Mähämäd Ali was not a likely candidate to unify Wällo and produce the next Ethiopian crown prince. His father was a Muslim Mammadoch noble, while his mother was a household servant named Gété. After his father's death, his wife Wärqit acted as regent for her young son, Ahmad, throughout the disastrous reign of Téwodros II (r. 1855–68), Ahmad's imprisonment and death. Without a male descendant to rule through, she backed Mähämäd Ali, and he became a major candidate to rule Wällo. Charles Beke portrays the province of Wällo as follows:
When therefore the political condition of Abessinia shall become more settled, —which it may be reasonably be expected to become, seeing the savage Galla, whose inroads caused the devastation of the country, are every generation becoming more civilized, those who have not amalgamated with the Christian Abessinans having adopted the Mohammedan religion and formed independent States in the very heart of the country, namely the portion of it through which the road in question [Tadjurrah trade route] leads, we shall doubtless see this road resume its pristine importance, and the commerce from the coast to the interior in great party pass by this channel.
He relays the process by which many are becoming Habäsha as well as the economic advantage of completing this process. Gäbra Sellassé echoes this view, when describing Menilek's plans on Wällo: “I [Menilek II] have come in order to bring the Wallo people close to me through politeness and amity and to teach them, so that I will enable them to enjoy the rule of this world and later [to inherit] the Kingdom of Heaven, by Christ's benevolence.” Due to the violence of Téwodros’ rule, Wällo was weakened and became a pawn in the imperial designs of both Yohannes and Menilek. Mähämäd Ali, through Wärqit, was initially aligned with Menilek and used local Islamic legitimacy to control his part of the province. This control allowed Mähämäd to reap economic, military, and political benefits, which offset the religious conflicts that ensued due to Wällo's Islamic leanings in a largely Christian empire.