Mäkonnen Endalkačäw

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Mäkonnen Endalkačäw

Mäkonnen Endalkačäw (1892-1963) was an Ethiopian writer and public official. One of the few aristocrats to attain high government office under Haile Selassie, he was responsible for the renaissance of Amharic literature after World War II.

Mäkonnen Endalkačäw was born into a family of feudal landowners in Shoa. He was educated at the court of Menelik II and was a close friend of the future emperor Haile Selassie I, one of whose nieces he married. After the appointment of Haile Selassie as regent, Mäkonnen occupied high office as minister of commerce (1926-1931), Ethiopian representative in England and at the League of Nations (1931-1933), governor of Addis Ababa (1933-1934), and governor of Illulabor Province (1935).

When the Italian war broke out, Mäkonnen was put in command of the Ogaden front. During the period of Italian occupation, he stayed in Jerusalem, where he looked after the many Ethiopian refugees there. In 1940 Haile Selassie called him to Khartoum, where he was preparing the reconquest of the country, and in January 1941 Mäkonnen crossed into Ethiopia with the Emperor. After the liberation Mäkonnen was made minister of the interior and rose to considerable influence at court. In 1942 he was appointed to the newly created office of prime minister, and in 1957 he became president of the Senate.

Modern Amharic literature, which had been launched by Heruy Wäldä-Sellasé, had suffered a grievous lapse under the Italian regime. After World War II, side by side with his important political and administrative activities, Mäkonnen played a decisive part in the restoration and tremendous growth of creative writing in the vernacular language. No one of his generation wrote as many novels, plays, and memoirs; three of his works were translated into English and published in Asmara.

Two central themes control Mäkonnen's vast literary output. The first is the deeply religious and moralizing trend which pervades the whole of Ethiopia's literary tradition. It runs through his work, from Aläm warätäñña (1947-1948; The Inconstant World), which proclaims the vanity of this world and urges forbearance in the face of adversity, to his last novel, Sahay Mäsfen (1956-1957), which extols charity and altruism and deprecates all egoistic pride based on birth, wealth, or even education. The second theme is a fiery patriotic sense which had been fanned by the humiliations of the colonial period. His first work in that nationalistic direction was Yädämdems (1947-1948; The Voice of Blood), a play in which he dramatized the martyrdom of Abuna Petros, the head of the Coptic Church of Ethiopia, who had been shot by the Fascists.

Mäkonnen's patriotic pride and ethical preoccupations were fused in his historical novels and plays, through which he endeavored to celebrate and popularize the greatness of the Ethiopian past. But although he was a faithful upholder of the Emperor's modernizing policies, many of his works, such as Selasawi Dawit (1949-1950; David III), Yä-däm zämän (1954-1955; The Bloody Era), and Taitu Bitull (1957-1958), contain unmistakable warnings against the abuses and corruption of absolute power and a reminder that political might should be used in compliance with the laws of God and of the Church for the benefit of the people.

Actually, Mäkonnen's outlook was fundamentally aristocratic. His somewhat utopian ideal—illustrated in the autobiographical works of his later years, such as Malkanu beta saboč (1956-1957; The Good Family)—was that of a hierarchized society led by a Christian feudal class deeply conscious of the responsibilities which material wealth and secular power have placed upon its shoulders.

Mäkonnen retired from political office in 1961. He died on Feb. 27, 1963.

Further Reading

A brief biographical sketch of Mäkonnen appears in Christopher S. Clapham, Haile-Selassie's Government (1969). See also Margery Perham, The Government of Ethiopia (1948; rev. ed. 1969); Edward Ullendorff, The Ethiopians: An Introduction to Country and People (1960; 2d ed. 1965); and Richard Greenfield, Ethiopia: A New Political History (1965). □