Ethiopia: Discontent in Tigray

Posted: February 19, 2008 in History
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Discontent in Tigray

Overt dissidence in Tigray during Haile Selassie’s reign centered on the 1943 resistance to imperial rule known as the Weyane. The movement took advantage of popular discontent against Amhara rule but was primarily a localized resistance to imperial rule that depended on three main sources of support. These were the semipastoralists of eastern Tigray, including the Azebo and Raya, who believed their traditional Oromo social structure to be threatened; the local Tigray nobility, who perceived their position to be endangered by the central government’s growth; and the peasantry, who felt victimized by government officials and their militias.

The course of the Weyane was relatively brief, lasting from May 22 to October 14, 1943. Although the rebels made some initial gains, the imperial forces, supported by British aircraft, soon took the offensive. Poor military leadership, combined with disagreements among the rebel leaders, detracted from the effectiveness of their efforts. After the fall of Mekele, capital of Tigray, on October 14, 1943, practically all organized resistance collapsed. The government exiled or imprisoned the leaders of the revolt. The emperor took reprisals against peasants suspected of supporting the Weyane.

Although a military resolution of the Weyane restored imperial authority to Tigray, the harsh measures used by the Ethiopian military to do so created resentment of imperial rule in many quarters. This resentment, coupled with a longstanding feeling that Shewan Amhara rule was of an upstart nature, lasted through the end of Haile Selassie’s reign. After Haile Selassie’s demise in 1974, separatist feelings again emerged throughout Tigray.

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