Sat. Jun 22nd, 2024

Haile Selassie I (Tafari Makonnen Gudisa) – Emperor of Ethiopia

Haile Selassie I, original name Tafari Makonnen Gudisa, (born July 23, 1892, near Harer, Ethiopia—died August 27, 1975, Addis Ababa), emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974 who sought to modernize his country and who steered it into the mainstream of post-World War II African politics. He brought Ethiopia into the League of Nations and the United Nations and made Addis Ababa the major centre for the Organization of African Unity (now African Union).

Tafari was a great-grandson of Sahle Selassie of Shewa (Shoa) and a son of Ras (Prince) Makonnen, a chief adviser to Emperor Menilek II. Educated at home by French missionaries, Tafari at an early age favourably impressed the emperor with his intellectual abilities and was promoted accordingly. As governor of Sidamo and then of Harer province, he followed progressive policies, seeking to break the feudal power of the local nobility by increasing the authority of the central government—for example, by developing a salaried civil service. He thereby came to represent politically progressive elements of the population. In 1911 he married Wayzaro Menen, a great-granddaughter of Menilek II.

His mother was Nuriya Ali Gamco from Wora Ilu or Jammaa in Wollo. She was later called Yeshimebet. He spoke Afaan Oromoo very fluently. His father was from Abichu on the Border of Jiru. . He told that he was also an Oromo to General Taddesse Biru during their disagreement in 1967. Both come from the same clan or gosa in North Shoa. Haile Selassie was an Orthodox Oromo chiristian or (Amahara; at that time Amhara meant only a person who is Orthodox, regardless of his ethnicity).

When Menilek II died in 1913, his grandson Lij Yasu succeeded to the throne, but the latter’s unreliability and his close association with Islam made him unpopular with the majority Christian population of Ethiopia. Tafari became the rallying point of the Christian resistance, and he deposed Lij Yasu in 1916. Zauditu, Menilek II’s daughter, thereupon became empress in 1917, and Ras Tafari was named regent and heir apparent to the throne.

While Zauditu was conservative in outlook, Ras Tafari was progressive and became the focus of the aspirations of the modernist younger generation. In 1923 he had a conspicuous success in the admission of Ethiopia to the League of Nations. In the following year he visited Jerusalem, Rome, Paris, and London, becoming the first Ethiopian ruler ever to go abroad. In 1928 he assumed the title of negus (“king”), and, two years later, when Zauditu died, he was crowned emperor (November 2, 1930) and took the name of Haile Selassie (“Might of the Trinity”). In 1931 he promulgated a new constitution, which strictly limited the powers of Parliament. From the late 1920s on, Haile Selassie in effect was the Ethiopian government, and, by establishing provincial schools, strengthening the police forces, and progressively outlawing feudal taxation, he sought to both help his people and increase the authority of the central government.

Ras Tafari (later Haile Selassie I), c. 1924.

When Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935, Haile Selassie led the resistance, but in May 1936 he was forced into exile. He appealed for help from the League of Nations in a memorable speech that he delivered to that body in Geneva on June 30, 1936. With the advent of World War II, he secured British assistance in forming an army of Ethiopian exiles in the Sudan. British and Ethiopian forces invaded Ethiopia in January 1941 and recaptured Addis Ababa several months later. Although he was reinstated as emperor, Haile Selassie had to recreate the authority he had previously exercised. He again implemented social, economic, and educational reforms in an attempt to modernize Ethiopian government and society on a slow and gradual basis.

The Ethiopian government continued to be largely the expression of Haile Selassie’s personal authority. In 1955 he granted a new constitution giving him as much power as the previous one. Overt opposition to his rule surfaced in December 1960, when a dissident wing of the army secured control of Addis Ababa and was dislodged only after a sharp engagement with loyalist elements.

Haile Selassie played a very important role in the establishment of the Organization of African Unity in 1963. His rule in Ethiopia continued until 1974, at which time famine, worsening unemployment, and the political stagnation of his government prompted segments of the army to mutiny. They deposed Haile Selassie and established a provisional military government, the Derg, which espoused Marxist ideologies. Haile Selassie was kept under house arrest in his own palace, where he spent the remainder of his life. Official sources at the time attributed his death to natural causes, but evidence later emerged suggesting that he had been strangled on the orders of the military government.

Haile Selassie was regarded as the messiah of all Black people by the Rastafarian movement.

Ras Mekonnen Gudisa, the father of Emperor Haileselassie

A man of dignity Ras Mekonnen Gudessa of Shewa was the first dark skin official to ever enter the highest office and speak before the parliament members of Italy in Roma around the year 1899 just three years after the battle of Adwa.The barefooted royal figure has led a number of highly recognized Ethiopian delegates over several Europe nations for brief state visit in the said year above and if you recall that I have brought the story of this well polished royal officer to your attention a number of times because he is worth to recall time and again.Ras Mekonnen the biological father of Emperor Haile/Selassie was fit to be a king himself, he was intelligent with a natural diplomatic personality but he suddenly past away in a brief illness in the year 1906 relatively as a young age of 53 the stunning Ras Mekonnen was the first Ethiopian ever to obtain a driver license from a french driving school in Paris around the same year of his European visit. He was also the first bankbook holder a long with Emperor Menelik and the second Ethiopian to drive a motorcar.

The real story of the last days of Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia

The Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, King of Kings of Ethiopia, Elect of God was the last emperor of the Solomonic Dynasty that ruled Ethiopia until September 12, 1974, when he was deposed at the age of 82.

The reign of one of the most popular leaders of the 19th century was cut short by the Soviet-backed Derg military regime, formally known as the Provisional Military Government of Socialist Ethiopia, which ruled till 1991.

Haile Selassie, who was accustomed to Rolls-Royces, was hustled from his spacious palace to an army officer’s bungalow in the backseat of a blue Volkswagen. The final confrontation between the aged and frail Emperor and the young and robust army men was like a scene from a Verdi opera. Haile Selassie scolded and insulted the officers as insolent, and they, with mounting ire, decided on the spot to take him to a military camp rather than to another palace. And on the way, he was jeered by crowds yelling: “Thief! Thief!

Haile Selassie, born Ras Tafari Makonnen, was everything from monarch to the returned messiah as believed by the Rastafari movement which reveres him as God incarnate. He was also the Chairperson of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) from 1963 to 1964 and 1966 to 1967.

His death in 1975 was shrouded in mystery. After his overthrow by the military following public discontent over economic inflation and low salaries, the emperor was placed under house arrest at the 4th Army Division in Addis Ababa and later imprisoned in a small apartment in his former palace, the Grand Palace.

His imprisonment fatally ended after 11 months on August 28, 1975, when the state media reported that Haile Selassie had died the previous day after suffering from “respiratory failure following complications from a prostate operation”. They said that he had been found dead in his bed by a servant.

This was denied outright by his doctor, Asrat Woldeyes, who rejected the government’s story of the 83-year-old’s death. It was widely believed that he was assassinated.

His successor, the Crown Prince Afsa Wossen Haile Selassie, who had been living in London since the overthrow, said his father had been in “excellent health” and demanded that independent doctors and the International Red Cross be allowed to carry out an autopsy to ascertain the cause of Haile Selassie’s death.

This wasn’t done and official sources said he was buried “in the strictest privacy according to Ethiopian custom” which demands that a monarch is buried within 24 hours after death.

The assassination rumours were rife until in 1992 when a coalition of rebel forces, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), overthrew the Derg. After 17 years since his death, Haile Selassie’s remains were found under a concrete slab on the palace grounds. Some reports say his bones were found beneath a latrine.

The remains of the emperor were buried in Bhata Church near the tomb of his great-uncle Menelik II after a befitting imperial funeral by the Ethiopian Orthodox church on November 5, 2000.

Circumstances surrounding his death has been unknown after many court inquiries until recently when an unverified letter was made public by a Derg sergeant, Tadesse Tele Salvano, in his latest book.

The letter alleged that Haile Selassie was murdered by Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Asfaw, a key figure of the military regime, upon the direct command of the 17-member executive committee of the Derg which includes its chairman Mengistu Hailemariam, Teferi Banti, and 15 others.

This was explained by young Ethiopian law professor, Zelalem Kibret, who posted the letter on Twitter.

“Finally, once again, it’s that same Daniel Asfaw, Derg’s first security chief, who killed Haile Selassie. Daniel was the one who also leads the Aman Andom sage and later personally killed Teferi Banti. He himself was murdered on Jan 1977, few minutes after he killed Teferi Banti,” Kibret added.

Another revealing evidence was court testimonies that corroborate the fact that Haile Selassie was murdered despite denial by the former Derg officials. These pieces of evidence ascertain the rumours and justify the belief that Haile Selassie, the last emperor of the 3,000 years old Ethiopian monarchy who ruled for half a century, was indeed murdered on August 27, 1975.

Sources: Face2faceAfrica, Brittanica

By Chala Dandessa

I am Lecturer, Researcher and Freelancer. I am the founder and Editor at ETHIOPIANS TODAY website. If you have any comment use as email contact. Additionally you can contact us through the contact page of

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