The Derg (1975 – 1991)

Posted: May 29, 2016 in Ethiopia - the Secret of Africa
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Emperor Haile Selassie was last seen on August 27 1975 in the back of a Volkswagen, being driven away by the military. The absolute power of the emperor and the divine right of rule of the century-old imperial dynasty were finished forever.

The radicals soon dissolved the parliament and established a new military government, which would become known as the Derg. However, there were bitter power struggles within the Derg, and clashes of ideology. Emerging from the chaos was a certain colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam, who became an autocratic ruler himself – hardly different from the emperor. The political debate and internal struggle soon degenerated into violence: in 1977 the Red Terror campaign was launched to suppress all political opponents. More than 100.000 people were killed and many thousands fled abroad.

The Derg – following communist and socialist principles – carried out a series of revolutionary reforms. Banks, businesses and factories were nationalised, as was the rural and urban land. The rich and powerful land-owners lost their land. Peasant associations were set up and this campaign – raising the status of the Ethiopian peasants – was initially much praised internationally.

Opposition to the Derg had existed since the beginning of their rule, but was always suppressed. More and more opposition parties were formed however, especially ethnically based, regional liberation movements, including those of the Afar, Oromo, Somali and particularly Tigrayan peoples.

In 1984-1985, there was another terrible famine, followed by a drought, in which hundreds of thousands of people died. Failed government programmes following this made the disaster bigger.

The different opposition groups united to form the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and together they began a historic march towards Addis Ababa.

Mengistu’s time was up. He was confronted by the EPRDF in Ethiopia and the EPLF in Eritrea and the regimes of his communist allies in Eastern Europe had also fallen. Ethiopia was in a dramatic state financially, as was his own military authority. On May 21 1991, he boarded a plane to Zimbabwe, where he remains to this day. Seven days later, the EPRDF entered Addis Ababa.

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