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Kebur Zabangna
Active 1917 - 1936
1941 - 1974
Country Ethiopia Ethiopian Empire
Branch Ethiopian Imperial Guard
Type Infantry
Size 9 Battalions
Garrison/HQ Addis Ababa
Patron Emperor of Ethiopia
Engagements Second Italo-Abyssinian War

Korean War

Ceremonial chief Emperor of Ethiopia

Kebur Zabangna (amharic: ክቡር ዘበኛ) was the Ethiopian Imperial Guard. Also known as the First Division, this unit served the dual purposes of providing security for the Emperor of Ethiopia and an elite infantry division. It was not, however, part of the organizational structure of the Ethiopian regular army. The Kebur Zabangna was based at Addis Ababa.

Richard Pankhurst dates the creation of the Imperial Bodyguard (then known as the mahal safari) to 1917, when the Regent Ras Tafari (later the Emperor Haile Selassie) assembled a unit under his direct control from men who had trained in the British army in Kenya as well as a few who had served under the Italians in Tripoli.[1] In 1930, the Regent invited a Belgian military mission to train and modernize the Ethiopian military, which included the Kebur Zabangna. The unit was organized in three battalions of trained regular infantry armed with rifles, machineguns and mortars; one battalion consisted of men from the earlier mahal safari. The Kebur Zabangna also had one heavy machine-gun company. It was commanded by Ethiopian graduates of Saint Cyr, the French military academy, at the time of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia.[2] As a unit, the Imperial Bodyguard only participated in the Battle of Maychew (31 March 1936), but afterwards many of its members joined the various groups of the Ethiopian resistance.

Following the return of Emperor Haile Selassie to Ethiopia, the Kebur Zabangna was reconstituted, and a Swedish military mission aided in its training. Men for the Kagnew Battalion, which fought in the Korean War, were drawn from the Imperial Bodyguard.[3]

"It remained the elite force of the empire," notes historian Bahru Zewde, "until discredited in the wake of the attempted coup of 1960." That unsuccessful coup had been planned by its commander Brigadier-General Mengistu Neway, and his brother Germame Neway.[4] In 1961 it numbered nine battalions; in 1969 some 7,000 men. In 1974 the Commander was Major-General Tafessa Lemma. The Kebur Zabangna was disbanded after the Derg consolidated their hold on Ethiopia.


  1. ^ Richard Pankhurst, Economic History of Ethiopia (Addis Ababa: Haile Selassie University Press, 1968), p. 562
  2. ^ Bahru Zewde, A History of Modern Ethiopia, second edition (Oxford: James Currey, 2001), p. 148
  3. ^ Bahru Zewde, A History, p. 186
  4. ^ Paul B. Henze, Layers of Time (New York: Palgrave, 2000), pp. 254f.


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