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An Ethiopian Odyssey

Chapter 10 - A Princess’s tale

In Chapter 10, ‘A Princess’s Tale’ you will read about Mary Asfaw Wossen, grand daughter of Emperor Haile Selassie, and the impact that coups and the Emperor’s deposition in September 1974 had on her family.

“Life changed for me on my twelfth birthday. We were at home with my mother and waiting for my father to return. That night, he didn’t.”

Emperor Haile Selassie was out of the country on a State visit to Brazil when a coup d’etat was staged in December 1960. The ringleaders were Germame Neway, a senior civil servant, his brother Brigadier General Mengistu Neway, the head of the Imperial Bodyguard, and Colonel Workineh Gebeyehu, His Majesty’s Chief of Security. They stormed the Guenet Leul Palace and imprisoned most of the ministers they found there; the coup was also supported by university students, who were becoming increasingly militant. (Today the Guenet Leul Palace houses the Institute for Ethiopian Studies on Addis Ababa University’s campus).

Anxiety filled her voice as she recalled the fateful event. “It was very frightening. Our house was surrounded; all the schools were closed. I heard gunfire blazing all night long as the Imperial Bodyguard and the General’s forces battled it out between them. We were kept safe in the cellars with our cousins, including Mulugeta Asserate. The insistent gunfire would sometimes be punctuated by the sound of fighter jets bombing close to our house. We had to have all our meals in the cellars; sometimes we were let out for two or three hours to play between lulls in the fighting. We were all very worried about my father and didn’t know what had happened to him.”

Emperor Haile Selassie learnt of the coup and was advised to fly first to Asmara, the Eritrean capital. From there, he returned to Addis Ababa, where he met the Crown Prince. The abortive coup ended; but not before most of the ministerial prisoners were killed in the Genet Leul Palace, besides which stood the imperial children’s former school. One result of the fighting was the decision to educate Mary and Sihin at a private school, and then later in Europe.

“In 1961, my mother told us that she’d decided that we should mix more with other girls of our age and go to Nazareth School. The school offered the best education that girls could get at the time, but I was still a little nervous about having to meet so many girls. But that was the beginning of ………….”

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