oa African Yearbook of Rhetoric - Haile Selassie : appeal to the League of Nations

Volume 2, Issue 3
  • ISSN : 2220-2188
  • E-ISSN: 2305-7785



Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Elect of God, King of Kings of Ethiopia - these were some of the names in the titulature of Haile Selassie (1892-1975), "Power of the Trinity", the Christian monarch of Ethiopia who, on 30 June 1936, addressed the League of Nations to denounce the Italian invasion of his country (1935). His speech, delivered in Amharic after a short apologetic introduction in French, language of diplomacy ("Je prie l'assemblée de m'excuser si je ne m'exprime pas en français mais c'est mieux pour ma pensée avec toute la force de mon esprit et de mon coeur en parlant en amharique"), was a defining moment for African oratory of Liberation. For the first time the head of state of an independent African country was resorting directly to the League in full session to stop an invasion by another member State, a modern, brutal colonisation (Italy stitched together an Impero in East Africa with Ethiopia, Eritrea and its Somaliland). The speech received world-wide coverage, thanks to newsreels, and due to the intriguing stature of a Christian leader in Africa, possibly the world's oldest, continuous Christian monarchy and State (barring the Papacy), augmented by the mystique that has shrouded the land of Abyssinia since the Middle Ages (the tale of the Land of Prester John, descendant of the Three Magi), and diplomatically supported by the very real, political intercourse Southern Europe had entertained with Ethiopia since the early fourteenth century. On film the Negus cut a majestic, near ecclesiastical figure, aided by the stern nobility of his deportment and the lyrical diction of his ancient language. In practical terms his speech struck at the heart of ideals that were supposed to ensure peace, not only peace in Europe but peace in the world: the security of weaker powers from aggression by stronger ones; the means put at the disposal of the League to ensure the respect of its Covenant; the use of just force even in an iniquitous war; the value placed on international law. For that reason Haile Selassie's address to the League of Nations served as an articulate and severely argued warning for the impending violence European democracies were soon to endure, three years later, when Germany applied to them the methods unleashed by Italy onto an African, sovereign nation - an aggressive war of latter-day colonisation the League chose to term "a dispute", as it lifted sanctions against Italy a mere four days after the speech. The Lion of Judah returned to Addis Ababa in May 1941.

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