Long live the king! AU's lavish new home hit by statue row

Fri Feb 10, 2012 9:40am EST
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By Aaron Maasho

ADDIS ABABA (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, immortalized 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 criticizing "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 in Jamaica.

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.   Continued...