The Manitoba Historical Society is bringing royalty to Winnipeg.
The grandson of the late Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie I will be the guest of honour and keynote speaker at a formal dinner and speech March 28 at the Fort Garry Hotel.
Prince Ermias Sahle-Selassie, one of a few pretenders to the throne, lives in Washington, D.C., and serves as head of Ethiopia’s Crown Council in exile.
His famous grandfather was an internationalist who helped found the United Nations. In 1936, at the League of Nations, he condemned Italy’s use of chemical weapons against Ethiopians during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War. He’s been credited with modernizing Ethiopia and raising the profile of Africa on the world stage.
In the Rastafarian movement that began in Jamaica in the 1930s, Selassie (1892-1975) is revered as a messiah and his words are remembered in the Bob Marley song War.
For Winnipeggers set to welcome his grandson, Selassie and his legacy are a source of pride.
"We’re excited to see him," said Markos Tegegn, chairman of the non-profit Ethio-Canadian Charitable Promotional Award.
"He has done a very good job by promoting Ethiopia," said Tegegn, who plans to attend the event. "The emperor was one of the founders of the African Union and promoted equality and rights for all."
Selassie visited Canada three times, and was interviewed in Winnipeg in 1967 on his way by train to Expo 67 in Montreal.
His grandson, who was featured with other exiled royals in a Vanity Fair article two years ago, is keeping his memory alive, said Manitoba Historical Society board member Bashir Khan.
The local organization invited the prince to Winnipeg in an effort to promote racial and cultural equality between the West and Africa, he said.
"I like to give Africa her rightful place of respect, dignity and equality in comparison to the western civilization and culture," said Khan.
Seeing Manitoba’s historical society honouring the contributions of an African leader is a welcome sight for Ali Saeed.
The Winnipeg man who immigrated from Ethiopia decades ago said the society does good work, but much of its focus has been "dominated by western history and bringing in only whites (to speak)," said Saeed.
"This is the first black person. It’s good," said the human rights advocate who was a victim of torture before coming to Canada.
"I think it’s a big deal for supporters of King Selassie... He’s the founder of the African Union and fought colonialism," said Saeed.
"On the other hand, it’s very tough for people subjugated by him," Saeed said, referring to trade union leaders who represented factory workers who were oppressed and poorly paid under the emperor’s system.
A famine in Ethiopia in 1973 led to Selassie’s removal from the throne. He was strangled to death in 1975, at age 83, following a military coup.
The military regime that replaced Selassie was worse beyond comparison, said Saeed.
"The military dictators took half-a-million people and had them killed."
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Updated on Thursday, January 2, 2020 at 9:56 PM CST: Adds photo