Ethiopia: Social and Political Changes

Posted: February 21, 2008 in History
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Social and Political Changes

Although Addis Ababa quickly developed a close relationship with the communist world, the Soviet Union and its allies had consistent difficulties working with Mengistu and the Derg. These difficulties were largely the result of the Derg’s preoccupation with internal matters and the promotion of Ethiopian variations on what Marxist-Leninist theoreticians regarded as preordained steps on the road to a socialist state. The Derg’s status as a military government was another source of concern. Ethiopia’s communist allies made an issue of the need to create a civilian “vanguard party” that would rule a people’s republic. In a move geared to ensure continued communist support, the Derg formed the Commission to Organize the Party of the Workers of Ethiopia (COPWE) in December 1979, with Mengistu as its chairman. At COPWE’s second congress, in January 1983, it was announced that COPWE would be replaced by a genuine communist party. Accordingly, the Workers’ Party of Ethiopia (WPE) was proclaimed on September 12, 1984 (see The Workers’ Party of Ethiopia).

About the same time, work continued on a new constitution for the planned people’s republic. On February 1, 1987, the proposed constitution, which had been submitted to the public for popular debate and changes the prior year, was finally put to a vote. Although the central government claimed an 81 percent approval of the new constitution (with modifications proposed by the public), the circumstances of its review and approval by the general population were called into question. The task of publicizing the document had been entrusted to the kebeles and the peasant associations–organizations that had a state security mission as well as local administrative duties. Observers noted that little commentary or dissent was possible under such circumstances. Additional criticism included the charge that the proposed constitution was not designed to address or even understand Ethiopian needs; in fact, many noted that the constitution was “almost an abridged translation of the Soviet Constitution of 1977” (see The 1987 Constitution).

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