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The Crown Council Today

The structure and role of the Crown Council of Ethiopia

The Crown Council of Ethiopia is the Constitutional Body which advises the reigning Emperors of Ethiopia and, during an interregnum (such as now), actually acts as the Crown. The Council’s members are initially appointed by an Emperor, and subsequently (during an interregnum) sustained in their posts or replaced under the direction of the President of the Council.

The information on this page is based in part on material published in 1998 in the book, Ethiopia Reaches Her Hand Unto God: Imperial Ethiopia’s Unique Symbols, Structures, and Role in the Modern World, by Gregory Copley, and published by The International Strategic Studies Association, Washington DC.

Background to the Current Crown Council
Revolution inevitably brings about a watershed in any country, and the protracted revolution which began as an Army revolt over water-sharing at a remote military camp on September 12, 1974, was as profoundly searing to Ethiopia as any revolution could be. The scale of death, displacement, social and structural devastation brought about by the Dergue which instituted the coup — and the revolution which surrounded its tenure in office — was proportionately as historic as the great revolutions of Russia and China. Emperor Haile Selassie I was seized and imprisoned by the Dergue and was suffocated to death by his captors on August 27, 1975.
HIH Prince Ermias Sahle-Selassie, Grandson of HIM Emperor Haile Selassie I, and currently President of the Crown Council of Ethiopia.

The Dergue, which grabbed power illegally and by force, and which had no legitimacy or historic or legal claim or right to office or authority, declared in March 1975 that it had deposed Emperor Haile Selassie I. Significantly, the Dergue announced that, having deposed Emperor Haile Selassie, it now recognised as Negus (King) the legitimate and constitutional successor to the throne, Crown Prince Asfa Wossen, who was in Geneva at the time for medical treatment. An announcement by the Dergue said that Crown Prince Asfa Wossen would be crowned King (Negus) immediately upon his return to Ethiopia. But the civil war and terror which swept over Ethiopia precluded any return by the Crown Prince who, having suffered a serious stroke, could not at that time travel. 

By the time he was sufficiently well, it became clear that the Monarchy could not displace the Dergue for the moment because of the purge of former Government officials, the ongoing war and Soviet involvement. Under such circumstances, the Crown Prince could not return home.

The internationally- and historically-recognised Monarch and Monarchy did not abdicate; nor did the legal Constitution change, but the illegal act of an outlaw power group effectively altered the realities on the ground in Ethiopia. The subsequent military victory finalised against the Dergue on May 27, 1991, by guerilla fighters of the Tigré People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a Tigrean organisation riding into Addis Ababa with two divisions of Sudanese armour (much as Tito had ridden into Belgrade in 1945 atop Soviet Red Army T-34 tanks), meant that a new de facto and unelected, unrepresentative power had come into control of Ethiopia.

The international community had what it felt were more important things to ponder in the middle of 1991 than the restoration of Ethiopian legitimacy. The collapse of the Soviet Union, the Dergue’s backers, meant that all attention was focused on the break-up of the Soviet empire and the spin-offs from that, including the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990.

After 17 years of bloodshed and anguish in Ethiopia, a distracted international community — led, as far as Ethiopian discussions were concerned, by Britain and the US — allowed the TPLF to attempt to build an interim national administration in the country. [The TPLF later reconstituted itself, mostly for the purpose of retaining power over all of Ethiopia, to the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).] The United States, in particular (and under then US Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Herman Cohen), stood by the TPLF leader, Meles Zenawi, and allowed him to consolidate power, riding roughshod over the claims and positions of other groups. In reality, the US and UK had few options; they were preoccupied with the break-up of the Soviet Empire and the emergence of troublesome leaders elsewhere, particularly Iraqi President Saddam Hussain’s military lunge at Kuwait, which required all the efforts of the US Bush Administration to control. Ethiopia’s restoration to traditional and democratic government was one of the casualties of this situation, as was the Liberian civil war on Africa’s West Coast. The US, totally focusing its resources on Iraq and Kuwait, asked Nigeria to handle the Liberian war.

But as a result of the TPLF victory, the Tigrean leadership also acceded to the wishes of their Eritrean fellow rebels fighting to make Eritrea independent. Eritrea formally seceded from Ethiopia in 1993. TPLF leader Meles Zenawi declared himself President of Ethiopia in July 1991 and moved to consolidate this de facto leadership with a series of carefully-orchestrated elections which occurred during a process of strict suppression of opposition voices and strong moves to stop the Monarchy from returning to the office and station it had held for three millennia. [Meles Zenawi’s subsequently changed his Administration’s structure, placing power in the hands of a Prime Minister, which he himself became, making the presidency ceremonial.] The TPLF had originally cast the Monarchy as one of the options in its proposed new constitution. But it was clear that the TPLF had merely inserted the Monarchy as an option only to be able to immediately dismiss it, as though it had been proffered to the people for debate. It had not. There was no possibility at that time of any popular discussion of the option, and the TPLF — which transformed into the EPRDF — ramrodded its “constitution” into effect without due process. The object was solely to give a patina of domestic and international legitimacy to the new EPRDF constitution. The so-called constitutional consultative assemblies were fraught with many problems during this highly-unstable period, and the EPRDF, as the ruling party de facto, made sure that no chance was given to any option other than those which it chose.

It is significant to note that the Monarchy has not relinquished its role and duties in Ethiopia. Since 2004, the Crown Council has redefined the role that a Constitutional Monarchy can play in Ethiopia that is much more in line with the role that constitutional Monarchs play in other countries.

It seems clear that had the exiled Crown Prince Asfa Wossen been physically fit, then the Monarchy could have taken a far greater rôle in ousting the Dergue and restoring legitimate government to Ethiopia in 1991 or earlier. The Crown Prince had been abroad during the 1974 coup receiving medical treatment for a stroke, brought about by complications from diabetes in 1973.1The Passing of An Era: A Short Biography of Emperor Amha Selassie I (1916-1997), in Ethiopian Review, January-February 1997.

Indeed, the Dergue’s removal was only possible in 1991 because of the withdrawal of Soviet support from it, brought about by the collapse of the USSR itself. The TPLF was not Ethiopia’s saviour; the NATO-led escalation of the Cold War against the Soviet Union had merely robbed the Dergue of its benefactor. History will show that Crown Prince Asfa Wossen’s physical disabilities — he was heavily paralysed from the stroke until the time of his death in 1997 — played a decisive rôle in Ethiopia’s history.

Despite being in exile in London, Crown Prince Asfa Wossen was persuaded, in 1988, to declare himself Emperor, taking the throne name Amha Selassie I. But this act, which showed that the Monarchy was still alive and evolving, did not have enough power behind it — because of the new Emperor’s poor health — to have sufficient political impact inside Ethiopia to bring about change on the ground. Emperor Amha Selassie did have the authority, under the Constitution of the internationally-recognised Government of Emperor Haile Selassie, to reconvene the Crown Council.