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Faces of Africa 11/20/2016 Haile Selassie: The pillar of a modern Ethiopia part 1

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11-20-2016 18:39 BJT

On July 1892 Emperor Haile Selassie, the last emperor in the Ethiopian monarchy, was born in Harar city in eastern Ethiopia. As a child he was known as Lij Tafari Makonnen. Lij means a ‘child’ and Tafari means ‘one who is respected or feared’.  Born in line of royalty, Haile Selassie rose to the highest ranks for the four decades that he was the Imperial Emperor of Ethiopia. His father Ras Makonnen was the provincial governor of Harar and he served as a General in the first Italo - Ethiopian war.

Young Haile Selassie with his father Ras Makonnen.

Young Haile Selassie with his father Ras Makonnen.

Haile Selassie died in August 28th 1975 a year after he was overthrown by the Marxist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1974.

Haile Selassie’s father died in 1906 and in 1907, Haile Selassie took over the governorship from his fallen brother who had taken over from his father.  When Menelik II died, Haile Selassie took over the Imperial leadership. He thereby shifted from Harar to Addis Ababa the capital city of the country. Ethiopia has eighty three tribes and those close to Haile Selassie consist of only three; Amhara, Oromo, Burage or Silte. Hence to unite all Ethiopians he sort support from the church. He needed the support of the powerful mainstream church, Orthodox Church. Upon his coronation in 1930 he was called Haile Selassie which in Amharic means ‘power of the trinity’. Even though he had shifted to Addis Ababa his love for Harar did not vanish.

Emperor Haile Selassie (waving) after he launched the Ethiopian airlines.

Emperor Haile Selassie (waving) after he launched the Ethiopian airlines.

“Emperor Haile Selassie had a special connection to Harar and he invented in coffee plantations, he was very shrewd financially but he was very politically astute,” tells Jeff Pearce – Canadian author. One of the major desires of Emperor Haile Selassie was to see his nation with scholars in areas of aviation, tourism, law, and engineering and even in theatre. He supported many young intelligent students in getting scholarships. “Haile Selassie was highly interested in having many modern scholars in Ethiopia to bring fundamental change in terms of civilization and development as well,” recalls Getenet Teshome – Religious Scholar.

Emperor Haile Selassie I. His name Haile Selassie means

Emperor Haile Selassie I. His name Haile Selassie means 'power of the trinity'. He died in 1975.

But his efforts were always shaken by the defensive conservatives of the feudal system who did not want their children going to school and get ‘contaminated by the western culture’ but Haile Selassie did not relent. He ensured that even the servants’ children were sent to school. In 1923, he signed Ethiopia into the League of Nations, now known as the United Nations. He is popularly known for his brave plea that he made to the League of Nations, pleading for their support towards stopping the Italians from attacking Ethiopia.

Ethiopians bowing before Emperor Haile Selassie. He was much revered and considered a god by the Ethiopians.

Ethiopians bowing before Emperor Haile Selassie. He was much revered and considered a god by the Ethiopians.

“I decided to come myself, to defend the cause of my people before the council of the League of Nations. I hope that the council will be good enough to excuse me from reading the whole of my declaration,” Haile Selassie’s statement in 1936. 

But he never got any assistance. Italians attacked hard and Haile Selassie went into exile in Britain. But the harsh and cold weather did not go well with him and after five years he returned to Ethiopia. At the time, the freedom fighters in the country had pushed the Italians out of the country. 

In 1955 Haile Selassie launched the country

In 1955 Haile Selassie launched the country's first constitution.

When he got back to his country, he managed to gain his ruler-ship back and he propelled the country into modernization, initiating a new constitution in 1955, founded the Ethiopian airlines and he undertook anti-colonialism across Africa whereby he helped African states gain independence from colonialism.

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