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1960 Attempted Coup

Haile Selassie's efforts to achieve a measure of change without jeopardizing his own power stimulated rising expectations, some of which he was unwilling or unable to satisfy. Impatient with the rate or form of social and political change, several groups conspired to launch a coup d'tat on December 13, 1960, while the emperor was abroad on one of his frequent trips. The leadership of the 1960 revolt came from three groups: the commander of the Imperial Bodyguard Mengistu Neway, and his followers; a few security officials, including the police chief; and a handful of radical intellectuals related to the officials, including Girmame Neway, Mengistu's brother.

The coup was initially successful in the capital, as the rebels seized the crown prince and more than twenty cabinet ministers and other government leaders. The support of the Imperial Bodyguard, the backbone of the revolt, was obtained without informing the enlisted men--or even a majority of the officers--of the purpose of the rebels' actions. The proclaimed intent of the coup leaders was the establishment of a government that would improve the economic, social, and political position of the general population, but they also appealed to traditional authority in the person of the crown prince. No mention was made of the emperor.

The coup's leaders failed to achieve popular support for their actions. Although university students demonstrated in favor of the coup, army and air force units remained loyal to the emperor, who returned to the capital on December 17. The patriarch of the church, who condemned the rebels as antireligious traitors and called for fealty to the emperor, supported the loyalists. Despite the coup's failure, it succeeded in stripping the monarchy of its claim to universal acceptance and led to a polarization of traditional and modern forces. *

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HIM,
from Chapter Ten. 1960: Lost Sons

And the LORD said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do... [ Genesis 18 ]

That was the year when the star was born. "Aster" in Amharic, biblical Esther. But Ethiopian history remembers it for a different reason. It was the year when the future showed its face. No, we don't know how to read the messages on the night skies....

New Generation

One of his favorite books was written long ago -- in 1515 by an Italian, Nicolo Macchiavelli. "And it ought to be remembered," wrote he, "that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things."[1] A new order of things H.I.M. tried to introduce using the old methods. He was born in another century; they, the children of his modernized Ethiopia, were born after the War. "Work and service to for the nation" -- he was preaching. Now they were ready to give their best to the country. "Progress and national unity" -- wasn't it his life long dedication? Didn't he asked them to be citizens?
How could he lose his best friends? He did. After the new Constitution of 1955 they didn't see emperor as a leader of reforms but an obstacle for the progress. They wanted him out of the way. They wanted to stand for themselves and for what was right...

With students Yes, the emperor continued to strengthen the central (national) government and a new generation of educated Ethiopians was introduced to new enlarged ministries with the bigger powers. One of them was Germame Neway with a master degree in political science from Columbia University. When Haile Sellassie established a national judiciary, he appointed its judges. In 1960 Zewde Gabre-Sellassie, a young doctor of philosophy from Oxford, will be a Justice minister. He never talks about this time...

When in 1955 he proclaimed a revised constitution; one third of the articles were about the laws of royal house. He wanted to spare the country from the painful transitions of past, when each new monarch has to force his way to the throne. No, Ethiopia didn't become a constitutional monarchy. The Emperor had absolute powers, he was Ethiopia. It was too late, too little. By December of 1960 there were no interest in this constitution which had even less impact on Ethiopia than the constitution of 1930. Of course, this constitution largly was prompted, like its predecessor, by a concern with international opinion. [Such opinion was particularly important at a time when the African states were rapidly advancing and Ethiopia was pressing its claims for the incorporation of Eritrea, where an elected parliament and more modern administration had existed since 1952].

The critics say that the bicameral Ethiopian parliament played no part in drawing up the constitution, a novelty by itself for the country without a tradition of elections. The second constitution, far from limiting the emperor's control, emphasized the religious origins of imperial power. The Senate remained appointive, but the Chamber of Deputies was, at least nominally, "elected." The absence of a census, the near total illiteracy of the population, and the domination of the countryside by the nobility meant that the majority of candidates were in effect chosen by the elite. The Chamber of Deputies was not altogether a rubber stamp, at times discussing bills and questioning state ministers. However, provisions in the constitution that guaranteed personal freedoms and liberties, including freedom of assembly, movement, and speech, and the due process of law, were so far removed from the realities of life that no group sought to act upon them.

HIM and Family -- The imperial family in the palace. [ go to the Family Tree page ]

The young were frustrated over the "slow" pace and they saw the only reason for that -- the emperor; so, they became his adversaries. Of course, they, the younger leaders, were the sons of the traditional elite. Having been educated abroad, they were favorably disposed toward reform and at the same time alienated by the government's inability to initiate and implement it. The remnants of the small number of educated Ethiopians of an earlier generation had been appointed to high government positions, but whatever their previous concern with reform, they had little impact on traditional methods, and by the mid-1950s even this earlier reformist elite was considered conservative by the succeeding generation.

Ethiopia's history has been renowned for 3.000 years but during that long period the implements of the farmer, the businesses of the small trader and all other spheres of life have seen no changes. There have been continued ignorance and low standards of living. There has been no progress whatsoever.[2]

The text of the proclamation was written by Germame. It was read on radio by the Crown Prince on the morning of Wednesday, December 14. Only the young hand could write this -- "There has been no progress whatsoever." Only the young think that three thousand years of history, which Ethiopians are so proud of, are their liability, the great inertia of culture, which can't be moved in thirty or even fifty years. Not by one, not by one thousand men.

The few selfish persons who fight entirely for their own interests and for personal power, who are obstacles to progress and who, like a cancer, impede the nation's development are now replaced. And I have, as of today, agreed to serve you and Ethiopia as a salaried official under the Constitution.
The son didn't mentioned his father by name. He didn't write the text. Germame did, he wasn't a son of H.I.M. -- in fact, at their last meeting he walked out on Emperor. He had nothing to talk about with the old man. No more words, it was time for action.

Asfa Wossen's proclamation of "People's Government" was recorded and printed. He was a good son, he followed his father intents in developing a constitutional monarchy. They had a plan. The old emperor will be sent away, they did it in Egypt to their king, just a few years ago. The revolution must be bloodless. That's what they thought.

Know that all decisions and appointments declared by the new Ethiopian government formed by me, and supported by the armed forces, the police, the younger educated Ethiopians and by the whole Ethiopian People, are effective from this moment on!
Not so. The army didn't follow the Imperial Guards with their commander Mengistu Neway. The youngest son of Emperor, Sahle-Sellassie, although sympathetic to the ideas of revolution, yelled to his mother request to use his hamm radio to inform the world, and his father about what takes place in Addis Ababa. The hero, Prince Sahle-Sellassie unfortunately had a short life, he died a few years later.
People of Ethiopia! Let your unity be stronger than iron bonds! Today is the beginning of a new era for Ethiopia in the eyes of the whole world....
Some amateur radio operator in Great Britain received the news. The Ethiopian Embassy in London contacted the Emperor in Brazil and on the same day his plane was on the way back to the rebel capital of his suddenly awakened capital. The momentum was lost. Not days, but hours and minutes count the history. The brothers had no control over it. The army knew that the emperor is coming back and they pulled together the troops, tanks and jets to attack the traitors. It was a preview of the future civil war which would bleed the country for years.
"And the men turned their faces from thence, and went toward Sodom: but Abraham stood yet before the LORD. And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?"

III. A GOOD SON

Oh, the burden of proof! Next to a great man -- never wish to be in this position, especially, if you are his son. What your success could be? To get to his level where a very few could ever get? You never win, boy, will ever win. At the best you can be worth of the name. What's so good about being a prince? It's a promise -- to you? No, yours. To be chosen is to be tested, to be punished, to be crashed... Asfa tried to be a good son.
If you think that a son's position is bad, think of the father. What can he do, the old man? He knows his son's drama, has was a son before he became a father. He tried to be a good son, too...

They both are entrapped. Why father and son have to be enemies, Lord? Because they love each other. Perhaps, that's why there are no fathers and sons in heaven, only brothers, and all -- in totalitarian brotherhood. I have sons and I am a son, I know...

Oh, they should see what HIM saw in 1960. Then they would understand HIM and their future in the year of 1974....

Asfa tried too hard. But not after the days of 1960.

Crown Prince Asfa Wossen looked like his mother; he was big, mellow -- nothing close to the intensity of the father. He was born a prince and died without ever ruling the country. In 1960 he had his chance....

filmplus.org/images/family2.jpg [photo]
Names of the people in the photograph above (1964), and their relationship to the Emperor. Front row (left to right): HRH Crown Prince Asfa-Wossen Haile-Sellassie (eldest son), Emperor Haile-Sellassie, Prince Beide Mekonnen & Prince Ermias Sahle-Sellassie (grandsons), Hannah Dereje & Sebestie Samson (great-grand children). Second row: HIH Princess Tenagne Worrk (daughter), HRH Princess Sara-Gezaw (daughter-in-law), Seum Mengesha (great-grand son). Back row: Istefanos Mengesha (great-grand son), Prince Zere-Yakob Asfa-Wossen (grand son), HRH Princess Mahezente Hapte-Mariam (daughter-in-law). (Other figures are not in full view).


"And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together."

1. ON THE FIRST WEEK OF CHRISTMAS

The first time His Highness lost Ethiopia was in December of 1960. The coup in Addis Ababa began as a plot hatched between the Commander of the Imperial Guard and the head of the Secret Service. The Crown Prince knew nothing about the coup; his father, Emperor Haile Sellassie I, was visiting Brazil just before Christmas. Asfa loved Christmas.

In one day they imprisoned several ministers, seized strategic points in the capital, and announced the removal of the Emperor, replacing him with Crown Prince Asfa Wossen as a constitutional monarch. Asfa knew nothing about their plans; though, indeed, he would have made a good constitutional monarch. Asfa had no say in all of this; he was arrested. Under gun-point, the Crown Prince spoke to the nation on radio, under the threat of death, as they were to say later.
Asfa had no will to follow this fortune. Would he be active in the coup, his future and the future of the country could be different. Including his father's future. But Asfa had no strength of his father. Not physically nor in spirit he resembles the emperor. There were rumors that he wasn't even his son, but Yasu's, who raped his mother while he was in power. His father's efforts to achieve a measure of change without jeopardizing his own power stimulated rising expectations of all, including the Crown Prince. The expectations which the emperor was unwilling or unable to satisfy. Asfa's heart was with them, the traitors. The situation was heartbreaking. But he was too young for a heart attack. The broken heart and mind will play its role later, in the seventies.

They, impatient with the rate or form of social and political change, came from three groups: the commander of the Imperial Bodyguard Mengistu Neway, and his followers; a few security officials, including the police chief; and a handful of radical intellectuals related to the officials, including Girmame Neway, Mengistu's brother. The mind and the spirit of the revolt.

At first, the coup was successful in the capital, as the rebels seized the crown prince, ministers and other government officials. The support of the Imperial Bodyguards, the backbone of the revolt, was obtained even without informing the majority of the officers. The intent of the coup was the establishment of a government that "would improve the economic, social, and political position of the general population," but they also appealed to traditional authority in the person of the crown prince. No mention was made of the emperor. And then things went wrong...

To my children the Christians of Ethiopia and to the entire Ethiopian people! Yesterday, December 13, at about 10 in the evening the Imperial Guard soldiers who were entrusted with the safety and welfare of the Royal Family committed crimes of treachery against their country. They were led by a handful of officers who undermined their faithfulness and violated their oaths of loyalty... The army, the air force and the police force have not participated in this conspiracy. Therefore I admonish you not to waver in your loyalty! To keep your words of promise and to serve only the Emperor! Do not listen to the traitors! I adjure you not to Follow them in accordance with the authority given to me. Abune Basilios, Patriarch.[3]
They thought nothing of the church. They were wrong. They knew it in the morning of the second day of their short lived new ear. The brothers failed to achieve popular support. Mengistu went to the university seeking the support of students who went on the streets to demonstrate their enthusiasm but later returned back to campus. The city was waiting. Army remained loyal and the air force sent the F-86-F Sabre jet fighter bombers to crack the sound barrier over the capital as a demonstration of force. Addis Ababa was impressed with the supersonic explosions. The momentum was lost. Even the U.S. Embassy after an attempt to negotiate between the army and the rebels, decided to throw American support to their friend-autocrat. They produced the intelligence data to the army which was ready to attack the headquarters of the new stillborn government. Were the rebels indecisive or they wanted to avoid bloodshed?

On Thursday evening a strange incident occurred. One of the imperial cars toured the streets to the north of the city, carrying a small figure in the Emperor's uniform. Several Ethiopians who saw it flung themselves flat on the road and cried out....[4]

Yes, the day after the coup began they knew that they lost. They weren't ready, the country wasn't ready. While the American embassador tried to negotiate an end of the fighting and release of the hostages, the army began a direct assault on the rebels headquarters.... By the night of December 16 the army took over the capital...
They, the best and the brightest of Ethiopia, were doomed. They, the hope of the emperor, wrote their own verdict. The blood betrayed HIM's plans. The blue blood was spoiled...

Before the coup-makers were taken, they had massacred their hostages. They had nothing to lose; they were as good as dead. It took thirty seconds to kill over a dozen men of the nobility. They executed the cabinet and fled the city. Was an act of desperation or they wanted to take out the old guards before they die? It was the time when the division of "we" and "they" was born. They, the old, were shot. The Ethiopian Decembrists spelt the Ethiopian blood...

The weekend came with peace. The emperor returned to the capital on December 17. The patriarch of the church, who condemned the rebels as antireligious traitors and called for fealty to the emperor, supported the loyalists. This afternoon as the airport among generals and officials was Asfa Wossen with a stone on his shoulder. It was a traditional silent ritual to ask for forgiveness. Forgiven but nothing was forgotten. Why? "Doesn't he know how to die?" They say it was the emperor's answer about his son.

Asfa was an emperor less than a week. There was no time even for a coronation. His father, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, landed at Asmara and placed the army under the command of his son-in-law, general Abiye, who put the rest of the rebellion down in a matter of hours.

The Crown Prince, the Hour-Emperor, survived this time again. Asfa was a lucky man, because he was weak. He was forced by fate to be the Crown Prince, and he was forced by the rebels to be an emperor, as he claimed. Haile Sellassie didn't believe him, one way or another. Asfa spoke on the radio about constitutional monarchy, and the Emperor never forgot that his son wasn't among the massacred. His son died in December of 1960.

Father publicly hanged the rebels. Their bodies were left on the central square for the street dogs. But Haile Selassie broke the imperial code of behavior by sparing Prince Wossen's life. After all, he was his father. Asfa Wossen left the country for England for a medical treatment, as the newspapers claimed. He never saw his father again, and the royal line was broken one more time. There were others -- the family was huge -- but only rituals of the imperial court were left. The blood worked no longer, it was corrupted and poisoned. Asfa was sick.
He became a sick, old prince. He learnt his final lesson. He never challenged his fate. Ever...


"And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.
And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.
And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I."
...

2. PRISONER OF A FATHER

Oh, there was a logic in a centuries old tradition of prince-prisoners. Menelik was the most recent one.
Alvarez[5] described one of the most peculiar practices of the Ethiopian monarchy, the imprisonment of all the males in the royal family, apart from the king and his direct male descendants.[6] (ER 53)
A generational conflict is always a drama, in the Imperial palace -- it's a tragedy. Mandela and other African revolutionary were lucky, they struggled with the whites. They didn't know that the next victims will be their own brothers. Who could image it? We don't dream of horrors. We wish to be awaken from it!


	My country awake! You history calls to you.
	Let slavery depart. Let freedom reign anew.
	Awake! Awake! For dignity -- her sake.
	My countrymen recall -- your value and your due,
	Take courage and stout heart -- Great joy shall be with you.
	Awake! Awake! For dignity -- her sake.

Sang the student of the Haile Sellassie University on the streets. They sang to the freedom from the slavery to the past. They supported the revolution. "Ethiopia is peacefully changed for us all!" "For everyone -- a bloodless revolution!" "Our Goal is Equality, Brotherhood and Freedom!" We know how much blood those slogans spelt. "Awake, awake"!
All revolutionary began their road to hell with the best intentions. In order to destroy the evil they have to shoot people. How do you draw the line after you crossed the line. The second day of any revolution is awakening from dreams.


3. "ETHIOPIA SHOULD NEVER BE THE SAME AGAIN!"

The Green Salon was Empress's waiting room in the palace, and was flooded with blood. All the hostages, the cabinet members, were there till the last hour of the revolt. The army was storming the palace. They say that it was Germame who first fired his machine-gun into the Green Room. It was around five in afternoon...

The revolt was over, but it was the beginning of the revolution. Despite the coup's failure, it succeeded in stripping the monarchy of its claim to universal acceptance and led to a polarization of traditional and modern forces. Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao came into minds of the young. Both Ras Tafari and Haile Sellassie, the prince and the king didn't know the new language. H.I.M. wasn't with the future of Ethiopia. Not anymore.

On the Saturday evening, December 17, when the Crown Prince and others were kissing the emperor's feet at the airport, nobody knew the future. Who could predict that there will be another Mengistu who is destined to kill the Lion of Judah? The year of 1974 was faraway. But the trust and the bond with the new and the young were broken.

You all know how much We trusted and how much authority We reposed in those few who have risen against Us. We educated them. We gave them authority. We did this in order that they might improve the education, the health and the standard of living of Our people. We confided to them the implementation of some of the many plans We have formulated for the advancement of Our nation. And now Our trust has been betrayed...[7]
The emperor should know that they asked for the real power. Power to run the country, to change, to plan -- something he couldn't give to them. They have to take it. They tried. They lost. They ran. They had no chance.

On Friday, they journeyed towards the volcano, Mount Ziqwala. They travelled all night and on into Saturday. At about four in the afternoon, the peasants began to call out the traditional yodelling call of warning, and soon afterwards the weary group found itself surrounded by police. A skirmish ensued... Mengistu disarmed a wounded policeman and made his way to another, at the same time calling to Girmame. But he did not reach him for at that moment Girmame shot his brother and then killed himself. The infuriated police fired into Germame's body smashing a leg, but they found that Mengistu still lived. The Brigadier-general had suffered a severe bullet wound on the low part of his cheek, his right eyeball was exposed and blind, his left eye was also damaged but the bullet which had ploughed across his face had not entered the skull. He was taken unconscious to the hospital of the 1st Division of the army.[8]

The emperor asked to see Girmame's body and it was thrown on the steps of the Jubilee Palace. On the next day it was hanged outside of St. George's Cathedral.


IV. LOST GENERATIONS

He lost it all. Children and grand children. His own constitutional principle was broken. From father to son... Where was his son? "The youth is a revange," said a poet. God was silent about his sins. He was alone; this and the next generation turned away from him. Who knows when the minds of Ethiopia will remember H.I.M. again?
There were renewed whispers of an old tale concerning the sacrificing of children at Bishaftu crater-lakes, at Debra Zeyt, etc., and one macabre coincidence made a great impression. The car carrying the body of one the machine-gunned dignitaries to be buried, overturned on the road from the capital. The driver was killed and the grisly contents of the coffin were thrown upon the road. Some superstitious folk asked whether this were not a sign that Heaven rejected those who had been slain by the revolutionary. Concern over the trail of Brigadier-general Mengistu and the spate of anti-government pamphlets which, despite arrests, found their way even into the court room, further increased disquiet; and in February the anonymous writers of these tracts turned their attention to the army.[9]
No, this Christmas week was over and they have to wait for a revolution another fourteen years. H.I.M. was sixty eight and he was in charge.

1. THE TWO BROTHERS

Meantime, one underground group managed to arranged that Brigadier-general Mengistu be abducted from his place of detention but he refused to be freed. There is no doubt that he still believed his dead brother's oft repeated remarks that, successful or not, their *coup* represented the vanguard of inevitable change. This sense of history cause the general to remark that he preferred to die.[10]
The verdict was given on Megabit 19, three months after the coup. The trail was short. There was little to say. Mengistu Neway knew that he was dead.

I shall not appeal, and am quite satisfied... Truly, because some people have died on my account, I feel a certain sorrow, but had God been willing a *coup* would have come about sooner or later... I did all this for the sake of the Ethiopian people and I pray that God [will hold the judgement in His hand]... As to my death, I have been prepared to die since the 4th Tahsas, 1953 [December 13, 1960], and I am quite unmoved that this Court has sentenced me to death.[11]
History loves irony -- the headquarters of the rebels, the Prince's Paradise palace was given to the university. And it was another mistake. There will be more hot heads on those peaceful grounds. You can walk to the second floor of the old building and see the room where "The Sixty" were shot. It's the administration site and there is no name of Haile Sellassie of the brothers Neway are there. History is not just ironic but also brutal.

Mengistu's face at the execution was so calm that later they rumored that he died in prison...

the troubles weren't over, it was only the beginning...

2. THE HEAT OF THE NORTH

They were right. "Our cause is hopeless," said the Russian Decembrists of 1825, "Nonetheless we ought to make a begining." The heros are hard to forget. After 1960 the country moved from revolts to revolution. The changes come not from the court conspirators but the movement. The people, not a few.
Germame wasn't a communist, not even a marxist. The ones who came after him study Lenin's "State and Revolution" and they knew that the Decembrists are wrong. Revolution must be a war. The class struggle knows no compromises.... I wish I could have a room to talk about another revolution, the American Revolution, but this is a story about another continent, another time and another history...

There was a new player in the North -- Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF), which already began its thirty-year war against Addis Ababa, Emperor and Amhara. Initially a Muslim movement, the ELF was nationalist rather than Marxist and received Iraqi and Syrian support. As urban Christians joined, the ELF became more radical and anticapitalist. Beginning in 1961, the ELF turned to armed struggle and by 1966 challenged imperial forces throughout Eritrea. It was another consequence of the Christmas of 1960.

Again, HIM found himself in position of oppressor of African nationalities. It was a wrong role to play for a progressive monarch. More and more he was becoming a performer on political stage. When in 1974 his government went down and he was arrested, Africa didn't protect its Emperor-Leader. He wasn't one of them, the "elected" by the armies new African kings.


V. AFRICAN LIBERATION KING-LEADER

HIM believed that the international (super-national) approach could help him to solve his domestic problems. He tried to compensate for centuries of Ethiopian isolation. Oh, yes, he was a politician, diplomat and businessman. He was a working king. By the end of the fifties he found himself in Africa. The continent which was getting its own voice. We know this time as the de-colonization.

He took this new mission as his new call. He was the first head of the Organization of African Unity. The Hall of Africa still is in Addis Ababa.

Mandela had mix feelings about Haile Sellassie. As many in Africa and outside. It was the sixties era, liberation and revolution -- and the emperor? An oppressor? Dictator? How else do you understand absolute (!) monarchy? And yet H.I.M. was the only black head of the state, and for so long.

Ethiopia has always held a special place in my own imagination and the prospect of visiting Ethiopia attracted me more strongly than a trip to France, England, and America combined. I felt I would be visiting my own genesis, unearthing the roots of what made me an African. Meeting the emperor himself would be like shaking hands with history. Our first stop was, Addis Ababa, the Imperial City, which did not live up to its title, for it was the opposite of grand, with only a few tarred streets, and more goats and sheep than cars. Apart from the Imperial Palace, the university, and the Ras Hotel, where we stayed, there were few structures that could compare with even the least impressive buildings of Johannesburg.[12]

Mandela knew his South Africa, the industrial gaint of the continent. White ruled South Africa only were in Africa but not an African country. Often, you can hear from an Ethiopian a joking comment, that if the Italians would stay for a decade or two, Ethiopia would have good roads. Who build (to this day) the only rail road in the country? Why does the Swedish assembled phone system still works and works well, because not Africans, but the westerners did it, the whites, the foreigners.

The country was extremely backward: people used wooden plows and lived on a very simple diet supplemented by home-brewed beer. Their existence was similar to the life in rural South Africa; poor people everywhere are more alike than they are different. (Mandela)

Thirty years later the poverty is still there: Ethiopia today competes with Mozambique for an honor to be the poorest country in the world ($140 a year). When you look down from the same Ras hotel, there is a sea of slams from here to the magnificent mountains. Rural South Africa was the Africa. The place where people live in shacks build out of industrial leftovers, where houses are build, unless it's a villa, but put together, just to have something around and above.

The conference was officially opened by our host, His Imperial Majesty, who was dressed in an elaborate brocaded army uniform. I was surprised by how small the emperor appeared, but his dignity and confidence made him seem like the African giant that he was. It was the first time I had witnessed a head of state go through the formalities of his office, and I was fascinated. He stood perfectly straight, and inclined his head only slightly to indicate that he was listening. Dignity was the hallmark of all his actions. (Mandela)

Haile Sellassie was the king. King of kings. Not just of a royal blood like Mandela, but the ruler of an independent African country, which named itself an empire. Mandela was from a different century, the modern age, which H.I.M. desired for his kingdom.

There were more years left for the Empire to live through. To struggle...

Did he know that this week was the moment of his biggest defeat? Did he understand that his goals and the aims of the conspirators weren't the same?

Did they talk to HIM? Did he listen? He made Germame a governor. He promoted Mengistu Neway and made him a commander of his Imperial guards. Ungrateful and non-loyal! The coup's historical indications were dismissed as another struggle for power and familiar to Africa move by the military to get the power. In a few days he Tafari lost everything he worked for his whole life. He wasn't betrayed by the generation he gave birth to, no, he didn't recognize the fact that the new elite would act differently. He wanted the new and they came. They were the generation he asked for. Yes, they ask for it -- the power, responsibility, for place in history -- everything what he had. They were his true sons. His child, the capital, was against him. Oh, the province supported the emperor -- what an irony! The backward Ethiopia saved his throne. He got it wrong. The failure of the coup was his failure; the country was not about to support the new.

It was on the Christmas near Nazret where Germame was shot dead and Mengistu Neway was wounded to face, then court-martialed and executed.... HIM lost the generation -- intelligencia, students, the ones he wanted to rely on in building New Ethiopia. He became a reactionary.

It was a mortal blow. It came from the inside. Straight to the heart. his enemies came to his rescue and his hope, the youth, attacked him. After the Christmas of 1960 everything was too late. Don't ask why king Solomon lost his wisdom. Do you know what takes place in father's heart? Don't you know that father is always a man. And above all -- the king. You have to live it to understand why Solomon destroyed the house he built.

He was asked by history to do the impossible -- to be a revolutionary. Not once or twice. He was the one to crash the aristocracy completely. He did it evolutionary. Year after year. And there none was left by 1974 to resist the soldiers. No, it wasn't enough. Gods demanded that he should be a member of the coup. That he should lead the conspirators.... He couldn't.

No, I am wrong, not he, but the youth lost. By 1968 it will be over everywhere. In Chicago, Prague, Peking. The postwar generation will be broken in spirit, tamed, they would accept this humiliating title -- "the baby boomers." They thought that they're sons, not babies. The fathers who knew best, who were responsible for the horror of WW II, they had no need for sons. That's how they opened the doors for bastards. They rejected their heir, the best, the brightest and the worse rejected them. In 1960 Mengistu Haile Mariam was old enough to understand what poor judgement is -- in his simple way he learn one big lesson -- idealism kills. You kill. "Always shoot first" is a street-wisdom. Long ago Leo Tostoy gave an advise to the Russian young minds: Do you want to change the world? Change yourself. And see how difficult it would be to do. No, the yougn keep changing the world by using their own imperfection....

The final irony. The brothers and Tafari both have no monuments in their honor. They all are forgotten. And that is the country's real curse....

I wish I could choose different dates to write about the great changes in Ethiopian history. The days when Tafari had his thoughts and decisions which later changed the history. But this would be too much of a fiction work I can allow myself in this book. Too bad HIM left no diaries....

Wait! The main event of the 1960 passed unnoticed to Ethiopia and the world -- on April 29 a girl was born. They gave her a name which nobody ever used -- Elizabeth. She was the forth child of Fikre Sellassie. Her baptizing name, of course, was biblical -- Esther. If the events of the 1960 would take a different course, her and my future could be different. There was a chance that we, I and Esther, would not have our children. Since this is impossible, the history took a different turn to make sure that nothing is in the way of the Providence.
In December she was almost eight months old. She was pretty and that's how Esther got herself a family nick-name "Puppi" -- "a pretty one" in Italian. Haile Sellassie was 68 years old and in charge. He missed his chance to retire...
That was the year when I discovered myself. I noticed my own presence in this world. It was shocking and painful. I understood that there are men and women and many years were to follow in clashes, many women instead of a woman. I was in fifth grade. New year of 1961. We moved into a new apartment. Snow. Christmas tree. I learnt about Christmas later, in my American life. What did I know about my future? Squeezed between the future and the past, I told that I'm nothing. But, listen, how ignorant of the past to claim its rights to the future and how arrogant of the future to look down on the past. I'm the only their hope to be together. Without me time falls apart. I'm the time! I am the place for history to exist. My little stories and memories in the blood of this universe which disregards my presence.


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TIME EUROPE December 26, 1960

Ambitious Heir

Dispensing gold coins and handing out $200 tips, Emperor Haile Selassie was enjoying himself in imperial fashion on a state visit to Brazil when a ham radio operator in Addis Ahaba flashed the bad news. "Calling everybody, calling everybody! Ethiopia is in a critical state following a coup d'etat." Glumly, the Emperor lunched in his So Paulo hotel room on lobster thermidor, stared out the window and pondered the unkindest cut of all. The revolt had apparently been led by his own son and heir, Crown Prince Asfa Wassan. 44. By that night the Lion of Judah was back on his private DC-6B and bound for home.

The Discontents. The plot had been brewing for a year or more, and the plotters cut across Ethiopia's educated elite. In on the game, tacitly or actively, were Cabinet ministers, top bureaucrats, army colonels, students returning from studies abroad. They came from the class that Haile Selassie must count on to help bring Ethiopia into the modern world-but it is just this group that is most repelled by the trappings of a feudal monarchy. The plotters had no clear political coloration, though one of the ringleaders. former Ambassador to Washington Ras Imru, returned from the U.S. in 1953 bitter over what he considered to be racial snubs.

The plotters had a problem: in Coptic Christian Ethiopia, only an acknowledged descendant of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba would be accepted as a proper ruler by the 90% illiterate populace. After nervous speculation, the plotters approached Crown Prince Asfa Wassan himself, knowing that father and son have disliked each other for years. The Emperor had always favored a younger son Prince Makonnen(who was killed in an automobile accident three years ago), made it obvious that he considered Asfa Wassan none too bright, often subjected him to public humiliation. When Asfa Wassan wishes to speak to his father, he must first grovel with his face in the dirt like any other lowly subject. In August 1959 the Crown Prince agreed to join the conspiracy.

The plotters bided their time (and even put down one subplot to assassinate the Emperor last year). But Haile Selassie's trip to remote Brazil seemed ideal. One morning before dawn the Imperial Guard, led by rebel officers, seized strong points in Addis Ababa, including all communication centers. Asfa Wassan named Imru as Premier and went on the radio to explain that the purpose of the coup was to end "3,000 years of injustice ... The Ethiopian people have waited patiently to be freed of oppression, poverty and ignorance." The Crown Prince promised to set up a true constitutional monarchy, and to allow the creation of political parties-for which his father has no taste. In the Congo, Ethiopian Charg d'Affaires Sabour Ahadou gleefully got out a statement hailing the coup as "the long-awaited revolution that marks the end of centuries of feudal oppression, injustice, arbitrary personal rule, corruption, suppression of fundamental human rights and the imprisonment of thousands of people."

In the Dirt. But they bad all reckoned without the tough streak in the little Lion of Judab-and without his still widespread popularity. Hafle Selassie flew straight for the airstrip in Asmara in Ethiopia's Red Sea state of Eritrea, which was still under command of a loyal general. As his plane grew nearer, the plotters fortunes began to wane. They could not even secure control of all Addis Ababa and shells whistled into the center of town from loyalist army posts. In frustration, the rebels shot a few government officials they had captured and then fled into the mountains. Haile Selassie landed at Asmara to wild cheers and the usual earth-scraping bows.

Crown Prince Asfa Wassan would doubtless dip his nose an inch or two lower in the dirt on his next meeting with father. Haile Selassie made it scorniully clear that he considered Asfa Wassan only a dupe of others, "acting under coercion." The seeds of unrest among the educated minority of Ethiopians were still there and would grow. But it would take a stronger man than Asfa Wassan to snatch power from the little Lion of Judah.

THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING

Like all Ethiopian royalty, curly-bearded Emperor Haile Selassie traces his ancestry back to the match between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. His Semite-Hamite blood lines show in his stern law and aquiline nose. But in practical fact, his hold on the Ethiopian throne has been due less to ancestry than to his ability to outplot Ethiopia's best plotters.

He plotted his own way to the throne. Back in 1916, be was only an ambitious young ras (marshal) named Tafari in the eastern province of Harar when he teamed up with a female cousin in a plot that toppled the playboy Emperor Lij Yasu. Ras Tafari pursued the fugitive Lij Vasu for five years, caught him, threw him in prison and kept him bound in golden chains for 14 years until he died in 1935. Though his cousin became the Empress Zauditu, Ras Tafari gradually emerged as the country's strongman. Upon the Empress' death in 1930 he mounted the throne (with typical flamboyance, he had five pet lions chained to the coronation dais). He took unto himself the name of Haile Selassie ("Power of the Trinity") and the titles Elect of God, King of Kings and Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah.

In Exile. Benito Mussolini made Haile Selassie a world figure, known from the League of Nations to Tin Pan Alley. As his barefoot troops fell back before the 1935-36 Italian invasion, the Emperor trekked to Geneva to ask help from the League of Nations. A tiny (he is only 5 ft. 4 in. tall) but imperious figure, Haile Selassie seemed gallant and curiously impressive even in defeat. When the League declined to save his country for him, he settled down in Britain, where he checked his crown in a bank vault. Four years later, as the British army mounted an offensive against the Italians, Haile Selassie flew to Alexandria, changed to his commander in chief's uniform in the men's room at the airport, and soon Went on to Addis Abaha with the conquering army.

The Emperor has found the postwar world more baffling. At first he sided with the West, sent crack troops to Korea. Then he caught the neutralist bug, and last year set off on a flurry of state visits to "our great friend" Tito, to Nasser, to Russia and Czechoslovakia. He brought back a $100 million Soviet loan.

Presenting Face. Though Haile Selassie describes his government as "state socialism," it is in fact still absolute monarchy. To secure even the smallest government post, the applicant must go through the ritual of 'feet mahswagaht' which means "making one's face apparent." Each morning, the applicant lines up in front of the palace and waits for the Emperor to walk past, in hope of catching the royal eye. Eventually, if lucky, he gets an audience where, with his face pressed to the floor, he blurts out his qualifications and accepts whatever favor the Emperor is in the mood to dispense. The Emperor's powerful ally is the hierarchy of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which owns 40% of Ethiopia's land and resists any effort to alter this profitable situation.

Educated Ethiopians, including 400 who have studied abroad, are naturally resentful of 'feet mahswagaht' and other trappings of the past. But the Emperor, still spry at 68, has no intention of rushing into democracy too fast. His apologists point out that already under Haile Selassie's rule, such venerable Ethiopian customs as slavery, the cutting off of a thief's right hand and the Festival of Raw Meat (where dinner is carved from just-slaughtered cattle while the diners wait) have virtually disappeared.
 


  


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