Haile Selassie was the 225th and last emperor of Ethiopia and was influential in turning Ethiopia into a modern civilization. He was born on July 23, 1892 in Harar, Ethiopia his birth name was Tafari Makonnen.
Haile Selassie courtesy of Universal Images Group Editorial
Tafari was raised a Christian and educated by French missionaries. His family was close friends with the emperor at the time and as a result he spent a lot of time growing up in the imperial court in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. While he was there he impressed the emperor with his intellectual abilities and at fourteen he was made the governor of Gara Muleta in the province of Harar. At twenty he was promoted to commander of the expensive province of Sidamo. While in these positions of he instituted progressive policies and sought to break the feudal power of the local nobilities by increasing the central government’s authority.
Map of Ethiopia courtesy of Geology.com
In 1911, Tafari married Wayzaro Menen, the great granddaughter of the emperor. Soon after 1913, the emperor died and his grandson Yasu took over the throne. Yasu’s strong Islam beliefs led to resistance from the Christians that Tafari was leading. In 1916, the Christians were successful in stripping Yasu of his power and gave the throne to the emperor’s daughter, Zauditu. Tefari was appointed at this time as a regent and heir to the throne. With this promotion he gained the power to make decisions when Zauditu was absent or away. During Zauditu’s reign she focused on religion over politics, which went against Tafari’s goal and hope for Ethiopia to make Ethiopia a modern nation. In 1923, Tefari was successful in admitting Ethiopia into the League of Nations and was the first Ethiopian ruler ever to go abroad.
Haile Selassie and his wife, Empress Menen courtesy of Popperfoto
In 1930 he assumed the title of emperor and took the name Haile Selassie which means “might of the Trinity”. As emperor he developed a new written constitution that strengthened the power of government which had previously been growing weaker. He also expressed his ideas for modernization. However, in 1935, Selassie’s plans were interrupted when Italy invaded Ethiopia and a fascist regiment took control of the country. This is the first time Ethiopia had lost its national independence and as a result of the Italian control Selassie was forced into exile. In 1941 Britain freed Ethiopia from Italy’s control after Selassie gave a very convincing speech at the League of Nations resulting in Selassie’s return to power. During the next decade Selassie was able to rebuild the administration; improve the army; pass legislation that regulated the government, church, and financial systems; and he also founded the University College of Addis Ababa. As he celebrated twenty-five years of power Selassie revised the constitution and held the first general election.
United Nations courtesy of Allard Postman
By the 1960s Selassie founded the Organization of African Unity and was a major force in the pan African movement. Selassie was greatly respected by his people which is exemplified by the fact that he never had to struggle to prove his legitimate authority over his people when he was in office. By 1970, he withdrew from the day-to-day working of the government to focus on foreign affairs. Because he loved traveling Selassie used his position of power to put Ethiopia’s name out there. A famine in 1973 put a strain on the nation and led to Selassie abdicating the throne on September 13, 1974 and turning the power over to a provisional military government. This resulted in him being the last emperor of Ethiopia before it was handed over. In conclusion, Haile Selassie was a respected and influential leader whose goals were to better Ethiopia for his people by modernizing it and making the country’s accomplishments known to the rest of the world.
“Leadership does not mean domination. The world is always well supplied with people who wish to rule and dominate others. The true leader is a different sort; he seeks effective activity which has truly beneficent purpose. He inspires others to follow in his wake, and holding aloft the torch of wisdom, leads the way for society to realize its genuinely great aspirations.”
– Haile Selassie (from various speeches)
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