The Emperor, by Ryszard Kapuściński is is a peculiar book. I loved Kapuściński’s Another Day of Life, and enjoyed The Emperor, but in The Emperor most of the text consists of Kapuściński’s interpretations of stories and descriptions of the last days of Haile Selassie’s Ethiopia in the early 1970s as told to him by ex-members of the Emperor’s court, so it is not your normal kind of historical or literary work. The court in question was positively medieval in character. BBC2’s current drama Versailles springs to mind as portraying a similar sort of situation.
The Emperor of Ethiopia could do no wrong in the eyes of many of his subjects. Haile Selassie sleptwalked into oblivion, continuing with traditional pomp and luxury as his country starved and crashed around him. He was old. He may have become senile. He meditated a lot in his final days.
The Dergue took control after Selassie was overthrown, but after a brief period of popularity this military committee in turn faced opposition from an array or organisations that sound like something out of Monty Python: the Tigray Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF), Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Party (EPRP), Eritrean Peoples’ Liberation Front (EPLF), Ethiopian Democratic Union (EDU), and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). Mengistu Haile Mariam emerged as the ruthless leader of the country and conducted the Ethiopian Red Terror. Things got even worse, until Mengistu eventually fled to ‘Mugabeland’ (Zimbabwe) in 1991, where he still resides in luxury. The post Haile Selassie period is not covered in The Emperor, but I’m now reading about it in another book.