The object of the present series of articles is to consider how the founding and early growth of Addis Ababa witnessed Transformation in other fields of Ethiopian economic, social and political life.
This Transformation is strikingly apparent in the political field when it comes to the exercise of imperial authority. The rulers of the past would seem to have claimed total power, and made use of aides without giving their expertise and great administrative recognition.
An important change occurred in the year 1907, as is reported in Tsehafe Taezaz Gabre Sellase’s great chronicle of the reign of Menilek.
After a period of reflection on Ethiopian Government, as Gabre-Selassie suggests, Menilek decided to adopt the European model of defining specific responsibilities to individuals, who were to be designated as ministers. He appointed nine such officials, each with his own responsibility or field of duty:
The Minister of Justice was Afanegus Nasibu Masqala.
The Minister of War was Fitawrari Habte-Giyorgis Dinagde. The Minister of the Interior was Like-Meqwas Mekonen Ketema.
The Minister of Commerce and Foreign Affairs was Negadras Haile-Giyorgis Walde-Mikael.
The Minister of Finance was Bajirond Mulugeta Yeggezu.
The Minister of Agriculture was Kantiba Walde-Tsadiq Goshu.
The Minister of the Pen (and of the Royal Chronicles) was Tsehafe Taezaz Gabre-Sellase Walde-Aragaye, Menilek’s chronicler.
The Minister of Public Works was Qegnazmach Mekonnen.
The Minister of the Palace was Azaj Mataferya Malka-Tsadeq.
These individuals, though given new titles, were for the most part, appointed to spheres of activity with which they were already familiar. Afanegus Nasibu, the Minister of Justice, had become Chief Justice as early as 1881, fifteen years before the Battle of Adwa (1896). Fitawrari Habte-Giyorgis commanded many campaigns before becoming Minister of War. Negadras Haile-Giyorgis, Minister of Commerce and Foreign Affairs, was already respected for his reforms of the government bureaucracy. Bajirond Mulugeta had become Secretary of the Treasury in 1905, two years before his appointment as Minister of Finance. The new Minister of the Pen, Gabre-Sellase, had held the same position for the previous eighteen years. Neither was Azaj Mataferya new to the Palace Court.
Like-Meqwas Mekonen Ketema, the Minister of the Interior, Kantiba Walde-Tsadik Goshu, the Minister of Agriculture, and Qegnazmach Mekonnen, Minister of Public Works, were experienced administrators. Kantiba Walde-Tsadik was widely respected for his mastery of written and spoken Amharic, and had been Mayor of both Addis Ababa and Gondar. His life was subsequently cut short by his death from wounds received during the Graziani Massacre of 1937.
The appointment of this Cabinet of nine Ministers, each with his specialised role in Government, has been generally praised by historians and others, who have often noted that this was a manner of overcoming the power struggles that preceded the demise of previous rulers, notably Emperors Tewodros II and Yohannnes IV.
We may, however, argue that any system of government or administration, be it traditional, developing, or modern, requires the establishing of something akin to Menilek’s Cabinet of 1907, with clearly defined specialised functions of each minister. The lack of any such ministerial system might have been a recipe for inefficiency and chaos, in view of the development of the capital and indeed the country.
The ministers, who spent the greater part of their time in Addis Ababa, thus increased the importance of the capital, politically, commercially and socially.
Menilek’s reforms, we may conclude, were most timely, and contributed, early in the history of Addis Ababa, to the emergence and continuity of a modern State.