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The Life and Times of Emperor Haile Sellassie



The Emperor was born on the 23rd July, 1892 in Harrar, Ethiopia, the youngest of ten children born to Ras Makonnen and his wife Wayzero. Before the age of sixteen, he held several to administrative posts in the towns of Solali, Baso, Gara Huleta and Sidamo. At eighteen he wass made Governor of Harrar, the most important province.


At these jobs the young Sellassie, then known as Lij Tafari, later as Ras Tafari, proved himself able and popular as an admiistator. Well loved by most, he commanded the respect of his elders, which, combined with other events, saw him become Emperor in 1930.


In 1913, when Emporer Menelik II died, the Emperorship was passed on to his grandson Lij Yasu who was very young and inexperienced. He made several mistakes including leaning towardds Islam and he was overthrown after only three years on the Throne. He was replaced by Menelik's granddaughter Zauditu, who became Empress. Ras Tafari (Sellassie) then twenty four was made Chief Advisor, the Regent and Heir Apparent to the Throne.


In these positions he used the power he had to reorganize his country, build more schools, hospitals, send Ethiopians abroad to study and to keep the various Kingdoms of the country together. In general he attemted modernization of a country very steep in tradition. In 1923, he succeeded in getting Ethiopia recognized as a member of the League of Nations (L.N.) a white controlled and dominated organization, in which the Black peoples of the world had no say. This was seen as a very stategic and wise move in Africa and internationally, it brought him prominence as a Statesman. the reason beingthat Ethiopia was the only independent Black and African country, as the rest were controlled by fellow members, but this as the Emperor later out, was not to be so.


in 1924, he visited several European countries including England, France and Italy and officially abolished a slave trade and type of slavery that existed in Ethiopia, which must not be confused with increasing reputation and proven ability both in military and civilian affairs he was made Negus (King) Tafari. Within two more years, with the death of Empress Zauditi, after some internal power struggles he was made Emperor on November 2nd, 1930 at an impressive Coronation Ceremony.


Now officially known as Emperor Hailie Selassie I (Power of the Trinity) King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, he continued in his attempts to modernize Ethiopia. In 1931, a written contitution which established a two-chamber Parliament was approved and at the same time steering a diplomatic course between opposing internal factions.Modernization was not a very easy task as the Emperor had to contend with powerful Rases and clergy who the general shortage of funds for development.


A more immediate problem of the Emporer was the possibility of an invasion by Italy who claimed Ethiopia and who Menelik had dfeated in the 1886's. This was against the background of the white nations thinking that the Black men was inferior and incapable of government and indeed most of Africa at the time were controlled by them. This fear of invasion was realized in 1935 when Italy invaded and occupied the country for five years. The Ethiopians, although not possessing the same quality and quantity of weapons as the Italians, fought bravely, losing many men and battles. In 1936 after a year of battle which saw Ethiopia on the losing side, he prsented Ethiopia's case to the L.N. in Geneva. Some critics, including Marcus Garvey felt that the Emperor had too much trust in the white nations and he should not have left the country. The Emperor said later in 1973 that "It was the most painful day in my life and the most misundeerstood because it took a lot of courage."


In Geneva, the Emperor, in a very stirring and passionate speech spoke of how thousands upon thousands of his people had diedfrom poisonous mustard gas and other tortures inflicted upon them. He warned the L.N. members that internationally, morality had broken down and that the life of no small nation was hencforth safe, and that the fascist ruthlessness that had engulfed his country might one day engulf them. In truth and in fact this did happen when Hitler released the might of Nazi Germany on the League members during the second World War. The members of the League were, however, not interested in supporting the Emporer against Italy, and they all supported the invasion with Russia the last to do so in 1940.


After his addressto the League the Emperor went to London where he was received at a recetion by several Black groups and indviduals among them the U.N.I.A. (Marcus Garvey's, United Negro Improvement Association). From England, Sellassie made several more trips to Geneva, to put forward Ethiopia's case, but all in vain. Guerilla activity though persistent, was not enough and it was not until the outbreak of World War II the liberation became possible. England forced by circumstances of war, now began to support the Emperor.


In 1940, he flew to the Sudan and began prparations to free his country. Ethiopians reugees there and in Kenya were organized and in January 1941, with English soldiers and support of his countrymen, he successfully regained power in Ethiopia. The Emperor then displayed rare and unbelievable qualities when he ordered no retaliation be taken against the Italians captured.


His Rule of Ethiopia, which continued from 1941 was to last until 1975 when he was over thrown by the military. Prior to this, while on a state visit to Brazil in 1960 a section of his Imperial Guard revolted and installed a Crown Prince on the Throne. The Army and Airforce however, remained loyal, and the Emperor returned to regain power after four days.


By the year of 1976 he held the spotlight and represented internationally the symbol of Black Pride and dignity. This position in recent times was first held by Toussaint L' Ouverture of Haiti, later by Garvey and the U.N.I.A., Malcolm X in Black America, Mugabe in Zimbabwe and now Nelson Mandela in South Africa. The Emperor and Ethiopia held that spot among the Black international community due to the work of Garvey in the 1920's who had used as his rallying cry Psalm 68:31 "Princes shall come out her hands unto God," and the fact that Ethiopia was the only independent and sovereign African nation in the world prior to the invasion.


The Emperorin the late 1950's and 1960's together with Kwame Nkrumah represented the new direction continental Africa was to take. He made freedom relentlessly. His efforts saw Ethiopia becoming the location of African Hall which is the center of the Organization of African Unity and also is the location of the United Nations Economic Commission of Africa. His speech at the opening session of the Conference of African Heads of Government in May, 1963 which led to the formation of the O.A.U. remains a classic and a landmark in Africa's development and history. In his role as Chairman he later helped to solve and mediate in disputes between African states and was respected by all.


By 1975, he had travelled to the Caribbean, America, China and several African countries, wherever he went, he was received with much acclaim. The Emperor was indeed a symbol of African independence, inspiration and unity. His speech in the U.S.A. about African Liberation and what life has taught him in 1968 and made popular by Bob Marley in the song "War" remains a masterpiece and is known internationally, just as the Emperor is especially through the work of Rastafari.