Princess Seble Desta: A Remarkable Life of Royalty and Resilience
Princess Seble Desta (September 1, 1931 – January 3, 2023) was a distinguished member of the Solomonic dynasty, which held the throne in Ethiopia until 1974. Her life journey, born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was filled with royal heritage, educational accomplishments, and enduring resilience.
Early Life and Royal Lineage
Princess Seble Desta was the daughter of Princess Tenagnework Haile Selassie and Ras Desta Damtew, and she was the granddaughter of Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia and Empress Menen Asfaw. Her paternal grandfather, Fitawrari Damtew Ketema, was a heroic figure who played a vital role in Ethiopia’s victory against the Italians at the Battle of Adwa.
Among her siblings were Princess Aida Desta, Lij Amaha Desta, Princess Ruth Desta, Princess Sophia Desta, Iskinder Desta, Princess Mary Retta, and Woizerit Mentewab Andargatchew.
During Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia, Emperor Haile Selassie, Empress Menen, and many family members were exiled in Bath, England. However, Princess Seble’s father, Ras Desta, remained in Ethiopia to confront the Italian invaders. Tragically, in 1937, he was captured and killed, defying the norms for treatment of prisoners of war.
Educational Journey and Public Service
Princess Seble Desta pursued her education in England, where she attended Clarendon School for Girls and later Lady Margaret Hall College at Oxford University. Her commitment to education would become a hallmark of her life.
Throughout her illustrious life, Princess Seble accompanied Emperor Haile Selassie on numerous state visits, representing Ethiopia on the international stage. She engaged with heads of state, royalty, celebrities, and the public, fostering diplomatic relations and promoting her homeland.
In alignment with her mother and grandmother’s legacy, Princess Seble served as the President of the Ethiopian Women’s Welfare Association. During her tenure, the association constructed a state-of-the-art high-rise building in Addis Ababa. This facility provided a safe haven for young women and generated income to support the organization’s vital work.
Marriage and Family
In 1959, Princess Seble Desta married Dejazmach Kassa Wolde Mariam, the Jote heir to the Welega kingdom of Leqa Qallam. Their wedding was a momentous double celebration, shared with her sister, Princess Sophia Desta. The couple was blessed with five children: YeJote Worq Kassa, Yeshimebet Kassa, Laly (Debritu) Kassa, Kokeb Kassa, and Amaha Kassa.
Turbulent Times and Imprisonment
The year 1974 marked a turning point in Princess Seble’s life. A military junta overthrew Emperor Haile Selassie and incarcerated the Imperial Family, including Princess Tenagne Worq and her daughters. Princess Seble, who had recently given birth, was temporarily spared imprisonment. She tirelessly sought assistance for her imprisoned family members from various foreign embassies but was met with limited success.
Tragically, the junta lured members of the Imperial Family, aristocracy, military, academics, and patriots into what was presented as fair trials but proved to be a death trap. In 1974, 60 prisoners, including Princess Seble’s grandfather, uncles, husband, and brother, were imprisoned and subsequently murdered. Emperor Haile Selassie met a similar fate in 1975, leaving a profound void in the family.
Princess Seble endured 14 years of imprisonment, initially under house arrest and later in increasingly harsh conditions. She, along with her family members, was confined to a cramped 15-foot cell in Alem Bekagn prison. International efforts, including advocacy from the British and other governments, human rights organizations, and devoted friends from school and college, eventually led to their release in 1988.
Legacy and Family
Throughout her life, Princess Seble Desta was a loving mother and grandmother. She cherished her role as a matriarch and was blessed with six grandchildren: Adey Sara Kejela, Amman Samuel Kejela, Yonas Amha, Anna Amha, Kaleb Abeye, and Aden Abeye.
On January 3, 2023, at the age of 91, Princess Seble Desta passed away, leaving behind a legacy of royal grace, resilience, and an enduring commitment to her homeland and family. Her life story serves as an inspiration to generations, reflecting the strength of character that defined her remarkable journey.