Ethiopia’s Connundrum Selassie or Nkrumah?

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Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia (L) Dr. Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana (R)

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Kwame Nkrumah’s statue, which was recently unveiled at the African Union (AU) headquarters, has sparked anger amongst Ethiopian scholars, historians and politicians, who feel the country’s former leader Haile Selassie deserved the honour.

Members of Parliament have also been drawn into the debate and on Wednesday raised the issue with Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi as he delivered a half yearly report to the House.

However, Meles defended the decision to honour Nkrumah, the former Ghanaian leader, whom he described as a pan African.

What has further incensed the Ethiopians is that, with the AU headquarters being in their country, they expected a statue of their former leader to be erected.

Nkrumah is credited with being the brains behind the creation of the Organisation of African Union (OAU), a precursor to the AU. He led the so-called “progressive states”, a six-member organisation called the Casablanca Group, founded in 1961. The group later morphed into the OAU in 1963.

Ethiopian scholars and politicians questioned why the government had not suggested the construction of Haile Selassie’s statue at the recent AU summit. Selassie’s supporters claim he is the father of Africa and he deserved to have his statue at the AU compound, instead of Nkrumah’s.

“It is Haile Selassie who is described by African leaders as the father of Africa not Nkrumah,” Dr Yacob Hailemariam, a popular politician and an opposition party member, said. Hailemariam has written articles in local media, calling upon historians to proclaim who deserved to have a statue erected at the AU.

It is only Nkrumah who is remembered whenever we talk about pan Africanism

Hailemariam accused the Ethiopian government of not lobbying for a statue in Selassie’s honour, a view shared by many of the country’s scholars, who blame the government for not giving any credit to its former leader. “We as Africans should be proud of Nkrumah for his pan African movement.”

“It is a shame not to accept his role. It is only Nkrumah who is remembered whenever we talk about pan Africanism,” Meles insisted, as he addressed the debate.??

Meles’s government has often criticised Selassie’s track record.

However, there are still many people who appreciated Selassie, a former Ethiopian emperor, for his role in Africa’s independence and unity.

Selassie was known for lending support to South Africa’s fight against apartheid and invited former president Nelson Mandela to Ethiopia to get military training. The former South African president acknowledged in a recent book that he was able to attend an OAU summit during the apartheid era, at the behest of Selassie who facilitated that he received an Ethiopian passport and attended the meeting as a journalist.

Ethiopian historians said they also remembered Selassie for his leading role in the creation of the OAU. “Our government, because of its hatred for Selassie, failed to campaign for him, while Ghana proposed to the AU to have Nkrumah’s statue. This is a historical mistake by our government,” Hailemariam charged.

Under Nkrumah’s leadership, Ghana, in 1957, became the first African country to attain independence.

Selassie, who is believed to have been killed by a military junta about 40 years ago, is buried inside the country’s national palace. His remains were reburied after his family and supporters asked for an official burial ceremony. But, the current government didn’t give recognition for his official burial ceremony and denied him a state funeral.

The perceived animosity has given rise to speculation that Meles’s government had been the stumbling block to a statue being erected for the former emperor. “It was because of Selassie that the AU is in Addis Ababa. It is not because of the current regime,” another Historian, Mesfin Tariku said. “We have no idea on the criteria used to choose Nkrumah.”

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