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Ethiopia - GOVERNMENT
THE FINAL CONGRESS of Ethiopia's Provisional Military Administrative Council marked a watershed in modern Ethiopian history. The congress, held in the capital city of Addis Ababa, was the prelude to the inauguration, in 1987, of the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, which would be guided by a vanguard Marxist-Leninist party and regime. At least nominally, thirteen years of rule by the military regime were at an end. When the Provisional Military Administrative Council had assumed power in 1974, there were no clear signs that it was committed to a Marxist-Leninist model of social transformation; neither was there any indication that it was sincere about its pledge to return Ethiopia to civilian rule. In fact, within months of seizing power, the new regime began systematically to buttress the already preeminent role of the military as the vanguard of the revolution.
Until its collapse in 1974, the Ethiopian imperial state had attempted to construct an absolutist but modernizing autocracy, a regime committed to preserving tradition while carefully guiding society into the twentieth century. Emperor Haile Selassie I, who ruled the country from 1930 to 1974, portrayed himself as a strong but compassionate leader, a model for all African statesmen. However, at a very fundamental level, the imperial state constructed by Haile Selassie was tenuously held together by a top-heavy, secularized bureaucracy and an imperial myth. Once the myth that the emperor was unassailable had been broken, the new regime began the process of reconstituting state institutions. This process was slow but methodical, and by 1989 the fruits of this institutional transformation were definitely in evidence.
The tasks of social, political, and economic reconstruction facing the new regime in 1974 were formidable. To meet these challenges, the regime attempted to fashion a new ideological foundation for society. The Provisional Military Administrative Council favored a Marxist-Leninist development model because of the organizational power it promised. The approach taken was statist and based on the principles of scientific socialism as interpreted in the Soviet Union from the time of Joseph Stalin to that of Leonid Brezhnev. At an operational level, this choice required the state's reorganization and reconstitution, the redistribution of wealth and property, the creation of a capacity for central planning, the pursuit of a state socialist development strategy under the guidance of a vanguard party of "revolutionary democrats," and the establishment of a constitutionally based "people's republic."
Ethiopia's turn toward Marxism-Leninism first became evident in early 1976 with the enunciation of the Program for the National Democratic Revolution. This document, which reflected the views of those regime members who espoused Marxism-Leninism long before they seized power, committed the regime to a noncapitalist approach to development based on the principles of scientific socialism. For the next decade, the ruling group used ideology and new socialist institutions to implement and legitimize its policies. Even when particular economic strategies were chosen, the regime seemed to be motivated by political objectives rather than driven by ideological zeal. Chief among the objectives were establishing the regime's political control and securing popular legitimacy.
By 1989 it was evident that the government had failed to consolidate its rule. Natural catastrophes such as drought and famine had taken a heavy toll. Furthermore, the regime not only was unable to control the general population, but also dozens of top-ranking officials had defected to the West, where they bitterly denounced the government. With military morale at its lowest point since 1974, disaffected senior officers attempted a coup d'état in May 1989. In addition, numerous opposition groups waged military campaigns against the government. Most notable among these were the Eritrean People's Liberation Front and the Tigray People's Liberation Front, the latter operating with several other antigovernment groups in an umbrella organization known as the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front. By early 1991, these groups controlled large stretches of territory in north-central Ethiopia and were poised to seize even more.
Moreover, by this time the Soviet Union, in the spirit of Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost (openness), had abandoned its uncritical support of Ethiopia's revolution. The winds of democracy that were sweeping across much of the communist world also meant that Ethiopia could no longer rely on its Soviet and East European allies for military and economic assistance. These developments forced the government to reconsider its efforts to deal with its opponents through military rather than political means. However, by early 1991 the government had failed to reach a negotiated settlement with the Eritrean People's Liberation Front and the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front. Thereafter, both groups launched renewed attacks that by late May brought the insurgents to power. The leaders of both insurgencies disavowed the state socialism of the military government and pledged themselves to democratic principles and free-market economics. Eritrea was also expected to become an independent country.
As early as 1976, the Soviet Union had encouraged Addis Ababa's new leaders to create a civilian-based vanguard party. The Ethiopian head of state and leader of the Provisional Military Administrative Council (PMAC; also known as the Derg), Lieutenant Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam, initially had resisted, arguing that the revolution had taken place without such a party and that there was no need for haste in creating one. However, in the late 1970s, in the wake of the regime's near collapse under the weight of armed opposition to its rule, Mengistu believed the creation of a vanguard party would accomplish the regime's goals of gaining political control over the general population and of securing popular legitimacy. Therefore, in December 1979 Mengistu announced the creation of the Commission to Organize the Party of the Workers of Ethiopia (COPWE).
The establishment of mass organizations, such as the AllEthiopia Trade Union, the All-Ethiopia Urban Dwellers' Association, and the All-Ethiopia Peasants' Association, preceded the creation of COPWE. The Revolutionary Ethiopia Youth Association, the Revolutionary Ethiopia Women's Association, the Working People's Control Committees, and various professional associations were instituted after COPWE's establishment. The idea behind the proliferation of mass organizations was to create a party that would neutralize "narrow nationalism," or sectarianism, and that would be based on broad, yet clearly defined, class interests. In response to the fiasco that resulted from efforts to create a union of Marxist-Leninist organizations in the mid-1970s, the Derg determined that the party should be one of individuals, not of political organizations. To the extent that individual interests were represented, this was to be done through mass organizations.
Mass organizations not only represented their membership at party congresses but also guarded their interests on an everyday basis. The mass organizations had educational and developmental roles. The basic units of political consciousness and involvement, then, would be party cells at work sites or in mass organizations. Individuals could belong to more than one mass organization at a time.
In determining COPWE membership, the regime tried to give the impression that a broadly representative organization had been created. Between 1,200 and 1,500 delegates from all regions and all walks of life attended the three congresses. However, the diversity of the delegates was questionable. For example, at COPWE's first congress, in 1980, more than a third of the delegates were members of the armed forces or residents of the Addis Ababa area.
The first congress unveiled the membership of the COPWE Central Committee and the Secretariat. The Secretariat, which was supervised by the top Derg leadership, consisted mainly of civilian ideologues. The Secretariat was responsible for the day-to-day administration of Central Committee business. Regional branches under the direction of military officers in each region complemented COPWE's central leadership. However, the positions of chief regional administrator and COPWE representative were divided in late 1981, with the party posts assuming greater importance. Within a year of the first congress, it was clear that COPWE was being transformed into a party that could be used by the state as an instrument of control.
By mid-1983 the COPWE bureaucracy stretched from the national center to the fourteen regions and thence to the subregional level, to peasant associations and urban dwellers' associations ( kebeles), and on down to the party cell level. At that time, there were an estimated 6,500 COPWE party cells, with a total membership estimated at 30,000 to 50,000.
Party membership, however, was not open to all. The main criterion for acceptability was loyalty to the regime rather than ideological sophistication. Although Mengistu had stressed the need for ideological purity and for only a few "committed communists," concern over ideological purity appeared to be a facade for the Derg's efforts to neutralize or preempt its opponents and thus establish the party's exclusive role in defining the normative order.
Once COPWE was in place, the Derg projected itself into the most important sectors of the central bureaucracy. Derg members served as the administrators of twelve of the fourteen regions. An additional thirty Derg members took up influential posts in subregional administration and in central ministries. After 1978 the presence of military personnel in the bureaucracy expanded so greatly that not only members of the Derg but also other trusted military men served in such roles.
The organizational model followed by COPWE was Soviet inspired. Even though there was tension between self-styled communists and nationalists in the Derg, there was an understanding that their collective position as a ruling group was unassailable. This could be seen in the distribution of power within COPWE. The most important policy-making bodies in COPWE were the Executive Committee, whose seven members all came from the Derg, and the Central Committee, which consisted of ninety-three full members and thirty alternates. Of the 123 members of the Central Committee, seventy-nine were military men or police officers. There were at least twenty Derg members in this group, and others held important regional posts in the bureaucracy as well as in COPWE. At the time of COPWE's demise, military personnel represented more than 50 percent of the congress that established the vanguard party.The Vanguard Party
The government announced the formation of the Workers' Party of Ethiopia (WPE) on September 12, 1984, the tenth anniversary of the revolution. Regional and local COPWE branches were transformed into WPE instruments, and it was announced that party congresses would be held at five-year intervals. These congresses would be responsible for electing the party Central Committee, a body of 183 members as of 1987. The Central Committee normally met twice a year. Among its duties was the election of the WPE's Political Bureau, the general secretary, and members of the WPE Secretariat. However, the Central Committee was too large and diverse to serve as an effective decision-making body. Although in the late 1980s more than half of the Central Committee's full members were former police or former military personnel, the Central Committee also included peasants, workers, trade union members, and representatives of various mass organizations.
The WPE Political Bureau had eleven full members and six alternate members. The Derg's Standing Committee and the COPWE Executive Committee had comprised the Derg's seven most influential members. The additional four members appointed to the WPE were two civilian ideologues and two career technocrats, who in the years leading up to the WPE's inauguration had become responsible for the day-to-day direction of party matters and who evidently had Mengistu's confidence.
The WPE's Political Bureau was the country's most important decision-making body. Although the Political Bureau's decisions were always made in secret, there was evidence that General Secretary Mengistu's wishes generally prevailed, no matter what the opposition. One observer suggested that whatever power or influence other Political Bureau members exerted was owed more to their closeness to Mengistu than to any formal positions they might occupy or to their personal qualities. The Political Bureau, therefore, was little more than a forum for the articulation of policies already determined personally by Mengistu.
The paramount position of the WPE was enshrined in the 1987 constitution, which stated that the party should be "the formulator of the country's development process and the leading force of the state and in society." Indeed, the WPE had become more important than the central government in determining the direction of national and local policies. Local party leaders sometimes possessed a great deal of latitude in determining approaches to policy in their regions as long as their decisions did not conflict with objectives determined in Addis Ababa. At the national level, highly politicized party representatives often exercised greater influence than the Western-trained bureaucrats in government ministries. It appeared that the government bureaucracy had to follow the lead of the party and often found its policies and procedures overridden by political decisions.
At the national level, individuals from the military, the government bureaucracy, and those ethnic groups (especially Amhara and Tigray) that had historically endorsed the notion of a unitary, "Greater Ethiopia" dominated the WPE. However, below the level of the regional first secretary of the WPE, the military and ethnic origins of party leadership became less important.
The primary task facing the WPE following its formation in 1984 was to devise the new national constitution that would inaugurate the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (PDRE). In March 1986, a 343-member Constitutional Commission was formed to draft a new constitution based on the principles of scientific socialism. Eventually, the 122 full and alternate members of the WPE Central Committee who had been appointed to its membership dominated the commission.
The Constitutional Commission had its origins in the Institute for the Study of Ethiopian Nationalities, which the Derg had established in March 1983 to find solutions to problems resulting from Ethiopia's extreme ethnic diversity. The institute was staffed mostly by academics from Addis Ababa University, who continued to serve as advisers to the Constitutional Commission. The commission's diverse membership included religious leaders, artists, writers, doctors, academics, athletes, workers, and former nobility. There was also an attempt by those who chose appointees to the commission to make sure that all major ethnic nationalities had representation in the body.
For about six months, the commission debated the details of the new constitution. In June 1986, it issued a 120-article draft document. The government printed and distributed 1 million copies to kebeles and peasant associations throughout the country. During the next two months, the draft was discussed at about 25,000 locations. The regime used this method of discussion to legitimize the constitution-making process and to test the mood of the populace. In some cases, people attended constitutional discussion sessions only after pressure from local WPE cadres, but in other cases attendance was voluntary. Where popular interest was apparent, it centered on issues such as taxes, the role of religion, marriage, the organization of elections, and citizenship rights and obligations. By far the most controversial draft provision was the one that outlawed polygamy, which caused a furor among Muslims. Few questions were raised about the document's failure to address the nationalities problem and the right to selfdetermination . According to government officials, the citizenry submitted more than 500,000 suggested revisions. In August the commission reconvened to consider proposed amendments. In all, the commission accepted ninety-five amendments to the original draft. Most of the changes, however, were cosmetic.
The referendum on the constitution was held on February 1, 1987, and Mengistu announced the results three weeks later. He reported that 96 percent of the 14 million people eligible to participate (adults eighteen years of age and older) actually voted. Eighty-one percent of the electorate endorsed the constitution, while 18 percent opposed it (1 percent of the ballots were invalid). Although this was the first election in Ethiopia's history based on universal suffrage, the presence of communist cadres throughout the country ensured that the constitution would be adopted. In Tigray and Eritrea, however, the regime held referenda only in urban centers because much of these territories was controlled by the Tigray People's Liberation Front and the Eritrean People's Liberation Front, respectively. In other places, such as parts of Welo and Gonder regions, the vote took place amid heightened security measures.
The constitution officially took effect on February 22, 1987, when the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia was proclaimed, although it was not until September that the new government was fully in place and the PMAC formally abolished. The document, which established the normative foundations of the republic, consisted of seventeen chapters and 119 articles. The preamble traced Ethiopia's origins back to antiquity, proclaimed the historical heroism of its people, praised the country's substantial natural and human resources, and pledged to continue the struggle against imperialism, poverty, and hunger. The government's primary concern was proclaimed to be the country's development through the implementation of the Program for the National Democratic Revolution (PNDR). In the process, it was assumed that the material and technical bases necessary for establishing socialism would be created.
The constitution attempted to situate Ethiopia in the context of the worldwide movement of so-called "progressive states" and made no direct reference to Africa. Critics claim that the constitution was no more than an abridged version of the 1977 Soviet constitution, with the exception that strong powers were assigned to the newly created office of the president. A second difference between the Ethiopian and Soviet constitutions is that the former declared the country to be a unitary state rather than a union of republics. It was reported that the problem of nationalities was hotly debated in the Constitutional Commission, as well as in the WPE Central Committee, but the regime would not abandon its desire to create a single multiethnic state rather than a federation.
Chapter 1 of the constitution defined Ethiopia's social order. The People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (PDRE) was declared to be "a state of working peasants in which the intelligentsia, the revolutionary army, artisans, and other democratic sections of society participate." The commitment to socialist construction was reaffirmed, as was the idea of egalitarianism within the context of a unitary state. The official language remained Amharic. The functioning and organization of the country was proclaimed to be based on the principles of democratic centralism, under which representative party and state organs are elected by lower bodies. The vanguard character of the WPE was asserted, and its roles as well as those of mass organizations were spelled out.
Chapter 2 dealt with the country's economic system. The state was dedicated to the creation of a "highly interdependent and integrated national economy" and to the establishment of conditions favorable to development. In addition, the constitution committed the state to central planning; state ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange; and expansion of cooperative ownership among the general population.
Chapter 3 addressed social issues, ranging from education and the family to historical preservation and cultural heritage. The family was described as the basis of society and therefore deserving of special attention by means of the joint efforts of state and society. In addition, the constitution pledged that health insurance and other social services would be expanded through state leadership.
National defense was the subject of Chapter 4. The first article asserted the nation's need to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity and to safeguard the accomplishments of the revolution. It was declared that the Ethiopian people had a historical responsibility to defend the country. The defense force was to be the army of the country's working people. The army's fundamental role would be to secure peace and socialism.
Foreign policy objectives were spelled out in four brief articles in Chapter 5 and were based on the principles of proletarian internationalism, peaceful coexistence, and nonalignment. In many respects, the language of this section resembled that of a constitution of a Warsaw Pact country in the days before glasnost.
Chapters 6 and 7 were concerned with defining citizenship and spelling out the freedoms, rights, and duties of citizens. The language was egalitarian, and Ethiopians were declared to be equal before the law, regardless of nationality, sex, religion, occupation, and social or other status. They had the right to marry, to work, to rest, to receive free education, and to have access to health care and to a fair trial. Ethiopians were guaranteed freedom of conscience and religion. As was not the case in imperial Ethiopia, religion and the state were proclaimed to be separate institutions. Citizens were assured the freedoms of movement, speech, press, assembly, peaceful demonstration, and association. Regarding political participation, citizens had the right to vote and the right to be elected to political office. Their duties included national military service, protection of socialist state property, protection of the environment, and observance of the constitution and laws of the country.
In spite of the attention the constitution paid to basic freedoms, until the last days of the regime international human rights organizations were virtually unanimous in condemning the Mengistu regime. Summary execution, political detention, torture, and forced migration represented only some of the violations cited by these groups.
The constitution's most detailed sections related to the central government's organization and activities. In these sections, the document described the various state organs and explained their relationship to one another.
The supreme organ of state power was the National Shengo (National Assembly). Its responsibilities included amending the constitution; determining foreign, defense, and security policy; establishing the boundaries, status, and accountability of administrative regions; and approving economic plans. The National Shengo was also responsible for establishing the Council of State; the Council of Ministers, ministries, state committees, commissions, and state authorities; the Supreme Court; the Office of the Prosecutor General; the National Workers' Control Committee; and the Office of the Auditor General. In addition, the National Shengo elected the president and officials of the Council of State and approved the appointment of other high-ranking authorities.
Candidates to the National Shengo had to be nominated by regional branches of the WPE, mass organizations, military units, and other associations recognized by law. Balloting for seats in the National Shengo was required to be secret, and all individuals eighteen years of age and above were eligible to vote. Elected members served five-year terms, and the body met in regular session once each year. These sessions were usually public but might on occasion be held in camera. In 1987 the National Shengo had 835 members.
The Council of State, consisting of the president of the republic, several vice presidents, a secretary, and other members, was an organ of the National Shengo. The Council of State served as the most active oversight arm of the government, and it exercised the national legislative role when the National Shengo was not in session. In addition to its normal functions, the Council of State was empowered to establish a defense council and might be assigned special duties by the National Shengo. The Council of State had the further authority to issue decrees in the pursuit of the duties stipulated by law or assigned by the National Shengo. The power of this organ was evident in the constitutional provision that stated, "When compelling circumstances warrant it, the Council of State may, between sessions of the National Shengo, proclaim a state of emergency, war, martial law, mobilization or peace."
The 1987 constitution established the office of president. Theoretically, the Council of State ruled along with the president and exercised legislative oversight in relation to other branches of government. In reality, however, the office of the president in particular and the executive branch in general were the most powerful branches of government. The president was able to act with considerable independence from the National Shengo.
Although the constitution stipulated that the president was accountable to the National Shengo, Mengistu demonstrated repeatedly that there was no authority higher than his own office. By law he was responsible for presenting members of his executive staff and the Supreme Court to the National Shengo for election. At the same time, the president, "when compelling circumstances warrant it" between sessions of the National Shengo, could appoint or relieve the prime minister, the deputy prime minister, and other members of the Council of Ministers; the president, the vice president, and Supreme Court judges; the prosecutor general; the chairman of the National Workers' Control Committee; and the auditor general. The National Shengo was by law supposed to act on such decrees in its next regular session, but this appeared to be only pro forma.
The president, who could be elected to an indefinite number of successive five-year terms, had to submit nominations for appointment to the Council of Ministers (his cabinet) to the National Shengo for approval. However, by the time nominations reached the National Shengo for consideration, their appointment was a foregone conclusion. In practice, President Mengistu would chose individuals for particular offices without any apparent input from the National Shengo, the WPE, or the Council of State.
The president, who was also commander in chief of the armed forces, was also responsible for implementing foreign and domestic policy, concluding international treaties, and establishing diplomatic missions. If he deemed it necessary, the president could rule by decree.
The Council of Ministers, defined in the constitution as "the Government," was the government's highest executive and administrative organ. The body consisted of the prime minister, the deputy prime minister, the ministers, and other members as determined by law. Members were accountable to the National Shengo, but between sessions they were accountable to the president and the Council of State. Members of this council were chosen from regularly elected members of the National Shengo and served five-year terms, unless they resigned or were removed by the president. For example, in early November 1989 Prime Minister FikreSelassie Wogderes resigned his office, allegedly for health reasons. However, some reports maintained that he was forced out by Mengistu because of his apparent loss of enthusiasm for the regime's policies. At the same time, Mengistu reshuffled his cabinet. Significantly, these events occurred weeks after the annual session of the National Shengo had concluded.
The Council of Ministers was responsible for the implementation of laws and regulations and for the normal administrative functions of national government. It prepared social and economic development plans, the annual budget, and proposals concerning foreign relations. In their respective areas of responsibility, members of the Council of Ministers were the direct representatives of the president and the government; and because they typically held parallel offices within the WPE, as a group they tended to be the most significant political actors in the government.
In 1991 there were twenty-one ministries. Portfolios consisted of the Ministry in Charge of the General Plan and the ministries of agriculture; coffee and tea development; communications and transport; construction; culture and sports affairs; domestic trade; education and fine arts; finance; foreign affairs; foreign trade; health; industry; information; internal affairs; labor and social affairs; law and justice; mines, energy, and water resources; national defense; state farms; and urban development and housing. In addition to these ministries, there were several other important state authorities, such as the Office of the National Council for Central Planning, the Institute for the Study of Ethiopian Nationalities, the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission, and the National Bank of Ethiopia.
The constitution provided for Ethiopia's first independent judiciary. Traditionally, the Supreme Court and various lower courts were the responsibility of the Ministry of Law and Justice. After Haile Selassie's overthrow, much of the formal structure of the existing judicial structure remained intact. Over the years, regional and district level courts were reformed somewhat. However, the new constitutional provisions had the potential to change Ethiopia's national judicial system significantly.
The constitution stipulated that judicial authority was vested in "one Supreme Court, courts of administrative and autonomous regions, and other courts established by law." Supreme Court judges were elected by the National Shengo; those who served at the regional level were elected by regional shengos (assemblies). In each case, the judges served terms concurrent with that of the shengo that elected them. The Supreme Court and higher courts at the regional level were independent of the Ministry of Law and Justice, but judges could be recalled by the relevant shengo.
The Supreme Court was responsible for administering the national judicial system. The court's powers were expanded to oversee all judicial aspects of lesser courts, not just cases appealed to it. At the request of the prosecutor general or the president of the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court could review any case from another court. Noteworthy is the fact that, in addition to separate civil and criminal sections, the court had a military section. In the late 1980s, it was thought that this development might bring the military justice system, which had been independent, into the normal judicial system. However, it became evident that it would be some time before the Supreme Court could begin to serve this function adequately.
Between 1987 and 1989, the government undertook a restructuring of the Supreme Court with the intent of improving the supervision of judges and of making the administration of justice fairer and more efficient. The Supreme Court Council was responsible for overseeing the court's work relating to the registration and training of judges and lawyers. The Supreme Court Council's first annual meeting was held in August 1988, at which time it passed rules of procedure and rules and regulations for judges. Although the government reported that the courts were becoming more efficient, it admitted that there was much to be done before the heavy case burden of the courts could be relieved.
Chapter 15 of the constitution established the Office of the Prosecutor General, which was responsible for ensuring the uniform application and enforcement of law by all state organs, mass organizations, and other bodies. The prosecutor general was elected by the National Shengo for a five-year term and was responsible for appointing and supervising prosecutors at all levels. In carrying out their responsibilities, these officials were independent of local government offices.
Local tribunals, such as kebele tribunals and peasant association tribunals, were not affected by the 1987 constitution. People's courts were originally established under the jurisdiction of peasant associations and kebeles. All matters relating to land redistribution and expropriation were removed from the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Law and Justice and placed under the jurisdiction of the peasant association tribunals, whose members were elected by association members. In addition, such tribunals had jurisdiction over a number of minor criminal offenses, including intimidation, violation of the privacy of domicile, and infractions of peasant association regulations. The tribunals also had jurisdiction in disputes involving small sums of money and in conflicts between peasant associations, their members, and other associations. Appeals from people's tribunals could be filed with regional courts. Kebele tribunals had powers similar to those of their counterparts in peasant associations.
When it assumed power in 1974, the Derg only slightly reordered the imperial regime's pattern of administrative organization at the national level. By contrast, the new regime saw existing local administration as anathema to the objectives of socialist construction, and its reform efforts were initially more evident on the local level than in the central bureaucracy.
Immediately after assuming power, the Derg reorganized Ethiopia's fourteen provincial administrations and replaced all serving governors general. The fourteen provinces (teklay ghizats) were relabeled regions (kifle hagers) and were divided into 102 subregions (awrajas) and 556 districts (weredas). (By 1981 the number of administrative divisions had increased to sixteen with the addition of Addis Ababa and Aseb.) The restructuring was a major step toward dismantling feudal privilege. Moreover, all new appointees were either military men or university-educated individuals who were considered progressives.
The main charge of these new administrators initially was to promote development, and the maintenance of law and order was considered only of secondary importance. Despite the commitment to rural development and to the staffing of regional administrative positions with young, dynamic, educated people, not much could be done to accelerate the process of change. Field bureaucrats had few resources to work with, their staffs were small, and their budgets were committed almost exclusively to salaries. By the mid-1980s, the relief and rehabilitation contributions of foreign private voluntary organizations in some cases made more resources available at the local level than did the regional administrations.
After having concentrated on a gradual transformation of the state's administrative structure, with the promulgation of the 1987 constitution the Mengistu regime prepared for a further reorganization of regional administration. Hence, at its inaugural session, the National Shengo enacted a government plan for the administrative reorganization of regional government. As a result, twenty-five administrative regions and five autonomous regions were created. The autonomous regions consisted of Eritrea (broken further into three subregions in the north, west, and south), Aseb, Tigray, Dire Dawa, and Ogaden. The change promised to alter significantly Ethiopia's traditional pattern of administrative organization.
If the plan were to be fully implemented, this reorganization would have required a dramatic expansion in the government and party bureaucracy. Relatively new institutions, like regional planning bodies, would have been eliminated and replaced with new planning agencies in the various regions. Some observers suggested that this plan was initially endorsed to pursue a Soviet-style approach to the nationalities problem. They argued that the regime was trying to organize regional administration along ethnic lines. Consequently, this reform had little positive effect on enhancing the regime's legitimacy and in fact limited its control over the general population.
The primary organs of state power at the regional level were regional shengos. These bodies were responsible mainly for implementing the central government's laws and decisions. Regional shengos could draft their own budgets and development plans, but these had to be approved by the National Shengo. Regional shengos also possessed some latitude in devising and enforcing local laws and regulations and in electing local judges. By the summer of 1989, however, regional shengos had been elected in only eleven of the twenty-five newly designated administrative regions and in only three of the five regions designated as "autonomous."
During its thirteen-year existence (1974 to 1987), the Derg worked to spread administrative reform down to the lowest echelons of regional administration. To this end, it took several important steps in 1975.
With its Land Reform Proclamation in March 1975, the Derg abolished the lowest level of rural administration, the balabat , and called for the formation of peasant associations that would be responsible for the implementation and enforcement of the land reform measures. Later in the year, the Derg issued Proclamation No. 71, which gave peasant associations legal status and authorized them to create "conditions facilitating the complete destruction of the feudal order." It also empowered the associations' executive committees to draft internal regulations that would, in theory, devolve more power to local communities. These associations were to be guided initially by students in the Development Through Cooperation Campaign (commonly referred to as zemecha), who were expected to teach peasants about the revolution's goals. Students were also supposed to help local communities plan and implement development programs in their areas.
Initially, it was not clear how much power, authority, or autonomy the regime intended to devolve to local institutions. Consequently, state agents often came into conflict with local organizations under the guidance of students who were often more radical and politically astute than government functionaries. By 1976, to bring local communities under tighter central control, the Derg introduced laws spelling out the rights and obligations of peasant associations and kebeles.
To the extent that peasant associations maintained some of their initial autonomy, they did so almost exclusively with regard to local issues. On national issues, the regime, through the party and other agencies, manipulated peasant associations to suit its purposes. After 1978, for example, production cadres and political cadres of the National Revolutionary Development Campaign (and later the WPE) played important roles in motivating peasant production and in political indoctrination. State control of local associations was also a natural by-product of the villagization and resettlement programs of the mid- to late 1980s.
By 1990 there were more than 20,000 peasant associations throughout the country. They represented the lowest level of government administration and, in collaboration with the local WPE office, were responsible for processing and interpreting national policies, maintaining law and order, and planning and implementing certain local development policies. State control grew further in 1975 when the Derg promoted the formation of the All-Ethiopia Peasants' Association (AEPA), a national association having district offices responsible for overseeing the activities of local associations. Before the WPE's formation, AEPA district representatives exercised supervisory powers over the associations under their jurisdiction. The management of elections, investigations into allegations of mismanagement, changes to association boundaries, and organization of political meetings all came under the purview of the AEPA district representative. However, by 1989 WPE cadres were active in monitoring and providing guidance to local peasant associations.
In July 1975, the Derg issued Proclamation No. 47, which established kebeles, or urban dwellers' associations, in Addis Ababa and five other urban centers. Organized similarly to peasant associations, Addis Ababa's 291 kebeles possessed neighborhood constituencies ranging from 3,000 to 12,000 residents each. Like the peasant associations in the countryside, the kebeles were initially responsible only for the collection of rent, the establishment of local judicial tribunals, and the provision of basic health, education, and other social services in their neighborhoods. Kebele powers were expanded in late 1976 to include the collection of local taxes and the registration of houses, residents, births, deaths, and marriages.
During the height of the Red Terror, kebeles were responsible for ensuring neighborhood defense. Neighborhood defense squads patrolled their communities day and night and sometimes operated outside the control of the central authorities. Many brutal excesses were attributed to kebele defense squads between 1976 and 1978, but they were more closely monitored thereafter.
In April 1981, the Derg issued Proclamation No. 25, which provided kebeles with extended powers and a more elaborate administrative structure. According to this new structure, the general assembly, composed of all kebele residents, was empowered to elect a policy committee, which in turn was authorized to appoint the executive committee, the revolution defense committee, and the judicial tribunal. At the time of this proclamation, there were 1,260 kebeles in 315 towns.
The government estimated national kebele membership in the late 1980s at 4.4 million. The All-Ethiopia Urban Dwellers' Association (AEUDA) linked kebeles throughout the country. This organization's bureaucracy extended, in layers that paralleled the central bureaucracy, down to the neighborhood level. However, as in the countryside, the WPE had become the most important political institution, capable of overriding decisions taken by kebeles as well as by peasant associations.
Upon assuming power in 1974, the Derg decided to undertake extensive reforms of the central administration. Rather than engage in immediate, wholesale reorganization, the Derg concentrated on replacing career bureaucrats in the key ministries of interior, community development, and justice. If the Derg had purged the upper echelons of the entire civil service after 1974, there would have been insufficient numbers of educated, skilled, and experienced managers to conduct the normal affairs of government.
In general, the Derg allowed most bureaucrats who had served the emperor to remain at their posts and appointed army officers to monitor their activities in every ministry. At the same time, the Derg attempted to recruit into the civil service former high school and college students who were then serving in the zemecha. This group tended to be committed to revolutionary change, but it often lacked the bureaucratic skills to achieve this goal. Moreover, although the campaigners generally favored the revolution, many opposed military rule, and once in positions of authority they undermined rather than promoted the regime's goals.
Eventually, the Derg required all civil servants and political appointees to undergo reeducation to acquire the proper socialist orientation. Many civil servants, as well as military personnel, traveled to the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and Cuba for ideological training. After the establishment in 1976 of the Yekatit '66 Ideological School and after the creation of COPWE in 1979, hundreds more could be taught Marxist-Leninist doctrine inside Ethiopia. Some became party cadres and served in various parts of the country to encourage and monitor the political education and economic productivity of both government agencies and the citizenry at large.
In the early days of the revolution, the central bureaucracy was characterized by constant bickering among the various ministries and a general lack of interministerial coordination. This situation forced the Derg to create the Ministry of National Resource Development in 1975 to promote agricultural development as a possible solution to interministerial coordination problems and to address the problem of low productivity within society at large. By 1976 this strategy had failed, and the functions of the Ministry of National Resource Development were distributed among several ministries and parastatal bodies. The creation of the Central Planning Supreme Council in 1978 represented a more concerted attempt to coordinate bureaucratic participation in development. This strategy worked for a brief time, but by the late 1980s bureaucratic inefficiency had returned.
Starting in 1978, the Mengistu regime systematically attempted to enhance its ability to control the general population, and to a certain extent it used the civil service for this purpose. The state bureaucracy expanded enormously in the first decade of the revolution, and control by the military deepened and expanded in the process. This bureaucratic expansion increased the coercive capacity of the state and laid the groundwork for the establishment of the all-embracing vanguard party. After the creation of the WPE in 1984, the regime established a wide array of government institutions that radiated from the center out to the regional and local levels. Leadership positions in these new institutions were used as patronage by the regime to reward loyal supporters or to co-opt potential adversaries in the military. Although patronage had been employed by Haile Selassie, it was different under the Mengistu regime in that it was not rooted in the traditional social order but rather in the spoils accruing to a transitional state that controlled access to wealth and power.
The inauguration of the WPE resulted in a blurring of the lines between party and state. As noted previously, party operatives tended to interject themselves freely into the areas of administration and government policy. For example, party cadres had important political and intelligencegathering roles in the workplace. The Working People's Control Committees (WPCCs), created in 1981, had come to serve as a somewhat threatening "watchdog" over productive activities. WPCCs were supposed to be involved in the implementation, supervision, and follow-up of government policies, regulations, and directives. WPCCs also could audit the accounts of any government institution, mass organization, or private individual. By 1984 the regime was crediting WPCCs with having uncovered numerous incidents of fraud, corruption, waste, and counterrevolution. For all its authoritarianism, the Haile Selassie regime was never able to achieve such tight surveillance. The Derg's capacity in this area was an indication of the effectiveness of the training provided by security advisers from the Soviet Union and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).
Although it was difficult to calculate its actual size, the central bureaucracy evidently grew tremendously after the revolution. The dimensions of this growth can be deduced from an analysis of consumption expenditures, which include wages and salaries. Figures available in late 1989 indicated that between 1974 and 1980 such expenditure grew from about 5 billion birr to almost 8 billion birr, an increase of 60 percent. Central administration and defense accounted for about 80 percent of the 1980 figures. The growth of the public bureaucracy, even when the party bureaucracy was excluded, represented a tremendous drain on the resources available for development. Moreover, it appeared that if the regional reforms announced in 1987 were to be implemented fully, the civil service would have to expand even further.
During the 1980s, the government attempted to consolidate the revolution both structurally and ideologically. When it assumed power in 1974, the Derg pledged immediate attention to the social injustices that had been perpetrated by the imperial regime. In the revolution's earliest stages, the Derg's commitment to this pledge was manifested in particular by policies such as the nationalization of rural and urban property. The first year and a half of the new order could be described as a "phase of redistribution." In the name of the "people," the "toiling masses," and the "oppressed tillers of the soil," the government confiscated property previously owned by the nobility and other persons of wealth and redistributed it to peasants, tenants, and renters.
Peasants and workers expected that the new order would bring about a fundamental change in their circumstances, and to a certain extent this did happen. They also expected to be involved in determining their own fate; this, however, did not occur. The Derg quickly declared its own preeminent role as the vanguard of the revolution, causing concern among urban workers that their role was being minimized. When labor tried to become more instrumental in the changes that were beginning to take place, the government suppressed the workers' movement. The Derg condemned the Confederation of Ethiopian Labor Unions (CELU) as reactionary and disbanded it in late 1975. In its place, in 1977 the regime created the All-Ethiopia Trade Union (AETU), a confederation of 1,700 unions whose rank and file numbered more than 300,000 in 1984. The regime thus co-opted the labor movement, and after 1976 the government seemed free to devise its own social development strategy without much input from the groups that would be most affected.
The Derg tried to develop a social policy strategy to enhance its power and legitimacy. To this end, the government achieved progress in fields such as education and health care. In 1979, for example, Ethiopia launched a massive rural literacy campaign; the government also established hundreds of health stations to provide minimal health care to the citizenry. However, it proved unable to effect dramatic improvements in the quality of life among broad segments of the population. In part, this was because Ethiopia had long been one of the world's poorest countries. At the same time, two additional factors greatly affected the performance of the Mengistu regime: the interaction of natural catastrophes and civil unrest, and misguided development policies such as resettlement and villagization.
The Derg's limited ability to lead development and to respond to crises was dramatically demonstrated by the government's reliance on foreign famine relief between 1984 and 1989. By 1983 armed conflict between the government and opposition movements in the north had combined with drought to contribute to mass starvation in Eritrea, Tigray, and Welo. Meanwhile, drought alone was having a devastating impact on an additional nine regions. This natural disaster far exceeded the drought of 1973-74, which had contributed to the demise of the Haile Selassie regime. By early 1985, some 7.7 million people were suffering from drought and food shortages. Of that number, 2.5 million were at immediate risk of starving. More than 300,000 died in 1984 alone, more than twice the number that died in the drought a decade before. Before the worst was over, 1 million Ethiopians had died from drought and famine in the 1980s.
As it had in the past, in the mid-1980s the international community responded generously to Ethiopia's tragedy once the dimensions of the crisis became understood. Bilateral, multilateral, and private donations of food and other relief supplies poured into the country by late 1984. Contributions ranged from food to transport trucks, antibiotics, welldrilling equipment, and technical assistance. Fund raising by spontaneously created volunteer organizations in the West, such as USA for Africa, BandAid, and numerous church and humanitarian groups, was instrumental to the provision of substantial nongovernment famine relief. Most of the money and supplies sent to Ethiopia, however, were provided by Western governments, in particular those of Britain, Canada, Italy, the Scandinavian countries, and the United States. Ethiopia's Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (RRC), at the time headed by an Ethiopian official named Dawit Wolde Giorgis, coordinated delivery of this assistance. Although Mengistu and other members of the Derg were nervous about the prospect of so many Westerners flooding into the country and having access to areas where the regime was not popular, Dawit apparently was able to develop enough trust in the international aid community to bring the catastrophe under control by late 1986 (Dawit later defected to the United States).
By 1987 the physical impact of this massive influx of aid over such a short time was noticeable not only in the abatement of famine but also in what seemed to be the permanent establishment of local offices by various donor agencies. Although many foreign relief workers had returned home by 1987, some relief agencies remained to attempt to begin the rehabilitation and development processes. These would have been difficult tasks under the best of circumstances, but in the context of a regime pursuing a specific political agenda in spite of the unprecedented humanitarian imperatives involved in the situation, those agencies that remained had difficulty engaging in effective rehabilitation and development. In the countryside, the WPE often closely regulated the activities of foreign and local nongovernment agencies. At one point in the spring of 1989, the WPE forbade the International Committee of the Red Cross to operate in areas most severely ravaged by war. Before the year was out, drought and war again threatened the lives of more than 7 million people.
Despite drought and famine of unprecedented proportions in modern Ethiopian history, the Derg persisted on its controversial political course. If the famine had a positive side for the government, it was that the flood of famine relief assistance during the period of party construction and constitution-making allowed the regime to devote more of its budget to suppression of the rebellions in Eritrea and Tigray. However, by late 1989 drought, famine, and war, combined with so-called "aid fatigue" among many donors, forced the regime to take desperate measures. The government reinstated national conscription, required workers to give one month's salary to aid in combating famine and war, and halved the development budget as funds were diverted to defense.
The Derg's policies appear to have been driven more by political imperatives than by perceived economic objectives. A case in point was the controversial policy of resettling the victims of the drought and famine outside their home areas. At the height of the drought and famine in 1984, the regime set in motion a resettlement policy that was initially designed to relocate 1.5 million people from areas in the north most severely affected by drought to areas in the west and south that had experienced adequate rainfall. By 1988, despite the resettlement program's obvious failure, President Mengistu repeatedly asserted that the program would continue. He estimated that eventually 7 million of Ethiopia's approximately 48 million people would be resettled. The government claimed that it was carrying out the program for humanitarian reasons, contending that it would remove the people from exhausted and unproductive land and place them in settlements with rich agricultural potential. In addition, the government argued that the new settlements would greatly facilitate its efforts to provide social services.
Initially, settlers were chosen from feeding centers in Welo, Tigray, and northern Shewa and transported by trucks, buses, and cargo aircraft to resettlement sites in Kefa, Gojam, Gonder, Welega, and Ilubabor. The government was poorly prepared for the operation, and the first settlers experienced tremendous hardships in alien, underdeveloped, and disease-infested areas. Some peasants moved voluntarily, but many more were forced to move. Many of those forcibly resettled were able to escape. Some fled into Sudan or Somalia, and others took shelter in refugee camps or walked thousands of miles to reenter their native regions. Still others joined opposition groups dedicated to overthrowing the regime. Those who remained in resettled areas were often resented by the local residents, many of whom had been impressed into building community infrastructure and donating materials.
Some critics rejected the government's argument that resettlement was driven by humanitarian considerations. Instead, they contended that the government's motives were political. The policy led to a depopulation of areas that harbored groups that militarily opposed the regime, such as the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF), the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).
Critics within the international community charged that the Ethiopian government's resettlement program served as an obstacle to dealing more effectively with the problems of drought and famine relief. Moving victims to settlements far from their home areas merely made them inordinately dependent on the government. In addition, they claimed that fundamental human rights were sacrificed in the name of political expediency.
Regardless of the real motive for the resettlement policy, its net effect was to increase government control over large segments of society. In each resettlement site, WPE cadres carried out political education and attempted to stimulate the population to be more productive. The government insisted that it was not trying to enforce collectivized agricultural production but rather was trying to encourage more efficient activities. However, in actual practice, cadres pressured peasants to form collectives. The main value of this policy for the regime seems to have been the political control it promised.
Further evidence of the Ethiopian government's desire to enhance its control over the citizenry was its villagization program. The idea of clustering villages was introduced in the Land Reform Proclamation of 1975; however, there was no immediate effort to implement such a policy on a large scale. The first area to become the object of serious government efforts was Bale, following the onset of the Ogaden War of 1977-78. At that time, ethnic Somali and Oromo living in Bale were forced by the Ethiopian government into strategically clustered villages. The official objective of the move was to provide social services more efficiently and to stimulate voluntary selfhelp among villagers. By 1983 there were 519 villagized communities ranging in population from 300 to 7,000.
The government did not introduce a comprehensive villagization plan until 1985. In January of that year, the villagization process began in earnest in Harerge, and by May there were some 2,000 villagized communities there. That summer, the process was begun in Shewa and Arsi, and in 1986 small-scale villagization efforts were begun in Gojam, Welega, Kefa, Sidamo, and Ilubabor. The National Villagization Coordinating Committee of the Ministry of Agriculture, in collaboration with the WPE, organized and managed the project. By March 1987, it was estimated that there were as many as 10,000 villagized communities throughout the country. The long-term goal of the program was the movement of 33 million rural residents-- approximately two-thirds of the nation's population--into villagized settlements by 1994. By late 1989, however, only about 13 million peasants had been villagized.
The WPE introduced guidelines for site selection, village layout, and related matters. At the regional level, a committee planned, coordinated, and monitored the program through a network of subcommittees (planning and programming; site selection and surveying; material procurement, transportation, and logistics; construction; propaganda and training; monitoring and evaluation; and security). This structure was replicated in successive administrative layers down to the peasant associations--the level with ultimate responsibility for implementation.
In some regions of the country, the decision to villagize was a voluntary one, but in others the process was compulsory. In either case, peasants were required to dismantle their homes and, where possible, transport the housing materials to the new village site. Campaigners were usually brought in by the party and government to help the people physically reconstruct their communities.
Like resettlement, villagization generally caused a good deal of social disruption. Families usually were required to move from their traditional locations, close to their customary farming plots, into clustered villages where the land to be cultivated often was on fragmented plots far from the homestead.
The villagization program was most successful in the central highlands and southern lowlands, regions such as central Shewa, Arsi, and highland Harerge that were firmly under government control. Government efforts to villagize parts of western Shewa, the Harerge lowlands, and Gojam met with resistance. In the case of Gojam and western Shewa, this resistance in large measure was attributed to the fact that the TPLF and the Ethiopian People's Democratic Movement (EPDM) were most active in those regions. The Harerge lowlands were populated by ethnic Somali who were not as cooperative with the government as were the highlanders, who tended to be Oromo.
But not all Oromo peasants readily supported the villagization program. Many fled from new villages in Harerge after 1986, taking refuge in camps in Somalia. By June 1986, an estimated 50,000 such refugees had fled resettlement, mainly for political reasons. Some refugees complained that they were forced to abandon their traditional patterns of cultivation and to move into villages where they had to farm collectively and to participate in "food for work" programs. Private humanitarian agencies and bilateral and multilateral development agencies were apparently aware of alleged, as well as real, violations of human rights associated with the villagization program. Nonetheless, by early 1987 many seem to have turned a blind eye to such incidents and to have concentrated on the humanitarian dimensions of their work.
On purely technical grounds, villagization, like resettlement, seemed to make sense. The official goal was to improve the access of rural residents to social services and to strengthen the ability of rural communities to defend themselves. Another motive, however, seemed to be the conversion of villagized communities into producers' cooperatives or collectives, as well as into centers for military recruitment.
Modern Ethiopian political history has been shaped and dominated by intense conflict. As the revolution unfolded in 1973 and 1974, the political environment appeared to liberalize, and political discourse became more open than at any other time in Ethiopian history. This was particularly true in urban centers, such as the capital city of Addis Ababa. In the rural areas, groups incorporated into Ethiopia in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, such as the Oromo, Afar, Somali, and Eritreans, began to step up their demands for self-determination. Several of these groups questioned the very legitimacy of the Ethiopian state. The Derg was in essence being challenged to devise a survival strategy that would enhance its control over government and politics and create a basis for popular legitimacy. Various reorganizational and institution-building policies, such as the establishment of the Program for the National Democratic Revolution (PNDR), the creation of the WPE, and the promulgation of the 1987 constitution, were all designed to achieve these ends.
The period immediately following the overthrow of Haile Selassie was a time of open political debate. The new regime did not have a clearly defined ideology, but it was swept along by the growing radical discourse among members of the civilian left. Initially, the Derg tried to win the support of the Ethiopian left by declaring its socialist intentions in its program statement, Ethiopia Tikdem (Ethiopia First). The economic and social policies articulated in this document were populist in tone and did little to co-opt the civilian left.
Once it became clear that the Derg had assigned to itself the vanguard role in the revolution, elements in the civilian left began to criticize the new regime. Chief among such critics was the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party (EPRP). By 1976 the EPRP had become engaged in a systematic campaign to undermine and discredit the Derg. The party was successful in infiltrating the zemecha, the CELU, and even the Provisional Office for Mass Organizational Affairs (POMOA), the precursor to the Yekatit '66 Ideological School. At the height of its activities, the EPRP included students, intellectuals, teachers, merchants, and government bureaucrats. It even had sympathizers within the military.
During the late 1970s, apart from the military, the Derg relied for support on the All-Ethiopia Socialist Movement (whose Amharic acronym was MEISON). Rather than challenge the vanguard role of the military, MEISON entered into a strategic alliance with the Derg, accepting its hegemony at least for the short term. In the highly charged political climate of the moment, MEISON engaged in vigorous debate with the EPRP over the most appropriate strategy for reconstructing Ethiopian society. The debate between the two groups first took place in their organizations' newspapers and in pamphlets but later moved to the streets in the form of bloody assassination and counterassassination campaigns. The differences between MEISON and the EPRP were fundamental. The EPRP pressed uncompromisingly for a genuine "people's democracy," whereas MEISON favored "controlled democracy" and was prepared to give the Derg some time to return to the barracks.
The friction between the two groups inspired the Derg to become more radical in its ideology and public policies. The regime determined that to survive it would have to alter its program and co-opt or destroy its civilian opponents. It pursued both goals simultaneously by setting up three organizations: the PNDR, the Yekatit '66 Ideological School, and a political advisory body called the Politburo (not to be confused with the Political Bureau of the WPE).
The Derg seemed hesitant to permit free and open political competition, although it attempted to create the impression of openness by allowing political groups to operate in a limited fashion. Organizations resembling political parties were not allowed to organize on a mass basis, but they could participate in politics through representation on the Politburo; in fact, both the EPRP and MEISON were represented on the Politburo. Also represented were Abyot Seded (Revolutionary Flame), founded in 1976 by members of the armed forces and led by Mengistu himself; the Waz (Labor) League, which claimed a working-class base and shared the EPRP's radical populist tendencies; and the Revolutionary Struggle of the Ethiopian Masses (whose Amharic acronym was ECHAAT), a largely Oromo political organization. The Politburo provided a forum where the differences among the various political groupings could be clarified and where the Derg could monitor the tendencies of its opponents.
By late 1976, MEISON had become the most influential civilian group on the Politburo. However, the growing power of Abyot Seded was also evident, as it challenged MEISON and the EPRP within the Politburo and in grass-roots institutions such as kebeles and peasant associations. To counter this threat, the Derg began to prepare Abyot Seded to assume the role of chief adviser on ideological, political, and organizational matters. The aim seems to have been the creation of a cadre of Abyot Seded members with sufficient ideological sophistication to neutralize all civilian opponents, including MEISON. Abyot Seded members received ideological training in the Soviet Union, East Germany, and Cuba. On their return, they were assigned the task of politicizing the rank and file of the military.
The EPRP's efforts to discredit and undermine the Derg and its MEISON collaborators escalated in the fall of 1976. It targeted public buildings and other symbols of state authority for bombings and assassinated numerous Abyot Seded and MEISON members, as well as public officials at all levels. The Derg, which countered with its own Red Terror campaign, labeled the EPRP's tactics the White Terror. Mengistu asserted that all "progressives" were given "freedom of action" in helping root out the revolution's enemies, and his wrath was particularly directed toward the EPRP. Peasants, workers, public officials, and even students thought to be loyal to the Mengistu regime were provided with arms to accomplish this task.
Mengistu's decision resulted in fratricidal chaos. Many civilians he armed were EPRP sympathizers rather than supporters of MEISON or the Derg. Between early 1977 and late 1978, roughly 5,000 people were killed. In the process, the Derg became estranged from civilian groups, including MEISON. By early 1979, Abyot Seded stood alone as the only officially recognized political organization; the others were branded enemies of the revolution. Growing human rights violations prompted the United States, Ethiopia's superpower patron, to counsel moderation. However, the Derg continued to use extreme measures against its real and perceived opponents to ensure its survival.
When he assumed office in early 1977, United States president Jimmy Carter curtailed arms sales to Ethiopia because of its human rights abuses. In response, Mengistu severely curtailed relations with the United States, ordering all United States military personnel and most embassy staff to leave the country. In search of an alternate source of military aid, Mengistu eventually turned to the Soviet Union. However, before the Soviet Union and its allies could establish an effective presence in Ethiopia, opposition groups stepped up their campaigns against the Derg.
In addition to the urban guerrilla warfare being waged by the EPRP, nationalist movements such as the EPLF, the OLF, the TPLF, and the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF) also stepped up their military campaigns in the countryside. By the end of 1976, the Eritreans had made substantial gains in rural areas, forcing Ethiopian troops into garrisons and urban centers in Eritrea. Meanwhile, armed groups such as the OLF and the TPLF were severely testing the regime, and in 1977 the WSLF, with the assistance of Somali troops, occupied most of the Ogaden. The Ethiopian government, however, with aid from the Soviet Union, Cuba, and Eastern Europe, reasserted its authority over contested areas by the following spring.
Once it had reestablished control, the Derg resumed the creation of institutions that would enhance its political hegemony and legitimacy. After having almost met its demise, the Derg decided to form a vanguard party. In June 1978, the Derg announced that Abyot Seded would be joined with the factional remnants of the Waz League and the MarxistLeninist Revolutionary Organization (whose Amharic acronym was MALERED), a small splinter group of MEISON, in the allembracing Union of Ethiopian Marxist-Leninist Organizations (whose Amharic acronym was EMALEDEH). The task of the front was to identify strategies for the creation of a vanguard party. The following year, Mengistu announced that he would form a commission to develop a framework for the longawaited vanguard party.
By 1978 all civilian opposition groups had been destroyed or forced underground. The EPRP had been driven out of the cities and into the mountains of the central highlands, where it tried unsuccessfully to develop the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Army (EPRA). The OLF had been driven into refugee camps in Sudan and Somalia; the WSLF had sought refuge in Somalia; the TPLF and the Ethiopian Democratic Union (EDU), a group of former nobility and officials of the Haile Selassie government, had been pushed into Sudan; and the EPLF had been forced back into its strongholds along the Sudanese border. The task then facing the Derg was to establish its popular legitimacy among the various ethnic communities opposed to its rule. The most vigorous opposition came from the EPLF and the TPLF. The OLF, the EPRP, and the Afar Liberation Front (ALF) were experiencing revivals but had yet to become militarily effective.
Eritrean separatism had its roots in World War II. In 1941, in the Battle of Keren, the Allies drove Italian forces out of Eritrea, which had been under Italy's rule since the end of the nineteenth century. Administration of the region was then entrusted to the British military until its fate could be determined by the Allies. Britain, however, sought to divide Eritrea along religious lines, giving the coast and highland areas to Ethiopia and the Muslim-inhabited northern and western lowlands to British-ruled Sudan.
In 1952 the United Nations (UN) tried to satisfy the demand for self-determination by creating an EritreanEthiopian federation. In 1962, however, Haile Selassie unilaterally abolished the federation and imposed imperial rule throughout Eritrea.
Radical opposition to the incorporation of Eritrea into Ethiopia had begun in 1958 with the founding of the Eritrean Liberation Movement (ELM), an organization made up mainly of students, intellectuals, and urban wage laborers. The ELM engaged in clandestine political activities intended to cultivate resistance to the centralizing policies of the imperial state. By 1962, however, the ELM had been discovered and destroyed by imperial authorities.
Even as the ELM was being neutralized, a new organization of Eritrean nationalists was forming. In 1960 Eritrean exiles in Cairo founded the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF). In contrast to the ELM, from the outset the ELF was bent on waging armed struggle on behalf of Eritrean independence. The ELF was composed mainly of Eritrean Muslims from the rural lowlands on the western edge of the territory. In 1961 the ELF's political character was vague, but radical Arab states such as Syria and Iraq sympathized with Eritrea as a predominantly Muslim region struggling to escape oppression and imperial domination. These two countries therefore supplied military and financial assistance to the ELF.
The ELF initiated military operations in 1961. These operations intensified in response to the 1962 dissolution of the Eritrean-Ethiopian federation. The ELF claimed that the process by which this act took place violated the Eritrean federal constitution and denied the Eritrean people their right to self-determination. By this time, the movement claimed to be multiethnic, involving individuals from Eritrea's nine major ethnic groups.
The ELF's first several years of guerrilla activity in Eritrea were characterized by poor preparation, poor leadership, and poor military performance. By 1967, however, the ELF had gained considerable support among peasants, particularly in Eritrea's north and west, and around the port city of Mitsiwa. Haile Selassie attempted to calm the growing unrest by visiting Eritrea and assuring its inhabitants that they would be treated as equals under the new arrangements. Although he doled out offices, money, and titles in early 1967 in hopes of co-opting would-be Eritrean opponents, the resistance intensified.
From the beginning, a serious problem confronting the ELF was the development of a base of popular support and a cohesive military wing. The front divided Eritrea into five military regions, giving regional commanders considerable latitude in carrying out the struggle in their respective zones. Perhaps just as debilitating were internal disputes over strategy and tactics. These disagreements eventually led to the ELF's fragmentation and the founding in 1972 of another group, the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF). The leadership of this multiethnic movement came to be dominated by leftist, Christian intellectuals who spoke Tigrinya, Eritrea's predominant language. Sporadic armed conflict ensued between the two groups from 1972 to 1974, even as they fought the Ethiopian forces. The various organizations, each waging a separate campaign against the Haile Selassie regime, had become such a serious threat that the emperor declared martial law in Eritrea and deployed half his army to contain the struggle. But the Eritrean insurgents fiercely resisted. In January 1974, the EPLF handed Haile Selassie's forces a crushing defeat at Asmera, severely affecting the army's morale and exposing the crown's ever-weakening position.
After the emperor was deposed, the Derg stated its desire to resolve the Eritrean question once and for all. There were those in the Derg's ranks who pressed for a decisive military solution, while others favored some form of negotiated settlement. Influential Derg nationalists continued to endorse, as had the imperial regime before them, the ideal of a "Greater Ethiopia," a unitary, multiethnic state. They pressed for a military solution while claiming to support the right of all Ethiopian nationalities to self-determination. This position was first articulated in the PNDR in 1976 and clarified later that year by the Nine Point Statement on Eritrea. Subsequently, the regime made other attempts at dealing, at least rhetorically and symbolically, with the Eritrean problem.
In 1976 Osman Salah Sabbe, an Eritrean who had helped found both the ELM and the ELF, attempted to reconcile the two movements to form a united front. But after this effort failed, Osman formed a third front, the Eritrean Liberation Front-Popular Liberation Front (ELF-PLF). In later years, the Derg sought to exploit the internecine Eritrean disputes.
Disagreements among the various Eritrean factions continued throughout the 1970s and 1980s. These differences were mainly ideological. At the time, the EPLF and the ELF could best be described in ideological terms as leftistnationalist and the ELF-PLF as moderate nationalist. Although the EPLF and the ELF-PLF consistently called for Eritrea's independence, the main ELF faction never closed the door to the possibility of an equitable federal union. As subtle as the differences among these groups appeared, they were enough to prevent the formation of a united front against Addis Ababa.
In addition to its highly disciplined combatants, the EPLF benefited from its broad base of popular support and its political organization. The EPLF became a de facto government in areas it controlled. It was a highly structured political and military institution involved not only in training its fighters militarily but also in educating them politically. The EPLF's basic units for political participation were national unions. The Eritrean national congress was the paramount political organ of the EPLF and was made up of the Central Committee, delegates elected by the national unions, and the Eritrean People's Liberation Army (EPLA). The congress defined general policy and elected the Central Committee (composed in the late 1980s of seventy-one full members and seven alternates), which in turn elected the general secretary and the Political Bureau's eight members. The EPLF charter called for national congresses to be held every three years unless circumstances dictated otherwise. Between congressional sessions, the EPLF Central Committee was the highest authority within the front. It met every nine months and was responsible for developing the EPLF political agenda and for overseeing policy implementation. The Political Bureau was the EPLF's primary executive organ. It met every three months and had broad administrative powers. When the Political Bureau was not in session, the general secretary, aided by a secretariat, possessed wide executive authority.
In March 1987, the EPLF held its second congress in areas of Eritrea that it controlled. The first congress had been held ten years earlier after Eritrean forces had captured almost all of Eritrea. At that time, the euphoric Eritreans expected that their goal of an independent Eritrea was about to be realized. However, they subsequently suffered a series of reversals from which it took the EPLF almost a decade to recover. Like that earlier meeting, the 1987 gathering was also a unity congress. It resulted in resolution of the difference between the EPLF and another splinter group, the Eritrean Liberation Front-Central Command (ELF-CC), at the time the most prominent remaining ELF faction.
Following the EPLF unity congress, the organization stepped up military pressure against the Ethiopian regime. By March 1988, the EPLF had scored some impressive battlefield successes. The EPLF broke out of entrenched positions in the Nakfa area of northern Eritrea and occupied the important garrison town of Afabet. Afabet's fall forced the Ethiopian army to evacuate the urban centers of Barca, Teseney, Barentu, and Akordat. The government also ordered all foreign relief workers out of Eritrea and Tigray, declared states of emergency in both regions, and redeployed troops from the Ogaden to Eritrea. The highly disciplined Eritrean forces faced much larger and better equipped Ethiopian units, but the Ethiopian troops, many of whom were teenagers, had become war weary and demoralized. By early 1991, the EPLF controlled most of Eritrea except for some urban centers.
The most significant attempt to address the Eritrean issue was embodied in the 1987 constitution, which allowed for the possibility of regional autonomy. At its inaugural session, the National Shengo acted on this provision and endorsed a plan for regional autonomy. Among autonomous regions, the plan accorded Eritrea the greatest degree of autonomy. In particular, the plan assigned Eritrea's regional government broader powers than those assigned to the other four autonomous regions, especially in the areas of industrial development and education. Under the plan, Eritrea also was distinguished from other autonomous regions in that it was to have three administrative subregions: one in the north, made up of Akordat, Keren, and Sahel awrajas; one in the south-central part of historical Eritrea, consisting of Hamasen, Mitsiwa, Seraye, and Akale Guzay awrajas; and one encompassing the western awraja of Gashe na Setit. By creating Aseb Autonomous Region, the government in Addis Ababa appeared to be attempting to ensure itself a secure path to the Red Sea. Aseb Autonomous Region comprised Aseb awraja of historical Eritrea, along with parts of eastern Welo and Tigray regions.
By 1991, however, administrative reorganization in the north-central part of the country was a reality only on paper. Since 1988 the area had been under a state of emergency. The regime had been unable to establish the necessary party and administrative infrastructure to implement the plan, mostly because of the escalation of opposition in Eritrea and Tigray since the promulgation of the 1987 constitution. The EPLF, for example, rejected the reorganization plan, terming it "old wine in new bottles." The ELF expressed particular outrage over the creation of Aseb Autonomous Region, viewing it as another WPE attempt to annex a significant part of the historical colony of Eritrea to Ethiopia. The ELF called for the Ethiopian government to agree to immediate negotiations without preconditions with a unified Eritrean delegation.
Even as the EPLF recorded its most significant battlefield success in 1988-89, a rift was developing between that organization and ELF splinter groups. This rift revolved around religion, as the ELF's conservative, primarily Islamic elements came to distrust the EPLF's predominantly Christian leadership. The EPLF also espoused a much more explicitly socialist program than did the ELF factions. To encourage further divisions among the Eritreans, the Mengistu regime in late 1988 met with five former ELF members (who claimed to represent 750,000 Eritreans) to accept their proposal for the creation of an autonomous Eritrean region in the predominantly Muslim lowlands. These five men rejected the EPLF's claim that it represented all Eritreans. Mengistu forwarded the proposal to the National Shengo for consideration, but the regime collapsed before action could be taken.
Tigrayan opposition to the Ethiopian government started during Emperor Menelik's reign. In 1896 Menelik, who opposed Italy's territorial designs on Ethiopia, deployed an 80,000- man army into Tigray without adequate provisions, thereby forcing the soldiers to live off the land. According to Tigrayan nationalists, the Tigray who died protecting their homes against Menelik's troops outnumbered the defeated Italians who died at the Battle of Adwa that year. Forty years later, when fascist Italy's forces invaded Ethiopia, the main battlefield was again in Tigray, and once again the inhabitants suffered. In 1943, after the Allied Powers had defeated Italy and Haile Selassie had returned to Ethiopia, Tigrayan peasants revolted against the imperial regime. Government forces, supported by British units, suppressed the revolt. The emperor then imposed a harsh peace on Tigray.
The first sign of open resistance to the Mengistu regime in Tigray (where the rebellion became known as the Weyane, the same as the 1943 revolt) occurred in October 1974. At that time, the Derg ordered Ras Mengesha Seyoum--governor general of Tigray, member of the Tigrayan royal family, and grandson-in-law of the emperor--to relinquish his office and surrender to the authorities. Rather than submit, he fled to the bush and organized the Tigray Liberation Organization (TLO). The TLO operated in clandestine political cells and engaged in a program of systematic agitation. During the tumultuous mid-1970s, the TLO established cells in various parts of the country. In early 1975, Mengesha left Tigray and, with other aristocrats, formed the Ethiopian Democratic Union (EDU). Members of the TLO who remained in Tigray and who came under the influence of the EPLF formed the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), whose goals included the overthrow of the Mengistu regime, the establishment of a "more democratic" government, and the removal of all foreign military bases from Ethiopia. The TPLF also condemned Mengesha, accepted Marxism-Leninism, and argued for an independent Eritrean-Tigrayan federation. Eventually, the TPLF neutralized the TLO by killing many of its leaders and by jailing and executing others.
At the time, the TPLF shared the field with the more conservative Tigray-based EDU and the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party (EPRP). However, the Red Terror had decimated both of these organizations, and by 1978 they had ceased to be a factor. The TPLF was also severely weakened but, with the assistance of the EPLF, developed into an effective fighting force. Its ranks were expanded initially by the absorption of former EPRP members.
Beginning in 1980, the TPLF sought to establish local selfadministration in areas under its control. The basic administrative unit was the people's council (baito), which was typically introduced in two stages. In the first stage, representatives from mass associations were elected to form the provisional administrative council. The second stage involved the establishment of a full-fledged people's council. Council members were elected to two-year terms. All members of a number of mass associations who were at least sixteen years of age had the right to vote and to stand for election to a people's council. People's councils were responsible for local administrative, economic, and social affairs. By late 1989, however, this structure had not grown much beyond the pilot stage in most of Tigray.
In the 1980s, the TPLF drew almost exclusively from among the Tigrayan population of north-central Ethiopia for its support, although it claimed to be dedicated toward building a united national front representing all groups and nationalities struggling against the Mengistu regime. On May 8, 1984, the TPLF issued a proposal calling for the formation of a united front based on a "minimum program," whose sole objective was the overthrow of the Mengistu regime. By 1984 the TPLF was active throughout Tigray and in parts of Welo and Gojam. Although its political program continued to have a populist orientation, the dominant ideologues within the organization claimed to be dedicated to constructing the Marxist-Leninist League of Tigray. Observers likened this group's strident rhetoric to that of Albania's Stalinist ideologues.
On the eve of its thirteenth anniversary in February 1988, the TPLF was engaged in its largest offensive against Ethiopian forces. Over the next year and a half, the TPLF captured all of Tigray, including urban centers such as Aksum, Inda Silase, and Mekele. By May 1989, the Ethiopian army had withdrawn completely from Tigray.
The TPLF's efforts to develop a united front began to bear fruit just as its major offensive was unfolding. In January 1989, it entered into an alliance with the Ethiopian People's Democratic Movement (EPDM), an organization composed mainly of Amhara from Welo, Gonder, and the northern part of Shewa, many of whom had once belonged to the EPRP. The two groups had cooperated in military activities for several years, but they had not had a formal alliance. It was estimated that by the fall of 1989, there were 2.5 million people in EPDM-controlled areas. The EPDM, like the TPLF, supported the right of all nationalities to self-determination and the formation of a democratic state once the Mengestu regime had been overthrown.
The TPLF and EPDM called their alliance the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). The EPRDF's charter borrowed from the TPLF charter. It called for the establishment of a democratic government, the elimination of the last vestiges of feudalism and imperialism, the formation of a genuine people's government based on people's councils, the guarantee of basic human and civil rights, and self-determination for all oppressed nationalities. Subsequently, several other dissident groups, some created specifically by the EPRDF, also joined the alliance.
By the fall of 1989, the EPRDF had moved from its strongholds in Tigray, Welo, and Gonder and threatened parts of northern Shewa. At the time, the force seemed more capable of pushing back the beleaguered Ethiopian troops than of setting up any type of permanent political structures. During a six-week period beginning in August 1989, the EPRDF wounded or captured an estimated 20,000 government soldiers, seized vast stocks of military hardware, and pushed the battle line between the two sides down to northern Shewa. In part, these advances were facilitated by the demoralization of the Ethiopian military following the abortive coup of May 1989. Some Ethiopian troops defected to the opposition, significantly improving the military capabilities of the EPRDF.
The EPLF, the TPLF, the EPDM, and the EPRDF were the most militarily significant opposition movements challenging the Mengistu regime in 1991. In addition, several other groups, composed mainly of ethnic Oromo, Afar, and Somali, were also active.
The Oromo, representing about 40 percent of the population, occupy areas in south and central Ethiopia that only became part of modern Ethiopia during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The people in these areas largely became tenants on their own land as the empire consolidated its rule. Many Oromo resented the alien rule of Amhara and Tigray from the highland core of the empire. Haile Selassie tried to win Oromo loyalty by developing alliances with key Oromo leaders. Although this strategy enabled the emperor to co-opt many Oromo into the imperial system, it failed to end Oromo resistance. Examples of this opposition to Addis Ababa included the Azebo-Raya revolt of 1928-30; the 1936 Oromo Independence Movement; and the establishment in 1965 of the Mecha-Tulema, an Oromo self-help organization.
From 1964 to 1970, a revolt in Bale presented the most serious challenge to the Ethiopian government. During that time, separate Oromo rebel groups in Bale conducted hit-and- run raids against military garrisons and police stations. Until 1969 the Somali government provided military assistance to these rebels as part of its strategy of reestablishing a "Greater Somalia." In addition, Oromo rebels attempted to coordinate their military activities with the Western Somali Liberation Front. After Mahammad Siad Barre took over the Somali government in 1969, the Oromo rebels lost Somali support and found it impossible to sustain their campaigns in southeastern Ethiopia. In 1970 the rebels agreed to a truce with the Haile Selassie regime.
In 1973 Oromo dissidents formed the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), an organization dedicated to the "total liberation of the entire Oromo nation from Ethiopian colonialism". The OLF began an offensive against the Ethiopian government in Harerge in 1974, but sustained activities did not begin until 1976. The OLF subsequently extended its sphere of activity to Welega.
Young, educated Oromo from Arsi initially composed the OLF leadership, but by 1976 the organization claimed a broadbased leadership with a following from all Oromo areas. Beyond national liberation, the OLF's program called for the establishment of an independent Democratic Republic of Oromia, which would include all of central and southern Ethiopia, excluding the Ogaden and Omo River regions.
In late 1989, the OLF had approximately 200 combatants in Harerge and about 5,000 in Welega. OLF troops were poorly armed and unable to pose a serious threat to the Ethiopian army. In addition, the OLF had been unable to mobilize popular support against the Ethiopian government. This failure resulted from the OLF's inability to organize an effective antigovernment movement, to convince the majority of Oromo people that separatism was a viable political alternative, or to sustain military operations in the geographically separated areas of Welega, Arsi, and Harerge. In spite of these difficulties, in 1989 the OLF announced several military successes against the Ethiopian armed forces, especially in Asosa, a town on the SudaneseEthiopian border.
On the political side, in February 1988 the OLF convened its first national congress at Begi in newly created Asosa Region. Apart from expressing support for the EPLF and the TPLF, the congress condemned the Mengistu regime and voiced opposition to the government's villagization and resettlement policies.
The Afar people, numbering about 3 million in Ethiopia, reside in the area bordering Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia. Although there were other factions claiming to represent the Afar, the most prominent organization was the Afar Liberation Front (ALF; also called the Afar Sultanate Liberation Front), headed by Ali Mirah. The ALF was dedicated to maintaining the political, cultural, and religious autonomy of the Afar people. Ali Mirah directed his movement's sporadic activities from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The ALF was one of the few opposition movements to express some interest in Mengistu's plan for creating autonomous regions, primarily because most Afar inhabited the area that was to become Aseb Autonomous Region.
Somali guerrilla activity in the Ogaden and in the Haud area east of Harer flared sporadically after Somalia gained its independence in 1960, but the guerrilla activity remained essentially a police concern until a border war erupted in 1964. When he seized power in Mogadishu in 1969, Siad Barre thwarted attempts at an understanding between Ethiopia and Somalia. He pledged to renew efforts to establish a "Greater Somalia" that would encompass about one-third of Ethiopia's territory. Encouraged by the breakdown of authority in Addis Ababa after the 1974 overthrow of Haile Selassie, Somalia provided matériel, moral, and organizational support to insurgent movements in the Ogaden and southern Ethiopia.
The Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF), which operated in the Ogaden, supported the "Greater Somalia" concept. The Somali Abo Liberation Front (SALF) maintained links to the WSLF. Its sphere of operations was in Bale, Sidamo, and Arsi, where it advocated union with Somalia or the creation of an independent state. Somalia equipped both groups with Soviet arms; both also received aid and training from various Arab and communist nations, including Cuba.
After the 1977-78 Ogaden War, the WSLF was routed, and its troops flocked to camps in Somalia. The Somali government subsequently forbade the WSLF to use its territory to launch attacks into Ethiopia. By 1989 the WSLF had ceased to be an effective guerrilla organization within Ethiopia. Siad Barre's decision to restrict the WSLF led to the formation of a WSLF splinter group, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), whose headquarters were in Kuwait. Elements of the ONLF slipped back into the Ogaden in 1988 but failed to generate a significant military capability.
Although the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party (EPRP) and the All-Ethiopia Socialist Movement (whose Amharic acronym was MEISON) were crippled during the Red Terror, they were not completely eliminated. In 1989 the EPRP had its main base in Sudan. It claimed to have had its ranks augmented in the late 1980s by 20,000 peasants fleeing villagization in Shewa. The EPRP and MEISON continued to exist as political organizations, but they appeared to have little military significance.
The WPE regime's attempt to create conditions for popular acceptance of its legitimacy failed. Testimony to this was the attempted coup that began on May 16, 1989. The coup was the result of months of planning by senior officers, some of whom may have been members of the Free Ethiopia Soldiers' Movement, an opposition group that involved active-duty military officers and former officers in exile. The coup began shortly after Mengistu left for a state visit to East Germany. Top generals invited colleagues to attend a meeting at the Ministry of National Defense, where they delivered an ultimatum to the defense minister, Major General Haile Giorgis Habte Mariam, to join them or be jailed. Haile Giorgis refused and was shot dead. The shots were heard by two senior officers loyal to Mengistu, who ordered army tanks to encircle the ministry and guard the road to the airport.
Officers commanding units in Eritrea and Tigray also joined in the coup. They initially seized the Asmera radio station and issued a call to the "broad masses" to join in the effort to bring down the "tyrannical and dictatorial regime of Mengistu." However, Mengistu returned to the country and, with the support of the Presidential Guard and other loyal troops, regained control three days after the coup began.
The plotters' aim had been to establish a transitional military government. Exiled supporters of the Free Ethiopia Soldiers' Movement claimed that the coup-makers planned to negotiate a settlement in Eritrea, establish a ruling council, and return the military to their barracks. Senior officers had become desperate for a political settlement of the wars raging in the north. Pamphlets expressing their discontent had been distributed to the military rank and file by junior and middle ranking officers sympathetic to their cause. The new leader reportedly was to have been Major General Seyoum Mekonnen, the former head of military intelligence.
To wipe out his enemies in the military, Mengistu purged the officer corps. At least twelve generals were executed or committed suicide rather than be captured, and 300 to 400 officers suspected of being involved in the coup were arrested. Nearly all generals, division commanders, and political commissars assigned to units stationed in the north reportedly were detained. These individuals were replaced by Mengistu loyalists, many of whom lacked experience as military leaders.
The attempted coup and continuing problems related to war, drought, and famine caused considerable instability in the WPE's upper levels. Council of State members became increasingly critical of Mengistu's policies, and some even suggested that he step down. However, Mengistu mustered enough support to retain power. At the same time, by mid1989 the success of opposition forces, the Soviet Union's refusal to increase military assistance to Ethiopia, and pressure from Moscow had forced Mengistu to seek negotiated settlements to Ethiopia's various wars. The loss of East German military support because of the democratization movement that occurred later in the year also softened the government's stance toward negotiations.
On June 5, 1989, the National Shengo, in a special session, endorsed a proposal calling for unconditional peace talks with the EPLF. The EPLF accepted, and the two sides agreed that former United States president Jimmy Carter would mediate the negotiations. The first talks were held at the Carter Presidential Center of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, in early September. WPE Central Committee member Ashagre Yigletu headed the Ethiopian delegation, and Al Amin Muhammad Sayyid led the Eritrean team. The two sides agreed on several procedural issues and set the next round of talks for November 1989 in Nairobi, Kenya.
At the second meeting, additional procedural issues were resolved, and former Tanzanian president Julius K. Nyerere was asked to co-chair further talks with former President Carter. The most difficult issue resolved in the eight-day talks was determining who would serve as international observers for the main negotiations. Seven observers were invited--each side had two unrestricted choices, and three others were chosen by mutual consent. The parties also concluded that additional observers could be invited later upon mutual agreement. At the end of the session, six observers had accepted invitations: Kenya, Senegal, Sudan, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and the Organization of African Unity (OAU). A seventh invitation was proposed for the UN, but because Ethiopia, a UN member, refused to endorse the idea, the UN declined to participate. Subsequent meetings in Washington in October 1990 and February 1991, chaired by United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Herman Cohen, failed to resolve this issue. Even so, both sides agreed to continue their dialogue, with the next meeting tentatively scheduled for May in London.
The Ethiopian regime also agreed to peace negotiations with the TPLF, to be convened by the Italian government. Preliminary talks began in Rome on November 4, 1989. Ashagre Yigletu led the Ethiopian team, and Central Committee chairman Meles Zenawi headed the TPLF delegation. Because its troops were advancing on the battlefield, the TPLF refrained from making a cease-fire a precondition for participating in the talks. The TPLF called for the establishment of a provisional government made up of representatives from all major nationality groups and political organizations. The main task of this provisional government would be to draft a democratic constitution and prepare for free elections. Before the talks began, the Ethiopian government rejected the idea of a provisional government, claiming that the Ethiopian people had approved the 1987 constitution in a fair referendum and that a popularly elected parliament had put the new government in place.
The first round of talks lasted one week and ended with agreement only on procedural points. Although the TPLF had called for a national united front, it represented only itself at the Rome talks. It suggested, however, that the main item on the agenda should be its peace proposal. The Ethiopian delegation rejected this idea but offered no counterproposal.
The second round of preliminary talks opened in Rome on December 12, 1989. The two sides reached an agreement whereby Italy and Kenya would act as mediators and Nigeria, Sweden, Sudan, and Uganda would act as observers in future peace negotiations. The Italian minister of foreign affairs announced that the third round of preliminary talks would open in Rome on March 20, 1990.
Unfortunately, the Ethiopian delegation terminated these discussions nine days after they began. According to rebel spokesmen, the talks failed because Ethiopia insisted that the TPLF deal only with questions pertaining "to the autonomous region of Tigray" rather than with Ethiopia as a whole. Moreover, Ethiopia refused to accept a joint TPLFEPDM delegation at the main peace talks. The TPLF maintained that the EPDM, its ally in war, also should be its ally in peace. As a result of these differences, the negotiating process between the TPLF and Ethiopia ended.
On the military front, the TPLF pressed its offensive throughout the fall of 1989. By the beginning of 1990, its advances had bogged down, and the Ethiopian army had begun a counteroffensive. By mid-June 1990, however, the TPLF, operating as part of the EPRDF, had taken up positions within 160 kilometers of Addis Ababa. By contrast, the EPLF had reduced its military operations over the same period, perhaps to regroup. In February 1990, however, the EPLF mounted a major drive aimed at capturing the port city of Mitsiwa, the entry point for much of Ethiopia's food and military supplies. By mid-February the EPLF had overrun the port and severed the traffic that flowed from Mitsiwa via Asmera to the strategic garrison town of Keren. A few months later, however, Mitsiwa resumed operation in accordance with an agreement between the EPLF and government forces. By the end of the year, the EPLF had started conducting military operations in the vicinity of the Dahlak Islands and initiated an offensive toward the port of Aseb.
Before and after the 1974 revolution, the government controlled Ethiopia's mass communications. However, after 1974 the ideological orientation of mass media in Ethiopia underwent a substantial change insofar as they became vehicles for spreading Marxist dogma.
The Ministry of Information and National Guidance published two daily newspapers: the English-language Ethiopian Herald, with a circulation of 6,000, and the Amharic-language Addis Zemen, with a circulation of 37,000. The ministry also printed Hibret, a Tigrinya-language newspaper published in Asmera that had a daily circulation of 4,000. The ministry closely controlled the contents of these publications, and it used their editorial pages to analyze certain events and policies from the perspective of scientific socialism.
There were about a dozen periodicals published in Ethiopia. The WPE issued Serto Ader, an Amharic-language newsletter with a weekly circulation of about 100,000. Two other periodicals were the magazine Yekatit Quarterly and the ideological journal Meskerem (circulation 100,000). Both publications were printed in English as well as in Amharic. Marxist-Leninist in tone, the Yekatit Quarterly reported mainly on the "accomplishments of the revolution." Meskerem was viewed specifically as an instrument of political education.
The foreign relations of the modern Ethiopian state were driven by the government's quest to establish this multiethnic polity as a viable nation-state and to maintain its territorial integrity. In many respects, then, the foreign policy pursued by the leaders of postrevolutionary Ethiopia was consistent with the foreign policy of the old imperial regime. The aspect that changed from one era to the next was Ethiopia's ideological alignment. Whereas the regime of Emperor Haile Selassie had relied heavily on the patronage of the United States, that of President Mengistu Haile Mariam cast its fate with the Soviet Union. Both the pre- and post-1974 governments used economic and military aid from their respective superpower patrons to augment their own meager material resources, thus enhancing the ability of the regime to pursue not only certain foreign policy objectives but also specific domestic policies. Analysis of Ethiopia's foreign policy, both past and contemporary, suggests that, rather than serving as the pawns of one superpower or another, Ethiopia's leaders consistently placed their perceptions of what was best for Ethiopia before all else.
As one of only two African states that have never been permanently colonized (the other is Liberia), Ethiopia has a long diplomatic tradition. Tewodros II, who reigned in the mid-nineteenth century, was the first modern Ethiopian leader to try to develop a foreign policy that transcended the Horn region. His successor, Yohannis IV, followed a less dynamic course and was greatly troubled by European expansionism in general and penetration by Italy in particular. Menelik II, who succeeded Yohannis in 1889, failed to find a peaceful solution to Italy's encroachments. He had greater success, however, in the military sphere, defeating the Italian army at Adwa in 1896.
Menelik died in 1913, and it was not until 1930 that another strong emperor, Haile Selassie I, assumed the throne. Haile Selassie quickly demonstrated that he was committed to the creation of a strong, modern, bureaucratic empire that would command unquestioned international respect. As early as 1923, while serving as regent, he negotiated Ethiopia's admission into the League of Nations. The Italian occupation of Ethiopia between 1936 and 1941 briefly halted his efforts to establish Ethiopia's position in the world community. However, when he reassumed the throne in 1941, he renewed his efforts to bolster Ethiopia's international standing.
After World War II, Haile Selassie achieved considerable international success primarily because of his active participation in the UN, his alignment with the West, and his vocal support for the African independence movement. As a UN member, Ethiopia committed troops to the peacekeeping mission in Korea from 1950 to 1953 and to the Congo (present-day Zaire) in 1960. Moreover, Ethiopia's military and diplomatic relationship with the United States provided it with a superpower ally. Finally, Haile Selassie took the lead in pressing for a resolution establishing the territorial integrity of the independent states of Africa. Over the years, he developed a reputation as a sage voice of moderation on a continent filled with militant nationalists. It was in this capacity that he offered to host the headquarters of the OAU upon its founding in the early 1960s, once again demonstrating his diplomatic acumen.
The foreign policy of Ethiopia did not change immediately upon the demise of the imperial regime. Initially, the country's new leaders maintained the general thrust of the foreign policy developed under Haile Selassie and concentrated mainly on consolidating their rule. Nonetheless, the Marxist ideology of the Derg and its civilian allies made conflict with Ethiopia's superpower patron, the United States, inevitable.
By the mid-1970s, Kagnew station, the communications monitoring base in Asmera granted under terms of the 1953 Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement between Ethiopia and the United States, had largely lost its value. Advances in satellite technology had rendered land-based facilities like Kagnew station less important for long-range communications monitoring. Yet the United States felt the need to maintain a presence in this strategically important part of Africa, particularly because the Soviet Union was beginning to become active in the area. The administration of President Gerald Ford (1974-77) wanted to avoid an embarrassment similar to that experienced by the United States in Angola in 1975, when covert United States aid to anticommunist combatants failed to dislodge the pro-Moscow Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola. Even though President Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger indicated uneasiness with Ethiopia's violations of human rights and growing leftist tendencies, they did no more than cautiously encourage the Derg to moderate its human rights policies.
The United States began to express concern over the Derg's human rights violations when on November 23, 1974, a day that came to be known as "Bloody Saturday," fifty-nine officials who had served in the old regime were executed. Official United States concern intensified two months later when the Derg mobilized a force consisting of regular military units and the hastily assembled People's Militia in an effort to resolve the Eritrean question through military means. But Eritrean forces attacked first, surprising the Ethiopian forces in their base camps and scoring an impressive victory.
Whereas the administration of President Ford had been reluctant to impose sanctions on Ethiopia because of its human rights record, President Jimmy Carter made human rights a central concern of his administration (1977-81). On February 25, 1977, Carter announced that because of continued human rights violations, certain governments that were receiving Washington's military aid (including Ethiopia) would receive reduced assistance in the following fiscal year. Consequently, the Derg began to cast about for alternative sources of military assistance. Among the countries Ethiopia turned to were China and the Soviet Union. At first, the actual assistance provided by these superpowers was minimal, and the United States maintained its presence in the country. However, relations between the United States and Ethiopia deteriorated rapidly. By April 1977, Mengistu had demanded that Washington close down Kagnew station and most other installations; only a small staff was allowed to remain at the United States embassy. By then, the first supplies of Soviet military hardware had begun to arrive.
Having its military presence in Ethiopia ended, and with tensions mounting in the Middle East and Iran, the United States began to cultivate alliances in northeast Africa that could facilitate the development of a long-range military strike capability. These developments coincided with an escalation of tensions in the Horn region in general. The United States eventually began the systematic pursuit of a strategy that amounted to encircling the Arabian Peninsula. The United States asked Egypt, Sudan, Kenya, Somalia, and Oman to allow their territories to be used as staging grounds for the fledgling Rapid Deployment Force (RDF), which later became the United States Central Command. The Soviet Union's clients in the region--Ethiopia, Libya, and the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen)-- perceiving Washington's action as a threat, signed a tripartite agreement in 1981 and pledged to repulse any effort to intervene in their respective countries. However, this alliance never played a significant role in the region.
Apparently sensing that the Mengistu regime was in desperate trouble, internal and external enemies took action to hasten its demise. Most important, civilian opposition groups began to wage urban guerrilla campaigns to demoralize and discredit the Derg, and Somalia committed regular troops to assist ethnic Somali living in Ethiopia's Ogaden region in their efforts to separate from Ethiopia. Simultaneously, the Somali government expressed concern over the growing Soviet and Cuban presence in Ethiopia. Until then, Somalia had been an ally of the Soviet Union. After the Somali National Army (SNA) invaded the Ogaden region in July 1977, the Soviet Union withdrew its 1,000 advisers from Somalia. In November Somalia announced that it had abrogated the 1974 Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union and that it had suspended diplomatic relations with Cuba. At that point, the Soviet Union adopted Ethiopia as its main ally in the Horn of Africa. In late November, it launched a massive airlift and sealift of arms and other military equipment to Ethiopia. Over the next several months, about 17,000 Cuban and 1,000 Soviet military personnel arrived in the country and were deployed to the Ogaden front. This aid turned the tide in favor of Ethiopia by early 1978.
As had the regime of Haile Selassie, the Derg accorded its international image and territorial integrity the highest priority in its foreign policy. Opposition groups had forced the regime to rely extensively on the Soviet Union to maintain itself in power and to preserve the country's territorial integrity. From 1977 to 1990, Soviet military assistance to Ethiopia was estimated to be as much as US$13 billion. However, by 1987 there was evidence that the Soviet Union had decided to cut back military assistance to Ethiopia and to press for political solutions to that country's several civil conflicts. By that time, there were fewer than 1,800 Soviet advisers in Ethiopia and a total of about 2,000 advisers from Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, East Germany, and Poland. Furthermore, all Cuban troops in the Ogaden had withdrawn, and the Cuban military presence in Ethiopia had dropped to fewer than 2,000.
Although Ethiopia was dependent on the Soviet Union for military assistance and sided with it in the international diplomatic arena, Addis Ababa on numerous occasions demonstrated its independence in the area of domestic policy and international economic policy. For instance, the Derg procrastinated in setting up a vanguard party despite Soviet pressure to do so. Once the party was formed, it was dominated by former military personnel, again contrary to Soviet wishes. In the economic sphere, Addis Ababa had close aid and trade relations with the West and pursued a pragmatic investment policy.
Although Mengistu eschewed any talk of Ethiopian-style glasnost, Ethiopia could not escape the global impact of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms. When Mengistu visited the Soviet Union in 1988, Gorbachev told him that if Moscow's support were to continue, the Soviet Union would have to see dramatic changes in Ethiopia's agricultural priorities, coupled with political liberalization. The Soviet leader also refused to continue unqualified military and economic support of the Mengistu regime. A combination of economic realities and Soviet pressure encouraged the Mengistu regime in 1989 to retreat at least partially from its dogmatically statist approach to economic development. By late 1990, the SovietEthiopian alliance had ended. As a result, Addis Ababa looked to several other nations, including Israel and China, for military assistance. None of these nations, however, was capable of replacing the amount of military equipment the Soviet Union had supplied to Ethiopia.
Although the Derg depended on the Soviet Union and its allies for military aid, it was just as reliant on the West for economic development and relief aid. For example, the European Community (EC) was Ethiopia's most significant source of economic aid. In the early 1980s, Western sources accounted for more than 90 percent of Ethiopia's economic aid, most of which came from the EC. Since then, communist countries had increased their proportion of total aid to Ethiopia to about 20 percent. Other multilateral and bilateral donors also had provided increased aid. For example, after refraining from giving aid to Addis Ababa between 1975 and 1981, the World Bank pledged more than US$250 million in project aid, the European Development Fund promised about US$300 million, and the International Monetary Fund ( IMF ) agreed to a loan of almost US$100 million. The regime accepted the IMF loan even though it claimed to disagree with IMF policies. Moreover, a joint venture law in 1983 and a foreign investment policy initiated in 1988 had stimulated the gradual return of private investors, although the level of such investments remained low.
Even though Ethiopia was dependent on Western economic aid, no Western donor was able to influence day-to-day economic policy on a regular basis. For instance, the Swedish International Development Authority, the United States Agency for International Development (AID), the World Bank, and other donor agencies historically had favored the development of agricultural cooperatives if they were organized on free-market principles. However, the Ethiopian regime attempted to guide the development of cooperatives so that they might be transformed into socialist collectives compatible with a centrally planned and directed economy. Like the imperial government before it, the Derg attempted to play off a multiplicity of donors against one another and thereby maximize certain benefits without surrendering its sovereignty.
As the Mengistu regime attempted to consolidate its rule, it had to cope with serious border problems, particularly with Somalia and Sudan. The point at issue with Somalia was the Ogaden region, an area that Mogadishu claimed as part of the historical Somali nation that had been seized by the Ethiopians during the colonial partition of the Horn of Africa. In fact, Ethiopia's only undefined boundary was the border it shared with the former Italian Somaliland. On maps drawn after 1950, this boundary is termed "Administrative Line". Upon gaining independence from European colonial rule in 1960, the inhabitants of the Republic of Somalia nurtured the hope that all Somali eventually would be united in a modern nation-state. Somali claims to the Ogaden, Djibouti, and parts of Kenya, however, had been consistently rejected by the UN, the OAU, and most of the world's sovereign states. Still, Somalia's leadership remained unwilling to forsake these claims publicly.
In 1961, less than a year after Somalia gained independence, its troops clashed with Ethiopian soldiers along their common border. In 1964 renewed tensions erupted into a minor regional war. In both cases, Somalia was defeated. Ethnic Somali in Kenya's northeast also unsuccessfully challenged that country's new government in the early 1960s. Pan-Somalism, then, served as a basis for the continuance of cooperative relations between Nairobi and Addis Ababa, despite the change of regime in Ethiopia. The two countries first signed a mutual defense agreement in 1964 that resulted in the creation of the Ethiopia-Kenya Border Administration Commission.
The Ogaden War (1977-78) was the most serious border conflict between Ethiopia and Somalia. Beginning in the early summer of 1977, SNA units and WSLF guerrillas, a movement of ethnic Somali opposed to incorporation in Ethiopia, occupied vast tracts of the Ogaden and forced the Ethiopian army into fortresses at Jijiga, Harer, and Dire Dawa for almost eight months. The intention was to separate the Ogaden from Ethiopia to set the stage for ethnic Somali in the region to decide their own future.
It was only with Soviet and Cuban assistance that the Derg regained control over the region by early 1978. The Soviet Union not only provided massive amounts of military equipment but also advisers, who trained Ethiopian soldiers and pilots. Moreover, Cuban troops spearheaded the counteroffensive that began in March 1978. Cuban and Ethiopian troops quickly defeated the SNA and WSLF once the counteroffensive began. Many WSLF fighters returned to their villages or took refuge inside Somalia. In addition, some 650,000 Somali and Oromo fled from southeastern Ethiopia into Somalia by early 1978 to escape unsettled local conditions and repression by Ethiopian armed forces. After the defeat, Somali opposition reverted to sporadic guerrilla ambushes and occasional acts of sabotage.
On April 4, 1988, after several preparatory meetings, Ethiopia and Somalia signed a joint communiqué that supposedly ended the Ogaden conflict. According to the communiqué's terms, the two countries committed themselves to withdrawing their military forces fifteen kilometers from the border, exchanging prisoners of war, restoring diplomatic relations, and refraining from supporting each other's antigovernment guerrilla groups. Reportedly, a separate secret accord contained a Somali renunciation of all claims to the Ogaden region. From Mengistu's point of view, the joint communiqué secured Ethiopia's southeastern border, thereby enabling Addis Ababa to devote more resources to the struggle against the EPLF and TPLF in northern Ethiopia.
Nevertheless, by 1991 it had become evident that Ethiopia had failed to honor the provisions of the joint communiqué. The Mengistu regime allowed the anti-Siad Barre Somali National Movement (SNM) to maintain offices in Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa and to operate five training camps near Dire Dawa. Additionally, the Ethiopian government still provided matériel and logistical support to the SNM. Despite these violations, Somalia refrained from reinitiating hostilities with Ethiopia.
Relations between Ethiopia and Sudan were generally good until the mid-1980s, when the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) emerged to challenge the hegemony of Khartoum. Emperor Haile Selassie had been instrumental in mediating an end to the Sudanese civil war in 1972. However, Ethiopia regularly expressed disappointment that the Sudanese government had not prevented Eritrean guerrillas from operating out of its territory. Sudan attempted to negotiate an end to the Eritrean conflict in 1975 but was unsuccessful. When Ethiopia turned to the Soviet Union and away from the United States, Sudan's government became concerned. Sudanese president Jaafar an Nimeiri had accused the Soviet Union of having inspired coup attempts against his regime in 1971 and 1976. Sudan recalled its ambassador to Ethiopia in January 1977, and for several years serious border tensions existed between the two countries.
Ethiopia's turn toward the Soviet Union caused Sudan to seek the support of new allies in preparing for the possibility of external invasions sponsored by Khartoum's regional enemies. Nimeiri decided to openly support certain Eritrean liberation movements. In addition, he supported Somalia during the Ogaden War. Nimeiri claimed that he wanted to build a "high wall against communism" in the Horn of Africa and agreed to participate with the United States, Kenya, Egypt, Somalia, and Oman in the development of the RDF. By 1980 the tensions between Sudan and Ethiopia had abated, however, with the signing of a peace treaty calling for the mutual respect of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the two countries.
The 1981 tripartite agreement among Ethiopia, Libya, and South Yemen undermined relations between Addis Ababa and Khartoum. For some time, the Libyan government had been trying to overthrow Nimeiri. Now Ethiopia appeared to be joining the Libyan effort. Border tensions between the two countries also increased after Ethiopia started supporting the SPLA.
After Nimeiri was overthrown in 1985, Sadiq al Mahdi's regime made it clear that it wanted to improve relations with Ethiopia and Libya. Supposedly, this was the first step in the resolution of Sudan's civil war. The change in regimes in Sudan also prompted a deterioration in United States-Sudanese relations, manifested by Khartoum's cancellation of the agreement calling for the participation of Sudanese troops in the Operation Bright Star exercises. Despite Sudan's estrangement from the United States and Mahdi's growing closeness to Libya after 1985, there was no substantive improvement in Ethiopian-Sudanese relations. The problem continued to center on Sudan's support for Eritrean rebels and Mengistu's continued support of the SPLA. By 1989, following the overthrow of Sadiq al Mahdi, Khartoum and Addis Ababa had offered to negotiate their respective internal conflicts, but nothing tangible came of this.
To undermine regional support for the Eritrean movements, after 1987 the Ethiopian government tried to develop better relations with several Arab countries. Between 1987 and 1989, high-level Ethiopian delegations visited Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Saudi Arabia. In the fall of 1988, Mengistu paid a two-day visit to Syria to explain to President Hafiz al Assad the various reforms the Ethiopian regime had recently made, including the creation of autonomous regions, designed to be responsive to the desires of groups like the Eritreans. Prime Minister Fikre-Selassie Wogderes made a visit to Cairo in November 1988 to seek improved relations with Egypt and to express support for Egypt's offer to negotiate a settlement of the Eritrean conflict. Despite these moves, Ethiopia's relations with the Middle East remained minimal.
By 1989 the lack of progress toward improved relations with Arab countries and the desperate need for arms appeared to have inspired Ethiopia to develop closer ties with Israel. Subsequently, diplomatic relations between the two countries, which had been broken off at the time of the October 1973 War, were restored. Approximately 10,000 Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jews; also called Falasha) had been spirited out of Ethiopia to Israel in 1984 in a secret airlift known as Operation Moses, and Israel remained committed to securing the emigration of the remaining Beta Israel. In return, Israel agreed to provide the Mengistu regime with military assistance.
Israel obtained the release of an additional large number of Beta Israel in May 1991 in the midst of the collapse of the Mengistu regime. Negotiations for another Beta Israel exodus were already under way, and large numbers of them had already been brought to Addis Ababa when the military government came under intense pressure from EPRDF forces. At the behest of both Israel and the United States, the government agreed to release the Beta Israel against an Israeli payment of US$35 million. On May 24-26, in what was called Operation Solomon, some 15,000 Beta Israel were airlifted from Ethiopia to Israel, leaving an estimated 5,000 behind, mostly around Gonder.
In retrospect, perhaps the two crucial factors in the fall of the Mengistu regime were the abortive coup of May 1989 and the loss of Soviet military and political support. In the aftermath of quelling the coup, disaffection spread throughout the army. Thereafter, whole military units defected, taking their arms and equipment with them as they joined insurgent groups. At the same time, Soviet military deliveries dwindled and then ceased, a source of supply that Mengistu was never able to replace, leaving government forces still further weakened and demoralized. It was these developments that led Mengistu to attempt economic reforms in 1989 and 1990 and to initiate peace talks with the EPLF and EPRDF under Italian and United States auspices.
During the early months of 1991, both the military and the political outlooks darkened considerably for the government. The EPLF pressed its sweep down the Red Sea coast with the aim of capturing Aseb. In February and March, EPRDF forces overran large portions of Gonder, Gojam, and Welega, threatening Addis Ababa from the northwest and west. In mid-April the National Shengo proposed talks with all political groups that would lead to a transitional government, a cease-fire, and amnesty for all political prisoners. At the same time, the National Shengo tempered its peace initiative by calling for the mobilization of all adults over the age of eighteen and for the strengthening of the WPE. A few days later, on April 26, Mengistu, in a gesture to his opponents, reshuffled the government, dropping several hard-liners and replacing them with moderates. Among the latter were Lieutenant General Tesfaye Gebre-Kidan, one of the army's commanders in Eritrea, who was promoted to vice president, and Tesfaye Dinka, former foreign minister, who became prime minister. Both belonged to a group of advisers who had been urging Mengistu to compromise with the Eritreans and the Tigray.
The main opposition parties--the EPLF, EPRDF, and OLF-- rebuffed the National Shengo's offer. During the next month, as all parties prepared for the next round of talks scheduled for London in late May, the EPLF and EPRDF pressed hard on the military front. In late April, EPRDF forces were reported to be some 100 kilometers west of Addis Ababa and still advancing; in Eritrea the EPLF made gains along the Red Sea coast and closed in on Keren and Asmera. In mid-May the last major government strongholds north of Addis Ababa-- Dese and Kembolcha in southern Welo--fell to the EPRDF. With little but demoralized and fleeing troops between the capital and the EPRDF forces, Mengistu resigned the presidency and fled the country on May 21. His exit, widely regarded as essential if the upcoming negotiations were to succeed, was secured in part through the efforts of Assistant Secretary of State Herman Cohen, who pressured Mengistu to resign and arranged for his exile in Zimbabwe.
Lieutenant General Tesfaye, now head of state, called for a cease-fire; he also offered to share power with his opponents and went so far as to begin releasing political prisoners, but to no avail. EPRDF fighters continued their advance on the virtually defenseless capital and announced that they could enter it at will. Meanwhile, on May 24, the EPLF received the surrender of Keren and the 120,000-member garrison in Asmera, which brought the whole of Eritrea under its control except for Aseb, which fell the next day. The goal of independence from Ethiopia, for which Eritreans had fought for three decades, now seemed a virtual certainty.
Against the background of these events, the London conference opened on May 27. The main contending parties were all in attendance: the government party headed by Tesfaye Dinka, the EPLF under Issaias Afwerki, the EPRDF under TPLF leader Meles Zenawi, and the OLF under its deputy secretary general, Lencho Letta. Assistant Secretary Cohen served as a mutually acceptable mediator. Ostensibly, the conference was supposed to explore ways to set up a transitional government in Addis Ababa, but its proceedings were soon overtaken by events on the ground. The talks had hardly gotten under way when Cohen received a message to the effect that Lieutenant General Tesfaye had lost control of the government's remaining armed units and that Addis Ababa was threatened with a complete breakdown of law and order. To prevent uncontrolled destruction and looting, Cohen recommended that EPRDF forces immediately move into Addis Ababa and establish control. Tesfaye Dinka strenuously objected, but he spoke from a position of weakness and could not prevail; he subsequently withdrew from the conference. On the night of May 27-28, EPRDF forces marched into Addis Ababa and assumed control of the city and national government.
The next day, Cohen again met with leaders of the EPLF, EPRDF, and OLF, but now as an adviser and not as a mediator. The insurgent leaders committed themselves to a pluralist democratic society and government for Ethiopia and agreed that Eritreans would be free to determine their own future, including independence if they wished. They also agreed that the EPRDF should continue to exercise temporary control in Addis Ababa. The task of constructing a transitional government, however, was postponed until early July, when a national conference broadly representative of all major political groups would convene in Addis Ababa to take up the matter. With these agreements in hand, the London conference adjourned, but not before Cohen stressed the need for fundamental reforms and conditioned future United States aid upon construction of a democratic political system.
By early June, the EPRDF claimed that it had established effective control over most of the country, the last remaining government troops in Dire Dawa and Harer having surrendered along with some 300 officials and military officers of the former regime. The new rulers faced a number of daunting problems, among them famine and starvation affecting several million people, a severely dislocated economy and society, the prospect of Eritrean independence and with it the loss of direct access to the Red Sea, and the thorny and far from settled question of ethnicity. The explosive potential of these problems was immediately apparent when, only a day after having marched into Addis Ababa, EPRDF soldiers shot or wounded several demonstrators protesting the EPRDF takeover, agreements affecting Eritrea, and United States policies toward the country. Even so, there was much hope and optimism about the future among a war-weary population, as well as a palpable sense of relief that seventeen years of despised military rule had at last come to an end.