OneWorld Magazine presents

by Harold G. Marcus

"King of Kings. In 1935 there was just one man who rose out of murky obscurity and carried his country with him up & up into brilliant focus before a pop-eyed world. But for the hidden astuteness of this man, there would not now be the possibility of another world war arising out of idealism generated around the League of Nations in behalf of Ethiopia. But for His Majesty Haile Selassie, the year 1935 would have been a distinctly different year. If by some unhappy chance the Italo-Ethiopian war should now spread into a world conflagration, Power of Trinity I, the King of Kings, the Conquering Lion of Judah, will have a place in history as secure as Woodrow Wilson's. If it ends in the fall of Mussolini and the collapse of Fascism, his Majesty can plume himself on one of the greatest feats ever credited to blackamoors. - January 6, 1936, Time Magazine Man Of The Year
By 1932, Haile Sellassie enjoyed unchallenged ascendancy in Ethiopia. He had constructed a central government totally reliant on the crown for policy and direction. His men in the provinces implemented imperial policy, backed by an increasingly effective army and air force. The aristocracy was with him, appreciating the prosperity guaranteed them by his nation building, but they were uncomfortable with his reserve, which the emperor brandished as a political weapon. Aloofness allowed him to maneuver among competing factions and to govern indirectly through a few well-chosen henchmen.

He also controlled the flow of information by withholding news, manipulating reports, or distorting the truth. By so doing, he could easily respond to the barrage of competition caused by his behavior, here choosing one side, there the other, creating and dissolving a series of shifting coalitions. Throughout, Haile Sellassie maintained himself as the country's sole fount of authority, effective enough, so the Italians often observed, to lead his backward empire to modernity and international legitimacy.

During 1931-1934, the emperor was busy implementing schemes that augured well for the future. There was a whirlwind of activity: projects and planning fell into place for roads, schools, hospitals, communications, administration, and public services. Given Ethiopia's limited resources and educated manpower, projects were mostly privately financed: the emperor, the royal family, the aristocracy, the national and foreign bourgeoisie, all profited from investments in transport companies or tollroad construction consortia. By mid- 1934, the Addis Abeba-Jima road had passed the Omo River and was growing daily; Harer-Jijiga was completed; and Mojo-Sidamo was finished and being extended to Mega. The government was laying down a strategic network of tracks in Ogaden; and Ras Desta Demtew had completed rough tracks from Sidamo to Moyale via Mega, making it possible for trucks to travel from Addis Abeba to Nairobi.

The combined effect was to open the country to the world economy: by 1932, revenues were pouring into Addis Abeba from export taxes applied to twenty-five thousand tons of coffee, triple the amount shipped in 1928, but given the depression, only one-third more in money terms; from the recently opened provincial offices of the Ministry of Finance; and from reorganized customs stations that applied new, higher tariffs . In response to the growing national economy, the government replaced the Maria Theresa dollar with paper currency and coins issued by the Bank of Ethiopia. Since the modern sector was largely located in towns, the government could effectively force traders to use the money.

In September 1933, the new bank banned the private import and export of the Maria Theresa dollars, finally freeing Ethiopia from the international silver market. Henceforth, when the value of silver changed, the Bank of Ethiopia could alter currency reserve requirements and sell its surplus dollars for foreign exchange. Given such control, the bank could raise funds to cover the government's short-term needs by issuing bonds and other bills against its reserves. The fiscal reforms helped the government to finance its military modernization.

Return to Ethiopia Index | 1. Sellassie Vs. Mussolini | A Pretext For War
Mussolini Decides To Invade | Sellassie Remains Calm | The Nightmarish Ending

*** Harold G.Marcus is Distinguished Professor of History and African Studies at Michigan State University. He is the author of the readable and concise book, "A History of Ethiopia, which surveys the evolution of the oldest African nation from prehistory to the present.


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