My Life and Ethiopia’s Progress Vol 1 (Ch 30 pt3)


The meaning of law is the obligation of government to define every contract made between men, so that security and peace be created for the conditions of life in the world. The meaning of law is also that it should hold responsible any man transgressing a contractual obligation and hand him over to the powers possessing the responsibility of enforcement. This being so, law provides for man a distinct definition of what it permits to him, so that he may fully benefit from it. Furthermore, the law, while warning man of the duties incumbent upon him, orders him to fulfil his obligations. Anything that is permitted to man to benefit by is called the right of exercise of enjoyment. This right of enjoyment is divided into two main parts:

(1) Private privileges are those which are for each person in his individual capacity.
(2) Joint privileges are those which are for the whole people in its entirety and for Ethiopia in her united capacity.

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Private and joint concepts may be of three kinds:

(1) The interests of livelihood (worldly goods);
(2) The interests of the mind (knowledge);
(3) The interests of the inner life (love and religion).

Emperor Haile Sellassie I has given laws as regards the general judicial concepts for all these interests, private as well as communal, which have been referred to. But for matters of detail he has set up what is called a constitution as a basis for the establishment of government, so that the counsellors should submit to him (as we have shown above) the legislative proposals they have prepared in Parliament.

Up to now I have spoken in order to expound what a constitution is and also how the determination of laws is to be done. I shall now explain in detail the answer to the questions I have presented to you before.



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What Emperor Haile Sellassie I has done for us, other kings have done for their countries. But in other countries improvements of this kind were not carried out by an act of spontaneous generosity but through bloodshed and compulsions and by leaving behind a sense of danger for all.

But in our country, while the educational level of the people is as yet inadequate, our Emperor, in weighing up and estimating the deficiencies and advantages for the future, has been meaning to improve the conduct of our fortunes and has arranged, by his wisdom and his will, that Ethiopia should rise up from the condition of mere custom, in which she had been living hitherto, and pass on to a higher level of civilization. What makes this so very astonishing is the fact that all this is being accomplished in such peace and security, while Ethiopia turns away from the situation in which she had been up to now and makes progress all of a sudden, the Emperor being in accord with his supporters and servants-all in unity, mutual aid, and joy.


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This fact is by itself enough to bring honour to Ethiopia and render her an equal with the civilized nations.

In order to repay His Majesty’s generosity, we must judge for ourselves and impose an obligation upon ourselves so as to be truly and sincerely submissive. When His Majesty has been graciously pleased to establish for us such an esteemed project, unless we make an equally gracious and willing return for those benefits, we shall give offence to our Emperor, on the one hand, and to most people, on the other, as well as incurring hatred all round; that is, if we are seekers, on the narrow road, of our own interest only and despise our common benefit which ties us to the nation.

The meaning of law is a strong and unchallengeable force which is ordained to exist among men in sanctity, purity, and honour; it is a requirement of peacefulness to be a safeguard of the interests existing among men-properly poised and for ever indestructible. That which safeguards the law itself is its faithfulness in true impartiality and sincerity in the fulfilment of contracts tied to covenants.


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This contract attached to a covenant, referred to as law, specifically cautions on every occasion those dwelling in the world, lest they transgress the proper limits in any of their daily occupations; the law defines those limits for them, brings them into harmony, and delivers them from enmity.

Therefore, the law deserves to be honoured-being the supreme power above all. And we, all the natives of Ethiopia, it is our obligation and our desire to live in future with honour for the law, taking great care never to forget that we have entered into this covenant knowingly and willingly.

Anyone seeking to interfere with the mode of living permitted to every man by law or seeking to cause upheaval deserves to be rebuked before the Creator and by the assembly of the people; he also deserves to be punished as an evildoer before the king. Likewise, if a man fails to carry out what the law has commanded him or if he is found transgressing what the law has determined, then he renders himself liable to be punished by that law.


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It is the Emperor who has entered into a contract sanctioned by covenant to safeguard with diligence that the people may benefit to the full from every aspect of life which the law permits; and it is up to us to see he succeeds in this.

Again, it is the same Emperor who has entered into a contract sanctioned by covenant to apply force lest anyone should be guilty of a transgression which the law forbids; let us then strive, for his sake, to the best of our ability to bring about success for this as well.

The existence of a binding covenant between the Emperor and the people entails a desire and an obligation for both parties in unison and not for one side only.

Therefore, there is no greater benefit for us than the desire and obligation that is mutual to both sides. By the Emperor’s action of giving us the law and by our action of accepting, honouring, and fulfilling it we are able to make our life in this world one of hope and loyalty. As a consequence, all our thoughts will be tranquil and this will let us take care to initiate and to bring to fruition all kinds of important and beneficial deeds.

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We are not wrong in considering this the main concept for our country’s prosperity. If there were no law we would have no hope amounting to any sort of confidence-but only violence and injury-and our heart would become insensitive. Our life, on account of our unsuccessful plans, would become unsettled and unstable.

Upon such conduct, our world would remain without proper basis, a thing of idle hopes only. When we come to assess the damage of all this, we cannot fail to be very conscious of the gravity of the matter. But by virtue of the fact that it is the Emperor who gives the law and thereby becomes the custodian of the people’s benefits and deficiencies, he is given the special privilege of supreme authority and rights. It is of the essence that this should for ever remain his personal prerogative and thus no other man can challenge him. After his life-time it passes by due inheritance to his children and these, in turn, according to precedence will take over and carry on the work of government according to law, but it cannot be turned over to another dynasty. It is all the natives of Ethiopia in their entirety who have entered into a contract sanctioned by covenant to be guarantors of this arrangement.

The principal advantage deriving from this is that it should stop the quarrels and upheavals which arise each time on the occasion of the succession to the crown and throne, and that it should prevent the mutual extermination which the division of the people into factions causes as well as the dismemberment and partition of Ethiopia.

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If any man were to oppose or to infringe the Emperor’s authority, the people’s interests, or the power of the law, then he would, by his own will, have become an outlaw, and no defence whatever could be found for him to save him from punishment.

From now onwards, Ethiopia, by virtue of being protected and rendered tranquil in every respect, will on one hand internally progress in every sphere of her standard of living and continually grow in wealth; on the other hand again, as far as the outside world is concerned, she will be able to conclude treaties, accruing to her benefit and honour, with her neighbouring countries regulating all mutual relations and consonant with Ethiopia’s long-term interests.

It is thus not very difficult for us to appreciate that these two methods of amelioration represent something of major value. When a basis for the establishment of government is set up and the law is defined, it is not possible at the same time to discuss precisely and bring about every determination of matters of detail. This is because the people’s mode of living is so very variegated in type, extent, and general distinctions. But our hope is absolute that in the course of time, as the need arises, permission is bound to be granted, and this inspires our heart with confidence for the future.


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When that time comes, the full extent of His Majesty’s generosity will be clearly seen. While it was perfectly possible for him to rule according to his wishes like the kings in the past and to act as his momentary caprice made him, he abandoned all this and, by his own will and generosity, laid a firm basis for the establishment of his government and gave freedom to his people within the framework of the law. When he did this, he did not compel us to choose a particular kind of law and to live under it by simply translating the constitution of one of the civilized nations. If it had been done like this, it would have been to our detriment rather than our advantage. On the contrary, he saw to it that the constitution was in accordance with the country’s customs, the people’s educational level, the economic difficulties, and with the spirit of the times; he permitted the people themselves to advise on what was suitable for the time being, to be the custodians of the constitution, and to make their views known.

Any proposal that had to be decided upon by majority vote required to be examined by the properly and specifically established parliament, i.e. by the assembly of counsellors specially selected; if the proposal was suitable to become law according to the constitution, it was to be promulgated after ratification by the Emperor’s authority. For the present, no better method of legal procedure can be devised for us. After ratification and promulgation by the Emperor, it has been arranged that the ministers who possess full powers shall be responsible for the execution of the law; and no man whatsoever, be he great or small, shall be in a position to transgress the law.


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Well now, I have explained to you the road along which Ethiopia is to be renewed and guided as well as the reason for the differences compared with her earlier situation; henceforth things will be different in that Ethiopian legislation is to be devised by the knowledge of indigenous Ethiopians and to be approved by the Emperor-and is no longer to be a matter that is exclusively under the guidance of foreigners.

The authority of ministers will have reference to all matters directly concerning the government and the people; chief among these are agriculture, cattle-breeding, manufacture, trade, the process of justice, and all other similar matters.

From now onwards, no man will be able to extinguish, by power or force, the rights granted to the people, or to infringe their interests, or to cause upheaval in order to bring about change capriciously, or indeed to commit acts of violence and outrage. From now onwards the law will be a safeguard to ensure that no powerful person or upstart shall subdue the weak or the poor. It has, therefore, been arranged to have a printed version of the law and to make it available everywhere, so that anyone may take note of the law and will thus be able to save himself from oppression under the protection of the constitution.

From now on legal safeguards have been established, so that the verdict of the judges shall be impartially dispensed; and from this the people will be able to benefit very greatly. What is permitted to the people henceforth is personal liberty and enjoyment of normal life, though not freedom of lawless conduct-nor to do anything outside the law. This recognition has been embodied in the law, so that man’s intelligence be uncovered and be directed properly, that he be able to profit from his work and not be deprived of his inherited land. But if the law were merely written down and remained thus, it would be like a dead person; hence an observer and promoter has been appointed, so that it be applied properly. The product of all this will be a secure peace, improvement of civilization, and advancement in the standard of living.


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When I say that peaceful security will ensue, it is because it has been willed that to live by force and arbitrariness is forbidden and that to live by law alone has become an obligation-and also because everything has been firmly based on unity, so that it be protected with care. Furthermore, it is also because ministries for the successful achievement of work have been specially set up, with the appropriate distribution of their respective tasks, and because they have been given the necessary authority and rightful power to bring about the fulfilment of their respective duties without mutual friction.

If the superior power of the law does not succeed in making everybody responsible to it, then injustice is bound to be done to someone, as one man’s injury is another’s benefit; therefore, it is essential that the law should be above everybody.

When I say that improvement in civilization will ensue, it is because, when a man is allowed to profit from his work, he is bound to compete and strive to put his inherited propery right and make it prosper, to advance his standard of living by accomplishing things through the skill of his handiwork; he will save time by the knowledgeable use of new instruments and efficient methods and will thus be able to obtain considerable profit with little effort and at little expenditure; in all things of this kind he will engage in rivalry and competition.

When I say that economic advance will ensue, it is because man will now be able to become wealthy if he proceeds along all the roads accessible to him, and everybody is bound to strive to enrich himself by hard work and to advance and to improve his standard of living.


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Now that I have assessed, separately, the advantages and disadvantages incurred by the Emperor and the people and have referred to the contractual obligations and wishes, authority and rights, by which the two sides are tied to the covenant, it is proper to recall-lest we forget-the duties incumbent upon us.

While the king and people are bound under the covenant to live by the obligations and requirements which the law commands, we are likewise mutually bound by covenant to assist them, each of us according to his entire ability, through true service and a sincere mind, as well as to join together in all things relating to Ethiopia’s unity; I have therefore reminded you of obligations and requirements that cannot be shed by us. Furthermore, since it is necessary for the law to be equal for everyone, it is essential for all natives of Ethiopia, small and great, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, all without distinction, to profit by it according to their fate. Even though a law may be set down in fine words, unless the substance embodied in it is to be truly carried out-as we have just described-or if some individual is able to transgress the law and to act willfully, then it will remain a mere sham and cannot become the real mode of life suitable for a civilized Christian government and nation.


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We have said that Emperor Haile Sellassie I, when defining by law this basis of government which he has established and when graciously granting it to us, has at a stroke raised Ethiopia from the position in which she had been and has managed to place her on the high level which the civilized nations have attained. When our Emperor revealed to us such a lofty thought, intending to hold us up to honour, and if we, on our part, expose him by failing to accept his plans or by refusing, negligently, to extend our help, then this will be testimony against us that we are seeking, by our own doing, a place of dishonour.

As regards this freedom, while some people fail to understand the meaning of the liberty granted to us in terms of lofty thoughts and a fine and genuine intellect, it is our duty to caution our fellow-men close to us lest they be deceived into thinking that it is licence that has been granted to them. Whatever freedom may be permitted, it is necessary for everyone to appreciate that licence is not acceptable.

Lest anything like this should happen, it seems to me superfluous to have to mention that the powers of enforcement of the Imperial government are entirely adequate.


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Anything that the law has ordained, only that same law can abolish, through revision and with the Emperor’s permission, but no one else can cancel it. It is needful for us to have patience, for it always takes a lot of time to accomplish a great concept. That means that this entire plan, broadly conceived, cannot be successfully carried out in a day, and we must appreciate that sufficient time is required for its fulfilment. Hence some people, lacking the patience to wait for the right time, claim that the law has been set down in writing but has not been acted upon; lest they should annoy the people and make them lose hope, it is our duty to explain matters to our friends wherever we go. There is no one leaving school who has acquired knowledge in a day. All that has been said cannot, it seems to me, cause any displeasure to the hearts of those who love their government and their king.

A wide-ranging concept of this kind is not to be initiated on slight foundations, and the essence of the scheme is to get to know first of all, by careful research, the principal skills with which the initiative is to be successfully accomplished.

If we set to work without assessing and weighing up the profit and loss which this may entail for the people, i.e. if we proceed on the strength of wanton and frivolous plans, not only shall we fail to reach a high level of civilization but we shall, in fact, be bound to degenerate and retrogress towards ignorance. I do not suspect that you, gentlemen, who are here today will make any mistake about all this. But you cannot fail to assess the level of knowledge of perhaps a majority of the people outside this audience, and it is, therefore, essential that you who are, by the Emperor’s wish, leaders and tutors should cause them to be patient and to wait until they are able to analyse the advantages and disadvantages.


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In order to appreciate the real meaning and value of freedom it is necessary, first of all, to study and to develop an enquiring mind. An educated person will himself be aware and take care to restrain himself from acts of licence. But an uneducated person requires as guides men who possess knowledge and uprightness, so that he may save himself from perdition and be useful to himself as well as to others.

Apart from this, it is your duty and privilege to be of service to our country and to our Emperor to the best of your ability, as you are yourselves an example by which the inferior person recognizes the duty of complete obedience to his superior, and the superior appreciates the propriety with which he is to issue orders to his inferior.

If in these circumstances we were all of us lending a hand, the great burden which has fallen upon the Emperor alone would be eased for him by being shared and by being spread to all of us; and thus the task would be quickly accomplished to the great benefit of the people throughout Ethiopia.


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While we thus apply ourselves to our task jointly with our Emperor who is endeavouring to rule with truth and justice, without withdrawing the generosity which so benefits the people, thinking only of the true and lofty concept without fear or favour, and without curbing the duty which is so pleasing to God, let it be our foremost desire and effort that our country, Ethiopia, should attain a higher level and that thereby our entire generation be blessed.

Now, gentlemen, I have spoken thus far to the best of my ability, and if it has been to your satisfaction, then I, on my part, shall always be prepared at any future time it may please His Majesty to explain with my entire mind the proper application of the law.’

Following this, the two houses of parliament were made ready, and the first was called Senate, the second Chamber of Deputies.


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Four months later, We arranged that the counsellors chosen from each district should come to Addis Ababa, and parliament was opened with great celebrations on 23rd Teqemt 1924 (= 2nd November 1931), the first anniversary of Our coronation as Emperor.

Since these happenings disturbed the mind of the enemy, and not content with being upset in his heart only, he declared: ‘The initial stages of the present activities of the Ethiopian Government are very worrying, and it is therefore necessary that we Italians should now think about it very seriously.’ A man who was friendly with both sides told us the actual words he had heard being uttered.

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