The two years of Menelik's reign that followed the death of
Ras Tessema in 1911 found real power in the hands of Ras
(later Negus) Mikael of Welo, an Oromo and former Muslim,
who had converted to Christianity under duress. Mikael could
muster an army of 80,000 in his predominantly Muslim
province and commanded the allegiance of Oromo outside it.
In December 1913, Menelik died, but fear of civil war
induced the court to keep his death secret for some time.
Although recognized as emperor, Menelik's nephew, Lij Iyasu,
was not formally crowned. The old nobility quickly attempted
to reassert its power, which Menelik had undercut, and
united against Lij Iyasu. At the outbreak of World War I,
encouraged by his father and by German and Turkish
diplomats, Lij Iyasu adopted the Islamic faith. Seeking to
revive Muslim-Oromo predominance, Lij Iyasu placed the
eastern half of Ethiopia under Ras Mikael's control,
officially placed his country in religious dependence on the
Ottoman sultan-caliph, and established cordial relations
with Somali leader Muhammad Abdullah Hassan.
The Shewan nobility immediately secured excommunicating Lij
Iyasu and deposing him as emperor from the head of the
Ethiopian Orthodox Church a proclamation. Menelik's
daughter, Zawditu, was declared empress. Tafari Mekonnen,
the son of Ras Mekonnen of Harer (who was a descendant of a
Shewan negus and a supporter of the nobles), was declared
regent and heir to the throne and given the title of ras. By
virtue of the power and prestige he derived from his
achievements as one of Menelik's generals, Habte Giorgis,
the minister of war and a traditionalist, continued to play
a major role in government affairs until his death in 1926.
Although Lij Iyasu was captured in a brief military campaign
in 1921 and imprisoned until his death in 1936, his father,
Negus Mikael, continued for some time to pose a serious
challenge to the government in Addis Ababa. The death of
Habte Giorgis in 1926 left Tafari in effective control of
the government. In 1928 he was crowned negus. When the
empress died in 1930, Tafari succeeded to the throne without
contest. Seventeen years after the death of Menelik, the
succession struggle thus ended in favor of Tafari.
Well before his crowning as negus, Tafari began to
introduce a degree of modernization into Ethiopia. As early
as 1920, he ordered administrative regulations and legal
code books from various European countries to provide models
for his newly created bureaucracy. Ministers were also
appointed to advise the regent and were given official
accommodations in the capital. To ensure the growth of a
class of educated young men who might be useful in
introducing reforms in the years ahead, Tafari promoted
government schooling. He enlarged the school Menelik had
established for the sons of nobles and founded Tafari
Mekonnen Elementary School in 1925. In addition, he took
steps to improve health and social services.
Tafari also acted to extend his power base and to secure
allies abroad. In 1919, after efforts to gain membership in
the League of Nations were blocked because of the existence
of slavery in Ethiopia, he (and Empress Zawditu) complied
with the norms of the international community by banning the
slave trade in 1923. That same year, Ethiopia was
unanimously voted membership in the League of Nations.
Continuing to seek international approval of the country's
internal conditions, the government enacted laws in 1924
that provided for the gradual emancipation of slaves and
their offspring and created a government bureau to oversee
the process. The exact degree of servitude was difficult to
determine, however, as the majority of slaves worked in
households and were considered, at least among Amhara and
Tigray, to be second-class family members.
Ethiopia signed a twenty-year treaty of friendship with
Italy in 1928, providing for an Ethiopian free-trade zone at
Aseb in Eritrea and the construction of a road from the port
to Dese in Welo. A joint company controlled road traffic.
Contact with the outside world expanded further when the
emperor engaged a Belgian military mission in 1929 to train
the royal bodyguards (see
Training, ch. 5). In 1930
negotiations started between Ethiopia and various
international banking institutions for the establishment of
the Bank of Ethiopia. In the same year, Tafari signed the
Arms Traffic Act with Britain, France, and Italy, by which
unauthorized persons were denied the right to import arms.
The act also recognized the government's right to procure
arms against external aggression and to maintain internal
Data as of 1991