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Book Reviews My Life and Ethiopia's Progress, Vol. II Haile Sellassie I. Edited and annotated by Harold G Marcus; translated by Ezekiel Gebissa East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1994. Pp. xviii, 190. Caveat emptor. Appearances can be deceptive. Those most likely to read volumes I and II are people interested in the life of Emperor Hayle-Sillasé I (alternate transliteration) and in Ethiopia's "progress," as the title promises. But such interests are better satisfied elsewhere, even if one keeps in mind that irmijja in the Amharic title means "progress" in a wide and general sense of taking one step after another, not only developmental progress, as we often understand the word today. Hayle-Sillasé was a statesman of great stature, undoubtedly the emperor who did most to put Ethiopia on to the narrow and crooked path toward modern development, in spite of some erratic efforts by his predecessors. It was not a smooth path for Hayle-Sillasé to stay in power for so long. He ought to have a lot to tell about himself and Ethiopia's progress, but after having chosen the title for his autobiography, he left that track and decided to write largely about something else. Although Hiruy Welde-Sillasé helped him pen the first volume and Mersé-Hazen Welde-Q'r'rqos and Tekle-Sadiq Mekuri'ya the second, it was Hayle-Sillasé, who decided that the books should deal mostly with "petty local intrigues"—the words of Kebbede Mikaél. Kebbede M'ikaél was the first choice as "ghost-writer" of these volumes, but he withdrew when the emperor did not take his advice to write as a statesmen of great national and international stature ("Kebbede" in Molvaer, Creative Lives). Both volumes should be read with this in mind. Why did Hayle-Sillasé choose to write these books as he did? A great man with a great mind should be concerned with important issues. However, even great men have their weaknesses, and Hayle-Sillasé was very concerned about his reputation. After his return to power in 1941, there were two things about which people were talking viciously behind©Northeast African Studies (ISSN 0740-9133) Vol. 3, No. 2 (New Series) 1996, pp. 149-165149 150 Book Reviews his back: (1) the legitimacy of his power and position (a chief concern of his two Constitutions, "voluntarily given to the people" (Haile Sellassie, Vol. I, ch. 29; and "Tekle-Hawariyat" in Creative Lives), and (2) his flight into exile in 1936. It is mainly to counter people's opinion (and gossip) about him on these two counts that he wrote his two-volume autobiography. There were special reasons why Hayle-Sillasé was touchy on these two points. Rulers find legitimacy in inheritance, in usurpation, or in election. But to what could Hayle-Sillasé point? He was a pawn in other people's political game in 1916. He was probably first chosen to be heir to the throne (alga werash) because he was expected to be a pliable tool in the hands of those who picked him for the job. But when was he made regent? He insisted that he was regent from the start (Haile Sellassie, Vol. I, pp. 47, 65, 151); so the chronicler of Iyasu and Zewdi'tu had to mention his elevation, by Zewd'ftu, to the position of regent several years later (in late 1922 or early 1923) in rather cryptic terms (on this question see MerséHazen 's unpublished memoirs on the reign of Zewdi'tu). When he fled Ethiopia in 1936, many wanted him replaced by someone else, primarily by a descendant of Iyasu. However, when he again occupied the imperial throne after the Italian occupation in 1941, Hayle-Sillasé was again a pawn in the game of politics. He was reinstated as emperor because others had beaten Italy in Ethiopia, and they let the emperor have his throne back. No wonder Hayle-Sillasé felt resentful towards HabteG ïyorgïs, the chief engineer behind the 1916 coup (Molvaer, Socialization and Social Control in Ethiopia, p. 146), and later toward the British, who had put him back on the throne in 1941. Later, he liked to present himself...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1535-6574
Print ISSN
0740-9133
Pages
pp. 149-154
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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