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Ethiopia: A Brief Note on Haile Selassie

December 18, 2009

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Haile Selassie, now famous as the patron god-figure of the Rastafarians, was one of the great men of the twentieth century before he lost his mind to Alzheimer’s.  He should be remembered for his flashes of prescience and bravery that have seldom been duplicated by politicians of any era.

In the 1930s, he organized his country to fight the Italian fascist invaders.  Selassie’s warriors fought bravely if futilely with spears and axes against modern weaponry, including heavy-caliber machine guns, tanks, and aerial bombardment.   He then traveled to the League of Nations in Geneva in 1936 and addressed the world via that august if powerless body.  The speech was recorded on newsreel and is renowned for its gripping oratory.  What he told the Europeans was simple: If you don’t come to help us in Ethiopia,  you will be the next victims of fascism.  You have no means to escape this fate.

His words were ignored.  A brief excerpt of the speech may be found on youtube at:

The French overdub says “In 1936 the Emporer of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, appeared before the League of Nations to denounce the abandonment of his people to the Italian fascists.” I have viewed the complete speech so I know it still exists.

In 1968 he delivered another powerful example of poetic imagery in the United States that Bob Marley later put to music. Here is a partial text:

“That until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned: That until there are no longer first-class and second class citizens of any nation; that until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes; That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; That until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained.”

What I find still unsettling when I tell people about Selassie’s later speech is that many of them don’t understand the concepts of  “world citizenship” and “international morality.”  They ask me, What are these things? and why should they exist?  Are these words a plot from the New World Order?

Benito Mussolini and Joseph Goebbels must be rejoicing still, dancing in their unmarked graves.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. rosrmarie west permalink
    July 6, 2015 6:42 pm

    haile selassie went into exile when italy kills 27,00.000. of his pepole with gas.britain and france did nothing to help and italy annex ali baba

  2. dreadwarrior permalink
    June 2, 2010 10:41 pm

    HIM haile selassie having alzheimer?????

    who the f*ck told you thate??

    • June 3, 2010 12:51 pm

      When I traveled around Ethiopia in 1977 the general consensus of the people I met there was that Selassie’s health had been failing in the years before he was killed by Mengistu and that he displayed the classic symptoms of Alzheimers during his rare public appearances. Sad but true.

  3. December 19, 2009 2:18 am

    Hi,

    It is wonderful that you took your time to write positively about the deceased monarch. I agree with most of what you have written. But you also forgot to mention to your readers that he was not as much popular domestically as he was internationally. No doubt he had a great image abroad but until the student movement briefly exposed the exploitation of peasants and the famine under his autocratic system. Yes he famously said there shall never be second class and first class citizens. But he himself could not walk his talk.

    The darker skinned Ethiopians (the Southern Ethiopians) and peasants were pretty much considered as second class citizens during his time and that was one of the reasons why his regime was overthrown violently and replaced with military dictatorship, which hijacked the revolution to further oppress the mass. The source of today’s ethnically divided Ethiopia is the oppressive imperial system.

    He may be seen as a god for outsiders and those who benefited under his leadership, but for the oppressed Ethiopians, he was a feudal dictator who ruled with an iron first for more than 40 years. He did try to modernize the country but he also failed to give freedom to a large segments of the society that he considered his subjects.

    When you write about someone like Haile Sellasie please make sure you present all the facts. Otherwise, your article is misleading.

    Cheers.

    • December 19, 2009 3:20 am

      Thanks for writing and especially for pointing out your concerns regarding the late Haile Selassie. I have long been aware of his failings, which were exacerbated in his old age by his infirmities. He was a tyrant in his country in many ways, and his treatment of Eritrea – an ongoing thorn in the side of his time in power, was inexcusable. I remember well the south of the country and the abject poverty cemented under his rule, and I also must say that he laid the foundations for the terrible times that followed his death.

      But I was discussing his impact at the international level, in the same manner that one might talk about Mikhail Gorbachev or even Richard Nixon. We have to ask ourselves, when considering the legacy of a great leader, what was the ultimate impact of his or her term as head of state. For example. Gorbachev was a weak leader at home who engaged in his own share of repression, mostly at the beginning of his regime, and Nixon was a crook, but one who accomplished amazing things on the international scene, notably the opening with China, and domestically the founding of the EPA.

      Part of Selassie’s issues were the fault of the Europeans who failed to support his country in its time of dire need during the 1930s and beyond into the modern era. They ignored Ethiopia much as they have ignored Afghanistan in more recent years, and the results of their ignorance have been equally disastrous for both countries.

      And sadly, Selassie’s increasing detachment from day to day rule, dismissing the opposition to his regime while taking pride in his pet poodles, does not reflect kindly on his priorities.

      Yet he was a great thinker, orator, and fought white racism with the same vigor as Martin Luther King. He was a prophet of nearly biblical proportions, and his inspiration to the Rastafarian movement resulted in the liberation of a whole generation of black people in the Caribbean, Central America, and the United States. So in my brief essay I engaged in examining the factors that have had a lasting world-wide effect, rather than focus on his human weaknesses, which are as common in great men as in ordinary citizens.

      Even Bob Marley did not live the life he dreamed, yet I hold a great respect for his work, too. His positive spirit outweighed his faults, and I believe the same holds true for Haile Selassie.

      • simbiro permalink
        December 21, 2009 7:53 pm

        Great points. I understood you were focusing on his international achievements. But I think his weaknesses were as important as his strengths because in the end those weaknesses led to his demise. So it is fair to mention both weaknesses and strengths in one essay, though the focus may be the later; the reader also gets a complete picture of the man. Cheers,

  4. December 18, 2009 10:46 pm

    Hi,

    Powerful words indeed – from a man that I know little about, other than the Rastafarin connection. I will remedy that, and do some reading about him.

    I love the phrase ‘the rule of international morality’; sadly it seems even further away now to this observer than it must have been to Selassie, back in the 60s.

    Cheers.

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