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Emperor Menelik II: The First African To Own A Car



Menelik II was Emperor of Ethiopia from 1889 to his death in 1913.

Emperor Menelik II is known for his territorial expansion and creation of modern Ethiopia. Most notably, he is remembered for leading Ethiopian troops in a decisive victory at the Battle of Adwa against forces of fascist Italy. He successfully defeated the Italian forces. This became the first victory by an African country over a colonial power.

This later strengthened Ethiopia in its diplomatic relations with other European powers as sources say more and more westerners started to travel to Ethiopia looking for a trade, mineral exploration concessions, farming, and hunting. And it was during this period that cars were taking to the roads in Europe.

In the 1890s, he negotiated the construction of a railroad to his capital, Addis Ababa.

The railroad construction from Djibouti, then a colony of French Somaliland, started in 1894 but work halted in 1902 following rivalry between the French and British partners.

Menelik II, who had acquired European products like watches, guns and phonographs, made it known that he was interested in a car; this was in 1907.

When Europeans got word of it, they began challenging themselves as to who would be the first to satisfy the wish.

Bede Bentley, a British veteran of the South African war and the occupation of Somali rose to the challenge.

Holding discussions with managers of the Armstrong Siddley company, they agreed to provide Bentley with an eighteen-horsepower vehicle.

The vehicle was shipped to Djibouti before driving it through the mountains and desert to Addis Ababa.

It took Bentley and his team including a mechanic, Somali interpreter and a brindled bulldog seven months to make the trip.

Already struggling with heat, sand, thirst, wild beasts and starvation, the team also had to face off with natives who did not want foreign machines to ruin their caravan trade.

Thanks to the armed escort provided by the Ethiopian army, and caravans that gave them basic necessities, they finally arrived in Ethiopia to the joy of Menelik II.

The team presented the automobile gift to the emperor in the courtyards.

Menelik II, in an “enormous clergyman’s hat” and “black robes of rich silk set off with red,” inspected the automobile.


This was before Bentley chauffeured him over the good roads that had already been constructed around the capital.

Sometimes going at top speeds, the emperor timed the journeys with his watch. An account states that at a point, the Lion of Judah took the wheel himself for the first time.

These rides did not begin without an “ordeal”, though.

As the 1913 book To Menelik in a Motor-Car stated, before the King of Kings went for his ride, Bentley gave a short lecture as to the working of the automobile with Menelik II paying rapt attention.

Right after the explanation, he remarked through his interpreter, Hohler: “Yes, yes. He does not look like an anarchist who has come all this way to kill me; and the machine does not seem so very dangerous, as I have been told.”

“I have been told almost daily for the past month, that the moment I sat in the car I should be blown up. When I said I thought that was foolish, for those in the car would be blown up with me, I was told that perhaps, instead of blowing me up, I should be driven over a precipice, and that those who drove the car had practiced jumping off at the last moment,” the 62-year-old said while assuring Bentley that he did not think he looked like one who could do any of those things. is an authoritative car blog in Nigeria. Its objective is to get Nigerians and a wider audience to be more informed about automobiles, the automotive sector and transport infrastructure. Over the years, we have been instrumental in creating immeasurable public awareness about automobiles and their maintenance, safety and traffic laws, amongst others. ...Your mobility, our priority. NK

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