<< Back to all articles
Articles in this series:
Series: A History of Early Twentieth Century Ethiopia
19. Developments of the 1950s and 1960s
We saw last week how Ethiopian foreign policy developed in the 1940s and 1950s. Now read on:
Political and Legal Reform, and Economic Developments
The 1950s and 1960s witnessed notable developments in the Ethiopian political, legal, and economic fields. Realisation of the inadequacy of the then existing Ethiopian Constitution, and comparison with the more progressive UN Eritrean Constitution of 1952, led to the formulation in 1955 of a Revised Ethiopian Constitution. Reportedly having taken six years to draft, it was a lengthy document, which outlined in detail the respective powers of the executive, i.e. the Emperor’s government, the legislature, and the judiciary. The legislature was for the first time to include a fully elected Chamber of Deputies, side by side with a Senate nominated by the Emperor. Provision was made for freedom of speech and of the press, in terms which were, however, to prove unenforceable.
Despite the Constitution’s liberal appearance the government remained essentially autocratic. Real power was retained by the Emperor, whose person was, as in the previous constitution, declared ‘sacred’. The Constitution’s enactment was followed, in 1957, by Ethiopia’s first General Election, carried out on the basis of full adult suffrage. Code Napoleon, or Code Haile Sellassie?
Steps were also taken, at about this time, for codification of the law, which the Emperor, thinking perhaps of the Code Napoleon, later claimed as the “supreme accomplishment” of his life. A Codification Commission was appointed in 1954, after which a Penal Code, the first of half a dozen modern codes drawn up with the help of Swiss and other foreign experts, was promulgated in 1957.
Five Year Plan, and Confederation of Labour Unions
A Five Year Plan, formulated by Yugoslav advisers, was inaugurated in the same year. A state-sponsored Confederation of Labour Unions, CELU, came into existence, in 1962.
Links with the Rest of Africa
The emergence meanwhile of a succession of independent African states, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, enabled the Ethiopian Government, speaking with an authority based on the country’s unique history of independence, to involve itself increasingly in the continent’s affairs.
Many anti-colonialist activists, among them Jomo Kenyatta and Tom Mboya, both from Kenya, visited Ethiopia, and Mau Mau freedom-fighters, also from that country, were given refuge. The Emperor granted scholarships for students from parts of Africa under colonial rule to study in Ethiopia. Several dozen, from Kenya and elsewhere, attended the University which bore his name. Nelson Mandela, the future South African leader, received Ethiopian military training.
Ethiopian troops played a major role in the Congo (later Zaire) during the difficulties after that country’s independence in 1960. Ethiopian diplomats were active in bringing the radical and conservative African states together to found the Organisation of African Unity, OAU, in 1963.
The OAU and ECA
The Emperor used his prestige, as an older statesman, to arbitrate in several interAfrican disputes, including those between Algeria and Morocco in 1963, Nigeria and Biafra in 1968-9, and the Sudan government and southern Sudanese rebels in 1972. Ethiopia was likewise responsible, with Liberia, for taking South Africa to the International Court of Justice in an unsuccessful attempt to challenge the legality of the South African occupation of Namibia. Ethiopia in this and other ways acquired a unique status in twentieth century African politics.
All this led to Addis Ababa being chosen as the permanent headquarters of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, ECA, in 1958, and of the OAU in 1963.
Ties with the U.S.
Notwithstanding such interest in African affairs the country’s principal economic contacts were at this time with the United States. Ethiopia, in the 1950s and 1960s, was the largest recipient in Africa of American military and civilian aid.
Ethiopia also had particularly close relations with Israel, which supplied security and police training, and high-level University personnel. Relations with the Jewish state were, however, reluctantly broken off by the Emperor, in 1973, at the insistent behest of the OAU, which was at that time committed to a militantly anti-Zionist policy.
The years under review also witnessed the establishment of a number of important new institutions, many, but by no means all, in the capital. These included factories in Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa and Bahr Dar, an oil Refinery at Assab, and a sugar estate and factory at Wonji.
This period also saw the establishment, in Addis Ababa, of several new hotels, among them the Ghion, the Ethiopia, the Webe Shebelle, and the Hilton. The capital also successively acquired two new airports, the first on the Jimma Road, and the second at Bole. Other constructions in Addis Ababa in these years included a fine new Municipality building, the first skyscraper, or high-rise, buildings, and a new Palace, the Jubilee into which the Emperor moved, after handling over his older residence, the Geneta Le’ul, to the University.
Developments in the medical field were no less significant, and included the funding, in Addis Ababa, of the Duke of Harar Hospital, now the Black Lion (which critics at the time felt far too large to be ever fully occupied), and St Paul’s Hospital.
By the end of the period virtually all provincial capitals had been furnished with at least one secondary school and hospital. Haile Sellassie I , later Addis Ababa, University had Faculties in virtually all disciplines, and specialized branches in both Gondar and Alemaya.