“Yet, he [Haile Selassie I] annexed Eritrea, making it Ethiopia’s 14th province, and so triggering a war which lasted for 30 years, despite the UN Resolution number 390 (V) of 1950 which provided for Eritrea’s own Parliament and Administration.”
BY Harid Mkali
Since its inception the African Union (AU) has shown a penchant for failing to define and protect Africans’ vital interests, especially land, which in effect is independence itself.
It has also fallen short in establishing the continent’s development priorities and how to achieve them and in leaders’ inability to simply be honest to their own people. This is not all African leaders of course, but the majority certainly. Now the AU cannot even get it right on who are the big players in the history of the struggle for Africa’s liberation, which was the struggle of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the predecessor of the African Union (AU); a failure which deserves to enter the Guiness Book of Records.
I am referring to the removal of the portrait of Julius Nyerere of Tanzania from the pantheon of the AU’s history in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. To characterise this omission as both outrageous and disgraceful is an understatement. It does not matter what one feels or thinks about Nyerere, or Tanzania, but to blatantly distort history in this way is a crime which teaches coming generations a whole load of lies.
No single leader in the African continent has done more for the liberation of Africa and the consolidation of that continent’s freedom and integrity than Julius Nyerere. Like him or hate him, that is the truth. The failure to acknowledge this fact is just evidence of the hypocrisy and self-delusion at present among our leaders in this great continent of ours. Even more distasteful and outrageous is the explanation given – that the portrait lineup has been arranged zonally and Tanzania’s zone is the same as Ethiopia; therefore, Emperor Haile Selassie has been given the slot.
In terms of practical commitment and sacrifice for the cause of Africa, Haile Selassie is nowhere near Julius Nyerere; and Ethiopia is nowhere near Tanzania. Let us make a few pertinent points clear at the outset. Firstly, the African Union (AU) is not the property of Ethiopia; the choice to site the head office in Addis Ababa was out of respect for that country and a recognition of the purely historical coincidence of it having been independent since the 11th century (apart from the FIVE- year interlude, 1936 -1941, when it was occupied by Italy’s Benito Mussolini).
It is not because either the Emperor played an outstanding role in any African liberation struggles or because he was an outstanding role-model of good governance. Nor has it to do with Emperor Haile Sellassie being personally responsible for this historic accident of his country not having been colonised. Far from it.
Secondly, the African Union head office in Addis Ababa is not the National Museum of Ethiopia in which the featuring of Emperor Haile Selassie would be essential. In weighing up which African leader should be honoured by having their portraits displayed in the African Union building, the criteria should purely be on the basis of the proportion of their contribution in advancing the African cause and realistically Nyerere should top any such a list.
There were 30 Heads of State and Representatives at the founding Meeting of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963. Even if, for the sake of space, it demanded only three chosen leaders for the Pantheon, one per cent of them, then Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt should surely be the choice, certainly not Haile Selassie; and from what is now in the public domain regarding his person and reign, he should now be clearly an embarrassment to the continent.
It is patently wrong to try to spruce up his reputation by distorting history at the expense of people who really distinguished themselves in the battlefield of African liberation. There is no doubt that as a leader Selassie did some good things for his country and even the continent as a whole; my problem is one of degree, one of extent. And in weighing a leader’s greatness, there is not only his/ her manner of ascending to power but also his or her manner of going out, to be taken into consideration.
Compare and Contrast For the sake of fairness I would like to compare and contrast the leadership records of Haile Selassie and Julius Nyerere and let readers draw their own conclusions. Emperor Haile Selassie ruled his country like a medieval autocrat, controlling all the land and doling out much of it to his cronies – church leaders, so-called nobles, and officers from the army and police force, leaving the majority of his people absolutely landless and in conditions of virtual slavery, which was in fact tolerated in Ethiopia up to as late as 1964.
The reforms put in place through the Constitutions of 1931 and 1958 were both too feeble and too late. This is the pattern that enraged the overwhelming majority of Selassie’s subjects and led to the popular revolution of 1974. The sixty officials from the Imperial Government executed by the putschits on 23rd November, 1974, were some of the biggest land owners in the country.
Aside from that, Haile Selassie was allegedly a closet racist; so how could he have genuinely fought the people he admired, the colonisers, white people? One of Selassie’s Colonels alleged that the Emperor “denounced his black officials’ opinion and trusted the views of white men more.” In addition, writing in 1998, Joseph Cardillo remarked on the line-up of guests at his coronation in 1930: “…although representatives of England, France, Italy and many other countries were invited to the Emperor’s coronation, there were no black representatives invited or present.”
It is important to note that, at the time of his coronation, both Liberia and Egypt were already independent countries, but Selassie never saw fit to extend invitations to leaders of those countries, because of his racist views. How can he possibly be a hero of Africa? In addition, Haile Selassie was also notorious for using double standards. When his country was invaded by the Italian fascists, led by Benito Mussolini, in 1936 he lambasted the League of Nations (precursor of the United Nations) for not coming to the rescue of a League member.
Yet, he annexed Eritrea, making it Ethiopia’s 14th province, and so triggering a war which lasted for 30 years, despite the UN Resolution number 390 (V) of 1950 which provided for Eritrea’s own Parliament and Administration. Let me briefly focus on Selassie’s manner of exit from the political stage in Ethiopia. The famine of 1973, which killed about 250,000 people, was the immediate cause of his overthrow in 1974, but the prolonged neglect of his people really forms the backdrop to his reign’s demise and the civil conflict between the haves and have-nots, dubbed the “Red Terror”, which that demise created claimed the lives of about 500,000 people, according to Amnesty International.
When the Emperor died, while in custody in 1975, it is said that his body was kept under a toilet for a number of years and in 2000 his remains were given what amounted to an imperial-style funeral by his dedicated followers; but the Government of the day refused to give it such recognition; bearing in mind that this was an elected Government that came after the regime that toppled the Emperor, it would imply that the feelings of the military junta were in accord with the Ethiopian electorate who knew the Emperor better than any other leader from the rest of Africa.
How can the African Union claim to know Haile Selassie better than the Ethiopians themselves? This clearly is either political correctness or ingratiation gone mad. Nyerere: the person Right from the start of the African independence struggle, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere launched an all-inclusive, colour- blind organization – the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU); as long as one subscribed to the aims and objectives of the cause, then a person’s skin pigmentation became largely irrelevant. Nyerere once poised a rhetorical question: “We have fought our battle against the injustice of the colonial system which qualified the ‘rights’ of an individual according to the colour of his skin.
Are we now to turn around and deny that principle ourselves by discriminating against those whose skins are not black?” Soon after independence, Mwalimu Nyerere nationalised all land and proceeded to make it free to every citizen at the point of use. Tanzania’s prevailing peace and tranquillity is largely attributable to Nyerere’s policy on land; land inequality cost Haile Selassie his crown and unequal land policies are still causing civil wars all over East Africa and the rest of the continent today. Mwalimu Nyerere and Sheikh Abeid Amani Karume are the only leaders in Africa to have created a union of two sovereign states-Tanganyika and Zanzibar- which is still going strong.
Yes, there are rumblings from time to time, but again there are rumblings in all democratic political unions or federations throughout the world; the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Canada, Belgium, Germany, Italy to name but a few. So Nyerere’s achievement on that front is remarkable.And to crown it all, by the mid 1970s, Tanzania dominated the social structure superlatives: Tanzania boasted the best healthcare system in Africa, the best educational system in Africa, the best literacy rate in Africa, the best national unity in Africa, the best military structure in Africa and so on.
In terms of honesty and nonacquisitiveness, one can safely say Nyerere is exceptional, if not unique. Twenty years into his Presidency, Nyerere was still paying a mortgage he took to build a house when he was a teacher, before he became President, when many other African leaders were treating their Central Banks like personal petty-cash boxes. A retirement home, that befits a person who served his country so well, was built for Nyerere by the State after he retired – how different in terms of public respect to Haile Selassie’s ignominious end.
Following his people’s realization that Nyerere did not hoard money in bank accounts overseas, soon after he retired a retirement fund was set up and people from all walks of life, un-coerced, contributed to it. But characteristic of Nyerere, when he felt that the amount collected was getting embarrassingly high he politely but firmly put a stop to it. I remember one night at the Africa Centre in London, a Kenyan telling me very excitedly: “You know what? No Tanzanian can say anything against Nyerere now here is a man who has refused money.”
By contrast, Emperor Haile Selassie was forced by his people to sign a cheque to return some of the monies he had expropriated overseas. Yet our great leaders at the African Union today want to tell Africa and the world that Haile Selassie deserves a place in Africa’s history rather than Nyerere. If this is the level of judgement of our most trusted leaders in the continent, then God help Africa, since the moral here is that because Nyerere was not a thieving leader, then he is not Africa’s best role model.
That is what it all boils down to and I hope the newlyelected Commissioner of African Union, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, is aware of that irony. Nyerere: the liberation crusader Mwalimu Julius Nyerere is, without doubt, one of the greatest leaders Africa has produced, and his practical commitment and dedication to the liberation struggles has no parallel in the continent.
After the formation of the Liberation Committee under the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in the 1960s, President Nyerere committed one per cent of his country’s income to the liberation fund. The head office of the Liberation Committee was placed in his country; and nearly all liberation movements in the continent were either headquartered or had offices in Tanzania and most of them also had training facilities for their forces there. Such a stand invited hostility from neo-colonial elements, and the price in purely economic terms was high for Tanzania.
In 1965, the OAU passed a resolution calling member states to suspend diplomatic relations with Britain by December of that year, if they did not put down Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI). President Nyerere objected that the deadline was unrealistic; Britain needed to be given more time to deal with the problem, but he was overruled. However, when the set deadline arrived, only President Nyerere honoured that commitment; in retaliation Britain cancelled £7.5 million of aid to Tanzania. In March of 1974, officers in the Tanzania Peoples Defence Forces (TPDF) committed five per cent of their salaries to the liberation struggles.
Many Tanzanians died fighting for the liberation of countries throughout Africa. The then Rhodesian rebel leader, Ian Smith once described Nyerere as the “evil genius behind the war in Rhodesia”, which was a reluctant acknowledgement of Tanzania’s role in that country’s war of liberation; while the late President of Mozambique, Samora Moses Machel once remarked: “… to talk of Nyerere is to speak of the liberation of Africa.”
In the 1970s, when the Republic of Guinea was invaded by the Portuguese colonialists, the Cabinet of Tanzania met immediately and voted a massive amount of money in aid to that country, not mentioning military aid which could not be made public. The Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC) was Nyerere’s brainchild, designed to isolate South Africa and so to speed up the ending of apartheid rule in that country.
So was TAZARA the (Tanzania Zambia Railway) masterminded by Julius Nyerere and Kenneth Kaunda and calculated to remove Zambia’s dependence on transport facilities of its minority-ruled neighbours to the south. The African Union should not play the colonial games of teaching the world the wrong history. Mwalimu Nyerere has amply earned the right to have his portrait displayed in the pantheon of the African Union in Addis Ababa, and his image should be reinstated there without delay.