Sylvia Pankhurst: Ethiopian Patriot

Sylvia Pankhurst (May 5, 1882 – September 27,1960) was a British militant suffragette, women's rights activist, author, journalist, ultra left socialist who dedicated her entire life to activism. The British government imprisoned and tortured her on several occasions.

Starting in the 1930s, she started speaking out against fascism. The British government in the early 1930s had turned a blind eye to the rise of Musolini. Politicians such as Winston Churchill were raising the alarm about Hilter but ignored what was happening in Italy.

In 1935, Italy invaded and occupied Ethiopia. Italy justified its invasion of Ethiopia by saying that slavery still existed in the country. Sylvia pointed out efforts by Haile Selassie to eradicate the practice. Without those measures, Ethiopia would not have been admitted to the League of Nations. Italy also argued that it needed to colonize Ethiopia to deal with population growth back home. Sylvia countered that most Italians who chose to emigrate chose to go to the USA and not to one of Italy’s existing colonies.

Although England condemned Italy for invading Ethiopia, it stayed silent when it came to its unfair economic policies towards the two warring countries. Italy was allowed to continue to purchase anything it could use for the war effort. Ethiopia on the other hand, was prevented from purchasing weapons. Sylvia wrote articles pointing out England's duplicity in the leading newspapers of the time.

In May 1936, she launched her newspaper New Times and Ethiopia News. Photos of atrocities committed by the Italians appeared in several editions of the paper. She used money she made from her newspaper to provide financial support to the Ethiopian legation in London. Soon after Italy banned the newspaper from Italy and all its territories, including Ethiopia. However, she arranged the paper to be translated into Amharic and smuggled into Ethiopia.

Some prominent Ethiopians, while studying in London, wrote articles for her newspaper; future prime ministers Endalkachew Makonnen and MIkael Imru, dramatist Menghestu Lemma, and Afewerk Tekle.

Sylvia and Haile Selassie met for the first time at Waterloo Station in England on June 3rd, 1936. It would be the start of a friendship that would only end when Sylvia died 24 years later.

After England ousted Italy from Ethiopia in 1941, it’s intentions for the future of Ethiopia were not made clear. England remained behind in Ethiopia even after allowing Haile Selassie to form a new government. Sylvia became alarmed when the government gave evasive answers. England also played a role in preventing Italian atrocities from being investigated by the UN. Sylvia reported all the injustices England was carrying out in her newspaper.

Sylvia made her first trip to Ethiopia in 1944. Haile Selassie awarded her the Ethiopian Patriot’s medal and the Queen of Sheba medal. She visited Ethiopia a second time in 1951, to attend the opening of the Princess Tsehai Memorial Hospital. In 1954, Haile Selassie went to England on a state visit. In a private meeting with Sylvia, he extended her an invitation to move and live in Ethiopia. She took up his offer and moved to Ethiopia three years later in 1957. She was accompanied by her son, Richard Pankhurst and his fiance RIta.

In Ethiopia, she launched a new publication, Ethiopia Observer. She was a strong advocate of Haile Selassie, including supporting his effort to reunite Eritrea with Ethiopia. On September 27, 1960, Sylvia fell ill and died in her home in Addis Ababa. The next day she was buried in a full state funeral amongst other Ethiopian Patriots.

Holmes, Rachel. Sylvia Pankhurst: Natural Born Rebel. 2020