Emperor Haile Sellassie’s Ethiopia in the 1970s in Gibb’s Sweetness in the Belly

The 1970s were probably the most dramatic and tragic period in the history of Ethiopia, at least in the 20th century.

This was the period of the rule of the authoritarian Emperor, Haile Sellassie, whose power was practically unlimited and who exercised his power regardless basic human rights, which were regularly violated by his regime. It should be pointed out that it was a very period in the history of Ethiopia because people lived in poverty, while those who attempted to change the situation and who had courage to oppose to the regime faced a risk of arrest and even death.

Naturally, such a historical period could not fail remain unnoticed by human rights organizations, politicians, sociologists and writers, who attempted to reveal the truth about the regime established by Haile Sellassie in Ethiopia and show the extent, to which this regime was criminal. In this respect, the novel written by Camilla Gibb “Sweetness in the Belly” is particularly noteworthy since the book depicts the story of Haile Sellassie’s Ethiopia told by an eyewitness, who had experience of living in Ethiopia in the 1970s under Haile Sellassie’s regime, as well as she was acquainted with many who were oppressed and persecuted by the regime.

At the same time, it should be said that Camilla Gibb creates the novel which provides a possibility to view the situation in Ethiopia from different angles. To put it more precisely, the author focuses on the background of the main character, Lily, who grew up in Morocco as a Muslim. In such a way, the author shows the cultural background of the main character revealing the fact that she, as well as her surrounding, were ordinary people, who did not represent a threat to Haile Sellassie regime, but, instead they brought up in the religious environment and Islamic traditions, to a significant extent, determined their lifestyle.

At the same time, the inability of the main character to cause any harm to the regime of the emperor Haile Sellassie could not protect her and people she knew from the unlimited power of the regime and its arbitrary rule. While being in Ethiopia, Lily tries herself in teaching and she is quite successful in this field but, as the situation in Ethiopia grows tenser she cannot help from assistance to people in need. To put it more precisely, the socio economic situation in Ethiopia by the mid-1970s deteriorates consistently. The high inflation and growing pauperization of the Ethiopian population provokes riots and opposition of the local population to the regime of Haile Sellassie.

Moreover, a considerable part of the population suffers from famine and many people, especially in the North-eastern region of the country, Wollo, are simply doomed to die. At any rate, according to specialists, the famine in Wollo led to 40,000 ”“ 80,000 persons killed (De Waal, 146). To put it more precisely, they were simply starved to death, while the ruling regime was unable to stop the famine and, what is more, it was even unwilling to save thousands of human lives, which were absolutely worthless for the emperor, who enjoyed the life, while his peopled starved.

In such a situation, when the starvation of people and the growing dissatisfaction of people resulted in numerous conflicts and revolutionary movement, Lily could not fail to ignore sufferings of other people and she served as a nurse. In such a way, she attempted to make her own contribution to the improvement of the life of people in Ethiopia. In this respect, it is worth reminding her past in Morocco and her religious views and beliefs. Obviously, it is due to her strong beliefs she managed to help other people. At the same time, such an image of the main character, as well as that of her friends, such as Amina and her husband, who also attempted to help Ethiopian people suffering from diseases and wounds, is not occasional. The author contrasts humanistic image of the main character to the absolutely inhuman, authoritarian regime of Haile Sellassie, which uses people in its own interests. Moreover, it proves beyond a doubt that Haile Sellassie’s regime practically sanctioned crimes against humanity, since it did not only ignore the famine in Wollo, but it also severely oppressed any kind of opposition.

In such a situation, the husband of Lily’s best friend Amina, Yusuf, becomes one of such victims of the regime.

Obviously, he is not a dangerous person, from a humanistic point of view. In contrast he is a teacher that educates children and teaches them be free and intelligent, but such people are dangerous for the regime of Haile Sellassie just because they are free and intelligent. Moreover, Yusuf spreads democratic ideals among children that could undermine the ruling regime in Ethiopia. As a result, under the impact of the growing social tension in 1970s, Yusuf was arrested and tortured in prison. He served a term in the prison, though he was not guilty in any crime, but his fault was his intention to remain a human being and make other people conscious of their human rights. After the release from prison, Yusuf becomes quite a different person, he is conditioned in according to the needs of the regime: he lives in fear and obedience. For instance, the author underlines that his spirit is broken and he is very different person to the extent that when “the other day a car backfired in the street below and Yusuf hurled himself on the floor and tried to crawl under the sofa.” (Gibb, 211). Obviously, the regime needed only such kind of people.

In such a context, even the nursing of the main character could be dangerous for her because she could be arrested too. This is why she is forced to flee to London, where she could live in security. In fact, it is only in London she could look at the regime absolutely objectively and fully reveal its criminal and inhuman nature.

Thus, Camilla Gibb creates a perfect and detailed picture of the Ethiopian reality in the 1970s under the Haile Sellassie’s regime.

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