History of Emperor Haile Selassie

History of Emperor Haile Selassie

A Significant Event in His Life
As Ethiopia’s most famous leader in history, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I guided the nation through the twentieth century.

Although his narrative is lengthy and complex, one moment, in particular, demonstrates the drama, daring, and devotion to his nation that characterized his life. Benito Mussolini’s new Italian government invaded Ethiopia twice in the 1930s, promising to get revenge for the loss at Adwa, which occurred some 40 years earlier. To stave off the invasion, Selassie rallied the Ethiopian army and placed his forces in the north. Italy launched a massive northward invasion of Ethiopia in October 1935, moving from her territory of Eritrea. At the end of the year, the defenders of Emperor Haile Selassie launched the “Christmas Offensive,” a counteroffensive after slowing down the invasion. Eventually, the offensive was rebuffed, and the Italians retreated with increased force. Emperor Haile Selassie, who had been personally overseeing the battle, withdrew his troops and went to the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela for a solitary fast and prayer.

He may have been apprehended if he had been found in Lalibela, so this journey was risky, but he made it safely and returned to Addis Ababa with renewed purpose and clarity. As the Italians closed in on Addis, he and his government decided to leave the country. After visiting Jerusalem, Emperor Haile Selassie proceeded to England, where he lived in the town of Bath from 1936 until 1941. During those years, the Italians succeeded in their invasion in the short term by seizing Addis Ababa and occupying Ethiopia. Emperor Haile Selassie relentlessly advocated for Ethiopia before the world community from Bath.

He intended to thank Americans for their support of Ethiopia’s cause with a Christmas Day radio program in 1937.

Emperor Haile Selassie was involved in a road accident in his taxi while his route to the radio station. In the incident, he suffered a fracture to his knee. The great leader, in excruciating agony the whole time, bravely went on to the radio station and delivered his speech as scheduled.

During his years in exile, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie had more personal tragedies. He also lost a daughter in delivery, and his daughter and two sons-in-law perished at the hands of the Italians. But it was all not for nothing.

Ethiopia was freed from Italian authority in 1941 by the “Gideon Force,” an army composed of Ethiopian and British soldiers. After his return, Emperor Haile Selassie revived the Ethiopian people. Over the following thirty years, as the nation’s leader, he brought in a new age of wealth and modernization.

August 28, 1975, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie’s Obituary at Age 83
The last emperor of the 3,000-year-old Ethiopian dynasty, Haile Selassie, passed away in a little flat in his ancient palace. He reigned for fifty years until a military coup overthrew him. He was in his eighties.

The military authorities in Addis Ababa who took over from him downplayed his death when they announced a regularly scheduled radio program at seven in the morning.

They said that a servant had discovered him dead in bed and that the cause of death was most likely due to the consequences of prostate surgery that Haile Selassie had undergone two months before.

According to the program, the former Emperor requested a visit from Princess Tenagne-Work, the sole surviving daughter of the once-revered “Lion of Judah,” on Tuesday after realizing his health was fast declining.

However, Crown Prince Afsa Wossen Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, who has been living overseas since the monarchy was legally proclaimed to have ended in March of last year, stated in London that his father has been in “excellent health.”

A written statement released in London said that “the Crown Prince demands that the International Red Cross and independent doctors be allowed to carry out an autopsy to ascertain the cause of death of Ethiopia’s and Africa’s father.”

According to official authorities, the former Emperor will be buried “in the strictest privacy.” In Ethiopia, burials have to happen within 24 hours after a person’s passing.

Haile Selassie I, the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Elect of God, Emperor of Ethiopia, controlled his ancient country as an autocrat in the manner of the Middle Ages, and is revered as a symbol of royal authority.

Haile Selassie, used to Rolls-Royces, was dragged from his expansive palace to an army officer’s home in the back seat of a blue Volkswagen after almost a year of seething unhappiness with his administration.

The last battle resembled a scenario from an opera by Verdi, with the youthful, strong army members facing off against the elderly and weak Emperor.

The officers became more enraged as Haile Selassie reprimanded and called them impolite, and they immediately chose to send him to a military camp rather than another palace.

Unrest in the countryside and among the army of peasants over government efforts to conceal a drought that ultimately claimed 100,000 lives in two northern regions marked the beginning of Haile Selassie’s problems in 1973.

The military’s mutinies in February 1974 over inadequate pay added to the instability, and the Emperor’s issues were further exacerbated by an Eritrean separatist guerilla war.

Following protests in the capital city of Addis Ababa in the spring and summer, his whole authority was progressively limited.

Emperor Haile Selassie dressed in uniform
Before his downfall, the majority of Ethiopians held him in high regard, but the emerging urban elite found the consolidation of power in his person and the slow pace of change to be intolerable.

The fact that the Cabinet reported to Haile Selassie under both of the Emperor’s two constitutions (1931 and 1955) and that political parties were not allowed were the main points of contention.

Critics said that since economic reform—particularly alterations to the long-standing land tenure system—moved much too slowly, the nation’s agricultural and animal husbandry, which constitute the backbone of its economy, were conducted at a rudimentary level.

The principal cash crops were coffee, grains, and beans; meat and animal products also made significant contributions to the GDP. In contrast, manufacturing and electricity constituted a mere 3% of the GNP.

A wild and vast nation, Haile Selassie’s kingdom covered 455,000 square kilometers, or almost the combined area of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. Its population, estimated at 26 million in the absence of a census, was widely recognized.

There were other tribes, one of which was so archaic that its males would castrate their rivals to gain the favor of a prospective wife.

Although there were several languages spoken, barely 50% of the population could speak Amharic, which is the official tongue.

Despite monophysite Christianity being the official state religion, a significant section of the populace—roughly 40%—was Muslim.

There were also Judaists and Animists. The diversity of faiths and cultures highlighted Ethiopia’s lack of homogeneity and overall backwardness since the nation lacked organized social and health services as well as a built rail or highway network.

Even in Addis Ababa, the majority of people lived in mud and straw homes.

The capital was a particularly remarkable example of the old vs new contrast, with its few contemporary buildings casting shadows over the considerably more numerous older structures, which featured the Imperial Brothel and the plaza where public hangings were performed until a few years ago.

On July 23, 1892, Haile Selassie, the leader of the Amhara tribe, was born in a mud and wattle home in Ejarsa Gora. Lij Tafari Makonnen was the only surviving child of Ras Makonnen, the Governor of Harar, and was given the name Lij.

The father of the kid was a close friend and cousin of Emperor Menelik II, who lacked a rightful male successor. Following Ras Makonnen’s death in 1906, his son—who was already somewhat educated and fluent in French—was called to the Addis Ababa Court, where he received more instruction in book study as well as the crafty schemes of Menelik’s household.

Following the death of Menelik II in 1913, Lij Yasu, the attractive, rebellious, and athletic grandson of the Emperor, took Tafari’s place.

Before becoming an emperor, Ras Teferi
In the meanwhile, Tafari had become a governor of a province and had married Waizero Menen, the niece of Lij Yasu, after her divorce.

Lij Yasu was excommunicated by the Ethiopian church and converted to Islam; he was never properly crowned. In the subsequent palace coup, Tafari declared himself the presumed successor to the throne and Regent for Menelik’s daughter Zauditu, who was crowned Empress.

Disconnected from the Subjects
Paradoxically, Haile Selassie was the one who brought about the developments that ultimately brought about his downfall: the military training programme introduced Ethiopian officers to American representational systems, and Haile Selassie I University taught students about political economics.

But the Emperor could not seem to adjust to new ideas, and in recent years, diplomats said that he had become distant from his people and more attached to his dogs and pet cheetahs than to his human companions.

A small group of technocrats and intellectuals emerged throughout the implementation of Haile Selassie’s cautious reforms; they had a very different perspective of the nation than the tradition-bound Emperor.

Furthermore, the reform process brought Ethiopia closer to the perimeter of superpower politics and increased reliance on the US for army supplies.

The nation’s advantageous location on the Red Sea is what led to this. Aware of geopolitics as well, the Soviet Union supplied Somalia’s armed forces. Somalia is a country bordering Ethiopia on the southeast and shares the Red Sea.

Tensions inside both countries increased as a result of years of border disputes between the two countries.

Maintaining Advancement
The set of events that ultimately led to Haile Selassie’s demise tended to overshadow his achievements in guiding a rural, feudal kingdom with 2,000 languages and dialects into the 19th, if not the 20th, century. This country was essentially illiterate. It also overshadowed his efforts to promote African unification.

A common sentiment was expressed by an African who met the Emperor at the 1972 UN Security Council meeting in Addis Ababa, saying: “Haile Selassie is one of the world’s great men.”

He accomplished a great deal for his nation and quickly established himself as a well-respected spokesperson for Africa and the Third World.”

If under the Emperor, change came slowly, it was done so on purpose. He regularly said, “We must make progress slowly to preserve the progress we have already made,” about his reign, which saw the establishment of limited democratic institutions and the legal abolition of slavery.

However, he was also seen to have used excessive authority to govern too rigidly for the sake of his friends and family. Additionally, he was widely suspected of being an exploiter upon his removal, having surreptitiously transferred billions of dollars to foreign private bank accounts.

His lengthy existence was similar to the drama of his fall from grace and the intrigues that led up to it.

After seizing power in a palace coup and embarrassing his adversaries in combat, Haile Selassie was forced into exile by the fascist Italian soldiers after the international community rejected his heartfelt and well-reasoned pleas for assistance.

After being brought back to his capital during World War II, he successfully negotiated for Ethiopia to receive economic aid from abroad, worked to advance education, put an end to a coup attempt, and, despite his anachronisms and Ethiopia’s historical traditions, became a leading figure in African anti-colonialism.

Haile Selassie was a legendary figure due to his immense authority and reputation that grew over more than fifty years. He was placed in a part that he more than lived up to, thanks to his amazing sense of theatre.

One man approached the Emperor after he had completed giving presents to the troops who had fought for Ethiopia in World War II, claiming he had been left out.

“You lie,” Haile Selassie shot back, addressing the petitioner by name and providing the precise location, day, and time of his prize for securing a convoy of mules for the army.

The guy blushed and shuddered, because he had never imagined the Emperor would recall, given the large number of other people who had received honours at the same moment. Even as he began to pull away, the Emperor called him back and gave him a bundle of cash.

The Emperor seemed malnourished and was barely five feet four inches tall, yet his grandiose and selfless acts served to hide this truth. However, he was able to project an air of cold command and an imposing presence, regardless of whether he was sitting at his desk in a military uniform with a dazzling array of decorations across his chest, standing erect on the League of Nations rostrum, or sitting bolt upright in his maroon or green Rolls-Royce as he drove through the dusty streets of Addis Ababa, his subjects lying down in front of him.

Haile Selassie’s dark-complexioned face, aquiline nose over wide lips, and steady, piercing black eyes all contributed to his physically intimidating appearance.

It was a grim and terrifying appearance, the face of a man who upheld the principles of Niccolo Machiavelli and John Stuart Mill, of compassion and cruelty; for he could be kind to obedient followers or he could hang dissidents or imprison an opponent in golden chains.

His sorrowful grin was the most he could go in expressing his emotions, leaving his genuine thoughts utterly opaque.

Haile Selassie was a legendary figure to many in the West, particularly in the United States. He was the 225th Emperor of Ethiopia, deriving his dynasty from Menelik I, who was said to be the offspring of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, known as Queen Makeda in Ethiopia. (The 1955 constitution stated that Haile Selassie is descended directly from Menelik I.)

In his public appearances, the Emperor, uncompromising in his adherence to formality and punctuality, evoked the grandeur and extravagance of Suleiman the Magnificent, or Louis XIV, but with the distinction that he worked and lived in a contemporary environment and traveled overseas on an Ethiopian Airlines aircraft that had been hijacked.

He had owned three palaces, but after converting the Gueneteleul Palace into the Haile Selassie I University in 1960, he was left with only the Jubilee Palace for his residence and the Ghibi castle for his place of employment.

Watched over by Lions
He had lions and cheetahs watching over him around the clock, Imperial Bodyguards defending him, his beloved papillon dogs following him, a plethora of chamberlains and flunkies on each side, and a legacy of respect for his person all supporting him.

Crown Prince Haile Selassie with a lion

He never let his citizens forget that he believed himself to be the Elect of God, and he took the idea of a king’s divine authority seriously. In fact, he embodied both the state’s temporal authority and the established church of Ethiopia—the Ethiopian Orthodox church.

When Hailegassie had any downtime, which was rare since he was a very hardworking monarch, he was rather charming.

Speaking quietly (in halting English when needed), he had a well-stocked mind with small conversations from watching newsreels and films and daily reading of the international press. He also took in knowledge from his wide global trips.

Even if it was light, his conversation was unlikely to be humorous, gay, or quote-worthy. He constantly addressed himself with the imperial “we.”

Beneath the awning of office, he was a lonely man in his latter years. He had outlived four of his six children and his 50-year wife, who passed away in 1962.

On the other hand, he enjoyed surrounding himself at supper with his many grandkids and great-grandchildren.

Head of the African Union
Haile Selassie had a position of leadership in African politics with anticolonialist politicians like Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, and Sekou Toure of Guinea due to his bravery and persistence as a nationalist.

The Emperor, in spite of his despotic reign, stood for both the skillful obtaining of foreign economic assistance and freedom from overt foreign dominance.

Haile Selassie organized the Organisation of African Unity’s first conference in 1963 and drafted the organization’s charter for the 38-nation bloc. Its main office is located in Addis Ababa.

In addition, a United Nations Economic Commission for Africa was established at Haile Selassie’s request. Its secretariat is located in a sumptuous $1.75 million structure in Addis Ababa, which was built at the Emperor’s request.

Lion’s Mane
Tafari showed himself to be a powerful man by controlling the Empress and eliminating her husband. He also captured Lij Yasu and imprisoned him for eternity.

royal haile selassie seated among golden lions

But Tafari’s golden shackles did not confine him to the extent that he could not appreciate the variety of ladies Tafari plied him with.

Tafari was less forgiving with his other warlord adversaries among the nobility. One of them said, “He creeps like a mouse, but he has the jaws of a lion.”

He ended the turmoil that was about to engulf Ethiopia with the use of force and executions, and he gradually opened Ethiopia’s eyes to the outside world.

Tafari arranged for the kingdom to be admitted as a League of Nations member in 1923. He took action with the expectation that Ethiopia’s league membership would shield it from other nations’ colonial aspirations.

After strengthening his authority domestically, Tafari embarked on a lengthy overseas trip the next year. “We need European progress,” he said, “only because we are surrounded by it.”

Tafari left a lasting impact wherever he traveled throughout Europe with his six lions, four zebras, and thirty servants. Both his contemporary perspective and his claims that Ethiopia needed innovation and progress helped him make friends.

The Tafari Makonnen School, which he established and staffed with European instructors, was one outcome of his journey. (When Tafari became Emperor, one of his main concerns was education. He founded the Haile Selassie I University and elementary and secondary schools all around the nation.

Emperor Haile Selassie glancing at a camera

Nevertheless, only 500,000 school-age children were enrolled after his rule out of a possible 3.2 million.)

Coup Impeded
In the latter part of the 1920s, tensions increased between the Empress and her Regent. The Empress attempted a revolution in 1928, thinking she had the upper hand, but Tafari’s shrewdness and vigilance prevented her from pulling it off, forcing her to formally recognize him as King of Ethiopia.

Tafari was proclaimed Emperor two years after her unexplained death, and she adopted the name Haile Selassie, which translates to “Power of the Holy Trinity.”

In a city that, as one observer put it, “resembled a shanty town with wedding-cake trimmings,” the coronation on Nov. 2, 1930, was an unprecedentedly lavish occasion.

The majority of the structures consisted of a tumbling pile of mud cottages, with perhaps one or two multistory buildings. Prominent international delegations mixed with the 20,000 prostitutes in the city.

Leonard Mosley wrote the following about the coronation in his book “Haile Selassie: The Conquering Lion”:

Abuna Kyril, the Archbishop, anointed Haile Selassie’s head and placed the triple crown of Ethiopia on it just before dawn on November 2, in front of the world press, foreign guests, and a large concourse of rases [nobles] in their most resplendent robes and lion’s manes. “Simultaneously, the rases put on their coronets, then made their obeisances to him, after which the celebratory shooting, shouting, looing, feasting, dancing, and drinking broke out throughout the city.”
A constitution was created in 1931 as a result of the Emperor’s first reform initiatives, which included transforming his people from the chattels of the nobility into subjects of the state.

While it did not significantly curtail the royal prerogative, it was a move away from feudalism.

Concurrently, the civil service was made better by administrative adjustments, a tax system was implemented, and public works projects like road construction were started.

Not only that but several proscriptions against slavery were issued, if not outright abolished. Complete abolition was not achieved until 1964.

Benito Mussolini, the fascist dictator of Italy, moved against Ethiopia in a border incident in 1934. Behind his pretext of teaching civilization to a primitive nation, Italian imperial goals were to augment Italian Somaliland and Eritrea with an African colony.

Following the border conflict, the Emperor used diplomatic maneuvers to send the matter to the League of Nations for mediation; however, Mussolini was informed by Britain and France that he might anticipate a free hand in Ethiopia.

Could we not have at least delayed this conflict by calling Musso’s bluff? Later, Winston Churchill questioned, “I’m convinced the answer is yes. We turned Musso into a formidable force.”

Shortly after the fascist invasion started on October 2, 1935, Ethiopia was captured by Italian forces after being abandoned by Britain and France.

The fighting ended by April 1936 (“This isn’t a war, it’s not even a slaughter,” a British eyewitness said, “it’s the torture of tens of thousands of men, women and children with bombs and poison gas”). Haile Selassie was exiled on May 2.

Having been persuaded that the League might be persuaded to support him, the Emperor first traveled to Jerusalem for prayer and then, as a special guest, to Britain, pleading with its members not to acknowledge the Italian invasion.

Crown Prince Haile Selassie
Despite his shame, the League allowed him to present his case, and on June 30, 1936, as he stood in front of the gathering of delegates in Geneva, history was made that very few people ever forgot.

Ethics at Risk
With dignity, Aloof faced the disgruntled and scuttling delegates while glaring scornfully at the fascist media who had yelled at him. He started his Amharic address with these words:

“I, Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia, am here today to claim that justice that is due to my people and the assistance promised to it eight months ago by 52 nations who asserted that an act of aggression had been committed in violation of international treaties.”
He began by summarising the main points of the conflict and his betrayal by the major nations.

“I claim that the problem at hand, which is being discussed by the Assembly today, goes beyond the resolution of Italian aggression. It is a matter of collective security, the League’s very existence, nations’ faith in international treaties, and the importance of assurances given to smaller states that their independence and integrity would be maintained. “To put it simply, the issue at hand is global ethics. Beyond the boundaries of God’s Kingdom, no country on earth has a superior status than any other. When a powerful government discovers it can easily kill a weaker population, the time has come for that population to freely request the League of Nations to render a decision. God will remember your judgment, and history will too. “When confronted with an established reality, will states establish the dreadful precedent of submitting to force? “I inquire of the major powers, who have pledged to provide small states with collective security, those small states that bear the possibility of experiencing the same fate as Ethiopia someday: What steps are they planning to take? What response should I give my folks back?” As Haile Selassie concluded what was certainly his saddest (and greatest) hour and moved from the tribunal to a scatter of embarrassed applause, he murmured: “It is us today. Tomorrow, it’s going to be you.”

Practically speaking, the Emperor’s speech was a great but pointless show of support as the Italian authority in East Africa was gradually acknowledged by the other nations.

While all was going on, Haile Selassie moved into Bath, England, as an uninvited visitor; he was so impoverished that the neighborhood bookstore canceled his credit.

When Italy joined World War II as an adversary of Britain on May 10, 1940, the Emperor was saved from this sleazy obscurity by Winston Churchill, his longtime friend, who arranged for him to be transported surreptitiously to Africa under the name Mr. Strong.

After landing in Alexandria, he spent the night in the men’s lounge of the Italian Yacht Club and proceeded to Khartoum in Sudan, where he worked with Orde Wingate, one of the most evocative British commanders of the war, to organize an army of liberation.

As a consequence of his efforts, Haile Selassie left his home country on January 20, 1941, and on May 5, he entered Addis Ababa as a state guest in the rear of an Alfa Romeo automobile.

Five years had passed since the Italians had taken over the city. Ethiopia was still governed by the British until January 31, 1942, when London acknowledged Ethiopia’s independence.

Haile Selassie strengthened his authority in the years that followed the restoration while taking his time addressing the serious social and economic issues facing the nation.

A new force was also emerging in the kingdom at this time, the educated elite, who were becoming restless about their country’s introversion due to their travels and education abroad. In this era, 200 school buildings were constructed.

Haile Selassie issued a new constitution in 1955, in part due to pressure from this group and in part due to the growing anticolonialist movement in Africa.

It guaranteed his people a vote as well as equal legal rights, but it also kept his customary privileges.

One sentence said:

“The Emperor’s person is sacrosanct by His Imperial Blood and the anointing He has received. His might is undeniable, and His dignity untouchable. As a result, He is deserving of all the honors accorded to Him by custom and the current Constitution. Anyone brave enough to try to harm the Emperor will face consequences.”

Rebellion While Absent
When Haile Selassie missed a state visit to Brazil in 1960, Ethiopia’s outward calm was upended.

A few members of the royal family, notably Crown Prince Asfa Wossen, joined the Imperial Bodyguard’s rebellion to overthrow the Emperor and hasten social and economic advancement.

Emperor Haile Selassie standing next to a lion cage

The Emperor withdrew, repressed the uprising, publicly hanged the bodyguard commander for treachery, and banished the Crown Prince, from which he eventually recovered, although slowly.

Following the failed coup, the Emperor tried using radio speeches as a means of direct communication with his citizens, showing them what his paternalistic actions were doing.

Foreign aid was one such advancement. During the latter years of his reign, he managed to get assistance from a variety of sources without causing tensions amongst the contributors.

Italy and Yugoslavia built dams for him; the United States built the Addis Ababa airport; and the Soviet Union established a polytechnic institution near Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile.

The Emperor had great pleasure in making state trips to Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia, Queen Elizabeth II of Britain, and the previous five Presidents of the United States before to Gerald R. Ford.

He visited over 60 nations in all, including China, where Mao Tse-tung welcomed him in 1971.

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