Haile Selassie, (H.I.M. or His Imperial Majesty) was born on July 23, in 1892, the son of Ras Makonnen, a cousin and confidant of Emperor Menilek II. Menilek II no doubt recognized Tafari’s (Haile Selassie) capacity for hard work, his excellent memory, and his mastery of detail when he rewarded the youth’s intellectual and personal capabilities by appointing him, at the age of 20, dejazmatch (commander) of the extensive province of Sidamo.
Upon the death of Menilek in 1913, his grandson, Lij Yasu, succeeded to the throne. Yasu’s conversion to Islam alienated him from the Christian majority and created antagonism against him. Ras Tafari (as Haile Selassie was now designated), joined noble-men and high church officials in deposing Yasu in 1916. Zawditu, the daughter of Menilek, then became empress, with Ras Tafari appointed regent and heir to the throne.
In 1926 Tafari took control of the army, an action which, when coupled with his previous success in foreign affairs, including admission of Ethiopia to the League of Nations in 1923, made him strong enough to assume the title of negus (king). When Zawditu died in April 1930, he demanded the title negasa negast (king of kings) and took complete control of the government with the throne name of Haile Selassie I (“Power of the Trinity”).
In 1931 the new emperor promulgated a written constitution to symbolize his interest in modernization and intention to increase the power of central authority, which had been waning since the death of Menilek. Haile Selassie’s efforts were cut short, however, when Mussolini’s Italy invaded the country in 1935. The Italian military deployed superior weaponry, airplanes, and poison gas to crush the ill-fated resistance led by the Emperor; the ensuing Fascist occupation marked the first loss of national independence in recorded Ethiopian history. In 1936 Haile Selassie went into exile in England, where he appealed in vain to the League of Nations for help.
In early 1941 British expeditionary forces, aided by the heroic Ethiopian resistance, liberated the country, enabling Haile Selassie to triumphantly reenter his capital in May.
Throughout the next decade he rebuilt the administration, improved the army, passed legislation to regulate the government, church, and financial system, and further extended his control of the provinces by crushing revolts in Gojjam and Tigre.
In the 1950s Haile Selassie worked for the absorption of the important Red Sea province of Eritrea (accomplished in 1962), founded the University College of Addis Ababa, and welcomed home many Ethiopian college graduates from abroad. His Silver Jubilee of 1955 served as the occasion to present a revised constitution, followed in 1957 by the first general election. However, there was some dissidence occurring from the returning graduates who wanted to find some place in the government. In December of 1960 there was an attempted coup which set off a wave of uneasiness for future possibilities.
In the 1960s the Emperor was clearly recognized as a major force in the pan-African movement, demonstrating his remarkable capacity for adapting to changing circumstances. It was a great personal triumph for him when, in 1963, the newly founded Organization of African Unity established its headquarters in Addis Ababa. Unlike other African leaders, Haile Selassie, of course, had not had to struggle once in office to prove his legitimate authority to his people; his control of government for over 40 years had given him enough time to identify with it.
By 1970 the Emperor had slowly withdrawn from many day-to-day administrative concerns and had become increasingly involved in foreign affairs. For him diplomacy and prestige were inseparable.
At home, Haile Selassie more than ever, evinced a trait of caution in his approach to modernization. Though receptive to Western innovations, he never throughout his long reign advanced faster than the consensus would allow.
A famine in the Wello province in 1973, seriously undermined Selassie’s legitimacy and he was forced to abdicate. He spent his final years under house arrest and his death was announced in 1975.
The White House, Washington DC, USA in 1963