July 23, 1892 to August 27, 1975
Emperor of Ethiopiaby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
Haile Selassie, Emperor and cultural leader, greatly influenced Ethiopia by promoting education, modernization, and international awareness. As emperor, Haile Selassie faced many challenges to his vision of a better future for Ethiopia, such as the Second Italo-Ethiopian War where Mussolini invaded Ethiopia. In many ways, Haile Selassie worked faithfully for the betterment of his people, especially with the reforms he implemented.
Born on July 23, 1892 in the Ethiopian village of Ejersa Goro, Haile Selassie grew up as a professing Christian with a mind that demonstrated political acuteness, which would help him rise from a small governor to the Emperor and reformer of Ethiopia. Initially, his name was Tafari Makonnen. Since the beginning of Tafari Makonnen’s involvement with politics, he showed unique qualities that changed his career. Tafari developed prowess, aptitude, persuasion, and leadership skills as he governed the smaller provinces of Selale (1906), Sidamo (1907), and afterwards became governor of Harar in southeast Ethiopia in 1910. Understanding the world of politics and connections, he married Menen Asfaw of Ambassel on August 3 who was the niece of Lij Iyasu, heir to the throne. On December 12, 1992, Menelek II, the emperor of Ethiopia, took ill and died, whereupon his son Iyasu V succeeded him. Shortly afterwards, Iyasu V, not yet crowned Emperor, was punished for the apostasy of sympathzing with and embracing the religion of Islam. He died at the hands of the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Church in September, 1916.
With the backing of those who deposed Iyasu V and unopposed by the daughter of Menelek II, the new Empress Zewditu Tafari rose in power and took the title of regent of the Ethiopian Empire. Empress Zewditu died on March 2, 1930, where Tafari became crowned Emperor of Ethiopia on November 2, 1930 in Addis Ababa within the Cathedral of St. George. On July 16th, 1931, Tafari gave Ethiopia its first written constitution. Tafari took the name of Haile Selassie I, meaning “The Power of the Trinity”, which also reflected the name bestowed upon him by the Ethiopian people: Neguse Negest ze-'Ityopp'ya, "King of Kings of Ethiopia".
Prior to Haile Selassie’s reign, the educational system was limited and biased. It consisted of education through religions, primarily by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.Other religions such as Jewish Muslim Schools, though not as prominent, helped educate Ethiopians as well. Those fortunate enough to get an education were primarily comprised of the sons of the elite who would only learn basic literacy through the school unless they became monks, which required a more extensive education. Much of the population in Ethiopia remained in obscurity from lack of education. Seeing the need for education in Ethiopia, Haile Selassie made reforms that created public schools to teach the masses. Clergy and nobles opposed these reforms, because they held a monopoly on education, operating under a corrupt feudal system. Encouraging academic pursuit, Haile Selassie envisioned a better future for Ethiopia. As the emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie worked hard to reform education Ethiopia, calling foreign teachers (mostly coming from the United States) to help in his undertaking.
In 1935, Haile Selassie led the Ethiopians against an Italian invasion led by Mussolini, who aimed at avenging Italy’s losses from the previously failed First Italo-Ethiopian War. The Italians implemented atrocious chemical warfare tactics in violation of the Geneva Convention, spraying Ethiopians and the countryside with deadly chemicals over, and over again, leaving a trail of death. During the time of the Italian invasion, Haile Selassie orated a famous speech, calling for the end of the Italian aggression that threatened all small countries such as Ethiopia. As commented later by the Malawi’s Times Newspaper on Friday 30th July 1965, “The story of his plea before the League of Nations to save his country and the people is well known. He fought on the international rostrum not only for the safety and integrity of Ethiopia but for the defense of all small nations.” The speech fell upon the deaf ears of the useless League of Nations who wanted to appease Italy. Unopposed by the League of Nations, the Italians succeeded in taking Ethiopia in 1935, during which period Haile Selassie was exiled. The Italians occupied Ethiopia for five years, lasting from 1935 to 1940, during which they further destroyed the country, stripping her of the newly implemented educational and political reforms, and industrial equipment to avenge the loss of the First Italo-Ethiopian War.
Ethiopians found a great Emperor in Haile Selassie. Nineteen forty marked the year when Haile Selassie retook Ethiopia with foreign help. Haile Selassie continued as Emperor until 1974 when communist leaning military leaders overthrew him, taking control of the government. His death was shrouded in mystery, and most likely occurred in the year of 1975. When Haile Selassie reflected upon his struggles and accomplishments to make a better Ethiopia through his reforms, he said, “Many discouraging hours will arise before the rainbow of accomplished goals will appear on the horizon.” 
Haile Selassie professed Christianity, but still did not live out his faith in many areas. Though he promised to abolish slavery, slavery continued throughout his reign. Many Ethiopians and other Africans started the Rastafari movement, which saw Haile Selassie as the Holy Trinity, the messiah, or the incarnation of God. Haile Selassie neither confirmed nor denied the claims of the Rastafari movement. Even though he professed being a Christian, Haile Selassie neither confirmed nor denied the heretical Rastafari movement. Haile Selassie sought his own ways to reform and shape culture, society, and religion in Ethiopia. Yet, for all of his accomplishments, Haile Selassie did not seek the wisdom of God found in Jeremiah 9:22-24, “This is what the LORD says: ‘Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the LORD.” .
Mike Cutri. “Haile Selassie.” San Diego History Department. http://history.sandiego.edu/GEN/text/selassie.html (December, 2008)
Cardillo, Joseph. “Haile Selassie: King of Kings, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah.” http://debate.uvm.edu/dreadlibrary/cardillo.html (December, 2008)
Bantayehu, Getinet. “Political and Educational Impact of Haile Selassie on Ethiopians.” Interview. (December, 2008)