Emperor Haile Selassie
Haile Selassie led Ethiopia through the twentieth century, becoming the most iconic leader the country has ever known in the course of his career.
Selassie's story is rich and spans many years, but one episode in particular shows the drama, derring-do, and dedication to his country in which his life abounded.
In the 1930s, the new Italian regime under Benito Mussolini invaded Ethiopia a second time, vowing to avenge the defeat at Adwa some forty years before.
Selassie mobilized the Ethiopian army and deployed his troops in the north to repel the invasion. In October 1935, Italy attacked in force from the north, advancing into Ethiopia from her colony in Eritrea.
Haile Selassie's defenders slowed the invasion and launched their own counterattack, the "Christmas Offensive," at the end of the year.
Eventually, though, the attack failed and the Italians pushed back with renewed vigor. His army retreating, Selassie, who had been personally leading the campaign, left the northern front and made a solitary pilgrimage to the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela for fasting and prayer.
This pilgrimage was dangerous, as he could easily have been captured if he was discovered in Lalibela, but he completed it in safety and returned to Addis Ababa with a new sense of clarity and resolve.
He and his family and cabinet made the hard decision to go into exile as the Italians advanced on Addis. Selassie traveled first to Jerusalem and then on to England, where he resided in the town of Bath from 1936 to 1941.
The Italians captured Addis Ababa and occupied Ethiopia during those years, their invasion a success in the short term. From Bath, Selassie fought tirelessly to make Ethiopia's case to the international community.
In 1937, he planned to deliver a Christmas Day radio broadcast to the United States to thank Americans for their support for Ethiopia's cause.
On the way to the radio station, Selassie's taxi got into a traffic accident. He fractured his knee during the collision. Heroically, the great leader continued on to the radio station and gave his address as planned, despite being in dreadful pain the whole time.
Selassie suffered other personal tragedies during his years in exile. His daughter and two sons-in-law died at Italian hands and he also lost a daughter in childbirth. All was not for naught, however.
In 1941, the "Gideon Force," a joint army of Ethiopian and British forces, liberated Ethiopia from Italian rule. Selassie returned to his homeland and resurrected the Ethiopian nation. He led the country for the next thirty years, ushering in a new era of prosperity and modernity.