|Haile Selassie, né Ras Tafari Makonnen (1892–1975). “The Lion of Judah.” Emperor of Ethiopia, 1930–1974. As a young ruler (effectively as regent for the Empress Zauditu from 1916, but crowned himself only in 1930) he tried, but largely failed, to lead Ethiopia into modernization. He fell away from this reformer posture in later life. He became an international symbol of Ethiopian resistance to aggression when his country was invaded by Italy in 1935 and during and after the Second Abyssinian War. Forced into exile in England in 1936, he stood before the Assembly of the League of Nations and, in a harbinger of World War II, poignantly warned all would-be appeasers that |
every state was a possible future Ethiopia. He returned to Ethiopia in 1941, upon the success of a joint Ethiopian-British invasion force, and ruled for another 33 years. After the war he hoped to retain Somalia and Eritrea for Ethiopia. The former was instead made a trust territory, but he did gain the latter by UN decision. In 1962he decided to end Eritrea’s guarantee of autonomy within a federal arrangement with Ethiopia. That act precipitated a rebellion, supported by regional Muslim powers, which lasted until Eritrea obtained full independence after his death, following decades of bitter and bloody war, which Ethiopia ultimately lost. Haile Selassie was prominent in founding of the Organization of African Unity, and during its first decades. He was overthrown by Marxist revolutionaries in September 1974 and (probably) strangled to death upon their order in 1975. He remains a figure of veneration for a Caribbean cult/religious movement (Rastafarianism), which remembers him as the god “Jah,” but he had nothing whatever to do with its founding.