Uneasy head that would wear Ethiopia's crown

The would-be emperor relates his hopes exclusively to James Cusick

In Addis Ababa at the end of this week the patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Abuna Paulof I, will officiate at a funeral service few Ethiopians believed would ever take place on their soil. The service in Trinity Cathedral, next to the parliament building, will bury an exiled uncrowned emperor and quietly celebrate the new claimant to the ancient Solomonic throne, His Royal Highness, Zera-Yakob.

He could not give an interview during mourning, but through a royal spokesman, Lij Mulugeta Aserate, Zera-Yakob responded to The Independent's questions on the destiny of the Ethiopian monarchy-in-exile.

The body of Amha Selassie, the son of the Lion of Judah, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, will remind the long-suffering people of Addis Ababa of their lost monarchy, and, no doubt, of the brutal Mengistu dictatorship which succeeded it.

For the fledgling coalition government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia - only implemented in 1995 after the four years of uneasy transition which followed the collapse of the communist Mengistu regime - it will be a public test of sympathy for the monarchy among the population of 55 million. The funeral on Ethiopian soil will also allow the exiled Imperial court to gather together and plan the future constitutional monarchy they believe can be achieved in the lifetime of the new Emperor.

It is the dream of Zera- Yakob, the 227th King of Kings, that he will regain his throne. In line with official royal tradition, Zera-Yakob is still recognising the official 40-day mourning period for his father who died in Washington last week. A continuing argument with the United States immigration authorities over a past visit where he stayed beyond his visa allocation, meant he could not be at his father's deathbed.

From his homes in London and Manchester, Zera-Yakob has been in contact with the 25 to 30 members of his extended family living mainly in Washington. His organisational role is crucial for someone who sees himself as "an active member of a royal family carrying on the symbolism which unifies all nations in Ethiopia". The new Emperor was last in Ethiopia in 1973. A year after he left, strikes and army mutinies ended Haile Selassie's years of autocratic rule. The empire, ruled since 1930 by the Lion of Judah, Ras Tafari, had crumbled. In exile the new Emperor appears keen to place the monarchy in its historical perspective. "Haile Selassie was a perfect man for that time," he says. He accepts charges that his grandfather was an "autocrat", but sees himself as a "visionary who accepts the reality of today" and sees any future Ethiopian monarch as without real political power.

The constitutional monarchies of both the United Kingdom and Japan are cited as examples where "monarchy and democracy can thrive". Unification of Ethiopia - a country with 286 distinct languages and 76 nationalities - is the prime aim of Zera-Yakob. Under the new republican constitution, backed by the US, Ethiopia is to be split into seven federal states. This, according to the emperor, "will create multiple states of Banana Republics."

He claims this division of Ethiopia, which also has United Nations support, "is a an experiment that has no place in African politics [and will] eventually lead to ... bloodshed."

With Ethiopia's multiple racial groups, different religious groups from Orthodox Christians through to Muslims, a small number of Jews and other sub-groups, the exiled royal court believe another "Rwanda" is possible unless there is some unifying force. That force, they believe, is the exiled monarchy and they hope that if enough international pressure is put on the Ethiopian government a referendum can be achieved.

Zera-Yakob, now 43, educated at Eton, Oxford and Sandhurst, lives among a Rastafarian community in Manchester where he is studying the origins of the religion that regarded his grandfather as a living god. He views his future role "as a bridge-builder, a father figure". To help bring about a modern constitutional monarchy, the exiled dedicated monarchists formed an international organisation known as the "Conquering Lions." They hope to return the question of the new Emperor back on to the Ethiopian political agenda.

The Emperor believes the referendum which brought about independence was falsely conducted. "They were asked only a choice between independence or servitude. They need to be told that a new monarchy has to be seen as a peaceful, loving mother ... the Ethiopian monarchy will never die. The people should be allowed to decide."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect