Ethiopia

Diplomacy and State Building in Imperial Ethiopia

As one of only two African states that have never been permanently colonized (the other is Liberia), Ethiopia has a long diplomatic tradition. Tewodros II, who reigned in the mid-nineteenth century, was the first modern Ethiopian leader to try to develop a foreign policy that transcended the Horn region (see The Making of Modern Ethiopia, ch. 1). His successor, Yohannis IV, followed a less dynamic course and was greatly troubled by European expansionism in general and penetration by Italy in particular. Menelik II, who succeeded Yohannis in 1889, failed to find a peaceful solution to Italy’s encroachments. He had greater success, however, in the military sphere, defeating the Italian army at Adwa in 1896.

Menelik died in 1913, and it was not until 1930 that another strong emperor, Haile Selassie I, assumed the throne. Haile Selassie quickly demonstrated that he was committed to the creation of a strong, modern, bureaucratic empire that would command unquestioned international respect. As early as 1923, while serving as regent, he negotiated Ethiopia’s admission into the League of Nations. The Italian occupation of Ethiopia between 1936 and 1941 briefly halted his efforts to establish Ethiopia’s position in the world community (see Italian Rule and World War II, ch. 1). However, when he reassumed the throne in 1941, he renewed his efforts to bolster Ethiopia’s international standing.

After World War II, Haile Selassie achieved considerable international success primarily because of his active participation in the UN, his alignment with the West, and his vocal support for the African independence movement. As a UN member, Ethiopia committed troops to the peacekeeping mission in Korea from 1950 to 1953 and to the Congo (present-day Zaire) in 1960. Moreover, Ethiopia’s military and diplomatic relationship with the United States provided it with a superpower ally (see United States, ch. 5). Finally, Haile Selassie took the lead in pressing for a resolution establishing the territorial integrity of the independent states of Africa. Over the years, he developed a reputation as a sage voice of moderation on a continent filled with militant nationalists. It was in this capacity that he offered to host the headquarters of the OAU upon its founding in the early 1960s, once again demonstrating his diplomatic acumen.

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