Emperor Selassie 1 was born Lij Tafari Makonnen in 1892 after his father General Ras Makonnen conquered and occupied the Muslim city Harar in 1887 during the reign of King Menelik.
The title Lij and Ras denote a prince in Amharic, though the Lij title is of lower version for un-respected royals.
Lij Tafari Makonnen became the provincial administrator for the Harar province when he was only 16 years old before becoming prince regent in 1916 when emperor Menelik passed away. In 1930 he was crowned Emperor Haile Selassie 1, a baptismal name from the original title Ras Tafari Makonnen.
The Ethiopian constitution traced the position of an autocratic monarch to the old biblical times, a mystique, of direct marriage of King Solomon and Queen Sheba.
The orthodox, Ethiopian Coptic church with ancient liturgical language and ancient literature dating back to 3,000 years before Christ revered the title of monarchy.
The Emperor was bestowed with titles like Elect of God, The Conquering Lion of Tribe of Judah and The Prince of Peace.
The reverences lead to the springing of Rastafari (ism) movement in Jamaica in 1930’s. The movement took the Emperor first birth name: Ras Tafari.
The Black Moses Marcus Mosiah Garvey, the ‘prophet Isaiah’ of the movement prophesied the coming of the king from the East with heavenly character, a Christ incarnate. The crowning of Emperor Selassie 1 fulfilled prophesy just like the Biblical Isaiah on the birth of Jesus Christ.
Rastafarians believe that Emperor Haile Selassie 1 is God sitting on his highest throne at Mount Zion judging mankind as the power of trinity: the son- in the father and Holy Spirit trinity.
The Rastafarian believed he performed miracles in 1966 when he landed in Jamaica for a three days visit. On the day he arrived it rained after a prolonged drought.
After being chosen as the Emperor, the Elect of God embarked on a scheme to modernize Ethiopia and abolish slave trade, build social amenities, authorized the establishment of a parliament and build a railway line to the Red Sea.
The early achievement brought fame to Emperor, but what catapulted him to world wide glory was his defiance in 1930s when Benito Mussolini, the Italian fascist dictator invaded Ethiopia and forced the Emperor to flee to England.
“His name is King Selassie, Mussolini invaded Ethiopia but he conquered” Sung Reggae Heart Throb the late Joseph Hills aka Mighty Culture.
He was later reinstated to his throne in 1940s during the height of WWII when Mussolini was defeated for supporting Adolf Hitler of Nazi Germany.
In 1962 through the UN council the Emperor convinced the Eritrean parliament to vote for annexation of Eritrea to Ethiopia which added 3 million subjects to the Empire after Italy withdrawal from the region.
The Humble Emperor
A diminutive figure, humble and mild-mannered the Emperor was an avid reader.
Mr. Katema Yifru a confidant and a cabinet minister in Emperor’s government, who sort asylum in Kenya in 1985 after being allowed to travel outside the country by Mengistu’s regime recalled:
“The Emperor’s bedroom had an ordinary bed. People have this mistaken believe that Emperors sleep on golden beds, but this was not the case with Emperor Haile Selassie…… I know that many Ethiopians slept on better beds than him. He was not extravagant.”
Mr. Yifru was quoted by Kenyan local newspapers in Nairobi while working as the director of World Food Programme for East and Southern Africa. He emotionally continued:
“The rest of the room and the bed itself was taken up by books, magazines, papers and documents. If you (a minister) gave him a memo in the evening you were sure to get a reply in the morning. He was an extremely hardworking man”
Selassie resided in Jubilee palace where he fed leopards and dark manned lions before heading to the official office in The Grand Palace, Emperor Menelik old palace which stood on the hill overlooking the city of Addis Ababa.
It is at The Grand Palace that he operated by his formidable memory to recall names, places, conversations and events of the Empire while the Minister of the Pen stood beside him to jolt down orders from him.
The Fault Lines
In addition West Somali Liberation Front in Ogaden, Oromo uprising in Bale province and Eritrean forces started nationalist’s insurgency which were later quelled.
The fault line grew further in 1972 when Emperor Selassie 1 stuck to power through senility at 80 years old. The Emperor never trusted his eldest son Asafa Woosen after his favorite son, Crown Prince Leul Makonnen died in a car accident in 1957.
The senility was evident during a state dinner on the official national visit by Zairian President Mobutu Sese Seko.
The Emperor called a state official and in Amharic asked who the guest of honor sitting opposite him was.
Later at his first official visit to China in 1974 the Emperor constantly referred to a previous visit he had made earlier.
During this period there were strikes: the civilian population revolted due to the increase of food and fuel prices, the students revolted because of poor education standards, while the army demanded an increase in their meager salary.
The Islam population on the other hand wanted a change of the constitution to separate Christianity and state which discriminated Muslims.
The miasma of the revolt was the 1973 famine at Wollo province which claimed ten thousand lives. The government turned a blind with Emperor Selassie 1 terming it “a national disaster beyond human control”
The famine became the Emperor’s Achilles heels causing his dethronement and thrusting to Ethiopians the 17 years military rule by Major Mengistu Mariam.
In 1974 radical junior military officers lead by Major Mengistu formed a military committee-The Derg- with 108 representatives’ country wide to run the government. They seized The Grand Palace leaving the Emperor in Jubilee Palace.
Using their control on government press, radio and TV they relentlessly attacked the Emperor regime.
They broadcasted a documentary The Hidden Famine showing thousands of people starving to death in Wollo famine while the Emperor and his entourage were drinking champagne and eating caviar. The documentary had footage of Emperor feeding his dogs and a leopard from a silver tray.
On 11th September 1974, 9 princesses, the Emperor’s only daughter and seven grand daughters were imprisoned in a dungeon at Grand Palace and their heads were shaven. An insult to their royalty.
The Derg interrogated in length the Emperor about his personal fortune which they thought he had left behind for his retirement.
“For an Emperor there is no retirement” replied Selassie.
The next day 12th September, The Derg officers dethroned the Emperor and took him to Grand Palace for House imprisonment. The dethroning proclamation read in part:
“(Emperor)Not only left the country in its current crisis by abusing at various times the high and dignified authority conferred on him by the Ethiopian people but also, being over 82 years of age and due to the consequent physical and mental exhaustion is not more able to shoulder the high responsibility of leadership”
Emperor Selassie listened on humbly and replied that if the revolution was good for the people then he didn’t object his dethronement.
A month later in 23rd November the Derg executed the Emperor’s grandson, two former Prime Ministers, his high associates together with sixty prominent prisoners.
The Emperor even though dethroned and at the advanced age continued to get up at dawn to attend the morning mass and spent time reading as a prisoner at the palace and later in a dungeon.
On 27th August 1978, he died.
The Derg said it was due to circulatory failure and refused to disclose where his body was. The Emperor name was banned nationally.
Selassie’s dead body was hidden beneath a lavatory in The Grand Palace.
His followers said he was smothered by a wet towel.