Despite criticism of the emperor's 1936 decision to go into exile, the concept of the monarchy remained widely accepted after World War II. The country's leaders and the church assumed that victory over the Italians essentially meant the restoration of their traditional privileges. Before long, however, new social classes stirred into life by Haile Selassie's centralizing policies, as well as a younger generation full of frustrated expectations, clashed with forces bent on maintaining the traditional system.
The expansion of central authority by appointed officials required a dependable tax base, and that in turn encroached on the established prerogatives of those who had been granted large holdings in the south and of gult-holders of the Amhara-Tigray highlands. Consequently, in March 1942, without reference to the restored parliament, the emperor decreed a taxation system that divided all land into one of three categories: fertile, semifertile, and poor. A fixed levy, depending on category, was imposed for each gasha (forty hectares) of land.
The nobles of Gojam, Tigray, and Begemdir refused to accept any limitation upon the prevailing land tenure system and successfully battled the government over the issue. The emperor acknowledged defeat by excluding those provinces from the tax. When landlords elsewhere also protested the tax, the emperor exempted them as well, contenting himself with a flat 10 percent tithe on all but church land. But this tax, traditionally collected by landlords, was simply passed on to the tenants. In short, the emperor pursued policies that did not infringe on the rights of the nobility and other large landholders. In 1951, in response to additional pressure from the landlords, Haile Selassie further reduced the land tax payable by landlords and not covered by previous exemptions; the peasant cultivator, as in centuries past, continued to carry the entire taxation burden.
Some reform was also effected within the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. In July 1948, Haile Selassie initiated steps, completed in 1956, by which he, rather than the patriarch of Alexandria, would appoint the abun, or patriarch, of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Thus, for the first time in sixteen centuries of Ethiopian Christianity, an Ethiopian rather than an Egyptian served as head of the national church. The Ethiopian church, however, continued to recognize the primacy of the Alexandrian see. This appointment was followed by the creation of enough new bishoprics to allow the Ethiopians to elect their own patriarch. Abuna Basilios, the first Ethiopian archbishop, was elevated to the status of patriarch in 1959. The postwar years also saw a change in the church-state relationship; the vast church landholdings became subject to tax legislation, and the clergy lost the right to try fellow church officials for civil offenses in their own court.
Acutely aware of his international image, Haile Selassie also was active on the diplomatic front (see Foreign Policy, ch. 4). Ethiopia was a founding member of the United Nations (UN) and the Organization of African Unity (OAU). After the postwar relationship with Britain wound down, the emperor in 1953 asked the United States for military assistance and economic support. Although his dependence on Washington grew, Haile Selassie diversified the sources of his international assistance, which included such disparate nations as Italy, China, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), Taiwan, Yugoslavia, Sweden, and the Soviet Union.
In pursuit of reform, Haile Selassie faced the recalcitrance of the provincial nobility, other great landholders, and church officials--all of whom intended to maintain their power and privileges. Moreover, some provincial nobility opposed the emperor because of their own long-held claims to the throne. Whatever his intentions as a reformer, Haile Selassie was a political realist and recognized that, lacking a strong military, he had to compromise with the Amhara and Tigray nobility and with the church. And, where required, he made his peace with other ethnic groups in the empire. For example, he eventually granted autonomy over Afar areas that Addis Ababa could not dominate by armed force to the sultan of Aussa. In general, political changes were few and were compromised at the first sign of substantial opposition. In the 1950s, despite his many years as emperor and his international stature, there was almost no significant section of the Ethiopian population on which Haile Selassie could rely to support him in such efforts.
The emperor sought to gain some control over local government by placing it in the hands of the central administration in Addis Ababa. He revised the administrative divisions and established political and administrative offices corresponding to them. The largest of these administrative units were the provinces (teklay ghizats), of which there were fourteen in the mid-1960s, each under a governor general appointed directly by Haile Selassie. Each province was subdivided into subprovinces (awrajas), districts (weredas), and subdistricts (mikitil weredas). Although the structure outwardly resembled a modern state apparatus, its impact was largely dissipated by the fact that higher-ranking landed nobles held all the important offices. Younger and better educated officials were little more than aides to the governors general, and their advice more often than not was contemptuously set aside by their superiors.
The emperor also attempted to strengthen the national government. A new generation of educated Ethiopians was introduced to new enlarged ministries, the powers of which were made more specific. The emperor established a national judiciary and appointed its judges. Finally, in 1955 he proclaimed a revised constitution. Apparently, he sought to provide a formal basis for his efforts at centralization and to attract the loyalty of those who gained their livelihood from relatively modern economic activities or who were better educated than most Ethiopians.
The younger leaders were mostly the sons of the traditional elite. Having been educated abroad, they were favorably disposed toward reform and were frequently frustrated and in some cases alienated by their inability to initiate and implement it. The remnants of the small number of educated Ethiopians of an earlier generation had been appointed to high government positions. But whatever their previous concern with reform, they had little impact on traditional methods, and by the mid-1950s even this earlier reformist elite was considered conservative by the succeeding generation.
The new elite was drawn largely from the postwar generation and was generally the product of a half-dozen secondary schools operated by foreign staffs. A majority of the students continued to come from families of the landed nobility, but they were profoundly affected by the presence of students from less affluent backgrounds and by their more democratically oriented Western teachers.
The 1955 constitution was prompted, like its 1931 predecessor, by a concern with international opinion. Such opinion was particularly important at a time when some neighboring African states were rapidly advancing under European colonial tutelage and Ethiopia was pressing its claims internationally for the incorporation of Eritrea, where an elected parliament and more modern administration had existed since 1952.
The bicameral Ethiopian parliament played no part in drawing up the 1955 constitution, which, far from limiting the emperor's control, emphasized the religious origins of imperial power and extended the centralization process. The Senate remained appointive, but the Chamber of Deputies was, at least nominally, elected. However, the absence of a census, the near total illiteracy of the population, and the domination of the countryside by the nobility meant that the majority of candidates who sought election in 1957 were in effect chosen by the elite. The Chamber of Deputies was not altogether a rubber stamp, at times discussing bills and questioning state ministers. However, provisions in the constitution that guaranteed personal freedoms and liberties, including freedom of assembly, movement, and speech, and the due process of law, were so far removed from the realities of Ethiopian life that no group or individual sought to act upon them publicly.
Haile Selassie's efforts to achieve a measure of change without jeopardizing his own power stimulated rising expectations, some of which he was unwilling or unable to satisfy. Impatient with the rate or form of social and political change, several groups conspired to launch a coup d'état on December 13, 1960, while the emperor was abroad on one of his frequent trips. The leadership of the 1960 revolt came from three groups: the commander of the Imperial Bodyguard Mengistu Neway, and his followers; a few security officials, including the police chief; and a handful of radical intellectuals related to the officials, including Girmame Neway, Mengistu's brother.
The coup was initially successful in the capital, as the rebels seized the crown prince and more than twenty cabinet ministers and other government leaders. The support of the Imperial Bodyguard, the backbone of the revolt, was obtained without informing the enlisted men--or even a majority of the officers--of the purpose of the rebels' actions. The proclaimed intent of the coup leaders was the establishment of a government that would improve the economic, social, and political position of the general population, but they also appealed to traditional authority in the person of the crown prince. No mention was made of the emperor.
The coup's leaders failed to achieve popular support for their actions. Although university students demonstrated in favor of the coup, army and air force units remained loyal to the emperor, who returned to the capital on December 17. The patriarch of the church, who condemned the rebels as antireligious traitors and called for fealty to the emperor, supported the loyalists. Despite the coup's failure, it succeeded in stripping the monarchy of its claim to universal acceptance and led to a polarization of traditional and modern forces.
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