Speech Given by the President of the Crown Council of Ethiopia, HIH Prince Ermias Sahle Selassie
JULY 2004 CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA
SPEECHES & ARTICLES
Your Imperial Highness Prince Bekere, Honorable Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Welcome to the first Annual Meeting of the Imperial Society of St George of Lalibela. Your presence here today, to officially launch the Society and to commemorate the 112th Anniversary of the Birth of my late grandfather, HIM Haile Selassie I, is a testimony of your high esteem for Ethiopia’s heritage and for its former Monarch. For this, I thank you most sincerely.
The Imperial Society of St. George of Lalibela and the Haile Selassie Fund for Ethiopian Children are the two vehicles of the Ethiopian Crown Council to direct charitable donations and aid to Ethiopia from the United States. Whereas the Foundation has been relatively active, The Imperial Society of St. George of Lalibela is holding it first meeting today.
The Imperial Society of St. George of Lalibela is named after the patron saint of Ethiopia and it is dedicated to the preservation of the history and dignity of Solomonic institutions and the Crown of Ethiopia. Membership is open to individuals of all nationality, gender and religion. The members are expected to support the Charities of the Society through annual oblations and donations. The feast days of the Society include: St George’s Day, April 23, Ethiopian Orthodox Easter, and the Birthday of HIM Emperor Haile Selassie I, on July 23. The society’s current base of operation is in the Washington DC area where the Ethiopian Crown Council is based in exile. It is planed, however, to open chapters in Addis Ababa and other cities around the world.
Your Imperial Highness, Honorable Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
HIM Haile Selassie I, whom we are gathered hear to commemorate, was a great pioneer who had moved Ethiopia from the feudal age to the 20th Century, by granting a modern Constitution by which his people are to be governed; by promoting education, and modern health care so that they may benefit from advancements in the world; by establishing a central judicial system that is removed from political interference; by instituting a modern Banking system and centralized Taxation to bring them up to world standard; and by establishing the Ethiopian Telecommunication Authority and Ethiopian Airlines to give his people exposure to the modern world.
Above all, we are proud to honor him for abolishing slavery in Ethiopia; for the role that he played in defending and securing Ethiopia’s independence; for his magnanimity in giving immediate amnesty to the remnant of the Fascist Army; for his distinguished advocacy in standing up for collective security at the League of Nations; for his steadfastness in giving support and encouragement to Leaders of African Liberation Movements, such as Jomo Kenyata, Julius Neyrere, and Nelson Mandela; for his leadership in establishing The Organization of African Unity which even today remains as the African Union with its Headquarters still in Addis Ababa; and also for his remarkable contribution as a mediator in conflict resolution in Africa.
Despite the Emperor’s humiliation by the Marxist Leninist Communist Government in 1974, and the unjustified echo of their slander by the international press, history has proved that Emperor Haile Selassie was, indeed, a great man who had left his undeniable mark on his country, as well as on Africa, the Caribbean, and on the rest of the world. Thus, we are gathered here today to celebrate his achievements and to find ways and means by which to carry forward his legacy.
The last Emperor of Ethiopia, my late uncle HIM Ameha Selassie I, was recovering from a stroke when the Imperial mantel passed on to him. Even so, he spearheaded the effort to coordinate Ethiopians inside and outside the country, to restore a Constitutional Monarchy and to bring peace and stability to his country. His Majesty reestablished the Crown Council of Ethiopia, in exile, to advise him in his work. One of the outcomes of this was the appointment of young members of the Imperial Family to key posts in 1993. While his grandson my cousin Prince Bekere Fikre Selassie, who is here with us today, was appointed as His Majesty’s Enderase (Viceroy), I was assigned the post of the President of the Crown Council. Other members of the family were also appointed.
Since my appointment in 1993, the Crown Council has kept on the International Agenda, the current problems of the Ethiopian people, the history and culture of our ancient country, as well as that of our heritage of one of the oldest Monarchies in the world. This was done by establishing a Web Site to keep in touch with the public at large; by presenting papers at various forums; by participating in numerous Conferences; by testifying at the US Congress and Senate regarding the deteriorating situation in Ethiopia; by briefing numerous world leaders during their visit to the USA; by broadcasting on the BBC, Washington National Public Radio and on a number of radios stations in the Caribbean; and by responding to TV, News Paper and Magazine Interviews in the USA, Europe, Africa and the Caribbean. Thus, we have contributed to rehabilitate the name of my distinguished grandfather Emperor Haile Selassie I, and we have also kept the Imperial Family engaged in Ethiopian affairs, even in the Diaspora.
As a result, we had secured 24 scholarships for Ethiopian students from the Pacem In Terris Institute of La Roche College, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Fourteen of the students have now obtained their BA Degree and a number have secured scholarships for graduate studies. The other sizable assistance obtained through the Haile Selassie Fund for Ethiopian Children is from a Royal Family in Europe, which has, as a first step, donated funds for expansion of a Hospital in Sodo, Wolayta, in southern Ethiopia. The project is now completed.
In addition, a number of organizations have expressed interest to give support to selected programmes in Ethiopia through our Foundation. For example, some of my old school friends and military officials in the UK have expressed interest to support the Old Ethiopian Patriots Association. The Prester John Luso-Ethiopian Friendship Association of Portugal, which was formed in August 2003, the Roman Catholic Church in Hungary and one Royal Family in Europe have all expressed interest to support development programmes in Ethiopia through us.
At the same time, numerous organizations in Ethiopia have asked me to find support for their respective programmes. Some of the requests that relate to the objectives of the Imperial Society of St. George of Lalibela are: First, support for the repair of Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa which is the burial place for the Imperial family, for constructing and equipping a Museum attached to the Cathedral to house church relics, and for equipping the Clinic for the poor that is operated by the Cathedral. Second, repair of two churches of historical importance, in Showa and Wello Provinces that were originally built by my respective great grandfathers King Sahle Selassie of Shewa and King Michael of Wello. Third, for construction and equipment of a Museum on the former Imperial Jubilee Place grounds to preserve the Imperial Heritage, and also to support a few Regional Museums. Fourth, the Society of Friends of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies, Chaired by the world renown Professor Richard Pankhurst, has requested me to raise funds to expand the facilities of the Center of Ethiopian Studies at the University of Addis Ababa, so that it may collect and preserve new material that are scattered through out the world.
The other requests are more in line with the objectives of the Haile Selassie Fund for Ethiopian Children. During my discussions in Addis Ababa in April 2003, I was made aware of the Governments initiative to revive youth and women related NGOs, such as the Boys Scout, the YMCA and the YWCA – associations that had been formerly replicated in Ethiopia by members of my family, to promote Character Building and to provide Vocational Training for Ethiopian youth. Thus, these organizations would need support. Assistance has also been requested to ensure the continuation of the work of Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa, which provides medical treatment for women who have been injured as the result of medically unattended child delivery.
Regrettably, both the Imperial Society of St. George of Lalibela and the Haile Selassie Fund for Ethiopian Children do not have the human and financial resources to follow up on the assistance already at hand, let alone coordinate the submission of additional requests to Donors. Therefore, due to lack of a well established office and administrative machinery, we are regrettably losing a great deal of opportunity to assist our country.
The achievements to date have been attained with the help of volunteers. However, as security considerations had limited what could be shared with each volunteer, it has not been possible to maximize the benefit of their experience. If the Foundation is to realize its full potential, it is clear that it needs to have a well established office and full time staff that are accountable.
The fact that we have been operating from the USA without having an established office in Ethiopia, had no doubt, limited our credibility before Donors. I am now glad to report to you that the Foundation was registered in Addis Ababa on May 12th, 2004
Your Imperial Highness, Honorable Guests and Ladies and Gentlemen,
The registration of the Foundation in Addis Ababa is the first step of my plan to return home to participate in the development of my country. This is an outcome of the major political decision that was made by the Crown Council, after extensive consultation during the period 2003 and 2004, to shift the role of the Crown from the realm of politics to that which will contribute through support for development and humanitarian progmramme. I have further been encouraged by the fact that the Government of Ethiopia has now realized that the input of all Ethiopians, including that of the Imperial Family, is needed if the development of Ethiopia is to forge ahead.
Furthermore, the warm reception that I had received from the Ethiopian public when I visited Addis Ababa in April to June 2003, and the cordial diplomatic reception extended to me by all foreign Ambassadors that I had met there, convinced me that the Ethiopian Imperial Family still has an important none political role to play in Ethiopian affairs. As many qualified Ethiopian professionals with extensive experience in the international arena, have also begun to return home, it is my strong belief that we can all pull together our human resources to make a remarkable difference in the reconstruction and development of our country. In addition, through my work with the refugee community in the USA I will encourage young well qualified Ethiopians to also return home to help improve the situation in our country.
Your Imperial Highness, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
As stated earlier, the role foreseen for the Society of St George of Lalibela is that of a group who will help to preserve Ethiopia’s ancient heritage. In this day and age of religious intolerance, it is intended that the Society will also provide a platform to advocate the preservation of Ethiopia’s long established tradition of coexistence of people of various religious and ethnic backgrounds, while at the same time be at the forefront to safeguard and preserve one of the oldest Christian cultures in the world. The Foundation’s role will be that of a Funding Agency for Development and Humanitarian Projects. It will utilize the expertise of existing organizations to implement the projects that it supports. The Foundation will also need to have its own expertise to enable it to monitor and evaluate the projects.
As you all know, the problems faced by Ethiopia are overwhelming. Population explosion, desertification, periodic famine, HIV/AIDS and high level of unemployment are taking their toll. However, aware of our limited capacity, we will have to be very selective in the Projects we support. This also requires the employment of well qualified and experienced social development professionals to help both the Society and the Foundation.
Finally, I would like you to note that redirecting the Crown Council’s area of focus from political to development and humanitarian programmes has proved to be a more realistic decision, as it has already resulted in opening new opportunities for cooperation with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and with the Ethiopian refugee community in the USA. It is clear that in galvanizing our community’s support for development and humanitarian programmes, we will gain more ground in improving the situation in our country. However, much, much more than what the Ethiopian community in the Diaspora can provide is needed to make even a dent on Ethiopia’s problems.
Therefore, the projects for which we are seeking assistance through the Imperial Society of St. George of Lalibela are for the preservation of Ethiopia’s ancient history, culture and religion which we trust are also of great interest to the rest of the world. The specific projects to be supported have been mentioned before. In addition, as we plan to seek the support of all leaders of the Christian Faith to jointly launch a worldwide appeal to request for the return of Ethiopia’s religious and cultural artifacts that had been taken out of the country during the Communist regime, we would also appreciate most sincerely the support of each members of the Society in this major endeavor.
Through the Haile Selassie Fund for Ethiopian Children we are seeking for support for social sector development projects, such as Health Care, Water Supply, Education, and Vocational Training. Your support to obtain more scholarship for Ethiopian students or better still to strengthen the Universities in Ethiopia to reach thousands more students will be most beneficial.
Since the work of both the Society and the Foundation can not be achieved without a well staffed and a well equipped office, your assistance to help us establish an office in Addis Ababa will be invaluable. Furthermore, as Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries but receives the least aid for development programmes, I kindly request you all to use what ever leverage you have to influence the US Government to provide more funds for development projects in Ethiopia, in addition to what it is most generously being provided for emergency humanitarian projects.
In closing, I would like to extend my heart-felt thanks and most sincere gratitude to all friends of Ethiopia who have stood by us in our time of need. Thank you all very much, indeed, for your concern for Ethiopia that has brought you here today. My sincere appreciation and deep gratitude also go to all those who have facilitated and organized this meeting to give the Crown Council of Ethiopia the platform to put the case of our country before you.
Your Imperial Highness, Honorable Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I call upon all of you to join hands with us to help preserve one of the most fascinating cultures in the world. May God help us all to accomplish this noble task.
Thank you very much for your attention.
HIH Prince Ermias Sahle Selassie