My Life and Ethiopia’s Progress Vol 1 Ch 30 (Pt2)

ABOUT THE CONSTITUTION

Your Majesty has graciously caused it to be proclaimed that from now on and forever the governance of Your imperial realm is to be by the determination of the law. Constitution, i.e. the law of the realm, means to set up well, to constitute. It is like setting something up by selecting from two or three things and uniting them into one only. For instance, the constitution of a wall is established by four things: stone, lime, sand, and straight levelling. And similarly, a country, people, king, and law, when united together, form the basis for the establishment of a government, and the concept of their being fused together is called a constitution. It will be found recorded in world history that many great men, in various epochs and in different countries, toiled hard to harmonize, with well-disposed application, the ideas underlying the establishment of a government.

 

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Let us then indicate to you all the various kinds of expositions that have been presented as conditions and principles to be applied to the framing of constitutions in the world.

(1) A king with unlimited powers, in the absence in his country of any special customs or regulations, will do as he pleases, with his caprice as the only principle guiding him from day to day, and bring about fortuitous changes according to his character. He punishes without proper judgement, and kills and hangs people. A government of this kind may be suitable for pagans but it is not appropriate for a Christian people. The word of the Gospels does not permit it. An example of this would be, if a man lived in an accumulation of stones in a field-as in a cavern-and if they suddenly collapsed they could crush him. This would be called arbitrary government. Succession to the throne is according to the chance of time and superior strength and may change frequently and abruptly; each time such a change occurs it splits the people into factions, seeking to annihilate each other and making their fate constant bloodshed and mutual destruction.

(2) A king with unlimited powers, in the absence of properly specified written legislation, proceeds by long-established custom handed down from generation to generation. He is thus able to apply punishment as well as mercy, to appoint and to dismiss as well as to hold court in open assembly, to award honours and to issue clearly drafted proclamations. If suddenly he commits some wrong, no restraint can be placed upon him. Government of this kind has mostly remained to be practised among peoples for whom no constitution has been set up. An example of this would be a house built with natural stone walls without mortar. This would be called a government existing by custom which possesses a measure of tolerance. The succession to the throne is to the faction to which the chance of time may offer it.

(3) A king with full authority may have specially appointed counsellors who prepare legislation for him and work by meeting in special assemblies on specified occasions. The number of persons who are permitted to tender advice is defined and they are selected from among the princes, officials, and people of each part of the country; if the advisory assembly is held in two or three sections, then the chambers are to be organized and divided in accordance with these sections. The persons who are to be counsellors within each section are chosen according to the rank of their respective parties. Parliament is divided into chambers of princes, notables, and the people. But those selected for the people’s chamber, it is by the people’s choice that they are appointed according to the rules; and consequently they serve as counsellors for a fixed term only, then they are removed again and others are once more elected and substituted for them.

 

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All their deliberations are to be decided by majority vote and then to be submitted to the king in writing; if the king likes their counsel and accepts it, he then confirms it. He subsequently causes it to be promulgated. Afterwards the ministers, in accordance with instructions under the law, have to see it is carried out. They have to put on trial people transgressing the law and see that they are punished.

Revision or complete change of the law is undertaken after proper consultations about it according to the (existing) law. Government of this type is called joint rule determined by law. Succession to the throne in no circumstances passes outside the dynasty. It rests firmly upon the words of an oath and threat of excommunication entered into by the king, the princes, the notables and the people. An example of this is a house whose walls are built with stone, lime and sand.

(4) Then there is a republican form of government where the head of the republic is appointed by the will of the people for a fixed period. A government like this is a communal government subject only to the authority of the people.

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The president of the republic demits office at the prescribed time and is succeeded by the next one likewise elected by the will of the people. In a republican government, the president of the republic, the ministers and counsellors are elected entirely by the choice of the people. Any proposal that has to be carried out is decided upon by the party with the majority of popular votes. Such a government is called government of the people. Government of this type is not for very uneducated and uncivilized people. Even in civilized countries it often causes great difficulty and leads to bloodshed.

Even if there exists another method of government apart from those enumerated, none has been discovered that is better than these for the condition of man at the present time.

 

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There is no limit to man’s desires, and as such desires increase they have no benefit for life but remain mere concepts. I have, therefore, shown you the various kinds of governance that exist in the world and that can be of use to man’s life. Well then, it is the third method of governance for which H.M. Haile Sellassie I has opted in the belief that it will be suitable for the conditions in which Ethiopia exists at present, i.e. the government of Ethiopia is for ever to be a government of the King of Kings (= Emperor), with the Emperor possessing full authority and the principal determination of the law being by the Imperial will, while for the necessary matters of detail he is to be advised, for the time being, by the assembly of princes and notables; these matters are to come into force when approved by the Emperor’s authority. Later on, when the people have been educated to an adequate standard of knowledge, they will be permitted to elect, on their part, men to whom the privilege of counsellorship is to be given.

This means that for the present the Emperor is appointing the princes, notables, and officials as tutors for the people, so that they should guide the populace towards amelioration.

 

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Thus the constitution given to Ethiopia by H.M. Haile Sellassie I may be briefly defined as follows:

(1) The government of Ethiopia is for ever an Imperial realm. The Emperor possesses full authority, but his rule is subject to legal determination.
(2) The Senate and Chamber of Deputies are firmly established for ever and cannot be removed; the counsellors are to be elected at a predetermined time from each part of the country from among the princes, notables, officials, and people.
(3) The principal laws, by virtue of being based on the Emperor’s knowledge, shall remain permanently valid.
(4) Laws concerning matters of detail are to be examined by Parliament and to be decided by majority vote; after they have been ratified by the Emperor’s authority, they shall be promulgated.
(5) Ministers are to be responsible for the work of their respective departments and have to see to it that their work is carried out in the whole of Ethiopia.
(6) It is the Emperor alone who is in supreme command of all the armed forces in Ethiopia.
(7) It is the Emperor alone who can award senior authority and rank, office and rights, decorations and honours, hereditary land-rights and fiefs (rest and gult), as well as major grants of lodgings and maintenance.
(8) The Emperor alone can proclaim war or peace.
(9) After a malefactor has been convicted by due process of law, it is only the Emperor who is able to lighten his sentence or to pardon him altogether.

 

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Now, then, that I have explained the establishment of the basis government, in its various forms, which is termed ‘constitution’, may it be your wish to let me expound also the concept of what is called ‘law’.

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