Friday, Feb. 04, 2011

Haile Selassie

King of Kings, Conquering Lion of Judah, Elect of God. All were used to describe Haile Selassie, who ruled as Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974 and is venerated still as the Divine incarnate by adherents of the Rastafari faith. That he was ultimately deposed by a military discontented with his regime should not eclipse his contribution to African solidarity. Selassie gave Ethiopia its first constitution and convened the earliest meeting of the Organization of African Unity.

But he is perhaps most widely remembered for the speech he gave before the League of Nations in 1933 as the legions of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini stormed his ill-equipped nation. The League did little to prevent Ethiopia's defeat, but Selassie's appeal, uttered movingly in his native Amharic, would serve as a pillar in the struggles against colonialism and Fascism. With a firm internationalist bent, the last Ethiopian monarch eventually saw his country become a charter member of the United Nations. A TIME "Man of the Year" who claimed descendance from the biblical King Solomon, he ushered the continent he had unified into a distinctly African modernity.