1 November 2000

Ethiopia: Le Roi Est Mort


Addis Ababa — It is Ethiopian tradition to speak well of the dead. Ethiopians never mention the name of a person that has passed away in disrespect or dishonor. They always, mutter, "may he or she rest in peace", thereby wishing his spirit to rest in peace and not be "troubled" by having been mentioned in the conversation.

This is customary and proper etiquette. No matter what politicians, communists or revolutionaries or whatever other sector of society insist on saying, Emperor Haileselassie I was Ethiopia's regal king.

He was no ordinary citizen and the whole wide world knows it. He may have taken money from the national coffers for his personal gains, or he may even have mistreated his subjects at times.

Injustices may have been seen in the country during his reign. To use a Biblical expression, let him who is pure and innocent cast the first stone.

Personally, I believe the Emperor, no matter what his vices, has given Ethiopians an international image that they had been proud of. It is what he has built during his reign, that the country and subsequent governments have been unable to maintain or recover.

Although his reign ended in a disgrace by the unveiling of the Wello famine-that particular word has never ceased to be synonymous with Ethiopia ever since. Why, look up the word "famine" in Oxford Dictionary! Revolutionary students of that time have blamed him for ignoring the hungry, he may have, but he sure did not create the famine.

If the farmer produced more, it was to the advantage of himself and his nobility who owned the land anyway. To make matters worse, when the crazy dictator took power after the Emperor, the land and forests did not have owners.

From single ownership to collective ownership, i.e. non-ownership.

The malfunctioning socialist system and the menace of cooperatives run down the farms. Did we not see a terrible famine then? What about last year? Did we see another famine? And who is to blame for this one? Nature or policy? It is history that judges each ruler. I am no royalist.

I believe the feudal system has contributed to multitudes of problems in Ethiopia. But that was not the only vice the country had.

Wretched Socialism was far worse. And who knows what privatization will get us into? But I do not think what good Emperor Haileselassie I has done for Ethiopia and Africa deserves to be belittled, despised or ignored.

That is what the Premier was talking about when he was rightly lobbying for the seat of the proposed United States of Africa to be in Addis Ababa in a meeting of African heads of state. Who made Addis the diplomatic headquarters of Africa? The answer is obvious.

The man has done great by his country. I think we should honor him by giving him the credit he deserves.

I think this calls for magnanimity. No matter what, there are and will always be Ethiopians who remember "Haile Kechinu" or "Ababa JanHoy" with reverence and think of his reign with nostalgia.

This may not be true of all Ethiopians. During his time we had many things we dare not think of now.

Let us not go over the list, but suffice to say, Ethiopian students (sent by the Emperor for higher learning) sought to come back after graduation, they carried their passports with dignity and pride, in some European countries Ethiopians didn't need entry visas, and much more. When the world looks at our king with reverence, why can we not make the most out of it? I honestly fail to see the harm it would do.

Left to me, I would have capitalized on this event and made a tourist attraction and great PR case out of it, if nothing else. Why not? Like somebody once said, "Le roi est mort, vive le roi!"-"The king is dead, long live the king!"

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