March 22, 2013
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In 1978, race relations in Britain were in crisis. The National Front was gathering power and immigrants lived in fear of violence.
But that year also saw the birth of a campaign - Rock Against Racism (RAR) - aimed at halting the tide of hatred with music - a grassroots movement culminating in a march across London and an open-air concert in the East End. The campaign involved groups like TheClash, Steel Pulse, Buzzcocks, X-Ray Spex, The Ruts, and others, staging concerts with an anti-racist theme, in order to discourage young people from embracing racist views.
Haile Selassie I (Ge'ez: ኃይለ፡ ሥላሴ, "Power of the Trinity") (23 July 1892 – 27 August 1975), born Tafari Makonnen, was Ethiopia's regent from 1916 to 1930 and Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974. He was the heir to a dynasty that traced its origins to the 13th century, and from there by tradition back to King Solomon and Queen Makeda, Empress of Axum, known in the Abrahamic tradition as the Queen of Sheba. Haile Selassie is a defining figure in both Ethiopian and African history.
At the League of Nations in 1936, the emperor condemned the use of chemical weapons by Italy against the Ethiopian people. His internationalist views led to Ethiopia becoming a charter member of the United Nations, and his political thought and experience in promoting multilateralism and collective security have proved seminal and enduring.
Haile Selassie is revered as the returned messiah of the Bible, God incarnate, among the Rastafari movement whose followers are estimated at between 200,000 and 800,000. Begun in Jamaica in the 1930s, the Rastafari movement perceives Haile Selassie as a messianic figure who will lead a future golden age of eternal peace, righteousness, and prosperity. Haile Selassie was an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian throughout his life.
"I must say that black and white, as forms of speech, and as a means of judging mankind, should be eliminated from human society.
Human beings are precisely the same whatever colour, race, creed or national origin they may be."
- Emperor Haile Selassie I
A few more quotations from H.I.M:
A house built on granite and strong foundations, not even the onslaught of pouring rain, gushing torrents and strong winds will be able to pull down. Some people have written the story of my life representing as truth what in fact derives from ignorance, error or envy; but they cannot shake the truth from its place, even if they attempt to make others believe it.
—Preface to My Life and Ethiopia's Progress, Autobiography of H.I.M. Haile Selassie I (English translation)
That until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned: That until there are no longer first-class and second-class citizens of any nation; That until the color of a man's skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes; That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; That until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained and until the ignoble but unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique, and in South Africa in subhuman bondage have been toppled and destroyed; until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and goodwill; until all Africans stand and speak as free human beings, equal in the eyes of the Almighty; until that day, the African continent shall not know peace. We Africans will fight if necessary and we know that we shall win as we are confident in the victory of good over evil.
—English translation of 1963 Speech delivered to the United Nations and popularized by War by Bob Marley.
Apart from the Kingdom of the Lord there is not on this earth any nation that is superior to any other. Should it happen that a strong Government finds it may with impunity destroy a weak people, then the hour strikes for that weak people to appeal to the League of Nations to give its judgment in all freedom. God and history will remember your judgment.
—Address to the League of Nations, 1936.
Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.
Today I stand before the world organization which has succeeded to the mantle discarded by its discredited predecessor.
—In a speech to the United Nations.
Misguided people sometimes create misguided ideas. Some of my ancestors were Oromo. How can I colonize myself?
— in response to accusations by dissidents
I have heard of that idea [i.e., of Haile Selassie being the reincarnation of Jesus Christ]. I also met certain Rastafarians. I told them clearly that I am a man, that I am mortal, and that I would be replaced by the oncoming generation, and that they should never make a mistake in assuming or pretending that the human being is emanated from a deity."
— Interview with Bill McNeil.
A qualified man with vision, unmoved by daily selfish interests, will be led to right decisions by his conscience. In general, a man who knows from whence he comes and where he is going will co-operate with his fellow human beings. He will not be satisfied with merely doing his ordinary duties but will inspire others by his good example. You are being watched by the nation and you should realize that you will satisfy it if you do good; but if, on the contrary, you do evil, it will lose its hope and its confidence in you."
— 2 July 1963 – University Graduation
Haile Selassie was born Tafari Makonnenin in the village of Ejersa Goro, in the Harar province of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia), as Lij (literally "child", usually bestowed upon nobility) . His father was Ras (Duke) Makonnen Woldemikael Gudessa, the governor of Harar, and his mother was Woyzero (Lady) Yeshimebet Ali Abajifar. He inherited his imperial blood through his paternal grandmother, Princess Tenagnework Sahle Selassie, who was an aunt of Emperor Menelik II, and he claimed to be a direct descendant of Makeda, the queen of Sheba, and King Solomon of ancient Israel. Emperor Haile Selassie had an elder half-brother, Dejazmatch Yilma Makonnen, who preceeded him as governor of Harar, but died not long after taking office.
Tafari was made Dejazmatch (Count) at age thirteen. Shortly thereafter, his father Ras Makonnen died at Qulbi. Although it seems that his father had wanted him to inherit his position of governor of Harar, Emperor Menelik found it imprudent to appoint such a young boy to such an important position. Dejazmatch Tafari's older half-brother, Dejazmatch Yilma Makonnen was made governor of Harar instead. Tafari was at an early age a fixture at Menelik's Imperial Court, and was enrolled at the Menelik II School for Nobles (today the Menelik II High School).
Tafari was given the titular governorship of Sellale, although he did not administer the district directly. In 1907, he was appointed governor over part of the province of Sidamo. Following the death of his brother Dejazmatch Yilma, Harar was granted to Menelik's loyal general, Dejazmatch Balcha Saffo. However, the Dejazmatch's time in Harar was not successful, and so during the last illness of Menelik II, and the brief tenure in power of Empress Taitu Bitul, Tafari Makonnen was made governor of Harar, and entered the city 11 April 1911. On 3 August of that year, he married Menen Asfaw, the niece of the heir to the throne, Lij Iyasu.
Although Dejazmatch Tafari played only a minor role in the movement that deposed Lij Iyasu on 27 September 1916, he was its ultimate beneficiary. The primary powers behind the move were the conservatives led by Fitawrari Hapte Giorgis Dinagde, Menelik II's long time war minister. Dejazmatch Tafari was included in order to get the progressive elements of the nobility behind the movement, as Lij Iyasu was no longer regarded as the progressives' best hope for change. However, Iyasu's increasing flirtation with Islam, his disrespectful attitude to the nobles of his grandfather Menelik II, as well as his scandalous behavior in general, not only outraged the conservative power-brokers of the Empire, but alienated the progressive elements as well. This led to the deposition of Iyasu on grounds of conversion to Islam, and the proclamation of Menelik II's daughter (Iyasu's aunt) as Empress Zauditu. Dejazmatch Tafari Makonnen was elevated to the rank of Ras, and was made heir apparent. In the power arrangement that followed, Tafari accepted the role of Regent (Inderase), and became the de facto ruler of the Ethiopian Empire.
As Regent, the new Crown Prince developed the policy of careful modernisation initiated by Menelik II, securing Ethiopia's admission to the League of Nations in 1923, abolishing slavery in the empire in 1924. He engaged in a tour of Europe that same year, inspecting schools, hospitals, factories, and churches; this left such an impression on the future emperor that he devoted over forty pages of his Autobiography to the details of his European journey.
KING & EMPEROR
Empress Zewditu crowned him as negus (king) in 1928, under pressure from the progressive party, following a failed attempt to remove him from power by the conservative elements. The crowning of Tafari Makonnen was very controversial as he occupied the same immediate territory as the Empress, rather than going off to one of the regional areas traditionally known as Kingdoms within the Empire. Two monarchs, even with one being the vassal and the other the Emperor (in this case Empress), had never occupied the same location as their seat in Ethiopian history. Attempts to redress this "insult" to the dignity of the Empresses crown were attempted by conservatives including Dejazmatch Balcha and others. The rebellion of Ras Gugsa Wele, husband of the Empress, was also in this spirit. He marched from his governorate at Gondar towards Addis Ababa but was defeated and killed at the Battle of Anchiem on March 31, 1930. News of Ras Gugsa's defeat and death had hardly spread through Addis Ababa, when the Empress died suddenly on April 2, 1930. Although it was long rumored that the Empress was poisoned upon the defeat of her husband, or alternately, that she collapsed upon hearing of his death and died herself, it has since been documented that the Empress had succumbed to an intense flu-like fever and complications from diabetes.
Following the Empress Zewditu's sudden death on, Tafari Makonnen was proclaimed Emperor, and King of Kings of Ethiopia. He was crowned on November 2 as Emperor Haile Selassie I at Addis Ababa's Cathedral of St. George, in front of representatives from 12 countries. (Haile Selassie had been the baptismal name given to Tafari at his christening as an infant.) The representatives included Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester (son of British King George V, and brother to Kings Edward VIII, and George VI), Marshall D'Esperry of France, and the Prince of Udine representing Italy. The Emperor took the full title His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Haile Selassie I, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Elect of God.
By Empress Menen, the Emperor had six children. They were, Princess Tenagnework, Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen, Princess Tsehai, Princess Zenebework, Prince Makonnen and Prince Sahle Selassie.
Emperor Haile Selassie also had an elder daughter, H.I.H. Princess Romanework Haile Selassie, born from an earlier union to Woizero Altayech. Little is known about this first union other than that it occurred when the Emperor was in his late teens. The marriage was not recognised by the church, but the Emperor's daughter was considered legitimized, and therefore recieved the title of Princess with the dignity of "Her Imperial Highness" with the rest of the Emperor's children in 1930. Princess Romanework was married to Dejazmatch Beyene Merid, and was the mother to four sons, two of whom survived to adulthood. Following the death of her husband in battle against the Italians, Princess Romanework was captured by the Fascists during the Ethio-Italian War, and taken in captivity to Asinara Island off the coast of Italy, where she died in 1941. Her body was returned to Ethiopia and buried at Holy Trinity Cathedral. Her two surviving sons, Dejazmatches Samson and Merid Beyene were raised by the Emperor and Empress.
His Majesty introduced Ethiopia's first written constitution on July 16 1931, providing for an appointed bicameral legislature. It was the first time that non-noble subjects had any role in official government policy. However, the League's failure to stop Italy's invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 led him to five years in exile. The constitution also limited the succession to the throne to the descendants of Emperor Haile Selassie -- a detail that caused considerable unhappiness with other dynastic princes, such as the princes of Tigrai, and even his loyal cousin Ras Kassa Hailu.
Following the invasion of Ethiopia by fascist Italy from its colonies in Eritrea and Somalia, Emperor Haile Selassie made an attempt at fighting back the invaders personally. He joined the northern front by setting up headquarters at Desse in Wollo province. The Italians had the advantage of much better and a larger number of modern weapons, including a large airforce. The Italians also extensively used chemical warfare and bombed Red Cross tent hospitals, in violation of the Geneva Convention. Following the defeat of the northern armies of Ras Seyoum Mengesha and Ras Imru Haile Selassie in Tigrai, the Emperor made a stand against them himself at Maychew in southern Tigrai. Although giving Italian pilots quite a scare, his army was defeated and retreated in disarray, and he found himself being attacked by rebellious Raya and Azebu tribesmen as well.
The Emperor made a solitary pilgrimage to the churches at Lalibela, at considerable risk of capture, before returning to his capital. After a stormy session of the council of state, it was agreed that because Addis Ababa could not be defended, the government would relocate to the southern town of Gore, and that in the interests of preserving the Imperial house, the Empress and the Imperial family should leave immediately by train for Djibouti and from there to Jerusalem. After further debate over whether the Emperor would also go to Gore or he should take his family into exile, it was agreed that the Emperor should leave Ethiopia with his family, and present the case of Ethiopia to the League of Nations at Geneva. The Emperor appointed his cousin Ras Imru Haile Selassie as Prince Regent in his absence, departing with his family for Djibouti on May 2, 1936.
Marshal Pietro Badoglio led the Italian troops into Addis Ababa on May 5, and Mussolini declared King Victor Emanuel III Emperor of Ethiopia and Ethiopia an Italian province. At Djibouti the Emperor boarded a British ship bound for Palestine. The Imperial family disembarked at Haifa, and then went on to Jerusalem where the Emperor and his officials prepared their presentation at Geneva.
Emperor Haile Selassie was the only head of state to address the General Assembly of the League of Nations. When he entered the hall, and the President of the Assembly announced "Son Majest? Imperial, le Empereur d'Ethiopie," the large number of Italian journalists in the galleries erupted in loud shouts, whistles and catcalls, stamping their feet and clapping their hands. As it turned out, they had earlier been issued whistles by the Italian foreign minister (and Mussolini's son-in-law) Count Galeazzo Ciano. The Emperor asked the General Secretary if he would not "silence these beasts for the sake of civilisation", and waited quietly for security to clear them out of the gallery, before commencing his speech. Although fluent in French, the working language of the League, the Emperor chose to deliver his historic speech in his native Amharic. The Emperor asked the League to live up to its promise of collective security. He spoke eloquently of the need to protect weak nations against the strong. He detailed the death and destruction rained down upon his people by the use of chemical agents. He reminded the League that "God and History would remember (their) judgement." He pleaded for help and asked "What answer am I to take back to my people?" . His eloquent address moved all who heard it, and turned him into an instant world celebrity. He became TIME Magazine's "Man of the Year" and an icon for anti-Fascists around the world. He failed, however, in getting what he needed to help his people fight the invasion: the League agreed to only partial and ineffective sanctions on Italy, and several members recognized the Italian conquest.
Emperor Haile Selassie spent his five years of exile (1936 - 1941) mainly in Bath, England in a dwelling he had purchased, "Fairfield House". Following his return to Ethiopia, he donated it to the town of Bath as a residence for the aged, and it remains so to this day. There are numerous accounts of 'Haile Selassie was my next door neighbour' amongst people who were children in the Bath area during his residence. The Emperor also spent extended periods in Jerusalem.
During this period, Emperor Haile Selassie suffered several tragedies. His two sons-in-law, Ras Desta Damtew and Dejazmatch Beyene Merid, were both executed by the Italians. His daughter Princess Romanework with her children were taken in captivity to Italy, where she died in 1941. His grandson Lij Amha Desta died in Britain just before the restoration, and his daughter Princess Tsehai died shortly after.
Haile Selassie returned to Ethiopia in 1941, after Italy's defeat in Ethiopia by United Kingdom and Ethiopian patriot forces. After the war, Ethiopia became a charter member of the United Nations (UN). In 1951, after a lengthy fact-finding inquiry by the allied powers and then the UN, the former Italian colony of Eritrea was federated to Ethiopia as a compromise between the sizable factions that wanted complete Union with the Empire, and those who wanted complete independence from it.
During the celebrations of his Silver Jubilee in November 1955, His Majesty introduced a revised constitution, whereby he retained effective power, while extending political participation to the people by allowing the lower house of parliament to become an elected body. Party politics were not provided for. Modern educational methods were more widely spread throughout the Empire, and the country embarked on a development scheme and plans for modernization, tempered by Ethiopian traditions, and within the framework of the ancient monarchical structure of the state.
The Royal Flags of Ethiopia (front and back)
Following an abortive coup attempt on December 13 1960 by his Imperial Guard forces - who briefly proclaimed Haile Selassie's eldest son Asfa Wossen as the new Emperor - Haile Selassie pursued more conservative policies, aligning Ethiopia with the West and distancing himself from the more common radical leftist African governments. The coup attempt, although lacking wide popular support, denounced by the Orthodox Church, and crushed by the Army, Air and Police forces, had gained considerable support among the students of the University and elements of the young educated technocrats in the country. It marked the beginning of an increased radicalization of Ethiopia's student population.
In 1963 the Emperor presided over the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity with the new organisation setting up its headquarters in Addis Ababa.
H.I.M. negotiated the unification of the Casablanca and Monrovia factions (with the support of Ato Yilma Yifru, Ethiopian Foreign Minister; Senegalese President Leopold Senghor; Ghanaian President Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah and Teshome Gabre Mariam, Legal Advisor OAU Charter) which established the Organization of African Unity. The member states voted to make H.I.M. the first Chairman of the organization.
The OAU had the following goals:
To promote the unity and solidarity of the African states and act as a collective voice for the African continent. This was important to secure Africa's long-term economic and political future.
To co-ordinate and intensify the co-operation of African states in order to achieve a better life for the people of Africa.
To defend the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of African states.
The OAU was also dedicated to the eradication of all forms of colonialism, as, when it was established, there were several states that had not yet won their independence or were minority-ruled. South Africa and Angola were two such countries. The OAU proposed two ways of ridding the continent of colonialism. Firstly, it would defend the interests of independent countries and help to pursue those of still-colonised ones. Secondly, it would remain neutral in terms of world affairs, preventing its members from being controlled once more by outside powers.
Special respect for the Founding Fathers:
NOTE: The African Union (AU) was established on 26 May 2001 in Addis Ababa and launched on 9 July 2002 in South Africa to replace the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).