Ethiopia was never colonized and along with China has a long imperial history. China’s imperial period came to an end with the fall of the Qing dynasty and formation of the Republic of China as a constitutional republic in 1912. The overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974 by a left-wing military junta ended Ethiopia’s empire. In 1970, four years before the end of Ethiopia’s empire, the People’s Republic of China established formal diplomatic relations with Haile Selassie’s imperial government.
Tag Archives | Haile Selassie
November 18, 1962 was a day of public celebration in Gondar. Our Peace Corps director, Harris Wofford, arrived from Asmara and accompanied us to the “Unity Day – Ethiopia and Eritrea” celebration on Tukul Hill.
There gathered were many hundreds of local nobles and officials from throughout the province. The Governor and other high officials were sheltered in a large army tent where a crush of men tried to sit as close to the Governor as possible. The celebration was held in recognition of the Eritrean assembly vote which dissolved the Federation of Eritrea with Ethiopia and allowed Eritrea to be annexed to Ethiopia.
A week after the event I spoke with a Tigryean merchant from Asmara who told me that the Emperor got the approval of the Eritrean Assembly by sending army trucks throughout Eritrea rounding up all the Assembly members and hauling them to Asmara at gun point. He went on to relate that the Ethiopian government would not let any of the American or European Counsels near the Assembly members on the day of the voting. A year later while I was learning more about Ethiopian agriculture during a two weeks’ stay at Alamaya Agricultural College, a student whose father had been a member of the Eritrean Assembly corroborated what the merchant had reported.
Fifty years ago Gondar was a very different town. We understood that it had a population of a little over 10,000 and was compact enough so almost everyone, ourselves included, could easily walk on most errands.
There were the Italian occupation buildings centered on the hill near and above the Piazza and many ancient castles and churches. Weeks after arriving there in September 1962, several of my students agreed to take me on a walking tour to some of the businesses in the town. Early one Saturday morning we met on the Piazza in front of the Foto Prince Makonnen Shop across from the Cinema Bar so I could buy a roll of high speed black and white film. As I look at the photos I took that day, I can recall memories of my interactions with the shop owners and the bustling of daily life around Gondar.
The Foto shop where I bought my film was owned by a marketing genius whose technique made him the paparazzi of Gondar; there was not an event in Gondar at which he wouldn’t materialize and take candid shots of all the participants. He would then race back to his shop and print the photos as post cards and hang them in his shop window. In the early evening following the event we would often see numerous students laughing as they stood in front of the window. There would be our images, sometimes looking silly, so of course, we would have to buy all of our post cards.
When I was assigned to teach agriculture at Haile Selassie 1 Secondary School in Gondar I had a lot to learn about agriculture in Ethiopia.
Unknown to me at the time of my arrival in Gondar was the fact that there were two agricultural extension agents in the area, Ato Arega Effende and Ato Yilma Degafa. Ato Arega was assigned to Gondar and points south and Ato Yilma to the north around the Debat area. They were both a big help to me. According to sources in the American Embassy the Extension program worked well as long as the Extension Service was part of the Ministry of Agriculture. However, after it was reassigned to the Ministry of Education it was neglected within that bureaucracy.
I saw the most of Ato Arega who had been educated at American University in Beirut. He would from time to time pop into my classroom unannounced and recruit some of my best students to put on demonstrations and give speeches at local farmer meetings. It was a wonderful experience for them to practice public speaking. In a future article I will talk more about that. Ato Arega had a favorite pair of wrangler denim pants which he would always wear. We often refer to blue denim pants as levi’s or jeans, however, in Ethiopia they were wranglers. We assumed it was because the wrangler brand got to Ethiopia first and thus it became the generic name just like the Amharic word our students used for a ball point pen was scripto.
Peace Corps volunteers in Ethiopia we were not allowed to own private vehicles. That at least was the rule, however, not so in practice.
Only days after landing in Gondar one of our twelve fellow volunteers purchased a very used VW bug for $300 Eth. On September 24th my diary noted that the driver had tried to avoid hitting a cow and as a result the car had ended up in a ditch. When the volunteer went back the next day to retrieve the car it had disappeared. That was the end of that vehicle story. The only other private Peace Corps owned motor vehicle in Gondar was a well used European motorcycle bought by Jack. It was forever in need of spare parts and repair but while running it gave Jack a certain jaunty air.
In Addis and Asmara there was a heightened sense that private vehicles would be helpful. We being country folk in the provinces of Gondar only heard joking references to Volunteers owning cars in Addis and registering them in their servant’s name. They were euphemistically referred to as “sebanas (watchmen) cars”.
Aba Gebre Meskel was the morals teacher/orthodox priest assigned to our Haile Selassie 1 Secondary School in Gondar, Ethiopia. My sense was that he arrived at about the same time as the twelve of us.
Even without his turban he was very tall. As our nearest neighbor we saw a lot of him and gained a deep respect for his views and good works. While on our Easter visit to the ancient churches of Lalibela “Peace Corps Diary: Ethiopia 1962-1964 Part 2” he shared his opinions on the state of the Orthodox Church. Government agencies and programs would recruit workers through secondary schools like ours.
On one occasion a two year long program in Addis to train better educated students to become school morals teachers came to Gondar to recruit participants from among our 11th graders. Every morning after the school bell rang our students would line-up in the courtyard of the first compound and Aba would address them for ten to fifteen minutes. He would follow announcements with a moral lesson for the day. On May 18, 1964 the lecture concerned students taking chalk from the school and writing “dirty things” on the blacktop streets of the town. It was our understanding that in schools in areas of the Empire where there was a majority Moslem population the morals teacher would be of that faith.
The problems of the Horn of Africa are frequently interlinked and often cross international borders. The root causes of the conflicts include economic inequality, political marginalization, poor governance, ethnic tension, competition for scarce resources such as water and good land, periodic drought and poverty.
Contributory factors are porous borders, widespread availability of arms, corruption, a poor record by governments on human rights issues and interference in the region by organizations and countries outside the Horn. When you add the fact that the Horn is located on a religious fault line, you have a recipe for frequent conflict. It has arguably been the most conflicted corner of the world since the end of World War II. The Horn has constantly posed a serious challenge for U.S. policy.
The Cold War, the Horn and U.S. Policy
Through the late 1980s, the Cold War determined U.S. policy in the Horn. The United States concentrated its economic and military support on Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie, who was a reliable ally of the United States. The U.S. military maintained a critical communications station known as Kagnew outside Asmara, which at the time was part of Ethiopia. In the late 1960s, Ethiopia was the location of the United States’ largest economic and military assistance program and largest embassy in Sub-Saharan Africa. When Ethiopia was threatened by Somali irredentism or Eritrean separatism, the United States strongly backed the Haile Selassie government.
Paul Williams’ paper has accurately and thoroughly pulled together the webs of conflict in the Horn of Africa. It is not a pretty picture. I would even suggest that the Horn of Africa has been the most conflicted corner of the world since the end of World War II. Other regions have had more death and conflict over briefer periods of time. I don’t know of any region that has had the number and variety of conflicts comparable to those in the Horn. The problem for the United States is what it can do to help mitigate conflict in the region.
Historically, the vast majority of U.S. efforts to resolve or mitigate conflict in the Horn have involved intervention in or attention to individual, discrete disputes, in pursuit of U.S. policy goals prevailing at the time. Through the late 1980s, the Cold War determined U.S. policy in the Horn. Emperor Haile Selassie’s Ethiopia served as the center piece in the region for U.S. economic and military support. Ethiopia was a reliable ally of the United States. When Ethiopia was threatened by Somali irredentism or Eritrean separatism, the United States backed the Haile Selassie government. Even after the left-wing Mengistu Haile Mariam junta seized power in 1974, the United States tried briefly to maintain close economic and military relations with Ethiopia. When it became evident that Ethiopia had slipped into the Soviet camp, the United States switched its support to Somalia, then led by dictator Siad Barre.
Although the United States was not providing military assistance to Somalia when it invaded Ethiopia in 1977, it began military support not long thereafter. It was not until the late 1980s as the Cold War was coming to an end that the United States concluded Siad Barre was no longer a satisfactory ally.