The story of Amha Selassie, who is regarded as the last emperor of Ethiopia

Mildred Europa Taylor February 16, 2022
Amha Selassie in 1932. Photo: National Portrait Gallery

Historians say he was proclaimed ruler of Ethiopia three times. The first was in 1960, the second in 1975 and the third in 1989 while in exile. Regarded as the last emperor of Ethiopia, Amha Selassie was born Asfaw Wossen Tafari in Harar, Ethiopia, in August 1916 to Dejazmach Tafari Makonnen (later Emperor Haile Selassie) and his wife, Menen Asfaw. He became Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen of Ethiopia after his father was crowned emperor on November 2, 1930.

Growing up, Amha Selassie was first taught by a tutor in the palace and later enrolled in Teferi Makonnen School before continuing his higher education at Liverpool University, in the UK, where he received his degree in Political Science and Public Administration. He married twice, first to Princess Wolete Israel, which produced a daughter. His second marriage was to Princess Medferiash Work Abebe, and that produced four children.

Amha Selassie never shunned his duties as Crown Prince and heir to the throne. He also served his country as governor of the provinces of Begémdir, Tigré and Wollo at different times, leading various development projects such as the building of hospitals, schools and orphanages as well as the construction of roads, according to author Gregory Copley in his book “Ethiopia Reaches Her Hand Unto God: Imperial Ethiopia’s Unique Symbols, Structures, and Role in the Modern World”.

Copley adds that Amha Selassie also served on the Crown Council, usually acting as President in the Emperor’s absence, and as Chairman of the Ethiopian Red Cross.

“In the war against Italian occupation (1935-1941), the young Crown Prince acted as the right hand of the Emperor in every international diplomatic campaign to get material and moral support for the resistance. At the age of 20, he was leading his own troops in battle. During some of this period, when the Italians occupied the country, Crown Prince Asfa Wossen and his father organized the resistance from Jerusalem, and then from a home in Bath, England,” according to Copley.

It was while Amha Selassie was in exile that he attended Liverpool University. He and his father Emperor Haile Selassie later returned to Ethiopia. In December 1960, while Emperor Haile Selassie was on a visit to Brazil, the Imperial Guard organized a coup and took over power in Ethiopia. The leaders of the coup then forced crown prince Amha Selassie to read a statement on radio accepting the crown in his father’s place and beginning a government of reform to address what the coup leaders said were economic and social problems of the country.

But the regular army and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church did not accept the new government, and the leader of the church, Patriarch Abune Baslios, issued an anathema against all those who worked with the coup leaders, according to BlackPast. Emperor Haile Selassie later came back to Ethiopia and the army besieged the palace. The rebels were driven back, and soon, Haile Selassie regained control.

But in 1973 when Amha Selassie suffered a massive stroke and was evacuated to Switzerland for medical treatment, the Derg, a committee of Ethiopian Army officers, deposed Emperor Haile Selassie on September 12, 1974. BlackPast reports that the crown prince came back to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, to lead the new government but his reign lasted only a few months. He was deposed and exiled by the Derg after they abolished the Ethiopian monarchy in March 1975.

Amha Selassie and his family fled the country and settled in London, UK, where he formed a Government-in-Exile. In April 1989, he was proclaimed “Emperor of Ethiopia” at his home in London by members of the exiled Ethiopian community. Some historians say that it was the Government-in-Exile he formed in London along with the Crown Council which proclaimed him Emperor. He took the throne name Amha Selassie I.

At the time, the monarchy had been abolished and so Amha Selassie had no dominion and he never actually took power. The brutal Marxist Dergue regime in Ethiopia however ended with President Mengistu Haile Mariam’s overthrow by rebels in 1991.

Partially paralyzed, Amha Selassie moved to the United States, which had a large Ethiopian community. He died there at age 80 on February 17, 1997. A large crowd attended the Memorial Service for the Emperor in Washington, D.C. before his body was flown to Addis Ababa and buried in the Imperial family vaults at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa in a huge ceremonial funeral.

“I hoped he would come back alive”, a mourner told the Independent. “I would like to see Ethiopia continue as a constitutional monarchy like Britain. But I don’t suppose I’ll see the day when the monarchy is reinstated.”

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: February 16, 2022


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