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Walda-Gìyorgis Walda-Yohannes and the Haue Sellassie Government Makonnen Tegegn Addis Ababa University Introduction Altiioughborn into a poor and humble famüy, Walda-Giyorgis WaldaYohannes rose to become one of the most powerful politicians in twentieth-century Ethiopia and die most important architect of Haile· Sellassie's post-1941 government. He, neverdieless, was toppled from tiie rank ofMinister of Pen in 1955 and reassigned to provincial governorships , from which he was unable to exercise any authority of consequence at the national level. Informants and published documents attribute Walda-Giyorgis's spectacular rise to the second highest government position to Emperor Haile Sellassie's patronage, and his unceremonious dismissal to the emperor's rejection. The sources nevertheless provide contrasting interpretations about the reasons behind his 1955 ousting. One group opines tiiat Walda-Giyorgis's position in a traditional government led to an exaggerated sense of power, causing him to underestimate the emperor's authority which was invested in increasingly modern institutions. The other side posits tiiat his hardworking nature, profound political capabÜities, unflinching desire and support for modernization, as well as his spreading influence and growing power began to tiireaten the emperor himself. Despite different emphases, both sides agree that he was used by die emperor as a scapegoat for the government 's failures in the 1940s and the first half of the 1950s. ^Northeast African Studies (ISSN 0740-9133) Vol. 4, No. 2 (New Series) 1997, pp. 91-138 91 92 Makonnen Tegegn The very considerable authority and influence which Walda-Giyorgis wielded while Minister ofPen (1941-55), the reforms which he attempted to accomplish, and his dramatic and ignoble fall from grace ensured that historians and the public would regard him as a controversial figure. This paper begins to investigate and to historicize die two contrasting attitudes about Walda-Giyorgis and the emperor. In the process, I argue that tiieir split occurred because in the post-1941 years Walda-Giyorgis sought to maintain the momentum and to continue the trajectories of Haile Sellassie's earlier modernizing efforts; die latter, on the other hand, was driven to attain and secure absolute power. Especially after 1947, the emperor's primary concern with total dominance and WaldaGiyorgis 's continuing fundamental commitment to die good governance ofEthiopia put the men on two inherently irreconcilable political courses from which only one could emerge victorious. The Formative Years (1901-1 928) Walda-Giyorgis Walda-Yohannes was born on 4 August 1901 in Addis Ababa, around Arat Kilo at a place known as Abatachin or Maryam Safar. He was the first child ofhis father and die tiiird ofhis mother, neither of whom had family connections with the ruling class. During his early childhood Walda-Giyorgis was forceful and emotionally volatile, tending to fly into a rage whenever he was denied something he wanted . His fatiier was patient and easy-going witii Walda-Giyorgis, unlike his mother, who was energetic and strict. Although Walda-Giyorgis's temper cooled down as he grew up, his forceful and tireless character emulated tiiat ofhis mother, with whom he lived most of the time.1 Walda-Giyorgis had his traditional religious education at the Holy Trinity Church near his birth place in Addis Ababa. However, unlike some ofhis cohort and despite his eagerness to do so, Walda-Giyorgis did not get die chance to go to a modern school right away, owing to his parents ' opposition. His parents, like many families of the time, feared tiiat sending their children to a modern school would result in their abandoning the Orthodox Christian religion and being converted to Catholicism.2 Naggadras Mangistu Ayala, a relative of Walda-Giyorgis's fatiier, intervened and convinced tiiem of the value of modern education . Mangistu himself had been educated and was working as an Walda-Giyorgis Walda-Yohannes and the Haile Sellassie Government 93 Ethiopian diplomat in Djibouti. He removed die fear ofWalda-Giyorgis's parents by assuring tiiem that their boy would not necessarily be converted to Catholicism.3 Thus, Walda-Giyorgis joined the Menilek ? school and was educated inFrench, althoughhis formal education never exceeded the primary level.4 In 1925, Walda-Giyorgis married Wayzaro Yaket-Nash Walda-Maryam, with whom he had...


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