Charlie Houk, Drew Dakin
October 1, 2009
IB History Period 8


Ethiopian Civil War


September 1974 was the start of a vicious civil war fought between Ethiopian government supporters against Ethiopian nationalists that ended in the nationalists toppling the Dergue in 1991. There were many factors that led to the outbreak of war in Ethiopia, including famine and other governmental problems.

Ethiopia was ruled by Haile Selassie until 1974 before the Dergue came to power. Earlier in his reign, he focused on modernizing Ethiopia, expanded their professional army, created a police force and expanded the modern school system[[#_ftn1|[1]](1). Although he did create these positive achievements, he controlled all power in Ethiopia, under the new constitution he created[[#_ftn2|[2]](2). His struggle to keep both traditional and modern thinker’s contradictions under control contributed to the reason of the revolution[[#_ftn3|[3]](3 ). Also contributing to the revolution was extreme famine, worsening unemployment, and the political stagnation that prompted certain army units into mutiny. In the spring of 1974, the country turned to revolution to overthrow Haile Selassie. The supporters of the revolution were military mutineers, students and teachers, which took over power in 1974 with the help of Mengistu[[#_ftn4|[4]](4). The Provisional Military Administrative Council (PMAC) came to power, and stated “in order to advance the revolution of the broad masses of Ethiopia and guide it towards the ultimate goal… the objective of the National Democratic Revolution is to liberate from the yokes of feudalism and imperialism and to lay the foundations for the transition to socialism” (5).[[#_ftn5|[5]]

Mengistu was the vice-president of the PMAC, a provisional military government that espoused Marxist ideologies. There was a bloody battle within the PMAC, known as “Bloody Saturday”, in which the first leader, Aman was killed, allowing Mengistu to rise to the top of the ranks.(6).[[#_ftn6|[6]]

The Soviet Union saw an opportunity to advance its influence in a strategically important region of Africa. Moscow labeled Mengistu’s seizure of power as a truly “Bolshevik” revolution, providing military aid. The Soviets had sent about 50 ships through the Suez Canal to the port of Assab to unload tanks, artillery and munitions- an estimated 60,000 tons of supplies, all being delivered to Mengistu and the PMAC (7).[[#_ftn7|[7]]

“In February 1977, Colonel Haile Mengistu eventually emerged as the victor, and unleashed a reign of terror; opponents were summarily executed”[[#_ftn8|[8]](8). Known as the “red terror”, Mengistu led a bloody campaign that crushed armed opponents among the EPRP and other groups, as well as members of the civilian populace.
As a result of the campaign, which continued into 1978, thousands of Ethiopia’s best-educated and idealistic young people were killed or exiled; in all, as many as 100,000 people were killed, and thousands more were tortured or imprisoned[[#_ftn9|[9]](9). Mengistu used fear to get an edge on his anti-Dergue opponents, and to respond to the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party’s (EPRP) “white terror” movement. “As a result of the campaign, which continued into 1978, thousands of Ethiopia’s best-educated and idealistic young people were killed or exiled; in all, as many as 100,000 people were killed, and thousands more were tortured or imprisoned” (10).[[#_ftn10|[10]]

Ethiopia was in a horrible economic position during the Ethiopian Civil War. In 1980, drought began and by 1984 rain was very uncommon and large rain falls didn’t happen at all[[#_ftn11|[11]](11). Famine ensued and the government did nothing, many times trying to hide the fact that one sixth of Ethiopia’s population was at risk of starvation[[#_ftn12|[12]](12). Eventually Western countries came to Ethiopia’s aid, ending the drought by mid 1985. The PMAC’s inabilities to help stop the famine, often hiding it, made many citizens realize where Mengistu’s military rule was taking them.

Women gained respect in some areas from the revolution. The Revolutionary Ethiopia Women’s Association (REWA) was formed during the civil war years. This organization took responsibility for educating women and raising their levels of awareness so they would be aware of their rights (13).[[#_ftn13|[13]]


The Ethiopian Civil War became a vicious war, in which many civilians were unrightfully imprisoned or executed. Both groups engaged in urban terrorism as they fought for an edge against their opponent. The PMAC’s main opposition was different small revolutionary groups. The EPRP was the best organized and represented group that fought against the PMAC. Other groups such as the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), and the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLP), helped in the effort to overthrow Megistu’s reign of terror. “The EPRP believed so strongly in civilian rule that it undertook urban guerilla war against the military rulers ”(14).[[#_ftn14|[14]]

Early in the war the PMAC struggled to gain a foothold in Ertitrea and Tigray. The rebel forces were able to hold off the Derg, backed by Soviet supplies. By 1985-86 the government continued to take heavy casualties at the hand of the EPLP and the TPLF. The PMAC was not worried however, believing that they could just request more supplies but when the Soviet Union denied those requests, the PMAC realized they were in trouble[[#_ftn15|[15]](15). In December of 1987 the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front began to break through the PMAC lines in Ethiopia. Once through the EPLP and the TPLF began coordinating strikes together, eventually forming the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) [[#_ftn16|[16]](16). By May 1991, the EPRDF controlled most of the large cities in Ethiopia and it was obvious that the two combined forces had more strength than Mengistu’s Dergue. On May 28, 1991, Mengistu’s reign came to an end. He fled to Zimbabwe and the EPRDF took control of Ethiopia [[#_ftn17|[17]](17).

The new Ethiopian government was run by the EPRDF whose chairman was Meles Zenawi. Zenawi claimed that he would “democratize Ethiopia through recognition of the country’s ethnic heterogeneity”[[#_ftn18|[18]](18). He promised that Ethiopia would no longer be run by force, rather a voluntary federation of its many peoples. The EPRDF and other political groups created a constitution and had new elections. The fight to overthrow Mengistu’s military rule was never easy, and the rebels suffered numerous deaths, but the reward of gaining a democratic government for the people of Ethiopia outweighed the costs it took to get there.



















Works Cited

"Ethiopia." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica Online,
2009. Web. 30 Sept. 2009. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/
194084/Ethiopia/37709/
The-rise-and-reign-of-Haile-Selassie-I-1916-74#ref=ref419539>.


"Ethiopia: The Ertireans." Country Studies. The Library of Congress, 7 May 2009.
Web. 24 Sept. 2009. <http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?frd/
cstdy:@field(DOCID+et0183)>.

Greenspan, Alan. "Ethiopian Civil War." Encyclopedia.com. N.p., 16 Dec. 2003.
Web. 24 Sept. 2009. <http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/
1G2-3404100415.html>.

Grenville, J.A.S. A History of the World in the 20th Century. Enlarged ed. 1980.
United States of America: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2000. Print.

"Haile Selassie." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. N.p., 5 June 2000. Web. 24
Sept. 2009. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/251817/
Haile-Selassie-I>.

Wubneh, Mulatu, and Yohannis Abate. Ethiopia: Transition and Development.
Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1988. Print.




[[#_ftnref1|[1]]1 Wubneh, Mulatu, and Yohannis Abate. Ethiopia: Transition and Development.
Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1988. Print.

[[#_ftnref2|[2]]2 "Haile Selassie." Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. N.p., 5 June 2000. Web. 24
Sept. 2009. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/251817/
Haile-Selassie-I>.

[[#_ftnref3|[3]]3 "Ethiopia." Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Encyclopaedia Britannice Online,
2009. Web. 30 Sept. 2009. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/
194084/Ethiopia/37709/
The-rise-and-reign-of-Haile-Selassie-I-1916-74#ref=ref419539>.

[[#_ftnref4|[4]]4 Grenville, J.A.S. A History of the World in the 20th Century. Enlarged ed. 1980.
United States of America: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2000. Print.

[[#_ftnref5|[5]]5 Wubneh, 54
[[#_ftnref6|[6]]6 “Ethiopia” (Encyclopedia Britanica)
[[#_ftnref7|[7]]7 "Ethiopia: The Ertireans." Country Studies. The Library of Congress, 7 May 2009.
Web. 24 Sept. 2009. <http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?frd/
cstdy:@field(DOCID+et0183)>.

[[#_ftnref8|[8]]8 Grenville, 768
[[#_ftnref9|[9]]9 Ethiopia, Encyclopedia Britannica, History » Socialist Ethiopia (1974–91)
[[#_ftnref10|[10]]10 ibid
[[#_ftnref11|[11]]11 Wubneh 100
[[#_ftnref12|[12]]12 Ethiopia, Encyclopedia Britannica, History » Socialist Ethiopia (1974–91) » Land reform and famine
[[#_ftnref13|[13]]13 Wubneh, 146- 153
[[#_ftnref14|[14]]14 Ethiopia, Encyclopedia Britannica, History » Socialist Ethiopia (1974–91) » Challenges to the regime
[[#_ftnref15|[15]]15 ibid
[[#_ftnref16|[16]]16 Greenspan, Alan. "Ethiopian Civil War." Encyclopedia.com. N.p., 16 Dec. 2003.
Web. 24 Sept. 2009. <http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/
1G2-3404100415.html>.

[[#_ftnref17|[17]]17Ethiopia”, Encyclopedia Britannica, History » Socialist Ethiopia (1974–91) » Challenges to the regime

[[#_ftnref18|[18]]18 “Ethiopia” Encyclopedia Britannica, History » Transition (1991–95)