Emperor Haile Selassie Rule in Ethiopia And The Rastafarian Culture

Haile Selassie is notably remembered for his role in Ethiopia and regarded as the messiah in the Rastafarian culture that is widely practiced in Jamaica and some countries like Kenya and Ghana in Africa. His speech in calling for Ethiopia’s liberation before the League of Nations made him more famous, but who exactly was Haile Selassie and why do the Rastafarians refer to him as their messiah?

Haile Selassie was born in 1892 in a region called Ejersa Gora in Ethiopia. Selassie was the 225th and the very last Ethiopian emperor. Selassie was educated by private European tutors and raised as a Christian. At a tender age after the death of his uncle Menelik (2), Selassie was given the tittle Ras and was made heir apparent and crown prince as Menelik’s daughter was made the empress. Selassie was the first Ethiopian leader to travel abroad and courtesy of his diplomatic visits, Ethiopia was admitted as a member of the League of Nations. When the empress died, Selassie replaced her as the emperor and it is from that rise to power that gave him the name Haile Selassie which means “Might of the Trinity”. Initially Selassie was known by his given name of Lij Tafari Makonnen, named after his father. His name Tafari would later on significantly become popular and led to the rise of the Rastafarian culture which we will get down to it as the story goes on.

As the new sheriff in town, Selassie instituted the very first written constitution of Ethiopia in the year 1931 and tried to modernize his country. However, his dream was cut short as Italian army led by Benita Mussolini invaded Ethiopia. Selassie was forced to flee to exile after the Italian army defeated them by using poisonous gas and also his expectation that the league of nations would come to their rescue yielded no fruit. Italians took control of Ethiopia from 1936-1941. Selassie was forced to seek help from the British and together they defeated the Italians and in 1941, Selassie returned to Ethiopia to claim his throne. Selassie is credited for steering the formation of Organization of African Union (OAU) which was changed to African Union (AU) and its headquarters was in Addis Ababa. Selassie also initiated the idea of Africa becoming a one state that was later adopted by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

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Haile Selassie was and is still worshipped as god incarnate among followers of the Rastafari movement which is popular in Jamaica. Rastafari believed that Selassie will liberate the black race from oppression. In 1966, Selassie visited Kingston in Jamaica and hundreds of thousands Rastafari including the legendary Bob Marley went to welcome their Messiah. In Rastafari language Jah is the short form of Jehovah, Rastology is the interpretation of the bible, Livity is the Rastafari way of life which includes keeping or growing long dreadlocks. Zion is referred to as the promised land as Babylon is the oppressive western lands. Haile Selassie welcome Rastafarians in Ethiopia and even gave them land to settle on. Bob Marley did spread the Rastafarian message worldwide through his reggae music and more notably the “Iron Lion in Zion” song. Rastafarians believed in the prophesy predicted by Marcus Garvey that “look to Africa for there a King will be crowned”, and the king turned out to be Haile Selassie.

As the years went by, Haile Selassie popularity started deeming and Ethiopians felt like the Monarchial government should come to an end. Selassie’s problems and fears were further escalated by the famine that claimed hundreds of life and unrest in the capital that was brought about by some members of the military, citizens, and even students. In 1974, the military mutiny turned into a resistance and they decided to overthrow Haile Selassie’s government. Selassie was put under house arrest and later on died in 1975. The cause of his death still remains scanty. The military who took over the government were called the GERD. They had internal differences and from that in the same year of 1974 from September to December, Ethiopia experienced three different leaders. There was Lieutenant General Aman Mikael Andom, Major Mengitsu Haile Mariam, and Brigadier General Tafari Benti. One who notably cannot go without being discussed is Mengitsu Haile Mariam who was widely criticized for killing people who were against his directives. The way Mengitsu handled the drought and famine in Ethiopia portrayed his government as weak and so calls for a change of government intensified. Mengistu power was weakened after USSR forces withdrew their support and so he was forced to flee to exile in Zimbabwe where he was granted asylum because the Tigray’s People Liberation Front (TPLF) merged with other ethnically based opposition movement in quest of overthrowing Mengistu’s regime.

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In 1994, Ethiopia adopted its third constitution and in 1995 they created the federal republic of Ethiopia that we know today which focuses on ethnic autonomy and devolution. Sahle- Work Zewde is the incumbent President and first female in Ethiopia’s history to hold such position. Abiy Ahmed is the country’s Prime Minister. Ethiopia has a population of over 114 Million people with 86 ethnic groups.

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