"Ethiopia: Attempted Coup Foiled"

African Research Bulletin, June 15, 1989.

Military officials faced President Mengistu Haile Mariam for the consequences of an attempted coup. Mengistu, known for excessive brutality and rumored to have personally executed opponents, has been in the process of "cleansing" the army of opposition. This may result in an army lacking leadership, as the civil war continues in the northern region of the country.

The coup had apparently been carefully planed, starting after Mengistu left for a tour in East Berlin. Top military officials planned a meeting of the defense ministry and posed an ultimatum to the Minister of Defense, Major General Haile Giorgis Habte Mariam, to join the group or be jailed. He refused and was subsequently killed by coup leaders. These shots were heard by two Mengistu loyalists who summoned the military which led to a day of fighting that ultimately halted the coup attempt and did not lead to a popular uprising.

Fighting in Asmara

Simultaneously, the northern command officers fighting rebel forces in Addis Ababa (northern region of the country) "seized the radio station in Asmara and called on the ‘broad masses’ to bring down ‘the tyrannical and dictatorial regime of Mengistu.’" Mengistu then rallied loyalists in Asmara and declared on May 18th that the revolt had been stopped, despite reports that Ethiopian garrisons joined the rebellion in Gondar and Harar.

Some of the leaders in the coup planning were senior officers; most of whom died in the fighting or were promptly executed. Some assume that Mengistu had prior knowledge of the coming plot, evidenced by the fact that he took his family with him on the Berlin trip. Indeed, as Eritrean and Tigrayan had been more successful in pushing back government forces, many top officials had been expecting an incident for over a year.

Rebel Aims

Goals of the rebel forces included not only ousting Mengistu from power, but also establishing a transitional military government, negotiating a settlement with Eritrea and a ruling council, and returning the military to barracks. This is consistent with a main cause of the rebellion: an army with low energy or morale, the other Eritrean and Tigrayan rebellions have been going on for 28 and 10 years respectively.

Chronology of Revolutionary Events

1974: Emperor Haile Selassie deposed by military in September. A military government, the DERG, is put in place, and led by General Aman Andom, an Eritrean. The first purge of the government occurs in November when 60 people are executed, including General Aman Andom who is replaced by General Teferi Bante and aided by Mengistu Haile Mariam. In December, a new socialist political campaign called Ethiopia Tekdem is initiated and the Eritrean rebellion announces that it will shift fighting from "guerrilla warfare to outright war,"

1975: In March, the monarchy is abolished and new political campaigns of radical agrarian reform and the suppression of private property are announced.

1977: Another purge in the DERG takes place in February; 9 are killed including Teferi Bante. Mengistu Haile Mariam becomes DERG leader. A war in the Ogaden province leads to the seizure of land by Somalia. The Red Terror, a campaign against regime opponents and the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP) begins. Thousands are tortured and imprisoned and Amnesty International reports that 5,000 are killed.

1978: Somalia withdraws troops due to intervention of Cuban forces on Ethiopian behalf. A treaty of friendship and co-operation is signed with the Soviet Union on November 16th.

1982: The Red Star offensive, aimed at reconquering Eritrea, fails.

1984: On September 12th, the tenth anniversary of the revolution, Ethiopia becomes a people’s democracy. The Ethiopian Worker’s Party (EWP), a Marxist-Leninist organization, is created.

1985: The French humanitary organization Medecins sans Frontiere is expelled in December due to excessive debate over the forced transfer of people, which resulted in many deaths.

1987: On February 1st, a draft constitution is approved through referendum that will transform the country into a People’s Democratic Republic. The Shengo, first parliament, is inaugurated in September after thirteen years of military rule. Also, Ethiopia is officially becomes the People’s Republic of Ethiopia, under the Soviet model. Mengistu Haile Mariam, the head of state since 1977, is elected president. The DERG is dissolved. The country’s 14 provinces are redivided into 25 administrative regions and five autonomous regions, including Eritrea and Tigre. International food relief starts in November to reach those effected by drought.

1988: The central committee declares a state of national mobilization in March to answer a heightened level of successful Eritrean and Tigrean rebel activity. On April 3rd, a peace agreement is signed between Ethiopia and Somalia, ending a decade of fighting. In November, the government announces radical economic reform that gives the private sector much more importance in the economy.

1989: On May 14th, it is announced that the election of regional parliaments in eleven regions and three autonomous regions, excluding Eritrea and Tigre.

Summary by Cheryl Chancey