We also received advice from people who presented themselves as friends. They started by saying that Your Majesty’s people are being exterminated, their misery continues. Make some kind of compromise and save them, let the British government mediate between Your Majesty and Mussolini.
We tried to do everything possible, lest later, if things went bad, We regretted those things left untried. Much effort was expended at trying to reconcile with Italy. However, since Italy’s intention was based on arranging with Us to purchase Ethiopia, all anticipation of a way out through reconciliation vanished.
Other ideas were received from different sectors:
Let Italy rule Ethiopia under a mandate. The people would be happy if Your Majesty returned to Ethiopia. It is good to accept Italy’s rule of Ethiopia under a mandate for the time being so that it would be possible to expel Italy at a convenient time afterwards. If Italy becomes the ruler of Ethiopia it will be possible to expel her after the people have been civilized.
However, these were not acceptable on Our part.
Naturally, governments act to advance their own interests. We had to think strategically so that We would not be forced to commit an irreversible mistake; or be accused of complicity in activities or destructive crimes which would complicate Our problems. We acted in this way so that others would not be able to say We deserved everything that happened to Us.
No government considered that it might encounter a similar fate down the road. They therefore changed their minds daily, wavered in their thoughts continually, and did things about which they were not sure and confident. There was no advice We could rely upon as being a salvation for my people.
We can not pass without mentioning the names of our chief officials and expatriate intellectuals who remained around Us, to counsel Us during Our diplomatic struggle abroad and in Our duel of wits at the League of Nations. Amongst Our followers, those who helped Us in political affairs were Blatengeta Herui Wolde Sellassie, Dr. Martin Workineh, Ato Wolde Giorgis Wolde Yohannes, Ato Lorenzo Taezaz and Ato Ephraim Tewoldemedhin. Our minister in Paris Blatengeta Wolde Mariam Ayele, betrayed Us and defected to the Italians; in his place the Secretary of Our legation, Ato Aklilu Habtewold, served Us as acting Charge d’Affaires.
Among the foreign lawyers, the prominent ones were Professor Jeze, the Englishmen Professor [J.L.] Brierly and Mister Raestad, formerly a foreign minister of Norway and later a senator, an Englishman called Professor Stanley Jevons, Professor Rolland [Baron Edouard Rolin-Jaequemyns], a Belgian citizen, and others. Typical of the kind of advice Our assistants used to give Us, We cite the following from Professor Jeze as an example:
Deauville, Nehase 17, 1929 [August 13, 1937]
To His Majesty Haile Sellassie I
Emperor of Ethiopia.
I. When Lorenzo came to me to seek advice at Your Majesty’s instruction, I was already about to write Your Majesty offering my ideas about the forthcoming meeting of the League of Nations. I have been grappling for a long time with the questions Ato Lorenzo presented to me. Since I am a prisoner of a profound love and sincere commitment to Your Majesty as a person and to Ethiopia, I am closely following every development at the League of Nations that benefits, directly or indirectly, the Imperial Government and the Emperor of Ethiopia.
II. A few months ago I had a meeting with Professor Jevons. And lately he sent me a letter requesting my advice on a forthcoming debate in the League of Nations. I advised him to drop what was to be done at the League of Nations. He understood the reason for that [and] I have no doubt that he has presented my views to Your Majesty.
The advice 1 gave him is that which I have repeatedly brought to Your Majesty’s attention. It is not the best and most conducive time to present this idea to the League of Nations.
III. On August 14 and 15, some French newspapers summarized a news item carried by the Sunday Referee of London and printed a statement which indicated that Mussolini had come to Bath to ask Your Majesty to return to Ethiopia under Italy’s protection. The papers also reported that you rejected any negotiations unless they were undertaken through the League.
Ato Taezaz could not confirm to me the authenticity of the article written in the Sunday Referee about Italy’s request to Your Majesty. If talks have begun with the current French government, it is vitally important that I get confirmation and precise information about this matter.
Therefore, I beg Your Majesty to send someone to explain what is going on. I doubt if Mr. Mussolini would come up with a reconciliatory idea. The duce’s life style has always been pretentious. While claiming that he has founded an empire for Italy, bestowing the title of Emperor of Ethiopia on Victor Emmanuel [III, r. 1900-1946] and demanding the letters of credentials of ambassadors sent to Rome be addressed to the King of Italy and Emperor of Ethiopia, is it likely that he would recognize Your Majesty as Emperor of Ethiopia, forsaking all the glory and pride he has earned in this way? If there are people who might come to Your Majesty as envoys of Monsieur Mussolini, it would be supremely wise and cautious, before beginning any negotiations, for Your Majesty to make sure that they are authorized with the right credentials.
It is necessary to guard against people bent on deception who come to Bath as envoys but present their own agenda. These kinds of people would be ruinous to Your Majesty’s plans. I am sure that Your Majesty’s usual wisdom and care will outwit them. If this is not handled with caution, and a mistake is made, it would result in irreversible damage to the Imperial Government of Ethiopia.
IV. Does this appear as though I am saying Your Majesty should stay out of negotiating for reconciliation, even with properly authorized messengers?
My committed loyalty to Ethiopia’s cause forces me to suggest that Your Majesty should not reject all negotiations. Before giving any clear-cut response, it is necessary to scrutinize and understand the proffered terms. Now may be the time for Your Majesty to make a sacrifice, to save what can be saved and be prepared for what is to come in the years ahead.
Strict objectivity will help us to examine the present situation and to decide what is best for Ethiopia . It is incumbent upon us to do what is right and real and to desist from wishful thinking. Your Majesty does not have the power to expel the Italians from Ethiopia. At this moment there is no government to help Your Majesty in this matter. These are the facts which should be borne in mind.
V. What is good for Ethiopia should be considered soberly, without emotion. Two possibilities are apparent.
The first one is that the European problem, connected with the incident in Spain and the problem with Japan, may lead to the outbreak of a full-fledged war. The war is going to be between Italy on one side, and France and England on the other. If this should happen, it would require Your Majesty being asked to return to Ethiopia to help rally the people of Ethiopia against Italy. The British and French governments would also help you. The fate of the Imperial Ethiopian government would then be closely linked with the victory of the British and French governments. It is in anticipation of such a turn of events that I always advise Your Majesty to guard against uttering words that may cause the British or French governments to withdraw their cooperation and hinder them from working in concert with Your Majesty.
Is a world war going to break out? I am unable to imagine it now. More than ever before, Britain and France are desperately searching for peace. Although dangerous situations that could lead to an outbreak of a world war have developed one after the other, both the British and French peoples have united to prevent a world war that would destroy European civilization.
The second possibility is that war may not erupt. If so, would France and Britain want to cooperate with Italy about Ethiopia? This is difficult to predict.
Without doubt peace would be to Italy’s advantage since she is engulfed by problems. She has expended a fortune on the war in Ethiopia. She still spends a lot of money to maintain her soldiers there. To exploit the country efficiently, she needs considerable capital. But she has become untrustworthy. For this reason, she wants to settle the Ethiopian matter quickly. For you to reach an agreement would dishearten Ethiopian officials. At the same time it would pave the way for Italy to get financial aid from abroad. This is the reason why the Italian press is constantly telling the world that the Ethiopian affair will be over soon.
However, do France and Britain derive any advantage from settling the Ethiopian matter in this way?
Italy’s friendship with Spain is bound to increase the burden on Italy as the European situation worsens. It is not in the interest of Britain and France to ease Italy’s burden at this juncture. Ethiopia is just like a mouse trap for the Italians. Many thousands of Italians have already gone into the trap. In case war starts , they are going to be prisoners of war.
If Britain, France and Italy achieve a rapprochement, it would be harmful for Ethiopia; thus Your Majesty should take great care not to say or do anything that would help draw these governments together.
VI. These days there is fear that France and Britain might recognize Italy’s claim over Ethiopia. If they do, it will deal a final blow to the League of Nations, which has already been rendered shaky. Italy yearns for legal recognition but she would be pleased to gain any recognition short of that. It would be enough for Italy if the French and British governments simply say that the Ethiopian state has vanished due to Italy’s occupation.
Currently some governments are discussing the idea that the legal viability of a state is determined by the existence of an executive. A state is not something that exists as an idea. It is something that is concretely visible. Looking at what took place a year ago, the real government of Ethiopia was not on the ground in Ethiopia. When any state is hindered by obstacles, and the nature of the impediments is clearly visible, is it not justifiable to conclude that the government is no longer in existence? Moreover, the longer the obstacle persists, the fewer the chances for the state to revive, [and] the greater the likelihood to assume that the… state was obliterated. Next, the state itself becomes non-existent. There is then no need to have a decree that gives legal recognition to a government that has destroyed another government and country by means of force. This logic holds the greatest danger for Ethiopia.
France and Britain have vested interests in Ethiopia. The Italian occupation does not render these interests null and void. It is incumbent upon France and Britain to safeguard their interests. Unless they negotiate with the Italians… there is no way that they can safeguard their interests. If the Italian occupation of Ethiopia is allowed to stand, the hope for the return of the Ethiopian government vanishes, and Britain and France may be forced to give legal recognition to Italy’s coercive occupation or do something that amounts to giving legal recognition. As time passes… effective occupation of another country prompts legal recognition. There are two ways of averting this, through force or negotiation with Italy.
As there is no possibility of force at the moment, this idea is eliminated. What is left therefore is negotiation with Italy. That is why I suggested that it is not wise to ignore Italy’s peace proposals without examining them closely.
VII. Is the danger mentioned above likely to occur in the near future? Is there any chance that, at the forthcoming assembly of the League in September 1937, [Italian Ethiopia] will be given legal recognition and the matter closed? I do not think so. At the moment the case has become a matter of concern for many of the smaller countries. Since they are afraid that the same thing might happen to them down the road, they will oppose the idea of making a hasty decision. The bigger nations are well aware of this. So they will forego the kind of actions that will foment opposition. Had Italy not depleted her money and strength and if she was not involved in the unending European situation, it would have been wise for her to leave everything to time so that her deeds would be accepted and her position strengthened. However, she is in a hurry. Italy needs the legal recognition of the British and French governments or, at least, acknowledgment that the Ethiopian state is no longer a credible government. Except for the two big governments, Italy is not concerned about what others may do.
At the last meeting of the League, the proposal of Poland, which had been inspired by Italy, failed because all member states did not accept it. In fact it caused all the smaller nations to rebel. Mexico in particular strongly opposed it, and many countries backed her stand. France and Britain avoided involvement but showed no interest in pleasing Italy. Is their attitude going to change at the forthcoming conference? The reasons that restrained them in the past will in the future stop them from being actively involved. Therefore, since Rome’s friends in the League will try hard to justify Italy’s effective occupation or to establish that Ethiopia’s statehood has vanished, I think Your Majesty should be cautious not to provide them with any pretext that would serve this purpose.
Therefore, the advice I give Your Majesty now is to do what you did a few months ago. That is not to send an envoy to the Geneva conference of September 1937. If an envoy is sent it will inevitably raise the issue of representation. It will entail the question of probing whether or not the Ethiopian state is credible and legally in existence. It is important not to provide any reason that would make [the League] investigate this matter.
In the absence of an envoy, it is important, just as it was last May, to send an unequivocal letter that would require the League to guarantee the rights and freedom that the people of Ethiopia deserve under section 10 of its charter and to respect the agreement it freely entered into. If Your Majesty accepts this idea, I am prepared, when the time comes, to help draft the letter to the League under your instruction.
VIII. Ato Taezaz had asked my advice about what Your Majesty should do for the Ethiopian exiles. Since the situation… is an issue of helping kinsmen, it is understandably a matter of concern and worry; I do not know how they are currently maintained, and I am not sure about how soon the matter should be raised. If the information I have received is correct, I have heard that there are talks going on between the French and British governments and the Ethiopian Legations in Paris and London. The passports that these Legations are issuing to the exiles are to be accepted by the British and French officials. I have also heard that the protection granted to them by the French and British governments has not been revoked. I am sure that many other countries would also accept the passports issued by the Ethiopian Legation in Paris and London without question. If this is so, have the Ethiopian exiles faced any difficulties travelling from one country to another? Have they been deprived of any of the help given to other foreigners? Your Majesty alone knows if any power has refused to accept the passports issued by the Legations in Paris and London.
IX. Ato Taezaz asked me what would happen, if in the end, Your Majesty were to return to Ethiopia.
In July 1936, when we met in Geneva, I strongly urged Your Majesty to return to Ethiopia. At that time Your Majesty’s officers and soldiers were campaigning in Gore. Today the whole situation has changed…. Gore has also been occupied by the Italians. I strongly advise against Your Majesty’s return to Ethiopia without the financial and military support of the British and French governments.
Undoubtedly, even now Ethiopian officials are resisting the Italian invasion. But the resistance consists of only sporadic and isolated gunfire. There is nothing that might be regarded as outright war. Your Majesty’s return to Ethiopia would not improve the situation or augment the magnitude of the fighting. With shortages of money, weapons and munitions, the Ethiopian people cannot defeat the Italians. Your Majesty’s presence in Ethiopia would provide the Italians a pretext to kill everybody. There would be another round of massacres. Apart from this the Italians would gather all their air force together to seek out and destroy the area where Your Majesty is said to be found. They would wipe out Your Majesty’s few remaining soldiers. They regard Your Majesty’s disappearance as relief from a frightening and feared enemy and would do everything in their power to destroy Your Majesty. If this happened, it would dishearten all the Ethiopian peoples and officials and destroy all ideas and future plans for Ethiopia. But if Your Majesty is alive in Europe and able to launch a vigorous opposition against the crimes committed between 1935 and 1936, the continued antipathy toward Italy will make it harder for her to get recognition. As I have explained to Your Majesty and according to the evidence I secured, neither France nor Britain would allow Your Majesty through their territories on Your route to Ethiopia. They suspect that, if they did this, Italy would undertake a strong retaliation that might result in a clash between the nations of the world.
I think I have answered all the questions raised by Ato Taezaz. Once again I wish to renew the assurances of my highest consideration, friendship, and loyalty to Your Majesty. I will be in Deuville until the end of August.
Our African Heritage Online.
Our African Heritage Online invites you to join in our reading of The Autobiography of Emperor Haile Sellassie I – Volume 2. You are invited to leave your thoughts on this portion of our reading in the comments. Please note comments from other social media platforms will be transferred to this website.