'There is racial discrimination in Ethiopia,' a Kenya Luo friend working for the United Nations told me when I arrived in Addis Ababa for the first time some twenty years ago. 'The Ethiopians are while: everyone else is black, except that a few Europeans and Americans are honorary whites.' Evelyn Waugh had the same experience. He went to the imperial coronation of Haile Selassie in 1930 and wrote the country up in fiction (Black Mischief) and non-fiction (Remote People). In 1935, he was sent back by the Daily Mail to record the coming Italian invasion (Scoop in fiction and Waugh in Abyssinia in non-fiction). 'The Abyssinians,' he writes in Waugh in Abyssinia, 'in spite of being by any possible standard an inferior race, persisted in behaving as superiors; it was not that they were hostile, but contemptuous.' They had something to be superior about. At the end of an age of imperialism in which Europeans had made it apparent that an African society was to be judged by whether it had a recognisable government and was ripe for conversion to Christianity. Ethiopia presented the picture of an established ruler and an indigenous Christian tradition of great antiquity.
LRB 7 March 1985 | PDF Download