In recognition of his role in the evolution of Africa’s development agenda, the African Union (AU), on Sunday, unveiled a commemorative statue of Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie, at its headquarters in Addis Ababa.
The statue was unveiled by the chairperson of AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, alongside other leaders at the opening of the 32nd AU summit in Addis Ababa.
The ceremony was attended by scores of African leaders including Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, as well as, relatives of the late emperor and foreign diplomats.
Ahead of the unveiling, the Deputy Chairperson of the AU Commission, Amb. Kwesi Quartey, said, “the commemorative statue of Emperor Haile Selassie is an important recognition of the Emperor’s contribution to Africa’s liberation and unity leading up to the founding of the Organization of African Unity in 1963.”
The statue is the second to be erected inside the premises of the AU after Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, in 2012, was also remembered for his African liberation struggle with a statue at the compound of the Union.
The Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, King of Kings of Ethiopia, Elect of God was the last emperor of the Solomonic Dynasty that ruled Ethiopia until September 12, 1974, when he was deposed at the age of 82.
The reign of one of the most popular leaders of the 19th century was cut short by the Soviet-backed Derg military regime, formally known as the Provisional Military Government of Socialist Ethiopia, which ruled till 1991.
Haile Selassie, born Ras Tafari Makonnen, was everything from monarch to the returned messiah as believed by the Rastafari movement which reveres him as God incarnate. He was also the Chairperson of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) from 1963 to 1964 and 1966 to 1967.
In the early 1960s, when independence was sweeping throughout the colonized continent, liberation fighters and independence heroes were loosely speaking about a united Africa that will end colonization in the whole continent.
Ghana’s first president, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, had verbalized the idea in 1957 when the Gold Coast gained independence from Great Britain. He proposed for an immediate unity of the continent.
Nkrumah further wrote about African unity and organised the first Pan-African meeting called the All-African People’s Conference in the same year.
The second president of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser, also penned down the concept of African unity while Tanzania’s first president, Julius Nyerere, expressed confidence in a united Africa.
Together, with the leaders of Algeria, Guinea, Morocco, Mali and Libya, they became known as the Casablanca Bloc, formed after the second All-African People’s Conference in Addis Ababa in 1961 and led by Nkrumah to push for a federation of all African states to be called the United States of Africa.
The United States of Africa concept was opposed by some leaders of other independent African states including Senegal’s Léopold Sédar Senghor and the leaders of Nigeria, Liberia and Ethiopia. They were referred to as the Monrovia Bloc and wanted unity to be achieved gradually while Africa remains a continent of independent states.
Subsequent debates over a United Government – before the OAU was formed – was held during meetings in the towns of Sanniquellie, Liberia and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1959 and 1960 respectively. This was followed by an invitation from Emperor Haile Selassie to Addis Ababa for a summit.
The monarch is reported to have financed the building of an Africa Hall worth $2 million to provide a place for African leaders to meet. He also footed the bill for a luxurious guest house and banquet among others.
Leaders of the 32 independent African states honoured the invitation of Haile Selassie and were offered a luxurious treatment ahead of the meeting that was a deciding factor for Africa’s unity.
The Casablanca Bloc stood by Nkrumah’s philosophy that “Africa must unite now”, but the Monrovia Bloc thwarted the possibility of an immediate union with the argument that no matter how good it sounds, unity won’t work unless economic cooperation is achieved.
The host, Haile Selassie, added his voice saying the leaders must move step‐by‐step toward unity as “tradition cannot be abandoned at once” and the disagreement to a union by the people could frustrate progress toward cooperation and development.
The Emperor’s astute voice successfully gained the signatures of all the 32 independent African states on the charter that established the Organisation of African Unity on May 25, 1963.