Ethiopia: Changes in Soviet Policy and New International Horizons

Posted: June 7, 2011 in History
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Changes in Soviet Policy and New International Horizons

The Soviet Union policies changed toward its allies among the developing countries in the late 1980s–changes that appeared likely to result in significant reductions in it’s hitherto extensive support of Ethiopia. By then it was evident that the Soviet-Ethiopian relationship had undergone a fundamental reorientation. The change was partly the result of the new directions in Soviet foreign policy undertaken by Mikhail Gorbachev. But other contributing factors were strong undercurrents of Soviet disapproval of Ethiopia’s conduct of its internal affairs and of Addis Ababa’s inability to make effective use of the aid that Moscow sent. The implications of this changed policy for Ethiopia were likely to be profound, inasmuch as continued high levels of military assistance were vital to the pursuit of Mengistu’s military solution in Eritrea as well as to the fight against other internal insurgencies.

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The literature on Ethiopia is relatively rich and deep, the consequence of Ethiopia’s indigenous written tradition, mostly in Gi’iz, and of the extraordinary interest in the country shown by Europeans over the last five centuries. For the early historical period, two works are fundamental: Aksum: An African Civilisation of Late Antiquity by Stuart Munro-Hay, and Church and State in Ethiopia, 1270-1527 by Taddesse Tamrat. Each is the best work on its respective subject and period and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. In nearly the same league is John Spencer Trimingham’s Islam in Ethiopia, a standard work and a starting point for the history, culture, and religion of Ethiopia’s Muslim peoples, despite its age (published in 1952).

A comprehensive, up-to-date survey of the country remains to be written, but an older work by Edward Ullendorff, The Ethiopians: An Introduction to Country and People (1973), is still quite useful, despite its emphasis on the northern, Semitic-speaking population. As a supplement, the reader might consult the relevant chapters in the eight volumes of The Cambridge History of Africa, edited by J.D. Fage and Roland Oliver. Two books by Mordechai Abir, Ethiopia and the Red Sea and Ethiopia: The Era of the Princes, cover subjects or periods otherwise almost totally neglected, including trade, commerce, and the contributions of the Oromo. Richard K. Pankhurst’s Economic History of Ethiopia, 1800-1935 contains a wealth of information on a wide variety of topics, as do other works by this scholar. Two books by Donald N. Levine, Wax and Gold and Greater Ethiopia: The Evolution of a Multi-Ethnic Society, provide stimulating and at times provocative analyses of Amhara, Tigray, and (in the latter volume) Oromo cultures but should be consulted only after basics in the field have been mastered. A highly useful reference is the Historical Dictionary of Ethiopia by Chris Prouty and Eugene Rosenfeld, which provides a lexicon of Ethiopian topics as well as an extensive bibliography.

Bahru Zewde’s A History of Modern Ethiopia, 1855-1974 surveys the last century of imperial rule, with an emphasis on the twentieth century. Two biographical histories on nineteenth-century emperors are recommended: Yohannes IV of Ethiopia by Zewde Gabre-Sellassie, and The Life and Times of Menelik II by Harold G. Marcus. The following are among outstanding works on the reign of Haile Selassie: George W. Baer’s The Coming of the Italian-Ethiopian War; Christopher S. Clapham’s Haile Selassie’s Government; John Markakis’s Ethiopia: Anatomy of a Traditional Polity; and Harold G. Marcus’s Haile Selassie I: The Formative Years, 1892-1936. A new work by Gebru Tareke, Ethiopia: Power and Protest, analyzes three major peasant revolts and the response of the imperial government.

An excellent discussion of contemporary Ethiopia that treats both the Haile Selassie era and the revolutionary years is Ethiopia: Transition and Development in the Horn of Africa by Mulatu Wubneh and Yohannis Abate. Among the best sources on the military government and its policies are Marina and David Ottaway’s Ethiopia: Empire in Revolution, still the basic source on the early years of the Derg, and Christopher S. Clapham’s Transformation and Continuity in Revolutionary Ethiopia. Among periodicals, the Journal of African History and Northeast African Studies are particularly valuable for scholarly coverage of Ethiopia and the Horn.

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Comments
  1. Empires and Allie…

    […]Ethiopia: Changes in Soviet Policy and New International Horizons « Ethiopian History Weblog[…]…

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