Caught in the Crossfire of Climate and Politics

The Eritrean Afars in Ethiopia

by Dan Connell
published in MER277

Conscription into the army or other government service for years on end, fear of detention and torture for real or imagined transgressions with no legal recourse, no prospect of schooling or meaningful work, and no personal freedom: The reasons Afar refugees in eastern Ethiopia gave for fleeing their homeland often echoed those I had heard from their countrymen in interviews I conducted in 19 countries over the last two years. But most I spoke with had another grievance—disempowerment and discrimination based on their ethnicity and culture.

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Letter from the Horn

by Lynne Barbee
published in MER92

Khartoum, May 1980: Hundreds of Eritreans, Ethiopians and Somalis were rounded up and put in prison in nearby Omdurman when Ethiopian leader Menguistu Hailemariam visited here May 25 to help celebrate the eleventh anniversary of Sudanese President Jaafar al-Numayri’s seizure of power. The purpose of the visit was to consolidate and formalize newly improved relations between the two countries. Sudan and Ethiopia have been at loggerheads since the 1960s, when Sudan provided assistance and haven for the Eritrean liberation movement and Ethiopian dissidents, and Ethiopia became the base for southern Sudanese opposition.

Halliday and Molyneux, The Ethiopian Revolution

by James Paul
published in MER106

Fred Halliday and Maxine Molyneux, The Ethiopian Revolution (London: Verso, 1982).

Most Western commentators sharply criticize the current Ethiopian regime and the process that brought it to power. They argue that there has been no genuine revolution in Ethiopia, but rather a military coup followed by terror against civilian opponents, repression of the workers’ movement and refusal of self-determination to the national minorities. For critics on the right, such developments prove the turpitude of “Soviet surrogates.” For critics on the left, they show yet another military clique subverting a progressive mass movement.

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Dispatches: The War in Eritrea

by Gayle Smith
published in MER106

February 27, 1982

On February 16 the Ethiopian armed forces launched Operation Red Star, a military offensive aimed at isolating the Eritrean opposition and rebuilding the war-torn territory. Ethiopian troops in Eritrea number 120,000, and they are backed by MiG 23 jet fighters, MI-24 helicopter gunships, T-54 tanks and heavy artillery supplied by the USSR. The government in Addis Ababa has made few comments on the war since the original announcement of the campaign on January 25. Mohammed Siad Barre, the spokesman hereof the Eritrean Peoples’ Liberation Front (EPLF), asserts that the Ethiopians have suffered almost 11,000 killed or wounded in the three-week old war.

Building Ethiopia's Revolutionary Party

by Patrick Gilkes
published in MER106

In April 1976, more than 18 months after taking power, Ethiopia’s ruling Provisional Military Administrative Council (PMAC) finally provided an elaborated ideological basis for the Ethiopian revolution. The National Democratic Revolution Program, published that month, included many of the changes demanded by the radical civilian left: widespread nationalizations; rural and urban land reform; establishment of peasant and urban (kebele) neighborhood associations; a mass army; reorganized trade unions and other mass organizations. [1] The document also allowed for considerable devolution of authority and responsibility to the elected leadership of these new organizations.

Women's Organizations in Ethiopia

by Maxine Molyneux
published in MER106

One of the more positive political themes that the exiled students brought back from their studies was a special emphasis on the need for the emancipation of women. A Women’s Committee operated within POMOA. As late as 1977, official state documents were stressing the double oppression of women, as workers and women. This was in contrast to the more orthodox theory of the Eastern European countries that became official policy in 1978. In the countryside, moreover, the establishment of peasant associations went together with the setting up of local women’s associations. Nearly all women had been integrated into these structures by 1980, and women appear to have participated quite widely in the peasant associations.

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Mengistu and the Standing Committee

by Fred Halliday
published in MER106

By the end of 1979, Mengistu Haile-Mariam, “the Chairman,” was being projected through the official media in a strong authoritarian light. He derived from his earlier years an exceptional acquaintance with the regional diversity of Ethiopia. Born in an Oromo area between 1940 and 1942, of mixed Amhara and shankala (a caste of blacks who were traditionally slaves) origin, he traveled as a child to different areas while his father was soldiering and then serving as a houseguard. Mengistu gained access to the Holeta military academy, where he was trained as an ordnance officer. He twice visited the United States for training purposes. There is no public evidence of his radicalism prior to the constitution of the Derg in 1974.

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Ethiopia's Revolution from Above

by Fred Halliday , Maxine Molyneux
published in MER106

With hindsight it is possible to see in the course of the Ethiopian revolution a process of radicalization and post-revolutionary consolidation through which the Provisional Military Administration Committee (PMAC, or the Derg) established a stable new order on the ruins of the old. The direction of political and social change was by no means this clear during the first years after 1974. The pattern of revolutionary transformation involved a deep paradox, namely the conflict between the military leadership at the top and the various radical civilian forces below. At each stage of the revolution, the PMAC, aware of its own political weaknesses, sought to establish alliances with these civilian forces. Indeed it put into practice much of what the civilians were themselves demanding.

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War Crisis Escalates

by Dan Connell
published in MER106

Political developments in Africa have lately slipped out of the headlines, but the confrontations brewing there could dwarf earlier conflicts in both military fury and political complexity. The US-backed regimes in Somalia and Sudan each face the possibility of sudden coups d’etat or civil wars. The Soviet-supported Ethiopian government is losing another in a long sequence of campaigns to stamp out nationalist guerrillas in the former Italian colony of Eritrea. Addis Ababa also faces ongoing revolts by three minority nationalities who are increasingly linking up with one another to topple the military authorities.

Ethiopia's Contras

published in MER145

In his February 1986 Message to the Congress on Foreign Policy, Ronald Reagan announced his support for “growing resistance movements now [challenging] communist regimes installed or maintained by the military power of the Soviet Union and its colonial agents -- in Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Ethiopia and Nicaragua.” In four of Reagan’s five regional hot spots, an avowed anti-communist contra-style force maintains a field presence against a regime allied with the Soviet Union.