|Haile Selassie reviewing troops (Marcus, H. 2002, 141)|
Tafari was born in Ejersa Goro near Harar on 23 July 1892. He was the last of 10 children and the only one to grow to an adult age. Tafari's father, Ras Makonnen, had high aspirations for his son's future. He made him dejazmach at the age of 13. He had a French tutor as well as "attended a traditional Orthodox school, learning Ge'ez and religious traditions." (Henze, P. 2000, 189-190) After his father's death in 1906, Tafari went to Addis Ababa and "Menelik insisted he stay as a palace page and gave him two successive appointments as titular governor of small Shoan region." For one year, he was governor of Sidamo before returning to Addis. Quickly afterwards, in 1910 he was assigned governorship of Harar. A year later he wedded Menen Asfaw, whom would stay by her husband's side until her death. He would govern Harar until l916 and was reassigned by Iyasu to Kaffa in the same year. A few months later, however, Iyasu would be ousted out of power and Tafari would be named heir to the throne. Soon after finding out he had been overthrown, Iyasu was forced into hiding. His father, Ras Mikael of Wollo, was not quite ready to give up. He marched down south towards Addis Ababa with 80,000 men. The imperial army, on the other side, built its front with 120,000 men. Before too much damage was done Mikael was captured and his army dismantled. At a victory parade a month later, an observer described Mikael:
"He came on foot and in chains, an old, fine-looking man dressed in the usual black silk cloak with a white cloth wound round his head, stern and very dignified, to bow before the Empress before being led away. One felt sorry for him; he had fought like a man, leading the charge of his troops, for a worthless son who had not even the courage to risk death in the supporting the father who had thrown everything for his sake." (Thesiger, W. qtd in Henze, P. 2000, 197)
Iyasu would eventually be captured and be held in confinement at Garamulata until his death in 1936.
Family and experience were the two main reasons that Tafari was able to reach such a high place as heir to the throne. His father, Ras Makonnen, was Menelik's cousin. Tafari was also the great-grandson of Negus Sahle-Sellasie, who ruled Shewa from 1813-1847. Tafari's experience to leadership came at an early age when his father made him dejazmach at the age of 13. From that on, he would continue on to govern Sidamo, Harar, and Kaffa. Through this service, he picked up valuable leadership skills. He had also gained favor with Emperor Menelik at a young age and attended one of the best schools at the time, Menelik II School. (Zewde, B. 2001, 128-130)
Although Tafari was named only heir to the throne in 1916, he worked as if he was regent. He kept Zawditu “informed of his actions, but took the reins of administration into his own hands. He took charge of military and civil appointments, judicial matters, and foreign relations.” (Henze, P. 2000, 198) One of his first moves in establishing his power was to do away with the council of ministers in 1918. In 1923, he got Ethiopia admitted into the League of Nations. On the progressive front, he opened more schools and sent promising students overseas. He established printing presses and opened a modern hospital (Pankhurst, R. 1998, 208-12). Although there was not much of a power struggle between Tafari and Zawditu, he faced much opposition from other men who were unhappy with Tafari acquiring more power. In 1927, Dajjach Balcha Safo, leader of Sidamo, resentful of Tafari, marched with an army towards the capital to confront Tafari. Howerver, his army was dismantled once they found out Balcha had been striped of his governorship of Sidamo. Tafari was also challenged by Ras Gugsa Wale of Bagemder, former husband of Zawditu. Gugsa was defeated and killed at the Battle of Anchem (Zewde, B. 2001, 133-7). A few days later, Zawditu died after lying “deathly ill of typhoid complicated with diabetes in her palace … with Tafari at her bed side.” The following day Tafari was pronounced emperor (Henze, P. 2000, 205).
The empress died unexpectedly on 2 April 1930. Tafari was crowned emperor on 2 November of that same year. After Haile Selassie became emperor, Ethiopia became more known to the world. In Jamaica, the emperor's coronation ceremonies
'were seen as no less than the realization of the biblical prophesy that "Kings would come out of Africa". Identifying themselves passionately with the new Ethiopian monarch, as well as with Ethiopia's status as an independent African state they rejected traditional European missionary-based Christianity, and created a new religion of their own. In it they accorded the emperor the rank of divinity, the Messiah of African redemption. This gave birth to the Ras Tafarian movement' (Pankhurst, R. 1998, 215-6)
In the years 1930-35 the construction of the government and modernization followed before the Italians attacked. In 1931, Haile Selassie introduced Ethiopia's first constitution. Ministries, such as education and public works, were established. More hospitals and schools, including the first for girls, were opened. The emperor acquired more airplanes, built more roads and established a radio station (Pankhurst, R. 1998, 216-8).
Italians never forgot the loss they were dealt by the hands of Ethiopians at the Battle of Adwa 4 decades ago. Mussolini was determined to get revenge. He used a 'skirmish' at Wal Wal in late 1934 to begin his massive buildup for an attack. Haile Selassie attempted to diffuse the situation by appealing to the League of Nations and to major European powers but his plea fell on deaf ears. Five years into his rule, he was in exile after Italy invaded and occupied Ethiopia. The emperor fled by ways of Djibouti to Jerusalem. He remained in exile in England until 1941.
With the help of the British, Haile Selassie was back in control of Ethiopia in 1941. In 1951, Eritrea became a federated state of Ethiopia. In 1955, the emperor introduced an amended constitution.
In 1960, while the emperor was away on a foreign visit, a coup was attempted on the state. The emperor's eldest son was to be the new emperor (he later said the players in the coup forced him). The coup was easily dismantled and order was restored soon afterwards. However, political unrest became common place through out Ethiopia. By 1975, a new political system, the Derg, was in power and the emperor was dead.