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Historians and former political leaders gathered in Addis Ababa to mark 50 years since the founding of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and to commemorate the contribution to its establishment of Emperor Haile Selassie.
A panel discussion was held to reflect on the process that led to the OAU being set up. It provided insight into the work personally carried out by the Emperor, with the assistance of other notable figures in Ethiopia’s history, including former Prime Minister Aklilu Habtewold and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ketema Yifru.
Among the panelists was former South African president Thabo Mbeki, who acknowledged Haile Selassie’s role in Africa’s fight for independence and the establishment of the OAU.
“It is the duty of this generation to remember and praise in glowing terms the contribution of former African leaders that have brought Africa to its current position. Emperor Haile Selassie has done a lot for African independence from colonialism and in realizing the union of African states,” Mr. Mbeki said in his keynote speech.
The board chairman of the Emperor Haile Selassie I Memorial Association, Nahusenaye Araya, was also on the panel. He paid tribute to the work of the Emperor, as well as the association set up in his name.
“This Association has been engaged in several activities such as providing scholarship for students and offering assistance for the elderly,” Nahusenay said.
He also underlined the Association’s problems with regards to funding to carry out the missions it has been established for.
The event was attended by several ambassadors and religious leaders as well as prominent personalities.
“This venue, called the Africa Hall, is an appropriate place to hold this particular gathering as it is in this exact place that the OAU was established. This place is a symbol that unity is always possible. Here in this place, that has been proved,” said Ambassador Berhanu Deressa, who was also one of the panelists.
The discussion focused on the efforts of the Emperor to bring together the Monrovia and Casablanca Groups – historically opposed to one another – and bring about African unity.
Selome Tadesse, another one of the panelists, pointed out that not remembering the work done by the Emperor is a failure of the current generation.
She encouraged the present generation to pay its respects and celebrate the contributions of former leaders and individuals.
Professor Andreas Eshete, also a panelist, presented a detailed paper on the accomplishments of the Emperor.
After the panelists presented their views, opportunities were given to attendees to reflect on the event.
Questions were raised about the idea of erecting a monument for Haile Selassie I at the African Union Conference Center, alongside the existing statue of Kwame Nkrumah.
Participants at the event said the lack of recognition for the Emperor and his contributions to the country is a failing of Ethiopia’s people and government.
The discussion program was organized by the Emperor Haile Selassie I Association, which was established in 1995.
It was set up as a national welfare institution and works with the Ethiopian Charities and Societies Agency.
Its founding aim was to ensure history recalls Haile Selassie I as one of the great leaders of the 20th century, who led Ethiopia to modernity, while keeping intact the country’s rich traditions, culture and independence.
It was established to promote the economic and social wellbeing of the Ethiopian people.
The Association’s mission is carried out through the mobilization of resources and funding.
It aims to accelerate economic development and poverty reduction as well as enhancing social opportunities and conserving historical relics with the establishment of libraries and museums.
The Association provides scholarships for Ethiopian students who have achieved excellent results in the national examination but unable to cover the cost of higher education.
It currently supports 245 students from across the country.
Its long term plan includes establishing libraries and museums in different regions. It also plans to establish a memorial library and museum in Addis Ababa where a collection of historical relics and documents that bear testimony to the work of Haile Selassie, as well as other former Emperors, will be put on display.