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Collecting royalty on stamps: Ethiopia's Haile Selassie

William Silvester

Posted on 07 Aug 2012

Prince Tafari from a 1919 definitive set
Prince Tafari from a 1919 definitive set
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He was born Prince Tafari Makonnen on July 17, 1891, in Harar and privately educated through the French mission. He married Princess Menen in July of 1912 and in 1916 his first son was born.

The same year marked the beginning of his rise to power. The dissolute emperor, Lej Yasu was deposed and his daughter Zauditu proclaimed empress. Tafari took advantage of the situation to have himself appointed regent, heir to the throne and adopted the title, Prince of Princes.

Tafari was proclaimed Emperor of Ethiopia on April 3, 1930 after the death of the empress. He adopted the grandiose titles of 'Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah', 'King of Kings' and changed his name to 'Might of the Trinity' or Haile Selassie.

The Emperor soon discovered that moving in European circles brought certain troubles. Conflicts with Italy dated back to the last century when Italian troops had invaded Ethiopia and suffered defeat at the hands of the Ethiopians. In December, 1934, Italian and Ethiopian soldiers clashed briefly at Wal-Wal on the border of Italian Somaliland. This was the pretext Italian dictator Benito Mussolini needed for war.

Haile Selassie ordered his army to mobilise. Ill-equipped to fight a modern war the Ethiopians were no match for the Italians. Within a few months the invaders were threatening the capital of Addis Ababa. Haile Selassie left the country in May, 1936 and his capital surrendered soon afterwards. The Emperor appealed in vain to the League of Nations to halt the conquest and subsequent occupation.

Empress Waizero Menen and Emperor Haile Selassie from a 1949 stamp set commemorating Ethiopia’s liberation from ItalyHaile Selasisie fled to England and began planning his return to power. By 1941 the British had begun the work of raising rebellion against the occupying Italians in Ethiopia with a small force of Sudanese soldiers and British officers forming the core. Their successes led to patriotic Ethiopians coming to their aid in increasing numbers and on 30 January, Haile Selassie was back in his kingdom. British and Commonwealth troops soon entered Ethiopia from Sudan and Kenya, sweeping the Italians before them and liberating Addis Ababa on April 8. 

Haile Selassie’s first acts, after returning to his capital in early May, supported with British financial aid, were to restore his war ravaged country and in an attempt to dispel discontent Haile Selassie increased his government’s efforts towards social reform and economic development in the following decades.   It was not enough.

For six months in 1974 the country was rocked by a series of strikes and demonstrations by soldiers, workers and students. Major Mengistu Haile Mariam led the armed forces in a coup in September that ended with the deposition of Haile Selassie.

The ex-emperor did not long survive his monarchy. He died in Addis Ababa in August 1975, less than a year after being deposed.

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