The Ethiopian government had a veneer of democracy, including an elected parliament. Haile Selassie had initiated efforts at modernization, including providing education to a largely illiterate populace…. William Hershey writes

By William Hershey (Akron Beacon Journal) |

COLUMBUS, OH―President Donald Trump’s outspoken support for the protesters in Iran brought back memories of half a century ago when hundreds of Peace Corps teachers in Ethiopia, including me, were confronted with a dilemma.

For Trump, the concern is that the president’s bellicose tweets could backfire and give Iranian authorities an excuse to blame the protests on the Americans, still regarded as evil even by some critics of the regime.

In Ethiopia, the challenge was whether to stick to our assigned tasks — mostly teaching English, a key to further education and jobs — or also to provide our students with a vision of a society that could provide more freedom and opportunities than theirs.

I was the only foreigner on the faculty and mostly stuck to teaching but also pulled off a dirty clothes subterfuge. More about that later.

When we landed in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, in 1968, we were transported back in time to a feudal regime ruled by Emperor Haile Selassie, King of Kings, Lord of Lords and Conquering Lion of the tribe of Judah.

The emperor’s picture was everywhere, in public buildings, bars and restaurants. He was not just Haile Selassie, but His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie.

The Ethiopian government had a veneer of democracy, including an elected parliament. Haile Selassie, a hero to many around the world for his country’s resistance to Italy in World War II, had initiated efforts at modernization, including providing education to a largely illiterate populace.

Still, the emperor and his allies lived lives of unbelievable luxury in a country where many people struggled to survive.

Our guidance from Peace Corps officials was clear. We were guests of the Ethiopian government, feudal or not, and encouraged to keep political opinions to ourselves.

Continue reading this story at Akron Beacon Journal
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