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Haile Salassie; Ethiopian Emperor

Haile Selassie I born Tafari Makonnen; (July 23, 1892-August 27, 1975) served as Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974. Prior to his coronation, he had been Ethiopia’s Plenipotentiary regent since 1916. He is the decisive figure in the modern history of Ethiopia and the key to Rastafarianism, a religious movement in Jamaica that appeared shortly after he ascended the throne in the 1930s. He was a member of the Solomonic dynasty, and its lineage can be traced back to Emperor Menelik I, the son of King Solomon and Queen Makeda of Sheba.

Haile Selassie tried to modernize the country through a series of political and social reforms, including the introduction of Ethiopia’s first written constitution and the abolition of slavery. During the Second Italy-Ethiopian War, he led the failed efforts to defend Ethiopia and spent the occupation period in exile in Italy to Britain. After the British Empire defeated the Italian occupiers in the Battle of East Africa, he returned to rule Ethiopia in 1941. He disbanded the Federation of Ethiopia and Eritrea established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1950, merged Eritrea into a province of Ethiopia, and tried to prevent its division.

His internationalist views made Ethiopia a founding member of the United Nations. In 1963, he presided over the formation of the Organization of African Unity, the precursor of the African Union, and served as the first chairman of the organization. He was overthrown by the Marxist-Leninist junta, the Derg in a military coup in 1974. Selassie was assassinated by the military government on August 27, 1975.

Among some members of the Rastafari movement, Haile Selassie is called the returned messiah of the Bible, the incarnation of God. Despite this distinction, Haile Selassie was a Christian and abided by the principles and etiquette of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The Rastafari Movement was founded in Jamaica around 1930, and its followers were estimated to be between 700,000 and 1 million in 2012.

Some historians criticized him for suppressing the rebellion of the landed aristocracy (mesafint) who constantly opposed his reforms. Some critics also criticized Ethiopia for failing to modernize fast enough. During his reign, the Harari were persecuted and many people left the Harari area. His regime has also been criticized by human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch as authoritarian and illiberal. During the regime of Haile Selassie, the Oromo language was banned by law in education, public speaking, and administration, but the government of Haile Selassie never promulgated any language as illegal law. Amhara culture dominates the entire era of military and monarchy. Both the Haile Selassie and Derg governments relocated many Amharic to southern Ethiopia, where they served in government administrations, courts, churches, and even schools, where the Oromo texts were removed and replaced by Amharic. Once the literacy rate in Ethiopia increased, the emperor included constitutional recognition of each minority language in article 4 of the 1974 draft constitution, but Derg totally rejected it. After Hachalu Hundessa’s death in June 2020, the Haile Selassie statue in London’s Cannizaro Park was destroyed by Oromo protesters, and his father’s equestrian monument in Harar was demolished.

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