FEW AFRICAN COUNTRIES have had such a long, varied, and troubled
history as Ethiopia. The Ethiopian state originated in the Aksumite
kingdom, a trading state that emerged about the first century A.D. The
Askumites perfected a written language; maintained relations with the
Byzantine Empire, Egypt, and the Arabs; and, in the mid-fourth century,
embraced Christianity. After the rise of Islam in the seventh century,
the Aksumite kingdom became internationally isolated as Arabs gradually
gained control of maritime trade in the Red Sea. By the early twelfth
century, the successors of the Aksumites had expanded southward and had
established a new capital and a line of kings called the Zagwe. A new
dynasty, the so-called "Solomonic" line, which came to power
about 1270, continued this territorial expansion and pursued a more
aggressive foreign policy. In addition, this Christian state, with the
help of Portuguese soldiers, repelled a near-overpowering Islamic
Starting about the mid-sixteenth century, the Oromo people, migrating
from the southwest, gradually forced their way into the kingdom, most
often by warfare. The Oromo, who eventually constituted about 40 percent
of Ethiopia's population, possessed their own culture, religion, and
political institutions. As the largest national group in Ethiopia, the
Oromo significantly influenced the course of the country's history by
becoming part of the royal family and the nobility and by joining the
army or the imperial government. During the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries, religious and regional rivalries gradually weakened the
imperial state until it was little more than a collection of independent
and competing fiefdoms.
Ethiopia's modern period (1855 to the present)--represented by the
reigns of Tewodros II, Yohannis IV, Menelik II, Zawditu, and Haile
Selassie I; by the Marxist regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam; and, since
mid-1991, by the Transitional Government of Ethiopia under Meles
Zenawi--has been been characterized by nation-building as well as by
warfare. Tewodros II started the process of recreating a cohesive
Ethiopian state by incorporating Shewa into his empire and by
suppressing revolts in the country's other provinces. Yohannis IV
battled to keep Ethiopia free from foreign domination and to retard the
growing power of the Shewan king, Menelik. Eventually, Menelik became
emperor and used military force to more than double Ethiopia's size. He
also defeated an Italian invasion force that sought to colonize the
Struggles over succession to the throne characterized the reign of
Zawditu--struggles won by Haile Selassie, the next ruler. After becoming
emperor in 1930, Haile Selassie embarked on a nationwide modernization
program. However, the 1935-36 Italo-Ethiopian war halted his efforts and
forced him into exile. After returning to Addis Ababa in 1941, Haile
Selassie undertook further military and political changes and sought to
encourage social and economic development. Although he did initiate a
number of fundamental reforms, the emperor was essentially an autocrat,
who to a great extent relied on political manipulation and military
force to remain in power and to preserve the Ethiopian state. Even after
an unsuccessful 1960 coup attempt led by the Imperial Bodyguard, Haile
Selassie failed to pursue the political and economic policies necessary
to improve the lives of most Ethiopians.
In 1974 a group of disgruntled military personnel overthrew the
Ethiopian monarchy. Eventually, Mengistu Haile Mariam, who participated
in the coup against Haile Selassie, emerged at the head of a Marxist
military dictatorship. Almost immediately, the Mengistu regime unleashed
a military and political reign of terror against its real and imagined
opponents. It also pursued socialist economic policies that reduced
agricultural productivity and helped bring on famine, resulting in the
deaths of untold tens of thousands of people. Thousands more fled or
perished as a result of government schemes to villagize the peasantry
and to relocate peasants from drought-prone areas of the north to
better-watered lands in the south and southwest.
Aside from internal dissent, which was harshly suppressed, the regime
faced armed insurgencies in the northern part of the country. The
longest-running of these was in Eritrea, where the Eritrean People's
Liberation Front (EPLF) and its predecessors had been fighting control
by the central government since 1961. In the mid-1970s, a second major
insurgency arose in Tigray, where the Tigray People's Liberation Front
(TPLF), a Marxist-Leninist organization under the leadership of Meles
Zenawi, opposed not only the policies of the military government but
also the very existence of the government itself.
In foreign affairs, the regime aligned itself with the Soviet Union.
As long as the Soviet Union and its allies provided support to
Ethiopia's armed forces, the Mengistu government remained secure. In the
late 1980s, however, Soviet support waned, a major factor in undermining
the ability of government forces to prosecute the wars against the
Eritreans and the Tigray. Gradually, the insurgent movements gained the
upper hand. By May 1991, the EPLF controlled almost all of Eritrea, and
the TPLF, operating as the chief member of a coalition called the
Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), had overrun
much of the center of the country. Faced with impending defeat, on May
21 Mengistu fled into exile in Zimbabwe; the caretaker government he
left behind collapsed a week later. The EPLF completed its sweep of
Eritrea on May 24 and 25, and a few days later EPLF chairman Issaias
Afwerki announced the formation of the Provisional Government of Eritrea
(PGE). Meanwhile, on May 27-28, EPRDF forces marched into Addis Ababa
and assumed control of the national government.
After seizing power, Tigrayan and Eritrean leaders confronted an
array of political, economic, and security problems that threatened to
overwhelm both new governments. Meles Zenawi and Issaias Afwerki
committed themselves to resolving these problems and to remaking their
respective societies. To achieve these goals, both governments adopted
similar strategies, which concentrated on national reconciliation,
eventual democratization, good relations with the West, and social and
economic development. Each leader, however, pursued different tactics to
implement his respective strategy.
The first task facing the new rulers in Addis Ababa was the creation
of an interim government. To this end, a so-called National Conference
was convened in Addis Ababa from July 1 to July 5. Many political groups
from across a broad spectrum were invited to attend, but the EPRDF
barred those identified with the former military regime, such as the
Workers' Party of Ethiopia and the All-Ethiopia Socialist Movement, as
well as those that were opposed to the EPRDF, such as the Ethiopian
People's Revolutionary Party and the Coalition of Ethiopian Democratic
Forces. A number of international observers also attended, including
delegations from the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United
Although it received accolades for running an open conference, the
EPRDF tightly controlled the proceedings. The conference adopted a
National Charter, which was signed by representatives of some thirty-one
political groups; it established the Transitional Government of Ethiopia
(TGE), consisting of executive and legislative branches; and it
sanctioned an EPLF-EPRDF agreement that converted Aseb into a free port
in exchange for a referendum on Eritrean self- determination to be held
within two years. The transitional government was to consist of the
offices of president and prime minister and a seventeen-member
multiethnic Council of Ministers. To ensure broad political
representation, an eighty-seven member Council of Representatives was
created, which was to select the new president, draft a new
constitution, and oversee a transition to a new national government. The
EPRDF occupied thirty-two of the eighty- seven council seats. The Oromo
Liberation Front (OLF) received twelve seats, and the TPLF, the Oromo
People's Democratic Organization, and the Ethiopian People's Democratic
Movement each occupied ten seats. Twenty-seven other groups shared the
The National Charter enshrined the guiding principles for what was
expected to be a two-and-one-half-year transitional period. The charter
called for creation of a commission to draft a new constitution to come
into effect by early 1994. It also committed the transitional government
to conduct itself in accordance with the UN Universal Declaration of
Human Rights and to pursue a foreign policy based on noninterference in
the internal affairs of neighboring states. Perhaps its most significant
provisions concerned a new system of internal administration in which
the principle of ethnicity was to constitute the basis of local and
regional government. The charter recognized the right of all of
Ethiopia's nationalities to self-determination, a right that was to be
exercised within the context of a federated Ethiopia, and called for
creation of district and regional councils on the basis of nationality.
Essentially, the National Conference was a first, basic step in the
reconstruction of a viable, legitimate central government. With the end
of civil wars all over the country, the aim was to create a balance of
competing ethnic and political groups at the center of the state that
would allow the wounds of war to heal and economic recovery to begin.
Additionally, there was the task of reconciling some segments of the
population to the impending loss of Eritrea and of Ethiopia's Red Sea
As the new order got under way, the Council of Representatives
elected Meles Zenawi president of the TGE. Then, in order to implement
the administrative provisions of the National Charter, the TGE drew up
twelve autonomous regions based on ethnic identification and recognized
two multiethnic chartered cities--Addis Ababa and Harer. The largest
nationalities--the Amhara, Oromo, Somali, and Tigray--were grouped into
their own regions, while an attempt was made to put culturally related
smaller groups together. Each region was composed of a number of
districts (weredas), intended to be the basic administrative unit. The
largest region--that of the Oromo--contained some 220 weredas; the next
largest region--that of the Amhara-- contained 126, out of a total of
600 weredas in all of Ethiopia. Under this system, each wereda exercised
executive, legislative, and judicial authority over local communities,
while the central government remained supreme in matters of defense,
foreign affairs, economic policy, citizenship requirements, and
In order to staff these new administrative units, the TGE scheduled
national elections. Originally foreseen for later 1991, these elections
were postponed for administrative and political reasons into 1992. By
then, the authorities had registered almost 200 political parties; few
of them, however, had a significant membership or any real influence in
shaping government policies. The TGE held preliminary elections for
local governing committees beginning in April and for wereda and
regional councils on June 21, 1992.
Security problems prevented elections from being held in some areas,
notably among the Afar and the Somali and in Harer. More important, a
corps of some 250 UN observers concluded that the June elections
suffered from a number of serious shortcomings, including an absence of
genuine competition, intimidation of nongovernment parties and
candidates, closure of political party offices, and jailing and even
shooting of candidates. Numerous observers also claimed that various
administrative and logistical problems impaired the electoral process
and that many Ethiopians failed to understand the nature of multiparty
politics. As a result, several political parties, including the OLF, the
All-Amhara People's Organization, and the Gideo People's Democratic
Organization, withdrew a few days before the elections. On June 22, the
OLF withdrew from the government and prepared to take up arms once
again. Nonetheless, the TGE accepted the results of the elections,
although it appointed a commission to investigate irregularities and to
take corrective steps.
In the economic arena, the TGE inherited a shattered country. In his
first public speech after the EPRDF had captured Addis Ababa, Meles
Zenawi indicated that Ethiopia's coffers were empty; moreover, some 7
million people were threatened with starvation because of drought and
civil war. Economic performance statistics reflected this gloomy
assessment. In Ethiopian fiscal year (EFY ) 1990/91, for example, the gross domestic product (
GDP ) declined by 5.6 percent, the greatest fall since the
1984-85 drought. Preliminary figures indicated a further decline in GDP
in 1991/92, although some gains were registered for agriculture.
To resolve these problems, the TGE abandoned the failed policies of
the Mengistu regime. It began dismantling the country's command economic
system and shifted toward a market-oriented economy with emphasis upon
private initiative. In December 1992, it adopted a new economic policy
whereby the government would maintain control over essential economic
sectors such as banking, insurance, petroleum, mining, and chemical
industries. However, retail trade, road transport, and a portion of
foreign trade was placed in private hands; and farmers could sell their
produce at free-market prices, although land remained under government
control. While smaller businesses were to be privatized, agriculture was
to receive the most attention and investment. By 1993 the state farms of
the Mengistu era were being dismantled and turned over to private
farmers; similarly, the agricultural cooperatives of prior years had
almost all disappeared. A major effort was also being made to steer
large numbers of ex-soldiers into farming as a way of increasing
production and of providing much-needed employment.
Meanwhile, on October 1, 1992, the TGE devalued Ethiopia's currency
to encourage exports and to aid in correcting a chronic balance of
payments deficit. The country had in addition begun to receive economic
aid from several sources, including the European Community, the World
Bank, Japan, Canada, and the United States.
Developments such as these provided a solid foundation for future
economic improvement--gains that in mid-1993 were still very much in the
realm of anticipation. It seemed clear that Ethiopia would remain one of
the world's poorest nations for the foreseeable future.
Since the downfall of the Mengistu regime, Ethiopia's human rights
record has improved. At the same time, the TGE has failed to end human
rights abuses. In the absence of a police force, the TGE delegated
policing functions to the EPRDF and to so-called Peace and Stability
Committees. On occasion, personnel belonging to these organizations were
alleged to have killed, wounded, or tortured criminal suspects. There
were also allegations of extrajudicial killings in many areas of the
Several incidents in early 1993 raised further questions about human
rights in Ethiopia. On January 4, security forces opened fire on
university students protesting UN and EPRDF policies toward Eritrea and
the upcoming independence referendum. At least one person, and possibly
several others, died during the fracas. In early April, the Council of
Representatives suspended five southern political parties from council
membership for having attended a conference in Paris at which the
parties criticized the security situation in the country and the entire
transitional process. A few days later, on April 9, more than forty
instructors at Addis Ababa University were summarily dismissed. The TGE
alleged lack of attention to teaching duties as the reason for its
action, but the instructors asserted that they were being punished for
having spoken out against TGE policies. These developments came on top
of United States Department of State allegations that more than 2,000
officials of the Mengistu regime remained in detention without having
been charged after almost twenty months.
One of the most serious dilemmas confronting the TGE concerned its
inability to restore security throughout Ethiopia. After the EPRDF
assumed power, it dismantled the 440,000-man Ethiopian armed forces. As
a result, several hundred thousand ex-military personnel had to fend for
themselves. The government's inability to find jobs for these soldiers
forced many of them to resort to crime as a way of life. Many of these
ex-soldiers contributed to the instability in Addis Ababa and parts of
southern, eastern, and western Ethiopia.
To help resolve these problems, the TGE created the Commission for
the Rehabilitation of Ex-Soldiers and War Veterans. By mid-1993 this
organization claimed that it had assisted in the rehabilitation of more
than 159,000 ex- soldiers in various rural areas. Additionally,
commission officials maintained that they were continuing to provide aid
to 157,000 ex-soldiers who lived in various urban centers.
Apart from the difficulties caused by former soldiers and criminal
elements, several insurgent groups hampered the TGE's ability to
maintain stability in eastern and western Ethiopia. The situation was
particularly troublesome with the OLF. For example, in mid-1991
government forces clashed with OLF units southwest of Dire Dawa over the
rights to collect qat revenues. Qat is a plant that produces a mild
narcotic intoxication when chewed and that is consumed throughout the
eastern Horn of Africa and in Yemen. Although the two groups signed a
peace agreement in August, tensions still existed, and fighting
continued around Dire Dawa and Harer at year's end. In early 1992,
EPRDF-OLF relations continued to deteriorate, with armed clashes
occurring at several locations throughout eastern and western Ethiopia.
After the OLF withdrew from the elections and the government in late
June, full-scale fighting broke out in the south and southwest, but OLF
forces were too weak to sustain the effort for more than a few weeks.
Even so, in April 1993 the OLF announced that it was once again
expanding its operations, but many observers doubted this claim and the
OLF's ability to launch effective military campaigns against government
The TGE also experienced problems with the Afar pastoralists who
inhabit the lowlands along Ethiopia's Red Sea coast, particularly during
its first year in power. In early September 1991, some Afar attacked a
food relief truck column near the town of Mile on the Addis Ababa--Aseb
road and killed at least seven drivers. The EPRDF restored security in
this region by shooting armed Afar on sight. Since then, EPRDF-Afar
relations have remained tense. Some Afar have associated themselves with
the OLF, but many others joined the Afar Liberation Movement, which by
early 1993 claimed to have 2,500 members under arms.
Elsewhere in eastern Ethiopia, the TGE experienced problems with the
Isa and Gurgura Liberation Front (IGLF). On October 4, 1991, clashes
between government forces and IGLF rebels resulted in the temporary
closure of the Addis Ababa- Djibouti railroad near Dire Dawa and the
disruption of trade between the two countries. The fighting also
disrupted famine relief distribution to nearly 1 million refugees in
eastern Ethiopia. By early 1992, the IGLF still had refused to recognize
the EPRDF's right to maintain security in the Isa-populated area around
Dire Dawa. By 1993, nonetheless, improved conditions allowed the Addis
Ababa-Djibouti railroad to operate on a fairly regular basis.
In western Ethiopia, during the July-September 1991 period, the EPRDF
engaged in several battles in Gojam and Gonder with the Ethiopian
People's Revolutionary Party (EPRP), the only major political group
excluded from power. Additionally, in Gambela, the EPRDF battled the
Gambela People's Liberation Front, which claimed the right to administer
Gambela without EPRDF interference. The downfall of the Mengistu regime
also created a crisis for approximately 500,000 southern Sudanese who
lived in refugee camps in and around Gambela. Although the new
government claimed they could remain in Ethiopia, nearly all of the
refugees, fearing reprisals for belonging to or supporting southern
Sudanese insurgents that the EPRDF opposed, fled toward southern Sudan.
As a result, by early 1992 fewer than 15,000 Sudanese refugees remained
in western Ethiopia.
In southern Ethiopia, crime was the main security problem. In late
March 1992, EPRDF troops reportedly arrested 1,705 armed bandits and
captured thousands of weapons, including machine guns and
rocket-propelled grenades. Despite this and similar sweeps, many Western
observers believed that security problems would continue to plague the
EPRDF regime for the foreseeable future because of the large number of
available arms and unemployed ex-fighters in the south.
In contrast with the political divisiveness in Ethiopia, nearly all
Eritreans appeared to support the EPLF and its goals. As a result, in
the first two years after military victory, the PGE was able to move
swiftly on a number of fronts. As one of its first acts, the new
government expelled thousands of soldiers and personnel of the former
Ethiopian army and government in Eritrea, together with their
dependents, forcing them across the border into Tigray. The PGE
maintained that the expulsions were necessary to free up living quarters
and jobs for returning Eritreans and to help reduce budgetary outlays.
In October 1992, the government opened schools across Eritrea. A few
weeks later, the PGE announced new criminal and civil codes and
appointed dozens of judges to run the court system. A National Service
Decree made it mandatory for all Eritreans between the ages of eighteen
and forty to perform twelve to eighteen months of unpaid service in the
armed forces, police, government, or in fields such as education or
Perhaps most important, the PGE honored the agreement it had reached
with the EPRDF and the OLF in 1991 to postpone a referendum on the
question of Eritrean independence for two years. By early 1993, given
the general popularity of the PGE and the desire among Eritreans to be
free of control from Addis Ababa, the outcome of the referendum was a
foregone conclusion. On April 23-25, 1993, the PGE carried out the poll.
In a turnout of 98.5 percent of the approximately 1.1 million registered
voters, 99.8 percent voted for independence. A 121-member UN observer
mission certified that the referendum was free and fair. Within hours,
the United States, Egypt, Italy, and Sudan extended diplomatic
recognition to the new country. Thereafter, Eritrea joined the UN, the
Organization of Africa Unity, and the Lomé
A month after the referendum, the EPLF transformed the PGE into the
Government of Eritrea, composed of executive, legislative, and judicial
branches. Supreme power resided with a new National Assembly, comprised
of the EPLF's former central committee augmented by sixty additional
representatives from the ten provinces into which Eritrea was divided.
Aside from formulating internal and external policies and budgetary
matters, the assembly was charged with electing a president, who would
be head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces. The
executive branch consisted of a twenty-four-member State Council,
chaired by the president. The judiciary, already in place, continued as
before. At its initial meeting on May 21, the assembly elected Issaias
Afwerki president. This new political configuration was to last not
longer than four years, during which time a democratic constitution was
to be drafted and all members of the EPLF would continue to work for the
state without salary.
In the months following independence, the Eritrean government enjoyed
almost universal popular support. Even such former adversaries as the
Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF), the Eritrean Liberation Front-United
Organization, and the Eritrean Liberation Front-Revolutionary Council
issued statements of support for the referendum and for the new regime.
During his first press conference after the referendum, President
Issaias stressed that his government would pursue pragmatic and flexible
policies. He also discussed prospects for close economic cooperation
with Ethiopia and raised the prospects of a future confederation between
the two countries. Meanwhile, the president pledged that Aseb would
remain a free port for goods in transit to Ethiopia. Additionally, he
reaffirmed the EPLF's commitment to the eventual establishment of a
multiparty political system, but there would be no political parties
based on ethnicity or religion.
Its popularity notwithstanding, the Eritrean government faced many
problems and an uncertain future. Economically, the country suffered
from the devastation of thirty years of war. Eritrea's forty publicly
owned factories operated at no more than one-third capacity, and many of
its more than 600 private companies had ceased operations. War damage
and drought had caused agricultural production to decline by as much as
40 percent in some areas; as a result, about 80 percent of the
population required food aid in 1992. The fighting also had wrecked
schools, hospitals, government offices, roads, and bridges throughout
the country, while bombing had destroyed economically important towns
like Mitsiwa and Nakfa.
To resolve these problems, Eritrea implemented a multifaceted
strategy that concentrated on restarting basic economic activities and
rehabilitating essential infrastructure; encouraging the return and
reintegration of nearly 500,000 Eritrean refugees from neighboring
Sudan; and establishing the Recovery and Rehabilitation Project for
Eritrea. Additionally, the Eritrean government reaffirmed its commitment
to a liberal investment code, the response to which by mid-1993 was
encouraging. Even so, the Eritrean government estimated that it needed
at least US$2 billion to rehabilitate the economy and to finance
development programs--aid that it sought largely from Western countries
and financial institutions.
Another serious issue confronting the new government concerned the
status of the country's armed forces. Since the country's liberation in
1991, the government had lacked the funds to pay salaries. Nevertheless,
officials adopted a compulsory national service act that required all
former fighters to labor without pay for two years on various public
works projects. When the new Government of Eritrea extended unpaid
compulsory national service for an additional four years on May 20,
1993, thousands of frustrated former fighters who wanted to be paid and
to return at last to their families demonstrated in Asmera. The
government responded by promising to begin paying the fighters and by
instituting a military demobilization program that would allow
volunteers who could fend for themselves to return to their homes.
Eritrea's long-term well-being also depended on President Issaias's
ability to preserve the country's unity. Achieving this goal will be
difficult. Eritrea's 3.5 million population is split equally between
Christians and Muslims; it also is divided into nine ethnic groups, each
of which speaks a different language. A reemergence of the historical
divisions between the Muslim-dominated ELF and the largely Christian
EPLF is possible and could prove to be the young country's undoing.
Also, at least some Eritreans doubted President Issaias's pledge to
establish a multiparty democracy and viewed with skepticism his
determination to prevent the establishment of political parties based on
ethnic group or religion. However, as of mid-1993, Eritrea remained at
peace, and the government enjoyed considerable support. As a result,
most Western observers maintained that the country had a good chance of
avoiding the turbulence that plagued much of the rest of the Horn of
The ultimate fates of Ethiopia and Eritrea are inevitably
intertwined. For economic reasons, Ethiopia needs to preserve its access
to Eritrean ports, and Eritrea needs food from Ethiopia as well as the
revenue and jobs that will be generated by acting as a transshipment
point for Ethiopian goods. Also, political and military cooperation well
be necessary to prevent conflict between the two nations.
Despite this obvious interdependence, Ethiopia and Eritrea face a
difficult future. Many Ethiopians, primarily those who are Amhara, and
some Eritreans, largely from the Muslim community, remain opposed to
Eritrean independence and the EPLF-dominated government. These
malcontents could become a catalyst for antigovernment activities in
both countries. Within Ethiopia, the TGE's concept of ethnicity as the
basis for organizing political life has aroused controversy and has
stymied many of the TGE's policies and programs, thereby reducing
chances for the emergence of a democratic government. Additionally, if
the EPRDF does not broaden its ethnic base of support and bring such
groups as the Amhara and the Oromo into the political process, the
likelihood of violence will increase. As of mid-1993, it was unclear
whether the TGE's plans for a new constitution and national government
would resolve these problems or would founder on the shoals of ethnic
politics and economic despair.
Ethiopia - Early Populations and Neighboring States
The Aksumite state emerged at about the beginning of the Christian
era, flourished during the succeeding six or seven centuries, and
underwent prolonged decline from the eighth to the twelfth century A.D.
Aksum's period of greatest power lasted from the fourth through the
sixth century. Its core area lay in the highlands of what is today
southern Eritrea, Tigray, Lasta (in present-day Welo), and Angot (also
in Welo); its major centers were at Aksum and Adulis. Earlier centers,
such as Yeha, also continued to flourish. At the kingdom's height, its
rulers held sway over the Red Sea coast from Sawakin in present-day
Sudan in the north to Berbera in present-day Somalia in the south, and
inland as far as the Nile Valley in modern Sudan. On the Arabian side of
the Red Sea, the Aksumite rulers at times controlled the coast and much
of the interior of modern Yemen. During the sixth and seventh centuries,
the Aksumite state lost its possessions in southwest Arabia and much of
its Red Sea coastline and gradually shrank to its core area, with the
political center of the state shifting farther and farther southward.
Inscriptions from Aksum and elsewhere date from as early as the end
of the second century A.D. and reveal an Aksumite state that already had
expanded at the expense of neighboring peoples. The Greek inscriptions
of King Zoskales (who ruled at the end of the second century A.D.) claim
that he conquered the lands to the south and southwest of what is now
Tigray and controlled the Red Sea coast from Sawakin south to the
present-day Djibouti and Berbera areas. The Aksumite state controlled
parts of Southwest Arabia as well during this time, and subsequent
Aksumite rulers continually involved themselves in the political and
military affairs of Southwest Arabia, especially in what is now Yemen.
Much of the impetus for foreign conquest lay in the desire to control
the maritime trade between the Roman Empire and India and adjoining
lands. Indeed, King Zoskales is mentioned by name in the Periplus of the
Erythrean Sea (the Latin term for the Red Sea is Mare Erythreum), a
Greek shipping guide of the first to third centuries A.D., as promoting
commerce with Rome, Arabia, and India. Among the African commodities
that the Aksumites exported were gold, rhinoceros horn, ivory, incense,
and obsidian; in return, they imported cloth, glass, iron, olive oil,
During the third and fourth centuries, the traditions related to
Aksumite rule became fixed. Gedara, who lived in the late second and
early third centuries, is referred to as the king of Aksum in
inscriptions written in Gi'iz (also seen as Ge'ez), the Semitic language
of the Aksumite kingdom. The growth of imperial traditions was
concurrent with the expansion of foreign holdings, especially in
Southwest Arabia in the late second century A.D. and later in areas west
of the Ethiopian highlands, including the kingdom of Meroë.
Meroë was centered on the Nile north of the confluence of the White
Nile and Blue Nile. Established by the sixth century B.C. or earlier,
the kingdom's inhabitants were black Africans who were heavily
influenced by Egyptian culture. It was probably the people of Meroë who
were the first to be called Aithiopiai ("burnt faces") by the
ancient Greeks, thus giving rise to the term Ethiopia that considerably
later was used to designate the northern highlands of the Horn of Africa
and its inhabitants. No evidence suggests that Meroë had any political
influence over the areas included in modern Ethiopia; economic influence
is harder to gauge because ancient commercial networks in the area were
probably extensive and involved much long-distance trade.
Sometime around A.D. 300, Aksumite armies conquered Meroë or forced
its abandonment. By the early fourth century A.D., King Ezana (reigned
325-60) controlled a domain extending from Southwest Arabia across the
Red Sea west to Meroë and south from Sawakin to the southern coast of
the Gulf of Aden. As an indication of the type of political control he
exercised, Ezana, like other Aksumite rulers, carried the title negusa
nagast (king of kings), symbolic of his rule over numerous
tribute-paying principalities and a title used by successive Ethiopian
rulers into the mid-twentieth century.
The Aksumites created a civilization of considerable distinction.
They devised an original architectural style and employed it in stone
palaces and other public buildings. They also erected a series of carved
stone stelae at Aksum as monuments to their deceased rulers. Some of
these stelae are among the largest known from the ancient world. The
Aksumites left behind a body of written records, that, although not
voluminous, are nonetheless a legacy otherwise bequeathed only by Egypt
and Meroë among ancient African kingdoms. These records were written in
two languages--Gi'iz and Greek. Gi'iz is assumed to be ancestral to
modern Amharic and Tigrinya, although possibly only indirectly. Greek
was also widely used, especially for commercial transactions with the
Hellenized world of the eastern Mediterranean. Even more remarkable and
wholly unique for ancient Africa was the minting of coins over an
approximately 300-year period. These coins, many with inlay of gold on
bronze or silver, provide a chronology of the rulers of Aksum.
One of the most important contributions the Aksumite state made to
Ethiopian tradition was the establishment of the Christian Church. The
Aksumite state and its forebears had certainly been in contact with
Judaism since the first millennium B.C. and with Christianity beginning
in the first century A.D. These interactions probably were rather
limited. However, during the second and third centuries, Christianity
spread throughout the region. Around A.D. 330- 40, Ezana was converted
to Christianity and made it the official state religion. The variant of
Christianity adopted by the Aksumite state, however, eventually followed
the Monophysite belief, which embraced the notion of one rather than two
separate natures in the person of Christ as defined by the Council of
Chalcedon in 451.
Little is known about fifth-century Aksum, but early in the next
century Aksumite rulers reasserted their control over Southwest Arabia,
though only for a short time. Later in the sixth century, however,
Sassanian Persians established themselves in Yemen, effectively ending
any pretense of Aksumite control. Thereafter, the Sassanians attacked
Byzantine Egypt, further disrupting Aksumite trade networks in the Red
Sea area. Over the next century and a half, Aksum was increasingly cut
off from its overseas entrepôts and as a result entered a period of
prolonged decline, gradually relinquishing its maritime trading network
and withdrawing into the interior of northern Ethiopia.
Ethiopia - Ethiopia and the Early Islamic Period
Egyptian Muslims had destroyed the neighboring Nile River valley's
Christian states in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Tenuous
relations with Christians in Western Europe and the Byzantine Empire
continued via the Coptic Church in Egypt. The Coptic patriarchs in
Alexandria were responsible for the assignment of Ethiopian
patriarchs--a church policy that Egypt's Muslim rulers occasionally
tried to use to their advantage. For centuries after the Muslim
conquests of the early medieval period, this link with the Eastern
churches constituted practically all of Ethiopia's administrative
connection with the larger Christian world.
A more direct if less formal contact with the outside Christian world
was maintained through the Ethiopian Monophysite community in Jerusalem
and the visits of Ethiopian pilgrims to the Holy Land. Ethiopian monks
from the Jerusalem community attended the Council of Florence in 1441 at
the invitation of the pope, who was seeking to reunite the Eastern and
Western churches. Westerners learned about Ethiopia through the monks
and pilgrims and became attracted to it for two main reasons. First,
many believed Ethiopia was the long-sought land of the legendary
Christian priest-king of the East, Prester John. Second, the West viewed
Ethiopia as a potentially valuable ally in its struggle against Islamic
forces that continued to threaten southern Europe until the Turkish
defeat at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571.
Portugal, the first European power to circumnavigate Africa and enter
the Indian Ocean, displayed initial interest in this potential ally by
sending a representative to Ethiopia in 1493. The Ethiopians, in turn,
sent an envoy to Portugal in 1509 to request a coordinated attack on the
Muslims. Europe received its first written accounts of the country from
Father Francisco Alvarez, a Franciscan who accompanied a Portuguese
diplomatic expedition to Ethiopia in the 1520s. His book, The Prester
John of the Indies, stirred further European interest and proved a
valuable source for future historians. The first Portuguese forces
responded to a request for aid in 1541, although by that time the
Portuguese were concerned primarily with strengthening their hegemony
over the Indian Ocean trade routes and with converting the Ethiopians to
Roman Catholicism. Nevertheless, joining the forces of the Christian
kingdom, the Portuguese succeeded eventually in helping to defeat and
Portuguese Roman Catholic missionaries arrived in 1554. Efforts to
induce the Ethiopians to reject their Monophysite beliefs and accept
Rome's supremacy continued for nearly a century and engendered
bitterness as pro- and anti-Catholic parties maneuvered for control of
the state. At least two emperors in this period allegedly converted to
Roman Catholicism. The second of these, Susenyos (reigned 1607- 32),
after a particularly fierce battle between adherents of the two faiths,
abdicated in 1632 in favor of his son, Fasiladas (reigned 1632-67), to
spare the country further bloodshed. The expulsion of the Jesuits and
all Roman Catholic missionaries followed. This religious controversy
left a legacy of deep hostility toward foreign Christians and Europeans
that continued into the twentieth century. It also contributed to the
isolation that followed for the next 200 years.
Emperor Fasiladas kept out the disruptive influences of the foreign
Christians, dealt with sporadic Muslim incursions, and in general sought
to reassert central authority and to reinvigorate the Solomonic monarchy
and the Orthodox Church. He revived the practice of confining royal
family members on a remote mountaintop to lessen challenges to his rule
and distinguished himself by reconstructing the cathedral at Aksum
(destroyed by Grañ) and by establishing his camp at Gonder--a locale
that gradually developed into a permanent capital and that became the
cultural and political center of Ethiopia during the Gonder period.
Although the Gonder period produced a flowering of architecture and
art that lasted more than a century, Gonder monarchs never regained full
control over the wealth and manpower that the nobility had usurped
during the long wars against Grañ and then the Oromo. Many nobles,
commanding the loyalty of their home districts, had become virtually
independent, especially those on the periphery of the kingdom. Moreover,
during Fasiladas's reign and that of his son Yohannis I (reigned
1667-82), there were substantial differences between the two monastic
orders of the Orthodox Church concerning the proper response to the
Jesuit challenge to Monophysite doctrine on the nature of Christ. The
positions of the two orders were often linked to regional opposition to
the emperor, and neither Fasiladas nor Yohannis was able to settle the
issue without alienating important components of the church.
Iyasu I (reigned 1682-1706) was a celebrated military leader who
excelled at the most basic requirement of the warrior-king. He
campaigned constantly in districts on the south and southeast of the
kingdom and personally led expeditions to Shewa and beyond, areas from
which royal armies had long been absent. Iyasu also attempted to mediate
the doctrinal quarrel in the church, but a solution eluded him. He
sponsored the construction of several churches, among them Debre Birhan
Selassie, one of the most beautiful and famous of the churches in
Iyasu's reign also saw the Oromo begin to play a role in the affairs
of the kingdom, especially in the military sense. Iyasu co-opted some of
the Oromo groups by enlisting them into his army and by converting them
to Christianity. He came gradually to rely almost entirely upon Oromo
units and led them in repeated campaigns against their countrymen who
had not yet been incorporated into the Amhara-Tigray state. Successive
Gonder kings, particularly Iyasu II (reigned 1730-55), likewise relied
upon Oromo military units to help counter challenges to their authority
from the traditional nobility and for purposes of campaigning in
farflung Oromo territory. By the late eighteenth century, the Oromo were
playing an important role in political affairs as well. At times during
the first half of the nineteenth century, Oromo was the primary language
at court, and Oromo leaders came to number among the highest nobility of
During the reign of Iyoas (reigned 1755-69), son of Iyasu II, the
most important political figure was Ras Mikael Sehul, a good example of
a great noble who made himself the power behind the throne. Mikael's
base was the province of Tigray, which by now enjoyed a large measure of
autonomy and from which Mikael raised up large armies with which he
dominated the Gonder scene. In 1769 he demonstrated his power by
ordering the murder of two kings (Iyoas and Yohannis II) and by placing
Tekla Haimanot II (son of Yohannis II) on the throne, a weak ruler who
did Mikael's bidding. Mikael continued in command until the early 1770s,
when a coalition of his opponents compelled him to retire to Tigray,
where he eventually died of old age.
Mikael's brazen murder of two kings and his undisguised role as
kingmaker in Gonder signaled the beginning of what Ethiopians have long
termed the Zemene Mesafint (Era of the Princes), a time when Gonder
kings were reduced to ceremonial figureheads while their military
functions and real power lay with powerful nobles. During this time,
traditionally dating from 1769 to 1855, the kingdom no longer existed as
a united entity capable of concerted political and military activity.
Various principalities were ruled by autonomous nobles, and warfare was
The five-volume work Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile by
James Bruce, the Scottish traveler who lived in Ethiopia from 1769 to
1772, describes some of the bloody conflicts and personal rivalries that
consumed the kingdom. During the most confused period, around 1800,
there were as many as six rival emperors. Provincial warlords were
masters of the territories they controlled but were subject to raids
from other provinces. Peasants often left the land to become soldiers or
brigands. In this period, too, Oromo nobles, often nominally Christian
and in a few cases Muslim, were among those who struggled for hegemony
over the highlands. The church, still riven by theological controversy,
contributed to the disunity that was the hallmark of the Zemene
Ethiopia - The Reestablishment of the Ethiopian Monarchy
Tewodros II's origins were in the Era of the Princes, but his
ambitions were not those of the regional nobility. He sought to
reestablish a cohesive Ethiopian state and to reform its administration
and church. He did not initially claim Solomonic lineage but did seek to
restore Solomonic hegemony, and he considered himself the "Elect of
God." Later in his reign, suspecting that foreigners considered him
an upstart and seeking to legitimize his reign, he added "son of
David and Solomon" to his title.
Tewodros's first task was to bring Shewa under his control. During
the Era of the Princes, Shewa was, even more than most provinces, an
independent entity, its ruler even styling himself negus. In the course
of subduing the Shewans, Tewodros imprisoned a Shewan prince, Menelik,
who would later become emperor himself. Despite his success against
Shewa, Tewodros faced constant rebellions in other provinces. In the
first six years of his reign, the new ruler managed to put down these
rebellions, and the empire was relatively peaceful from about 1861 to
1863, but the energy, wealth, and manpower necessary to deal with
regional opposition limited the scope of Tewodros's other activities. By
1865 other rebels had emerged, including Menelik, who had escaped from
prison and returned to Shewa, where he declared himself negus.
In addition to his conflicts with rebels and rivals, Tewodros
encountered difficulties with the European powers. Seeking aid from the
British government (he proposed a joint expedition to conquer
Jerusalem), he became unhappy with the behavior of those Britons whom he
had counted on to advance his request, and he took them hostage. In
1868, as a British expeditionary force sent from India to secure release
of the hostages stormed his stronghold, Tewodros committed suicide.
Tewodros never realized his dream of restoring a strong monarchy,
although he took some important initial steps. He sought to establish
the principle that governors and judges must be salaried appointees. He
also established a professional standing army, rather than depending on
local lords to provide soldiers for his expeditions. He also intended to
reform the church, believing the clergy to be ignorant and immoral, but
he was confronted by strong opposition when he tried to impose a tax on
church lands to help finance government activities. His confiscation of
these lands gained him enemies in the church and little support
elsewhere. Essentially, Tewodros was a talented military campaigner but
a poor politician.
The kingdom at Tewodros's death was disorganized, but those
contending to succeed him were not prepared to return to the Zemene
Mesafint system. One of them, crowned Tekla Giorgis, took over the
central part of the highlands. Another, Kasa Mercha, governor of Tigray,
declined when offered the title of ras in exchange for recognizing Tekla
Giorgis. The third, Menelik of Shewa, came to terms with Tekla Giorgis
in return for a promise to respect Shewa's independence. Tekla Giorgis,
however, sought to bring Kasa Mercha under his rule but was defeated by
a small Tigrayan army equipped with more modern weapons than those
possessed by his Gonder forces. In 1872 Kasa Mercha was crowned negusa
nagast in a ceremony at the ancient capital of Aksum, taking the throne
name of Yohannis IV.
Yohannis was unable to exercise control over the nearly independent
Shewans until six years later. From the beginning of his reign, he was
confronted with the growing power of Menelik, who had proclaimed himself
king of Shewa and traced his Solomonic lineage to Lebna Dengel. While
Yohannis was struggling against opposing factions in the north, Menelik
consolidated his power in Shewa and extended his rule over the Oromo to
the south and west. He garrisoned Shewan forces among the Oromo and
received military and financial support from them. Despite the
acquisition of European firearms, in 1878 Menelik was compelled to
submit to Yohannis and to pay tribute; in return, Yohannis recognized
Menelik as negus and gave him a free hand in territories to the south of
Shewa. This agreement, although only a truce in the long-standing
rivalry between Tigray and Shewa, was important to Yohannis, who was
preoccupied with foreign enemies and pressures. In many of Yohannis's
external struggles, Menelik maintained separate relations with the
emperor's enemies and continued to consolidate Shewan authority in order
to strengthen his own position. In a subsequent agreement designed to
ensure the succession in the line of Yohannis, one of Yohannis's younger
sons was married to Zawditu, Menelik's daughter.
In 1875 Yohannis had to meet attacks from Egyptian forces on three
fronts. The khedive in Egypt envisioned a "Greater Egypt" that
would encompass Ethiopia. In pursuit of this goal, an Egyptian force
moved inland from present-day Djibouti but was annihilated by Afar
tribesmen. Other Egyptian forces occupied Harer, where they remained for
nearly ten years, long after the Egyptian cause had been lost. Tigrayan
warriors defeated a more ambitious attack launched from the coastal city
of Mitsiwa in which the Egyptian forces were almost completely
destroyed. A fourth Egyptian army was decisively defeated in 1876
southwest of Mitsiwa.
Italy was the next source of danger. The Italian government took over
the port of Aseb in 1882 from the Rubattino Shipping Company, which had
purchased it from a local ruler some years before. Italy's main interest
was not the port but the eventual colonization of Ethiopia. In the
process, the Italians entered into a long-term relationship with
Menelik. The main Italian drive was begun in 1885 from Mitsiwa, which
Italy had occupied. From this port, the Italians began to penetrate the
hinterland, with British encouragement. In 1887, after the Italians were
soundly defeated at Dogali by Ras Alula, the governor of northeastern
Tigray, they sent a stronger force into the area.
Yohannis was unable to attend to the Italian threat because of
difficulties to the west in Gonder and Gojam. In 1887 Sudanese Muslims,
known as Mahdists, made incursions into Gojam and Begemdir and laid
waste parts of those provinces. In 1889 the emperor met these forces in
the Battle of Metema on the Sudanese border. Although the invaders were
defeated, Yohannis himself was fatally wounded, and the Ethiopian forces
disintegrated. Just before his death, Yohannis designated one of his
sons, Ras Mengesha Yohannis of Tigray, as his successor, but this
gesture proved futile, as Menelik successfully claimed the throne in
The Shewan ruler became the dominant personality in Ethiopia and was
recognized as Emperor Menelik II by all but Yohannis's son and Ras
Alula. During the temporary period of confusion following Yohannis's
death, the Italians were able to advance farther into the hinterland
from Mitsiwa and establish a foothold in the highlands, from which
Menelik was unable to dislodge them. From 1889 until after World War II,
Ethiopia was deprived of its maritime frontier and was forced to accept
the presence of an ambitious European power on its borders.
Ethiopia - The Reign of Menelik II, 1889-1913
By 1900 Menelik had succeeded in establishing control over much of
present-day Ethiopia and had, in part at least, gained recognition from
the European colonial powers of the boundaries of his empire. Although
in many respects a traditionalist, he introduced several significant
changes. His decision in the late 1880s to locate the royal encampment
at Addis Ababa ("New Flower") in southern Shewa led to the
gradual rise of a genuine urban center and a permanent capital in the
1890s, a development that facilitated the introduction of new ideas and
technology. The capital's location symbolized the empire's southern
reorientation, a move that further irritated Menelik's Tigrayan
opponents and some Amhara of the more northerly provinces who resented
Shewan hegemony. Menelik also authorized a French company to build a
railroad, not completed until 1917, that eventually would link Addis
Ababa and Djibouti.
Menelik embarked on a program of military conquest that more than
doubled the size of his domain. Enjoying superior firepower, his forces overran the Kembata and
Welamo regions in the southern highlands. Also subdued were the Kefa and
other Oromo- and Omotic-speaking peoples.
Expanding south, Menelik introduced a system of land rights
considerably modified from that prevailing in the AmharaTigray
highlands. These changes had significant implications for the ordinary
cultivator in the south and ultimately were to generate quite different
responses there to the land reform programs that would follow the
revolution of 1974. In the central and northern
highlands, despite regional variations, most peasants had substantial
inheritable (broadly, rist) rights in land. In addition to holding rights of
this kind, the nobility held or were assigned certain economic rights in
the land, called gult rights, which entitled them to a portion of the produce
of the land in which others held rist rights and to certain services
from the rist holders. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church also held land of
its own and gult rights in land to which peasants held rist rights. In
the south, all land theoretically belonged to the emperor. He in turn
allocated land rights to those he appointed to office and to his
soldiers. The rights allocated by the king were more extensive than the
gult rights prevailing in the north and left most of the indigenous
peoples as tenants, with far fewer rights than Amhara and Tigray
peasants. Thus, the new landowners in the south were aliens and remained
At the same time that Menelik was extending his empire, European
colonial powers were showing an interest in the territories surrounding
Ethiopia. Menelik considered the Italians a formidable challenge and
negotiated the Treaty of Wuchale with them in 1889. Among its terms
were those permitting the Italians to establish their first toehold on
the edge of the northern highlands and from which they subsequently
sought to expand into Tigray. Disagreements over the contents of the
treaty eventually induced Menelik to renounce it and repay in full a
loan Italy had granted as a condition. Thereafter, relations with Italy
were further strained as a result of the establishment of Eritrea as a
colony and Italy's penetration of the Somali territories.
Italian ambitions were encouraged by British actions in 1891, when,
hoping to stabilize the region in the face of the Mahdist threat in
Sudan, Britain agreed with the Italian government that Ethiopia should
fall within the Italian sphere of influence. France, however, encouraged
Menelik to oppose the Italian threat by delineating the projected
boundaries of his empire. Anxious to advance French economic interests
through the construction of a railroad from Addis Ababa to the city of
Djibouti in French Somaliland, France accordingly reduced the size of
its territorial claims there and recognized Ethiopian sovereignty in the
Italian-Ethiopian relations reached a low point in 1895, when Ras
Mengesha of Tigray, hitherto reluctant to recognize the Shewan emperor's
claims, was threatened by the Italians and asked for the support of
Menelik. In late 1895, Italian forces invaded Tigray. However, Menelik
completely routed them in early 1896 as they approached the Tigrayan
capital, Adwa. This victory brought Ethiopia new prestige as well as
general recognition of its sovereign status by the European powers.
Besides confirming the annulment of the Treaty of Wuchale, the peace
agreement ending the conflict also entailed Italian recognition of
Ethiopian independence; in return, Menelik permitted the Italians to
retain their colony of Eritrea.
In addition to attempts on the part of Britain, France, and Italy to
gain influence within the empire, Menelik was troubled by intrigues
originating in Russia, Germany, and the Ottoman Empire. But, showing a
great capacity to play one power off against another, the emperor was
able to avoid making any substantial concessions. Moreover, while
pursuing his own territorial designs, Menelik joined with France in 1898
to penetrate Sudan at Fashoda and then cooperated with British forces in
British Somaliland between 1900 and 1904 to put down a rebellion in the
Ogaden by Somali leader Muhammad Abdullah Hassan. By 1908 the colonial
powers had recognized Ethiopia's borders except for those with Italian
After Menelik suffered a disabling stroke in May 1906, his personal
control over the empire weakened. Apparently responding to that weakness
and seeking to avoid an outbreak of conflict in the area, Britain,
France, and Italy signed the Tripartite Treaty, which declared that the
common purpose of the three powers was to maintain the political status
quo and to respect each other's interests. Britain's interest, it was
recognized, lay around Lake Tana and the headwaters of the Abay (Blue
Nile). Italy's chief interest was in linking Eritrea with Italian
Somaliland. France's interest was the territory to be traversed by the
railroad from Addis Ababa to Djibouti in French Somaliland.
Apparently recognizing that his political strength was ebbing,
Menelik established a Council of Ministers in late 1907 to assist in the
management of state affairs. The foremost aspirants to the throne, Ras
Mekonnen and Ras Mengesha, had died in 1906. In June 1908, the emperor
designated his thirteen-year-old nephew, Lij Iyasu, son of Ras Mikael of
Welo, as his successor. After suffering another stroke in late 1908, the
emperor appointed Ras Tessema as regent. These developments ushered in a
decade of political uncertainty. The great nobles, some with foreign
financial support, engaged in intrigues anticipating a time of troubles
as well as of opportunity upon Menelik's death.
Empress Taytu, who had borne no children, was heavily involved in
court politics on behalf of her kin and friends, most of whom lived in
the northern provinces and included persons who either had claims of
their own to the throne or were resentful of Shewan hegemony. However,
by 1910 her efforts had been thwarted by the Shewan nobles; thereafter,
the empress withdrew from political activity.
Ethiopia - The Interregnum
As late as September 29, 1934, Rome affirmed its 1928 treaty of
friendship with Ethiopia. Nonetheless, it became clear that Italy wished
to expand and link its holdings in the Horn of Africa. Moreover, the international climate of the mid-1930s provided
Italy with the expectation that aggression could be undertaken with
impunity. Determined to provoke a casus belli, the Mussolini regime
began deliberately exploiting the minor provocations that arose in its
relations with Ethiopia.
In December 1934, an incident took place at Welwel in the Ogaden, a
site of wells used by Somali nomads regularly traversing the borders
between Ethiopia and British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland. The
Italians had built fortified positions in Welwel in 1930 and, because
there had been no protests, assumed that the international community had
recognized their rights over this area. However, an Anglo-Ethiopian
boundary commission challenged the Italian position when it visited
Welwel in late November 1934 on its way to set territorial boundary
markers. On encountering Italian belligerence, the commission's members
withdrew but left behind their Ethiopian military escort, which
eventually fought a battle with Italian units.
In September 1935, the League of Nations exonerated both parties in
the Welwel incident. The long delay and the intricate British and French
maneuverings persuaded Mussolini that no obstacle would be placed in his
path. An Anglo-French proposal in August 1935--just before the League of
Nations ruling--that the signatories to the 1906 Tripartite Treaty
collaborate for the purpose of assisting in the modernization and
reorganization of Ethiopian internal affairs, subject to the consent of
Ethiopia, was flatly rejected by the Italians. On October 3, 1935, Italy
attacked Ethiopia from Eritrea and Italian Somaliland without a
declaration of war. On October 7, the League of Nations unanimously
declared Italy an aggressor but took no effective action.
In a war that lasted seven months, Ethiopia was outmatched by Italy
in armaments--a situation exacerbated by the fact that a League of
Nations arms embargo was not enforced against Italy. Despite a valiant
defense, the next six months saw the Ethiopians pushed back on the
northern front and in Harerge. Acting on long-standing grievances, a
segment of the Tigray forces defected, as did Oromo forces in some
areas. Moreover, the Italians made widespread use of chemical weapons
and air power. On March 31, 1936, the Ethiopians counterattacked the
main Italian force at Maychew but were defeated. By early April 1936,
Italian forces had reached Dese in the north and Harer in the east. On
May 2, Haile Selassie left for French Somaliland and exile--a move
resented by some Ethiopians who were accustomed to a warrior emperor.
The Italian forces entered Addis Ababa on May 5. Four days later, Italy
announced the annexation of Ethiopia.
On June 30, Haile Selassie made a powerful speech before the League
of Nations in Geneva in which he set forth two choices--support for
collective security or international lawlessness. The emperor stirred
the conscience of many and was thereafter regarded as a major
international figure. Britain and France, however, soon recognized
Italy's control of Ethiopia. Among the major powers, the United States
and the Soviet Union refused to do so.
In early June 1936, Rome promulgated a constitution bringing
Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Italian Somaliland together into a single
administrative unit divided into six provinces. On June 11, 1936,
Marshal Rodolfo Graziani replaced Marshal Pietro Badoglio, who had
commanded the Italian forces in the war. In December the Italians
declared the whole country to be pacified and under their effective
control. Ethiopian resistance nevertheless continued.
After a failed assassination attempt against Graziani on February 19,
1937, the colonial authorities executed 30,000 persons, including about
half of the younger, educated Ethiopian population. This harsh policy,
however, did not pacify the country. In November 1937, Rome therefore
appointed a new governor and instructed him to adopt a more flexible
line. Accordingly, large-scale public works projects were undertaken.
One result was the construction of the country's first system of
improved roads. In the meantime, however, the Italians had decreed
miscegenation to be illegal. Racial separation, including residential
segregation, was enforced as thoroughly as possible. The Italians showed
favoritism to non-Christian Oromo (some of whom had supported the
invasion), Somali, and other Muslims in an attempt to isolate the
Amhara, who supported Haile Selassie.
Ethiopian resistance continued, nonetheless. Early in 1938, a revolt
broke out in Gojam led by the Committee of Unity and Collaboration,
which was made up of some of the young, educated elite who had escaped
the reprisal after the attempt on Graziani's life. In exile in Britain,
the emperor sought to gain the support of the Western democracies for
his cause but had little success until Italy entered World War II on the
side of Germany in June 1940. Thereafter, Britain and the emperor sought
to cooperate with Ethiopian and other indigenous forces in a campaign to
dislodge the Italians from Ethiopia and from British Somaliland, which
the Italians seized in August 1940, and to resist the Italian invasion
of Sudan. Haile Selassie proceeded immediately to Khartoum, where he
established closer liaison with both the British headquarters and the
resistance forces within Ethiopia.
Ethiopia - Ethiopia in World War II
Outside the Amhara-Tigray heartland, the two areas posing the most
consistent problems for Ethiopia's rulers were Eritrea and the largely
Somali-occupied Ogaden and adjacent regions.
The Liberation Struggle in Eritrea
Eritrea had been placed under British military administration in 1941
after the Italian surrender. In keeping with a 1950 decision of the UN
General Assembly, British military administration ended in September
1952 and was replaced by a new autonomous Eritrean government in federal
union with Ethiopia. Federation with the former Italian colony restored
an unhindered maritime frontier to the country. The new arrangement also
enabled the country to gain limited control of a territory that, at
least in its inland areas, was more advanced politically and
The Four Power Inquiry Commission established by the World War II
Allies (Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States) had
failed to agree in its September 1948 report on a future course for
Eritrea. Several countries had displayed an active interest in the area.
In the immediate postwar years, Italy had requested that Eritrea be
returned as a colony or as a trusteeship. This bid was supported
initially by the Soviet Union, which anticipated a communist victory at
the Italian polls. The Arab states, seeing Eritrea and its large Muslim
population as an extension of the Arab world, sought the establishment
of an independent state. Some Britons favored a division of the
territory, with the Christian areas and the coast from Mitsiwa southward
going to Ethiopia and the northwest area going to Sudan.
A UN commission, which arrived in Eritrea in February 1950,
eventually approved a plan involving some form of association with
Ethiopia. In December the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution
affirming the commission's plan, with the provision that Britain, the
administering power, should facilitate the UN efforts and depart from
the colony no later than September 15, 1952. Faced with this constraint,
the British administration held elections on March 16, 1952, for a
Representative Assembly of sixty-eight members. This body, made up
equally of Christians and Muslims, accepted the draft constitution
advanced by the UN commissioner on July 10. The constitution was
ratified by the emperor on September 11, and the Representative
Assembly, by prearrangement, was transformed into the Eritrean Assembly
three days before the federation was proclaimed.
The UN General Assembly resolution of September 15, 1952, adopted by
a vote of forty-seven to ten, provided that Eritrea should be linked to
Ethiopia through a loose federal structure under the emperor's
sovereignty but with a form and organization of internal
self-government. The federal government, which for all intents and
purposes was the existing imperial government, was to control foreign
affairs, defense, foreign and interstate commerce, transportation, and
finance. Control over domestic affairs (including police, local
administration, and taxation to meet its own budget) was to be exercised
by an elected Eritrean assembly on the parliamentary model. The state
was to have its own administrative and judicial structure and its own
Almost from the start of federation, the emperor's representative
undercut the territory's separate status under the federal system. In
August 1955, Tedla Bairu, an Eritrean who was the chief executive
elected by the assembly, resigned under pressure from the emperor, who
replaced Tedla with his own nominee. He made Amharic the official
language in place of Arabic and Tigrinya, terminated the use of the
Eritrean flag, and moved many businesses out of Eritrea. In addition,
the central government proscribed all political parties, imposed
censorship, gave the top administrative positions to Amhara, and
abandoned the principle of parity between Christian and Muslim
officials. In November 1962, the Eritrean Assembly, many of whose
members had been accused of accepting bribes, voted unanimously to
change Eritrea's status to that of a province of Ethiopia. Following his
appointment of the archconservative Ras Asrate Kasa as governor general,
the emperor was accused of "refeudalizing" the territory.
The extinction of the federation consolidated internal and external
opposition to union. Four years earlier, in 1958, a number of Eritrean
exiles had founded the Eritrean Liberation Movement (ELM) in Cairo,
under Hamid Idris Awate's leadership. This organization, however, soon
was neutralized. A new faction, the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF),
emerged in 1960. Initially a Muslim movement, the ELF was nationalist
rather than Marxist and received Iraqi and Syrian support. As urban
Christians joined, the ELF became more radical and anticapitalist.
Beginning in 1961, the ELF turned to armed struggle and by 1966
challenged imperial forces throughout Eritrea.
The rapid growth of the ELF also created internal divisions between
urban and rural elements, socialists and nationalists, and Christians
and Muslims. Although these divisions did not take any clear form, they
were magnified as the ELF extended its operations and won international
publicity. In June 1970, Osman Salah Sabbe, former head of the Muslim
League, broke away from the ELF and formed the Popular Liberation Forces
(PLF), which led directly to the founding of the Eritrean People's
Liberation Front (EPLF) in early 1972. Both organizations initially
attracted a large number of urban, intellectual, and leftist Christian
youths and projected a strong socialist and nationalist image. By 1975
the EPLF had more than 10,000 members in the field. However, the growth
of the EPLF was also accompanied by an intensification of internecine
Eritrean conflict, particularly between 1972 and 1974, when casualties
were well over 1,200. In 1976 Osman broke with the EPLF and formed the
Eritrean Liberation Front-Popular Liberation Front (ELF-PLF), a division
that reflected differences between combatants in Eritrea and
representatives abroad as well as personal rivalries and basic
ideological differences, factors important in earlier splits within the
Eritrean separatist movement.
Encouraged by the imperial regime's collapse and attendant confusion,
the guerrillas extended their control over the whole region by 1977.
Ethiopian forces were largely confined to urban centers and controlled
the major roads only by day.
Ethiopia - Discontent in Tigray
The government's failure to effect significant economic and political
reforms over the previous fourteen years--combined with rising
inflation, corruption, a famine that affected several provinces (but
especially Welo and Tigray) and that was concealed from the outside
world, and the growing discontent of urban interest groups--provided the
backdrop against which the Ethiopian revolution began to unfold in early
1974. Whereas elements of the urban-based, modernizing elite previously
had sought to establish a parliamentary democracy, the initiation of the
1974 revolution was the work of the military, acting essentially in its
own immediate interests. The unrest that began in January of that year
then spread to the civilian population in an outburst of general
The Ethiopian military on the eve of the revolution was riven by
factionalism; the emperor promoted such division to prevent any person
or group from becoming too powerful. Factions included the Imperial
Bodyguard, which had been rebuilt since the 1960 coup attempt; the
Territorial Army (Ethiopia's national ground force), which was broken
into many factions but which was dominated by a group of senior officers
called "The Exiles" because they had fled with Haile Selassie
in 1936 after the Italian invasion; and the air force. The officer
graduates of the Harer Military Academy also formed a distinct group in
opposition to the Holeta Military Training Center graduates.
Conditions throughout the army were frequently substandard, with
enlisted personnel often receiving low pay and insufficient food and
supplies. Enlisted personnel as well as some of the Holeta graduates
came from the peasantry, which at the time was suffering from a
prolonged drought and resulting famine. The general perception was that
the central government was deliberately refusing to take special
measures for famine relief. Much popular discontent over this issue,
plus the generally perceived lack of civil freedoms, had created
widespread discontent among the middle class, which had been built up
and supported by the emperor since World War II.
The revolution began with a mutiny of the Territorial Army's Fourth
Brigade at Negele in the southern province of Sidamo on January 12,
1974. Soldiers protested poor food and water conditions; led by their
noncommissioned officers, they rebelled and took their commanding
officer hostage, requesting redress from the emperor. Attempts at
reconciliation and a subsequent impasse promoted the spread of the
discontent to other units throughout the military, including those
stationed in Eritrea. There, the Second Division at Asmera mutinied,
imprisoned its commanders, and announced its support for the Negele
mutineers. The Signal Corps, in sympathy with the uprising, broadcast
information about events to the rest of the military. Moreover, by that
time, general discontent had resulted in the rise of resistance
throughout Ethiopia. Opposition to increased fuel prices and curriculum
changes in the schools, as well as low teachers' salaries and many other
grievances, crystalized by the end of February. Teachers, workers, and
eventually students--all demanding higher pay and better conditions of
work and education--also promoted other causes, such as land reform and
famine relief. Finally, the discontented groups demanded a new political
system. Riots in the capital and the continued military mutiny
eventually led to the resignation of Prime Minister Aklilu. He was
replaced on February 28, 1974, by another Shewan aristocrat,
Endalkatchew Mekonnen, whose government would last only until July 22.
On March 5, the government announced a revision of the 1955
constitution--the prime minister henceforth would be responsible to
parliament. The new government probably reflected Haile Selassie's
decision to minimize change; the new cabinet, for instance, represented
virtually all of Ethiopia's aristocratic families. The conservative
constitutional committee appointed on March 21 included no
representatives of the groups pressing for change. The new government
introduced no substantial reforms (although it granted the military
several salary increases). It also postponed unpopular changes in the
education system and instituted price rollbacks and controls to check
inflation. As a result, the general discontent subsided somewhat by late
By this time, there were several factions within the military that
claimed to speak for all or part of the armed forces. These included the
Imperial Bodyguard under the old high command, a group of
"radical" junior officers, and a larger number of moderate and
radical army and police officers grouped around Colonel Alem Zewd
Tessema, commander of an airborne brigade based in Addis Ababa. In late
March, Alem Zewd became head of an informal, inter-unit coordinating
committee that came to be called the Armed Forces Coordinating Committee
(AFCC). Acting with the approval of the new prime minister, Alem Zewd
arrested a large number of disgruntled air force officers and in general
appeared to support the Endalkatchew government.
Such steps, however, did not please many of the junior officers, who
wished to pressure the regime into making major political reforms. In
early June, a dozen or more of them broke away from the AFCC and
requested that every military and police unit send three representatives
to Addis Ababa to organize for further action. In late June, a body of
men that eventually totaled about 120, none above the rank of major and
almost all of whom remained anonymous, organized themselves into a new
body called the Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces, Police, and
Territorial Army that soon came to be called the Derg (Amharic for "committee" or "council"
). They elected Major Mengistu Haile Mariam chairman and Major
Atnafu Abate vice chairman, both outspoken proponents of far-reaching
This group of men would remain at the forefront of political and
military affairs in Ethiopia for the next thirteen years. The identity
of the Derg never changed after these initial meetings in 1974. Although
its membership declined drastically during the next few years as
individual officers were eliminated, no new members were admitted into
its ranks, and its deliberations and membership remained almost entirely
unknown. At first, the Derg's officers exercised their influence behind
the scenes; only later, during the era of the Provisional Military
Administrative Council, did its leaders emerge from anonymity and become
both the official as well as the de facto governing personnel.
Because its members in effect represented the entire military
establishment, the Derg could henceforth claim to exercise real power
and could mobilize troops on its own, thereby depriving the emperor's
government of the ultimate means to govern. Although the Derg professed
loyalty to the emperor, it immediately began to arrest members of the
aristocracy, military, and government who were closely associated with
the emperor and the old order. Colonel Alem Zewd, by now discredited in
the eyes of the young radicals, fled.
In July the Derg wrung five concessions from the emperor-- the
release of all political prisoners, a guarantee of the safe return of
exiles, the promulgation and speedy implementation of the new
constitution, assurance that parliament would be kept in session to
complete the aforementioned task, and assurance that the Derg would be
allowed to coordinate closely with the government at all levels of
operation. Hereafter, political power and initiative lay with the Derg,
which was increasingly influenced by a wide-ranging public debate over
the future of the country. The demands made of the emperor were but the
first of a series of directives or actions that constituted the
"creeping coup" by which the imperial system of government was
slowly dismantled. Promoting an agenda for lasting changes going far
beyond those proposed since the revolution began in January, the Derg
proclaimed Ethiopia Tikdem (Ethiopia First) as its guiding philosophy.
It forced out Prime Minister Endalkatchew and replaced him with Mikael
Imru, a Shewan aristocrat with a reputation as a liberal.
The Derg's agenda rapidly diverged from that of the reformers of the
late imperial period. In early August, the revised constitution, which
called for a constitutional monarchy, was rejected when it was forwarded
for approval. Thereafter, the Derg worked to undermine the authority and
legitimacy of the emperor, a policy that enjoyed much public support.
The Derg arrested the commander of the Imperial Bodyguard, disbanded the
emperor's governing councils, closed the private imperial exchequer, and
nationalized the imperial residence and the emperor's other landed and
business holdings. By late August, the emperor had been directly accused
of covering up the Welo and Tigray famine of the early 1970s that
allegedly had killed 100,000 to 200,000 people. After street
demonstrations took place urging the emperor's arrest, the Derg formally
deposed Haile Selassie on September 12 and imprisoned him. The emperor
was too old to resist, and it is doubtful whether he really understood
what was happening around him. Three days later, the Armed Forces
Coordinating Committee (i.e., the Derg) transformed itself into the
Provisional Military Administrative Council (PMAC) under the
chairmanship of Lieutenant General Aman Mikael Andom and proclaimed
itself the nation's ruling body.
Ethiopia - The Struggle for Power, 1974-77
Much of the Ethiopian landmass is part of the East African Rift
Plateau. Ethiopia has a general elevation ranging from 1,500 to 3,000
meters above sea level. Interspersed on the landscape are higher
mountain ranges and cratered cones, the highest of which, at 4,620
meters, is Ras Dashen Terara northeast of Gonder. The northernmost part
of the plateau is Ethiopia's historical core and is the location of the
ancient kingdom of Aksum. The national capital of Addis Ababa ("New
Flower") is located in the center of the country on the edge of the
Millennia of erosion have produced steep valleys, in places 1,600
meters deep and several kilometers wide. In these valleys flow rapid
streams unsuitable for navigation but possessing potential as sources of
hydroelectric power and water for irrigation.
The highlands that comprise much of the country are often referred to
as the Ethiopian Plateau and are usually thought of as divided into
northern and southern parts. In a strict geographical sense, however,
they are bisected by the Great Rift Valley into the northwestern
highlands and the southeastern highlands, each with associated lowlands.
The northwestern highlands are considerably more extensive and rugged
and are divided into northern and southern sections by the valley of the
Abay (Blue Nile).
North of Addis Ababa, the surface of the plateau is interspersed with
towering mountains and deep chasms that create a variety of
physiography, climate, and indigenous vegetation. The plateau also
contains mountain ranges such as the Chercher and Aranna. Given the
rugged nature of these mountains and the surrounding tableland,
foreigners receive a false impression of the country's topography when
Ethiopians refer to the landform as a plateau. Few of these peaks'
surfaces are flat except for a scattering of level-topped mountains
known to Ethiopians as ambas.
Southwest of Addis Ababa, the plateau also is rugged, but its
elevation is slightly lower than in its northern section. To the
southeast of Addis Ababa, beyond the Ahmar and Mendebo mountain ranges
and the higher elevations of the southeastern highlands, the plateau
slopes gently toward the southeast. The land here is rocky desert and,
consequently, is sparsely populated.
The Great Rift Valley forms a third physiographic region. This
extensive fault system extends from the Jordan Valley in the Middle East
to the Zambezi River's Shire tributary in Mozambique. The segment
running through central Ethiopia is marked in the north by the Denakil
Depression and the coastal lowlands, or Afar Plain, as they are
sometimes known. To the south, at approximately 9° north latitude, the
Great Rift Valley becomes a deep trench slicing through the plateau from
north to south, its width averaging fifty kilometers. The southern half
of the Ethiopian segment of the valley is dotted by a chain of
relatively large lakes. Some hold fresh water, fed by small streams from
the east; others contain salts and minerals.
In the north, the Great Rift Valley broadens into a funnel-shaped
saline plain. The Denakil Depression, a large, triangle-shaped basin
that in places is 115 meters below sea level, is one of the hottest
places on earth. On the northeastern edge of the depression, maritime
hills border a hot, arid, and treeless strip of coastal land sixteen to
eighty kilometers wide. These coastal hills drain inland into saline
lakes, from which commercial salt is extracted. Along the Red Sea coast
are the Dahlak Islands, which are sparsely inhabited.
In contrast with the plateau's steep scarps along the Great Rift
Valley and in the north, the western and southwestern slopes descend
somewhat less abruptly and are broken more often by river exits. Between
the plateau and the Sudanese border in the west lies a narrow strip of
sparsely populated tropical lowland that belongs politically to Ethiopia
but whose inhabitants are related to the people of Sudan. These tropical lowlands on the periphery of the
plateau, particularly in the far north and along the western frontier,
contrast markedly with the upland terrain.
The existence of small volcanoes, hot springs, and many deep gorges
indicates that large segments of the landmass are still geologically
unstable. Numerous volcanoes occur in the Denakil area, and hot springs
and steaming fissures are found in other northern areas of the Great
Rift Valley. A line of seismic faults extends along the length of
Eritrea and the Denakil Depression, and small earthquakes have been
recorded in the area in recent times.
All of Ethiopia's rivers originate in the highlands and flow outward
in many directions through deep gorges. Most notable of these is the
Blue Nile, the country's largest river. It and its tributaries account
for two-thirds of the Nile River flow below Khartoum in Sudan. Because
of the general westward slope of the highlands, many large rivers are
tributaries of the Nile system, which drains an extensive area of the
central portion of the plateau. The Blue Nile, the Tekezé, and the Baro
are among them and account for about half of the country's water
outflow. In the northern half of the Great Rift Valley flows the Awash
River, on which the government has built several dams to generate power
and irrigate major commercial plantations. The Awash flows east and
disappears in the saline lakes near the boundary with Djibouti. The
southeast is drained by the Genale and Shebele rivers and their
tributaries, and the southwest is drained by the Omo.
More about the <>Geography
Ethiopia's population was estimated at 51.7 million in 1990.
According to the nation's only census, conducted in 1984, Ethiopia's
population was about 42 million. But the census was far from
comprehensive. The rural areas of Eritrea and Tigray were excluded
because of hostilities. In addition, the population in the southern
parts of Bale and Harerge could only be estimated because of the
prevalence of pastoral nomadism.
The 1984 census revealed that Ethiopia's population was about 89
percent rural, and this percentage did not appear to have changed by the
late 1980s. This segment included many nomadic and seminomadic peoples.
The Ethiopian population always has been predominantly rural, engaging
in sedentary agricultural activities such as the cultivation of crops
and livestock-raising in the highlands. In the lowlands, the main
activities traditionally have been subsistence farming by seminomadic
groups and seasonal grazing of livestock by nomadic people.
The distribution of Ethiopia's population generally is related to
altitude, climate, and soil. These physical factors explain the
concentration of population in the highlands, which are endowed with
moderate temperatures, rich soil, and adequate rainfall. About 14
percent of the population lives in areas above 2,400 meters (cool
climatic zone), about 75 percent between 1,500 and 2,400 meters
(temperate zone), and only 11 percent below 1,500 meters (hot climatic
zone), although the hot zone encompasses more than half of Ethiopia's
territory. Localities with elevations above 3,000 meters and below 1,500
meters are sparsely populated, the first because of cold temperatures
and rugged terrain, which limit agricultural activity, and the second
because of high temperatures and low rainfall, except in the west and
Although census data indicated that overall density was about
thirty-seven people per square kilometer, density varied from over 100
per square kilometer for Shewa and seventy-five for Arsi to fewer than
ten in the Ogaden, Bale, the Great Rift Valley, and the western lowlands
adjoining Sudan. There was also great variation among the populations of
the various administrative regions.
In 1990 officials estimated the birth rate at forty-five births per
1,000 population and the total fertility rate (the average number of
children that would be born to a woman during her lifetime) at about
seven per 1,000 population. Census findings indicated that the birth
rate was higher in rural areas than in urban areas. Ethiopia's birth
rate, high even among developing countries, is explained by early and
universal marriage, kinship and religious beliefs that generally
encourage large families, a resistance to contraceptive practices, and
the absence of family planning services for most of the population. Many
Ethiopians believe that families with many children have greater
financial security and are better situated to provide for their elderly
In the absence of a national population policy or the provision of
more than basic health services, analysts consider the high birth rate
likely to continue. A significant consequence of the high birth rate is
that the population is young; children under fifteen years of age made
up nearly 50 percent of the population in 1989. Thus, a large segment of the population was dependent and likely
to require heavy expenditures on education, health, and social services.
In 1990 the death rate was estimated at fifteen per 1,000 population
(down from 18.1 per 1,000 in 1984). This also was a very high rate but
typical of poor developing countries. The high death rate was a
reflection of the low standard of living, poor health conditions,
inadequate health facilities, and high rates of infant mortality (116
per 1,000 live births in 1990; 139 per 1,000 in 1984) and child
mortality. Additional factors contributing to the high death rate
include infectious diseases, poor sanitation, malnutrition, and food
shortages. Children are even more vulnerable to such deprivations. In
Ethiopia half of the total deaths involve children under five years of
age. In addition, drought and famine in the 1980s, during which more
than 7 million people needed food aid, interrupted the normal evolution
of mortality and fertility and undoubtedly left many infants and
children with stunted physical and mental capabilities. Life expectancy
in 1990 was estimated at forty-nine years for males and fifty-two years
Generally, birth rates, infant mortality rates, and overall mortality
rates were lower in urban areas than in rural areas. As of 1990, urban
residents had a life expectancy of just under fifty-three years, while
rural residents had a life expectancy of forty-eight years. The more
favorable statistics for urban areas can be explained by the wider
availability of health facilities, greater knowledge of sanitation,
easier access to clean water and food, and a slightly higher standard of
There has been a steady increase in the population growth rate since
1960. Based on 1984 census data, population growth was estimated at
about 2.3 percent for the 1960-70 period, 2.5 percent for the 1970-80
period, and 2.8 percent for the 1980-85 period. Population projections
compiled in 1988 by the Central Statistical Authority (CSA) projected a
2.83 percent growth rate for 1985-90 and a 2.96 percent growth rate for
1990-95. This would result in a population of 57.9 million by 1995.
Estimated annual growth for 1995-2000 varied from 3.03 percent to 3.16
percent. Population estimates ranged from 67.4 million to 67.8 million
by the year 2000. The CSA projected that Ethiopia's population could
range from 104 million to 115 million by the year 2015. The
International Development Association (IDA) provided a more optimistic
estimate. Based on the assumption of a gradual fertility decline, such
as might be caused by steady economic development without high priority
given to population and family planning programs, the population growth
rate might fall to about 2.8 percent per annum in 1995-2000 and to 2.1
percent in 2010-15, resulting in a population of 93 million in 2015.
Analysts believed that reducing the population growth rate was a
pressing need, but one that could only be addressed through a persistent
and comprehensive nationwide effort over the long term. As of early
1991, the Ethiopian regime had shown no commitment to such a program.
Variations in population growth existed among administrative regions.
Kefa, Sidamo, and Shewa had the highest average growth rates for the
1967-84 period, ranging from 4.2 percent for Kefa to 3.5 percent for
Sidamo and Shewa. Whereas Shewa's population growth was the result of
Addis Ababa's status as the administrative, commercial, and industrial
center of Ethiopia, Kefa and Sidamo grew primarily because of
agricultural and urban development. The population in administrative
regions such as Harerge, Welo, and Tigray, which had been hard hit by
famine and insurrection, grew at slow rates: 1.3 percent, 1 percent, and
0.2 percent, respectively. Generally, the population of most central and
western administrative regions grew more rapidly than did the population
of the eastern and northern administrative regions.
Ethiopia was under-urbanized, even by African standards. In the late
1980s, only about 11 percent of the population lived in urban areas of
at least 2,000 residents. There were hundreds of communities with 2,000
to 5,000 people, but these were primarily extensions of rural villages
without urban or administrative functions. Thus, the level of
urbanization would be even lower if one used strict urban structural
criteria. Ethiopia's relative lack of urbanization is the result of the
country's history of agricultural self-sufficiency, which has reinforced
rural peasant life. The slow pace of urban development continued until
the 1935 Italian invasion. Urban growth was fairly rapid during and
after the Italian occupation of 1936-41. Urbanization accelerated during
the 1960s, when the average annual growth rate was about 6.3 percent.
Urban growth was especially evident in the northern half of Ethiopia,
where most of the major towns are located.
Addis Ababa was home to about 35 percent of the country's urban
population in 1987. Another 7 percent resided in Asmera, the second
largest city. Major industrial, commercial, governmental, educational,
health, and cultural institutions were located in these two cities,
which together were home to about 2 million people, or one out of
twenty-five Ethiopians. Nevertheless, many small towns had emerged as
well. In 1970 there were 171 towns with populations of 2,000 to 20,000;
this total had grown to 229 by 1980.
The period 1967-75 saw rapid growth of relatively new urban centers. The population of six towns--Akaki, Arba Minch, Awasa,
Bahir Dar, Jijiga, and Shashemene--more than tripled, and that of eight
others more than doubled. Awasa, Arba Minch, Metu, and Goba were newly
designated capitals of administrative regions and important agricultural
centers. Awasa, capital of Sidamo, had a lakeshore site and convenient
location on the Addis Ababa-Nairobi highway. Bahir Dar was a newly
planned city on Lake Tana and the site of several industries and a
polytechnic institute. Akaki and Aseb were growing into important
industrial towns, while Jijiga and Shashemene had become communications
and service centers.
Urban centers that experienced moderate growth tended to be more
established towns, such as Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa, and Debre Zeyit. A
few old provincial capitals, such as Gonder, also experienced moderate
growth, but others, such as Harer, Dese, Debre Markos, and Jima, had
slow growth rates because of competition from larger cities. By the
1990s, Harer was being overshadowed by Dire Dawa, Dese by Kembolcha, and
Debre Markos by Bahir Dar.
Overall, the rate of urban growth declined from 1975 to 1987. With
the exception of Aseb, Arba Minch, and Awasa, urban centers grew an
average of about 40 percent over that twelve-year period. This slow
growth is explained by several factors. Rural-to-urban migration had
been largely responsible for the rapid expansion during the 1967-75
period, whereas natural population growth may have been mostly
responsible for urban expansion during the 1975-84 period. The 1975 land
reform program provided incentives and opportunities for peasants and
other potential migrants to stay in rural areas. Restrictions on travel,
lack of employment, housing shortages, and social unrest in some towns
during the 1975-80 period also contributed to a decline in
Although the male and female populations were about equal, men
outnumbered women in rural areas. More women migrated to the urban
centers for a variety of reasons, including increased job opportunities.
As a result of intensified warfare in the period 1988-91, all urban
centers received a large influx of population, resulting in severe
overcrowding, shortages of housing and water, overtaxed social services,
and unemployment. In addition to beggars and maimed persons, the new
arrivals comprised large numbers of young people. These included not
only primary and secondary school students but also an alarming number
of orphans and street children, estimated at well over 100,000. Although
all large towns shared in this influx, Addis Ababa, as the national
capital, was most affected. This situation underscored the huge social
problems that the Mengistu regime had neglected for far too long.
Drought and famine have been frequent occurrences in Ethiopia. In
fact, it was the imperial government's attempt to hide the effects of
the 1973-74 famine that aroused world indignation and eventually
contributed to Haile Selassie I's demise. Between 1984 and 1986, drought
and famine again hit Ethiopia and may have claimed as many as 1 million
lives and threatened nearly 8 million more. Even worse disaster was
averted when the international community mounted a massive effort to
airlift food and medical supplies to famine victims.
The government embarked on forced resettlement and villagization in
the mid-1980s as part of a national program to combat drought, avert
famine, and increase agricultural productivity. Resettlement, the
regime's long-term solution to the drought problem, involved the
permanent relocation of about 1.5 million people from the drought-prone
areas of the north to the south and southwest, where population was
relatively sparse and so-called virgin, arable land was plentiful.
Development specialists agreed on the need for resettlement of famine
victims in Ethiopia, but once the process had begun, there was
widespread criticism that resettlement was poorly planned and
haphazardly executed and thus increased the number of famine deaths.
Moreover, critics charged that the government forcibly relocated
peasants, in the process breaking up thousands of families. Thousands
also died of malaria and sleeping sickness because of poor sanitation
and inadequate health care in newly settled areas. A Paris-based
international doctors' organization, Doctors Without Borders (Médecins
sans Frontières), estimated that the forced resettlement and mass
deportation of peasants for purposes of resettlement endangered the
lives of 300,000 because of shortages of food, water, and medicine.
Other international organizations accused the Ethiopian government of
moving peasants to resettlement areas without adequate preparation of
such basic items as housing, water, seeds, and tools. Because of
widespread criticism, the Mengistu regime temporarily halted the
resettlement program in mid-1986 after 600,000 people had been
relocated, but the program resumed in November 1987.
Some sources voiced suspicion that the regime's primary motive in
resettlement was to depopulate the northern areas where it faced
insurgencies. Resettlement, the argument went, would reduce the
guerrillas' base of support. But this argument did not take into account
the strength of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF). Another Western objection to the resettlement
program related to the long-term government policy concerning peasant
farms. Western countries, on whose support the resettlement program
depended, did not want to sponsor a plan in which recruits labored for
communist-style collectives and state farms.
The villagization program, the regime's plan to transform rural
society, started in earnest in January 1985. If completed, the program might
have uprooted and relocated more than 30 million peasants over a
nine-year period. The regime's rationale for the program was that the
existing arrangement of dispersed settlements made it difficult to
provide social services and to use resources, especially land and water,
efficiently. The relocation of the peasants into larger villages (with
forty to 300 families, or 200 to 2,500 people) would give rural people
better access to amenities such as agricultural extension services,
schools, clinics, water, and electricity cooperative services and would
strengthen local security and the capacity for self-defense. Improved
economic and social services would promote more efficient use of land
and other natural resources and would lead to increased agricultural
production and a higher standard of living.
More specifically, the Ethiopian government perceived villagization
as a way to hasten agricultural collectivization. Most peasant farming
in Ethiopia was still based on a traditional smallholding system, which
produced 90 percent of farm output, employed about 80 percent of the
labor force, and accounted for 94 percent of cultivable land in 1985.
State farms and cooperative farms were responsible for only 4 percent
and 2 percent, respectively, of cultivated land.
By the end of 1988, more than 12 million people had been relocated in
villages in twelve of the fourteen administrative regions. The
exceptions were Eritrea and Tigray, where insurgents were waging war
against the regime. In 1989 the total reached about 13 million people.
Some regions implemented villagization more rapidly than others. In
Harerge, where the program began in 1985, more than 90 percent of the
population had been relocated to villages by early 1987, whereas in
Gonder and Welo the program was just beginning. In Ilubabor more than 1
million peasants had been relocated to 2,106 villages between December
1985 and March 1989. Nomadic peoples and shifting cultivators were not
affected by villagization.
The verdict on villagization was not favorable. Thousands of people
fled to avoid villagization; others died or lived in deplorable
conditions after being forcibly resettled. Moreover, the program's
impact on rural peasants and their social and economic well-being
remained to be assessed. There were indications that in the short term,
villagization may have further impoverished an already poor peasantry.
The services that were supposed to be delivered in new villages, such as
water, electricity, health care clinics, schools, transportation, and
agricultural extension services, were not being provided because the
government lacked the necessary resources. Villagers therefore resorted
to improvised facilities or reverted to old ways of doing things.
Villagization also reduced the productive capacity of the peasants by
depriving them of the opportunity for independent organization and
action. By increasing the distance peasants had to travel to work on
their land and graze their cattle, villagization wasted time and effort.
Denied immediate access to their fields, the peasants were also
prevented from guarding their crops from birds and other wild animals.
In the long run, analysts believed that villagization would be
counterproductive to a rational land use system and would be damaging
ecologically. Concentrating people in a central area would, in time,
intensify pressure on available water and grazing and lead to a decline
in soil fertility and to a poorer peasantry. The ecological damage could
be averted by the application of capital investment in infrastructure,
such as irrigation and land-intensive agricultural technology and strict
application of land rotation to avert overgrazing. But resources were
unavailable for such agricultural investment.
The most bitter critics of villagization, such as Survival
International, a London-based human rights organization, argued that the
Mengistu regime's noneconomic objective in villagization was control of
the population. Larger villages would facilitate the regime's control
over the population, cut rebels off from peasant support, and discourage
dissident movements. Indeed, some observers believed that the reason for
starting villagization in Harerge and Bale was nothing less than to
suppress support of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).
After the government's announcement of the new economic policy in
March 1990, peasants were given the freedom to join or abandon
cooperatives and to bring their produce to market. Hence, the Mengistu
regime abandoned one of the strong rationales for villagization and, in
effect, the whole program as well.
In Ethiopia, a predominantly rural society, the life of peasants is
rooted in the land, from which they eke out a meager existence. Through
the ages, they have faced frequent natural disasters, armed conflict,
and political repression, and in the process they have suffered hunger,
societal disruption, and death.
Periodic crop failures and losses of livestock often occur when
seasonal rains fail or when unusually heavy storms cause widespread
flooding. Pastoral nomads, who move seasonally in search of water and
grazing, often are trapped when drought inhibits rejuvenation of the
denuded grasslands, which their overgrazing produces. During such times,
a family's emergency food supplies diminish rapidly, and hunger and
starvation become commonplace until weather conditions improve and
livestock herds are subsequently rejuvenated. For centuries, this has
been the general pattern of life for most Ethiopian peasants; the
insurgent movements in Eritrea, Tigray, and the Ogaden have only served
to exacerbate the effects of these natural calamities.
A drought that began in 1969 continued as dry weather brought
disaster to the Sahel and swept eastward through the Horn of Africa. By
1973 the attendant famine had threatened the lives of hundreds of
thousands of Ethiopian nomads, who had to leave their home grounds and
struggle into Somalia, Djibouti, Kenya, and Sudan, seeking relief from
starvation. By the end of 1973, famine had claimed the lives of about
300,000 peasants of Tigray and Welo, and thousands more had sought
relief in Ethiopian towns and villages.
After assuming power in 1974, the military regime embarked on a
program to improve the condition of peasants, but famine and hunger
continued despite this effort, which was supplemented by substantial
foreign assistance. Moreover, the escalation of the military campaign
against the insurgent movements in Eritrea, Tigray, and the Ogaden
forced thousands of Ethiopians to flee into neighboring countries.
The 1977-78 Ogaden War and the 1978 drought in eastern Ethiopia
forced large numbers of people across the southeastern frontier into
Somalia. After the defeat of Somali forces in the Ogaden, the government
launched a counteroffensive against Eritrean guerrillas, and several
hundred thousand Ethiopians sought refuge in Sudan. Meanwhile, in the
Ogaden, international relief agencies estimated the number of refugees
entering Somali refugee camps at more than 1,000 a day. Most were women
and children, and many suffered from dehydration, malnutrition, and
diseases such as dysentery, malaria, and tuberculosis. There were more
than 700,000 reported refugees scattered in twenty-six makeshift camps,
where the absence of sanitation and inadequate medical assistance were
compounding the misery created by the food shortages.
By mid-1980 most observers considered the refugee crisis in the Horn
of Africa to be the world's worst. During the 1980s, the crisis
intensified, as 2.5 million people in the region abandoned their homes
and sought asylum in neighboring countries. Although drought, famine,
government repression, and conflict with insurgents were the principal
causes of large-scale refugee migrations, other factors such as
resettlement and villagization in Ethiopia and conflicts in southern
Sudan and northern Somalia also generated refugees. Sudan's war against
the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) forced many Sudanese into
Ethiopia. In northern Somalia, the Somali National Movement (SNM) had
been fighting Somali government forces, and in the process hundreds of
thousands of Somali fled into Ethiopia.
Several factors were responsible for the refugee crisis in Ethiopia.
The repressive Mengistu regime was ruthless in its treatment of both
real and imagined opponents. During the so-called Red
Terror of 1977-78, government security forces killed
thousands of students and urban professionals. Because human rights
violations characterized the government's policy toward dissidents,
there was a constant exodus of young and educated people. The regime
also found itself engaged in continuous civil war with one or more of
the insurgent groups, which had a devastating impact on the people, the
land, and the economy. The fighting not only generated hundreds of
thousands of refugees but also displaced thousands of other people from
their farms and villages. Forcible villagization and resettlement also
generated refugees. In Harerge alone, the forced imposition of
villagization prompted 33,000 people to flee to Somalia.
Famine also contributed to Ethiopia's refugee crises. The 1984-85
famine resulted in the death or displacement of hundreds of thousands of
people within Ethiopia and forced about 100,000 into Somalia, 10,000
into Djibouti, and more than 300,000 into Sudan.
In 1987 another drought threatened 5 million people in Eritrea and
Tigray. This time, however, the international community was better
prepared to get food to the affected areas in time to prevent starvation
and massive population movements. However, insurgents belonging to the
TPLF and the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) attacked convoys
carrying food supplies or denied them access to rebel-held areas because
they believed the government would use relief convoys to cover the
movement of military supplies. The consequence was more deaths and more
International relief agencies considered the 1990 famine more
critical because of the scarcity of rain since 1987. Mitsiwa was one of
the Eritrean ports where ships unloaded food and medical supplies for
distribution to famine victims in Eritrea. Following the EPLF's capture
of Mitsiwa in February 1990 and the government's bombing of the city in
an effort to dislodge the insurgents, the port was out of action. A few
months later, however, the EPLF and the Ethiopian government reached an
agreement that allowed the port to reopen. In addition, the government
lost control of Tigray in early 1989 and was reluctant to allow food
shipments to go through rebel-held territory until May 1990, when the
rebels, the government, the UN, and donor officials agreed to move grain
supplies from Dese to Tigray. Food could not be airlifted into Tigray
because fighting had destroyed the airport in Mekele, capital of Tigray.
Sudan was the only nation through which food shipments could come to
Tigray and Eritrea. Both the Relief Society of Tigray and the Eritrean
Relief Association--arms of the TPLF and EPLF, respectively--operated
food convoys from Sudan to Tigray and Eritrea. But poor road conditions
and the fact that convoys had to operate at night to avoid Ethiopian air
force attacks prevented adequate supplies from reaching affected
regions. Consequently, about 3 million people were threatened with death
and starvation in Eritrea and Tigray.
Disagreements persist concerning the number of Ethiopian refugees in
Somalia in the late 1980s. A UN survey estimated the number of Ethiopian
refugees in Somalia at 450,000 to 620,000. The United States Catholic
Relief Services (USCRS), however, estimated that about 410,000 refugees
had returned to Ethiopia, leaving about 430,000 in Somali refugee camps.
At the same time, more than 350,000 Somali of the Isaaq clan-family
fled northern Somalia for Ethiopia after mid-1988.
Most of these people remained in camps run by the Office of the United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Djibouti was home to about 45,000 Ethiopian refugees from the Ogaden
by late 1978. These people had fled after Somalia's defeat in the Ogaden
War. In 1983 the UNHCR began a repatriation program, which resulted in
the departure of 15,000 former refugees by mid-1984. But the 1984
drought in Ethiopia brought an additional influx of 10,000 refugees into
Djibouti. Slow, steady repatriation continued through 1989, by which
time there were only 1,500 Ethiopian refugees in Djibouti.
A large influx of Ethiopian refugees into Sudan occurred in 1978,
during the escalation of the conflict between Eritrean insurgents and
the Mengistu regime. The influx continued into 1983, when the refugees
numbered about 132,500. The 1984 drought and famine forced 160,000
refugees into Sudan in 1984 and more than 300,000 by April 1985. By June
1985, in anticipation of summer rains in Tigray, about 55,000 Tigray
left Sudan, followed by another 65,000 in 1986, but only a small
percentage of refugee Eritreans returned to Ethiopia.
Ethiopia also had been host to refugees from southern Sudan since
1983. As the conflict in southern Sudan between the SPLA and the
Sudanese regime intensified, more refugees fled into western Ethiopia,
where the Sudanese refugees numbered about 250,000 in early 1988 and
perhaps 400,000 by early 1991.
The most important Ethio-Semitic language is Amharic. It was the
empire's official language and is still widely used in government and in
the capital despite the Mengistu regime's changes in language policy.
Those speaking Amharic as a mother tongue numbered about 8 million in
1970, a little more than 30 percent of the population. A more accurate
count might show them to constitute a lesser proportion. The total
number of Amharic speakers, including those using Amharic as a second
language, may constitute as much as 50 percent of the population.
The Amhara are not a cohesive group, politically or otherwise. From
the perspective of many Amhara in the core area of Gonder, Gojam, and
western Welo, the Amhara of Shewa (who constituted the basic ruling
group under Menelik II and Haile Selassie) are not true descendants of
the northern Amhara and the Tigray and heirs to the ancient kingdom of
Aksum. Regional variations notwithstanding, the Amhara do not exhibit
the differences of religion and mode of livelihood characteristic of the
Oromo, for example, who constitute Ethiopia's largest linguistic
category. With a few exceptions, the Amhara are Ethiopian Orthodox
Christians and are highland plow agriculturists.
The Tigray (whose language is Tigrinya) constitute the second largest
category of Ethio-Semitic speakers. They made up about 14 percent of the
population in 1970. Like the Amhara, the Tigray are chiefly Ethiopian
Orthodox Christians, and most are plow agriculturists. Despite some
differences in dialect, Tigray believe, as anthropologist Dan Franz
Bauer has noted, "that they have a common tenuous kinship with
other Tigray regardless of their place of residence."
The number of persons speaking other Ethio-Semitic languages is
significantly smaller than the number who speak Amharic and Tigrinya.
Moreover, unlike the Amhara and Tigray, members of other Ethio-Semitic
groups do not share the Aksumite heritage and Orthodox Christianity, and
their traditional economic base is different.
Of the seven Ethio-Semitic languages found among the Gurage of
southern Shewa, four are single tongues and three are dialect clusters,
each encompassing four or five dialects. All correspond to what
anthropologist William A. Shack calls tribes, which, in turn, consist of
independent clan chiefdoms. Although most people accept the name Gurage,
they are likely to specify a tribal name in addition.
The traditional social organization and religion of the Gurage
resemble those of the neighboring East Cushitic-speaking Sidama and
related peoples. In some cases, Orthodox Christianity or Islam has
displaced the traditional religious system, in whole or in part. The
Gurage traditionally depended on the ensete plant (known locally as
false banana) rather than grain for their staple food and used the hoe
rather than the plow.
In 1970 there were more than 500,000 speakers of Gurage tongues, but
no single group numbered more than 100,000. Substantial numbers, perhaps
15 to 20 percent of all Gurage, live in urban centers, particularly
Addis Ababa, where they work at a range of manual tasks typically
avoided by the Amhara and the Tigray.
In 1970 a total of 117,000 persons were estimated to speak Tigre,
which is related to Tigrinya; but that figure was likely an
underestimate. The ten or so Eritrean groups or clusters of groups
speaking the language do not constitute an ethnic entity, although they
share an adherence to Islam. Locally, people traditionally used the term
Tigre to refer to what has been called the serf class, as opposed to the
noble class, in most Tigre-speaking groups.
Perhaps the most numerous of the Tigre-speaking peoples are the Beni
Amir, a largely pastoral people living in the semiarid region of the
north and west along the Sudanese border. A large number of the Beni
Amir also speak Beja, a North Cushitic language. Other groups are, in
part at least, cultivators, and some, who live along the Red Sea coast
and on nearby islands, gain some of their livelihood from fishing.
Except for the fact that the distinction between nobles and serfs
seems at one time to have been pervasive, little is known of early
social and political organization among these groups except for the Beni
Amir, who were organized in a tribal federation with a paramount chief.
The other groups seem to have been autonomous units.
The Hareri are of major historical importance, and their home was in
that part of Ethiopia once claimed by Somali irredentists. The Hareri
("people of the city") established the walled city of Harer as
early as the thirteenth century A.D. Harer was a major point from which
Islam spread to Somalia and then to Ethiopia.
The Argobba consist of two groups. Living on the hilly slopes of the
Great Rift Valley escarpment are small groups of Northern Argobba. The
Southern Argobba live southwest of Harer. Northern Argobba villages,
interspersed among Amharic- or Oromo-speaking communities, stretch from
an area at roughly the latitude of Addis Ababa to southeasternmost Welo.
Most Argobba speak either Amharic or Oromo in addition to their native
Ethiopia - Cushitic Language Groups
The Oromo, called Galla by the Amhara, constitute the largest and
most ubiquitous of the East Cushitic-speaking peoples. Oromo live in
many regions as a result of expansion from their homeland in the central
southern highlands beginning in the sixteenth century. Although they
share a common origin and a dialectically varied language, Oromo groups
changed in a variety of ways with respect to economic base, social and
political organization, and religion as they adapted to different
physical and sociopolitical environments and economic opportunities.
Even more uncertain than estimates of the Amhara population are
estimates for the Oromo. The problem stems largely from the imperial
government's attempts to downplay the country's ethnic diversity.
Government estimates put the number of Oromo speakers at about 7 million
in 1970--about 28 percent of the total population of Ethiopia. By
contrast, the OLF claimed there were 18 million Oromo in 1978, well over
half of a total population roughly estimated that year at 31 million.
Anthropologist P.T.W. Baxter, taking into account the lack of a census
(until 1984) and the political biases affecting estimates, asserted that
the Oromo were almost certainly the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia,
making up somewhere between a third and just over half its population. A
widely accepted estimate in the late 1980s was 40 percent.
The Oromo provide an example of the difficulties of specifying the
boundaries and nature of an ethnic group. Some Oromo groups, such as the
Borana, remain pastoralists. But others, the great majority of the
people, have become plow cultivators or are engaged in mixed farming. A
few groups, particularly the pastoralists, retain significant features
of the traditional mode of social and political organization marked by
generation and age-set
systems and the absence of a centralized political
structure; others, such as those who established kingdoms along the Gibé
River, developed hierarchial systems. Cutting across the range of
economic and political patterns are variations in religious belief and
practice. Again, the pastoralists usually adhere to the indigenous
system. Other groups, particularly those in Shewa and Welega, have been
influenced by Orthodox Christianity, and still others have been
converted to Islam. Here and there, missionary Protestantism has had
minor successes. Moreover, the Oromo sections and subsections have a
long history of conflict. Sometimes this conflict has been the outcome
of competition for land; sometimes it has resulted from strife between
those allied with Amhara and those resisting the expansion of the
empire. Some Oromo adapted to Amhara dominance, the growth of towns, and
other changes by learning Amharic and achieving a place in the empire's
political and economic order. But they had not thereby become Amhara or
lost their sense of being Oromo.
In the far south live several groups speaking languages of the Oromic
branch of Lowland East Cushitic and in many cases sharing features of
Oromo culture. Most have been cultivators or mixed farmers, and some
have developed peculiar features, such as the highlands-dwelling Konso,
who live in walled communities of roughly 1,500 persons. All these
groups are small and are often subdivided. With an estimated population
of 60,000 in 1970, the Konso are the largest of these groups.
Three other Lowland East Cushitic groups--the Somali, Afar, and
Saho--share a pastoral tradition (although some sections of each group
have been cultivators for some time), commitments of varying intensity
to Islam, and social structures composed of autonomous units defined as descent
groups. In addition, all have a history of adverse
relations with the empire's dominant Orthodox Christian groups and with
Ethiopian governments in general.
The largest of the three groups are the Somali, estimated to number
nearly 900,000 in 1970. Many Somali clans and lineages living
predominantly in Ethiopia have close links with or are members of such
groups in Somalia. The number of Somali in Ethiopia in the late
1980s--given the Ogaden War and the movement of refugees--was uncertain.
Somali society is divided into groups of varying genealogical depth
based on putative or traceable common patrilineal descent. The largest
of these groups is the clan-family, which is in turn divided into clans, which are
further divided into lineages and sublineages. The clan-family has no concrete political, economic,
or social functions. The other groups do, however, and these functions
often entail political and economic competition and sometimes conflict
between parallel social units.
The government estimated that the Afar (called Denakil or Adal by
their neighbors) numbered no more than 363,000 in 1970. Despite their
relatively small numbers, they were of some importance because of their
location between the highlands and the Red Sea, their antipathy to
Ethiopian rule, and the quasi-autonomy of a part of the Afar under the
sultan of Aussa before the 1974 revolution.
Except for several petty centralized states under sultans or shaykhs,
the Afar are fragmented among tribes, subtribes, and still smaller
divisions and are characterized by a distinction between noble and
commoner groups, about which little is known. Most Afar are pastoralists
but are restricted in their nomadism by the need to stay close to
permanent wells in extremely arid country. A number of them in the
former sultan of Aussa's territory have long been settled cultivators in
the lower Awash River valley, although the imperial government initiated
a program to settle others along the middle Awash.
Saho is a linguistic rather than an ethnic category. The groups
speaking the language include elements from the Afar, the Tigray, Tigre
speakers, and others, including some Arabs. Almost all are pastoralists.
Most are Muslims, but several groups--those heavily influenced by the
Tigray--are Ethiopian Orthodox Christians.
Little is known about the political and social systems of the ten or
so groups making up the total estimated Saho- speaking population of
120,000, but each group seems to be divided into segments. None was ever
marked by the noble- serf distinction characteristic of Tigre speakers
to their north, and all were said to elect their chiefs.
The speakers of the Highland East Cushitic languages (sometimes
called the Sidamo languages after a version of the name of their largest
component) numbered more than 2 million in 1970. The two largest groups
were the Sidama (857,000) and the Hadya-Libido speakers (700,000).
Kembata- Timbaro-Alaba speakers and the Deresa made up the rest. Each of
these two groups numbered about 250,000 in 1970. As the hyphenated names
suggest, two or more autonomous groups speaking dialects of the same
language have been grouped together. In fact, most Sidama, although
calling themselves by a single name in some contexts, traditionally are
divided into a number of localized and formerly politically autonomous
patrilineal clans, each under a chief.
The Sidama and other Highland East Cushitic speakers are cultivators
of ensete and of coffee as a cash crop. In areas below 1,500 meters in
elevation, however, the Sidama keep cattle.
The Sidama and other groups have retained their traditional religious
systems, although some have been responsive to Protestant missionaries.
Others, such as the Alaba, the Hadya, and the Timbaro, have accepted
Islam. Only the Kembata are converts to Orthodox Christianity.
There are six groups of Central Cushitic (Agew) speakers, five of
which live in the central highlands surrounded by Amhara. The Bilen in
the extreme northern highlands form an enclave between the Tigray and
the Tigre speakers. Agew- speaking groups total between 100,000 and
125,000 persons. They are the remnants of a population thought to have
been the inhabitants of much of the central and northern highlands when
Semitic-speaking migrants arrived millennia ago to begin the process
that led to the formation of such groups as the Tigray and the Amhara.
It is likely that Agew speakers provided much of the basic stock from
which the Amhara and Tigray were drawn.
The largest of the Agew-speaking groups are the Awi (whose language
is Awngi), estimated to number 50,000 in 1970. The linguistically
related but geographically separate Kunfel numbered no more than 2,000.
The Awi and the Qimant, numbering about 17,000, retain their traditional
religious system; but the Kunfel and the Xamtanga, totaling about 5,000,
are apparently Orthodox Christians. The Bilen have been much influenced
by Islam, and many have begun to speak the Tigre of their Islamic
neighbors as a second tongue.
A special case is the Beta Israel (their own name; others call them
Falasha or Kayla), who numbered about 20,000 in 1989, most of whom
emigrated to Israel in late 1984 and in May 1991. Perhaps preceding the
arrival of Christianity in the fourth century A.D., a group of Agew
speakers adopted a form of Judaism, although their organization and many
of their religious practices resemble those of their Orthodox Christian
neighbors. The precise origins and nature of the Judaic influence are
matters of dispute. Most Beta Israel speak Amharic as a first language.
Agew occurs in their liturgy, but the words are not understood.
Except for the Beta Israel, all Agew-speaking groups are plow
agriculturists (the Kunfel augment their livelihood by hunting). The
Beta Israel had been cultivators until deprived of their right to hold
land after a major conflict with the Amhara and their refusal to convert
to Christianity in the fifteenth century. They then became craftsmen,
although many later returned to the land as tenants.
The sole group speaking a Northern Cushitic tongue is the Beja, a
Muslim pastoral group that numbered about 20,000 in 1970. (Many more
live in neighboring Sudan.) Their language is influenced by Arabic, and
the Beja have come to claim Arab descent since their conversion to
Islam. Like many of the other nomadic pastoralists in the area, they
traditionally were segmented into tribes and smaller units, based on
actual or putative descent from a common male ancestor and characterized
by considerable autonomy, although federated under a paramount chief.
Ethiopia - Omotic Language Groups
Ethnicity in Ethiopia is an enormously complex concept. No ethnic
entity has been untouched by others. Groups in existence in the
twentieth century are biological and social amalgams of several
preexisting entities. The ingredients are often discernible only by
inference, particularly if the mixing took place long ago. Nonetheless,
such mixing led to the formation of groups that think of themselves and
are considered by others as different. For instance, in the
prerevolutionary period there were thousands of non-Amhara who had
acquired the wherewithal to approximate the lifestyle of wealthy Amhara
and had in fact gained recognition as Amhara. Such mixing has continued,
and the boundaries of ethnic groups also continue to change.
Interethnic relations in prerevolutionary Ethiopia did not conform to
a single model and were complex because of the nature of Amhara contact
with other groups and the internal social and economic dynamics of the
groups. Each group reacted differently to Amhara dominance. What makes
this analysis even more complex is that the Amhara themselves do not
constitute a cohesive group. Indeed, the tendency to see Ethiopia before
(and, by some accounts, after) the revolution as dominated by Amhara has
obscured the complexity of interethnic relations.
The Amhara are found predominantly in Gojam, Gonder, in parts of Welo
such as Lasta and Wag, and in parts of Shewa such as Menz. Amhara from
one area view those from other areas as different, and there is a long
history of conflicts among Amhara nobles aspiring to be kings or
Intraprovincial and interprovincial conflict between Amhara nobles
and their followers was quite common. Some aspects of intra-Amhara
friction may be seen in the relations of Shewan Amhara to other Amhara
and to other Ethiopians. Shewan Amharic speakers are on the southern
periphery of the territory occupied by the Amhara. They made their
presence felt in much of the Shewa region relatively late, except in
areas such as Menz, which had always been Amhara. Thus, the Shewans over
the centuries developed a culture and a society that emerged from Oromo,
Amhara, and perhaps other groups. Whereas the southern people considered
Shewan Orthodox Christians as Amhara, people from older Amhara areas
such as Gojam and Gonder thought of such persons as Shewans or sometimes
even as Oromo.
During the imperial regime, Amhara dominance led to the adoption of
Amharic as the language of government, commerce, and education. Other
forms of Amhara dominance occurred in local government, where Amhara
served as representatives of the central government or became
Reaction to the Amhara varied even within individual ethnic groups.
Some resisted the Amhara bitterly, while others aided them. In its most
extreme form, resistance to Amhara dominance resulted in enduring
separatist movements, particularly in Eritrea, Tigray, and the Ogaden.
The separatist movement in Eritrea reflects a somewhat different
historical experience from that of other areas of Ethiopia. Despite
Eritrea's seeming unity, ethnic and religious differences among
Eritreans abounded. For example, the Kunema, a Nilo-Saharan-speaking
people who formed an enclave among Eritrea's Muslims and Christians and
who have long been treated as inferior by some groups that make up the
Eritrean independence movement, historically have provided an island of
support for the central government.
Perhaps the only region to which the Amhara did not bring their sense
of superiority was Tigray, home of the people who lay claim to the
Aksumite heritage. The Amhara did not come to Tigray as receivers of
land grants, and government administrators were often Tigrayan
themselves. Tigray perspectives on the Amhara were, however, influenced
negatively by a number of historical factors. For example, the son of
the only emperor of Tigray origin to have ruled Ethiopia, Yohannis IV
(reigned 1872-89), was deprived of the throne by Menelik II, an Amhara.
In 1943 the imperial regime brutally repressed a Tigray rebellion called
Ethiopia's Ogaden region, inhabited primarily by ethnic Somali, was
the scene of a series of Ethiopian-Somali struggles in 1964, 1977-78,
and intermittently after that until 1987. Somalia supported
self-determination for Ogaden Somali. Although Somalia and Ethiopia
signed a joint communiqué in 1988 to end hostilities, Mogadishu refused
to abandon its claim to the Ogaden. Moreover, in 1989 and 1990, the
Ogaden region was home to about 350,000 Isaaq Somali from northern
Somalia who had escaped persecution by the regime of Mahammad Siad
In April 1976, the PMAC promulgated its Program for the National
Democratic Revolution (PNDR), which accepted the notions of
self-determination for nationalities and regional autonomy. In
compliance with the program, the PMAC created the Institute for the
Study of Ethiopian Nationalities in 1983 to develop administrative and
political proposals to accommodate all the country's major
nationalities. As a result of the institute's findings, the government
expressed a desire to abolish Ethiopia's fourteen administrative regions
and to create thirty regions, of which five-- Eritrea, Tigray, Aseb,
Dire Dawa, and the Ogaden--were to be autonomous. Eritrean and Tigrayan
leaders denounced the plan as nothing more than an attempt to perpetuate
government control of Eritrea and Tigray. Their military campaigns to
wrest control of the two regions from the Mengistu regime eventually
The PMAC undermined the patterns of ethnic relations prevailing in
imperial Ethiopia and eliminated the basis for Amhara dominance.
However, postrevolutionary Ethiopia continued to exhibit ethnic tension.
Traits based on ethnicity and religion are deeply ingrained and are not
susceptible to elimination by ideology.
Ethiopia - Social Relations
Ethiopia's ethnic and cultural diversity has affected social
relations. Most lowland people are geographically and socially isolated
from the highland population. Moreover, rural inhabitants, who
constitute about 89 percent of the total population, generally live
their lives without coming into contact with outsiders. Exposure to
other ethnic groups usually occurs by means of relatively limited
contact with administrators, tax collectors, and retail merchants. By
contrast, the towns are a mosaic of social and ethnic diversity. Since
the early 1940s, towns fulfilling administrative and economic functions
have proliferated. In Addis Ababa, it is common for families and groups
from disparate social and economic classes to live side by side. Only in
recent years, with unprecedented urbanization, have upper-income
residential zones emerged. Smaller urban centers have tended to be
fairly homogeneous in ethnic and religious makeup. But with increasing
urbanization, towns are expected to be the scene of increased
interaction among different ethnic groups and social classes.
Traditionally, among the most important factors in social relations
in Ethiopia has been religion. Ethiopian emperors nurtured the country's identity
with Christianity, although there were at least as many Muslims as
Christians in the country. Although the imperial regime did not impose
Orthodox Christianity on Muslims and pagans, very few non-Christians
held high positions in government and the military. In many cases,
Muslims gravitated to commerce and trade, occupations relatively
untainted by religious discrimination.
The Mengistu regime downplayed the role of religion in the state's
life and disestablished the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Moreover, the
1987 constitution guaranteed freedom of religion. In principle, all
religions had equal status in relation to the state.
Muslims live throughout Ethiopia, but large concentrations can be
found in Bale, Eritrea, Harerge, and Welo. Muslims also belong to many
ethnic groups, a factor that may prevent them from exerting political
influence commensurate with their numbers. Centuries of conflict between
the Christian kingdom and its Muslim antagonists, recent apprehensions
about Arab nationalism, and Arab support for Eritrean separatism and
Somali irredentism all continue to perpetuate Ethiopian historical fears
of "Islamic encirclement." Such historically rooted religious
antagonism has persisted in creating a social barrier between Christians
Those who profess traditional religious beliefs are interspersed
among Christians and Muslims. Such groups include the Sidama, the
Gurage, the Oromo of Arsi and Borana, and the Nilotic groups along the
Ethiopia-Sudan border. They have no political influence and are scorned
socially by Muslims and Christians.
The existence of more than seventy languages has been another barrier
to social communication and national integration. The imperial
government, recognizing the importance of a national language, adopted
Amharic as the official tongue. The use of Amharic became mandatory in
government, education, radiobroadcasts, and newspapers. But the
government's promotion of Amharic entailed the suppression of other
major languages, which aroused opposition and accusations of cultural
imperialism. Language policy changed under the Mengistu regime, which
attempted to reverse the trend by dropping Amharic as a requirement in
schools for non-Amharic speakers. The new policy recognized several
languages widely spoken in specific areas--such as Oromo, Tigrinya,
Welamo, and Somali--for use in schools at the lower levels. Addis Ababa also
authorized the use of the five languages mentioned above, as well as
Afar, in radiobroadcasts and literacy campaigns. Nevertheless, Amharic
remained the language of government, and anyone who aspired to a
national role had to learn to speak and write Amharic.
The most preferred occupations traditionally have been in government,
the military, the clergy, and farming, with commerce and trade
considered less important and consequently usually left to Muslims and
foreigners. All major Ethiopian ethnic units include hereditary groups
of artisans and craftsmen. Their occupations historically have been held
in low esteem by the dominant groups. Prior to 1974, artisans and
craftsmen could not own land or hold political office and could not
participate in local meetings or assemblies. Dominant groups in their
respective areas generally treated them as subjects.
Social status in Ethiopia during the centuries of imperial rule
depended on one's landholdings, which provided the basis for class
formation and social stratification. The emperor, the nobility, and
landlords occupied the social hierarchy's highest positions. Under them
were smallholding farmers, followed by millions of landless peasants who
cultivated rented land. In the twentieth century, most of the southern
landlord class consisted of Christian settlers from the north, whereas
the tenants were mostly nonChristians and natives of the area. Thus,
ethnic and cultural differences exacerbated class distinctions, which,
in turn, adversely affected social relations.
With the dissolution of the imperial system and the nationalization
of urban and rural land, social stratification and community relations
based on landholding largely disappeared. The military regime wanted to
create a classless society, but the social hierarchy based on
landholdings simply was replaced by one based on political power and
influence. National and regional party members, government ministers,
military officers, and senior civil servants had enormous political sway
and enjoyed the economic perquisites that the nobility and landlords
After Ethiopia's liberation from Italian occupation in 1941,
education played an important role in social relations by creating a
"new nobility" and a middle class whose position and status
were largely independent of landownership. This new group consisted of
educated children of the nobility, commoners who had achieved
distinction for their loyalty to the emperor, and others with advanced
education whose skills were needed to modernize the bureaucracy and
military. The postwar education system, the new government bureaucracy,
and the modern sector of the economy also encouraged the growth of a
middle class employed in the public and private sectors. Members of the
small educated class that filled the bureaucracy and the professions
during the postwar imperial period by and large retained their positions
under Mengistu, although many left the country because of disenchantment
with his regime.
The educated group was generally less attached to religion and
tradition than was the rest of Ethiopian society. Members' education,
income, occupation, and urban life-style likewise set them apart. They
had more in common with educated people from other ethnic groups and
frequently married across ethnic lines, although rarely across religious
lines. Nevertheless, in the last decade or so before the 1974
revolution, some younger and better-educated non-Amhara expressed
continued, even heightened, ethnic awareness through membership in
urban-based self-help associations, which the Mengistu regime later
banned. Although this educated group played a vital role in the
emperor's downfall, it had little influence on the military government.
Many of the PMAC's policies were perceived as inimical to the
interests of major ethnic and class groups. Despite the regime's
tentative efforts--such as land reform--to defuse some longstanding
grievances, opposition based on ethnic, religious, and class interests
Ethiopia - Social System
Political scientist John Markakis has observed, "The social
structure of traditional Amhara-Tigray society [represented] the classic
trinity of noble, priest, and peasant. These groups [were] distinguished
not only through the division of labor, distinct social status, and a
clear awareness of such distinctions expressed and justified in
ideological terms, but also through differences in their relationships
to the only means of production: land." In the northern highlands,
land was usually held by the kin group, the state, and the church and,
through each of these, by individuals. Private ownership in the Western
sense came later and was abolished in 1975.
Anthropologist Allan Hoben is considered to have made the most
thorough analysis of Amhara land tenure and its relation to social
structure. According to his findings, the cognatic
descent group, comprising men and women believed to
be descended from a common ancestor through both males and females,
ultimately held a block of land. As in cognatic descent systems
elsewhere, men and women could belong to several such landholding
groups. The descent group and each of its segments had a representative
who looked after its collective interests. This agent, the respected
elders, and politically influential members of the group or its segments
acted in disputes over rights to land. The land was called rist land, and the rights held or claimed in it were rist
rights. An Amhara had claims not to a specific piece of land but to a
portion of it administered by the descent group or a segment of this
group. The person holding such rights was called ristegna. In principle,
rist rights guaranteed security of tenure. Litigation over such rights
was common, however. Most northern highland peasants held at least some
rist land, but some members of pariah groups and others were tenants.
Peasants were subject to claims for taxes and labor from those above
them, including the church. The common term for peasant, derived from
the word for tribute, was gebbar. Taxes and fees were comprehensive,
multiple, and burdensome. In addition, the peasant had to provide labor
to a hierarchy of officials for a variety of tasks. It was only after
World War II that administrative and fiscal reforms ended many of these
The state exercised another set of rights over land, including land
held in rist. The emperor was the ultimate and often immediate arbiter
of such rights, called gult rights, and the recipient was called gultegna. There was
considerable variation in the content and duration of the gult rights
bestowed on any person.
Gult rights were the typical form of compensation for an official
until the government instituted salaries in the period after World War
II. Many gult grants were for life, or were hereditary, and did not
depend on the performance of official duties. The grants served to bind
members of noble families and the local gentry to the emperor.
The emperor also granted hereditary possession (rist gult) of state
land to members of the higher nobility or the royal family. Peasants on
such land became tenants of the grantee and paid rent in addition to the
usual taxes and fees. Lieutenants who shared in the tribute represented
the absentee landlords.
Those who benefited from the allocation of gult rights included
members of the royal family (masafint, or princes), the nobility
(makuannent), the local gentry, low-level administrators, and persons
with local influence. Until the twentieth century, the chief duties of
the makuannent were administrative and military. Membership in the
makuannent was not fixed, and local gentry who proved able and loyal
often assumed higher office and were elevated to the nobility. It was
possible for a commoner to become a noble and for the son of a
noble--even one with a hereditary title--to lose status and wealth
unless he demonstrated military or other capabilities. Although there
was a gap in living standards between peasant and noble, cultural
differences were not profound. Consequently, the Amhara and Tigray
lacked the notion of a hereditary class of nobles. Although it is
possible to divide the Amhara and Tigray populations of the late
nineteenth and much of the twentieth centuries in terms of rank, social
status, power, and wealth, those who fell into various categories did
not necessarily constitute distinct strata.
The pattern of land allocation in the southern territories
incorporated into the empire by Menelik II differed in important ways
from the pattern in the north. Moreover, the consequences of allocation
and the administrative regime imposed by Menelik II and Haile Selassie
varied, depending on the way in which particular ethnic groups or
regions became subject to Ethiopian rule, on the nature of the
preexisting sociopolitical structure, and on the territory's economic
Supposedly, the government divided conquered land in the south on the
one-third (siso) principle, by which two-thirds went to the state and
the remainder to the indigenous population. In fact, the proportion of
the land taken by the state ranged from virtually none to more than
two-thirds. In areas such as Jima, which had capitulated to Menelik II
without resistance, the state took no occupied land, although it later
took over unoccupied land and granted much of it to leading imperial
officials. Other northerners, attracted by the coffee-growing potential
of the Jima area, bought land in that region. In areas inhabited by
nomads, all the land was state land, little was granted, and the
pastoralists used it as before.
The government allocated state-held land to a variety of claimants.
The emperor retained a substantial portion of the most fertile land.
Churches also received large amounts of land in the south as northern
governors implemented the imperial policy of establishing Orthodox
Christian churches in conquered territory and as northern clergy came in
numbers to serve them. Each church received samon grants, according to
which the church held the rights to tribute in perpetuity, and the
tribute from those working the land went solely to the support of the
church (or local monastery). No part of it went through the secular
hierarchy to the emperor. The nobility, including the leaders of
Menelik's conquering armies (many of whom became governors in the
south), received rist gult rights over large areas occupied by peasants.
Rist gult holders, secure in their rights, allocated land rights of
various kinds to kinsmen and retainers. The government granted rist gult
rights over smaller parcels of land to officials at any level for loyal
service. Remaining land was divided between the indigenous population
and traditional leaders ( balabats ), who acquired some of the best land. People who had
been on the land thus became tenants (gebbars).
Peasants from the north went south as soldiers and settlers. If the
soldiers and their heirs continued to perform military or other service,
they received land that remained in the family. If they arrived as
settlers, the government gave them small parcels of land or allowed them
to buy land from the state at low cost. Such land, unencumbered by the
residual rights of a kin group but requiring the payment of state taxes,
was thus held in an arrangement much like that applied to freehold land.
Generally, settlers were armed and were expected to support local
officials with force.
Most of the southern population consisted of indigenous peoples,
largely deprived of the rights they had held under local systems. They,
like Amhara and Tigray peasants, were called gebbars, but they held no
rist land and therefore had little security of tenure. The situation of
the southern gebbars depended on the rights granted by the state over
the land on which they lived. Those working land granted to a minor
official paid tribute through him. If the land reverted to state
control, the gebbar became a tributary of the state. As salaries for
officials became the rule after World War II, the land that formerly
served as compensation in lieu of salary was granted in permanent
possession (in effect, became freehold land) to those holding contingent
rights or to others. In these circumstances, the gebbars became tenants.
The basis of southern social stratification was, as in the north, the
allocation of political office and rights in land by the emperor. The
method of allocating rights in land and of appointing government
officials in the south gave rise to a structure of status, power, and
wealth that differed from the arrangement in the north and from the
earlier forms of sociopolitical organization in the area. Those
appointed as government officials in the south were northerners--mainly
Amhara, Tigray, and educated Oromo--virtually all of whom were Orthodox
Christians who spoke Amharic. This meant that social stratification
coincided with ethnicity. However, the path to social mobility and
higher status, as in the north, was education and migration to urban
In 1966, under growing domestic pressure for land reform, the
imperial government abolished rist gult in the north and south and siso
gult in the south. Under the new system, the gultegna and the gebbar
paid taxes to the state. In effect, this established rights of private
ownership. The abolition of rist gult left the northern Amhara and
Tigray peasant a rist holder, still dependent on the cognatic descent
group to verify his rights to rist land. But at least he was formally
freed of obligations to the gult holder.
Typically, the landholders and many northern provincial officials
came from families with at least several generations of status, wealth,
and power in the province-- situations they owed not to Menelik II or to
Haile Selassie but to earlier emperors or to great provincial lords.
These nobles had some claim to the peasants' loyalty, inasmuch as all
belonged to the same ethnic group and shared the same values. Peasants
often saw attacks on the northern nobility as challenges to the entire
system of which they were a part, including their right to rist land.
By contrast, whether or not they were descended from the older
nobility, southern landholders were more dependent on the central
government for their status and power. They were confronted with an
ethnically different peasantry and lacked a base in the culture and
society of the locality in which they held land.
In 1975 the revolution succeeded in eliminating the nobility and
landlord classes. Those individual group members who avoided being
killed, exiled, or politically isolated were able to do so because they
had in some way already modified or surrendered their rights and
Land reform affected huge numbers of people throughout Ethiopia.
However, there were regional differences in its execution. Peasant
associations carried out land redistribution in the south, motivated not
only by economic need but also by their antipathy toward the landlords.
In the north, the government preserved rist tenure, and the peasant
associations concerned themselves mainly with litigation over rist
rights. Moreover, northern peasants were not driven by the ethnic and
class hatred characteristic of southern peasants.
The 1975 Peasant Associations Organization and Consolidation
Proclamation granted local self-government to peasant associations.
Subsequently, peasant associations established judicial tribunals to
deal with certain criminal and civil cases, including those involving
violations of association regulations. Armed units, known as peasant
defense squads, enforced decisions. Additionally, peasant associations
had economic powers, including the right to establish service
cooperatives as a prelude to collective ownership (although there was
little peasant enthusiasm for the latter). The revolutionary government
also established a hierarchy of administrative and development
committees in districts, regions, and subregions to coordinate the work
of the bodies at each administrative level. The Workers' Party of
Ethiopia (WPE) later supplemented the work of these committees. Only a
few officials spoke for peasants at the district and subregional levels,
and rarely, if at all, were peasants represented in regional
organizations, where civilians and military members of the central
government were in control.
Ethiopia - Urban Society
After World War II, towns, commerce, and bureaucracy gradually became
more significant in Ethiopia. Except for Addis Ababa and some Red Sea
ports, towns were small, and urbanization had proceeded more slowly than
in many other African countries. City and town life had not been a
feature of Ethiopian society, and trade was not a full-time occupation
for Ethiopians except for itinerant Muslims and Arabized peoples on the
Red Sea coast. Manufacturing had arrived only recently, and the role of
Ethiopians, except as unskilled laborers, was minimal. Ownership and
management, with relatively few exceptions, were in the hands of
Most Ethiopians who entered into occupations not associated with the
land or with traditional methods of administration worked for the
central government, which had expanded to bring Ethiopia under the
emperor's control, to provide essential services, and to generate
economic development. During the 1940s, Ethiopia's few educated persons,
who usually came from families of the nobility and gentry, joined the
Beginning in the 1950s, relatively younger Ethiopians with higher
education developed hopes and expectations for democratic institutions.
Still small in number, perhaps 7,000 to 8,000 by 1970, they were more
ethnically varied in origin than the older educated group, although
Amhara and Tigray were still represented disproportionately (as they
were even among secondary school graduates). These would-be reformers
were frequently frustrated by the older ways of the senior officials,
who were dependent on Haile Selassie and beholden to him. Nevertheless,
sustained opposition to the regime did not occur, largely because even
middle- and lower-level government employees were better off than the
peasants, small traders, and some of the gentry.
Small traders and craftsmen, below educated government workers in
income and status, had little influence on the government, which tended
to encourage larger-scale capitalintensive ventures typically requiring
foreign investment and management. Although an increasing number of
Christians were involved in commercial activities, small traders
remained largely a Muslim group. Skilled craftsmen who were not of the
traditional pariah groups often belonged to small ethnic groups, such as
the weavers (often called Dorze) of Gamo Gofa.
At the bottom of the urban social scale were workers of varied ethnic
origins, generally unskilled in a labor market crowded with unskilled
workers ready to replace them. Neither government policy, the weak labor
unions, nor the condition of the labor market gave them social or
political leverage. By the late 1960s, inflation and a lack of jobs for
university and secondary school graduates intensified disgruntlement.
Urban-based agitation by students, labor, and the military eventually
toppled the imperial regime.
Those who had served in senior positions in the imperial government
and the military establishment were dismissed, imprisoned, executed, or
they fled the country. The survivors of the old social structure were
younger persons in government service: bureaucrats, teachers, and
technicians. Some benefited from the nationalization of private
enterprises and expansion of the government apparatus, filling posts
held by senior officials or foreign specialists before the revolution.
But this group was excluded from power, and some became militant
opponents of the new regime's radical policies.
The position of the middle class--traders and artisans-- varied.
Generally, the status of Muslim traders rose after the new regime
disestablished the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. As economic conditions
worsened and consumer goods became scarce, however, traders became
scapegoats and subject to violent attacks.
Notwithstanding allusions to the proletariat's revolutionary role,
the urban working class--mainly in Addis Ababa and its environs--gained
neither status nor power. The military government replaced the
Confederation of Ethiopian Labor Unions (CELU) with the All-Ethiopia
Trade Union (AETU) when the CELU leadership started opposing the
direction of the revolution. The AETU focused its activities on
supporting the government policy of emphasizing production rather than
on advancing worker rights. The AETU--unlike the CELU--was a hierarchy
rather than a confederation; unions at the base accepted policy
decisions made at higher levels. In the next few years, the government
had difficulty enforcing this policy. Deteriorating economic conditions
caused strikes and demonstrations. In addition, violence often broke out
between workers and government officials.
The urban equivalents of the peasant associations were the kebeles. Initially, mid- and lowerlevel bureaucrats were elected to posts
in these associations, but the military government soon purged them for
opposing the revolutionary regime. New laws excluded from elective
office for one year those who had owned rental property and members of
their households. Thus, not only were the wealthy excluded from
participation, but also many middle-class investors who had built and
rented low-cost housing and who were far from rich were excluded as
well. This exclusion also deprived many students and other young people
of a role in the kebeles. Those who worked full time away from the
neighborhood tended to be unwilling to take on kebele positions. Partly
by default and partly with the PMAC's encouragement, elections in 1976
filled kebeles posts with (in the words of John Markakis and Nega Ayele)
"persons of dubious character, indeterminate occupation, busybodies
and opportunists of all sorts . . . . Militia units [attached to the
urban associations] charged with local security mustered the perennially
unemployed, the shiftless and hangers-on, young toughs and delinquents,
who were instantly transformed into revolutionary proletarian
fighters." These individuals perpetrated crimes against people they
disliked or disagreed with.
The kebeles engaged in some of the revolution's most brutal
bloodletting. Increasing criticism eventually forced the regime to
restrain them. After the populace recognized the PMAC's permanence, more
people participated in kebele administration. By 1990 the kebeles were
part of the grassroots WPE organization.
Ethiopia - The Role of Women
Basic Teachings of Islam
Islam is a system of religious beliefs and an allencompassing way of
life. Muslims believe that God (Allah) revealed to the Prophet Muhammad
the rules governing society and the proper conduct of society's members.
Therefore, it is incumbent on the individual to live in a manner
prescribed by the revealed law and incumbent on the community to build
the perfect human society on earth according to holy injunctions. Islam
recognizes no distinctions between church and state. The distinction
between religious and secular law is a recent development that reflects
the more pronounced role of the state in society and of Western economic
and cultural penetration. Religion has a greater impact on daily life in
Muslim countries than it has had in the largely Christian West since the
Islam came to Ethiopia by way of the Arabian Peninsula, where in A.D.
610, Muhammad--a merchant of the Hashimite branch of the ruling Quraysh
tribe in the Arabian town of Mecca--began to preach the first of a
series of revelations he said had been granted him by God through the
angel Gabriel. A fervent monotheist, Muhammad denounced the polytheism
of his fellow Meccans. Because the town's economy was based in part on a
thriving pilgrimage business to the shrine called the Kaaba and to
numerous other pagan religious sites in the area, Muhammad's censure
earned him the enmity of the town's leaders. In 622 he and a group of
followers accepted an invitation to settle in the town of Yathrib, later
known as Medina (the city), because it was the center of Muhammad's
activities. The move, or hijra, known in the West as the hegira, marks
the beginning of the Islamic era and of Islam as a force in history;
indeed, the Muslim calendar begins in 622. In Medina, Muhammad continued
to preach, and he eventually defeated his detractors in battle. He
consolidated the temporal and the spiritual leadership in his person
before his death in 632. After Muhammad's death, his followers compiled
those of his words regarded as coming directly from God into the Quran,
the holy scriptures of Islam. Others of his sayings and teachings,
recalled by those who had known him, became the hadith. The precedent of
Muhammad's personal behavior is called the sunna. Together, these works
form a comprehensive guide to the spiritual, ethical, and social life of
the orthodox Sunni Muslim.
The duties of Muslims form the five pillars of Islam, which set forth
the acts necessary to demonstrate and reinforce the faith. These are the
recitation of the shahada ("There is no god but God [Allah], and
Muhammad is his prophet."), salat (daily prayer), zakat
(almsgiving), sawm (fasting), and hajj (pilgrimage). The believer is to
pray in a prescribed manner after purification through ritual ablutions
each day at dawn, midday, midafternoon, sunset, and nightfall.
Prescribed genuflections and prostrations accompany the prayers, which
the worshiper recites facing toward Mecca. Whenever possible, men pray
in congregation at the mosque with an imam, or prayer leader, and on
Fridays they make a special effort to do so. The Friday noon prayers
provide the occasion for weekly sermons by religious leaders. Women may
also attend public worship at the mosque, where they are segregated from
the men, although women usually pray at home. A special functionary, the
muezzin, intones a call to prayer to the entire community at the
appropriate hour. Those out of earshot determine the time by the
position of the sun.
The ninth month of the Muslim calendar is Ramadan, a period of
obligatory fasting in commemoration of Muhammad's receipt of God's
revelation. Throughout the month, all but the sick and weak, pregnant or
lactating women, soldiers on duty, travelers on necessary journeys, and
young children are enjoined from eating, drinking, smoking, or sexual
intercourse during the daylight hours. Those adults who are excused are
obliged to endure an equivalent fast at their earliest opportunity. A
festive meal breaks the daily fast and inaugurates a night of feasting
and celebration. The pious well-to-do usually perform little or no work
during this period, and some businesses close for all or part of the
day. Because the months of the lunar year revolve through the solar
year, Ramadan falls at various seasons in different years. A
considerable test of discipline at any time of the year, a fast that
falls in summertime imposes severe hardship on those who must do
All Muslims, at least once in their lifetimes, are strongly
encouraged to make the hajj to Mecca to participate in special rites
held there during the twelfth month of the lunar calendar. Muhammad
instituted this requirement, modifying pre-Islamic custom, to emphasize
sites associated with God and Abraham (Ibrahim), considered the founder
of monotheism and father of the Arabs through his son Ismail.
Other tenets of the Muslim faith include the jihad (holy war), and
the requirement to do good works and to avoid all evil thoughts, words,
and deeds. In addition, Muslims agree on certain basic principles of
faith based on the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad: there is one God,
who is a unitary divine being, in contrast to the trinitarian belief of
Christians; Muhammad, the last of a line of prophets beginning with
Abraham and including Moses (Musa) and Jesus (Isa), was chosen by God to
present His message to humanity; and there is to be a general
resurrection on the last, or judgment, day.
During his lifetime, Muhammad was spiritual and temporal leader of
the Muslim community. Religious and secular law merged, and all Muslims
traditionally have been subject to sharia, or religious law. A
comprehensive legal system, sharia developed gradually through the first
four centuries of the Islamic era, primarily through the accretion of
interpretations and precedents set by various judges and scholars.
After Muhammad's death, Muslim community leaders chose Abu Bakr, the
Prophet's father-in-law and one of his earliest followers, to succeed
him. At that time, some persons favored Ali ibn Abu Talib, Muhammad's
cousin and the husband of his daughter Fatima, but Ali and his
supporters (the Shiat Ali, or Party of Ali) eventually recognized the
community's choice. The next two caliphs (successors)--Umar, who
succeeded in A.D. 634, and Uthman, who took power in 644--enjoyed the
recognition of the entire community. When Ali finally succeeded to the
caliphate in 656, Muawiyah, governor of Syria, rebelled in the name of
his murdered kinsman Uthman. After the ensuing civil war, Ali moved his
capital to the area of present-day Iraq, where he was murdered shortly
Ali's death ended the last of the so-called four orthodox caliphates
and the period in which the entire community of Islam recognized a
single caliph. Muawiyah proclaimed himself caliph from Damascus. The
Shiat Ali refused to recognize him or his line, the Umayyad caliphs, and
withdrew in the great schism to establish the dissident sect, known as
the Shia, who supported the claims of Ali's line to the caliphate based
on descent from the Prophet. The larger faction, the Sunnis, adhered to
the position that the caliph must be elected, and over the centuries
they have represented themselves as the orthodox branch.
Early in Islam's history the Sufism movement emerged. It stressed the
possibility of emotional closeness to God and mystical knowledge of God
in contrast to the intellectual and legalistic emphasis of orthodox
Sunni theology. By the twelfth century, this tendency had taken a number
of forms. Orders, each emphasizing specific disciplines (ways) of
achieving that closeness and knowledge, were organized. Disdained by
orthodox Islamic theologians, Sufi orders nevertheless became an
integral part of Islam, although their importance varied regionally.
Ethiopia - Islam - Local Character of Belief and Practice
Until the early 1900s, formal education was confined to a system of
religious instruction organized and presented under the aegis of the
Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Church schools prepared individuals for the
clergy and for other religious duties and positions. In the process,
these schools also provided religious education to the children of the
nobility and to the sons of limited numbers of tenant farmers and
servants associated with elite families. Such schools mainly served
Amhara and Tigray inhabitants of the central highlands. Toward the end
of the nineteenth century, Menelik II had also permitted the
establishment of European missionary schools. At the same time, Islamic
schools provided some education for a small part of the Muslim
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the education system's
failure to meet the needs of people involved in statecraft, diplomacy,
commerce, and industry led to the introduction of government-sponsored
secular education. The first public school was established in Addis
Ababa in 1907, and a year later a primary school opened in Harer.
Foreign languages, elementary mathematics, and rudimentary science were
taught in French to a limited number of students, along with Amharic and
In 1925 the government adopted a plan to expand secular education,
but ten years later there were only 8,000 students enrolled in twenty
public schools. A few students also studied abroad on government
scholarships. Schools closed during the Italian occupation of 1936-41.
After the restoration of Ethiopian independence, schools reopened, but
the system faced shortages of teachers, textbooks, and facilities. The
government recruited foreign teachers for primary and secondary schools
to offset the teacher shortage. By 1952 a total of 60,000 students were
enrolled in 400 primary schools, eleven secondary schools, and three
institutions offering college-level courses. In the 1960s, 310 mission
and privately operated schools with an enrollment of 52,000 supplemented
the country's public school system.
In May 1961, Ethiopia hosted the United Nations-sponsored Conference
of African States on the Development of Education. Among other things,
the conference highlighted Ethiopia's educational deficiencies. The
Ethiopian education system, especially in primary and secondary
education, was ranked the bottom among African nations. There were
school and teacher shortages, a high dropout rate, and low overall
attendance rates (about 10 percent among all school-age children in the
country), especially among females, nonChristians , and rural children.
Embarrassed by this record, the Ministry of Education developed a new
education policy, which was in effect until 1974. Designed in
conjunction with the objectives of the government's second and third
fiveyear development plans, extending from 1962 to 1973, the policy gave
precedence to the establishment of technical training schools, although
academic education also was expanded. Curriculum revisions introduced a
mix of academic and nonacademic subjects. But Amharic became the
language of instruction for the entire primary cycle, which handicapped
any child who had a different primary language.
Under the revised system, the two-year junior secondary schools
offered a general academic program for individuals who wished to
continue their education. A number of vocational subjects prepared
others to enter technical or vocational schools. Some practical
experience in the use of tools was provided, which qualified graduates
as semiskilled workers. The curriculum in the four-year senior secondary
schools prepared students for higher education in Ethiopia or abroad.
Successful completion of the cycle also qualified some for specialized
agricultural or industrial institutes. Others were qualified for
intermediate positions in the civil service, the armed forces, or
There were two institutions of higher education: Haile Selassie I
University in Addis Ababa, formed by imperial charter in 1961, and the
private University of Asmera, founded by a Roman Catholic religious
order based in Italy.
Between 1961 and 1971, the government expanded the public school
system more than fourfold, and it declared universal primary education a
long-range objective. In 1971 there were 1,300 primary and secondary
schools and 13,000 teachers, and enrollment had reached 600,000. In
addition, many families sent their children to schools operated by
missionary groups and private agencies. But the system suffered from a
shortage of qualified personnel, a lack of funds, and overcrowded
facilities. Often financed with foreign aid, school construction usually
proceeded faster than the training and certification of teachers.
Moreover, many teachers did not stay long in the profession. Sources
such as the United States Peace Corps and teachers from the National
Service program (university students who taught for one year after
completing their junior year) served only as stopgaps. In addition, most
schools were in the major towns. Crowded and understaffed, those schools
in small towns and rural areas provided a poor education.
The inadequacies of public education before the mid-1970s resulted
partly from the school financing system. To finance primary education,
the government levied a special tax on agricultural land. Local boards
of education supervised the disbursement of tax receipts. (The central
government financed secondary and higher education.) The system's
inequities fostered the expansion of primary education in wealthier
regions rather than in poorer ones. Moreover, urban inhabitants, who did
not have to pay the tax but who were predominantly represented in the
schools, sent their children at the expense of the taxpaying rural
landowners and poor peasants. The government attempted to rectify this
imbalance in 1970 by imposing an education tax on urban landowners and a
2 percent tax on the personal income of urban residents. But the
Ministry of Finance treated the funds collected as part of the general
revenue and never spent the money for its intended purpose.
Despite the fact that money spent on education increased from 10
percent of total government expenditures in 1968 to 20 percent in the
early 1970s, funding remained inadequate. Expenditure on education was
only 1.4 to 3 percent of the gross national product (GNP) between 1968 and 1974, compared with 2.5 to 6
percent for other African countries during the same period.
Under the pressure of growing public dissatisfaction and mounting
student activism in the university and secondary schools, the imperial
government initiated a comprehensive study of the education system.
Completed in July 1972, the Education Sector Review (ESR) recommended
attaining universal primary education as quickly and inexpensively as
possible, ruralizing the curricula through the inclusion of informal
training, equalizing educational opportunities, and relating the entire
system to the national development process.
The ESR criticized the education system's focus on preparing students
for the next level of academic study and on the completion of rigid
qualifying examinations. Also criticized was the government's lack of
concern for the young people who dropped out before learning marketable
skills, a situation that contributed to unemployment. The report stated
that, by contrast, "The recommended system would provide a
self-contained program at each level that would be terminal for most
The report was not published until February 1974, which gave time for
rumors to generate opposition among students, parents, and the teachers'
union to the ESR recommendations. Most resented what they considered the
removal of education from its elite position. Many teachers also feared
salary reductions. Strikes and widespread disturbances ensued, and the
education crisis became a contributing factor in the imperial regime's
fall later that year.
Ethiopia - Primary and Secondary Education
After the overthrow of imperial rule, the provisional military
government dismantled the feudal socioeconomic structure through a
series of reforms that also affected educational development. By early
1975, the government had closed Haile Selassie I University and all
senior secondary schools and had deployed some 60,000 students and
teachers to rural areas to participate in the government's Development
Through Cooperation Campaign (commonly referred to as zemecha ). The campaign's stated purposes were to promote land
reform and improve agricultural production, health, and local
administration and to teach peasants about the new political and social
In 1975 the new regime nationalized all private schools, except
church-affiliated ones, and made them part of the public school system.
Additionally, the government reorganized Haile Selassie I University and
renamed it Addis Ababa University. It also initiated reforms of the
education system based partly on ESR recommendations and partly on the
military regime's socialist ideology. However, no meaningful education
occurred (except at the primary level) from 1975 to 1978 because of the
social turmoil, which pitted the regime against numerous opposition
forces, including students.
Beginning in 1975, a new education policy emphasized improving
learning opportunities in the rural areas as a means of increasing
economic productivity. In the mid-1980s, the education system was still
based on a structure of primary, secondary, and higher education levels,
much as it was during the imperial regime. However, the government's
objective was to establish an eight-year unified education system at the
primary level. Preliminary to implementing this program, officials
tested a new curriculum in seventy pilot schools. This curriculum
emphasized expanded opportunities for nonacademic training. The new
approach also decentralized control and operation of primary and
secondary schools to the subregional level, where the curriculum
addressed local requirements. In each case, committees drawn from the
peasant associations and kebeles and augmented by at least one teacher
and one student over the age of sixteen from each school administered
the public schools. Students used free textbooks in local languages. In
late 1978, the government expanded the program to include nine
languages, and it adopted plans to add five others.
There were also changes in the distribution and number of schools and
the size and composition of the student body. The military regime worked
toward a more even distribution of schools by concentrating its efforts
on small towns and rural areas that had been neglected during the
imperial regime. With technical assistance from the Ministry of
Education, individual communities performed all primary school
construction. In large part because of such community involvement, the
number of primary schools grew from 3,196 in 1974/75 to 7,900 in 1985/86
(the latest years for which figures were available in mid-1991), an
average increase of 428 schools annually. The number of primary schools increased significantly
in all regions except three, including Eritrea and Tigray, where there
was a decline because of continuing insurgencies. In Addis Ababa, the
number of primary schools declined because of the closure or absorption
of nongovernment schools, especially religious ones, into the government
Primary school enrollment increased from about 957,300 in 1974/75 to
nearly 2,450,000 in 1985/86. There were still variations among regions
in the number of students enrolled and a disparity in the enrollment of
boys and girls. Nevertheless, while the enrollment of boys more than
doubled, that of girls more than tripled. Urban areas had a higher ratio of children enrolled in
schools, as well as a higher proportion of female students, compared
with rural areas.
The number of junior secondary schools almost doubled, with fourfold
increases in Gojam, Kefa, and Welega. Most junior secondary schools were
attached to primary schools.
The number of senior secondary schools almost doubled as well, with
fourfold increases in Arsi, Bale, Gojam, Gonder, and Welo. The
prerevolutionary distribution of schools had shown a concentration in
the urban areas of a few administrative regions. In 1974/75 about 55
percent of senior secondary schools were in Eritrea and Shewa, including
Addis Ababa. In 1985/86 the figure was down to 40 percent. Although
there were significantly fewer girls enrolled at the secondary level,
the proportion of females in the school system at all levels and in all
regions increased from about 32 percent in 1974/75 to 39 percent in
The number of teachers also increased, especially in senior secondary
schools. However, this increase had not kept pace with student
enrollment. The student-teacher ratio went from forty-four to one in
1975 to fifty-four to one in 1983 in primary schools and also increased
from thirty-five to one in 1975 to forty-four to one in 1983 in
Although the government achieved impressive improvements in primary
and secondary education, prospects for universal education in the near
future were not bright. In 1985/86, the latest year for which government
statistics were available, enrollment in the country's primary, junior
secondary, and senior secondary schools totaled 3.1 million students, up
from the nearly 785,000 enrolled a decade earlier. Only about 2.5
million (42 percent) of the 6 million primary school-age children were
enrolled in school in 1985/86. Junior secondary school enrollments
(grades seven and eight) amounted to 363,000, while at the secondary
school level (grades nine through twelve), only 292,385 out of 5.5
million, or 5.3 percent, attended school. In addition, prospects for
continued study for most primary school graduates were slim. In 1985/86
there was only one junior secondary school for every eight primary
schools and only one senior secondary school for every four junior
secondary schools. There were many primary school students for whom
space would not be available and who therefore would most likely end up
on the job market, where work already was scarce for people with limited
School shortages also resulted in crowding, a situation aggravated by
the rural-urban influx of the late 1980s. Most schools operated on a
morning and afternoon shift system, particularly in urban areas. A
teacher shortage exacerbated the problems created by crowded classrooms.
In addition to these problems were those of the destruction and looting
of educational facilities as a result of fighting in northern regions.
By 1990/91 destruction was especially severe in Eritrea, Tigray, and
Gonder, but looting of schools was reported in other parts of the
country as well.
Ethiopia - Higher and Vocational Education
The main cause of many of Ethiopia's health problems is the relative
isolation of large segments of the population from the modern sector.
Additionally, widespread illiteracy prevents the dissemination of
information on modern health practices. A shortage of trained personnel
and insufficient funding also hampers the equitable distribution of
health services. Moreover, most health institutions were concentrated in
urban centers prior to 1974 and were concerned with curative rather than
Western medicine came to Ethiopia during the last quarter of the
nineteenth century with the arrival of missionary doctors, nurses, and
midwives. But there was little progress on measures to cope with the
acute and endemic diseases that debilitated large segments of the
population until the government established its Ministry of Public
Health in 1948. The World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations
Children's Fund (UNICEF), and the United States Agency for International
Development (AID) provided technical and financial assistance to
eliminate the sources of health problems.
In addition to establishing hospitals, health centers, and outpatient
clinics, the government initiated programs to train Ethiopian health
care personnel so that they could supplement the private institutions
that existed in a few major urban centers. The few government campaigns
that exhorted the people to cooperate in the fight against disease and
unhealthful living conditions were mainly directed at the urban
By the mid-1970s, the number of modern medical facilities had
increased relatively slowly--particularly in rural areas, where at least
80 percent of the people still did not have access to techniques or
services that would improve health conditions. Forty-six percent of the hospital beds were
concentrated in Addis Ababa, Asmera, Dire Dawa, and Harer. In the
absence of modern medical services, the rural population continued to
rely on traditional folk medicine. According to official statistics, in
1983/84 there were 546 physicians in the country to serve a population
of 42 million, a ratio of roughly one physician per 77,000 people, one
of the worst ratios in the world. Less than 40 percent of the population
was within reach of modern health services.
As in most developing countries in the early 1990s, Ethiopia's main
health problems were communicable diseases caused by poor sanitation and
malnutrition and exacerbated by the shortage of trained manpower and
health facilities. Mortality and morbidity data were based primarily on
health facility records, which may not reflect the real incidence of
disease in the population. According to such records, the leading causes
of hospital deaths were dysentery and gastroenteritis (11 percent),
tuberculosis (11 percent), pneumonia (11 percent), malnutrition and
anemia (7 percent), liver diseases including hepatitis (6 percent),
tetanus (3 percent), and malaria (3 percent). The leading causes of
outpatient morbidity in children under age five were upper respiratory
illnesses, diarrhea, eye infections including trachoma, skin infections,
malnutrition, and fevers. Nearly 60 percent of childhood morbidity was
preventable. The leading causes of adult morbidity were dysentery and
gastrointestinal infections, malaria, parasitic worms, skin and eye
diseases, venereal diseases, rheumatism, malnutrition, fevers, upper
respiratory tract infections, and tuberculosis. These diseases were
endemic and quite widespread, reflecting the fact that Ethiopians had no
access to modern health care.
Tuberculosis still affected much of the population despite efforts to
immunize as many people as possible. Venereal diseases, particularly
syphilis and gonorrhea, were prevalent in towns and cities, where
prostitution contributed to the problem. The high prevalence of worms
and other intestinal parasites indicated poor sanitary facilities and
education and the fact that potable water was available to less than 14
percent of the population. Tapeworm infection was common because of the
popular practice of eating raw or partially cooked meat.
Schistosomiasis, leprosy, and yellow fever were serious health
hazards in certain regions of the country. Schistosomiasis, a disease
caused by a parasite transmitted from snails to humans through the
medium of water, occurred mainly in the northern part of the highlands,
in the western lowlands, and in Eritrea and Harerge. Leprosy was common
in Harerge and Gojam and in areas bordering Sudan and Kenya. The
incidence of typhoid, whooping cough, rabies, cholera, and other
diseases had diminished in the 1970s because of school immunization
programs, but serious outbreaks still plagued many rural areas. Frequent
famine made health conditions even worse.
Smallpox has been stamped out in Ethiopia, the last outbreak having
occurred among the nomadic population in the late 1970s. Malaria, which
is endemic in 70 percent of the country, was once a scourge in areas
below 1,500 meters elevation. Its threat had declined considerably as a
result of government efforts supported by WHO and AID, but occasional
seasonal outbreaks were common. The most recent occurrence was in 1989,
and the outbreak was largely the result of heavy rain, unusually high
temperatures, and the settling of peasants in new locations. There was
also a report of a meningitis epidemic in southern and western Ethiopia
in 1989, even though the government had taken preventive measures by
vaccinating 1.6 million people. The logistics involved in reaching the
70 percent of Ethiopians who lived more than three days' walk from a
health center with refrigerated vaccines and penicillin prevented the
medical authorities from arresting the epidemic.
Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) was a growing problem in
Ethiopia. In 1985 the Ministry of Health reported the country's first
AIDS case. In subsequent years, the government sponsored numerous AIDS
studies and surveys. For example, in 1988 the country's AIDS Control and
Prevention Office conducted a study in twenty-four towns and discovered
that an average of 17 percent of the people in each town tested positive
for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the precursor of full-blown
AIDS. A similar survey in Addis Ababa showed that 24 percent tested
In 1990 Mengistu Mihret, head of the Surveillance and Research
Coordination Department of the AIDS Control and Prevention Office,
indicated that AIDS was spreading more rapidly in heavily traveled
areas. According to the Ministry of Health, there were two AIDS patients
in the country in 1986, seventeen in 1987, eighty-five in 1988, 188 in
1989, and 355 as of mid-1990. Despite this dramatic growth rate, the
number of reported AIDS cases in Ethiopia was lower than in many other
African countries. However, the difference likely reflected the
comparatively small amount of resources being devoted to the study of
Starting in 1975, the regime embarked on the formulation of a new
health policy emphasizing disease prevention and control, rural health
services, and promotion of community involvement and self-reliance in
health activities. The ground for the new policy was broken during the
student zemecha of 1975/76, which introduced peasants to the need for
improved health standards. In 1983 the government drew up a ten-year
health perspective plan that was incorporated into the ten-year economic
development plan launched in September 1984. The goal of this plan was
the provision of health services to 80 percent of the population by
1993/94. To achieve such a goal would have required an increase of over
10 percent in annual budget allocations, which was unrealistic in view
of fiscal constraints.
The regime decentralized health care administration to the local
level in keeping with its objective of community involvement in health
matters. Regional Ministry of Health offices gave assistance in
technical matters, but peasant associations and kebeles had considerable
autonomy in educating people on health matters and in constructing
health facilities in outlying areas. Starting in 1981, a hierarchy of
community health services, health stations, health centers, rural
hospitals, regional hospitals, and central referral hospitals were
supposed to provide health care. By the late 1980s, however, these
facilities were available to only a small fraction of the country's
At the bottom of the health-care pyramid was the community health
service, designed to give every 1,000 people access to a community
health agent, someone with three months of training in environmental
sanitation and the treatment of simple diseases. In addition to the
community health agent, there was a traditional birth attendant, with
one month of training in prenatal and postnatal care and safe delivery
practices. As of 1988, only about a quarter of the population was being
served by a community health agent or a traditional birth attendant.
Both categories were made up of volunteers chosen by the community and
were supported by health assistants.
Health assistants were full-time Ministry of Health workers with
eighteen months of training, based at health stations ultimately to be
provided at the rate of one health station per 10,000 population. Each
health station was ultimately to be staffed by three health assistants.
Ten health stations were supervised by one health center, which was
designed to provide services for a 100,000-person segment of the
population. The Regional Health Department supervised health centers.
Rural hospitals with an average of seventy-five beds and general
regional hospitals with 100 to 250 beds provided referral services for
health centers. The six central referral hospitals were organized to
provide care in all important specialties, train health professionals,
and conduct research. There were a few specialized hospitals for leprosy
and tuberculosis, but overall the lack of funds meant emphasis on
building health centers and health stations rather than hospitals.
Trained medical personnel were also in short supply. As noted
previously, the ratio of citizens to physicians was one of the worst in
the world. Of 4,000 positions for nurses, only half were filled, and
half of all health stations were staffed by only one health assistant
instead of the planned three. There were two medical schools--in Addis
Ababa and Gonder--and one school of pharmacy, all managed by Addis Ababa
University. The Gonder medical school also trained nurses and sanitation
and laboratory technicians. The Ministry of Health ran three nursing
schools and eleven schools for health assistants. Missionaries also ran
two such schools. The regime increased the number of nurses to 385 and
health assistants to 650 annually, but the health budget could not
support this many new graduates. The quality of graduates had also not
kept pace with the quantity of graduates.
Since 1974 there have been modest improvements in national
expenditures on public health. Between 1970 and 1975, the government
spent about 5 percent of its total budget on health programs. From 1975
to 1978, annual expenditures varied between 5.5 and 6.6 percent of
outlays, and for the 1982-88 period total expenditures on the Ministry
of Health were about 4 percent of total government expenditures. This
was a low figure but comparable to that for other low-income African
countries. Moreover, much of the real increases of 7 to 8 percent in the
health budget went to salaries.
A number of countries were generous in helping Ethiopia meet its
health care needs. Cuba, the Soviet Union, and a number of East European
countries provided medical assistance. In early 1980, nearly 300 Cuban
medical technicians, including more than 100 physicians, supported local
efforts to resolve public health problems. Western aid for long-term
development of Ethiopia's health sector was modest, averaging about
US$10 million annually, the lowest per capita assistance in sub-Saharan
Africa. The main Western donors included Italy and Sweden. International
organizations, namely UNICEF, WHO, and the United Nations Population
Fund, also extended assistance.
Ethiopia - The Economy
Developments up to l974
By African standards, Ethiopia is a potentially wealthy country, with
fertile soil and good rainfall over large regions. Farmers produce a
variety of grains, including wheat, corn, and millet. Coffee also grows
well on southern slopes. Herders can raise cattle, sheep, and goats in
nearly all parts of the country. Additionally, Ethiopia possesses
several valuable minerals, including gold and platinum.
Unlike most sub-Saharan African countries, Ethiopia's resources have
enabled the country to maintain contacts with the outside world for
centuries. Since ancient times, Ethiopian traders exchanged gold, ivory,
musk, and wild animal skins for salt and luxury goods, such as silk and
velvet. By the late nineteenth century, coffee had become one of
Ethiopia's more important cash crops. At that time, most trade flowed
along two major trade routes, both of which terminated in the far
southwest in the Kefa-Jima region. From there, one route went north to
Mitsiwa via Gonder and Adwa, the other along the Awash River valley to
Harer and then on to Berbera or Zeila on the Red Sea.
Despite its many riches, Ethiopia never became a great trading
nation. Most Ethiopians despised traders, preferring instead to emulate
the country's warriors and priests. After establishing a foothold in the
country, Greek, Armenian, and Arab traders became the economic
intermediaries between Ethiopia and the outside world. Arabs also
settled in the interior and eventually dominated all commercial activity
except petty trade.
When their occupation of Ethiopia ended in 1941, the Italians left
behind them a country whose economic structure was much as it had been
for centuries. There had been some improvements in communications,
particularly in the area of road building, and attempts had been made to
establish a few small industries and to introduce commercial farming,
particularly in Eritrea, which Italy had occupied since 1890. But these
changes were limited. With only a small proportion of the population
participating in the money economy, trade consisted mostly of barter.
Wage labor was limited, economic units were largely self-sufficient,
foreign trade was negligible, and the market for manufactured goods was
During the late l940s and 1950s, much of the economy remained
unchanged. The government focused its development efforts on expansion
of the bureaucratic structure and ancillary services. Most farmers
cultivated small plots of land or herded cattle. Traditional and
primitive farming methods provided the population with a subsistence
standard of living. In addition, many nomadic peoples raised livestock
and followed a life of seasonal movement in drier areas. The
agricultural sector grew slightly, and the industrial sector represented
a small part of the total economy.
By the early l950s, Emperor Haile Selassie I (reigned 1930- 74) had
renewed calls for a transition from a subsistence economy to an
agro-industrial economy. To accomplish this task, Ethiopia needed an
infrastructure to exploit resources, a material base to improve living
conditions, and better health, education, communications, and other
services. A key element of the emperor's new economic policy was the
adoption of centrally administered development plans. Between l945 and
l957, several technical missions, including one each from the United
States, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
(FAO), and Yugoslavia, prepared a series of development plans. However,
these plans failed to achieve any meaningful results, largely because
basic statistical data were scarce and the government's administrative
and technical capabilities were minimal.
In 1954/55 the government created the National Economic Council to
coordinate the state's development plans. This agency, which was a
policy-making body chaired by the emperor, devoted its attention to
improving agricultural and industrial productivity, eradicating
illiteracy and diseases, and improving living standards for all
Ethiopians. The National Economic Council helped to prepare Ethiopia's
first and second five-year plans.
The First Five-Year Plan (1957-61) sought to develop a strong
infrastructure, particularly in transportation, construction, and
communications, to link isolated regions. Another goal was the
establishment of an indigenous cadre of skilled and semiskilled
personnel to work in processing industries to help reduce Ethiopia's
dependence on imports. Lastly, the plan aimed to accelerate agricultural
development by promoting commercial agricultural ventures. The Second
Five-Year Plan (1962-67) signaled the start of a twenty-year program to
change Ethiopia's predominantly agricultural economy to an
agro-industrial one. The plan's objectives included diversification of
production, introduction of modern processing methods, and expansion of
the economy's productive capacity to increase the country's growth rate.
The Third Five-Year Plan (1968-73) also sought to facilitate Ethiopia's
economic well-being by raising manufacturing and agro-industrial
performance. However, unlike its predecessors, the third plan expressed
the government's willingness to expand educational opportunities and to
improve peasant agriculture. Total investment for the First Five-Year
Plan reached 839.6 million birr, about 25 percent above the planned 674 million birr
figure; total expenditure for the Second Five-Year Plan was 13 percent
higher than the planned 1,694 million birr figure. The allocation for
the Third Five-Year Plan was 3,115 million birr.
Several factors hindered Ethiopia's development planning. Apart from
the fact that the government lacked the administrative and technical
capabilities to implement a national development plan, staffing problems
plagued the Planning Commission (which prepared the first and second
plans) and the Ministry of Planning (which prepared the third). Many
project managers failed to achieve plan objectives because they
neglected to identify the resources (personnel, equipment, and funds)
and to establish the organizational structures necessary to facilitate
largescale economic development.
During the First Five-Year Plan, the gross national product ( GNP ) increased at a 3.2 percent annual rate as opposed to
the projected figure of 3.7 percent, and growth in economic sectors such
as agriculture, manufacturing, and mining failed to meet the national
plan's targets. Exports increased at a 3.5 percent annual rate during
the first plan, whereas imports grew at a rate of 6.4 percent per annum,
thus failing to correct the negative balance of trade that had existed
The Second Five-Year Plan and Third Five-Year Plan anticipated that
the economy would grow at an annual rate of 4.3 percent and 6.0 percent,
respectively. Officials also expected agriculture, manufacturing, and
transportation and communications to grow at respective rates of 2.5,
27.3, and 6.7 percent annually during the Second Five-Year Plan and at
respective rates of 2.9, l4.9, and l0.9 percent during the Third
Five-Year Plan. The Planning Commission never assessed the performance
of these two plans, largely because of a shortage of qualified
However, according to data from the Ethiopian government's Central
Statistical Authority, during the 1960/61 to 1973/74 period the economy
achieved sustained economic growth. Between 1960 and 1970, for example,
Ethiopia enjoyed an annual 4.4 percent average growth rate in per capita
gross domestic product ( GDP ). The manufacturing sector's growth rate more than
doubled (from 1.9 percent in 1960/61 to 4.4 percent in 1973/74), and the
growth rate for the wholesale, retail trade, transportation, and
communications sectors increased from 9.3 percent to 15.6 percent.
Relative to its neighbors, Ethiopia's economic performance was mixed.
Ethiopia's 4.4 percent average per capita GDP growth rate was higher
than Sudan's 1.3 percent rate or Somalia's 1 percent rate. However,
Kenya's GDP grew at an estimated 6 percent annual rate, and Uganda
achieved a 5.6 percent growth rate during the same 1960/61 to 1972/73
By the early l970s, Ethiopia's economy not only had started to grow
but also had begun to diversify into areas such as manufacturing and
services. However, these changes failed to improve the lives of most
Ethiopians. About four-fifths of the population were subsistence farmers
who lived in poverty because they used most of their meager production
to pay taxes, rents, debt payments, and bribes. On a broader level, from
1953 to 1974 the balance of trade registered annual deficits. The only
exception was l973, when a combination of unusually large receipts from
the export of oilseeds and pulses and an unusually small rise in import
values resulted in a favorable balance of payments of 454 million birr.
With the country registering trade deficits, the government attempted to
restrict imports and to substitute locally produced industrial goods to
improve the trade balance. Despite these efforts, however, the
unfavorable trade balance continued. As a result, foreign grants and
loans financed much of the balance of payments deficit.
Ethiopia - Economy - Postrevolution Period
Of Ethiopia's total land area of l,22l,480 square kilometers, the
government estimated in the late 1980s that l5 percent was under
cultivation and 5l percent was pastureland. It was also estimated that
over 60 percent of the cultivated area was cropland. Forestland, most of
it in the southwestern part of the country, accounted for 4 percent of
the total land area, according to the government. These figures varied
from those provided by the World Bank, which estimated that cropland,
pastureland, and forestland accounted for l3, 4l, and 25 percent,
respectively, of the total land area in l987.
Inaccessibility, water shortages, and infestations of disease-causing
insects, mainly mosquitoes, prevented the use of large parcels of
potentially productive land. In Ethiopia's lowlands, for example, the
presence of malaria kept farmers from settling in many areas.
Most agricultural producers were subsistence farmers with small
holdings, often broken into several plots. Most of these farmers lived
on the highlands, mainly at elevations of 1,500 to 3,000 meters. The
population in the lowland peripheries (below l,500 meters) was nomadic,
engaged mainly in livestock raising.
There are two predominant soil types in the highlands. The first,
found in areas with relatively good drainage, consists of
red-to-reddish-brown clayey loams that hold moisture and are well
endowed with needed minerals, with the exception of phosphorus. These
types of soils are found in much of Ilubabor, Kefa, and Gamo Gofa. The
second type consists of brownish-to-gray and black soils with a high
clay content. These soils are found in both the northern and the
southern highlands in areas with poor drainage. They are sticky when
wet, hard when dry, and difficult to work. But with proper drainage and
conditioning, these soils have excellent agricultural potential.
Sandy desert soils cover much of the arid lowlands in the northeast
and in the Ogaden area of southeastern Ethiopia. Because of low
rainfall, these soils have limited agricultural potential, except in
some areas where rainfall is sufficient for the growth of natural forage
at certain times of the year. These areas are used by pastoralists who
move back and forth in the area following the availability of pasture
for their animals.
The plains and low foothills west of the highlands have sandy and
gray-to-black clay soils. Where the topography permits, they are
suitable for farming. The soils of the Great Rift Valley often are
conducive to agriculture if water is available for irrigation. The Awash
River basin supports many large-scale commercial farms and several
irrigated small farms.
Soil erosion has been one of the country's major problems. Over the
centuries, deforestation, overgrazing, and practices such as cultivation
of slopes not suited to agriculture have eroded the soil, a situation
that worsened considerably during the 1970s and 1980s, especially in
Eritrea, Tigray, and parts of Gonder and Welo. In addition, the rugged
topography of the highlands, the brief but extremely heavy rainfalls
that characterize many areas, and centuries-old farming practices that
do not include conservation measures have accelerated soil erosion in
much of Ethiopia's highland areas. In the dry lowlands, persistent winds
also contribute to soil erosion.
During the imperial era, the government failed to implement
widespread conservation measures, largely because the country's complex
land tenure system stymied attempts to halt soil erosion and improve the
land. After 1975 the revolutionary government used peasant associations
to accelerate conservation work throughout rural areas. The 1977 famine
also provided an impetus to promote conservation. The government
mobilized farmers and organized "food for work" projects to
build terraces and plant trees. During 1983-84 the Ministry of
Agriculture used "food for work" projects to raise 65 million
tree seedlings, plant 18,000 hectares of land, and terrace 9,500
hectares of land. Peasant associations used 361 nurseries to plant
11,000 hectares of land in community forest. Between 1976 and 1985, the
government constructed 600,000 kilometers of agricultural embankments on
cultivated land and 470,000 kilometers of hillside terraces, and it
closed 80,000 hectares of steep slopes for regeneration. However, the
removal of arable land for conservation projects has threatened the
welfare of increasing numbers of rural poor. For this reason, some
environmental experts maintain that large-scale conservation work in
Ethiopia has been ineffective.
Ethiopia - Land Reform
Until the l974 revolution, Ethiopia had a complex land tenure system.
In Welo Province, for example, there were an estimated 111 types of land
tenure. The existence of so many land tenure systems, coupled with the
lack of reliable data, has made it difficult to give a comprehensive
assessment of landownership in Ethiopia. However, the tenure system can
be understood in a rudimentary way if one examines it in the context of
the basic distinction between landownership patterns in the north and
those in the south.
Historically, Ethiopia was divided into the northern highlands, which
constituted the core of the old Christian kingdom, and the southern
highlands, most of which were brought under imperial rule by conquest.
This north-south distinction was reflected in land tenure differences.
In the northern provinces--particularly Gojam, Begemdir and Simen
(called Gonder after 1974), Tigray, highland Eritrea, parts of Welo, and
northern Shewa--the major form of ownership was a type of communal
system known as rist. According to this system, all descendants (both male
and female) of an individual founder were entitled to a share, and
individuals had the right to use (a usufruct right) a plot of family
land. Rist was hereditary, inalienable, and inviolable. No user of any
piece of land could sell his or her share outside the family or mortgage
or bequeath his or her share as a gift, as the land belonged not to the
individual but to the descent
group. Most peasants in the northern highlands held
at least some rist land, but there were some members belonging to
minority ethnic groups who were tenant farmers.
The other major form of tenure was gult , an ownership right acquired from the monarch or from
provincial rulers who were empowered to make land grants. Gult owners
collected tribute from the peasantry and, until l966 (when gult rights
were abolished in principle), exacted labor service as payment in kind
from the peasants. Until the government instituted salaries in the
twentieth century, gult rights were the typical form of compensation for
Other forms of tenure included samon, mengist, and maderia land.
Samon was land the government had granted to the Ethiopian Orthodox
Church in perpetuity. Traditionally, the church had claimed about
one-third of Ethiopia's land; however, actual ownership probably never
reached this figure. Estimates of church holdings range from l0 to 20
percent of the country's cultivated land. Peasants who worked on church
land paid tribute to the church (or monastery) rather than to the
emperor. The church lost all its land after the 1974 revolution. The
state owned large tracts of agricultural land known as mengist and
maderia. Mengist was land registered as government property, and maderia
was land granted mainly to government officials, war veterans, and other
patriots in lieu of a pension or salary. Although it granted maderia
land for life, the state possessed a reversionary right over all land
grants. Government land comprised about 12 percent of the country's
In general, absentee landlordism in the north was rare, and landless
tenants were few. For instance, tenancy in Begemdir and Simen and in
Gojam was estimated at about 2 percent of holdings. In the southern
provinces, however, few farmers owned the land on which they worked.
Southern landownership patterns developed as a result of land
measurement and land grants following the Ethiopian conquest of the
region in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. After
conquest, officials divided southern land equally among the state, the
church, and the indigenous population. Warlords who administered the
occupied regions received the state's share. They, in turn,
redistributed part of their share to their officers and soldiers. The
government distributed the church's share among the church hierarchy in
the same manner. Officials divided the rest between the traditional
leaders ( balabats ) and the indigenous people. Thus, the loss of
two-thirds of the land to the new landlords and the church made many
local people tenants (gebbars). Tenancy in the southern provinces ranged
between 65 and 80 percent of the holdings, and tenant payments to
landowners averaged as high as 50 percent of the produce.
In the lowland periphery and the Great Rift Valley, the traditional
practice of transhumance and the allocation of pastoral land according
to tribal custom remained undisturbed until after World War II. These
two areas are inhabited by pastoralists, including the Afar and Isa in
eastern Eritrea, Welo, and Harerge; the Somali in the Ogaden; the Borana
in Sidamo and Bale; and the Kereyu in the Great Rift Valley area of
Shewa. The pastoral social structure is based on a kinship system with
strong interclan connections; grazing and water rights are regulated by
custom. Until the l950s, this pastoral life remained largely undisturbed
by the highlanders, who intensely disliked the hot and humid lowland
climate and feared malaria. Beginning in the l950s, however, the malaria
eradication programs made irrigation agriculture in these areas
possible. The government's desire to promote such agriculture, combined
with its policy of creating new tax revenues, created pressure on many
pastoralists, especially the Afar and the Arsi (a division of the
Oromo). Major concessionaires, such as the Tendaho Cotton Plantation
(managed until the 1974 revolution by the British firm Mitchell Cotts)
and the Wonji Sugar Plantation (managed by HVA, a Dutch company),
acquired large tracts of traditional Afar and Arsi grazing land and
converted it into large-scale commercial farms. The loss of grazing land
to these concessions significantly affected traditional migration
patterns for grazing and water.
In the northern and southern parts of Ethiopia, peasant farmers
lacked the means to improve production because of the fragmentation of
holdings, a lack of credit, and the absence of modern facilities.
Particularly in the south, the insecurity of tenure and high rents
killed the peasants' incentive to improve production.
By the mid-l960s, many sectors of Ethiopian society favored land
reform. University students led the land reform movement and campaigned
against the government's reluctance to introduce land reform programs
and the lack of commitment to integrated rural development. By l974 it
was clear that the archaic land tenure system was one of the major
factors responsible for the backward condition of Ethiopia's agriculture
and the onset of the revolution. On March 4, l975, the Derg announced
its land reform program. The government nationalized rural land without
compensation, abolished tenancy, forbade the hiring of wage labor on
private farms, ordered all commercial farms to remain under state
control, and granted each peasant family so-called "possessing
rights" to a plot of land not to exceed ten hectares.
Tenant farmers in southern Ethiopia, where the average tenancy was as
high as 55 percent and rural elites exploited farmers, welcomed the land
reform. But in the northern highlands, where communal ownership (rist)
dominated and large holdings and tenancy were exceptions, many people
resisted land reform. Despite the special provision for communal areas
(Article l9 of the proclamation gave peasants in the communal areas
"possessing rights" to the land they were tilling at the time
of the proclamation) and the PMAC's efforts to reassure farmers that
land reform would not affect them negatively, northerners remained
suspicious of the new government's intentions. The reform held no
promise of gain for most northerners; rather, many northern farmers
perceived land reform as an attack on their rights to rist land.
Resistance intensified when zemecha members campaigned for collectivization of land and
Land reform had the least impact on the lowland peripheries, where
nomads traditionally maintained their claims over grazing lands. The new
proclamation gave them rights of possession to land they used for
grazing. Therefore, the nomads did not perceive the new program as a
threat. However, in the Afar area of the lower Awash Valley, where
large-scale commercial estates had thrived, there was opposition to land
reform, led mainly by tribal leaders (and large landowners), such as Ali
Mirah, the sultan of Aussa.
The land reform destroyed the feudal order; changed landowning
patterns, particularly in the south, in favor of peasants and small
landowners; and provided the opportunity for peasants to participate in
local matters by permitting them to form associations. However, problems
associated with declining agricultural productivity and poor farming
techniques still were prevalent.
Government attempts to implement land reform also created problems
related to land fragmentation, insecurity of tenure, and shortages of
farm inputs and tools. Peasant associations often were periodically
compelled to redistribute land to accommodate young families or new
households moving into their area. The process meant not only smaller
farms but also the fragmentation of holdings, which were often scattered
into small plots to give families land of comparable quality.
Consequently, individual holdings were frequently far smaller than the
permitted maximum allotment of ten hectares. A l979 study showed that
around Addis Ababa individual holdings ranged from l.0 to l.6 hectares
and that about 48 percent of the parcels were less than one-fourth of a
hectare in size. Another study, of Dejen awraja (subregion) in Gojam,
found that land fragmentation had been exacerbated since the revolution.
For example, during the pre-reform period, sixty-one out of 200 farmer
respondents owned three or four parcels of land; after the reform, the
corresponding number was 135 farmers.
The second problem related to security of tenure, which was
threatened by increasing pressure to redistribute land and to
collectivize farms. Many peasants were reluctant to improve their land
because they were afraid that they would not receive adequate
compensation for upgrades. The third problem developed as a result of
the military government's failure to provide farmers with basic items
like seeds, oxen, and fertilizer. For instance, one study of four
communities in different parts of Ethiopia found that up to 50 percent
of the peasants in some areas lacked oxen and about 40 percent did not
Ethiopia - Government Rural Programs
The effect of the PMAC's land reform program on food production and
its marketing and distribution policies were among two of the major
controversies surrounding the revolution. Available data on crop
production show that land reform and the various government rural
programs had a minimal impact on increasing the food supply, as
production levels displayed considerable fluctuations and low growth
rates at best.
Major Cash Crops
The most important cash crop in Ethiopia was coffee. During the
l970s, coffee exports accounted for 50 to 60 percent of the total value
of all exports, although coffee's share dropped to 25 percent as a
result of the economic dislocation following the l974 revolution. By
l976 coffee exports had recovered, and in the five years ending in
l988/89, coffee accounted for about 63 percent of the value of exports.
Domestically, coffee contributed about 20 percent of the government's
revenue. Approximately 25 percent of Ethiopia's population depended
directly or indirectly on coffee for its livelihood.
Ethiopia's coffee is almost exclusively of the arabica type, which
grows best at altitudes between l,000 and 2,000 meters. Coffee grows
wild in many parts of the country, although most Ethiopian coffee is
produced in the southern and western regions of Kefa, Sidamo, Ilubabor,
Gamo Gofa, Welega, and Harerge.
Reliable estimates of coffee production in Ethiopia were unavailable
as of mid-1991. However, some observers indicated that Ethiopia produced
between l40,000 and l80,000 tons annually. The Ethiopian government
placed coffee production at l87,000 tons in l979/80, 233,000 tons in
l983/84, and l72,000 tons in l985/86. Estimates for l986/87 and l987/88
were put at l86,000 and l89,000 tons, respectively. Preliminary figures
from other sources indicated that coffee production continued to rise in
1988/89 and 1989/90 but registered a sharp decline of perhaps as much as
one-third during 1990/91. About 44 percent of the coffee produced was
exported. Although the potential for local coffee consumption was high,
the government, eager to increase its hard-currency reserves, suppressed
domestic consumption by controlling coffee sales. The government also
restricted the transfer of coffee from coffee-producing areas to other
parts of the country. This practice made the price of local coffee two
to three times higher than the price of exported coffee.
About 98 percent of the coffee was produced by peasants on
smallholdings of less than a hectare, and the remaining 2 percent was
produced by state farms. Some estimates indicated that yields on peasant
farms were higher than those on state farms. In the 1980s, as part of an
effort to increase production and to improve the cultivation and
harvesting of coffee, the government created the Ministry of Coffee and
Tea Development, which was responsible for production and marketing. The
ten-year plan called for an increase in the size of state farms
producing coffee from l4,000-l5,000 hectares to 50,000 hectares by l994.
However, given the strain on the government's financial resources and
the consistently declining coffee price in the world market, this may
have been an unrealistic goal.
The decline in world coffee prices, which began in 1987, reduced
Ethiopia's foreign-exchange earnings. In early 1989, for example, the
price of one kilogram/US$0.58; of coffee was by June it had dropped to
US$0.32. Mengistu told the 1989 WPE party congress that at US$0.32 per
kilogram, foreign-exchange earnings from coffee would have dropped by
240 million birr, and government revenue would have been reduced by l40
million birr by the end of l989. Such declines not only hampered the
government's ability to implement its political, economic, and social
programs but also reduced Addis Ababa's capacity to prosecute its war
against various rebel groups in northern Ethiopia.
Before the revolution, pulses and oilseeds played an important role,
second only to coffee, in Ethiopia's exports. In EFY l974/75, pulses and
oilseeds accounted for 34 percent of export earnings (about l63 million
birr), but this share declined to about 3 percent (about 30 million
birr) in EFY l988/89. Three factors contributed to the decline in the
relative importance of pulses and oilseeds. First, the recurring
droughts had devastated the country's main areas where pulses and
oilseeds were produced. Second, because peasants faced food shortages,
they gave priority to cereal staples to sustain themselves. Finally,
although the production cost of pulses and oilseeds continued to rise,
the government's price control policy left virtually unchanged the
official procurement price of these crops, thus substantially reducing
net income from them. The Ethiopian Pulses and Oilseeds Corporation, the
agency responsible for exporting two-thirds of these crops, reported
losses in EFY l982/83 and EFY 1983/84. In EFY l983/84, the corporation
received export subsidies of more than 9 million birr. Subsequently,
production of both crops failed to improve; by 1988 the output index,
whose base year was 1972 (100), was 85.3 for pulses and 15.8 for
oilseeds. Given the country's economic and political problems and the
ongoing war in the north, there was little prospect of improvement.
Cotton is grown throughout Ethiopia below elevations of about l,400
meters. Because most of the lowlands lack adequate rainfall, cotton
cultivation depends largely on irrigation. Before the revolution,
large-scale commercial cotton plantations were developed in the Awash
Valley and the Humera areas. The Tendaho Cotton Plantation in the lower
Awash Valley was one of Ethiopia's largest cotton plantations. Rain-fed
cotton also grew in Humera, Bilate (in Sidamo), and Arba Minch (in Gamo
Since the revolution, most commercial cotton has been grown on
irrigated state farms, mostly in the Awash Valley area. Production
jumped from 43,500 tons in l974/75 to 74,900 tons in l984/85. Similarly,
the area of cultivation increased from 22,600 hectares in l974/75 to
33,900 hectares in l984/85.
Ethiopia - Major Staple Crops
Ethiopia's major staple crops include a variety of cereals, pulses,
oilseeds, and coffee. Grains are the most important field crops and the
chief element in the diet of most Ethiopians. The principal grains are
teff, wheat, barley, corn, sorghum, and millet. The first three are
primarily cool-weather crops cultivated at altitudes generally above
l,500 meters. Teff, indigenous to Ethiopia, furnishes the flour for
injera, an unleavened bread that is the principal form in which grain is
consumed in the highlands and in urban centers throughout the country.
Barley is grown mostly between 2,000 and 3,500 meters. A major
subsistence crop, barley is used as food and in the production of tella,
a locally produced beer.
Sorghum, millet, and corn are cultivated mostly in warmer areas at
lower altitudes along the country's western, southwestern, and eastern
peripheries. Sorghum and millet, which are drought resistant, grow well
at low elevations where rainfall is less reliable. Corn is grown chiefly
between elevations of l,500 and 2,200 meters and requires large amounts
of rainfall to ensure good harvests. These three grains constitute the
staple foods of a good part of the population and are major items in the
diet of the nomads.
Pulses are the second most important element in the national diet and
a principal protein source. They are boiled, roasted, or included in a
stew-like dish known as wot, which is sometimes a main dish and
sometimes a supplementary food. Pulses, grown widely at all altitudes
from sea level to about 3,000 meters, are more prevalent in the northern
and central highlands. Pulses were a particularly important export item
before the revolution.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church traditionally has forbidden consumption
of animal fats on many days of the year. As a result, vegetable oils are
widely used, and oilseed cultivation is an important agricultural
activity. The most important oilseed is the indigenous niger seed
(neug), which is grown on 50 percent or more of the area devoted to
oilseeds. Niger seed is found mostly in the northern and central
highlands at elevations between 1,800 and 2,500 meters. Flaxseed, also
indigenous, is cultivated in the same general area as niger seed. The
third most important oilseed is sesame, which grows at elevations from
sea level to about l,500 meters. In addition to its domestic use, sesame
is also the principal export oilseed. Oilseeds of lesser significance
include castor beans, rapeseed, groundnuts (peanuts), and safflower and
sunflower seeds. Most oilseeds are raised by small-scale farmers, but
sesame was also grown by large-scale commercial farms before the era of
land reform and the nationalization of agribusiness.
Ensete, known locally as false banana, is an important food source in
Ethiopia's southern and southwestern highlands. It is cultivated
principally by the Gurage, Sidama, and several other ethnic groups in
the region. Resembling the banana but bearing an inedible fruit, the
plant produces large quantities of starch in its underground rhizome and
an above-ground stem that can reach a height of several meters. Ensete
flour constitutes the staple food of the local people. Taro, yams, and
sweet potatoes are commonly grown in the same region as the ensete.
The consumption of vegetables and fruits is relatively limited,
largely because of their high cost. Common vegetables include onions,
peppers, squash, and a cabbage similar to kale. Demand for vegetables
has stimulated truck farming around the main urban areas such as Addis
Ababa and Asmera. Prior to the revolution, urbanization increased the
demand for fruit, leading to the establishment of citrus orchards in
areas with access to irrigation in Shewa, Arsi, Harerge, and Eritrea.
The Mengistu regime encouraged fruit and vegetable production. Fresh
fruits, including citrus and bananas, as well as fresh and frozen
vegetables, became important export items, but their profitability was
marginal. The Ethiopian Fruit and Vegetable Marketing Enterprise
(EFVME), which handled about 75 percent of Ethiopia's exports of fruits
and vegetables in l984-85, had to receive government subsidies because
Ethiopia's demand for grain continued to increase because of
population pressures, while supply remained short, largely because of
drought and government agricultural policies, such as price controls,
which adversely affected crop production. Food production had
consistently declined throughout the 1980s. Consequently, Ethiopia
became a net importer of grain worth about 243 million birr annually
from l983/84 to l987/88. The food deficit estimate for the l985/89
period indicated that production averaged about 6 million tons while
demand reached about 10 million tons, thus creating an annual deficit of
roughly 4 million tons. Much of the food deficit was covered through
food aid. Between l984/85 and l986/87, at the height of the drought,
Ethiopia received more than l.7 million tons of grain, about l4 percent
of the total food aid for Africa. In addition, Ethiopia spent 341
million birr on food purchases during the l985-87 period.
Ethiopia - Livestock
Livestock production plays an important role in Ethiopia's economy.
Estimates for l987 indicated that livestock production contributed
one-third of agriculture's share of GDP, or nearly l5 percent of total
GDP. Hides and skins constituted the second largest export earner,
averaging about l5 percent of the total export value during the period
l984/85 to l988/89; live animals averaged around 3 percent of the total
value of exports during the same period.
Although varying from region to region, the role of livestock in the
Ethiopian economy was greater than the figures suggest. Almost the
entire rural population was involved in some way with animal husbandry,
whose role included the provision of draft power, food, cash,
transportation, fuel, and, especially in pastoral areas, social
prestige. In the highlands, oxen provided draft power in crop
production. In pastoral areas, livestock formed the basis of the
economy. Per capita meat consumption was high by developing countries'
standards, an estimated thirteen kilograms annually. According to a l987
estimate, beef accounted for about 5l percent of all meat consumption,
followed by mutton and lamb (l9 percent), poultry (l5 percent), and goat
Ethiopia's estimated livestock population of about 78.4 million in
l988 was believed to be Africa's largest. There were approximately 31
million cattle, 23.4 million sheep, l7.5 million goats, 5.5 million
horses and mules, l million camels, and 57 million poultry. Livestock
was distributed throughout the country, with the greatest concentration
in the highlands, where more than 90 percent of these animals were
located. The raising of livestock always has been largely a subsistence
Ethiopia has great potential for increased livestock production, both
for local use and for export. However, expansion was constrained by
inadequate nutrition, disease, a lack of support services such as
extension services, insufficient data with which to plan improved
services, and inadequate information on how to improve animal breeding,
marketing, and processing. The high concentration of animals in the
highlands, together with the fact that cattle are often kept for status,
reduces the economic potential of Ethiopian livestock.
Both the imperial and the Marxist governments tried to improve
livestock production by instituting programs such as free vaccination,
well-digging, construction of feeder roads, and improvement of
pastureland, largely through international organizations such as the
World Bank and the African Development Bank. The Mengistu regime also
opened veterinary stations at Bahir Dar, Buno Bedele, and Debre Zeyit to
provide treatment and vaccination services.
Cattle in Ethiopia are almost entirely of the zebu type and are poor
sources of milk and meat. However, these cattle do relatively well under
the traditional production system. About 70 percent of the cattle in
l987 were in the highlands, and the remaining 30 percent were kept by
nomadic pastoralists in the lowland areas. Meat and milk yields are low
and losses high, especially among calves and young stock. Contagious
diseases and parasitic infections are major causes of death, factors
that are exacerbated by malnutrition and starvation. Recurring drought
takes a heavy toll on the animal population, although it is difficult to
determine the extent of losses. Practically all animals are range-fed.
During the rainy seasons, water and grass are generally plentiful, but
with the onset of the dry season, forage is generally insufficient to
keep animals nourished and able to resist disease.
Most of Ethiopia's estimated 41 million sheep and goats are raised by
small farmers who used them as a major source of meat and cash income.
About three-quarters of the total sheep flock is in the highlands,
whereas lowland pastoralists maintain about three-quarters of the goat
herd. Both animals have high sales value in urban centers, particularly
during holidays such as Easter and New Year's Day.
Most of the estimated 7 million equines (horses, mules, and donkeys)
are used to transport produce and other agricultural goods. Camels also
play a key role as pack animals in areas below l,500 meters in
elevation. Additionally, camels provide pastoralists in those areas with
milk and meat.
Poultry farming is widely practiced in Ethiopia; almost every
farmstead keeps some poultry for consumption and for cash sale. The
highest concentration of poultry is in Shewa, in central Welo, and in
northwestern Tigray. Individual poultry farms supply eggs and meat to
urban dwellers. By 1990 the state had begun to develop large poultry
farms, mostly around Addis Ababa, to supply hotels and government
Ethiopia - Fishing
Between l950 and l960, the imperial government enacted legislation
and implemented a new policy to encourage foreign investment. This new
policy provided investor benefits in the form of tax exemptions,
remittances of foreign exchange, import and export duty relief, tax
exemptions on dividends, and the provision of financing through the
Ethiopian Investment Corporation and the Development Bank of Ethiopia.
In addition, the government guaranteed protection to industrial
enterprises by instituting high tariffs and by banning the importation
of commodities that might adversely affect production of domestic goods.
Protected items included sugar, textiles, furniture, and metal. The
government also participated through direct investment in enterprises
that had high capital costs, such as oil refineries and the paper and
pulp, glass and bottle, tire, and cement industries. In l963, with the
Second Five-Year Plan under way, the government enacted Proclamation No.
5l. The proclamation's objective was to consolidate other investment
policies enacted up to that period, to extend benefits to Ethiopian
investors (previous legislation had limited the benefits to foreigners
only), and to create an Investment Committee that would oversee
investment programs. In l966 Addis Ababa enacted Proclamation No. 242,
which elevated the Investment Committee's status as an advisory council
to that of an authorized body empowered to make independent investment
decisions. Thus, by the early l970s, Ethiopia's industrialization policy
included a range of fiscal incentives, direct government investment, and
equity participation in private enterprises.
The government's policy attracted considerable foreign investment to
the industrial sector. For instance, in 1971/72 the share of foreign
capital in manufacturing industries amounted to 4l percent of the total
paid-up capital. Many foreign enterprises operated as private limited
companies, usually as a branch or subsidiary of multinational
corporations. The Dutch had a major investment (close to 80 percent) in
the sugar industry. Italian and Japanese investors participated in
textiles; and Greeks maintained an interest in shoes and beverages.
Italian investors also worked in building, construction, and
In l975 the PMAC nationalized most industries and subsequently
reorganized them into state-owned corporations. On February 7, l975, the
government released a document outlining socialist Ethiopia's economic
policy. The policy identified three manufacturing areas slated for state
involvement: basic industries that produced goods serving other
industries and that had the capacity to create linkages in the economy;
industries that produced essential goods for the general population; and
industries that made drugs, medicine, tobacco, and beverages. The policy
also grouped areas of the public and private sectors into activities
reserved for the state, activities where state and private capital could
operate jointly, and activities left to the private sector.
The l975 nationalization of major industries scared off foreign
private investment. Private direct investment, according to the National
Bank of Ethiopia, declined from 65 million birr in l974 to l2 million
birr in l977. As compensation negotiations between the Ethiopian
government and foreign nationals dragged on, foreign investment
virtually ceased. The United States Congress invoked the Hickenlooper
Amendment, which had the effect of prohibiting the use of United States
funds for development purposes until Ethiopia had settled compensation
issues with United States nationals. During l982 and l983, the Mengistu
regime settled claims made by Italian, Dutch, Japanese, and British
nationals. Negotiation to settle compensation claims by United States
nationals continued until l985, when Ethiopia agreed to pay about US$7
million in installments to compensate United States companies.
Issued in l983, the PMAC's Proclamation No. 235 (the Joint Venture
Proclamation) signaled Ethiopia's renewed interest in attracting foreign
capital. The proclamation offered incentives such as a five-year period
of income tax relief for new projects, import and export duty relief,
tariff protection, and repatriation of profits and capital. It limited
foreign holdings to a maximum of 49 percent and the duration of any
joint venture to twenty-five years. Although the proclamation protected
investors' interests from expropriation, the government reserved the
right to purchase all shares in a joint venture "for reasons of
national interest." The proclamation failed to attract foreign
investment, largely because foreign businesses were hesitant to invest
in a country whose government recently had nationalized foreign
industries without a level of compensation these businesses considered
In l989 the government issued Special Decree No. ll, a revision of
the l983 proclamation. The decree allowed majority foreign ownership in
many sectors, except in those related to public utilities, banking and
finance, trade, transportation, and communications, where joint ventures
were not allowed. The decree also removed all restrictions on profit
repatriation and attempted to provide more extensive legal protection of
investors than had the l983 proclamation.
President Mengistu's March 1990 speech to the Central Committee of
the WPE was a turning point in Ethiopia's recent economic history.
Acknowledging that socialism had failed, Mengistu proposed implementing
a mixed economy. Under the new system, the private sector would be able
to participate in all parts of the economy with no limit on capital
investment (Ethiopia had a US$250,000 ceiling on private investment);
developers would be allowed to build houses, apartments, and office
buildings for rent or sale; and commercial enterprises would be
permitted to develop industries, hotels, and a range of other
enterprises on government-owned land to be leased on a concessionary
basis. Additionally, state-owned industries and businesses would be
required to operate on a profit basis, with those continuing to lose
money to be sold or closed. Farmers would receive legal ownership of
land they tilled and the right to sell their produce in a free market.
Whereas there were many areas yet to be addressed, such as privatization
of state enterprises and compensation for citizens whose land and
property had been confiscated, these proposals generated optimism among
some economists about Ethiopia's economic future. However, some
observers pointed out that Mengistu's proposals only amounted to
recognition of existing practices in the underground economy.
Ethiopia - Energy
Ethiopia is one of the few African countries with the potential to
produce hydroelectric and geothermal power. As of mid-1991, however, no
comprehensive assessment of this potential was available, although some
estimates indicated that the total potential could be as much as l43
billion kilowatts. The main sources of this potential were thought to be
the Abay (Blue Nile; 79.9 billion kilowatts), the Shebele (2l.6 billion
kilowatts), and the Omo (l6.l billion kilowatts). The remaining 25.9
billion kilowatts would come from rivers such as the Tekezé, Awash,
Baro, Genale, and Mereb.
Ethiopia's first large hydroelectric generating facilities were
constructed in the Awash River basin. The three plants- -Awash I (Koka)
with 54,000 kilowatts capacity, Awash II with 32,000 kilowatts capacity,
and Awash III with 32,000 kilowatts capacity--were finished between l960
and l972. In l974 the Fincha River facility in central Welega opened
with a generating capacity of 84,000 kilowatts. Other major
power-generating facilities included those at Bahir Dar (7,680
kilowatts) and Aba Samuel (6,560 kilowatts). The total installed
capacity of thermal generating units amounted to 210,084 kilowatts in
Electric power production in l985/86 totaled 998.7 million
kilowatt-hours, 83 percent of which was produced by hydroelectric power
installations. Thermal generating units produced the remaining 17
percent. The thermal generating units in the public utility system, many
of which were comparatively small, had a generating capacity of 95,635
kilowatts in l985. Major units were located close to Asmera (3l,900
kilowatts), Dire Dawa (4,500 kilowatts), Addis Ababa (3,l00 kilowatts),
and Aseb (3,l00 kilowatts). In l985/86 various business enterprises and
local communities owned electrical generators of unspecified capacity.
The regional electrical distribution system included an
interconnected system and a self-contained system. By 1988 most power
generating sources, including all major hydroelectric power plants, were
interconnected in a power grid. The interconnected system served more
than l00 towns. Power from the Awash, Fincha, and Aba Samuel stations
ran the central system, the largest component of the interconnected
system. The Bahir Dar interconnected system, which served parts of Gojam
and Gonder, and the Eritrean Region Electricity Supply Agency (ERESA)
were two of the other major systems. A majority of the self-contained
systems got their power from thermal power plants, with the power often
being used for domestic purposes and to run small mills.
The Ethiopian Electric Light and Power Authority (ELPA), a government
corporation, operated most of the country's power systems. Prior to the
revolution, ELPA incorporated more than forty electric power stations
and generated about 80 percent of the nation's total electrical output.
Two Italian firms, Società Elettrica dell'Africa Orientale and
Compagnia Nazionale Impresse Elettriche, chiefly serving Eritrea,
produced another l6.5 percent of the country's electrical energy.
Independent stations generated the remaining 3 to 4 percent. In 1975 the
government nationalized all private utility companies and placed them
under ELPA. Since then, utility services have been reserved exclusively
to the state. In l987 ELPA served about l70 towns and produced about 92
percent of the national electrical output. Mass organizations, sugar
factories, and the Aseb refinery administered the remaining 8 percent.
In 1985/86, of the total 847.7 million kilowatt-hours of power sold
by ELPA, 59 percent was for industrial use, 29 percent for domestic use,
l0 percent for commercial use, and the remaining 2 percent for other
uses such as street lighting and agriculture. By 1987 about 9 percent of
the total population (4.3 million people) were using electricity.
Ethiopia's second commercial energy resource is oil. Despite reports
of natural gas reserves and traces of petroleum, Ethiopia still depends
on imported crude oil, which accounted for an average of about l2
percent of the value of imports during the period l982/83 to l987/88.
Exploration for petroleum and natural gas in the Ogaden and the Red Sea
basin has been going on for many years. In May l988, International
Petroleum, a subsidiary of Canada's International Petroleum Corporation
(IPC), signed a production sharing and exploration license for the
Denakil block, which covers 34,000 square kilometers on and off shore
along the Red Sea coast. The IPC also has conducted geothermal studies
and undertaken mapping projects. In late 1990, the government announced
that geologists had discovered oil in western Ilubabor, with an expected
deposit ranging from 100 million to 120 million tons.
Since the early 1970s, there has been exploration and development of
geothermal resources in the Great Rift Valley. In early 1972, the United
Nations Development Programme (UNDP) conducted preliminary explorations
in the area and detected what appeared to be one of the world's largest
potential sources of geothermal power. In mid-1979 the EEC, assisted by
the UNDP, provided a grant to aid exploration in the valley's lake
region. In l984 Ethiopia reported the discovery of a promising
geothermal source in the Lake Langano area. However, no indication has
been provided as to when production will start. The primary energy
sources for most Ethiopians are charcoal, animal manure, and firewood.
Some estimates indicate that as much as 96 percent of the country's
total energy consumption is based on these traditional sources.
Ethiopia - Mining
Both the imperial and the Marxist governments tried to improve
Ethiopia's balance of trade, the former by encouraging exports and the
latter by curtailing imports. However, Ethiopia's foreign trade balance
has basically been in deficit since l953, with the exception of l975,
when a combination of unusually large receipts from sales of oilseeds
and pulses resulted in a surplus. In general, foreign trade has grown
faster than the national economy, particularly in the early l970s, but
it has accounted for only a small percentage of the national economy. In
EFY 1972/73, exports and imports accounted for l3 and l2 percent of GDP,
respectively. By EFY 1988/89, exports had declined to 8 percent of GDP,
and imports had jumped to 2l percent. Virtually all machinery and
equipment had to be imported, as well as intermediate goods for
agriculture and industry, including fertilizer and fuel. Increased
cereal shipments accounted for the growth in imports. In the 1980s,
Ethiopia faced several famines and droughts. Consequently, the country,
which had been virtually self-sufficient in food supplies in the 1970s,
became a net importer of food worth as much as 243 million birr annually
during the period EFY l983/84 to EFY l987/88. The military government
failed to correct the country's historical trade deficit, despite
efforts to regulate exports and imports. Consequently, during the 1980s
the trade picture worsened as imports grew rapidly and foreign aid
Ethiopia's exports in EFY l988/89 were primarily agricultural
products. The only significant nonagricultural exports were petroleum
products such as heating oil, which had no use in Ethiopia, from the
The value of exports increased during the l980s, and by EFY l988/89
exports had almost twice the value they had in l973. However, the
composition of exports had remained essentially the same, although the
relative share of the various agricultural exports had changed. Coffee,
the major export, still averaged about 63 percent of the value of
exports during the five years ending in EFY l988/89. The relative share
of oilseeds and pulses, however, had changed dramatically. Pulses and
oilseeds, which accounted for about l5 percent and l9 percent,
respectively, of the total value of exports in EFY 1974/75, dropped to
l.9 and l.4 percent, respectively, of the total value of exports in EFY
l988/89. Droughts, famines, the peasants' preference for cereals and
other staples, and the rising cost of producing pulses and oilseeds
accounted for the decline in the export of these two products. Exports
of livestock and livestock products averaged l8 percent of the value of
exports for the five years ending in EFY l988/89, which was slightly
higher than the prerevolution share of 16 percent.
After the l974 revolution, exports' relative share of GDP declined,
largely because domestic production grew more slowly than total demand.
This could be attributed to the agricultural crisis associated with the
country's recurring droughts and famines and the dislocation of the farm
economy resulting from the revolution. Total domestic production,
measured by GDP, grew at an average annual rate of 0.9 percent per year
during the 1980-87 period while exports declined at an average annual
rate of 0.6 percent. During the same period, the population grew at an
average 2.4 percent annual rate. Consequently, Ethiopia's export share
of 8 percent of GDP in EFY l988/89 was one of the world's lowest.
The direction of Ethiopia's post-1974 exports remained essentially
the same as in the prerevolution period, despite the government's change
of policy and realignment with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
About 79 percent of Ethiopia's exports went to Western countries,
primarily the United States, the Federal Republic of Germany (West
Germany), and Japan. Ethiopia's export trade with the Soviet Union, one
of its major allies, was less than 4 percent in the five years ending in
l987; prior to l974, the Soviet Union had accounted for less than 1
percent of Ethiopia's imports. Beginning in 1979, Addis Ababa sought to
encourage exports to the Soviet Union and other socialist countries by
encouraging barter and countertrade. Ethiopia used this technique to
market products such as spices, natural gums, some pulses, frozen meats,
and handicraft items, which are not reliable hard-currency earners. In
exchange, Ethiopia usually received consumer goods, industrial
machinery, or construction machinery. Although reliable figures on the
volume of barter and countertrade were unavailable, it appeared unlikely
that the figure exceeded US$50 to US$55 million in any year.
Ethiopia's major category of import items was consumer goods, which
accounted for about one-third of the value of imports during the period
EFY l984/85 to EFY 1988/89. Capital goods, primarily machinery and
transportation equipment, accounted for another 39 percent, with fuel,
semifinished goods, and durable consumer goods accounting for the other
third of the value of imports. A major structural change in Ethiopia's
imports was the relative increase in the importation of food items.
During the three years ending in EFY l986/87, cereals and other food
items accounted for 22 percent of the total value of imports; in l974
cereal and food items had accounted for only 4.6 percent. As a result,
the share of nondurable consumer items jumped from l6.8 percent in l974
to 34.2 percent in l985. It dropped to 24.9 percent in EFY l986/87.
Imports provided the capital and intermediate goods upon which
industry depended. Imports also satisfied most of the country's demand
for nonfood consumer goods, such as automobiles, radios, televisions,
pharmaceuticals, and textiles. In the five years ending in EFY l986/87,
the relative share of the value of transportation and transportation
equipment increased, reflecting the country's increasing demand for
trucks and other heavy road vehicles needed to transport food to areas
affected by drought and famine.
Most of Ethiopia's imports came from Western countries. Italy, the
United States, West Germany, and Japan, in order of importance,
accounted for 45 percent of total imports in l987. The Soviet Union
accounted for l6 percent of the value of imports in l987. By contrast,
Ethiopia's exports to the Soviet Union amounted to only 5 percent of
total exports in 1987. The relatively high proportion of imports from
the Soviet Union was largely because of oil; in l987 Ethiopia received
virtually all its crude petroleum from the Soviet Union. In l987 the
United States remained Ethiopia's major trading partner despite cool
relationships between the two countries; the United States ranked first
in buying Ethiopia's exports and third in satisfying Ethiopia's import
Balance of Payments and Foreign Assistance
Ethiopia has experienced chronic balance of payments difficulties
since l953, with the exception of a few years. The major factor in the
deteriorating balance of payments was the worsening situation of
merchandise trade. The trade deficit that existed during the imperial
years continued to grow after the revolution, despite the introduction
of import controls. Since EFY l981/82, the value of merchandise imports
has been roughly double the value of exports.
Since l974 there has been low growth in the overall volume and value
of exports. Coffee, Ethiopia's principal export, accounted for about 60
percent of total merchandise exports, although this level fluctuated in
the 1980s. Coffee exports reached an all-time high of 98,000 tons in EFY
l983/84 but dropped to 73,000 tons in EFY l987/88. Similarly, coffee
receipts declined as the world price of coffee plummeted. The share of
noncoffee exports has not shown any significant change. Exports of
oilseeds and pulses have declined since imperial times. Industrial
exports consistently contributed only about 8 percent of the total value
of merchandise exports. In contrast to the slow increase in the volume
and value of exports, imports grew by nearly 7 percent during the decade
ending in EFY l988/89. This trend reflected Ethiopia's growing
dependence on imports and the decline of foreign-financed investment and
domestic savings. A high growth rate in import prices accompanied the
high growth rate in imports. The result of these deteriorating terms of
trade was a severe trade balance problem.
To finance its trade deficit, the government has depended on foreign
aid. These import finance funds were in addition to the large volume of
development project aid and commodity assistance the international
community has provided to Ethiopia since the end of World War II. The
volume of official development assistance jumped from US$l34 million in
l975 to US$212 million in 1980 and to US$635 million in l987. Most
external financial assistance came from Western nations. By the late
1980s, Ethiopia was the principal African recipient of concessionary
funding and the largest recipient of EEC aid. In l988 Ethiopia received
US$l4l million from the EEC under the provisions of the Lomé
Convention. An additional US$230 million was later allocated under the
Lomé Convention. Bilateral assistance, mainly from European countries,
also increased in the late l980s. World Bank lending for various
projects covering agriculture, education, housing, road construction,
and power development reached US$400 to US$500 million by l988. Despite
this aid, however, Ethiopia still received the smallest amount of aid
per capita of all developing countries. The 1987 per capita aid level
was US$14, compared with a US$23 group average for all developing
Reliance on foreign aid has created economic problems for Addis
Ababa. In 1987 Ethiopia's total external debt amounted to US$2.6
billion, of which US$2.4 billion was long-term debt (excluding military
debt). Addis Ababa owed more than one-third of the total to
multinational agencies and the remainder to bilateral creditors.
Economists estimated the EFY 1986/87 cost of servicing this long-term
debt to be 28.4 percent of export earnings and projected the figure to
rise to 40 percent of export earnings by l990.
Ethiopia - Government and Politics
Toward Party Formation
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
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
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
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.
Ethiopia - The 1987 Constitution
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
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
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
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.
Ethiopia - The Eritrean Movement
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
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
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
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.
Ethiopia - The Tigrayan Movement
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
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.
Ethiopia - Other Movements and Fronts
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
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
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.
Ethiopia - Mass Media
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
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
Ethiopia - Addis Ababa and the Middle East
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
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.
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CITATION: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.
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