On questions raised regarding the “2012- year of reckoning” article By Msmaku Asrat
Some have accused me of supporting the Monarchy system of government because I wrote certain facts about Emperor Hailes Selassie. But this is far from the truth. Let me bring myself into the proper perspective. I was at the crucible of the Ethiopian Student Movement at its gestation period in the early 60’s and at the vanguard of its eventual establishment at the late 70’s, I parted company early on because many of the leaders (who were my friends and in College) were all following “scientific socialism” or Marxism–Leninism while I was infinitely more impressed by Social Democracy of the Scandinavian type as well as the socialism of post war Europe. After many heated discussions over the years, one prominent member in all earnestness vowed that he will surely kill me if and when they hold power. They came to power as civilian advisors and ideological teachers of the Derg in 1974, but I was out of the country at that time. I returned to Ethiopia after they lost power. I considered myself a technocrat. However after a few years the Derg Foreign Minister Col. F.G.G. wrote a letter to Zemecha Memria saying I was “a fence–sitter who has refused to join the Abyot (Revolution)” and could no longer work in Foreign Ministry. Needless to say I was imprisoned a few months later. I was released after two years and never rejoined government service again.
Coming back to the issue Ethiopia, its foreign policy until 1974 was directed by its Emperors and no one else. In the 16th Century, Atse Libne Dingel asked for the assistance of Portugal (the foremost power in the world at that time) to help repel the forces of Ahmed Gran (or Ahmed Ibn Ibrahim al Gazi) who, assisted by Turkey had declared a Jihad war on Christianity in Ethiopia, burning churches, pillaging the country and putting Christians to the sword. The Portuguese responded with 400 musketeers led by Christopher De Gama (son of the famous explorer Vasco de Gama) The havoc and destruction of Gran Mohammed, before he was killed, was so immense that the trauma among Ethiopian Christians has reverberated through the ages until the present day. Ethiopia’s dealings with Western powers and countries for good and bad. Some effort was made to create an alliance with Japan in the 1930’s but it did not go far.
Later Japan also joined the Axis Powers
The watershed for Ethiopia occurred during the Bandung Conference in April 1955 when 29 countries from Asia and Africa met in Bandung, Indonesia and agreed to the five principles of Peaceful Co- existence. This later evolved into the Non-Aligned Movement which was established at the Belgrade Conference in 1961, six years later. The Emperor did not attend the Bandung Conference. Even the most competent foreign policy expert of the country , the Foreign Minister, Tsehafi Tezaz Aklilu Habtewold did not attend. Nor did he send a head of the political department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Instead a lowly chief of protocol was sent to represent Ethiopia (many years later this sole delegate, Lij Endalkachew Mekonnen, was to achieve prominence as Prime Minister). At Bandung new world leaders emerged- Sukarno, Nehru, Chou en Lai, Marshall Tito, Nasser and even Nkrumah whose country was not independent then (it became independent three years later in 1957). A year before Bandung, in 1954, the Emperor has made a highly successful visit of four and half months to Europe and the United states.
It is said that Marshall Tito was highly disappointed that his ally against Italian Fascism, Emperor Haile Selassie has missed this most important gathering of Afro-Asian leaders and he immediately requested, and was accepted, to make a State Visit to Ethiopia the very following year. He came in 1955 arriving in Asmara and making a grueling 3-day journey by car to Addis. I was one of the school children around the Victory Monument at Arat Kilo and shouting TiTo, Tito,Tito – when he and the Emperor passed by in an open Rolls-Royce. It appears that the Emperor was immediately persuaded by Tito and Ethiopian foreign policy changed course and the Emperor embraced it masterfully with eminent grace, dignity and speed. And he never looked back.
In the Accra summit of 1958. The Emperor was represented by his son Prince Sahle Selassie. The Emperor made the brilliant but fateful offer of 200 scholarships in Ethiopian universities for students from all African countries, (50 each year spread over 4 years) The same year another significant decision was made. That was to open the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) in Addis Ababa whose establishment made it possible for the selection of Addis Ababa as the Headquarters of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) five years later, in 1963. When he attended the Summit Conference of Afro Asian Leaders in Belgrade in 1961 the Emperor was seamlessly integrated with the great leaders of the Third World. His political motto also changed from “collective security” to the new “peaceful coexistence”
I entered in College the year when the third batch of 50 scholarship students were coming in. Ethiopian students were slowly becoming radicalized from this encounter. It was hard for us to realize that we were at the bottom of the primary and secondary education in Africa. We have no clue about academic freedom in college, let alone democratic freedoms in the society at large. No freedom of speech and expression, no political parties … the list was endless. When the Conference of the East, Central and Southern African University students was held at the University College of Addis Ababa, we were transfixed by the boldness of vision, the dynamism and the total grasp of democratic principles by the participants from these African countries – most of whom were still under colonialism. Some of them later became leaders of their respective countries. I could honestly say that we were transfixed by their dynamism, broad knowledge of world affair and their optimism for the future. We were also totally crushed and humiliated. We never saw Ethiopia in that light before. We were living in a nirvana. After that encounter, the response of the Ethiopian University students was radical to the extreme. Instead of espousing democratic principles the Ethiopian student movement became totally radicalized and turned to the principles of “Marxism–Leninism (or communism) as the fastest panacea to all the ills and drawbacks Ethiopia had accumulated and suffered throughout the centuries. As we saw later this radical movement carried the seeds of its own destruction.
Returning to foreign policy the Emperor was very active in African affairs . He mediated the Algeria –Morocco dispute. He negotiated for the peaceful end of the war between North and South Sudan who had fought for 17 years. He should have won the Nobel Peace prize for these two, others have won it for much less. With the help of Seku Toure he brought the Monrovia and Casablanca groups to Addis Ababa. Guinea’s President Seku Toure has for a long time expressed his dedicated love and support of the Emperor. He visited the Emperor in Asmara and asked him to convene the two groups in Addis Ababa. The Emperor agreed and the two groups met in Addis Ababa in May 1963. The two groups merged to establish the Organization of African Unity (OAU). Addis Ababa was chosen as the Headquarters of the OAU (and no wonder that Dialo Telli of Guinea became its first Secretary General).
As an example of Emperor Haile Selassie’s leadership in foreign policy I will cite the case of Haiti. The Emperor had recognized that Haiti was the first black Republic in the world defeating the mighty army of Napoleon Bonaparte and he decided to open an embassy there (our ambassador to the US at the time Ato Yilma Deresa was ordered to negotiate this). Many years later the Foreign Minister, K.Y., wanted to close the Ethiopian Embassy in Haiti by giving financial reasons. He was even supported in this by G.E our ambassador to Haiti at the time (he proudly mentions this in his book.). However, the Emperor refused to close this embassy because of its symbolic importance to Ethiopia which has waged similar battles with colonialism. Sadly a few years later the embassy was quietly closed feigning the old reason of ‘budgetary constraint’! The same thing has also happened during the time of the Derg when it closed our Vatican Embassy, also giving similar reasons without regard to the historical reasons why it was opened in the first place. Ethiopia is the only country in the world which has its own church inside the Vatican. But the Derg was collectively the most ignorant group of leaders Ethiopia has the burden to bear and such considerations are of little consequence.
One last thing. Having travelled to many African countries on account of my work in the MFA, I have observed that every African Head of State has a much more splendid residence than the palaces of Emperor Haile Selassie. Their official residences are huge mansions originally built for the colonial governor, viceroy or pro-consul and taken over by the leaders of the respective countries. The palaces of kings like that of the king of Morocco are dozens in number and they are huge and splendid marble edifices set acres of compounds with huge gardens and fountains and exotic animals and birds. I was within an earshot when I heard the modest Nyrere complaining to one Head of State (during a garden reception at his palace) that he does not need the huge Governor’s residence, ”me and my family only use a few rooms” he said, “even though” he said pointing to the sole peacock that graced the lush mansion grounds “ I enjoy watching it.” (a magnificent peacock which we were admiring as well ,when it periodically spread its multicolored feathers.) When the Emperor donated the Genet Luel Palace for the University we were amazed how modest his palace was and how small were the rooms. I have occasion to see the Jubilee Palace on account of my work and it is also very modest indeed.
The charm of the Emperor is in his charismatic character and the extremely dignified way he carried himself. Watching him perform his royal duties makes not only Ethiopians but black people all over the world proud and admires his grace and dignity. Those who know him closely say that he lived an ascetic life and ate sparingly and very moderately. Can we compare his life style to the debauchery of the Derg about whom it was said አበላል እንደ ደርግ አባል (if one was to eat; eat like a Derg Member) The Weyane TPLF are also known for conspicuous consumption. Meles has his clothes hand tailored at the re-known Savile Raw of London, the most exclusive and the most famous tailoring establishment in the world where its clients are monarchs and selected Billionaires. Meles belongs to the latter. On the other hand the clothes of the Emperor were tailored locally. They say hindsight is 20/20 and we have to be able to learn and compare the past with the present and draw our conclusions based on discernable facts.
The British had their Magna Carta by which they clip the power of their king. The French had their Revolution and they guillotined their king. The Derg followed the French model in killing the Emperor but also added the Stalinist model of “nations and nationalities” that brought havoc. The ignorant Derg could not understand any of the principles it espoused, instead it unleashed its killing machine on the people. During that time it was said that Ethiopia became a country where “people forgot to smile” – laughing was out of the question. Now Ethiopia is one of the three saddest nations in the world. Its capital Addis Ababa has the distinction as being the dirtiest capital in the world. The downward drift goes on.
It appears now that the western supporters of the Woyane are having second thoughts and may be showing an inclination to force the Woyane to open its political space. We would follow these developments closely.