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Ethiopia’s conquering lion who ruled for 50 years

By -Amos Kareithi
Updated Sun, April 21st 2013 at 00:00 GMT +3

By Amos Kareithi

Although it has been 38 years since Emperor Haile Selassie died in unclear circumstances in his palace, echoes of this man who was revered and loathed in equal measure still reverberate across the globe

Red-hot coals, Chinua Achebe once warned, beget cold impotent ash.

This appears to have been the case for the crafty ‘Lion of Judah’, who was unwittingly ushered into a nondescript car and metaphorically driven to the slaughter slab by his troops.

Emperor Haile Selassie was only answerable to God, with his mandate and power permanently entrenched by the constitution and also supported by his royal lineage dating back to Biblical times.

Since the 13th Century, the family of Ras Tafari, who later became Haile Selassie, had withstood earthly powers. Not even the 500,000 heavily armed soldiers sent by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini were strong enough to permanently keep the crafty aristocrat from his throne.

In the Caribbean and other parts of the world, Haile Selassie was worshipped as a god, Ras, by the Rastafaris, who considered him holy.

In Jamaica, Rastafaris camped by the ocean shore, waiting for a ship to deliver them from ‘captivity’ to Ethiopia, where 500 acres of land donated by the emperor awaited them.

Closer home, half a century after he first set foot in Kenya, Haile Selassie is immortalised in the naming of two busy avenues in the two biggest cities, Nairobi and Mombasa.


It appears that although it has been 38 years since he died in unclear circumstances in his own palace, echoes of this man who was revered and loathed in equal measure still reverberate across the globe.

Some of the institutions he helped to establish have outlived him and earned his country, Ethiopia, a central place in the Organisation of Africa Unity (OAU) and its replacement, the African Union, which is headquartered at Addis Ababa.

Haile Selassie’s dream of forging closer ties with Kenya persist in the Great North Road, to link Addis Ababa and Nairobi, finally coming to fruition.

All this is coming, 35 years after the flywhisk he supposedly gave Jomo Kenyatta has ceased mesmerising Kenyans.

According to parliamentary records, one of the most historic pacts between the two countries was signed on November 24, 1974, at the State House in Mombasa.

The then Foreign Affairs minister Njoroge Mungai explained to Parliament how Haile Selassie had visited Kenya in June 1970 and ratified an agreement, which among other things, delineated the boundary between the two countries and helped solidify Kenya’s claim to Lake Rudolf (Lake Turkana), although Kenyatta had to cede some ground, too.

“Before the signing of the agreement, there had been no legally defined borders in existence between Kenya and Ethiopia. Even during the colonial times, there was only a vague notion of a border between Kenya and Ethiopia,” Mungai said.

This ambiguity was solved by 30 boundary commission maps, which guided the erection of pillars to designate some of the areas along the boundary to the respective countries.

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