Abebe. When they arrived in Addis Ababa, they met Daniel Getachew, the grandson of Dejazmach Afework, the great hero of Korahea(Somali region).
The three Italians told Daniel that they wanted to repent for their late fathers’ sins by praying at Ras Abebe’s tomb in Debre Lebanos. They said they were brought up and fed with the history of Ras Abebe, and their fathers were among a special force that was always dispatched to hunt down Ras. They said when their fathers met on occasions, he was the center of the discussion. Their fathers articulated how he managed to make his escape when he was nearly surrounded. He was also clever and bought time by luring them.
The three Italians’ childhood memories that always lingered in their mind was when their fathers finished the discussion and said goodbye, the numbers of empty bottles of wine and cigarette butts left on the table.
Carmelo’s father even had an intention to come to Ethiopia and personally congratulate Ras Abebe on his promotion to the Minster of Defense; however, Ras was killed by the coup d’état of 1960, before Carmelo’s father realized his plan.
The three Italians, in order to fulfill their mission, traveled to Debr Lebanos and upon arrival, they had difficulty meeting someone who knew Ras Abebe and who could show them the whereabouts of his tomb. When at last they found it, to their greatest dismay, the tomb was unattended and dirty, beyond their imagination. It took them almost a day to clean it up. Finally, they knelt down and made a special prayer for the soul of Ras, and the forgiveness of their fathers’ sins, and for the good relationship between the people of Ethiopia and Italy.
It is unfortunate that while his former enemies’ sons admired Ras Abebe and traveled this length to pay tribute to such a heroic figure, not much is said about him in his own country. On the contrary, during a ceremony held at Addis Ababa University to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the coup d’état of General Mengestu Neway, the act of the murdering of Ras Abebe and 16 other high ranking officials was highly praised. To make things worse, Professor Endreas Eshete, the president of the university, said that General Mengistu’s act was to modernize Ethiopia. So long as there is this kind of justification, the heroic deeds of Ras Abebe and others would not be considered in the right perspective. It is not by accident that today the nation is running out of common hero. The irony is while Ras Abebe had been fighting for five years to liberate Ethiopia; General Mengistu was living in Djibouti in peace.
Evidently, all the assassinated were the elites who could help modernize Ethiopia. For instance, General Mulugeta Bule and Captain Derge Hailmariam were well proven highly trained military officers while Mekonnen Haptold was a dedicated and well rounded manager who encouraged Ethiopians to compete in business which was monopolized by Arabs, Greeks, Armenians and Indians. Abdulahe Mome was also highly educated and was one of the first Muslim ministers in the financial sector. These are some of the rare Ethiopians who were killed randomly along with Ras Abebe.
The act of General Mengestu and the coup d’état of 1960 is the birth of anti- Ethiopianism that blended with a foreign ideology.
Aba Koronchos, a hermit who marched to the Korean War as the confessor of the famous Ethiopian Army, once said “The fascist’s spirit is reincarnated through our children in the year 1960 to revenge against our heroes and our history.”
It is high time for the new generation to rise up against the mindset of the sixties generation and give the Ethiopian patriots their due rights. Ras Abebe, one of the greatest patriots of the tryingtime of 1936-41, deserves recognition. The least we can do is to give him a dignified resting place.