The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Sixty Years of the Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Adrienne Hack and Julian Kay

published 2008


Introduction

In order both to mark and celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Anglo-Ethiopian Society we decided to compile a short history from the small store of documents in our possession. We have trawled the old Minute books, tested our own memories, consulted some long-term members and friends, and used modern technology to source one particularly important letter.

We have tried to keep this document as factual as possible and, to avoid any embarrassment, have occasionally omitted some names - especially of living individuals. We have referred to some key historical and political events and have attempted to demonstrate how these events have affected the Society’s life.

Perhaps the most precious document held by the Society is a single copy of a paper produced by the Abyssinia Association entitled ‘Restoration’ and issued on 5th May 1953.

We have decided to republish it as an exact copy and send it, together with this new document, so that members can get a more complete picture of those early days. ‘Restoration’ shows exactly the highly political focus of that Association, the reasons behind its beginning and ending (to support Emperor Haile Selassie in his exile and to press for his return to his homeland) and the reasons for the founding of the Anglo-Ethiopian Society.

We would like to thank Jean Bailey and Richard Snailham for their constant help, patience and support during this document’s lengthy gestation. We also wish to thank Alan King, Tim Wynne-Jones and Richard Pankhurst for their advice and documentary proof in support of some of our evidence, Eric Robson for his design of the front cover, and Lesley Fisher and Gill Quiney for their particular help with the final text. We are grateful too to Professor Edward Ullendorff for his permission to reproduce his letter to The Times of September 1974 and to the London Hilton on Park Lane for their permission to re-print the 1965 photograph.

Any errors are purely those of the authors

Adrienne Hack and Julian Kay




Background - 1930s - Ethiopia

The famous Wal Wal incident in December 1934 triggered the Italian invasion of Ethiopia.A joint British and Ethiopian Boundary Commission had been working to establish the frontier between Ethiopia and British Somaliland and at Wal Wal, 100 km inside the Ethiopian Ogaden, they found the town occupied by troops from the colony of Italian Somaliland. The British protested and withdrew. A clash followed and Italy later used this as a pretext to invade Ethiopia.

As the Italians advanced towards Addis Ababa in May 1936 many British and other overseas residents found refuge in the British Legation. Meanwhile, that same month, Haile Selassie left Addis Ababa and made his way, by ship, to Britain where he was warmly welcomed by a wide section of the British public.

1930s  UK – Founding of the Abyssinia Association

During his exile, spent mostly in Bath1, His Imperial Majesty corresponded with the Ethiopian Patriots and tried hard to keep the world’s attention on both Ethiopia’s plight and her fight against Fascism. British sympathy was largely with the Emperor as he was perceived to be the victim of oppression. This support was formalised by the founding, in London, of Mrs. Hazel Napier’s Friends of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and the Abyssinia Association - described on the British Embassy in Addis Ababa’s website as ‘a more influential support and friendship society’.

Professor Richard Pankhurst has confirmed that ‘the Abyssinia Association was founded as part of British public support for Ethiopia at the time of the Italian Fascist invasion of 1935-6; later it gave, perhaps somewhat weaker, support to the idea of the ‘reunion’ of Eritrea with Ethiopia; the Association was thus avowedly political’.

The Emperor returned to Addis Ababa on 5th May 1941 and Eritrea was later federated with Ethiopia - an event marked by the historic photograph on the cover of ‘Restoration’ celebrating the date of 11th September 1952. With this the work of the Abyssinia Association was effectively done.

1948 - Initial meeting of the Anglo-Ethiopian Society

A provisional meeting of interested parties was held at Church House, Westminster, London, on 29th April 1948 with the purpose of discussing ‘the desirability of forming an Anglo-Ethiopian Society’ - many of the remaining members of the old Abyssinia Association retained an abiding affection for Ethiopia and her people, and wanted to keep up their valued contacts. They were mainly interested in ‘the welfare of Ethiopia and wished to learn about its achievements and cultural progress’ and so they supported the creation of the new, expressly non-political, Society. It should be noted that there was some overlap between the two Societies - the Abyssinia Association finally closed down at the end of 1951.

1948 – 1954 – Early years

The first proper meeting of the Anglo-Ethiopian Society was held at 41 Grosvenor Square, London W.1. on 15th November 1948 with Professor Norman Bentwich in the chair and 6 members present. The attendance of a representative of the Ethiopian Students’ Society, Mr. Ameha Kassa, was noted. He had travelled from Oxford for the meeting and distributed a circular to show that the Students’ Society hoped to acquire a London headquarters and to have distinguished visitors to speak to them: he wondered if the proposed new Anglo-Ethiopian Society could help.

Professor Bentwich suggested that the aims of the proposed Anglo-Ethiopian Society might be to provide a bi-monthly newsletter for its members and to hold meetings about 4 times a year ‘at which new arrivals from Ethiopia could speak to members informally over tea.’ There was, he stated, no question of taking a building as a club and so any help given to the students would be through personal contacts and advice, and not through financial aid.It was, therefore, agreed that the Ethiopian Students and the still largely unformed Anglo-Ethiopian Society should maintain close ties to ‘avoid conflicting claims on visitors from Ethiopia’. Obviously the Anglo-Ethiopian Society needed to be formally established first but students would be welcome to attend all meetings ‘and the amount of help the Society could offer (the students) would depend on the growth of the Society’. Great emphasis was placed on the fact that no further help would be forthcoming from the Abyssinia Association and that the new Society would differ from the Association in being entirely non-political. Thus the new Society was formed: the proposal made by Professor H. Stanley Jevons (the first Secretary of the Abyssinia Association and the first Treasurer of the Anglo-Ethiopian Society) and seconded by Mr. E.R.J. Hussey.

Perhaps typical of the period the next matter deemed important for discussion at this first meeting was the choice of Presidents! It was agreed to invite two - the Ethiopian Minister in London and Earl de la Warr. Officers were then formally elected and the Anglo-Ethiopian Society was in business.2

Very little activity occurred in those early years - between the first meeting and the first AGM in 1952 only 6 Committee meetings were held. The chairman explained the reasons for this slow start - he was waiting for the Abyssinia Association finally to cease to exist.

At the meeting held in October 1950 Professor Jevons proposed a name change, suggesting one of the following:

            The Anglo-Ethiopian Society for Cultural Relations;
            The Ethiopian Society for Cultural Relations;
            The Anglo-Ethiopian Society;
            The Ethiopia Society.

In discussion it was felt that ‘and Social’ ought properly to be added before 'Cultural Relations'. However, it was finally decided that the first suggested title was too cumbersome and that the words ‘Cultural and Social Relations’ could form a sub-title.

The matter of what exactly was meant by ‘Anglo’ was left for later discussion - and still, some sixty years later, has never been fully agreed!

The Committee again debated the aims for the new Society and agreed that arranging two lectures a year; two ‘at homes’; visits to places of interest; to begin to collect a library; to publish pamphlets and to ‘open correspondence with a group of members in Ethiopia’ was a good starting point.

These would seem to be obvious, and sensible, plans for the new Society. However, the matter of how best to support young Ethiopians studying in the UK was trickier to agree and, as this was a key aim of the new Society, the question of a hostel for them was discussed. It was suggested that the Society should try to find dormitory accommodation 'for about three regular Ethiopian students with breakfast provided and a common room plus two emergency accommodation rooms for transient students - one for males one for females - plus a library/study and quarters for domestic staff to look after cleaning and breakfast'. A room for the Anglo-Ethiopian Society and a room for meetings were also on this list.

At the third meeting of the Committee (attended by Mr. Michael Imru representing the Ethiopian Embassy and Mr. Ameha Kassa and Mr. Endalkatchew Makonnen representing the Ethiopian students), additional aims were suggested - namely the ‘provision of hospitality for Ethiopian Students in English homes at Christmas-time and during other holidays, and help in finding speakers and venues for meetings of the Ethiopian Students’ Society’. A special minute notes that the most important of the proposed activities was the one concerning a hostel/centre to be sited, Professor Jevons advised, ‘in the Kensington district’.

The Minutes of 20.12.1951 note that the Society acquired office space and ‘took over the room formerly occupied by the Abyssinia Association in Parliament Mansions at a rent of £4.10s.0d per quarter and also agreed to purchase the Association’s typewriter for £2.10s.0d'. There is no note as to how long this arrangement continued though this was probably the only time in the Society’s history that it operated from its own office accommodation as, for the majority of its life, the Society has been run either from an accommodation address or an Officer’s work premises or home.

At the first AGM the chairman, Mr. Hussey, reminded members that, during the last four years, he had ‘attempted only to organise the framework of a Society which should aim at furthering friendship between members of the British Commonwealth and members of the Ethiopian Empire’. He noted that speakers since 1948 had included Miss Beatrice Playne, Mrs. Christine Sandford, Professor Sir Patrick Abercrombie, Ato Mengistu Lemma, the poet, and a Mr. Close. The financial statement showed that the Society had an income for the year of £24.3s.0d, an expenditure of £17.18s.3 ½d, and a balance at 31st December 1951 of £10.4s.6 ½d.

In 1954 an opportunity arose to publicise the new Society, and ideally to recruit new members, as H.I.M. Haile Selassie was about to come to Britain on a State visit – he subsequently arrived in Portsmouth on 14th October 1954. The Committee resolved that a sub-committee be formed to make such preparations as they thought fit to celebrate this visit, and that the Ethiopian Ambassador should be approached in order that a date might be fixed for a Reception to be held in the Emperor’s honour. The next meeting noted the preparations that had been made to hold a Reception at Londonderry House. Sadly, the rather unhelpful subsequent Minutes give no further details of numbers or what happened but just note ‘that a copy of the photograph taken at the Reception, signed by all members of the Committee, should be presented to His Imperial Majesty by Colonel Charley during his visit to Addis Ababa.’ We regret that we can find no copy of this photograph to reproduce here.

Almost the only source of information we have from these early days is contained in the Minute books and these are somewhat short on detail. They show no lists of new members joining – merely notes of unpaid subscriptions and the oft-made request for the secretary to chase them up. Some things never change! We know, though, that the first suggested subscription was £1.1s.0d (one guinea) which was deemed by Miss Muriel Blundell (the former secretary of the Abyssinia Association) to be ‘too high’ and she recommended that it should be halved to 10/6d plus ‘payment for tea at meetings’. In January 1951 a student subscription was agreed - the cost to be 2/6d a year. In 1954 a £5.5s.0d subscription for Corporate membership was introduced.

The Society's first Constitution was adopted at the AGM held on 9th May 1957.

1954 - 1976

The Anglo-Ethiopian Society would appear to have been revitalised by the appointment of John Hack as secretary and treasurer in 1954: positions he was to hold until his death in 1978. A rare copy of a letter in the archives from a Miss Monique L. Rubens (an American graduate student at Somerville College, Oxford) asks for information ‘as to the origins of the Society’ ‘Who’, she asks, ‘were its founding members, and is it true that it is an outgrowth of the Abyssinia Association, formed originally in 1935 to gain support for Ethiopia during the Italian-Ethiopian war?’ In his reply John Hack, states:-

17th March 1978

Dear Miss Rubens,

We acknowledge receipt of your letter dated 13th March.

The Abyssinia Association was disbanded after the war since its political aims had been accomplished. One or two of the Committee Members, however, thought it would be nice if a non-political organisation was set up with the particular thought in mind of helping Ethiopian students studying in this country. Accordingly, a formation meeting of the new Society was held at 41, Grosvenor Square on the 15th November 1948. Those present were:

      Miss Blundell (former Secretary of the Abyssinia Association)
      Miss Whitehorn
      Professor Jevons
      Mr. Hussey
      Mr. Ameha Kassa (representing the Ethiopian students)
      Mr. Morrell
      Professor Bentwich in the chair.

The Society was duly formed and one or two meetings were held between 1948 and 1954, but due to a lack of interest the membership consisted of only the formation Committee Members and one or two others, no activities took place.

In order to revitalise the situation I was appointed Hon. Secretary on 11th March 1954. We then launched a campaign for the recruitment of members and the Society started to flourish. We were given a particularly useful boost when we had the pleasure of organising a reception at Londonderry House for the late Haile Selassie who was on a State Visit to the U.K.

Yours sincerely,

John R. Hack. Hon. Secretary

With hindsight it seems that the early Committees had enormously high ambitions for the new Society. Apart from those initial plans regarding entertaining and befriending Ethiopians (particularly students who were living or studying in the UK), quite a few other ideas emerged and then, quite regularly, enthusiasm seems to have either dwindled or got lost. Of course some good ideas were also developed. We thought that the following examples taken from the old Minute books might interest or amuse current members:

Sending microfilms of manuscripts back to Ethiopia was a relatively straightforward matter. No one could have any possible objection to this and the actual cost was well within the means of the Society. It had involved a fair amount of activity on the part of several individuals who, in addition to their daily work routines, were engaged in difficult correspondence with various bodies and arranging public meetings.

Trying to get British Institutions to give up their Ethiopian artefacts for their return to Ethiopia would be an entirely different and difficult matter for the Society. In the 1990s AFROMET (Association for the Return of Magdala Expedition’s Treasures) was set up to work for the return of artefacts removed by British soldiers from Magdala in 1868.

The Society made it clear that it was up to individual members to decide whether or not they supported this project but that the Anglo-Ethiopian Society, a non-political organisation, could not engage in a campaign which was bound to be political. The committee neither relished a struggle with the British Museum trustees (who would rightly claim that the law of the land prevented their return) nor did they fancy a possible encounter with the Queen over Ethiopian treasures in Windsor Castle.

Newsletters

The first proper discussions regarding the issuing of a newsletter were noted in September 1954 and the idea approved. The Anglo-Ethiopian Society seemed to do nothing in a hurry in those days and so it took another two years before the Minutes of November 1956 state that ‘plans for the first edition of the News Letter were well advanced’ The next month we learn that the ‘first edition was approved and its circulation to all members authorised.’

In trying to trace the life of the Society’s publications we have found that in 1967 ‘a suggestion was made by the Ethiopian Ambassador that the Embassy and the Society should merge our newsletters’. The Committee agreed to this and the Minutes note that, from 1st January 1968, this joint document, to be called ‘Ethiopia News’, would be issued quarterly and must ‘contain at least one article of lasting importance’. No political propaganda was to be permitted in the document. Arthur Irvine, as Editor, would be paid £25 per edition ‘less one guinea a year to cover his subscription to the Anglo-Ethiopian Society’and that the Embassy ‘could provide a desk’ At the following AGM a member raised his concerns at this co-operative arrangement. He had no need to worry as this joint venture appears to have collapsed after only one edition. By 1972 the Minutes record that nothing had been published for the last 18 months and that the Society had decided to return to self-issuing.

During the early 1980s the Society published a few editions of 'Proceedings' which gave lecture texts, news and items of interest. Later on we issued a variety of 'cut and paste' news items from Ethiopian and U.K. newspapers and, since 2003, with the aid of modern technology, a respected News File has been sent to all members three times a year. Since 2006 the main reviews and articles of interest from News File have also been put onto the Anglo- Ethiopian Society website - (www.anglo-ethiopian.org).

Library

The initial idea to have a library was made in 1950 and book collecting began. Support for this enterprise has ebbed and flowed over the ensuing decades. In 1966 the Committee agreed that ‘maintenance of a library by the Society was not a practicable possibility’ so it was decided that ‘the books in the possession of the Society should either be sold or disposed of by way of donation’. It was noted that the Ethiopian Students’ organisation was then trying to build up its own library and ‘would welcome donations’. Later reference to the Library (Minutes of 27.11.1979) states that ‘most of the library books had been sold at a price of £23.10s.0d’. However, with the receipt of a large bequest of books from Mr. John Lodge in July 1986, the future of the library was determined and it continues to be a part of the Society to this day. A few attempts to merge it with other larger, more appropriate, libraries over the years have not been successful, partly because special rights of access for Society members could not be agreed.

Links with the Ethiopian Embassy

In spite of the official non-political stance taken by the Society there were frequent consultations and meetings (large, small, formal and informal) with the Embassy and the various Ambassadors during the 1950s and 1960s. A member of the Embassy staff sat on the Committee in the early days, and the first meeting in 1948 had agreed that the Ethiopian Minister in London should be invited to be joint President of the Society. This formal connection was maintained until 1974. Links with the Embassy today are cordial.

On the social front

The Society was fairly active during these years. Relations with the Imperial Ethiopian Embassy were good and members were frequently invited to Receptions in Princes Gate. The Society's traditional Christmas event was usually held for members as well as Ethiopian students. Otherwise the archives show:-

This photograph appeared in The London Hilton Magazine of June 1965 under the title ‘Hilton Happenings – London’ with the caption ‘H.R.H. Prince William of Gloucester was the guest of honour at the Anglo-Ethiopian Society dinner held recently at the London Hilton. With His Royal Highness is (left) Professor Ullendorff, the chairman, and Mr. J.R. Hack, the Honorary Secretary of the Anglo-Ethiopian Society.’

Membership

It is very hard to work out exact membership numbers from these early days as there are no lists left in our possession. The Minutes just contain some names of newly approved members as well as those whose memberships had lapsed.

In September 1957 it was recorded that ‘only 46 members live in London’ and another Minute of that year notes that 17 Corporate members and 81 ordinary members had paid their subscriptions that year but that 2 Corporate and 11 ordinary members still had to pay up. In 1959 another note states that the Society had 103 ‘ordinary’ members and 19 Corporate ones. We also learn that the actor/manager Sir Donald Wolfit joined in 1959 and Leonard Mosley O.B.E. joined in May 1965. Another glimpse of the membership profile can be found in the Minutes of 6th March 1974 where it is stated that the Society had 196 ordinary members and 21 Corporate ones. Four years later, in January 1979, a note states that fewer subscriptions had been received (from 169 ordinary members and 10 Corporate ones) and, just one year later, we can see that numbers had fallen to 121 ordinary members, 3 Corporate ones and one honorary member - though some subscriptions were overdue.

In the early decades of the Society a significant number of companies, working in such areas as banking, printing, accountancy, insurance, luxury goods, jewellery, engines and engineering, airlines and firearms joined the Society as Corporate members. This level of high Corporate membership coincided with the Imperial age and it is worthy of note that so many of Britain’s major companies not only were involved in helping to develop trade with Ethiopia but also that their representatives often made the personal commitment to become members of this Society as well.

Subscriptions

The Society had always held the subscription rates at an affordable level. We know that the ordinary subscription was raised to £1.1s.0d in 1956. Student membership was temporarily dropped in January 1957 though ‘all London students would be placed on the circulation list free of charge.’ The 22nd A.G.M. in 1973 proposed that the subscription should be increased to £2 per member from January 1974. Fees next went up in 1980 to £5 for a single membership, £6 for 'husband and wife', £2 for students (this category appears to have been reinstated) and £10 for a Corporate membership. A note from December 1967 states that ‘the Rt. Hon. the Earl of Stamford had paid his subscriptions for life’. A much treasured honorary membership was given to John Hack’s widow in the late 1970s. Subscriptions were raised to the current level in 2005.

Executive Committee meetings

For many years the Society held its Executive Committee meetings in the offices of the leading officials. If not in Grosvenor Square W.1., (in the ‘40s and ‘50s), then somewhere off Trafalgar Square: funnily enough in the same area where the old Abyssinia Association had its headquarters.

At one time in the ‘80s and ‘90’s the Committee met at Mr. Raymond Ferry’s office opposite the Comedy Theatre in Panton Street just off the Haymarket - where Henry Salt, in 1801, had stayed in ‘very humble rooms’. In recent times the Committee has met at the School of Oriental and African Studies under the aegis of the Centre of African Studies.

A non-political Society but not short of political people, the committee once had a chairman for 6 years who was head of protocol at the Greater London Council and another who was an M.P. and future Junior Minister. The Secretary, in the 1990s worked next door to, and was a member of, the National Liberal Club in Whitehall. Therefore there were E.C. meeting held, at no cost to the Society, in the comfortable surroundings of the N.L.C., and, on the odd occasion, at the Carlton Club in St. James’.

One former member who objected to meetings in the N.L.C. on the grounds that the Society was non-political, did not complain about the one or two brief (alas time for a beer but not a dinner!) meetings in the Carlton Club.

Annual General Meetings

All AGMs until the 25th were conducted in the usual manner and with varying attendance levels. Venues have ranged from Caxton Hall, the Royal Commonwealth Society, the Institute of Directors, the offices of Luncheon Vouchers Ltd., to the BBC.

A Minute from 1960 records the chairman's suggestion that Field Marshal Lord Montgomery should be invited to speak at the meeting but that the committee felt that 'his experience of Ethiopia might be rather limited'. Of special note is the fact that the 16th AGM was held in the Imperial Ethiopian Embassy and was graced by the presence of 36 members - one of the largest attendances of any AGM to date.

Ethiopia – the Revolution

A member recalls standing alongside John Mills of the British Council in Addis Ababa watching the Wingate students playing volley-ball.  It must have been in ‘68 or ‘69. ‘Gosh’, he said, ‘they’re big chaps, I wouldn’t like to be here when the revolution comes’. There was a feeling amongst the educated ferenji (teachers and lecturers) that things as they were could not last for ever.

Before 1974 there were no ‘politics’ as such in the feudal regime. As far as the outside world was concerned since the 1930s Ethiopia was Haile Selassie and Haile Selassie was Ethiopia. In 1960, when the Emperor returned from Brazil after the Neway brothers’ coup, and the Anglo-Ethiopian Society (i.e. the Executive Committee) sent a telegram congratulating H.I.M. on the successful outcome after his recent troubles, no-one in the Society objected to this on the grounds that it was not a fit and proper thing for a non-political Society to do.

Haile Selassie was deposed on 12th September 1974, the morning after he had been forced to watch ‘The Hidden Famine’, the Jonathan Dimbleby film on the 1973 famine and starvation in Wollo.

In the beginning the Revolution seemed to be a most civilised affair. The country was ruled by a committee of 120 anonymous soldiers - the Derg. There was a joke in Addis Ababa in the summer of 1974 - ‘Who is this Leul (Prince) Derg? We never knew the Emperor had a son by this name.’

Life went on as before, as well as there being far greater freedom of expression. The monarchy had not been abolished. Haile Selassie was simply confined to his Palace. The same proclamation announcing his deposition called for his son, the Crown Prince, to ascend the throne.

The Anglo-Ethiopian Society – 1974 onwards

Over the years the Society has had its share of disagreements. A serious division in the Committee occurred in 1974 – immediately (presumably) following the arrest of the Emperor on 12th September 1974. The Minutes note that Lord Avon, Bernard Braine, M.P., and Professor Ullendorff had jointly written a letter to The Times (published 16.9.1974) and that the committee members had expressed anger that this letter had been written without prior consultation with them. However, once the reason for the urgency was explained, the committee was, apparently, appeased.

We are fortunate that The Times Online Archive has recently been launched and that, therefore, we have been able to find the exact letter. We reproduce it here. The reference to the Society being founded in ‘the mid-thirties’ is a mystery as all the Minutes and documentary evidence in our files show that 15th November 1948 was the definite date of the first official meeting. Perhaps the writers were mistakenly referring to the Society’s predecessor, the Abyssinia Association.

Letters to the Editor, The Times.

From Lord Avon and others

Sir, Developments in Ethiopia over the past few days are still too turbid and confused to enable anyone to form a clear judgment. The Anglo-Ethiopian Society (as whose representatives we write) was founded during the dark days of the mid-thirties when Ethiopia became the first victim of fascist aggression. The society and its members are animated by friendship for the Ethiopian people; they have no leanings towards any particular political orientation.

It is for the Ethiopian people to decide what form of government and constitution they prefer, and we trust that the nation as a whole will be allowed a voice in the determination of these grave matters.

Our purpose today is to address ourselves to the humanitarian aspect of current events. Emperor Haile Selassie has, for over half a century, been a major figure on the world scene. Some of us have known him for forty years and have admired his courage and dignity in days of adversity and his magnanimity in the hour of victory. We have seen how he has worked to drag a quasi-medieval polity into the 20th century and inspired the creation of the Organization of African Unity. The verdict of history has yet to determine the extent of his success or failure.

But amidst the present campaign of vilification of his person it would be inexcusable and unforgivable for those who called themselves his friends to remain silent. We would appeal to the authorities who now hold the Emperor in their custody neither to offend his dignity not to touch his person but to allow this very old man to live out what time remains to him without constraint or harshness.

We would also plead that the many other Ethiopians now under arrest, some of them vigorous opponents of the late regime, will be judged with fairness and in an atmosphere of calm and detachment. We feel deeply that the Ethiopian people, after long tribulations of war, poverty and famine, deserve a future of measured progress in freedom and unity.

Yours faithfully,

AVON, President, Anglo-Ethiopian Society
BERNARD BRAINE, Chairman, Anglo-Ethiopian Society
EDWARD ULLENDORFF, Professor of Ethiopian Studies.
c/o Anglo-Ethiopian Society,
213 Piccadilly, W.1.
September 13.


A Minute of November 1975 reports discussions regarding the Society’s future following the arrest, incarceration and subsequent death in August 1975, of the Emperor. It was eventually agreed that the Society should not be wound up following a proposal (which had been tabled by Professor Ullendorff) that the Anglo-Ethiopian Society should either shift its position to a general focus on ‘the Horn of Africa and to be purely cultural, or be wound up’.

As far as the Anglo-Ethiopian Society in London was concerned the crunch came on 24th November when the Derg announced that 57 former officials had been executed. This one act would make it very difficult indeed to accept that what had happened was of no concern to a non-political Society which had always felt that whatever they had thought of certain aspects of the régime, it was none of their business to criticise what the Ethiopian Government did. The Society was not alone - in the West generally there was revulsion at this mass execution.

There were powerful calls from members for the Society to be disbanded; powerful because they reflected the wishes of those who had established and run the Society in recent years. It was their view, and one that had to be taken seriously, that the earlier ‘creeping’, almost reluctant, revolution in the first half of 1974 had given way to a far bloodier, violent one. After all, many in the Society had lost their friends. Distinguished members regarded the continuation of the Society as implying approval of the new régime.

This line was strongly opposed by other prominent members at that time. After their views had prevailed at a meeting on 15th February 1977 there was a mass defection of numerous members, unfairly perhaps called the ‘old guard’. They did not resign en masse - many would just not renew their subscriptions. The effect on the membership was shown in the Committee Minutes of March 1977 which note the ‘lapses of membership’ of a significant number of notable people but that a core membership of 173 ordinary members and 15 Corporate ones remained. Percy Arnold, Sir Bernard Braine, M.P., and Sir Denis Wright all resigned from the Committee. Dr. David Hamilton was elected to replace Sir Bernard as chairman. We should add a personal note of record and sadness here that, whilst in this role of the Society’s chairman, in 1987 David Hamilton was murdered by a young American musician whom he had befriended and given accommodation to in his Georgian terrace home in Brixton.

The Society continued, despite the turmoil in Ethiopia. It held numerous well-attended meetings and lively socials. By the 1980s world attention had left the shameless blood-letting (the Red Terror) of the kebeles and started to focus on the sufferings of a famine (far worse than the one in 1973) and, thanks to the relief agencies and Bob Geldof, there was an overwhelming sympathy for the country.

How could a non-political Society work at this time? How could it be taken seriously by the new régime and the London Embassy, especially if it displayed no sympathy for the new régime and indeed, from some members, a great deal of hostility? The Revolution had produced a great influx of refugees in the U.S. and Western Europe and one or two, and maybe more, were not without influence in the Society.

In September 1982 the Executive Committee received a letter from 16 members of the Society requesting either an early AGM or a Special General Meeting of the Society under article 16 of the then Constitution. These members expressed their regret at the apparent failure of the committee to maintain credible contact with the Ethiopian community in Britain. Amongst those who had signed the letter were David Buxton, (author of the 1948 classic ‘Travels in Ethiopia’), and Jean Jenkins (widow of the Trades Union leader Clive Jenkins and a musicologist whose collection of Ethiopian music was in the Horniman Museum in south London) as well as Ethiopians who had lived in the UK for some time.

The Chairman was prompt and robust in his replies to each signatory. In numbered paragraphs he appears to have torn their arguments to shreds. He said that


The Society once again had to consider its future. To function effectively as an Anglo-Ethiopian Society it had to mend its fences with the Ethiopian Embassy in London and engage in the task of making a positive contribution to the cause of Anglo-Ethiopian relations. As a result the 30th AGM of the Society, held on 9th October 1982 at London House, Mecklenburgh Square, W.C.1., and attended by 38 members (20% of the membership) would be the liveliest, longest (4 hours!) and stormiest meeting in the Society’s history.

The then chairman stated, “It would be a great pity if some Ethiopians here today were made to appear still as blind to, and callous of, the feelings and needs of the broad mass of their countrymen as were those whose same insensitivity provoked the Revolution. It was said of the Bourbons restored to France in 1815, ‘…they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing’. I cannot believe any true Ethiopian patriots would be so described.” He sincerely believed that the Anglo-Ethiopian Society could cope with the new Ethiopia. While he was not unmindful of the plight of Ethiopians who had sought refuge in Britain since the Revolution, he felt it would be wrong to narrow and restrict the attention of the Society to a small section of the Ethiopian community at the expense of those who looked to the Society to be a vehicle for promoting and cultivating legitimate interests in Ethiopia. He said that it was necessary to continue to cultivate links with as wide a spectrum of the Ethiopian community, both in Britain and Ethiopia, as possible. The Society should act on the mandate, given at the previous AGM in 1981, to re-establish relations with the Ethiopian Embassy so that, as a recognised and credible Society, it would be better placed to work and liaise with the various cultural and relief organisations in Ethiopia. At the same time, it was emphasised, willingness to work with the representatives of the régime did not imply approval of that régime.

The Chairman’s Report was accepted by 24 of the members present with 12 against and 2 abstentions. For the only time in the Society’s history there were more candidates (16) than places (12) for the Executive Committee. Following this it was difficult to see how fences could be repaired and members reconciled. The Ethiopian Ambassador had outlined his attitude to the Society in June 1981 to the then Chairman and Secretary. He said that it had been a good pro-Ethiopian organisation at the time of the Italian invasion but in the last five years he had not heard of any activity supporting Ethiopia.

At the Executive Committee meeting held shortly after the AGM (primarily to elect a chairman from the committee members elected at the AGM) it had been agreed that the election of a chairman should be preceded by a discussion on the future policy of the Society in view of the political situation in Ethiopia. Cordial relations between the Society and the Embassy had been affected by the 1974 Revolution and this fact led to much discussion within the then Executive Committee as the Ethiopian Embassy appeared to see the Society as ‘not worth working with’. The Committee had to re-affirm its non-political stance yet again though individual members naturally had great sympathy for the plight of the many refugees arriving in the U.K.

During the Derg period the Society kept a low profile but continued with a series of lectures in support of the Society’s aims. Though the Society never joined the campaigns for Human Rights in Ethiopia, or for the release of members of the Royal Family and other prominent individuals, (who had never been tried but would remain imprisoned for most of that decade) there were members, both of the Society and the Committee, who were heavily engaged in all manner of activities which aimed to undermine all that the Ethiopian régime stood for.

The thirty year conflict between Ethiopia and its Northern Province, Eritrea, came to an end in May 1991. As Ethiopian troops began to flee Asmara, President Mengistu fled Ethiopia for Zimbabwe. One month later 99.81% of her voting population had voted for independence: Eritrea was formally declared independent on 24th May 1993.

This was the beginning of another new era for Ethiopia and the Anglo-Ethiopian Society. Throughout the previous, troubled, years the Society had continued to work to fulfill the aims of the Society through a series of lectures and newsletters. Relations between the Society and the Ethiopian Embassy became more cordial and there were informal meetings between members of the Committee and the Embassy staff. Ethiopians or Britons working at Princes Gate were certainly free to take out membership of the Anglo-Ethiopian Society.

It was hoped, indeed assumed that, after the downfall of the Mengistu regime, the furthering of friendship between the U.K. and Ethiopia was bound to be easier.

At the Society’s foundation meeting in 1948 the officers had invited two highly political figures to be joint presidents: Earl de la Warr who had signed the Anglo-Ethiopian Agreement in 1942 on behalf of the U.K., and the Ethiopian Ambassador in London – who was only there to represent his country’s interests – and, in 1948, there were serious areas of disagreement between the two countries. But never for one moment would British and Ethiopians want the new Society to attempt to dictate to Ethiopia how she should manage her affairs.

Conclusions - and plans for the future

It has been a fascinating exercise to trawl the old Minute books and to note the common threads linking the early days to the present – particularly those of promoting friendship and cultural relations and the original aim for the Society to take a non-political stance.

The need to recruit new members, especially the young and those from Ethiopia who are either studying or living in the U.K. is another constitutional aim which we try hard to achieve. During the Derg days tourism to Ethiopia was at a low ebb. However, since the early 1990s Ethiopia has been back on the tourist map. Recruiting new members today is often through word of mouth and, sometimes, from tour leaders inspiring their groups to join. Corporate membership, which once in the 1960s reached a total of around 20 companies, now stands just at four - with three of those being tourism-related firms. A Minute from May 1980 notes ‘the need to increase membership to overcome the problem of both an ageing membership with experience in the country and the present reduction of potential members living in Ethiopia’. Today's truth is that Companies' representatives tend to visit Ethiopia for short periods and might not have the time to develop such deep links with the country as was the case in Imperial days. New members are much more likely to be returned tourists who want to know more about the country or want to do more to help Ethiopia's people. The need to chase up unpaid subscriptions is another recurring theme!

It has been somewhat disappointing, though, to note that some quite good ideas have been floated over the years and then, almost always, dropped or left to wither. Two that stand out are the Amharic Primer, and Society-organised visits to Ethiopia. The reason for this failure over the years is not clear.

Some issues that were important in the past, such as the early emphasis on the need to support Ethiopian students, have been rendered almost unnecessary by the growth of a flourishing Ethiopian community which has been living in the U.K. for over thirty years. The former close working links with the Ethiopian Embassy in the 1950s and 1960s (remember - even one of our AGMs was held in Princes Gate) have had to adapt over the years. The Society’s Committee might, sometimes, have been criticised for 'not doing a lot for Ethiopia and her people' but, as has often been explained by the former secretary, the expertise, good works and knowledge within the membership is immense, generous and effective. A list of some 20 Ethiopia-supporting charities which our members have either founded or act as Trustees for can be ound on the Society's website.

These days the Society does not go in for large formal eating meetings. The introduction of the informal supper club means that members still have the opportunity to go out to eat Ethiopian food together should they wish to join these non-official, member-organised gatherings. The annual Christmas lunch remains the main social event of the year and is always a vibrant occasion.

The Committee today is as dedicated as ever. Meetings are held 4 times a year and the attendance level by committee members is excellent. It is worth noting here that the Society’s administration, the Library, News File and the Website are maintained from the homes, and using the equipment of, Officers and Committee members - all on a voluntary basis.

Annual General Meetings - of which we now have held 56 - are always followed by a lecture and a wine reception. We are grateful to the Centre of African Studies at S.O.A.S. (the School of Oriental and African Studies) for the free use of classrooms and equipment that they give the Society for all our lectures, all of which are open to the public and free of charge.

The Constitution was last amended in 2005 when it was finally accepted that it would not be possible to make the last President’s dream of a branch in Ethiopia a reality. That, also, was the last time the subscriptions went up. Currently membership fees stand at £15 for a single person; £18 for a joint membership of 'two people living at the same address'; £25 for a Corporate member; £7 for a student and, a new category of overseas members at £15. There are reductions for UK members who pay by standing order. Statistically, membership worldwide is currently in the region of 250 with about 25 living abroad – from Ethiopia to the United States via Germany, Canada, Switzerland and Greece. About 100 of the current members live in London postal districts and about 10% of our members are of Ethiopian origin.

We are proud of our lecture series and the three annual issues of News File - their content and subject matter are always varied and interesting and of a generally high standard with good speakers and report-writers. We do not do things as grandly as in 1957 when it was noted that Society events would be announced in The Daily Telegraph and The Times, but we work hard to ensure that all future events are listed in News File to save on the cost of additional mailings. The Society launched its website in 2006 and, although it has not yet resulted in the anticipated avalanche of new members, it has aroused some interest from students and correspondents from around the world. The website carries lists of events, News File articles, a photo gallery and most of the previously published Occasional Papers.

Attendance at our talks is always good and the chat and buzz afterwards is fun and rewarding, though it would be nice if we could find a suitable venue, near to SOAS, where members could continue to socialize after the lectures. We do our best to involve those members who live too far away to get to meetings by recording reports of all events in News File. The library is still a feature of the Society though members are not able to take books away and are asked to arrange to visit in advance. Its future is constantly under debate.

The Committee is conscious of the needs of members. We are also aware that newer members might have different requirements from those whose memories of Ethiopia go back to the Emperor’s day. We are particularly aware that, in 2008, we need not only to celebrate surviving for 60 years but must also look to the future and how we can best fulfill our constitutional aims and objectives and ensure that they remain pertinent and relevant for the future.

To that end, in late 2007, all members were mailed a questionnaire form with space for suggestions and offers of assistance. We are grateful to the 75 who returned their thoughtful replies: these will be analysed and used to help shape the next few decades of the Anglo-Ethiopian Society.

Members have confirmed that they overwhelmingly consider that our aims and objectives remain pertinent and relevant today. However, issues such as whether the Society should ever become a charity or should fundraise for projects in Ethiopia have yet to be considered.

This special anniversary is an appropriate moment both for celebration of a long life and an opportunity to make plans for the future. This history paper has been written to celebrate these past sixty years, to mark the Society’s achievements and longevity and to hope that the Anglo-Ethiopian Society’s members will continue to enjoy this special link with Ethiopia and her people long into the future.

© Adrienne Hack (Secretary) and Julian Kay (Vice-President)
May 2008



Footnotes:

1 See the Society’s Occasional Paper entitled ‘The Emperor Haile Selassie in Bath 1936 - 1940’ by Lutz Haber

2 A list of Officers of the Society 1948-2008 can be found in the appendix to this document.

3 Recent research has uncovered a fascinating document which has been sent to us from Adelaide, Australia. This confirms that the Society had something in common with City Trust funds and the Rotary Club of Wellingborough in their shared desire to enable poor children to be educated at the Wingate School - the only boarding school then in Ethiopia - which had been established in 1948 and run on British lines. It is now certain that one of the five young teenagers sponsored by the Society in the late 1960s was Legesse Zenawi – to be better known as the future President (in 1991) and current Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi.

4 The Ethiopia Society was created in the early 1980s at the behest of the Ethiopian Embassy in London in order to have an organization in the U.K. of those individuals who had welcomed the new revolutionary régime in Addis Ababa and gave it their support. Politics aside it made sense at that time for such a society to exist. It enabled those British citizens in the U.K. (certainly the Anglo-Ethiopian Society) who wished to promote aid and tourism in Ethiopia, and who were interested in providing hospitality to students and visitors from that ountry, besides maintaining a broad cultural programme, to do so.



Appendix:

Officers of the Anglo-Ethiopian Society 1948-2008

President

Earl de la Warr & H.E. Abebe Retta 1953 - 1954
The Rt. Hon. the Earl de la Warr PC & H.E. Ato Haddis Alemayehu 1965
The Rt. Hon. the Earl of Avon K.G.,(Anthony Eden) & H.E. Gabra-Maskal Kiflegzy (died 1969) 1966
The Rt. Hon. the Earl of Avon KG and H.E. the Ethiopian Ambassador 1967 - 1974
The Rt. Hon. the Earl of Avon KG 1975
VACANT 1977
Earl of Avon (Nicholas Eden) 1980
Mr. B.H. Raven-Roberts 1986 - 1989
Mrs. Irene Purry 1990 - 1993
Mr. J. Randell 1999 - 2004

Vice-President

Prof. N. Bentwich OBE, MC, LL.D 1954,
1965 - 1971
Mr.N. E. Mustoe QC 1954,
1965 - 1970
Brigadier F. Stafford CMG, CBE 1956,
1965 - 1974
Lt. Col. A.T. Curle 1958 - 1959
Sir Charles Mathew CMG QC 1965 - 1967
The Rt. Hon. the Earl de la Warr P C 1966 - 1973
Professor E. Ullendorff, FBA, MA, D.Phil, 1969 - 1976
Princess Viazemsky 1974 - 1977
Professor Gordon Wolstenholme OBE, FRCP 1974
Mr. J. Kay 2001 -
Mr. C.R. Ferry 2003 -

Chairman:

Mr. E.R.J. Hussey 1949 - 1956
Mr. N.E. Mustoe, QC. 1956 - 1962
Sir Charles Mathew, CMG QC 1962 - 1965
Professor E. Ullendorff 1965 - 1968
Dr. G. Wolstenholme 1968 - 1971
Sir Duncan Cumming 1971 - 1973
Mr. Bernard Braine, MP 1973 - 1977
Dr. David Hamilton 1977 - 1980
Mr. B. H. Raven-Roberts 1980 - 1982
Mr. Anthony Baldry, MP 1982 - 1983
Dr. David Hamilton 1984 - 1987
Mr. Jim Randell 1988 - 1999
Mr. Richard Snailham 1999 - 2006
Ms. Jean Bailey 2006 -

Secretary

Mr. A. M. Morrell (and Treasurer) 1950 - 1953
Mrs. D. M. Hollands 1953 - 1954
Mr. John R. Hack (and Treasurer) 1954 - 1978
Mr. J. Randell 1978 - 1982
Mr. Julian Kay 1982 - 2001
Ms. Adrienne Hack 2001 -

Treasurer

Professor H. S. Jevons 1952 - 1954
Mr. A.M. Morrell (and Hon. Secretary) 1950 - 1953
Mr. John R. Hack (and Hon. Secretary) 1954 - 1956
Lt. Col. L.W. Charley 1956 - 1957
Mr. John R. Hack (and Hon. Secretary) 1957 - 1978
Mr. C.R. Ferry 1978 - 2003
Dr. David Edgar 2003 - 2004
Mr. Yeshiwas Demilew 2004 -

First published as an Occasional Paper in 2008

Opinions expressed in the articles are those of the authors and not necessarily the views of the Society.
Information is offered in good faith but the Society does not warrant the status or reliability of the information contained.

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