Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Ethiopia

The Foreign Policy of the Derg

The foreign policy of Ethiopia did not change immediately upon the demise of the imperial regime. Initially, the country’s new leaders maintained the general thrust of the foreign policy developed under Haile Selassie and concentrated mainly on consolidating their rule. Nonetheless, the Marxist ideology of the Derg and its civilian allies made conflict with Ethiopia’s superpower patron, the United States, inevitable.

By the mid-1970s, Kagnew station, the communications monitoring base in Asmera granted under terms of the 1953 Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement between Ethiopia and the United States, had largely lost its value. Advances in satellite technology had rendered land-based facilities like Kagnew station less important for long-range communications monitoring. Yet the United States felt the need to maintain a presence in this strategically important part of Africa, particularly because the Soviet Union was beginning to become active in the area. The administration of President Gerald Ford (1974-77) wanted to avoid an embarrassment similar to that experienced by the United States in Angola in 1975, when covert United States aid to anticommunist combatants failed to dislodge the pro-Moscow Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola. Even though President Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger indicated uneasiness with Ethiopia’s violations of human rights and growing leftist tendencies, they did no more than cautiously encourage the Derg to moderate its human rights policies.

The United States began to express concern over the Derg’s human rights violations when on November 23, 1974, a day that came to be known as “Bloody Saturday,” fifty-nine officials who had served in the old regime were executed. Official United States concern intensified two months later when the Derg mobilized a force consisting of regular military units and the hastily assembled People’s Militia in an effort to resolve the Eritrean question through military means (see People’s Militia, ch. 5). But Eritrean forces attacked first, surprising the Ethiopian forces in their base camps and scoring an impressive victory.

Whereas the administration of President Ford had been reluctant to impose sanctions on Ethiopia because of its human rights record, President Jimmy Carter made human rights a central concern of his administration (1977-81). On February 25, 1977, Carter announced that because of continued human rights violations, certain governments that were receiving Washington’s military aid (including Ethiopia) would receive reduced assistance in the following fiscal year. Consequently, the Derg began to cast about for alternative sources of military assistance. Among the countries Ethiopia turned to were China and the Soviet Union. At first, the actual assistance provided by these superpowers was minimal, and the United States maintained its presence in the country. However, relations between the United States and Ethiopia deteriorated rapidly. By April 1977, Mengistu had demanded that Washington close down Kagnew station and most other installations; only a small staff was allowed to remain at the United States embassy. By then, the first supplies of Soviet military hardware had begun to arrive.

Having its military presence in Ethiopia ended, and with tensions mounting in the Middle East and Iran, the United States began to cultivate alliances in northeast Africa that could facilitate the development of a long-range military strike capability. These developments coincided with an escalation of tensions in the Horn region in general. The United States eventually began the systematic pursuit of a strategy that amounted to encircling the Arabian Peninsula. The United States asked Egypt, Sudan, Kenya, Somalia, and Oman to allow their territories to be used as staging grounds for the fledgling Rapid Deployment Force (RDF), which later became the United States Central Command. The Soviet Union’s clients in the region–Ethiopia, Libya, and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen)– perceiving Washington’s action as a threat, signed a tripartite agreement in 1981 and pledged to repulse any effort to intervene in their respective countries. However, this alliance never played a significant role in the region.

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Ethiopia

Diplomacy and State Building in Imperial Ethiopia

As one of only two African states that have never been permanently colonized (the other is Liberia), Ethiopia has a long diplomatic tradition. Tewodros II, who reigned in the mid-nineteenth century, was the first modern Ethiopian leader to try to develop a foreign policy that transcended the Horn region (see The Making of Modern Ethiopia, ch. 1). His successor, Yohannis IV, followed a less dynamic course and was greatly troubled by European expansionism in general and penetration by Italy in particular. Menelik II, who succeeded Yohannis in 1889, failed to find a peaceful solution to Italy’s encroachments. He had greater success, however, in the military sphere, defeating the Italian army at Adwa in 1896.

Menelik died in 1913, and it was not until 1930 that another strong emperor, Haile Selassie I, assumed the throne. Haile Selassie quickly demonstrated that he was committed to the creation of a strong, modern, bureaucratic empire that would command unquestioned international respect. As early as 1923, while serving as regent, he negotiated Ethiopia’s admission into the League of Nations. The Italian occupation of Ethiopia between 1936 and 1941 briefly halted his efforts to establish Ethiopia’s position in the world community (see Italian Rule and World War II, ch. 1). However, when he reassumed the throne in 1941, he renewed his efforts to bolster Ethiopia’s international standing.

After World War II, Haile Selassie achieved considerable international success primarily because of his active participation in the UN, his alignment with the West, and his vocal support for the African independence movement. As a UN member, Ethiopia committed troops to the peacekeeping mission in Korea from 1950 to 1953 and to the Congo (present-day Zaire) in 1960. Moreover, Ethiopia’s military and diplomatic relationship with the United States provided it with a superpower ally (see United States, ch. 5). Finally, Haile Selassie took the lead in pressing for a resolution establishing the territorial integrity of the independent states of Africa. Over the years, he developed a reputation as a sage voice of moderation on a continent filled with militant nationalists. It was in this capacity that he offered to host the headquarters of the OAU upon its founding in the early 1960s, once again demonstrating his diplomatic acumen.

Ethiopia

Foreign Policy

The foreign relations of the modern Ethiopian state were driven by the government’s quest to establish this multiethnic polity as a viable nation-state and to maintain its territorial integrity. In many respects, then, the foreign policy pursued by the leaders of postrevolutionary Ethiopia was consistent with the foreign policy of the old imperial regime. The aspect that changed from one era to the next was Ethiopia’s ideological alignment. Whereas the regime of Emperor Haile Selassie had relied heavily on the patronage of the United States, that of President Mengistu Haile Mariam cast its fate with the Soviet Union. Both the pre- and post-1974 governments used economic and military aid from their respective superpower patrons to augment their own meager material resources, thus enhancing the ability of the regime to pursue not only certain foreign policy objectives but also specific domestic policies. Analysis of Ethiopia’s foreign policy, both past and contemporary, suggests that, rather than serving as the pawns of one superpower or another, Ethiopia’s leaders consistently placed their perceptions of what was best for Ethiopia before all else.

Ethiopia

Mass Media

Before and after the 1974 revolution, the government controlled Ethiopia’s mass communications. However, after 1974 the ideological orientation of mass media in Ethiopia underwent a substantial change insofar as they became vehicles for spreading Marxist dogma.

The Ministry of Information and National Guidance published two daily newspapers: the English-language Ethiopian Herald, with a circulation of 6,000, and the Amharic-language Addis Zemen, with a circulation of 37,000. The ministry also printed Hibret, a Tigrinya-language newspaper published in Asmera that had a daily circulation of 4,000. The ministry closely controlled the contents of these publications, and it used their editorial pages to analyze certain events and policies from the perspective of scientific socialism.

There were about a dozen periodicals published in Ethiopia. The WPE issued Serto Ader, an Amharic-language newsletter with a weekly circulation of about 100,000. Two other periodicals were the magazine Yekatit Quarterly and the ideological journal Meskerem (circulation 100,000). Both publications were printed in English as well as in Amharic. Marxist-Leninist in tone, the Yekatit Quarterly reported mainly on the “accomplishments of the revolution.” Meskerem was viewed specifically as an instrument of political education.

Ethiopia

Leftist Groups

Although the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP) and the All-Ethiopia Socialist Movement (whose Amharic acronym was MEISON) were crippled during the Red Terror, they were not completely eliminated. In 1989 the EPRP had its main base in Sudan. It claimed to have had its ranks augmented in the late 1980s by 20,000 peasants fleeing villagization in Shewa. The EPRP and MEISON continued to exist as political organizations, but they appeared to have little military significance.

Regime Stability and Peace Negotiations

Commuters line up for a bus at a busy pick-up point in Addis Ababa.
Courtesy United Nations (Ray Witlin)

The WPE regime’s attempt to create conditions for popular acceptance of its legitimacy failed. Testimony to this was the attempted coup that began on May 16, 1989. The coup was the result of months of planning by senior officers, some of whom may have been members of the Free Ethiopia Soldiers’ Movement, an opposition group that involved active-duty military officers and former officers in exile. The coup began shortly after Mengistu left for a state visit to East Germany. Top generals invited colleagues to attend a meeting at the Ministry of National Defense, where they delivered an ultimatum to the defense minister, Major General Haile Giorgis Habte Mariam, to join them or be jailed. Haile Giorgis refused and was shot dead. The shots were heard by two senior officers loyal to Mengistu, who ordered army tanks to encircle the ministry and guard the road to the airport.

Officers commanding units in Eritrea and Tigray also joined in the coup. They initially seized the Asmera radio station and issued a call to the “broad masses” to join in the effort to bring down the “tyrannical and dictatorial regime of Mengistu.” However, Mengistu returned to the country and, with the support of the Presidential Guard and other loyal troops, regained control three days after the coup began.

The plotters’ aim had been to establish a transitional military government. Exiled supporters of the Free Ethiopia Soldiers’ Movement claimed that the coup-makers planned to negotiate a settlement in Eritrea, establish a ruling council, and return the military to their barracks. Senior officers had become desperate for a political settlement of the wars raging in the north. Pamphlets expressing their discontent had been distributed to the military rank and file by junior and middle ranking officers sympathetic to their cause. The new leader reportedly was to have been Major General Seyoum Mekonnen, the former head of military intelligence.

To wipe out his enemies in the military, Mengistu purged the officer corps. At least twelve generals were executed or committed suicide rather than be captured, and 300 to 400 officers suspected of being involved in the coup were arrested. Nearly all generals, division commanders, and political commissars assigned to units stationed in the north reportedly were detained. These individuals were replaced by Mengistu loyalists, many of whom lacked experience as military leaders.

The attempted coup and continuing problems related to war, drought, and famine caused considerable instability in the WPE’s upper levels. Council of State members became increasingly critical of Mengistu’s policies, and some even suggested that he step down. However, Mengistu mustered enough support to retain power. At the same time, by mid1989 the success of opposition forces, the Soviet Union’s refusal to increase military assistance to Ethiopia, and pressure from Moscow had forced Mengistu to seek negotiated settlements to Ethiopia’s various wars. The loss of East German military support because of the democratization movement that occurred later in the year also softened the government’s stance toward negotiations.

On June 5, 1989, the National Shengo, in a special session, endorsed a proposal calling for unconditional peace talks with the EPLF. The EPLF accepted, and the two sides agreed that former United States president Jimmy Carter would mediate the negotiations. The first talks were held at the Carter Presidential Center of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, in early September. WPE Central Committee member Ashagre Yigletu headed the Ethiopian delegation, and Al Amin Muhammad Sayyid led the Eritrean team. The two sides agreed on several procedural issues and set the next round of talks for November 1989 in Nairobi, Kenya.

At the second meeting, additional procedural issues were resolved, and former Tanzanian president Julius K. Nyerere was asked to co-chair further talks with former President Carter. The most difficult issue resolved in the eight-day talks was determining who would serve as international observers for the main negotiations. Seven observers were invited–each side had two unrestricted choices, and three others were chosen by mutual consent. The parties also concluded that additional observers could be invited later upon mutual agreement. At the end of the session, six observers had accepted invitations: Kenya, Senegal, Sudan, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and the Organization of African Unity (OAU). A seventh invitation was proposed for the UN, but because Ethiopia, a UN member, refused to endorse the idea, the UN declined to participate. Subsequent meetings in Washington in October 1990 and February 1991, chaired by United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Herman Cohen, failed to resolve this issue. Even so, both sides agreed to continue their dialogue, with the next meeting tentatively scheduled for May in London.

The Ethiopian regime also agreed to peace negotiations with the TPLF, to be convened by the Italian government. Preliminary talks began in Rome on November 4, 1989. Ashagre Yigletu led the Ethiopian team, and Central Committee chairman Meles Zenawi headed the TPLF delegation. Because its troops were advancing on the battlefield, the TPLF refrained from making a cease-fire a precondition for participating in the talks. The TPLF called for the establishment of a provisional government made up of representatives from all major nationality groups and political organizations. The main task of this provisional government would be to draft a democratic constitution and prepare for free elections. Before the talks began, the Ethiopian government rejected the idea of a provisional government, claiming that the Ethiopian people had approved the 1987 constitution in a fair referendum and that a popularly elected parliament had put the new government in place.

The first round of talks lasted one week and ended with agreement only on procedural points. Although the TPLF had called for a national united front, it represented only itself at the Rome talks. It suggested, however, that the main item on the agenda should be its peace proposal. The Ethiopian delegation rejected this idea but offered no counterproposal.

The second round of preliminary talks opened in Rome on December 12, 1989. The two sides reached an agreement whereby Italy and Kenya would act as mediators and Nigeria, Sweden, Sudan, and Uganda would act as observers in future peace negotiations. The Italian minister of foreign affairs announced that the third round of preliminary talks would open in Rome on March 20, 1990.

Unfortunately, the Ethiopian delegation terminated these discussions nine days after they began. According to rebel spokesmen, the talks failed because Ethiopia insisted that the TPLF deal only with questions pertaining “to the autonomous region of Tigray” rather than with Ethiopia as a whole. Moreover, Ethiopia refused to accept a joint TPLFEPDM delegation at the main peace talks. The TPLF maintained that the EPDM, its ally in war, also should be its ally in peace. As a result of these differences, the negotiating process between the TPLF and Ethiopia ended.

On the military front, the TPLF pressed its offensive throughout the fall of 1989. By the beginning of 1990, its advances had bogged down, and the Ethiopian army had begun a counteroffensive. By mid-June 1990, however, the TPLF, operating as part of the EPRDF, had taken up positions within 160 kilometers of Addis Ababa. By contrast, the EPLF had reduced its military operations over the same period, perhaps to regroup. In February 1990, however, the EPLF mounted a major drive aimed at capturing the port city of Mitsiwa, the entry point for much of Ethiopia’s food and military supplies. By mid-February the EPLF had overrun the port and severed the traffic that flowed from Mitsiwa via Asmera to the strategic garrison town of Keren. A few months later, however, Mitsiwa resumed operation in accordance with an agreement between the EPLF and government forces. By the end of the year, the EPLF had started conducting military operations in the vicinity of the Dahlak Islands and initiated an offensive toward the port of Aseb.

Ethiopia

Somali Groups

Somali guerrilla activity in the Ogaden and in the Haud area east of Harer flared sporadically after Somalia gained its independence in 1960, but the guerrilla activity remained essentially a police concern until a border war erupted in 1964. When he seized power in Mogadishu in 1969, Siad Barre thwarted attempts at an understanding between Ethiopia and Somalia. He pledged to renew efforts to establish a “Greater Somalia” that would encompass about one-third of Ethiopia’s territory. Encouraged by the breakdown of authority in Addis Ababa after the 1974 overthrow of Haile Selassie, Somalia provided matériel, moral, and organizational support to insurgent movements in the Ogaden and southern Ethiopia.

The Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF), which operated in the Ogaden, supported the “Greater Somalia” concept. The Somali Abo Liberation Front (SALF) maintained links to the WSLF. Its sphere of operations was in Bale, Sidamo, and Arsi, where it advocated union with Somalia or the creation of an independent state. Somalia equipped both groups with Soviet arms; both also received aid and training from various Arab and communist nations, including Cuba.

After the 1977-78 Ogaden War, the WSLF was routed, and its troops flocked to camps in Somalia (see The Somali, ch. 5). The Somali government subsequently forbade the WSLF to use its territory to launch attacks into Ethiopia. By 1989 the WSLF had ceased to be an effective guerrilla organization within Ethiopia. Siad Barre’s decision to restrict the WSLF led to the formation of a WSLF splinter group, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), whose headquarters were in Kuwait. Elements of the ONLF slipped back into the Ogaden in 1988 but failed to generate a significant military capability.

Ethiopia

Afar Groups

The Afar people, numbering about 3 million in Ethiopia, reside in the area bordering Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia. Although there were other factions claiming to represent the Afar, the most prominent organization was the Afar Liberation Front (ALF; also called the Afar Sultanate Liberation Front), headed by Ali Mirah. The ALF was dedicated to maintaining the political, cultural, and religious autonomy of the Afar people. Ali Mirah directed his movement’s sporadic activities from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The ALF was one of the few opposition movements to express some interest in Mengistu’s plan for creating autonomous regions, primarily because most Afar inhabited the area that was to become Aseb Autonomous Region.