Ras Makonnen Wolde Mikael Wolde Melekot (Amharic: ራስ መኮንን ወልደ ሚካኤል ወልደ መለኮት; 8 May 1852 – 21 March 1906), or simply Ras Makonnen, also known as Abba Qagnew (አባ ቃኘው), was an Ethiopian royal from Shewa, a military leader, the governor of Harar, and the father of future Emperor Haile Selassie. Described by Nikolai Gumilev as “one of the greatest leaders of Abyssinia”, he served in the First Italo-Ethiopian War, playing a key role at the Battle of Adwa.[1][2]

Makonnen Wolde Mikael
መኮንን ወልደ ሚካኤል
Makonnen in 1902
Governor of Harar
In office
MonarchMenelik II
Succeeded byYilma Makonnen
Personal details
Born8 May 1852
Menz, Shewa Province, Ethiopian Empire
Died21 March 1906(1906-03-21) (aged 53)
Kulubi, Hararghe, Ethiopian Empire
Nationality Ethiopian
SpouseYeshimebet Ali
ChildrenYilma Makonnen
Tafari Makonnen
OccupationMilitary officer, diplomat, court official
Military service
Allegiance Ethiopian Empire
Battles/warsMenelik's Expansions


Ras Makonnen, August 1902

Ras Makonnen Wolde Mikael Wolde Melekot was born in Derefo Maryam near Ankober, in what was then in the province of Menz[3][4] to his mother Woizero Tenagnework Sahle Selassie and his father Dejazmach Wolde Mikael Wolde Melekot, who was the governor of the provinces Menz and Doba (which are located in Semien Shewa)[5][6] His maternal lineage is ethnically Amhara with a Solomonic genealogy, his mother was a daughter of Sahle Selassie of Shewa.[7][8][9][10]

In 1865, at the age of 14 his father took him to the court of Negus Menelik, then ruler of Shewa, where he engaged in military training and imbibed the skills of statecraft. Around July 1873, Makonnen married Yeshimebet Ali, the Oromo daughter of Dejazmach Ali and Woizero Wolete Giyorgis. In 1875, Yilma Makonnen was born to Makonnen and a woman who was not Yeshimebet Ali. In 1892, Tafari Makonnen, the son of Makonnen and Yeshimebet Ali, was born. In 1901, following the death of Yeshimebet Ali, Makonnen was briefly married to a niece of Empress Taytu Betul, Woizero Mentewab Wale. Makonnen's marriage to Mentewab Wale was never consummated and, in 1902, it was annulled.[11]

In 1876, Makonnen was awarded the rank of Balambaras and by 1881 commanded 1,000 well armed troops. In the same year he served in a campaign against the Arsi Oromo who were disrupting trade caravans from Tadjoura. He served in the battle of Battle of Embabo, and fought against the Arsi for a second time. Makonnen lead the troops that captured the Amir's field cannons during the Battle of Chelenqo.[11]



In 1887, Makonnen was given the governorship of Harar after it was incorporated into the Ethiopian Empire by his cousin, Emperor Menelik following the Battle of Chelenqo. According to Jules Borelli, Harar was pillaged by Abyssinian soldiers with half its population fleeing, despite pleas from the despoiled locals to Makonnen.[12] According to Hararis, the oppression of Harari people began with the invasion of Harar by Ras Makonnen which followed mosques changed into churches and Abyssinian Christians arriving from the north to settle in the town.[13] Makonnen had ordered the primary mosque of Harar to be replaced by an Orthodox Church.[14] The French traveler Charles Michel notes that "the first years of the Abyssinian occupation were far from prosperous" as the Abyssinians "took for themselves what could have any value", while "the soldiers, several thousand in number, chased the Hararis from their dwellings to install themselves in their place, and devastated everything around them." Trade and traders were driven away from the city and markets were held instead in the remote countryside.[15] As the occupation progressed, Makonnen set about undermining Harari wealth by expropriating their land and offering it to his soldiers.[16][17]

At Harar, Makonnen enjoyed good relations with expatriates, including Capuchin missionaries and a growing number of Europeans enroute to the capital. From there he learned as much as possible about the outside world. He especially appreciated Russians due to their shared Orthodox faith, and unlike other western Europeans, did not have colonial pretensions. Makonnen also had a passion for firearms and was heavily involved in the local arms trade, he imported weapons, some of whom he shipped to Shewa, others he used to subdue or extract tribute from the nearby Somalis. Makonnen pushed the expansion of the empire to the east and south of Harar, conquering the territories of the Issa and the Gadabuursi. In 1890, more reinforcements from Addis Ababa allowed Makonnen to occupy all of the Ogaden by 1891.[11] In 1896 Ras Makonnen appointed Abdullah Tahir, governor of Jigjiga.[18]

Conditions in the city rapidly improved once the soldiers left for service in the Ogaden. The Harari nobility was allowed some participation in the city's government, as running of the city was entrusted to the Amir's nephew, Ali. However ravaging and additional atrocities against the populace by the Abyssinians did not cease, the Harari people soon revolted and Makonnen marched into town with his troops, cowed the population, and imprisoned Ali. Once in the town, the troops went wild, demolished and looted homes, tyrannized the population, and killed several people. According to historian Norman Bennett, Makonnen may have aroused an insurrection to obtain absolute power in Harar.[19] He successively replaced Ali with two other Harari viceroys, Yusuf Berkhedle and Haji Abdullahi Sadiq.[20]



Due to his familiarly with the Europeans, he was soon made to lead Ethiopian missions aboard. His first trip took place in 1889 to witness Rome's formal ratification of the Treaty of Wuchale which provided a welcome opportunity to buy modern weapons and ammunition. On his way home in 1890, he stopped in Jerusalem, where he purchased land on behalf of the Ethiopian government, and the Greek patriarch presented him with a gold crucifix in which a sliver of the True Cross was embedded. In April of that year, after arriving in Addis Ababa, he was promoted to the rank of Ras.[21]

Back at home, Makonnen took part in debates about Article 17 of the Treaty of Wuchale, condemning Italy's position. In 1892, Ras Makonnen was summoned to Shewa because of Italian intrigue in Tigray, an insurrection in Gojjam, and an attempted palace coup. Makonnen spent much of the next 2 years participating in internal and external debates about Article 17. In the meantime his well equipped troops in Harar underwent raiding expeditions throughout the Somali lowlands to capture sheep and cattle to restock highland herds decimated by the rinderpest epidemic.[21]

Italo-Ethiopian War


In early 1895, tensions with Italy dramatically increased into the outbreak of the First Italo-Ethiopian War. Despite the security problems in Hararghe, Ras Makonnen and his well equipped troops eagerly took part in the war against the Italians. Ras Makonnen's Harar army took spearheaded Menelik's forces in their northern march to confront the occupying Italians in Tigray province. The first clash occurred on 7 December 1895 during Battle of Amba Alagi when Pietro Toselli came under attack by the troops of Ras Makonnen, had occupied the road leading back to Eritrea, and launched a surprise attack on the flanks of Toselli's men, completely devastating the Italian force.[22][21]

Ras Makonnen followed up this victory by reaching the Italian fort at Mekelle, surrounding it with his men and launching a series of abortive attacks on the Italian fort. Makonnen had hinted girmly that he might not come out alive during this attack, which resulted in Menelik II to order Ras Alula to prevent him from getting killed and keep watch on his cousin. As a result, Alula and Ras Mengesha Yohannes had Makonnen under arrest at Taytu Betul's orders until the rest of Menelik's army could join the battle. Once Menelik arrived at Mekelle, he called off the attack and had established contact with the Italian commander, giving him the opportunity to leave peacefully in exchange for surrender. On January 21, with permission from the Italian high command, the Italian commander agreed to surrender, allowing them to peacefully leave Mekelle with their weapons. Ras Mekonnen was sent to "escort" them back to Italian lines – a convenient way to bring a major part of the Ethiopian army to scout deep into Italian-held territory.[23]

Ras Makonnen's troops played an important role at the Battle of Adwa, his men spent much of the battle mauling Matteo Albertone's Brigade on the slopes of Enda Keret, then occupying Mount Gusoso between Albertone's and Dabormida's position. His forces then turn on Dabormida Brigade, allowing the Oromo cavalry to decimate it while attempting to withdraw.[24]

Travel abroad


In 1902, Ras Makonnen attended the coronation of King Edward VII in London. He arrived in June to the ceremony originally scheduled for 26 June, and stayed in Europe while the King recovered from an operation, attending the rescheduled ceremony on 9 August. Between these dates, he paid visits to various parts of the United Kingdom, and visited Italy, France, Turkey, and Germany. He received the following decorations: Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (KCMG) during an audience with King Edward VII on 8 August 1902,[25][26] Star of the Russian Order of St. Anne, Star of the French Legion d'Honneur (Third Republic), Star of the Order of the Crown of Italy, Star of the Ottoman Order of Osmania.[27][21]



In early 1906 the governor of Italian Eritrea, Ferdinando Martini, was on an official visit to Ethiopia. Menelik II summoned Ras Makonnen to Addis Ababa. While travelling from Harar to Addis Ababa, Ras Makonnen came down with typhus. His officers brought him to Kulubi, where he died as daylight broke after having given his son Tafari Makonnen a whispered benediction. Menelik was said to be very distraught after hearing about the death of his cousin and intensely grieved for three days.[28][21]

Monument to Ras Makonnen

Equestrian statue of Ras Makonnen previously in Harar but later toppled by protestors in 2020

The Monument to Ras Makonnen previously located in Harar was sculpted in 1959,[29] by Antun Augustinčić, a Croatian sculptor active in former Yugoslavia and the United States. In June 2020 the equestrian Monument to Ras Makonnen was toppled and destroyed by Oromo mobs who participated in Hachalu Hundessa riots, following the death of Hachalu Hundessa.[30][31] It is alleged the Harari Regional state police officers supported its removal.[32] The event was also followed by smashing of the Statue of Ras Makonnen Wolde Mikael's son and Ethiopian leader Haile Selassie in Wimbledon park, UK.[33] Referring to a statue in Addis Ababa of Menelik II, Hachalu told Oromia Media Network (OMN) said that people should remember that all the horses seen mounted by old rulers leaders belonged to the people.[31]


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  4. ^ Black Witness. Ras Makonnen : Pan-Africanism from within [compte-rendu
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  13. ^ Matshanda, Namhla (2014). Centres in the Periphery: Negotiating Territoriality and Identification in Harar and Jijiga from 1942 (PDF). The University of Edinburgh. p. 198. S2CID 157882043. Archived from the original (PDF) on 31 January 2020.
  14. ^ Jonas ·, Raymond (29 November 2011). The Battle of Adwa African Victory in the Age of Empire. Harvard University Press. p. 76. ISBN 978-0-674-06279-5.
  15. ^ Pankhurst, Richard (1982). History of Ethiopian towns from the mid 19th century to 1935. Steiner. p. 255.
  16. ^ Weekes, Richard (1984). Muslim Peoples: Acehnese. Greenwood Press. p. 317. ISBN 978-0-313-24639-5.
  17. ^ Østebø, Terje. Islam, Ethnicity, and Conflict in Ethiopia The Bale Insurgency, 1963-1970. Cambridge University Press. p. 68.
  18. ^ Pankhurst, Richard (25 October 1967). "Menilek and the Utilisation of Foreign Skills in Ethiopia". Journal of Ethiopian Studies. 5 (1). Institute of Ethiopian Studies: 52. JSTOR 41965750.
  19. ^ Bennett, Norman (1968). Leadership in Eastern Africa Six Political Biographies. Boston University Press. p. 29.
  20. ^ Pankhurst, Richard (1982), History of Ethiopian towns from the mid 19th century to 1935
  21. ^ a b c d e Alessandro Baussi, "Ras Mäkwännǝn", in Siegbert von Uhlig, ed., Encyclopaedia Aethiopica He-N (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2007), p. 227.
  22. ^ McLachlan, Sean (2011). Armies of the Adowa Campaign 1896. Osprey Publishing. p. 11.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  23. ^ McLachlan, Sean (2011). Armies of the Adowa Campaign 1896. Osprey Publishing. p. 12.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  24. ^ McLachlan, Sean (2011). Armies of the Adowa Campaign 1896. Osprey Publishing. p. 13.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  25. ^ "Court Circular". The Times. No. 36842. London. 9 August 1902. p. 6.
  26. ^ "No. 27469". The London Gazette. 29 August 1902. p. 5603.
  27. ^ Kinni, Fongot Kini-Yen (23 September 2015). Pan-Africanism: Political Philosophy and Socio-Economic Anthropology for African Liberation and Governance: Vol. 2. Langaa RPCIG. ISBN 9789956762309.
  28. ^ Harold G. Marcus, The Life and Times of Menelik II: Ethiopia 1844–1913 (Lawrenceville: Red Sea Press, 1995), p. 6
  29. ^ The Antun Augustinčić Gallery. Archived from the original on 14 June 2011. Retrieved 7 June 2020
  30. ^ "Deadly protests erupt after Ethiopian singer killed". BBC News. 30 June 2020. Retrieved 1 July 2020.
  31. ^ a b "Ethiopians Angered At Singer's Death Topple Statue". www.mybrytfmonline.com. 30 June 2020. Retrieved 16 November 2022.
  32. ^ Haile, Mulugeta (27 February 2021). CAN WE CELEBRATE THE VICTORY OF ADWA, AFTER WE DESTROYED THE HERO OF ADWA STATUE?. ZeHabesha.com.
  33. ^ Haile Selassie: Statue of former Ethiopian leader destroyed in London park


  • Marcus, Harold G. (1995). The Life and Times of Menelik II: Ethiopia 1844–1913. Lawrenceville: Red Sea. ISBN 1-56902-010-8.

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