The Autobiography of Emperor Haile Sellassie I
About the improvement, by ordinance and proclamation, of internal administration and about the efforts to allow foreign civilization to enter Ethiopia
Ever since the 17th Maskaram 1909 (= 27th Sept. 1916), when I became Crown Prince of Ethiopia and Regent Plenipotentiary, until now in 1928 (= 1935), when this great danger came upon us by the violent activity which Italy unleashed against us, We did not cease to struggle, to the utmost extent possible, for everything that appeared to Us to render honour to the government and prosperity to the people. Although We appointed ministers for all the work, there was yet a great deal of thought and effort required of Us, since the ultimate responsibility was Ours.
Moreover, according to the custom of Ethiopian kings which has survived from antiquity, We sat in court two days in every week, Wednesday and Friday, as it was a principal aspect of Our work to adjudicate cases on appeal; thus We had no time for respite.
Apart from the minor chores which We carried out daily and apart from what We have forgotten because of the lapse of time, the following is some of the major work which We now remember:
(1) Prior to 1909 (= 1916) ministers had been appointed for all the work of government. But no proper allocation of duties in writing had been given to them for all their work; and as they did not have adequate office accommodation, it was in their private houses that they frequently carried on their ministerial business. But from 1913 (= 1920) onwards the operations of government were gradually straightened out as we imported from Europe regulations and books which were suitable for all their work and as we arranged for offices to be built for each of the ministers and provided them with some foreign advisers whom we assigned to their ministerial activities.
(2) The entire situation in the courts did not work out equitably; but from 1914 (= 1921) onwards We provided each court with written regulations and reference books, and consequently things gradually improved very much. Moreover, by virtue of Our causing to stop the cutting off of hands and feet, which had been laid down in the Fetha Nagast and had been customary for a very long time, and of similar cruel punishments, Our whole people were very pleased.
(3) The custom as regards punishment which had persisted since ancient times was that, if a man had committed a criminal act, the judge had the power to do as he pleased: if the punishment was in terms of money he could decrease or increase the fine; if it was in terms of imprisonment he could shorten or lengthen the period of imprisonment, but there was no fixed punishment either in terms of fines or imprisonment. Thus, if the judge thought to benefit his friend by his judgment or to injure his enemy there was no law that would prevent him from doing so; consequently, if two men were caught having committed the same crime, the judge was able, if he so desired, to punish one and to let off the other without punishment.
But since 1923 (= 1930) We had established a criminal code which provided that, every act that was criminal having been laid down in detail, whoever had committed a certain crime would pay such and such a fine or be imprisoned for such and such a period; consequently, We saw to it that arrest and release according to the judge’s whims ceased, i.e. that he could no longer benefit his friend and injure his enemy or impose fines as he pleased. Justice now took a road that had honour.
Again, after a murderer had been condemned to death, either by confessing to the murder or by witnesses testifying against him, he used to be handed over to the avenger (i.e. the victim’s closest relative) who would, in front of the assembled people, kill him in any manner he wished, by battering him as he pleased and by increasing his anguish.
But now We have set up a special place where a murderer is to die and have arranged that the government executioner alone, without anyone seeing it, should kill him painlessly with a rifle that possesses a special aim.
(4) With a view to having disputes settled in an improved manner when natives and foreigners were engaged in litigation, We caused, from 1913 (= 1920) onwards, special courts to be established and appointed judges expert in the law. As We assigned to the judges foreign advisers knowledgeable in law and justice, the administration of justice greatly improved. The adviser appointed for this task was a native of Switzerland, M. Auberson. This grave accord affecting the honour of the country had been contained in the treaty which the French envoy, M. Klobukowski, had made with Emperor Menelik in 1900 (= 1907-8).
(5) As there did not exist in Ethiopia anything like an adequate printing press for books, all books had to be written by hand; consequently, all the people had great difficulty in finding and in reading books. The reason was that it was not possible to make available to everybody books written by hand because the price was very high.
From 1914 (= 1921-2) onwards We purchased from our private money two book printing presses, and many books in Ge’ez and in Amharic (with interpretation) were printed; the entire people, therefore, derived much benefit from reading what they could buy at a low price. A weekly paper called ‘Light and Peace’ and a monthly paper called ‘Revealer of the Light’ were being printed by these presses. We gave the income of the printing houses as endowment to the Bet Sayda Hospital.
We desired other printing presses to be established with government money, and when it was handed over to the Marha Tebab Press, many books and stationery for the work of each ministry as well as all similar matters were printed there. The weekly paper called ‘Aymero’ was also printed at this press.
(6) Prior to 1915 (= 1922) there were no regulations as regards loans; anyone who possessed money might lend it at an interest rate of 20% to 30%, and when the debtor did not have the money to pay, he would be arraigned before a judge and would be handed over to the lender and be imprisoned until he paid his debt.
But from 1915 (= 1922/3) onwards We ordered that the interest rate should be 9% and that anyone who accepted interest above that should pay a fine. If it turned out that the borrower did not have the money to pay and after it had been ascertained that he did not have cattle or hereditary land that could be sold by auction, We forbade by decree of 1916 (= 1923) that he be handed over to the lender.
(7) At Addis Ababa and in the other principal cities lighting in each house was by gas or tallow or wax candle, but there was no electric light. The service, which had started to some extent in 1909 (= 1916- 17), had by 1915 (= 1922-23) produced excellent electric light in the Palace and in the offices of ministers, in the houses of the nobility and along the sides of the great Ras Makonnen Avenue, in the major churches, and in the cities of Harar and Dire Dawa, and in the government buildings of Dessie and Dabra Marqos.
(8) Previously the sons of foreign kings and princes used not to come to Ethiopia. But since 1916 (= 1923-4), because We had directed that foreign civilization should enter the country, the sons of foreign royalty and princes would come to Ethiopia for a visit. Chief among these were the Duke of Gloucester, son of the English king, H.M. George V, the Swedish Crown Prince Gustaf Adolph, the uncle of the Italian king, H.M. Victor Emmanuel, the Duke of Abruzzi, the Savoy Prince da Udine.
(9) Prior to 1915 (= 1922), apart from one motor car, there were hardly any numbers of cars and lorries in Ethiopia. And since, from the Emperor downwards, it was by horse or by mule that the nobles as well as the people proceeded, and as the transport of goods and similar things was carried on beasts of burden, it took a long time to reach a planned destination.
But since 1915 (= 1922) We had seen to it that many cars, motor-cycles, bicycles, and lorries were imported; consequently, operations of all kinds were gradually accelerated.
(10) Up to 1915 (= 1922) the Star of Solomon and of Ethiopia were the only two kinds of medals. But now We caused a gold chain to be made for the Solomon order and it was to be awarded to foreign kings who had the rank corresponding to that of Emperor.
We also had an order with gold chain made called ‘The Queen of Sheba Order’ which is awarded to the Queen Consort and to foreign queens. In addition to this, We had orders of very high rank made, called The Menelik II and the Trinity Order, as well as a military medal and arts and science medals, in their various ranks; many people were awarded these orders.
(11) There were few people who could speak foreign languages because there was only one school, the Menelik II School, at Addis Ababa [in which instruction in foreign languages was offered].
But since 1917 (= 1924) We established at Addis Ababa and the other major cities schools for instruction in foreign languages; in addition to the schools which existed before, We gave permission and aid to various missions and, consequently, language schools were opened in each province. Furthermore, since many boys whom We had sent abroad had been properly educated, many of them were now able to work in the offices of the various ministries.
(12) As there was only one hospital, called the Menelik II Hospital, in existence at Addis Ababa, it was not sufficient to protect the health of the entire population. But from 1915 (= 1922) onwards We had many hospitals established at Addis Ababa and the other major cities; We gave permission and financial aid to various missions and, as hospitals were being built, the health of many people began to be safeguarded. Furthermore, We had arranged to have the Swedish physician, M. Hanner, appointed to the hospital which We had named Bet Sayda and which We had established at Addis Ababa with Our private money ; the hospital’s name became well known and widely respected.
(13) In previous times, all men who were soldiers were so only by custom, but there was no military school. But from 1911 (= 1918/19) onwards We established a military college and saw to it that the soldiers should learn the entire military craft at the college. In addition to this We set up, under the auspices of Our son Makonnen, Duke of Harar, a Boy Scouts movement, so that boys should carry out their duties well.
(14) In the past there was only a flag with a lion and the three colours. But from 1920 (= 1927-8) onwards We commanded that the Emperor’s daily and ceremonial flag, while unchanged in the three colours, should differ in the design of the lion and in the gold ornamentation; that the flag of the Queen and of the Crown Prince, of the army and the postal services as well as for ships should be distinct in ornamentation and shape, while unchanged in the three colours.
(15) At any time foreign national anthems could be heard in Ethiopia on a gramophone, but there was nothing that might be called Ethiopia’s national anthem.
But now, since 1920 (= 1927-8), there has appeared a distinct Ethiopian national anthem and march Tafari, a military march; it is to be heard at the Palace and any other appropriate place, when Ethiopian envoys go abroad and a reception or banquet is given in their honour.
When foreign envoys come to Ethiopia, We arrange to have their national anthem played at a reception or banquet in their honour.
(16) Since 1900 (= 1907) there had been set up at Addis Ababa the Bank of Abyssinia under the auspices of the National Bank of Egypt, but apart from this one bank there was no other. The excess over and above the profit, stipulated in the treaty when this Bank of Abyssinia was set up, belonged exclusively to the company; consequently, the position was very difficult for the government and the people. Therefore, in 1920 (= 1927-8), We invested Our own private money in shares and made the nobles and the people share-holders as far as possible; We then bought the Bank of Abyssinia, having paid off its entire deficit and, consequently, having designated it the Bank of Ethiopia, there turned out to be great advantage in this move.
(17) Prior to 1920 (= 1927-8) the word aeroplane was not very well known in Ethiopia. But from 1920 (= 1927-8) onwards, some aeroplanes having been purchased, We brought them to Ethiopia; and subsequently many difficulties for government and people were gradually alleviated.
(18) Since there were no Ethiopian Legations or Consulates in foreign countries, a special envoy had to be sent for every matter concerned with foreign governments. Or a foreign representative, having been specially delegated, had to deliver the message.
But since 1921 (= 1928/9) We ordered legations to be established with neighbouring governments and consulates with the far-off ones; all government business was, therefore, despatched without trouble.
(19) As the import of war materials into Ethiopia had been prohibited, the number of worthless idlers in each province increased.
But since, from 1920 (= 1927/8) onwards, it was permitted by treaty that We may purchase arms for the protection of the country, security and peace were established in Ethiopia by virtue of Our directions to destroy these faithless men by supplying arms to those protecting the country in each district. We cannot forget, at the time when it was permitted to import these war materials into Ethiopia, the objection of the Italian envoy arguing that the Ethiopian Government should not be allowed war planes. This proves that, having destroyed peace, the Italians have been planning and preparing for a long time to make war on Ethiopia.
(20) As it has been claimed that it is forbidden by law that bishops be appointed, chosen from among the priors who are natives of Ethiopia, Ethiopians still remain in the position of not being appointed.
But since 1920 (= 1927/8) We have emphasized the large number of Ethiopia’s provinces and the fact that all believers in Christ are not such by innate distinctness but by virtue of conduct; and because, after discussions, We had succeeded in making this point, We caused the appointment to the dignity of bishop of five priors chosen from among Ethiopian nationals and assigned them to their dioceses.
(21) Previously there had not existed the custom to invite the despatch of special envoys from foreign governments to attend the coronation of the Emperor.
But now that We have seen to it that Ethiopia should progress on the path to ever higher civilization and that she should strengthen the ties of friendship with foreign governments— when, therefore, We were crowned Emperor on 23rd Teqemt 1923 (= 2nd Nov. 1930), the representatives of twelve governments came to Addis Ababa and honoured Our coronation. This proves Ethiopia’s ascent to a higher level during Our time.
(22) The Emperor used to carry out, in accordance with his own wishes and directions, any sort of peaceful and military operations, as well as the administration of the country and anything else like this.
But now, on the 9th of Hamle 1923 (= 16th July, 1931), We promulgated a constitution, set up a parliament, appointed Senators and caused Deputies to be selected; We appointed presidents for these and directed that all the business of government should be carried out on the basis of advice (from parliament).
(23) The Emperor or the nobles used to retain a large army-contingent while moving from one province to another; and the people were forced to produce provisions without payment, such as food, forage, and wood.
But since 1923 (= 1930/1) We prohibited by proclamation that the peasants be forced to hand over any of their property, except voluntarily and against payment.
(24) As the number of country-districts, to which telephone and telegraph communications had been extended, was rather small, it took a long time to bring to an end the difficulties which the government, trade, and the people experienced in every province.
Later on, however, because We had directed that telephones be extended to every district and postal communications be established, the difficulties for the government and the people were gradually greatly alleviated.
(25) The places at which criminals were being imprisoned used not to possess the cleanliness corresponding to health requirements.
But since 1925 (= 1932/3) We provided (having built it with Our private money) a house that possessed washing and clinical facilities, corresponding to health requirements, as well as instruction in reading and writing and manual work. The fettering of criminals by iron and chain fixed at their feet having ceased, We ordered that they be guarded by warders.
(26) Every man who possessed land, in addition to the taxes fixed and payable annually, used to be forced to pay additional money on various occasions and to be liable to forced labour without pay.
But now, apart from the taxes fixed and payable once a year, We prohibited, by regulation and proclamation, anyone to work forced labour without pay or to render any other excess dues.
(27) Needless to say, in Europe there existed wireless telegraphy; clearly audible wireless services were not known in Ethiopia.
But since 1924 (= 1931) We had given orders for wireless telegraphy to be established at Addis Ababa and other major provinces; hence every aspect of government business, of trade and other matters was speedily accomplished, both inland and abroad. In 1928 (1935/6), at the time when we had to fight against Italy, the service was of great benefit.
(28) Prior to 1920 (= 1927/8) no civil or military uniform indicative of rank had been specified; hence everybody wore the same kind of uniform.
But later on, as We had directed that distinctions of rank be made in civil and military dress, the seniority of rank, civil or military, could be recognized by the uniform.
(29) For the past hundred years or so, if someone was robbed of money or of other possessions and chattels, there were men— from a family related by descent or by marriage—who claimed to be able to find the thief by giving a drink of medicine to a boy under the age of 15; these men used to live, wandering about at Addis Ababa and in all other districts, by seeking thieves, with the permission of the government, administering the medicine, and receiving payment from people who had lost money. They would claim to have found the thief if the boy, to whom they administered the medicine, went and entered a man’s house and lay on the bed in a trance, or seized the man hitting him with his knee (or forcefully) and lay upon him. If things were done in this way, the man was seized by force by this procedure alone, without there being any indications or witnesses to the theft, and was under an obligation to make payment to the owner who had lost his property. Since deeds like these were being carried out by lies and fraud, they were in a position to hypnotize the liebasha and to introduce him into the house of an innocent man who had not stolen anyone’s property or to arrest and oppress people by causing the boy to hit someone and to lie upon him in a trance.
But afterwards We gave orders for the liebasha method to cease, as We were convinced, after proper investigation, of the fact that it was impossible to find a thief by administering medicine, unless a theft like this had been subject to an examination by a judge or proper evidence or witnesses. Consequently, there was great rejoicing in every province, as We had protected the people from the iniquities that came upon them in this matter.
(30) Although in Ethiopia the Emperor was supreme, feudal rule had not ceased.
But from 1910 (= 1917/18) onwards, since We had become convinced that the rule of the landed gentry was detrimental to government and people, We stopped the landed gentry in Wallo, Gojjam, Bagemeder, Yajju, Wallaga, and Jimma and caused other servants of Our government to be selected and to be appointed.
(31) It had remained customary in Ethiopia for all provincial governors to be military chiefs, but there were no civil rulers. Therefore it was not the custom for the whole country to be under the authority of the government and to allocate taxes, collected by civilian officials, to the army and for other government business, but the governors used to pay the soldiers through their own officers and to give them quarters in their governorate.
As We were uneasy about abolishing all at once this custom which had persisted for a long time, thinking that it might provoke disturbances in the country, We arranged to demonstrate this mode of procedure and to make it acceptable in slow stages by placing under the authority of the (central) government the districts of Jijjiga, Tchartchar, Bale, Wallaga, Sayo, and Jimma; and We also saw to it, as an instructive example, that the revenues should be applied to the expenditure on the army and other government business.
(32) Because, until about 10 years ago, roads in the various provinces had not been properly made up, there was inevitably a great deal of wasted time and money in travelling from one region to another.
But for the past 10 years, as We were convinced of the benefit of roads to government and people, We gave orders that the roads leading from Addis Ababa to the east and west, to the north and south, be properly maintained. Hence districts that could previously be reached in ten or fifteen days, can now be reached in two or three days by car and lorry.
Electronic edition created and published online by members of the
October 8, 2016