February 14, 2018

Haile Selassie

Haile Selassie

Source: WIkimedia Commons

Ethiopia was also a cornerstone of Israel’s “alliance of the periphery,” in which it reached out beyond its hostile Arab neighbors to more distant Turkey, Iran, and Ethiopia.

Russia sided with Ethiopia in 1896, in 1936, and in the Brezhnev years when Ethiopia was part of the Soviet Union’s disastrous attempt to annoy the U.S. by acquiring far-flung third-world dependencies.

The most famous Cult of Ethiopia was the Rastafarians, who first appeared in 1930s Jamaica. They worshipped as a messiah for blacks the emperor Haile Selassie, who before his 1930 coronation had been known as Ras (roughly, “Duke”) Tafari. When the emperor stepped out of his airplane at the Jamaican airport in 1966, the poor man was so alarmed by the mob of dreadlocked ganja smokers welcoming him that he retreated back into his plane.

Like some other isolated high-altitude nations such as Tibet, Yemen, and Bolivia, Ethiopia remains a land of a certain eccentric charm, most famously depicted in the writings of Evelyn Waugh. He recounted his first discussion of visiting Abyssinia in 1930:

Further information was contributed from less reliable sources; that the Abyssinian Church had canonized Pontius Pilate, and consecrated their bishops by spitting on their heads; the real heir to the throne was hidden in the mountains, fettered with chains of solid gold;… [We] looked up the royal family in the Almanack de Gotha and traced their descent from Solomon and the Queen of Sheba; we found a history which began: “The first certain knowledge which we have of Ethiopian history is when Cush the son of Ham ascended the throne immediately after the Deluge.”… Everything I heard added to the glamour of this astonishing country.

A recent tourist said, “Ethiopia is most traditional country I ever visited. A very High Tory country.” Waugh, for instance, went to Ethiopia to help him imagine what England had been like many centuries ago.

For example, it’s still 2008 in Ethiopia. Literally: Ethiopia uses its own calendar, which is more like Caesar’s Julian calendar than the newfangled Gregorian calendar that the Pope instituted in 1582. Ethiopia has twelve months of thirty days and a vestigial thirteenth month of five or six.

Ethiopia came up with the slogan “Thirteen months of sunshine” to promote tourism in the 1960s. This worked fairly well until the Communist revolution of 1974, the ensuing famines, and the current overpopulation.

Ethiopia’s present government is a sort of socialist-nationalist nostalgia trip building a vast hydroelectric dam on the Blue Nile that is outraging environmentalists. Ethiopia at present is ruled rather like it’s 1937 in America and leftist folksinger Woody Guthrie has become dictator and started rounding up reactionaries and turning the Grand Canyon into a reservoir.

I wish the Ethiopians well. But Ethiopia’s current rate of population growth, from 27 million in 1968 to 107 million in 2018, according to the U.N., does not bode well. From Voice of America this week:

The United Nations migration agency reports that thousands of Ethiopian migrants continue to make the perilous journey to war-torn Yemen in search of better economic opportunities despite the dangerous security conditions.

You have to be in bad shape to want to risk your life to get to Yemen.


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