New Book on Triumph & Tragedy of Ethiopia’s Last Emperor Haile Selassie

Emperor Haile Selassie (L) and the author Asfa-Wossen Asserate, his grandnephew. (Photos: Haus Publishing)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Monday, August 31st, 2015

New York (TADIAS) — The world does not seem to want to forget Haile Selassie, Ethiopia’s last Emperor who has been gone for more than forty years, continuing the debate regarding his complicated legacy as both a reformer and an autocrat. And in November 2015 a new book from Haile Selassie’s grandnephew, Asfa-Wossen Asserate, is slated to be released by Haus Publishing and distributed in the U.S. by the University of Chicago Press.

Asserate’s book entitled King of Kings: Triumph and Tragedy of Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia provides an authoritative, insider’s perspective and a refreshingly balanced look at this fascinating international figure who was the global face of Ethiopia for most of the 20th century.

To be sure Haile Selassie governed a much different Ethiopia than today with a population three times less and a country dominated by a handful of politically connected feudal landlords that were either related to or favored by the royal palace. From his vantage point as a close family member the author — who is the grandson of Ras Kassa Haile Darge and the son of Ras Asserate Kassa– shares his personal memories of the Emperor as well as a rarely told and candid behind-the-scenes account of palace politics, family feuds and coup d’etats that eventually led to the coronation of Haile Selassie in 1930, and forty four years later, his swift downfall and unceremonious removal from power.

No challenging event in Ethiopian history, however, could better encapsulate the triumph and tragedy of Emperor Haile Selassie than his historic appearance before the General Assembly of the League of Nations in 1936 — only six years after he took power. Asserate, who currently lives in Frankfurt, Germany, notes: “The forces of Mussolini’s Fascist Italy had invaded Ethiopia and the exiled monarch made a moving appeal to the world’s conscience. The words he spoke that day have gone down in history: ‘Catastrophe is inevitable if the great states stand by and watch the rape of a small country.’” Five years later in 1941, after Mussolini’s Blackshirts were driven out of Ethiopia by British and Ethiopian forces “he returned in triumph to reclaim the Ethiopian throne.”

Asserate’s book is also timely not only because there is a renewed interest in Haile Selassie by a new generation of artists, researchers and historians, but also because this year marks the 70th anniversary of the United Nations, which was created in 1945 with the active participation from the Ethiopian leader.

Asserate’s description of the Emperor’s attempt at modernization, especially the fast-paced changes that were taking place in the capital Addis Ababa in the 1950′s, reminds one of today’s much publicized development projects in the city than activities taking place six decades ago: “Gradually, an urban infrastructure arose –with metalled roads, wide boulevards, shops, factories and warehouses, hotels and guest houses, restaurants, bars and nightclubs, plus a handful of cinemas. In addition, this period saw construction of new administrative blocks, schools and hospitals, as well as embassy buildings. The city’s growth attracted entrepreneurs and businessmen, advisors, educators and adventurers from all four corners of the world.”

Asserate adds: “And yet in many respects the center of Addis Ababa continued to resemble the residential seat of some 19th-centurey German provincial ruler rather than an international capital in the mid-20th century. The heart of the city was occupied by the imperial palaces: the Genete -Leul Palace, the emperor’s own residence at the time, and the Menelik Palace complex, also known as “the big Gebbi‘, with its numerous buildings, including the palace ministry. This was also the site of the Aderash, the cavernous hall that hosted regular state banquets, and which could accommodate up to three thousand people.”

King of Kings: Triumph and Tragedy of Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia is full of captivating details that only an insider could share; it is written with great poise and warmth for the enigmatic leader while at the same time cognizant of the swelling unhappiness and criticism the Emperor faced from his own people impatient with the pace of change.


Related:
Haile Selasse still Debated 40 Years After his Death (RFI)
From The Guardian Archive, 24 August 1974 Ethiopia’s Fallen Aristocrats
Book Review: ‘Prevail’: Personal Stories From Mussolini’s Invasion of Ethiopia
Review of ‘Long Ago and Far Away’: A Novel Set In Ethiopia by John Coyne

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