A Brief Biography of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I

Taken from the book Ethiopia Reaches Her Hand Unto God: Imperial Ethiopia’s Unique Symbols, Structures, and Role in the Modern World, by Gregory Copley.

His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I was born as Lij Tafari Makonnen on July 23, 1892, in the town of Ejarsa Gora in the Harage Province, some 18 miles outside the city of Harar, Ethiopia. Lij Tafari was given the religious name, Haile Selassie. He was the son of Ras Makonnen, Governor of Harar under his kinsman, Emperor Menelik II. Ras Makonnen, a Shoa Amharan noble, was married to an Oromo, Yashimabet, who died two years after Lij Tafari’s birth.1

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His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I, wearing the sash of the Order of Solomon's Seal. The top star on his tunic is also the Order of Solomon's Seal, beneath which are stars of the US Chief Commander of the Legion of Merit (left), Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Holy Trinity (centre right), and the Order of Emperor Menelik II (below).
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In a significant break with precedence, Lij Tafari Makonnen was raised with an understanding of world affairs, and with an exposure to the outside world. He was to become the first Emperor of Ethiopia to have traveled extensively abroad.

Ras Makonnen, and therefore Lij Tafari Makonnen, were directly of the Solomonic Line, as was Emperor Menelik himself and Tafari Makonnen’s great-great grandfather, Negus Sahela Selassie, of Shoa. King Sahela (Sahle) Selassie had already made treaties with foreign states, including Queen Victoria’s Britain.

Lij Tafari Makonnen was, unusually for the period, brought up with both a strong education in Shoan Amharic traditions and in Western history, languages and statecraft. He was named Dejazmatch — literally “keeper of the door”; the equivalent of the title of Count in Western terms — for part of Harage province at the age of 13, in 1904, only about a year before his father’s death.

The governorship of Harar, and the army which went with it, went to another — Tafari’s half-brother, Yelma — when Ras Makonnen died, and Lij Tafari Makonnen was named to the lesser governorship of Selale. But, because of palace politics, he was forced even to administer this governorship from the confines of Emperor Menelik’s palace in Addis Ababa, where he learned first hand the art of political manoeuvre. Emperor Menelik, one of Lij Tafari’s supporters, suffered a severe stroke in 1908, and Tafari was “exiled” to the southern frontier area where he served as governor of Sidamo province. There, however, he had an army of 3,000.

Emperor Menelik had, the year before, designated his 12-year-old grandson, Lij Iyasu, as his heir. Emperor Menelik’s wife, Empress Taitu, promoted the interests of Zauditu, her daughter. At this point, however, Yelma died and the governorship of Harar again became vacant. So in 1910, with the loyalty of the various armies (including Harar) and princes, Tafari, with the Shoa Amharan nobility, was able to insist that Empress Taitu devote her energies to nursing the ailing Emperor, with day-to-day management of the Empire handled by Ras Tasamma as Regent. Ras Tasamma was one of the most powerful rases, commanding an extensive army of his own; he had been the traditional advisor-guardian to Lij Iyasu.

But Tasamma died in 1911, and Lij Iyasu began a determined bid for the throne. Emperor Menelik died in 1913, but Iyasu still could not be crowned: his apparent conversion to Islam, the religion into which his father was born, discredited him in the eyes of the monophysite Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Shoan nobles. In 1916, they confirmed Zauditu as Empress and the 25-year-old Ras Tafari as “Supreme Regent and Heir Apparent (Crown Prince)”. He was to remain Regent for the next 13 years, a period during which — as de facto ruler of Ethiopia — he began the transformation of Ethiopia into a modern state, in the international sense.

Lij Iyasu attempted during this period to press his claim to the Throne and was arrested in 1921, and died 12 years later.

Empress Zauditu had, in response to the growing power and popularity of the Regent and Crown Prince, crowned Ras Tafari as Negus (king) on September 7, 1928 (Meskarem 27, 1921, in the Ethiopian calendar). It was the first occasion that an Emperor (or ruling Empress) had granted the title of Negus in the Ethiopian context; previously the title Negus had been used only by the kings of the constituent states of Ethiopia (such as the Negus of Shoa, etc.).

Empress Zauditu, herself resentful of the growing popularity of the Regent, in 1930 “sent her husband’s sizable army against Tafari’s forces, but the army was immediately crushed and her husband killed”. 2But on April 2, two days after Negus Tafari’s victory against her husband, Empress Zauditu died.

As Regent and Negus, Ras Tafari had undertaken the modernization of Ethiopia on a significant scale, bringing the country into the League of Nations in 1923 (the application had been lodged in 1919), abolishing slavery (in 1923, the trigger to admission into the League of Nations), creating schools and universities, and generally began the development of a modern national infrastructure.

The sudden death of Empress Zauditu led to the coronation of Negus Tafari as Emperor on November 2, 1930 (Tekent 23, 1922, in the Ethiopian calendar), and his elevation to the highest Throne — for which he adopted the Throne name Haile Selassie I — was the cause for a further consolidation of his programme of reforms.

He founded the Bank of Ethiopia in 1931, and encouraged the creation of newspapers.

Throughout this period, however, there were mounting tensions with Italy, which had occupied Eritrea from the 1890s. This flared into open conflict in September 1935, although the League of Nations exonerated both states. This gave confidence to Italian leader Benito Mussolini, who ordered a full invasion of Ethiopia. This time, still conscious of their defeat at the hands of Menelik’s army in the 1896 Battle of Adwa, only 40 years before, the Italians pushed forward with massive resources and an extensive use of chemical weapons. By May 2, 1936, Emperor Haile Selassie was forced into exile and in June he went before the League of Nations in Geneva to call international attention to the plight of Ethiopia.

It was this speech which both drew Ethiopia to the center-stage of world politics for the first time and at the same time highlighted the impotence of the League of Nations. But World War II was to prove Italy’s undoing in Ethiopia and elsewhere. When Italy joined the Axis powers in June 1940, Britain began working with Haile Selassie to remove the Italian forces from Ethiopia. The Emperor moved to the Sudan, with his son, Crown Prince Asfa Wossen (later Emperor Amha Selassie I), to coordinate action between his own troops and those of the British. And with an Army of British, South African, Ethiopian and other African forces, Emperor Haile Selassie re-entered Addis Ababa on May 5, 1941. Fighting, however, continued on Ethiopian soil until January 1942.

With the end of World War II, the Emperor brought Ethiopia into the United Nations as a founding member, and greatly expanded the country’s diplomatic relations. Domestically, he established a new, central judiciary, and ensured that the new, post-war Government was filled with educated ministers with more specific powers. The new judiciary had the task of appointing its own judges, removing them from the hint of political preference.

By 1955, Haile Selassie was ready to introduce the new national Constitution. It was created through a consensus of input from an Ethiopian educated class which had never before been seen in the country and which was, to a great extent, created by the international exposure many Ethiopians had received because of the war.

To a great extent in the post-war era, Ethiopia enjoyed an unprecedented period of relatively uninterrupted stability and progress. It was, therefore, something of a surprise when a coup d’etat was attempted in Addis Ababa on December 13, 1960, whilst the Emperor was abroad in Brazil on a diplomatic mission. While initially appearing to be successful, the coup by the Imperial Bodyguard, the police chief and some radical intellectuals, lacked public support. The Emperor, on hearing word of the coup attempt, flew immediately to Monrovia, Liberia, and then on to Ft. Lamy (now N’djamena, capital of Chad), and thence — despite engine trouble on his DC-6 aircraft — on to Asmara, Eritrea. There, his son-in-law, Gen. Abiye Abebe, was Governor. And with the Emperor’s final return to Ethiopia, the coup was all but over. It collapsed completely on December 16.

The Army and Air Force, and the Church, had remained loyal to the Emperor, but the incident polarized some elements of the society.

Attempts at land reform through changes in the tax system failed in Parliament in 1966 because of the grip on Parliament — and society — by landowners. And the years leading up to 1974 were replete with mounting inflation, corruption and famine.

Some elements of the Army mutinied on January 12, 1974, and several provinces fell into the hands of mutineers in February. By early June, the mutineers had formed a 120-man Dergue (committee), initially claiming allegiance to the Emperor. But they soon began arresting older politicians and nobles connected with the old order, and in July 1974 demanded a new constitution.

The Dergue seized the Emperor on September 12, 1974, and embarked on a reign of terror not dissimilar to the terror of the Robespierre-controlled First Republic in France in the late 18th Century. Civil war ensued, but the Emperor died in August 1975 as a result of massive torturing.3 He was buried in a secret grave, but, when the Dergue was finally toppled and the grave found, it was discovered that virtually every bone in his body had been broken by his tormentors.

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1 This abridged biography of His Late Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie was based on a variety of sources of published information, including Burke’s Royal Families, Timothy White’s Catch a Fire (a biography of Bob Marley), as well as the Emperor’s biographies (see bibliography), comments from his family members, and so on.

2 White, Timothy: Catch a Fire.

3 Prouty, Chris, and Rosenfield, Eugene: Historical Dictionary of Ethiopia. London, 1982: The Scarecrow Press.


A Brief Biography of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Amha Selassie I

Taken from Ethiopia Reaches Her Hand Unto God, by Gregory Copley.

Crown Prince Asfa Wossen — who became Emperor Amha Selassie I in 1986 — was born in Harar, Ethiopia, on Hamle 20, 1908, by the Ethiopian calendar: July 27, 1916, by the Western calendar. When he reached school age he was first taught by a tutor in the Palace and later enrolled in Teferi Makonnen School. He then continued his higher education at Liverpool University, in the United Kingdom, where he received his degree in Political Science and Public Administration.1

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His Imperial Majesty Emperor Amha Selassie I, the son of Emperor Haile Selassie I. Emperor Amha Selassie, who died in Washington DC in January 1997, was buried in the Trinity Cathedral in Addis Adaba, February 1997. He re-established the Crown Council in 1993 to revive the campaign to restore Ethiopia's stability and progress.
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From his first marriage to Princess Wolete Israel, the couple gave birth to Princess Ejigayehu. Crown Prince Asfa Wossen was then wed to Princess Medferiash Work Abebe, and established a family of four children, including HIH Prince Zere Yacob Amha Selassie, who was later himself named Crown Prince.

During the coronation of Emperor Haile Selassie I in 1930, Prince Asfa Wossen was confirmed as Crown Prince and heir to the throne.

Besides fulfilling his various duties as Crown Prince, Emperor Amha Selassie served his country as governor of the provinces of Begémdir, Tigré and Wollo at different times. In these provinces, he carried out numerous development projects, including the construction of roads, hospitals, and numerous schools and orphanages. He also served on the Crown Council — often acting as President in the Emperor’s absence — and as Chairman of the Ethiopian Red Cross.

In the war against Italian occupation (1935-1941), the young Crown Prince acted as the right hand of the Emperor in every international diplomatic campaign to get material and moral support for the resistance. At the age of 20, he was leading his own troops in battle. During some of this period, when the Italians occupied the country, Crown Prince Asfa Wossen and his father organized the resistance from Jerusalem, and then from a home in Bath, England. It was while he was in exile that the Crown Prince attended Liverpool University. When the time came for re-entry to Ethiopia, Crown Prince Asfa Wossen came via South Africa, while his father came through the Sudan. The object was to ensure that, under any circumstances, the Crown would survive the death of one or other of the two. And in the final battles to route the Italian occupation forces in Ethiopia, it was Crown Prince Asfa Wossen who led the military campaign against the Italian garrisons entrenched in and around Gondar city, thereby flushing out the last remnants of Italian resistance.

Crown Prince Asfa Wossen suffered a sudden stroke in 1972, and was taken to Switzerland in 1973 for medical care. And it was during this period of convalescence that political turmoil broke out in Ethiopia and a coup led by a junior Army officer, Mengistu Haile Mariam, dragged the country into an era of dictatorship and oppression, civil war and economic decline. Crown Prince Asfa Wossen moved to London to begin his exile, and while still trying to recover from the effects of the stroke, he closely monitored events in Ethiopia, maintaining contact with resistance movements inside and just outside the country.

The Crown Prince formed a Government-in-Exile in London, and it was this Government along with the Crown Council which, on April 6, 1988, proclaimed him Negusa Negest ze Ethiopia (King of Kings of Ethiopia). He took the Throne name Amha Selassie I.

Emperor Amha Selassie I became the 226th ruler of Ethiopia since his forebear, Menelik I, son of Solomon and Queen Makeda, took the throne some 3,000 years earlier. During the ceremony proclaiming him Emperor, his wife, Princess Medferiash Work Abebe, was named Empress, and his son, Prince Zere Yacob, was named Crown Prince.

Just over a year later, on October 23, 1989, Emperor Amha Selassie moved to the United States, which was home to many thousands of Ethiopian exiles. From there, he began working with the Ethiopian exile community to further coordinate efforts to restore a constitutional Monarchy and bring peace to Ethiopia. It was during this period that a pro-Constitutional Monarchy movement called Mo’a Anbessa (literally, “The Conquering Lion”) was formed. In an historic gathering on June 29, 1991, Mo’a Anbessa announced its mission and proclaimed the Emperor as its Honorary Chairman.

A “fact sheet” released by Mo’a Anbessa in February 1992 said that the organization “transcends all parties, and its membership straddles across the boundaries of all political organizations”. The organization pledged “its full support to all democratic forces both within and outside Ethiopia who are dedicated to the cause of building a pluralistic society and market-driven economy”. The statement added: “The weight and moral authority of the monarchy can usefully co-exist and complement a democratically-elected government, for example in Great Britain or Japan.”2

The Emperor, meanwhile, established the Haile Selassie I Peace Foundation, to provide a range of humanitarian, educational medical aid services to Ethiopians inside and outside the country.

Emperor Amha Selassie was, like his father, widely decorated by foreign governments and leaders both during his period as Crown Prince, and later in Exile.

During a 1992 press conference at the National Press Club, in Washington DC, His Imperial Majesty spoke of his plans to return soon to his native country where he planned to enter peaceful negotiation with the administration which had seized power from the outgoing Dergue in 1991. Ill health, however, dogged the Emperor, whose mobility was severely hampered by the paralyzing effects of his 1972 stroke.

Emperor Amha Selassie died in the Washington DC area of the United States — at the Fair Oaks Hospital, in Fairfax, Virginia — on January 17, 1997, at the age of 80. A large turnout attended the Memorial Service for the Emperor in Washington DC. His body was flown to Addis Ababa for a private funeral and, despite the lack of official publicity surrounding the event, the Emperor’s return to his native land resulted in a massive show of public sympathy. He was buried next to his two brothers at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa on Sunday, February 2, 1997.

But several years before his death, working with his advisors — and particularly the Afe-Negus,3 Teshome Haile Mariam, the former Chief Justice of Ethiopia and former Ethiopian Imperial Ambassador to the United States — the Emperor reconvened and reconstituted the Ethiopian Crown Council. In doing this, he named his nephew, Prince Ermias Sahle-Selassie Haile Selassie, to the post of President of the Council, and his grandson, Prince Bekere Fikre-Selassie as Viceroy or Enderassé.

The institutions built by Emperor Amha Selassie survive his passing: the reconstituted Crown Council; the Haile Selassie I Peace Foundation; and Mo’a Anbessa remain particularly active.

He was survived by his wife, Empress Medferiash Work Abebe; his son, Crown Prince Zere Yacob Amha Selassie and Prince Zere Yacob’s sisters (Mariam Sena, Sehin, Sefrash); his grandchildren from his first wife, Princess Wolete-Israel Seyoum, by his eldest daughter Princess Ejig-Ayehu Amha Selassie (Samson, Rahel, Mehret, Bekere, Aster and Yishaq); and his surviving sister, Princess Tenagne Work Haile Selassie.

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1 This brief biographical section on Emperor Amha Selassie I was compiled from a variety of sources including His Imperial Majesty’s official biographical note, released at the Washington DC National Press Club, February 1992, as well as from his entries in Who’s Who and other publications, and based on the numerous personal discussions which the author held with His Imperial Majesty over several years. Other documentary sources were also consulted.

2 The Crown Council in 1998, however, agreed to sever all formal bonds between the Crown and Mo’a Anbessa, to enable the organization to establish itself as a totally independent political party.

3 The post and title of Afe-Negus is granted by the Emperor for life. “Afe-Negus” literally means “Mouth of the King”, and Teshome Haile Mariam was named to this post by Emperor Haile Selassie I. Afe-Negus Teshome served Emperor Amha Selassie as he had done for Emperor Haile Selassie, and also served as President of the Crown Council under Emperor Amha Selassie. Afe-Negus Teshome’s father had also served in the same capacity to Emperor Menelik II.

4 A story in the UK magazine Marie Claire, number 119, of July 1998, carried the following story on Crown Prince Zere Yacob: “As heir to the world’s most ancient monarchy, Zera-Yacob [their transliteration] enjoys the title of ‘The Conquering Lion of Judah’, but the man who is regarded as a living god by Rastafarians has endured a tragic life. He was appointed Crown Prince by his grandfather, Emperor Haile Selassie in the last days of his reign. But following the 1974 Communist coup, the members of the imperial family were imprisoned, murdered or forced into exile. Zera-Yacob is now living in straightened circumstances in Manchester, where Rastafarians and his Ethiopian supporters regularly pay him tribute. His health is now frail, he is known for his sudden mood swings, and has done little to keep the imperial flame alive, to the dismay of branches of his family.” Author’s note: In fact, neither the Crown Prince, nor the Emperor, employed the title “Conquering Lion of [the Tribe of] Judah”. That title was used above the Imperial title to signify that the Crown was under Christ. As well, although Rastafarians worship Emperor Haile Selassie, the offspring of the Emperor are not, in fact, “regarded as gods” by the Rastafarian movement, although Rastafarians have been particularly supportive of Prince Zere Yacob and the Imperial Family in exile.


A Brief Biography of His Imperial Highness Prince Ermias Sahle-Selassie Haile-Selassie

Taken in part from Ethiopia Reaches Her Hand Unto God, by Gregory Copley.

His Imperial Highness Prince Ermias Sahle-Selassie Haile-Selassie, President of the Crown Council of Ethiopia, is the only son of His late Imperial Highness Prince Sahle-Selassie Haile-Selassie and Her Imperial Highness Princess Mahzente Hapte-Mariam. The late Prince Sahle-Selassie was the youngest son of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I and Empress Menen of Ethiopia. Prince Ermias in many ways represents the unity of Ethiopia: he is of Amhara, Oromo and Guragé background.

HIH Prince Ermias Sahle Selassie Haile Selassie

The President of the Ethiopian Crown Council, His Imperial Highness Prince Ermias Sahle-Selassie Haile-Selassie, the grandson of Emperor Haile-Selassie.
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Prince Ermias was born in Addis Ababa on June 14, 1960, and lived in Ethiopia for a considerable part of his early life, where he underwent his primary education. He continued his studies at the Old Ride Preparatory School, and then at Haileybury College, in England. He undertook a BA in social studies, with an emphasis on economics, at the University of California in Santa Barbara, from 1978 to 1981, and continued his education at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy between 1983 and 1985.

His Imperial Highness is the father of twin sons — Princes Sahle-Selassie (Christian) and Fesseha Tsion (Rufael) — born on February 20, 1992.

Prince Ermias has a diverse professional background, and has been deeply involved in the development and institutionalisation of democratic principles and market economic philosophies in Africa, particularly in the Horn of Africa. He is a vocal member of the expatriate Ethiopian community in the United States and actively follows issues related to the Horn of Africa.

In 1993, Prince Ermias was invested, in exile, as the President of the Ethiopian Crown Council, the body which acts during an interregnum as the custodian of the Crown, and which, during the reign of an Emperor, acts as the principal advisory council to the Crown. The appointment was made by Emperor Amha Selassie I. Since this appointment, Prince Ermias has travelled extensively and met with a dozen Heads-of-State promoting the welfare of Ethiopia and Ethiopians. In 1998, he briefed the United States Congress on two occasions regarding the prospects for peace in the Horn of Africa. This included a special briefing to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on October 14, 1998.

In 1997, His Highness was named recipient of the ISSA Silver Star Award for Outstanding Contributions to Strategic Progress Through Humanitarian Achievement by the worldwide NGO, the International Strategic Studies Association, for his work for Ethiopian refugees in Africa.

Prince Ermias is on the Board of Directors for Tuition Credit Exchange Inc., a US-based organisation which helps facilitate education. He is also Chairman of the Advisory Board of Bezant Corporation. He is Patron of the Haile Selassie Fund for Ethiopia’s Children, Inc., a US-based non-profit charitable trust which raises funds for causes which aid Ethiopian children.

Prince Ermias is fluent in Amharic, English and German, and lectures and travels frequently on Ethiopian issues to help the process of the restoration of democracy under a Constitutional Monarchy in his country.

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