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Definition: Haile Selassie I from Philip's Encyclopedia

(Ras Tafari Makonnen) Emperor of Ethiopia (1930-74). When Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935, he was forced into exile (1936), despite appeals to the League of Nations. He drove out the Italians with British aid in 1941. He became a leader among independent African nations, helping to found the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963. In 1974 he was deposed by a military coup. He died while under arrest. See also Rastafarianism


Summary Article: Selassie, Haile
from Cultural Sociology of the Middle East, Asia, and Africa

Haile Selassie's name in Ge'ez, the old Semitic language of the Ethiopian Empire, means “the power of the Trinity.” However, the Negus's name at birth was Ras (meaning “chief”) Tafari Makonnen. According to Ethiopian tradition, Ras Tafari was crowned emperor with the designation Haile Selassie I, the descendant of the Ethiopian Solomonic dynasty through the line of King David (Dawit), the Jewish monarch of the Tribe of Judah, and son of Ras Mekonnen Welde Mikael and cousin of Negus Menelik II of Ethiopia, who ruled the country between 1889 and 1913. Born in 1892, Haile Selassie grew up in court and began to administer the governorship of Harar at the age of 13. In 1906, he married Menen Asfaw. Selassie was initially taken into account as the possible successor of his cousin, Menelik II, but the throne went instead to the Muslim Ras Iyasu V. Haile Selassie, however, gave evidence during an anti-Islamic revolt and became regent and Negus during the reign of Queen Zewditu I. In this decade, Haile Selassie decided to join the League of Nations (1923) and his candidacy obtained the political support of France and Italy. In 1928, Selassie signed a 20-year treaty of friendship with Italy. In 1930, he started negotiations for the creation of an Ethiopian State Bank.

Haile Selassie's Kingdom: The War With Italy

The emperor's aims as regent, and after 1930, as main ruler of Ethiopia, were to modernize the country and to break the power of the feudal landowners by increasing the influence of the central government and civil service. Legislation was passed abolishing the feudal dues payable by farmers and peasants, which was substituted properly by a more controlled taxation.

Education was expanded. Gradually, 10 new primary schools were opened in the provinces in 1931 and, in the same year, a school for girls was established in Addis Ababa. Serious efforts were made in trying to prevent slavery. In 1932, 62 offices across the entire country were set up to work toward this goal.

After the military disappointment of Wal-Wal and the beginning of diplomatic tension with Italy, Haile Selassie often attended the conferences of the League of Nations to plead the cause of Ethiopia. On January 2, 1935, the emperor delivered his most heartfelt appeal to protect the borders of Abyssinia, but his attempt did not achieve anything concrete. The General Assembly of the league decided to apply economic sanctions against Italy, with the support of 51 of the 54 member states, but these restrictions were not very incisive. Italy used the time to build up large forces in Eritrea and Italian Somaliland, and in October 1935, invaded Ethiopia. This led to another meeting of the league, at which Italy was declared the aggressor. Some sanctions were approved but they were not sufficiently applied. The relevant oil sanction was never even attempted, and in all, the sanctions were ineffective. Italy won the war of 1935-36 in part through the use of lethal gas that had been declared illegal after the end of World War I. After the Italian conquest, Haile Selassie escaped his country and went to Jerusalem for of a few days, and then to Bath, in Britain.

Return, Decolonization, and Demise

During his exile, the emperor was able to attract the interest of Great Britain, returning to Ethiopia during World War II to show the royal family's support during the conflict for liberation from Italian fascism. With the support of London, Haile Selassie continued his work to modernize his country by removing the power of the landed aristocracy, reforming the army, and enacting Ethiopia's first constitution in 1955. This constitution provided for a bicameral system; Senate members, appointed by the emperor serving for a period of six years; and a Chamber of Deputies, elected every four years by universal suffrage. The approval of both chambers was normally required for legislative purposes; the emperor still had the power of veto, even if a law could, by a two-thirds majority, be rejected.

Haile Selassie became particularly well known, internationally, when Ethiopia became a leader of the Organization of African Unity (OAU, now the African Union). In the last years of his life, Selassie became highly suspicious of his closest collaborators because of a series of betrayals that followed one after another against him. In 1974, a rebellion led by a military junta broke out; the Derg party, headed by Mengistu Haile Mariam, forced Haile Selassie to make many concessions in favor of the armed forces. Once in power, Mengistu Haile Mariam unleashed a violent persecution, known as the Red Terror, against political and military rivals. Haile Selassie was probably killed by Derg members under unclear circumstances on August 27, 1975.

See Also:

Italo-Ethiopian War , Italo-Ottoman War (Libya) , Rastafarianism

Further Readings
  • Kapuscinski, R. The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat. New York: Vintage Books, 1984.
  • Spencer, J. H. Ethiopia at Bay: A Personal Account of the Haile Selassie Years. Los Angeles: Tsehai Publishers, 2006.
  • Zewde, Bahru. A History of Modern Ethiopia, 1855-1991. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: Addis Ababa University Press, 1991.
  • Demichelis, Marco
    Copyright © 2012 by SAGE Publications, Inc.

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