The Autobiography of Emperor Haile Sellassie I
About Our receiving the dignity of kingship without ceasing to be Heir Apparent and Regent Plenipotentiary
When Ledj Iyasu was removed from the throne on the grounds of his inability to conduct the government, it was arranged that I should take charge and be responsible for the entire business of government, while Queen Zawditu became Empress with myself as Heir to the Throne and Regent Plenipotentiary. When, by virtue of my office as Regent, I set to work following the ways of modern civilization, I caused some of the nobles, who to their misfortune had been hanging on to the old customs, to give up the plans they had conceived for ruling, just as they pleased, the district to which they had been appointed. They began to feel aggrieved when, as those who had been wronged protested, We meted out impartial justice in regard to them, without paying heed to their high station; when We told them to render to the government the income derived from their governorship in terms of customs duties, telephone charges, and similar revenues; and when We moved them about, in reshuffles, from one province to another. Because they were aware in their heart that everything was being done equitably and that remonstrating would make objects of shame, they could not openly discuss this matter which caused them such distress; they therefore let this go and decided instead to make Queen Zawditu an instrument adapted to all their designs.
For this purpose it was Dejazmatch Baltcha whom at first they made their leader. It was in a district called Agamja, at a distance of four days’ march from Addis Ababa, that Dejazmatch Baltcha was born. During a military campaign in the Agamja region, he was still a young boy; in the hour of victory a soldier found him, took him prisoner, and brought him to Emperor Menelik and he grew up in the palace. It was my father, H.H. Ras Makonnen, who became his godfather at the christening.
When he was grown up, Emperor Menelik appointed him custodian of all government finances. Later on, when he fought against the Italians at the time of the battle of Adwa, he showed conspicuous valour and thus began to live in an exalted position. The fact that the Italians killed him now with such cruel violence was additionally an act of revenge for that battle of Adwa—and not only because he struggled against them in heroic guerrilla actions.
While Dejazmatch Baltcha occupied a position of rank and honour in Emperor Menelik’s time and Our own, worthless men who rose up to impede Our work seduced him into becoming their leader, and he thus got involved in the matter. But subsequently, when those worthless men were arrested and condemned to punishment, he himself disputed his involvement in the matter and, having escaped punishment, went to his governorate of Sidamo.
As he maltreated the peasants by his mode of governing and the military by his allocation of quarters, worse even than before, they came to Addis Ababa to complain; when We summoned him to submit to arbitration, he let many months pass before he came, pleading delay or illness or fatigue.
After he had turned up he stayed at his house claiming to be ill, so as not to be called to face arbitration and to appear before the tribunal with those who had been wronged. But as We had heard of his attempts to stir up trouble against Us, We had his house surrounded by troops and made him attend by force. When We caused the matter to be investigated, he admitted by his own statement that he had planned to stir up trouble against Us, and since his own servants testified against him he was sentenced, in the month of Yakatit 1920 (= February 1928), to be deprived of his office and to reside in a specially designated place.
Later on, in the month of Nahase 1920 (= August 1928), some useless and worthless men rose up against Us, making Dejazmatch Abba Weqaw their leader.
Abba Weqaw had earlier been a retainer of Emperor Menelik. But after We had become Regent Plenipotentiary, We nominated him Dejazmatch and made him commander of Our guard. But without thinking of his country, Ethiopia, or his honour, the insurgent sought to raise up commotion against Us by taking counsel with useless and common people. We heard that he was spreading the rumour (with a view to increasing his following) that it was Queen Zawditu who had ordered him to bring about this upheaval; and when We summoned him to tell Us about this in his own words, he bided his time by wandering to and fro within the extensive grounds of the Palace precincts. And when it became dark, he entered the Menelik Mausoleum adjacent to the Palace and stayed there as a rebel. Later on, he sent as intercessors the Etchage and some priests, lest We should impose the death penalty upon him, and then he surrendered; while he was spared the death penalty, he was sentenced to reside at a specified place under arrest.
Subsequently, the ministers and nobles living at Addis Ababa as well as the army commanders and all men holding office reached agreement unanimously and declared: ‘Worthless common people rise up from time to time against our Crown Prince and create upheaval; perhaps on some future occasion, when similar disturbances arise, we may fail to prevent internal bloodshed; it is, therefore, necessary to think of means of restraining such commotion. For this purpose it is best to act as follows: Empress Zawditu should have solely the honour of the Crown and the Throne—as was established when first she succeeded to the reign, leaving the task of government entirely to the Crown Prince, while the latter should carry out on his sole authority the whole business of government (as was defined and initiated on 17th Maskaram 1909 = 27th September 1916), without consulting the Empress and without obtaining her permission. In order that his authority should possess force and be respected, it would be best for us to arrange that he should attain the dignity of Kingship.' Once they had decided this, they assembled in the wide square within the palace precincts and approached Empress Zawditu in writing: ‘May it please you to have H.H. Crown Prince Tafari proclaimed King and have him carry out, on his sole authority, any government business without having to consult anyone.'
Empress Zawditu summoned her special counsellors, and when they proffered her advice it seemed to them an extremely difficult matter. In truth, I myself felt it to be very difficult. For, once proclaimed King of some large part of Ethiopia, I could not go there or else the Empress would need another Regent. As King I could scarcely reside at Addis Ababa, for it was not customary for two Kings to reside in one city. She therefore sent word to them to be given time in which to ponder the matter.
This proposal by the people was awkward not only for Empress Zawditu but even for myself. I therefore summoned three men from the assembled nobles and despatched them to the people with this message: ‘It would be good if the idea which you have had that the work of government be accomplished by one man's sole and undivided design could be carried out, but it would be as well if the proposal as regards the Kingship were not raised. Arrange for this matter to be dropped, for it might appear that I had incited you in the desire to become King; it is God alone who knows that I am not involved in this affair but people do not know.' They sent word back to Us: ‘We cannot go back on it, for the reason we have acted was that we were mindful of the honour of our realm and the benefit and peace of the people—without favouring anyone.' We therefore kept quiet.
Later on, when they saw the reply which had reached them from Empress Zawditu asking for time to ponder the matter, they presented to her a further written submission which all of them signed and sealed: The fact that Empress Zawditu was asking for time to think about it was simply to obtain time in order to issue a refusal after consultation with her friends who follow her own way of thinking and who do not like modern conditions; or to bring about, on these grounds, a situation in which revolution and civil war would be created. 'However that may be’, their submission ran, ‘we are determined to do what is necessary, being assembled here and not intending to disperse unless you give us the reply today.'
Moreover, the people of the city did not know the true reason why the ministers, nobles, and army commanders had assembled in the palace grounds, and it needed very little for them to start a revolution.
Empress Zawditu caused the declaration which had been presented to her with signatures and seals, to be read; and, when she had understood it, she thought it would be preferable to accept their counsel in order to avoid bloodshed. She then directed that the following written announcement be read out to them: 'It is my wish that the Crown Prince be crowned as King on a date determined by you on the basis of the advice tendered by you.' Consequently security and calm returned. Thereupon they pushed each other forward penetrating as far as the internal courtyard and clapped hands with joy. Then they conveyed their thanks saying: ‘Long live H.M. the Empress! May Ethiopia live for ever.' They then went back to their homes.
The next morning they assembled once more and claimed that it would be better for this affair of the Kingship to be accomplished within three days, lest second thoughts should ruin this matter if further delay were to occur. We convinced them, however, of the impossibility of a thing like Kingship being carried out within two or three days and, furthermore, of the need to inform each of the governments of our neighbours, so that their representatives might come and take part in our joy. It was, therefore, decided that the coronation should take place one month hence, on 27th Maskaram 1921 (= 7th October 1928).
As there was rejoicing about Empress Zawditu’s approval that We were to be proclaimed King, and since the British, French, and Italians, who possess colonies in our neighbourhood, were delighted, the British Government despatched to Addis Ababa the Governor of Berbera, Mr. Kittermaster, the French Government sent the Governor of Jibuti, M. Chapon Baissac, and the Italian Government the Governor of Eritrea, Signor Corrado Zoli.
When everything that was required for this festival of Kingship had been prepared, the whole great ceremony which is enacted for crowning a King of the Ethiopian Empire took place on 27th Maskaram 1921 (= 7th October 1928); We received the crown from the hands of Empress Zawditu, and the festive day passed off with dignity.
Electronic edition created and published online by members of the
December 31, 2016