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“UCLA was an appropriate place to honor Haile Selassie.Almost 1000 Peace Corps volunteers had trained there for service in Ethiopia and other countries, and its law school had a cooperative program with Haile Selassie I University.(Photograph: Library and Archives Canada) Tadias Magazine By Tadias Staff November 14th, 2017 New York (TADIAS) — Fifty years ago this year before Haile Selassie departed from Palm Springs, California to begin a state visit to Canada — becoming the first foreign head of state to make the opening call in celebration of Canada’s 100th year anniversary — he spoke to a large crowd at UCLA in Los Angeles applauding the Golden State for its world class college & university programs.“The Emperor’s praise of the California system of higher education brought his audience of 4,000 to its feet for four standing ovations,” writes Professor Theodore Vestal of Oklahoma State University in his book , noting that UCLA conferred an honorary doctor of laws degree upon the Ethiopian leader.(Ethiopia has been Christian since the early 4th century, rivalling Armenia as the world’s oldest Christian nation.) In the 1620s, a Portuguese Jesuit convinced King Susenyos to convert to Catholicism, which soon became Ethiopia’s official religion.Persecution of free thinkers followed suit, intensifying from 1630.
As the story usually goes, the Enlightenment began with René Descartes’s (1637), continuing on through John Locke, Isaac Newton, David Hume, Voltaire and Kant for around one and a half centuries, and ending with the French Revolution of 1789, or perhaps with the Reign of Terror in 1793. What if the Enlightenment can be found in places and thinkers that we often overlook?By the time that Thomas Paine published in 1794, that era had reached its twilight. Such questions have haunted me since I stumbled upon the work of the 17th-century Ethiopian philosopher Zera Yacob (1599-1692), also spelled Zära Yaqob.Yacob was born on 28 August 1599 into a rather poor family on a farm outside Axum, the legendary former capital in northern Ethiopia.The one-week trip, however, was not without controversy.The sixties were a time when turmoil was brewing back home and the media was beginning to ask uncomfortable questions regarding political developments in Ethiopia.