THE LION OF JUDAH HATH PREVAILED
May 19th, 1955. We have been summoned to an audience with His Imperial Majesty. The gates of the private entrance to the palace are opened by sentries in the uniform of the Imperial Guard. We drive up an avenue of mimosa-trees, past the private chapel of St Mark and the house where the royal grandchildren often stay, and swing round into the open forecourt of the palace. The sun is shining on the round pond and the spiral of stone steps that run up to the flagstaff, the gardens slope down to the main gates about a quarter of a mile away. It is here that the school-children gather in their thousands to greet Their Imperial Majesties on special occasions and on anniversaries such as 5th May, which we commemorated this year as always with general rejoicing, a banquet at the Menelek Palace, and magnificant fireworks, and as always a new project to be launched. This year saw the opening by His Imperial Majesty of the new Y.M.C.A. building—a great need fulfilled for the youth of the country, and free of debt owing to a munificent gift from the Emperor.
There is a red carpet up the steps that lead into the entrance hall where a white-uniformed servant takes us in. The hall has its long polished table with the visitors’ book in gold and crimson leather. The Private Secretary, lately promoted Tsafi Taezaz (Minister of the Pen), comes in a few minutes after us, and the aide-de-camp arrives to summon us to the audience.
At the end of the long corridor we can see the doors open to the private drawing-room where His Imperial Majesty is seated on the sofa. As we enter his two little dogs bound in and race across to jump up on the sofa by their royal master, and make themselves comfortable alongside him.
I had asked His Imperial Majesty if, at the outset of this Silver Jubilee year, he would add to the story of his life and reign some indication of his hopes and plans for the future of Ethiopia, and this he graciously consented to do, speaking with great frankness.
His Imperial Majesty stated that his first sentiments at the present time are ones of great thankfulness to Almighty God who has brought his people and himself safely through times of great trial and danger, and has vouchsafed them so much progress in the last twenty-five years in spite of all difficulties.
His next sentiment is one of hope and confidence in the future. There is much to be done; but with the courage, perseverance, and fervour for progress that exist among his people to-day much should be achieved, with God’s continuing blessing.
It is with the idea of enabling his people themselves to take a greater share in shaping the future, and to secure their fuller support in the fulfilment of his Government’s plans, that he expects, on the occasion of his Silver Jubilee, to promulgate an amended Constitution to perfect the present one. It will be remembered by all that when, of his own free will, in the year of his coronation, he granted to his people the present Constitution, there were many difficulties to contend with in its execution. The people themselves were called upon to achieve considerable political advances at one stroke, and this applied with the same force to other reforms. The final abolition of slavery, for instance, met with difficulty, and was completed only by his own personal intervention. In the matter of the Constitution, he discussed all that he wished to do with the ‘balabats’ (hereditary chiefs and landowners), and could proceed only so far as he could carry them with him. The amended Constitution, which will provide for doubling the number of the members of Parliament and ensuring that the Lower House is chosen by direct election, aims at giving the wishes of the people greater influence in the development of the country.
In the economic development of Ethiopia, his Government, as treasurers of the nation’s wealth, have the twofold responsibility, on the one hand of seeing that money is not wasted, and on the other of ensuring that funds are forthcoming for necessary development. To achieve these ends they have worked hard, and on the whole successfully. It has always been his policy to make the basis of all development the advancement of education and public health. What has been achieved so far has, to a large extent, affected the larger towns only. It is now planned to spread education throughout the whole of Ethiopia, so that every person may learn to read the Amharic language and will have the opportunity of studying other languages as well.
The realization of these plans, and indeed of all reforms, can be attained only by the improvement of communications; and plans have been completed for the extension in the near future of the roads and railways. By the federation of Eritrea with Ethiopia access to the sea has been secured, and the Government are studying intensively how to improve the ports and their communications with Addis Ababa and other centres; financial provision is being made for these projects.
Other plans for economic development include the construction of the Lake Tsana barrage and the Koka dam on the Hawash river for the purposes of irrigation and electric power. He has plans for enlarging and improving his aviation schools and extending the air services, and for the development of agriculture and livestock breeding, which are, after all, Ethiopia’s main sources of wealth.
Turning to the question of foreign relations, it is obvious that Ethiopia can no longer live in isolation, and must therefore make her full contribution to the settlement of international problems. It was not for pleasure only that he made his recent tour of America and Europe, but in order to study affairs at first hand and to make Ethiopia’s position clear to others.
Although the world is still living in a period of unremitting tension and crises, it seems to him that the future has greatly brightened. The Ethiopian Government’s sympathies have been throughout with the people who have tried to solve disputes peacefully. All his life he has believed that the nations of the world, living and working together as a family in international organizations, should settle their problems and disputes on the basis of peaceful agreement and collective security. The recent settlement achieved in regard to Eritrea was acceptable to him, and in it he attained most of his desires for the welfare of the inhabitants of Eritrea. In the case of the arrangements made for Italian Somaliland, he would very naturally have preferred some provisional solution other than that which has been adopted. He has no hesitation in saying that he believes that, when the trusteeship comes to an end, the best solution for the future will be federation with Ethiopia on the lines of the Eritrean solution. He firmly believes that this will be in the best interests of the Somalis, and that it is the solution which they themselves will prefer in the light of their history, geographical position, and economic situation. He is aware that much propaganda and many artificial demands are being brought to bear in the endeavour to create another point of view, but he does not think that this will affect the final issue.
The recent changes in the Sudan have, of course, been of the greatest concern to Ethiopia, and she cannot remain an uninterested observer of what is going on. He and his people, being lovers of freedom and having so recently had to fight for its preservation, would wish to support the Sudanese, whose support and hospitality during his struggle for liberation will never be forgotten, in their efforts to secure and maintain that complete freedom of choice which is theirs as of right.
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December 17, 2019