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Was Addis Ababa established by Emperor Tewodros II of Ethiopia ‘as a new capital’?

By MFC Staff

Two authors, Tom Cooper and Adrien Fontanellaz, claimed in their 2018 published book that Addis Ababa was established by Emperor Tewdors II of Ethiopia in mid-19 century.

The second volume of their work, which was titled “Ethiopian-Eritrean Wars”, briefly narrated on page 5 the turbulent time of ‘Zemene Mesafint’ a.k.a. ‘Era of the Princes’ before the coming to power of Emperor Tewodros II and how he fought against external powers including “Egyptian Khedivites”.

Screenshot from the Book containing the claim that ‘Tewdros established Addis Ababa as a new capital’

As seen in the screenshot, Cooper and Fontanellaz write “Tewodros not only resisted the Khedivites fiercely, ultimately forcing them to withdraw, but established Addis Ababa as a new capital, and then fought a short war with the British Empire, in 1867, which ended with Ethiopian defeat during the battle of Magdala (better known as Amba Mariam) – promoting him into suicide”.

Then, the question is: “was Addis Ababa in fact established by Emperor Tewodros II ‘as a new capital?”

For history books to offer reasonable factual content as to what happened in the past, and inform readers of what to learn from the past for the present and the future purposes, it may have to be written with a fairly balanced perspective and sufficient evidence and authority generally accepted in the field and among the scholars of the discipline. Any literature that marginally falls short of meeting such a basic and fundamental ethics of inquiry has the potential to misinform the public, resulting in grave distortion of a widely accepted historical truth. In the assertion of these authors, predictably, many people with ordinary and expertise level knowledge may find the claim as outlandish, simple factual error, or maybe deliberate misinformation.

Generally, under any rules of professional conduct or research ethics, such assertion by any prudent author of a history book is expected to provide reasonably strong, conclusive, and non-hearsay literature to support the truth of the matter asserted. Without such a threshold of evidence, the claim would remain factually erroneous.

The issue of Addis Ababa is already controversial enough. Its ownership – politically, economically, and ancestrally – remains a bone of contention. For the foreseeable future, it may remain one of the sources of enduring conflicts in the country. While the first group of claimants, who are pro-Menilik, assert that Addis Ababa was a terra nullius (land belonging to no one), the other claimants assert that Menilik and his wife – Empress Taytu Betul – found the city after displacing a pre-existing Oromo clan who lived there. Despite such a pre-existing dispute, no historical claims or ordinary assertions so far have traced the founding of Addis Ababa back to Tewodros, who ruled between 1855-1868. Interestingly, both claimants seem to widely agree that the city’s founding history is part of a post-Menilk political history of Ethiopia.

Considering these contentions and relevant nuances around the subject, the MFC’s verdict is that the assertion/claim made by the two authors are not based on a widely held account and reality; nor is it supported by any reasonably authoritative literature available on the subject of Addis Ababa. Therefore, MFC rules that the claim is unfounded.

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Based on voice cloning and using wrong pictures, MFC verdicts the stated content as misleading. 

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(MFC) is an independent fact-checking organization which is launched to pin-point, track-down, scrutinize, investigate, interrogate, publish and distribute the factual accuracy of claims made by public figures. MFC’s project has geographical priorities. Our work mainly focuses on nations in the Horn of Africa and their diaspora community who reside abroad. We operates from various regions of Africa, Europe and North America. Through a multitude of professional proficiency, MFC deploys best practices of journalism, scholarship and expertise in order to flag, investigate and publish a fact.

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