Selassie ascended the throne in April 1930. His royal name means "Power of the Trinity" in Amharic. Selassie's reign was marked by modernization programs, the growth and development of the nation's infrastructure, and efforts at increasing the strength of the military.
Despite a valiant resistance effort, Selassie could not prevent the seven-year occupation of his country by Italy beginning in 1935, during which time he was forced into exile in Britain. In 1942, he returned to power following the defeat of Italian forces by the British Army and the signing of the Addis Ababa Agreement, which granted Ethiopia full sovereignty and independence. Selassie forged a close relationship with the United States, which established a military command center in Ethiopia during World War II.
By the late 1940s, northern Africa and the Middle East had become a key strategic region in the growing Cold War, and the United States feared Soviet expansion in the area. This threat was magnified by the rising tide of Pan-Arabism, a movement that sought the unification of all Arab countries and an end to the West's exploitation of Middle Eastern oil resources. In May 1953, Selassie signed an economic pact with the United States designed to provide significant developmental and military assistance. This was particularly useful because of the emerging local independence movements in the rebellious provinces of Eritrea, Tigray, and Ogaden, which threatened Selassie's Pan-African vision of a grand Ethiopian union. In the early 1960s, the United States extended an aid package to Ethiopia, a development triggered partly by the burgeoning links between Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) rebels and Pan-Arabic governments in Egypt and Syria as well as the independence of neighboring Somalia.
In 1963, war broke out between Ethiopia and Somalia, now in the Soviet orbit, over land disputes in Ogaden. The Somalians were defeated, but at a high cost. This Pyrrhic victory increased domestic discontent with Selassie's leadership. Public disaffection was further heightened by a sharp economic downturn and the advent of several major famines during the early 1970s. Many Ethiopian students and intellectuals, influenced by Marxist-Leninist models of economic development, called for the nationalization of state industry and an end to economic dependency on Western markets. Within this milieu, Selassie became increasingly viewed as an intransigent ideological reactionary, and the pomp and grandeur of his imperial court only enhanced the perception that he was unconcerned about the suffering of his people.
By the early 1970s Selassie's grip on power had sharply eroded, and he was deposed in a coup led by Haile Mariam Mengistu, a radical junior officer, on 12 September 1974. The junta pushed Ethiopia into the Soviet orbit and ended Ethiopia's alliance with the West. In terms of the Cold War, Selassie is an important figure who took advantage of Ethiopia's strategic importance in northern Africa to advance his nationalistic agenda of economic development and territorial expansion. Haile Selassie died in prison in Addis Ababa on 27 July 1975.
Iyob, Ruth. The Eritrean Struggle for Independence: Domination, Resistance, Nationalism, 1941–1993. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.; Lockot, Hans Wilhelm. The Mission: The Life, Reign, and Character of Haile Sellassie I. New York: St. Martin's, 1989.; Marcus, Harold G. Ethiopia: A History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.; Schwab, Peter. Haile Selassie I: Ethiopia's Lion of Judah. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1979.