Bob Marley and Emperor Haile Selassie I: “WAR”

Emperor Haile Selassie I in full regalia, 31 December 1969

I recently heard about a speech of Emperor Haile Selassie I incorporated into a song by none other than the great Sir Bob Marley. I was astonished as, somehow in my ‘young’ mind, I had thought it a new occurrence with the likes of Beyoncé who incorporated author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s speech into her song. In this song, WAR, Bob Marley adapted the speech given by Emperor Haile Selassie I at the United Nations. It is deep, and it is revolutionary. So today when you see other singers doing it, know that Sir Marley had done it before them.

Here is the part of Haile Selassie’s speech put to music by Marley in his original song “War” (Bob Marley slightly modified the original words, changing each “that until” to “until” and added the word “war” several times):

That until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; That until there are no longer first-class and second-class citizens of any nation; That until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes; That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; That until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained; And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique and in South Africa in subhuman bondage have been toppled and destroyed; Until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good-will; Until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven; Until that day, the African continent will not know peace. We Africans will fight, if necessary, and we know that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil. – Haile Selassie I

Bob Marley
Bob Marley

Here are the lyrics from the Bob Marley and the Wailers on the album Rastaman Vibration:

Until the philosophy which hold one race superior / And another / Inferior / Is finally / And permanently / Discredited / And abandoned / -Everywhere is war – / Me say war.

That until there no longer / First class and second class citizens of any nation / Until the colour of a man’s skin / Is of no more significance / than the colour of his eyes / – Me say war.

That until the basic human rights / Are equally guaranteed to all, / Without regard to race / – Dis a war.

That until that day / The dream of lasting peace, / World citizenship / Rule of international morality / Will remain in but a fleeting illusion to be pursued, / But never attained / – Now everywhere is war – / War.

And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes / that hold our brothers in Angola, / In Mozambique, / South Africa / Sub-human bondage / Have been toppled, / Utterly destroyed / – Well, everywhere is war – / Me say war.

War in the east, / War in the west, / War up north, / War down south – / War – war – / Rumours of war. / And until that day, / The African continent / Will not know peace, / We Africans will fight – we find it necessary / – And we know we shall win / As we are confident / In the victory

Of good over evil -/ Good over evil, yeah! / Good over evil – / Good over evil, yeah! / Good over evil – / Good over evil, yeah!

Celebrating the birth of the OAU
Celebrating the birth of the OAU

Emperor Selassie I  gave the “War” speech on October 4, 1963, calling for world peace at the 1963 U.N. Conference in New York City. This historical speech was spoken a few weeks after the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was founded in the Ethiopian capital city Addis Ababa where Selassie chaired a summit meeting gathering almost every African head of state (The King of Morocco had declined the invitation).

This U.N. speech resounded even louder as Haile Selassie I had made a name for himself on the international scene in 1936, when he spoke at The League of Nations in Geneva. It was there that Selassie warned the world that if member state Ethiopia was not militarily supported by other member states to fight the fascist Italian invasion of his country then taking place, as the League of Nations statute guaranteed, the League would then cease to exist as a matter of fact and the rest of the member states were to suffer the same fate as his country. Three years later World War II broke out. This visionary speech granted Selassie much respect around the world, eventually leading to British military support, which helped freeing his country in 1941. Addressing the world again in 1963, Selassie’s words bore full weight. In picking this utterance for lyrics, Bob Marley thus projected two dimensions of the Ethiopian Emperor: the head of state as well as the Living God Rastafarians see with him.

Sadly today many developing countries feel that the UN, the descendant of the League of Nations, is a puppet organization, an instrument used by developed countries to bully, and plunder developing countries. So Selassie’s speech and Marley’s song still ring true today!

Why the Name: Addis Ababa?

Map of Ethiopia
Map of Ethiopia

I have often wondered about the meaning of the name Addis Ababa or Addis Abeba, the capital of Ethiopia.  The name always sounded so poetic, and full of beauty somehow.

You can imagine my surprise when I found out that the name of the largest city of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa or Addis Abeba, actually meant “New Flower.”  No wonder the sound of it was always so pretty.

The region where Addis Ababa is founded is called Finfinne, or Natural Springs, by the local Oromo population; it is an area rich with fauna and flora.  In the southwest, can be found Mount Wachacha, and in the north Mount Entoto.  Before the foundation of Addis Ababa, Emperor Menelik II and the empress Taytu Betul were installed in the area of Mount Entoto as it was used a military base for operations in the south of the realm; however that area had a rude climate, was cold, and very windy.  So the imperial couple used to visit the thermal sources of Filwoha, hot mineral springs, located at a lower altitude.

Empress Taytu Betul
Empress Taytu Betul

In 1886, while Empress Taytu Betul was admiring the landscape, she saw a flower of rare beauty.  Enchanted by the nice climate, she asked her spouse, Emperor Menelik II, to build her a house in the area.  Menelik II agreed and promised Taytu to build her a residence there.  The choice of the precise location of Addis Ababa followed the prophecy of Menelik II’s grandfather, Sahle Selassie, Negus of Shewa from 1813 to 1847.  During a game of chess, Sahle Selassie declared: “This country is covered with scrub and vegetation, but the day will come when my grandson will build a house here, and will found a city.”  Menelik II founded the city at the exact location where his grandfather was practicing fencing.  The name was Empress Taytu’s choice: she had been stunned by that beautiful flower she had never seen before, hence she named the city Addis Ababa, or “New Flower” in Amharic.

Emperor Menelik II
Emperor Menelik II

Menelik expanded his wife’s house to become the Imperial Palace which remains the seat of government in Addis Ababa today.  Addis Ababa became Ethiopia’s capital when Menelik II became Emperor of Ethiopia.  The town grew by leaps and bounds.  One of Emperor Menelik II’s contributions still visible today is the planting of numerous eucalyptus trees along the city’s streets.  The city lies at an altitude of 2300 meters, and is a grassland biome.

Following all the major engagements of their invasion, Italian troops from the colony of Eritrea entered Addis Ababa on 5 May 1936.  Along with Dire Dawa, the city had been spared the aerial bombardment (including the use of chemical weapons such as mustard gas) practiced elsewhere and its railway to Djibouti remained intact.  The city served as the Duke of Aosta‘s capital for the unified colony of Italian East Africa until 1941, when it was abandoned in favor of Amba Alagi and other redoubts during the Second World War‘s East African Campaign.  The city was liberated by Major Orde Wingate‘s Sudanese and Ethiopian Gideon Force in time to permit Emperor Haile Selassie‘s return on 5 May 1941, five years to the day after he had left.

Emperor Haile Selassie
Emperor Haile Selassie

Following reconstruction, Haile Selassie helped form the Organisation of African Unity in 1963 and invited the new organization to keep its headquarters in the city.  The OAU was dissolved in 2002 and replaced by the African Union (AU), also headquartered in Addis Ababa.  The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa also has its headquarters in Addis Ababa.  It is home to Addis Ababa University.  The Federation of African Societies of Chemistry (FASC) and Horn of Africa Press Institute (HAPI) are also headquartered in Addis Ababa.  Ethiopia has often been called the original cradle of humanity due to various humanoid fossil discoveries like the Australopithecine Lucy.  Recent DNA evidence have suggested origins in south central Ethiopian regions like present-day Addis Ababa: after analyzing the DNA of almost 1,000 people around the world, geneticists and other scientists claimed people spread from what is now Addis Ababa 100,000 years ago.  Enjoy video about the new flower, and all its cultural wealth.

Fasilides Castle: a Pure Gem of Ethiopia’s Rich History

Map of Ethiopia
Map of Ethiopia

Throughout human history, every great empire has had great builders and phenomenal architectural fits: The Romans with Emperor Titus who built the Colosseum, the Inca builders of Machu Picchu, the Egyptian pharaohs with the great sphinx of Giza and the great pyramids, the first emperor of China and the Ming dynasty with the Great Wall of China.  However, few today know of the Abyssinian builder Fasilides and his work.

Ethiopian Emperor Fasilides is one of most remarkable rulers of Abyssinia, the ancient name of Ethiopia.  A member of the Solomonic dynasty, emperor Fasilides ruled over Abyssinia from 1632 to 1667.  He founded the city of Gondar in 1636 which became the capital of Abyssinia, in the northwestern part of Ethiopia.  He was known as Alam Sagad or ‘To whom the world bows.’  Today, thousands bow to his work, and his footprints have marked the history of Ethiopia forever.

Fasilides' Castle
Fasilides’ Castle

Among the buildings he constructed there are the beginnings of the complex later known as Fasil Ghebbi, as well as some of the earliest of Gondar’s famous 44 churches: Adababay Iyasus, Adababay Tekle Haymanot, Atatami Mikael, Gimjabet Maryam, Fit Mikael, and Fit Abbo.  Fasilides is also credited with building seven stone bridges in Ethiopia.  Sebara Dildiy (broken bridge in Amharic) was one of two stone bridges built over the Blue Nile River during Fasilides reign.  Sebara Dildiy was later repaired during Emperor Menelik II‘s reign in 1901.  Emperor Fasilides also built the Cathedral Church of St Mary of Zion at Axum.  Fasilides’ church is known today as the “Old Cathedral” and stands next to a newer cathedral built by Emperor Haile Selassie.

Fasilides' Bath
Fasilides’ Bath

When King Fasilides made Gondar the seat of his empire in 1636, he constructed a palace that would eventually sprawl into a large complex, as succeessors added their own buildings to the compound.  Set in the heart of what is now one of Ethiopia’s largest cities, the palace complex is a mixture of beautifully-preserved period architecture with European and Moorish influences, and rambling ruins.  Interestingly, Fasilides’ Castle itself is the best-preserved, with its lower halls, reservoirs and steam-baths, remains of kitchens and stables, and even enclosures for leopards and lions that used to grace the grounds.  The castle is located near the city center.  Its structure is purely made of stone.  Today, Fasilides baths are used for baptism during the Timkat festival, the epiphany, in late January; they are only filled with water for the festival.  The castle can be found in Gondar, Amhara regionFasilides’ Castle is definitely a representation of Ethiopia’s great and rich history.


Abebe Bikila: Emperor of the Distance and Running Barefoot

Abebe Bikila
Abebe Bikila

Today I would like to talk about Abebe Bikila, one of Africa’s finest athletes, who marked the entire continent by his strength, endurance, and love of his country, and continent.  Abebe Bikila was an Ethiopian athlete and the very first African to win an Olympic gold medal in 1964 (remember that previous winners like Alain Mimoun from Algeria competed for France, since Algeria was still a French colony).

Coincidentally born on the day of the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, Abebe Bikila opened his eyes to the world in the small village of Jato, near the town of Mendida in Ethiopia.  As a young adult, one could already sense his determination, as he decided to join the imperial guard, and walked the distance of 130 km separating him from Addis Ababa.  Thereafter he started as a private guard.  Soon after, he was spotted by Onni Niskanen, a Swede, who had been hired by the government to train athletes.

Abebe Bikila on the podium in 1960 Olympics in Rome
Abebe Bikila on the podium during the 1960 Olympics in Rome, after winning the gold medal in the marathon, and surrounded by Rhadi Ben Abdesselam of Morocco (silver) and Barry Magee of New Zealand (Bronze)

He made it to the 1960 Rome Olympics as a replacement to Wami Biratu who had just injured himself.  At the shoe-trial, Adidas, the Olympics sponsor, had very few shoes left, and none of them were comfortable to Bikila.  In the end, Abebe Bikila ran the marathon barefoot in Rome’s cobblestone streets.  He won the marathon in a record time of 2:15:16.2 improving the previous record by 8 min, thus giving Africa its very first gold Olympic medal. When asked why he ran barefoot, he said: “I wanted the world to know that my country, Ethiopia, has always won with determination and heroism.” The symbolic was huge, since there on the track course was the Axum Obelisk, which Mussolini had plundered away from Ethiopia… and 24 years later, Abebe Bikila, a small Ethiopian, from the imperial guard of Emperor Haile Selassie, marched over Rome and conquered!

40 days prior to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Abebe was operated for an appendicitis.  His sense of determination was so strong that he would train at night in the hospital courtyard, during the recovery.  Once in Tokyo, Abebe Bikila set a new world record, 2:12:11:2, and won the race far ahead of the pack, and still full of energy. The police estimated that 1 million people lined up the streets to cheer Abebe Bikila. He was the first person in history to win a gold medal for the marathon back-to-back.  Back home, Bikila was given a hero’s return by Emperor Haile Selassie and all of Ethiopia.

Abebe Bikila on the podium of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics
Abebe Bikila on the podium of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, after winning gold in the marathon, and surrounded by Basil Heatley of Great Britain (Silver) and Kokichi Tsuburaya of Japan (Bronze)

At the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, Abebe Bikila tried to repeat his win, but had to surrender after 17 km due to a severe injury to his knee. He told his teammate Mamo Wolde, as he was living the race: “The responsibility of winning a gold medal for Ethiopia is in your shoulder.

It pains me to know that this great Olympian finished his life on a wheelchair.  During the civil unrest of 1969, trying to avoid a crowd, he lost control of his car, and landed in a ditch.  He was left paralyzed by the accident, as a quadriplegic.  After several operations, his condition improved to the point where he was a paraplegic.  While in wheels, Abebe’s competitive spirit and desire to see his country’s flag hoisted high and proud helped him compete and win several more races.  In 1970, he participated in a 25 km cross-country sledge competition in Norway where he won the gold medal. Again, in the same tournament, he won a similar 10 km race where he was awarded a special plaque.

Abebe Bikila died in 1973 from complications from his accident, 4 years earlier.  His funeral was attended by more than 75,000 people, and emperor Haile Selassie proclaimed a national day of mourning for Ethiopia’s national hero.  Newspapers throughout Africa eulogized him as an inspiration to their athletes and youths, some of whom won gold medals in future Olympics.  A stadium in Addis Ababa was named in his honor.

Abebe Bikila honored by Emperor Haile Selassie
Abebe Bikila honored by Emperor Haile Selassie I

Please check out the website dedicated to Abebe Bikila, and this great article on Abebe Bikila on,  and enjoy the poem written in praise of Bikila’s great heroism.  The lines I liked were: Abebe Bikila, With you, Our dreams  Never broken … The foot soldier Of forty years Led Ethiopians to run… And this said he in silence: We are the Ethiopians Whose lions made to sleep Need to run twice as fast!” … Running for Victory With that Abe’s Legacy.  Yahoo had a really good article on him, while the The Guardian had a really good photojournal to honor Bikila’s life and legacy.  Lastly, click on this Facebook page and check out the movie Abebe Bikila made in his honor.  Throughout his illustrious athletic career, Bikila had competed in more than 26 major marathon races.  The world championships he won in 1960 and 1962 deserve special recognition, as well as the Osaka marathon of 1961Bikila became the first runner ever to win two Olympic marathon gold medals, and the first African ever to win double gold at the Olympics.  As the olympics approach, please remember this great African athlete who inspired so many, and was so determined that even as a paraplegic he still won gold medals.