Mengesha Seyoum

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Mengesha Seyoum
Governor-General of Tigray
In office
1960 – 12 October 1974
Preceded bySeyum Mangasha
Minister of Public Works and Communications
In office
Governor of Sidamo
In office
Preceded bySeyum Mangasha
Governor of Arsi
In office
Preceded byAsrate Medhin Kassa
Personal details
Born (1927-12-07) 7 December 1927 (age 93)
Enderta District, Ethiopian Empire[citation needed]
Political partyEthiopian Democratic Union (1974-1978)
Spouse(s)Princess Aida Desta
(wid. 2013)
ChildrenWoizero Ribka Mengesha
Mikael Sehul Mengesha
Lij Yohannes Mengesha
Lij Estifanos Mengesha
Lij Jalyee Mengesha
Lij Seyoum Mengesha
Woizero Menen Mengesha

Le'ul Ras Mengesha Seyoum (Amharic: መንገሻ ሥዩም; born 7 December 1927)[citation needed] is a member of the imperial family of the Ethiopian Empire. In 1974, the monarchy was abolished by the Derg, a communist military junta.

Early life and background[edit]

Le'ul Dejazmach Mangasha Seyum was born in 1927 in Addis Ababa and moved to Dengolat, a village in Enderta district, part of Tigray province of Ethiopia[citation needed] . He is the son of Ras Seyum Mangasha, the grandson of Ras Mangasha Yohannes, and the great grandson of Emperor Johannes IV. Yohannes IV was the only Emperor of the Tigrayan cadet branch of the Solomonic dynasty (being descended in female lines from Emperors Yohannes I and Eyasu I). Emperor Menelik II of Shoa came to power after the Battle of Metemma when Yohannes IV was killed and the male line of the Solomonic Dynasty was re-established on the Imperial throne. Mangasha Seyum is the heir to the Tigrean royal line and a rival to the Shoan emperor.[1] Ras Mangasha Seyum's grandfather, Mangasha Yohannes was raised as the nephew of Yohannes IV. However Yohannes IV announced on his deathbed that Mangasha was his "natural" son and designated heir. It is still disputed among Tigrean royal descendants whether Mangasha Yohannes was indeed an actual son of Yohannes IV, or a nephew that Yohannes adopted on his deathbed in order to name him as his successor as his legitimate son Ras Araya Selassie Yohannes had died previously. There was a long-standing rivalry between the descendants of Ras Araya Selassie and Ras Mangasha Yohannes over the rule of Tigray and precedence. Her mother was Princess Adada (second wife of his father).

In January 1949, Mangasha Seyum married one of Haile Selassie I's granddaughters, Princess Aida Desta. They are the parents of five sons Lij Michael Sehul, Lij Yohannes, Lij Stephanos, Lij Jalye, Lij Seyoum and a daughter Immabet Menen. Mengesha Seyum was also the father of the late Immabet Rebka from his first marriage to Abonesh Demisse cousin of Princess Atsede Asfaw who was also Mengesha Seyum's stepmother.

Administrator and minister (1948–60)[edit]

A photograph of Seyum Mangasha, second from left, taken on 18 April 1959 in Bonn, Germany.

In 1948, at the age of 21, Mengesha, then known by the title of Leul Dejazmach, was appointed to his first government post as district governor of Ambo awrajja (then known as Hager Selam). As district governor Le'ul Dejazmach Mengesha developed the town's electricity supply, built the first secondary school, health clinics, bridges and roads, as well developing recreational and tourist infrastructure by building a road to Lake Wonchi, and modernizing the natural hot spring water baths in Ambo town.[2]

In 1952 he was appointed Governor-General of Arsi Province, serving until 1955. As governor he initiated the provision of potable water to the provincial capital of Asella, also modernized that city's hot water spring baths to increase tourism, and promoted the wool industry by organizing the distribution of the Merino breed of sheep and introducing modern wool weaving equipment.[2] As Governor of Sidamo from 1955 to 1957, he promoted the coffee industry by establishing education and training programs for local farmers and enabling coffee merchants from Addis Ababa to set up processing plants in the province.

In 1957 he was appointed Minister of Public Works in the cabinet of Prime Minister Ras Abebe Aregai. His tenure was marked in particular by progress in the aviation sector; he oversaw the construction of Bole International Airport, which replaced Lideta Airport as Addis Ababa's main international gateway. As Chairman of Ethiopian Airlines, he negotiated civil air transport agreements on behalf of Ethiopian Airlines with the governments of West Germany, Liberia, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria and Guinea, and opened Africa's first jet maintenance facility as well as the first civilian Pilot Training School and Hostess Training Institute for flight attendants.[2] He also played a major role in the establishment of the Ethiopian Tourism Organization, renegotiated the contract for the Franco-Ethiopian railway, and built an oil refinery in Asseb. During his tenure a bridge was built over the Blue Nile near Bahir Dar connecting the provinces of Begemder and Gojjam.

Governor of Tigray (1960–74)[edit]

After his father was murdered during the unsuccessful 1960 coup against Emperor Haile Selassie Mengesha Seyoum was elevated to the title of Leul Ras and became Prince and Governor of Tigray. He governed from his capital in Mek'ele and held this position until 1974 when the monarchy was abolished.

Bridge over Giba river, built by order of Mengesha Seyoum in the 1960s

He kept strong connections with Tembien from where his family originated: he participated yearly in the annual patron’s day at Abune Aregawi church in Zeyi which his grandfather Yohannes IV had built. He also ordered to build a road and a bridge[3] linking Dogu'a Tembien and Inderta. At the time of his reign he was much criticised for his authoritarianism.[4] While nowadays public opinion remembers him by his road building activities or start of the first modern soil conservation,[5] the rural people are well aware of the plight of their ancestors during feudality.

Opposition, exile, and later life[edit]

Leul Ras Mengesha and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in February 2019.

In October 1974, after the monarchy was toppled, representatives of the Derg ordered Seyum Mangasha to the capital to face charges of corruption, but instead he fled to the hills. There Mengesha Seyoum helped to found a group that eventually became the Ethiopian Democratic Union (EDU). His wife, Princess Aida Desta, and his daughter were arrested by the Derg in 1974. Although his daughter would eventually escape abroad, his wife remained in prison for 14 years. The EDU was a conservative and pro-monarchy and is the oldest of the Ethiopian political parties. The EDU later merged with the Ethiopian Democratic Party and formed the Ethiopian Democratic Unity Party (EDUP), which later was one of the parties that joined to form the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces, one of the two largest opposition parties in Ethiopia. In 2000, the EDU reorganized in Addis Ababa as a legal opposition party after the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front led the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front to power. Leul Ras Mengesha has retreated from all involvement in the political affairs of this party and its successor organizations.

Leul Ras Mengesha Seyoum lives mostly in Addis Ababa, and partly in the Washington Since his wife of more than 60 years, Princess Aida died on January 15, 2013 in Alexandria, Virginia. He maintains a close relationship with his children, nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

He is regarded as the senior surviving nobleman of the Ethiopian Empire, and the senior Prince of a cadet branch of the Imperial dynasty. Although for a significant period during the 1970s and 1980s he was regarded as a possible candidate for the succession by many monarchists, in 1989 he accepted and recognized the proclamation of Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen as Emperor in Exile of Ethiopia under the name Amha Selassie. Leul Ras Mengesha was prominent at the funerals of Emperor in Exile Amha Selassie, the reburial of Emperor Haile Selassie, Princess Tenagnework (who was his mother-in-law) and Empress Medferiashwork.

With the death of Emperor Amha Selassie, Leul Ras Mengesha is considered the elder member of the extended Imperial family, and at public events where members of the Imperial family appear, such as royal funerals, is given precedence over all male members of the family except Crown Prince Zera Yacob Amha Selassie.

In February 2019 he was appointed to the National Reconciliation Commission.[6]


National honours[edit]

Foreign honours[edit]

See also[edit]

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ Mockler, Haile Sellassie's War, p. 396
  2. ^ a b c "Royal House of TIGRAY (Princedom)". World of Royalty. 27 July 2017. Retrieved 10 May 2018.
  3. ^ Nyssen, Jan (2019). Description of Trekking Routes in Dogu'a Tembien. GeoGuide. Springer-Nature. pp. 557–675. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-04955-3_38. ISBN 978-3-030-04954-6.
  4. ^ Murphy, Dervla. In Ethiopia with a Mule.
  5. ^ Munro, R.N. and colleagues (2019). "A History of Soil and Water Conservation in Tigray". Geo-trekking in Ethiopia's Tropical Mountains. GeoGuide. Springer Nature. pp. 477–493. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-04955-3_32. ISBN 978-3-030-04954-6.
  6. ^ "Ethiopia named members of National Reconciliation Commission". Borkena. 5 February 2019. Retrieved 29 March 2019.


Further reading[edit]

  • Charles B. Rosen: "The Governor-General of Tigre Province: Structure & Anti-Structure", Proceedings of the First United States Conference on Ethiopian Studies, (1973), p. 171-183
  • Seyoum, Mengesha (2018). ye-Tiwilid Adera (Remembrances of a Generation) (in Amharic). Addis Ababa: Addis Ababa University Press.