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The Need for Officer Training Institute

January 07, 2006 Posted by Webmaster

Haile Selassie 1st Harar Military Academy (1957 - 1977)

The history of officer training institutions in Ethiopia is relatively new. So, in fact, is the history of the professional Ethiopian army. Notwithstanding the rich ancient cultural and historical heritage of Ethiopia, its regular army, as such, was formally constituted just shortly before Fascist Italy's invasion of the country in 1935. The concept of a professional standing army is, therefore, a relatively new development for Ethiopia. It was through the peoples' militia organized under the country's autonomous regions or Mesafints than through its trained professional army that Ethiopia withstood sustained foreign encroachments and designs on its sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity. The much celebrated Ethiopian victories over the centuries, including the rout of Italian forces at Adwa and Dogali in 1896 and 1905 respectively attest to the valor, heroism and the natural fighting spirit and skills of Ethiopia's traditional warriors (zematchoh). They were the bulwark and the vanguard of the Ethiopian people. They were the secret of Ethiopia's survival as a free and independent state for over 3000 years.

The army officer's military training school, as a formal institution, was formed just before the coronation of Emperor Haileselassie I in 1925 when the Belgians trained and equipped a small Palace Guard. That force was later dramatically transformed into a well equipped and staffed officer training school (Imperial Body Guard). The Swedes were the instructors. The Genet Military Training School was set up set up a few years before at Holotta, outside Addis Abeba, in 1934. The Genet Military Training and the Imperial Bodyguard Training Schools were the oldest army officer training schools of their kind in Ethiopia's history. The Air Force Training School followed suit shortly after that. The Imperial Bodyguard ceased commissioning officers after the end of the Korean War. The Genet Officer Training School drew most of its recruits initially from non-commissioned officers (NCOs) until late in the 1950's, when it switched to recruiting youngsters from elementary and secondary schools. The army drew and still draws most of its officers from Genet. The School has produced some of the most battletested and committed officers who have proudly participated in the wars that Ethiopia has been involved in.

In the mean time, the Ethiopian army has been going through rapid attitudinal and psychological change through its deployment on peacekeeping missions abroad. The deployment of Ethiopian troops in the Korean War as well as in other UN sponsored peace-keeping operations in Africa and the Indian sub-continent had exposed them, particularly its officer corps, to external influences that whetted the appetite for change and quickened the pace for the modernization of the army. They were eye openers for many of the officers, NCOs and soldiers deployed on peace missions. Those interactions helped to accelerate the demand for highly trained officers with professional and communication skills. Concurrently, Ethiopia's political leadership and intelligentsia was opening its eyes to and expressing interest in the then unfolding liberation struggle on the African continent. The wind of change in Africa even swept the Emperor's government to assume an increasingly active role in that struggle and in the Pan-African movement. In addition, the Emperor's leadership role in the politics of the Non-Aligned movement and the Organization of African Unity had underscored the need for some form of military engagement in Africa, particularly in the struggle against Apartheid and European colonialism in southern Africa. All these developments necessitated the rapid professionlization and modernization of the Ethiopian army. That logically led the political and military leadership to promptly set up a modern military training institution that can a first rate officer corps for the Ethiopian army. That, in turn, culminated in the decision to set up a national military academy for Ethiopia

Founding of the Harar Military Academy:
There is anecdotal evidence that the idea of establishing a military academy in Ethiopia was conceived by the late Emperor at one of the conferences of the Summits of the Heads of States and Governments of Nonaligned Countries. The Emperor reportedly broached the subject to his friend, the late Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Pandit Nehru at one of those encounters. It was decided to undertake a joint feasibility study of the project and report its recommendations to both governments. Consequently, a high level Indian military delegation visited Ethiopia in late 1956 and, along with its Ethiopian counterpart, visited several Ethiopian cities and towns, including Addis Abeba, Debre Zeit, Nazareth, Bahirdar, Jimma and Harar. The availability of enough physical infrastructures to start off the project almost immediately led to the selection of Harar as the venue for the Academy. Harar, it turned out, had quite a significant number of buildings once occupied by Italian and British forces in the town. That it was also the birthplace of the Emperor could have certainly tipped the balance in its favor. Harar is a small picturesque town located some three hundred miles from Addis Abeba in Southeast Ethiopia. It has a pleasant weather all year round and is known for its walled sector of Malaga built by the Turks during the hay day of the Ottoman Empire. The Academy was located in the foothills of Hakim Gara, part of a chain of mountain ranges surrounding the town. Magala was just a few miles away from the Academy. From its founding in 1957 to its premature shutdown in 1977, the Academy was so intimately bonded with Harar that it was, for all intents and purposes, indistinguishable in the conscience of so many citizens of Harar, and the large number of Gentlemen Cadets that passed through both.

The Emperor's overriding ambition to establish the Academy was, in his own words, "to establish a Military Academy comparable to those similar Academies elsewhere, and thereby train officers who can revive the reputation bequeathed? by our forefathers". The Emperor had, no doubt, the likes of Sandhurst, Saint-Cyr and the Indian National Defense Academy (NDA) in mind. It was apparently to foster that linkage and forge a strong relationship with these military institutions of excellence that some of the best performing Gentlemen Cadets in the Academy were selected and sent to the United Kingdom and France for enrollment at these institutions, where they acquitted themselves with distinction. The Emperor's vision was to create a first rate Military Academy versed both in the arts of warfare as well as in military leadership, and be a beacon of light and inspiration to the people of Africa.

He envisaged the Academy to be the breeding ground for African freedom fighters that were then engaged in the liberation of their compatriots in Africa. He offered the Academy, as he once put it in a speech at one of the graduation ceremonies,?as a modest contribution to African organizations. There is no doubt that the fulfillment of the much desired goals of African Unity will have additional (encouragement) with every increase in (the Academy) in the number of students from other parts of Africa". The Emperor's vision bore even more tangible results when the Dergue trained and equipped thousands of Africans as a contribution to the anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggle in Southern Africa. It was clear, therefore, that the Academy was established for dual purposes, military and political. True to his words, many African youngsters from several African countries joined and graduated from the Academy. The Academy was lucky for being led and staffed, at its inception, by one of the finest military and academic officers in the Indian and Ethiopian armies. The Indian military contingent was particularly impressive. It was one of the creams of the Indian army. The first and founding Commandant of the Academy was the dashing General N.S. Rawlley, DSO, MC. He was a highly distinguished senior Indian military officer who saw active service in the last World War and in his nation's wars with Pakistan. His Chief of Staff was Colonel R.N. Sen who was a brilliant staff officer and a first rate military commander in the Indian army. The duo was ably assisted by a competent team of Indian officers fully qualified in their respective fields of military specialization. An equally qualified civilian team of Indian professors who were recruited from the Indian National Defense Academy reinforced the military team. The Indian contingent, as a whole, was a highly qualified and disciplined professional team that made a deep impression upon the Gentlemen Cadets of the Academy, and contributed to the rapid growth and development of the Academy. The Indian team was ably assisted by a carefully selected group of Ethiopian military officers who worked along side its Indian counterparts, and made immense contributions.