Welcome Abroad!

Ras Tafari Makonnen had made two trips abroad when he was Regent. The first was in 1923 when he paid a visit to Aden. This was the first time he had ever left his native soil; and while staying there as the guest of the Governor, and rather to the agitation of his staff, he made his first flight in an aeroplane. It was not many years before several planes of various makes were acquired by him and a small school of aviation started.

In 1924 his wife, Waizero Menan, visited Jerusalem to worship in the Ethiopian church on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. On her way back she passed through Cairo, and for the first time had some impact with the life of a great city.

In 1925 he made his first trip to Europe. Gathering round him some of the chief men of his realm, Ras Seyum of Tigre, Ras Hailu of Gojjam, Dejazmach Mulugeta, and others, he visited Egypt, France, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Sweden, Great Britain, and Greece. From his journeys he acquired first-hand knowledge of western administration, of factories, hospitals, and schools; in short of all the means whereby he might increase the wealth and wellbeing of his nation, and equip it to take its place in the progress of civilization. It was during this time that he began to make those personal contacts and friendships which throughout his life he has so greatly valued.

Such a kaleidoscope of new sights and scenes within the space of a few weeks might well have bemused his party. A story is told of the treasurer who accompanied their trip. Some purchases had been made and the friend who had negotiated them was bidden to go to the treasurer, who was in Paris, for payment. He presented his bill and was answered with a puzzled look, and led up to the hotel bedroom. Pulling out a trunk from under the bed, the treasurer unlocked it with a despairing gesture. ‘Take the money yourself,’ he said. The trunk was overflowing with notes and coins from all the countries that had been visited, and the poor treasurer was bewildered and bemused as to the value and locality of them all.

The Emperor had special reasons for his visits and special ties with the countries that he visited on his two tours in 1954. He had also arrived, as it were, at a convenient halting place in the internal affairs of his own country. The house was in order, security was assured, progress was on the march in most departments of the State, commerce was thriving, the economic position healthy, federation with Eritrea achieved. He had the opportunity and welcomed it, to make new contacts and re-establish old ones, to gain fresh experience and absorb new ideas for future use.

His first visit was made in May to the United States of America. He has always felt warmly towards the Government of the U.S.A., who never gave diplomatic recognition to the Italian annexation of Ethiopia. He is also in friendship bound to them by the valuable financial assistance which they had given to his country in the past ten years, and knows them and their ways through the many groups of American experts and technical advisers who are to be found in almost every sphere of action in Ethiopia. His most valued friend and adviser before the outbreak of war in 1936 was Mr Everard Colson, who sacrificed himself for the Ethiopian cause, and literally worked himself to death. Now an American is governor of the State Bank of Ethiopia, another is chief engineer of the State Gold Mines. Others assist in the highway development programme, the educational system, in the Ministries of Commerce and Industry, Defence, Agriculture, Finance, and Foreign Affairs.

The following statement was issued by the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington on the arrival of the Emperor in the United States in 1954:

The visit of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia, to the United States is the consequence of his longstanding interest and admiration for America, and of the invitation originally extended during his meeting with President Roosevelt in 1944, and renewed by President Eisenhower earlier this year.

The Emperor arrived in Washington on 26th May to be the White House guest of the President and Mrs Eisenhower. His Imperial Majesty’s tour of the United States, Canada, and Mexico includes New York, Boston, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec, Ann Arbor, Lansing, Chicago, St Paul, Spokane, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Stillwater, Oklahoma, Mexico City, New Orleans, and Fort Benning. He sails from New York on 14th July.

This was a very comprehensive programme; it covered a distance of many thousands of miles and during its progress the Emperor gained some insight into the vastness of the resources of the New World, and of the methods used to exploit them in the most economic and scientific way. Perhaps in this respect the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River, that had already irrigated 100,000 acres, the water running through 260 miles of canals, would be of special interest. The problem of Lake Tsana’s water, first considered in 1906, is one that will certainly come to the fore within the next few years.

A speech made by His Imperial Majesty to a joint meeting of the two houses of Congress has made history. Present were the entire Diplomatic Corps, the President and his Cabinet, the judges of the Supreme Court, besides both the members of the United States Senate and the House of Representatives.

Later, when in New York, he paid an official visit to the headquarters of the United Nations. He was greeted by the Secretary-General, who said the Emperor ‘stands in the perspective of the history of our time as a symbolic landmark, a prophetic figure on the path of man’s struggle to achieve international peace through concerted international action’—an honourable recognition of the lonely figure who stood on the platform at Geneva in June 1936.

He made a particular point of seeing American soldiers in hospital at San Francisco, who had fought alongside Ethiopian troops in Korea. He visited the Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College at Stillwater, from which so many technicians and teachers have been supplied for service in the agricultural colleges in Jimma and Harar.

His way back took him also to visit President Tito of Yugoslavia, and to see something of the country and its problems. Many of its nationals are now working in Addis Ababa and in the last few years a Yugoslav Legation has been established there. Thence he went to Greece to renew an old friendship. The Greek community is long established in Ethiopia and very numerous. They live not only in Addis Ababa, but in many outlying districts of the empire, and their contribution to the growth of internal trade has been of long duration and widespread.

The Emperor returned to Ethiopia early in August to attend to urgent affairs. After a stay of two months only he left again for a tour of Europe.

This time his journey was made by air and sea. He visited many places already known to him, and enhanced by memory. Travelling by way of Wadi Haifa (had he not first set foot there on that return journey whose hopes in spite of opening discouragement had been so wonderfully fulfilled?) and Cairo, the Emperor flew on to Malta, where he was received with royal ceremony by the Governor and the British Fleet and met again a personal friend in Lord Louis Mountbatten, who had visited Addis Ababa in 1953. That is why a ship’s bell, his gift, hangs in the General Wingate School. After a stay of two days in that historic island he embarked in the cruiser Gambia to make his journey to England by sea.

What memories must have been revived! What a contrast of circumstances to be pondered upon with acknowledgment to the Almighty whose strong arm ‘ shall break the nations in pieces like a potter’s vessel.’ ‘He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble and meek.’ Some such thoughts must have passed through his mind; perhaps he even chose this method of travel with special remembrance of the sympathy and comradeship on that previous journey through the Mediterranean in 1936.

Arriving in Portsmouth he was met with the same spontaneous and friendly welcome as had greeted him in adversity nearly twenty years previously. But what a difference as the train drew into the London terminus—not Waterloo this time, but Victoria. There might almost be a subtle intention in the change. Before the sport of fortune, the victim of aggression; now the friend and honoured guest of the sovereign. But the crowd that gathered along Victoria Street and up the Mall was the same—the man in the street who speaks for Britain whether in sympathy for distress or in acclamation for well-earned triumph.

‘The station and neighbouring streets were crammed with many thousands anxious for a sight of the Emperor, and when he alighted he was wildly cheered.’ That description, written about his arrival in 1936, would suit either occasion.

His visits in England were more personal and intimate affairs than his tour of America. In his speech at the banquet given by Her Majesty the Queen at Buckingham Palace he replied to the Queen’s hope that she ‘would like to think that in England he would always feel at home’ with the generous response: ‘The friendship of the Royal House and the British people alone sustained me and my people in our lonely struggles. Such friendship and loyalty have earned our imperishable gratitude and friendship.’ It is perhaps not out of place to record here that His Imperial Majesty has just presented to the English church, erected this year in Addis Ababa, a memorial commemorating all those who fell in the campaign for the liberation of his country.

A less formal visit was paid to Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh at Windsor Castle, and here, as the royal children pedalled over on their tricycles to greet him in his car, he must have surely felt at home.

Visits to the Middlesex Hospital, to an infants’ school in a new housing estate, to a teacher’s training college: all these were indicative of interests to be studied in his own country.

He found time for a visit to his own house in Bath, where he was greeted with warm remembrance. He was given the freedom of the city, proud to welcome her royal citizen to his home again.

So the grand tour went on; to Paris next, for with the French people the Emperor has old associations. The railway line which for many years served as the link between Ethiopia and the outside world was a French project and has kept him in touch with that country.

His next visit was to Holland, and here again he stayed with the reigning Queen and her consort. During the last ten years relations with Holland have greatly expanded. Dutch advisers were among the Emperor’s assistants in the task of reconstruction, and a very large Ethiopian-Dutch enterprise is entering its third year of existence. This is the Wonji Sugar Estate, which is one of the most important agricultural enterprises in the country. Covering an acreage of several thousand this extremely important and hopeful scheme plans to cut out the import of sugar within a very few years, and will be one of the most economically useful projects in the country. He visited a school for the blind, an enterprise with which he is very interested in Addis Ababa and at which he is a frequent visitor.

From Holland he crossed to Sweden, the country that has the oldest educational links with Ethiopia. It was on a previous visit that the Emperor said: ‘Swedish missionaries have performed in my country a great and blessed work. They have founded schools and hospitals, they speak our language, and they of all missionaries have learnt how to win the affection and trust of my people.’

Through Norway he passed—there was an exhibition of Ethiopian art at Oslo, which he visited; then through Germany and up the Rhine to Switzerland. What a host of memories must have thronged him in that city to which he had come many years ago to plead his cause.

The hundreds of photographs which have illustrated the Emperor’s travels are the best indication of his enjoyment of this ‘part of experience,’ as said the philosopher. Now he is home again ‘to prick in some flowers of that he hath learned abroad into the customs of his own country.’

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November 26, 2019