King Haile Selassie’s wonderful address to the United Nations in 1963.

King Haile Selassie addressed the United Nations in 1963 with one of the most powerful speeches ever written.

This speech was made, by Bob Marley, into one of his best and most powerful songs.

I have selected a few extracts. But everyone should read the full speech as it reflects the highest sentiments of mankind. It is idealistic and full of optimism yet it is based on pragmatism. The fact that it is a speech from Ethiopia and not one of the world’s biggest powers gives it even more strength.,_1963

For those who oppose the UN this should be a reminder of the power of words. It is words that change worlds, not bombs.

‘The Charter of the United Nations expresses the noblest aspirations of man: abjuration of force in the settlement of disputes between states; the assurance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion; the safeguarding of international peace and security.’

‘But these, too, as were the phrases of the Covenant, are only words; their value depends wholly on our will to observe and honor them and give them content and meaning.’

‘The United Nations continues to serve as the forum where nations whose interests clash may lay their cases before world opinion. It still provides the essential escape valve without which the slow build-up of pressures would have long since resulted in catastrophic explosion. Its actions and decisions have speeded the achievement of freedom by many peoples on the continents of Africa and Asia. Its efforts have contributed to the advancement of the standard of living of peoples in all corners of the world.’

‘On the question of racial discrimination, the Addis Ababa Conference taught, to those who will learn, this further lesson:’

‘that until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned;’

‘that until there are no longer first class and second class citizens of any nation;’

‘that until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes;’

‘that until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race;’

‘that until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained.’

‘And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique and in South Africa in subhuman bondage have been toppled and destroyed;’

until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good-will;

‘until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven;’

‘until that day, the African continent will not know peace. We Africans will fight, if necessary, and we know that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil.’

‘The United Nations has done much, both directly and indirectly to speed the disappearance of discrimination and oppression from the earth. Without the opportunity to focus world opinion on Africa and Asia which this Organization provides, the goal, for many, might still lie ahead, and the struggle would have taken far longer. For this, we are truly grateful.’

‘If we are to survive, this Organization must survive. To survive, it must be strengthened. Its executive must be vested with great authority. The means for the enforcement of its decisions must be fortified, and, if they do not exist, they must be devised.’


13 thoughts on “King Haile Selassie’s wonderful address to the United Nations in 1963.

    1. John – the song was War. It was on the Rastaman Vibration album. A great song that actually used the words. I can’t read the speech without hearing Bob Marley singing them.

    1. He became the king of Ethiopia. The formal title of a king of Ethiopia used to translate roughly to “King of Kings”. That is probably because he had a supremacy over tribal or regional kings. He was the “high king” over a federation of kingdoms, or the “president” king.

      An emperor is a king over more than one country. Technically, Haile Selassie wasn’t therefore an emperor. That is a mistranslation of his “King of Kings” title.

      I met a king once, who was also the citizen of a republic, and who had been the elected president of the territory in which his people lived, whilst still king. My wife knew his daughter-in-law, so I got to meet him. By the same connection, she had once got to meet Rolihlahla, when he introduced his Kenyan wife to the king of his home area.

      1. I’ve only met one king! I don’t make a habit of meeting kings!

        I met the late Kaiser Matanzima in his bedroom, at Qamata Great Place, the year he died. My then wife Irene Nompumelelo Allman (nee Maqungo), who passed away herself in 2006, was a good friend of the Daliwonga’s daughter-in-law, who was the mother of the grandson who succeeded Kaiser to the throne (referred to as the “seat” in English), his only son having been killed in a road traffic accident.

        After Mpumi died, I lost touch with her family and circle of friends in South Africa.

        You can read about Kaiser here:

        Kaiser was a great man. Considering that he was said to have Alzheimer’s when I met him, he seemed sharp-minded. No signs of dementia on his part in my short conversation with him.

        When I met Mpumi, she had a grown-up son, Sivuyile, who was then a lawyer with the Dept. of Foreign Affairs. He married a lady called Nellie, who had been a TV gladiator. She didn’t speak Xhosa and he didn’t speak her language, so they spoke English at home. Their daughter must have had culture shock when Sivu’s posting to New York City finished, as part of the delegation to the UN.

        When he was a little boy, during the Apartheid years, Sivu’s ambition had been to be Kaiser Matanzima’s chauffeur. I think there was a big black limo, or a Rolls Royce that went with the job.

      2. I thought you might have got a taste for it John.
        A relative of Mandela no less.
        It sounds fascinating. What did you talk about?
        It’s a shame you lost contact after your wife’s death.

      3. We didn’t talk about anything much. He was graciously being introduced to a strange white man from England of comparatively low social status himself, whilst in his pyjamas, on what would become his deathbed within a few months. I was formal at first. He put me at my ease. He asked me how I liked his “backward” country, and I praised the weather. I cannot remember any jokes that were told in the great man’s bedroom.

        One joke I made up in those days (which might have told on that occasion) concerned an English man opening an ex-pat bank account in Mthatha, who was asked if he wanted the account in UK pounds, or South African rands, and replied, “Neither. I need an account in cows. I’m saving up to pay the lobola.”

        Mathanzima was a controversial figure, about whom historians will likely continue arguing for the next century, in that the Transkei was something of a showcase Bantustan, somewhere for the racist government to take visitors to show them that Apartheid wasn’t so bad after all. Favourable views of him sometimes expressed are that he protected his people from worse poverty and also protected the ANC insurgents from repression in his neck of the woods on the part of the Apartheid regime, from the position of strength he got by compromising with the regime. Unfavourable views therefore naturally cast him the role of what in America would be called an “Uncle Tom”. Of course, nothing in my polite and light-weight conversation with him referred to any of that.

      4. These sort of meetings are rarely relaxed, are they? You meeting, in a bedroom, sounds particularly strange. But what an experience.
        With just a brief look at the King Mathanzima it is quite clear that the jury is out. He is seen in different light in different places.
        You gave me an image of a bank stuffed with cattle in racks.
        Thanks for sharing.

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