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Emperor of Ethiopia
Lij Tafari Makonnen was born in Ejersa Gora, in the province of Harar, on July 23, 1892. His father, Ras Makonnen, was the Governor of Harar, as well as a cousin and close friend of Emperor Menilek II. Educated by private European tutors in the imperial court, his intellectual and personal capabilities were admired by the Emperor, who appointed him Governor of Muleta, at the age of 14. When he was 20, he was appointed Commander of the Province of Sidamo. In 1911 he married Wayzaro Menen, a great-granddaughter of Menilek II.
Because Emperor Menilek II had no male heirs, it was assumed by many that he was grooming Tafari to succeed him. But, when the Emperor died in 1913, it was his grandson, Lij Yasu, who was appointed Emperor. Yasu was a practicing Muslim, however, a fact which alienated him from the country's majority Christian population. In 1916, Tafari took power from Lij Yasu and had him imprisoned for life. In 1917, Menelik II's daughter, Zauditu, became Empress, and Tafari was named regent and heir apparent to the throne.
In 1923, Tafari secured Ethiopia's admission to the League of Nations. The following year, he traveled to Europe, becoming the first Ethiopian ruler to go abroad. He took control of the army in 1926, and assumed the title of King in 1928. Empress Zauditu died on Aprl 2, 1930, and Tafari was crowned Emperor Haile Selassie ("Might of the Trinity") on November 2.
In order to both help his people and increase the authority of the central government, Emperor Haile Selassie established provincial schools, strenghtened the police forces, and progressivly outlawed feudal taxation. In 1931, he promulgated a new constitution, which strictly limited the powers of Parliament.
Although Haile Selassie led a strong resistance against Italy's invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, the stronger Italian Army was able to overpower Ethiopia and Haile Selassie was forced into exile in May 1936. On June 20, 1936, he appealed for help from the League of Nations, but the League only agreed to impose limited sanctions on Italy. With the advent of World War II, however, he was finally able to secure British assistance in forming an army of Ethiopian exiles in the Sudan. British and Ethiopian forces invaded Ethiopia on January 18, 1941, and recaptured Addis Ababa on May 5. Ethiopia subsequently became a charter member of the United Nations.
As soon as he regained his throne, Haile Selassie resumed his efforts to modernize Ethiopian government and society. Throughout the next decade he rebuilt the administration, improved the army, and enacted legislation to regulate the government, church, and financial system. In 1955 he promulgated a new constitution, which made the lower house of Parliament an elected body and outlined equal rights for all citizens under the law, while also maintaining Haile Selassie's near-absolute governing authority. The first ever general elections were held in 1957.
On December 13, 1960, while Haile Selassie was on a state visit to Brazil, his Imperial Guard staged a coup and proclaimed Haile Selassie's eldest son, Asfa Wossen, as Emperor. The coup was quickly crushed by the regular amy and police forces, but it spurred Haile Selassie to accelerate reform. Resistance from the nobility and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church made his land reform proposals difficult to implement, however, which bred resentment among the peasant population. Efforts to weaken unions also hurt his image.
As domestic problems increased, Haile Selassie gave his Prime Minister more and more control over daily affairs and became involved with foreign affairs. In 1963, he presided over the formation of the Organization of African Unity. One of the most traveled of all chiefs of state, Haile Selassie often undertook state visits that served little to no practical purpose. Although few of those state visits resulted in any tangible gain for Ethiopia, they did keep both Ethiopia and Haile Selassie in the world public's eye, which Haile Selassie believed was an important end in itself.
By the early 1970's famine, ever-worsening unemployment, and increasing frustration with the government's inability to respond to the country's problems had begun to undermine Haile Selassie's rule. In February 1974, mutinies broke out in the army over low pay, while a secessionist guerrilla war in Eritrea furthered his problems. On September 12, 1974, Haile Selassie was ousted by the military and placed on house arrest. His death was announced on August 27, 1975.
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This page was last updated on 10/06/2018.