Princess Aida was the granddaughter of Haile Selassie, the Emperor of Ethiopia
Princess Aida was the granddaughter of Haile Selassie, the Emperor of Ethiopia for half a century and the last in an ancient line of kings. She lived with him during his years of exile in England in the 1930s and, after he was forced from power in 1974, she was imprisoned in Ethiopia with her female relatives for more than a decade. Their incarceration was one of many thorny issues that troubled Britain’s relationship with the new Ethiopian regime.
Princess Aida Desta was born in 1927, the daughter of Princess Tenagne Work Haile-Selassie and Ras Desta Damtew, who was executed during the resistance to the Italian occupation of Ethiopia in 1936.
After Mussolini’s invasion Aida accompanied her grandfather, Emperor Haile Selassie, and her mother and sisters into exile in England where they were received with sympathy. The family lived in a villa in Bath, where the greenhouse was converted into a chapel. Her grandfather became a familiar figure around the town.
Although Haile Selassie returned to Ethiopia in 1941, having gained respect as a nationalist leader for resisting fascist Italy, Aida continued at school, first in Cornwall, then Malvern. She went on to read history at Newnham College, Cambridge. After her return to Ethiopia in 1948, she married Ras Mangasha Seyoum, a head of the Tigrean branch of the imperial dynasty.
In the 1950s and 60s, while Haile Selassie still ruled over the largely feudal country, Princess Aida would help entertain British royalty on visits to his capital Addis Ababa, hosting British wives at the English school and laying on meetings with the other royal grandchildren and luncheons while the men went duck shooting.
She accompanied her grandfather , an imposing figure, on visits to a number of European capitals where he was still much respected. In Portuagal they were escorted by naval ships to Lisbon and followed a programme of sightseeing to the old hilltop and coastal towns of Cintra, Cascais and Estoril, to monasteries and to air bases, as well as attending bull fights and banquets.
After Haile Selassie deposed by the military in a coup in 1974, Aida held virtual prisoner in a castle in the northern province of Tigray which a fiercely independent state of which her husband was the provincial governor.
Rumours abounded in Addis Ababa that Aida fled the country and her husband had been smuggled to Sudan or London or was in hiding among his people while he waited to see how the new military government would deal with his family. He later formed the Ethiopian Democratic Union.
The princess remained surrounded by armed guards in the palace, with no one admitted to enter or leave. Then she transferred to Addis Ababa and put under house arrest with other members of the royal household, including her elderly mother, sisters and female cousins.
Haile Selassie died a year later after an operation in hospital. Foreign reports that the royal women were due to be executed were rife but instead they remained imprisoned for nearly 14 years. The house in which they were held was said to be infested with rats and lice; her cousin, Princess Ejjigayehu Asfa Wossen, died. In Britain sympathetic friends and politicians, including David Harris, the MP for Bath, campaigned against the women’s unnecessary imprisonment and pleaded with the Ethiopian government to allow them to slip quietly out of the country.
Finally she released in 1988. Princess Aida resumed her life with her family, splitting her time between northern Virginia and Ethiopia.
She survived together with her husband and her six children.
Princess Aida Desta, Ethiopian princess, was born in 1927. She died on January 14, 2013.