Statue of Haile Selassie is smashed to pieces in Wimbledon park

Statue of Ethiopian leader Haile Selassie is smashed to pieces in Wimbledon park by 100-strong gang protesting the murder of a singer who was a famous political agitator

  • Statue of Haile Selassie has been smashed in a Wimbledon park by gang
  • Incident follows killing of Ethiopian singer Hachalu Hundessa on Monday
  • Statue of Ras Makonnen, Selassie’s father, has been torn down in Addis Ababa

A statue of former Ethiopian leader Haile Selassie has been smashed in a park in south-west London by a 100-strong gang this week.

The incident in Cannizaro Park is linked to unrest in Ethiopia sparked by the killing of popular singer Hachalu Hundessa on Monday.

It is unrelated to the phenomenon of statue-toppling around the UK by Black Lives Matter (BLM) and other anti-racism demonstrators.

Selassie, Ethiopia’s last emperor, led the country into the League of Nations – the precursor to the United Nations – in 1923.

Though human rights groups slammed his regime as authoritarian, Selassie is revered by Rastafarians today as ‘God incarnate’. 

This weeks, mass riots saw a statue of 19th-century leader Ras Makonnen, Selassie’s father, torn down in capital city Addis Ababa.  

Wimbledon resident Andrew Morris, 53, said he saw the mostly male group while out for a walk with his dog Archie in Cannizaro Park.

‘As soon as I got out of the car I heard all this noise and thought there must be some festival going on or an unauthorised rave or something,’ he said. 

A statue of former Ethiopian leader Haile Selassie has been smashed in a park in south-west London by a 100-strong gang this week (left, after incident; right, before incident)

Haile Selassie was Ethiopia’s final emperor, serving from 1930 until his overthrow by Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1974 (pictured, in the Throne Room of the Jubilee Palace)

‘I heard the statue being smashed up, but didn’t actually see it happen.

‘They weren’t some rabid mob, they looked pretty calm… I didn’t think they were in danger of attacking anyone.

‘These other guys ripped a sign out of the ground and started smashing that to pieces – it didn’t even say anything but obviously they were just in the mood.’ 

Mr Morris said the group were carrying fliers that had Oromo slogans on.

The Metropolitan Police said enquiries are ongoing and no arrests have yet been made after they were called to a report of criminal damage at 5.10pm on Tuesday.

Police have described the death of Haacaaluu Hundeessaa as a targeted killing

Hundessa was famous for singing about the rights of the Oromo people and had been a prominent voice in anti-government protests that led to a change in leadership in 2018, with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed taking office.

Abiy’s rule ushered in greater political and economic freedoms in what had long been one of the continent’s most repressive states, and the PM won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for ending conflict with neighbouring Eritrea.

But the rise in political activism has also led to an increase in unrest in a country made up of more than 80 ethnic groups.

Abiy’s rule has been challenged by local powerbrokers demanding more access to land, power and resources. His determination to forge a pan-Ethiopian politics have sparked a backlash from elements of his own Oromo powerbase. 

Youths enraged by the singer’s killing burned tires in Ethiopia’s capital and took to the streets of other cities as unrest spread. 

Social media footage appeared to show crowds surrounding a car said to carry Haacaaluu’s body, slowly walking to his home town. 

Other pictures appeared to show demonstrators pulling down and beheading a statue of the father of former emperor Haile Selassie in the Oromo city of Harar.

A TV station owned by an opponent of Abiy, Jawar Mohammed, said police had arrested Jawar after his bodyguards refused to disarm. Bekele Gerba, a leader of an opposition Oromo political party, was also arrested, the station said. 

Social media footage shows crowds of people out to mourn the singer in Addis Ababa

The station was forced to broadcast by satellite from the US state of Minnesota after police raided its headquarters and detained its staff, it said. 

In a tweet, the PM offered condolences and promised an investigation.

‘They did not just kill Hachalu (Haacaaluu). They shot at the heart of the Oromo Nation, once again !!…You can kill us, all of us, you can never ever stop us!! NEVER !!’ Jawar, whose supporters have been involved in violent clashes with the police in the past, posted on his Facebook page before his arrest.

Addis Ababa city police commissioner Getu Argaw told state media late on Monday that Haacaaluu had been shot dead at around 9:30 in the evening. Some suspects had been detained, he said, giving no further details.

On Tuesday the normally busy streets of Addis Ababa were eerily empty as protesters lit fires and chanted slogans.

Telecoms across Ethiopia were shut down, a step the authorities have taken in the past at times of political unrest.

NetBlocks, an organization that tracks global internet shutdowns, said that there was a ‘near-total internet shutdown’ from about 9:00am local time. 

The shutdown was the most severe in a year, NetBlocks said. By noon, phone calls were also no longer going through. 

Clashes between police and Jawar’s supporters killed at least 78 people in October last year after the government tried to withdraw Jawar’s security detail.

Elections due this year have been postponed until next year due to COVID-19 in a deal agreed with the major opposition parties.

‘God incarnate’: Haile Selassie, the last emperor of Ethiopia 

Haile Selassie was Ethiopia’s 225th and final emperor, serving from 1930 until his overthrow by the Marxist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1974. 

The longtime ruler traced his line back to Menelik I, who was credited with being the child of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. 

Haile Selassie was born Lij Tafari Makonnen in a mudhut in Ethiopia in 1892. 

For a country trying to curry favour with the West, the progressive Tarafi led Ethiopia into the League of Nations in 1923. The following year, he became the first Ethiopian ruler to go abroad on his travels to Europe.

In 1928 he appointed himself king. Two years later, he was made emperor and assumed the name Haile Selassie (‘Might of the Trinity’).  

He was exiled during World War II after leading the resistance to the Italian invasion. He condemned Italy’s use of chemical weapons against Ethiopia’s people during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War at the League in 1936. 

He was reinstated in 1941 and sought to modernise the country over the next few decades through social, economic and educational reforms. 

He has been criticised by some historians for his suppression of rebellions among the landed aristocracy, which consistently opposed his reforms; some critics have also criticised Ethiopia’s failure to modernise rapidly enough.

During his rule the Harari people were persecuted and many left the Harari Region. His regime was also criticised by Human Rights Watch as autocratic.

Among the Rastafari movement, whose followers are estimated to number between 700,000 and one million, Haile Selassie is revered as the returned messiah of the Bible, God incarnate. 

Beginning in Jamaica in the 1930s, the Rastafari movement perceives Haile Selassie as a messianic figure who will lead a future golden age of eternal peace, righteousness, and prosperity. 

He was an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian throughout his life.

Selassie lived in Wimbledon in 1936 during his exile following the Italian invasion of his country. The statue was sculpted by Hilda Seligman, while he stayed with her family, and later erected in Cannizaro Park. 

The 1973 famine led to Selassie’s removal from the throne. 

He died in 1975, aged 83, following a coup.

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