- The Emperor's Clothes: A Personal Viewpoint on Politics and Administration in the Imperial Ethiopian Government 1941-1974 (review)
- Northeast African Studies
- Michigan State University Press
- Volume 3, Number 2, 1996 (New Series)
- pp. 155-157
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Book Reviews 155 The Emperor's Clothes: A Personal Viewpoint on Politics and Administration in the Imperial Ethiopian Government 1941-1974 Gaitachew Bekele East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1993. Pp. v, 206. Illustrations. If only belatedly, students of the Haile Sellassie era in Ethiopian history are beginning to get some interesting reminiscences by survivors of that regime. To this small but encouraging group of memoirs belongs the book under review. The author, a conscientious and highly independent-minded functionary of that regime, has given us a personal account of his career. Ato Gaitachew started his administrative career as a subordinate official in Ethiopia's fledgling maritime services in the early 1950s and ended it as Minister of Public Works in Endalkachew Makonnen's ill-fated cabinet in 1974. He was a member of the post-1941 educated elite, attending the prestigious schools of the time—Tafari Makonnen, Menilek ?, and Haile Sellassie I Secondary School (Kotebe). He was sent to England for his higher education, to join a group of students (Mikael Emiru, Zewde Gebre Sellassie, Endalkachew Makonnen, Mengistu Lemma, among others) who were to leave their own imprint on Ethiopian social and political life on their return. With them, in 1948, he set up one of the first Ethiopian student associations abroad, serving as its treasurer in 1950. Eritrea's federation with Ethiopia in 1952 posed for the latter the challenge of developing maritime administration and naval power. Ato Gaitachew's most distinctive contribution to Ethiopian administration remains in that realm. In the efficient and diligent execution of his assignment, he had a steady patron (Makonnen Habtawald) and an understanding superior (Dajjach Zewde Gabra Sellassie, who was director of the maritime development). He also had an inveterate enemy, Ras Andargachaw Masay, the emperor's son-in-law. Tainted by the abortive coup of 1960, banishment of one sort or another became Ato Gaitachew's fate. He was placed under surveillance successively in Waliso andJimma before being appointed as governor of Bahr Dar district for 1961-63. He was then posted as ambassador to Haiti, where he found himself at cross purposes with "Papa Doc" on the protocols of the emperor's reception during the latter's state visit, and to Mexico, where he was forced 156 Book Reviews to host a reception in honour of the Ethiopian delegation to the 1968 Olympics with funds one of the delegation's leaders was kind enough to advance him. His last government post before the 1974 revolution was as minister of state in Endalkachew's ministry of posts, telephone, and transport; in that capacity, he presided over the evolution of a model Road Transport Administration staffed by radical University graduates and the Ethiopianization of two major transport enterprises: Ethiopian Airlines and the Franco-Ethiopian Railway. There were two major events after 1974 in which he was involved before the Derg's merciless incarceration machine swallowed him, like so many others. The first revolved around the fruitless efforts to address the grievances of the Congo veterans, grievances which the author feels "more than any other factor ... led to the rise of the military junta." The second was membership of the Derg's land reform committee, which, according to the author, ironically pitted the Western-educated ideologues against the Easterneducated pragmatists. Ato Gaitachew tells his story well and with an amazing recollection of detail. While the overall thrust of the story is on political and administrative life in the period 1950-1974, the book also has some useful information on the Resistance (1936-1941) and on socio-economic life. Inevitably, Emperor Haile Sellassie occupies the center stage. The author's attitude toward his sovereign is marked by ambivalence and contradiction. In 1960, he felt that "every thinking man ... was ready for the removal of the emperor" (p. 101). Yet he felt saddened by his removal in 1974. Rather naively, he attributes the eruption of the 1974 revolution to the emperor's abandonment of traditional values, including the national dress; hence the choice of title for the book. Yet the work has many interesting instances of the emperor's consummate skill in balancing forces, including the celebrated raising of people like the author "from nowhere...