There’s a certain surprise to the unveiling of a statue of Haile Selassie in Addis Ababa – as well as it being a fairly normal thing for the African Union to have done. For the Emperor was one of the founders of the Organisation of African Unity, a forerunner of the African Union. Organisations tend to put up statues to their founders. The surprise, of the bit of it, comes from it all going up in Addis Ababa, even if that’s where the main offices are.
The story itself:
A statue of Ethiopia’s last emperor is to be unveiled outside the African Union’s headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The likeness of Haile Selassie is being given pride of place outside the $200 million building in recognition for his role in establishing its predecessor, the Organization of African Unity (OAU). But that might not be the first thing that springs to mind on hearing the name Haile Selassie. The name is perhaps more easily connected with Jamaican singer Bob Marley and Rastafarians.
Well, maybe. The name confusion comes from the manner that Ethiopian Emperors took a regnant name. Selassie’s name before be ascended the throne was Ras Tafari – making the name of the religion obvious even if they why is still mysterious.
Why the African Union likes him:
Haile Selassie was more than 30 years into his reign when he helped establish the OAU. Its first meeting, in May 1963, was held in Addis Ababa. Ethiopia – which has never been colonised although it was subjected to a five-year military occupation by Mussolini’s Italy – had served as a symbol of African independence throughout the colonial period. Now other countries were finally gaining independence, and this was a chance to bring nations together to fight against colonisation and white minority rule while also co-ordinating efforts to raise living standards and defend their sovereignty. “May this convention of union last 1,000 years,” Haile Selassie, who spent a year preparing the city for the meeting, told the gathered delegates.
OK, super. But it’s still a bit of a surprise. For Selassie was overthrown by the military junta, the Dergue. Who according to the usual reports then murdered him. And during the years of imposing a particularly foolish marxism on the country to be allied to his memory was a reasonable manner of courting a violent death. Eventually Mengistu, who had become the one man incarnation of that military junta, fled to Zimbabwe and the country returned to a form of democracy. It’s just that restoration of that monarchy isn’t one of the viable discussions even now and thus the surprise about the statue and public approbation.