"The Politics of Empire: Ethiopia, Great Britain and the United States" (1941 - 1974)
Harold G. Marcus
ISBN - 156902006X
"Legacy of Bitterness: Ethiopia and Fascist Italy, 1935-1941"
ISBN - 0932415741
"The Emporer: Downfall of an Autocrat"
ISBN - 0679722033
"Emporer Haile Selassie (Ohio Short Histories of Africa)"
Bereket Habte Selassie
ISBN - 0821421271
RISE TO POWER
October 19, 2015
Haile Selassie I, born Lij Tafari Makonnen [lij teferî mekønnin] meaning “a child that is to be respected or feared” on July 23 1892 in Ejersa Goro of the Ethiopian Empire. He was given his Ge’ez name (Haile Selassie) at his infant baptism, and then readopted the name in 1930. Through either folklore or legend, it is believed that Selassie is a direct descendant of King Solomon of Israel and the Queen of Sheba.
With an ever-changing political climate, that was constantly filled with political plots, Selassie learned a great deal about not only wielding political power, but also maintaining that power. The then emperor, Menilek II, recognized Selassie’s intellectual abilities, capacity for hard work, his impressive memory, and his knack to master detail and so when Selassie was only 14 years old, Menilek appointed Selassie the governor of Gara Muleta in the province of Harar. By the age of twenty, Selassie was appointed the equivalent to commander of a large province of Ethiopia, called Sidamo.
Selassie had work to do in his time becoming leader of the country, and the best way he saw fit was to gain a foothold with the younger population of Ethiopia promising and seeking ways to modernize the country, capturing what amounted to the hopes and dreams of this section of the populace; which comes with either great or terrible results. In 1923, Selassie led Ethiopia into the League of Nations on the back and strength of his promise to eradicate slavery and the following year, became the first leader of Ethiopia to travel abroad when he went to Europe.
In 1926, Selassie took control of the army, a political and social action that now made him strong enough to assume, and name himself officially, with the title of “negus” (meaning “king”). In 1930, Selassie became the sole leader of the country, and as such, Selassie demanded the title “negasa negast” (translating to “king of kings”) and took control fully and officially assuming the name “Haile Selassie I” (translating to “Power of the Trinity”). Selassie’s coronation was a lavish affair that was attended by royals and heads of state all around the world, including Egypt, the United States, Turkey, Sweden, Belgium, and Japan. The New York Times reported the expensive gifts received by the attendees and speculated that the celebrations may have cost more than $3 million. While the New York Times reported on the celebrations, Selassie graced the cover of Time Magazine as well on November 3, 1930.
Selassie was forced into exile in 1936 after Ethiopia was invaded by Italy. The Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini was eager to avenge the military defeats that Ethiopia had dealt to Italy in the First Italo-Abyssinian War in 1896. Compared to the Ethiopians, the Italians had an advanced and modern military, which also included a large air force. The Italians would also employ the use of chemical weapons throughout the conflict and even targeted field hospitals of the Red Cross.
When Italy declared war against England, the British flew Selassie to Sudan and helped him build and army. Essentially, the British military might, coupled with Selassie’s populist appeal joined efforts into a concerted effort to liberate the country. On January 18, 1941, Selassie and his forces crossed the border between Sudan and Ethiopia. Ultimately, Italy was defeated by a coalition of forces from England, Free France, Free Belgium, and the Ethiopian patriots. On May 5, 1941, Selassie entered the capital city, Addis Ababa five (5) years to the day since his exile in 1936. His welcoming address stated in part:
“Today is the day on which we defeated our enemy. Therefore, when we say let us rejoice with our hearts, let not our rejoicing be in any other way but in the spirit of Christ. Do not return evil for evil. Do not indulge in the atrocities which the enemy has been practicing in his usual way, even to the last.”
In December 1960, Selassie’s reign was challenged, with his Imperial Guard force staging a coup d’état while he was on a state visit to Brazil, with the Guard then installing his oldest son, the Crown Prince Asfa Wossen. However, the coup was very short-lived only lasting 4 days in total; by the 17th of the month, Selassie loyalists crushed the coup and had regained control of the capital city, with the conspirators either dead or fleeing the city. In a period of about 35years of rule, the coup attempt was considered the toughest and most serious threat to Selassie’s reign.
In 1961, tensions spilled over in the colonization of Eritrea, as the Eritrean War of Independence began. Selassie declared that Eritrea was the fourteenth province of Ethiopia, this obviously didn’t sit well with Eritreans. This conflict would continue for an additional 30 years, through the remainder of Selassie’s reign and into the next, each would try to retain the Eritrean province by force.
In 1963, Selassie presided over the Organization of African Unity, what was the precursor to the present-day African Union, in fact the headquarters was set in Addis Ababa.
Throughout the 1960’s and 70’s unrest among the student populace in Ethiopia was at an all-time high. Marxism had its roots take in large swarths of the Ethiopian intelligentsia, primarily amongst those who had studied abroad and had been exposed to outside influences, primarily radical and left-wing sentiments becoming popular in other parts of the globe. A lot of the conflict and backlash that Selassie began to feel resulting in him turning over a good bit of domestic governance and control to his Prime Minister, Aklilu Habte Wold, while he concentrated on foreign affairs.
In February 1974, serious riots in the capital city resulting in five (5) people dead. Selassie then responded by announcing on national television a government-sponsored reduction to gas prices, and a freeze on the price of the basic commodities. These promises had the effect of calming the public, but when the 33% pay increase to the military never materialized, the army mutinied. The then Prime Minister resigned, and the newly appointed Prime Minister granted a number of concessions, but they weren’t enough to stop the impending four (4) day general strike that brought the nation to a stand-still.
A group of low-ranking military officials set up a committee, known as the Derg, to investigate the military’s demands and ultimately took advantage of the government’s confusion to depose Selassie on September 12th 1974. Selassie was placed under house arrest, and most of his family was detained at a residence north of the capital. By mid-November, sixty (60) former high officials of the imperial government were executed without trial, which included Selassie’s grandson and two (2) former Prime Ministers. To Ethiopians, even to present-day is known as “Bloody Saturday”.
On August 28th 1975 it was reported that the “ex-monarch” Haile Selassie had died the day before of “respiratory failure” following complications from a prostate examination. It would be years later, in 1996, that Selassie’s personal doctor, Asrat Woldeyes, would publicly claim that Selassie had not died of natural causes.
The Derg would officially collapse in 1991, and in 1992, Selassie’s bones were found under a concrete slab on the palace grounds. Some reports have said that his bones were in fact found under the floor of a palace bathroom, just adding additional disrespect to the desecration. After some years of debate and dispute regarding the remains and where the body should be placed, in November 2000, Selassie was finally able to receive a proper burial in Addis Ababa’s Trinity Cathedral.