By Dr MASIMBA MAVAZA originally written by Mulugeta Haile.
On the occasion of the 129th birthday of the Emperor, I have selected one out of 101 extraordinary achievements he accomplished during his reign: from Ras Tafari- Emperor Haile Selassie. The May 5th Victory against Mussolini’s army in the field of diplomacy as well as in the battle, is listed as the 5th amazing fact of the Emperor. Because the chance returning to his throne was considered as impossible as changing the direction of an oncoming hurricane.
The Emperor swam against the tide and sat in the throne of King David. This made him the first African leader who fought and beat the Europeans on their own game of diplomacy, which he later called “Good over evil”.
This was not the first time when he played, “Good over evil”. In 1919, he played against the big powers and attained victory. He was then the Regent of Ethiopia. The Europeans were against his intention of registering his nation as a member of the League of Nations. They considered Ethiopia as “uncivilized country”. The Emperor hired an Italian emissary to defend Ethiopia, as it was a mutual interest. Italia wanted to declare Ethiopia known as the civilized because it was beaten by Emperor Menelik 23 years ago in 6 hours at the battle of Adwa. It was too much to bear the reputation of being beaten by “uncivilized nation”.
Emperor Haile Selassie advised the Italian emissary to mention at the League of Nations that when Europeans were pagans, Christianity was being practiced in Ethiopia. At the podium of the League, the emissary convinced every one of them, except for the British and French representatives. His theatrical presentation with the eye opening phrase, “Having one of the first Christian countries among us is a sign of blessing”. It was a free ticket to sit at a dinner table next to the “former pagan and now the civilized nations”. This was recorded as the first victory of the Regent, Ras Tafari Makonnen in Europe.
16 years later, in 1935, when Mussolini invaded Ethiopia, Europeans understood why the Emperor registered his nation as a member of the League. Article 17 was the main core value for him to register Ethiopia, the guarantee of protection in times of dispute and war. However, the League broke its covenant with Ethiopia to side with Mussolini. To add salt on the open wound, they sanctioned Ethiopia not to import weapons. The Emperor marched to fight a modern day war without modern weapons. As a commander-in-chief, he was supposed to be stationed at Dessie, 264 km away from the battle front. However, keeping with the traditional way of fighting, he was at the battle front, shooting at Italian jet fighters. He teamed with Bekle Ananimos, who was the only soldier trained how to fire the anti-aircraft Oerlikon gun.
After the defeat, two months later when he reached Addis Ababa, the Crown Council met to decide the Emperor’s fate. They voted 21 to 3 for him to leave the country in exile and bring assistance from nations sympathizing with Ethiopia’s cause.
They also decided Betweded Wold Tsdek, a non-Solomonic to be the interim leader of Ethiopia, and the nation’s capital to move to Gore, the South-Western province. Before the Emperor’s departure, he gave a new proclamation of pardon to include those considered outlaws and bandits in the resistance movement against the invader. All the outlaws’ and bandits’ victims received a settlement through the local courts in their provinces. After he left, the outlaws and bandits, along with their victims, fought the common enemy, the fascist soldiers for five years. As a result of their services, distinguished bandits and outlaws reached to a rank of Girazmach, Kegazmach, Fetawarri, and Dejazmach.
When the Emperor reached Djibouti, Captain Morgan welcomed him to British war ship. The Captain allowed all the belongings of the Emperor, except his two lions. Only Rosa, the war time’s dog was allowed to accompany the Emperor. According to Keith Bowers, Rosa lost her sight during the heat of battle, refusing to leave the Emperor’s side. The Emperor had used wild and domestic animals as stress healers 30 years before Dr. Boris Levinson introduced the use of domestic animals for human therapy.
When the Emperor reached Jerusalem to his ancestral land, he was asked why he did not continue the battle, to which he replied without mentioning the Europeans sanction that brought his army to its last bullet, “My death doesn’t serve but my life does.” Two weeks later he reached The Port of Southampton, England. The enthusiastic crowd was waiting for hours to welcome him. Before he stepped out, the British officials met him inside the ship. They briefed him about their government’s position that he would neither be welcomed officially nor have a press conference. Hearing this, the Emperor stepped out of the ship to catch a train to London. When he stepped out of the ship, the crowd was shocked, as he appeared just like any other State visitor rather than an emperor who had just been in the middle of a war, injured by poison gas, defeated, journeyed on foot, mule back, and finally via long voyage by ship. His fresh look prevented every one of the crowd from reading his wounded soul. A brave Jomo Kenyatta (Burning Spear), who later became the first president of the independent Kenya trespassed into the restricted area and shook the Emperor’s hand. As the police tightened the area, the standing crowd showered him with love and honor by calling his name. In London, similar crowds welcomed him. Marcus Garvey was one of them. As all eyes were on the Emperor, the Lion of Judah, eclipsed every major world news story including the ongoing the Spanish Civil War.
Two weeks later he travelled to Geneva with the mindset of David facing Goliath. As he walked gracefully to the podium, the assembly hall’s lights were turned off twice. The Lion of Judah stood his ground, however, and began his historical speech. The Italians suddenly broke the tranquility of the gathering by shouting and screaming. Instead of over reacting, the Exiled Emperor seized the podium and looked each one of the hecklers in their eyes. He redefined the character of the descendants of the Solomonic dynasty in times of difficulty. His speech now has an honorary position at UNESCO as one of the world’s heritage documents. It was the first courageous antiwar speech that warned diplomats before the Second World War. His message, five years later, proved them all wrong.
“Today international morality is at stake…Apart from the kingdom of the Lord, there is no one on this earth or any nation that is superior to any other…today it is us, tomorrow it will be you…God and history will remember your judgment,” these defensive discourses were like stones hurled from the sling of David to hit the Goliaths of The League of Nations on their foreheads. To understand his body language at the podium, history had to wait for another 30 years until a new terminology called Emotional Intelligence (EI), the hidden driver of excellence, was coined. The Emperor scored high EI, when the assembly hall’s lights turned off twice in collaboration with Mussolini’s malevolent men who stood up booing and jeering him.
Four years later, 1940, when Mussolini became the enemy of the British and joined Hitler’s camp, the Emperor’s first prediction had come to pass, “You struck the match against Ethiopia, and it shall burn Europe.” While he carried on writing his biography in his Fairfield House, the news reached him that the British were ready to assist him in everything he wanted. He closed his book to reopen it in his capital, Addis Ababa. He searched in his closet for his military uniform, which had not been worn for four years.
The following day, he flew to Sudan to form his famous army, The Gideon Force. The British who accompanied him changed his name to “Mr. Strong Man”. All the Ethiopian refugees who were living in Jerusalem, Cairo, Kenya, and Djibouti flocked to Sudan to join The Gideon Force. This force was a unique force. It was the union of Ethiopians and the British colonial army: Nigerians, Kenyans, and Sudanese infantries. Perhaps this was the first Pan Africa Army led by Pan African Emperor. When an unknown female Azmare(Griot) saw the Emperor entering to the Ethiopia boarder, sitting on mule back, she put the scene into words:
“The victory of Ethiopia will be soon
In his hand Tafari carries a new gun”
Only seven countries claimed victory in The Second World War. Among them, Ethiopia was the first, as she was the first victim of the fascist.
On May 5, 1941, the Emperor hoisted The Lion of Judah flag in his palace. After tolerating the Europeans biased and shameful politics, he demonstrated that he could stroll on a tightrope above the jaws of the colonial powers while keeping Ethiopia’s freedom in his hands. His determination and tenacity in spite of all obstacles, discouragements, and impossibilities registered his name in history as a brand for wisdom and dignity. On May 7th, the Emperor threw a lavish party in his palace to honor the members of the Gideon Force. Medals of Honor were intended to be presented to his Pan African soldiers, on which were engraved, “For Unforgettable Service”. However, the British Generals refused the recognition and said, “It is up to us to honor our colonial soldiers.”
After the victory, while daily life returned to normal, the Emperor had another battle against the British who had assisted him in returning to his throne. The British generals based in South Africa and Egypt deployed to the colonial army to assist the Gideon Force were under the assumption of reclaiming Ethiopia as one of the their colonies. It was too late when they realized that they fought not for the British but for the throne of “The Strong Man,” who defeated the League of Nations in Geneva, the modern day Elah valley, where David brought down Goliath. The Emperor, master on the art of diplomacy, was the first and last African leader who expelled Italy, Britain, and France out of Ethiopia and Eritrea.
In 1952, during the British handover of Eritrea to Ethiopia, there was a ceremony at which Ato Belte Gebre, one of the members of the Ethiopian delegation, who took over the administration from the British, made the following speech. “When the British’s flag was lowered and that of The Lion of Judah was hoisted, Mrs. Cumming, wife of the British Chief administrator of Eritrea, passed out and dropped to the ground. She was rushed to the hospital. The following week, the Emperor crossed the Merebe River and entered Asmara, Eritrea for the first time. All, except the bedridden, lined up on both sides of street to welcome him and Empress Menen. The people of Eritrea, who had been living under the Apartheid System for more than 400 years, were overwhelmed by the scene of white officers leading the black Emperor and Empress through the crowd. The couples sat in a open black Rolls-Royce waving at both sides of the crowd, while the British Marching Band was leading at the front.
As the Emperor was the leader of many firsts, he was only the second after Napoleon to recapture his power after he had lost it.
In 1954, Marlon Brando, an actor, film director, and Oscar winner, welcomed him at Universal Studios, Los Angles, dressed in Napoleon’s uniform. Ato Kebede Mikaela, father of modern Amharic literature, who was with the Emperor, said, “The Emperor was not happy with the comparison to Napoleon, a colonial general.” The Lion of Judah did not need any comparison but his destiny.
The May 5TH Victory is known throughout the world as the victory of Emperor Haile Selassie the first. Langston Hughes, the central figure in the Harlem Renaissance, praised the Emperor in his famous poem. In Europe, the Polish-Jewish cartoonist Arthur Szyk, depicted the Emperor as David kicking Mussolini, Goliath, while an African soldier in the distance was cheering with a banjo. Like Langston and Szky, many victims by the systemic racism inspired by Good over evil victory.
“Emperor Selassie who had no wealth, nuclear bomb brought the western leaders before his feet,” Yogiraj Siddhanat, a Hindu, Yoga’s Master, to wit, “Emperor Selassie is a modern-day Krishna,”
Almost all European countries honored the Emperor with the Medals of Honor. Guinness Book of World Records lists the Emperor as the most awarded.
In 1963, John John, son of President Kennedy, sat on Jackie’s lap, steering at the Emperor and asked his mom, “Why does that man have all these medals on his chest,” Jackie, the first lady said, “Because he is the super hero”.
In Ethiopia, the Emperor is considered as “a coward, a feudal, etc.” Edward Ullendorff, a former professor at Harvard University, a prominent figure in Semitic studies, who translated the Emperor’s book, My Life and Ethiopia’s progress, from Amharic to English, said, “When great men described Haile Selassie, he remained to be great, but in the description of small minds, he will appear to be as small as their mindset.” However, history is a witness that in the era of the Emperor every decade felt like a week, but in the eras of communist and now in times of the ethnic federalism every week passed with genocide and horror.
The Emperor’s May 5th Victory in Ethiopia has unscrupulously stolen legacy. The first who stole it was Mengestu Hailmariam, by changing the date of the Victory Day. In his public speech, he called the Emperor “a coward who ran away to England to save his life”. He added, “If I were in that coward’s position, I will fight until my last bullet.” Mengestu is now living in Zimbabwe, fulfilling his claim of the Emperor fleeing from Ethiopia. His father, Hailmariam Wolde was serving as a prison guard of the Italian during the fascist occupation of Ethiopia in Holta, 42 Km away from Addis Ababa. It was not by accident that the story of Mengestu’s father was hidden from public memory.
The 129th birthday celebration comes when the spirit of Ethiopianism is at its lowest point, while ethnic federalism has reached at its worst, destabilizing the very foundation of the nation. This semi-apartheid system, after implemented for 30 years, has now reached a dead end. It was first used by Mussolini in 1936, which helped him to revenge the defeated of the battle of Adwa. In 1991, the same system was adopted by Ethiopians who put their ethnic and tribe first, which has helped them to stay in power until now. This must be terminated now, not only for the survival of the Pan Ethiopia, but also for safety of the tribal leaders. They have become the victim of their own ideology. The hate they entertained for 30 long years has now come after them to reap what they sow.
When this Anti-Pan Ethiopia system fades away, the legacies of the Emperor will rise up again to serve his nation as soft power. 47 years ago, he left a note on how to keep Ethiopia in peace, harmony, equal rights and justice for all regardless of gender, religion, and ethnicity. Who has the gut now to pick this note from dustbin?
Show me anti-Haile Selassie, I will show you his enemies’ immoral ground.
Happy 129th Birthday.