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Ethiopia’s conquering lion who ruled for 50 years

Updated Sunday, April 21st 2013 at 00:00 GMT +3

Mackonnen was a cousin and close ally of Menelik II, who had no legitimate direct male heir.

When Ras Makonnen died in 1906, Selassie was summoned to the court at Addis Ababa, where he was schooled in the intrigues of Menelik’s household. However, he was passed over on the death of Menelik II in 1913, in favour of the emperor’s grandson, Lij Yasu. Selassie had married Lij Yasu’s niece, Waizero Menen, after her divorce.

When Lij Yasu converted to Islam, the Ethiopian church excommunicated him, providing Haile Selassie with a shot at the throne. He executed a palace coup and declared himself the heir presumptive and Regent for Zauditu, a daughter of Menelik, who became the empress.

Later, he executed Zauditu’s husband and put the empress under his control.

“He also captured Lij Yasu and imprisoned him with golden chains. Yasu was, however, allowed to enjoy a variety of women provided by Haile Selassie,” Alden Whitman wrote in an obituary published by The New York Times on August 28, 1975,.

The wily monarch pre-empted Ethiopian’ colonisation in 1923, when he negotiated for his country to join the League of Nations, the precursor of the United Nations, and then embarked on a tour of Europe.

His tour was memorable in that his six lions and four zebras accompanied him. He also had 30 servants at his beck and call.

He finally eliminated the empress, who had attempted a coup in 1928, and was crowned emperor on November 2, 1930, and given the name ‘His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie’, which means ‘Power of the Holy Trinity’.

Whitman described him as the last emperor in the 3,000-year-old Ethiopian monarchy.

His reign was interrupted four years after his coronation by Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia. Believing that belonging to the League of Nations insulated him against such aggression, Haile Selassie protested the invasion on June 30, 1936, in Geneva during a General Assembly, but in vain.

He spent four miserable years in exile in Britain as an unwanted guest until Mussolini joined the Second World War on Germany’s side.

In a bid to clip Adolf Hitler’s militancy, Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill strategically recalled that Haile Selassie was a friend, and went out of his way to assist him.

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