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The Current Role of the Monarchy in Preserving Ethiopia’s Unity

MAY 1998, USA

Presented to the Ethiopian National Congress by HIH Prince Ermias Sahle-Selassie Haile-Selassie, President of the Crown Council of Ethiopia, May 24, 1998

True leadership is all about the inspiration of people to see the vision of what greatness is possible within them and within their own broad communities, and then in causing the energies, talents and willpower of those people to be focused toward achieving that greatness. Today, there are those who call themselves leaders merely because they are at the helm of a ship of state, going where the great masses take them. They find consensus in the whims of spontaneous political combustion; they do not create consensus through the presentation of a well-conceived vision, which embraces wisdom, planning and the demonstration of justice.

You have asked me here today to talk about the role of the Monarchy in preserving Ethiopia’s unity. And I represent a monarchical line which stretches back for 3,000 years, longer than any other ruling line or structure in history. But I am not here to bask in history, although I must refer to it for lessons which we may not, must not, forget. I am here to plead for the future of Ethiopia; to tell you that the future can be restored to the people of Ethiopia as Ethiopians as well as Tigreans, Oromo, Amhara, Guraghe, and so on. Each time Ethiopia has prospered domestically and internationally it has been because the country has been led by inspired men who placed the good of their people above their own needs. It can be so again.

Today, many politicians are adept in securing the appearance of consensus for their policies, through tactics of distraction, deception, and by creating doubts and divisions between peoples. It is no coincidence that, because of the demands of modern media, politics today is very much akin to the profession of traveling conjurer. For many politicians, it is believed that there is no time to consider the broad and long-term public good when publics clamor for immediate and easy solutions. To survive, politicians pander to the public’s demand rather than its needs; feeding people a diet of blame, hatred, suspicion; in a word: distraction. The problems, they say, are all the fault of their predecessors, our neighbors, “the great Satan”: anybody else. It is no wonder that we are, in Ethiopia as well as the rest of the world, growing into a society which forgets the happiness and pride of working toward the goal of common good and historic values, and instead believes that each man must grab what little profit and relief he can before someone else will steal it.

Under such circumstances, can any member of society be expected to go out of his way to help his neighbor? Can any individual be expected, ultimately, to put his family (in the broadest interpretation of the word) ahead of himself; or to see himself as a functioning and important part of a society which embraces differences in ethnicity, language, religion, and yet which still strives toward a common goal?

Today, in Ethiopia, we see a policy being implemented by those in control of the administrative apparatus of the country, of “divide and rule”. Pride in Ethiopianness is discouraged; the Empire is nothing but a collection of self-interested small states working without regard to their neighbors. Amharas are no longer expected to look out for the interests of the Oromo; the Oromo are not expected to care about the fate of the Tigreans; the Gojjam are no longer expected to care about the fate of their onetime brothers in Wollo; the Kaffa must forget the Sidamo. And so on.

Why is this? Is this “progress” disguised as “self-determination”? In a world increasingly dominated by global languages, global economic trends, and seamlessly integrated communications, can we expect that the life of a Guraghe-speaking child will be better because someone said: “Your own language is the source of all pride, and all attempts at working with your kinsmen across a nearby border are worthless”? Of course not.

Why is this happening? I will tell you. It is because politicians wish to retain power regardless of the fact that they cannot inspire the many and richly-varied people of the great Ethiopian empire to support a common dream. These politicians represent a fraction of six percent of the population of Ethiopia. They did not come to power in the name of Ethiopia; they came to power in the name of Tigré. And I do not disparage their belief that Tigré has rights; that Tigré is something special in Ethiopia. But I do not agree that in order for a Tigréan group to govern Ethiopia they must do so by merely dividing the country so that their minority rule cannot be challenged. This is not leadership. This is the belief that if a big picture is good, then we would all be better off cutting that big picture into little pieces and each scuttling off to our respective corners with a small piece of paint on canvas, wondering eventually what it meant.

Let me harken to our history, for history is the one thing which a 3,000-year-old Ethiopian monarchy knows well. The Monarchy has learned from history. And we would all do well to continue to learn from history, so as to avoid repetition of its mistakes, and to see that we, the monarchy, like all institutions, must adapt to reflect the societies we represent.

The Age of the Princes — Zemene Mesafint — from 1780 to 1855 saw Ethiopia agonize through an era when our respective states struggled along, warring with each other, without the benefit of cooperation, without the benefit of a united front to present to the world; indeed, without the ability to even interact with the outside world. There was little or no progress. If there was no great challenge, apart from the constant fear of attack, there was also no universal uplifting of hope, no rising economic wellbeing. And Ethiopia slept while the world prospered and grew. We had retrogressed from the glory of the Axumite period, to the point where we were little better off than Dinqinesh, who walked with her fellows in the Rift Valley some three-million years ago.

It was Emperor Tewodoros II — Theodore II — who again embraced the concept of national unity within the context of the Empire. Tewoderos ultimately moved to his disastrous confrontation with Britain, and culminating with his — and Ethiopia’s — defeat at the Battle of Magdàla on April 13, 1868.

Tewoderos’ reign, which had been imposed by arbitrary, brutal and in many ways divisive policies, was at least a step toward reviving the consensus that Ethiopia was and would always be a structure which embraced the various states within an Empire, however unfashionable that word is today. [As an aside, it is worth mentioning that under this same definition, the United States is also an Empire of component states.] But Tewoderos’ reign was followed by a four-year interregnum and reversion to internecine warfare with states each seeking their own fortunes. Ethiopia, in such a fractured state, was ripe for foreign exploitation, in many ways as it is today: weak, divided, and grasping for the currency of survival, which is being meted out on the terms of the outside world.

It is no wonder that in the early 1870s, the European powers were already considering that Ethiopia was a no-man’s land, ready for conquest. And it was this situation, this vacuum, which led to the Treaty of Berlin a short time later granting Italy the “right” to annex Ethiopia. But that was after a period of weakness had already allowed Italy to make incursions into Eritrea, on its own terms, and had allowed Sudan’s Mahdist leadership to believe that war could successfully be waged against the new Emperor of Ethiopia, Johannes IV.

You are all familiar with this history, and how Emperor Johannes came to power after the nation had descended once again into internecine warfare. He inherited a state which was, and increasingly became, beset by outside forces who rightly perceived the fact that this small collection of dis-united states had no ability to act in their common good. Johannes was unable to inspire a sense of Ethiopian unity, and Ethiopia was unready for the war against Mahdist Sudan. Ultimate attempts to switch from support for the British against Sudan to create a common Sudan-Ethiopia front against the Europeans were spurned by the Mahdists in 1888, and by 1889, the Mahdists had killed Yohannes in battle; the last crowned head of a major state to die in combat.

But his death and life had been an attempt to overcome a legacy of disunity; and the goal of Ethiopian unity as the only means of protecting the lifestyles of Ethiopia’s people was now clearly established. It took Menelik, by now Negus of Shoa, to come to the Imperial Throne with the ability to create unity, and thereby create wealth: enough wealth for the country to withstand foreign pressures; enough wealth to start the process of real evolutionary societal and economic progress and wellbeing.

So I ask you today: Can Ethiopia survive as a single nation-state if it lacks a leadership which will inspire unity? And even if Ethiopia in the absence of unifying leadership is fortunate enough to escape the physical depredations of further secession or irridentist actions or invasion, can it in any event prosper? Will freedom be served? Will the interests of the people be served? And will we as a people, historically given the gift of a union and a special identity for millennia, fail in our destiny? Will we fail our children and our children’s children?

What, then, can the Crown of Ethiopia now do for its people after all of our suffering?

The Crown’s period of inactivity is over.

The Crown’s period of silence and retreat is over.

My Uncle, His Imperial Majesty Emperor Amha Selassie, is dead, but he carried the Crown and kept it alive in the dreadful years after the death of his father and my grandfather, Emperor Haile Selassie, of blessed memory. But Emperor Amha Selassie was ill even before the coup which overthrew Emperor Haile Selassie. He remained in poor health until the end of his life, and had little in the way of resources and physical capability to lead the counter-attack against those who have destroyed much of our country.

The Crown wishes to offer no empty gestures. Henceforth, we work only toward meaningful actions, under which the Crown begins again to offer protection and inspiration and hope to our people. What the Crown can offer right now is this:

Firstly, it can offer an impartial symbol of national unity to all Ethiopians. The Crown is not the crown of only one or two groups of Ethiopians. Although the Crown has long and traditional ties with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, it is nonetheless the Crown of Ethiopians of all religions, favoring none above another, nor one ethnic or national or linguistic group above another;

Secondly, the Crown offers the symbol of national dignity and respect. The actions of Emperors Menelik and Haile Selassie brought international attention and acclaim to our nation in a most positive way. The actions of Mengistu and others like him brought our international reputation into distaste, and the perception of our leaders into the perspective of being self-serving, power-hungry tyrants. We should remember that because of the actions of Menelik and Haile Selassie, Ethiopia represents the best of all African aspirations. Today, although only acting as President of the Crown Council, and a Crown Council in exile at that, I have been humbled and honored to have been received warmly by more than a dozen heads of state and heads of government over the past year, since my Uncle’s death. These leaders have expressed the hope that the Ethiopian Crown remains a symbol for all Africans and those of African descent.

It is my hope that the Crown can provide a source of protection to Ethiopian refugees who have been scattered around the world in a diaspora unprecedented in our history. We have already secured attention and help for Ethiopian refugees in some African countries based on the fact that the Crown’s representative has had access to and influence with the leaders of these host countries.

Thirdly, we wish to offer Ethiopians within our country the fact that the Crown, which first introduced our society to modern advances during the Menelik and Haile Selassie eras, continues to evolve with the times. And in this context we want to provide an umbrella under which true multi-party democracy can function, with the Crown acting as the symbolic and effective guarantor of the Constitution of the people’s choice. The Crown must be above day-to-day politics, and must offer the long-term leadership which establishes the framework of society, the freedom for peoples to accord each other respect and cooperation, and therefore progress. The Crown must ensure that the forces of law and order are not subject to political mis-use.

Stalin who, unchecked, butchered 60-million of his own people and left his country open to invasion by another monster, Adolf Hitler, once asked, when cautioned about the power of the Church: “How many divisions does the Pope have?”

Today, it can be asked: “How many divisions are in the Army of the Crown?”

The Crown is Ethiopia, and its divisions, therefore, are all the people of Ethiopia. But these legions do not serve the interests of the Crown. The interests of the Crown are the people of Ethiopia.

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