When Haile Selassie “disappeared” on August 28, 1974, a new era of democracy and freedom exploded onto the continent. All of us were ecstatically hopeful.
What a mess.
It went not so badly for 10-15 years. I’m inclined to think the culprit is the Cold War. Global politics during the Cold War courted Africa at all costs, creating and magnifying corruption. Then the end of the Cold War triggered an abrupt end to all interest whatever in Africa!
The continent was dropped on its butt from the ivory tower of global democracy.
Fifteen years after the Emperor disappeared Africa was in shambles: wars, disease and pestilence, droughts, and possibly worse of all, increasing poverty.
The Africa Condition reached its nadir towards the end of the 1990s. By the middle of the last decade things were beginning to turn around, and today The Africa Condition is the best it’s ever been in my life time.
What’s happened? The Emperor has returned, and I’m not a Rastafarian.
Haile Selassie was the 77th Solomic emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to his death in 1974, but there were many emperors who preceded his 13th Century dynastic line, all the way back to the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon in 3 BC.
Known by the ancients as the Land of Punt, and believed by early Christians to be the hallowed land of Prester John, the country is sealed by formidable geography. It’s the only country in Africa never to have been colonized.
The likelihood that an early Queen actually did visit Jerusalem and bring back with her legions of intellectuals and wise men is a reasonable presumption.
If her visit actually did occur in 3 BC, her initial dynasty kept contact with Jerusalem at least through the birth of Jesus Christ, because around 3 AD Ethiopia had founded much of its strength on a form of Christianity that has been retained to the present day.
But around 3 AD the last hints of openness to the world closed, again. The isolation of the society allowed the early seeds of civilization to blossom unencumbered by the wars that beset the cradle of civilization. Ethiopia grew inwards.
I very much believe that the principle engine of social change for any society comes from the outside. So while Ethiopia’s impenetrable geography ensured the country was protected from the outside world’s turmoils, it also simultaneously retarded all social development.
Nothing could come into Ethiopia. There was a millennium of peace and no social change. Emperors flourished.
The isolation grew difficult by the beginning of the 1970s. Flush with the youthful energy that ended the Vietnam Conflict and started the Civil Rights movement and fired the new technologies of communication, Addis began to shake.
What followed the Emperor’s disappearance is correctly called the “Red Terror.”
Anger had built for generations. For all practical purposes, it exploded into a horrible and brutal revolution.
We have this weird notion in America that revolution is always good, because our very, very distant past revolution heralded a good era.
Not so in more modern times, even not so in the French revolution which almost immediately followed the American revolution. Revolutions are more typically followed by terrible turmoil.
The revolution and the turmoil that followed the Emperor’s disappearance is coming to an end throughout Africa. From the ashes have emerged a couple truly democratic and free societies as in South Africa and Kenya.
But the majority is not like that: The majority is composed of Rwandas, Egypts and Zimbabwes, ruthless autocratic societies each with its own little emperor.
The Lion of Judah has returned.