The first and only time I have been inside Boodle's was early in 1972, when I was bidden (I choose the word with some care) for a confidential tête-à-tête with an Ethiopian in whose high caste Evelyn Waugh would have rejoiced. Ras Asrata Kassa - as noble in physique and physiognomy as in his birth - had recently been dismissed as Governor-General of Eritrea, but he still retained his position as chairman of Ethiopia's Crown Council. While this was notionally one of the three most influential positions in the country, all real power in Haile Selassie's empire derived solely from the Emperor's authority. The ras confessed to me the weakness of his own position, and spoke of his deep fear that his cousin the Emperor was leading Ethiopia to its ruin. Although he was on the eve of his 80th birthday, Haile Selassie had stopped his ears to any suggestion from his Crown Council that he should arrange for the surrender of any power in his own lifetime, and stubbornly refused to arrange for a peaceful succession. 'I'm afraid,' said the chairman of the Crown Council, 'that the Emperor's egomania has developed in him the attitude of après moi le deluge.'
LRB 1 April 1982 | PDF Download