Tue. Dec 5th, 2023


Balcha Safo/ Balcha Abba Nefso

Balcha Safo/ Balcha Abba Nefso ( Oromiffa: Baalchaa Saafoo; Amharic: ባልቻ ሳፎ; 1863 – 1936), also known by his title as Dejazmach Balcha, was an accomplished Ethiopian general, who served in both the First and Second Italo-Ethiopian Wars. He came from a non-aristocratic background. Even so, he became a Provincial Governor (Shum) and came to represent a provincial ruling elite who were often at odds with the Ethiopian central government.

Balcha was found on a battlefield in oromialand after having been emasculated, which at the time was the usual fate of defeated soldiers. He came to the notice of Emperor Menelik II, who brought him back to Addis Ababa where Balcha was educated. Balcha is believed to be of Oromo descent; ‘Balcha’ means ‘taming, assimilating or making familiar with’ in Afan Oromo. He made his reputation, according to oral tradition, in the Battle of Mek’ele, and later at the Battle of Adwa (March 1, 1896), and was rewarded with elevation to the aristocratic status of dejazmach. From 1898 to 1908, Balcha was Shum of Sidamo province. After the death of Dejazmach Yilma Makonnen in 1907, he became the Shum of Harar from 1910 to 1914. From 1917 to 1928, he again served as Shum of Sidamo.

A conservative who had been loyal to the memory of the deceased Emperor Menelik, Balcha was one of the leading nobles who challenged the growing power of the regent Ras Tafari (who later became Emperor Haile Selassie). A blunt old warrior, he did not trust the young Emperor, who was an advocate for modernizing Ethiopia. In a deft political maneuver, which has since been seen as an example of Haile Selassie’s genius, in 1928 the Emperor invited Balcha to the capital for a feast in Balcha’s honor. Balcha arrived 11 February with several thousand men, and spent the evening “generally insolent and threatening in conversation.” The Dejazmach’s lieutenants were made so nervous by the old man’s misbehavior that they privately met with Ras Tafari to disavow any prior knowledge of his possible violent actions.

Meanwhile, the regent sent Ras Kassa Haile Darge to Balcha’s camp, where he paid off the soldiers Balcha had left there. At the same time the Emperor appointed Dejazmach Birru Wolde Gabriel to replace Balcha as governor of Sidamo. These simultaneous acts deprived Balcha of his ability to resist, a loss he discovered only after he returned to the camp. After evaluating his limited options, on 21 February the Dejazmach humiliated himself before the regent.


When Italy invaded in the Second Italo-Abyssinian War, Balcha Safo came out of retirement to fight against the Italians. Major Mesfin Seleshi, an agent of the imperial government in exile who was coordinating resistance in occupied Ethiopia, writes of his fate in a letter to Haile Selassie I thus:

The enemy went as far as Gurage, where his Excellency Dejazmatch Balcha lives, and campaigned against him. The people betrayed him, and all his men were annihilated. He and two of his servants, three people all together, were surrounded. A white man came to him and asked, are you Dejazmatch Balcha? When he said yes I am, the white man said, surrender your arms, and untie your pistol [belt]. Dejazmatch Balcha said, ‘I am not here to surrender my arms’, and he killed the white man; then, he and his two servants died instantly without having much suffering.

Source: Military Wiki

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By Chala Dandessa

I am Lecturer, Researcher and Freelancer. I am the founder and Editor at ETHIOPIANS TODAY website. If you have any comment use caalaadd2@gmail.com as email contact. Additionally you can contact us through the contact page of www.ethiopianstoday.com.

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