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His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie (1892 – 1975)

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This blog is all about the brief biography of Emperor Haile Selassie I and the major events attached to his reign in Ethiopia.

Haile Selassie was born Tafari Makonnen in Ethiopia in 1892. He married Wayzaro Menen in 1911, daughter of Emperor Menelik II.

By becoming prince (Ras), Tafari became the focus of the Christian majority’s approval over Menelik’s grandson, Lij Yasu, because of his progressive nature and the latter’s unreliable politics.

He was named regent and heir to the throne in 1917, but had to wait until the death of the Empress Zauditu to assume full kingship.

During the years of 1917-1928, Tafari traveled to such cities as Rome, Paris, and London to become the first Ethiopian ruler to ever go abroad.

In November of 1930, Zaubitu died and Tafari was crowned emperor, the 111th emperor in the succession of King Solomon. Upon this occasion he took the name Haile Selassie, meaning “Might of the Trinity.”

This blog will spotlight on Selassie’s progressive politics and attempts to modernize Ethiopia through technological advances and membership in the world community.

Relevant to these topics is Ethiopia’s struggle with Italy in World War II, Selassie’s embracing of the League of Nations, and his popularity and attention worldwide because of his efforts towards humanitarianism and Ethiopian sovereignty.

Ethiopia was a culturally and resourcefully rich land recognized by the European colonial powers as sovereign from as early as 1900.

Selassie’s predecessor expanded his empire successfully in the 1880′s and formed treaties with the Italians, who recognized the imperial potential of northern Africa.

Relations became strained, yet, in the 1890′s when Britain and Italy agreed that Ethiopia should fall under Italian influence.

Despite infrequent conflicts, Ethiopia under Menelik remained sovereign, and thus we see a stage set for the leadership of Selassie.

Selassie took steps to improve legislation, bureaucracy, government schooling, and health and social services in preparation for his new reign.

More importantly in a diplomatic focus, Selassie acted to promote Ethiopian power and sovereignty and secure allies abroad.

In 1919 Ethiopia applied for membership into the League of Nations but wasn’t allowed because its practice of slavery was still strong. By 1923, working with the Empress Zauditu, the slave trade was abolished and Ethiopia was unanimously accepted into the League.

Before he came to power, Selassie promoted a twenty year treaty of friendship with Italy in 1928 and established legislation in 1930 to ban illegal sales of arms in Ethiopia, and to establish the government’s right to procure arms for protection and internal unrest.

In 1931, Selassie established the first Ethiopian constitution, which aimed to re-focus governmental power from many rases to his blood line solely.

It was useful in aiding Ethiopia’s modernization through bureaucracy and solidarity, and forced the many regional rases to either oppose him treasonably or join him with their support.

Much of Selassie’s loyalty was fostered by the building of schools, universities, and newspapers, as well as increased availability of electricity, telephone, and public health services. The Bank of Ethiopia was also founded in 1931 and introduced Ethiopian currency.

Though the changes in Ethiopia sponsored by Selassie and his new progressive government seemed very promising, there lingered a new threat to the growing country when Benito Mussolini came to power in Italy in 1922.

The north African colony of Eritrea, held by the Italians, was harmonious in its African/Italian co-existence from the 1890′s until 1922, when Mussolini’s administration began to emphasize the superiority of Italian inhabitants, and even enforced the segregation of the population.

As late as 1928, motions of peace were made by Italy, but it seemed as though Mussolini wanted Eritrea only as a strategic base for future conquest in Africa.

In December 1934, there was an incident seemingly provoked by Italian forces which involved an Ethiopian escort to the Welwel wells used by desert nomads.

The League of Nations exonerated both parties in the battle in September 1935, and it seemed to Mussolini that he would not be condemned for his future hostilities.

Italy invaded Ethiopia one month later without declaring war; the League of Nations condemned Italy as the aggressor, but no actions were taken.

The fighting persisted for seven months, and Ethiopia was pushed back quite forcefully. Selassie found his forces unmatched militarily and was shocked at the use of chemical weapons by Italy, and the lack of action taken by the League of Nations.

He was forced to exile on May 2 of 1936, a move which raised harsh criticism from many who were used to a warrior emperor of Ethiopia.

On June 30, Haile Selassie went to Geneva to seek help from the League of Nations. He made a powerful speech in which he addressed the lack of enforcement of the Italian arms embargo, and quite effectively illustrated the consequences of the League’s stifled actions: either there would exist collective security or international lawlessness.

His speech was taken quite emotionally by audiences around the world, especially in America, where he achieved much sympathy.

Selassie succeeded in raising the support of the United States and Russia, at least verbally, but Britain and France still recognized the Italian possession of Ethiopia by Italy.

While Selassie was in exile, the Italian forces established new government and attempted to crush the continuing revolts by massacres and segregation.

In Britain for most of his exile, he attempted to raise public support for the plight of his country, but gained little attention until Italy entered the war on the side of Germany in June 1940.

After the entrance, Britain and Selassie worked together to rally the remaining revolutionary forces in Ethiopia. He proceeded to Khartoum in 1940 to be in closer contact with his troops and British coordinators.

With an army of British, South African, African, and Ethiopian soldiers, Haile Selassie re-entered Addis Ababa on May 5, 1941, but fighting continued on Ethiopian soil until January 1942.

Came to power, Selassie, he realized the necessity of a dependable tax base and issued a flat tax based on the richness of the land.

Unluckily, the nobles of several provinces battled the tax and the path was lain for opposition to the newly re-established government.

Selassie backed down from his new tax brackets and issued a flat tithe to all noble landowners who resisted, but this merely passed the tax on to the tenants of the regions, who carried the entire burden of taxation.

Within his country, Selassie favored political realism, and attempted to make peace with the many Ethiopian factions- ethnic, religious, and economic- through appeasement and compromise.

Selassie’s major changes in form of the Ethiopian government promised huge reforms, and when these were realized to be slowly obtained, a coup d’état occurred in Addis Ababa in December 1960, while Selassie was abroad on one of his frequent diplomatic missions.

While initially successful, the coup led by the Imperial Bodyguard, police chief, and intellectual radicals lacked the public support necessary, and fell upon the return of the emperor and his assertion of the loyalty of the army and air force, as well as the church.

The coup’s failure did, however lead to the polarization of the traditional and progressive factions, and the public awareness of the need to improve the economic, social, and political position of the population.

After the coup, Selassie tried to calm his opponents mostly through land grants to officials, but with little social or political reform.

In 1966, a plan to reform the tax system with intent to destroy the landowners grasp on the economy was drafted, but opposed vigorously by the parliament, who was all landowners.

In early June, a group of about 120 military officers formed a group known as the Derg (committee) who represented the military and worked behind closed doors to gain power militarily.

Although they claimed allegiance to the emperor, they began arresting aristocracy and parliament members who were associated with the old order.

This group effectively removed Selassie’s means of governing, as they had complete military control.

The emperor’s estate and palace were nationalized and in August, Selassie was directly accused of covering up famine of the early 1970′s which killed hundreds of thousands of people.

On September 12th, he was formally deposed and arrested and power was given to the Derg, formally renamed the Provisional Military Administrative Council.

In August 1975, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie died under questionable circumstances under house arrest, and was secretly buried.

The old order was effectively shattered by 1977, and the Derg began its new agenda of socialism in the Ethiopian government.

Keywords: Haile Selassie, Tafari Makonnen, Wayzaro Menen, Emperor Menelik II, Lij Yasu, Empress Zauditu, Empress Zauditu, Benito Mussolini, Welwel wells,


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