Long live the king! AU's lavish new home hit by statue row
Fri Feb 10, 2012 2:34pm GMT
* AU inaugurated new complex, statue in late January
* Opposition officials decry Haile Selassie I 'snub'
By Aaron Maasho
ADDIS ABABA, Feb 10 (Reuters) - Perched under the shadow of a 100-metre tall
marble monolith, a short-sleeved Kwame Nkrumah stands with his right hand
raised in triumphant pose, his eyes gazing at the heavens.
The bronze statue, unveiled amid pomp and pageantry last month at the
opening of the African Union's new headquarters, immortalised Ghana's
beloved late leader in the heart of Ethiopia's capital, in a glowing tribute
to a trailblazer for African independence.
Some Ethiopians, however, are not impressed. A row has broken out in the
Horn of Africa country over why the country's late emperor Haile Selassie I
was not accorded the same tribute, with opposition officials expressing
dismay over the snub.
"I am really saddened. It is tragic that such a man has been left out," said
former opposition party chairman Gizachew Shiferaw. "No one deserves more
recognition than Haile Selasse when it comes to fighting for the African
cause. Not Nkrumah, not anybody else," he told Reuters.
Some Ethiopians living abroad have also joined the chorus of calls
criticising "His Imperial Majesty's" absence.
"He (Haile Selassie) has the legal, moral, historical and diplomatic
legitimacy to have his statue erected next to Kwame Nkrumah, we believe,"
said a letter written by a group of Ethiopian expatriates to the AU's deputy
chairman Erastus Mwencha.
Haile Selassie I, toppled by a military junta in 1974, was the last emperor
of a monarchy that claimed lineage from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba,
and is revered as a messiah by members of the Rastafarian faith, especially
He died a year after being overthrown, and his body was found decades later
beneath a palace lavatory, bearing what forensic experts said were signs he
had been murdered.
Like Nkrumah, the diminutive ruler won plaudits during his lifetime for
efforts to strengthen unity among Africa's new states and was influential in
the formation of the Organisation of African Unity, predecessor to today's
But he is also a polarising figure. While praising his continental
credentials, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has never shied away from
criticising him as a "feudal dictator".
Government officials say the emperor was authoritarian and his feudal land
system sparked cycles of drought that continue to this day.
Opposition members said they suspect a political motive for snubbing him.
"What is the message being sent? Here is a man with the history alongside
other Africans and he's been ignored," said Beyene Petros of the Medrek
Meles, while addressing parliament on the country's six-month economic
performance on Wednesday, defended the decision to erect a statue to
Nkrumah, without directly addressing the question of whether Haile Selassie
also merited such an honour.
"There is nothing political about the statue," he told lawmakers. Nkrumah
was an "automatic choice" when it came down to picking one statesman as an
"I think it is even crass and disrespectful to question why a statue has
been erected in Kwame Nkrumah's honour," he said.
African Union officials have not commented on whether they would consider
building another statue in their sprawling Chinese-built complex. (Editing
by Yara Bayoumy and Peter Graff)
C Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved
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Received on Fri Feb 10 2012 - 16:53:37 EST