Tag Archives: Tigray

An Historical Perspective on the Unrest in Ethiopia.

From the book Rastafari and its Shamanist Origins.

The Dirge was a committee of low ranked, officers and enlisted men that was established, to investigate the military’s demands, for higher wages etc. The troops of the Dirge confronted H.I.M. in his office in the Jubilee Palace (the same office shown previously in this book). What follows is quoted from Harold G. Marcus’ A History of Ethiopia : ‘The next day, with Addis Ababa cut off from the world and under curfew, a small group of officers went to the palace and, at 6:00 A.M ., summoned Haile Sellassie. He appeared in full uniform and, with great dignity, stood proud and erect while a nervous officer read out a proclamation of deposition. The old man declared his acceptance, if it were for the good of the people, and he was escorted outside, where an awaiting vehicle and small escort took him to Fourth Division Headquarters. Within the hour, Radio Addis Abeba reported that Ethiopia had been freed from Haile Sellassie’s oppression by a Provisional Military, Administration Council (PMAC)—the descendants of the Coordinating Committee, that had abolished parliament and suspended the constitution’.  Kapuscinski gave a vivid account as told to him by Sellassie’s manservant worthy of re-enactment here: ‘At the end of August, the military proclaimed the nationalization of all the Emperor’s Palaces. There were fifteen of them. His private enterprises met the same fate, among them the Saint George Brewery, the Addis Ababa metropolitan bus company, the mineral-water factory in Ambo. The exact sum of the Emperor’s accounts will probably never be known. The propaganda bulletins spoke of four billion dollars. At daybreak, the soldiers came for H.I.M: “His Imperial Majesty will please follow us. Where to? H.S. asked, to a safe place, explained the major. Everybody left the Palace, in the driveway stood a green Volkswagen. You cannot be serious the Emperor bridled I am supposed to go like this? However, he presently fell silent and sat down in the back seat of the car. The Volkswagen set off followed by a jeep full of armed soldiers. I want to reconstruct the socio-political and highlight some geo-political events that led to the fall, arrest, and subsequent death of Haile Sellassie I. Here I will begin from the interim of the Italian slaughter on the Ethiopians in Addis Ababa and its outlying villages (The Graziani Massacre), By 1937 it was increasingly clear that the terrorist tactics and policies of the Italian governments vis a vis Ethiopians, only worked to harden the resolve of Ethiopians against Italian occupation, delayed development and settlement projects, and raised the costs of Italian security within Ethiopia. Resultantly Italy recalled Graziani, replacing him with the Duke of Aosta, a civilian in 1942. In southern and eastern Ethiopia, Aosta implemented the well-worn strategy of divide and conquer,  favored by European colonial-imperialist powers, dividing the Christian insurgents battling Italian occupation, from the Muslim population in the area.

The enmity between the varying ethnic groups in Ethiopia was lit aflame when the Italians, reorganized their stolen territories (colonies) in east Africa, Tigray in Eritrea, Italy then placed Ogaden in Somalia, then went on to divide the rest of the country into Galla and Sidama, Hater, Shoa, and Amara. Thereby attempting to eliminate the historical and cultural links of the people. In September 1939, world war II was underway, this was a boon for the Ethiopians, changing the geopolitical reality in favour of the Ethiopians. The Ethiopian insurgents and patriots increased their attacks on Italians and their interests in Ethiopia. One famous Ethiopian freedom fighter and a masterful tactician was, Dejazmatch Abebe Aregai, who was once the police chief of Addis Ababa. On June 10, 1940, Italy declared war on the allied powers, Haile Sellassie’s continuous appeals for assistance were finally heeded, by Britain. On 12 July 1940, London acquiesced and officially declared, Ethiopia (Haile Sellassie), as an ally. Two weeks later Haile Sellassie, was in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, the Sudanese army comprising roughly 2500 men, was no match for the 250,000 Italian troops and 200 warplanes. The British began training an Ethiopian force, to invade Gojam from Sudan ultimately joining up with the Ethiopian freedom fighters inside the country. The commander of the Ethiopian fighters was, Major Charles Wingate who trained the Ethiopian forces, thereby aiding them in becoming a highly disciplined well-trained unit.

The Ethiopian fighting force consisted of Ethiopian exiles, some European mercenaries, and Sudanese soldiers, the unit was called Gideon Force.  Haile Sellassie along with his fighters and Wingate entered Gojam on 20 January 1941. Upon seeing the fighters of Gideon force, the Italians who vastly outnumbered them fled for their lives, seeking shelter in their fortresses. The victorious Ethiopian soldiers from Gideon force rendezvoused, with the remnants of the Ethiopian freedom fighters, already there, atse (Emperor) Haile Sellassie II was thunderously welcomed by the freedom fighters in Gojam. On 5 May 1941, Haile Sellassie returned triumphantly to Addis Ababa, five years after the arrival of Badoglio, restoring Ethiopia’s freedom. H.I.M immediately moved to mitigate and eventually remove British influence by, acquiring non-British advisers, ending London’s control over Ethiopia’s finances and customs, and bringing to a close the British military monopoly in Dire Dawa, Ogaden, and along the national railway line. The prescient Sellassie, being a voracious student of history, foresaw that America then ascendant would become a global superpower, therefore he strategically aligned himself with the Americans.

The American consul in Eritrea, where the Americans had seized various Italian bases as, assembly points and distribution centers for lend-lease in the Middle East, aided Sellassie in his struggle to remove British political and economic hegemony from his nation. At Washington’s behest, Ethiopia became a member state of the fledgling United Nations, re-opening its embassy in Addis Ababa in 1943, gave arms and ammunition to Ethiopia, and sent a technical and advisory team, to report back to Washington on Ethiopia’s needs. Haile Sellassie I, recreated the pre-war economy and political structure, staffing the top positions with bureaucrats.  In 1944, the corporation turned a profit of 1.2 million and 1.8 million pounds respectively, double the standard margin for the majority of businesses in Ethiopia at the time. Haile Sellassie’s huge popularity amongst black western populations was also reflected in the enthusiastic support he received amongst African Americans, this support translated to the large number of African Americans enlisting in the US Army, to fight alongside the allies, this also meant they would get an opportunity to fight against Mussolini’s forces who were seen as devils incarnate.  The US State Department chaired a meeting on 13 February 1945, between Haile Sellassie I and Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Egypt. The program that Haile Selassie I presented to Roosevelt contained Ethiopia’s foreign policy goals at the time. And are as follows Ethiopian ownership over the railway to Djibouti, free and unimpeded access to the sea, recovery of Eritrea, reparations from Italy, assistance in developing a modern army, US investments in development.

At the same time London wanted to retain Ogaden as part of Greater Somalia, the Ethiopians recognized that such a move was detrimental to their interest’s and vociferously made their objections known to the British. Meanwhile the nationalist Somalia Youth League (SYL), was agitating for uniting all Somalians in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti into one ethnic state. By 1947, most Somalian policemen, soldiers, and officials were members of the (SYL), the Ogaden was being run by the afore mentioned at the behest of the British. Ethiopia determined to regain Ogaden, used the exploratory drilling of the American Sinclair Oil Company as a pretext to regain control of Ogaden. Ethiopia granted the American personnel of the company Sinclair Oil, one-year visas to work in Ogaden. Resultantly the Jijiga (SYL), condemned the move denouncing Ethiopia as illegitimate, claiming Ethiopia had no right to rule in Ogaden. When an international commission arrived in Mogadishu (1948), ostensibly to seek advice on Somalia’s post war disposition, (SYL) activist’s claimed Sinclair, was in Somalia illegally, (SYL) members then assaulted a Sinclair drilling team. The British commanding officer responsible for the gendarmerie was powerless, to intervene since the gendarmerie consisted of SYL members.  On 17 March 1948, the Ethiopians announced that British troops would shortly be withdrawn from Jijiga. The Ethiopian government thereafter established a new administration for, Ogaden which went into effect at the end of September. Haile Sellassie then turned his attention to, restoring Eritrea as part of Ethiopia. Eritrea then was governed by a British military administration, Haile Sellassie I argued that Eritrea prior to being colonized was a part of Ethiopia.

The seminal event that led to the fall of the regime of Haile Sellassie, was the famine that killed tens of thousands, in north-eastern Ethiopia mainly in the Wollo province and Tigray. A 1973 production by ITV entitled; ‘The Unknown Famine’ later reworked and retitled The Hidden Hunger by a group of army officers, who were plotting to seize power. The film juxtaposed footage of Haile Sellassie eating at a banquet in one of his palaces, with those of starving Ethiopians, the film portrayed a disproportionate image of massive death and untold misery. Although there were many deaths from starvation, the propagandist’s inflated the numbers. The famine, high oil prices, military mutinies all were contributing factors in the destabilization of the regime of Haile Sellassie. Edmund J. Keller in his book ‘Ethiopia: Revolution, Class and the National Question’, published by African Affairs (1981): wrote the following; ‘Peasants and pastoralists living on the margins of subsistence have had to cope with such phenomena from time immemorial. As a result of the process of modernization and the centralization efforts of the state, however, the lives of poor rural inhabitants had been unalterably changed. More and more of their surplus production has either been demanded by landlords and the state or been translated into cars in order [sic] to meet tax obligations. Conservatives and Liberal Reforms, 1960–1974 113 their freedom of movement and their access to land was also now inhibited by state regulation or by a complex and aggressive burgeoning market economy. Traditional survival mechanisms were either gravely weakened or completely inoperable. Rural people unwittingly had become extremely dependent on the state. For its part, the state was more concerned with economic growth and political survival than it was with meeting its inherited social responsibilities’.

The preceding ably gives the reader an understanding of some of the actual causes, why the peasants who were in the majority in Ethiopia and lived mainly in rural areas, were mobilized by those opposed to Haile Sellassie, to rise up against the government. The regions of Wolle and Tigray which supplied 40 percent of Ethiopia’s total food production at the time, were estimated to have lost about 20 percent of their human populations and 90 percent of their animals. Students and various citizen groups began food distribution campaigns. In 1973, students at the Haile Sellassie I University began a series of student protests on campus, that led to the arrests and subsequent deaths of some students. The protests were sparked by the famine in northern Ethiopia and in the low-lying areas (lowlands), of Harerge, Bale, Sidamo, and Gamo Gofa. In 1973, the peasants unable to sustain themselves, sold off their grain to purchase food, with some eating seed grain. Starving, many of them made their way to the towns, hoping to receive government aid. The provincial administrators underreported the true proportions of the crisis, in Addis Ababa officials at the outset denied the existence of the famine, not even bothering to report the existence of the crisis to Haile Selassie I. Intellectuals and students criticized the regime. The government promptly reacted, by banning all news of the famine, the official government stance was denial, till May 1973. The government was forced to admit the existence of the famine, when an ad hoc committee of professors from the Haile Sellassie I University professors traveled to Welo in 1973, returning with photos backed by a devastating report describing the horrendous reality of the residents, who were dying of starvation.  

In response to the criticism, the government established an emergency committee, which tried maintaining the crisis by internal resource mobilization. The Ethiopian government relief efforts were thwarted by a multiplicity of causes some of which were, nepotism, corruption, profiteering, the refusal of local and provincial governments to waive taxes and the inability to divert grain exports to relief agencies. International reporting painting an accurate picture of the debilitating famine in Ethiopia, the agonizing images of starving, dying babies with distended stomachs, flies on their bodies with their parents lying next to them, shocked the world. Those horrific images spurred a relief effort led by wealthy western nations’ governments, the effort eventually included relief organizations, NGOs, churches, students, universities, and academics mainly in the western hemisphere. In 1974 two related economic crises wreaked havoc on the global economy, particularly in developing countries, Ethiopia was amongst the worst hit, the primary crisis stemmed from the high cost of petroleum products caused by the closure of the Suez Canal, secondly, the high cost of finished goods and food, which rose by 20 and 80 percent respectively. Due to the massive unrest caused by students stoning vehicles in the streets and other riotous behavior, the military was authorized to quell the rebellion.

On February 23, Haile Sellassie toured the marketplace in Addis Ababa, speaking with people urging them to remain calm, meeting with the common people and vendors, in this manner Sellassie was able to diffuse the growing tension. He appeared on Ethiopian television that evening again urging calm, he announced that the military would, deal severely with cases of civil disturbance. On Monday 25 1974, Addis Ababa, experienced a scene of calm, which only presaged the coming storm of military unrest, that led to the overthrew of the Haile Sellassie I monarchial government. The Ethiopian Herald carried this brief message on August 28, 1975: ‘Yesterday Haile Sellassie I, the former Emperor of Ethiopia, died. The cause of death was circulatory failure’. The continued existence of Ethiopia as a unified nation-state is threatened, by the intra-ethnic and ethnic, strife that has characterized Ethiopia for thousands of years. Where will the Rastafari of the west, fit into the Ethiopia of the future? Even in Haile Sellassie’s Ethiopia ethnic strife was commonplace, as I have shown in this work, the pro-Amhara Sellassie regime killed other ethnic groups, like Ethiopian regimes past and present. Can Ethiopia transcend its, self-destructive ethnic divide? The future prognosis on Ethiopian ethnic unity is dismal indeed. Ethiopia’s political history is replete with examples, of ethnically motivated dissent.  At the center of the dissent in Ethiopia, the Oromo are often, the most severely affected group. The recent murder of Hachalu Hundesa 34, an Oromo musician known for his anti-government pro-Oromo music, and his support for the Oromia liberation movement. Hachalu was shot on Monday 29, June 2020, in an Addis Ababa suburb, he succumbed in a hospital, later of gunshot wounds. Later that same day, in Adama a town situated in the Oromia region, several people were killed during protests. The Ethiopian government has repeatedly denied, allegations by, local human rights groups and international organizations of torture, mass incarcerations, and extra-judicial killings.

In 1991, the Marxist government of Mengistu Haile Mariam was defeated by the Tigrean Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), the succeeding political framework was and still is that of a, a federation of nine ethnically diverse states. Meles Zenawi the leader of the TPLF, became the President of Ethiopia, the now-deceased Zenawi (2012), was succeeded by Haile Mariam Desalegn, after 21 years as leader. Opposition figures accused Zenawi of being an authoritarian leader, Zenawi’s TPLF, became Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). Ethiopia’s governance system is fraught with many challenges, foremost of them being its pseudo-democratic system, which often sees one party and its allies winning all the 547 parliamentary seats, not because of any overwhelming support, since the varying ethnic groups in Ethiopia would never all support one party. The mere fact that anyone party would win all 547 seats in ethnically diverse Ethiopia, points to the endemic corruption at the state level in Ethiopia. The EPRDF also controls the state security apparatus, the police, military, and all intelligence-gathering units, all are staffed and dominated by Tigrayans. The government’s bogus anti-terrorism laws are another tool used as a pretext to arrest anyone opposed to the regime, such as bloggers, journalists, opposition figures, human rights groups, and environmental activists.

 A report published in 2009, by AHR, Advocates for Human Rights, documented systemic abuse, by three successive Ethiopian governments against the Oromo, those governments are the following, the Haile Sellassie regime, the Marxist government led by Haile Mengistu, and the present EPRDF government first led by the now-deceased Meles Zenawi (Tigrayan), then led by his chosen successor Haile Desalegn, and now led by Abiy Ahmed. The report by the AHR comprising 166 pages, documented that between 2011 and 2014 at least 5000 ‘based on their actual or suspected peaceful opposition to the government’. Dissenters both actual and suspected had been ‘detained without charge or trial and killed by security services during protests, arrests and in detention’. In the Ogaden the situation is even more deplorable, comprising mainly ethnic Somalis the Ogaden, is an underdeveloped expanse of land containing rich oil and gas deposits, those living there have consistently accused the Ethiopian government of systemic abuses such as forced displacements from ancestral lands, forced removal of large groups to camps, starvations and massacres of civilians, the persons in the camps dependent on the Ethiopian government for food and water, are routinely starved with some dying from food and water deprivation. Rape and intimidation are routinely used by security forces as means of keeping, civilians in line, whose land was taken away by the Ethiopian government and given to Chinese consortiums who own gas and oil projects in the region. The Anuak in the Gambella (a resource-rich region in the west of Ethiopia bordering Sudan), also accused the Ethiopian government of crimes against them such as forced removal from their lands and massacres by the highlanders. The people assert that they do not benefit from, the oil and agricultural projects the government has leased to foreign interests. The Anuak a dark-hued African people, who have been treated as inferiors by the dominant Tigrayan and Amhara groups, since ancient times are discriminated against based on their ethnicity. The convulsive ethnic strife’s, which cause enormous societal rifts and eruptions, threatens the very existence of Ethiopia as a heterogeneous nation-state, as the Ethiopian historical and contemporaneous accounts have shown, throughout this work,   if state actors in Ethiopia, do not cease from ruling from an approach of repression, nepotism, genocidal policies, and ethnic favoritism, it is only a matter of time before what occurred in Rwanda repeats itself in Ethiopia.  The total dehumanization and wanton killing of the African that was justifiable by law in the above countries mentioned was unparalleled in their scope and their ability to allow mass mayhem to be perpetrated on the Africans who were in many cases utterly defenceless in the face of their own extinction. The task then of any honest scholar claiming to be a scholar of conscience or merit must of necessity be to construct a historical narrative that leads to a reconciliatory spirit between the past and present generations of Africans in continental Africa and their descendants.