Born Tafari Makonnen; 23 July 1892 – 27 August 1975 was Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974. He rose to power as Regent Plenipotentiary of Ethiopia (Enderase) for Empress Zewditu from 1916. Haile Selassie is widely considered a defining figure in modern Ethiopian history, and the key figure of Rastafari, a religious movement in Jamaica which emerged shortly after he became emperor in the 1930s. He was a member of the Solomonic dynasty which claims to trace lineage to Emperor Menelik I, believed to be the son of King Solomon and Makeda the Queen of Sheba.
Ethiopia is often acknowledged as the only nation in Africa never to have been colonized, and Selassie emerged as a powerful international figure as other African countries sought independence in the 20th century. His long reign and enduring policies (such as support for African unity and the abolition of slavery in Ethiopia) earned him a privileged position at international summits.
Haile Selassie attempted to modernize the country through a series of political and social reforms, including the introduction of the 1931 constitution, its first written constitution, and the abolition of slavery. He led the failed efforts to defend Ethiopia during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War and spent most of the period of Italian occupation exiled in England. In 1940, he traveled to Sudan in order to assist in coordinating the anti-fascist struggle in Ethiopia, and returned to his home country in 1941 after the East African campaign. He dissolved the Federation of Ethiopia and Eritrea, which was established by the UN General Assembly in 1950, and annexed Eritrea into Ethiopia as one of its provinces, while fighting to prevent secession.
For Rastafarians, Ethiopia is Zion and the Promised Land and in 1948 Selassie granted them land in the Rift Valley for a settlement in Shashamane. The settlement has never been big, with no more than a thousand Rastas at its peak and now about 400. There was never a mass exodus of Rastas to Ethiopia, and they never assimilated. They live in isolation much like the Amish in the United States. The Rastafarian connection with Selassie is made with a tenuous understanding of Jamaican Pan Africanist Marcus Garvey’s famous prophecy: “Look to Africa, when a black king shall be crowned for the day of deliverance is near!” This reference to “Africa” was reinterpreted to mean Ethiopia and the link to “a black king” was the coronation of Selassie in 1930. The travel writer Bill Wiatrak claims that the Rasta movement originated in Ethiopia but it actually began in Jamaica through the misinterpretation of Garvey’s message.
He has been criticized by some historians for his suppression of rebellions among the landed aristocracy (the mesafint), which consistently opposed his reforms; some critics have also criticized Ethiopia's failure to modernize rapidly enough. During his rule the Harari people were persecuted and many left the Harari Region. His regime was also criticized by human rights groups, such as Human Rights Watch, as autocratic and illiberal. Although some sources state that late during his regime the Oromo language was banned from education, public speaking and use in administration there was never an official law or government policy that criminalized any language. The Haile Selassie government relocated numerous Amharas into southern Ethiopia where they served in government administration, courts, and church. Following the death of Hachalu Hundessa in June 2020, the Statue of Haile Selassie in Cannizaro Park, London was destroyed by Oromo protesters, and his father's equestrian monument in Harar was removed.
Haile Selassie contributed Ethiopian troops to the United Nations Operation in the Congo peacekeeping force during the 1960 Congo Crisis, to preserve Congolese integrity, per United Nations Security Council Resolution 143. On 13 December 1960, while Haile Selassie was on a state visit to Brazil, his Kebur Zabagna (Imperial Guard) forces staged an unsuccessful coup, briefly proclaiming Haile Selassie's eldest son Asfa Wossen as emperor. The regular army and police forces crushed the coup d'état. The coup attempt lacked broad popular support, was denounced by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and was unpopular with the army, air force and police. Nonetheless, the effort to depose the emperor had support among students and the educated classes. The coup attempt has been characterized as a pivotal moment in Ethiopian history, the point at which Ethiopians "for the first time questioned the power of the king to rule without the people's consent". Student populations began to empathize with the peasantry and poor and advocate on their behalf.
In February 1974, four days of serious riots in Addis Ababa against a sudden economic inflation left five dead. The emperor responded by announcing on national television a reduction in petrol prices and a freeze on the cost of basic commodities. This calmed the public, but the promised 33% military wage hike was not substantial enough to pacify the army, which then mutinied, beginning in Asmara and spreading throughout the empire. This mutiny led to the resignation of Prime Minister Aklilu Habte-Wold on 27 February 1974.
Today, Haile Selassie is worshiped as God incarnate among some followers of the Rastafari movement (taken from Haile Selassie's pre-imperial name Ras—meaning Head, a title looking equivalent to Duke—Tafari Makonnen), which emerged in Jamaica during the 1930s under the influence of Leonard Howell, a follower of Marcus Garvey's "African Redemption" movement. He is viewed as the messiah who will lead the peoples of Africa and the African diaspora to freedom. His official titles are Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah and King of Kings of Ethiopia, Lord of Lords and Elect of God, and his traditional lineage is thought to be from Solomon and Sheba. These notions are perceived by Rastafari as confirmation of the return of the messiah in the prophetic Book of Revelation in the New Testament: King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, and Root of David. Rastafari faith in the incarnate divinity of Haile Selassie began after news reports of his coronation reached Jamaica, particularly via the two Time magazine articles on the coronation the week before and the week after the event. Haile Selassie's own perspectives permeate the philosophy of the movement.