Read Emperor Haile Selassie’s iconic 1963 speech that inspired Bob Marley’s hit song “War”

Francis Akhalbey May 21, 2018
Emperor Haile Selassie

May 25 of every year in Africa is Africa Day. The day is set aside by the African Union (AU) to commemorate the founding of the Organization of African Unity (OAU). Throughout this week, which is also termed #AfricaWeek, Face2Face Africa will be sharing some iconic speeches by the founding fathers of the Organization of African Unity as a build up to Africa Day.

Here’s Emperor Haile Selassie’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly in 1963 that inspired reggae legend Bob Marley to write his hit song “war”.

“Mr. President, distinguished delegates.

Twenty-seven years ago as Emperor of Ethiopia I mounted the rostrum in Geneva Switzerland to address to the league of nations and appeal for relief from the destruction which had been unleashed against my defenceless nation by the fascist invaders.

I spoke then both to and for the conscience of the world. My words went unheeded, but history testifies to the accuracy of the warning that I gave in 1936. Today I stand before the world organization which has succeeded to the mantle discarded by its discredited predecessor and in this body is enshrined the principle of collective security which was unsuccessfully invoked at Geneva. Here in this assembly reposes the best, perhaps the last hope for the peaceful survival of mankind.

In 1936 I declared that it wasn’t the covenant of the league that was at stake but international morality. Undertakings, I said then, are little worth if the will to keep them is lacking. The charter of the United Nations expresses the noblest aspirations of man. Abjuration of force and the peaceful settlement of disputes between states. The assurance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction of race, sex, language, or religion. The safeguarding of international peace and security.

But these, too, as were the phrases of the Covenant, are only words and their value depends wholly on our will to observe and honour them and give them content and meaning. The preservation of peace and the guaranteeing of basic freedoms and rights require courage and eternal vigilance. Courage to speak and act and, if necessary, to suffer and die for truth and justice. Eternal vigilance and a complete transgression of international morality shall not go undetected and unremedied These lessons must be learned anew by each succeeding generation and that generation is fortunate indeed which learns from other than its own bitter experience.

This organization and each of its members bear a crushing and awesome responsibility to absolve the wisdom of history and apply it to the problems of the present in order that future generations may be born and live and die in peace. Should we fail to achieve this goal we shall have condemned the coming generations to inherit the tragedy of our times.

I have lived too long to cherish many illusions about the essential high mindedness of men when brought into stark confrontation with the issue of control over their securities and their property interests. Not even now, when so much is at stake, would many nations willingly entrust their destinies to other hands. Yet this is the ultimatum presented to us. Secure the conditions whereby men will entrust their security to a larger entity or risk alienation. Persuade men that their salvation rests with the subordination of national and local interests to the interests of mankind or endanger man’s future. These are the objectives yesterday unattainable, today essential, which we must labour to achieve. Until this is accomplished mankind’s future remains hazardous and permanent peace a matter for speculation.

I would now like to mention briefly today, two particular issues. Disarmament and the establishment of true equality among men.

Disarmament has become the urgent imperative of our time. I do not say this because I believe that the absence of arms is tantamount to peace or because I believe that bringing an end the nuclear arms race automatically guarantees the peace or because the elimination of nuclear warheads from the arsenals of this world will bring in its wake that change in attitude required for a peaceful settlement of disputes between nations. Disarmament is vital today because of the immense destructive capacity which men now possess. Ever since the stone age, the production of arms has always been the source of man’s own destruction Even though the achievement of general and complete disarmament is time-consuming it is encouraging to note that great efforts have been devoted to its attainment. My country supports the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty as a step toward this goal even though it is only a partial step. The real significance of a treaty is that it admits of a tacit stalemate between the nations which have created it. A stalemate which recognizes the blunt and unavoidable fact that none would emerge from the total destruction which would be the lot of all in the event of a nuclear war. A stalemate which affords us and the United Nations the breathing space in which to act. The goal of the equality of man which we seek is the very antithesis of the exploitation of one people by another. About which the pages of history and particularly those written about the African and Asian continents speak at such length.

Last May in Addis Ababa there was convened a meeting of heads of African States and governments for three days. The thirty-two nations presented at that conference demonstrated to the world that when the wills and the determination exist, nations, and peoples of various backgrounds can and will work together in unity in achievement of common goals in the assurance of that equality that we desire. Our past history has testified to the fact that we have always endeavoured to cooperate with all nations without exception. Thus one of the fundamental principles we have agreed upon at the Addis Ababa summit conference gives expression to our fundamental desire to live in harmony and cooperation with all states.

On the question of racial discrimination, the Addis Ababa Conference taught, to those who will learn, this further lesson:

that until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned;

that until there are no longer first class and second class citizens of any nation;

that until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes;

that until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race;

that until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained.

And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique and in South Africa in subhuman bondage have been toppled and destroyed;

until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good-will;

until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven;

until that day, the African continent will not know peace. We Africans will fight, if necessary, and we know that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil.

The basis of racial discrimination and colonialism has been economic and it is with economic weapons that these evils have been and can be overcome. In pursuance of resolutions adopted at the Addis Ababa summit conference, African States have undertaken certain measures in the economic field which, if adopted by all member states of the United Nations, would soon reduce any intransigence to reason.

I ask today for adherence to these measures by every nation represented here which is truly indicative of principles enshrined within the treaty. I do not believe that Portugal or South Africa are prepared to commit economic or physical suicide if honourable or reasonable alternatives exist. I believe that such alternatives can be found. We must act while we can, while the occasion exists to exert those legitimate pressures available to us lest time run out and resort be had to less happy means. The great nations of the world would do well to remember that in the modern age even their own fate is not wholly in their own hands. Peace requires the united efforts of us all. Who can foresee what spark might ignite the fuse. The stakes are identical for all of us. Life or death. We all wish to live, we all seek a world in which men are freed of the burdens of ignorance, poverty, hunger and disease.

We shall all be hard-pressed to escape the deadly rain of nuclear fallout should catastrophe overtake us. The problems which confront us today are unprecedented; they have no counterpart in human experience. Men search the pages of history for solutions, for precedents but alas there are none to be found. This then is the ultimate challenge. Where are we to look for our survival? For answers to questions which have never been asked before.

We must look first to almighty God who has raised man above the animals and endowed him with intelligence and reason We must put our faith in him that he will not desert us or permit us to destroy mankind which he created in his image

And we must look into ourselves, into the depth of our souls. We must become something we have never been and for which our education and experience and environment have ill-prepared us. We must become bigger than we have been: more courageous, greater in spirit, larger in outlook. We must become members of a new race, overcoming petty prejudice, owing our ultimate allegiance not to nations but to our fellow men within the human community.”

Last Edited by:Ismail Akwei Updated: May 21, 2018


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