Ever since I made the decision to quit journalism and started focusing on the restoration of the monarchy in Ethiopia, I have often been greeted with the same line of questions. The monarchy has been more than forty years, some note, why even bring up the idea of a system that has been silent for close to a half century? This question is frequently followed up by this a variation of this statement, I’m told over and over again that Ethiopians deserve a democracy instead of a one person autocracy.
What many people know about the Ethiopian monarchy informed through the lens of decades of propaganda and a misunderstanding shaped by disinformation that was spread by vested interests who wish to see our country fractured along tribal lines. Even those who have a deep admiration for the Ethiopian crown are drawn to it not because of the depth of the institution that kept Ethiopia free from colonization but due to the allure of personalities who occupied the throne at various stages of Ethiopian history.
In reality, the Ethiopian monarchy was not about just the head but about a body that started locally and spread outward. Instead of dividing the country based on ethnicity, governance was predicated on regions that were bound together by an overriding sense of nationality above tribe. This is not to say that there were never injustices committed in the past, at different times during Ethiopian history, excesses were evident and transgressions were committed against marginalized people. Yet when one steps back and assesses the totality of the Ethiopian monarchy’s existence, it is undeniable that past kings and queens fought and died protecting the interests of Ethiopia from external and internal adversaries.
It is for this reason that I made the decision to become the chair of Ethiopians for Constitutional Monarchy and why I advocate for the restoration of the Solomonic crown. Observing the state of Ethiopia from a political and social vantage point, what I see is the lack of a strong institution that advocates for the totality of our nation. To the contrary, the “democracy” we have been sold is nothing more than a tribal tug of war that is a byproduct of neocolonialism.
True democracy is about voting for the best ideas, being wedded to tribe as a primary motive for voting is nothing more than Jim Crow by way of ballot boxes. Moreover, making decisions based on the next election and catering to ethnic extremists in order to cultivate a political base is not leadership but abject negligence on a national scale. As long as Ethiopia maintains a system that emulates the South African model of apartheid, we will continue to spiral into the abyss of ethnic violence and eventually total disintegration.
If we are to turn away from this collision course we have with the fate that befell Yugoslavia, we need to return to the essence of Ethiopiawinet that kept us united and free for thousands of years. I believe that a restoration of the Ethiopian monarchy in a constitutional framework can lead us away from the era of zeregnenet that is eating away at the fabric of our nation. We desperately need an institution that rises above the petty nature of politics and speaks to our common humanity. What I’m advocating is not without precedence; some of the most vibrant democracies and prosperous nations are constitutional monarchies.
However, as much as I speak about the need to return to our roots, I do not wish yet another revolution or a radical departure from the norm to get there. Ethiopia has been victimized for too long by one quick change after another that has been imposed on many based on the whims of a few. If and when the Ethiopian monarchy is to be restored, it will be through the consent of the governed and because the institution has earned the trust of the people. Resting on the laurels of past monarchs and thinking that it is our due because we are related to past monarchs will not do, those who desire to be leaders must roll up our sleeves and do work.
After all, greatest king of kings was not called His Excellency and treated like royalty, He fed the people and walked with the broken. It is incumbent of us to do as Eyesus and serve our people instead of seeking power for the sake of our egos.
Invariably, the question always rises up even among the strongest supporters of the Ethiopian monarchy. Who will be the person who ascends the throne? My answer is always the same, let us restore the institution by proving value to all Ethiopians before we worry about the final outcome. The Ethiopian monarchy is not like the European one, ours was never about a one family dynasty but about picking a king or queen based on merit. There is a reason why the Solomonic line has many branches to it, to this day there are countless number of Ethiopians who can trace their roots to past rulers. The one who aspires to lead must earn the mantle instead of thinking he/she deserved it by virtue of birth alone.
On a broader level, the restoration of the Ethiopian monarchy in a constitutional framework is not about one family or the nobility but about the totality of Ethiopia. For too long, we have been chasing the fools’ gold of modernity at the cost of our heritage. In the quest to be accepted by the world and take on the customs of others, we have thrown away some of the most profound aspects of our culture and our history. In the past 45 years, we have gone from a nation among nations to a punchline.
I know this issue is sensitive to a lot of Ethiopians; emotions run very deep for both people who love the monarchy and those who are opposed to it. I am not dismissive of the reasons that some have for being completely against it, we have to be open enough to listen and compassionate enough to understand instead of approaching this topic from a place of hubris. Restoring the monarchy does not mean copying and pasting everything from the past, we can take measures to ensure that all Ethiopians have a stake and a seat at the table.
As much as the concerns of those who are hesitant or outright hostile to the notion of the restoration of the monarchy need to be listened to, it is equally imperative for those who believe in the institution to stop being intimidated and have your voices heard. There are tens of millions of Ethiopians back home and abroad who not only admire the monarchy, a large number wish for leaders like Atse Tewodros, Emperor Menelik and Emperor Haile Selassie to guide us away from the age of ethnocentrism that our country is drowning in. Sadly, decades of harassment and outright persecution has conditioned Ethiopians to be silent for fear of repercussion. It is time to stop being afraid and support what is in your heart for the status quo of separatism is leading us into dangerous times.
I’m not a blind loyalists when it comes to the restoration of the Ethiopian monarchy, I acknowledge mistakes that were made including some by my own forefather Atse Tewodros II. However there is a vast difference between rectifying misdeeds and throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The abrogation of the Ethiopian monarchy that took place in 1974 was snake oil that was sold by Marxist thugs, they promised fairness for the poor and ended up giving Ethiopia equality by making everyone destitute. 45 years later and we find ourselves knee-deep in lawlessness, mass poverty and sectarian strife. This important question must be asked, are we better off today than we were in 1974?
There is a reason why ethnic animosity is boiling over and why the sense of nationality that was once so evident in our grandparent’s time has become almost non-existent. Love for Ethiopia is embedded deep in our psyches yet the lack of a strong institution that advocates for our common humanity above our ethnic differences is creating a dissonance that is projected outward into violence, sorrow or indifference. We have tried despotism and tribalism for close to fifty years, perhaps we should look back to a system that kept us united and free from colonization for 3,000 years in order to move forward.
Lij Teodrose Fikremariam is the Chair of Ethiopians for Constitutional Monarchy. He is the direct descendant of Atse Tewodros II, the once Emperor of Ethiopia who united a fractured nation during Zemene Mesafint (age of princes) and imbued Ethiopia with a sense of togetherness that enabled them to eventually defeat Italy at the battle of Adwa. Lij Teodrose was born in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia but grew up in America. He has a Bachelor of Arts from George Mason University and an Masters of Business Administration from Johns Hopkins University. Lij Teodrose believes in one Ethiopia and that a nation can only be judged by the wellness of the least among us.