Haile Selassie I - Laws and Government

A Short Biography of Hapte Selassie Tafesse

A Biography written and printed by SEED (Society of Ethiopians Established in Diaspora) in 2013.


Lij Hapte-Selassie Tafesse was born in the 1930 in Addis Ababa. Because of the Italian attempt of colonization in Ethiopia, Hapte-Selassie’s father left Ethiopia and fled to France and Hapte Selassie had to be separated from his family when he was only two years old, and was taken to Greece by a refugee Russian family. In Greece, he completed his elementary and pursued secondary education at Athens college. In 1947, Lij Hapte-Selassie came back to Ethiopia and rejoined with his family. Able to speak only Greek and Russian, he attended Teferi Mekonnen School for a year mainly to learn Amharic language.

After Italy left Ethiopia, Hapte-Selassie’s father became Ethiopia’s ambassador to Egypt which gave Hapte-Selassie an opportunity to travel to Alexandria and reunite with his father. There he attended Victoria College in 1950, where he also learnt French. In 1954, however, Hapte-Selassie left for the United States and entered Carlton College in Northfield, Minnesota, and graduated with B.A. degree in International Relations and Government.

The then Emperor of Ethiopia, His Majesty Haile Selassie I, considering Hapte-Selassie’s gift of language, offered him a job as Assistant Director in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Hapte-Selassie reached the limit of what can be done within his Department and he proposed that a special organ be set up to handle the little developed sector of tourism.

Soon he was transferred from the ministry of foreign affairs to an office under the prime minister’s office with no budget and staff to start his new assignment of establishing and running Ethiopian Tourist & Trading Organization. However, ETTO was formally decreed and with Hapte-Selassie’s sole effort, minimal budget was secured, appropriate office acquired and the necessary staff hired. Consequently, Hapte-Selassie was charged with inventing and organizing all aspects of the tourism industry in Ethiopia from the scratch.

In an effort to raise funds for the sector, Hapte-Selassie then introduced Duty Free Shops and with a personal borrowed money of 25,000 USD he went to Aden for shopping. Luck was with Hapte-Selassie, and all items were sold instantly and within short period of time the Duty Free Shop expanded and became one of the world’s leading duty free businesses and the international weekly magazine – Newsweek, featured it in a full page article as one of the world’s largest duty free enterprises.

Lij Hapte-Selassie’s innovative work continued in introducing the modern concept of tourism to Ethiopia and for creating an image of the country under the slogan ‘Land of 13 Months of Sunshine’. Similarly, he created operational mechanism, services, practices and institutions in the tourism industry such as Ethiopian Tourism Trading Corporation (ETTC), Tour and Travel Operation which created the present pioneer state owned (just privatized recently) tour operator, the present National Tour Operator (NTO), the first tourist class and tourist oriented hotels, the Catering and Tourist Training Institution (CTTI), and many more.

Not only this but Hapte-Selassie produced a range of international standard tourist literature covering all parts of all aspects of the country from taking pictures for posters, to organizing tours operated personally by himself.

In association with Ethiopian Airlines and Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce, Lij Hapte-Selassie took part and played significant role in many national expos and exhibitions held in Addis Ababa, Asmara, Jimma, and elsewhere. Working as travel consultant, Lij Hapte-Selassie took part in the constant modernization and expansion of Ethiopian Airlines. He was also part of the inception and subsequently a member of the organizing commitee for the establishment of both ECA (Economic Commission of Africa) and OAU (Organization of African Unity, the present African Union, AU) in Addis Ababa.

Moreover, he also took Ethiopia and Ethiopian products to international expos in Canada (1967), Japan (1970), and Nairobi (1972) where he conceptualized, designed, constructed ideas and even financed expenses.

Working under the then Ethiopian Tourism Commission, he also played a role in the organization of the Gold Mercury Trade Fair Center and attended and participated in annual tourist trade fairs and conferences held in major cities around the world, such a Miami, Las Vegas, Tokyo, Sydney, France, Athens, Hong Kong, Spain, and others.

Working all this for his country however, Lij Hapte-Selassie was imprisoned in 1974 on 50 false criticisms and was released in 1982 only to continue the job he started.

Lij Hapte-Selassie started tourism industry when tourism was perceived by people as selling the country’s pride and name, and when there were no adequate tourist class hotels and service providers. With the massive improvements of infrastructure, roads, airports, hotels, resorts, communications in the country, which are very encouraging for the development of the industry, Lij Hapte Selassie, now age 81, wonders why tourism in Ethiopia hasn’t achieved at least one million tourists every year.

And that’s the reason why he doesn’t rest from immerging new innovative ideas, even in his pension. And this great man has plenty projects in mind to bring up his country’s reputation, and most recently he started designing quality neckties and scarves with features the country’s beauty paintings and alphabet to promote Ethiopian art in international level.

He is also trying to make Ethiopia host coffee carnival as a country which introduced coffee to the rest of the world which also will generate many tourist numbers.

This never resting man has the hobby of travelling, photographing, playing tennis and swimming and have been awarded on several occasions with medals, decorations, certificates from both past and present Ethiopian governments, and foreign governments for personal service, merit, and participation in major events.

In February 2011, Lij Hapte-Selassie is recognized as ‘the Father of Ethiopian Tourism’ by the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Ministry of Culture and Tourism. True, Lij Hapte-Selassie will always be remembered and respected by generations for his invaluable contributions to where the Ethiopian tourism sector is today.”

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