Belay Zeleke በላይ ዘለከ was born in 1896 in the Wollo province of Ethiopia to a mother of Wollo Borena and to a father of Gojam Berenta Origins. At a very young age in a mysterious situation, Belay Zeleke killed his uncle which prompted him to flee his village and live as a fugitive isolated from his family and friends for the subsequent 15 years. In his solitary life, Belay Zeleke learned to be courageous and decisive.
Subsequently in 1896, Benito Mussolini, the Prime Minister from Italy had suffered a humiliating defeat in Ethiopia (Abyssinia) at the hands of the Negus King Menelik II .
Italian forces were demolished by Ethiopian army forces at the Battle of Adwa. Over ten thousand Italians lay dead. The defeat was victorious for Ethiopians, and yet disastrous for Italian expansion in Africa.
Italy’s humiliation and trample had not been overlooked. The memory of Adwa’s victory sustained, and they felt the need to strike.
Mussolini the modern Caesar of his day, puts his attention toward Ethiopia. He saw this conquest as a means of restoring Roman grandeur.
On October 3, 1935, the Italian dictator launches his first foreign military adventure. He invades the kingdom of Ethiopia as the League of Nations (currently called The United Nations) weakly stands by.
In 1935 Italy invaded Ethiopia. Like the many patriotic Ethiopians, Belay Zeleke felt the need to defend his country and led an insurgency movement against the occupation in Gojam. Soon, he became known for being remorseless among Italian generals and they fought him as hard as they could. Not only did he defeat the Italian army that was sent to destroy him, he also took into custody the army’s general and executed him by hanging. After driving the Italian army out of Gojam and some parts of Wollo, he put himself in charge of these particular regions much to the gladness of the population. His courageous heroism inspired thousands of Ethiopians to resist the occupation and many wanted to be like him.
The Ethiopian patriots librated Addis Ababa on 6 May 1941 and this victory officially ended Italian occupation. Fascist Italy’s attempts to colonize Ethiopia came to an abrupt end on this day. Emperor Haile Selassie returned to Addis Ababa on 5 May 1941 after spending the preceding 5 years in exile in Europe. This particular victory was realized as a result of the world-famous swift resistance by Ethiopian patriots. The contributions made by Belay Zeleke to the struggle and ultimately to the victory of Ethiopia against the colonialist aggression of Fascist Italy were enormous.
Throughout Ethiopia, – particularly in Addis Ababa – signs of Italian presence in the past remain intact to date. Yet unlike most of the different parts of Ethiopia, there are no physical signs of Italian invasion in the province of Gojjam. It is believed that Belay Zeleke never let the Italian troops camp anywhere in Gojam let alone build construction to leave a legacy of any sort.
Belay was so successful in stopping the Italians, that his fellow country men gave him the grand title of Le’ul Belay or Princely Belay. They also gave him the name and title Atse Bagulbatu which means “Self Made Emperor”. Belay replied, that he did not need any further name or title, as his mother already named him Belay.
His name Belay simply means “One who is Above Others”
Upon the Emperor Haile Selassie’s victorious return to Ethiopia in 1941, Belay Zeleke was put in charge of a small region in Gojam when he had assumed a higher rank to be able to play a much bigger role in reconstructing and administering the region.
He declined the position in protest and started living life as an outlaw. Soon he was caught and sent to jail accused of being a threat to the monarchy. After making unsuccessful attempts to break out of jail, the patriot Belay Zeleke and his brother Ejjegu was then brutally executed by public hanging on January 12, 1945. His execution was bitterly received by many Ethiopians. In his honor Gojjam road was named after him.
In a heartbreaking error of judgment, an Ethiopian hero who gave the country freedom was given death in return. And it will always be remembered as an act of giving a National Hero a grave injustice.