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The History Makers: Haile Selaisse

The last Emperor of the 3,000-year-old Ethiopian monarchy was an accomplished politician for the modern age, as well as being revered as a living god, says Nige Tassell…
WORLD LEADER Both Emperor of Ethiopia and unwitting messiah around the world, Selassie’s influence stretched far beyond the borders of his homeland


Armed with a thick wad of papers, a diminutive, middle-aged man from East Africa slowly approached the podium at the General Assembly of the League Of Nations in Geneva on 20 June 1936. His gait was both measured and defiant, the poise of a man with a purpose. He was the Emperor of Ethiopia and his name was Haile Selassie.

The Emperor had travelled to Switzerland to test the League Of Nations’ solidarity. As the leader of one of the few African countries not under colonial rule, Selassie was there to request assistance in defeating a violent aggressor. In October 1935, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini had ordered the invasion and occupation of Ethiopia as part of his grand design to create a latter-day Roman Empire in the Horn of Africa. The Ethiopian army couldn’t withstand the might of the Italian forces, whose use of air power and chemical weapons overwhelmed them. Selassie – the man known as the Lion of Judah to his subjects – was pushed into exile.

As he stepped forward to the microphone, a noisy disturbance broke out in the chamber as unsympathetic quarters voiced their disapproval. But Selassie didn’t falter. He offered a considered and reasoned appraisal of why the League had to unite against Mussolini and his expansionist actions. To Selassie’s eyes, the League’s 50-plus member states had, eight months previously, promised assistance. But none had come. “What answer shall I take back to my people?” he asked the congregation of ministers and statesmen, before making a chillingly prophetic declaration. “It is us today. It will be you tomorrow.”

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The April 2016 issue of History Revealed.