Prince Ermias Sahle Selassie – a member of the Advisory Board of the Center for Culture and Security at IWP – along with his wife, Princess Saba Kebede, have been featured in an October 17 article on African and Asian royalty in the Washington DC area in The Washington Post. Crown Prince Ermias is the grandson of the last Emperor of Ethiopia, the famous Haile Selassie – is the legitimate heir to the Ethiopian Throne. He is also a member of the Ethopian Crown Council in exile and a cultural and humanitarian activist.
The Ethiopian realm was one of the oldest monarchies in the world. Polities had arisen in the territory of modern-day Ethiopia since the eighth century BC. Yet, the mighty Empire of Axum (first – tenth centuries AD), may be considered the most significant progenitor of a crystallized Ethiopian civilization. The rulers of Axum converted to Christianity around 330 AD, making Ethiopia the third kingdom – following Armenia (301) and Georgia (319) – in the world to officially embrace the Christian faith, a decisive factor shaping Ethiopian cultural and national identity. Further, the Solomonic Dynasty, which ruled the empire from the thirteenth century on, claimed descent from the Biblical King Solomon and Queen Sheba. Hence, the titles of all Ethiopian emperors henceforth included the appellation of the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah.
The uniqueness of Ethiopia’s civilization was further reinforced by the spread of Islam in many adjacent territories after the seventh century – either through conquest or proselytizing – isolated the kingdom from the core of Christendom in Europe. Resistance to Muslim attempts to incorporate and/or convert Ethiopia is, in fact, a major theme in the country’s history and culture. As a result, a sovereign Christian Ethiopian state survived, only to be hemmed in by Islamic entities on three sides, i.e. to the north, west, and east. Known by the Europeans as the legendary Kingdom of Prester John, Ethiopia finally linked up with the Portuguese to fight against an Ottoman Turkish Jihad during the sixteenth century. This history also underscores Ethiopia’s strategic location near the Horn of Africa and on the frontier between Africa and the Middle East.
As a nation forged in the struggle against Islamic invaders, Ethiopia would also remain one of the very few African states to resist the wave of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century European colonization. The great powers certainly eyed Abyssinia as a potential prize. The appetite of the young Italian state, anxious to secure its own colonial empire, proved the greatest. Yet, the first Italian attempt to subdue Ethiopia ended with the Abyssinian victory at Adwa in 1896. Three decades later, Mussolini’s Fascist Italy invaded once more with the same goal in 1935. The League of Nations failed to support Abyssinia with anything but empty words, and the Ethiopian Emperor was forced into exile. Although Italy’s modern armaments triumphed, the country regained its independence following a British-led liberation campaign in 1941.
The Emperor Haile Selassie’s return from exile allowed Ethiopia to once again pursue its own destiny, which included taking the initiative in such enterprises as the Non-Aligned Movement and the Pan-Africanist current. Yet, Ethiopia was plagued by many domestic problems. In 1974, a coup by a communist-led military junta toppled the Emperor. The subsequent communist rule of the infamous General Mengistu Haile Mariam led to a bloody civil war, a red terror, and Marxist-induced collectivization and famine responsible for the death of over 400,000 Ethiopians. Although Mengistu was eventually overthrown himself, the country once subjugated to his yoke continues to struggle with post-communist pathologies and continuities.