The Autobiography of Emperor Haile Sellassie I - Volume 2
THE BEGINNING OF NEW LEADERSHIP AND THE RECONSTRUCTION OF THE COUNTRY-THE STATE OF OUR RELATIONS WITH THE BRITISH
Since We had begun work on the New Ethiopia even before the conclusion of the war in Ethiopia, five days after We entered Addis Abeba, on Genbot 2, 1933 [May 10, 1941], We established a cabinet composed of seven ministers. We appointed Dejazmatch Makonnen Endalkachew to be the Minister of Interior of the new administration, and within this ministry, We established sections on security, administrative and general services, land, and health. Appointed as ministers on the same day were Ato Wolde Giorgis Wolde Yohannes, Custodian of the Great Seal and Minister of the Pen, Ato Lorenzo Taezaz, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ato Makonnen Desta, Minister of Education and Fine Arts, Blatta Ayele Gebre, Minister of Justice, Ato [later Negadaras] Gebre Egziabher [Desta], Minister of Commerce and Industry and Ato Belachew Yadete, Minister of Posts, Telegraphs and Telephones. In addition, We created the Ministries of Finance and Public Works... temporarily headed by directors.
Although We appointed and assigned ministers, there were still various problems ahead of Us in beginning the work. The day-to-day life of the people was not yet stabilized. We did not have a sufficient financial base and trained manpower. Besides, We were still under the menace of World War II. In all directions the problems appeared to Us as insurmountable quagmires. Although, in recognition of the benevolence of God to Us, We responded with kindness to the wicked acts of the enemy by declaring protection, instead of retribution and death, for the captured enemy troops; by contrast, Our enemy did not stop fighting.
As We indicated earlier, when the war started, the Italian armed forces in East Africa numbered around 300,000. Out of these, 90,000 were taken prisoner by the British troops and Our patriots, while nearly 67,000 escaped... The rest were destroyed by Our patriots and British troops, while some remained fugitives in various places. Those who were dispersed, regrouped themselves and garrisoned Derra, Ambalage, Gonder, and Jima. So We had still a formidable task of fighting to eliminate the enemy completely. For this reason, We ordered Our patriots and allies to conduct a campaign in these areas.
The enemy forces stationed at Ambalage under the leadership of the Duca D'Aosta, presented strong resistance and ferociously fought from Miazia 28 [May 6] to Genbot 12 [May 20]. [When] at last the enemy was defeated... the Duca D'Aosta surrendered to General Platt, thereby marking the end of the battle of Ambalage.
The enemy force that garrisoned Derra was attacked by a unit composed of 100 members of the Frontier Battalion and a section of the Second Ethiopian Battalion under the command of... [Colonel] Wingate along with 2,000 patriots headed by Ras Kassa. The enemy was defeated and captured on Genbot 21 [May 29], at the battle of Agibar.
The enemy forces that were stationed at Jima under the command of General [Pietro] Gazzera continued to fight in the district called Abalti until they were defeated and captured at Jima on Sene 10 [June 18] While the battle was ongoing, We visited Our troops at Gedo and Chelia, barely escaping enemy fire. When We heard that General Gazzera had escaped to Welega, We ordered Our forces at Chelia and Gedo, in collaboration with the Allied forces, to pursue him.... At Dembidolo, General Gazzera surrendered with a large number of weapons and troops to the Belgian Congo forces who had engaged him from the west.
Because of its high degree of readiness, the enemy force that was at Gonder under the command of General Nasi was dangerous. Nevertheless, while the vanguard army of Fitawrari Biru, in conjunction with a detachment of Ras Abebe's patriot forces who were sent from Shewa, were assaulting him, additional forces under the command of Our son, the Crown Prince Meridazmatch Asfa Wossen arrived and continued to fight until Hidar 19, 1934 [Nov. 28, 1941]. On the same day, General Nasi surrendered to [Maj.] General C.C. Fowkes. Later, our victorious troops marched in and took control of the town of Gonder and hoisted our flag there on Hidar 24, 1934 [Dec. 3]. This marked the complete destruction of organized enemy forces in our country, and We resumed Our work of peace-time civilian administration. However, since the world was at war, it was not possible to consider the time as completely peaceful. Likewise, Our resumption of work was not complete.
As statistics compiled by expatriates and our own people showed by the end of the war in Ethiopia, on our side alone, 750,000 people had been killed, 500,000 houses and other properties burned down, 2,000 churches ransacked or ruined, about 14 million cattle devoured and 75% of the educated young men killed in cold blood.
The war damage could not be less than the statistics revealed. It is probable that it was far more than alleged. On Our part, We did not find postwar reconstruction to be an easy task. Sick and homeless children were on the streets of Addis Abeba and other towns. Most of them were no more than eight years of age at most. The children either had been lured to towns by the Italians or had come in search of help when their parents were killed or their homes destroyed.
Moreover, Our concern increased when We saw that the soldiers in the countryside did not have any food. It was the resident of the rural areas who bore the brunt of wartime difficulties. It was he who was taxed by two authorities: helping the patriots by providing them with provisions and protection, while also suffering from the enemy's weapons, which burned and killed him. His village was set afire. His wealth was looted. His crops were spoiled. His country became a wilderness. Many such people came to Us with their wounds to express their grief. Because of a lack of capital, economic activities were at a standstill. On the other hand, those who had been earning their living from their employment with the Italians became jobless. This was another worrying matter.
The work of rehabilitating a people who had experienced moral breakdown, and whose culture had been undermined, requires going back and revisiting what had happened. It is only then that one understands that everything needs to be started from scratch. Aware that peacetime requires one to work with as much energy and strength as in wartime, We worked tirelessly... to alleviate all these problems.
Furthermore, it was necessary to erect monuments to those who were massacred brutally, extend assistance to those who were wounded and mutilated, and to rehabilitate the patriots who wandered in the hills and ravines for five years. All these were Our responsibility. We responded... according to the urgency of the individual problem and the priority it deserved.
It is to be remembered that the Archbishop of eastern Ethiopia, Abuna Petros, was executed by a firing squad on Hamle 22, 1928 [July 29, 1936] at the orders of the brutal Graziani, thus becoming the first fallen martyr. On the same date, Hamle 22, 1933 [July 29, 1941], We laid the cornerstone of a monument for him. With his last breath, Abuna Petros said, "Behold the land of Ethiopia; be cursed, if you accept the enemy." This immortal saying shall be instructive until the Day of Rapture. Since Ethiopia kept to the last admonition of His Grace Abuna Petros, We decided to erect a monument for [him] on the same spot his innocent blood had been spilled. The words "do not be afraid of those who kill your flesh, for they cannot kill your soul"... produced thousands of Ethiopian martyrs.
When the enemy... fled, he left his weapons... everywhere. Rifles and explosives ended up in the hands of the people, and were used for the purpose of looting, killing, arson and various other crimes. As these kinds of crimes increased and the country remained unstable and insecure, on Sene 26, 1933 [July 3, 1941], We issued an additional criminal code. Moreover, we established courts to handle criminal cases... on the basis of the criminal code or customary laws. The judges were mostly Ethiopians but at Our own request and through the recommendation of the Deputy Chief of Political Affairs, some British natives were also appointed. The establishment of the criminal courts made a significant contribution in protecting the lives and properties of the nearly 40,000 Italian citizens who were residing in Addis Abeba.
Empress Menen and our daughter Princess Tsehai left our home in Bath and, after travelling aboard a ship via South Africa, arrived in Mombasa on Nehasie 21, 1933 [August 27, 1941]. Then they proceeded to Nairobi, whence they flew to Addis Abeba aboard a British airplane. When they arrived in Addis Abeba on Nehasie 23 [August 29], We thanked God and welcomed them with joy.
The next month, on Meskerem 13, 1934 [Sept. 23, 1941], We heard about the death of Our daughter Princess Romane Work. [She] had fallen into the hands of the enemy with her children after her husband Dejazmatch Beyene Merid was captured and killed on Yekatit 16, 1929 [Feb. 23, 1937] at the battle of Gogti. In the month of Genbot 1929 [May-June 1937], she was taken first to Azina as a prisoner and later to Turin... she fell ill and after protracted suffering, We were told, she died... on Tikimt 4, 1933 [Oct. 14, 1940]. Just as with other difficulties, We accepted and passed through this sad news.
Another problem for Our people was the system of taxation. When We established the Ministry of Interior after Our victory, We also divided the territories of the Imperial Ethiopian government in such a way that it fostered sound administration. These divisions were: the awraja, the wereda, and the meslene jurisdictions. Accordingly, the country was divided into 12 awrajas, 60 weredas and 339 meslenes, and subsequently We appointed awraja and wereda administrators. Later, these divisions were renamed as provinces, districts [awrajas], sub-districts [weredas] and sub-sub-districts [mekital weredas].
Traditionally, the tax system in Our country included labor work, which took various names such as hay tax, corvee tax, holiday tax, hut tax and so forth. In 1927 [1934-35], We had planned to reform the... system, but implementation was obstructed by the invasion of the enemy. Now, We abolished each of these and ordered the assessment and payment of taxes in cash. Even then, taking into consideration the hardship Our people had undergone during the five years of affliction, We decreed the taxes to be half of what was due... [and payable] directly to the government treasury. In accordance with new administrative regulations, administrators and government employees were to receive salaries, from which they were to live.
Furthermore, We cancelled the toll gate dues paid by the merchants and decreed the payment of taxes only at the market place. We abolished the toll tax paid at the boundary of every... jurisdiction and limited the amount by law. We ratified these by the proclamation of Tikimt 23, 1934 [Nov. 2, 1941] and made everything known to Our people.
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When the war was launched from the Sudan, the subject of discussion in the British parliament, and what was in the minds of the people, was the extent of British authority over Ethiopia and the nature of the relationship between the two countries. Concerning this ambiguity, We already have discussed in chapter XVIII the draft report that Sir Anthony Eden presented to the British parliament on Yekatit 4, 1941 [Feb. 11, 1941]; but, on the other hand, the authorities of the East African colonies ignored the subject which had been debated in the British parliament and were inclined to place Our country under their administration. Accordingly, the military command, which had its headquarters at Nairobi, included Ethiopia in what they called the "Occupied Enemy Territory Administration." On our side, We strove to explain that the British government was working for the freedom of the whole world and to establish warm relationships between our peoples. At the same time, We had the duty of teaching Our people to be worthy of reciprocating their good deeds.
Before and after We returned to Ethiopia, We described the nature of the relationship between Ethiopia and Britain. We did so in our proclamations, speeches and in other appropriate ways. But the British military officers and troops in Ethiopia, pretending that they did not know the nature of the friendship and alliance openly debated in the British parliament, began to portray Us and Our people as though we resented British assistance. Major General Sir Phillip Mitchell, the Chief Political Officer in the British Forces High Command, arrived in Addis Abeba in Genbot 1933 [June 1941]. He came to Addis Abeba on his way to London for discussions with his government about the administration of Ethiopia. We exchanged views but failed to agree on certain matters. We also expressed Our disagreement with the ideas he suggested.
We feared that he might influence and possibly distort the attitude of his government and, for this reason, We asked him to present the following six ideas to his government: that London assist Ethiopia to establish her own military forces as soon as possible; to find solutions to Our current financial problems, and advisors for the Ministries of Finance and Justice; help to set up a permanent provincial administration; determine the amount of money Ethiopia had to pay for expenses incurred in the operation to drive the aggressors out; and, finally, sign a Treaty with Us.
Later, when General Wavell, the Supreme Commander of the British Middle Eastern High Command, came to Addis Abeba on Sene 21, 1933 [June 28, 1941], We discussed with him Our problems.
Among the British military officers in Ethiopia, there was a person called Brigadier [Maurice S.] Lush, who led a political group which had sinister intentions toward Our country....They spoke publicly that the purpose of their coming was to rule Ethiopia. They also claimed that the Ethiopian people hated them, though they were their liberators, and by doing so, they tried to destabilize the security of the country. Before we entered Ethiopia Our patriots led the British troops in the north, west, and east; and later, during the preparation for launching the assault on Nasi's forces at Gonder, Our patriots, whose number was over a hundred thousand, were the ones who led the attack and fought on the front lines. But the British portrayed them as if [the patriots] had done nothing. While they broadcast their victories and the amount of booty they captured over the radio, they did not mention the names of Our patriots.
When Jima was retaken, it was Our force which defeated the enemy, and the British did not touch the booty on the field. But once it was brought to town, they took all, claiming that, according to the rules of war, everything should fall to the British. Moreover, they fought with Our troops, using tanks, and wounded Our patriots just to commandeer a truck that the forces under the command of Dejazmatch Geresu Duki had captured. Some judges who went to the place of the incident to investigate, testified that the British troops were at fault.
Mitchell, the man who came to draft a treaty and [Sir Robert] Howe, who was later appointed as British Minister in Ethiopia, began threatening Us by circulating rumors... that, since Our only friend was Mr. Anthony Eden, the Foreign Secretary, British officers would administer Ethiopia as a mandate.
They spoke about and published in newspapers the imminence of violence and the absence of security in Ethiopia. Because of this, the resident military officer of the British in South Africa came but saw that the reality was far from what was alleged. He left Ethiopia baffled. The British in Ethiopia, led by Brigadier Lush, tried to divide our people along tribal lines. As the result of their propaganda and promises of protection, some tribes in Jemjem awraja became rebellious and mounted disturbances. We sent Ras Abebe and Brigadier Lush to the area, and the people, after meeting with Ethiopian authorities, changed their minds. It was found out that the cause of the problem was the resident British political officer, and, thereby, the plot was foiled. In Harer, the propaganda campaign conducted by a British political officer... among the Gerri Kocher Somalis resulted in civil conflict. He was responsible for the bloodshed which occurred...
[The British] took all the military equipment captured in our country, openly and boldly saying that it should not be left for the service of blacks. For Our people of Eritrea, We issued a proclamation, and the British commander confirmed that their emperor had arrived and that they would achieve their freedom. If this had not been done, obviously [the Eritreans] would have faced problems stemming from the uncertainty of the situation. Although the maintenance of the occupation of Eritrea was understandably important for military reasons, [the British] expressed their interest in retaining it as a permanent colony.
Haile Sellassie Gugsa was the first person to betray Us and thus cause the Ethiopian forces to disintegrate when the Italian forces invaded. Despite this, the British military commanders divided Tigray into two sections and appointed Haile Sellassie Gugsa as the governor of one of the parts.
Nevertheless, as if his earlier betrayal was not enough, Haile Sellassie Gugsa was again caught corresponding with the Italians. As a result, the British took him into custody, and they kept him in Asmera. We explained the wrongs that Haile Sellassie Gugsa had caused and requested his extradition. The British military commanders informed Us through Brigadier Lush that they would do so if We promised not to punish him by death. Finally, they granted political asylum to a person who, in the first place, had deserted the Ethiopian government and people and had caused the disarray of Our forces; and who, later on, had been illegally appointed by the British themselves but removed when he was found to be an instrument of the enemy. They took him out of Asmera and gave him safe haven in an unknown place.
In general, the British stopped at nothing to divide Our people and make the government hated. They controlled the entire state revenue, including the sales and municipal taxes. Because of this, We reached a stage where We could not pay the salaries of Our workers. This brought Us enormous difficulties. The amount of the provisions they were commandeering for the purpose of the war was out of proportion, and although it was obvious that such practices would lead to the impoverishment of the country, they carelessly continued their unabated exploitation.
Despite the fact that the problems mentioned above were potentially capable of creating instability and were inflicted on Us daily, We tolerated all and continued to organize Our administration. On the other hand, We began to hear that some of our people were saying that we drove out one white man only to replace him with another. As they said on the street, if this was the result of everything, then what was wrong with the Italians.
Since all the African countries surrounding Ethiopia were under colonial rule... there were a number of arguments raised to oppose Ethiopia's independence. The slave trade was still going on, her boundaries were not demarcated, internally there was violence and bloodshed, and she needed European trusteeship. Such were the allegations against us.
To investigate these charges the British parliament debated the issues from left and right. No government in the history of the world was able to solve all problems at once and to straighten everything out miraculously. In fact it takes a long time and consistent effort to carry out such a task. Yet it was surprising that everything was exaggerated when it came to us.
The most exaggerated accusation against Ethiopia was the issue of slavery. For this reason, when We began laying the foundations for rehabilitating the country, We immediately issued a proclamation to abolish the master-slave relationship. This proclamation stated that Our pre-war proclamation had come to fruition.
The institution of slavery was deeply rooted in tradition... [and] it was impossible to uproot such an ancient institution simply by writing laws. It should not have been held against us as a strange phenomenon either. Since far back in history, slavery had been practiced in the whole world; it was not an institution unique to Ethiopia. It is recorded in history that this practice has posed problems world-wide.
We also faced a number of controversial problems directed against our freedom. In the guise of advancing racial and tribal concerns, the British military authorities in East Africa advanced some proposals inconsistent with our independence. In response, We made a bitter struggle to wrest Our country from the jaws of the lion.
Accordingly, We dispatched a telegram to the then British Prime Minister stating the problems We encountered because of the delay of the treaty that was to be made between the British and Ethiopian governments. In a telegram he sent to Us, he indicated "I would like to urge Your Majesty not to be worried about the long time it is taking to complete the agreement. The reason for the delay is to draft the treaty in such a way that the assistance that the British government intends to provide to your country will not infringe upon the prerogatives of the Emperor and the independence of Ethiopia."
We explained that financial assistance would be required to reconstruct Our destroyed country and early on We asked for ten million guineas to enable Us [to negotiate further] assistance from our friends and allies. At the time of the signing of the treaty, We were told that the request could not be met [and] We reduced it to five million. They told us that the authorized amount was exactly two and a half million pounds sterling. Accordingly, We signed a two-year agreement with Britain on Tir 23, 1934 [Jan. 31, 1942].
The agreement was signed by Us, while on behalf of the British government, it was signed by Major General Sir Philip Mitchel, Chief Political Officer of the East African British Forces High Command. The agreement was divided into 12 sections. The provisions required the British to appoint British judges to sit in Ethiopian courts, to assist the administration of Our imperial government, to train Our armed forces, to work for the repatriation of Ethiopians held as captives by the Italians, and seek the return of the properties of the Ethiopian government and the works of art taken to Italy, and ecclesiastical costumes and other things confiscated from the various churches and communities. On our part, We were not to ask the British troops, who were to stay in Ethiopia until the European war was over, to pay for their utilization of Ethiopian property. However, it was an undeniable truth that Ethiopia remained in serious difficulty until the war ended.
Electronic edition created and published online by members of the
January 7, 2018