HAILE SELLASSIE AND ETHIOPIA
by Robel Alemu
RAS TEFERI AND HIS MOVE TOWARD
Menilik was the king of Ethiopia from 1889 to1903.He succeeded in creating
a vast empire that consisted of peoples belonging to diverse ethnic and linguistic
groups. these peoples possessed their own independent states with political
structure ranging from kingship to the traditional political system of various
kind. They were incorporated into Meniliks empire by force of arms which led
to the loss of their independence.
But the problem was what would happen to the empire after Menilik's life?
This was the most serious problem that confronted Menilik's empire in the first
decades of the 20th century.This was because Menilik had no male decent that
would be acceptable to the conservative Mesafints and Mekwanents of the empire.
He had two daughters i.e., Zewditu and Shewareged.zewditu did not have male
offspring while shewareged had one i.e. Lij Iyasu , from Ras Michael of wollo.
Therefore, Meniliks choice falls on Lij Iyasu who was officially nominated as
successor to the throne in 1909.
Lij Iyasu attempts to maintain ethnic and religious equality among peoples
and regions of the empire.In fact, he tried to encourage this idea by practical
actions he took. In this regard, he built churches and monastries,he also built mosques for the Muslim communities of the empire and establishing marriage ties with local Muslim dynasties.
His marriage with Muslims were interrupted as his abandonment of Christianity
and an attempt at weakening the orthodox church. Lie Iyasu's foreign policy
another major cause for his downfall.
The old nobility's of Menelik appealed to Abune Matheos to excommunicate Lij
Iyasu whom they charged with a pro-Muslim policy.the bishop was persuaded to
support their cause, and in 1916 Lie Iyasu was proclaimed deposed
There was confusion in the arrangement made when Lij Iyasu was deposed.
Two centers of power existed during that period. These were Zewditu and RasTeferi. The one led by Zewditu,Conservative group, included: Abune Matheos,Fitawrari Habte Giyorgis,and Dajjach Balcha.they opposed any progressive reforms an decided to hinder Tafari move to power by making Zewditu powerless.
The progressive group under Tafari included the newly emerging intellectuals,
commercial strata,and a few enlighten nobility.This group wanted to introduce modern European institutions in Ethiopia.
Among the conservatives, the most formidable and the ones that Tafrari feared
to directly challenge were Abune Matheos and the war minister,Fitawrari Habte
Gyorgis.But,different historical events strengthened the power of the Ras.In
Fitawrari HabteGyorgis and Abune Matheos died.In 1927, Ras Teferi obtained
the unconditional surrender of one of the powerful opponents to his power,Dajjach
After Balcha's removal,Tafari was left with only one enemy - Ras Gugsa the former husband of Zewditu.The empress had strong love to her former husband,
but was forced to divorce upon becoming empress in 1916. Ras Gugsa maintained
that Ras Teferi was responsible for the divorce. Added to this, various measures taken by Teferi to strengthen central power had endangered the economic and political interest of Ras Gugsa. Because of this, Ras Gugsa refused to obey the orders of Ras Teferi,who finally resolved to remove the Ras by force of arms.
In 1926 the army of Ras Gugsa was defeated, at the battle of Anchem , and Ras
Gugsa was killed. Zewditu heard the news two days later and the shock led to
her death.Thus, in 1930 Tafari become EMPEROR HAILE SELLASSIE Ï of Ethiopia.
EMERGENCE OF AN INCIPIENT
IN ETHIOPIA(1930 - 1935)
Haile Sellassie's autocratic state evolved gradually, and become a full blown
autocracy only after 1941. but the ground-work started to be prepared between
1930 and 1935. The coronation of Ras Teferi as emperor in 1930 marked the beginning
of Haile Sellassie's incipient autocracy in Ethiopia.Once he came to power,
the emperor introduced many changes and reforms aimed at laying the foundation
for an autocratic rule.
1. THE CONSTITUTION OF 1931
The first written constitution of Ethiopia was introduced in 1931. It was the
legal basis of the incipient autocratic state. According to one of the emperors
speeches of the time, the reasons for its introduction were the need for:
- regulating the relations between the monarchy and the nobility
- establishing friendly relation with foreign powers,and
- 'fair rule' and 'justice for the people.
The adoption of the 1931 constitution is the result of both internal and external
factors. The internal factor was the challenge of regional forces to the central
government and the problem of succession had to be resolved.Externally, the
emperor wanted to demonstrate his modernizing efforts.The concern for 'Fair
rule' and 'justice' for the people was more of white-wash of the constitution
The 1931 constitution made emperor Haile Sellasie commander- in- chief of the
army, chief justice, leader of all administrative and social life of the country.
He convened and dissolved the parliament,dismiss civil servants, decide salaries,
give title, control the foreign affairs, declare war. The constitution confirmed
that Haile sellasie's line was the only legitimate to inherit the throne.The
constitution confirmed that his dignity was inviolable, and his power sacred
The constitution also contained the rights and duties of citizens.Thus, Ethiopians
were granted the right of free movement, security of private property, appointment
to civil and military posts and due process of law to those accused of rimes
before any punishment.Conversly, all Ethiopian citizens had the obligation of
paying government taxes and of giving military service at times of need.However,Civil
rights remained on paper.The Ethiopian masses were not really represented in
the parlament.The feudal mode of production continued to be highly exploitative
to the ordinary peoples.Above all the constitution prepared the ground for autocratic
The incipient autocratic state adopted a policy of monarchical control over
the provinces.The objective of this is to eliminate the chance of regional challenges
to the central government,and to establish strong control over human and material
resources of all province of the empire.
Side by side with this change in regional adminstration,the state was committed
to the improvement of its bureaucracy for firm control by the center.to this
end, a great deal of effort were made at the expansion of modern education in
Addis Ababa and the provinces.graduates from local schools, and foreign educated
Ethiopians were appointed to different administrative, financial, diplomatic,
military and public services.Also a number of advisors were employed in different
Anther measure taken by the autocratic rule was the centralization of financial
resources aimed at economic consolidation.To this end,some reforms were made
in the collection of the two major sources of state income.i.e.the tax for land
use and trade.Under the new state land sale become common.The government also
encouraged settlement on the uncultivated lands through exemption from tax for
some years.this gradually increased the size of lands that paid taxes.
Likewise the land tax, the income from trade tax were centralized The government
established its own custom posts, at which its own officials were appointed.
custom officials were regulated and supervised by the central administration
of customs and commerce.
The elimination of regional forces, one after anther, helped emperor Haile
sellasie begin the process of creating a national army. The army could serve
the incipient autocratic state as a major force of control over its own people.
The state also made efforts to modernize military training. In 1930, the Ethiopian
government began the training of the Imperial Bodyguard by Belgian officers.
Bodyguards were trained in cavalry, infantry and music.
In 1934, the first modern military academy for the training of officers was opened at Holleta Genet,on the way to Ambo.The trainees were recruited from academic schools to be trained for three years. The instructors were recruited from Sweden. However, the out break of the Italo-Ethiopian war in 1935 soon forced the closure of this school. In addition to this , the government used to send a few Ethiopian students to Europe for military training.
THE ITALIAN AGGRESSION
The fascist under Benita Mussolini came to power in 1922 in Italy.they soon
decided to invade Ethiopia because: They considered Ethiopia as Italian coloni,they
had promised a great empire to the Italians,there was a strong feeling in Italy
to revenge the defeat of Adwa in 1896.
In 1928,a treaty of friendship was sighed between Ethiopia and Italy.Italy
was waiting for a favorable time to invade Ethiopia.Italy bribed many Ethiopian
landlords who had become enemies to Haile Sellasie.
Conflict with Italy started in 1934,When Italian army occupied Walwal
which was the Ethiopian territory and refused to withdraw.In 1935 Ethiopia appealed to the league of nation.The league of nations procrastinated the Ethiopian appeal and replied that both Italy and Ethiopia should settle their dispute through their treaty of friendship signed in 1928. In the meantime, Italy moved her large army to East Africa.
On October 3,1935, Mussolini ordered his army to invade Ethiopia. the war ended
with Italian victory. The Ethiopian forces suffered a crush in defeat because
of four major reasons.First,The war was unexpected for the Ethiopian side.Second,Haile
Sellasie failed to use capable military leaders(landlords not the educated ones).third,
The Italian side was superior in armament,espetialy in artillery and air plane.Fourth,
the government without modern army,had much of its trust in the league of nation
which provides incapable of stopping Italian aggression.
After the Ethiopians lost the battle at Maichew in 1936, Haile Sellasie and
the feudal ruling aristocracy fled the country.
CONSOLIDATION OF AUTOCRACY
The Italian faced nation wide opposition from the very beginning of their occupation
of Ethiopia.However, Italian occupation was welcomed in few places, and several
notables become collaborators. the people of Ethiopia were not willing to surrender
the dependence of their country and thus paid immense scarifies to defend it.
There were two stages of the patriotic resistance to the Italians. the first
was a continuity of the major war, and it lasted up to early 1937.Their first
attempt was to liberate Addis Ababa in 1936.However, the force was defeated
near the Gojeb river in kaffa by the Italian army before they reached Addis
The second stage of the resistance begin following the unsuccessful attempt
to kill the Italian Vicerory,Grazzini,by two young Ethiopians named Moges Asgedom
andAbraham Deboch, in Addis Ababa on 19 feburary,1937. the viocracy was seriously
wounded while some other officials were killed.The rebellion continued . They
organized themselves into a guerrilla units all over the country and fought
against the Italian fascist until their defeat and evacuation in 1941.
After the end of the fascist occupation in 1941,the power of emperor Haile
Sellasie was strengthened by Britain and the Americans.In the same year Haile
Sellasie was restored to imperial power with the British support.At first the
emperor didn't fully exercise his power.Britsh military officers were in control
of the most important bodies of the government.Emperor Haile Sellasie could
not endure the limitation of his power.and insisted on rectifing the situation
which led to the revised agrement signed between Brition and ethiopia in 1944.This
agrement gave Haile Sellasie full control of the autocrtic rule.
CHALLENGES TO THE ETHIOPIAN
The autocratic rule of Haile Sellasie faced serious challenges from the Ethiopian
student movement,the Eritrean armed strugle,peasant rebellion in Gojam and Bale
,and the outbreak of the famine.
The Ethiopian students strongly opposed the expletive and oppressive system of Haile Sellasie's government by exposing their system of rule to the autocratic state.
The Ethiopian student movement emerged in the 1950s in Addis Abeba University.At first they demanded for the improvement of learning facilities and services. Then it was followed by demands for freedom of press and organization. In 1964,the urban and rural students begin to participate in the struggle against feudal exploitation and determined to overthrow the absolute monarchy
The Addis Abeba Univrsity student movement become too radical and come out
to street with the slogan of '' LANDTO THE TILLER''. In general the AAU(Addis
Abeba University)students had raised several national issues which seriously
challenged Haile Sellasie's regime.
The Eritrean armed struggle
The struggle started when Eritrea lost the federal status and united with Ethiopia.gradually, the struggle reached its climax with the aim of establishing a separate independent Eritrean state.
In 1961, the Eritrean Liberation Front(ELF)was formed and continued fighting
against the feudo-bourgeois regime.
Peasant Rebillions In Gojjam And Bale
The increasing land tax, process of privtization and land sale as well as the expantion of commercial farms were fundamental causes of the ever growing peasnt discontent and subsequent protests and rebillion that broke out in different regions of Ethiopia.Freaquent battles were fought between peasants and the combined forces of the police and the territorial army. Peasants fought with great enthusiasm and killed countable number of officers.
Out Break Of Famine
The deteriorating conditions of life of the peasantry laid fertile ground for the widespread famine of the years 1958 to 1974.In this years almost all regains of Ethiopia were affected by famines of varying degrees.Of all the famines, those of Tigrai in 1958/1959,Waq - Lasta in 1965/1966 and Wollo in 1972/1973 were very serious. They were characterized by great human losses and population dislocations.
Despite the death of thousands of peoples however, the government tried its
best to hide the famines.It was only in 1974 that the devastating famine of
that period was exposed to the international community by Ethiopian students
and a British documentary film.
The Popular 1974 Revolution
Opposition to the imperial regime reached its peak in February 1974,when the Ethiopian masses from almost all circles made a serious strikes,protests and demonstrations and demanded for radical changes.Challanges from the army, Ethiopian teachers association,taxi-drivers were among the major ones.The popular revolt caused the following events which took place one after anther.
1.The downfall of the corrupt cabinet
2.The coordinating committee of the armed forces,police and territorial army was set up
3. The crown court ceased to exist and on September 12,1974 Haile Sellasie was deposed, this brought to an end to the rule of the monarchy in Ethiopia.
-Bahru Zewde; History of Modern Ethiopia 1855 -1974,1991.
-Minale Adugna and Wakene Firew; HISTORY student's Textbook Grade 10,Mega Publishing Agency,Addis Abeba, 2000
-Berihun Kebede,History of Haile Sellasie,Artistic printing press,1993