Thursday, September 12, 2013
The Ethiopian Mistake
Moving on, traditionally, in most countries, the twin pillars of support for monarchy have been the aristocracy and religious institutions. Haile Selassie had long had a contentious relationship with the Ethiopian aristocracy over his efforts, throughout his reign, to centralize power. There were, of course, reasons for this. Battles between feuding nobles had long troubled Ethiopia. This was partly how Haile Selassie himself had come to power, leading a rebellion of nobles in deposing the emperor in 1916, after which he was able to consolidate power further and ultimately the empress handed power over to him. Haile Selassie wanted to end all of that and was likely concerned that internal strife could be taken advantage of by foreign powers with designs on the country. As far as the Ethiopian Church was concerned, although they always remained largely supportive of the monarchy, tensions were certainly raised when the emperor made Church lands subject to taxation and claimed the right of the government to judge clerics whereas previously a cleric could only be judged by a church court. They, however, could be dealt with, but the nobles remained problematic, especially when they offered staunch opposition to his effort to enact progressive taxation in Ethiopia.
It did not take long for the poison of communism to begin to take root in Ethiopia and when natural disasters, the oil crisis or famines caused immense suffering in Ethiopia the communists were quick to seize on each crisis as an excuse for turning people against the emperor even though, obviously, all of these things were quite beyond his control. The Soviet Union made Ethiopia something of a priority and turned out massive amounts of propaganda in an effort to turn the Ethiopian people against their monarch. This was the same country that had, in World War II, been allied with Haile Selassie and which had awarded him the military Order of Suvarov in 1959 (just as they gave King Michael I of Romania the Order of Victory shortly before deposing him). Realizing too late the danger of communist infiltration and communist subversion, the emperor tried to move against them but this, as usual, was seized upon by the communists and their fellow travelers as “proof” of what a harsh, reactionary autocrat the emperor was. Mutiny broke out in the army, led by leftist officers of course, and the emperor tried to placate them with land grants and higher salaries but, as usual, this did not work. Any effort to negotiate with communists goes the same way; you give them what they demand and they promptly demand more. In 1974 a small clique of army officers seized power and arrested the emperor, deposing him and, the following year, announced his death.
The man in charge of all of this, the man who had taken the place of Emperor Haile Selassie, was Mengistu Haile Mariam. Remember that name. What Stalin was to Russia, what Choibalsan was to Mongolia, what Mao was to China, Mengistu was to Ethiopia. He instituted a reign of terror in Ethiopia on a scale that made even the French revolutionaries look like slackers. Hundreds of thousands of people were massacred, hundreds of thousands were arrested and tortured and hundreds of thousands more were starved to death. All told, even by conservative estimates, Mengistu caused the deaths of more than two million of his fellow Ethiopians. Some believe he may have killed his former emperor personally and given what a vicious, hateful man he is, it is not beyond the realm of possibility. The Ethiopian people experienced a level of suffering under his rule that none of them had ever known before. No emperor, nor even any foreign conqueror, was so brutal and barbaric toward the Ethiopian people as Mengistu was. He intentionally murdered people by slow starvation and if there was one constant throughout his decades in power it was probably widespread starvation, some of it purposely inflicted and much of it the result of his idiotic, Marxist policies. He remains one of the most despicable villains in African history.
None of these facts are in dispute. The important thing to remember is this; Emperor Haile Selassie may have made some mistakes that hurt his own cause. His overthrow (and probable murder) was a mistake that hurt every last Ethiopian man, woman and child in the entire country, and many in surrounding countries for that matter. The loss of the monarchy brought about a nightmarish era of murder, starvation and misery. Since 1991 things have improved somewhat but actually quite little. There is still no real freedom, no prosperity and no true connection with the ancient history of Ethiopia which can only happen when the monarchy is restored and sacred, traditional authority resumes its rightful place.