In 1928, the authority of Ras Tafari Makonnen was challenged when Dejazmatch Balcha Safo went to Addis Ababa with a sizeable armed force. When Tafari consolidated his hold over the provinces, many of Menelik’s appointees refused to abide by the new regulations. Balcha Safo, the governor (Shum) of coffee-rich Sidamo Province, was particularly troublesome. The revenues he remitted to the central government did not reflect the accrued profits and Tafari recalled him to Addis Ababa. The old man came in high dudgeon and, insultingly, with a large army.[nb 4] The Dejazmatch paid homage to Empress Zewditu, but snubbed Ras Tafari. On 18 February, while Balcha Safo and his personal bodyguard[nb 5] were in Addis Ababa, Ras Tafari had Ras Kassa Haile Darge bought off his army and arranged to have him displaced as the Shum of Sidamo Province by Birru Wolde Gabriel who himself was replaced by Desta Damtew.
Cover of Time magazine, 3 November 1930
Even so, the gesture of Balcha Safo empowered Empress Zewditu politically and she attempted to have Tafari tried for treason. He was tried for his benevolent dealings with Italy including a 20-year peace accord which was signed on 2 August. In September, a group of palace reactionaries including some of the courtiers of the Empress, made a final bid to get rid of Tafari. The attempted coup d’état was tragic in its origins and comic in its end. When confronted by Tafari and a company of his troops, the ringleaders of the coup took refuge on the palace grounds in Menelik’s mausoleum. Tafari and his men surrounded them only to be surrounded themselves by the personal guard of Zewditu. More of Tafari’s khaki clad soldiers arrived and, with superiority of arms, decided the outcome in his favor. Popular support, as well as the support of the police, remained with Tafari. Ultimately, the Empress relented and, on 7 October 1928, she crowned Tafari as Negus (Amharic: “King”).
The crowning of Tafari as King was controversial. He occupied the same territory as the Empress rather than going off to a regional kingdom of the empire. Two monarchs, even with one being the vassal and the other the emperor (in this case empress), had never occupied the same location as their seat in Ethiopian history. Conservatives agitated to redress this perceived insult to the dignity of the crown, leading to the rebellion of Ras Gugsa Welle. Gugsa Welle was the husband of the Empress and the Shum of Begemder Province. In early 1930, he raised an army and marched it from his governorate at Gondar towards Addis Ababa. On 31 March 1930, Gugsa Welle was met by forces loyal to Negus Tafari and was defeated at the Battle of Anchem. Gugsa Welle was killed in action. News of Gugsa Welle’s defeat and death had hardly spread through Addis Ababa when the Empress died suddenly on 2 April 1930. Although it was long rumored that the Empress was poisoned upon the defeat of her husband, or alternately that she died from shock upon hearing of the death of her estranged yet beloved husband, it has since been documented that the Empress succumbed to a flu-like fever and complications from diabetes.