By Hanna Christodoulou and Matt Darby, CNN • Updated 17th May 2016
Africa’s first black monarch, Haile Selassie, is descending on Northern Kenya to lead thousands of soldiers and leaders in commemorating the closing of World War I
On Friday, the majestic mane of a 94-year-old head of state was unveiled in the Haile Selassie military camp outside Nairobi, a mere 780 kilometers (520 miles) away from the Knesset in Jerusalem, where the sovereign crowned the modern Israeli state in 1948.
Despite Ethiopia’s short history as a sovereign state — it was born in the wake of World War I — its past military engagements are anything but ancient. The country gained independence from Italian rule in the 1920s and went on to fight two major wars with neighboring Sudan, and fought a nine-year war against British forces in the late 1940s.
The uprisings erupted in reaction to a series of what Ethiopians called “powdered bullets” — initiatives that failed to quell unrest and bloody repression. The country has also witnessed a hardline approach to dissent over the past two decades.
The Addis Ababa government, led by Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, is notorious for its crackdown on any criticism. In 2012, Ethiopia was voted the world’s most populous jail for journalists, having jailed some 90 journalists since 1998.
Most of them were taken to an isolation and special security prison just outside the capital, the Ethiopian Center for Human Rights reported.
An Ethiopian official confirmed to the BBC that Haile Selassie is an honorary guest and that he was travelling to the Kenyan capital.
Current Ethiopian troops in Eritrea
The trip is aimed at commemorating the establishment of an embassy and building links with the local Kenyan community. Ethiopia, which suffered through 26 years of war with its northern neighbor Eritrea, has said the one-day visit is intended to strengthen ties between the two countries.
According to the government, Haile Selassie — known simply as Emperor Haile Selassie — will also lay a wreath at the entrance of the national memorial to all soldiers that have lost their lives. It said that the emperor will visit the POW ward of the Kenyan military hospital in Nairobi as well as attend the military parade.
At Nairobi’s Central Mosque, a photo of Haile Selassie has been displayed in his honor.
A ticker-tape parade and a concert were planned in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park to mark the event on Saturday, said a statement on the foreign affairs ministry’s website.
News of Haile Selassie’s visit came the same day that many of the sport’s top athletes — the winners of the Olympics in the last five years — made the pilgrimage to the Ethiopian ex-king’s military camp to exchange experiences and open dialogue.
The inauguration of the military camp coincided with the African Union Summit in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa. African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat led African leaders to meet and take stock of the state of the union.
This year, the AU has adopted a “new strategy” to focus on strengthening sub-regional governance, development and security.
“One of the pillars of this strategy is the issue of peace and security, as it concerns terrorism, climate change, elections, migration and other intractable challenges facing our continent,” Mahamat said at the opening ceremony.