Emperor Haile Selassie I and the vision for Pan-African Unity
The commemorative statue of Emperor Haile Selassie I, to be erected in the compound of the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, will be inaugurated during the 32nd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union in February 2019. It will indeed be a solemn occasion dedicated to celebrating the work of a great statesman who made a monumental contribution to the beginning of the liberation of Africa and the establishment of the Organization of the African Unity.
Bridging the divide then existing among newly independent African countries may not look all that difficult now. However it required the statesmanship of Emperor Haile Selassie I and his pragmatic evaluation of what was possible at the time to get Africans together to achieve what has always been the dream of Pan-Africanists — the creation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963. This historic step lay the foundation for Africa to play a critical role in speeding up the further liberation of the rest of the continent.
The people of Ethiopia take immense satisfaction at what their country was able to contribute to African unity and the liberation of the continent under the leadership of Emperor Haile Selassie I. The Emperor’s prioritization of the unity of Africans which he thought could only be better advanced when they spoke in one voice was well-articulated in the historic speech he made on 25 May 1963. The following was what this great African, about whom Mandela spoke so glowingly in his autobiography, said during that historic occasion:
“What we require is a single African organization through which Africa’s single voice may be heard, within which Africa’s problems may be studied and resolved. We need an organization which will facilitate acceptable solutions to disputes among Africans and promote the study and adoption of measures for common defense and programs for co-operation in the economic and social fields. Let us, at this Conference, create a single institution to which we will all belong, based on principles to which we all subscribe…”
We recall, Emperor Haile Selassie I and his country, Ethiopia, had witnessed a five-year colonial occupation that the defiant people drove out of their territory and made history against colonization. Despite Ethiopia being a member of the League of Nations, it was not sealed from colonial aggression, for great power duplicity made it easy to abandon Ethiopia. This must have had a decisive impact on the Ethiopian Emperor to seek salvation in the unity of Africans and in commitment to Pan-Africanism to which he remained loyal until the end of his life.
The erection of the Statue of Emperor Haile Selassie I in the compound of the African Union, the inheritor of the legacy of the OAU, is therefore an appropriate homage to this African leader. Selassie's statesmanship was legendary and his pragmatism helped Africa embark on a long journey towards the unity of Africa, which will be in the interest of all its peoples, a journey yet to be completed.
This is a journey which has had many ups and downs and would continue to be full of challenges because Africa still has many mountains to climb and numerous hurdles to overcome. This is the responsibility of this generation of Africans to carry out, thus making sure that the conditions of Africans would be much better than now when the baton is passed over to the next generation.
The African leaders of the Emperor’s generation did their best to hand over to us an Africa which was much better situated than in the past to fight in unison for the liberation of our people. They did their part to which the contribution of Emperor Haile Selassie I and Ethiopia was indeed monumental. As we celebrate the inauguration of the commemoration of the Statue for His Imperial Majesty in February next year, we should all be mindful of our obligation to contribute to the completion of the journey that those founding fathers began -a journey which will continue to be complex and full of challenges, all the more so at present when the global situation is far from being conducive for international cooperation and for revitalizing international partnership. What we see today, contrary to what the world agreed three years ago, was far less readiness to embark on renewed partnership to combat poverty and to leave no one behind. Whether on peace and security or economic development, what Africa is encountering today is very reduced commitment to effective international solidarity with the view to helping Africa address the challenges facing it. All these considerations make it incumbent on Africans to enhance their commitment to the realization of Agenda 2063 and to roll up their sleeves and strengthen their unity in the spirit of their founding fathers whose challenges were in many ways different from the challenges we face today.
But Africa’s future is ahead of us and the effort now being made to reform the institutions of the AU provides hope that Africa is ready to take the bull by the horns and ensure the achievement of real progress for which Silencing the Guns by 2020 is of paramount importance. In all these the further strengthening of the unity of the continent in a pragmatic manner and the way Emperor Haile Selassie I approached the challenge is a lesson from which we should all learn and for which we should remember the Ethiopian Emperor. The commemorative statue will indeed serve as a reminder of this and the other accomplishments of Emperor Haile Selassie I.