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The Monarchy: An Institution That Can Unite All Ethiopians (Gizachew Tiruneh Ph. D.)

Monarchy _ Ethiopia

Gizachew Tiruneh, Ph. D.

After a year-long civil war that has cost Ethiopia the lives of hundreds of thousands of people as well as the destruction of infrastructure, valuable educational and health facilities, and private and governmental property as well as the gross violation of human rights and the dislocation of hundreds of thousands of people, it has been suggested by the Ethiopian Government recently that Ethiopians will be conducting national consultation forums in order to discuss and resolve some of the most important issues facing the country. I wish to contribute toward this idea by suggesting that Ethiopia would benefit if the Solomonic monarchy is restored in a constitutional framework. This age-old institution could, indeed, become a symbol of Ethiopian unity. From its legendary origin of Queen Makeda and King Solomon to its likely root of the Damot (or Damat) kingdom of ancient Ethiopia and to its successor states centered in Tigray and Shewa, the history of the Solomonic dynasty had long been associated with the history of Ethiopia. This age-old monarchy, if restored, may help to maintain and foster national unity.  

In his study of democracy, Seymour Martin Lipset (1959) observed that of the 12 democratic countries of the time, ten had monarchies as heads of states. These democracies were located mostly in Western Europe and included Great Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. Lipset argued that the democratic regimes in Western Europe acquired legitimacy because they preserved the traditional monarchies as head of states, which had the support of the conservative groups including the aristocracy, landlords, and the clergy. Consequently, constitutional monarchies, according to Lipset, have helped to legitimize the democratic system by fostering unity among diverse groups, the groups of the past (conservatives) and of the present (progressives).   

In the case of Ethiopia, the revolution ended Emperor Haile Selassie’s reign due to its failure to make political and socioeconomic reforms. The aristocracy is also gone, either it was killed during the revolution, died out of age, or could not maintain its status. The landlord class has also been wiped out by the revolution. The only conservative institution remaining from the old order is the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Prior revolutions have also ended monarchies in France (1789), Russia (1917), and China (1911) for similar reasons. Yet the end of the Solomonic dynasty may not be a foregone conclusion. As Arnold Toynbee has argued, Ethiopia has been more of a peculiar country. For instance, it was the only country that had avoided European colonialism in Africa (save Liberia). It was also the only country in the northeast Africa that preserved its Monophysite Christianity by avoiding Islamic Jihad in the seventh century A.D. (cited in Trimingham, 1952). We might also add that the Solomonic dynasty was restored in 1270 A.D. after having been interrupted by the Zagwe rulers between the 11th and 13th centuries. The dynasty was also re-restored in 1855 after giving way to the era of the princes lasting for about 68 years. Will history repeat itself? Will the weight of Ethiopia’s long and rich history sway the opinions of all or most Ethiopians to seek the restoration of the monarchy one more time?  

Should there be a popular interest in it, the Solomonic dynasty could be restored in Ethiopia as a national constitutional monarchy, for absolute autocratic systems are increasingly becoming a thing of the past. The principal function of a constitutional monarchy would be to serve as a symbol of national unity and would only have ceremonial duties. Indeed, the only way one can make the monarchy compatible with modern ideas of equality and liberty (also known as democracy) is to make sure that it is constitutional and that it is involved very little, if at all, in day-to-day politics. Such an institution may not need an ‘emperor’ but a ‘king’, for the former implies the presence of an empire or more than one king in the country.     

It may be anticipated, however, that some Ethiopians or groups are opposed to the return of the Solomonic monarchy. For instance, they may believe that the time of the monarchy has gone.  Given the revolutionary upheaval that the country had to go through between 1974 and 1991 and the popularity of modern republics, these individuals and groups may not see the need for restoring the monarchy. However, the political history of the country since 1974 suggests that republican Ethiopia has not been without major, if not catastrophic, problems. During the Derg regime, hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians had died and a generation of intellectuals was lost. Under EPRDF (and today’s Prosperity Party), Ethiopian unity has been at stake and in danger. Regional and ethnic identities are increasingly becoming more important than the overarching Ethiopian nationalism. 

In addition, some groups from ethnic groups like the Oromo may feel that the Solomonic monarchy may not represent the cultural values of all of the Ethiopian people. It is true that the dynasty has been historically associated with the Amhara and Tigrean peoples of north central Ethiopia. Yet there had been marriages between the Solomonic line of rulers and people belonging to the Oromo ethnic group from as far back as 300 years ago. Emperor Iyasu II, who ruled Ethiopia between 1725 and 1749 and from the Solomonic line of rulers, is believed to have married an Oromo. The couple’s son, Emperor Iyoas, reigned between 1749 and 1764. More recently, Emperor Haile Selassie’s wife, Empress Menen Asfaw, was partly an Oromo. Emperor Haile Selassie himself is believed to have an Oromo blood on his mother side. More recently, Emperor Haile Selassie’s granddaughter, Princess Seble Desta, was married to an Oromo, Dejazmach Kassa Wolde Mariam. And Prince Sahile Selassie, Emperor Haile Selassie’s son, was married to an Oromo, Princess Matsente Habte Mariam. Indeed, the current President of the Crown Council of Ethiopia, His Imperial Highness Prince Ermias Sahle-Sellasie, is the son of Princess Matsente Habte Mariam and Prince Sahile Selassie. In other words, the Oromo have every right to claim and nurture the Solomonic dynasty. As Donald Levine (1974) has aptly put it, Ethiopia is an evolving multiethnic society, and the Oromo have been instrumental in such an evolution.    

Moreover, the religion of the Solomonic line of rulers had been Christianity. So, would Ethiopian Muslims support the restoration of the monarchy? The Solomonic line of rulers and the leaders of Muslim kingdoms and principalities in Ethiopia, of course, had had a long history of conflict and peaceful coexistence in the country. For instance, when medieval Ethiopian rulers, such as Emperor Amde Tsion I (1314-1334), realized that the Adal (or Afar) Muslims were too proud and brave to be completely subdued, they had to give them regional autonomy. In addition, whenever Ethiopia needed new bishops from Alexandria, Egyptian sultans had consistently encouraged medieval Ethiopian emperors to respect the religious rights of Ethiopian Muslims. The Ethiopian emperors had often consented to do so. More importantly, it should be noted that ordinary Ethiopian Christians and Muslims have shown extraordinary civility and tolerance to each other over a long period of time. This is especially true since the turn of the twentieth century. Still, it is an open question as to how Ethiopian Muslims would feel with the idea of restoring the Solomonic dynasty. One thing is true: there has to be religious freedom in Ethiopia for the monarchy, if restored, to be accepted by diverse religious groups in the country.  

Now, it is only fitting to repeat Dr. Getachew Mekasha’s advice stated in his 1991 essay published in Ethiopian Review. In his wisely titled essay, The True Test for Democracy Still Ahead, Dr. Getachew argued that if democracy was to exist in Ethiopia right after the fall of the Derg regime, the monarchy needed to be restored. Of course, Dr. Getachew’s advice was not heeded at the time. It may not be too late now, however. 

If the Solomonic dynasty is restored, the monarchy will likely be an asset, not a liability, to the Ethiopian people. Specifically, the Solomonic line of rulers could serve as unifying symbols and father figures of the country’s diverse peoples. As cultural and historical figures to look up to, the monarchs could also help to revitalize the increasingly declining traditional Ethiopian values, such as trust, decency, and respect. Moreover, the monarchy could provide legitimacy to the political system of the country. This is especially true if the political system of Ethiopia is democratic.      

Sources Consulted:

  1. Gizachew Tiruneh. (2015). The Rise and Fall of the Solomonic Dynasty of Ethiopia: Is the Kebra Nagast a Time-Bound Document? Los Angeles: Tsehai Publishers. 

Gizachew Tiruneh. (2014). The Kebra Nagast: Can Its Secretes Be Revealed? International Journal of Ethiopian Studies. Vol. VIII, No. 1 &2: 51-72. 

  1. Levine, Donald. (1974). Greater Ethiopia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  1. Lipset, M. Seymour. (1959). “Some Social Requisites of Democracy,” American Political Science Review. 53 (1): 69-106.
  1. Munro-Hay, Stuart. (1991). Axum: An African Civilization in Late Antiquity. London: Edinburgh University Press. 
  1. Sergew Hable Sellassie. (1972). Ancient and Medieval Ethiopian History to 1270. Addis Ababa: United Printers. 
  1. Taddesse Tamrat. (1972). Church and State in Ethiopia. New York: Oxford University Press.  
  1. Trimingham, J. (1952). Islam in Ethiopia. New York: Oxford University Press.      

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19 COMMENTS

  1. What about the monarchies from other parts of the country? Such as a few of the ones listed below:

    -Wolayta
    -Kaffa
    -Ennarea
    -Harar
    -Sidama

    Perhaps a Crown Council of all the royal families that is officially recognized by the Ethiopian government would be a better solution.

    Cheers,
    MJ

  2. I not sure what make of this argument. But again respecing and tolerance for the opion others is must however disagreeable and outlandish it may sounds if we want to live in peace and civilized.

  3. If so, still no one can predict what will hapen the next day of the crown restoration, to many unknowns and perspectives have the power today,

    And is the council waiting to called up on and rescued?, won’t they fight for it(us)?, so many times we needed them so many times they let us down, leadership wasn’t a choice for a king, where did they learn to act this way???, they forgot their way

    And more importantly does the council will be in this consultation?

    —–WE’RE LIVING AT SOMEONES MERCY—–

    MAY THE CROWN REIGN UPON US AGAIN

  4. Of course a monarchy is better than democracy, because democracy is not real and does not exist in the world. It is also obvious that this article was written by an Amharic speaker. We all must accept the fact that “Queen Sheba (Makeda)” is from Yemen and Solomonic rulers were pretending to be Israeli. So unless our new monarchy is centered around the Beta Israel Falasha, any revival of the former empire will never happen.

    Instead, we should establish 10 regional leaders within Abyssinia and 10 neighboring regions from Sudan, “Eritrea”, and Somalia. We will make a new monarchy that is based from the Nile Valley. Observer seats will be given to Egypt, Yemen, Uganda, Kenya, and Rwanda. King Solomon, “Queen Sheba”, and The Ark Of The Covenant will be forgotten in favor of our new identity… Nilotic Cushites.

    • Why give observer seats to hater countries in Egypt , Sudan , Kenya , and Rwanda ? And your grand solution is basically erasing thousands of years of history in favor of creating a fabricated identity that sounds worst than “Oromara” lmao. You style yourself as a “Republican” but given your post, you’re far from it.

      Cheers,
      MJ

  5. Stable Countries living under Monarchy still exists. Ethiopia and Ethiopians under Monarchy were very respected.
    Great deplomacy and stable goverenece with very organized judicial systen and well respected and implemented rule of law is documented.
    Now looking back at history, I long for Monarchy…

  6. The Kush concept is a lttle bit lopsided to assist some power mongers, mainly of Oromo background, to usurp power and rule over others, especially the Semitic stock, with vengeance and cruelty. You better drop it, man.

  7. This article seems intending to divert the focus of the upcoming national dialogue.
    I think what Ethiopia needs right now is Diversity in Unity, Democracy and A REPUBLIC. So the nation will be called The United Republic of Ethiopia (U.R.E).

    • In my opinion I like the ፈረደ opinion. It keeps Ethiopia intact, but reflecting its 21s Century REALITY.
      I humbly suggest that the cardinal issue, at this point in time, is to keep ETHIOPIA intact as it is TODAY. It is prudent to keep ETHIOPIA as ONE ETHIOPIA and look FORWARD — leaving past History as the FOUNDATION of Ethiopia’s solid base for modern History of Education in Ethiopian Schools. Surely, the history of Ethiopia is more valuable than the so-called “civilized” history of colonial powers that we were forced to narrate at our own schools. Imagine: An Ancient Independent Country like ETHIOPIA neglecting itself in favour of “colonial” powers who have the most degrading opinion about our own BLACK AFRICAN HISTORY. Do you remember? We were hypnotized to the history of the White Man’s History but openly neglecting our own History. YES, the insidious INFERIORITY COMPLEX was part and parcel for us. And It did not matter what paper degrees we had. In all honesty, it must be admitted that we were NOT “educated” but only hypnotized to repeat someones history at the expense of our dignity as human beings. LOOK AT OUR BELOVED AFRICA in totality. WHERE ARE WE????? LET US BE HONEST TO OUR SELVES. PRETENSION WILL NEVER HELP US
      TO RESTORE OUR NATURAL DIGNITY AS HUMAN BEINGS.

  8. After I finished reading this opinion, the first thing which came to my mind was that, are we Ethiopians as a people matured and vigilant enough of a society to entertaine and or, implement such a complex and magnificently interesting way of symbolical governance.
    Regardless, It is an interesting concept.

  9. Cushitic Republican
    What you are saying is so wrong and nothing to do with reality and truth. What it looks like is that you do not know that there are many countries ruled under Monarchy King or Queens. Here are countries where you will find under Monarchy.
    Morocco, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Lesotho, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Jordan, Brunei, Bhutan and Swaziland

    • I think you misread what I wrote. My preference is a monarchy. Those countries you listed are based on royal families, known to have established their current territories. In regards to our previous royal family, which country did they create Abyssinia or “Ethiopia”? The latter is only 125 years old or 80 years old, depending on who you ask.

      In addition, the former royal family have already married amongst common people and non-royals because they know their time has passed. That’s why they are trying to brainwash the Rastafarians and colonize Caribbean countries. Is this who we should rely on? Unfortunately, the EOTC is on the decline so why should Protestants and Muslims believe this fairytale known as Kebra Negast? It saddens me to say this but Abyssinia was torn apart for the benefit of Pan-Africa, and a monarchy will not be possible unless we reclaim the fake country known as “Eritrea”.

      • Would you please expand on your last six words & “the fake country known as “Eritrea” “. It is for my own education. I have absolutely no grudge for anyone’s opinion, on any matter, at any place. In other words, I BOW to the concept of FREEDOM of EXPRESSION by any one, at any place and time. FIULL STOP.

        • Sure Rezen, let me expound further. I will try to summarize all of the complexities. According to my calculations, “Eritrea” and it’s independence had nothing to do with “Eritreans”. The biggest reason was so “Ethiopia” could make the claim of being uncolonized. The UK–US–UN agenda of Pan-Africa only works if “Ethiopia” plays the heroic saviour to all people with black skin.

          The second reason is also the most important for people like us. After Italian subjugation, Islamic natives were fighting against British and Abyssinian annexation. The ELF was then hijacked by Christian Tigrinya speakers, and together they formed the EPLF. There is a hidden secret about this… the charismatic leader, Isayas Afwerki, has been working as a double agent. Never in the interest of “Eritrea” or “Eritrean” people.

          He has been preparing “Eritrea” to be taken over by Tigrayans to create a defacto Abay Tigray. “Eritreans” are now scattered everywhere and most of them do not marry with other “Eritreans”. Over 20 years of aggression have led to this moment. That is what the current civil war is about. I will admit, this is only my theory and I could be wrong.

  10. A constitutional monarchy in 1974 would have been great before EDU, EPRP, Meison and DERG fought each other for power as if the country didn’t have arch enemies that want her destroyed. EDU and EPRP controlled some territories and forced the small army to get distracted from watching the borders to fighting them instead. Those four had the exact same Ethiopia in mind but the enemies were salivating for that infighting to happen and it was party time. If you know what I mean.

    I’m not for feudalism or any kind of serfdom but if u ask me I admire haile Selassie I, king of kings Ras Teferi b/c he was the least cruel of all the 225 emperors of Ethiopia. Of course Menelik II for shocking the hell out of social darwininans but his victory was not complete. But Haile Selassie seems to understand not only Ethiopians but also the whole Africa needs to get involved. Selassie I had four Gurage generals in his small army by the 1950s and each and every one of them were highly respected decorated soldiers for their fighting skills in Ethiopia and Korea. He never asked which ethnicity they came from but he was always pleasantly surprised. The Gurage are a minority group and it took the likes of Ras Gobena to conquer them after twelve years of fierce fighting. But when it was over, it was REALY OVER, and they never looked back. They found out a big country is much better than living in fear of some tribal seasonal fighting that comes every eight years none stop. Besides they never had problem with the old arrangement of ATIDRESIBIN ANDERSIBIHIM but the times were different and they lost to the legendary Ras Gobena Datchie and were finally conquered.

    In 1974 things got shaky and feudalism was outdated. The lazy folks always want to be rich with one stroke instead of working hard to get there. And most of all there was the Eritrea problem which got bigger and bigger every year. The students didn’t know who was programming them tbh. A drop out called Walelelgn Mekonnen and all those W/ro Sihin high school graduates brought nothing but hell to the province of Wello. the old adage ‘HAGERACHIN DESSIE SIMACHIN WELOAYE-BENEKAKUNINA GUDACHEW BETAYE’ is probably hallow at this time in history. The emperor’s mother was probably Welloye but she died while giving birth to him and Ras Teferi was raised by a catholic priest, practically speaking. His father Ras Mekonnen was a great guy by any standard, a great general who won the day for Ethiopia and absolutely loyal to Menelik who happen to be his cousin. Menelik Tiqur-Seb as my ancestors called him had two faces. He can be forgiving and nursing his enemy’s wounds when he wins and extremely brutal when he loses. But without the battle hardened wife of his, Etege Tayitu, his softness could’ve costed Ethiopia a great deal, even with his loyal friend and cousin Ras Meku. Besides there were great people around like Fitawrari Habte Ghiorgis Dinagde of Shewa and Balcha Safo who got their postitions in the government with merit and merit alone. After everything was gone and done with, Fitawrari H/Giorgis was still the most powerful minster of the old days. Unlike others H/Giorgis didn’t use his power to form his own group which could have been devastating for Ethiopia. He lost his hope with the kid he raised like a son and got tired of him running back to him and then he died. When Aba Mechal passed away those who knew the inner machine of palace politics were scared to death but Ras Teferi proved to be very smart. Like Menelik and Abeto Iyassu, Ras Teferi too recognized the mosque in the center of Ethiopia and Africa to be the greatest, thanks to Aba Mela H/Giorgis Dinagde, the longest serving war minister of Ethiopia on whose property the prayer house stands to this day making Ethiopia unique by nature. Today it might look easy but back then it took a lot of effort to convince fanatics that thought the whole country belonged to them and to them only.

    A constitutional monarchy that can unite Ethiopia is not a bad idea. In this day and age when some citizens are admiring so many other countries but their own, other people’s standard of beauty, song, culture, etc etc but their own. It is not a bad idea at all. I am a great admirer of Prince Ras Mekonnen of Harar and I might be related to him just a little bit, a tiny little bit

    But in reality there will be about 80 royal families, at least, asking for funding and decorations and extras and i’m not sure Ethiopia can afford that right now. If Ethiopia was rich or colenel Ghadafie was sill alive with his African chiefs funding, may be

  11. Cushitic Rep…your version of Monarchy history is no where to be found. How about Queen Elizabeth who is still adored by her citizens. What about most of European countries that were formerly ruled by Kings and Queens? Those countries didn’t go from Monarchy to hell, tribal and ethino ignorant systems like Ethiopia. Its will be helpful to learn the real history on how ,when and at what cost the Monarch system formed, protected and shaped Ethiopia before jumping to the fake Tplf and OLF made up brainwashing story corner
    that brainwashing you.
    Please look to read true history written by credible historians and authors and do favor for
    the next generation so they will live in peace.
    From history the Monarchy, during Emperor Hailesellase life was very peaceful and not heard of one gun shot. It had a very high standard for education, judicial and rule of law. One of the most amazing history I heard was how travelers used to travel without any worries. There were no hotels when one travels, so people used to be welcomed to stay in strangers house with high respect and care. That ought to speak how that time was so peaceful…

  12. The article is a good conversation starter(conversation piece). If the system can usher the desperately needed peace and stability with out the use of deadly force, then why not? When the time comes for a civil national dialogue every proposed means should be discussed. I think it will be a good idea if descendants of the late Emperor confine the ‘descendant’ claim to their private living and bed rooms. You remember Howlin Wolf, one of the greatest blues artists and song writers? He was serious when he claimed to be a descendant of immigrants from Ethiopia. And ocular proof for that? Your guess is just as good as mine. For our royal family such ‘stretched’ claim’ may not sit well with all colored humanity including myself. Justin Bieber and Arianna Grande may sound good to my ears but never like Otis Redding, Ray Charles, Candi Staton, Bettye LaVette, Perk Badger and The Meters. You dig?

  13. It is always very helpful to speak the truth. The measure of one government’s performance is how it managed to lead or rule peacefully and for how long. In this category all the three government’s that come after do not come close.
    Peaceful and healthy discussion should be encouraged and not discouraged and to keep it in the bedroom as the above person hurried to advise us. What is the fear there? Who will be hurt from healthy and free discussion? No one..
    When one quickly jumps to silence or hush-hush it leads question that person’ intentions. Why hide the truth from the new generation who had no opportunity to learn their rich and great history?
    Ethiopia lived for centuries under Monarchy but only 45 years under three brutal dictatorship. Then thee years under Woyane/Tplf formed PP lead by PM Abiy who
    failed to stop the ethnic cleansing and bloodshed of Amhara. On top of that horror Amhara are again victimized by war with the people of Afar.

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