Red Tears: War, Famine, and Revolution in Ethiopia 0932415342, 9780932415349

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Red Tears: War, Famine, and Revolution in Ethiopia
 0932415342, 9780932415349

Table of contents :
Red Tears, the first book of its kind from an Ethiopian is a chilling exposé. It is the sad but true story of a popular revolution gone sour. A story of a nation, known as the fountains of human civilization, culturally rich with abundant human and material resources, but at war itself and unable and unwilling to address its ecological and political problems.

Dawit writes from a sense of commitment, from a desire to warn his people and humanity of the great crimes committed in their name. He has taken unparalleled, strong and controversial positions on Ethiopia's crisis points: on the history of the Ethiopian revolution, on the Eritrean war, on the question of nationalities, on the character of Mengistu Haile Mariam, the Ethiopian strongman, and on the possibility of change.

This is a book that speaks truth to power. Not only does Dawit write about the arrogance of power and the corruption in Mengistu Haile Mariam's Dergue, but he also details the failure of international organizations and personalities to respond to a crisis timely and effectively. At the same time it details the personal heroism and sacrifice of a few that fought to avert a human tragedy that shook the conscience of the world like nothing else in recent history.

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“Commissioner Dawit and most of his staff genuinely cared about the plight of the starving and made real efforts to rescue them. Their dilemma was the classic one of officials who try to do good in a system and under a leadership that is inherently bad: one pays for one’s license to do some good work by making painful compromises with the system and by accepting identification with, and even responsibility for, its more disreputable practices . . . 1 was not at all surprised when, a few months after my departure from Ethiopia, he found the compromises required of his position too heavy a burden and chose to seek refuge in the West, as so many outstanding Ethiopi-

ans have done since 1974.” David A. Korn, former United

States Chargé d’ Affairs in Ethiopia, author of Ethiopia, the United States

and the Soviet Union “Whatever Dawit’s future as a political refugee he remains the hero of the relief operation. Without him it would have been impossible to achieve the aim of saving millions of people from death by starvation.” Kurt Janson, U.N. Undersecretary for Relief Operations in Ethiopia, co-author of The Ethiopian Famine “I know Mr. D.W. Giorgis very well—during the most difficult times of Ethiopia he has shown great love, compassion and concern for the people. He was always ready to help our sisters in the service of the poor they serve.” Mother Teresa

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Digitized by the Internet Archive in 2021 with funding from Kahle/Austin Foundation

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Red Tears War, Famine and Revolution in Ethiopia

Dawit Wolde Giorgis

The Red Sea Press, Inc. Publishers & Distributors of Third World Books 5506 Bellevue Avenue Trenton, New Jersey 08618

Dedicated to Ethiopia’s victims of famine and internal conflict.

The author’s share of the proceeds from this book goes to United Nations agencies to help alleviate the suffering of the victims of the continuing famine in Ethiopia.

Acknowledgement The manuscript of this book was prepared when I was a research fellow at Princeton University, Center for International Studies (CIS), between September

1986 to August 1987. I express my sincere gratitude to the director of CIS, Professor Henry Bienen, who

gave me all the encouragement I needed at that time, and made it possible for me to use the facilities of the University.

I also convey my thanks to my good friend, Dale Coye, who gave invaluable support in putting the facts and my ideas together.

The Red Sea Press, Inc. 556 Bellevue Avenue

Trenton, New Jersey 08618

First Printing, January 1989

Copyright (c) Dawit Wolde Giorgis All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Cover Design by Ifi Nii-Owoo

Typeset by Apostrophes Bookshop, Inc. Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 88-62162

ISBN: 0-932415-34-2 Cloth 0-932415-35-0 Paper

Abbreviations

ALF COPWE EDU ELF EPDA EPDM EPLF EPRP EMALADEH

Afars Liberation Front Commission for the Organization of the Party of the Workers of Ethiopia Ethiopian Democratic Union The Eritrean Liberation Front Ethiopian Peoples Democratic Alliance Ethiopian Peoples Democratic Movement The Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front The Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Party Association of Ethiopian Marxist-Leninists Ethiopian National Alliance to Advance Democracy Eritrean Relief Association All Ethiopian Socialist Movement Provisional Military Administration Council Relief Association of Tigray Relief & Rehabilitation Commission Tigray Peoples Liberation Front Workers Party of Ethiopia Western Somali Liberation Movement

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Contents Preface

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1. The Revolution

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~—2. Ethiopia Under Mengistu: The Politics of State Control and Repression 55 3. The Northern Region and

Ethiopia’s Internal Conflicts 69 4. Famine, Official Neglect and International Relief Appeal 121 5. Fighting Apathy, Misinformation and False Priorities 143

6. International Responses to the Ethiopian Famine 183 7. The Relief Operation 221 8. A Historical Reflection on Famine in Ethiopia 253

9. The Causes of Famine 265 10. Resettlement and Villagization 281 11. Rebels and Refugees 309 12. The Scapegoat 327

13. The Aftermath 351

14. Afterword 363 Index 373

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Preface The Ethiopian famine of 1984-85 moved the conscience of the world as has nothing else in recent memory. This book is the story of the victims of that famine—the story the world never heard, or perhaps only occasionally glimpsed through uncertain or misleading reports in the Western press. Itis the story of a regime that, instead of saving its people, ignored their cries for help, and through its unfeeling, lethal programs caused suffering and death to a degree no one ever imagined possible. It is also the story of the efforts of dedicated Ethiopian and international humanitarian agencies to rescue the people abandoned by the regime. I was more than a spectator to these events. As an active participant in the 1974 Ethiopian Revolution and a senior member of the MarxistLeninist Party, Iworked closely with Mengistu Haile Mariam, the Head of State of Ethiopia. I was his Deputy Foreign Minister; I was his chief political representative to the troubled province of Eritrea; and finally, I headed the entire famine relief operation between 1983 and the end of 1985. Many people have asked: “Isn’t it a tragedy that you are now in exile, and are now condemning the government and political system you were part of for twelve years?” Neither my involvement nor my departure is a tragedy. Like others, I had a vision of a better Ethiopia, and I did my best to make that vision a reality. Never to have had a vision of a better life for my people, or to have had a vision and ignored it are, to my mind, terrible tragedies indeed; but the failure to achieve an objective is not failure in the greater sense. The question is not, therefore, why I or other officials stayed with the government so long, but why we had to leave it. I could have left Ethiopia earlier; but when there was still a possibility of influencing

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policies and decisions, I felt it would be wrong to abandon my people in their time ofdistress. My tragedy is that I can no longer help my people from within. And that is the tragedy of many Ethiopians. I was at first an enthusiastic participant in the 1974 Revolution. I was caught up in its emotions, excited by its potential for improving lifein our country. Like many others, I supported its spirit and initial objectives despite the many mistakes that were made. There must inevitably be mistakes: the mark of a good governmentis the ability to admit them and learn from them. You can trust a politician who honestly says, “I was wrong, now let us go on from-here.” That never happened in Ethiopia.

The men of the Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces gathered for the first time in June 1974 in Addis Abeba with a sincere desire to bring genuine, desperately-needed change to Ethiopia. They were for the most part honest men who were doing what they thought was best for the country. I feel proud and honored today to have been a part of that beginning. I was one of a group of Ethiopians who had a vision of creating a peaceful, united, prosperous nation. In pursuing that vision we worked for justice, equality, freedom, and independence, and weand the majority of the people believed in what we were doing. I have made concessions and given the leadership and particularly Mengistu the flattery they demanded, but I have also challenged the regime in the only ways possible. As our actions in Eritrea and during the great famine clearly demonstrated, my colleagues and I took measures and made decisions that the regime disliked, ina style that sharply contrasted with its cruelty. Many of us around Mengistu were willing to go to great lengths for the nation, to sacrifice our energies, personal ambitions, and our lives for

the good of the people. We worked under difficult circumstances. The traditions of hundreds of years of feudalism could not be erased in one stroke. The regime’s interpretation and implementation of Marxism in the context of Ethiopian realities hindered democratic evolution and belittled democracy as something bourgeois and fake. It legitimized absolutism and enabled Mengistu to emerge as a traditional autocrat without even the constraints of our traditional institutions. The stirring beginning, the blind idealism, the power struggles, the ignorance and manipulations, the executions, and the final sinking into a tyranny far worse than that with which we began—all these events and developments need to be recorded and critically analyzed for posterity. With its errors and advances, this period is a crucial one which has had, and is having, a greater impact on the well-being and unity of the Ethiopian people and the survival of the nation than any other single period in our history.

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After emotions subsided, many of us saw the impracticality of our ideals. Tempered by the realities, we were willing to correct our mistakes. But the arrogance and self-righteousness of the leadership never allowed the possibility of admitting error. Like the characters in George Orwell's Animal Farm, the leaders of the Revolution have evolved into the New Masters; learning to walk upright, they have enslaved those they pledged to liberate. The Revolution brought the promise of a better life, both for the individual and for society as a whole; but that promise has been betrayed in the most inhuman way imaginable. In writing this book, I first set out with the limited goal of recounting only the events connected with the great famine; but I soon realized that the story would not be complete without an understanding of the larger framework of the Revolution and the continuing internal unrest. I have therefore included histories of the Revolution and the internal conflicts. Since I was often close to or at the center of events, I will relate these matters through a description of my own involvement and experience. Ethiopia needs an honest history, and I hope my efforts here will inspire others who have witnessed the tragedy to record what they have seen for the benefit of posterity. There are only a few of us who were on the inside left alive to tell the true story. hope that knowing the truth will make all Ethiopians question themselves and their beliefs, and that we will grow wiser by examining our past. The current rulers entrench themselves more deeply behind their errors; we must build a better future on the ruins of our mistakes. This, then, is the story of the Ethiopian holocaust—why it happened, the efforts made to stop it, and what it has left behind.

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The Revolution Now, comrades, what is the nature of this life of ours? Let us face it: our lives are miserable, laborious, and short.

Weare born, we are given just so much food as will keep the breath in our bodies, and those of us who are capable of it

are forced to work to the last atom of our strength ...our life is misery and slavery, that is the plain truth. But is this simply part of the order of nature? Is it because this land of ours is so poor that it cannot afford a decent life to those who dwell upon it? No, comrades, a thousand times no! The soil ... is fertile, its climate is good,

it is capable of affording food in abundance ... Why then do we continue in this miserable condition? ...all the evils of this life of ours spring from the tyranny of human beings. Only get rid of man and the produce of our labour would be our own. Almost overnight we would become rich and free. What then must we do? Why, work night and day, body and soul, for the overthrow of the human race!! That is my message to you, comrades: Rebel-

lion!! (George Orwell, Animal Farm ) The story of Animal Farm is astonishingly similar to the story of the Ethiopian Revolution. This speech, its content, style and delivery, could have been spoken by any of the young revolutionaries in Ethiopia in

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1974, including me. That was how it all started: ideals, freedoms, correcting injustices, destruction of the old order. It is as if Orwell knew what

we would print on the leaflets we circulated to incite the people against the old regime. Even the characters—Snowball, Napoleon, Molly, Boxer— are perfect portraits of figures in the history of the Ethiopian Revolution. The course of the Revolution was dictated by Ethiopia’s history, which is unique in Africa and the Middle East. Ethiopians are keenly aware of their special place in this part of the world; above all, Ethiopians are aware that theirs is the only country on the African continent to have remained independent during the colonial period. Every Ethiopian schoolboy knows that our proudest moment came when poorly armed Ethiopian patriots defeated the Italians in the battle of Adwa, saving most of the country from occupation. Except for five years under Mussolini, the Italians never gained control of the entire country, and ~ even then they were faced with a continuing war of resistance. National independence has been preserved for a thousand years, despite internal strife and external invasion after World War II. This national pride was personified in the Emperor, Haile Selassie, aman who achieved a mythic status in our society and was worshipped as a prophet abroad. Haile Selassie and the Old Order

When | visited Europe for the first time in 1966 and told people Iwas Ethiopian, they would often respond by mentioning the only two Ethiopians they had heard of: Haile Selassie and Abebe Bikila, the marathon runner who won two consecutive Olympic gold medals. The more informed among them might have been aware of our history of independence; or that Ethiopia was one of the founding nations of the United Nations, the non-aligned movement, and the OAU (Organization of African Unity)—but it was mainly Haile Selassie. He was Ethiopia for the outside world. There was definitely a mystique about him. His long reign (he was crowned in 1930), his impassioned appeal to the League of Nations after Mussolini’s invasion of our country in 1935, and his triumphant return from exile in 1941 captured the imagination of the world. The image of the wronged patriot returning victoriously to his people made him a popular figure within Ethiopia and established his prestige in the outside world: he was considered one of the most distinguished leaders of his time. There were, however, those within the country who branded him a coward, saying he fled the country in the midst of war. They were of the opinion that the Emperor ought to have remained in Ethiopia to lead the war of resistance.

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Emperor Menelik (1883-1910) is sometimes called the architect of modern Ethiopia, but it was actually during the reign of Haile Selassie that the unity of the country was consolidated and a modern state established. It was Haile Selassie who introduced a centralized bureaucracy with different ministries and local administrative units, modem codified laws, legal institutions, a constitution, and a crude form of

parliament. Ethiopia commanded great respect because of Haile Selassie. For Africans and many blacks in other parts of the world, Ethiopia was a symbol of black freedom and independence. The Ras Tafarians in the West Indies even looked upon it as the promised land, with Haile Selassie as their Christ. Within the country he was “The Emperor,” the quasi-divine father figure, the protector, omnipotent and infallible. The reign of the Emperor, which began with years of relative peace and hope, came to a dismal end. Although he had international prestige, Haile Selassie did little for the Ethiopian people except to benefit an elite group of aristocrats. He paid little attention to economic development, personal rights, or the political awareness of the people. Feudalism was never abolished or even modified. The few large landowners held all political and economic power, while the peasants lived in terrible poverty.

As modernization progressed and exposure to the outside world gradually increased after World War II, a class of Western-educated intellectuals emerged who introduced demands for political and economic reforms. The feudal system was not prepared to accomodate the expectations of this new, educated middle class. An obvious contradiction developed between its interests and those of the large landowners. Unrest manifested itself in an attempted coup d’état in 1960. Although the coup failed, it injected momentous ideas into the political bloodstream. It affected the attitudes of the Ethiopian people, more and more of whom came to realize that the infallibility of Haile Selassie was only a myth; change was possible. My Career in the Army

As a young man, I was steeped in the lore of the Emperor’s army. I was sent to the finest military establishment in the country. Everyone there was educated ina nationalist tradition. Love of country and loyalty to the Emperor were drilled into us. Iwas commissioned a lieutenant in the Imperial Ethiopian Army and served from 1962 to 1968. It was in the army that I learned of the pride and dignity of the Ethiopian people, qualities I was to see again and again 20 years later during the famine as

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the people starved and suffered in relief camps. Thad no political inclinations at the beginning of my army career; I was content simply to do my duty. For the most part my assignments were routine, but in 1964 I became involved in a curious program that was my first exposure to world politics. The Emperor had made a secret pact with the Israelis to train the Anya Nya (the Southern Sudanese Liberation Movement) on Ethiopian soil and then send them back to the Sudan to fight the Khartoum government. The Israelis recruited the guerrillas from the southernmost parts of the Sudan, brought them out

through Uganda, and flew them to Ethiopia for training. My job was to pick up the recruits from the airport at Asmara in secret and drive them to Wukro in Tigray province, where Israeli officers and I trained them in guerrilla warfare. It was a highly secret affair, and as a young lieutenant I was thrilled to be involved in this sort of operation. I was part of something big, although I didn’t understand the full political import of this convergence of interests between Israel and Haile Selassie. Later in my career, as Isaw more of the common people and learned about their lack of freedom, the terrible poverty of the peasants caused by feudalism, and the unjust presumptions of the landowner class, my political interest and awareness grew. I longed for change, though I adopted no particular ideology. My feelings were shared by many other junior officers. Despite our country’s long tradition of independence and our rich culture, we felt we were backward. We felt that there should be a degree of democracy, that younger officers and the most educated among our people should assume greater responsibility and play active roles in making a new Ethiopia. We also suspected that some of our senior officers were corrupt. Junior officers used to meet in private and discuss national issues. For the most part we just talked among ourselves, but one time in Addis we decided to reveal our discontent to senior government officials who were known to have dissented from the Emperor’s policies and yet retained enough influence to bring about reform. Some of us arranged to meet secretly with several of these men and sound them out. I was assigned to see the late Dejazmatch Girmachew Tekle Hawariot, a Frencheducated, relatively liberal official who had once been the Minister of Information and was now the Crown Advisor. I went with another officer to his house early in the morning; we told him of our dissatisfaction and asked for his thoughts on reform. He listened to us carefully, then asked: “Do you know what a maidwife is? She is a woman in traditional Ethiopia who at certain times acts as a wife to the man, and at other times is treated like a maid. That is me. I used to be an active minister but now I’m ignored as an advisor. In

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reality I have no job; no one listens to me any more and I rarely see the Emperor.” He then gave us a long lecture on his views of the future of Ethiopia. His main point was: “ believe in evolution, not revolution. My advice to

you young officers is, don’t be overly-enthusiastic, be patient.” Most of the others in our group got similar reactions: even the dissenters among the officials were not likely to press for reforms. We continued to meet and discuss change, but no one in the circle I

worked with ever mentioned the overthrow of Haile Selassie. At the time we feared that his influence was so powerful, his myth so strong, that trying to bring him down would lead to bloodshed, particularly since there was such an absence of political activity in Ethiopia. There would be no alternative leader to take his place and no political organization or political system to fill the vacuum. The Student Movements

In 1969 the army allowed me, with the rank of captain, to enroll in Haile Selassie I University, where I received my first exposure to radical political views. The student movement both inside the country and abroad was tightly organized, extremely vocal, and oriented toward the left. It opposed Western imperialism, demanded land reform, democratic rights, an end to feudalism, and the overthrow of the Emperor. I never participated as a member of the student movement; even if I had wanted to, I would not have been accepted because of my association with His Imperial Majesty’s military establishment. Nevertheless, I learned a lot from the movement, and my ideas about reform began to change. When I graduated with a law degree, my final thesis on land reform reflected the radicalism I had absorbed from the university climate: in it I called for an end to feudalism and total nationalization of land. In 1975 I enrolled in a master’s program at Columbia University in New York, where the Ethiopian student movement was strong. There, sensitive political issues could be discussed with greater freedom than in Addis Abeba, and radical opinions were further strengthened. I was not a member there either, but I did make several friends who were very active and I attended meetings at their invitation. I wholeheartedly supported their cause and demonstrated my commitment to the changes they were demanding. The role played in the Revolution by Ethiopian students in the United States and Europe has never been fully appreciated. For years the intellectual elite of Ethiopia had gone to study abroad. The 1960s and early '70s were times of intense political activity among these expatriate

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students. The student movement at Haile Selassie IUniversity in Addis Abeba was active, but could not operate with the freedom that the American and European universities provided. There, the political stance of Ethiopian students was similar to that of other Third World student movements: Western imperialism was to blame for the continuing oppression in backward or totalitarian countries, and for virtually every other evil in the world. The members of the radical movements saw socialism, especially Marxism, as the only possible redeemer of the oppressed people of Ethiopia. There were those who demanded the violent overthrow of Haile Selassie’s government and a total transformation of socio-economic and political structures under a vanguard Marxist-Leninist party. The Ethiopian movements abroad were strong and well-organized, surpassed only by the Iranians. All Ethiopian students were under great pressure to study and profess Marxism; it became an obligation imposed by the student community. As a result, some sincerely adopted the Marxist philosophy, while others pretended to do so in order to avoid unpleasant run-ins with their peers. Those who expressed indifference or took opposing views were branded as reactionaries and sometimes physically harmed. There were excesses. Many student activists preached violence, flaunting their militancy as much as possible. It was not unusual to see students scorning ordinary clothing in favor of shabby green fatigues, letting their hair grow into long, matted dreadlocks, and practicing karate or other martial arts. It was fashionable to quote Chairman Mao, Che Guevara, Lenin, or Marx. The solution to every problem could be

found in the writings of Marx or Lenin; they were the Bible and could be found on most students’ bookshelves. The students’ vision of the future began with a total rejection of conventional values and cultures, except those of communism. The Russian, Cuban, and Chinese revolutions were the most widely discussed and admired. Most members of these student movements were eloquent in describing the virtues of Marxism and revolution for the future of Ethiopia. According to them, a true Marxist revolution could occur only in the Soviet or Chinese mold; they believed that the preconditions for such a revolution existed in Ethiopia. Sometimes realities were either altered or fabricated to fit into the pattern of the Russian Revolution. Marxism was presumed to be an unchallengable truth, even if it was not understood. It generated a mass hysterical loyalty. The student leadership recast Marxism into its mold, and every element of youth discontent was defined in Marxist terms. Many did not read about it, but that was beside the point. They were obsessed by it. Most accepted it as

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true even before they read about it, and when they did read they found the “self-evident” truth. They were not seeking to establish truth. It was there already. Many students withdrew from formal classes, spending most of their time in movement activities. The popular slogan was “Via Bale not Bole.” At the time there was a rebellion in Bale province, and since no

student knew what it was about and what elements led it, it was idealized as a genuine class struggle. The “Bale not Bole” slogan was

coined by Senai Likae, one of the first students to return from the US via

Bole International Airport near the capital. It meant that the revolution would be fought not in the cities, but in the countryside. Land reform and the Eritrean question were the two most hotly discussed issues. Some of the more impatient students went and joined

the Eritrean independence movement, which at the time was the only

organized force opposed to the feudal regime. The Fall of the Empire

Discontent with the old order in Ethiopia surfaced in the first few months of 1974. Sparked by the mutinies of junior officers and NCOs in several military units, civilian protests flashed across Ethiopia. Students, teachers, labor unions, taxi drivers affected by the energy crisis, Moslems oppressed under the old laws, and other groups demanded reforms and guarantees of fundamental human rights. There were several strikes and massive demonstrations. As the protests increased, a general state of unrest and defiance spread throughout the country. It was soon clear that the cabinet of Prime Minister Aklilu Habte Wold was unable to rule. It resigned and a new Prime Minister, Endalkatchew Makonnen, was appointed by the Emperor. Endalkatchew was an ambitious aristocrat whose approach to politics and concept of change were heavily influenced by his class background and his allegiance to the Emperor. He completely underestimated the forces behind the persistent demands of the soldiers and intellectuals. The soldiers’ initial demands were not political. The issues raised were increased salaries and benefits for their participation in the Korean and Congo wars—money which the soldiers believed had gone into the pockets of some senior officers. When Endalkatchew* attempted to clamp down on the continuing civilian protests, the military decided to step in. On June 28 an ad hoc Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces was set up to represent the *

In Ethiopia people are usually refered to by their first names only. The second name is their father’s name.

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interests of the military establishment in the national crisis. This Committee, called the Dergue,* which was soon to become so important, was selected in the most random way imaginable. Representatives were sent from the army, the navy, the airforce, the territorial army, prison guards, and police forces—forming altogether a body of 108 men. Most of them were concerned primarily with increasing their salaries and benefits. Committee members were mostly junior officers and NCOs sent as representatives of the common soldier. Senior officers were deliberately left out because they were not trusted. The Committee soon began making policy decisions on its own, backing them with the force of the army. The Coordinating Committee was at first an apolitical body. Most of its members, in fact knew nothing at all about politics or the realities of

Ethiopian political life. They might never have sponsored a revolution had the political ingredient not been added by the radical students and teachers, particularly those from abroad, who on hearing of the political crisis rushed home to participate in the making of history. Together with students at Haile Selassie I University, they formed a very significant group indeed, several thousand strong, highly vocal, and charged with enthusiasm. They were determined to change the world. Political activity had been suppressed in Ethiopia for so long that students and teachers were virtually the only politicized groups in the country. They used every means at their disposal to persuade the politically naive

members of the Committee of the virtues of Marxism. Unfortunately, they were never able to unite in significant enough numbers to create a true party; that is, a unified, viable political body. Antagonisms among the students were present from the start, and at best they formed a loose alliance. Initially they worked with the military Coordinating Committee because it seemed to be the only body capable of wielding organized power against the old order. Most members of the Coordinating Committee in mid-1974 were hardly progressive reformers, and certainly not revolutionaries. The great majority, many of whom were my friends, considered the Committee a provisional body of national overseers, and were not sure what they

wanted other than immediate redress of the military's grievances. Certainly none of them wanted to depose the Emperor. There are some *

The word dergue was unknown except to scholars and churchmen in 1974, since it comes from the ancient language of Ethiopia, Ge’ez. It means “council” and was adopted precisely because of its ancient associations. In English this would be the equivalent of going back to the Anglo-Saxon language. Many words were coined from Ge’ez roots during the Revolution to express the new concepts of Marxism.

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historians who have conjectured that the Emperor’s overthrow was the result of skillful maneuvering by the Committee, but until the last week of August 1974, the Committee did not know its own mind on this subject. But the intellectuals knew what they wanted. Almost immediately they began to agitate among the workers, bureaucrats, and other progressive forces for radical change. They sought to pressure the Committee into action against the Endalkatchew government which, as an extension of the aristocracy, resisted major reform.

The Coordinating Committee worked outside of the public eye, deliberately wrapping itself in secrecy. At first the Committee shied away from absolute power, citing “the need for decentralization.” It worked side by side with Endalkatchew’s government It oversaw the cabinet’s activities and gave instructions in the name of the people, which were announced through the normal governmental machinery. The Committee had no legal status, but acted as self-appointed monitor and guide to the changes desired by “the people,” sometimes even with the consultation of the Emperor. But this gradually changed as pressure from the intellectuals intensified. One by one, the Committee eliminated the ruling institutions of the old empire by decree, and former members of the government were arrested for crimes against the people. No one opposed these moves. On July 22, Endalkatchew was removed and Mikael Imiru was appointed Prime Minister by the Committee. He was the cousin of the Emperor and son of an Ethiopian patriot of the Italian wars, well known for his outspoken criticism of some imperial policies. Still, no one thought of deposing the Emperor. The Committee worked closely with Michael Imiru and the cabinet. Haile Selassie could have asserted himself at this time to save his crumbling regime, but he was over 80 and age had taken its toll. My impression when I saw him in prison a year later was that he was debilitated by age—not senile, but simply unable to muster the energy to cope with the demands of this crisis. It should also be noted that he continued to act witha degree of pride, and little grasp of realities. The Coordinating Committee in making decisions on his behalf took care never to implicate him in any way. This was not done in a deliberate attempt to protect him, but from a feeling that the people would not stand for a smear campaign against the monarch. The Emperor saw that the Committee was leaving him alone and concluded that his mystique still prevailed. He based his confidence on the outcome of the 1960 coup attempt, when the army had remained loyal and the people had rallied around him. He believed the same thing

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would happen again in 1974— that he could let the Coordinating Committee do the dirty work of making his ministers and lords the scapegoats; that a new cabinet would be found and he would emerge from the crisis more popular than ever. Governed by this thinking, he encouraged his former ministers to submit to the Committee, implying that all would be well in a short time. They did as he asked and were quietly removed or arrested. Otherwise, most would have taken up arms rather than surrender. On July 28 the Committee adopted the slogan Ethiopia Tikdem (Ethiopia First). This was intended to indicate that guaranteeing the fundamental rights of the people and reforming the nation were the priorites, and not adherence toa specific ideology. The Dergue was in fact ignorant in the realm of ideology. At one point, delegations were sent to Tanzania, Yugoslavia, China, and India, to shop for an ideology for Ethiopia. But asin most revolutions, there was first a desire for basic changes in the old order; secondary considerations could wait. As the intellectuals won the ear of the Committee, the philosophy of Ethiopia Tikdem was coupled with that of Hibresabawinet (a sort of Ethiopian socialism). This new hybrid philosophy was explained to the Ethiopian people by Committee members who were sent out into peasant areas to prepare them for the coming changes. It was emphasized that this was a home-grown philosophy which arose from the hopes of the broad masses; it was not imported from abroad like “some decorative article of commerce.” It meant

a commitment to the masses,

to fairness and human justice. It would provide effective solutions to long-standing political and economic problems; it was described as “the political philosophy which emanates from our great religions which teach the equality of man, and from our tradition of living and sharing together.” The first policy decree of the Dergue, “the need for decentralization,” was now conveniently forgotten. The Revolution might have stopped there. Many Committee members and civilians were satisfied with the declarations and reforms of Hibresabawinet; certainly the army never wanted to go beyond this. But the so-called progressives wanted more and urged key members of the Committee toward greater reforms, including the deposition of Haile Selassie.

A Planning and Operations subcommittee of the Coordinating Committee was established to oversee the arrest of the Emperor’s ministers and officials. The subcommittee was composed of men who would play important roles in the events of the next few years, Major Mengistu Haile Mariam among them. Others included: Major Berhanu

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Bayeh, a close friend whom I knew from my service years as a bold and principled officer (who later developed a withdrawn character with suppressed feelings hidden behind a facade of calmness); Major Kiros Alemayehu, who later committed suicide while in prison; Major Daniel

Asfaw, who though not a Committee member, worked closely with it

(later killed in a shootout on the Palace grounds); Major Sisay Habte, an educated Air Force officer who aspired toward leadership (later imprisoned and executed); Lieutenants Sileshi Beyene and Bewketu Kassa,

later killed by order of Mengistu while trying to form an armed opposition; P.O. Tamirat Ferede, imprisoned by Mengistu and recently released; and Captain Mikael Gebrenegus, a lawyer and police captain who went over to the Eritrean rebels in 1975. It was in August 1974 that this subcommittee and a few others outside it began to consider the possiblity of removing the Emperor. Small probes were made to test public reaction. On August 25 the Emperor’s Jubilee Palace was renamed the National Palace. On August 27 the Bus Transport Company, which was thought to be the property of the Emperor and a personal source of income to the Royal Family, was nationalized. There was no public outcry. The myth of the invulnerable 3,000-year-old Empire was vanishing in the waves of change. On September 5 the St. George Brewery and the Haile Selassie Trust were transferred to the Ministry of Finance. It was reported at the time that the Emperor secretly owned the brewery and had earned more that 11 million birr* in dividends from it. It was later discovered that this was propaganda meant to sway the public against the Emperor; he in fact owned only two percent of the brewery. On September 7 and 8 the subcommittee concluded that there would be no adverse reaction to the deposition of the Emperor. The Coordinating Committee never met to discuss it; it was the sub-committee, led by Mengistu, which instigated the action. The decision was reached on September 10. The next day, to assure the support of the people, a version of Jonathan Dimbelby’s documentary film, “The Hidden Hunger,” showing the agony of the 1973 famine, was aired on television. Scenes of the Emperor’s opulent life-style—banquets, parties, feeding his dogs from a silver plate—were spliced together with Dimbleby’s horrifying shots of children starving to death. The film could only be aired in Addis because there was no television in other cities, but the public was

outraged. The Emperor, forced to watch it, was filled with remorse and guilt. When he was finally deposed on September 12, most people in the capital expected and welcomed his downfall. Prime Minister Mikael *

1 Birr = $2.07US

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Imiru was also removed. He was considered too passive, and the Committee had never intended for him to stay in power for long anyway. He now had to give way to the military government, but he was saved from execution because of the respect he and his father commanded among the people. The Emperor was removed from the palace and taken to prison. To the last he maintained his dignity, and his personality was overwhelming. He cast such a spell over the soldiers guarding him that they had to be replaced daily by a new group. He died exactly one year later, on the eve of the first anniversary of his overthrow. He had becomeill and it was publicly announced that he needed prostate surgery. There was a general understanding among the Military Council that Haile Selassie was quietly put to death by order of Mengistu. Very few people know what actually happened; but in private conversations Mengistu always maintained that Haile Selassie’s timely death was important because it buried once and for all the rumor that he would come back to power. Had he lived, he would always have been a threat to the Revolution, a rallying point for dissidents. Because the public had already been told of his illness, the announcement of his death did not provoke suspicion. It is

also an open secret among the Military Council that the soldier who killed the Emperor by suffocation was later put to death by Mengistu. On September 15, 1974, the 108-member Coordinating Committee

assumed complete leadership of the government and changed its name to the Provisional Military Administrative Council. It was now truly a Revolution. Mengistu’s Rise to Power

Idon’tremember meeting Mengistu during my timein the army, but he remembers meeting me several times. He particularly recalled meeting me once when I was stationed in Asmara and he was sent there as an ordnance officer in 1965. He has an admirable memory. He even told me what we talked about when I next encountered him in October 1974. I had just returned to Ethiopia from New York, arriving two weeks after the Emperor was deposed. Because of my background and friends in both the military and the student movements, I found myself ina unique position to work with both groups. I became very close to the Military Council, and at the same time maintained my contacts with civilian

groups. While still in New York I had written three long articles for the leading newspapers in Addis, the Ethiopian Herald and Addis Zemen, calling for sweeping land reform and the abolition of feudalism. They were published because for the first time in our history there was

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freedom of the press,* mainly due to the chaos in the capital. As a result of these articles I was firmly identified with the progressive reformers. When I arrived in Ethiopia, I had the rank of major, and my connections with the Council led to an immediate assignment with the new government. I was to prepare the zemecha (Development Through Cooperation Campaign), a program that would send 60,000 students from the university and high schools out into the rural areas to educate the peasants and explain the benefits of the Revolution. Mengistu, who had

just been elected First Vice-Chairman of the Military Council, had heard about my articles and asked to see me in order to discuss them and the zemecha. I went to him, but I didn’t want to appear that I was submitting to his authority. Iknew he wasa major like myself and one of the leaders of the Coordinating Committee; I had heard of his eloquence and his ambition. When we met, I talked to him without showing any special respect; in fact, I felt distinctly superior. Iwasn’t sure, but I thought he was a naive provincial military man. I felt somewhat indignant that he had attained such a superior position on the Council. I chose to regard him more as an officer-colleague than as a man of authority. Our long talk about the zemecha led us into broader issues and I changed my opinion of Mengistu. Considering his academic, professional, and personal background, I came to believe that he was an

outstanding officer who was incredibly calm in the midst of the turmoil surrounding us. He also handled his new-found power well, without the least bit of arrogance. I came away from that long meeting very much impressed. I felt guilty about what I had been thinking earlier. Mengistu seemed genuine and more far-sighted than I had expected. In the coming weeks I met with him frequently, either in meetings or privately, and my admiration increased. Looking around at the other members of the Military Council, Ibecame convinced that Mengistu was the only man who could lead them. For me and for others, Mengistu was the best choice for several

reasons. He had come from a poor family background and was not an Amhara, the dominant ethnic group under Haile Selassie. As a person

and as a junior officer he represented our rejection of past values. He would bring about a greater sense that all Ethiopians were equal, an end to class arrogance and racism. Many of us felt he would embody the spirit of the Revolution and symbolize the change we wanted to bring about. *

This short-lived period was the only time freedom of expression was enjoyed in Ethiopia. With the rise to power of Mengistu, the papers again lost their vitality and at present are thoroughly censored, unreadable tools of the regime.

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The Provisional Military Administrative Council (often called the PMAC, or still the Dergue; hereafter referred to as the Military Council) was composed of 43 officers, 65

NCOs, and private soldiers. Most were

politically naive and uninformed about how government worked. Even among the officers, few had spent time in the capital. Most of their careers had been spent in units far away from urban political centers. Although most of these men were unknown to one another, there

were internal divisions based on institutions. Those who had graduated from the Haile Selassie Military Academy considered themselves the elite corps. They had received three years of training and college level education, as opposed to those from the Genet Military School, where cadets had only elementary or high school backgrounds and trained from six months to a year. They felt that we were obviously the kind of officers who should take leadership now. At the same time, the Air Force and the Navy felt that they were the elite. These rivalries had always existed; the Emperor had rather enjoyed them and had done more to encourage than to reconcile them. In addition to all this, there was the

division between officers and private soldiers. After the deposition of the Emperor, Mengistu and Major Atnafu Abate emerged as the chief contenders for leadership, but the Council was so confused and divided that it was unable to choose between them. Finally General Amman Andom, former Commander of the Third Infantry Division, was elected from outside the Council as a compromise. Mengistu and Atnafu were made first and second Vice-Chairmen. Amman was a good choice because he had worked.closely as advisor to the Coordinating Committee in the months preceding the overthrow of Haile Selassie and seemed popular with the people. His election was mainly the suggestion of Mengistu, who had served under him in the Third Army Division for some time and had great respect for his former commander. Mengistu’s rival Atnafu was a representative of the Fourth Infantry Division, and one of the few active officers who had made the creation

of the Coordinating Committee possible. The Fourth was headquartered in Addis and provided the office space for the Coordinating Committee. The fact that the Committee met on Atnafu’s base was clearly to his advantage in influencing decisions and asserting authority. Mengistu knew this, and through subtle manipulations managed to have the Coordinating Committee moved to the old palace, citing as a reason the fact that it was more spacious. Mengistu, in fact, began to manipulate events from the day the Emperor was overthrown. He gradually started solidifying and broadening his power base inside and outside of the Council, especially among

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members from the Third Division, which he represented. He relied on

the private soldiers, making empty promises to individuals in return for support against the officers. Mengistu began to undermine Amman’s authority. Working behind his back, he made many crucial decisions on his own and attempted to carry them out. At the same time he subtly induced the Council to challenge Amman, especially over the Eritrean question. Amman wanted a peaceful settlement with the rebels, while

Mengistu wanted to crush them militarily. General Amman’s popularity was well deserved. He was basically an intelligent, honest man, who in the absence of Mengistu’s intrigue might have remained in power for a long time. Amman resented Mengistu’s manipulation and refused to be a mere puppet of the Council. He was ambitious and wanted real authority as Head of State; but he found his position weakened by the constant scrutiny of the Council and Mengistu, who was acting more like the Head of State. The fact that Amman was an Eritrean was used against him; his honest views on the civil war were twisted by Mengistu into a virtual accusation of treason. In mid-November Amman resigned and went to his home, refusing to appear when summoned before the Council unless it first recognized his authority as Chairman. Mengistu went to Amman’s home on the morning of November 23, to give the impression that he was trying to talk to him out of his position. Later that day Mengistu personally decided to have Amman arrested along with the 22 young officers who had shown opposition to Mengistu’s bid for power. At Mengistu’s order, an army unit was dispatched that evening to arrest Amman at his home. In the ensuing shoot-out, a number of officers supporting Amman were killed. Amman committed suicide in full uniform, covered with all his decorations, just as armored personnel carriers and hundreds of troops smashed their way in. I learned of this the next morning from Major Daniel Asfaw who had led the unit sent to Amman’s home. I knew Daniel well and had shared an army barracks room with him. He and some Council members who later became my close associates filled me in on what happened later at the

Council meeting. Mengistu, nervous at his own audacity, but more determined than ever with all this blood on his hands, convened the Council that night to

explain his actions. Perhaps deciding that aggressiveness was the best defense, he boldly recommended that since there were demands from

intellectuals for the execution of former officials under arrest in the basement of the Palace of Menelik, the Council might as well decide on

their fate and announce it all to the public the next day along with the execution of Amman.

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The Legal Committee, which was in the process of establishing procedures by which these people could be brought to justice, was caught unprepared by this sudden, wild proposal. Mengistu changed the entire atmosphere of the meeting with a call for revenge, crying that the Ethiopian people wanted it and expected it, and that if the Council failed to make this decision, the Revolution would never be able to bring

about reform. Council members were too inexperienced and unsure of themselves to oppose his will. Those who honestly opposed the call for blood found it difficult to speak out. They feared they might be lumped in with the prisoners and killed along with them. The names of the prisoners were called, one by one, and members

were asked to comment. No real evidence was presented. Most members of the Council didn’t know the accused; they were just names. They had no idea whether the accused had committed the crimes ascribed to them. Proof consisted of the Council members saying anything that popped into their heads, including rumors. Then those in favor of execution were asked to raise their hands. Over one hundred names were read. Fiftynine people, including members of the royal family, former cabinet members, and senior officials, were sentenced to death this way. The Legal Committee, chaired by Captain Mikael Gebrenegus (a police captain and lawyer), was horrified at this turn of events. The members invited Mengistu to their office after the vote and asked why they couldn’t continue with legal procedures against the prisoners. Mengistu replied that it was necessary to execute a few immediately, to demonstrate that the Military Council was serious. Seeing that they were unhappy with his decision, he asked if they could at least immediately convict those responsible for covering up the recent famine. Their reply was that it couldn’t be done ina week or even two, that it would take time. Mengistu grew angry at their opposition and insisted that the decision of the Council be carried out. He left the room furious at the Legal Committee’s efforts to thwart what he felt was a landmark event in the Revolution. That same evening the condemned men were dragged from the Palace basement and loaded onto military trucks. Lt. Colonel Daniel Asfaw and Major Getachew Shibesi (now a Brigadier general in charge of Mengistu’s personal security) were in charge, at Mengistu’s order. What particularly angered many of us later was the cruel way the prisoners were executed. When the trucks reached the Central Prison, the soldiers were so nervous that all sense of order vanished. As the first resisting prisoners were pushed down from the truck, the soldiers

opened fire with machine guns. Many of the victims were still alive after

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the first volley. More and more prisoners were pushed out, and as bodies piled up on the ground and the wounded screamed, they were sprayed with bullets again and again until all were dead. They were buried in a mass grave on the prison grounds. Most educated people and revolutionaries believed that these prisoners had committed serious crimes and wanted them tried and punished, but were shocked at the announcement of their sudden execution. As a young lawyer, I was being considered for the post of one of the judges at their trial. Iwas terribly depressed by this event. I felt we had missed an opportunity to establish the rule of justice at the outset. The death of Amman was an unfortunate chance event that had extremely important consequences in shaping the character of the Ethiopian Revolution. The Military Council did not intend to kill Amman or force him to suicide. On several previous occasions, the Council had arrested almost at will every important imperial official; they simply announced the names of the officials, who rushed to report to the military barracks. But this plan failed when Amman resisted and died fighting, and the Military Council was panic stricken. Their panic and terror allowed the massacre of 1974, which consecrated them to power at the expense of the Ethiopian concept of “officiality,” which was desecrated. “Officiality” in Ethiopia has a sacred value, but concomitantly the office bearers are expected to adjudicate fairly as representatives of divine justice. This was why members of the royal family and other officials had not resisted their arrest. The death of Amman and the execution of the unpopular dignitaries, and their denunciation as enemies of the Revolution, clearly demonstrated the confused state of mind of the leaders of the Military Council; this kangaroo justice portrayed them as a vicious collection of murderers. As a result, discussion of political issues and

criticism of the government became impossible. People swallowed their bitterness and the country sank into a new era of fear and terror. Some fled the country and others took up arms. This explains why we have several liberation movements. It also explains why some people stay with the government despite their abhorrence of it. In short, you are in the government or in jail, if you are lucky. The Revolution had begun with a famous slogan and song: “Without blood, without blood...” It was what nearly everyone sincerely wanted—a bloodless revolution. This massacre ended any hope for a peaceful revolution. On November 24 Mengistu had more officers suspected of counter-revolutionary activities executed. Mengistu expected a spontaneous mass rally after the announcement of the executions, but they shocked the entire population. It was the understanding of this deep shock and resentment of the people that

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forced the Council members to be more cautious. Around the city many started wearing civilian clothes instead of uniforms. They changed to unmarked cars; they used bodyguards and always carried their guns. They realized some segments of the population were so angered by what had been done that they might try to retaliate against the Council. It is important to note, however, that because of the secrecy in which the Military Council worked, few among the general population knew that Mengistu was responsible for the executions. There were instant repercussions overseas. David Ottaway wrote in the Washington Post:

In one night, the whole image abroad of the much vaunted “unique and bloodless revolution” changed dramatically, and with that the sympathy of much of the outside world toward the ten month old military reform movement here turned to revulsion.’ The Post softened this judgment somewhat the next week: As shocking as drumhead justice is, it would be wrong to judge events in Ethiopia strictly in terms of the personal fates of its old leaders. A great world outcry has greeted the recent executions but no similar outcry ever went up against the less dramatic but infinitely more harmful practices conducted by its victims? But worse was yet to come. The bloodbath that was about to take place was partly due to some extreme elements whose opportunism and militant views found support within the Council. Some Council members began to adopt the bellicose, destructive attitude toward reform that the militants were preaching. Those advocating change without bloodshed were ridiculed and discredited. It was argued that revolutionary Ethiopia could be built only on the graves of the reactionaries. Mengistu bided his time. He did not attempt to become sole leader at once. No one was sure whether the Ethiopian people and the military establishment would accept a junior officer as leader of the country. On November 28, 1974, another senior officer from outside the Council, General Teferi Banti, a virtually unknown man, was elected Chairman of

the Council.* He was chosen primarily because he seemed unambitious *

Thad met Teferi in 1967 in Washington when he was military attaché. I was in training with American army units in Georgia and Kentucky and for the first time in my life I

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and was not conspicuously linked with the past regime. Socialism and Land Reform At this point it was still unclear in what direction the Military Council would take the country. It was therefore a major victory for the radical intellectuals when their agitation bore fruit and on December 20, 1974, “scientific socialism” was proclaimed to be the guiding ideology of the Ethiopian Revolution. Scientific socialism meant Marxism-Leninism; no one spoke of the Ethiopian socialism, hibresabawinet, anymore. This declaration was just what was needed to ensure the support of the intellectuals and students. Until now, most had been suspicious of

the Military Council because of the secrecy in which the Council worked and the conservative nature of the military. The students had been especially distrustful of the zemecha they were ordered to join. The declaration of socialism was so popular that the entire student population recruited for the zemecha appeared in a mass rally and parade to mark its launching two days after the proclamation. They knew that it was Mengistu who had pressed for socialism; his name was on

everyone’s lips. I was one of the organizers of the rally, and I was near the platform where Council Chairman Teferi Banti, Mengistu, and Major Atnafu Abate, the Second Vice Chairman, were lined up to salute the

marchers as they passed. Teferi was supposed to receive the students’ salutes and cheers, but the students were so fired up with emotion that as they marched past they started shouting: “Viva Mengistu! Mengistu is a revolutionary!” The people of Addis who had come to watch picked up the cry: “Viva Mengistu! We want Mengistu!” It was an awesome moment, but very embarrassing for General Teferi. Mengistu did not make it any easier for him. Throughout the entire two-hour parade, Mengistu, filled with the contagious exuberance of the students, re-

sponded to their cheers by shouting back to them and saluting with his fist in the air, his face beaming down at themas they passed. I remember being so gripped by the electricity of that moment that I too shouted myself hoarse along with the spectators and the students: “Viva Mengistu! Viva Mengistu!” Iwas so overcome with emotion that I almost cried. The members of the Council, the students, many intellectuals—and

I, myself—effectively chose Mengistu as our leader that day by acclamawas conscious of my color. It was very difficult for me in the South. I went to Teferi to ask to be returned home. His advice was that these were simply the realities of life in America and that I would get used to them after a while. I did as he advised and stayed on for the full term.

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tion. We desperately wanted someone to carry out our revolutionary agenda. No one else on the Council had the charisma, energy, or inclination to fight for the changes we thought were necessary. Mengistu was the man we had been looking for; at last we had a popular, dynamic man to lead the Revolution. I felt enormously satisified—so I shouted and cheered with the rest of them. As months passsed and as I got to know Mengistu better, Iadmired him even more. Although he never had the time or the discipline to read, he had the patience to listen without interrupting. I also realized that he had a remarkable talent for cool level-headedness in the midst of crises. When things got tense, Mengistu was always the calmest, a trait that served him well as an army officer and would be a great advantage to him in the coming years of external invasion and internal conflicts. With the official declaration of socialism, Ethiopia Tikdem (“Ethiopia First”) began to vanish and in its place Marxist slogans appeared. The military men now increasingly relied on a handful of political mentors from among the intellectuals for guidance. These people must be held equally accountable for the subsequent detestable policies of the present government and the loss of life they brought about. Those of us who had access to the Military Council were at time much too reluctant to challenge those trying to consolidate their power, particularly Mengistu. Had more of us spoken out against policies we knew were wrong, or had we urged that mistakes made in good conscience or through misjudgment be openly admitted, the interests of the people would have been better served. After the declaration of socialism, we continued to agitate for more

changes, particularly land reform which had long been a demand of the student movements. I regarded the feudal nature of land ownership as one of the chief evils of the old system and had written in great detail about how it might be changed. Unfortunately, our zeal for reform was not accompanied by any sense of caution concerning the practical details of implementation, compensation for those who would lose by it, or minimization of ill-will among the disenfranchised landowners. Our Zeal paid off. On March 4, 1975, the Council nationalized land

and industry. It was one of the happiest moments of my life: the backbone of feudalism was finally broken. But the sweeping nature of the Council’s reform caught most of us by surprise. It not only completely nationalized land, all means of production, and financial institutions, but on July 26 it also outlawed the ownership of more than one homeand confiscated all extra houses for the nation. These measures had been envisaged by only the most extreme among the intellectuals. The reform was sweeping in nature not only because of the radicals’

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urgings, but also because of the Council’s desire for true leadership of the Revolution. Many of the Council members did not want to be permanent rulers; but the more ambitious, especially Mengistu, were motivated by a strong hunger for power. Thus the Council’s actions were never rational, but were always a reaction to the radical proddings from the intellectuals, the only real threat to its power. The Council’s leaders

sought to anticipate the radical demands of the intellectuals, usurp their drive, and at the same time conceal their own ignorance. And so it was that land reform, one of the brightest accomplishments of the Revolution, was darkened by the blood spilled as a result of the

callous attitude encouraged by extremists. Always with the Russian Revolution as their model, they believed that conflict was inevitable, that

blood was good in a revolution; consequently, they had no concern for the protests and threats of the landowning class. The extremists’ constant agitation for the physical elimination of feudal lords and reactionaries made confrontation unavoidable. Many landholders, nobles and others took up arms to prevent the takeover of their lands, firing the first shots of skirmishes still being fought today. Internal Divisions

The Council leaders believed that once their demands had been met,

the intellectuals would be content, leaving the military in control of the revolutionary leadership. But except for a few of the Council’s advisors, the intellectuals were opposed to military rule. The months after the land reform proclamation saw demands from the intellectuals and other progressive forces for an elected government. At the same time, the variations in radical ideology which had existed within the student movements abroad for years, crystalized into

definitive, irreconcilable factions. Council members continued, the inchoate student groups dissolved The Military Council was by

While the power struggle among fragile coalition of still politically into a bitter fight for supremacy. no means solidly in control of the

country. It had several fights on its hands. There were right wing threats

from the landed aristocracy and elements loyal to the Emperor, who stood to lose most from the reforms and were opposed to the spirit of the Revolution. The most significant threat came from the EDU (Ethiopian Democratic Union) which tried to consolidate support in Gondar and Tigray provinces by appealing to patriotic feelings and historic loyalty to the monarchy. Backed by the Sudanese government, the EDU managed to control part of Gondar for a time in 1977, but was quickly crushed. With the elimination of the EDU, right-wing resistance virtually ended;

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the landowners could not compete with the popularity of land reform and the Council’s propaganda, issued through the zemecha, promising a bright future. The peasants knew what to expect from the old landowners and were more than willing to give the new regime a chance. A bigger challenge for the Council came from the left. This struggle was more complicated and lasts to this day. It was primarily an urban phenomenon, involving the educated elite of the country; but it also involved the Council members who sided with one group or another. It began when the factionalism of the students hardened after the Council granted many of the reforms demanded by radical groups, leaving them with only a civilian government on their agenda; this, Mengistu and others on the Council would not grant. Most of us working along with the Council did not expect a civilian government soon; but some factions, with good reason, insisted that the transition should begin before the military consolidated its grip. Throughout 1975 and 1976 these factions stepped up their cries for the transfer of power to a provisional elected government, while at the same time waging bitter wars of words against other civilian factions. In August 1975 one of the most extreme factions, the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Party (EPRP) began to issue underground publications. It had begun as a tiny clique of students, but soon its membership increased as its publications were read across the country. It was virulently opposed to Haile Fida’s MEISON (AlIl-Ethiopian Socialist Movement), another faction with nearly the same ideology. Their only difference was that MEISON was willing to work with the Council, at least temporarily. The EPRP and other groups insisted that a true revolution and party could not be imposed from above, but must grow up from the grassroots. Their inflexibility and dedication to ideals that could hardly be realized pushed them to seek unholy alliances which, in

the final analysis, were to cost them and the country a heavy price—for they had attracted many of the most educated and talented young Ethiopians. The Council at this time was in the midst of its own power struggles,

making it impossible to predict who would emerge as the true leader. Surprisingly, Mengistu and his supporters on the Council tried to join their radical opponents. Mengistu suddenly began to speak their language, picking up revolutionary slogans and Marxist clichés. In April 1976 Mengistu offered his National Democratic Program, whereby the Council and the radical groups would join together to lead Ethiopia through the Revolution. Mengistu was determined to retain power and this was an attempt to render the intellectual factions impotent by joining them. But the EPRP refused the offer. It accepted the principles Mengistu

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had offered, but not under the leadership of the Council. EPRP’srejection won it Mengistu’s enmity. Mengistu did, however, enlist the support of MEISON, in effect

making it his embryonic political party. A bitter war of words followed between MEISON and the underground EPRP. The hatred between the two groups was largely based on personal. feuds which had begun abroad. The EPRP attracted all kinds of dissident individuals and groups willing to conduct every possible subversive activity to undermine the strength of the Military Council. Within a few months, the EPRP called

for strikes and was responsible for several power blackouts in the cities. In September they began a campaign of terrorism and nearly succeeded in assassinating Mengistu. Mengistu and MEISON lashed back in kind. The bloodshed and cruelty culminated in the Red Terror of the next year, a violence that had no parallel in Ethiopian history. This was also a time of rural unrest caused by political agitation from the students of the zemecha. In December 1975, the Council had ordered a year-long extension of the zemecha to keep students out of the volatile urban areas. It should be emphasized that up to this point the Revolution was entirely urban, finding its greatest resonance in the capital and in provincial centers like Dire Dawa, Jimma, Harar, Makalle, Asmara,

Massawa, Dessie, and Gondar. The zemecha had sent 60,000 high school and university students into the provinces to teach the peasants to read and write and to prepare them for land reform and other changes. As one of the directors of the campaign, I worked with great enthusiasm alongside the students. I believed at the time—and I still believe—that the zemecha was one of the brightest moments of the Revolution. It was doubly beneficial because each group learned from the other: the students were able to teach the peasants about the dramatic changes in Ethiopia, and in return they gained a sense of the Ethiopian community from their exposure to the life of the peasant. In fact, in 1982 Ethiopia won

a UNESCO special achievement award for the literacy campaign, which brought the rate from 9% in 1974 to 37% by 1986." When the zemecha was extended for another year, the Military Council thought it would be able to conduct the Revolution as it saw fit,

free from the constant agitation of the students. But the opposite occurred. The political nature of their banishment came home to the *

The literacy campaign has its own problems. It is conducted in more than nine languages, but with the exception of Amharic and Tigrenya, which have written literatures, almost nothing is printed. Berisa, the Oromo weekly paper, has a problem getting rid of even 3,000 copies. Many Oromos do not buy the paper for fear of being considered “narrow nationalists.”

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students and caused great resentment among them. The students, particularly those connected with the EPRP, took their opposition into the rural areas. They began agitating and organizing the peasants against the Council, preparing them for rebellion. This led to skirmishes with local police and even open fighting in some places, which extended into the period of the Red Terror. Mengistu’s ruthless advance to power within the Council continued during this period of civil unrest. When he and his ally Atnafu were at odds with the popular Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Major Sisay Habte, over the response to the Eritrean war, Mengistu had Sisay arrested along with 18 officers and civilians—and on July 13, 1976, executed them all. This was a clear indication of Mengistu’s attitude toward those men who were better educated and more liberal than he. Sisay was a moderate witha likeable personality, very popular in the Air Force and among the military men who had known him or heard about him. This was a threat Mengistu could not tolerate. At the same time, General Getachew Nadew,

the Governor of

Eritrea, challenged the Military Council by asserting his authority. He was also executed. Major Kiros Alemayehu was arrested and later committed suicide in prison. Several highly educated civilians were also executed and hundreds more were imprisoned. On July 25, 1976, two

young, energetic Council members, Bewketu Kassa and Sileshi Beyene, who had consistently opposed Mengistu, fled but were caught and executed. All these executions were publicly announced as necessary measures against counter-revolutionaries. Outside the Council no one knew Mengistu was behind them all. This allowed him to maintain his popularity among the people. These executions, together with the civilian terror of the EPRP, made

the Council very uneasy. Many members were also suspicious of Mengistu’s support for MEISON which seemed to offer him a strong power base. Resistance to Mengistu and Atnafu stiffened. Chairman Teferi Banti, encouraged by a group of officers in the Military Council, began asserting his authority and formulating his own opinions about the direction of the Revolution. In the final days of 1976, Mengistu was shunted aside ina restructur-

ing of the Council by officers who sought to curb his power and ambition. Major Alemayehu Haile, a leader of the police force, a defiant and arrogant but educated man, was granted the new position of SecretaryGeneral with broad powers. Captain Mogus Wolde, an economist by education, and an intelligent and independent-minded

officer, was

given control of the nation’s economy. Teferi was given more authority as Chairman of the Military Council and was declared the official Head

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of State. Mengistu was still Vice- Chairman but it was now a hollow position: all the power had been removed in the restructuring. Their plan was to strip him of power, tarnish his image, and finally remove him from office, allowing their faction, which had close links to the EPRP, to gain complete control. Teferi was seen by both sides as serving a temporary purpose, and ultimately expendable. He was naive, and did not realize his vulnerability. Mengistu, swift and vicious when his power was threatened, struck back. On February 3, 1977, during a regular meeting of the Steering Committee of the Council in the Palace of Menelik, Mengistu and his supporters suddenly left the room, leaving behind the seven men he considered his chief enemies. Mengistu’s bodyguards, led by Daniel Asfaw, entered with machine guns and forced them down to the base-

ment. Mengistu joined Daniel there and together they “executed” them all, including Teferi, Alemayehu, and Mogus. The next day, as Daniel led

a squad hunting down supporters of Teferi who were at large in the Palace compound, he himself was killed in an exchange of gunfire. This massacre was Mengistu’s personal decision, acting, as he said, “on behalf of the Council against the Council.” Not even his closest friends had any idea that he was planning this coup. In fact one of his chief supporters at the time, Fikreselassie Wogderese, who is now the number two man in the government and the Prime Minister, was at first left behind in the room. At the last moment Mengistu had him pulled out, just before the massacre started.* Mengistu was voted Chairman. It was the final coup that brought him to undisputed power and stripped the other Council members of the courage to speak out against him. As usual, the victims were condemned as counter-revolutionaries in the media. The first person to congratulate Mengistu on his accession to power was the Soviet ambassador.

The Soviet Union had always been uncomfortable with Mengistu. His initial flirtation with the Chinese, then with Yugoslavia, and then

with North Korea had created some worries. At the beginning of the Revolution, the Soviets seemed to favor Council members like Ale-

mayehu and Moges. They had and still seem to have the impression that under certain circumstances Mengistu would prove to be more of a nationalist than an ideologue. Mengistu understood their reluctance to

*

Mengistu seems to enjoy playing this sort of game with Fikreselassie. In 1984, during the establishment of the Party, Mengistu deliberately left Fikreselassie’s name off the list of Politburo nominees he was presenting to the Central Committee. We were all quite surprised. A few minutes later he pretended to discover his error and included him.

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fully embrace him. He had to prove himself, and he did so in later years

by establishing the party and state structures in the Soviet style. He has always supported the Soviet position in all international forums. Today there is no regime in the world that talks more about the greatness of the Bolshevik Revolution. In the era of Gorbachev, however, the Soviet

Union seems to be adopting a different strategy— improving its relationship with the developed world and backing off from support of revolutions that have only brought embarrassment. The implications of this policy shift on countries like Ethiopia are yet to be seen.

I was in Rome discussing the continuing famine in Ethiopia with UN officials when I heard of Mengistu’s coup. Now the power games were over. Although I condemned Mengistu’s methods, I still believed that there was no alternative to his leadership of the Revolution. My backing was insignificant, but the cumulative support of many who thought as I did, especially the majority of the Council, gave Mengistu the confidence to continue his rise to absolute power. In response to the coup Blair Thompson made this report on the BBC radio news service: It is always sad to hear of a dream being shattered. But it is sadder still to have lived in such a dream as an observer ... to have witnessed a people drained of initiative by centuries of feudalism, stir themselves and clutch at a dream of freedom, and then to see the dream crumble to dust. It is a sad story. Saddest of all for the millions of ordinary Ethiopians who almost exactly a year after the dawn of hope have little

to look forward to except the darkness of increased chaos? This was an inappropriate assessment at that time. The dream was still very much alive. The majority of people still were willing to give the Military Council a chance, and many responded to calls for support. But ironically, after ten years of disappointment and oppression, Thompson’s statement takes on the nature of a prophecy. Mengistu rose to power despite the fact that everyone knew he was ruthless and cruel. There was simply no alternative to his leadership. The Miltary Council was divided; and outside the military there was no

organized opposition except the students, who were themselves divided into splinter groups. The division of the country into three major nationalities—Oromo, Amhara, and Tigrean—was a major factor that allowed Mengistu’s rise to power. The fact that he was not an Amhara, but seemed an outsider,

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was in his favor. But Mengistu, trained in an Amharised Ethiopian military tradition, is not really an outsider at all: he plays the feudal intrigue dressed up as Ethiopian nationalism. Suspicion and hostility between the nationalities is cultivated and is essential to his power. The day Ethiopia is democratized and fraternal relations are established between the nationalities, it will be the end of the military’s political power, and of Mengistu’s regime. The Red Terror

Mengistu now moved against the civilian groups. He had studied the factions of the radical intellectuals and proceded to play them off against each other. By this time the EPRP and MEISON were regularly gunning down each other’s leaders on the streets of Addis. Shortly after his coup, Mengistu decided to deal with the terrorism of the EPRP once and for all by distributing arms to the Urban Dwellers’ Associations, the Kebeles.* Ina speech on February 5, immediately after the execution of General Teferi Benti and six other PMAC members, Mengistu stated:

As a result of the determined and decisive step taken yesterday . ..against the internal collaborators and supporters of the ELF [Eritrean rebels], EPRP, and EDU, our Revo-

lution has advanced from the defensive to the offensive. Henceforth we will tackle our enemies that come face to face with us and we will not be stabbed from behind by internal foes ... To this end, we will arm the allies and comrades of

the broad masses without giving respite to reactionaries, and avenge the blood of our comrades double- and triplefold.

“We shall beat back White Terror with Red Terror!” was Mengistu’s cry. Three months later ata May Day rally he shouted, “Death to counterrevolutionaries! Death to the EPRP!” He suddenly produced two bottles of blood (actually colored water) and smashed them to the ground to show what the Revolution would do to its enemies. Mengistu’s call to take up arms against all reactionaries was nothing more than an invitation to anarchy. He publicly gave all “progressives” what he called the “freedom of action” against enemies of the Revolution

as defined by him and his political mentors of MEISON, who were out *

The kebeles were the Revolution’s new political, administrative and security units. They existed in the rural areas too, and have been translated there as “Peasant Associations.

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to settle scores with the EPRP. All this was rationalized by quoting that ultimate authority, the Russian Revolution, where similar measures had

been taken to consolidate the leadership of Lenin and the Bolsheviks in 1918. Mengistu assumed that by arming the Urban Dwellers’ Associations he was arming men and women loyal to him. He was mistaken. Many of these civilians supported the EPRP and now had the weapons to attack MEISON or anyone else they wanted. The Red Terror began. It was gang warfare with arbitrary executions, lynchings, and street massacres. No

one was spared: men or women, young or old were gunned down in broad daylight or dragged out of their homes at night and killed. Bands of men attacked anyone they suspected of holding opinions other than their own. Many high school students were among the dead. Bulletridden bodies were left in the streets, or publicly exhibited to try to intimidate rival factions. It is said that Mengistu originally had a list of more than a thousand people to be eliminated in the terror. Many others close to Mengistu seemed to have lists of their own. The Red Terror claimed thousands of victims across the country. Through it all, Mengistu denied responsibility. He stoutly maintained that it was the factions killing each other off. Thus the Red Terror

was a perfect instrument for discrediting his political rivals, eliminating their threat to his power, and at the same time portraying himself and the Council as the only alternative for the leadership of the Revolution. By the middle of 1977, most of the leaders of the EPRP and other factions were dead. Thousands of Ethiopians were jailed, thousands

more had been executed, and still more forced to flee for their lives. Most of them were highly educated political moderates—skilled, sincere citizens, the kind of people Ethiopia needed to build its new society. Mengistu was now in complete control with MEISON as his ally. During the Terror MEISON, which had extended its cells throughout the nation, began secretly conspiring against Mengistu and the Military Council so that it might assume power initsown right. It became clear that Haile Fida had great personal ambition. In September 1977, during the Somali invasion, the leaders of MEISON

concluded that

whatever the outcome of the war their position would be weakened. They anticipated defeat at the hands of Somalia and did not want to be associated with it. On the other hand, if Mengistu were victorious, he would be more popular than ever, leaving them a reduced role. This led them to declare their open opposition to the Council. Mengistu denounced this as a betrayal of Ethiopia and launched a campaign against MEISON. Haile Fida went into hiding but was found and imprisoned. A few members changed hats immediately and stayed with the Council as

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mentors. One of the leaders, Alemu Abebe, has now even managed to

become a Politburo member. All the other leading members either fled or were executed. One final challenger to Mengistu’s leadership remained: his friend, the Deputy Chairman, Colonel Atnafu Abate. Atnafu’s conservatism and naiveté betrayed his rural roots. He never seemed quite equal to the cunning of the city-bred hardliners. A nationalist who believed that tradition, culture, and religion should play a key role in uniting the people, Atnafu considered Marxism alien to Ethiopian values. He believed the Military Council should strive for unity, not encourage the divisions and bloodshed which the extremists insisted was necessary. He made no attempt to hide his views. His ideas and the blunt way he expressed them were clearly contradictory to the mood and the thinking of the time. He made one final attempt to halt what he perceived as a terrible mistake. At a meeting of the Council he made a speech that began: “Dear friends, Iwant to say what ison my mind and relieve myself of a troubled conscience.” He proceded to calmly reject the ongoing internal conflicts and the mass killings. He suggested that Ethiopia should have a nonaligned foreign policy and balanced relations between East and West. He expressed his dismay at attempts to make Ethiopia a communist country and the growing tendency to criticize religion as a factor retarding development. He called for reconciliation between all classes of society and stated that it was the Council’s responsibility to introduce policies of reform, not policies of conflict. This was a direct challenge to Mengistu. It was a bold move, but also

very naive. Atnafu knew full well what Mengistu was capable of. The examplesof Amman, Teferiand the others who had challenged Mengistu’s authority were still fresh in his mind, but he must have thought his own power base within the Council would be enough to protect him. Mengistu responded aggressively, condemning Atnafu’s suggestions as reactionary and incompatible with the objectives of the Revolution. He was supported by others on the Council. Mengistu talked to Atnafu twice during the next few days, asking him to go before the Council to renounce his statement—knowing full well that Atnafu would never agree to this humiliation. Atnafu ought to have been

prepared for what followed, but he seemed to think Mengistu wouldn't dare to move against him. The third time Mengistu asked to see Atnafu

in his office in the Palace of Menelik was November 13, 1977. Before Atnafu could even take his seat, he was dragged off by one of Mengistu’s

executioners and shot in the basement, in the same place where Teferi

Banti and his six supporters had been massacred. All of Atnafu’s body-

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guards, drivers, assistants, and any soldiers or officers closely associated with him, were rounded up and killed in the following days. Mengistu’s leadership in the Council has never been challenged since. A footnote to this story is that the man who executed Atnafu and many others was promoted from major to colonel, and lived within the

Palace compound for years as a trusted associate of Mengistu. Recently he has been purged. He must realize that he knows too much. He walks the streets waiting for the inevitable moment when he will be dragged off to his death. The War with Somalia

On July 23, 1977, Somalia invaded Ethiopia. The Somali government had long wished to annex the Ogaden region in the Southeast, inhabited primarily by ethnicSomali nomads. Thanks to support from their ally the Soviet Union, they had built up a powerful military force. Now, with Ethiopia weakened by internal unrest, Somalia decided to seize the Ogaden. It was a tragic moment for the Ethiopian people, resulting in terrible damage and loss of life; but for Mengistu it became a blessing in disguise. The Red Terror had eliminated his enemies, but had also left deep resentment among the population. He was now able to focus attention away from his brutal actions, toward a national danger that would galvanize the patriotic feelings of all Ethiopians. In the beginning of 1977 our intelligence sources had noted that Somalia was preparing for war. Jt was a bad time for the Revolution. With Eritrean rebel movements picking up momentum in the North, the right-wing EDU active in Gondar, and urban centers torn apart by terrorist in-fighting, Ethiopia seemed about to disintegrate. We were in no position to defend our borders. Somalia, aware of this, was clearly preparing to capitalize on our weakness. It was at this time that I began work in the Foreign Office as Deputy Foreign Minister. Short of armaments and spare parts, we sent delegations to other socialist countries in search of aid. The Chinese shipped a substantial amount of small arms but were reluctant to give heavy weapons. North Korea shipped a first installment of small arms and promised to send more on the condition that we expel the South Korean embassy from Ethiopia. That infuriated us: we told them we would not be blackmailed and that they could take the first shipment back. They dropped their request. As a last resort, Israel was approached secretly and supplied us with vital spare parts and some light equipment. Our traditional source of military supplies was the United States, but relations between our two countries had soured since the Revolution,

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both because of declining American interest in the region and the virulent anti-American rhetoric of the Revolution. While the Soviet Union welcomed the emergence of Mengistu as ultimate leader, on February 25, during the same month that Mengistu assumed power, Secretary Cyrus Vance informed the Senate that Ethiopia would receive no more US aid because of human rights violations. In April 1977, the US showed how little interest it had in the region by deciding to close Kagnew Station, its communications base in Eritrea, later that year. The timing wasa surprise to us. The Foreign Office had been aware since 1973 that the United States was planning to close the base, but no one in our government expected that such a move would be carried out just as Somalia was mobilizing for invasion. As Donald Petterson, a former US

Ambassador to Somalia, put it: Thus at the time when the Ethiopian government was perceiving a growing military threat from Somalia and seeking a vast increase in U.S. military aid, the dominant

element of the rationale given to Congress for military

assistance to Ethiopia had been removed.‘ For the hardliners it was a perfect pretext to lash out even more virulently at the United States: the Americans seemed to be deserting us in our hour of need. Several in the government were anti-American and anti-West. Inour narrow interpretation of revolution, we expected that the United States would attempt to intervene militarily as it had in Cuba, Guatemala, and

Vietnam, or that it might encourage forces inside and outside Ethiopia to reverse the Revolution. American opposition and intervention was in fact desired, because the greatness of our Revolution could only be measured by the reaction it generated from the imperialist camp. We wanted to make waves that would be felt worldwide. Sometimes we would receive information about American plots. To cite an example, sometime before the Somali invasion the Foreign Office,

the Security Office, and Mengistu’s private office received a letter from unknown sources in Africa. It read in part: Preparations have been under way since 25 April 1977 with a view to creating a paramilitary force for intervention and destabilization in Ethiopia. According to information which has come to our attention all preparations including the delivery of combat materiel and training exercises must be completed by 16 September 1977. The operation which is

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due to begin on 1 October 1977 is code named TORCH... Objective: to assassinate the Ethiopian Head of State with a view to creating panic situation in the country. This will be followed by coordinated attacks from Southwest and East by forces hostile to Ethiopia... The long letter went on to refer to people in the State Department, CIA, and US embassies in Kenya, the Sudan, and Tanzania who were

actively preparing the operation. It may have been just a fabrication, but to us it seemed very real; it created panic and suspicion in the Foreign Office. We were unable to verify the letter through follow-up inquiries, but the fact that rumors of this kind kept cropping up fit our expectations of American reaction. The hostile tone of every statement issuing from Washington further convinced us that the Americans would do everything in their power to bring down our government. It was clear from a meeting I attended with Mengistu that he had already made up his mind how to answer the American closing of the station in Eritrea. He proposed to preempt the American decision by ordering the closure of Kagnew and all USIS (United States Information Services) offices and military assistance advisory offices with just a fourday notice. He followed this on April 30 with the termination of the Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement, our official treaty of alliance dating from 1953. This was just short of a complete severing of ties with the United States. I was new to the job of handling foreign relations, as of course was Mengistu and everyone else in a position of power. Many of my staff in the Foreign Office were more experienced in the realities of international diplomacy, and ought to have been consulted more than they were. As it was, several of us at the meeting questioned the wisdom of ordering out the Americans at this time. We knew that Somalia was mobilizing for invasion, but we were still not sure of the Soviet position. They were obviously courting us and had promised Mengistu some arms but their ties to Somalia might prove stronger. It seemed foolhardy to burn our American bridges behind us without knowing the road ahead. There were other factors to consider as well. Our army was entirely based on American technology. Even if we did receive the promised Russian armaments, it would take a long time to adapt to the new systems, leaving us very vulnerable. But Mengistu seemed confident. He didn’t tell us what he had in mind, he just told us to leave those matters to him. Mengistu was very secretive regarding the Russians; no one knew how much they had promised him. In the few months since Mengistu

had become Chairman of the Military Council, the Soviet and Cuban

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ambassadors had spent two to three hours closeted with him every other day. The Soviet ambassador (who, unlike other Russian diplomats, I found very likeable) stopped coming to the Foreign Office altogether; he now dealt directly with Mengistu. If the Russian did show up at the Foreign Office, it was only to inform us of decisions he and Mengistu had already reached. It was very annoying and frustrating for us. We had to sit around and wait for someone to tell us what was already decided. To this day members of the Ethiopian Foreign Office are only glorified errand boys, reduced to sending out communiqués and press releases and writing justifications of decisions made by Mengistu. Severing our military ties with the United States was one of the many risky personal decisions Mengistu would make in the coming years. He took a big gamble and almost lost. In retrospect, it must be assumed that he was trusting the Eastern bloc countries, particularly the Soviet Union, to come to his aid much more quickly than they did. We all believed that with all our agitation against Western imperialism and our praise of the Bolshevik Revolution, we would have automatic, unconditional support from the Eastern bloc. That support did not come, and we were facing a war without a supplier of weapons. Mengistu decided to travel to Moscow himself in order to cement relations and aid agreements. The Soviet ambassador had hinted to me that Mengistu might go, but until the trip actually took place in May no one in the Foreign Office was sure it was anything more than a rumor. The trip resulted in complete ideological concord between our two countries, but Moscow equivocated on the question of military support. Mengistu came back from Moscow still without a clear idea of Russian loyalties. A short time later in June, Fikreselassie was sent on a follow up mission to expedite the delivery of weapons. He, too, was unable to pin the Russians down. After Mengistu signed agreements on the “principles of friendly relations” in Moscow, we never believed that the Russians would allow Somalia to invade Ethiopia. There was never any doubt about what the Somalis wanted to do.

Fidel Castro had secretly visited Ethiopia on March 14 and 15, 1977, and had arranged a meeting between Mengistu and the President of Somalia, Siad Barre. The meeting was held in Aden, South Yemen, across the Red Sea. Castro was pushing for an end to our long-standing enmity based on the principles of Marxist solidarity, and he brought up the possibility of a regional confederation of Ethiopia, Somalia, and South Yemen. Castro used his personality, his stature in the world socialist revolution, and all his diplomatic talents to bring the two sides together. Mengistu took the proposal of a confederation seriously. In those days, he was a

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good listener and would hear out any proposals that were made. Siad was his complete opposite, arrogant, belligerent, full of himself and his

country’s prowess. In his most abrasive, aggressive manner he refused to make any of the gestures of reconciliation that Castro suggested. The conference was useless. Siad Barre would take the Ogaden if he could. After Mengsitu returned from Moscow in May, our intelligence showed that our worst fears were realized: Soviet military supplies and spare parts were continuing to flow into Somalia, and Soviet military advisors were active in Somalia’s preparations for war. As the United States terminated its grant aid and refused to delivereven the armaments that we had paid for earlier, our situation looked critical. Mengistu had placed Ethiopia in limbo. The Soviets were temporizing, and the Americans were also unclear about their policies. The Carter administration, looking for another ally in the region, announced in July that it would supply some armaments to Somalia, but then drew back when it realized Somalia was about to invade Ethiopia. There was confusion on all sides. Mengistu made a virtue of necessity by taking a warlike stance. The confrontation with the United States, with Somalia and with those Arab

countries supporting the Eritrean rebels, was used as propaganda to compare this stage of our Revolution with the Russian Revolution. Much was made of the fact that immediately after the Bolsheviks took power the USSR was encircled by 14 hostile countries. Somehow Mengistu and MEISON managed to come up with the same figure of 14 hostile countries threatening Ethiopia. After the fundamental changes we had made in Ethiopia, it was certain that there would be both domestic and international reaction. But our task should have been to minimize our conflicts. Mengistu could have staved off the attack by diplomatic maneuvers, by maintaing relations with the United States, or by making Somalia think he was contemplating such a move. But he refused to play the diplomatic game. When the invasion came on July 23, 1977, the Somali army scored immediate successes. Ethiopian forces were forced to retreat further and further into the interior. EPRP and MEISON had secretly recruited members within the military forces and these now fought among themselves within their units. They began a propaganda campaign: this was an evil war, the Somalis were an oppressed people, like the people of Ethiopia, and it was wrong for oppressed peoples to fight each other(the same argument used by the socialists of Germany and Russia during World War I). Several Ethiopian units refused to take orders from commanders they believed were reactionary. This went on for weeks. It was only through mass executions and a system of terror that the army was eventually compelled to confront the enemy.

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The combination of these internal problems and the lack of military hardware allowed Somalia to advance 700 kilometers into our territory. At the same time, the Northern theater worsened until almost all of Eritrea was lost, while in Gondar province the rightist forces of EDU took more territory each day. In September the Somalis captured the key town of Jijiga and the strategic postion of Karamara. Almost one-third of Ethiopia had fallen into their hands as they moved in to strike the major cities of Harar and Dire Dawa. All of Ethiopia felt the humiliation that every conquered nation feels; it wasa terrible blow and no one knew how it would end. In the midst of this crisis, Mengistu’s calm personality, his most admirable quality, came to his aid. In mid-September, former Prime Minister Mikael Imiru; my predecessor in the Foreign Office and now advisor in foreign policy and legal matters, Getachew Kibret*; and myself were called into Mengistu’s office. We were asked to review the international implications of the war and determine what the UN could do to stop the blatant Somali aggression. It was an incredibly difficult task. We were nervous. We knew the fate of the country might be decided by what we did that night. We spent the night in my office arguing over a plan. Our conclusion was: If Somalia captures the city of Dire Dawa where we have the second largest air force base, then it can easily use this base and threaten Addis to a point where the government would be obliged to capitulate; therefore in order to save further embarassment and to stop Somalia from further movement, Ethiopia should call an emergency Security Council meeting. The Security Council might come up with the idea of a cease-fire or even send a peace force along the new front. We understand that this might in the long run legalize Somalia’s occupation, but we can stop Somalia’s forces

where they are now. It would give us the opportunity to buy more time, and if we get organized soon enough we might be able to dislodge Somalia sooner than expected. But much depends on our capacity. There might not be a need to go to the UN if we believe we can continue to fight. But if we do not have the armaments and the force to repel this aggression,this seems to be a very unpleasant step but the safest one to take. *

Later Minister of Justice and Ambassador to France; subsequently defected to the West.

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Early in the morning, disturbed and confused we went to Mengistu’s office and gave him what we thought was the solution. In marked contrast to our drawn, worn-out appearance, he was keen and alert. He had obviously not lost any sleep. He heard our proposal, then angrily replied: “How can you come up witha suggestion like this? I don’t think you have slept well. You seem somewhat nervous. If you say a ceasefire could slowly legalize Somalia’s occupation, how can we allow that to happen, even for a short time? I think our responsibility is to keep fighting, no matter what the outcome. We will die fighting and even if we lose, the next generation will continue the struggle until victory. This is our responsibility.” He told us to get some sleep. I didn’t go, because a few minutes later there was a meeting of the Council of Ministers; since the Foreign Minister was out of town, I had to sit in on his behalf (as I did most of the

time). This was the end of the fiscal year and the only item on the agenda was the budget for next year. How could we calmly discuss the budget of a country whose entire future was seriously in doubt? But Mengistu chaired the meeting for four hours without once mentioning the war or the problems associated with it. Iwas restless, my mind in a turmoil; I could hardly pay attention. I found out later that many of the other ministers were as upset as I was. But Mengistu was incredibly serene. I was amazed by the man. Mengistu consulted many people about the war, and eventually decided to raise a Peasant Army of 300,000 men in a matter of three

months to combat the Somalis. All government officials, including his close friends, warned him that it was impossible to raise and train 300,000 fighting men in that short time. I never believed it could be done, though I hid my skepticism, hoping it would be successful. I thought there was no way on earth we could recruit that many men, train them on bases that did not exist, feed them, and get them to the front as an effective fighting force. But it happened. A desperate situation changed into an emotional national cause. In an unprecedented surge of patriotism, Ethiopians, particularly the people of Addis Abeba, donated their labor, money and moral support to the war effort and the realization of the recruitment project. Mengistu’s limited education in the US was exclusively in the area of military hardware and logistics, but in this mobilization he showed he had a very good understanding of the Ethiopian soldier. Ours has always been a military society. Emperor Theodros mustered 800,000 people for his battles in his heyday. Similar mobilizations by Emperor Theodros, Emperor Menelik, and Emperor Yohannes took place not as special,

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extraordinary events, but were received as a way of life. In this particular case there was an added element. People wanted an outlet from the Red Terror and the Ogaden conflict, and the call of the motherland offered

that opportunity. By this time the Soviet Union was arming and advising both Somalia and Ethiopia. The situation gradually swung in favor of Ethiopia, perhaps because of the abrasive manner of Siad Barre, Somalia’s leader, who was forever denouncing the USSR. Their relations steadily deteriorated until Siad ordered the expulsion of Cuban and Soviet personnel

from Somalia on November 13, 1977. The Soviets immediately transfered their senior military advisors from Somalia to Ethiopia and established headquarters in Harar under General Vasily Petrov, Deputy Commander of the Grand Forces of the Soviet Union, who brought with him the former chief of the Soviet

military advisory group in Somalia, General Gregory Barisov. Their information on Somali targets helped turn the tide. Then in December, in an act that probably did more than any other to cement future Ethiopian dependence, the Soviets arranged a massive airlift of armaments to Ethiopian forces in the Ogaden. The entire military technology of Ethiopia had to be changed over from American to Soviet while the war was being fought. Significant numbers of Cuban troops also began to arrive in Ethiopia. The Cubans, with a remarkable sense of dedication and solidarity to our Revolution, helped enormously; so did soldiers from

South Yemen, with whom we had established a strong relationship after the talks initiated by Castro. Like the Cubans, they were primarily soldiers of armored units, many of whom died alongside Ethiopian soldiers. In December 1977 the first 100,000 newly trained Ethiopian soldiers of the “First Revolutionary Liberation Army” marched through the capital to the cheers of the people. This, along with the zemecha and the land reform proclamation, was one of the most thrilling moments of the Revolution. The units were sent immediately to the front under the banner “Revolutionary Motherland or Death!” Many sacrificed their lives but we started winning battles. Together with the technical advice of the Russians and Cubans, these brave, dedicated men saved the nation. By March 1978, the last Somali forces had been driven out of the

country. The Western press has often reported that Soviet and Cuban involvement was the determining factor in winning the war. It is true that we were provided invaluable assistance from Soviet advisors, Soviet armaments, and Cuban troops, particularly armored units to handle the new weapons. But the record must be set straight: the war was won primarily by the Ethiopian infantry, fighting from a love of country. It was above

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all the patriotism of the average Ethiopian, his morale and commitment, that determined the outcome of the war. American and Soviet Responses

Since 1974 the Americans and Soviets had been trying to understand and influence the Ethiopian Revolution. Ours was not a typical Third World coup: it lacked suddenness and, initially at least, it was not a communist movement—having, in fact, no united political program.

The Soviet Union and the United States were caught by surprise. But in 1974 and 1975 the Soviets were quick to organize their political groupings within and outside the Military Council. The Soviets exploited the internal conflicts to assure continuing instability until their faction took over. Once they had Mengistu and his followers in line and in power, they supported a systematic elimination of the liberal elements. By the time of the Somalia War, a Soviet alliance was already inevitable. The Soviets’ success was aided by American confusion and hesitation, particularly in regard to the Somali mobilization. When the Carter administration took office in January 1977, they seemed to have given up Ethiopia as a lost cause. They began to court Somalia—but sluggishly. America seemed preoccupied with the recent embarrassments of Vietnam and Watergate, and close attention to developments in the Horn of Africa was not a priority. Still, the whole world including the United States knew that Somalia was armed to the teeth by the Soviet Union and was preparing to invade Ethiopia. David Korn, who later became the Chargé d’affaires in Ethiopia and was at the time an official in the State Department, says: “US intelligence on the Somali invasion of Ethiopia was very good. When the Somalis invaded, the US knew almost exactly where they were, when and how they got there.” Despite this knowledge, one week before the invasion President Carter approved a decision “in principle” to help meet Somalia’s “defensive requirements.” This in effect allied the United States with Somalia and gave the go-ahead for the invasion of Ethiopia, although the Carter administration did not seem to realize this. As Korn goes on to say:

The plausible explanation is simply the new Carter administration acted impulsively When the full realization of what Somalia was doing dawned upon it, it moved quickly to disassociate the US from it. Overall, it was a sad and embarassing episode for the administration$

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It was indeed. Regimes come and go, but it will be a long time before many Ethiopians forget that the actions of the United States encouraged the Somalis to invade our country. The Carter administration failed to heed the advice of William

Schaufele, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs under President Ford, who when asked in Congress the year before about continuing the Ethiopian alliance, had said: Our present policy toward Ethiopia will not only contribute to the stability of the second most populous country in black Africa, butalso assist black African states in maintaining the principle of territorial integrity, a cardinal principle of the OAU. The US would incur much criticism from our friends in Africa and elsewhere were we to withdraw support from Ethiopia during this time of difficulty— sucha move would also be attributed to distaste for Ethiopia’s brand of social-

ism. The Carter administration was clearly unhappy with the bloody record of the Military Council. This, however, should not have been a

reason to ally with Somalia. I would also like to point out that as Korn says, the administration may have acted quickly to disassociate itself from the actual invasion, but in fact during the course of the war it was America’s wooingof Somalia that encouraged that nation to continue the offensive after the Soviet alliance was lost. The Carter administration knew it would be ina weak position if it actively supplied the aggressor, Somalia: this would lead to a head-on collision with a number of African states and with the spirit of the OAU charter which demands that member states respect the territorial integrity of other countries. The United States tried to get around this by allowing the Saudis to supply the Somalis with arms bought from the United States. On July 28, three days after the invasion, Carter said: “We are trying to work not ona unilateral basis but in conjunction with other nations like the Saudis.” According to Korn, who quoted him:

Carter wanted to offset the loss of Ethiopia and was eager for some gain that would give his administration the reputation of being tough and effective so that SALT could be pursued.’ Another important point for us was that the United States never publicly condemned Somalia’s overt act of aggression and violation of

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our territory. In February 1978 US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance gave this rationale for the American silence: “...the United States believed it would be more useful [for it] to preserve its ability to exert influence on the Somalis by not condemning the invasion.” Petterson quite rightly calls this a pretty lame excuse. ® Carter’s uncertainty at this time can be gleaned froman oral message he sent to Mengistu via the American Ambassador, in which he ex-

pressed a willingness to give private assurances of US disfavor: The USA has never wavered from its longstanding position of support for the territorial integrity of all African countries and condemnation of use of force asa means of settling differences between nations. This has always been and continues to be the basis of our policy towards Ethiopia. We neither encourage or approve the Somali incursion into the Ogaden territory, and we have told the Somalis, that they can expect no military support from the USA as long as they are in Ethiopian territory. We would like to see all Somali presence in Ethiopian territory withdrawn? He then asked permission for a senior emissary to visit Ethiopia to clear up differences between the two countries. I noted all this because I was present. But we wanted a stronger, public statement. As we said in our reply to the Ambassador: “It is our earnest hope that the USA will live up to its responsibilities and condemn Somalia’s aggression.” That public condemnation never came.

It was clear which side the US favored. The American newspapers which we received in the Foreign Office were writing up every Somali victory; even when a tiny, insignificant Ethiopian village was captured, it made the news. The sweeping victories of the Ethiopians later on were rarely reported. In fact, when the pendulum swung our way, the Ameri-

can government's attention to the Horn shifted dramatically. David

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Aaron, a special emissary, arrived from the US in the middle of February 1978 as the war was being won. I presented Mr. Aaron to Mengistu and participated in the discussions. Aaron could give no good reason why President Carter’s administration had refrained from openly condemning the Somali invasion. He seemed more concerned with whether Ethiopian forces would now cross the border into Somalia. The Foreign Office got frequent visits from the American Chargé with threats and warnings of serious consequences if Ethiopia crossed the frontier. However, in spite of the fact thatsome political analysts have blamed the Americans for driving Ethiopia into the Soviet camp, I believe that the political outcome was inevitable. The Soviets were active where it counted at the true source of power, the Military Council, anticipating, influencing, directing political developments, exploiting every situation to the advantage of their candidates for leadership. In the course of time, Mengistu and his clique saw the advantages of a totalitarian system. They used Marxist ideology and their alliance with the Soviet Union to justify the establishment of a political system that would, in the name of democratic centralism, give a few people absolute power. If the United States was uncertain and hesitant in 1977, the Soviets knew exactly what would serve their best interests, and that was the confederation of Somalia, Ethiopia, and if possible, South Yemen. This

would put the entire Horn of Africa and part of the Red Sea in their control. Meetings were held in Moscow, East Berlin, Aden, and Havana under the auspices of the leaders of those countries to find a peaceful settlement to the war. On July 23, the day Somalia launched its massive invasion, I was in Moscow preparing for one such meeting, as part of a three-man delegation headed by Major Berhanu Bayeh. When Mengistu had met with Soviet President Podgorny in May, they had agreed to a meeting with Somali officials to iron out our differences. Mengistu had cautioned Podgorny that the meeting must be held soon, but the letter inviting us to the USSR did not come until two months later. We believed that the delay was deliberate: to allow Somalia time to launch its offensive so that we would come to the table in a weakened position of weakness. By the time the talks opened, Somali forces were 700 kilometers inside Ethiopian territory. We had arrived in Moscow anxious to hear the Soviet proposal. Our fledgling Revolution, with all its problems, was not anxious for war. The head of the Soviet delegation was the famous negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Illichov. In meeting after meeting he tried to convince us that in order to save the Revolution we would have to compromise; that the territorial claim of Somalia was the keystone of its foreign policy; that it

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would be difficult to ask Somalia to abandon its claim because it was written into an official document formulated after independence: “The unification of the entire Somali territory crowns all other achievements, for this fundamental goal is subordinated to all other national aspirations.” In effect, he was saying that Ethiopia should give in because the Somalis had their claim down on paper! Berhanu Bayeh spoke for our delegation: The unresolved problem between Ethiopia and Somalia is one pertaining to boundary lines and not a territorial issue. The boundary line between the previous British Somaliland and Ethiopia is delimited and demarcated while the boundary line between Ethiopia and former Italian Somaliland is delimited based on a 1908 agreement but not demarcated. Ethiopiais prepared to negotiate demarcation of this boundary line. Ethiopia will not discuss territorial issues with

Somalia because there is no such problem. Illichov continued to appeal vigorously for harmony between our two socialist countries for the sake of African revolution. He cited misleading examples from the history of the USSR—of their granting independence to Finland and ceding territories to Western Europe to save the Revolution. He urged us now to follow their example. Berhanu replied by threatening to take the matter to the UN Security Council: Ethiopians will die defending the territorial integrity of Ethiopia— we, the new generation, have no responsibilities to give away an inch of our territory— for us, the country, the land, and the people come first— we can have the Revolution any time. We will fight to the last man, but we fear we will lose your friendship because you cannot continue to arm and support Somalia and at the same time be friends with us. Long ago we wanted to bring the case to the UN Security Council where you would be forced to take a position; we held back for fear of embarrassing you, but we might do it and then ... you might be forced to make a decision and take sides.

Our delegation stayed in Moscow for six days, after which Berhanu went back very much irritated by the entire proceeding. I was left behind at the Soviet insistence that a dialogue be continued. I had no success, and grew more disgusted by the crude manner of the Russians and what

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seemed their complete disregard for our position and our intelligence. In all that time, we never spoke directly with the Somali delegation, which was staying next door in one of the guest houses. A few days later, Berhanu came back with Mikael Imiru and Ge-

tachew Kibret. Fed up with Soviet arrogance, I requested and was granted permission to return to Ethiopia. The delegation stayed for afew more days and then came back to Ethiopia in the same deadlock. The Soviets had tried very hard, but they had misjudged the forces at work. Neither Somalia nor Ethiopia was about to place the international revolution above national priorities. In March 1978 immediately after the destruction of the Somali invading force, the Soviet Union again approached Ethiopia about the idea of a confederation. According to the Soviets, in the beginning of March 1978, Siad Barre indicated to them that he would be willing to resume talks to end hostilities. Our reply was that “unless Somalia publicly renounces its claim over Ethiopian territory, there cannot be any dialogue” and that the Soviet Union should condemn Somalia’s expansionist policies. There the matter has rested. In spite of all this, I believe that we are very much indebted to the Soviet Union for their help in winning the war. Had it not been for Soviet assistance it would have been difficult to regain the lost territory. For whatever motive it was given, Soviet assistance will always be remembered for saving the country from dismemberment. Unfortunately we still continue to pay the price for that assistance. The Soviet Union wants to keep us within its orbit, and a strong, united,

peaceful Ethiopia is perceived as an unreliable ally. The threat from Somalia has by no means disappeared, and as long as civil wars in Tigray and Eritrea continue, the Soviets know that the Ethiopian regime has no alternative but to rely heavily on them for arms. The Soviets want leverage over Ethiopia and their military assistance, both material and advisory, has been their control mechanism. For example, major maintenance on MIG fighter planes, armored tanks and other heavy weapons is not done in Ethiopia; the entire plane or tank engine is shipped back to the USSR for repairs. Sometimes vitally needed spare parts are not there when they are most needed. Although our officers have proven to be outstanding at adapting to new weaponry, they are not given full knowledge of the Soviet military technology. Most outrageous of all, on several occasions when armed conflicts have seemed to be going in favor of the Ethiopian army, Soviet advisors have deliberately given advice that adversely affected the outcome.

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Mengistu’s Popularity Wanes

After our victory over Somalia, while morale was high, Mengistu shifted his “Second Revolutionary Liberation Army” to Eritrea, which was almost completely in the hands of the secessionists. They had captured all the major towns in the province except Asmara and Barentu, which were besieged for weeks. If it had not been for the differences among

the secessionist factions, they would have taken the entire

province. The Second Liberation Army won an astonishing victory, smashing the encirclement and liberating the cities with an efficiency and commitment that surprised everyone.* This was a time when the majority of Ethiopians were united solidly behind Mengistu’s leadership. His popularity peaked. But there wasa terrible price. It was in Eritrea that so many brilliant officers and good soldiers died. Compared with Eritrea, the Somalia War did not do much damage in terms of human lives. Casualties were relatively low, the major damage was to our pride. But in Eritrea there was tremendous loss of life on both sides—and we were not fighting a foreign invader, we were fighting amongst ourselves. After Mengistu consolidated his power in 1978, his personality gradually began to change. His ability to listen and his patience faded away. Wecould now see these qualities were pretences only; he had been putting on his best behavior in his bid for support. Once he took complete control, he dismantled the Military Council

and sent the members to different government or Party assignments. He grew more abrasive and arrogant. The real Mengistu emerged: vengeful, cruel, and authoritarian. His conduct was not limited by any moral considerations. He began to openly mock God and religion. There was a frightening aura about him. Many of us who used to talk to him with our hands in our pockets, as if he were one of us, found ourselves

standing stiffly at attention, cautiously respectful in his presence. In addressing him we had always used the familiar form of “you,” ante; now we found ourselves switching to the more formal “you,” ersiwo. He moved into a bigger, more lavish office in the Palace of Menelik. He got new, highly trained bodyguards—men who watched you nervously, ready to shoot at any time. We now were frisked whenever we entered his office. He began to use the Emperor’s cars and had new ones imported from abroad—bigger, fancier cars with special security provisions. Wherever he went he was escorted by these cars packed with *

No Cuban troops were involved in the North. They stay out of internal conflicts as a matter of principle.

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guards, with more riding alongside on motorcycles. For public appearances he no longer sat with the other senior members of the Military Council; now he was seated separately on a special gold-painted chair. This was hardly the spirit of the Revolution: it was the nightmare of Orwell’s Animal Farm come to life. We were supposed to have a revolution of equality; now he had become the new Emperor. This trend spread to all government officials. At the beginning of the Revolution all of us had utterly rejected anything having to do with the past. We would no longer drive cars, or wear suits; neckties were considered criminal.

Anything that made you look well-off or bourgeois, anything that smacked of affluence or sophistication, was scorned as part of the old

order. Even those who had money went out of their way to look shabby. Then around 1978, all that began to change. Gradually materialism became accepted, then required. Designer clothes from the best European tailors were the uniform of all senior government officials and members of the Military Council. We had the best of everything: the best homes, the best cars, the best whiskey, champagne, food .. . It was a complete reversal of the ideals of the Revolution. We swung from one extreme to the other. Moderation and compromise were words unknown in Ethiopia; it was all or nothing in everything. After the war with Somalia, Mengistu adopted a strict military mentality. By simply giving orders, he’expected everyone and everything to fall into step like marchers on a drill field. He was intoxicated with victory on the fields of battle, and he wanted to be the savior of

Ethiopia, to lead the country out of poverty single-handedly. He made mistake after mistake. And his biggest mistake was in denying that he was fallible, that he had limitations. He succumbed to the same false

pride that Haile Selassie had been prey to. We were all incredibly naive. I must honestly confess that I, for one, did not comprehend how complicated economic development would be. The destruction of the old system was easy; reconstruction we

thought would be easier still. But we soon learned that economic strategies are not like declarations of war—they can’t be won by enthusiasm and high morale. Mengistu and the group of mentors around him never learned this. Their answer to every crisis is to create a new agency, resulting in the expansion of an already labyrinthine bureaucracy. Political loyalty is the primary criterion. The result is economic chaos with many agencies run by incompetents. The economy has failed because every basic decision is made by the Head of State on ideological grounds. There is no sense of practicalities, of living in a global economic system. Meaningful economic development would have demanded good relations with the Western countries

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we repeatedly called our enemies. Long-term development strategies would have required planning, internal peace, public support and involvement in the international system. At the beginning there was a naive assumption that with the nationalization of land and all other means of production, socialist accumulation of capital would begin. But the means of production were so few and backward, the taxable income so low, and the promises and demands for

social services so high and pressing, that accumulation of capital for large-scale production investment became impossible. Short-term gains relied (and still rely) solely on coffee exports, 90 percent of which go to the United States, West Germany, Italy, and France. The socialist bloc

imports virtually nothing from Ethiopia. Initially Mengistu approached the economic problems with confidence, but as he made blunder after blunder, his decisions began to take

on a desperate character. As always he blamed the West. He grew less and less tolerant of any sort of criticism. His advisors covered up for him—to come out in the open and admit that one of Mengistu’s plans had not worked meant a jail term or a death sentence. The lives of the people worsened steadily. Hunger and unemployment were rampantas all the economic campaigns failed. For many of us in the government driving through the city became an ordeal. We knew the people had lost hope in us. There were many who despised us. Regardless of our individual thoughts or positions on issues, for them we were Mengistu’s men—we were responsible for the wretched state of their lives. For those of us honest enough to admit this reality, it was hard to live with the scorn we saw in the faces of those we wanted to help. Executions without trial continued. Families were never told when someone had been executed, it was against policy. They found out through food. Families were allowed to bring in food for the prisoners once a week without seeing them. If the families were told not to bring in any more food it always meant that the person had been killed. (To this day, families of political prisoners find out about the deaths of their loved ones in this way.) One day near the end of July 1979, a lady came running into my office in the Foreign Office and told me that her father, who had been in jail for five years, had been executed. Iasked her how she knew, and she told me that the family was no longer allowed to take food into the prison. When she told me this, I thought it was impossible. Her father was an elderly former government official who was no threat to anyone. I made an inquiry by phone and was told he had been executed. Inquiring further, I learned that several former senior officials, some of them left

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over from the 1974 massacre, had been executed on the order of Mengistu

without even convening a Council meeting. He never even bothered to explain it to the members. Among the dead were Abune Tewoflos, the patriarch of the Orthodox'Church; Teffera Work, former Chief of Haile

Selassie’s cabinet; Abebe Kebedde, head of Haile Selassie’s First Prize

Trust; Seifu Mahtemeselassie, former Minister of Education; Haregot

Abbay, a popular Eritrean and former Mayor of Asmara; General Samuel Beyene, formerly in the Ministry of Defense under Haile Selassie; Asseffa Degefu, Chief of the Awash Valley Development; and Kassa W. Mariam, Minister of Agriculture. They had been executed apparently because they had submitted a petition demanding either release or fair trials for all in prison at the time. The same day he executed these people, Mengistu also ordered the execution of his one-time friend, the man who gave him his limited education on socialism, the former head of MEISON, Haile Fidda.

Executed along with Haile were Nigist Adane, Haile Gerbaba, and Desta Tadesse, all formerly associated with MEISON, and Kifle Enquasel-

lassie, the son of one of the Emperor’s officials. It was then that I realized how excessively cruel and vengeful Mengsitu had become. He was going out of his way to kill helpless older men and women who posed no threat to his power. It was a tragedy and an outrage. From then on we feared Mengistu, all of us. He was indis-

putably in control of all our lives. A certain Major Berhanu Kebedde took Addis Abeba in his grip at this time. Berhanu was in charge of one of the death squads established by Mengistu and headquartered next to his home. Berhanu wasa palace executioner. He made 1979 a year of real terror. He slaughtered people

like sheep; he ransacked homes, he dragged people out of their houses at night and shot them. His targets were MEISON members, EPRP members, and anyone suspected of not conforming to Mengistu’s rule. But for personal reasons hundreds of mothers, girls, merchants, and

businessmen were dragged off and executed as well. Even Military Council members did not challenge him. And yet Berhanu was not even an official; he had come seemingly out of nowhere into this position of authority. After thousands had been killed Mengistu “discovered” Berhanu’s crimes and executed him. He told usin aclosed meeting he did not know this had been going on. But how could he not have known, when Berhanu was given an office next to his residence? It was a terrifying time to live in Ethiopia. Death squads were out every night. People disappeared and were never heard of again. No one was immune. One night in 1979, before Berhanu’s fall, Iwas awakened

in my apartment at four in the morning by a loud banging on my door.

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“Open up! Open up in there!” I knew better in those times than to open my door. I shouted from inside: “I’m not going to open up! Get out of here!” The pounding got louder and the shouts grew angrier: “Open up!

Open up!”

I again yelled back at them to go away. Looking out my peephole, I could see several men armed with automatic weapons. I thought to myself: “This is the end.” I got out my gun and made sure it was loaded. I shouted through the door to them, “All right, listen! There’s going to be a shoot-out, but I just want you to know who you're killing. I’m Dawit Wolde Giorgis, and I’m the Permanent Secretary of Foreign Affairs.” I slid my identity card under the door. I could tell they were confused. “Is this apartment number eight?” “Yes” “And you're the Permanent Secretary of Foreign Affairs?” I could hear them talking among themselves. They decided to go get their lieutenant, who was waiting downstairs in the lobby. He came up and was very calm. It turned out that we knew each other by sight, having seen each other frequently at the Palace. He spoke very quietly and confirmed who I was through the closed door. I could see that the mood had changed; the danger was over. I opened the door and let him in. He apologized and said he didn’t know what had happened; they had orders to go to number eight in this building and execute whoever they found in the room. Now he could see it must be some mistake. They left. The next day very early I got up and barged into Mengistu’s office demanding an explanation. “What do you mean sending a death squad to my apartment in the middle of the night? Ifyou want to kill me, why don’t you just come right out and kill me?” Later I was amazed at my own audacity in confronting him. Mengistu was completely taken off guard. He said he knew nothing about it; he said it must have been Berhanu. I believed him, since there was no

reason for him to want me dead at that time. A little later Berhanu was sent to my office to apologize. He said there must have been some mixup in apartment numbers. It was a feeble excuse, but he was Mengistu’s man and at the time he was untouchable. Life is still like that today in Ethiopia. You can’t sleep without fear, go anywhere without fear; there is no escaping the terror in your day to day life. At any time it could be you who is dragged out and shot, as many of my friends and acquaintances have been. It is only by chance that I am still alive.

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Notes to Chapter 1 1. Washington Post , Dec. 1, 1974. 2. Washington Post, Dec. 7, 1974. 3. BBC Radio News, February 6, 1977.

4. International Affairs, 1986, 628. 7. Subcommittee on Foreign Relations, US Senate, 94th Congress,

August 1976. 8. Korn, 37. 9. Korn, 35. 8. Petterson, 641.

9 Handwritten note in my possession.

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Ethiopia Under Mengistu: The Politics of State Control and Repression The principal danger in this situation is not just the denial of civil liberties and the arbitrariness which accompany enormous power in the hands of individuals. The serious danger is a lasting one: the perpetuation of the kind of established disorder which is slowly tending to become universal in Africa. The following characteristics are commonin nearly all such types of governments. Leaders are increasingly isolated from the people and from reality and live ina world of theirown delusion, which forces them into

actions which are irrational and often fatally damaging to the country and people. They then subvert the very machinery of government by covering itin a web of secrecy and still more secrecy, until secrecy itself becomes a way of government. At this point of disorder, leaders begin to lose the distinction between their private wishes and their rational duties: they degenerate morally until at last they cease to have any sense of respect for others’ rights. Naked violence is henceforth introduced into the system of government and the secret police are allowed extraordinary powers to trample on people’s liberties as they please . . To the people a state based on established disorder is a state with no law and

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rights. Injustice is taken for granted . . To such leaders the people are only part of their estate . . . to them justice is whatever is useful to maintain themselves in power. They are obsessed with the lust for power . . . and the country moves nearer and nearer disaster. —A. M. Babu, African Socialism or Socialist Africa? Mengistu was raised in the army, having become a “boy” at 15. Ina practice adopted from the British, Ethiopian teenagers used to be placed in the signal corps or non-combatant military services early, and then admitted to full rank at age 18. Mengistu attended the Genet Military Training Centre and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. He then spent nine months training at a US Army base, Aberdeen military ordnance school. This was in the 1960s, and he was subjected to several

racist incidents. Together with the racial prejudice against non-Amharas that he had experienced at home, this left him with a bitter hatred for the

West and the old order in Ethiopia. Mengistu despises the rich, the welloff, the educated—he has an obsessive need to feel superior to those

around him. In the Third Infantry Division (in the eastern province of Harar), where he served until the revolution, he had a record of insub-

ordination and was constantly in trouble. He was known as a brawler and was in several barroom fights. One of the reasons he was sent to the Coordinating Committee in 1974 was that his division commander wanted

to get rid of him. That same

commander,

General Haile

Bayekedagne, was one of the 60 people executed by Mengistu in November 1974. Since Mengistu killed Teferi Bante in 1977, he has reigned as absolute ruler in Ethiopia. When he was "voted" Chairman of the Military Council he became head of the armed forces, the legislature, the cabinet, and the

judiciary. He created a new political structure, COPWE (Commission for the Organization of the Party of the Workers of Ethiopia) separate from the governmental structures, and became its Chairman. Later, when COPWE became the Workers’ Party of Ethiopia (WPE), he made himself its General Secretary while retaining all his powers as Head of State. When he officially dissolved the Military Council in September 1987 (it had ceased to function in 1979) under a new constitution, he made himself President of the Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. Everything Mengistu has done since 1977 has been with one ultimate goal in mind: to place himself in a position of uncontested power with absolute control over the lives of everyone in Ethiopia. Neither Haile Selassie nor any of the previous Emperors had this insatiable thirst

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for power. Mengistu has shown time and again that he will do anything to stay in control. At the same time, every decree, every policy, every law, every structure is designed to erect a facade of democracy and legitimacy. The facade is so transparent that it is ludicrous to think anyone is

fooled by it. Mengistu maintains his power like Stalin, through force, intrigue,

and manipulation. He rules by decree, enforcing his will through small groups of loyal henchmen, secret police, and terrorist squads placed in nearly every government agency. Many of his actions are motivated by a burning desire for vengeance for past wrongs, real or imagined. No one individual can do anything to alter the situation. The remotest hint of

dissent is taken as a direct threat against him and dealt with at once. From 1975 to 1979 the regime of Pol Pot presided over a reign of terror in Kampuchea, the poorest nation at that time, that left one anda half million people dead—one fifth of the population. In the 1980s Ethiopia is the poorest country; and like Pol Pot, Mengistu has massacred thousands outright, and brought death, suffering, and displacement to millions. Idi Amin

of Uganda, the Duvaliers of Haiti, the junta of

Argentina, Emperor Bokassa of the Central African Republic, all committed crimes against humanity in the name of governing their people. Despite their policies of terror they were able to remain in power long after their crimes were known because other governments either supported them or refrained from taking measures to end their gross violations of human rights. It is always the same scenario. Meaningful steps are taken only when the crimes begin to affect international interests, or when the

regimes are deposed as a result of internal factors. Suddenly the atrocities are “discovered” and receive world attention. Everyone laments the cries for help that were never heard. The world is shocked. Newspapers are full of editorials, television reveals horrible scenes of human suffering, books are written, films are made. Reaction flares up around the

world: “How could it happen?” “Why weren’t we told?” “Never again!” Our people want an end to the misery of Mengistu’s rule. The international impotence shocks them. I have taken many prominent Westerners to see Mengistu, people who are sworn enemies of his policies. They find themselves face to face with a warm, conciliatory,

modest human being. They are confused, they hesitate. They come away with a desire for reconciliation—even those who were the most virulently opposed to his ideology. They moderate their opposition and want to give him a chance. This is Western naivete. Mengistu is playing a game of deception, but it is primarily the visitors who deceive themselves into believing a

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change might occur: perhaps he will reform, perhaps his human rights record will change. This has been the pattern for over a decade. Mengistu’s charm, his innocent looks, his seemingly polite manner, all conceal his viciousness and he evades severe criticism or condemnation from the West. The facade is positively interpreted—they say he is a nationalist at heart when his actions are leading a nation to total destruction; they say that he will change when they know he is establishing structures and institutions that will perpetuate his policies. Our people welcomed his tyrrany, and he is manipulating the international community just as he did us. The willingness of American, European, and Soviet governments to accept him and his crimes as long as his excesses do not spill over into the area of their international interests is inexcusable. Asin the case of Amin, Bokassa, and Sekou Toure of Guinea, African leaders refuse to take the first step in condemning a fellow Head of State. There is an unwritten law: never criticize another African leader. Because of this, atrocities are committed with impunity throughout the continent. Myth and Cult Mengistu’s mystique is very important to him. His picture is every-

where. Even Haile Selassie did not insist that his portrait hang in every office of his government. It is all part of Mengistu’s image as the savior of the Ethiopian people, one far greater than any emperor ever had before him. He has created a myth of the evils of the old Empire, with constant reminders of how things are better now under the Revolution. It is all exaggerated; everything that doesn’t go right is blamed on the past or on the West. This is linked to the myth of the future: the Utopia we are all striving toward, the perfect classless society that Marx and Lenindreamed of. In every public statement by government officials, Mengistu and Lenin have to be quoted. I made many public addresses in Eritrea, and my most serious work was not preparing what I wanted to say, but finding an appropriate quotation from the speeches of Mengistu, which are printed up in little books like the Quotations of Chairman Mao. I had one staff member assigned to this chore. If we didn’t find a good quote we invented one or called up Party headquarters to ask Shimelis Mazengia, Mengistu’s speech writer and ideologue, to make one up. Wealways had to start by saying, “As Comrade Mengistu has said . . .” Mengistu loves his titles. Chairman of the Provisional Military Administrative Council. Chairman of the Council of Ministers. Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. General Secretary of the Party.

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And now, President of the Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. He has almost as many titles as the Emperor had. Haile Sellassie, in spite of the fact that he was autocratic, was a seasoned ruler who used the counsel and talent of his ministers, advisers,

elders and clergy. In the chilot, the open court of appeal over which he presided, he let all the advisors give their opinions before he gave the final judgment. His judgment was usually brilliant, though we never wanted to admit it. Mengistu, on the other hand, confuses what he thinks

he knows and what he actually knows. He is reluctant to accept advice or counsel, and refuses to allow such discussions to take place. There are at least six major mass rallies a year with at least 500,000 people appearing in Revolution Square. The enthusiastic cheers at these rallies of the captive population feed Mengistu’s ego. He pretends that the forced rallies, the coerced cheers, are the genuine sentiments of the people, as they were at the time of the zemecha. Sometimes rallies are held in support of specific policy decisions. People are ordered via the Urban Dwellers’ Associations to march to Revolution Square early in the morning, usually at four A.M. Mengistu appears at about nine o’clock to a tumultuous ovation. Everyone in the crowd knows that security people are watching for those individuals who do not cheer loudly enough. Sometimes to create a sense of spontaneity, people are told to go to the Square in support of a statement or policy even before Mengistu has made it public. Much of Mengistu’s style dates from his trip to North Korea in 1982. When he came back it was clear that he had been very impressed by the way Kim I] Sung ran his country. Until that trip, North Korea had been classified as unfriendly because of its hostility to the Soviet Union and its deviation from the “true” path of Marxism-Leninism. All that was now forgotten. What impressed Mengistu was the personality cult and the political system that controlled every aspect of the life of the individual Korean, a regimentation without parallel in the world. Mengistu immediately began to emulate this example. Since then he has visited North Korea four times, returning each time more inspired than ever. He has even given himself a new title, “Our Beloved Revolutionary Leader,” in the style of the North Koreans. The Party

By the end of 1977, both MEISON and the EPRP had been effectively rooted out of the cities. The remaining leftist opposition groups were neutralized when Mengistu established his own political movement called Seded (the word means a wind-blown fire that engulfs a huge area;

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perhaps “prairie fire” is a good translation). At Mengistu’s invitation, I was one of the original members. He told me that the left had been divided to the point of extinction and that now Ethiopia needed people with experience, people like me with my background in the military; we were the only ones who could forge an alliance, attract a large number of followers, and assure unity. Only with a political organization of high caliber and wide popular support could the Revolution be successful. I did not argue; objections would have meant that I belonged to the other groups. I had no choice but to begin to work with others he had designated—recruiting more people for Seded, agitating against the other leftist groups, and calling for support of the Military Council. Seded was recognized as Mengistu’s organization and immediately attracted thousands of young cadres who, despite his ruthlessness during the Terror, were willing to give hima chance. Many young people were pressured to join because staying away would have indicated that they favored a rival movement. There was a certain safety in joining Seded. Soon it easily outnumbered the other groups. Eventually Mengistu announced the formation of EMALADEH, a

political front combining Seded and all other leftist groups. It was said to be the “result of prolonged negotiation and compromise” but nothing could have been further from the truth. In actuality, all the leftist opposition had been physically or psychologically liquidated. The only purpose of this organization was to give the impression that there was broad democratic support for Mengistu’s rule. EMALADEH later became COPWE (Commission for the Organization of the Party of the Workers in Ethiopia) and COPWE gave way to the Workers’ Party of Ethiopia (WPE), the official Marxist-Leninist Party of Ethiopia. I was a senior member of the Central Committees of both COPWE and the WPE. Mengistu was always in full control of all of these political groupings. The Military Council that had wielded so much power in the early period was placed under the jurisdiction of these new party structures, and effectively disbanded in 1979. By founding his own Party, Mengistu ensured his own base of absolute power. The WPE now controls the entire population. It has extended its reach into all walks of life, thus effectively heading off every possibility of dissent or insurrection. Established with a democratic facade, itisnow thoroughly despised by the average Ethiopian as the ultimate hypocrisy. The crude, phony election process of 1984 insulted every honest Ethiopian’s sense of justice. Deliberations with the Party lack even the semblance of democracy, but Party “decisions” are used as instruments to implement the decrees of the ruling circle in the name of the people. Party leaders are for the most part narrow minded, uneducated

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opportunists. Most of the three million or so Party members do not believe in the ideology that they profess. They are simple people who follow the orders of their superiors through either ignorance or fear. To head off any potential rebellions from within the military establishment, such as the one that brought down Haile Sellassie, the army

today is organized according to the style of the Soviet Red Army: Party members and Party cells exist at all levels of the military hierarchy. Commissars and military security personnel check up on the activities of every unit. Potential troublemakers are executed or removed before they can spread dissension. The armed forces are in a permanent state of war,

and have been in operation for the last 14 years. The Armed Forces is perceived by Mengistu both as a threat and as a power base. Since resolution of the internal conflicts will bring about the demobilization of this huge force, Mengistu ensures that the forces are kept busy and scattered throughout Ethiopia. Propaganda

As in all strict Marxist states, power is maintained by controlling access to information. Serto Ader is the official Party paper, but the English-language Ethiopian Herald and the Amharic Addis Zemenare also under the complete control of the Ideological Department of the Party. Every piece of writing goes through rigorous censorship. Under the new state structure, the Ministry of Information will vanish and there will be

one Committee of Propaganda and Information within the Party’s Ideological Committee, controlling all mass media. The few at the top try to protect their power by mystifying the public with propaganda. The result is cynicism. When information is controlled by the state, no one believes anything anymore. People suspect that everything they hear is propaganda; even if it is true, they don’t believe it. Because people have no reliable information, rumors sweep across the country, fostering general disillusionment. The public tends to become detached. The constant repetition of slogans, denunciations, exhortations, condemnations, harangues, warnings, and glorifications of the

ruler, dehumanizes people by robbing them of a chance for independent thought and judgment. Terror

The entire country is in the grip of terror. Mengistu’s loyal followers are his executioners, led by the “Gang of Four.” Chief among them is Legesse Asfaw, who will play a major role in this account. Legesse is the

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most dangerous man the revolution has brought to power. He is Mengistu’s trusted servant, the head of the Organization Department of the Party, who has personally or through his private secret police killed and jailed hundreds of innocent men and women. He barely completed his elementary schooling before becoming a sergeant in the army, but now his ego is beyond belief. He is arrogant, crude, and cruel, and will

stop at nothing to get what he wants. He and Mengistu must take most of the blame for the mass murders and misdirection of the Revolution, for

the flight of millions to safety in other countries, and for virtually every wrong the country has suffered in the last 13 years. Legesse is the reincarnation of a 15th-century warlord who has been given the 20thcentury power to commit murder and wreak havocon an unprecedented scale. The prospect of Ethiopia’s future with him in a position of control is truly bloodchilling. There is also Alemu Abebe, presently

a member of the Political

Bureau; a veterinarian by profession, educated in the USSR; and an intellectual opportunist, prepared to receive lectures from Mengistu on any subject, including veterinary medicine. He was Mengistu’s chief political mentor during the Red Terror and still feels proud of what he did then as Mayor of Addis Abeba. He personally ordered the execution of hundreds with Mengistu’s explicit or tacit approval. Shewandagan Belete, the former head of the leftist faction LEAGUE, a shabby and repulsive character, is now a member of the Politburo. He lives in constant fear of Mengistu because his life was spared when all the other LEAGUE members were executed. He will do anything Mengistu tells him to. Finally there is Shimelis Mazengia,

a member of the Politburo and

head of the Ideological Department. He is a young man with no previous experience in public affairs or extensive formal education. A former elementary school teacher, he lacks any understanding of the complexities of politics. His knowledge of Marxism is very superficial, yet his answer to every problem is to quote Marx or Lenin. Over the years Shimelis has become Mengistu’s chief speech writer. He is very eloquent, using the Amharic language beautifully, but what he says has no real substance. He is especially good at coining new words and filling speeches with Marxist jargon. He is very cold and shrewd. It is difficult to get to know him; he does not talk much, and when he does he exposes his ignorance and lack of experience. The men who actually do most of the killing are Mengistu’s personal bodyguards and his death squads who live in the Palace of Menelik; they have turned the Palace grounds into a mass grave. Mengistu expects their absolute loyalty and secrecy. If they relax in their roles and start

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talking, he has them killed. Many of the members from the early death squads are long dead. Mengistu could not risk putting them in jail for fear that they would talk. These men and others like them on the Politburo and in different parts of the country are Mengistu’s personal power base. These people will go to any lengths to keep Mengistu in power because they have everything to lose from a change of government. As in Hitler’s Germany, Mengistu’s words have the force of law. Nothing has to be in writing. Sometimes his statements and wishes are followed by laws, regulations, and elaborate justifications to give an

outward appearance of legality; but that is not a necessary provision. Massacres and gross violations of fundamental human rights have often

been committed on simple oral instructions from Mengistu. The secret police and death squads create an atmosphere in which murder and abduction are likely to occur at any moment. The laws that do exist, like the 1987 constitution, make the category of political crimes a broad one. There are arbitrary measures against all deviants, and arbitrary definitions of deviancy. Opponents of the regime are isolated, jailed, and eliminated. Resistance is paralyzed. Divide and Rule

Restructuring society into peasant associations, urban dwellers associations, collectivized farms, and party cells effectively controls society. Everyone is afraid someone is watching. All social relationships are corroded by the terror. No one trusts anyone else; even your best friend might prove otherwise. Every government minister and manager hasa deputy. At the upper ievels of government both the head and the deputy are handpicked by

Mengistu, and at lower levels they are picked by one of his right-hand men. They look for deputies with histories of bad feelings and mistrust who will act as watchdogs over the actions of their superiors. There are also political commissars appointed by the Party to watch over every government and non-government agency, large or small. The commissar’s power is equal to that of the department head; he can veto any decision. The commissars are there also to report the attitudes of the agency and the staff to their superiors, and the Party Control Committee

oversees discipline and corruption. As if these were not enough, there is also a representative of the Ministry of Public Security overseeing each agency. The same pattern exists in every military unit. Watchdogs are

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everywhere, guardians against counter-revolution, all with their own hierarchies and parallel lines of command—parallel lines that meet at Mengistu.

No officials can tell the truth in their reports. From the lowliest bureaucrat in the provinces to the members ofthe cabinet, from the secret

police to the cadres to the general population—no one dares criticize anything. The proverbial “slaying the bearer of bad tidings” has become reality in Ethiopia. The terror makes it impossible to get an honest report on production, on failures or successes of development projects, on the well-being of the country. No one knows anything for certain, and the economy is in a shambles as a result.

When in September 1987 Mengistu declared the establishment of a new state structure under a new constitution, he set up the most elabo-

rate and most cumbersome bureaucracy on the continent of Africa. Under him, as the President of the Republic, he appointed four vice

presidents: one Moslem belonging to the Adere minority from Harar region; one from the Oromo nationality, constituting the largest ethnic group in the country; a third from Tigray, one of the rebellious regions in the North; and the fourth from Eritrea, the region which has fought a

war of secession for over 25 years. Through these appointments, Mengistu was trying to give the impression that power was shared by all the major religious and ethnic groups in the country; but since both the people and the appointees themselves know that power lies solely in him, it is seen as one more exercise in delusion. He established a State

Council chaired by himself with the vice presidents and some of the ministers as members. The State Council makes the Council of Ministers redundant. He also appointed 15 ministers without portfolio as personal advisors in various fields. He appointed one Prime Minister, five Deputy Prime Ministers, and 25 ministers as members of the council. Most of these people do not get along with one another. The Foreign Minister and the minister without portfolio who advises Mengistu on foreign policy have not been on speaking terms for several years. Two of the Deputy Prime Ministers are known for their hostile attitudes toward the prime minister. The First Vice President in charge of the Executive Body has been in a power struggle with the Prime Minister fora long time. To make matters worse, no roles or responsibilities have been clearly defined. The Minister of Defense is seen by many of the ministers as incompetent, and

is at odds with several of the officials. The newly-appointed Head of Political Affairs for the Armed Forces is a sworn enemy of the Minister of Defense. Two of the vice presidents are not political bureau members, and yet are responsible for some of the activities of ministers who are political bureau members. The entire situation breeds conflicts between

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individuals, party, and government bureaucracy.

The enormity of the structure, the duplication of responsibilities, and the personal feuds make the machinery completely sterile. The whole idea, of course, is not to have an effective functioning body but to create an intricate web of self-controlling government machinery that will not bea threat to Mengistu—who spends most of his time adjudicating the conflicts that arise. As General Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Ethiopia, he heads a 17-man Political Bureau,

a Central Committee of

over 120 people, 14 regional Party secretaries, and a personal staff of 400 Party functionaries. As Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces he heads the operation and administration of one of the largest military establishments of the continent. He also leads the Ethiopian Youth Associations,

Peasant Associations, Women’s

Associations, and the

Labour Union—all the mass organizations that are supposedly the base of the Revolution. Aside from the fact that a great amount of time is spent in managing this huge bureaucracy, the country simply does not have the financial resources to run such an enormous structure. Since Mengistu has not and is not likely to delegate power, and since officials are afraid of taking initiatives or making any important decision, the country has been paralyzed. Mengistu often promotes uneducated and uninformed elements to key posts. This serves to block the emergence of educated, credible, and courageous leaders, and makes Mengistu himself look good—as the most intelligent of an uninformed lot. Itisan old technique of some of our nationalities. Mengistu is careful to get rid of those who might challenge him. Educated men such as Zegeye Asfaw, Minister of Agriculture; Abba Biya, a well-known progressive intellectual; Abiyu Gellette, Commis-

sioner of the Compensation Agency; Taddesse Gebregizaber, one-time confidant of Mengistu’s; and hundreds of others have been removed from their posts, branded as members of rebel movements, and jailed.

Many Military Council members were purged and/or executed when they challenged Mengistu’s authority or knew too much about his secret murders. Others outside the Military Council also met the same fate. All officials fear the periodic purges; they bring disgrace and end careers permanently, since all employment is controlled by the government. The people get a grim feeling of satisfaction at the downfall of government bureaucrats and Party officials who once acted as if they were invincible. Purges release tension caused by rumorsand bring hope of new policies and improvements. They also prevent high officials from feeling secure in their posts, thereby limiting the chance that they might

use their office for their own political purposes.

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The New Constitution

The new constitution is of little importance and mostly of propaganda value. Power is completely centralized in a single leader. The Politburo, the Central Committee and the new state structure under the constitution are window dressings to hide the totalitarian reality. Like the Reichstag of Hitler’s Germany, they rubberstamp pre-made decisions. The new constitution contains several guarantees of rights: a person is innocent until proven guilty; there is freedom of conscience and worship; all Ethiopians have the rights of expression and assembly. But this is all a mockery. Arbitrary arrest and execution continue. No one knows the fate of more than 80,000 political prisoners. Party membersare not allowed to go to church or be buried on church grounds. People cannot even visit their relatives without permission. Political discussions are not allowed at meetings unless supervised by the Party. Every Ethiopian knows that the beautifully-written words in our constitution

are empty promises. There are no institutions to support the rule of law that the constitution purports to establish. All power is vested solely in the Head of State, and he has no desire to subject himself to the law.

The Ideology The National Democratic Revolution (NDR) program proclaimed in 1976 was the embodiment of the spirit of the Revolution as I and many others understood and desired it. Although the NDR program needed some amendiments—it was full of flowery rhetoric and lacked an ac-

knowledgment of international realities—it contained the fundamental components of democracy, independence, non-alignment, participation of political parties, and the right of self-determination for the various nationalities. Although it envisaged a centralized economy, it gave great emphasis to the private sector.

Today the NDR has not been explicitly renounced, but is is clearly a nonentity. The strategy now is to build a highly centralized economy with the private sector playing an ever smaller role. Coercion is an important instrument in achieving “self-sufficiency” and an eventual transition to complete socialism. Neither Marx nor Lenin had anything to say about the actual process by which socialist revolutions could take place in underdeveloped countries where the capitalist stage has not been reached. This lack of guidelines has left much room for interpretation. Motivated by its own long-term interests, seeking to pry African nations from the West, the

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USSR has come up with its own version of Leninist principles to fit the Third World pattern. Mengistu has put together a hodge-podge of the programs and policies that most impressed him in his visits to the Soviet Union, North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba. What is known as socialism or Marxism-Leninism in Ethiopia is only a perversion of those doctrines. Change is based upon rejection and absolute destruction of all past values, and the creation ofa controlled and regimented society. Hardline Marxist thinking has won out. Marx and Engels’ general laws of transition from capitalism to socialism, as applied in practice by Lenin and Stalin, are considered binding upon Ethiopian socialism. The idea that Ethiopia can advance toward its own version of socialism along its own specific path is seen as heresy, a denial of the international nature of

Bolshevism. The strength of our Revolution is said to emanate from a condemnation of Western imperialism and glorification of the Soviet Union and worldwide socialist revolutions. The United States is a “paper tiger.” Western values are decadent and the West’s economy is said to be on the verge of collapse. Any sort of relationship with the West is equated with reaction, and socialism is defined as a withdrawal from those relation-

ships. Socialism, as conceived in Ethiopia by the ruling circle, presents the past as epochs of conflict, contradiction, and oppression. It views the present as an extension of these class antagonisms in a different setting, leading toa future in which class conflicts will disappear asa result of the conscious efforts of the working class. It is true that historically the Ethiopian people have been oppressed by the class of feudal lords; but at the same time, the Ethiopian people, regardless of class differences, have fought and struggled as one people to maintain the territorial integrity and independence of Ethiopia. There is a tremendous sense of nationalism and pride in Ethiopia as an independent country. The Ethiopian realities, both past and present, cannot be viewed solely in terms of class conflict and contradiction, as the doctrinaire Marxists would have us believe. That would be to ignore all the cohesive factors which have contributed to the survival of our ancient nation. Socialism as it is now interpreted in Ethiopia is highly destructive. Ethiopian “socialism” attempts to superimpose an alien experience onto a nation where the realities are completely different. Sensitivity to our reality should have been the first step. Education ought to have been one of our first priorities, teaching all Ethiopians to respect each of the various nationalities and their rich cultures. Instead, realities were altered or exaggerated to fit the pattern which a few narrow- minded ideologues wanted to find. An industrial base and a conscious working

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class were falsely assumed to exist. The powerful relationships between old and young, tradition and newer values, and past and current history that are vital to Ethiopian identity and strength were completely ignored; the dogmatists were attempting to create a new history, new values, and new cultures totally unrelated to the traditions and attitudes

that have made us what we are. Mengistu made policy decisions and statements that drove the people to a head-on collision with values that were deep-rooted. The majority of the Ethiopian people were indeed conscious of their poverty and oppression under the Emperor, but were not prepared to

analyze their oppression within the framework dictated by political dogma. They had no desire to abandon the traditional, individual, and cultural values they cherished. As a result, Mengistu’s hybrid ideology has been rejected the same way a human body rejects a transplanted organ that has not been properly matched. The identity of the people is the most important element in the process of nation building and economic development. If a political system promotes disintegration, rejects historical values, destroys the culture and language, and attempts to restructure society on a foundation imported from another people, it is bound to fail. As a result of world attention given the continuing famine between 1983-1988, and the devastating defeats of government forces by the EPLF and TPLF, there is now a sense of desperation within Mengistu’s ruling circle. There is a growing number of defections of government officials as his regime falters toward its inevitable, ignominious conclusion.

The Northern Region and Ethiopia’s Internal Conflicts For 25 years the northern province of Eritrea has been the scene of a civil war of devastating proportions. At issue are questions of self-determination and human rights which have grown increasingly complex as the war drags on. My own views on the subject are clear. What is now Eritrea was a creation of European colonialists. It was always an integral part of Ethiopia until it was invaded and held by the Italians in the late 19thcentury. Even during thiscolonial period, the people always thought of themselves as Ethiopians. This is indicated by the fact that when the colonial period was about to end, there was never any question of eventual reunification with Ethiopia; no other optionever crossed people’s minds. It was only when the British, with Italian support, sowed the seeds of separatism to advance their own interests in world empire, that the trouble began. Even then, the vast majority of Eritreans wanted the federation with the Empire that was agreed on in 1952. It was through subsequent errors—the narrow vision and brutal policies of repression of Haile Selassie and Mengistu—that everything changed. As a junior officer in the Imperial Ethiopian Army, Second Infantry Division, between 1962 and 1968, I observed the developments in the

northern regions of Ethiopia as they began to seriously concern Haile Selassie. The staggering differences 20 years has wrought is nowhere more evident than in the military. In the early 1960s the Second Infantry Division, composed of three brigades, was alone responsible for the

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northern provinces of Eritrea, Gondar, and Tigray.* The entire northern region was secured by less than 7000 poorly equipped troops. Our only source of arms was the American army, whose officers also acted as our

advisors through the Military Assistance and Advisory Group (MAAG). For a decade the number of troopsin the North remained more or less the same, reinforced toward the latter part of the 1960s by an airborne battallion from Debre Zeit and an infantry battallion from the First Infantry Division (the Imperial Bodyguard). The Ethiopian army as a whole numbered less than 40,000 men. Today Ethiopia has a regular army of 350,000 and a paramilitary force of nearly 500,000 armed militiamen. In Eritrea alone, there are 150,000 regular troops, another 80,000 in Tigray, and 20,000 in Gondar: a total of 250,000 regular troops and 120,000 militiamen. The entire

northern region has been torn apart by an escalating conflict that has taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians, disabled or displaced thousands more, left children orphaned and

drained the meager resources of the country. Greater Ethiopia

Ethiopia, under a variety of names through history, has long been an anomaly among African nations. The historian Haggai Erlich asks: “Why did Ethiopia survive, even benefit in terms of political unity, from challenges which shattered and destroyed the political structure of other African and Asian societies?” 1 Erlich’s answer, and mine, is that despite differences and conflicts among its ninety nationalities, a sense of unity transcends the diversity. A Colonel Cheesman, British advisor to Haile Selassie in 1943, put it this

way: During the reign of Menelik and since, the foreign policies of England, France and Italy in regard to Ethiopia have been based on the assumption that she must break up; yet she did nothing of the sort. She has survived the reigns of Lij Iyasu, Zawditu, and Haile Selassie, and showed a united effectual front to the Italians in 1935-1936. Yet the theory of disinte* One infantry division theoretically contained three brigades and supporting units, with a total manpower of 8000. But while I was there and until much later, the division was not up to full strength. The Eighth brigade was stationed in Gondar, the Sixth brigade in Tigray, and the Twelfth brigade in Eritrea. There was also an artillery battallion located in Adigrat in Tigray.

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gration persisted . . . [many Westerners] could not realize that a national unity existed in Ethiopia, and that a government that was not visible and that was so different from their own could possibly last more than a few months... The crazy structure of the Ethiopian Empire is held together by a mysterious magnetism which is incomprehensible to one who has no more than a superficial knowledge of

Ethiopia.”

It is no mere chance that Ethiopia survived internal disintegration and escaped foreign colonization. Ethiopia has survived because Ethiopians are unique. They have what other peoples in Africa do not: a strong sense of belonging to a nation. The fact that our history has been full of intense struggles for survival has only strengthened this sense of nationhood. Historian Sven Rubenson reiterates this in refuting those who emphasize the rugged terrain as the main impediment to conquest: The geographical features of Ethiopia played almost no roles at all in the preservation of her independence... What saved Ethiopia from falling under colonial rule was the determination with which this heritage of national consciousness, “international recognition” and political/diplomatic skill was developed to meet the new challenges?

Other historians have said Ethiopia escaped conquest by default, owing to the weakness of the successive invaders. This argument belittles the courage, strength, and resilience of the Ethiopian people. These apologists make excuses for the defeat of the outside powers, because they seem to be unwilling to admit that an African people could be superior to Europeans or Middle Easterners in any way. Ethiopians are warriors. Traditionally, valor has played an important part in family and social life. A man’s prestige is measured by his courage. Women traditionally have played important supportive role in battles, both in organizing logistical support and even taking part in fighting. The titles given to prominent people, Fitawrari, Dejazamatch, Kegnazamatch, and Ras, were not merely political and social, but military ranks comparable to the dukes, earls, and barons of medieval Europe. These titles gave them the right to command a certain number of followers. There was no standing army until 70 years ago; in times of war, the whole population was mobilized to face the enemy. Despite internal conflicts, there has always been unity in the face of

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external aggression. Adwa, the great victory over the Italians, was fought with Tigrayan, Amhara, and Oromo

warriors, as was Haile

Selassie’s stand at Maichew against the second Italian invasion. The fiveyear resistance war against Mussolini was fought in Tigray, Wollo, Shoa, Gondar, Gojjam, and in the southern provinces with all ethnic groups participating. The emperors continually fought to extend the authority of their central government, just as the European monarchs did. Kings, Ras and local warlords periodically rebelled against emperors, either in attempts to sieze absolute power themselves or to maintain a degree of regional independence. But my crucial argument is this: They never went to the extent of demanding a separate state, and never pitted one ethnic group against another. They fought within those limitations and knew when to give up their struggle and forgive. Today’s separatist movements can only be understood in this context. History, the inner will of the people, and the practical considerations of the present all point to the inevitable existence of a greater Ethiopian political entity. Eritrea

Eritrea is the northernmost province in Ethiopia, lying along the Red Sea between the Sudan and Djibouti. It is the only province in Ethiopia that borders the sea. Geographically it is divided into four regions: the highlands, lying in the center of the province around the capital, Asmara; a narrow, desert coastal strip running southeast to Djibouti; the arid western plateau between the highlands and the Sudanese border; and the northern coastlands, known as the Sahil. Eritrea is hardly a place of linguistic homogeneity. There are nine nationalities in Eritrea with distinct cultures and languages. About half are Tigrinya-speaking Christians living in the highlands.* The lowlands are inhabited mostly by Moslems from a variety of ethnic backgrounds: Afar and Saho speakers in the southeastern coastal area; Tukrir tribesmen, who in the distant past set out from their homeland in Nigeria on a pilgrimage to Mecca and only got as far as Eritrea; the Rashaydas, who are Arabs; and the Bani Amir who speak Tigre** and live in the North *

Tigrinya is a Semitic language spoken by the people of Tigray province, the Eritrean central highlands. and parts of Wollo and Gondar regions. In referring to Tigrayans I mean all Tigrinya-speaking peoples and not just the inhabitants of Tigray province. “*Tigre is a language distinct from Tigrinya. Tigre, Tigrinya, and Amharic are all derived from the ancient language of Ethiopia, Ge’ez. All three are now mutually unintelligible, just as French, Italian, and Spanish, though derived from Latin, are now separate languages.

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and West. In addition, there are other small groups scattered throughout the province such as the Kunama, the Baria, and the Bilen. Eritreans do not share a common culture. The highland Eritreans have more in common with Tigrinya-speaking Christians across the border in Tigray than with the lowlanders in their own province. The lowland populations never became fully integrated into Eritrean political and social life; as Moslems they felt closer to their religious brethren in the Sudan or across the Red Sea than to the Christian highlanders. It is important to note the number of Moslems. Of an estimated two million Eritreans, 350,000 (17.5 percent) are Moslems. Out of 42 million

Ethiopians, there are approximately 15 million Moslems (36 percent). There are more Moslems in the rest of Ethiopia than in Eritrea. Except for Egypt, Morocco and Algeria, Ethiopia has a greater number of Moslems than any Middle Eastern country. Certainly Eritrea cannot be characterized as a Moslem country. However because of intense false propaganda, many Arab countries think of Eritrea as a predominantly Moslem area with an Arab population. I once met an Iraqi minister in Khartoum who honestly believed this. He further believed that the rest of Ethiopia contained no Moslems at all, and that the few who did exist were oppressed by the Christian majority. I believe other Arab countries which support Eritrea are under the same misapprehension, succumbing to the propaganda campaign of the pan-Arabists and the liberation movements. Eritrea and Ethiopia: the Cultural and Historical Background

The core regions of today’s Eritrea were undoubtedly an integral part—indeed, the cradle of Ethiopian civilization, statehood, and history ... The Christian populated districts of Hamasein, Serai and Akala Geizai [the Eritrean high-

lands] have historically been more a part of Ethiopia’s political framework and culture than have provinces of southern Ethiopia (Kaffa, Wollega, Arussi and others) occu-

pied by Ethiopia in the late 19th century, which are today undisputed parts of Ethiopia‘

Here Erlich argues, and I agree, that Eritrea is an integral part of Ethiopia, historically and culturally. Eritreans feel a part of Ethiopia, and the rest of Ethiopia feels that Eritrea is part of the nation. The historical roots go very deep. This part of Ethiopia is the cradle of what was known as the Axumite civilization, one of the most ancient civilizations on earth.

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Along the Red Sea coast of Eritrea, ruins of some of the oldest portsin the world can be seen. A trip inland along the old trading route from the ancient port of Adulis to Axum reveals statues, dams, churches, and the palaces of Kaskasie, Tokonda, Kohait, and Mettera—all hidden under-

ground long before the birth of Christ. In some sites there are indications of still older cultures buried below these ruins. Ancient inscriptions are written in stone in Greek and Ge’ez from Barka to the Anseba valleys, and many more in Lasta and Gondar. This was a region of great strategic significance, all the more so because what are now Djibouti and Somalia were once part of this extensive civilization. Greeks and Romans docked at the ports along the Red Sea. Axum, as it was then called, was respected and feared because

it had not only an extensive commercial fleet but also a strong naval force patrolling the Red Sea. Numerous battles have been fought in Eritrea and hundreds of thousands of men and women have fallen protecting the country from invasion. As the bridge to the hinterlands of Africa, Eritrea has always taken the brunt of invasions aimed at the highlands, as the wealth of the Axumite civilization and later on the Ethiopian empire tempted foreign conquerors. The Eritreans are still the coast guards of the mainland. The major battles in Ethiopian history were fought in Eritrea. The battlefields of Debarwa, Gundet, Gura, Kufit, Saati, Dogali, and Koatit are testimo-

nials to the resistance against Egyptian, Sudanese, Turkish, and Italian invaders. Eritrean leaders such as Bahta Hogos became heroes of Ethiopian history in the battles of Segeneite and Halay. In the latter part of the 19th century, as Germany and Italy developed the same colonial interests as France and Great Britain, all the Western imperialist nations mapped out strategies to conquer Africa. Later, virtually the entire continent was divided among the colonial powers. Ethiopia alone fought off the invaders, and most of the battles were fought in Eritrea. In 1886 the Italians, in an attempt to occupy all of Ethiopia, landed in Massawa and started moving toward the highlands. The Eritrean hero, Ras Alula Aba Negga, led the Ethiopian forces that routed the Italian army 40 kilometers inland at Dogali. Two years later when Ras Alula and his forces were called by Emperor Yohannes (1872-1889) to lead the battle against invading Sudanese Mahdists in western Ethiopia, the Italians seized the opportunity to push into the interior and were able to take over the entire region now known as Eritrea. With conquest of the entire empire as their goal, they pushed on past the Mareb River, the current boundary between Tigray and Eritrea. There Emperor Menelik (18891913) launched his offensive at Adwa on March 1, 1896. Though the

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Ethiopians were outgunned by modern Italian weaponry, the battle was won by superior tactics and sheer courage. To this day Adwa isa symbol of Ethiopian heroism and national pride. It is part of our self-definition. While this victory was important in asserting our independence and demonstrating the strength and resilience of the Ethiopian people, it was nota total victory. Ironically, it marked the beginning of the most serious threat to the unity of Ethiopia. For if Italy had won the battle and occupied all of Ethiopia, there would be no Eritrean problem today. The entire region, including Italian Somaliland, though conquered, would have been united and after decolonization might have emerged as Greater Ethiopia. Emperor Menelik did not attempt to drive the Italians back to the sea. He had just defeated one of the most technologically advanced European military powers, but at great cost. He was poorly equipped and had suffered great losses. To have attempted to pursue the Italians might have been suicidal. He quit while he was ahead and signed a treaty recognizing Italian possession of Eritrea. Although Adwa was an event of great historical importance, Eritreans are a bit uncomfortable about this period. During my years in Eritrea, I noticed that, of all the national holidays, fewer people turned out for the Adwa celebrations. Adwa was a reminder of the beginning of Italian colonization. The Italians remained in Eritrea for 50 years. The Eritreans suffered severely under their rule, especially from the racist policies of fascism. Among the decrees were the following:

-No native is allowed to be seen in white areas. -Domestic servants are to come to their masters’ houses when the sun rises and leave when the sun sets and are to walk along the designated routes. -Natives will live in restricted areas of the cities. -Natives must take their shoes off when they go into government offices. -No native is allowed into shops and restaurants designated for whites. -Buses are to be divided in two by curtains, the backs for blacks. -Blacks are obliged to salute whites whenever they see them. -Natives are not to be educated beyond the fourth grade. -Natives will not have senior positions in the military. -Those who violate these regulations are to be publicly flogged and imprisoned.

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The Italians did, however, build roads and railroads and improve the communications network; not for the benefit of the Eritreans, but for

themselves—to help them exploit the colony. Still, the Italians brought a degree of prosperity to the region that was absent from the rest of Ethiopia. It must be emphasized, however, that only in the Christian highlands did the Italian occupation bring any benefits at all. The lowlands were neglected and gained nothing from the relative prosperity of the highlands. The British in Eritrea

When World War II broke out in 1939, the Eritreans, long anxious for

an end to Italian subjugation, heeded the British propaganda that promised a new era of peace, justice, equality, and prosperity. Many Eritreans joined in the fight against the Italians. But when the British defeated the Italian army and occupied Eritrea in 1941, the situation did not improve for the Eritreans. Even though the Italians lost the war, they were treated well by the victors. The worst excesses of fascism were prohibited, but fascism itself disappeared only gradually. Italians received important posts in the British administration and continued to exert their influence. After the Italians were driven out of Ethiopia in 1941, Haile Selassie

was returned to his throne like a conquering hero. He at once set out to recover Eritrea as well, proclaiming: Eritrean people! You were separated from your mother Ethiopia and were put under the yoke of the enemy, and under the yoke of the enemy you still remain... I have come to restore the independence of my country, including Eritrea, whose people will henceforth dwell under the shade of

the Ethiopian flag.® The Emperor made several announcements such as this one. In his view, part of Ethiopia had been severed and later on the whole had been occupied. It was logical to assume that the liberation should be total. Even the British, in attempting to get the support of the Eritreans to defeat the Italians, wrote in one of their leaflets: Eritrean soldiers, listen! Desert the Italians! We know the

reason you would not fight us was that you did not wish to be ruled by the Italians: you will receive your full reward. You people who wish to live under the flag of his Imperial

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Majesty and to have your own flag, we give you our word you shall be allowed to choose what government you desire.® This was pure propaganda. After gaining the colony, the British wanted only to hold it. A year after the British took over the colony, Hager Fikre Maheber (the Unionist Movement, or literally, “Association of Love of Country” in Tigrinya) was established by young, educated Eritreans. This movement, which advocated the reunion of Eritrea with Ethiopia, became

popular overnight. It was virtually the single voice of highland Eritreans. Posters were put up and leaflets distributed. It is important to note that most Tigrinya speakers had no desire to form a separate state, but wanted to be part of Haile Selassie’s Ethiopia. The leaflets of the Unionists expressed this: Eritreans! Remember your Mother Ethiopia! Your Mother will not deny you, and you, her sons, must not deny her. She will feed you. The Italians beat you and dishonored your women. The British starve you and fatten the foreigners. Have you seen how the Italians and Arabs grow rich while you go naked? Have you seen how the British protect them and despise you? Fools and traitors are saying that the British are your friends and that they wish to help you. Do not believe them . . . You will find no help except your Mother. Fight the foreigner and prepare to die for your country. Long live Haile Selassie! Long live Ethiopia!”

The British considered this form of struggle a challenge to their authority. They feared that if the movement caught on, it would deny them a future in Eritrea. It did not take them long to encourage the establishment of separatist and opposition movements to counter the

Emperor’s campaign. Dejazmatch Tessemma, an Eritrean dissenter, was promoted to Ras by the British and aided in expanding the separatist movement, the Liberal-Progressive Party. Britain did everything possible to suppress the Unionist Movement. The most destructive idea they introduced was that of dividing Eritrea in two: handing over the western lowlands to the Sudan (at that time a British colony), and joining the highlands with Tigray to forma separate autonomous state under British administration. This plan would have made Great Britain dominant in the region; in pursuit of it, the British

encouraged Moslem Eritreans to identify themselves more with the

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Sudan and the Arab world. By the middle of 1947, there were three other parties beside the Unionists: the Liberal-Progressive Party, backing independence with annexation of Tigray; the Moslem League, supporting independence; and the Pro-Italia Party, which wanted Italian administration. The will of the majority, which wanted reunion with Ethiopia, was disregarded. Eritrea became the battleground of special interest groups, clients of Italy, Britain and Ethiopia. The entire period of British administration was filled with unrest. The “Divide and Rule” strategy, which Britain has used around the world, resulted in conflicts between the lowlands and the highlands, between Christians, Moslems, and other ethnic groups. Armed clashes

occurred between opposing parties. Bandits began preying on rival groups. It was not a struggle to fulfill the aspirations of the Eritrean people, but an extension of the struggle among Great Britain, Italy and Haile Selassie. When the British finally left Eritrea they looted it, quite literally. This underdeveloped region, which had suffered wars, conquest, and racial discrimination, was not even allowed to keep the material legacy of the colonialists. The British dismantled and took with them the port facilities from Assab and Massawa, railway rolling stock, and factories and

equipment worth £86 million. The Federal Agreement and Reunification

The Eritrean people were caught between competing outside interests. Even when their case was brought before the United Nations, it was discussed only as it affected the interests of the various outside powers. The United States was a strong advocate of reunion with Ethiopia, but for its own purposes. Since World War II, the US had established naval communications installations and warehouses in Eritrea. The Americans did not want to lose these facilities; in fact they wanted to expand them. With the United States supporting federation with Ethiopia, the USSR argued for an independent Eritrea, hoping to counter the growing US influence in Africa. (It is interesting to note that today it is the USSR, through its arms and advisors, that is trying to keep Eritrea from seceding.) In all this international struggle, the interests of the people in Eritrea were never considered; it was through the prism of East-West global strategies that their future was determined. When the federal agreement was finally agreed to, Ethiopia gave the US its bases.

The UN General Assembly recommended

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“constitute an autonomous unit federated with Ethiopia under the sovereignty of the Ethiopian crown.” The Eritrean government was to have “legislative, executive, and judicial power in the fields of domestic affairs.” The jurisdiction of the federal government was to extend to “defence, foreign affairs, currency and finance, foreign and interstate

commerce and external and interstate commmunication including ports.” The jurisdiction of the Eritrean government was to extend to “all matters not vested in the Federal government including the power to maintain the international police, to levy taxes, to meet the expenses of

domestic functions, and service and to adopt its own budget.’” In September 1952 Eritrea was officially federated to Ethiopia on the basis of this understanding. It was an impossible arrangement. How could Ethiopia, a severely underdeveloped country with no exposure to democracy; a country that had known only absolute monarchy; a country whose history was filled with attempts to establish central authoritarianism—how could such a country be expected to implement a sophisticated, liberal, federal arrangement? The UN proposal, engineered by the Western powers, was not only alien to Ethiopia, but beyond its capacity. Haile Selassie set out at once to turn federalism into complete reunification. He did nothing to ensure Eritrea’s special status. Nobody in Ethiopia understood or cared to understand what federation meant; most simply thought it meant unification with Ethiopia. The first representative of the Emperor in Eritrea, Andargachew Messai, put it clearly: “There are no internal or external affairs as far as the office of His Imperial Majesty’s representative is concerned, and there will be none.” The Eritreans had a different understanding. Before leaving, the British had informed them of the meaning of federation and its guarantee of semi-autonomy. The stage was set for the tragedy. Trevaskis, an official of the British government who lived in Eritrea during the British administration, wrote prophetically in 1960:

The temptation [for Ethiopia] to subject Eritrea firmly under her own control will always be great. Should she try to do so, she will risk Eritrean discontent and eventual

revolt, which, with foreign sympathy and support, might well disrupt both Eritrea and Ethiopia herself. . The future of the Federation, and indeed of the whole group of young countries in the North East of Africa is likely to be affected by the course that Ethiopia takes. She has acquired a great responsibility. °

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I know from personal experience how Eritrea was regarded by Ethiopian authorities. I was there as a young officer the year before federation ended. None of the officers who were sent to Eritrea were told what federation meant;'we used to hear the word, but never understood

it. For us, Eritrea was just another part of Ethiopia. In everyday life and in the government offices, I never felt any distinction between the Eritrean government and the federal government. The governor at the time, General Abiye Abebe, had full power to do whatever he wanted on

behalf of the Emperor. There was no limit to his power. The army had already moved to Eritrea before the end of federation was announced. The speeches of the army commander and the governor never refered to the special federal arrangement. We saw ourselves as a liberation army. In 1961, just before the federation was dissolved, we held a big airborne show in Agordat. It was nothing more than a show of force to let the Eritreans know how powerful Ethiopia had grown. Haile Selassie never even tried to take into consideration the special situation in Eritrea. The Eritreans, with their 60-year exposure to Western government, were more sophisticated and politically advanced than the rest of Ethiopia. The Eritreans were a hard-working, meticulous people; their cities were like Italian cities. For the Ethiopian army, going to Eritrea was like going to Europe. The Eritreans had certain expectations: they voted on issues that affected them; they elected representatives; they had labor unionsand political parties; they were used to airing their views. Haile Selassie believed he could yank the entire province back into the feudal system. He attempted to rule Eritrea as he did the rest of the country. Political parties and trade unions were banned. The Eritrean press came under federal control, with strict censorship. The Tigrinya language was replaced in schools by Amharic. Arabic was phased out. The Eritrean flag was replaced by the Ethiopian flag, and Ethiopian law was introduced. Even before reunification, the government was called “the Eritrean administration under Haile Selassie.” There was de facto no Eritrean government, and therefore no special legislative, executive, or judicial power except that of the Imperial Ethiopian government. After ten years of gradually taking over in Eritrea, Haile Selassie wanted to make his power official. It was crucial for him to have the Eritrean assembly vote for reunification with the empire. His main concern was that the Moslem members might prove recalcitrant, or even refuse to vote. Tedla Ekubit, the police commander at that time, was the busiest man in Asmara that week as he made sure that all assembly members were present for the vote. One week before the vote my battalion, the 34th, was ordered to

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march through the city and to camp outside until four days after the vote. I co-commanded one of the companies that ringed Asmara during that time. It was clear from our orders that we were there in case of any trouble from the Assembly or the people. In addition to our battallion, the entire police force, the air force and a detachment of infantry from another part

of Ethiopia were all on hand, making their presence felt by marching through the streets and generally being as visible as possible. All the pressure turned out to be unnecessary. The vast majority were clearly in favor of reunification anyway. On November 15, 1962, the Assembly unanimously voted for reunification.

Even though there was Eritrean resentment at some aspects of the behavior of Ethiopian officials, the only immediate trouble was a minor rebellion of a small group of Moslem separatists operating in the lowland area. It seemed insignificant, but later grew into the ELF (Eritrean Liberation Front). Reunification

A number of mistakes were committed after reunification. The Emperor attempted to neutralize the opposition by appointing opponents of unity to high political positions. One such appointment was Tesfa Yohannes Berhe, close relative of the famous Dejazmatch Tessema,

founder of the separatist movement during the British occupation. Tesfa Yohannes followed in his relative’s footsteps as a strong opponent of unity. His appointment as deputy governor was a surprise to members of the Unionist Party. Those who had been fighting for unity under the banner “Ethiopia or Death” were suddenly forgotten. My personal observation was that most highland Christians felt betrayed by such appointments, which had just the opposite effect from that desired. The appointees undermined unification through intrigues and even by persecuting members of the Unionist Party. How Unionists felt is shown by the fact that General Tedla Ekubit, the police commander who had helped ensure a unanimous vote on reunification, rebelled with his

police force against the government. One of his grievances was that opponents of unity against whom he had been struggling, like Tesfa

Yohannes, were now being appointed his superiors. It was too much for him to take. A short time later he committed suicide with the same pistol that Haile Selassie had awarded him for his contribution to reunification. Another error was appointing Amharas and other non- Eritreans as governors. This created great resentment because it was interpreted by many as “typical Amhara chauvinism.” The Amharas can be extremely arrogant. Because mostofthe recent kings of Ethiopia have been Amharas,

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they have convinced themselves that they are more Ethiopian than the rest of the population. There is a racism at work here, a myth fostered by the Amharas that they are the elite within Ethiopia. The reality is quite different. Only a small group of Amharas in Addis Abeba, the few who are in the bureaucracy, are well off. Most Amharas remain among the least privileged nationalities. The Amhara peasants of Shoa, Wollo, and Gondar are among the poorest in Ethiopia and are periodically overwhelmed by drought and war. The notion that Amharas were more loyal than anybody else sowed the seeds of a resentment in Eritrea. History proves how wrong this notion is. Amharas, Tigrayans, Oromos and all the nationalities have fought together and made sacrifices for Ethiopia. No one can be considered more loyal or more Ethiopian than another. This was the sort of racism that we wanted to eliminate in the Revolution. Later, as governor of Eritrea, I had to fight to remove the bad feeling this attitude had created. Perhaps the most serious mistake made in reunification was that the military was not educated on how to proceed in Eritrea. The army should have operated with kid gloves, but it entered Eritrea in the 1960s with the mentality of a conqueror. It belittled the small bands of Moslem separatists operating in the lowland areas and believed it could command respect and loyalty from the people by sheer show of force. The rebels of the ELF were few, mainly Moslems from the Ben Amir tribe, but they were tough fighters. The army never gave a thought to rebel motives. They were treated as shiftas (bandits) and never taken seriously. The army made a crucial error in its operation in the lowlands: it did not concentrate on attacking the guerrillas directly; instead it devastated the villages suspected of harboring them. Between 1963 and 1965 there were less than 500 guerrillas, but as the army grew more indiscriminate and sought to punish the community as a whole, many other Eritreans were affected. Out of anger and disillusionment, they joined the ELF. Many of them were Christians, broadening the rebels’ base. Another disastrous decision was that the army would only carry two or three days rations at a time. After they ran out, they were expected to live off the land, to take what they needed from the people. I remember soldiers slaughtering cattle, eating what they wanted, and then leaving the rest to rot. Sometimes soldiers would kill cattle just to get the livers. It was as if they were in enemy territory. The inevitable result was that increasing numbers of Eritreans grew to fear and hate Ethiopian soldiers, and Ethiopia. If Haile Selassie had carefully planned a formula for alienating the Eritrean people, he couldn’t have done better.

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Political Blunders

After General Abiye Abebe, Ras Asrate Kassa was another disas-

trous choice for Governor. He was an ambitious man more concerned with his stature than with governing with compassion. He was oblivious to the new realities taking shape in the rural areas. Meanwhile, the rebel movement was going through fundamental changes. It began recruiting in the cities and grew by leaps and bounds. The so-called “bandits” were now a recognized liberation movement with support from neighboring countries and the Middle East. The whole population of Eritrea was considered suspicious. Ethiopian officials made blunder after blunder and destructive attitudes hardened on all sides. Eritrea was equated with secessionism. Semi-educated Ethiopian officials had always had their doubts about Eritreans, and this became a deep-rooted prejudice—which in turn created fear, insecurity and lack of confidence on the part of the Eritreans. There was a continued ferment in the outlawed unions of Eritrean workers, in the schools and

on the campus of the College of Asmara. Eritreans began to withdraw from active government life, distancing themselves from everything associated with Ethiopia. Arbitrary detention of Eritrean citizens began. The economy of Eritrea had not improved with unification, and further strain was added by travel restrictions as certain areas became unsafe. Life became more difficult as communication and transport facilities were destroyed by the guerrillas. The rebels, who now had bothrural and urban supporters, Christian

and Moslem, as well as backing by Iraq and other Arab states, started inflicting heavy casualties. In 1964-1965 the death rate among soldiers was as low as 100 per year. Now it rose dramatically. It was at this point that an incident occured that permanently affected my future in the army. In 1965, while I was assistant training officer in the Second Division under General Shiferahu Tessema, an

American mapping team was kidnapped while on a surveillance mission not far from Asmara, and their helicopter burned. “Operation Rescue,” as it was called, was launched. A small contingent of American

troops came from Germany with aircraft and jeeps. I was sent to Agordat with the American aircraft and crew to pick up a platoon of soldiers and transport them to “Charlie Zone” in the north. The crew was new and unfamiliar with desert airstrips. Weighted down with ammunition, fuel, and 33 soldiers we barely made it off the ground, and minutes later we crashed. The plane caught fire and was completely consumed. Five soldiers died instantly and everyone else on the plane was seriously injured. Fortunately, we were not far from the camp and soldiers came

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to our rescue. The Americans were sent to Kagnew Hospital at the American naval station. We Ethiopians were sent to our own hospital. More soldiers died and many were permanently disabled. I stayed in the hospital for six months, with a fractured leg, which eventually became my excuse for leaving the army. The Ethiopians injured in the accident requested compensation in petition after petition to Ras Asrate Kassa. Finally, after two years, those of us who had survived were sent $50 each. We were told that was our compensation from the American government. I refused to take it. Setting that low value on our injuries and our lives was an insult. The kidnapping incident got a good deal of press. The Americans were released without being harmed after a short time. It was a significant incident in publicizing the cause of the Eritrean movement, and since then kidnapping has become a tactic of all rebel groups. Toward the end of the 1960s, there was an escalation in the war. More

troops were brought in, including one battallion from the First Division (Imperial Bodyguards) and an airborne battallion from Debre Zeit. But most important, a special force known as the Commandos, recruited

entirely from the Eritrean highlands, was trained and organized by the loyalist Eritrean police force. Under the leadership of General Goitom, the Commandos became fierce and merciless fighters, much better than the regular Ethiopian troops. Although they made significant military gains in the field, their brutality against their own people and their indiscriminate attacks on civilians created more fear and resentment. For every 10 guerrillas killed, 1000 more went over to the guerrillas. Every time anyone joined the guerrillas, their relatives were put ona list and sometimes detained and interrogated. By 1969 a state of emergency was declared in the province.

The Student Movement and Eritrea

While these developments were taking place on the ground, the Ethiopian student movement at home and abroad, particularly in Europe and North America, made the Eritrean question the most important item onits agenda. Even with the restrictions on the campuses of Asmara and Addis, there was talk about the issue from an entirely different perspective than what I or others in the army or government were used to. Marx, Engels, and Lenin were cited to support theories and solutions

to the problem. Coming from the field in Eritrea, Iwas exposed to this new attitude first at Haile Selassie University and then in the United States at Colum-

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bia University. In the US, the student movement was active, well-read,

and very much concerned with the future of Ethiopia. The Eritrean question was discussed more than any other issue in the student movement. The Leninist principles on the right of self-determination up to and including secession were regularly debated. The conclusions of the movement are typified by this statement from a student paper of the time: The democratic struggle of the different nationalities for

self-determination including political secession is an integral part of the national democratic revolution in Ethiopia. The struggle in Eritrea for self-determination including political secession is part and parcel of the national democratic revolution of the entire revolutionary masses of Ethio-

pia. Since Lenin’s writings on this issue are complex, however, they have been subject to various interpretations. For example, Lenin stated that supporting the right to secede was not the same as encouraging separatism. For him, the advantages of belonging toa large state far outweighed any benefits of fragmentation. According to Lenin, the right to secede might be exercised as a last resort in exceptional situations when nationalities found themselves in intolerable conditions. This of course leaves room for debate on when conditions might be deemed intolerable. Despite these complexities, most of the Ethiopian students supported the Eritrean liberation movement because it was the only organized movement against Haile Selassie. Most reasoned that once Haile Selassie and the feudal system were removed, the national question and the question of self-determination would be solved: all nationalities would have equality and autonomy, and there would be no need to secede. Others just jumped on the bandwagon of support for the rebels with no thought of its long-term implications. The Eritrean rebel leaders worked relentlessly to mobilize support from the educated classes. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Eritrean

liberation movement gained a strong following among intellectuals. Many joined the movement in the field. Some of my close friends from my youth and from my university days went to the front, spurred on by the militant mood. In 1970 infighting between factions within the ELF led to the formation of a splinter group, the EPLF (Eritrean People’s Liberation Front). The EPLF attracted more of the young radical intellectuals and Christian highlanders. The ELF became primarily a Moslem group. In the ensuing

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years disagreements between the two would lead to bloody confrontations, pitched battles, and betrayals to the Ethiopian army. By 1974 the ELF had gained the support of most of the Arab countries, the neighboring countries, the sympathy of the Western public and some Western governments. Cuba clearly supported the EPLF. In fact, the Cubans had begun secret negotiations with the EPLF through sympathizers in Europe; with the outburst of the Ethiopian Revolution, however, their support was hastily withdrawn. The EPLF underwent a fundamental change in an incident called “menka” in which many intellectuals within the movement were wiped out in an internal power struggle. A terror was unleashed within the ranks which left Issayas Afeworke as overall leader. The role of the liberal intellectuals within the EPLF was greatly reduced. The Ethiopian Revolution and Eritrea

Asin the rest of Ethiopia, the Eritreans hoped the Revolution would introduce a new era of peace, reconciliation and prosperity. These hopes were soon shattered. At the time of the Revolution, the Eritrean bourgeoisie was reaping certain limited benefits from identifying itself with the ruling class. There were intermarriages with the aristocracy; they owned land, houses, commercial farms. Eritreans had shown their enterprising nature by moving into other provinces in Ethiopia, marrying and opening businesses. They were generally better educated and more experienced in administrative affairs than other Ethiopians. Almost half of the small businesses in Addis and many in other parts of Ethiopia were owned and operated by Eritreans. The Revolution hit this class hard. The nationalization of land, extra houses, industries, and financial institutions, and the discouragement of

private enterprise crippled the Eritrean middle class and the few capitalists in the province. The Eritrean landowning class was also affected. A large number of industries in Eritrea were owned by Italians, but many Eritreans were shareholders. There were also small industries and other enterprises owned by Eritreans themselves. This was a period of mass defection of Eritrean businessmen and aspiring intellectuals to various anti-government groups. Many, of course, went to the ELF or EPLF. Prior to 1974 the Eritrean movements had been the only haven for those opposed to Haile Selassie; now they played the same role for those opposed to the Revolution. The dissatisfied Amharas, who were the elderly landowning aristocrats and lords, joined the EDU; some young people joined the EPRP.

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I was among those who had believed that with the Revolution and the declaration of socialism, the Eritrean question would be resolved. I felt that the secessionist movements were aimed at the oppressive feudal system of Halie Selassie. I believed that, given a chance, the Eritreans

would now work together in building a new Ethiopia where the concept of self-determination was a reality; an Ethiopia that would respect the rights of all nationalities, guaranteeing everyone a role in decision making. I felt they would accept a progressive regime that professed Marxism-Leninism. But professing Marxism did not bring a change of attitude overnight. The Military Council members approached the Eritrean problem no differently than the Emperor had. In its first two years the Military Council was absolutely chauvinistic toward Eritrea. The members, as

military men, were ruled by a stubborn pride that would not allow them to negotiate with the secessionists while they had the upper hand over Ethiopian troops in the field. But the liberation movements did not even give the Council a chance. In August 1974 General Amman, himself an Eritrean and a celebrated

hero of the Ogaden front, went to Eritrea as advisor to the Military Council. In private discussions with businessmen and elders, he acknowledged that mistakes had been committed and that the Military Council was prepared to correct them. In October, he came back to Eritrea as Chairman of the Military Council and in a mass rally appealed to to the Eritreans, assuring them that fundamental changes were taking place. A delegation was sent to some of the Arab countries, the Sudan, and Somalia to improve relations, and to assure them that the new government would guarantee the rights of the people and maintain good relations with the Arab world; thus there would be no need to support the secessionists. Amman’s appointment as chairman was perceived by many as an effort to appease the Eritreans; but neither this, nor his offer of peace and dialogue, nor the missions to the Arab world, changed the situation. In

my opinion, Amman’s shortcoming and the factor that weighed against him, more than anything else, was the fact that he was an Eritrean. He

had a pleasant personality but also a very destructive temper. He was a straightforward, honest militaryman, unequipped to deal with Showan political intrigues. He grew up in the Sudan, which had an effect of making him look different to those with feudal attitudes. His offer for the peaceful resolution of the conflict was never seriously considered both by the military council and the Eritrean separatist movements.The rebels kept up their military pressure. Amman committed suicide on November 23, 1974, rather than submit to execution by Mengistu’s soldiers.

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This gave the EPLF and ELF an excuse to escalate the war. The goals of the EPLF and ELF became very clear. They would not accept anything less than independence. They were not prepared to discuss working within the framework of a united, revolutionary Ethiopia. This new position of the EPLF and ELF forced their radical sympathizers, both Eritrean and non-Eritrean, to re-examine their support. There had been an assumption that the rebels were struggling for selfdetermination within the context discussed by Lenin. Their goal of absolute independence now confused many of their supporters. It removed the picture of a class struggle, a struggle between the forces of revolution and reaction. In December 1974 the Military Council decided to devote a timeslot to programing in the Oromo language on the national radio. The three dominant languages, Tigrinya, Amhara, and Oromo, now all had programs at the national level. This was a definite step toward the recognition of the right of self-determination. The Military Council used this occasion to invite the Eritrean secessionist movement to recognize the objectives of the Revolution and stop the conflict. The secessionists answered by stepping up their attacks. In the beginning of February 1975, the ELF and EPLF launched an offensive on Asmara in an attempt to occupy the city. They made the mistake of trying to occupy the capital without fully controlling the surrounding rural areas, and without resolving their own differences. The military and security forces concluded that the offensive of the secessionists was made possible by the collaboration of the residents of the city. In retaliation civilians, young and old, were indiscriminately massacred, either in the crossfire during the battle or as suspected rebel collaborators. The army’s excesses drove thousands to the guerrillas, and those that were left behind seriously questioned their allegiance to the Ethiopian Revolution. Henceforth many highland Eritreans, particularly young people, either went out in the field to join the guerrillas or became clandestinely involved in the movements. The Fiasco of the Peasant March

The Military Council in March 1976 called on the peasants of Shoa, Gojjam, Tigray, and Gondar to stage a peasant march in Eritrea. It was a complete fiasco and an embarrassment to the government. None of the more politically astute men on or around the Military Council were consulted. It was Mengistu’s idea supported by Atnafu. They were dreaming of the past when emperors such as Menelik had called on the Ethiopian warriors to attack in semi-organized hordes, relying on their

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courage to win the day. Unfortunately this was 1976, and the enemy was not armed with spears. More than 100,000 peasants were given ancient Portuguese and Czech rifles, some of them 50 years old. They were given no logistical support: virtually no ammunition, no rations, no clothes, shoes, or blankets. They were assigned to various Ethiopian generals and ordered to march into Eritrea, to eat whatever they found, and to kill whoever

crossed their path. The reasoning behind this primitive plan was that the march would hinder secessionist activity, disperse and frighten the rebels, and send a message that the whole nation was determined to

defeat them. Meanwhile, the peasant army would settle in Eritrea and become a buffer— loyalists watching over the suspicious activities of the Eritreans. The march was doomed from the start. First, because it was a march against our own people, the peasants were not motivated as they had been against the Italian invaders (or would be against the Somalis in 1977). Second, this army was no more than a random collection of peasants rounded up from streets and market places, prisons and labor camps. Third, there was a lack of provisions and arms. Most ofall, it was morally wrong. The formation of the peasant army was an irresponsible act, unworthy of a revolutionary government that had pledged to bring harmony to the nation. Our forefathers would never have approached the crisis in this manner. Our history is full of internal conflicts, of Ethiopian lords defecting or challenging the emperors who tried to usurp the authority of highland regions that have

enjoyed a degree of autonomy. But dialogue always entered the picture; one party yielded and problems were solved. The emperors and kings were flexible; they were willing to accept compromise or even defeat within the national context. They never tried to root out a people or a

culture. This was the beginning of an approach that could lead to genocide. The operation, code-named “Raza,” ended in total humiliation. The

peasants had no strategy. They just marched forward in crowds, singing war songs. The four separate groups fell into traps set by the EPLF and ELF at the borders of Gondar and Tigray long before they got to the heart of Eritrea. The first shots from the automatic weapons and the ensuing carnage had a shock effect on the peasants, who had never been told that

the guerrillas were sophisticated, organized and armed with the latest weaponry—most of which had been taken from the regular Ethiopian Army. The ragtag peasant force was quickly dispersed. Many became lost and died of starvation or sunstroke; others managed to straggle back to their villages. Over 25,000 peasants perished in this fiasco, another

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tragic mistake that has been hushed up by the government. It is never talked about today. The Nine-Point Peace Plan

After the disaster of Operation Raza, in May 1976 the Military Council under General Teferi Banti announced a nine-point peace plan. In a clear departure from previous positions, the plan affirmed for the first time the right of self-determination for all nationalities within Ethiopia:

The programme of Ethiopian NDR has affirmed that the right of self-determination of nationalities can be guaranteed through regional autonomy which takes due account of objective realities prevailing in Ethiopia . . . To translate this into deeds the government will study each of the regions of the country, the history and interactions of the nationalities inhabiting them, their geographic positions and their suitability to development and administration. After taking these into consideration, the government will

at an appropriate time present to the people the structure of the regions that can exist in the future. The entire Ethiopian people will then democratically discuss the issue at various

levels and decide upon it themselves. A commission to follow up on the implementation of the nine-point policy was established, with prominent Eritreans as members. The plan could have been the basis of negotiation with the Eritrean liberation movements. Negotiation could have lead to some sort of understanding, because the political mentors around the Military Council and the leadership of the Eritrean movements knew each other well from the student movements in Europe and America. However, the opportunity was missed. The ELF and EPLF rejected the plan and continued their military operations. By now the Military Council had the radical student intellectuals around it, and its attitude had become less hardened. The nine-point

policy was the result of pressures from these quarters. It also came from the realization that we had seriously underestimated both the commitment of the guerrillas, and the resentment of the Eritreans toward the atrocities of the army. My belief at the time was that we should limit our military operation to the area where the guerrillas were operating, and at the same time show compassion, love and a brotherly attitude toward the other Eritre-

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ans, particularly those in the villages and towns. I maintained that we must always draw a line between the guerrillas, who were definitely opposed to us, and the people, who we needed to support us. My views were not heeded at first, and when attempts of this nature were made, it was already too late. Even Eritreans living in Addis and in other provinces began to sell or abandon their property and join the movements. This was the time when the EPLF’s strength reached its peak. Campaign of Terror in Asmara

At about the same time as the peasant march began, a joint offensive by the EPLF and ELF was launched on the city of Asmara. Mengistu’s answer was to establish secret death squads. These special forces tried to drive a wedge between the people of Asmara and the guerrillas by committing atrocities and blaming it on the rebels. Young men and women were dragged out of their homes at night, strangled and thrown into the streets in what the death squads themselves called the “Piano Wire Operation.” Hundreds were killed in this terrible manner. At the same time, bombs were thrown into crowds and into bars. Anyone even remotely connected to the EPLF or ELF was executed or jailed. Everything was blamed on the guerrillas in an attempt to shift public opinion against them, but everybody knew that it was the special forces of the Ethiopian army. The soldiers admitted it themselves when they were drunk. The ELF and EPLF also sent out assassins to kill suspected spies, government officials and targeted military personnel. They called them the fedayeen, the Arabic word for “suicide squads,” and they were responsible for many atrocities. Despite this, the people still supported them. They felt the rebels were fighting for them, but every action the government took increased their hate. With this chaosasa pretext, the city was looted by the army. The once beautiful Italian shops were ransacked, and anything found on the streets was carried off. More menand women fled to join the movements. With indiscriminate death all around, it was either stay and die, or flee to fight. Anywhere from 300 to 800 people slipped out of the cities each month to join the rebels. Only the aged the sick, the weak, and those with connections to the military in Asmara were left behind. Out of a total population of over 200,000 in 1974, Asmara dwindled to less than 90,000 people in 1977. Many of those remaining spent their nights in the churches for fear that they would be dragged out of their beds and killed by the death squads. The rest of the major towns were also virtually abandoned.

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Of the many men who committed terrible crimes during this period, one who stands out as the architect and head of the campaign of terror is Colonel Asfaw Zenebbe, the army officer in charge of securing Asmara. Asfaw was a ruthless man; his brutal acts were well known to

Mengistu and others but he was given free reign in the city. He would stop at nothing to get what he wanted. If he saw a beautiful woman, he might jail her husband and force her to sleep with him as condition for his release; then kill the husband anyway. He looted many of the best homes in Asmara, killing the owners and taking what he wanted. He would jail people and demand thousands of dollars to have them released. Eventually Mengistu had him transfered, doubtless because he went to far. It was a terrible chapter in our history. Asfaw was only one of several pathological killers who were able to rise to the top under the system of terror instituted by Mengistu. It is not officially talked about, but those who were in Eritrea at the time or who had relatives there know

about it. It left a legacy of hate and a terrified, demoralized population. The acts of terror were organized and led by officers assigned directly by Mengistu. When I became governor of Eritrea in 1979, and heard the accounts of what Asfaw had done, I wanted him brought to trial. 1would

have been glad to see him hang, but I was advised that this would be unwise. There were too many others who committed similar crimes; Mengistu would be implicated and I would be blamed for having uncovered it. Justice could not be done. I suppose to this day Asfaw is living off his army pension somewhere in Ethiopia. This campaign of terror strengthened the forces of the EPLF/ELF tremendously. By July 1976 the rebel forces had increased by 500 percent (since 1974) and were able to muster 30 fighting battallions. At this time the man in charge of the region, General Getachew Nadew, a conserva-

tive military man who always wanted things his own way, refused to obey Mengistu’s orders. It was a power play on his part, anattempt to rise to the top of the hierarchy in the Military Council. Mengistu had him executed, leaving the Ethiopian forces in Eritrea in disarray. In 1977 the EPLF/ELF and the Somali government reportedly held intensive discussions to coordinate their offensives. It worked very well for them. As Somalia launched its invasion on July 23, 1977, the Eritrean

guerrillas stepped up their attacks. Ethiopian forces were shifted from Eritrea to meet the Somali invasion. The rebels took full advantage of their reduced opposition and made great gains. By the end of the year, the rebels had captured 90 percent of the province. Only the cities of Asmara and Barentu held out. The Arab world was overjoyed. It was only after the war in the east was over that the army could turn its

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attention to Eritrea. The bloodiest battle of Ethiopian army, surrounded the peninsulas in the harbor wasa mine field, and beyond

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the decade was fought in Massawa. The by the EPLF, was forced to retreat to one of with the sea at their backs. In front of them it the rebels were entrenched. Inan attempt

to break out, an entire battallion of 700 men charged into the mine field

and were wiped out nearly to a man. The next wave of infantry ran over the dead bodies of their comrades into the trenches of the rebels, fighting hand-to-hand for hours in the ruins of the city before the survivors finally broke out of the encirclement. Thousands died on both sides and the battle became famous asa test of will and determination for both armies. This was one of the most critical periods in our history. Losing the Red Sea and losing the Ogaden were unthinkable. I was in the Foreign Office at the time, and like everyone else I felt the pressure, the anxiety, and the humiliation. I wondered if it would be even possible to continue to live after this disgrace to our motherland. Our fathers and forefathers had sacrificed their lives in the defense of the nation; our current weaknesses seemed a betrayal of the duty and the trust they had bequeathed to us. The ELF and EPLF had the power to take Asmara, but at the last minute their mutual hatred proved stronger than their hatred of the Ethiopian army. Even as they lay poised outside Asmara, arguments broke out over what was to happen next. They lost their opportunity because they couldn’t come to an agreement. Ethiopian forces gained enough time to close the Ogaden front. The Second Liberation Army, whose morale was high after defeating the Somalis, turned its attention to Eritrea in June 1978. Within a few months they had cleared the area around Asmara and regained much of the province from the rebels, but the sacrifices were great and the excesses unacceptable. No one was the winner. I Become COPWE Representative of Eritrea

Icame to Eritrea as chief COPWE (Commission to Organize the party of the Workers of Ethiopia) representative in 1979. My powers were such that I was essentially the governor. The only aspect I did not control was the military. The way Mengistu assigned me to this position is a good illustration of his decision-making process. For reasons that were never clear to me, Mengistu decided to remove me from my post as Deputy Foreign Minister. I knew that while he appreciated the work I did in the Foreign Office, he felt Iwas neglecting the all-important Party work. This

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was true. Those in the government supporting true democracy had disappeared, and I had lost interest in participating in the Party organization. I held aloof from the game playing. Mengistu called me into his office on December 25, 1979, and as always started off on a disjointed preamble touching on dozens of different topics. Then he threw out his reason for bringing me in: I was needed in Eritrea. It was a bombshell. I couldn’t believe it. I liked my job in the Foreign Office, even though I had serious differences with the

erratic Foreign Minister, who was noted for his unpredictability and opportunism in an office that required the strictest honesty and expertise. |would have liked for one of us to be removed; but I never thought it would be me—to be sent into the biggest problem area in Ethiopia! But Mengistu was playing a game. The day before I was called in, Fisseha Desta, a senior member of the Military Council and now a member of the Politburo, had also been told by Mengistu that he was going to be COPWE representative in Eritrea; and that Berhanu Bayih, another Politburo member, was to be COPWE representative in Harar

(the Ogaden). These newly-recovered problem areas were being given priority for the establishment of the first COPWE offices. Fisseha was an intelligent and well-read man who was paralyzed by fear of the intrigues of Mengistu. He was from Tigray and was often accused of being a member of the rebel movement there; Mengistu used this to guarantee obedience and loyalty from him. Both Fisseha and Berhanu were insulted by the prospect of being taken from senior positions on the small Standing Committee of the Military Council,

(which had taken over the responsibility of the Military Council) and sent to the provinces. The talk I had with Mengistu on December 25 was brief, because he was not prepared to say more. He told me that I should join Fisseha in Eritrea for a few days and come back with a recommendation on office spaces and other administrative problems. Fisseha and I went off to Eritrea on our mission, both of us confused,

neither of us wanting to leave our posts for this very difficult assignment. We had both been told the same thing by Mengistu, but Fisseha was certain that he was going to end up the one assigned here. He didn’t argue, of course. He was struggling to find out why Mengistu was doing away with the Standing Committee of the Military Council and sending him to Eritrea. (Later we learned that Mengistu was out to dismantle the Military Council and haveits role taken over bya new COPWE Executive Committee which would be more directly under his control.) When we caine back from Eritrea and submitted our reports to Mengistu, neither Fisseha nor I knew what was going to happen. Both of us got ready to

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leave. A few days later, I was called to Mengistu’s office and told that I would be the COPWE representative in Eritrea. I rushed to Fisseha’s office. He knew nothing about it, but was relieved that he was being spared this assignment. Fisseha remained in Addis and is still the number three man in the government. By putting me in Eritrea, Mengistu was achieving two things. He wanted me more involved in Party work, and he wanted someone to

tackle the difficult job of pacifying the people. Now that the government had chased the rebels to the northernmost tip of Eritrea, he wanted to bring people back into the fold and normalize the situation. I was reluctant to accept but had no choice. I went to Eritrea with a few people assigned by Mengistu who later became the members of the COPWE committee. To serve the interests of the Eritrean people and the interest of Ethiopian unity, in which I believe so strongly, was to be one of the most exciting and fulfilling experiences of my life. Later it also became the most frustrating, as my efforts were thwarted by others in the government.

According to Mengistu, Eritrea would cease to be a problem once the people were organized into the Workers’ Party of Ethiopia. He had no idea of what the years of terror had meant. It was absurd to imagine that all that could be healed by organizing a Marxist-Leninist Party. The Eritreans hated and feared anyone from Addis; they didn’t want a Party,

they wanted peace and freedom from the reign of terror—they wanted some kind of decent life back again. I was notsure I was the right person to accomplish all this. Since Ihad lived in Eritrea before, I knew the people and the country; and with my military background and exposure to foreign relations, I represented a change of image. But I knew that assigning an Eritrean as the chief over both administration and Party work would have had greater significance. It had been attempted once. General Amman had appointed an Eritrean, Amanuel Amde Mikael, as administrator; but he was unable to

represent the interests of the Eritreans because of his limited authority. Today Amanuel is a high-ranking member of the Politburo, for one reason only: Mengistu can say that Eritrean interests are represented. It is all a facade. Amanuel is not a Marxist, but an educated patriot who

does not believe that he represents the Eritrean people. One of my committee members, Amanuel

Gebreyesus, was an

Eritrean. A highly educated historian, he had come from exile in Sweden in 1978 to join the Revolution. He had written much about Eritrea, and was as bold in expressing his opinions as he was cynical about the party organization. He was committed to finding a political solution to the Eritrean problem. We became good friends. He was disillusioned earlier

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thanIand fled the country in 1984. Iadmired his courage and his efforts to make Mengistu and his henchmen understand the complexities of the Eritrean question. When [arrived with my small committee of five in Eritrea, it did not

take us long to discover that there was much to be done. Asmara was completely changed. From my days as a young officer, Iremembered a city bustling with activity. Asmara then had looked like a small Italian

city, with beautiful shops, thousands of cars and bicycles. But there was nothing of that beauty left. The city was like an armed camp with sandbags and barbed wire everywhere. There were armed soldiers on every street, in buildings and on top of buildings. Military roadblocks were everywhere. Only 90,000 people remained in the city, and the only people on the streets were women, children, and old men. Most of the

shops, bars and hotels were closed. Curfew was at 6:30 in the evening. The once open-minded, aggressive Eritreans were walking with heads bowed, exchanging furtive whispers, demoralized, frustrated, and terri-

fied. Beautiful Asmara was torn and desolate. We decided that our first priority was to tour the region. We found destruction and desolation everywhere. Schools, hospitals, dams, bridges,

roads, power stations, and industries had been destroyed either by deliberate bombing by the Ethiopian Air Force, or by artillery duels between the rebels and the army. Much of the damage was due to the rebels, who had destroyed bridges, roads, and power stations. It was as though civilization had stopped functioning. Everyone had fear in their eyes. The hardest part for me was my visit to Decamere, a once beautiful

little place 25 miles south of Asmara. The Italians used to call it “Secondo Roma” because it looked so much like a small Italian town. I had lived here for two years in the early 1960s when I was assigned to the nearby military training center. Decamere meant a lot to me; a part of my youth was spent here. I knew every restaurant, every bar, and had made many friends. Like many towns in Eritrea in those days, Decamere had older Italians who had not wanted to leave after independence because of their love for their adopted home. It wasa lovely city of fruit trees, parks, small factories and vineyards which produced the best wine in the country. Even after I was at the university, I used to return to Decamere during vacations. It had been nine years since I had last visited, and what I saw now sickened me. Decamere was half destroyed and what remained was a ghost town. There were only a handful of people left. As I entered the town a ragged group of survivors turned out to greet me. Red hammer

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and sickle flags waved, and Marxist inscriptions welcomed me as the new chief in Eritrea. There were half-hearted songs and cheers. It turned my stomach. I knew that the people were not doing it of their own free will. Some may have come out of curiousity, but no one was in a mood to celebrate or to cheer. I didn’t know what to do. Wave back? Respond to the cheers as if pleased at the welcome? This constant need for a facade of well-being that Iwould see so often during the famine .. .so obviously forced in the face of this misery . . . It revolted me. Then, as we drove through the crowd, I saw a familiar face. I told the driver to stop and jumped out of the car. My security people were surprised; they jumped down, guns pointed in all directions. The man I had recognized was Fissehaye, the co-owner of a restaurant called “Centrale” where my friends and I had gathered in the 1960s, playing billiards, drinking the delicious local wine, and eating Italian

food. I ran over and hugged him in the midst of the crowd. He knew me at once and was pleased and quite surprised that I remembered him. Fissehaye had changed. I remembered him as a very smart, lively, and jovial man. Now he looked very old and his clothes were torn and patched; he was demoralized.

Fissehaye told mea

tale that broke my heart. The restaurant had been

closed for five years. The other owner of the “Centrale,” an Italian named

Samsone, had been taken by the rebels and was never seen again. One of Fissehaye’s sons had joined the guerrillas; the other one had been killed by the rebels in the city. He had one daughter and her two children living with him. Her husband had committed suicide because he felt humiliated at not being able to feed his wife and children. Fissehaye was now living on handouts from the Relief Commission. Indicating the crowd around him with a gesture, he said, “Everybody has a story to tell, more

tragic than mine.” I felt so bad that I couldn’t bear to talk to himany more. My guards quickly pushed me into the car and we continued our tour. As I looked around my sorrow grew. Devastation was everywhere. Every street brought additional evidence of ruin. No water, no food, no work, the vineyards destroyed, shops closed, buildings blown to rubble. After the brief tour, Iwas expected to address the people. I got up on the podium, took the bullhorn, and tried to speak. As I saw the crowd in

front of me, their faces dulled with sorrow and hunger, or their eyes blazing with anger, I thought: “What am Igoing to tell these people? The usual empty statements about the Revolution? About the bright future?” These people had no future. They did not even have a today— no food, no work, no shelter; they were not even safe, they could be killed at any moment. A lump came into my throat, and there on the podium before

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I could say anything I was overwhelmed with grief. Tears came to my eyes and all I could manage to say was, “My dear friends, I’ll talk to you under better circumstances, because now I can’t say anything.” I left the podium in tears. It was one of the saddest moments of my life. Decamare was special for me, but most places in Eritrea were the same. Massawa was the hardest hit. Keren, Agordat, Tessenei . . . there

was destruction everywhere, massive unemployment, destitution, and the insecurity that comes from not knowing what pain tomorrow may bring. It was rare to see a young man. They were hiding for fear that they would fall victims to the government or the rebels; or else they had joined the guerrilla forces. On my tour I was struck by a peculiar custom. When highland Christian Eritreans were buried, the Ethiopian flag was flown at the funeral service. This is not a custom in any other part of Ethiopia. It began as a political statement during the British administration and developed into a tradition. Even now, after what the Eritreans had been through at the hands of the Ethiopian army, they continued to treat the green, yellow and red flag as a sacred symbol. After we finished the tour, my staff and I tried to learn as much as we could about the problems by talking to people. The first step was to get their confidence. How could they tell the truth, when the truth either incriminated the government, which I represented, or the rebels who

had eyes and ears everywhere? So these interviews were held in private with just myself and two other COPWE committee members. Fortunately my colleagues, even those picked by Mengistu, were good people. We primarily interviewed old people and mothers. We sat in my office, in the building that once had been used by the Italian governor of Eritrea and later had become the City Hall, hearing story after story, filling up enormous files for the official record. Word had already spread that Ihad lived in Eritrea and that I had many Eritrean friends, so I was looked on with a reluctant acceptance. It gave mea start in getting these persecuted people’s trust. I would begin the interviews by criticizing my government. I didn’t start froma self-righteous position. I let people know that I was aware of the atrocities and wanted to help. We talked with over a hundred people in a six-week period. We heard horrifying stories of sons dragged from their homes and never heard from again; of homes robbed and looted; of bribes paid to have loved ones released; of the thousands who had disappeared; of threats from both the government and rebel soldiers; of pretending to be loyal when their hearts were with their sons and daughters who had joined the rebels. The cities were full of goverment and rebel spies. Yet people told of how, voluntarily or involuntarily, they had joined underground cells

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to gather information for the rebels and contribute money to their cause. EverythingIheard, combined with whatI

had seen, told me that the

people were disgusted by what both sides were doing . They were tired

of being caught in the middle; they wanted an end to the war. But they were always more sympathetic to the rebel movement, which had the fate of their loved ones in its hands. Since the days of Haile Selassie, the army and the government machinery had always been repressive, arbitrary and cruel. The rebels in pursuing their objectives had also been cruel. They had executed people in the cities for not collaborating with them or for collaborating with the goverment. They had destroyed infrastructures, made raids and in the process killed or caused the killing of thousands. But the people didn’t want to discuss the atrocities of the rebels. Their attitude was: “Our boys will come home if your government will stop being so cruel.” It was the attitudes and actions of the Ethiopian government from the days of Haile Selassie that slowly and finally carried the entire Eritrean population into the rebels’ arms. The government never learned that treating people with humanity is the only way to win them over. Force will always be met with force; it will always breed more hatred,

more suspicion. A country may win a war to bring lands together under one nation; but unless the people of those lands are made to feel a part of that nation, are treated with respect, it will be a hollow victory. There can never be a victor in building a nation by force. In the beginning of 1980, there was an improvement. The army became more selective in its targets. They abandoned the scorched earth policy and started sharing concerns with the people, even sharing rations and giving them the services they needed. In many parts of the province, the people’s bitterness toward Ethiopia was significantly reduced. I sincerely believed then, and still believe today, that it was the

policies and actions of the Ethiopian government that drove the people to rebellion; that the majority of Eritreans still believe that there is no alternative to some form of unity to Ethiopia; that they do not truly consider secession possible, desirable, or practical. I assumed my new responsiblities with this belief as my starting point and set out to undo what had been done. I began not with the Party as Mengistu had ordered, but with the personal needs of the people. Our first priority was the question of personal safety. I wanted the people to know that they would no longer be subject to arbitrary arrest or execution—that there would be due process of law. While we worked on this most pressing problem, every morning in COPWE’s office we

would meet hundreds of mothers in their typical Northern dress, the

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white shemma (a sort of loose robe) with their hair braided tightly against their heads. They would cry and shout, trying to get my attention. Initially there were just a few, but in three days their numbers grew to almost 300. I met with them and asked them to tell me their questions and problems. It was the same for all of them. Their children or husbands had disappeared, taken by government security from their homes or offices and never heard of again. All had been gone from one to four years. If they were alive, the women wanted to know where they were; they wanted to visit them. If they had been killed, the women wanted to know so they could mourn and try to think of life without their loved ones. I knew that between 1975 and 1978 terrible crimes had been committed by the security forces against civilians. Even junior army officers or security officials had license to drag people out of their beds or offices, demand money or other favors, and either execute them or put them in jail. There were no files, no records. I had established a committee to

investigate this, but these women convinced me it was an urgent matter, and I promised them I would find the answer soon.

The investigation didn’t take long. Most of the missing people had been imprisoned in Expo 67, an elaborate complex where a trade fair had been held in 1967 under Prince Asrate Kassa. It had become a jail because all the prisons were full. When the notorious Colonel Zenebe Asfaw was chief of security, and to a lesser degree after him until the end of 1978,

thousands of prisoners had been executed as rebels; some were caught reading rebel leaflets or contributing money, some were members of underground cells, and some were involved in assassinations or other

sabotage activities. The families of those whose guilt was clear had been notified of their execution. But there was no information on the fate of those who were imprisoned for personal reasons or on mere suspicion. For the most part, these people had been shot with no records and buried on the prison grounds. These were the people that the women wanted to know about. What was I to tell them? I faced a dilemma. If I said they were executed in the prison, it would raise the question of who was ultimately responsible. Mengistu would be implicated. Furthermore, I had no eywitnesses or documents to prove it. This kind of terror had, to a lesser

degree, been committed in the rest of Ethiopia. In some cases in Addis the families had to pay money for the “bullet wasted on the individual” to get the corpse for decent burial; but at least they knew. Here it was different. After finding out what I could, I invited the women back and tried

to make what I considered a safe statement: that of the list of 270 people Ihad received from them, to the best of my knowledge all were dead. I

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would not beable to give thema certificate for this, but they could mourn their dead in whatever way they wanted and they would be entitled to all the rights of inheritance or other legal benefits. Their reaction surprised me. I expected them to cry there in front of me, but that is not what happened. They expressed their satisfaction with a traditional shrill cry of “el-li-li-li!!” and left. In a few days, the city was full of mourning. These women had known instinctively that their loved ones were dead, but until they had been officially told and expressed their grief with the traditional mourning ceremony, they had been unable to live witha clear conscience. They had grieved personally, but in traditional Ethiopia it is official mourning that relieves the anguish of death. One case I remember very well. A man who had been running a popular bar vanished one day. His young wife set out to find him. She was told by someone that he was at Expo 67, and that he had disappeared from there. She paid a $700 bribe to get into Expo prison and ask those who had known him what had happened. She heard he was taken out one evening and never heard from again. Someone else told her that he and other young men had been sent to the Ogaden to serve as soldiers, and that when the Somalis invaded they were captured and repatriated to the EPLF-ELF. Grasping at this hope, she traveled to the rebel-held lowlands by camel and by foot; for two months she went from Keren to Agordat to Tessenei, asking the guerrillas if they knew of her husband. She came back with no answer. She checked all the major prisons in the other parts of Ethiopia. She bribed people who told her they had information. She could never stop searching, even when she knew inside that he was dead. It was only after she heard those words from me that she was able to accept it; only then could she put on her black dress and start to mourn.

I was gratified that I was able to end this ordeal for at least that group. But there were hundreds of others who had been taken to places outside my jurisdiction, or who had simply disappeared. Our investigation at the prison confirmed that there were hundreds of people in jail with no charges against them, in some cases with no knowledge of who put them there. Nobody bothered to look into the cases against these prisoners, but nobody dared to release them. They were just left there to rot. Some had been there for more than five years. I used my authority to release 120 prisoners. By the end of the first year,1700 had been freed. Word got back to Mengistu about my releasing these people, but I was ready for him: “Comrade Chairman, I am doing it on your behalf, for your image.” He agreed, as long as there were scapegoats. He was not to be blamed, and if it would improve his image,

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he didn’t argue. Our COPWE committee took further measures. Asmara had been looted. The British had taken what they wanted in 1952; now Ethiopian officials were stealing the cars, the machinery, all the facilities that had

made the cities of Eritrea beautiful and productive. We stopped all that and announced the re-establishment of a government structure with rules and regulations. We began with the basics: —There must be due process of law; no arbitrary detention or arrest; ifand when necessary, the law must be opera-

tional in a matter of 24 hours, and unless there is a case according to the law, the suspect must be released. —No person will get special treatment because of his/ her position or national origin. —People will be able to move freely; there will be no restrictions on movement except in known security zones. —tThere will be no torture in investigations. —Prisons will be open to the public. —All prisoners with no record or no case against them will be released. —People who have been associated with the secessionists, or who have read their leaflets, or who have been members of underground cells, or who have contributed money to these groups are pardoned; because any reasonable person would have done the same given the limited rights of the people, the persecutions and lack of security; people can only be expected to fulfill their civic obligations when the atmosphere is conducive to a decent, normal life.

We announced these new policies on the Asmara radio and in the local paper. We held meetings with the Urban Dwellers’ and Peasants’ Associations, telling them to spread word of the changes. We couldn’t arrest and try members of the police or special forces whom we suspected of atrocities, but we did purge everyone who did not adhere to our new rules of conduct. There was a remarkable response. People began to feel safer. Cars and bicycles were back on the streets, bars filled up, and more food was available. The creativity of the Eritreans has always astounded me. Given a chance, they can perform miracles. Now, no one was idle. People had gardens in their backyards; the tiniest plots were planted with vegetables. Many managed to get a few chickens or a cow. If amandidn’t

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have a job, he might melt down some scrap iron and start making pots and pans—anything to make some money. The confidence of people came back. Asmara slowly became a bustling city again. After two years, most of the urban centers were back to normal. The population of Asmara surpassed its pre-revolutionary figure of 200,000. Guerrillas started giving up by the thousands. We established special transition centers for returning rebels. After two months’ orientation, they were back in society. Sergeant Legesse Asfaw, chief of the Organization Division of COPWE, was hard to tolerate. He was constantly on my back about the work of the COPWE committee. He said we were there to indoctrinate the people and gave me specific orders to get started. I felt it was ridiculous to start organizing a Workers’ Party among a people whose loyalty to the government, and even their association with Ethiopia, was shaky. Our first priority had to be to make them feel part of Ethiopia. I defied his orders and never even spoke to him unless forced to. In my own way, | was trying to face up to and correct the mistakes committed by the government. I believe the majority of Eritreans liked what we were trying to do, but they also understood that it was not a consistent policy; that it was just the momentary initiative of a few wellintentioned individuals. They had been through too much to trust that this current trend would continue. When we embarked on a program to institutionalize these new policies, we ran into great difficulties. Some of the measures we took— releasing prisoners, pardoning members of the rebel movements, lifting the curfew, opening entertainment facilities for the young, and avoiding talks on the Revolution—did not go down well with the hardliners in Addis. They only understood grinding people under their boot heelsand thought the rebels would view our softer approachasa sign of Ethiopian weakness. By far the most controversial point in our program of reconciliation was arming the peasants to protect themselves. Many considered this foolhardy and dangerous. Our reasoning was that if the Eritrean peasants were going to feel they were part of the Ethiopian nation, then the government must prove it trusted them. The rebels would try to destroy the well-being we hoped to bring, and giving the peasants weapons to protect themselves showed we trusted them. But Legesse was one of

those narrow-minded men who always equated Eritrea with secession orcounterrevolution; for him, all Tigrayans were in the TPLF, all Oromos were in the OLF, all old people in the EDU and all young rebels in the EPRP. There was no one left to trust but himself and his handful of cadres.

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Everyone told us it wouldn’t work, but we were completely vindicated. The highlanders we armed were just simple farmers, but the militia they formed proved they were not for secession. They successfully defended their lands from guerrilla attacks time and time again. They were more motivated to fight than the regular army precisely because they felt they were protecting their homes and their homeland— Ethiopia. The Dahlak Islands

In keeping with my resolution to observe every region of Eritrea, I visited the Dahlak Islands in the Red Sea; in fact, I was the first Ethiopian

official ever to set foot on some of them. There are approximately 350 islands of which only nine are inhabited, with a total population of not more than 6,000.

The Soviet Union had already made its presense felt on the largest island by establishing a naval base. The Soviets were cautious not to risk too much in this unstable region, so their facilites were limited to mobile docks and pre-fab structures that they had salvaged from Somalia when Siad kicked them out. To save money on construction, they renovated an

old Italian prison used to lock up Ethiopian patriots and used it for a warehouse and living quarters. The native islanders did not benefit at all from the Soviet presence. The Soviets had clean drinking water, but the natives had to bring water in all the way from Massawa. The Soviets had brought in huge ships that were able to take in tons of fish every day, while the Dahlak Islanders, whose staple food was fish, had to spend hours with their nets to get a good catch for the day. (Apparently, the Soviets were fishing illegally. When Kosygin had visited Ethiopia, the issue of fishing rights was raised but no agreement was reached. I remember the discussion because I was

at the meeting.) The main island was barren, and did not grow anything. It was a quiet place. The people did not even know why they were called Ethiopians; most of their relations and associations were with Arab

countries. They fished in their traditional wooden boats and took dried fish to the Arab countries, particularly Saudi Arabia and Yemen, a two day voyage in their primitive boats. There they exchanged dried fish for some other food stuffs or even television sets. Dahlak was one of the few places in Ethiopia where TV sets existed—they watched Arab programs from Yemen or Saudi Arabia. On two of the smaller islands I found pure Arabs living alongside a people with very dark features. Their numbers were small, but here were two distinct races of people living in harmony.

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I was told by their elders that in the 14th and 15th centuries there had been a regular slave trade from this point to the Arab countries. Both races on the islands today are descendants of those who, for some reason, did not make the trip. The Dahlak Islands have never been affected by the internal conflicts. At the same time, the Ethiopian government had never done

anything for the islanders to make them feel they were Ethiopians. I felt it was important to establish public services and education facilities for these people. During my tenure in Eritrea a school and a health center were established, along with a reservoir for drinking water. I also

oversaw the building of an airstrip on the main island that made it easier to travel in and out. I took Mengistu once for a short visit. From my description, he had wanted to see the islands and the people very much. When we finally went, he seemed disappointed. I don’t know what he had expected to

see, but he was not impressed. The only thing that did impress him were the huge Russian ships that were there at the time. We told him that the islanders were irritated by the way the Soviets were fishing; that they were not communicating with the people and wouldn’t even share their drinking water. We also told him that the Soviet reconnaisance planes stationed at Asmara were not abiding by the regulations of the civil aviation authority. [had complained about this to the Soviets earlier, and they had resorted to name-calling. They brand anyone who gets in their

way as “anti-Soviet” and “counterrevolutionary.” Since I was too high in the rank for this to have any effect, eventually they did try to conform to

regulations. Mengistu heard our complaints and cautioned us: “You people have to be careful with the Russians. What would happen if they decided not to give us arms or even if they deliberately delayed delivery? We have to be grateful and express our positions on certain issues ina way that won’t create misunderstandings. If things become sensitive, please refer them to me before making decisions that might make them angry.” I never had anything more to do with the Soviets if I could help it. Their Dahlak facilities remained small. The fishing continued. Their other activities were limited to military operations. Operation Red Star

The first two years of the committee's activities proved to us beyond a doubt that if sufficient attention were given to social problems, eco-

nomic problems and human rights, the great majority of Eritreans would be glad to participate in the life of the nation. Our COPWE committee

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based its long and short term strategies on the following understandings: —First and foremost, the Eritrean problem cannot be solved militarily. —Continued military operations merely worsen the situation. —As more and more people die, the base of resentment widens, which will only result in the escalation of the conflict, and increased human and financial costs. —We should understand the root causes of the rebellion and attack the problem based on this analysis. —We should take the initiative in repairing and constructing hospitals, schools, industries, and utilities.

—We should provide more public services, generate more employment, and make available more consumer goods and raw materials that will fuel the creativity of the people. —We must assure the Eritreans that there is due process of law, and be magnanimous toward those who have worked against unity. —We must allow more cultural autonomy and assist in strengthening these cultures. —We must launch a diplomatic offensive aimed at forging stronger ties with the countries that support the rebel movement, to inform them of the government's desire to solve the Eritrean problem peacefully.

We felt that these were the aspects of the problem that were being ignored by the Revolution. On the basis of these ideas the COPWE committee formulated and implemented policies that changed things for the better in Eritrea. Some of the more sensitive points, and those that required extra resources, were submitted to Mengistu. Military operations were directly under Mengistu and the Ministry of Defense, and little was done on our part in that area. We did try, however, to influence the military leadership to be more humane. By approaching the Eritrean problem in this way, under the glare of publicity in a region where there was a real military challenge to the regime, we were bound to develop conflicts with those who were benefitting from the continuing turmoil. But since neither myself nor the rest of the committee had received specific policy guidelines, we were able to deviate from the usual practice. As we organized meetings and conferences and tried to promote discussion of important issues, even the alienated Eritrean public

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understood our sincerity and gave our attempts a chance. As one of our initiatives to normalize the situation, we planned to open the beautiful port city of Massawa to the public and invite representatives of all Ethiopian nationalities, associations and organizations to a week of discussions and cultural activities. This planned “Massawa Festival” elicited tremendous enthusiasm both in Eritrea and the rest of

Ethiopia. But Mengistu and his clique didn’t like the idea at all. They seemed to fear that we were on the verge of finding the solution to the Eritrean problem that had eluded them for years. They personalized our entire effort in Eritrea, and believed that the festival would only result in

making me more popular and discredit Mengistu. Some of the senior officials in the Eritrean administration labelled our policy “Eritreanism” and tried everything possible to subvert our efforts. They gunned down two Eritreans working with our committee and tried to make it look like the work of the EPLF. In the midst of our preparations for the Massawa Festival in 1982, Mengistu came to Asmara. It was his first official visit. I briefed him on

our activities and told him (as always) that the Eritrean problem was complex and needed time and tolerance. This was not what he wanted to hear. He had come falsely assuming that our work had already won over the Eritrean people, and that only a final military push was needed. He firmly believed in a military victory and was not prepared to recognize the liberation movements in any way. He was, however, willing to launch a massive economic and social campaign to deny the rebels the support of the population. He instructed a special committeee, of which I was a member, to make the concrete plans and proposals. Since we envisioned

nationwide economic, social, political and

diplomatic efforts, the plan was clearly beyond the capacity of a single

province. Mengistu decided that this would be a national effort and declared that Asmara would be the seat of government. The best economists in the country, historians, engineers, planners, artists, speakers,

notable elders, foreign relations experts—all were all handpicked by him and came to Asmara. New offices were readied and departments were set up, each dealing with specific programs: political, military, social, cultural, economic. At first the project was somewhat unimaginatively called “The

Multi-Faceted Operation to Solve the Conflict in Eritrea.” Then Mengistu came to a meeting furious because the Americans were conducting a military exercise in the Red Sea. He said that our Eritrean campaign must be a response to the American show of force. “They call their operation ‘Bright Star,’ so we'll name ours ‘Red Star.’ When they see our show of force they’II see that we can’t be blackmailed by American arrogance. We

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will decimate the [rebel] forces they are arming. We will humiliate them, show them beyond any doubt that there is nothing more motivating,

more forceful and more bright than red.” Henceforth, the Eritrean program became known as the “Red Star

Campaign.” In the next few months Eritrea was colorful and full of life; thousands poured in from all over the nation to celebrate the launching of the campaign in what we had earlier planned to be the Massawa Festival. Enormous amounts of money were assigned to the various projects, and Eritreans were excited that their long-standing grievances

seemed to be a priority, and that they were involved in solving them. But slowly, the tone changed. This momentum ground to a halt as the military operation took over. Several divisions (120,000 men) were brought from the eastern, southern and central commands and plans were made to destroy rebel strongholds. Mengistu began to boast that the final hour had come when the Revolution would once and for all destroy the rebel forces. The entire cabinet was in Asmara. Some members argued for sticking to the original ideals of the operation; but all of us found our emotions taking over as we were caught up in the day-today activities of supporting the military efforts. Mengistu’s mood grew more and more militaristic, undermining the rest of the programs. This

martial mood took over all of Asmara. Energies and funds that ought to have been devoted to the social, economic and political programs were poured into the war effort. Mengistu personally planned the strategies and troop movements. On the Karkabet front, to the west and north, there were a series of

military failures, due, in large part, to the dismal failure of a plan which had been personally approved by Mengistu. An entire task force of more than three divisions was scattered by the rebels with heavy casualties. One of the division commanders, Colonel Hualeshet, and a number of

officers were later executed at the front by order of Mengistu. (It has always been so: after every defeat, scapegoats are found to take the blame off Mengistu and his immediate advisors.) The Karkabet front was abandoned, but the battles on other fronts

went well. Ethiopian divisions advanced steadily, but with heavy losses. As our forces converged on the town of Nacfa, a rebel garrison in the rugged terrain of the extreme northern part of Eritrea, we could see Mengistu swell as the scent of victory grew stronger. He strutted like the God of War. A myth grew around Nacfa, a myth created by Mengistu. Capturing the town was equated with the final solution to the Eritrean problem. The truth was that Nacfa didn’t matter that much; won or lost, it wouldn’t have changed the rebels’ struggle. It might be a temporary setback, but not the “final blow” it was being called in those days.

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As our forces converged to within two miles of Nacfa, the battle grew hotter every day with the rebels grudgingly giving ground. The mood in Asmara grew tense with the anticipation of the final blow. Many of us were surprised that the EPLF had not abandoned their stronghold; no one could see how a force of 15-17,000 could survive an offensive by 200,000 heavily armed troops. Finally Nacfa was fully besieged. For days, artillery barrages and air raids reduced the town to rubble. A few days later the Ethiopian troops cut opena corridor after a bitter fight and were bracing to pour through it to capture the town. At this crucial juncture the Chief of Staff, General Haile Giorgis,

ordered the troops to halt their advance. Haile Giorgis had risen to Chief of Staff for one reason: he was an opportunist who did everything he could to flatter Mengistu. He was despised by his fellow officers as a coward who had caused the deaths of several hundreds of soldiers due to his ineptitude and indecisiveness in battle. He halted the final assault on Nacfa because he wanted

the Third Infantry division, in which

Mengistu had served most of his career, to have the honor of taking the town. In the few hours that elapsed in bringing the Third Infantry into position, the rebels reorganized and cut off the corridor that had been opened at the cost of so many lives. By the time the Third Infantry arrived it was not able to move forward. The rebels counterattacked and a bloody battle ensued in which the commander of the Third Infantry was killed. By the end of the day, the rebels had driven the army back a mile. Every ensuing day the rebels won back a few more miles of ground. Soviet military advisors were active throughout; their strategy of moving forward inch by inch and prevailing by sheer weight of numbers had not worked. The Ethiopian army lost 11,000 soldiers and hundreds more wounded or captured. The rebels also lost thousands of fighters, but came out stronger, more determined, and better equipped with what they captured from the retreating Ethiopian soldiers. The spectacular “Red Star” campaign, with all its enthusiasm and idealism, all its hope of finally solving the Eritrean problem, came to a dead end. Except for some reconstruction of destroyed power and communications installations, none of the other projects were completed. Every hope we had of ending the conflict was dashed at Nacfa. Instead of the final victory, it became a symbol of misplaced priorities. Today the myth of Nacfa lives on. There is nothing there anymore—the town was blown away during the battle. But for the rebels who still control the region, it is a symbol of their resistance. In Asmara, no one could talk about the defeat. Everyone in the

government spoke in hushed tones. Three weeks after Nacfa, Mengistu and all the ministers went back to Addis. The war continued even more

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intensely. Haile Giorgis seemed bent on disrupting all our efforts at reconciliation, and my frustrations grew to the point where I could no longer work with him. Mengistu agreed in the presence of the Minister of Defense and other officials that Haile Giorgis would be removed for incompetence. Months passed and nothing happened. Then I was removed instead, and a few years later Haile Giorgis was promoted to Minister of Defense. Mengistu counted on his unpopularity with the younger officers to prevent a unified uprising in the armed forces. Postscript to Operation Red Star: The Story of Bealu Girma

Bealu Girma, the Deputy Minister of Information,was a knowledgeable man witha remarkable talent and a pleasant personality. The author of several books, Bealu was brought in by Mengistu to work under me during the Red Star Campaign as Chief of Propaganda. He was enthusastic about the program initially and worked zealously on it. Then, as he saw the ideals of the program founder under the pressure of militaristic attitudes, he started writing a book on the campaign. When Red Star was abruptly suspended and Mengistu returned to Addis, Bealu stayed behind and completed his book, called Oromai. I read a chapter and an

outline. He wrote it asa novel, changing all the names, but it was obvious who was who. I was a central character known as Solomon. I knew the book would never make it through the COPWE censors; what worried me was that even the attempt to publish a cynical novel that mocked the entire exercise could get him in trouble. Bealu submitted the manuscript anyway, and to my surprise it was published. Fikreselassie, who was then Chief of Ideology, had been very

critical of the latter developments of the Red Star Campaign. He had disagreed with Mengistu’s simplistic approach, and been annoyed at his cheap trick of attempting to gain popularity by creating the Nacfa myth. Fikreselassie approved Bealu’s book. After 500 copies were sold in 24 hours, it was taken out of the bookstores and suspended from circulation. People caught reading it were arrested. Still, “xeroxed” copies circulated in all the major cities. Once the book was banned, people became even more curious and the book was read more widely than if it had remained on the shelves. Bealu was immediately removed from his post with a letter that disgraced him. Mengistu refused to give him permission to be employed anywhere else. I was told that, when it was suggested that Bealu be arrested, Mengistu said: “That will be too obvious. The book is out and

it’s our fault that we allowed it to be published. Putting him in jail will

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just make him and his book more popular. For now we'll just remove him from his position. Once the rumors are over, we'll deal with him.” I told

Bealu to be careful, that they were out to get him. He knew this but didn’t see any way to escape the inevitable.

Two months later Bealu disappeared. The official version is that his whereabouts are still unknown. Those who were responsible for having the book published were never punished. Can There Be Peace in Eritrea? Realities Ethiopia Must Face.

After almost three decades of war we cannot afford to live in a dreamworld. The ELF and EPLF are realities. The fact that this conflict cannot be won by either side militarily is a reality. The fact that the Eritrean liberation movements have become forces which influence all aspects of national life is a reality. The fact that the majority of Eritreans have legitimate grievances and sympathize with the movements is also a reality. Unless we come to grips with these realities, there can never be a solution to the problem. It is absurd for the government to continue branding the Eritrean fighters as bandits. They are not bandits. They are powerful forces which have won pitched battles, launched successful propaganda campaigns, mobilized support from the international community, forced the government to spend three fourths of its national budget on the war effort, and inspired the birth of other insurgent movements. Today the Eritrean and Tigrayan movements do not have to go looking for armaments. They are supplied by the Ethiopian army. Ethiopian troops are so heavily armed, so immobile, so conventional in unconventional warfare, that whenever units retreat they leave behind

enormous amounts of weaponry and materiel—tanks, heavy artillery, guns, munitions—to be seized by the rebels. The secessionist movements have become the most sophisticated and well armed guerrilla movements on the continent. These are realities. If most of us were reluctant at first to admit these realities, the

ensuing years should have taught usa lesson. But in meetings that were held in Berlin and more recently in Rome and Aden, the Ethiopian government still refused to recognize the legitimacy of the rebel forces. All ten meetings failed even before agendas could be agreed on. War has become a way of life for the leaders of the liberation movements. The rebel leadership has achieved a certain worldwide stature. They are treated like important officials. They have money and exercise authority over their people: the mass of uneducated and in

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many cases uninformed fighters in the field. The fighters are not like they were in the past. In the early 1970s there were educated people in the field fighting. Today most of the educated ones have either quit the battlefield and started living a different life, or have become part of the leadership, residing in Europe, America, or the Middle East.

Ethiopia will have to negotiate with the rebel leadership because it represents the grievances of the people. But most people in Eritrea know that the struggle cannot be won militarily. After years of fighting both sides want an end without the humiliation of defeat. Compromise will be necessary. As historian Erlich points out, Ethiopia’s history is one of both conflict and compromise: ... from the point of view of the North, Ethiopia’s center was never able to impose its government on the provinces by sheer force. Emperor Tewedros, who tried to do this, failed completely; Yohannes gave up the idea from the start, while Menelik scored some success in the North but only through flexible diplomacy and marriage connections. Even Haile Sellassie, who is the post-World War period managed to

disarm the leading families in the north, prefered to follow Menelik’s policy.” Today’s leaders should remember this lesson from our history: the North had always been somewhat autonomous. Northern autonomy is part of what a British official of the 1940s called the “mysterious magnetism whichis incomprehensible to one who has no more thana superficial knowledge of Ethiopia.” The problem is that the mystery behind the survival of the nation has become incomprehensible not to outsiders, but to the leader of the country. Mengistu does not understand the meaning of self-determination, either historically or in the abstract. He cannot conceive of a nation as anything but an absolute centralized authority, totalitarianism, for his rule is nothing less than that now.

Realities on the Rebel Side

There are many among the rebels who are fighting simply for an end to oppression. They do not want a separate state, they want self-

determination within a united Ethiopia. The EPLF stated in May 1985:

+. once a progressive state is set up in Ethiopia and the

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system of national domination and oppression gives way to one based on the equal rights of all nationalities, there will

beno historical, economic or other factors that will make the demand for secession correct and justifiable from the standpoint of the interests of the masses. .. The demand for the secession of Ethiopian nationalities has neither an historical nor an economic basis, nor is the extent of the prevailing

national antagonism so acutely sharp as to justify it I would like to believe that this statement holds true for all other regions and nationalites of Ethiopia as well as Eritrea. But there are also those among the rebels who want nothing less than complete independence for Eritrea. They have developed many theories to justify the establishment of a separate state. They say that Eritrea has the right to become a separate nation because Eritreans share a common history through their colonial heritage and the ten years of federation. I reject this argument; the region’s history is rooted too deeply in Ethiopia to be

superseded by the brief period of outside rule. Moreover, as I have stated, the majority of people wanted to be part of Ethiopia at the end of

the colonial period. Certainly all the diverse ethnic groups of Eritrea feel no strong kinship with one another unless it is based on a hatred of the oppression of the regime. According to estimates we made in Asmara in 1983, 90,000 Ethiopian soldiers and 280,000 civilians have died in the civil war between 1975 and 1983. The guerrillas have lost 9,000. Both sides must take steps to assure that these sacrifices are not in vain. Acknowledging the realities and having the courage to sit downand search for a just and peaceful solution would be a victory for all. External Support for the Eritrean Movements

Before the Revolution, the Eritrean separatist movement had the support of Cuba, China, a few Eastern European countries, and many Arab countries. Cuba and the Eastern European countries support Mengistu’s regime today. The Cubans are very cautious, and as a matter of principle, no Cuban advisor or delegation sets foot in Eritrea. Their

position is very clear: the Eritrean problem is an internal affair that must be solved through negotiation. Arab influence has been considerable in Eritrea. In the earlier days of pan-Arabism, when some Arab countries assumed that a majority of the Eritreans were Moslems and Arab, there was a belief that an inde-

pendent Eritrea would make the Red Sea an “Arab lake.” When they later

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learned that the strongest Eritrean movement, the EPLF, was actually a

Marxist organization with predominantly Christian membership, the Arabs changed their strategy and started using the movements as instruments to weaken the Ethiopian regime. Ethiopia’s neighbors, the Sudan, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Djibouti—all members of the

Arab League—all pursued this policy of debilitation. They supplied the rebels with arms, but did not give them enough to succeed. The Arab

world had no desire to see another Marxist state along the Red Sea. Nor did the Arab countries want the disintegration of Ethiopia. In many ways this would not be in their interest. If Ethiopia had a new leadership and a change of policies it could improve its relations both with the industrialized West and with the Arab world. Support for the Southern Sudanese Liberation Front

In 1980 I was sent to Khartoum to discuss the Eritrean question. The Sudan was providing training facilities, office space and other assistance to the Eritrean movement, and Mengistu wanted Nimeiri to cut them off. But aiding the rebels was the only leverage the Sudan had over Ethiopia. Nimeiri did not want to lose this leverage by ousting the movements from the Sudan thereby risking bad relations with the Eritreans and the Arab world. Mengistu asked Nimeiri to denounce the rebels and close their offices, training grounds and supply routes. Nimeiri was not prepared to do this, and the entire effort ended with mutual recriminations. Mengistu responded in kind. There was already a fragile political situation in Southern Sudan and it was not hard for Mengistu to nudge the South into rebellion. Nimeiri played into his hands by proclaiming Shari’a law (strict Moslem Law) in the entire country and introducing a new administrative division of the country. The Southerners, many of whom were Christian or animist, rebelled. The new Southern Sudanese Movement sprang into existence and quickly won the support of the Ethiopian regime. Support for the South was originally shared by Ethiopia and Libya, but when Nimeiri was deposed in April 1985, Libya started wooing the new leadership and eventually withdrew its support. By that time, the Sudanese Liberation Movement, with John Garang as

its leader, had gained respect both internationally and among the people of the South. I met Garang on many occasions. He and Mengistu became friends, though they have little in common. John Garang is a highly educated, intelligent and quiet man, who believes he has a just cause. Mengistu tries to lecture him on revolution and world politics. Even

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though I feel that Garang does not agree with most of Mengistu’s ideas, he flatters him by seeming to, or by keeping quiet. Mengistu takes this silence as an endorsement of his policies and his leadership. I think he is mistaken. Garang is not aman who would spoil his image by associating too closely with policies as internationally discredited as Mengistu’s. For the time being, the Sudanese game is working. The Sudan has

been forced to be more cautious with the rebel movements operating from Khartoum. But there is a fundamental difference between the situations of the Eritrean movements and the Sudanese Liberation Movement. Successive Sudanese governments have demonstrated the capacity to tolerate differences and compromise. There is more of a tradition of democracy in the Sudan then there is in Ethiopia. The newlyelected government of Sadik al Mahdi has stated repeatedly its desire to reach a negotiated settlement to the problems of the South. When that happens, Garang is very likely to abandon Mengistu and leave him isolated. The TPLF and Other Movements

The problem in Tigray was born out of the same mistakes that Haile Selassie and Mengistu made in Eritrea. They underestimated the potential of people to rebel against unjust authority. The TPLF (Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front) was established in 1975 and has grown rapidly in the last 12 years. The movement has a considerable following among the Tigrayan people. This is an endorsement of themovement’s legitimate demand for self-determination within the framework of a united Ethiopia, and not for secession. Even though the TPLF started with a secessionist policy, the leadership soon realized that this was neither achievable nor acceptable to the majority of the people of Tigray. Since then they have adopted the more sensible position of making theirs a struggle against the policies of the Ethiopian regime in the context of the struggle for self-determination. There have been rebellions in Tigray for centuries. Ras Alula rebeled in 1889-1894 to make Tigray independent of King Menelik, who was then attempting to centralize his power. But Ras Alula later swore allegiance to Menelik and stood beside him against the Italian offensive in 1896. In 1941 Ras Seyoum, grandson of Emperor Yohannes, broke his allegiance to the Emperor and allied with the British to become Tigray’s governor. Both rebellions were considered high treason against the Emperor, but each time the problem was solved through the tolerance and accomodation that has characterized Ethiopian politics in the North. The sensitive situation in Tigray was evident in the early period of

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the Revolution when the Military Council hesitated to arrest Ras Mengesha Seyoum, the son of the rebellious Ras Seyoum. Everyone advised against it, saying that all of Tigray would revolt if he were jailed. Though most of his family and other aristocrats were arrested, he remained Governor up to the time he began his resistance movement. Then there was a fear that people would flock to him and create a serious problem for the Military Council, so everyone associated with him was purged. There were indiscriminate killings and arbitrary arrests. Next to Addis, the Red Terror took its biggest toll in Tigray, particularly in Makale. The TPLF, which was established in February 1975, got stronger as young people fleeing persecution joined the rebels. The TPLF had a kind of maverick leadership that the youth admired: educated men wellversed in Marxist rhetoric, eloquent and full of zeal. They inspired their followers to believe that victory would come soon. Nobody thought of it as a separatist movement, but rather as an organization that represented the Tigray people. Allof us could see the TPLF grow. Every measure that Mengistu took pushed the people of Tigray further away from the government and toward the TPLF. The government response was utterly crude; every Tigrayan was suspected of being a member of the TPLF. Military operations continued and most of the time government forces were defeated. I urged the government to be magnanimous, calm and patient, but to no avail. This advice, which was also given by others in the government, was not heeded. We created the TPLF, just as we made the

EPLF and ELF what they are today: first by driving the people to rebel, then by arming them indirectly, then by a series of provocations. Today the TPLF has more control over Tigray than the EPLF and ELF have over Eritrea. Over three fourths of Tigray is under the control of the rebels or considered unsafe. I traveled through Tigray in 1985 under heavy escort, mostly by airplane. Anyone would easily conclude that there was no government in Tigray.

Again the problem is complex, but we must start the search for solutions with the recognition of the realities. The TPLF’s official line is: The TPLF is not accurately described as secessionist, for the

TPLF supports the voluntary unity of the people of Ethiopia, so long as the legitimate rights of those people are fully realized. Where there are not the oppressor and the oppressed nations, where the right of every nation without distinction is constitutionally and in practice safeguarded, where democratic social justice prevails and human rights are fully respected, being part of a multinational and demo-

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cratic Ethiopia is acceptable to the TPLF. Until this situation either arises or proves impossible, the TPLF will continue the just and legitimate struggle against national domination, the abrogation of human rights, economic oppression, social injustice and military brutality. Who could argue with what they want? It is what any decent society and government ought to guarantee. This is where we could start to search for a solution. Other Anti-Government Movements

The Oromo Liberation Movement which has recently picked up momentum, is getting support from the Oromo people, particularly in the lowland areas and along the borders with the Sudan. The Oromos live in the southern half of the country and constitute the majority in the Ethiopian population. Again, their cause for rebellion is the cause of other nationalities. Their struggle is a demonstration of opposition to the policies of Mengistu, a struggle to maintain their identity and their tradtions. It isa struggle against the attempt to uproot them froma land they have owned and worked for years. In short, it is for self-determination. The objectives of the OLF are unclear at this point, but if secession is a goal, the movement is doomed to failure. The Oromos are so integrated into the Ethiopian soul thatitis difficult to find an Amhara without some Oromo blood in his veins. It is equally difficult to draw a boundary between the Oromo lands and the Amhara or Tigrayan lands. But if their objective is to achieve cultural autonomy and democratic political representation, then their cause will contribute enormously to the emergence

of a strong Ethiopia united in diversity. There are other movements opposed to the regime. The ALF (Afars Liberation Front) has established a movement even though it has not yet been effective in the field. The Western Somali Liberation Movement is the extended arm of the Somali government. Although badly defeated and divided, it still operates in some parts of the Ogaden. Most recently, a Gambelle Peoples’ Liberation Movement has been established with the help of the Sudanese government. Another movement increasingly active in Tigray is the EPRP. After the Red Terror nearly annihilated this radical group in 1977, its survivors fled to Tigray and established a base in Asimba. Under the same leadership, they reorganized and changed their base of support from urban cells to the peasantry of the Tigrayan countryside. The leaders

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admitted they were mistaken in their terror campaign, because it gave Mengistu the excuse to fight terror with terror. After the TPLF adopted Marxism, they ousted the EPRP from Tigray. The EPRP has recently become so strong that it has been able to raid Ibinet and has kidnapped some Italians working on an irrigation project near Lake Tana. The EDU (Ethiopian People Democratic Union) is still operating along the border area in the northern part of Ethiopia. The EDU and the EPRP have recently made a strange alliance; strange because the EDU is essentially an aristocratic and originally a monarchist organization. The EDU remains a conservative movement with no chance of gaining broad support: now that the people have land they will never go back to the old system. Nevertheless, the EDU is able to stay alive because of the support of foreign governments who want to see Ethiopia destabilized. All these movements and others create considerable pressure on the regime, draining the economy and sacrificing many lives. The EPDM (Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement) is another group that operates in Gondar, Gojjam and Tigray. It is a Marxist splinter group of the TPLF that has now taken ona life of its own. MEISON is still alive and active in Europe, where it has a widely circulated newsletter. The EPDA (Ethiopian Peoples Democratic Alliance) has a large membership and in the past few years has secured some funds from the USA and other governments. Most recently, it has influenced the Sudanese government to allow it to use its radio station to broadcast antiEthiopian government propaganda in Amharic and other Ethiopian languages. Another newcomer is KITET, about which little is known. There is also a movement to restore the monarchy led by the grandson of Haile Selassie and headquartered in the United States. It calls itself ENATAD (Ethiopian National Alliance to Advance Democracy) and is preparing a draft constitution to restore monarchy in Ethiopia! It is not clear who is funding this group; but it is either designed to enrich certain individuals here in the US oris sponsored by people who do not have the slightest idea of the consciousnesss of the Ethiopian people. No matter how bad the present regime, they will never bring back anyone associated with Haile Selassie and the feudal system. One problem with these newer armed groups is that their guerrilla warfare methods lead to chaotic clashes and senseless killings. The leaders arm discontented peasants, fire them up with denunciations of the system, and send them out to stir up trouble. There is often no

direction to their operations; they are just told to look for soldiers and shoot. Too frequently, these “guerrillas” simply loot the villages of other nationalities. The TPLF sometimes uses the tactic of shooting government representatives in captured villages. All of the dissident groups

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have learned the value of kidnapping foreign visitors or workers in order to win publicty for their cause in the Western press. From my observation of the capacity of these movements, their aspirations, and the quality of support they are getting, the worst is yet to come and could lead to the break-up of the nation. Anarchy is descending over Ethiopia. In meeting after meeting, Mengistu has been told both politely and emotionally that we must look for alternatives to the military solution. He refuses and always predicts that the situation will get better soon. It always gets worse. The question today is the same as it has always been in the history of Ethiopia. Can the nation survive under a leader who lacks the wisdom, the moral credibility and the legitimacy to bring the nation together under one acceptable political system? The solution I envisage will not be easy. The immediate task of all progressive forces is the recognition of the fact that the struggles of special interest groups with parochial objectives will not lead us any-

where—except to the breakup of the country at the cost of countless more lives. A real solution requires, first, the establishment of a united front to

force out Mengistu’s regime. Nothing can happen until then. From all indications, considering the various ideologies, programs, and objectives of the movements, this is not likely to happen soon. But national discontent is at such a level that popular upheaval, as in the Philippines, Haiti, and South Korea, might be enough to force unity.

The next step must be to bring a military leadership into power, identified and prepared earlier with definite and limited objectives, and to establish a provisional government that will create the forum and the atmosphere for all the movements to vent their grievances and discuss the various issues dividing them. Then Ethiopia can be reconstituted as a national entity under a democratic political system that will accomodate the demands of the people. This would be a clear departure from what Ethiopia was in the past—but a united Ethiopia would exist where self-determination, equality, tolerance, and the sense of national harmony were guaranteed and nurtured. The Eritrean conflict, born of the dissolution of the federal arrangement, will I believe best be solved by going back to that arrangement. There will, of course, still be forces that will continue to violently oppose whatever arrangements are made; but it must be the duty of every Ethiopian who desires peace, unity, and democracy to unite and influence these forces if the country is to survive.

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Notes to Chapter 3

1. Erlich, Ethiopia and the Challenge of Independence, 202. 2. Ibid. 3. Rubenson, The Survival of Ethiopian Independence 4. Erlich, 12.

5. Trevaskis, Eritrea: A Colony in Transition, 1941-52 , 58. 6. Ibid., 59.

7. Erlich, Op. Cit., 61.

8. UN Document 9. Trevaskis, Op. Cit., 130-131.

10. Challenge, XIII, No. 1, (1972): 40. 11. Erlich, Op. Cit., 207. 12. Adulis, Il, May, 1985.

13. Document to the 39th Session of the UN General Assembly.

Famine, Official Neglect and International Relief Appeal In the spring of 1983, after leaving Eritrea, I began work in a new position as head of the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission. The RRC had been established more than 10 years before, on August, 29,1974, a week before the Emperor was deposed. Its authorization was the last legal document to appear under the name of the Emperor and to start with the usual “Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Haile Selassie I,

Elect of God, Emperor of Ethiopia...” The founding papers of the RRC went on to state that “whereas the recent drought and other natural disasters in our country have occasioned hardship in Our beloved people” the commission was mandated “to identify and make known the problems and their degree in the areas of the country that are affected by natural disaster ... to take or cause to be taken short- and/or long-term measures to solve these problems.” So from the beginning, the RRC’s scope of activities included

wide-ranging relief, rehabilitation, and

prevention responsibilities. By law it had the power to ask and receive assistance from both domestic and foreign sources. In order to avoid another famine like the one that had just ravaged the country, an early warning system was established in 1976, with the purpose of informing all its possible users, including the Ethiopian government and donor agencies, of impending food shortages. In July 1983 some of my staff and I left Addis Abeba for a tour of the

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countryside which took us to parts of the northern provinces of Shoa, Wello, Tigray, Gondar, and the southern province of Sidamo. In most parts of the country, the main rainy season (meher) comes in June, July,

and August. At that time the crops that form the major portion of a family’s yearly food supply are grown. This year, once again, the rains had been bad and the peasants were worried. My purpose in taking the tour was to see the situation first hand. Rainfall had been steadily declining for several seasons, causing one bad harvest after another. This year in Wello, Tigray, and Gondar there was even a noticeable change in the soil. It had lost its rich, brown,

healthy look and was getting increasingly yellow, dry and dusty— a process of degradation that was mirrored in the faces of those who depended on it for life. In Wello and Tigray the peasants knew only too well the meaning of hard times. Recurring drought and food shortages had become a way of life for them; a devastating famine ten years before had killed at least 200,000. As their food supply gradually ran out, we could see the panic in their faces. There were signs of unrest in every village. There were constant prayers and masses; there was talk of moving to roadsides,

toward food shelters or other places where they could get help. Everywhere people were restless, following, rumors of food; packing up donkeys or throwing a few bundles on their backs—or more often simply setting off with nothing, barefoot and ragged, to beg their way to another place. I was particularly interested in Korem. There had recently been a great deal of publicity attached to this small city. In May, Tigrayan rebels had made a surprise attack and briefly occupied it, capturing seven relief workers, including two British citizens from the Save the Children Fund. The prisoners were soon released unharmed, but as a result of the attack all relief operations in Korem were shut down and famine victims had dispersed. After two months of inactivity, the RRC sent in workers to begin relief efforts again. I had just asked the Save the Children Fund to reopen their shelter as well, and they had agreed. This British-based organization was one of the pioneer international agencies in this part of the world. I had worked with them when I was Deputy Commissioner of the RRC during the 1974 drought and was impressed by their unflagging perseverence under the most difficult circumstances; nevertheless I was amazed at their readiness to return to Korem and continue their relief activities after the kidnapping incident. Now I now wanted to make sure the area was adequately defended so they could feel secure in their work. I found Korem secure, but in a desperate state. Thousands of

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refugees were swelling the population of the city beyond our ability to serve them. More than 48,000 people were waiting for food assistance. The Ethiopian Red Cross was hopelessly overburdened. Sekota, a populous rebel stronghold 40 miles to the west, was out of food and unable to

get more. Since neither the RRC nor the voluntary agencies could send in supplies because of the danger of rebel attacks, floods of Tigrayan refugees were pouring east into the shelters of Korem, Alamatta, and Maichew every day. Distribution centers at Ibinet, Hamusit, and Arbaya in Gondar province were in nearly as bad a state. Just before the meher rains in June, 1,000 people had gathered at the centers because their food had run out. They were encouraged to go back to their farms and plant a crop when the rains began. They were given rations, hand tools, and sent on their way. Now after two months these distribution centers were all full again because there had been no rain and no crop. Now even hope was gone; all that remained was hunger. The highland Ethiopians are traditionally a very proud, dignified, and self-reliant people. But over the past few decades the people of Wello had been the hardest hit by drought. Through the repeated pounding of natural disasters, they had been forced to their knees—forced to crawl, to rely on the mercy of outsiders. They were a broken people. Gondar, on the other hand, had never been subjected to serious drought, and its

people had maintained at least a show of self-sufficiency. They had never

begged in Gondar—until now. As we traveled through the province we saw in their faces a mixture of stubborn pride and utter humiliation, the shame of a proud people forced to beg for the first time. Gondar was now

also a famine region. It was clear that Ethiopia was facing a national disaster. The prices of the two staple grains, sorghum and feff(a grain native to Ethiopia), had soared to four times their former cost. In the towns wherever I went,

there was a chilling undercurrent of dread. You could almost feel the entire land tremble and groan: “God no, not again.” But the political cadres I met in the villages and along the roadsides did not seem worried. These were young men between 17 and 21 who had been sent to proclaim the superiority of Marxism-Leninism and to indoctrinate the peasants. In one roadside village in Wello I came across a group of peasants undergoing a political education program. An enthusiastic young cadre was haranguing them earnestly: “Why are you asking God for rain? Don’t look up in the sky for help; look down at the earth. God will not bring you rain, and neither God nor rain will bring you prosperity. Don’t spend your time praying. We, under the new state, can control nature. All you need to do is to listen to the guidelines of

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Comrade Mengistu Haile Mariam, and the country will soon be on the road to a new prosperity.” I could see that the peasants were disgusted. Most of them were eating only once a day, one injera (a large, pancake-like bread) every evening. I asked the cadre what he thought he was doing. It made me tremble with anger to see this arrogant boy with his half-understood teachings, smugly lording it over his elders. He was blind to their most basic human needs. I asked the cadre if he had bothered to ask the peasants if they had enough to eat that day. I asked him if he was aware of what was happening in this district, if he had ever thought to open his eyes and look around him. He stammered out that his instructions were to conduct political indoctrination programs and prepare the people for the tenth anniversary celebration of the Revolution a year from now. It was too much. I told the cadre to get the hell out of there, and the peasants cheered. I knew that the cadre’s instructions had come from the highest

echelons of the government; that rooting religion out of the hearts of the people was one of the top priorities of the regime. I had been involved in many Central Committee meetings and private discussions with the Head of State where religious practice had been disparaged in every manner possible. Anti-religious hysteria had begun about three years before and had been elevated to an important element of the Revolution. Attacks began on the Protestant churches in the South. The Northern population was secure in the Christian Orthodox Church or the Islamic religion, but the

South was mostly animist; and beginning in the time of Haile Selassie, Christian missionaries had been winning converts in these provinces. The fact that the Protestant sects were new arrivals made them easier targets than the older established churches. Anti-religious sentiment was particularly severe in Wollega province. The chief COPWE representative, Negussie Tefferra, rounded up the priests and ministers and asked them to burn their Bibles. When they refused, he himself collected several Bibles and burned them in public. Negussie was an uneducated corporal who was trying to prove to Mengistu that he was worthy of the position he had been given. Negussie acted out of ignorance; it was more difficult to understand why Basazenew Bayissa, an educated man with a PhD. from an American

university and a former teacher at Haile Selassie University, joined him. Together they actively campaigned against religion, participating in more than one incident of Bible burning. Basazenew cried out for blood and in fact shot several people himself. For Mengistu, having educated men like Basazenew willingly follow him was an endorsement of his

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leadership. Basazenew later had a crisis of conscience and became insane. He is now confined to a mental institution. In the anti-religious fanaticism people like Reverend Gudina Tumsa were executed. Reverend Gudina was the brother of Baro Tumsa, a member of the ECHAT political faction and one of the former political mentors of the Military Council. When ECHAT was outlawed Baro went underground, but he was caught and executed. His brother, Reverend Gudina, an internationally acclaimed religious figure, was shot both for his faith and because he was the brother of Baro. I remember seeing several Amnesty International appeals for Reverend Gudina’s release from prison—but he never spent a day in prison. He was executed the day he was caught, in silent anonymity, as were so many others in Ethiopia before and after him. As always, incidents of this sort backfired, creating martyrs; and today more people go to church or mosque in Ethiopia than at any time in recent history. These experiences taught many of us in authority that the power of faith in Ethiopia was not so easily to be dismissed. Whether Christian, Moslem, or animist, religion formed a vital part of our people’s identity and way of life. At a time when some of us were recognizing our failure to fulfill our people’s hope of feeding themselves, of becoming selfsufficent and free from want, it was all the more morally outrageous to keep them from their only remaining hope and solace: the almighty God.

As I continued my tour, I saw that the situation had deteriorated everywhere. In the southern part of Sidamo province, where the majority of the people earn their livelihood breeding cattle, entire herds were being wiped out by drought. As we drove along the road I could see hundreds of carcasses, rotting where they had dropped, half-devoured by flocks of vultures. Here, too, the reaction of the political sector had been incredible. The Head of State himself had been here only the week before; but instead of being told the true, desperate state of affairs, he was presented with a trumped up illusion of well-being. Before his visit, every carcass had been removed from the route he was to travel. He was proudly taken to a successful well-digging project and a small reservoir where well-fed cattle drank serenely. I was told that the local administrator had spent considerable time and effort searching for healthy cattle to exhibit to Comrade Mengistu as an example of how the region had prospered under his guidelines. Upon my arrival in Sidamo, I called a meeting with this local administrator and other officials, requesting an immediate report on the situation. The administrator came armed with complete figures. He

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talked about lack of water, the death of 7000 cattle in his district alone, the shortage of grain, the malnourishment of thousands and even some

deaths as a result of the famine threatening his district. Iasked him why he had not told this to the Head of State—why had he shown him him an imaginary land of plenty? The answer was predictable. A week before the Head of State arrived, members of his staff had told the administrator

that Chairman Mengistu wanted to hear about achievements, not failures. Bad news would only provoke him, which would bring great disfavor on the administrator and result in serious setbacks to his political future. Under the circumstances, he had decided to do what he

was told. This hasty tour was enough to give my colleagues and me a grim picture of what lay ahead until the next growing season in February and March, the belg rains. We mobilized our meager resources toward the worst-hit areas; and more important, we began our preparations for the disaster we knew would grow worse in the coming months. The tour was short because I was due back in the capital for two important meetings. One was with a US congressional delegation led by Congressman Howard Wolpe, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Africa, and the other was the annual budget meeting chaired by the Head of State himself. Iwas anxious to see what funds he had allocated to deal with the drought and food crisis. The budget meeting was held in the old Palace of Emperor Menelik. The hall where Mengistu holds large conferences is ironically the same hall where Emperor Haile Selassie used to give his big banquets— elaborately redecorated with Marxist icons, of course. Mengistu once confided to me that he enjoyed chairing meetings in this hall because he was able to sit right above the basement where all the former aristocrats whom he despised were imprisoned. As usual, Mengistu sat on an elevated, red velvet seat, not far from the throne of the former Emperor,

now covered with a white sheet. I had always wondered why the throne had not been taken to the museum with all the rest of the imperial trappings; why it was still here draped in this sheet, as if its owner were merely off on a long holiday and might return at any moment. Perhaps it was just my imagination, but every time I came into this hall it seemed that the distance between the two seats was getting smaller. The purpose of the meeting was twofold: to evaluate achievements and problems of the government, and to allocate money and approve a budget for the fiscal year. It was a crucial meeting for my agency because our normal yearly subsidy of 10 million birr was totally inadequate for the crisis conditions. We were requesting funds for anticipated emergency relief and rehabilitation programs totaling 95.5 million birr. I

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waited for the issue of drought and food shortages to be raised so that I could report what I had just seen in the provinces. I had a long wait. Neither the drought nor the famine were mentioned once during the entire three-day meeting. On the contrary, an observer would have concluded that Ethiopia was about to enter its golden age, with fields bursting with produce, industries booming, and its people happier than they had ever imagined possible. Instead of one of the poorest countries in the world, it seemed that Ethiopia was the emerging colossus of the continent, whose power and influence would soon attract all of Africa to its orbit. To my surprise and shock, I found that our request for an increase had been ignored. Only the usual 10 million birr subsidy had been approved. After three days of reports, speeches, eulogies for the Soviet Union and dire threats aimed at the United States, Mengistu wrapped up the conference with an enthusiastic burst of rhetoric. Pounding the table to emphasize his points, he declared the meeting an absolute success: past achievements had been acknowledged, new problems had been identified, and goals had been set to solve them. We all listened attentively, watching for cues that would tell us when to applaud. Mengistu did not sound like the Head of State of the least developed country on earth, with

one quarter of its population staggering from the effects of starvation. The only time famine was even hinted at was when he mentioned drought, and then it was only in passing. “The only constraints on the successful implementation of our agricultural policies,” he said, “are natural calamities.” It reminded me of the “Red Star Campaign” in Eritrea two years before. Mengistu was detached from reality, living in a world created by his own illusions. And there was no place in his world for famine. Yet it was hardly a secret that we were in trouble. Anyone who cared to know had read it in the reports of my agency and the international voluntary agencies. Reports from African countries warning of approaching food shortages were not unusual, but this year the scope of the disaster was frightening. An FAO (UN Food and Agriculture Organization) report had already indicated that a serious famine would strike not just Ethiopia, but 22 African countries. The early warning report of the RRC had already identified 4.8 million Ethiopians needing food assistance for survival. Even at this very early stage of the crisis, the suffering of the people was shocking beyond belief. What I had seen in the countryside just 100 miles from the capital was fear, poverty, and death, with much worse yet to come. Yet the committee report did not even allude to these warnings

or the existence of a problem. Were we talking about the same country,

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the same people? I was stunned— I didn’t know what to think. I wanted to raise my hand and ask what the hell was going on. Had any of us seen what is happening all around us? But I knew it would be pointless. Everyone in the hall was acting. No one believed the report or the commentary by Mengistu. My public challenge would only provoke him and have adverse effects. In an effort to minimize bad feelings, I decided that instead of challenging him during the conference, I would talk to him alone on his way out of the meeting. I approached Mengistu respectfully, making a great effort not to anger him. I told him that his comments had been very interesting and doubtless valid for some parts of the country, but what I had personally observed indicated the makings of a terrible famine if the belg rains failed to come in February and March. I explained that we needed more money to prepare for the crisis. He listened impatiently, then told me not to be so panicky— to stay cool. He said that the very name of the agency I was heading invited trouble and encouraged begging. “You must remember that you are a member of the Central Committee,” he said. “Your primary responsibility is to work toward our political objectives. Don’t let these petty human problems that always exist in transition periods consume you. There was famine in Ethiopia for years before we took power— it was the way nature kept the balance. Today we are interfering with that natural mechanism of balance, and that is why our population has soared to over 40 million.” He didn’t elaborate on this, but I understood what he meant: “Let

nature take its toll— just don’t let it out in the open. We need a facade for the outside world, so make it look like we’re doing something.” He abruptly ended the conversation, patted my shoulder, and walked off.

I could see I was heading for serious trouble. During the ten years since\the Revolution, my personality and the positions I had taken on many issues had been controversial. I was considered an ambitious, aggressive, independent-minded person who needed to be kept on a short rein. I have always maintained my independence and never hesitated to make decisions within what I believed to be the domain of my responsibility. I was tactful, as one had to be to survive in that atmosphere of paranoia, but I never gave Mengistu or his cronies the chance to push me around. I also did not fall into Mengistu’s usual trap of deliberately letting officials commit crimes, which he would then “discover” in order to assure their loyalty. I was never corrupt even when I had every opportunity to be so. This gave me the confidence to speak out and make my own decisions without fear or guilt. I knew I was already under suspicion in the government. At the

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beginning of 1983, after serious differences with the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces in Eritrea, Ihad been sent to Moscow for medical exami-

nations and a rest. I was scheduled to stay for two and a half months, but after one month I insisted on returning home. Two days after arriving in Addis, I was called into the office of the Head of State. He welcomed me and told me he realized how exhausted I was due to my difficult work in Eritrea. He then appointed me Commissioner of the RRC. This was his way of getting rid of me: sending me to an obscure post that had very little potential for controversy. He had no way of knowing that the focus of the world would soon center on my agency, and through it, his government.

Fortunately, the job was not new to me. I had been Deputy Commissioner of the RRC under a person for whom have great respect, Shimelis Adugna. As Commissioner, I was greatly influenced by what I had learned from this tolerant, compassionate man with a long record of

serving the Ethiopian people. He was the person responsible for originally establishing the RRC. His advice was a constant source of inspiration and encouragement throughout the crisis. I never confronted Mengistu outright on the budget. He would only have clung more obstinately to his decisions. It had been different earlier in the Revolution; then he had been easier to talk to. Now, none of us felt

we were able to tell him the truth. It is a guilt that I and other public officials must live with— for had we told him what we really thought of him and his policies, even at the risk of our lives, the Ethiopian tragedy might never have occurred. And so, in July 1983, when I recognized the build-up of famine and realized how much international publicity the situation in Ethiopia was going to attract, Iknew Iwas heading for trouble. Any sign of problems, any hint of dissatisfaction which could receive world focus, was the last

thing the regime wanted. Detailed instructions were already being sent through the entire governmental and political machinery to prepare the country for the 10th anniversary celebration of the Revolution, which would be nothing more than a self-glorification of the leadership and its deeds. This celebration was to be the priority, particularly for the hardline Marxists around Mengistu whose power increased every day. I knew that nobody in the ruling circle would listen to my warnings of disaster. Iknew from past experience that the crisis would be resented as if it were my own creation, invented to embarrass the Revolution on its anniversary. Knowing that deaf ears were all I could expect anyway, I vowed to do whatever I could from within my own agency. We faced a frightening prospect. Close to five million people had to

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be kept alive until the next growing season, the “ little rainy season” or belg of February and March. This meant finding food for eight months until the belg crop was harvested. With the regime ignoring us, we would have to rely on the meager resources of the RRC and the 21 volunteer agencies with their 500 staff members from all over the world. The other key would be to alert the international community, particulary the big grain producing countries, and hope for massive donations. We had already taken steps in this direction before the August budget meeting, when I had met with US Congressman Wolpe’s delegation. This was an event of great significance for Ethiopia. It was the first official American visit in five years, due to the antagonism that had grown between our two countries since 1977. The delegation had been invited by Foreign Minister Goshu Wolde and myself a few months before. Goshu was a highly educated, hard working, honest patriot with an unblemished military and service record. As Minister of Education, he launched a literacy campaign that raised the level of literacy in Ethiopia from 10 to 60 percent and won the country a UNESCO gold medal. While supporting the spirit and objectives of the Revolution, he was always anxious to assert the independence of Ethiopia rather than have it remain a puppet of the Soviet Union. Both of us wanted nonalignment and improved relationships with the US and the West, though we had no intention of revolving in that orbit either. One of the first things we agreed to do was indicate to the US that a congressional delegation would be welcome; with great difficulty, we persuaded the Head of State to agree. The hardliners were vigorously opposed tc this visit, but Goshu worked hard to make it a success, even getting the media people to give favorable coverage. The delegation was received warmly by Mengistu, shown around, ushered in and out of meetings, and left feeling it had accomplished something. The delegation met with me for three hours. I briefed them on the frightening situation in the country. I informed them that direct humanitarian assistance from the United States government was zero and that we needed 450,000 tons of grain, supplementary food, transport, and spare parts. I told them of the failure of the meher rains and said that a major catastrophe was anticipated. They officially reported this to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs: Ethiopia is experiencing the worst drought in ten years. The situation has been described as a human catastrophe, with tens of thousands facing starvation and death. Informed observers believe the death toll could approach 200,000... unless there is an immediate increase in the American and

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International relief assistance to Ethiopia This was August 1983 with hundreds dying daily. The Reagan administration had actually been planning to cut back its aid to nothing! The Wolpe committee was able to get US AID to grant some grain to voluntary agencies in Ethiopia; unfortunately this was only a tiny fraction of what we needed. A far more immediate result of the congressional committee’s visit was that it got us, especially the Foreign Minister, into trouble. Immediately after the Americans left, the hardliners began to tell the Head of State stories. They felt that perhaps this was the beginning of a counterrevolutionary trend. The Soviets were infuriated by this show of independence, and to appease them Mengistu instructed Minister of Information Felleke to initiate an anti-American campaign in the media. Felleke, who had been replaced as Foreign Minister by Goshu and who disliked us both, undertook this campaign with great delight. It was the most vicious in recent years. Relations with the United States reverted to mutual distrust and recriminations. All our efforts had come to nothing. The next few months were full of meetings and travel as I called on every possible source to help us. In mid-August Iheld a meeting of all the employees of the RRC to plan our strategy. There was another meeting at the end of August with all the voluntary agencies, telling them what to expect. In September I convened an international donors’ conference to inform the international community of the current crisis, what we

anticipated, and our needs. All the Western ambassadors in Ethiopia heard my plea for grain and other assistance. On October 8 I began a European appeal. In Rome I alerted the two UN organizations, the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) and the World Food Program. In Geneva Ibriefed several voluntary agencies

including the Lutheran World Federation, the Red Cross, (ICRC and League), the UNHCR (UN High Commission on Refugees), and UNDRO(UN Disaster Relief Organization). On October 14 I was in Bonn for a meeting with the director of African affairs in the Foreign Ministry to appeal for increased assistance through the German voluntary agencies. On October 19 I was back in Rome for an FAO conference on the 22 African countries facing drought that year. All the big donors were represented and many reports on the bleak period ahead for Africa were read. I delivered my own grim predictions and appeal with all the forcefulness I could muster. In November 1983, I held another donors’ conference in Addis repeating my appeal for food aid. I then flew to New York to inform the

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UN General Assembly of our need for aid. From there I flew to Los Angeles to visit the headquarters of World Vision, one of the largest and most effective voluntary agencies active in Ethiopia, which had had a good working relationship with the RRC for ten years. Their airplane service shuttled food aid to relief centers in Gondar, Arbaya, Lalibella,

and was a true life-saver in those inaccessible regions. I now asked them for more assistance and an extension on the use of the plane. None of these appeals were heeded. No donor government responded with anything like the urgency the situation warranted. Our socialist friends in Eastern Europe completely ignored us. There was a slight increase in food supplies, medicines, and clothing through the voluntary agencies, but foreign governments either thought we were crying wolf or used their dislike of the Marxist regime as an excuse to turn their backs. Later some governments claimed they had not heard there wasa famine until late 1984. If that was so, it was because they chose not to listen. Back home, things were going from bad to worse. At the end of November 1983 I flew back to Ethiopia via London. I landed in Asmara and changed to a small plane bound for Makale in order to look into disturbing reports about the worsening situation in Tigray. The reports were true. Moreand more peasants were being forced off their farms, and 10,000 people were living at the Makale shelter. Food, water, clothing, shelter, medicine—all were running out; and with rebel

groups increasingly active, delivery of foodstuffs was at a standstill. The occasional armed convoy was all that could get through. Wollo, too, was much worse. The administrator there was hampering relief efforts of voluntary agencies because he suspected all foreigners of being CIA agents. I called him from Addis and set up a meeting with Deputy Chairman Fikreselassie. I wanted to hear him admit two things: that a severe famine did indeed exist in his area, and that there would be no aid without the presence of the voluntary agencies. He did so reluctantly, and after a long talk was told to cautiously cooperate with me. I then was able to tell the voluntary agencies to push ahead in Wollo and expand their activities free of his interference. As the belg season of February 1984 approached, our office grew more and more tense. We were struggling as best we could, successfully keeping millions alive, but losing hundreds every day. As weeks turned into months we grew more and more anxious for a response to our international appeals. Every day saw an increase in the death rate. And in the backs of all our minds was the fear that the rains might fail again.

In most parts of Ethiopia, the belg crop is used to carry the population

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through the lean period in June and July until the next big harvest begins. There are also areas of the country which depend mainly on belg production and a few others that are entirely reliant on it. This year the crop was needed immediately. Every evening we received reports from the 50 meteorological points we had established. Every day it was the same: no rain. There were prayers and wailing throughout rural Ethiopia; in some places churches were open 24 hours a day as the horrifying truth became clear. The rains had failed again and there would be no harvest in March. The consequences were soon felt. Reports of devastation came in from every front. I traveled constantly throughout the country, seeing the daily deterioration in the condition of the peasants as more and more areas were affected. Wells and rivers which had always been full now went dry thoughout the North. Erosion claimed more and more cropland. Forest fires sprang up all over the country. Seeds sprouted only to scorch in the sun, or rotted in soil that now was little more than dust . Nomads drove their herds out of traditional grazing regions in search of water. Cattle, goats, and sheep died by the millions. Peasants started selling their animals before they died to try to salvage something from them. An ox which under normal conditions would have brought 100 to 500 birr now sold for 20 or 30. As the failure of the rains became irreversible, there were mass

movements of cattle herds, especially along the river Awash. It became an invasion: armies of famished cattle rolled over Wollo eating everything they could find, destroying whatever was left of the previous harvest, breaking into storage units, leaving even greater devastation.

There was panic and fear on a national scale. Thousands left their homes, walking for days to homes of relatives no better off than they were; fleeing to cities, to our distribution centers, overflowing the few shelters we had. What was worse, most of them had abandoned their

farms, sold or lost their animals, and were coming to us utterly destitute. The death rate in the villages steadily increased. By the end of February 1984, approximately 10,000 a week were dying in the shelters, distribution centers and villages. After March it rose to 16-17,000 a week. None of these figures included those dying in inaccessible regions and in rebel-controlled areas. After the ordeal of the previous eight months, the RRC’s resources were nearly gone. We tried to set up priority areas, determine where to send grain and precious resources—but it was like trying to stop a tidal wave. Refugees poured into shelters as famine now entirely engulfed Wollo, Gondar, Kembatta, Hediya (Southern Shua), Northern Showa, Tigray, Eritrea, Sidamo, and Bale.

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In the middle of March, when the belg rains which had never begun ought to have been ending, the RRC made another effort to inform the government of what was happening. On March 13 I sent an earlywarning report, together with horrifying videos of dying refugees, to the Head of State, members of the Military Council, and selected ministers. In my cover letter Idemanded the diversion of funds from non-priority areas to emergency relief, and asked the following of the various ministers: the Minister of Domestic Trade, not to insist on repayment of 60,000 tons of food we had borrowed and to give us any other free food possible; the Minister of Agriculture, to join me in my international appeal and to teach peasants how to conserve water and begin backyard farming; the Commissioner of Water Resources, to provide water tankers and step up water drilling in affected areas; the Minister of Transport and Communication, to provide transport units and give priority to the transport of food to affected areas; the Minister of Interior, to inform the provincial administrators to cooperate with us and the voluntary agencies; the Deputy Chairman of Planning, to review the government's priorities and restructure them in favor of famine relief; the Minster of Finance, to allocate and release funds for emergency relief; the Minister of Public Security, to ease restrictions on travel permits for foreign relief workers and to provide security for our activities; the Minister of Defense, to provide us with military trucks and give us protection in risky areas. I got no response. It is still incredible to me that the RRC’s most difficult task was

convincing our own leaders of the very existence of a widespread famine that was now swallowing up the entire nation. But their sights were set solely on the upcoming anniversary celebration. Throughout the country, red flags and pictures of Mengistu, Marx and Lenin were being distributed, and people were instructed to use their own money to decorate the streets and buildings, even in the heart of the famine region. The usual slogans were posted everywhere: “The oppressed masses will be victorious!” “Marxism-Leninism is our guideline!” “Down with American imperialism!” “Temporary natural set-backs shall not deter us from our final objective of building communism!” Preparations for the celebration were in full swing, including the

phony elections for the newly-formed Marxist-Leninist Party. According to the official proclamation, the Party would be founded through a series of elections starting from the lowest administrative regions. The election process had already begun with Party members electing district representatives and other lower level officials, who would eventually elect a Central Committee, which would elect a Politburo, which would

finally choose a Party Chairman. But what in fact happened was a

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mockery of democratic elections. A list of pre-selected people was prepared by Mengistu and his men. The voters were ordered to elect them. The government media then triumphantly reported that the election of individuals at all levels was unanimous. Hundreds of North Koreans were in Addis decorating the city. They had been invited during Mengistu’s recent visit to North Korea, where

he had been impressed by the colorful ceremonies and meticulously planned parades. Money was poured into new buildings, highways, conference halls, and a huge statue of Lenin in the center of Addis. There was no mention of famine anywhere except in my office. With a national disaster upon us, and no food and no money, our

backs were against the wall. Our only hope was another appeal to the big grain donors, but I had no hope of convincing them that the catastrophe even existed without some acknowledgment from the leadership. Iknew that the donors would politely listen to my appeal and say, “How could it be that bad if the Ethiopian government is saying nothing about a famine at all?” With all the distrust between Western governments and our Marxist regime, they would consider it a ploy to misappropriate contributions. I called a donors’ conference for March 30, and in the

meantime did my best to get government acknowledgment. An opportunity presented itself at a government conference to discuss the ten-year economic development plan. All the ministers, commissioners,

economists, planners, and members

of the Central

Committee were present. This marathon meeting, chaired by Mengistu himself, began on March 11 and was to end on the morning of March 14. Cynicism pervaded the atmosphere at the conference. We knew that even the people who drew up the ten-year plan didn’t believe in it. The agricultural and economic policies of the regime had proved unworkable and had only created resentment among the people. Oblivious as always to political and economic realities, Mengistu had sketched out his objectives without reference to past failures, and told the experts to come up with a plan to fit his goals. Most of us understood from the start that the plan was a meaningless document and that the meeting would be a time for Mengistu to vent his frustrations, exercise his illusions, and indulge in his usual empty promises of a better future. The plan was elaborately prepared in a 680 page document. It included nearly every aspect of the economy and required aninvestment of 55.4 billion birr. Here the fantasies began. The major source of finance (27.1 billion birr) was to be taxes, but taxable income had declined dramatically because much of the population was either out of reach due to the civil wars, or simply had no income to tax. Other hoped for sources

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of finance were identified as 7 billion in non-taxable income, 12.5 billion

in foreign loans and grants and 5.1 billion in loans from domestic banks? Foreign loans were to be obtained largely from Western governments, since socialist countries had in the last few years proved incapable of meeting the pressing demands of capital investment. But given our antiWest propaganda and human rights violations, there was no chance in the world that Western governments would support any of the projects. The plan anticipated a 4.5 percent yearly rate of agricultural growth. But in past years growth was usually less than half that. Growth at the projected rate ona national scale had not even occurred in countries with far better agricultural policies, higher per capita international assistance, and no internal wars. During the three-and-a-half-day meeting, three things were not mentioned at all: the defense budget, the civil wars, and the famine. Yet

that year defense spending had reached an all-time high of 1.5 billion birr, two-thirds of all national expenditures. Even without a further build-up, that would mean

15 billion birr over ten years. This was

compared to the 8.1 billion birr proposed for agriculture. As each item was presented there was discussion, not on the fundamental issue of how the goal was to be met, but on petty technical points in the document. I was quiet throughout the conference, not because I had nothing to say, but because I didn’t know even where to begin. As in the August budget meeting, I listened to these men and felt we were living in completely different worlds. Finally, on the last day, I raised my hand. I said that with all due respect for this elaborately-prepared document, and with my total support for its objectives, none of them could be achieved unless we gave priority to the problem of drought and famine. I described the suffering all around us, and my deep disappointment that nothing had been said about it. Iwarned that, unless the famine and its causes were dealt with,

today’s discussion would remain only an academic exercise. Mengistu dismissed my remarks. Drought and famine were temporary setbacks, he said; what we were discussing today were long-term plans and objectives. My agency’s problems should be brought to the Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers, Fikreselassie Wogderes. End of discussion. I did as I was told. Fikreselassie was, officially at least, the number

two man in the government. He also happened to be the only senior member of the military council who expressed differing opinions and clearly stated his objections to some of Mengistu’s decisions. I went to him with our warnings and reports, emphasizing the magnitude of the disaster. I told him that the RRC needed money. He sympathized with

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my situation, but said that the funds he had on hand had all been

allocated for the coming celebration. He said it with obvious cynicism and great dislike for the Head of State. I urged him to at least come with me to the countryside and visit the affected areas. He just shrugged and told me it wouldn’t make much difference unless the Head of State was convinced there was a problem. I then begged him to at least allocate a token sum for relief. The donors’ conference was approaching and I could not go empty-handed. I had to have some evidence that our government knew the problem existed and was attempting to deal with it. Much to my relief, after two hours of argument, Fikreselassie agreed to allocate five million birr for emergency assistance. The money was at that point fictitious, we didn’t receive it until months later, but it was of invaluable tactical use at the March 30 donor’s conference. I went into the meeting waving the letter, and I was able to make my appeal with some credibility. Fikreselassie also agreed to my request for a special meeting of the Council of Ministers so that I could ask them for help more directly. At this meeting a few days later, I used the strongest language possible. I warned the ministers that we were betraying our people’s trust, that it was our duty to protect them, that millions of lives would be lost through our negligence, and that unless we acted immediately we would live with that guilt forever. My appeal got me nowhere. Most of the ministers shared my dilemma: they were devoted public servants whose hands were tied by the policies of the ruling circle. A few, however, regarded me as a political antagonist who was exaggerating a normal food shortage in order to embarrass the government and further his own

political ends. Very little came of this meeting—no measures were taken, no money was diverted for my use. The only concession I managed to wring from them was the formation of a new committee to look into the situation. I was asked to suggest names. Because of his principled positions and the respect he commanded among senior officials, I suggested the Minister of the Interior, General Taye Tilahun.” For purely practical reasons, I suggested the Minister of Transport and Communication, the Minister of Information, the Minister of Foreign Trade, the Minister of Agriculture, and the Minister of Public Health. The mandate of the committee was limited to going into the countryside and finding out if the reports of the RRC were really true.

* A devout Christian, General Taye is the only official Iknow of who has won the respect of Mengistu not because of his ideological stance but because he refuses to do things that conflict with his faith and principles.

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Even on this minimal level, it was hard to get things done because of the bureaucratic intricacies of the regime. The problem was that the ministers and deputy ministers were overworked: they were all members of so many other committees and subcommittees established for the anniversary celebration and the formation of a Marxist party that they could scarcely perform their regular duties. Most of the committees were chaired by the Head of State or Legesse. Minister of Interior Taye, aside from his routine responsibilities, was chairing seven committees and was a member of four others chaired by Mengistu. The most important committee for Mengistu, but by far the most tedious for most of us, was one on which I served: the medal of honor

committee. We were to recommend 100 people with outstanding revolutionary achievements to receive this award. There were over 14,000 nominees and the committee had to go through the records of every one of them. Iattended only once, and then refused to attend this or any other committee meetings that were not related to the famine. Iwas a member of eight committees outside my own office.There were 43 committees established for the celebration and only one for the famine, and even that was not headed by Mengistu. After much pressure from Minister of Interior Taye who chaired the famine committee, it was finally persuaded to visit the worst-affected areas in the North. We flew to Kombolcha at the beginning of April and then drove north toward Korem. Under normal circumstances this was the season when you would see peasants working on the belg harvest. There was nothing like that now. The area was a blighted wasteland where nothing could possibly grow; nothing was left but people, lining the main roads, almost attacking the cars in their desperation for food. I thought back to a scene I had witnessed recently on the road between Addis and Dessie. There, too, the road was lined with people, hundreds of them, 200 miles of starving, ragged people, begging for a bowlof grain, a scrap of cloth, pleading for their lives. Many of them were selling their traditional ornaments, handcrafted from silver long ago. It was sickening to see government bureaucrats and foreigners driving out from Addis to buy this old, rare silver at a fraction of its true value, taking advantage of the desperate condition of the peasants to rob them of their most valued possessions. We stopped at many villages on the way to Korem. Some of the ministers wanted to keep going on, but I was determined to bring the

reality of famine home to these men, to make them truly feel the meaning of starvation so they would go back to Addis and support my appeal to our government. We saw horrible things wherever we stopped. Every village was full of suffering and death. Everywhere we saw people

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carrying corpses, digging graves, grieving, wailing, and praying ... Whenever we stopped hundreds of people rushed to our cars, pressing up against the glass, faces twisted with the pain of hunger, crying for help: “When is food coming? Where is the water? The blankets? The medicine? Help us, please, help us!!” It was like being in hell with swarms of the damned shrieking in pain, imploring us for relief from their torments. Every time we stopped the armed soldiers escorting us had to push people back. People crowded around us because the lead car was mine and had the RRC emblem on it, a sign of hope and relief among the peasants for over a decade. Yet there was nothing we could do to alleviate their suffering. We, the most powerful men in the country, were powerless to answer their cries of help. It was very difficult to take, especially when we had eaten well that morning. The ministers were shaken. Nothing I could have organized could have been more effective. Ino longer had to convince anyone, the people themselves said it all. As we drove onand saw the same emaciated bodies everywhere, the same skull-like faces, the same pain, the tragedy became so immediate that it seized everyone in its grip. Taye, a deeply religious man, began to cry and the rest showed signs of deep emotion. At Alametta the terrain changes dramatically. A high mountain rises abruptly from the plains and the road becomes very steep, winding back and forth in a spectacular 15-mile series of hairpin turns up the escarpment to Korem. What we saw here wasa vision from a nightmare. At the foot of the mountain in Alametta there was no RRC shelter or distribution center. World Vision and Sisters of Charity were doing their best to cope with those seeking food, but the enormous numbers had over-

whelmed their capacity. Hearing that food was more plentiful in Korem, thousands of famine victims were attempting to walk the 15 miles up the steep road. People who had noteaten for days, weak and deathly ill, were climbing the mountain in an endless, winding stream of suffering. Asour cars passed them we saw their strength failing; saw them collapse and

die before our eyes, their lives slipping away where they dropped. Some of the stronger ones carried children, the sick, or the aged. We saw the terrible agony of people forced to choose between leaving their dying wives, husbands, or children behind, or staying to die with them.

Nothing can describe that anguish. After a point words mean nothing. We reached Korem. I had been here four times in the past two months and each time I had seen a terrible change for the worse. Today was no exception. The RRC and the voluntary agencies could simply not cope with the situation. There were more than 250,000 people in and around the small village which had a population of 3,000 under normal circumstances. The shelter of Save the Children could hold no more than

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10,000 and there were an estimated 100,000 needing immediate assis-

tance. Most had only rags to protect them from the chill highland nights. At night they huddled together for warmth as best they could in the open fields. The exhausted relief workers held the power of life and death as they walked through the crowds selecting only the most needy to receive what food there was, while the unlucky thousands watched grimly and waited another day. The shelters and the open field near the warehouse were packed to overflowing with the sick and dying. We pushed our way through the hordes of groaning people, grieving mothers, whimpering children with the faces of old men and women, listless faces crawling with flies... faces

without hope. The smells and sounds of death were all around. There were corpses everywhere, lined up in rows in ragged sackcloth shrouds or still uncovered in the midst of the crowds. Others were dying of slow starvationas we watched. Somebodies twitched helplessly, some writhed in agony as hunger ate away their living tissue, some lay still, alive but barely distinguishable from the dead. It was like walking through an open graveyard. There were a few who still had the strength to shout at us in anger and despair: “Why are you coming to see us? We’ ve had so many visitors, why doesn’t Mengistu come to see us?” Asif to mock them, even here the streets were decorated for the upcoming celebration. Heroic posters of Marx and Lenin frowned downat them in the streets and even inside the shelters. Some, having nothing further to fear from the authorities, were

bold enough to point a bony arm at the red flags and shout: “That cloth should be covering our bodies, not hanging in the streets! This isn’t our wedding, it’s our funeral... it’s nota

time to celebrate, it’sa time for grief,

a time to repent, a time to pray. Where is the bread? Where is the bread?” It was painful to hear. I took the ministers to the intensive care shelters, and what we saw

there sickened even the strongest stomachs. Inside the tin huts bodies lay on the ground in tight rows: not an ounce of flesh left, just withered skin clinging to bone; human beings reduced to skeletons, motionless, silent, lacking the strength to move or cry, just waiting for life to end; men, women, and children. .. so many children, so many infants weighing no more than a feather. There were mothers with dying children on their laps, dead children by their sides, shriveled babies sucking withered breasts, skulls with enormous eyes staring indifferently at the approach of death. The relief workers did not even have time to talk to us. One of the ministers asked an exhausted Save the Children volunteer to explain the situation. She snapped back: “It is ridiculous that we should have to tell

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you the problems of your own people! You should have been the ones to explain your needs to us. Your own people dying by the thousand every day for months, and you are here now for the first time! I have no time

to talk to you. Commissioner Dawit can tell you what the situation looks like— but what words can explain the sufferings of your own people better than the corpses and emaciated bodies you are stepping over right now?” She was close to tears, utterly disgusted. It was embarrassing for the ministers, but I was glad they had heard it. There was nowhere to turn. Nowhere to look. Each scene seemed more heart-wrenching, more frightening than the one before. The image that haunts me most is that of a young mother with three dead children around her, one dead at her empty breast; her face convulsed in anguish, rocking back and forth, tears streaming down her face, murmuring ina

voice so weak that it was barely audible: “Please God, let me die and join my children and husband ... please let me die, God . . . please, please let me die.” None of us could control ourselves; we all wept. Korem had become the death bed of thousands. But Korem was only one of 240 shelters and distribution centers, and what we had just seen was being duplicated in each of them, with the worst yet to come. The task of saving these people was truly monumental. Yet I was relieved. Finally there were other high-ranking government officials who now shared the responsibility for this crisis, or who

at least could not deny the fact that a catastrophe existed. None had expected to witness anything of this magnitude. They went back shocked both by the reality of the famine and by the misplaced priorities of the government. All the ministers agreed that this was the saddest moment in our history. None of them had ever seen such agony and misery. But the problem of informing and influencing Mengistu still remained. The committee went to work at once. During our initial meeting with Fikreselassie, the committee stated emphatically that a visit to the affected areas by the Head of State and senior members of the Military Council was imperative; that there was nothing more crucial than attacking this colossal human problem, and that all resources should be

diverted at once towards massive relief operations. Taye grew very emotional when he delivered our report, actually weeping as he read it. Fikreselassie sympathized with us but replied that he could only do what he had previously promised: divert 2.5 million dollars from the anniversary preparations to emergency relief and pass the rest of the recommendations on to Mengistu. Not to be put off so easily, the committee insisted onseeing Mengistu face to face. Three days later we were told that he had no time to see us, and that was the end of it.

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Every hour that went by 100 people starved to death. The only thing that could save them now were massive donations from the big grain producing governments in response to my appeal of March 30. That response, also, never came. Notes to Chapter 4

1. U.S. Congressional Document 2. Between 1980 and 1983 grant and loan funding came primarily from the EEC ($350 million) and UN or other international organizations ($380 million). This was 68 percent of the total. Eastern Europe gave a total of 110 million (10 percent). Development assistance per capita was 1.94 in 1983 compared to 22 for Tanzania, 21.8 for the Sudan, 35.7 for Somalia. Figures from The Challenges of Drought, 258.

Fighting Apathy, Misinformation and False Priorities The months following March 1984 were the most terrible Ethiopia has ever seen. Two successive harvests had failed for much of the country, leaving one-sixth of the population on the brink of death, with no options remaining but to sell everything they owned and go in search of food wherever and however they could. The RRC’s stocks were nearly gone, voluntary agencies were overwhelmed, and potential foreign donors were unconvinced that a disaster even existed. Seven million people were now affected, but with no belg crop in the ground, it was clear that number would quickly soar in the coming months. So would the death toll. It was also now clear that no foreign grain would be coming in. None of our appeals in 1983 had had any effect. Iwas soon to learn that 1984 would be no different. The most devastating blow of all was that our own government refused to acknowledge the presence of this ever-widening circle of death. In later days, one of the accusations hurled at me was that Iand my agency had neglected to give timely warning of the famine. Nothing infuriates me more than this. We had worked night and day to bring this catastrophe to the attention of our government and the world. The RRC’s Early Warning System, which many have called the best in Africa, was working to perfection, the trouble was that no one bothered to listen to

those warnings.

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In the countdown to disaster in 1984, the RRC’s warnings,

its forecasts and its estimates of need were all chillingly accurate... The world listened to the foreign experts. The world was wrong and Ethiopians died as a consequence.’ It seemed impossible to get the world’s attention. We knew that the key was the Western media, and in March we invited reporters from the major news agencies to visit the ravaged northern provinces as a way of sparking world interest in our plight. We had to be very careful because Western reporters were not at all liked by the regime. Any hint of provocation, or even a single news report attacking the politics of the government, would result in all newsmen being instantly thrown out of the country. The RRC had to go through a screening process, carefully selecting only the most liberal-minded journalists who could be trusted to avoid antagonizing the regime. In May several reporters came, looked around, and submitted their

articles to their home agencies. Few were noticed. They were glanced over and forgotten by editors and readers alike. In his book Africa in Crisis, Lloyd Timberlake reports: In May 1984 Earthscan took 25 European and African journalists to the highlands of Ethiopia. Major Western newspapers and news agencies were represented. All re-

ported that at least 5 million people faced starvation. Our reports got little attention. ? On March 21, I wrote a letter to the Head of State and Deputy Chairman Fikreselassie. In an attempt to make the drought’s devastating effects clear to them, we compared the precipitation in February 1984 with precipitation for that same month over the last ten years. We enclosed a map and a report prepared jointly by the RRC and the meteorological department. It indicated, region by region, the amount of precipitation and the level of food shortages. It emphasized the lack of

water in the affected districts and the difficulty in supplying them? In the letter I also reported the outbreak of forest fires in many places where they had never been seen before. Ten out of the 13 provinces were experiencing forest fires due to the dry conditions. In one month alone inShoa province there were five forest fires, five in Wollega, three in Arsi, five in Bale, five in Sidamo , four in Harar, three in Kaffa, four in Gamu

Gofa, and a number of small fires in other places. The report concluded that the situation was beyond the capacity of the RRC and required a national mobilization of resources.

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People were now abandoning their farms at a staggering rate. This spelled doom for the future of Ethiopia. Even if they managed to survive the next few months until the September harvest, they would need to be completely rehabilitated, placing an enormous burden on our already overtaxed resources. In any drought or famine the most important task of relief officials is to prevent the movement of people as much as possible. Once people abandon their homes and villages, it becomes increasingly difficult to rehabilitate them. When people leave their homes it is a last resort. They leave empty-handed; they become absolutely dependent on the state. We always try to reach them before they sell or abandon their property, their cattle and farming tools. Now it was already too late. All our reports indicated that more and more people had abandoned their homes for good and were coming to shelters with nothing but the rags covering their bodies. They would be in need of assistance for months, possibly years, into the future. Urban areas were also beginning to feel the severity of the crisis. Beginning in March, there was an acute shortage of food in the capital. Every morning on my way to my office I would see long lines of people waiting to buy bread; every day the line grew longer and the people had to get in line earlier in the morning. Many were sent away empty-handed and told to try again the next day. The March Donors’ Meeting

When at the RRC we realized the catastrophic consequences of the failure of the belg rainfall, we at once called another full donors’ meeting for March 30. At this time the donors were represented by embassies, international voluntary agencies, UN agencies, and the OAU. The socialist embassies were not included in this gathering, as we held separate meetings with them. The RRC was ina very awkward position. How could we expect any of the Western governments to take our appeal seriously when the Ethiopian government itself made no mention of a problem, and in fact was preparing the entire country for a gigantic, extravagant celebration? While the RRC and some voluntary agencies worked around the clock to inform the international public about the disaster, the governmental media worked just as hard to hide the famine. Their goal was to divert the public eye, both domestic and international, toward the glorification

of Marxist ideology and the introduction of a new era of prosperity under a Marxist- Leninist Party. The government's preparations for the celebration were in full

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swing. The North Koreans were doing an astounding job of decorating the city. The ministerial committees were going about their business so that everything would run like clockwork when at last the eyes of the world were upon us. The centerpiece of the celebration would be the creation of a Marxist Party with the first national “elections.” The media blasted the airwaves and newstands with the glories of the revolution and our country’s new-found prosperity. The RRC had to find a way to convince the outside world we were on the brink of destruction without embarrassing our own government. Some, like Preston King, understood my position: Dawit had a problem on his hands. He was a young man, quick, competent and firm. His job was to handle the foreign donors, and to make them believe him. But he

would also have to compel greater attention within the Dergue ... To compel recognition of this within the Dergue was also to seek an adjustment of priorities at a difficult time. His real problem, in fact, was to get Mengistu on his

side...‘ The Western world was at this time very unhappy with Ethiopia’s constant barrage of anti-Western propaganda—but what was even more offensive to the West was the excessive publicity given to the Soviet Union and socialist countries. When the Soviet Union donated fifty books on communism it was a headline story. If the United States or any of the Western countries donated food worth millions of dollars and saved countless lives, it was either not publicized at all or buried on the back page of the paper. This thankless attitude, as well as later rumors of misuse of donations, naturally did nothing to encourage potential donors. The RRC had to give donors constant assurances: that there would be appropriate recognition, that donated food would not be diverted, that the RRC

would act strictly as a humanitarian agency, that there would be no restrictions on the movement of Western expatriates in the affected areas, that we would try to influence the government to give priority to the human problems, that the government was already doing its best— the usual lies. Problems with the Ethiopian media never let up. For example, the very week of the donors’ conference, our media was full of bitter condemnations

of Western

governments,

Western

imperialism, the

capitalist mode of production: “Ethiopia has overcome imperialism with the help of the Soviet Union...”; “Ethiopia is the bright spot on the

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continent...”; “The revolution will continue despite capitalist subversion from the West....” And I had to ask these governments to give enough food to save

seven million of our people! Western governments had mixed feelings toward Ethiopia. They were quite naturally antagonized by the propaganda and hardly anxious to help a country so deliberately belligerant toward them; but they were also aware of the human consequences if they did nothing. They did not want innocent people to die because of the callous disregard of the regime. It required boldness, courage and tolerance to draw a line between the political and humanitarian issues, to transcend political divisions and consider the problem solely from a moral standpoint. It was this inner struggle, and not lack of knowledge, that resulted in the long period of indecision. Donors found themselves unable to say either yes or no to our requests, resulting in months of delay that were fatal to tens of thousands waiting in the shelters. Most of these countries were at this time giving small amounts of assistance, primarily through donations to voluntary agencies; but it was clear to me that I had to prod them further, to the point of significant action. It was also clear to me that some Western governments viewed the situation with a certain relish. Here was a wonderful case of a Marxist government caught in the trap of its own rhetoric. If they waited long enough the problem would become so acute that the world would discover the lies told by the regime. The entire Eastern bloc would suffer the embarrassment of begging the West for aid to keep its “bright spot in Africa” from being wiped out. It would be a tremendous propaganda coup for the West. These Western governments would help, but not just yet. First they wanted the regime to dig itself in deeper. This kind of thinking infuriated our relief workers, whose overriding consideration was sympathy for those who were suffering. To reduce them to mere objects, to pawns in the game of global intrigue, was to deny their humanity and doom millions to a horrible death. It was against this backdrop that the RRC held the donors’ meeting on March 30 at the Ghion Hotel. I chaired this meeting of Western ambassadors, heads of key UN agencies and voluntary non-governmental organizations, and representatives of the OAU and ECA. As usual, the ambassadors of the socialist bloc countries refused to

attend. This behavior was familiar to me from my tenure as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. Whenever the Foreign Ministry wanted to hold a group meeting of ambassadors assigned to Ethiopia, the East European ambassadors would always refuse to attend. The Ministry finally adopted a routine of holding separate meetings for the socialist

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ambassadors. I thought it would be different in the RRC because it was a humanitarian agency, but I was wrong. When we extended our invitations to them they declined and demanded separate meetings. They knew that the Western ambassadors would try to embarrass them by pointing out that our Eastern allies were giving no aid at all, while the West was in a position to donate massive amounts of food. I opened the crucial March 30 meeting with a plea for the depoliticization of humanitarian aid:

Over five million people are expected to be facing food shortages during the current year in 13 administrative regions...All of us here and elsewhere who have witnessed human suffering and who are watching the tormented faces of the starving every day should not give way to those who try to use food as a political instrument or humanitarian assistance as a means of political leverage. Perhaps this is the most morally revolting aspect of the relationship between donors and recipients. Iwould like to emphasize the gravity of the present drought which I have outlined. Unless we are able to provide the assistance required immediately, the number of affected people we have today could easily become a mortality statistic tomorrow. We showed them video films taken by the RRC of the affected areas and presented our report with the number of people affected in each province.* We indicated that 5.2 million were living on the edge of survival with 40 percent of the needy below age 15. An additional 2.2 million people were displaced as a result of “man-made natural disasters” —our euphemism for the civil wars which the regime claimed did not exist. Our total requirement was presented as 912,292 metric tons (which we later reduced to 450,000 metric tons). Transport, medicine,

water tankers, drilling equipment, agricultural implements, clothing and tents were listed as top priority items. Our report concluded with a sense of urgency: Ethiopia is facing a potential disaster of considerable magnitude. This year, around one fifth of the country’s popula*

Wollo, 1,790,830; Tigray, 1,331,890; Eritrea, 827,000; Gondar, 376,5000; Hararghe, 346,889; Sidamo, 209,968; Shoa, 131,034; Gamu Gofa, 79,880; Bale, 52,950; Assab, 45,000; Gojjam, 35,200; Ilubabor, 33,700; Arssi, 2,530; Kaffa, 1,550. Totaling 5,264,298 in need of food and water for survival.

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tion will need assistance in some form or another. If those affected do not receive relief assistance, the consequences will be frightening... The number of people likely to be affected by food shortages has been detailed in this report. But what the data cannot show and what must be very clearly understood , is the amount and extent of the individual suffering of families and their children and sometimes of whole communities. The Commission and the international donor community have a common purpose in which the humanitarian imperatives are clear. If these recognized imperatives do not result in action for those in need, we are failing to meet our moral obligations...Within the framework of the needs presented in this report, the Commission would therefore request the donor community’s serious and urgent consideration of the requirements so that our common human purpose may be fulfilled and that the lives of a large number of our countrymen, women and children may be saved. Attendance at the meeting was encouraging. It has always surprised me that when I called donors’ meetings, the Western ambassadors

would cancel previous engagements and even vacations to attend. In addition, they tried to meet with RRC officials regularly and wanted to talk things over with me as often as possible. Meetings were always characterized by warm discussions which would often go on for hours unless I set a time limit. This particular meeting lasted four hours. Our special meeting for the socialist bloc two days after the general donors’ conference was a different story. The Soviet ambassador could not find time to come, but was instead represented by a junior diplomat. After I presented the situation there were no questions, no discussion.

The meeting lasted thirty minutes. Everyone said that they would inform their governments and left the room. The Soviet Union eventually pledged 10,000 tons of rice which we received five months later. The Cubans pledged 5,000 tons of sugar which was received four months later. The rice and the sugar were worth little as direct relief assistance,

so we sold them on the open market and used this money for our transport fund. None of the other governments sent any kind of assistance. On April 4, immediately after the donors’ meeting, I sent a telex to the UN, international agencies, humanitarian organizations, and all

Ethiopian embassies abroad for their immediate attention:

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An important donors meeting of NGOs, govts. and intl. orgns. took place in Addis Abeba on March 30 1984. Purpose: appeal to the intl. community for relief aid. Failure of the rains this year has caused serious drought. Wollo, Sidamo, Tigray, Gondar, Eritrea and other regions

hit hard. Currently over 5.2 million people are directly affected and need immediate assistance. Food, medicine, transport subsidy, water, etc. are ur-

gently required. Detailed information on the current drought and subsequent requirement priorities on its way to you. Your prompt response and assistance is highly required.

I then left for a month-long series of personal meetings with the big donor organizations and governments in Europe and America. In England, Minister of Overseas Development Timothy Raison was not available, so I was met by Mr. Malcom Rifkind, Minister of State at the Foreign Office. He was a young, aspiring politician more concerned about EastWest politics than the human problems of Ethiopia. I was subjected to a series of questions regarding Ethiapia’s alignment with the Soviet Union, the Cuban presence in Ethiopia, civil war in the country, and the policies of the government. Rifkind was well-read and well-informed but the meeting was totally irrelevant as far as our problems were concerned. I was told the British government would give £30,000 in donations to private voluntary agencies, a drop in the bucket compared to what we needed and what they had available. In Brussels I met with Mr. Edgar Pissani, the Development Commissioner of the European Economic Commission. After long hours of discussion I was able to squeeze 20,000 tons of grain out of him. Knowing the bureaucracy of delivery, I suggested that our embassy in Brussels be involved in the purchase and shipment of the grain. Even so, it was five months before this grain arrived at the port of Assab in Ethiopia. In Geneva I met with the UN High Commissioner of Refugees, Mr.

Paul Hartling, to discuss the fate of Ethiopian refugees being repatriated from Djibouti under a tripartite agreement between the RRC, the Djibouti government, and the UNHCR. This problem dated from the Somalia war of 1977 when 30,000 people, mostly Afars fleeing the war, had crossed over from Ethiopia into Djibouti, creating a refugee problem for that country. They were now returning to Ethiopia amid great controversy, including accusations that they were being forced back to Ethiopia. Because of the attention given to this relatively small group of people, the

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RRC was forced to devote more energy and resources to this particular project than I would have liked. The return of these refugees together with increasing numbers of returnees fromSomalia increased the number of people in our shelters, draining away far too many of our limited resources. While I was in Geneva, I alerted the ICRC (International Committee

of the Red Cross), Lutheran World Federation and Mr. Mohammed Essafi, the UnderSecretary of UNDRO (UN Disaster Relief Organization) to our crisis. UNDRO should have taken the lead in handling a catastrophe such as the one we faced, but it was a relatively weak

organization, poorly funded, with only a limited staff. As we would see later, it was further incapacitated by the creation of a special UN Emergency Office in Africa. Nonetheless, I made it a point to inform UNDRO regularly of developments, even though it was never in a position to offer any meaningful assistance. I next flew to New York where I made an appeal before the UN General Assembly in May of 1984. I did my best to make it as dramatic as possible: I appear before you today to discharge the painful duty of informing this Council and through it the entire international community that a severe drought of unprecedented magnitude has hit the whole of Ethiopia. .. unmatched in its severity by any one of those the country had to suffe ... the dimension of human tragedy is stark and serious. Starvation is currently the lot of about 20 percent or over five million of our population. Unless the situation is salvaged and salvaged immediately through a generous and concerted action by the international community, the widespread fears and dire warnings that the death toll may rise to truly catastrophic proportions may very well come to pass. (UN General Assemby first regular session of the

Economic and Social Council) It was then back to Europe. In Rome I met with the Italian Minister of Development, Giacomelli; the powerful Director General of FAO (UN Food and Agriculture Organization), Dr. Edward Saouma; and the

director of WFP (World Food Program), James Ingram. Italy is the only country where I managed to get something each time I visited. This time the government offered a few more trucks and more supplementary food, for which I was grateful.

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The relationship between the FAO and WFP was at its worst. These two powerful and important UN organizations are nominally independent of each other, but in some matters the WFP needs the approval of the Director General of the FAO. This controversy is familiar to anyone who has worked with these two institutions. The bickering, which had until recently remained at a personal level between the two chiefs, was now institutionalized and had eroded the efficiency of both organizations. My problems were multiplied because of this antagonism. If Icame to Rome and saw one without seeing the other, there was great indignation from the slighted party. If I tried to meet with both, I never knew which to see first. Each blamed the other for the kind of assistance I had been granted or the manner in which it was delivered. As a beggar needing the help of both, I was forced to humor them in their petty quarrelings. In an effort to gain international credibility, I had invited an FAO mission in February 1984 to assess the crop failure and corroborate the figures we were about to circulate in our Early Warning Report. The mission took longer than I had anticipated, and because of this delay we had launched our appeal at the March donor meeting in March without FAO verification. Now, in June, the report was completed; and to my horror, I was told

at FAO headquarters that the findings of their mission were totally different from ours. Their predictions of harvest failure and food shortages were the same as ours, but the FAO failed to come to the same conclusion regarding the amount of assistance needed. The report stated:

On the basis of available data, the Mission has accepted the government’s approach for estimating the consumption deficit for 4.3 million drought-affected people in the Northern regions, 557 tons, for the period April-December. Moreover, for the one million drought-affected people in the Southern regions, food needs are estimated at about 127,000 tons of cereals. Thus the total requirement is estimated at approximately 685,000 tons.

Considering the present and potential logistical capacity for the transport and distribution of relief good (mainly food aid) as well as the accessibility to the affected areas, the Mission concludes that 125,000 tons

can be transported from the ports to the drought-affected areas and distributed internally between April and December 1984.

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Our initial RRC figure was 950,000 metric tons of emergency food for the year. We had cut that in half to 450,000 metric tons because of past experience of unmet requirements, the recalcitrant mood of the international community, and our ports’ limited capacity. The FAO went much further, however, estimating that we could only transport and therefore needed just 125,000 metric tons—one quarter of what we asked for, giving me the shock of my life. The RRC had already been roundly criticized for slashing the figures by one half* and here was the FAO sealing the fate of millions without any rational explanation. Their figures were taken as the last word on the famine, and governments and volunteer agencies excused their inaction with reference to this FAO report. In his interview for the British Independent Television documentary Seeds of Despair, Doctor Kenneth King, Resident Representative of the UN Development Program in Addis Abeba, expressed his outrage: This seems to mean exercise in cynicism. People who do not agree with me say that they are being realistic. But it does appear to me that in 1984, with all the resources of the world, it should be possible to overcome at least some of the obstacles to getting the food into the country. And I’m not talking only figures; what we’re talking about are lives. One hundred and twenty-five thousand tons [the FAO figure] would be a seventh, 14percent, which means that we’re condemning by a stroke of the pen 86 percent, of the people who are affected to, if not death, then to a sort of half life, to

a life without food over long periods. This I cannot accept.

Thad to try to clear this up with the FAO. Mr. Trevor Page, Mr. James Ingram, and other WFP officials, understanding the magnitude of the crisis, had agreed to allocate 30,000 tons of emergency relief supplies. But WFP-FAO bureaucratic channels required the approval of the FAO’s Director General, Dr. Edward Saouma, for shipment. I went to see him

at once. *

We felt justified in doing so for the above reasons and because the 950,000 metric tons (about 864,000 US tons) of food was based on a calculation of 750 grams (1 Ib. 10 0z.) per person per day including children below the age of 14. This recalculation of 450,000 metric tons of food is based on a cut in the adult ration to 500 grams (1 Ib. 1 oz.) per person per day, with children from age 4-14 receiving 350 grams (12 1/2 oz.) per day with no supplementary food, and children under four receiving no grain at all, but instead 100 grams (4 oz.) a day of supplementary food (in the form of dry skim milk, and soya milk)

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Dr. Saouma, a Lebanese Christian, was called Emperor Saouma around the FAO because of the aura of fear and protocol he created around him. He was gracious enough to grant mean audience along with the Ethiopian representative to the FAO, Tessemma Negash. One of Saouma’s staff members,

a Mr. Warner, was there as well. Saouma

showed no enthusiasm whatsoever at seeing us. His face was grim, he did nothing to disguise the fact that Iwas not welcome. He just sat there in state, fingering his rosary beads, scarcely deigning to even glance upon me as I told him about our problems: the gravity of the situation, the false conclusions of the FAO mission, and the need for his immediate approval of the 30,000 tons of food granted by the WFP. Before I could finish, he cut me off and warned me in a most imperious tone that there was no point in talking, he was not ready to listen now. Unless this man (he indicated Tessemma, sitting next to me) were removed from his post at the FAO, he would not listen to or decide

anything regarding Ethiopia. Saouma said that Tessemma was conspir-

ing with the WFP and with other African representatives to defame him. He even began hurling insults at Tessemma right in front of me. I quickly broke in, saying that I knew nothing about the matter, but that Tessemma

remained the Ethiopian representative. If the FAO did not like him, there were Official channels to solve the problem, but that insulting him was neither fair nor proper. I asked to see the Director General privately, and the meeting was adjourned until the next day. In the meantime I tried to find out what all this was about. I discovered that Tessemma was indeed more inclined toward the people at the WFP, that he had been making unfavorable statements about Saouma in conferences, and that in fact he was working with people whom Saouma considered his enemies. When Isaw Saouma privately in the morning he told me bluntly that he wanted Tessemma removed. I replied that I would put the matter before the Minister of Agriculture, since appointments and dismissals of FAO representatives required the approval of both the RRC and that Ministry. I was ushered out of his office and that was that. I went back home frustrated at the pettiness of such a big organization. When I returned to Addis, I learned that the paperwork for the WFP grant wascomplete and on Saouma’s desk. I telephoned his staff and sent a telex. There was no answer. I discussed the problem with our Minister of Agriculture and we decided we could not afford to fight him. We agreed to remove Tessemma. I wired Saouma informing him of this decision, and he wired me back the same day approving the emergency allocation, earmarked for the hardest-hit areas: Wollo, Shoa, and Si-

damo. He got his way.* It was a hard thing to swallow.

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Between the time the FAO-WFP emergency grant was first allocated and the time it reached the port of Assab , four months went by, and it was a total of five months after our March appeal. Ina situation where a day’s delay meant the death of hundreds, the FAO’s delays were inexcusable. Back Home

Upon my return to Addis in May, I faced still another battle. Iwas confronted by members of the Military Council who informed me that the Head of State was extremely displeased with my handling of the drought and my statement to the UN. I heard of his displeasure initially through third parties, and later was summoned to see Mengistu himself. I went to his office and truly, he was furious. Anyone who knows

Mengistu can tell when he is angry. Before he says anything his cheek bones tremble furiously as he holds in his rage. Inervously braced myself for his attack. There was no winning or losing an argument with him. If you lost, you paid for it at once; if you won, you paid for it later. I had every reason to be afraid, knowing his past: the arbitrary decisions; the many sincere people publicly slandered or even jailed and executed by his personal decree. There was no such thing as due process in Ethiopia. The law was entirely in his hands. I was definitely very much afraid. Mengistu gave his customary long, rambling introduction before coming to the main issue. He lectured me on what was happening in the country. He told me about recent successes in the Northern war. He told me that the Institute of Nationalities was doing an excellent job, and that eventually their studies on the ethnic groups of Ethiopia would form the basis for the constitution. He told me that immediately after the establishment of the Party, the emphasis would be on the creation of the People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. He droned on and on, but underneath it all I could see his anger. Then he came to the point. He said that imperialist elements would do everything possible to thwart our efforts, to embarrass us, to destroy the gains of the revolution. One way of trying to embarrass us, he said, was by exploiting the drought. The menace in his voice was unmistakable. He told me that I had to be careful not to fall into their trap. My statement to the UN was inaccurate, exaggerated, he said; it showed Ethiopia in a bad light because it told only of disaster and nothing of governmental achievements or efforts to overcome the crisis. I had not *

On June 14, the Director General approved only 200 tons of biscuits. The balance of 22,740 tons of wheat, 1,207 tons of vegetable oil, 1,770 tons of processed cereals and 108

tons of beans were held pending his approval.

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emphasized thatit wasa natural disaster—a drought, nota famine—and that if it were not for this natural setback the Ethiopian people would have made great strides in overcoming food shortages.* I asked him if he’d had time to read all the reports I had sent in. He curtly assured me he had, but I knew that either he had not read them or

did not want to believe the information they contained. He went on to give me a political harangue about the forces that were trying to reverse the revolution, painting a frightening picture of an Ethiopia under siege and even citing intelligence reports. But when I had spoken with the Minister of Public Security, he had said nothing about any of this; it was Mengistu’s insecurity with himself and his rule. I tried to tell him the reality as I saw it, as so many others saw it. Mengistu would not listen. He repeated again and again that it was only an ordinary food shortage being used as a ploy. Finally, he angrily ordered me to hold no more public meetings or donor meetings, to goon no more fund raising tours to Europe or America, but to stay put and to do whatever I could without attracting attention. Mengistu further ordered me to restrict the movement of foreigners in the countryside. He had already given specific instructions to the Ministry of Public Security to refuse travel permits to all foreigners. Being unable to hold donors’ meetings and give travel permits to the hundreds of expatriates working with us was to be the single most difficult problem between this time and October. Donor governments were soon in an uproar over the restrictions. Journalists, visitors, and representatives from donor organizations and governments found it almost impossible to travel into the countryside. Officials of the Ministry of Public Security and the RRC managed to get around these restrictions toa degree, but the difficulty of verifying the RRC’s claims to catastrophe became one of the major reasons for the West's failure to react to our need. They wanted proof but from May until October Ethiopia was closed to them. There was never any doubt about the attitude of Mengistu and the hard-liners toward the famine. They either refused to believe it existed, implying that it was an insult to suggest that such a thing could happen in a Marxist-Leninist society; or they asserted that if it did exist, it was

best to let nature run its course.** * Atthe May Day rally a week before in Revolution Square, in his keynote address, he had emphasized these very points, brushing aside the catastrophe as a persistent “drought” which had hindered the complete success of the new agricultural policies. ** It must always be borne in mind, that according to hard-line Marxist thought, conflict is desireable. Strength, development, creativity and discipline are born from death and

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My hands were now tied by Mengistu. I had the sympathy of most of the ministers, particularly Minister of Interior Taye and his committee, but they could do nothing either. Moreover, it was becoming clear that the appeals I had made in March and April had, once again, made no impression on Western governments. They were doubtless wary of our claims because of the contradiction with the FAO report and the lack of government acknowledgment. But even the 125,000 tons recommended by the FAO was not forthcoming. WFP figures indicated later that between January and June 1984 only 80,766 tons had arrived in Ethiopia, with just 180,000 tons on the way. We were nowhere near where we needed to be.

The following months saw a succession of measures forced upon the RRC that increasingly debilitated our struggle to provide relief. The RRC was now so desperate for food that it was forced to borrow from the Agricultural Marketing Corporation (AMC), the government agency established to store and sell produce. The AMC was of little help. It also had little grain in stock, and that was reserved primarily for the urban population by special order of the Head of State. Mengistu was growing more and more preoccupied with the September celebration, and thus with keeping the army and the city populations happy. He stressed this during a meeting in June, in which he asked me to divert RRC grain to the armed forces and Urban Dwellers’ Associations of Addis. Amazed,

I again tried to point out the cataclysm engulfing the world around us, but I was quickly silenced with a tirade on the need to keep the soldiers and the Addis population satisfied until the celebration was over. Mengistu had certainly not forgotten that Haile Selassie had fallen because of military and urban unrest during a food crisis. At this June meeting, the Minister of External Trade was instructed to purchase 50,000 tons of grain from Europe or Australia. The same

amount had already been ordered in March, making a total of 100,000 tons that were to be available for the military and Urban Dwellers’ Associations. Mengistu was uneasy because severe shortages were already being felt in the capital and the March order would not arrive for at least another four months. I understood the problem of the military. The common soldier was the victim of government policies just as much as the peasant. Soldiers were dying by the hundreds every week in the various civil wars. Ididn’t anguish, as could be seen from that ever-present model, the Russian Revolution. Extremist thinking of this sort, born on the campuses of Western universities, was still dictating Ethiopian policy a decade after the Revolution.

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want them to suffer more due to food shortages. I now suggested that it would be easier for the RRC to divert food to the peasant militias rather than to the military establishment on the government payroll. These militias recruited from the peasantry were not paid; they were simply trained and ordered out to fight. I felt that feeding them was like feeding peasants. Under pressure, I also agreed to supply food to Garang’s Sudanese Liberation Front operating in the Gambella area on our Western border. This group continues to fight today against the Moslem government in Khartoum (at that time headed by Nimeiri with the goal of setting up an independent state in Southern Sudan. With our reserves dwindling to nothing, the RRC continued to feed the guerrillas throughout the coming year. Mengistu felt it was more important to stir up trouble ina neighboring country than to feed the people of Ethiopia. The entire RRC staff was working around the clock to combat the famine. There were hundreds of RRC workers both in Addis and in the field working 18 to 20 hours at a stretch. RRC truck drivers were on the road most of the day, catching a few hours sleep in their trucks where and when they could. The Addis staff often spent all night at the office. Field workers were exhausted to the point where their health began to suffer. One of our heads of transport, a young man named Damteu Mehretu, died of stress and exhaustion. In June, Legesse Asfaw ordered me to release one quarter of my Addis Abeba staff of 450 people to practice drilling for the anniversary parade and pageant. Iflatly refused. In a tense exchange, I reminded him that the RRC was under tremendous pressure and that he could get his men from other offices. He replied that the RRC was a government agency and that we could prove that we were behind the Revolution by actively participating in the tenth anniversary celebration. That was too much! I snapped back at him that the RRC would prove that it stood with the people and their cause by feeding them, saving their lives, and working 18 to 20 hours a day to do it. A few hours later I got a call from Mengistu’s office informing me that Mengistu was not happy with my refusal. I was ordered to cooperate. I did. Between June and September, 450 of my staff were out practicing for the parade and the colorful show—for all practical purposes they ceased to work for at the RRC at the height of our need. June 11 was the tenth Ministerial Session of the World Food Confer-

encein Addis. Ithad been scheduled to meetin Ethiopia a year beforeand now happened to coincide with the spread of famine. Mengistu opened the meeting and for the first time spoke in a very different way about the crisis. Up to now, he and his men had denied anything worse than a food

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shortage; but from this point on, in an effort to defuse any possible public focus on their policies, whenever they were forced to mention the problem they did so in an African context: “Ethiopia is currently suffering from the severe drought that has hit most African countries, and conditions are becoming even worse now.” It was always emphasized that this was a natural phenomenon everywhere on the continent. They denied that the crisis was specific to Ethiopia, in an attempt to ward off any public criticism of their reaction. On June 30 I sent another letter to the Head of State and Deputy Chairman Fikreselassie: Asa result of the immense human problems my agency has done whatever possible both in mobilizing and distributing assistance. In the last three months the following number of people have been assisted in the most severely affected areas with what my agency and the NGO’s have at their disposal: Wollo: 1,043,175 Wolaiyta: 148,882

Kembata and Hadiya: 84,469 Tigray: 410,000 Others: 2,018,161 Total: 3,694,687

In the life of this agency there has never been such a serious mobilization effort demanding the best from every one of us. But the number of needy people is increasing daily. Even though the government has allocated 5 million birr for the

emergency, it has not alleviated any of our complex problems. The Ministry of Finance has refused even to release what is left of the allocated regular budget of the agency. The number of people that will need asistance will not be less than 5.2 million. But the budget that has been assigned to the agency is the same allocated to it nine years ago. Our attempts to increase our budget have always failed . . .As clearly indicated our expenses have always been beyond the allocated budget. It has never been compatible with our ever-growing needs. We have not been able even to transport food assistance piling up at our ports. We made arrangements with the Maritime and Transit Department of the Ministry of Trans-

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port to enable us to operate on credit, and to date we owe the Department 17,228,550 birr. Now as the fiscal year comes to

an end, the Department has refused to let us operate on credit. Thus thousands of tons of food are about to rot at the

ports. This will have adverse effects on the attitude of donors.

Generally in the last three months we needed 72,445,829 birr to effectively transport food from the ports and warehouses to the relief centers. What has been allocated for the entire relief operation for the whole year was nine million. Out of this we spent 7,048,000 for transport and the rest for other emergency activities. We have requested international donors to fill this huge gap and indeed some have helped by directly paying the transport organizations for services rendered. This year the voluntary agencies have paid 10,764,540 for transport alone. In the coming year we are predicting more people are going to need our assistance. If we happen to get the 900,000 tons which we have requested, then for transportation alone we will need 144,890,000 birr. Even if we assume that we will get only 50

percent of the entire assistance requested, we shall need 72,445,827 birr. And for the services which we are obliged to pay for the Maritime and Transit Department we will need 7,000,000 birr for just 50 percent of the food assistance. All this has not been included in the discussion of the national budget of 1977 [i.e., 1984: the Ethiopian calendar runs eight years behind the European calendar]. The above is only one aspect of our problem. But in general the allocation of budget for 1977 has not addressed the most pressing problem of the country at all: the food shortage and the relief and rehabilitation programs. Therefore I demand that the entire budget allocationbe reviewed again. Dawit

Again, there was no response. Peter Gill states: “Commissioner

Dawit was likened by one well-placed Ethiopian source to a leper, and as the tenth anniversary junketings approached, the RRC’s isolation, by now both national and international, increased.” This was a perfect description of how I felt. No one would listen. Everyone cringed when

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they saw me coming, both within my own government and among the international community. The Catastrophe Deepens

June became July, the time for the beginning of the meher rains when 80 percent of the food crop is planted. At the RRC we were looking forward to the rains with great anticipation. At last our load would be lightened, something would begin to grow again in the country; we would have grain on hand, the death toll would drop, and rehabilitation efforts could begin in earnest. There would be a psychological change among the people, an upsurge in morale in the shelters and distribution centers when they knew that things were growing again. But again, there were no rains. It was absolutely beyond belief. Some regions had a light rainfall, but even this began late and was of little value. Across the country the skies were cloudless. The third consecutive growing season was going to fail. Famine was going to spread even more rapidly throughout the country. The meher rains usually last through the first weeks of September. In 1984 they were over by early August. The harvest would be terrible, down by about two million tons—the normal consumption of between 6.5 and 8 million people. Missing the first meher rainy season created a severe crisis. Missing the next belg rains made it a full-scale disaster. But missing the third consecutive growing season was a blow that cannot be

described in words. No one knew what to do. At the end of June, I convened a meeting of the regional representatives of the RRC. This was virtually a council of war on how to meet the new crisis and the demands for more food, shelter, and clothing. We went over the details of rainfall, water supply, transportation, food

shortages. We tried to assess what we had and what we needed. We summarized all of our reports, arranged logistics, and set up priority areas. Reports from our regional representatives estimated that the death rate now was over 12,000 a week at the known shelters and distribution centers. The tremendous influx of famished people into the shelters was undiminished; the entire population seemed lost, no one knew where to go. Hundreds of thousands left their homes, setting off in any direction where there was a rumor of food. The sick and aged were left behind to die. Sixty percent never reached their destinations, according to our later estimate. They died along the road of hunger or, too weak to defend themselves, were devoured by wild animals along the way. Still, thousands managed to drag themselves and what was left of their families

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into the shelters and centers, and more importantly, to the capital cities

of the provinces. Even innon-drought years it is estimated that about 40 percent of the children in Ethiopia are malnourished. Now no one had enough to eat. As an example, WHO, in its report of December 1984, estimated that 60

percent of the children in the administrative region of Wollo were severely malnourished in October 1984—25 percent of them at immediate risk of death. The RRC’s estimates were even worse. Based on studies prepared for the donor’s meeting that same month, over 80 percent of the children of Wollo were severely affected, and over 50 percent were likely to die. The majority were in fact dead by the time we made the report and many more were to perish between October and December when the first assistance started trickling in. In addition to all the diseases associated with malnutrition, xerophthalmia, a horrible eye affliction caused by vitamin-A deficiency, was

widespread in the camps by the end of the year. As with all famine related diseases, children suffered most. In the first stages, the whites of

their eyes began to turn brown. Later the eyes assumed a ghastly, bloated appearance. In advanced cases the eyes simply rotted away. Thousands of Ethiopian children were left permanently blind.

The situation that the RRC faced in July 1984 was grim: Wollo province needed 7600 tons of food for the month; only 4000 was available and there was no transport. In the highly populated Wollayta district in Wollo 30,000 people were in need of food; 900 tons

were needed for the month—they got nothing. Sidamo and entire southern Shoa had no food reserveatall. Enormous herds of cattle were dying as they wandered north along the rivers. Nomads were wandering south toward the rain forests. Thousands of tons of food were needed—they got nothing. In Hararge province along the Somalia border, the highlanders were drifting into the townsand cities, packing them to overflowing, while the lowland nomads crossed over into Somalia. They needed 5,000 tons for the month—and got nothing. Shoa needed 10,000 tons—and got nothing. Bale, Kaffa, and Ilubabor provinces were very badly hit and in need

of food we could not give. Some parts of Gondar were able to make it through on their own, but two districts bordering on Wollo, Gaint and Libo, were critically affected and in desperate need of food. They got nothing. Tigray was one of the worst hit provinces. Here, mass wanderings were among the worst; shelters were bursting with refugees and peas-

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ants were pouring into the nearest urban centers. Many trekked north into Eritrea or crossed the border into the Sudan, causing a refugee problem there as well. There were many mountainous, inaccessible areas in this province. They needed 20,000 tons of food and had only 2,000 in stock. As a further complication, the guerrillas of the TPLF created a transport problem. Food had to be brought in through Eritrea, through the city of Massawa, adding tremendous logistical problems. Convoys with armed escorts were necessary. Coordinating all this took hours away from other activities.

In Eritrea there were no shelters. Where other parts of Ethiopia saw peasants sticking stubbornly to old ways of farming, Eritreans were very diligent and innovative. They knew how to conserve water and use more modern technology to get by, partly because of their Italian colonial heritage. There was some irrigation which increased their production each season. The people in this province have great determination and strong character. It was easier for the RRC to work here. We were able to do our work without shelters, relying solely on distribution centers for relief. Rumors in the Western media that the government might suspend the relief effort in Eritrea in order to punish the rebels were blown out of proportion. Evena minor shortage in that province was seen by the West as an attempt to cut off the rebels. The fact was that over the years Eritrea had always been in a relatively better situation and had never experienced food shortages to the same degree as Tigray and Wollo to the south. In fact, Eritrea benefited from this controversy due to our sensitiv-

ity to these accusations. The province also benefited indirectly from the civil war in Tigray. Food destined for Tigray was usually stored in warehouses in the Eritrean ports of Massawa and Asmara. Because of the

difficulty in transporting it into war-torn Tigray, this food was often used

by the Eritreans before it spoiled. In our June meeting it was recognized that Wollo, Sidamo, Hararge, Shoa, Tigray, and Gondar were the most critically affected areas. Extreme measures had to be taken. We gave instructions to adhere strictly to 500 grams (1 Ib., 1 oz.) per adult per day, and in some places to very much less than that. The World Food Program estimates that 700 grams a day will keep an adult just barely alive; but strict rationing was the only choice available to us. We also gave special orders to cope with region-specific problems. In the Southeast, for example, eating habits are very different from the rest of the country. The main forms of wealth are herds of camels and cattle. The cattle are valuable either as a source for draft oxen, or for their milk. The people do not usually eat beef. It is nota religious question, but

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a matter of prestige: a large herd is the sign of a successful, wealthy man. So in the southern provinces there was the paradoxical situation of thousands of famished people coming to us for grain, while thousands of cattle died of starvation around them. At this June meeting we gave instructions to our representatives in the South to encourage these people to butcher their cattle since they were only going to die or wander off anyway. Aboveall, in every region, we emphasized that movement of people should be prevented as much as possible in order to avoid future problems of rehabilitation. The RRC ordered the number of distribution centers increased, even though there was a shortage of everything. We had to try to keep people on their farms. However, we did not have the facilities or the manpower to help people near their homes before they had wandered too far. More shelters and distribution centers were established, not at previously selected

sites, but wherever we found large numbers of people on the move, on foot without food. In other cases, we would receive calls for assistance from local officials, and move in and try to help.

Places that were meant to be only distribution centers became permanent shantytowns. People knew it was pointless to return to their farms, so they camped at the centers where there was some hope of survival. Some of the energetic ones built straw-thatched huts; others

just lay in the open fields, too weak to move. Thousands had to stay outside without shelter or blankets. Most were dressed in rags. Many dug holes to sleep in, to protect themselves from the cold and wind. This was the situation in Korem, Makele, Ibinet, Sakota, Alamatta, Woldia,

and Arbaya. In Debre Birhan, 100 miles outside Addis and well known for its cold

nights, a few of my colleagues I and experienced the conditions of the refugees by spending a September night in the fields with the famine victims. It was terribly cold. We had blankets, and slept in tents, but the

piercing wind bit through our clothing. Before going to sleep we walked through thousands of people out in the open fields with no blankets, huddled together for warmth. Sixty-four had died during the day, and we were told that the night would take more. We saw hundreds who had dug shallow holes in the ground—human beings forced to sleep in burrows like animals, shivering and starving. We woke up early in the morning and found that 31 people had died during the night. Some were dead in the holes they had dug for protection. Their shelters became their graves. In many distribution centers that June, so many people poured in that the shortages grew acute. People who were extremely weak and

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malnourished were turned away. Shelters became so crowded and medical personnel so overburdened that there was no way to admit everyone who needed intensive care. Deciding who to take in became the power of life and death. The RRC mobilized whatever resources it could, ordered economy, and prayed for outside assistance. It did not come. In July, as the bread lines grew longer in Addis, rumors of famine were rampant. There was talk of hidden mass starvation, of dissatisfaction among the army and people. In the meantime, people were being mobilized for a celebration no one wanted. The RRC received reports of hundreds starving to death in the poorest sectors of the capital. Some of the urban poor were leaving the cities and going to distribution centers in rural areas to weather the famine there. Others managed to buy grain in the country and brought it back into the city with them. I went to the Council of Ministers, and in the presence of the mayor of Addis, offered my help in distributing food to the starving in the city. Iknew that charitable organizations would be willing to participate in RRC-coordinated relief efforts for the needy in the city. But I told the ministers that there would have to be clear criteria of eligibility, because of the great number of people in need. The proposal was turned down because it would have created chaos in the city. It was also turned down because Legesse, who was in charge of mass organizations, was opposed to the idea. We continued to get reports that 30 to 50 corpses a day were being removed from the Merkato (the market area) and other areas of Addis. Our office secretly provided food to the most needy through the churches and some Urban Dwellers’ Associations with sympathetic leadership. Legesse had his own ideas on how to deal with the problem. That same afternoon my offer was turned down, he ordered the City Council to round up all the undesireables in the city—the prostitutes, beggars, and street people—and intern them until after the holiday. Because this operation later grew beyond the capacity of the city, other organizations became involved including the RRC, the Addis Abeba police, the COPWE offices, and the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, Berhanu Bayeh. A

huge concentration camp was set up on the road to Gojjam, headed by

Bernahu. The RRC provided the food and some materials for shelter. There was quite a furor over this operation because it did not concentrate on those who were most in need of food, but on those the regime found offensive and likely to spoil the celebration. Healthy young men were impressed into the military, and the rest—the women, the elderly, the

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loitering young people—were all sent to the camp. With all the problems our country had, many visitors at the time wondered at how neat the city was, and how there was no indication of

the millions of displaced and starving people. As Mengistu was driven around the city to review the preparations, he was elated by how clean Addis looked. He patted Legesse on the back and commended him on the wonderful job he was doing. One of Mengistu’s favorite stops was the spot where they were erecting the tomb of the unknown soldier. This impressive statue had two huge engravings of Mengistu on it: one in military uniform, and the other in civilian clothes depicting him as the Great Teacher and Leader. Whoever designed it really knew how to please Mengistu. Our RRC regional representatives continued to receive horrible reports from local administrators, who simultaneously were reporting fantastic achievements to political leaders. There were reports of people eating trees, roots, anything they could find; many were poisoned trying to ease the agony of starvation. Villages were wiped out, thriving markets became ghost towns, entire regions were made desolate as famine spread and the population died or dragged themselves to the nearest shelters. We sent more videos to Mengistu, knowing he wouldn’t look at them but not knowing what other path to take. There were two worlds in Ethiopia: the fantasy land of Mengistu and his politicians, and the world of stark reality ruled by starvation and mass death. The Annual Budget Meeting

July 31 was the opening of the annual budget meeting, one year after the one in which I first brought the famine to Mengistu’s attention. This meeting was a four day affair with Mengistu again at the chair. He did not spend even five minutes on the “drought.” At the end of the conference, I rose to my feet and gave my report: Last year because of drought, 5.2 million people had been affected. Great efforts had been made to save lives, but it was not enough. I said that we had distributed 90,000 tons of food in three months, but that the problem remained acute. In the coming months the situation will worsen. For the next five months we need a minimum of 200,000 tons. We now have absolutely nothing.

I requested 33 million birr for regular expenses (salaries and other recurrent expenses), but only 14 million was allocated. I requested 98

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million for rehabilitation projects: 1.9 million was granted. The regular relief subsidy every year had been 10 million birr. This year I requested 67 million. To my astonishment and horror they gave us only 9 million, a cut of 10 percent from normal because more was needed for the celebration. Overall, I requested 199 million birr and got a mere 43 million, not including the five million for emergency relief granted in March by Deputy Chairman Fikreselassie. I wrote a letter of protest to the Head of State on August 10. There was no reply. At the end of July, in a meeting of a small group of the Council of Ministers, I decided to make a bold announcement. I said that for the good of the country and to show the world an image of Ethiopia that would ring to our credit, we ought to cancel the celebration, fly flags at half mast, and proclaim a call to prayers and a period of national mourning. We would earn the admiration of the world for admitting our problems and we would show our people they could trust us to take care of them. Fikreselassie reacted with a typical cynical remark: “What a good idea. I think you should tell this to Comrade Mengistu.” But I was backed up by Minister of the Interior Taye Tilahun, who

had been most affected by the visit to Korem. He was more outspoken than any of us on the drought issue and had made similar proposals before. He repeatedly reminded the Council of Ministers that our silence was criminal and that the celebration would defeat its own purpose. He called it an act of infamy to avoid open discussion on the issue of famine, and advocated at least mobilizing the people to help one another in this time of national calamity. When Legesse heard what Taye and I had been suggesting, he convened an emergency meeting of the leaders of the Urban Dwellers’ Associations of Addis. He told them that there were rumors of drought circulating, even within the ruling circles—rumors designed to subvert the Revolution and create dissension. “The entire population should be on the alert against this sort of provocation,” he said. “Imperialist CIA agents are trying to poison the minds of the people, to provoke unrest and spoil the celebration. You should be vigilant and dispel these rumors. You have the authority to take measures against these counterrevolutionaries.” I was not there, but Iwas immediately informed of his words. It was unmistakably an attack on the RRC and moderates like Taye. It was also a warning to watch out. The hardliners were already suspicious of everything connected with the famine, seeing in it an attempt by me to agitate against the government. This was quite evident in July when a 40 minute documentary film on the famine, Seeds of Despair, was shown in Great Britain on television. It had been filmed in Gondar and Wollo and

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showed all the misery of the starving peasant farmers. It had some impact in Great Britain, primarily in individual donations to charities, but it made a far bigger stir at home. Legesse was quick to decry it as sabotage, the work of counter-revolutionaries. The UN Economic Commission for Africa was forbidden to show the film during a conference on drought in Africa. As always, I was suspected. Now as I

discussed Legesse’s speech with my people, we decided there was no point in bringing up the famine anymore until the celebration was over. We restricted ourselves to cautious conversations with the donor community. We did not want to jeopardize the entire relief effort. We were not out to rouse the people against the government. Legesse subsequently disbanded Minister of Interior Taye’s famine committee. Taye was quietly sent off to fill the post of Ambassador to Sweden. He has since defected to the West. After my letter on the inadequacies of my budget was received, the head of the Planning Committee, Addis Tedla, and Fikreselassie called

me to a meeting to discuss a plan whereby the RRC might obtain the funds it needed. They suggested that we sell the grain we had received for relief on the open market. The market value was high, and we would

have made a considerable amount, enabling us to pay for transport and other expenses. But the proposal was ridiculous. First of all, the international community was dead set against such underhanded activities, and was constantly on the watch for them. Also, the diversion of the small amount

of food aid we had received so far would have meant an immediate increase in the deaths in the camps and shelters. It would have meant sacrificing many thousands of lives, with little gained in return. Besides, if we were to sell what we had, we would have nothing left to transport. We later sold on the market some donated items that were not readily usable: 1000 tons of Bulgarian cheese, Cuban sugar, Russian rice, beau-

tiful shoes and juice drinks from Italy, fur coats, fashionable clothing, and canned goods.* In August I invited the major Western donors to my office to keep them abreast of the situation. The meeting was not publicized nor did I inform Mengistu. When I was asked by Minister of Public Security Tesfaye about the meeting I told him it was just an informal gathering to

* Rice was very unpopular in the highlands, even at the height of famine. These proud peasants considered it the grain of the poor and they preferred their native teff, sorghum, or imports of wheat. Rice was usually put on the market in the cities or given away to lowlanders or the Sudanese Liberation Front.

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discuss implementation of ongoing projects. The number of affected people had now reached six million. I informed the donors that our monthly requirement was 86,650 tons and that we'd had no grain in our stores during the entire month of July. The starving peasants of Wollo were by this time making their way toward the capital by the thousands. Addis was besieged by beggars and dying people. At the end of August, hearing reports of the ragged mobs of skeletons approaching Addis, Mengistu and Legesse finally went into action: they ordered the RRC to keep them out of the city. We had to do it, because if they had entered, they would have been viewed as our own creation: an attempt to sabotage the revolution at the very moment of the anniversary celebration. The police were ordered to make a human fence around the city to keep the starving from entering and spoiling the show. Other RRC officials and I spent six days before the celebration along the road between Addis and Debre Birhan, where most of the peasants were located, setting up shelters to feed them as best we could.

In a continuing effort to make someone listen, on September 3 the RRC sent a letter signed by me to the National Planning Committee (whose Chairman was Mengistu):

Due to the failure of the belg rains this year, along with the continued problem of drought plaguing the country, we have previously indicated to you that this year has been a most difficult year for us. Until now we have been able to help only 4.2 million people by distributing 120,000 tons of grain and 9,000 tons of supplementary food, and 5,400 tons

of seed. Even though we have been able to save lives by distributing the minimum survival ration of 500 grams, we believe that the most serious problems are yet to come. 1. As reports indicate, the current meher rainy season is not entirely favorable. Because of this we believe that the coming year (the one beginning one week from now) is going to be an even more painful year.

2. The RRC believes that over 6 million people will need assistance.

3. Even the urban population is going to be faced with the most severe food shortages.

4. Aside from the most severely affected provinces indi-

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cated to you earlier, new famine areas have now been identified in Northern Shoa (Menzina Gishe, Yifetina Timoga) in Sidamo, Ilubabor, and Harar. 5. The RRC has established shelters, opened new distribution centers and feeding centers, built clinics, and distributed water trailers.

However I again request that specific means should be taken on the following points: —the government should understand the gravity of the situation;

—the government should respond to the various requests the RRC has submitted earlier;

—the ten year plan cannot be achieved without considering the realities of continuing food shortages and famine in the country; —unless the government provides food for the urban population these people are going to be additional burdens on the RRC.

Before I got any response the anniversary celebration was upon us. The Tenth Anniversary Celebration Four days of ceremony, banquets, elections, celebrations, and parades. Four days of pageantry in the midst of horror. Everyone was forced to celebrate, but on the face of every spectator was disgust. The people detested this show, this piece of theater that mocked their suffering. There wasa sense of fear. The air wascharged with tension and security forces were on full alert to guard against a protest, a demonstration, an attack on one of the installations, perhaps even an attempt to topple the government. People asked themselves, was all this pomp really necessary? It was more than evident that starvation was rampant within the city. Bread lines had been getting longer every day in September until, miraculously, the arrival of foreign dignitaries brought simultaneous plenty into the capital: the lines disappeared and the shelves were full. No one was deceived, however. Everyone knew the senseless celebration was costly. In Congress Hall, Mengistu was elected Party Secretary ina travesty

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of democracy. In effect, he elected himself. At the first meeting of Congress on September 5, we were to elect the Central Committee from among the members of Congress. There were one thousand of usin the Congress, most of us unknown to one another. How were we supposed to elect a Central Committee? Mengistu went to the podium and announced that he had a list of 120 people to propose for the Central Committee. He read the list. My name was on it. A predesignated member of Congress then made his way to the podium and read something to this effect: “Members of the Congress, there is no person in the country that knows us better than the Head of State, Mengistu Haile Mariam. He has a brilliant capacity to know people. He knows our contributions and weaknesses, our needs and our abilities. I therefore propose that we accept his nominees.” Another member then made a similar statement to second the motion. Mengistu picked up the two written statements and said that he assumed these were the opinions of everybody else. Tumultuous applause. He banged his gavel and announced that the 120 people had been elected unanimously to form the Central Committee. The newly elected Central Committee was then supposed to choose the smaller Politburo from among its members. We all adjourned into another hall and there went through the same charade again. Mengistu read a list of 17 proposed names. Someone among us in a pre-assigned role again made a statement that Mengistu had chosen exactly the right people, that nobody could know us better, etc., and he was seconded by another member. Applause, gavel . . . and Mengistu introduced the members as unanimously elected. Then, while we waited in the Central Committee Hall, the Politburo members went into an adjoining room to elect the General Secretary of the Party. The suspense was minimal. They came back in 15 minutes having unanimously elected Mengistu General Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Ethiopia, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, Chairman of the Council of Ministers, and of the Provisional Military

Administrative Council. We applauded enthusiastically when the decision was announced to us. In other totalitarian Third World countries the leaders assume an air and announce that 99percent are inagreement. But Mengistu’s of modesty Ethiopia had achieved perfection—every decision was 100 percent. After my defection, in one of my letters to Mengistu I mentioned how

ridiculous this unanimity appeared to the outside world, and he seems to have taken it to heart. Mengistu appeared before the full Congress and was introduced to the members as the General Secretary. Then we all had to sit and listen

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while a member of the Politburo, Amanuel Amdemichael, the elderly

Chief Jusitice of Ethiopia, an Eritrean and former governor of that province under General Amman in 1974, read a biography of Mengistu that made his life sound like the second coming of Christ. He was “the saviour of Ethiopia, brilliant, generous.” Childhood stories were told of

this prodigy, this gift to the Ethiopian people. It was disgusting. Amanuel Amdemichael lost the respect of everyone for so willingly playing a part in this travesty. Mengistu sat there listening, the picture of humility, as though he had never heard a word of it before. In fact it had been written under his direction and he had corrected the final version himself. Afterward, as he stood and addressed the assembly, an embarrassed smile hovered around his mouth as he mumbled modestly: “I

don’t deserve this praise . . .” It was low comedy in the worst possible taste.

That same day Mengistu addressed the Congress and the nation in a five and a half hour televised speech. He talked about the Revolution, the achievements, the difficulties. It was a boring, repetitive, boastful pontification. But I had to admire the energy of the man—to be able to speak that long with genuine enthusiasm, with a sincere belief that what he was saying was true. It was a battle to keep our eyes open, but it was even worse for the

visiting heads of state who were seated right up front where everyone could see them. Samora Machel of Mozambique, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Ali Nasser of South Yemen,

Daniel Arap Moi of Kenya, DeSantos of Angola—all representing countries that had their own serious problems at home—all had to sit there and listen to the head of one of the least developed and most troubled countries on the continent brag about what he had done for five and a half hours. More than one head of state was nodding before it was over. The most striking aspect of the speech was that there was no mention of the famine ravaging Ethiopia. At one point, for a minute and a half, Mengistu talked about the recurrence of drought in general on the continent, which he called a “constraint to the successful implementa-

tion of agricultural policies.” He did not mention the famine or ask for any sort of food aid. I was shocked, because a few days before I had

spoken with Shimelis Mazengia, who drafted all of Mengistu’s speeches, and we had agreed that Mengistu would acknowledge the existence of the famine and use the opportunity to extend an appeal to the international community. Obviously, that section had been deleted. Some 200 reporters from all over the world had been invited for the ceremony. I knew there would be trouble with them. Even before the ceremony I warned the Head of State’s office and the Ministry of

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Information that these reporters would be interested in the famine, not the ceremony, and that they would come to my office asking for the story. Mengistu apparently believed that they would come to hear his speech on the glory of the Revolution, view the elaborate exhibits of his successes, send back glowing reports on the colorful ceremonies and heap praise on him for all the world to hear, but I knew better. I knew they would smell a scandal: the elaborate anniversary ceremony and the hidden famine. I also knew I would be caught in the middle. I told the men in charge, Shimelis Mazengia and Ashagre Yigletu from the Foreign Affairs Committee of COPWE, that these reporters were going to be digging around to find out the extent of the drought, asking to visit affected areas, and that if they were refused permission they would suspect a coverup. I told them that the reporters should either not be invited, or that I should be given the authorization to talk

to them and let them visit the crisis areas. But I warned Shimelis and Ashagre that if I did, it was not the celebration that would make the headlines, but the famine and the contradictions in governmental priorities. They ignored me and invited the reporters anyway. I was warned to keep away from them and to make no attempts to hold press conferences. They were invited specifically to cover the celebration and nothing else. Things turned out as I had predicted. The famine was all the journalists wanted to hear about, and no one in the government was

prepared to talk to them. Minister of Information Felleke Gedle Giorgis had scheduled a reception for the international journalists, but when he found out that they were interested mostly in the famine, he did not attend his own reception. Many reporters came to my office requesting appointments. If Ihad invited them I would have spoken to them frankly; but since I had been warned, it would only have looked like another attempt by me to sabotage the ceremony. I talked later to a few who stayed behind, the kind of journalists who could be trusted to consider my position, and not make trouble for me. One of them was David Ottaway of the Washington Post, who wrote: Ten years after Africa’s worst famine took an estimated 200,000 lives, Ethiopia is again facing a similar crisis with relief officials predicting the probable death of tens of thousands . . . Ethiopia’s leader, Mengistu Haile Mariam, made no specific mention of the crisis during the celebration and declined repeated requests to travel either North or South to report on the situation.

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The anniversary celebration was a golden opportunity for the RRC and the government to make an appeal to the media and all those people I had been chasing down in Europe. It was an opportunity for the Head of State to make a dignified retreat from his earlier stance, launch an international appeal and revise his image. He would be praised throughout the world. But Mengistu had no stomach for that sort of thing—it would prove too embarrassing. There had been arrangements for him to meet the press, but when he heard that they were unappreciative of his political ceremonies and wanted to know about the famine, he canceled the press conference. After the Celebration The celebration came to its uneventful conclusion, and most report-

ers left without knowing the true nature of the disaster in the country. But with the pressure of the celebration behind us, I was more determined

than ever to focus international attention on the famine. The RRC had been watching helplessly in September as the death rate rose to 14,000 a week. I wanted to call an international press conference immediately after the celebration on September 18, but I was told to wait until the

Head of State met with the newly formed Politburo. The RRC, with the help of the voluntary agencies, was doing as much as we could in the field throughout this period, but we were muzzled— unable to publicize the situation of our people to the world. We had been holding informal meetings with all voluntary agencies operating in Ethiopia, urging them to use their channels to appeal to the international community. Finally, at the end of September, the CRDA (Christian Relief

and Development Association), the coordinating organization of all voluntary agencies in Ethiopia, sent a long telex to the international community:

Ethiopia has not experienced a food shortage of this magnitude within living memory. In terms of geographical extent and population affected, it vastly exceeds in severity the drought and famine of 1973, when three regions were affected. Today twelve of the fourteen regions are affected by drought. and death by starvation is occurring in six of these. More than six million people are estimated to be affected by food shortage. The number of people arriving at feeding centers far exceeds the supplies of available food.

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Current estimates made from WFP reports indicate that only 100,000 tons of relief supplies are scheduled to arrive by the end of December 1984. This is sufficient to feed the affected population for only thirty days. Moreover extensive crop failure in all parts of the country indicates that not less than 60,000 tons of relief food will be required per month until December 1985. There is no doubt that if substantial quantities of food are not forthcoming immediately, hundreds of thousands of people will die. This can be avoided. This desperate telex with its startling figures and unequivocal cry for help again had no immediate effect. At the end of September I was called to the office of Mengistu. Now he was worried because the famine was clearly not going to go away and

the celebration had shown it was beginning to affect his image before the international community. He wanted a briefing on the drought, and I gave him all the information I had. He listened as though it were the first time he had heard about the suffering and death of millions of victims. I told him of the necessity for an international call for assistance. He approved the appeal. I asked him to talk to representatives of the donors to make my task easier. To my surprise, he agreed at once. On October 2, I took the Reverend Tom Houston, the President of

World Vision and an eloquent, practical and sincere man, to see Mengistu. Mengistu talked about what he and the regime had done to bring about self-sufficiency in food production. Reverend Houston told him that the humanitarian organizations were prepared to help, and Mengistu gave his assurance that he would facilitate the humanitarian operation. This was the first time he had appealed for help, but even now he spoke of his achievements first and referred to the drought as an irritant in the attempt to make Ethiopia prosperous. The Politburo’s first meeting was held at the beginning of October. They were at last forced to discuss the drought. By now the gates of Addis were wide open; beggars and refugees were swelling the capital and every other urban center in the country. Now any citizen who wanted to know was able to find out what was happening in the countryside. There was open talk of famine and of how the government was doing nothing. Mengistu knew that he was in deep trouble. His callousness was in danger of being exposed. He had to give the impression that he was taking action. After the first meeting of the Politburo, I was called to his

office. He told me he was going to make a public announcement that he and the Politburo members would divide responsibilities in monitoring

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the “food shortage.” This was terrible news. The last thing the RRC needed was closer scrutiny from Party politicians who were grossly ignorant about our procedures and strongly opposed to revealing the truth to the outside world. Most of them were on bad terms with us and suspicious of our activities. They saw themselves as watchdogs over our supposedly counterrevolutionary operations. Their scrutiny would only slow up the already grueling bureaucratic process of obtaining relief supplies. I told Mengistu that the Politburo members should not be involved in day-to-day relief activities; that the RRC and the donor agencies would be satisfied with his recognition of the famine and an international appeal by him. He went ahead anyway with the public announcement that henceforth he and his Politburo were watching over the crisis. He felt the need to convince the people that he, as leader, was in charge. The Politburo’s surveillance made the RRC’s job ten times more difficult. Beginning in October and continuing for the next year, weekends were like a recurring nightmare. The full Politburo met on Tuesday mornings, so on Saturday, Sunday and Monday my staff and I were grabbed at by the 11 Politburo famine committees, each headed by a different member. They were so ignorant of everything having to do with the relief operation, that they barely knew what to ask; they only wanted to stock up on a few key issues so they could raise them in the meeting and impress Mengistu. Legesse, the most vicious and opportunistic of them all, took charge of the Resettlement Committee. He more than any other was personally responsible for the deaths of thousands through the harsh implementation of heartless policies. Fikreselassie headed the State Farm Committee. Amanuel, the Chief Justice, was an extremely neat, clean sort of man,

at home in the office and not the type to go out in the field; yet when he actually did visit the shelters, he was disturbed by what he saw. Ina

phony attempt to show that all the Politburo members were heading famine relief efforts, Mengistu himself headed the Agricultural Committee. He ought to have been overseeing the entire operation, not concentrating his efforts in one sector. None of them ever sincerely attempted to understand what we were doing or helped to make decisions. All they wanted to do was give the impression that they were on the job. It was a terrible waste of the RRC’s time. We had to spend the 24 hours before the Politburo meetings printing and binding reports. The reports themselves were never read, but there was great concern over the bindings and covers, which had to

be done just right. The whole thing was a teeth-grinding bureaucratic ordeal. The committees only duplicated already-existing structures that

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were functioning perfectly. The October Donors’ Conference After the Politburo’s recognitioon of the crisis, I at least felt free to

hold another donors’ conference. I set it up for the beginning of October in Addis at. Harvests had just begun in Western nations and it was clearly going to be an extraordinary year. Many countries were already sitting on mountainous grain surpluses, grain which in some cases they were planning to store for the next ten years but which we desperately needed now. The response to our previous appeals had been deplorable. By the time of the October meeting the RRC had only 12,000 tons of grain in its warehouses but needed 90,000 tons a month. A WFP report from a

September food aid meeting in Addis indicated that, from January 1 to September 1, Ethiopia had received only 84,000 tons for emergency relief —60,000 for the RRC and 24,000 for the voluntary agencies. (A total of 152,000 tons was received, but 68,000 tons of that had been previously

committed to development projects.) I have been criticized from many quarters for my address at the October donors’ conference. In his book on the famine, Peter Gill states:

Dawit put bluntand unapologeticemphasison his country’s requirements and then produced an unnerving moral equation between rich governments of the West and the miserable poor in his own country. He defied categorization as either of those two better known Third World suppliants—the man with the begging bowl and a bit of gratitude or the man with the PhD who thinks it is all the

fault of colonialism anyway.’ Gill formed this impression through my behavior after March, when appeal after appeal evoked no response. It showed my frustration and anger; donors had not heeded any of our previous appeals and by the time of the conference I was at the end of my rope. More than ever I wanted to do something to break through their apathy or their attitude of “let's let the regime really embarrass itself.” I could only think about the lives being lost for no reason. When I look back now at other equally strong statements that were made by foreigners in voluntary agencies or by journalists, Iwonder why my words were singled out for attack. Perhaps it was deemed unacceptable for someone connected to a regime with a bad human rights record

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to expose the moral failings of Western governments. When I opened the meeting at the Ghion Hotel, I used the most powerful language I could muster to try to get through: In March this year I detailed the extent and severity of the drought, the depth of the suffering of the millions of victims . . . I set before you the most painful of duties of the Commission, our assistance requirements to the estimated

five million victims . . . In the six months that have transpired since, the figure has escalated to seven million. Every day there are additional thousands of people forced to bend in humility to destitution or death. This is to me staggering beyond belief. ..a proud lot who once stood erect with their heads high now reduced to the scum of the very soil they tended and tilled profitably. What I find to be also beyond belief, appalling and even more pathetic, is the tendency in some corners to stay on the sidelines, watching as though it were a show of human tragedy.

I read this prepared statement before discussing our new document which detailed our requirements. I was angry; I was emotional. People were dying. I wanted to let them have it. It was indirectly aimed at my own government, too; I wished I could have spoken out and condemned my government for all to hear. My statement was harsh because it was the only recourse I had left to knock the complacency out of the donor community: In our general meeting here and discussion abroad I was always made to believe that there was sufficient understanding of our case and our needs . . . The pledges made after March were nowhere near our requirements and quite a few of these pledges started arriving in Ethiopia only five months after our appeal. We would never be able to have an accurate estimate of the lives lost and the number of malnourished persons and displaced people caused by the irresponsiblity and indifferent attitude of certain governments and organizations who had the capacity to do better... Extremist circles in the US and Europe have constantly attempted to thwart our efforts by distorting realities to justify an embargo on humanitarian aid. We have fought this trend and attitude, and I may say we have probably spent more time and more energy refuting allegations than

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on the actual problems of human suffering. I then quoted Jay Ross of the Washington Post, who had reported the previous year: Despite urgent appeals for international assistance, the USA, the world’s largest source of surplus, has declined to

provide aid and the USA appears to have bowed out of its customary role of providing relief because of Ethiopia’s close ties to the Soviet Union.’

At this point the American Chargé d’affaires, David Korn, walked out. I could read the anger on the face of his second-in-command, Joseph

ONeill. Iconcluded my opening statement by saying: If we constantly appeal to your conscience and blame you for not doing enough, it is because the tormented and starving bodies of our citizens make us restless. We very much appreciate the indomitable will and determination of those expatriates who have sacrificed comforts of Europe and America to be amongst us in life-saving and selfsufficiency projects . . . Your very presence here signifies your willingness to come along with us on a rugged and ambitious course, it isthe physical embodiment of true love. I knew that the Americans and British, in particular, would be

furious, but what did they want from me? How else was I going to beg? I was not going to kneel down before them with outstretched arms and plead for more food. I appreciate a begger with dignity; I hoped they would too. We happen to be poor in food and material goods, but we are wealthy in culture and in history. The West happens to be rich, not because they are better human beings, but because time and circumstances are in their favor. As muchas! wanted to, Iwas unable to sit there and point my finger at the true culprit in this tragedy, my government. But our countrymen had been starving to death for 18 months! Didn’t these donor governments and organizations deserve some blame? I called for a break to test the mood before continuing the discussions. AsI stepped down from the podium, the first thing I saw was the frowning face of the Swedish ambassador who was always extremely negative and viciously critical. When I asked him what he thought of my address, he replied tersely: “Very poisonous.” I went up to Joseph O’Neil, a good friend. He was furious. He told

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me David Korn had stalked out in anger and that he had instructions to make a strong reply. Both of us agreed that such a response would disrupt the meeting and be counter-productive. I tried to explain why I had said what! did, but O’Neil insisted that the situation did not warrant accusations of this sort; that the United States had done its best, and since

last March had given us millions in assistance. I protested that the amount was not the issue: the issue was that millions were still starving and thousands were dying. What is the responsibility of the world in a case like that? O’Neil replied that first it was the responsiblity of the Ethiopian government. I agreed, but I said the government had run out of food. I understood the misplaced priorities, and the causes of famine; but I reminded him that if I had con-

demned the government, I wouldn’t have been alive to make this appeal today. Finally we worked out an agreement: I would open the second part of the meeting by acknowledging the assistance the US government had given us since March. This would soothe ruffled feathers, salvage the conference, and make it possible to discuss what immediate action could be taken. I opened the second half with an apology for having used such strong words. I explained that I did not mean we were ungrateful, and that I would now turn the floor over to them. The ambassador from the Vatican then spoke on behalf of the Western ambassadors, saying that my reference to Western apathy and the newspaper articles Ihad quoted were perhaps true of the 1983 situation, but that today there seemed to be more awareness of the crisis. He added that he was pleased that Ihad tried to put the matter straight. My apology did not change the fact that there had been no response to our repeated appeals and thousands were dying as a result. We then set forth our new requirements based on the failure of the meher rains, the first and most important being food—a total of 1,248 million tons.* We warned the international community again that we now had only 11,847 tons under distribution, and that only 80,740 tons of grain, 8,088 tons of

supplementary food, and 20,207 tons of edible oil had been pledged. We outlined our needs for transport facilities, tents, water drillers, tankers,

and water trailers. The meeting ended on a positive note. I was still doubtful, however,

that anything had changed significantly. Nothing indicated that the

*

Based on 700 grams of grain per person per day and 20 grams of edible oil. For children aged 4 - 14: 350 grams per person per day, and 100 grams of supplementary food.

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donor governments were now in a more giving mood. I was afraid that their lethargic approach would mean that an additional deadly string of months would go by before food arrived. I felt I had to make another round of personal appeals in Europe and the United States. It is impossible to say what the result of the October appeal would have been if left to itself, because by the last week of that month the

Ethiopian famine was suddenly catapulted into headlines all around the world. On October 23 and 24, two films made at the shelters in Korem

and Makale were shown on BBC’s Midday News, 6 o’clock News and 9 o'clock News. These reports, each about eight minutes long, left Great Britain gasping with horror. Country after country reeled as television stations around the world picked up the films. Relief responsibilty was snatched out of the hands of slow-moving governments and humanitarian agencies as public pressure from millions forced them to respond immediately to our need. Hundreds of those filmed were dead, however, by the time the

footage was shown. Notes to Chapter 5

1. Harrison and Palmer, News—Out of Africa, 98. 2. Timberlake, Africa in Crisis, 24. 3. The report stated the following: Tigray: severe food shortage; rivers and wells have dried up everywhere. Districts of Adawa, Axum, Raya and Azebo, Enderta, Awlalo, Agame were the

hardest hit. Sidamo: Districts of Borena and Arero face a severe water shortage. Cattle are dying by the hundreds daily. The nomadic population is reported moving to wherever food and water are available. In Liben Woreda and in Arbe Gebaya, Geru and in many other places people are facing death as a result of water shortage. The RRC is distributing water to the aged and children. Gamu Gofa: In Geleb and Hamar Bako, in Kuli, Mursi and Geleb Woreddas, thousands face the most

severe shortage of water. Harar: Degahabur, Aware, and Warder are stricken with the same problem of drinking water. Bale: Ginir, Rayitu, Gololcha and Beltu are the hardest hit.

Wollo: The entire province has again been stricken by the most severe drought it has known for years. Shoa: Kembata and Hadiya and Merhabet face severe problems. Gondar: In Libo district, Zuay Humusit and Gaynt are most seriously affected.

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4. King, 65.

5. Gill, 10. 6. The Washington Post, Sept. 18, 1984. 7. Gill, 10. 8. The Washington Post, July, 1983.

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International Responses to the Ethiopian Famine Of all the strange things that happened during the famine, perhaps the strangest was that in October 1984, the world chose to wake up to the

tragedy in Ethiopia. Why then? Why had it taken a year and a half? The world community, the media, and particularly government representatives had had ample opportunity before then to hear our danger warnings and cries for help. As early as May 1983, efforts had been made to attract attention to our need. The Early Warning Department of the RRC had circulated report after report on the impending disaster throughout 1983 and 1984. These warnings were bolstered by the March (circulated in June) 1984 FAO report. The warnings could hardly have been couched in more powerful language. Yet governments in the West did not respond. The media was silent. From August 1983 to October 1984, the RRC held five international

donor meetings, and issued three direct appeals to the UN General Assembly. The RRC was made to understand by UN representatives and members of voluntary organizations that the alarm was sounded in the relevant parts of the world and that aid would be forthcoming.

Yet nothing happened. In April 1983 Mr. Trevor Page, head of the Emergency Division of the World Food Program, visited Ethiopia. On April 14, the External Serv-

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ices of the BBC stated that “the UN relief official has said that hundreds of children may die becasue of Ethiopia’s worst drought for ten years.” In May 19831 took a delegation from the European Parliament led by Prince Poniatowski to the Ibinet shelter in the Gondar region, as part of an appeal. What they saw at Ibinet led them to make a press statement recognizing the need for more aid before they left Addis. In Europe they reported the ongoing problem and its iminent worsening to the European Parliament.

Nothing significant came of it. People were not yet interested in famine. The RRC was not the only organization raising the alarm. In the United States for example, the US Catholic Relief Services (CRS) did its

best to alert the government as early as May 1983: More than two million men, women

and children face

starvation in the next months unless massive food supplies start arriving in the drought plagued region of Northern Ethiopia . .. Hundreds of thousands of people are already on the road searching for food.)

Father Thomas Fitzpatrick, program director of CRS in Ethiopia reported that same month to his world headquarters in New York: “Hundreds of thousands of people are already on the road searching for food. We can use all the food we can get and there is also a need for shelter, blankets, and clothing.” In Novernber 1983, Kenneth Hackett, senior director of Catho-

lic Relief Services, testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Africa Subcommmittee:

In Ethiopia tens of thousands of people are moving out of the countryside to main towns in the Northern provinces in search of food. During my visit in June, which would be considered early in the crisis, I talked with many of the

women in the shelters in and around Makale in Tigray province. I learned about the despair faced by these women who had to walk days when they had absolutely nothing left to eat in their house or village. They had to eat even the seed they were keeping for planting in July and August if the rains come. With often half their family (having lost their youngest children) and their husbands left behind, mothers were forced to pack everything and walk in to the

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main town. As Iwalked among this group I found emaciated mothers of marasmic children and great despair? This committee, it will be remembered, already knew of the crisis

through its own eyewitness report in August 1983. In June 1983 the RRC invited Washington Post correspondent Jay Ross to Ethiopia. I organized trips for him to the Northern region of Ethiopia. I urged him to inform the world about the build-up of a disastrous food shortage. In a series of articles that appeared in the Washington Post in July 1983 and was picked up by the European edition of the International Herald Tribune, Ross gave detailed accounts of the horrors of starvation in Ethiopia:

Tens of thousands of people are in danger of starving ina famine that could become one of the most catastrophic in African history. Despite urgent appeals for international assistance the United States, the world’s largest source of surplus food, has declined to provide aid. The United States appears to have bowed out of its customary role of providing relief because of Ethiopia’s close ties to the Soviet Union.’ A Washington Post editorial of July 18 further stated: Nothing done by compassionate foreigners can make up for the policy choices of the Ethiopian government or, for that matter, for the strategies of that government's Soviet patrons. In Ethiopia as elsewhere, Moscow continues to con-

centrate on furnishing arms, leaving it to the Western countries to pick up the requirements of relief, not to speak of development. All that provides no reason, however, for the US to fall away from its traditional position that relief of starvation knows no politics.

Still, nothing happened. The CRS requests were met with monthlong delays. Ross’s columns were read and forgotten. The United States eventually provided 10,000 tons that year that fed a mere 178,000 people through CRS as part of its regular non-emergency program. Nothing more was provided even when it was known that millions were in need. In May 1984 another voice was raised. The Independent Commission on International Humanitarian issues issued a communiqué from Tunisia:

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We have noted that continuous and widespread drought, exacerbated by the mismanagement of range ecology, has ensured that virtually the whole of Africa is engaged in a struggle for survival... Acute food shortages are endemic in half the countries of Africa. Over 150 million people face mass starvation ... Can the rest of the world simply stand by, watching on its television screens?

In the beginning of July the MacNeil-Lehrer Report carried extensive coverage of what it called the “specter of drought, famine, and mass starvation in Africa.” Apparently it had no impact. The voluntary agencies and the staff of the RRC understood that political considerations were major impediments to prompt response from Western Europe and America. In the US Congress, budgets indicating administration policy are presented for the upcoming fiscal year in the spring. In fiscal year 1982 (October 1981-September 1982) US AID sent a total of 8,172 tons to Ethiopia through the voluntary agencies. In fiscal year 1983 congressional records show that an estimated 8,173 tons,

just one ton more than the previous year, was shipped. The same record shows that the administration proposed shipping no food at all in 1984, while countries with lesser populations and much lighter problems were to receive substantial aid. It was clear to us that humanitarian aid was being influenced by the Reagan administration’s dislike of the regime. We had to bring our case to the American people and to their Congress. Congressman Wolpe’s delegation in 1983 had some impact in influencing final decisions. In fiscal year 1983, actual food aid to Ethiopia was 10,160 tons, and the estimated amount for 1984 was 21,745 tons. But

again, US AID requests for fiscal year 1985 called for a cut in food aid to Ethiopia to 10,620 tons. The actual amount supplied for fiscal year 1984, thanks to congressional intercession, was 40,245 tons, and there was a

huge jump in fiscal year 1985 to an estimated 178,795 tons. Again, the administration’s proposal for 1986 was a mere 12,173 tons. Clearly “humanitarian assistance” had lost all meaning in the shadow of the administration’s desire to politically influence the regime through food grants. We knew from reports reaching our office that 1984 was a bumper year in Europe for crops. At the height of the famine in Africa, a record harvest of 509 million tons was made public in London. The BBC revealed that the EEC had a stockpile of 8.7 million tons (for which the storage charge alone was £25 per ton per year). How could we reconcile the agony of our people with this withheld abundance?

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Icannot analyze all the reasons why governments and some of the important media looked away for eighteen months. Some thought we were crying wolf, others wanted to let the regime and country disintegrate under the weight of its own follies, and some editors obviously thought an African famine was not newsworthy. The Buerk/ Amin documentary that finally turned the tide in October 1984 was not the first footage of the famine areas.

In fact, some significant awareness had come at the beginning of the crisis as the result of a German television documentary made in May 1983 by Hannelore Gadatsch. She was eager to find out the real story behind the rumors of famine, and the RRC invited her to come make her film. After brief talks with me, she traveled to the northern part of Ethiopia, mainly the Gondar region, and stayed to shoot for an extended

period of time. At that time Ms. Gadatsch reported: “Today almost three million people in the northern districts hope they will not be left simply to starve as they were ten years ago.” The German public was greatly moved by this television film and 14 million marks were raised by German voluntary agencies. Other televised scenes from the shelters had been shown periodically in Great Britain by the Save the Children Fund since 1983. Throughout 1983 and 1984, World Vision International ran film clips on the growing threat of famine on American, Canadian, Australian, and European TV. All this had little effect. The first significant impact after the Gadatsch film came on July 17, 1984, when British Central Independent TV aired its hour-long documentary Seeds of Despair. The original intention had been to filma village on the Gondar-Wollo border successfully coping with desertification; the film was to be called Seeds ofHope. After the failure of the rains throughout 1983 and the mounting panic in the district, the filmmaker, Charles Stewart, in conjunction with the RRC, changed the title and

made it part of a general African Hunger Appeal in the British Isles. Seeds of Despair had an audience of 35 million in the United Kingdom, and £10 million were collected over the next few weeks. On the same day, the BBC

used a short Michael Buerk film shot in Wolayta to launch a successful appeal of its own. The momentum of awareness, however, was already dying out again by October. Then came the October Buerk/ Amin releases that set off an explosion of world sympathy. Why? Was it a combination of the sight of the human devastation with the idea of Ethiopia, the ancient bastion of

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African independence? Or was the world simply ready for another drama, another thrilling real-life tragedy? Was there something in the camera work of Mohammed Amin that struck a special chord? The burlap-shrouded corpses lying in rows . . . the anguished face of that mother hugging her dead child while another baby lay dying in her lap ... the innocent, beautiful, dignified faces with crosses on their foreheads

and around their necks... Was it the simple, powerful words of Michael Buerk? Others more knowledgable in the fields of communications and public relations might be able to find the answer. To this day it is unfathomable to me why, on that particular date, that particular film created a worldwide sensation. The scenes televised nightly by World Vision were just as horrible; Seeds of Despair was just as shocking. Perhaps we will never understand the reasons. We only know that the result was unprecedented in world history. The magnitude of our tragedy was suddenly matched by an outpouring of sympathy from every corner of the world. Individual contributions flowed together in a stream of generosity that became a torrent, moving the most recalcitrant governments to action, flooding Ethiopia with aid. But we must also never forget that for thousands, the response came too late. October-November 1984

On October 23, 1984, British viewers watching the BBC news saw pictures of the famine and heard these words: Dawn, and as the sun breaks through the piercing chill of night on the plain outside Korem it lights up a biblical famine now—in the 20th century. This place, say workers here, is the closest thing to hell on earth. Thousands of wasted people are coming here for help. Many find only death. They flood in every day from villages hundreds of miles away, dulled by hunger, driven beyond the point of desperation . . . 15,000 children here now— suffering, confused, lost...

Death is all around. A child or an adult dies every twenty minutes. Korem, an insignificant town, has become a place of grief. There is not enough food for half these people . .. People scrabble in the dirt as they go for each individual grain of wheat: for some it might be the only food they have had for a fortnight or more. Those who died at night are brought at dawn to be laid at the edge of the plain, dozens of them, men, women and children, under blankets

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or bound in sackcloth for burial in the local custom. For two hours the bodies kept coming out of the encampment. This mother and the baby she bore two months ago, wrapped together in death... As body after body was brought down the grief became almost tangible. But by Korem standards it wasn’t a bad night. 37 dead. Tomorrow there will be more, the day after more still... The next day, October 24, the horrifying story continued:

Tigray province, a wild place wracked by war, scorched by drought, visited by famine. Makale, a village swarmed by 85,000 starving people—food for less that one-third of that number—

death a reality for some, an immediate

prospect for thousands of others. People lie without food, without water, without hope. Supplies come in armed convoys, the last arrived here three weeks ago. Food has almost run out. Noone knows when the next one will arrive. This feeding center is surrounded by a low wall. Inside a small group is allowed food. Outside those who are not. In unconscious cruelty, the hungry can watch those who have food. So few inside the wall— so many kept out. Michael Buerk’s deliberate words and powerful phrases echoed from the skeletal frames, the despairing faces, the corpses lying in shrouds made from sacks of grain, shocking the British to their very souls. In the next week, 425 international stations picked up the footage for release and the entire Western world was stunned by the hopelessness and horror captured through Amin’s camera. Whoever saw the Buerk/ Amin footage will be haunted by it for the rest of their lives. Even the hardened staff of the BBC newsroom was moved to tears. After the first showing they passed the hat and collected £200. I first saw the videotape that same month in London. It had a chilling effect even on me, who had been there. Toward the end of October we had begun to hear of increasing British media coverage of the famine through our London embassy, at that time headed by my brother, and through the BBC radio service. But I was unaware of what awaited me as I flew to Great Britain on October 28. I was at that time terribly discouraged and felt as helpless as the victims in the shelters. The negative reaction to our appeal of October 7 had left me certain that the donors were not going to give us the food we

needed. We had depleted all our resources in Ethiopia. While the RRC

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was struggling to keep millions of people alive under the most difficult circumstances, Fikreselassie made arrangements for yet another round of personal appeals in the West. We did not directly inform the Head of State. Even though the need to act had now been acknowledged in a reluctant, roundabout way, it was still too sensitive an issue to bring up

with him. He might forbid me to leave the country. I left Addis for London five days after the BBC films were shown. Though] didn’t know it, Great Britain was in an uproar. The initial shock waves had been followed by an intense public desire to help, and then almost immediately by anger and demands to know why the government had done nothing to help. The Buerk/ Amin films were followed on October 25 by an ITV documentary, Bitter Harvest, made by Peter Gill, which focused on the West's inaction. The British government was under fire: members of parliament from every party were demanding emergency measures, opposition leaders were out for blood, journalists smelled their next big story and were packing the media with reports and interviews. Peter Gill reported: “The food which would save them is already in store in Britain and Europe... Why don’t we give our unwanted food to save the lives of those who need it?” Hugh McKay, Director General of Save the Children, was quick to point out: “We forecast this famine 18 monthsago. How much lead time does the world conscience really need? Do they really want to see children die before they believe the predictions of people like us?”

I stepped off the plane and into the storm at7 PM ona Saturday. Iwas totally unprepared for what I found waiting for me. I was suddenly besieged by a dozen journalists, TV cameras were pointed at me, the president of the Daily Mirror was shaking my hand—and all the while my brother, the ambassador, was trying to get my attention. Questions were flung at me at a furious pace by reporters. Caught unprepared, I answered as best I could. An immense wave of relief surged through me—our voices had at last been heard and help would soon be on the way. I felt a certain thrill of victory there in front of the cameras. I was treated as a visiting dignitary, a man with an important mission. But almost immediately, there followed a profound sense of humiliation. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. In the midst of all this attention, I felt very small and insignificant. I was there to save nine million people at death’s door—that was the reason I was now being given a hero’s welcome. In reality, Iwas nothing but a beggar, and moreover part of a political system that had caused the cruelest human suffering. That was the humiliation: to be forced to beg for help, to fight down your pride and plead with strangers to grant you

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life again. And not just impartial strangers, but people whose governments we had been viciously condemning for years in every available public forum. Our existence now relied on their whim. I thought of my people back in the shelters who had nothing, yet always maintained a sense of dignity, even when forced into the shame of begging for their lives. There in London, I too felt this battle between pride and shame, gratitude and humiliation as I struggled to maintain my dignity. Then a barrage of questions began that was designed to embarrass me and the government. Disgust was added to humiliation. I was in the terrible position of having to lie to cover up the wrongs of others. “Commissioner, is it true that your government spent 100 million pounds for the anniversary celebration at a time when every pound meant life and death to your people?” “Commissioner, do you have anything to say about the 400,000 bottles of whiskey that were recently shipped to your country ata cost of millions?” “Are your allies, the Soviet Union and the East European nations, helping you in your effort to save lives?” “How many millions of dollars do you spend on your military, Commissioner?” “Why haven’t you diverted this money to emergency relief in order to save lives?” I knew the answers to these questions, but I couldn’t tell the truth. It was true that the government had spent millions of dollars preparing for the anniversary celebration. It was true that at the same time the world was watching the deaths of millions on their screens, 400,000 bottles of

whiskey were being shipped to Ethiopia from the United Kingdom for the celebration. Its arrival in Ethiopia was delayed because of some bureaucratic slip-ups, and I suspect other whiskey was airlifted from other European countries at even greater expense. I also knew that humanitarian assistance from the Eastern bloc was insignificant. I wanted to level with them, to admit candidly that the government and I had made many mistakes in handling this crisis. But I lied. To these and many other questions during this tour I replied in a way that made our government look good. I did this, first of all, because if I had told the

truth I would have been persecuted, jailed and probably executed, as many of my friends had been before me. And I would not have accomplished anything anyway: this was not the time to ask for help in changing my government or its policies. The Western world was already hostile toward Mengistu, and answering truthfully would only have

destroyed all immediate prospects of obtaining aid. So I lied.

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I had been to Europe and the US on several previous occasions and almost invariably had been forced to fight for the ear of the press. This time it was the other way around. The press came hunting for me, their

noses to the ground, smelling an international scandal. I couldn’t refuse to see them; we needed them to publicize the truth about our situation. But most of their questions were politically motivated. Since I had come to Europe on my own initiative, I had no authorized answers to their embarassing questions. I had to improvise, saying whatever I thought appropriate to my immediate task of securing help. After the questions, I was whisked away to see the UK’s Minister of Overseas Development, Timothy Raison. Again the tables were turned. A year ago it was I who had come begging to him; now he was waiting for me at his office on a Saturday night. The public, members of Parliament, leading church officials, all were urging Prime Minister Thatcher to act immediately in the crisis. Her opponents, quick to seize an opportunity, wanted to know why nothing had been done by her government before this. There was heated debate in Parliament. MP David Penhaligon demanded: “As the Prime Minister so magnificently organized the commandeering of enough ships to carry our navy, army, and air force to the Falklands, will she explain why famine relief in Ethiopia presents such a problem?” The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Roman Catholic Primate of England and Wales, Basil Humes, were

insisting that the UK take immediate steps in concert with the rest of Europe. They wanted foreign ministers to cut the usual red tape in order torush supplies to Ethiopia, and even proposed an airlift by the Royal Air Force (RAF). The RAF was repeatedly mentioned as the fastest way to transport food from Europe to Ethiopia. It was a far-fetched, highly unrealistic proposal. Those who knew anything about this kind of operation understood how impossible it would be. Logistics dictated that the aircraft could not be used to ferry food on long flights from Great Britain, but only for short distances within our country. The Thatcher government, however, was taking the proposal seriously. This proposal was one of the main reasons Mr. Raison waited so eagerly to see me. He wanted to tell the British public that very night that immediate action had been taken by the Thatcher cabinet. Back home, the RRC and the international community had often appealed for cargo planes to ferry food, medical supplies and other relief items, but we had civilian planes in mind— we never imagined the air force of a Western government operating inside Ethiopia. Mengistu would be outraged. Now when Mr. Raison suggested sending the RAF at once, I was shocked. He gave me no time to take it back home and

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discuss it; he wanted me to say yes on the spot. The RAF in Ethiopia— where every poster condemned NATO aggression and denounced Western imperialism! It was absurd. I told the Minister that cargo planes would indeed be needed to transport future food donations, but that for now, I would prefer him to

concentrate on the immediate needs of the starving. I gave hima

long list

of items, but he resisted and we could not arrive at an agreement. As I left his office in the middle of the night, very discouraged, I was met by a group of journalists. I told them that sending the RAF would do more for Britain’s public relations and domestic problems than for starving Ethiopians. The next morning the media ran it this way: “Ethiopian Relief Commissioner Rejects British Assistance.” On Sunday morning, just as I was leaving for New York, I had a telephone conversation with Mr. Raison that set off a chain reaction in Europe and America and changed the course of famine relief. Iwas told that the British government was prepared to airlift 6,500 tons of grain and

needed equipment like water drilling rigs, tents, and Land Rovers. He asked me again about the RAF and I wanted desperately to agree. I called Addis to raise the proposal with the Head of State. Icouldn’t reach him. I felt that this was the pivotal moment for British famine relief and that to delay would be disastrous. Just before I took off for the US, I boldly gave Mr. Raison the go-ahead for two RAF Hercules planes loaded with emergency items to take off for Addis. I phoned Addis Civil Aviation and instructed them to give permission for the planes to land, telling them I would explain it to the Head of State later. On Monday morning I called London from New York and was told the RAF planes were well on their way to Addis. I had thought that

perhaps I would have another chance to talk to the Head of State and warn him, but unfortunately the British moved too fast. A day later I got a call from Mengistu. To put it mildly, he was not at all happy to find the RAF on his doorstep. “What do you think you’re doing? Is this a NATO invasion?” He delivered a verbal onslaught that left me dreading my return. But it was done, there was nothing he could do about it, and the impetus it gave to future donations was well worth all the ill will it caused me. When I arrived in New York I experienced more of the same overwhelming public enthusiasm. In the last week of October newspapers across the USA had stepped up their reporting on the tragedy. Then on October 29, in an unusual move, NBC Nightly News aired four minutes of the Buerk/Amin footage. The spontaneous response that followed was unprecedented. The American public poured out expressions of

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sympathy, pressured their government to act, and contributed millions to relief agencies. Save the Children Fund received the most telephone calls ever recorded in its 51-year history. Again I found myself the focus of attention. Famine was news. A setback occurred at this point. Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated on October 31, and for a few days the media focused almost exclusively on India. Interviews that had been arranged for me in New York were canceled in order to cover this more sensational story.

On November 4, I addressed the UN General Assembly: Yes, Mr. Chairman, one cannot help being moved by the sight of human suffering depicted in those pictures [referring to the film]. Even governments which were hitherto less than forthcoming are now following the humanitarian example of their public. We in Ethiopia are particularly touched by the goodwill and generosity shown by ordinary men and women. All this renews our faith in humanity, reinforces our confidence in international solidarity, and

indeed encourages us to try even the impossible to save the lives of our unfortunate brothers and sisters.

One of my goals on this trip had been to meet with UN SecretaryGeneral Perez de Cuellar to make a personal appeal for more aid. Unlike other times when appointments with him were difficult to arrange, on this occasion I set up a meeting in record time. Before my appointment, Imet with an old acquaintance, Dr. James Grant, the Director of UNICEF.

He gave me a tip: to get the maximum assistance from the international community, to ensure a smooth coordination of supply, and to gain international credibility, it would be best to involve the UN as fully as possible. This, he said, could be achieved through the creation of a UN

Emergency Relief Coordination Office. I agreed whole-heartedly with the idea. Dr.Grant told me that the most competent person to head this office was Kurt Jansson, a Finn, a highly respected man with a remarkable record of achievement in coordinating relief during the Kampuchean crisis of 1979. Dr. Grant indicated that it would be wise to officially request this from the Secretary-General during our meeting. I had spoken with Perez de Cuellar at the time of my previous appearance before the General Assembly, and I had also met his predecessor, Kurt Waldheim, a number of times. They had always treated me courteously, but as an ordinary representative from an unimportant country. This time, however, Perez de Cuellar left his office to give mea

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warm greeting. There were reporters, cameras, and TV crews. It was a ritual that was going to repeat itself on this tour every time I met an i ah public figure. Asin London, it made me extremely uncomfortable. I felt awkward in front of the cameras.. How was I supposed to act? Didn’t mankind have a moral obligation to help people in need? If so, why were we making sucha public spectacle out of that duty? There was a recurring mixture of feelings: anger at having to put up with this, sorrow for the starving, remorse and guilt as I thought about the system I was serving. I was never entirely comfortable in my mind with blaming only Mengistu and his supporters— I tried to make myself partly responsible for the famine. I had defended the Revolution from the start, even when I felt it had gone wrong. As in London! wanted to maintain a certain standard of honesty and dignity, yetit wasimpossible to be completely truthful. Asa government representative and a member of the Central Committee I couldn’t say what I believed. I had to maintain an outward appearance of calm and righteousness to secure my position before the world community and my role as a high government official. Every time I met an important personality in the following month, I was aware of two things: first, that they had a sincere humanitarian

concern for our people; and second, that they had to let everyone know that they were concerned and were trying to do something about it. There were no quiet, private talks or agreements; it was all done with an eye to public opinion. After the ordeal of the camera was over, I had a long interview with

the Secretary-General. I submitted my request for a UN Coordinating Office in Ethiopia, as Dr.Grant had advised, and agreed to the appointment of Kurt Jansson. From many angles Jansson was an extremely wise choice. He was an older man with the necessary experience, a professional, very much detached from politics. The fact that he was a Finn also helped, since Finland had good relations with the Soviet Union and was nota member of NATO. I cabled the news to Addis. It was one of the very few decisions I made on the tour that did not create any controversy back home. During the one year that we worked closely together I found Jansson to bea quiet diplomat with an astounding capacity to listen and be heard, to coordinate and to command the respect of donors, and a gentleman.

His biggest success was in winning the respect of Mengistu, who was usually cynical toward foreigners. He would exchange nice words and put on a mask of courtesy while they were with him, but once they left his office he would lash out at them. Jansson was the exception.

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The November election between Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale was one week away when news of the Ethiopian famine broke in the United States. Even though the polls predicted a landslide victory for Reagan, the lack of previous significant action by the American government was potentially damaging enough to make it an election issue. The Reagan administration decided it was imperative to respond to this “new” crisis immediately because of nationwide sympathy for the dying Ethiopians. When the news broke, the Hunger Committee of the Democratic

Party wanted to leave for Ethiopia immediately. Representatives came to the Ethiopian Mission in New York to ask my permission for visas. Jessie Jackson called our ambassador to the UN and told him of his intention

to leave for Addis at once. I was about to give instructions to the ambassador to issue the visas when I had a call from the State Department in Washington. Peter McPherson, the US AID Director General,

wanted to see me immediately in order to talk about a United States emergency assistance agreement. Our ambassador was also asked to delay the departure of Jesse Jackson and the Democratic party’s delegation as much as possible. With election day so close, it was extremely important to McPherson that he, as representative of the Reagan administration, be the first American in Ethiopia. We did delay the visa requests and I left for Washington at once. I was greeted warmly at the State Department where we hammered out

draft agreements to be signed by me and Mr. McPherson. I insisted on grain, transportation and water drilling machinery, and I further stipulated that substantial amounts of the grain must be submitted directly to our government through my agency, the RRC. At one time it would have been very difficult for US AID to agree to this. Their practice had been to refuse to deal with the Ethiopian government on political grounds, but over the past year the RRC had built up its credibility. US AID had already decided before I arrived to give the RRC 50,000 tons directly, a major change of policy. McPherson agreed to most of my requests and an agreement for 180,000 tons of food assistance was signed. In addition, as in the UK, cargo planes were made part of the deal. The initial idea was to send a US Air Force detachment, but after I explained the political

problems it was decided that two civilian planes would be dispatched instead. In all respects the administration was generous and extremely receptive.

For the first time in many years, an American administration had signed a government-to-government aid program with Ethiopia. As usual, we appeared before the cameras in the State Department press hall. McPherson and I exchanged some nice words and explained the

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measures taken by the administration. Then, that same evening, Mr.

McPherson left for Ethiopia—before I even had full confirmation from Addis about his arrival, his schedule, or the possibility of his seeng a senior Official there. His arrival in the capital was not very welcome— hardly surprising, given the number of provocative statements he had been exchanging with the Ethiopian government. He behaved in a manner that we consider typically American: he aggressively pushed his way into everything because his party was in the middle of an election. American rhetoric, particulary from US AID, was inflamatory in the extreme. I reminded both the State Department, Congressmen, and Senators on various occasions that this only polarized relations and hindered relief efforts. I told them that the conservatives in the Reagan administration were playing into the hands of the hardliners in Addis— creating, in fact, an unintentional alliance between them. The only result would be an adverse effect on the lives of the people we all wanted to save. Voluntary agencies in Ethiopia, on the other hand, were tolerant of

the government's extremism for the sake of the starving. They and others joined me in appealling to Mr. McPherson to exercise restraint for the

sake of those of us on the front lines in the operation. I found it surprising that a professional administrator like MacPherson would need to be told something so basic. I later came to understand his dilemma. He, like me, was caught between humanitarian and political dictates; between the conservatives who advocated the suspension of all aid, and the liberals who fought for continued assistance. Asa member of the administration,

he had to seem tough but still give the food. In the beginning of November, I returned to New York for a press conference at UN headquarters. By now American contributions were clearly going to be astronomical. But the questions I was asked were again very difficult. The cost of the anniversary celebration would haunt me forever. They wanted to know about Cuban troops in Ethiopia, military expenditures, internal conflicts, human rights issues, the Soviet response to the emergency, and I thought I would never hear an end to the whiskey scandal. I answered most of the questions in the manner that by now] was used to: defend the record of the government with evasions and lies—and then try to build up sympathy. But the Soviet response to the famine was not something that I could mislead the press about. The pathetic record of Soviet assistance was there for anyone to see, because of the periodic reports we were obliged to make to the donor community in Ethiopia. It was an embarassing moment; but fortunately for me at the very hour I was conducting the press conference in New York, I received a telex from Addis informing

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me that the Soviets had decided to send 24 helicopters, 12 transport aircraft and 700 trucks to Ethiopia. The figures were almost too good to be true. I was able to report this donation to the American press and escaped embarrassing the Soviets at a great cost to myself and the cause. While I was in the United States, I received a telephone call from the Canadian Prime Minister’s office informing me that the Foreign Minister, Joe Clark, would like to see me after his return from the funeral

service of Mrs. Gandhi. On his way back from India he also wanted to stop over in Ethiopia to see the situation first hand. I was also told that the Canadian Prime Minister, Brian Mulrooney, also wanted to see me. Mr. Clark did stop over in Addis and arrived in Ottawa the same day I did. Even after the long trip from Africa, he met with me immediately. I also met the Deputy Prime Minister, other Canadian officials—and of course, the press. Joe Clark had met with Mengistu and was very anxious

to help. [found the satne response from the public and officials in Canada that I had in the United States and Great Britain. Again I submitted my list and invited more voluntary agencies from Canada to operate in Ethiopia. I was assured that aid would be sent at once. On my way back from the United States I stopped at London, Brussels, Geneva, Rome, and Bonn. Wherever I went, I found sympathy

and enthusiasm to help. I had audiences with ministers, parliamentarians, voluntary agencies, and reporters. I submitted different kinds of requests in each country. In England, where there was a tremendous grain surplus grain that year, my request was for wheat. In Brussels I

asked the EEC for grain and transportation subsidies. In Geneva I met with the Red Cross, UNDRO(UN Disaster Relief Organization), UNHCR (UN High Commisssion for Refugees), and the Lutheran World Federation. Irequested they supply more relief items and help in informing the international community. An excellent German transport system and garage had already been set up to assist the RRC. Unfortunately, this was now 50 percent incapacitated due to break-downs. When Ivisited Bonn I requested an expansion of this project, delivery of more German trucks, and spare parts. There was an instant willingness to help. Later, a group of 20 German mechanics arrived at the RRC and worked day and night to repair the machinery. What had been anauto graveyard was soon roaring with efficiency. They made all the dead vehicles spring to life. I will never forget the enthusiasm of those volunteers. In Rome I met Foreign Minister Andreotti. Italian technology is very familiar to Ethiopians, so I asked for 150 Italian trucks as well as supplementary food worth two million dollars. Andreotti told me (and I remember his words very well): “In the competition to help Ethiopia,

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I can assure you that Italy will play a leading role.” In the morning he presented the case to Parliament, and by afternoon all of my requests had been granted. I signed the agreement that same afternoon and flew back a Addis. Such was the generosity and the urgency that was felt all over urope. By the time I flew back to Ethiopia, the airport was full of foreign planes. There was the RAF, the German Air Force, Soviet planes, and many chartered planes shuttling relief items from Europe and the Middle East. It was incredible. I had left Ethiopia frustrated, disappointed, weighed down by the feeling that the situation was hopeless.

Now I came back to find Addis Abeba overflowing with foreign reporters, TV crews, mechanics, and volunteers. By the end of November, there

were more than 200 reporters from all over the world. There were 1,351 mechanics, aircraft crew members, experts on water supply, and truck drivers. There were over 600 Western expatriates working in the field, 121 doctors and many more visitors and temporary workers. Our country was suddenly the center of world attention. The day Ireturned Iwas summoned to the office of the Head of State. Mengistu was furious. He was upset by the film shown in Great Britain. He was annoyed that the West ridiculed his celebration and that no mention was made of his achievements. Ethiopia was portrayed as a famine country, a land of misery and poverty. He was angered by the presence of the RAF, the German Air Force, and all the unscheduled

flights coming in without notice. Soviet assistance had not been properly

publicized. Reporters were sniffing around. His personal concern for the people was not being properly reported. For the first time since I had known him, I saw him confused and

helpless. For the first time in his 12-year rule, he found himself overtaken by events, caught up in a situation completely out of his control. The world had assumed responsibility for the Ethiopian tragedy because he had failed to even acknowledge it. The international community had declared the emergency before it was declared by the Ethiopian government. The Ethiopian people had never been told the magnitude of the problem; now it was now being told to them by the world.

Everything was out of Mengistu’s hands. Now denying the truth or frustrating the assistance programs or relief operations was impossible; it would be broadcast all over the world. Now at long last, there was accountability. The people would know that the rumors had been true: there were nine million people starviny, and the Head of State had blood onhis hands. Suddenly foreigners were streaming in, enormousamounts of food delivered, a relief system established—but not by him. He was

not at the center of events as a leader should have been. He was caught

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off guard, and in his desperation to cover up his atrocities he was to make yet more blunders and commit more crimes. This was the man Isaw that day. * tried to answer his questions and calm his fears. But I was also defending the measures I had taken. I told him that to maintain the image of the Revolution, I had been forced to do what I had done. I did not accuse him. I did not remind him that measures had not been taken earlier because of his indifference. He was nervous enough; I did not want to create a greater misunderstanding between us. I played on his ego and introduced the idea that he could still mend his image to the outside world. After two hours he calmed down; he seemed to accept

what had been done and the plan of operation I presented. It was not so much agreement on his part as a lack of choice. The initiative had already been taken by the international community and he could not alter the process. People were there to judge, people were listening and watching. Foreign reporters would tell more than the official news. If he had listened to my advice and the advice of many others; if he had canceled the anniversary celebration and gone on record as the first to announce the existence of famine; if instead of a week of extravagance

he had declared a week of sorrow and solidarity with the poor and dying—it would have saved his image. But no one was going to forget that a few weeks ago he had been at the podium of Congress Hall reading a six hour address, roaring like a lion, boasting of Ethiopian victory and achievement. Today he had grown small, not so much by guilt as by the way his cruelty and callousness had been exposed to the world. A few days later I was called to the Politburo to explain my activities

and the international response. In this meeting, I saw the other side of a man who was developing an increasingly erratic, complex character. Mengistu was furious, aggressive, seemingly in full control of the situation. Without mentioning our two hour discussion, he demanded answers to the same questions he had asked before. For all to hear, he denounced the presence of the RAF, the journalists, the 500 western

expatriates, and the 48 voluntary agencies. He wanted to know why it was not possible for donors to give aid directly to the Ethiopian government and leave distribution to us. I explained the difficulty: that the agencies wanted to make sure that the assistance reached the needy population. I tried to explain how important they were to the relief operation. I told him that if we were suspicious about the activities of the foreign air forces, the foreigners, and the journalists, the solution was not to get rid of them, but to strengthen our security agencies. Mengistu saved face in that meeting, but I left with a very clear

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message: I was in for serious trouble. If the Politburo had given me clear instructions, I would have been in a better position. But nobody in the Politburo ever tried to understand the complications of requesting, receiving, and distributing massive international assistance. All the problems came to my office and fell into my hands. Of the countless meetings I had with members of the Politburo, none ever resulted in any decisions. The weekly meetings were used only to listen to my reports and criticize me or warn me of the dangers involved in our activites. Maintaining a balance between the human problems and the political ego of the ruling circle was just too much: I ended up deciding in favor of the starving and dying. In everything I did, however, I had to constantly exercise enormous tact and caution as I played a hypocritical game of appeasement with this vicious regime. Perhaps nothing illustrates the difficulty I faced more clearly than the contrast between the speech Mengistu gave at a 1985 May Day rally, and my speech that same week at the UN. Mengistu made no mention whatsoever of the generous international response to our country’s disaster. On the contrary he twisted the fact that they were giving us 95 percent of our entire relief requirement into “interference in Ethiopia’s internal affairs.” He vigorously condemned the “imperialists who...

pretend to sympathize with our people and sneer at the socialist goal for which we struggle.” At the same time, I was thanking the UN:

It will be recalled that a year ago, I appeared before this Council with a deep sense of frustration and helplessness . . . Since then an unprecedented surge of solidarity with the millions of suffering people of Ethiopia was shown by large numbers of people and governments all over the world. The government of Ethiopia wishes to express its sincere appreciation and to pay a well deserved tribute to the donor governments, NGOs and the UN system and the specialized agencies, and to the men and women that extended their

helping hand.

It was as if we belonged to two different governments. My position was so awkward that nothing I did could fail to get me into trouble. I was able to keep my balance for a time. But the final days were beginning. Shock, Anguish, and Generous Responses

They are hungry, they are thirsty. In the day their skin is

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scorched by the hot sun of Africa. At night their skeletonlike bodies shiver in the freezing wind. These people are Ethiopians and more than six million of them—men, women and children— are struggling with famine and death while we watch their agony on the screen in color. These words from a Canadian TV broadcast are typical of what was being produced in newsrooms all over the world as reporters flocked to Ethiopia in the wake of the Buerk/Amin film. TV screens exposed the parched fields of Wollo and Tigray, and the images of dying Ethiopians haunted the world’s conscience. The magnitude of the response was astounding. Individuals around the world sent anything they could to volunteer agencies, sometimes making extraordinary sacrifices. People wrote that they were ashamed to eat, that they couldn’t sleep, that their consciences were tormented by the memories of those dying faces. Everyone felt an overwhelming desire to do whatever they could to help these suffering human beings on the other side of the world. In Great Britain hundreds of farmers joined a campaign to donate their surplus grain to the relief effort. Oliver Woolston gave his entire harvest, saying: “In Europe we are bulging with wheat, we don’t know what to do with it. It is obscene.” A Mr. and Mrs. West in Scotland sold their entire household and gave the proceeds to Ethiopian famine relief. After the Buerk/Amin film, Save the Children registered 1,000 calls in

half a day. The five major charity organizations of Great Britain demanded immediate political action from European governments. Relief officials from Save the Children, Oxfam, and the Red Cross went to Brussels to

lobby Common Market ofticials to release a European surplus of millions of tons. Bob Geldof, a British pop star, was so moved by the Buerk/Amin film and so impatient with the bureaucracy and political overtones of the relief effort, that he organized his own program. In December he led a group of 38 top British pop singers in recording a fund-raising record, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” ina project known as “Band-Aid.” The funds raised were significant, but the most important contribution was the way in which the record kept the momentum around the world. It sparked a series of similar events in Europe and North America. In July 1985, Geldof raised over $100 million through a day-long internationally televised appeal, “Live-Aid,” which took place simultaneously in Great Britain and Philadelphia and brought together dozens of popular recording stars. In Canada churches worked around the clock to gather contribu-

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tions. Relief groups went door to door, placed collection boxes on street corners, and pressured local governments to give. Canadian relief agencies produced all kinds of special items to raise money: hunger coins, Tshirts, caps. One Canadian fund raising slogan was: “Take an Absent Friend to Lunch Today.” In Guelph, Ontario, Fred Benson handed over his 107-acre farm to a Mennonite relief agency to be auctioned off. $250,000 of the money went to famine relief activities. Eskimos from Fort Smith village in the Northwest Territories organized a show with proceeds going to famine relief.

Concerts and dances were held by social clubs. Recording stars Ann Murray, Murray McLaughlin, and Neil Young combined their talents to put out a fund raising record, “Tears Are Not Enough.” It was announced that Speaker of the Ontario Legislature Joan Turner would cancel the annual Speaker’s Christmas Party and donate the $10,000 saved to Ethiopian relief. The Canadian government, which along with Sweden and Australia has been a constant source of humanitarian assistance since 1974, quickly established an African Emergency Office headed by Dr. MacDonald with Secretary of State Joe Clark as coordina-

tor. The government created a $20 million special fund and promised a matching fund for every dollar donated. In the United States, it was more of the same. Voluntary agencies

received thousands of letters and telephone calls pledging money. Many individuals volunteered to help in fund raising. In Kansas City there was a campaign called “Buy a Blanket.” A property management firm in Aspen, Colorado, pledged one percent of its gross profit to famine relief. Congressman Phil Sharp wrote to one voluntary agency: “that part of my salary which reflects an increase for 1983-84 will be contributed to charitable organizations.” The prisoners of New York State’s Mt. MacGregor Correctional Facility contributed. The homeless people of Los Angeles donated $175 in nickels and pennies. One event that created great public awareness in the United States wasa fund raising campaign called “Children for Children.” Most of the children were from welfare families in the poorest parts of New York City. Trying to raise enough money to send an airplane filled with grain to Ethiopia, they touched the hearts and minds of millions who watched their efforts on ABC’s 20/20. Theirs was an extraordinary event that inspired others to do more. I went to Effeson, Northern Shoa, a few weeks

after their grain had been distributed. The situation had improved greatly. The empty sacks were everywhere, now used for clothing and shelter, but the labels still said: “From the Children of New York.” Soon after that, USA for Africa launched its campaign with the record “We are the World.” Headed by Harry Belafonte, it brought

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together a “galaxy of stars” in the United States. The recording session was held on January 28, 1985. The single was released on March 8,

followed by the album a month later. It was a well-publicized, colorful fund-raiser that did much to increase worldwide awareness of the African famine. According to the executive director, Martin Rogol, the

first check for $6.5 million came from CBS in mid-May. By the time Harry Belafonte and his delegation came to Ethiopia on June 10 with a planeload of supplies, the critical period was over. The money was put to use rehabilitating famine victims and developing local capacities to prevent disaster in the future. To date, USA for Africa has collected $53 million,

of which $5.5 million has gone to Ethiopia—a small amount, in my opinion, considering it was our country that suffered the most. In Europe there was also an enormous public response. The Belgian government pledged 2.5 million francs through Médecins sans Frontiers. A group of Belgian supermarkets collected food and shipped it to Ethiopia. 5.6 million francs were collected from the public. A famous Belgian soccer player recorded a song and the money went for famine relief. In the Netherlands, the Queen made a national plea for assistance.

The major non-governmental organizations formed an Africa Committee in November 1984, and in six months were able to raise 83 million

Dutch florins. An additional 15 million DFl was made available to that committee by the Dutch government. In France, there was not much public involvement in the African famine. There was a small campaign in December 1984, which did not bring in much compared with the other major European countries. Tennis player Yannick Noah, who is of African origin, headed another

fund-raising effort. There was also a major contribution from the sale of Mani Dubango’s record, “Tam Tam for Ethiopia” The Italians were very moved by our tragedy because of their historic attachment to Ethiopia. There is a highly-organized community of Ethiopian immigrants in Italy, and they helped raise significant amounts. Retired Italian soldiers who had participated in the war of invasion, Italians who had lived in Ethiopia, Italians married to Ethiopians, Italian-Ethiopians—all helped to increase the fund-raising momentum.

In Germany the public awareness had been established much earlier as a result of the documentary film of Hannah Gadatsch. Now millions of marks were collected through individual contributions to voluntary agencies. At the RRC, we received letters from individuals around the world.

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One woman wrote from the USA that the scene she had witnessed on her television left “a big lump in my throat, sitting down to a big Thanksgiving meal, knowing there are many starving... amon social security and live with a very tight budget to make ends meet.” She enclosed $10. Another woman sent a check along with this letter: I have been trying to quit smoking for a long time. When I saw your program I realized how much I really spend on unnecessary things such as this. I have not bought a pack of cigarettes since. Every time I think about smoking I think of

that starving child who needs that money a lot worse than I need those cigarettes. Someone with a drinking problem wrote expressing his desire to help a child:

Now it makes me feel good because I am heiping someone with the moneyI used to drink with, and it is going to good use and at the same time I am helping myself, and now I have an extra person to care for and I am proud to care for. From Hull, Ontario:

I ama cancer patient and am now on disablitiy. Although my disease is dreadful, at least when required I have good clean medical care, not to mention daily nutrition. Some-

how, it seemed my problem faded away when I saw those helpless people on the screen. A contribution was enclosed. From Madoe, Ontario:

[hesitated at sending this amount, whichI know seems very small, but to me is quite a bit as I only have my pensions. I don’t have things in my home like other people, not even plumbing, but I am thankful for what I have. I have always found that one never loses by giving. At the donors’ conference of December 1984 I read this letter froman

11-year old Japanese boy who sent a check for 50 yen (about 18¢):

I watched life in Ethiopia on TV Oct. 23 and I want to give

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one happiness to these people and I send herewith an allowance that I got when I went to the country in the summer vacation. How much will they be able to buy with the money? Will they be able to consult a doctor? I really don’t know—make a good use of the money. I intended to buy a record player, but I decided to send the money because the later I buy, the better record player will be made ... but the people’s need cannot be postponed ... thatis why I send you the money soon before I change my mind. Through our embassy in Washington, I received this letter from an eight-year old girl addressed to Mengistu Haile Mariam. I am very worried about what is going to happen next. I feel that some of my family will die in Ethiopia and I won’t get a chance to see them or meet them if they die. After seeing these people dying, many times I cry and often Ican’t sleep or study. They say Ethiopia is poor.Your country has beauty and wealth. It is the oldest religious country. Your country did not have slavery or slave trade. Why must Ethiopia suffer? Ethiopia has gold, coffee, and minerals. Here is $2.00 which I have earned. If you would come to America to visit I will show you all through Iowa. Iowa is an Indian word that means beautiful land. God bless the hungry and the poor, for God is good and I love Him. My mother is American and my father Ethiopian. I pray that America and Ethiopia will be friends and love one another like my parents love each other. Tsehay Abebe It is a great pity that the Ethiopian people were never told about any of this worldwide response. Only the small percent of the urban population who could listen to the Voice of America or BBC news had any idea that such a thing took place. Nothing about the international generosity or sympathy was published or officially told. The Ethiopian people to this day remain ignorant of the world’s response to their need. One segment of the Live-Aid program was transmitted in Ethiopia, but the media introduced it as part of an effort to raise funds for Africa without specifically mentioning that it was the Ethiopian famine that had triggered this burst of creativity and generosity. Only the empty sacks of grain labeled from various parts of the world gave expression to the

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international outpouring of love and solidarity. I hope this book and other honest documents will somehow reach the Ethiopian people. They deserve to know the truth. It must also be noted that those Ethiopian people who were not affected by the famine would gladly have taken the lead in international giving. They would have done whatever they could to help their fellow Ethiopians, if they had only known. They were never allowed to be part of it; they were deliberately kept in the dark. Some Ethiopians heard about the famine directly from the suffering peasants wandering in from the countryside, and learned of the international response from the daily arrivals of foreigners. But our government refused to admit the truth. The people were not told until very late in the year, and then only by gradual degrees. The international repsonse was not all favorable. There was also anger. The Western media constantly condemned the government, correctly and sometimes incorrectly. Politicians accused the regime of callousness and violation of fundamental human rights. There were also personal attacks against mein letters and through the media. This largely stemmed froma statement I made at the December1984 donors’ meeting. There I thanked the representatives for their magnanimous response: At a very late stage, generosity was shown by the donor community in a burst of activity which included larger

pledges of grain than had been made previously in the year, pledges of other needed relief items, the arrival of newspaper and film jounalists, the arrival of several voluntary agencies new to the country, and visits by a large number of dignitaries. We were gratified and satisfied that we had eventually been able to attract the attention of the international community.

But I could not refrain from adding: What makes us angry and deeply sad at the same time is that what is happening in many parts of the country now could so easily have been prevented. From the beginning of the year, we predicted that, unless there was a massive

inflow of grain, funds and other relief supplies, the situation would deteriorate appallingly ... Had the international donor community taken these facts and figures seriously at the beginning of this year, and

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had its responses matched the identified needs, it would

now have been able to claim credit for the prevention of the death and suffering of so many whose lives we could easily have saved with the surplus and waste that exists in most donor countries. Icannotoveremphasize the growing sense of shock that my staff and I felt when we realized that first our March appeal and then our August appeal had failed; when the days of indifference turned into the months of apathy, especially when we could see that, all around the country, our predictions were turning horribly true. An almost inconceivable nightmare was happening: Ethiopia was being forgotten in a world glutted with a surplus of grain; its humanitarian advocates had disappeared. The Western press reported only my criticism, neglecting completely my gratitude and thanks. The New York Times reported it on the front page:

ETHIOPIANS BLAME WEST FOR FAMINE Senior Ethiopian officials said today that the Western nations involved in emergency relief efforts here are largely to blame for the extent of the famine devastating the people of this nation. Nothing was said about the gratitude I expressed. It was a perfect example of how selective reporting can alter a speaker’s meaning. My intention had been to urge greater efforts in the coming months by reminding the donors—with some strong language—that they had not listened to the RRC before and we had been right. But the tone of the Times article made us seem arrogant and ungrateful. The story quoted Peter McPherson of US AID lashing back at me: “That's just absurd. The West including the United States has responded very substantially.” All this missed my point completely and made me look likea liar. The United States had indeed responded substantially, but too late. In fact, even as I was making the statement in December, not a single ton of American assistance had yet been received. American food started coming into the country only at the end of January—taking a record three months to implement the agreement I had signed in Washington in early November. No one reading these newspaper articles heard that the people were still starving. The press did not tell the whole story and we as a

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consequence suffered in the public eye. I was hurt. I later learned that MacPherson’s statement was directed at the regime and not at me or the RRC, but it hurt us just the same—particularly because we were so very grateful. McPherson’s statement was seized by many newspapers, creating a tremendous amount of anger among the American public. I started getting letters from individuals. I will cite a few, because they have their own stories to tell about what people were thinking at the time. A very painful letter from a woman in Florida:

I find these remarks disgusting, appalling and galling for anyone in your position to try and shift blame for their own

shortsightedness on those attempting in good faith to help youat this time... I think you area

bigot, heartless and a lot

more for not taking care of your people long before this time ..- You disgust and repel me, and I am sure that others feel the same even though you won't get letters from them. I’m just tired of being an American who is constantly helping with some crisis in some country, and then having that

country blast back with how we should have done something before. From a professor in New Jersey: I find it interesting that the Soviet Union bears no responsibility in your mind. If so many people were not dead to [sic] the ineptness of your government, your internal policies

and your officials, it would be humorous .. . I have little tolerance for political leaders as [sic] you who cast blame when you and your peers are the main cause of the problem. Don’t you find it interesting that people in the Western World have higher standards of living than those in the Eastern World? Why? [Because] democracy has more incentives for citizens than does a communistic system...

I responded to these letters with personal explanations as best I could. I wrote the professor a long letter in which I said: It is sad in this day and age that statements about humanitarian needs are so often put into a political context by those who hear them or by those who report them, even sometimes by those who have humanitarian aid to provide. It

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distresses me to see our actions and our words being so often misinterpreted and misunderstood . . . At the end of the year, when some Western governments were denying having heard of the famine, or attempting to shift blame for delays, I was very thankful that people like Congressman Wolpe were also speaking up: “To say that we were taken by surprise is only to say that we didn’t want to see before.”* Visitors: From Mother Theresa to the Kennedys

When famine became news in November 1984, suddenly Ethiopia was the place to be. Dignitaries, politicians, actors, singers, church leaders, humanitarians, and ordinary poeople from all over the world flocked to witness this modern-day holocaust in person. Some came with great fanfare, some came unannounced, some came for publicity and their own political advantage, some for adventure, and some with deep

concern and sympathy. The airport was constantly full of cargo planes, relief workers, and RRC personnel waiting to greet or see off guests. Reporters waited to interview the famous people coming and going. We received UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar; Dr. Edward Saouma, Director of the UN’s FAO; the President of the EEC;

Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs Joe Clark; American congressmen Cooper Evan, Gary Ackman, Mickey Leland, William Nelsone, Frank Wolf, and Paul Trible; British MPs Andrew Bennett, Archy

Kitterwood, and John Stanley; the president of the London Daily Mirror, Robert Maxwell; Cardinal Basil Hume, the Archibishop of Westminster;

Dr. Jurge Warnke, West German Minister of Economic Cooperation; West German MPs Dr. Hans Stercher, Mrs. Dagmar Luuk, Volker Nemann, and Helmut Sauelt; Mr. Kong Kyong, South Korean Secretary General; Mr. Shinotro Abe, Foreign Minister of Japan; Javad Mansurri, Iranian Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs; Andrew S. Peacock, leader of the Labour Party of Australia; James Grant, Executive Director of UNICEF; Archbishop Walter Makhulu, President of the World Council of Churches;

Cardinal J. O’Connor, Cardinal of New York; Mr. G. Lyteton, Deputy Prime-Minister of New Zealand; Mrs. Jaqueline Jackson, wife of Jesse

Jackson; Mrs. Reidun Bruslettan, Minister of Development Cooperation of Norway; Mr. Ahmed Essopi, Under-Secretary General for UNDRO; Mr. Christian Nuchi, French Cooperation Minister; Madame Katarina

Foche, Chairperson of EEC Development Committee and leader of European Parliamentary Delegation from Italy, Britain, and France; Dr.

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Ardella Nasif, President of the World Islamic League; and others equally important but too numerous to name. It was extremely difficult. Some of these guests had planned their schedules before they came to Ethiopia. Others had no definite plans but expected us to show them whatever they wanted to see. Handling this invasion of visitors became more difficult for the RRC than the relief operation itself. Valuable hours were spent shuttling them around and arguing over their schedules. There were areas where certain people were not allowed to go, and there were other areas where no one at all could go. As a professional begging institution, our office would ideally have liked to have been able to show any potential donor any place that would demonstrate our immediate need for assistance. But the regime’s leaders wanted to play down the catastrophe and show off the achievements of Marxism. They were constantly trying to drag visitors off to their model farms and projects. Neither our agency nor the visitors were interested in this, and head-on collisions with members of the Politburo were almost daily occurrences. Schedules and briefings of visitors were always conducted in an atmosphere of suspicion. Most high-level delegations and individuals came to Ethiopia after having been briefed at home about our Marxist government. They came with the preconception that every government official, including those of the RRC, would try to deceive them and cover up by not allowing them to visit certain areas. This meant that even when the RRC genuinely tried to accomodate the wishes of our visitors, there would be an uproar because they thought we were trying to hide something from them.

Certain Western visitors and relief workers who had been in Ethiopia a few weeks or even a for just few days, exploited this lack of trust. Visitors often went to them to get the “true story.” The self-righteous attitude of these Westerners was extremely irritating. Although they had just arrived in our country, they acted as if they knew more about what was happening than we did; or even more infuriating, that they cared more about our people than we did. This was certainly not the case. The experience, knowledge, and compassion of the RRC’s dedicated staff

could be matched by no one. The idea of foreigners coming and telling us our jobs was obnoxious in the extreme. Of all the visitors who came, I remember two the most: Mother

Theresa and Senator Edward Kennedy. Both toured extensively and had things their own way wherever they went. Mother Theresa is the most charming person I have ever met. She

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had visited Ethiopia on several occasions, even before this crisis. She had already set up one of her missions in the capital, where she and the sisters of her order went into the streets and collected the poorest of the poor— the retarded, the abandoned babies, the terminally ill dying in the gutters. They brought these forgotten souls back to their mission and cared for them. The first time I met her, she brought me to her mission in the center of Addis. I was accustomed to seeing misery and death in the shelters, but this was very much different. The retarded, the dying, the abandoned babies were all placed in separate wards. Each day Mother Theresa went around to their rooms and gave each of them a warm, loving hug and kiss. She is still doing it today. It is an awesome thing to see—this wealth of love, this outpouring of sincere affection. It makes no difference if they are dying of tuberculosis, cancer, or some unknown disease— she gathers them into her arms and kisses them. When they see her coming, everyone cries out: “Our Mother! Our Mother!” Joy spreads across their faces and even the mentally retarded, who are sometimes aggressive or violent, keep absolutely still when she comes to embrace them. The power of her sincerity, her charm, and her simplicity are beyond words.

Mother Theresa came to Ethiopia twice during the crisis. She wanted to go to many different places, and nobody argued with her. She had her own way of doing things. There was no need to go through the difficult

process of acquiring permits; all travel restrictions were dropped for her. She visited many shelters, and I was with her much of the time. Her simplicity, her love, and her innocence give a wonderful feeling of warmth and joy to everyone she meets. She is truly a living saint. She serves as a source of inspiration for me to this day. She is unique in that all her requests for assistance are always approved. No onecan say no to Mother Theresa. You feel you must do what she asks. Once she asked me to get her a piece of land next to her rehabilitation center so that she could increase its capacity. The office of a kebele (community association) already stood on that particular site, but that made no difference to Mother Theresa. She needed it for her work. I found myself going to the Minister of Housing, Tesfaye Maru, who of course said there was no way in the world he could give her that land— and even if he were to consider it, the decision would take months.

asked the Minister to take a drive to that part of the city with me. At the mission, I introduced Tesfaye as the Minister of Housing and turned him over to Mother Theresa. She took him around and showed him the activities of her center. Later on she asked him if she could have the land next door for her mission. Without a second’s hesitation he said, “Yes,

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Mother Theresa. There will be no problem.” That same afternoon she sent her sisters to his office to do the paperwork. It was completed, approved and signed in a couple of hours—an incredible feat in our bureaucratic government. On her second visit during the crisis Iwanted her to see the Head of State. She didn’t ask to see him, andI don’t think she really cared. But we

in the RRC thought that it would be to our advantage if recognition were

given to her from the highest level. Also, since we were trying to depoliticize relief efforts, we wanted the Head of State to appear to have a human face. Mengistu waslikea little boy before her. He agreed to everything she wanted. A declared atheist who likes to mock God and those who worship Him, he was as meek as a lamb.

“Do you believe in God?” “Yes, I do.”

“Do you pray for the people?” “Yes I do, Mother Theresa”

“How many times a day?” “Once a day, Mother Theresa.” “From now on you must pray for your people and yourself three times a day.” “Yes. I will, Mother.” His family name is Haile Mariam which means “the strength of St. Mary.” She gave him a tiny image of St. Mary and told him to keep it by his bedside. “Yes, I will, Mother.”

She had earlier asked me about bringing in more sisters and building churches and rehabilitation centers in two provinces. It was certainly beyond my authority to approve the construction of new churchesin our Marxist state. I told her she must ask Mengistu and she did. “Yes, of course, Mother.”

When the meeting ended he escorted her out of his office to the staircase. He had never done that before in his life. I saw Mother Theresa off in her car and went back into Mengistu’s office. I saw the image of St. Mary on the table. I knew he cared nothing about it and was certainly not going to put in by his bedside. I took it and put it in my pocket. It is still one of my most valued possessions. However, the construction of Mother Theresa’s churches and rehabilitation centers in Bale province never got off the ground. I asked the Party Secretary of that province to find out what was wrong. He told me that he got his orders from the Party, not from me, and that he had explicit instructions to frustrate and discourage projects of this nature. The

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sisters tried very hard, but it was virtually impossible to make any progress. The only other visitor who was allowed to go wherever he wanted was Senator Edward Kennedy. Mengistu was worried about his coming. He would have liked to refuse Kennedy entry, but it was too late for that;

it would only focus international attention more narrowly on his inhuman policies. The situation was out of his control, so Kennedy came. His schedule was prepared in Washington. In what seemed to us a well-planned and firm schedule, it could not be changed. There was considerable effort on the part of our Foreign Office to arrange a meeting with the Head of State, who was at the time scheduled to go to Moscow,

but the US embassy showed little interest in changing Senator Kennedy’s schedule to fit Mengistu’s wishes. I was later told that he was more interested in visiting the people in the field. It was also important for Kennedy to make the trip during the Christmas season, when he felt that it would attract more attention at home and gain more support for the victims. Kennedy was an impressive American: tall and business-like, he arrived with all the trappings of a great man of the world. He madea brief statement in the airport VIP lounge and was otherwise very cold toward all of us. I got the distinct impression he had been briefed in Washington to mention the “pride” and “dignity” of the Ethiopian people, and his words to this effect were well-received. I talked over the schedule with his assistant, Jerry Tinker, a very able, lively man. I was with the Senator, his two children, Kara and Ted, and

their entourage throughout their five-day stay in Ethiopia. It turned out to be a very pleasant experience, though it didn’t begin that way for me. Although I had heard a lot about Senator Kennedy and his human rights initiatives, I at first considered the trip part of the American political game—a publicity gambit to boost his image at home. I thought this was going to be another ordeal, another humiliating experience for the famine victims as I was forced to put their misery on display; to trade the sight of their malnourished bodies, the corpses of their loved ones and the graveyards of all those who had died earlier for the hope of foreign donations. As we started our tour I had the disturbing feeling that I was accompanying the Great American Hero. I had no idea what was going on in Kennedy’s mind. He gave the impression that he wanted to get to the shelters, see the curiosities, get it over with, and go home. But on the very first day, Isaw a change. Senator Kennedy and his staff had seen the worst disasters of the world firsthand—India, Bangla-

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desh, Vietnam—but his children were not as prepared. We visited the Makale shelter in Tigray described in the Buerk/Amin film. It was a terrible ordeal for all of the visitors. This rich, world-famous American

was confronted with thousands upon thousands of sick, dead, and dying human beings. I saw someone I had perceived as the Great American Hero change to just an ordinary man with a troubled conscience, as powerless as any other individual in the face of this vast human agony. While I was walking with the Senator through the middle of the outdoor shelter, I looked over my shoulder to see his son, Ted, trembling

with emotion as he hugged a starving boy. I ran back to him and translated what the little boy was saying: he told Ted he needed food and he hoped that they were there to help. Ted, who had himself narrowly escaped death from cancer by amputation of a leg, was overcome by grief. For the entire day and evening he looked dazed by what he saw. He spoke very little. I could see that Kara, also, was shocked and did not know how to react. We spent several hours in the shelter. No one had much to say. There was just a clumsy feeling of helplessness and grief. That evening Jerry Tinker, who had been so animated when the trip began, also was quiet. He withdrew within himself to grieve; he even

forgot to discuss the schedule. He told me later that he thought he would never see anything worse than Vietnam and Bangladesh, but Makale was more horrible by far. The most striking thing about it, he told me, was the dignity and calm of the people. It was hard to comprehend how people facing imminent death from starvation could wait in orderly lines toreceive their meager rations. He said that in most other countries, there would have been riots—an observation repeated by many visitors. The next morning we were supposed to get up at 6:30 AM to move to our next stop. At5:30 AM the security people roused me to report that the Senator was already leaving his room. We looked out to see him driving off. He was going back to the shelter area again to be with the people. Apparently after all he had seen, he could not sleep. It was a wonderful feeling of relief for me to see these rich, famous visitors so genuinely feeling the agony of our people, and responding to it in such an honest, emotional way. It was what I wanted my own

government and every donor to feel. It was what I had been trying to convey to the world for 18 months, and now at lastI could see I had gotten

through. There was a sense of brotherhood here: amid the inexpressible horror of this catastrophe, the world would be brought closer together. Our next stop was Bati in Wollo province. As we drove to the site I told the Senator stories about its past. Bati is rich in tradition for Ethiopians. One of the five beats of Ethiopian music is called Bati, and it is the subject of many old, romantic songs still popular today. Bati

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symbolized the old romance and beauty of Ethiopia. Now it is a wasted ruin, a graveyard where all that former beauty and romance lie buried. In Bati the Kennedys spent a fuli day feeding the children. After Makale and a sleepless night, I suppose they felt better having direct contact with the suffering people. Senator Kennedy, Kara, and Ted were acting out of asense of urgency. By feeding the children they felt like they were really doing something to help now, when the people needed it most.

It was at this time that the Australian opposition leader, Andrew S. Peacock, arrived in Addis. He was scheduled to visit another area, but

when he heard that Senator Kennedy was in Bati, he changed his itinerary and flew there to meet him. I learned later that they were friends, but it was soon clear that Senator Kennedy did not want any

intrusions. Peacock was eager to see him, but Kennedy just shook hands coldly and spoke to him briefly. When a man from Peacock’s party pointed his camera, Kennedy ducked aside angrily. I understood what he was feeling. It was degrading, almost blasphemous, to relegate these

suffering human beings to the role of background for a politician’s publicity shots. The next day we went to the city of Hararin Hararge province, where we visited one of Mother Theresa’s missions.; then back to the capital where I invited the Senator to a typical Ethiopian dinner on the evening before he left. He was lively and vivacious, but I kept thinking of the

change. He had come without fully understanding what our people were suffering, and he left touched by the way they endured their agony and death. Whenever he talked about the Ethiopian people, he kept using the words “patriotism,” “dignity,” and “pride.” I think those words had a

different meaning to him now. Bob Geldof, the Irish rock singer who was the moving force behind

Band-Aid and Live-Aid, was a very strange person for me. I didn’t know what to make of him. He was nota politician. He was not what you could call a humanitarian. He was also by no means an ordinary person. He was a smart city boy full of arrogance and vulgar language, questioning all values. It was very difficult to talk to him because he was so cynical. My deputy, Berhane, somehow managed to handle him. He came to Ethiopia on our Christmas Eve, January 5. I was seeing off Mother Theresa at the airport when he arrived. I introduced them nervously, because I knew every other word out of Geldof’s mouth was usually an obscenity. Mother Theresa saved me a great deal of embarrassment by exerting her usual humbling influence. They had a brief exchange of words and submitted to the usual PR shots before she left.

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We had decided to send him to Lalibella, a 14th century rock-hewn church where every year there is a colorful Christmas ceremony. Since Band-Aid’s song was “Do They Know it’s Christmas?” we thought it would be appropriate to send him there so he could see that he was not coming to a desolate country full of African savages. We wanted him to know we had a rich culture and tradition. He went and spent the night in the old church after the long flight from London, and was indeed very impressed. I believe our later dealings were influenced by what he saw in Lalibella. Harry Belafonte and his group, USA for Africa, came with a plane full of relief supplies after a big publicity campaign. We had been very moved by what they had done for us, and the airport was packed with hundreds who had come to welcome them. As a senior government official and head of the RRC, I headed the delegation that received them. Later that day at the hotel, as we discussed their schedule, there were

arguments. We wanted them to see some rehabilitation projects, but they refused. There was the usual prejudice against the government, and suspicion of every program we arranged. It was another case where visitors could not distinguish between the RRC and other governmental Officials. We finally agreed on an itinerary. Harry Belafonte, his wife, Marlin Jackson, and their manager Ken Kragen all traveled to the shelter in Makale. They were shocked by what they saw. Harry told me later that he never expected the famine to be so severe. Marlin Jackson cried,

particularly when he saw the little children. He wanted to adopt one

child, but was told that the red tape would take forever and mightin the end make it impossible. They also visited the port and were given a demonstration of food airdrops to inaccessible areas.

I accompanied Belafonte and his group on one of their trips to the resettlement site of Asosa. They visited a mobile hospital unit run by Soviet doctors and technicians. Whatever the expectations of the group were, the Russians talked to them openly, took them around the hospital,

and showed them everything. The Russians were given USA for Africa T-shirts before we left. What the Americans never knew was that most of the patients in this recently hospital were not famine victims at all; most were casualties of the civil war raging in the border area of Wollega. Another thing USA for Africa never knew was that when I took them to the resettlement sites, they saw only what was programmed by Party officials, who had carefully prepared places for foreign viewing and secretly assigned people they could talk to. Earlier, when foreigners would come and ask peasants about conditions, the governmental

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smart journalists started taping the entire conversations and having the tapes translated outside Ethiopia.We countered this move by disguising cadres as peasants at the resettlement sites. When foreigners arrived to ask questions, they could tape anything they liked. They found the “peasants” cheerful, willing, and in excellent health. Naive foreigners left wondering at the intelligence of the peasantry and their intense commitment to the Revolution. Harry Belafonte was very well read and knowledgable. I took him to see Mengistu and expected he would raise some important questions about human rights issues and let Mengistu know that the world was watching what happened in Ethiopia. Perhaps the result would be beneficial; perhaps Mengistu would listen to such an influential black man. But nothing of the sort happened. Nothing serious was said at all, just the usual empty formalities, greetings, mutual admiration, smiles and farewells. Perhaps because Belafonte headed such a varied group of artists, professionals, and technicians, he felt he was not in a position to

express his personal views. At any rate, I was very disappointed. I greatly admired him, however, in one incident. As a singer and actor he wanted to see an Ethiopian performance during his stay. It happened that Shakespeare’s Othello was playing in one of the Addis theatres, and arrangements were made for the entire group to attend. The play was performed in Amharic, and was completely incomprehensible to the Americans. The rest of his group slipped out after ten minutes, but Harry stayed for the entire four-hour production, not just out of courtesy, but actually watching with great interest and appreciation. I couldn’t help being impressed. The funds from USA for Africa arrived in Ethiopia very late and were too insignificant to make a difference. American artists recorded the single "We Are the World" on January 28, 1985. On March®8 the single was released and the first funds ($6,500,000) arrived from CBS records in the

middle of May 1985. The fact-finding mission led by Harry Belafonte arrived in Addis in the beginning of June with a plane load of relief supplies. Of $53,000,000 raised, only $5,500,000 was channeled to Ethio-

pia and arrived in late June. So despite sincere efforts to reach the people in time, the $5,500,000 was used mostly for rehabilitation projects. Determining priorities and funding requires proper evaluation. USA for Africa attempted to do that through Charles Moed. Mr. Moed came to Ethiopia for the first time in December 1984 on behalf of Operation California. After spending three nights among the dead and dying, he drove back to Addis Abeba and demanded to see me immediately to discuss the problems of the relief program. We had a lengthy discussion, during which he offered to do anything possible to help.

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Between December 1984 and September 1985 Mr. Moed visited Ethiopia six times, the last three on behalf of USA for Africa. He identified the real bottlenecks as the ports, transportation and storage facilities. Based on his thorough analysis, he presented the project proposals to USA for Africa, which were underway at the time I left the country. The fact that USA for Africa did not have a representative in Ethiopia greatly hampered the speedy implementation of their projects. There were many other famous visitors. Once I was at the airport to receive a European minister and I saw a man sitting quietly alone, in ordinary safari clothing. I knew I had seen him somewhere before, so I told him his face was familiar. It was Cliff Robertson, the American actor. He had come over from Tunisia where he was working on a film, to see

if he could help. All I could think of was how small the world was getting because of this tragedy. He later donated his time to make a charity film for Catholic Relief Service. The British Minister of Overseas Development, Timothy Raison, came to Ethiopia twice. I had met him on two different occasions in London and was quite unimpressed. All he could talk about was the political aspects of relief, of the diversion of aid, of the government’s policies. He seemed to understand nothing of the human question, of the

suffering of the millions. When he came I personally drove with him to Korem. As with Senator Kennedy, I saw him change before my eyes. The mask of the government official was stripped away; he grew more real, more genuine as he came face to face with this human tragedy. We saw everything: the children, the intensive feeding stations, the dying, and the graves. A few months later he came back on his own. He could not get Ethiopia out of his mind. He stayed for four days and I found myself

liking him much better than ever. I took time to personally show him around the country. There were also many ordinary people who came. Around Christmas time in 1984, I got a call from New York. Seven American nurses sponsored by Church World Service were unable to get visas from our UN embassy. I called the embassy and arranged for the visas. When the nurses arrived their enthusiasm was boundless. I had them placed in the field in Northern Shoa the next day. I remember their excitement as they shaved their heads because it would be impossible to wash their hair in these drought-stricken regions. Just before their three months were up, I saw two of them again in the field and they begged me to get them permission to stay another three months. Another time I got a call from New York from a recent graduate of Columbia Law School. She had just started working for a New York firm, but after seeing the films on television she felt she had to come to

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Ethiopia. I told the UN embassy to give her a visa. She came straight to my office and told me that she had no skills in relief operations, but after seeing the films she was overcome with a sense of guilt: she couldn’t eat, she couldn't sleep, she felt she couldn’t even breathe unless she did

something. I sent her to World Vision, where they gave her a few days training and put her to work for three months. At the end of that time she came back to my office. She felt much better, she said: now she could go back and resume her life again. In mid-December the Mayor of Washington, D.C., Marion Barry,

came to visit on short notice. He was received by the Mayor of Addis and my Office quickly prepared some programs for him. Unfortunately, he had neither the time nor the patience to listen to anythingIhad to say. He seemed only to want some photographs taken with me, and quickly left my Office. He left the country in less than 24 hours, never having set foot outside Addis. The American papers portrayed his visit as a dramatic gesture. The Washington Post quoted American Chargé d’affaires David Korn: “Barry’s visit has helped promote better relations and build bridges with the Ethiopian government.”? From my perspective, it was a way for him to pad his political portfolio. Icouldn’t help thinking how many strange people there were in the world. The most meaningful visitor for the starving victims in the shelters and distribution centers would have been their leader. The moral support he could have given was denied them because he chose to stay away. He never visited the affected areas until so many outsiders had come through that it was impossible for him to stay away any longer. Sometime late in November he flew to Makale and walked around anarea near the airport for a few minutes, then flew to Bati and stopped just long enough to have his picture taken. While hundreds of Europeans and North Americans have visited the relief centers over the past few years, Mengistu has spent a total of about 30 minutes, a disgraceful performance for any Head of State. Notes to Chapter 6

1. CRS, May report to US AID. 2. House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Africa Subcommmittee. 3. The Washington Post ? 4. The Washington Post, Editorial, July 18. 5. CJOH TV Ottawa, Nov.1,1984. 6. The New York Times, December 12, 1984.

7. The Washington Post, November 21, 1984. 8. The Washington Post, December 17, 1984.

The Relief Operation Our task in late 1984 was to get a million tons of food to nine million starving people ina region with basically no roads, only three ports, and with much of the country in a state of war. After it was all over, Fred

Fisher, head of US AID in Ethiopia, a man with whom I worked closely ina highly charged, political atmosphere, stated that the 1984-1985 relief operation was “one of the world’s great success stories.”1 Coming from such a competent and very understanding official. I take that as high praise indeed. From its beginnings in 1974, the Relief and Rehabilitation Commis-

sion recognized that Ethiopia would always be in danger of crop failure and consequent food shortages. It was also recognized that the RRC would not be able to combat these crises effectively unless it perfected its ablity to predict shortages and react swiftly. Acquiring an intimate knowledge of potentially endangered areas and the numbers of people likely to be affected by natural calamities was seen as the first step. Food and relief items would then have to be stockpiled in anticipation of every eventuality. The Early Warning System of the RRC was established in 1976 with the purpose of alerting the Ethiopian government, voluntary agencies, UN agencies, and foreign donor governments of impending food shortages. This highly effective system, the only one of its kind in Africa, analyzes each potential crisis in terms of food supply systems, that is, the chain of events that leads from production to consumption. The three

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food supply systems identified in Ethiopia are crop dependent, market dependent, and livestock dependent, with some groups of people dependent on more than one of these systems. The Early Warning System monitors the major indicators in all three systems so that shortages can be detected as early as possible. Recently, satellite photos made available through ILCA (International Livestock Corporation of Africa) have increased the RRC’s ability to predict crop failure. Relying on the Early Warning System reports, RRC disaster area teams make field visits to the affected areas and assess the magnitude of

the shortages through indicators such as rainfall, pest and disease problems, crop and livestock status, grain stock availability, food consumption, health and nutrition, and a variety of social indicators. These

assessments are carried out first by aerial and road surveys of the region, followed by personal interviews at a sampling of sites. The teams’ conclusions are communicated to the Emergency Relief Department of the RRC, which in turn immediately informs the Head of State, appropriate government agencies and the international donor community of our requirements. While waiting for their responses, the RRC sends needed grain or other relief items to the affected areas, provided these are available. Distribution is carried out through the Commission’s regional branch offices, which have representatives down to the awraja level. (Ethiopia’s provinces are subdivided into awrajas, which in turn are divided into weredas.) The transport service of the RRC is responsible for getting relief items from the ports and major warehouses to points as close to the affected populations as possible. Since telephones are scarce, a sophisticated network of radio communication, including mobile units, is used.

Resources for the RRC’s more extensive operations are obtained from the international donor community and from contributions of individuals around the world. Problems of cash shortages are often solved by selling unwanted or inappropriate goods that are frequently donated to us without consulting our needs. The international community rarely gives outright cash assistance, and if they do they give it for a specific purpose, usually for projects monitored or implemented by them. There were several factors that hindered RRC operations during the 1984-1985 disaster. As I have explained in previous chapters, foremost

among these was our lack of resources: our own government denied us funds we desperately needed, and initial donations from abroad never equalled our requirement. Without funding we were able to operate at only a fraction of our potential. We were also limited by the failure to stockpile emergency food. In

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1980, the Food Security Project had as its goal a grain reserve of 180,000 tons. We never even came close, because there was never a sincere effort

by our governmentor the international donor community to achieve that level. At the time of the 1984 crisis, only 10,000 tons were in the warehouses. Storage space was also a problem. At the end of 1983, after months of governmental ineptitude, the RRC began work on its own to construct a 100,000-ton-capacity warehouse. Using funds raised from the sale of unwanted donations, renting the few airplanes we owned, and some assistance from donors, the RRC built the largest warehouse in the nation

in a record five months, without any government funds. Centrally located 300 kilometers south of Assab in Wollo province, this warehouse was applauded grudgingly by the Head of State and other officials, because the responsibility for building it should have been theirs. The project to build a 50,000-ton-capacity warehouse by the Agricultural Marketing Corporation had never gotten off the ground, a case of the usual bureaucratic lack of follow-through. Unfortunately, there was nothing to store in this huge warehouse for our emergency reserve. It was extremely useful in 1985, however, when massive quantities of emergency wheat had to be taken from the docks as fast as possible. Trucks were able to deposit grain quickly in this central warehouse—grain which would otherwise have rotted at the ports.

Transportation was a tremendous barrier. There were only three ports available to receive incoming supplies. The sole railway line in Ethiopia runs from Djibouti to Addis and is more than 60 years old, with an annual load capacity of only 30,000 tons. Roads were the most important factor in internal transportation, but the rugged terrain to-

gether with the poor road network presented terrific logistical obstacles. These were problems relief agencies operating in Ethiopia had always faced, but the 1984-1985 disaster was to require eight times the amount of assistance ever handled by the RRC and the voluntary agencies. The RRC had the necessary knowledge and the past experience, but the sheer magnitude of this task was beyond the capacity of any single nation. The first foreigner to fully recognize the complexities of the relief operation and try to do something about it was Reverend Tom Houston, the president of the voluntary agency World Vision. He sought me out to discuss the logistical and political problems we would face. An energetic, meticulous planner, he was completely frank with me, a trait I found particularly gratifying since I could not speak candidly to my own government.

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On October 18, he presented a full plan to me. I was amazed at its detail and the speed with which he had developed it. His study saw both the problems and the requirements: 4.1. Grain must be granted free immediately from countries where there is surplus. 4.2. For the speed required, use must be made of aircraft to move the grain both to the country and in the country. 4.3. To reach the majority of the population at risk, who live in places that are several days’ journey from the roads, use must be made of air drops to where the people are. This would require recovery teams with medical capability to work with the Peasant Associations. 4.4. There needs to be a consortium of coordinated shipping expertise to get the grain arriving at the ports ina speedy and orderly manner. 4.5. There must be highly competent logistical manage-

ment of the operation to make the best use of the inadequte road and rail transportation facilities in Ethiopia. 4.6. The response must come from governments because of the costs involved and because only they can consign the aircraft needed for the operation. The governments may choose to channel their response through competent NGOs. 4.7. Aresponse from several governmentsis required to make the operation politically acceptable and to share the considerable costs involved. 4.8. International political considerations need to be suspended for a year until this massive threat to human life is removed. 4.9. Internally in Ethiopia there must be a security situation that allows the free passage of food to all the people who need it. 4.10. For political acceptability, a port, or ports, outside of Ethiopia need to be used for the staging of the air operations that involve the air forces of other governments.

He then laid out the components of a workable plan: 5.1. Grain is granted immediately in multiples of 50,000 metric tons by the governments of Australia, Canada, the United States, and the EEC up to at least 600,000 metric tons.

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If more is available from other governments, it will all be usable. 5.2. A shipping consortium with ships in each of these countries arranges for the speedy and orderly despatch of the grain... 5.3. Anair force in Europe, say France, provides aircraft to airlift immediate supplies to take care of the urgent needs in the period before ships can begin to arrive... 5.4 The same or other air force provides aircraft and

logistical support to arrange to air drop food to the inaccessible areas. 5.5 The port of Djibouti and its facilities is made available by the French government to be the staging post for the airlift-airdrop operation. The ports in Ethiopia would be used for the supplies that would go by road to their destination. 5.6. The Government of Ethiopia agrees to this offer of assistance from the international community and the secessionist groups refrain from all activities that would impede the delivery of relief supplies to all the people who need them. 5.7. The Ethiopian authorities, national and local, pro-

vide the logistical backup and other facilities necessary for a successful operation. 5.8. The NGOs in Ethiopia and their organizations in other countries form a consortium to provide staff and expertise for this emergency food and medical operation on the ground.

Even though most of these issues were known to us, Reverend Houston consolidated them into a single, coherent document that the

international community could accept. His recommendations were

apolitical and humane, but they presented a number of problems. He raised the issue of the secessionist movements, a taboo subject as far as the government was concerned. The regime was not even willing to admit that security inside the country was a problem, let alone find a realistic solution. The plan further assumed the willingness of the Ethiopian government to give permission for Western air forces to operate in Ethiopia. This seemed highly unlikely, given the ruling circle’s anti-West outpourings. The plan further assumed that there would be total commitment from the regime, that it would give full priority to the relief efforts, that there would be a willingness on the part of both the

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government and the donors to call a truce in order to avoid politicizing humanitarian efforts. None of these things were to materialize. Reverend Houston circulated and discussed his plan with European and American donors and awakened their awareness to our needs. Even though the massive relief operation which eventually took place was not a direct offshoot of his plan, it was conducted more or less along the same lines. He was the groundbreaker, the first to focus donor attention on the complex problems ahead, and his contribution to Ethiopian relief was invaluable. Relief Supplies: Food, Water, Medicine

In the last months of 1984, after world attention focused on Ethiopia,

very little had changed in the day-to-day operations of the RRC. We had no funds of our own. Most of the country was in the grip of food and water shortages, which in the northern highlands were catastrophic. We were scraping together our last resources to distribute emergency supplies in 12 out of our 14 provinces, 54 awrajas, and 137 weredas.

In October 1984 the world woke up, but nothing had changed yet for the starving people. While the world raised funds and the media talked about the lives being saved, not even one percent of the assistance pledged after October had reached us by December. Bureaucratic delays within the donor governments kept food from arriving quickly; and even the food that did arrive could not be transported to the affected regions because of port congestion and government priority given to non-relief items. Most of the donated trucks and aircraft did not arrive in Ethiopia until in the middle of 1985; the lack of transportation remained acute at the time of our greatest need. Meanwhile, in December 1984 the number of people needing immediate assistance reached 7.2 million and the death toll reached its peak of 16,500-17,000 a week. We were truly in

a race against death. Trying to allocate our meager resources posed a terrible dilemma, since every region needed all the help we could give. If we had given all we had to one shelter alone, that shelter still would not have had enough. Local officials and RRC agents were sending in reports marked “extremely urgent” or “very, very urgent” with notes at the end like “thousands are dying!” or “we take no responsibility for further deaths!” Planeloads of food arrived—but not fast enough. The Jordanians were the first; then the British with the president of the Daily Mirror, Maxwell, on board; then the Saudis, the Iranians, and the Swiss. The

Americans came the farthest with their plane-load, but it was too little and too late. Between October and December 1984, when I made my last

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appeal of the year, only 86,000 tons of grain were received, most of it from outstanding pledges made earlier after my March 1984 appeal: 10,000 tons of grain from the USSR; 20,000 tons from the WFP-FAO; 18,000 from

the EEC; 20,000 tons from Canada; 3000 tons from the UK; 2600 tons from the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen; 1000 tons from China; 1000 tons from Korea; and 4000 tons of sugar from Cuba.

All this was only a drop in the bucket. Even though the pledges made after October were enormous, the delay in arrival became intolerable. That was why in addressing the international community in December 1984, amid growing fear of further delays, I said: What we have begun to see this year might be the beginning of one of the worst catastrophes the world has yet experienced, unless, with the enormous resources available to it in such an emergency, the world decides that it wishes not to have on its conscience the responsibility for the deaths of millions of drought affected people at a time when it had all the means to prevent such a nightmare and such a crime... Three voluntary agencies—British Oxfam, Norwegian Church Aid, and Redd Barna (Norwegian “Save the Children,” a non-religious organization)—formed a consortium, and with the financial aid of a Dutch

company, MOVIB, were able to show donor governments that it was possible to actually have food pledged, bought, loaded, transported and

ready for distribution within one month. Their shipment in December was the first to arrive after the October appeal . I should mention here what the people in the shelters were eating. For over a year, the only food for the millions of famine victims was wheat, vegetable oil and perhaps a little sugar. They ate little else. Occasionally another grain would find its way into the shelters, but wheat was the standard. The original adult relief quota was 700 grams of grain and 20 grams of vegetable or butter oil per person, per day; but this was reduced to 500 grams (1 Ib. 1 0z.) in June 1984 and remained at that level for the rest of the famine period in many of the relief centers. Children between the ages of four and 14 got 350 grams of grain and 100 grams of supplement (dry skim milk or soya milk); children under four got 100 grams of supplement. At the shelters people would hand-grind their portions of grain into meal and, if water was available, make a porridge out of it. Where water was scarce they would simply roast the grain over a fire and eat it dry. The peasants scavanged for firewood as best they could. Smoke hung over all the shelters from the thousands of campfires spread out over the

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surrounding fields. The daily adult ration provided 2300 calories. This was considered barely adequate for survival without physical exertion. This amount was, of course, only our target. At the height of the famine, the shelters

and distribution centers had to simply divide what food they had among all the individualsin need. Rationsaslow as350 grams (12 ozs.) per adult, per day, were not uncommon. Between the months of March 1984 and December 1985, we estimated that food supplies actually distributed provided only 1300-1700 calories a day. According to the UN’s WHO: These amounts are near or at survival levels for adults under resting condition and without illness. They do not allow restitution and any febrile illness or moderate effort will result in a negative energy balance, further loss of body substance and decrease in the immune defenses against infections.? The RRC had three sorts of relief centers: shelters, distribution

centers, and intensive feeding centers. Shelters were meant to provide a temporary place for famine victims to camp and were stocked with tents as well as food. Distribution centers were not meant to be campsites, but were places where people could come to get a supply of food and then return with it to their homes. What often happened was that shantytowns grew up around the distribution centers because peasants were too weak to return to their homes or saw no point in it because the drought had left their farms worthless. Intensive feeding centers were established in the worst-hit areas. Here the most severely malnourished children, mothers breast feeding their children, and critically ill adults

were fed intravenously or given other kinds of special nourishment and treatments. At the time the 1984-1985 crisis began, the RRC and the voluntary

agencies had 22 shelters and about 100 distribution centers. When the crisis reached its peak at the end of 1984 that number had grown to over 45 shelters, with 41 intensive feeding centers. By April 1985 there were over 45 shelters, 280 distribution centers and 150 feeding centers. At the beginning of 1984 we had 21 voluntary agencies working with us. A year later their number reached 31 and by the middle of 1985 there were 48 with over 600 foreign staff members

and 2,000 Ethiopian

employees. (The total number of international voluntary agencies involved in the relief operation was 63. Some were not present in Ethiopia, but had projects implemented through other agencies.) Our modest medicinal requirement for 1984-1985 was calculated by

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the Ministry of Public Health af $2 per person per year. For the approximately three million people who needed urgent medical care, medicines worth $6 million were received. This amount allowed only the most critically ill to receive treatment. Three hundred foreign doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel were brought in to help the Ministry of Public Health in the field. Together with Ethiopian doctors and medical teams, they worked with great dedication to save the lives of many famine victims who would otherwise have surely died, particularly during the outbreaks of cholera. In the month of December 1984, two months after the world awak-

ened to the plight of Ethiopia, 25 donor governments and organizations agreed to provide a total of 181,480 tons of grain—only 3.1 percent of the total requirement. In spite of the outpouring of sympathy generated by the media, there was still an acute shortage of food at this stage. The situation changed dramatically in the next year as the momentum of public generosity picked up. By April 1985, a total of 418,330 tons of food had been received by the RRC and the voluntary agencies, and an additional 540,441 tons were expected to arrive later in the year. By October 1985, exactly one year after the world awakening, a total of

895,000 tons of emergency food had been received by the RRC and voluntary agencies. An estimated 342,000 tons was expected in the next few months. Even this vast amount both delivered and pledged was only 83 percent of our total food assistance requirement, leaving a shortfall of 248,000 tons that was not met until after 1986. Between

December

1984 and October 1985 (285 feeding days),

624,581 tons of grain and supplementary food were distributed, which meant 53.3 million monthly rations. The number of beneficiaries averaged 6.2 million per month, reaching 7.5 million at the height of the famine. Of the total relief, 47 percent was handled by the RRC and 53

percent was channeled through the voluntary agencies. Delivery and Transportation Western criticism of the Ethiopian regime never stopped throughout the relief operation. Some of it was justified, as I will be the first to admit; butin all fairness, it ought to be pointed out that some of the criticism was

inappropriate. A bit of self-criticism might also have been applied by the donors to their own performance. For example, there were still long delays in the arrival of food even after the world public responded so generously. By the end of January no significant food shipment had yet arrived in Ethiopia, but reports to the European and American public

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made it seem that Ethiopia was now overflowing with grain. None of the major donors were prepared to respond to an international humanitarian crisis of this magnitude. In 1984 they applied the same bureaucratic procedures to the crisis in Africa that they used in their day-to-day administrative tasks. Decisions took far too much time. Shipping the supplies to the ports took time, and getting the supplies from the ports to distribution centers took more time still. It was only later in the year that Canada and the United States established a special emergency task force for Africa to improve the speed of shipment. What was most unjust was that, after taking months to make decisions and bring in the supplies, the donors upbraided us for every day’s delay at our ports. They seeemed to forget the fact that an underdeveloped country is, by definition, a country lacking in infrastructures. If we had possessed highly developed facilities, a catastrophic famine would not have occurred in the first place. The ports of Ethiopia were never meant to handle large amount of supplies—but the Western media continued to criticize the Ethiopian government unfairly for slow handling of relief goods, even when the West had in some cases taken five months to deliver them. However that may be, by the middle of 1985 our chief problem was no longer obtaining our food requirement, but effectively distributing the enormous amount of food that was flowing into the country. One UN official commented in a post-famine conference:

If all the food delivered to Ethiopia in 1985 were packaged in 50 kg. bags and placed one on top of the other, the resulting stack would be 3000 miles high. If the same bags were placed end to end they would extend halfway round the equator. The mileage covered by relief trucks and planes in 1985 was equivalent to seven trips to the moon and back? Ports

There are just two ports in Ethiopia: Assab which receives 76 percent of national shipping, and Massawa, which handles 15 percent. In addition, neighboring Djibouti receives 9 percent, which is transferred to rail and shipped across the border. The port of Assab has a maximum off-take capacity of 150,000 tons a month, and Massawa, 15,000 tons. This includes all goods coming in

and going out of the country, not just emergency relief supplies. Under normal conditions Assab’s longshoremen could handle 4,000 tonsa day, but because the government had other priorities than the famine, the

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entire 4000 tons was never devoted just to relief supplies. The bureaucracy at the port was intolerable for some donors. Fortytwo pieces of paper had to be signed and circulated before unloading could begin. Even though the situation was worse in other parts of Africa and in some parts of Europe, I would certainly agree that the red tape was excessive during the emergency period. Another of the West’s complaints centered around the import of military hardware, which was always given precedence by the regime. The donors saw it coming into the country and were upset by it. They seemed to be deliberately oblivious to the other requirements of the Ethiopian government. The regime was not about to suspend the war or other programs it felt were matters of national security; no government would do such a thing. But the donors did or would not take this into account. Another complaint that regularly appeared in the international media was the high port charges for handling relief cargos. The Maritime and Transit Service Corporation is under the Ministry of Transport and Communication and operates under strict government regulations. It was the main source of revenue for the government, and therefore any rearrangement of rates needed the approval of Mengistu. The UN Emergency Office and the RRC held discussions for almost a year trying to renegotiate the rates. It was only after the crisis was almost over and the government had collected a substantial amount of money from donors that the rates were lowered. Sometimes donor demands were simply unfair. The regions of the Southwest, for example, were largely untouched by the drought; it was

crucial to continue exporting the coffee grown there, both to keep those regions on their feet and because foreign exchange was so badly needed. Yet the donors would have preferred to see even that suspended in favor of the famine relief operation. We began looking at the quantity of relief supplies handled by the ports as a barometer of the government's sincerity. All of us were happy when Assab managed to devote half its total capacity to relief goods and handle 2000 tons a day. Once Mengistu invited Kurt Jansson and me to visit Assab with him while he inspected a North Korean fishing and boat construction project. Mengistu knew that huge amounts of foodstuffs were piled all over the port, so he gave direct orders to the Port Authority and Transport Minister and the docks were cleared. For a couple of days the level of relief supplies handled increased to 4000 tons—100 percent of total capacity. All of us were pleased, particularly Kurt Jansson. Everybody gave Megistu the credit. He gave instructions that this level should be maintained—as always giving the impression that it was not

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he, but his subordinates, who were holding things up. After he left Assab, the level dropped back to its usual 2000 tons a day. Roads

In Ethiopia, 93 percent of transportation both of people and goods is by road, but the road network is terribly limited. Before the Revolution there were only 5.4 kilometers of road for every 1000 square kilometers. Shoa and Eritrea provinces have 40 percent of all the roads, although their combined areas are only 17 percent of the country’s total. Seven other provinces—Gojjam, Kaffa, Ilubabor, Bale, Wollegga, Arssi, and Gamu Gofa—make 35 percent of the country, but contain only 20 percent of the roads; this in a country of 42 million people with an area as big as France and Spain combined. Since the Revolution, there has been significant road construction. A total of 13,525 kilometers of improved roads (3,595 asphalt, 7,460 gravel, 2,470 rural unpaved) have been built compared to only 6,638 during the entire reign of Haile Selassie. Though there have been significant changes, Ethiopia still has the most backward road network on the African continent. The total road transport fleet available to us either by hiring or borrowing was 6,630 vehicles (not counting military trucks and trucks

owned by various government and non-governmental agencies). Spare parts were scarce, and at any given time the number of roadworthy trucks was only half that number; the rest were under repair or waiting for parts which had to be ordered from abroad under difficult foreign exchange regulations. The 800 trucks that the RRC owned outright were of 51 different makes from 20 different countries, adding to the complications in ordering parts. The donor community provided the RRC and voluntary agencies with 257 long-haul trucks (with about a 15 ton capacity); 805 short-haul trucks (about a 10 ton capacity); and additional light vehicles and shop equipment. The Germans and Italians were particularly helpful (see Chapter Five). The Americans, after long and intricate negotiations, brought in 80 trucks through the Catholic Relief Service which rented the trucks from Kenya. With the 210 long-haul and 400 short-haul trucks that the RRC already owned, these additions increased our trucking capacity tremendously. The 300 trucks received from the Soviet Union along with 600 Russian drivers had capacities of only 4 to 5 tons (essentially, they

were pick-up trucks), and therefore were used mostly within the settlement areas. The truck fleet was commanded by a senior Russian General. It was

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not easy to give him instructions; he had his own ideas about how to do things. He always moved trucks in convoys of 90. If 80 of the trucks were unloaded at the first stop, and the last 10 were unloaded 400 kilometers

away, the 80 empty trucks would follow the10 full ones for the entire distance. It was a clumsy way to handle an emergency. There was outside pressure in this area, also. The donors wanted to know why the government was not using the military to help in distribution. Hundreds of military trucks could be seen every day in areas where transport was badly needed. Donors felt the army should have been mobilized to reach the people. The regime had no interest whatsover in chaneling the army’s energies into the relief sector, but I had to pretend that they did. If donors could be made to believe the government was doing its best, they would continue to give assistance. Therefore, in several meetings with donor governments and agencies I simply lied, saying that military trucks were being used when they were not. In fact, military never had any time for the RRC. Their leaders always belittled our work and regarded the army as the true savior of the country.* My requests for military vehicles were never taken seriously. Iwould end up begging them to bring out a few trucks and a few soldiers for a couple hours, and we would rush around gathering reporters and donor representatives to witness the efforts of the Defense Ministry in the field of famine relief. After the shots were taken, the trucks would be sent back to their usual military jobs. The RRC even had to pay for the gas. Instead of helping our effort, funding got to be quite a financial burden. Still, this spectacle served its purpose: we were able to persuade donors that the military and the RRC were working side by side to save the people. The Makale Airlift

Throughout 1984 the region around Makale, the capital of Tigray province, was teeming with rebel activity. The only way to get relief supplies into the town was in a convoy of trucks defended by the army. In early October 1984 the military was too busy fighting the guerrillas to provide us with escorts. In spite of the outcry of both RRC officials and donor agencies, no food could get into Makale where 40-50,000 had gathered at the shelters of the RRC and Catholic Relief Service. We thought of flying in food, but the RRC’s old DC-3s had limited capacities. Ethiopia is one of the few places on earth where they are still used. We borrowed some planes from the air force, but since we had to pay for the *

Thasten to add that this was an institutionalized attitude, but certainly not the view of every individual in the army.

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fuel it became an extremely expensive operation. Catholic Relief Service held a meeting on October 8 with the Western ambassadors in Addis, begging them to exert whatever influence they could to meet the crisis in Makale. The ambassadors agreed and elected the Italian ambassador as their representative. He asked me to make the arrangements for him to see Mengistu. I had my own interests with respect to the Western diplomatic corps. This was before the Buerk/ Amin film and we were in desperate need of Western cooperation. If Mengistu would see just one Western ambassador, express gratitude for their aid and pledge to cooperate with them, it would send a message to the Western world and make my work that much easier. But the Italian ambassador wanted to lodge a protest, known diplomatically as a démarche, about the Makale situation. I couldn’t tell Mengistu he was coming to make a protest or he would have refused to see him; so instead, I told Mengistu that the ambassadors wanted to thank him for his efforts and pledge their continued support. Before the audience I warned the ambassador that when he brought up Makale, he should avoid mentioning the government's inability to operate in Tigray. They met, each with a different understanding of why the meeting was taking place. The ambassador was so tactful in expressing his concern for Makale that it was never taken as a protest. The audience went smoothly: there were no substantial decisions on sensitive issues, butit had a great impact on the Western ambassadors, who felt Mengistu had been swayed by their concern. The meeting also opened the way to rescue Makale by broaching the subject with Mengistu. Now that he was informed, further steps could be taken. It was this sort of game that had

to be played to get anything out of the Head of State. At this point David Korn, the American Chargé d'affaires, came to

me and said his government had authorized $100,000 to pay for fuel for a grain airlift from Asmara (outside Massawa) to Makale. I wanted to accept this offer at once, but hesitated, knowing it would create problems because the official position was that no area of Ethiopia was out of government control. I contacted the Minister of Defense, however, and

after a long discussion he agreed. On October 15 the shuttle began, using Ethiopian air force pilots in Soviet Antonov aircraft. The effort lasted for about a week with four or five airlifts a day. A couple of weeks later, when I was in the UN in New York, there

was a flurry of excitement over news of this operation. It was hailed as a model of international cooperation: Soviet aircraft, American fuel,

Ethiopian pilots, UNICEF food. It was almost amusing to watch this small incident become a headline-maker. It was sometimes so easy to raise the level of excitement and satisfy the donors and international

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public. Airdropping and Airlifting

It was the response to this incident that inspired me, and I suppose Kurt Jansson too, to organize an airdrop. Until then, the RRC and the voluntary agencies had been trying to reach the famine victims any way we could. We were sending muleteers with strings of as many as 50 donkeys, each loaded with half a quintel of grain, into the mountains. It

was the only way we had of getting food to some areas. In the 1974-1975 famine crisis I had been actively involved in experimenting with ways to drop food from airplanes. Major input came from the Swedish Air Relief team led by the famous Carl Gustaf von Rosen (later killed in a Somali attack in the Ogaden in 1977.) Count von Rosen was a daring man. He would fix bags of grain to the wings of his single-engine plane and in a risky low-altitude flight, drop the grain where it was needed. At the time this was called “food bombing.” Later, we devised a means of dropping greater quantities. We borrowed DC-3s from Ethiopian Airlines and the air force and dropped reinforced sacks of grain from 100 to150 feet. Even though much of it was scattered and spoiled on impact, we succeeded in saving many lives. In 1985, we had the airplanes and the experience, but we needed to decrease the wastage. We looked for new techniques. Kurt Jansson discussed the problem with the RAF and the German Luftwaffe. Both came up with new ideas, and when we were ready to test them we invited the Russians and the Polish to join in, to make it more dramatic for the

international public. The Russians had had some helicopter accidents a few weeks earlier and were reluctant to take part, but the Poles were ready for anything. The Belgian air force also joined in. For political and public relations reasons, we wanted Russian input, so I arranged for the Ethiopian air force to join in with its Soviet aircraft. Here is how it worked: The Polish helicopters identified the target areas and prepared the local population for the drop. The Ethiopian air force transported the grain and other materials to the terminal. The RAF or Luftwaffe picked it up and flew it to the drop targets. Grain was bagged and rebagged for strength in 25 and 35 kilogram bundles and placed on wooden pallets in the RAF and Luftwaffe planes. The pallets were set on rails fitted with small steel rollers so they could easily be pushed out of the plane. Kurt Jansson and I witnessed the first trial drop in northern Shoa. It was a dramatic sight. Even I, an ex-paratrooper, felt

uncomfortable as the plane dove to a mere 10 meters above the ground, dropped the bags, then shot up in a dizzying loop to a safer altitude. It

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was a daring exercise, which in the coming months became routine. The first drop was in January, and I left for Rome the next day. There I found that the FAO had released a press statement to the effect that it was the FAO that had organized a successful food airdrop program in Ethiopia called “Operation Saint Bernard.” They claimed this because a member of their staff, Staffan De Mistura, who had spent his leave in

Ethiopia, had taken an airdropping course in Sweden with Kurt Jansson. Not to take anything away from Mr. De Mistura, but several of my staff had taken similar courses in the United States and had actual experience in the 1974-75 Ethiopian airdrops. In London, the BBC gave the RAF all

the credit. In New York, the UN Emergency Office for Africa cited the UN as the chief organizer. German Radio claimed the glory for the Luftwaffe. Regardless of who was given the main credit, the airdrop served a useful purpose. It was perhaps the best example of close international cooperation in the entire famine operation. It was lauded around the world with stirring headlines like “East-West Work Together To Save Lives” and “International Mercy-Flights’—showing that in an emergency political differences can be overcome. It was one of the most satisfying times in my work at the RRC. A total of 11,579 tons of emergency food aid was dropped at eight different spots in inaccessible regions. The RAF spent $1.5 million a month on both airdropping and airlifting. The Luftwaffe spent $1.2 million a month. The cost was enormous, but everyone agreed that it was worth it, even though relatively few lives were saved.

Airlifting was a less risky operation which brought 113,771 tons of relief aid from Assab, Massawa, Djibouti and Addis Abeba to airstrips in

regions where delivery by road was either difficult or impossible. We had a huge fleet of aircraft from all over the world: two C-130s from the UK, 12 Antonovs and 24 helicopters from the Soviet Union, two C-1630s

from the Federal Republic of Germany, two C-382s from the United States, one IL 18 and three AN-26s from the German Democratic Republic, two G-222s from Italy, three AN-26s from Libya, two helicopters from Poland, and two from Belgium. In all we had 51 aircraft with 726 crew members, 500 of whom were from the Soviet Union. Not all of these planes performed equally. The US AID aircraft that stayed in Ethiopia for a year were among the most effective. The Italian planes were there only three months; and the Libyans, though there for a year, did practically nothing. The three GDR planes contributed significantly in ferrying food from the port of Assab to Dire Dawa or Addis. Later on they were asked to work on transporting settlers. The Russian transport planes and helicopters were definitely not used to capacity. It was irritating to see that the Soviet crew members

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were quite lazy and completely unmotivated by this human tragedy. They always started their shuttles late and ended them early. With their 12 giant Antonovs and 24 helicopters the Russians never moved nearly as muchas the RAF did with their two Hercules planes. Another problem was stealing. Pilfering of relief items and food supplies by Russian pilots and truck drivers was routine. They would steal crates of food or anything else they wanted for their own consumption. It was a shock for the people of Ethiopia to see how poorly the Russians responded to our great need. It was also terribly damaging to

the regime, which was broadcasting our great friendship with the Soviet Union every day. It was an embarrassment to the Party to see these Soviet crews stealing food from famine victims, indifferent to the lives being lost. Although it was hushed up, it was the sort of news that spread throughout the capital by word of mouth, the kind of story that carries more weight and does more damage than the official line. It wasa terrible blow to the prestige of the Soviet Union, whether they knew it or not. The RAF crews did a tremendous job. They made the maximum number of shuttles, and they all worked diligently loading and unloading the cargoes. They were a remarkable group of dedicated men and earned everyone’s admiration. The Belgian transport pilots and particularly the Polish helicopter crews also did a terrific job. Inaccessibility Due to the Civil War

Of all the problems the relief agencies faced, the most critical was that three million people could not be reached because of the civil wars or lack of road communication. In Wollo 25 percent of the country was out of reach because of guerrilla activity. Another 30 percent was

inaccessible due to the lack of roads. In both cases the starvation victims tried to walk to the nearest relief center. A rough estimate would be that 75 percent of the total affected population of Wollo managed to get some sort of assistance; perhaps 15 percent from the war zones and 20 percent from the roadless areas managed to make it to relief centers. In Gondar the situation was more serious. 20 percent of the affected population was inaccessible by road and over 30 percent were in the war zone. Many, including the Falashas, crossed the border into the Sudan. Tigray was the worst of all. We reached less than 40 percent of the affected population because of the wars and lack of roads. I don’t know how many people in areas under rebel control were served by REST, the relief agency of the TPLF, but I understand that many received aid from them. Thousands fled across the border into the Sudan, where they faced considerable suffering because of a lack of resources, disorganization of

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relief agencies, and the mismanagement of the Sudanese government under Nimeiry (ousted in a military coup in April 1985) and his successor. Drought and civil war were equally serious in Eritrea. The northernmost part of the province was virtually inaccessible both because of fighting and the lack of roads. Only 60 percent of the highland areas were served by us, and in the lowlands, only the cities of Tessenei, Barentu,

Keren, and Agordat. But Eritrea was much better off than all the other provinces in terms of availability and distribution of supplies. The road network was better than in any other province. Eritrea had a port all to itself, Massawa, which handled 15 percent of all national shipping. Eritreans, also, were on the whole more diligent and creative, thereby

lessening the impact of the drought. There were no shelters in Eritrea, only distribution centers. The only shelter we had in Eritrea was for former guerrillas who decided to lay down their arms; they were given a three month orientation and sent home. The Role of the Press

At the RRC, we were always on the alert for what the international media was saying about Ethiopia. Our press room took in papers and radio reports from all over the world, and we felt every praise or criticism. The press played a key role in alerting the world to the catastrophe and then in sustaining global interest throughout 1985. For that they deserve our gratitude. But there were other aspects of their role that left me with mixed feelings. The press always looks for the sensational. The ordinary is not news, so something extraordinary has to be dug up—or, for the more unscrupulous, fabricated. The result for us was that only the exceptional,

sensational incidents in our country were given world coverage. These isolated incidents came to define Ethiopia for the international community and brought a distorted picture of the relief program to the world public. The press corps was constantly around me. I saw the need of keeping them informed and answering their questions, but at the same time I had to be careful not to get into trouble with the Politburo. The possibility of being miquoted or quoted out of context was frightening; when that happened, the consequences for the RRC were very grave. Sometimes it seemed I couldn’t say anything without either the international community or the regime taking offense. The RRC was a very delicate position, for in effect Ethiopian foreign relations had begun to orbit around my office. The regime never gave me any specific instructions, they never

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told me what to say, but they expected the press to put Ethiopia in good light. If it did not, it was my fault. I was literally caught in the middle. The Politburo didn’t understand how the international press operated—and the press never understood my predicament in relation to the regime. There were hundreds of reporters in the country at any given time, all trying to scoop one another. At every shelter you would see journalists, and particularly cameramen, hovering over the most miserable of the victims, angling in for the shot that would sell. They were like vultures waiting for death to strike so they could swoop down and capture it on film for world viewing. It filled me with disgust. The shelters became meat markets, with cameramen going up and down the rows of famine vicims, carefully selecting only the most miserable, then waiting for their last breath before filming. It was very difficult for us to watch this, even though we knew that the world needed the pictures in order to continue to respond. Seeing people robbed of a dignified death by the intrusions of journalists was more than some of us could stand. On several occasions I angered reporters by demanding to know why they were degrading these poor, helpless human souls.

The best journalists didn’t need to degrade the people in order to make a headline back home. For these men and women, the realities in Ethiopia supplied enough genuine, heartfelt stories. Among the many I worked with closely I would like to mention Clifford May of the New York Times, David Ottaway of the Washington Post, Jonathan Steele of the Guardian, Michael Wooldridge and Michael Buerk of the BBC, Charles Stewart of Central Television, Hannah Gaddatch of German TV, and

John Edlen of the Associated Press. These are people for whom] have the deepest respect, because they covered the Ethiopian crisis with objectivity, honesty and compassion. The Voluntary Agencies

Working with the variety of voluntary agencies we had in Ethiopia in 1984 and 1985 was not an easy job. Even though they all had common objectives, our task of coordinating their activities and complying with their requests took enormous energy. Very few of them understood our problems or objectives. The RRC’s main concern was to strengthen local ability and enable each community to cope with hardship on its own. The RRC also had to assert its control and leadership over the entire relief operation and rehabilitation program. But most of the voluntary agencies had only limited objectives. They offered aid as they saw fit, according to their own information and interests. Most of them tended to forget that they were operating in a

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foreign country under a sovereign government with its own rules and regulations. They also tended to forget that there were other men and women in Ethiopia more knowledgable and experienced than any of them. This condescending attitude was especially prevalent among the more recent arrivals. Far too many of them came to us with a selfrighteous attitude that made working with them a highly irritating experience. Most of them meant well, buta bit more humility would have

gone a long way. We were sometimes forced to remind them of a few realities: that a government existed that dictated strict policies and made sure they were adhered to; that they were not here to change these policies or give the slightest impression that they were trying to do so; that the RRC was the government agency coordinating relief efforts, with the final say in determining priorities and needs; and that we knew what was needed. What was needed was skilled manpower, facilities, relief items, doctors,

nutritionists, engineers—not novices in relief operations to tell us what to do in areas where we had years of knowledge and experience. Organizations with experience operating in Ethiopia were more considerate. They respected our abilities and treated us with a certain deference. Unfortunately, as the famine worsened, many organizations changed their Ethiopian directors and personnel for new staff with more outside experience in relief. That was a mistake. What was needed was not experience in other countries, but experience in Ethiopia; what was needed was a living relationship with the people, an understanding of how the political system operated, and how people reacted to it. Many experienced workers were replaced at this crucial juncture. Donor governments gave most of their relief through voluntary agencies for several reasons: they wanted to keep the Ethiopian government at a distance because of its questionable credibility; they did not want to directly support a Marxist regime; and they wanted to assure their own publics that assistance was not being diverted to other sectors like the military. This was unfortunate from the RRC’s standpoint, because it deprived us of resources we needed and undermined our power to control the entire operation. In addition, the abilities of the voluntary agencies varied. Some of them had no experience at all in such a huge, complex relief operation. They had trouble handling the amount of money pouring into their treasuries and organizing effective staffs in the field. Voluntary agencies were best equipped to manage small, specialized programs—feeding, nutrition, medical training. Now they were being thrust into situations that could only be handled through national planning. I was constantly forced to counter moves from donors and voluntary agencies trying to usurp the RRC’s responsibilities.

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Our authority was under fire froma second front as well. While I was trying to build up our influence, the Politburo was trying to tear it down, constantly attempting to limit the autonomy of the RRC. The government never trusted the voluntary agencies. They were looked upon as either imperialist agents or religious organizations that dampened the militant spirit of the people. The voluntary agencies never understood this. Most of them believed that the government welcomed their presence and was grateful for their assistance. In fact, most of the voluntary agencies that came to Ethiopia during the crisis of 1984-1985 were invited by the RRC without the approval of the regime. Once they were inside the government was reluctant to expel them because of the damage it would do to the already precarious image of Ethiopia. But if it ever found any excuse at all, the regime never hesitated to order individuals or even entire agencies out. My task became that of defending the voluntary agencies, and at the same time advising them to exercise restraint in what they said and did. I asked them to be especially cautious in the kind of people they brought into Ethiopia. At one time World Vision alone brought in an additional 120 foreign staff members, most of them from the United States. The Ethiopia Hotel was taken over exclusively by them for a few days. Many more foreigners came through CRDA. To the hardliners of the Politburo it seemed that Ethiopia was being overrun by foreigners. Another bone of contention was employment practices. Many foreigners were brought in for jobs that could easily have been handled by Ethiopians for less than one-fifth the salary. When my colleagues and I tried to change this, we were called xenophobic and accused of not wanting foreigners in our country. Sometimes we were blackmailed: there would be no aid unless we admitted a certain number of foreign staff workers. This was difficult to take, but the RRC was ina corner; we

did not dare force the foreigners to leave the country even when we knew they were redundant. Instead, we required all voluntary agencies employing foreigners to prove that qualified Ethiopians were not available for the jobs. In a meeting with the voluntary agencies I tried to explain our position. [asked them why they were bringing in purchasers, administrative assistants, drivers, secretaries, and basic technicians when

they were here in this country in abundance? If the goal of the voluntary agencies was to help Ethiopians, why not take it this extra step? Why draw the line at famine victims? Giving Ethiopians these jobs was equally important. We were also accused of anti-foreign bias in regard to doctors. The Ministry of Public Health required a license and proof of qualifications

before it allowed any foreign doctor to come into the country and

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practice. Some outsiders thought this was an outrage. They said that Ethiopia was refusing help by setting up these requirements—a ridiculous charge. The Minister of Public Health told me: “Ethiopians are not guinea pigs. If foreign doctors want to help, we must be assured they have valid qualifications. We can’t have every person who claims to be a doctor coming in and causing more problems than we already have.” This was obvious, but some failed to understand it. Some voluntary agencies had vested interests or other agendas. Those affiliated with a religious sect often felt their primary purpose was to bring their religion to our people. They distributed Bibles and pamphlets and preached in the shelters. The victims in their shelters became,

in effect, their flock; the surrounding area their parish. This aggravated the relationship between the agenciesand the government. Somemembers of voluntary agencies were caught red-handed condemning the Marxist regime or harboring people who had spoken out against the Marxist

ideology. This provoked the regime, which was trying to eliminate all religious practice in the country, and places of worship were forcibly closed because of the missionary work of the voluntary agencies. In March 1985 close to 700 places of worship connected with Western sects were closed down by government decree in the Southern provinces of Sidamo and Shoa. Many clergymen, priests and even worshippers were arrested and put in jail. Norwegian Church Aid, a Lutheran agency operating in these areas, complained bitterly, but what could they expect

in a strict Marxist state? It was annoying for the RRC because we had warned the voluntary agencies about their missionary work before they came in, and this sort of thing only made our job of defending them more difficult. Consciously or unconsciously, voluntary agencies divided the country into spheres of influence. The American Catholic Relief Service was interested more in the troubled northern regions of Eritrea and Tigray. UK Save the Children had Korem and the surrounding area of Wello;

Oxfam UK took other parts of Wello; the Lutherans were mostly involved in Southwestern Ethiopia; World Vision was generally in the North; World University Service of Canada (WUS) and CARE from the United States were in Harar. Some agencies developed strong attachments to their areas, which became their special realms. Save the Children had been operating for so long in the Koremarea that it was difficult to make the individual workers understand that at times Korem might not have national priority for certain supplies. If supplies were diverted to other needy areas, the agencies would sometimes try to pull strings. Save the Children would call London, CRS would call Washington, the Red Cross would call Geneva—and before we knew it, it would be world

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news. One more condemnation for the RRC and the government. There was also some friction between the various voluntary agencies. The differences were seldom brought to our attention, but in the regular discussions the agencies held at CRDA, they were clearly manifested. In the field one could see some conflicts among the agencies: CRS and Oxfam didn’t get along, nor did World Vision and Irish Concern, nor did the Lutherans and the Catholics. But to their credit, their squabbles never affected their operations. The RRC’s insistence on closing down shelters once they had served their purpose became a problem for some foreign workers. As far as the RRC was concerned, the establishment of shelters was always a last resort; after they were established the tendency to make them permanent places of residence had to be resisted. It was our experience that people who had recovered from malnutrition sometimes didn’t want to go home. They tended to feel more secure and comfortable in the shelters than in the uncertain, gruelling labor of tilling their land. We couldn’t afford to be soft on this issue, however: we had to take a tough stance and send people back. Otherwise the country would never recover, and the people’s sense of self-sufficiency would disappear for good. Some volunteers didn’t understand this and refused to cooperate with us in closing shelters. Work in the shelters had been the most fulfilling event in their lives; it had been exciting, a learning experience, and they regretted giving it up and going back to their usual jobs. It was too soon, they said; always too soon. This presented a tricky problem, because the world was always ready to pounce on any semi-credible report of abuse. The RRC was forced into a defensive posture time and time again. Sending people home from the shelters was done with great caution, through extensive negotiations to avoid any extreme reactions from foreigners. Cholera

Cholera swept through most of the drought areas and several urban centers, including Addis, in both the 1974 and 1984-1985 famines. Both

times there was an attempt to cover up the outbreak, even to the extent of giving the disease a different name. It was a matter of pride: cholera means inadequate sanitation, the sign of a backward country, and this

was too brutal a reality for the ruling circle of Ethiopia to face. There was also the more practical problem of avoiding quarantine against Ethiopian exports, particularly coffee. As it was, there was still a problem in exporting our lamb, beef, vegetables, and hides to countries like Saudi Arabia that knew of the existence of cholera.

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The effects of cholera are ghastly to see. Its symptoms are violent vomiting and diarrhea, caused by contaminated drinking water. Death is caused by dehydration. As much as 12 liters of fluids may be lost in 24 hours. The skin becomes leathery, the body goes into shock, and death comes rapidly. Children are the main victims. Cholera is always a danger in disaster situations where people are forced together in shelters. Only educating the people on prevention can really stop its spread; that is why making it public is so important. In the 1974 famine, the Ministry of Public Health denied the existence of cholera calling it instead “gastro-enteritis C.” In 1985 doctors working with the RRC, the Ministry of Public Health, and WHO

officials all

confirmed the cholera epidemics in the shelters; they recommended that it be made public to alert the people to take precautions and the international community to send more medical supplies. Mengistu read our reports and denounced them as sabotage. We had to coin a different name for the ailment: “Acute diarrhea” is what we came up with. It was ridiculous. As in 1974, everybody knew the euphemism meant cholera, and instead of saving the government from embarrassment, it only made us look foolish. Cholera eventually found its way into major urban areas such as Addis, claiming the lives of thousands throughout 1985. Fortunately the 48 international agencies flew in substantial medical supplies including tons of IVs that saved many who otherwise would surely have died. Ibinet and the Falashas

The Gondar region has always been of particular interest to visiting US Senators and congressional delegations because of the Falashas, Ethiopian Jews who live in the small community of Ibinet in this province. Even when there was no other reason to squeeze this region into their tight schedule, American delegations would insist on visiting the Falashas. The Falashas practice a unique version of Judaism and have always been of interest to Jews. They are primarily peasants and artisans, particularly potters, a far-from-prestigious occupation in highland Ethiopia where handicrafts are looked down upon. The Falashas are oppressed both because they are not Christians and because of their “lowly” profession. Frequent visits by outsiders have caused them to wonder what is so special about them. Many Jews and Israelis visited them and built schools and synagogues among them to educate them about their origins in Palestine. This confused the Falashas who had always considered themselves Africans, and specifically, Ethiopians.

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Some Jewish visitors stressed the fact that the Falashas were dis-

criminated against. This was true, but several other groups had similar problems. I believed that it was wrong to single out any group for special attention. I have always discouraged reverse discrimination, which I find morally wrong and politically vicious because it undermines the unity of Ethiopia. Yet I certainly did not want the Falashas to be denied assistance. Imade my views clear when]

invited a Jewish organization, the Joint

Distribution Committee, to operate in Ethiopia. A previous Jewish organization had been expelled because their “undesirable activities” were said to have promoted only the Jewish cause without regard to Ethiopia’s interest. Therefore, my agreement with JDC was cautious. I told them that they would be welcome to operate in the Gondar region on the condition that there would be no foreign staff permanently residing in Gondar, and that their assistance would not be limited to the Falashas but would encompass the entire community.

Ibinet was a shelter in Gondar near the Tigray border. In the first months of 1985, the population of the Ibinet shelter increased dramati-

cally as famine and war simultaneously worsened in the region. In addition to the RRC, many voluntary agencies were helping the 60,000 people in the shelter: World Vision, Irish Concern, Catholic Relief

Service, the Mennonites, and the Red Cross. Their activities became the subject of scrutiny from regional Party officials. The Party Chief in Gondar, Melaku Teferra, was notorious for arbitrary brutality, particularly during the period of the Red Terror. In the past few years he had tried to exercise some restraint and change his image, but without much success. Melaku caused most of the problems at Ibinet. He was paranoid, and his reactions to events were excessive and violent. Instead of trying to find non-provocative ways to prevent subversive activities, he chose head-on confrontations, antagonizing not only the foreigners but also the RRC’s relief workers. Gondar was his kingdom. He never wanted any of our officials to come there. He didn’t want the voluntary agencies to operate there. If he’d had things his own way, he would have closed the door to everyone and let the peasants starve rather than lose one bit of control. When US Senators Deconcini and Trible visited the Gondar region in February 1985, one such confrontation occurred. From the start the

delegation was not welcomed by Melaku, and Ifinally had to tell him that they were going to come whether he liked it or not. The Deputy Administrator for the region and the local RRC representative greeted the group and showed them around; and at the end of what everybody

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believed was a useful visit, there was a reception ata local hotel in honor of the delegation. Melaku stayed away until the Senators left. Then, drunk and enraged with the presence of these outsiders in his realm, he burst through the back door of the hotel and watched while his bodyguards beat up the three Ethiopians who had accompanied the American delegation from Addis. Melaku beat up one of the men himself. The next day as they were leaving for Addis, the Senators heard about the incident from one of the victims. It was obvious from his swollen face that he had been beaten. The Senators were outraged at this barbaric behavior and angrily protested Melaku’s action during a previously-scheduled visit with Berhanu Bayih, one of the hardline faction of the Politburo. After they left his office, Berhanu called Melaku, who

denied everything. Berhanu then called my Deputy Commissioner and instructed him to tell the American delegation that they were liars and that their attempt to spoil the image of the Revolution had failed. After telling me all this, the Deputy Commissioner, Berhane Deressa, met with both the RRC representative and the security officer who

had been beaten up in order to find out what really happened. The Minister of Public Security, Tesfaye, was angry at what Melaku had done

to his man; and unlike other times when he had hushed up wrongdoings, this time he told his man to tell the truth. When we finally got to the bottom of things, I told the victims to tell their story to Berhanu Bayih. He was surprised, but refused to extend an apology to the Americans. The RRC did it for him. This was the erratic sort of person the RRC was dealing with at Ibinet. Melaku’s insolent manner and brutal actions were condoned by the ruling circle. The donors and foreign relief workers were not making it easy for us, either. Ibinet was getting more and more crowded and hard to manage. Ibinet was near the area of heavy rebel activity, and I was hearing from the Party office and the administrator in Gondar that they suspected subversive activities in the camp; that Ibinet was being used as a staging ground for anti-Ethiopian and anti-revolutionary propaganda; that rebels had infilitrated the camp; that the TPLF, EPLF, and

EDU were using relief rations for their forces. I was told by Melaku that the RRC should dismantle the camp. In all honesty, there was some justification in this. Ibinet was becoming unwieldy. There were too many organizations operating in one area; there were a large number of foreigners for whom the RRC was accountable; voluntary agencies were taking things into their own hands, building more sheds, more clinics and demanding that more facilities be

diverted here. Assistance was being distributed without proper screening of eligibility, and too many people were being admitted to intensive

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care shelters. I would have prefered that relief be more evenly distributed over the region; as it was, other shelters were suffering because of all the attention Ibinet was demanding. Because the Falashas were there, every Western and particularly every American delegation wanted to see Ibinet; and the agencies wanted to be there so their presence would be recognized and more assistance would be channeled through them. Even in the midst of famine, even though they were charity organizations, it was a matter of prestige. It was difficult to win any arguments with voluntary agencies on such sensitive matters. They always felt we were in the wrong. In the RRC, as I have explained, we were constantly worried about rehabilitation. We wanted to get people back on their feet, back on their farms, looking after themselves again. We began screening to separate those who were strong enough to leave so that we could encourage them to go home and start working their land. The meher season would be here in June and we hoped that at last there would be enough rain for a harvest. We began stockpiling farm implements, seed, and rations for the returning families Some people were finding the shelters more comfortable than their homes, but we knew that many would willingly go home if all of us at Ibinet agreed on the plan. Otherwise it would be too late again this season. More massive aid would be needed from foreign donors and our problems would be endless.

I was in Addis, returning to my office from a May Day rally, when I heard a BBC radio report of a forced evacuation from the Ibinet shelter. The way the report was worded, it sound as if the army had invaded the shelter and forced all 60,000 starvation victims to flee at gunpoint. One

report said the shelter had been burned to the ground. The man who broke the story was Blaine Harden, a young enthusiastic reporter for the

Washington Post. At that time he had not yet traveled outside the capital, but had been told of the disbandment of the camp at Ibinet by a returning US AID staff member. Reporting from the Hilton Hotel, Harden painted a ghastly portrait of what he had not seen. It made the front page of the Washington Post on the first of May. It was picked up by hundreds of newspapers and radio and TV stations around the world. From the afternoon of May 1 through May 3, my secretary received 44 international calls, some from as far away as Iceland and Pakistan. The world reaction was incredible; anger and hatred toward our

government rose to new heights. What bothered me was, first, that the account was based on half-truths; and second, that the RRC and its

dedicated staff members were being blamed. The RRC was always equated with the government in these cases and had to bear the brunt of the hatred.

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Kurt Jansson was as disturbed as I was. This was the kind of incident

that could jeopardize the entire relief operation by causing the Western governments to withhold support. We decided to go the next day and see for ourselves what had happened. Before we left, I called Melaku and asked him to explain. In his usual insolent manner he denied any wrongdoing. He claimed that 20,000 people had left with rations for their farms, that no force had been used, that over 30,000 were still in the camp,

and that the camps had not been burned. I told him to tell me the truth, that if need be we could cover up the mistakes together, but that I had to know the truth to do that. He insisted that this was the truth. We took BBC correspondent Mike Wooldridge, Mr. Shawcross of the London Observer, and a member of the American embassy staff with us. Blaine Harden wanted to go, but I was furious with him and refused to take him. What infuriated me was the irresponsible way he had handled the story. He didn’t check the authenticity of the report; he didn’t think

about what it would mean for the RRC. He knew nothing about Ethiopia, and seemed to be out for a story at any cost. I spoke with Deputy Foreign Minister Tibebu before we left. He had been ordered by Mengistu to deny everything point blank. I knew something was not right from Melaku’s manner and his past history, so I told Tibebu to wait until after my return with the facts before he denied anything. But he didn’t wait. While we were on our way to Ibinet he blasted the international community according to Mengistu’s orders, accusing them of fabricating lies to discredit the government and the Revolution. After picking up Melaku in Gondar City we flew by helicopter to Ibinet. When we approached the shelter area I could see scorched, blackened earth. It was clear that there had been a big fire. Iwas shocked. I turned to Melaku and demanded to know what this meant. He sullenly mumbled some excuse. The reporters were excited, they were really getting their money’s worth. When we landed the shelter was in chaos. Melaku had pre-assigned people to speak to the reporters and give them his version of events. He didn’t know that we were going to talk to everyone, including the foreign relief workers and the Ethiopian people left in the camp. The reporters went everywhere with us and we finally got to the truth. What we learned is this: It was, in fact, on Melaku’s specific order

that the shelter had been closed. The shelter areas themselves—that is, the permanent compounds, the wards for the intensive care patients, and the warehouses—were not burned. The evidence of burning we had seen was the squatters’ shantytown around the camp, where 20,000 people had been living in straw huts. The people had been given 15-day rations

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and ordered to leave. The huts were burned so that the people would not come back. There were no people killed, but some had been beaten up and injured. It was not the regular Ethiopian army that had cleared the camp; it was the peasant militia which had been guarding the camp. There was no extensive violence done to the people, they simply left as ordered. Melaku had committed serious crimes. He had ordered the closure of the shelter by force, rather than leaving it to the RRC’s policy of encouragement. The rations given to the people who left were too small to sustain them on their farms. They were not given farming tools, seeds,

medicine and other supplies. He had sent people off who were too sick to survive the several days’ walk to their homes, in effect dooming them to death. These things were serious enough in themselves, but Blaine Harden’s report was needlessly exaggerated. He had said that “Ethio-

pian army troops herded more than 50,000 famine victims” out of Ibinet (Washington Post, May 1, 1985). It was not the Ethiopian army, it was not the correct number of people, and he neglected to add that they had been given food. The Post followed up the story on May 2, 3, 4, 8,9, 10, 11, and

June 2. Other major newspapers and TV stations in Europe and North America followed suit. It made things more difficult for the RRC and the people, because it made every official in Ethiopia look like a criminal at a time when we still needed millions of dollars worth of aid. This particular incident was not done without encouragement from Melaku’s superiors, particularly Legesse who had given him specific instructions to raid the camp. He was however afraid to implicate them for fear of antagonizing men who had covered up his past crimes. Melaku had actually been ordered to do more than he did. His original instructions were to organize a raid and make it look like a TPLF attack.

In the process he was told to have one member of a voluntary agency killed to scare them off. Melaku didn’t do that. He was not a good organizer and the clumsy, bungling result was an embarrassment to everyone concerned everybody. The world wanted Mengistu to acknowledge that Ibinet had been a terrible error, but Melaku was Mengistu’s man and Mengistu made light of the whole thing. He said it was done in good faith; that it was only another politically motivated attack by the Western media disguised as concern for human rights. I pressed Mengistu to admit that it wasa tragic mistake, but with no success. Kurt Jansson, who felt most of the interna-

tional pressure, insisted on seeing Mengistu. Mengistu reluctantly agreed to a meeting when I told him that things would not cool off unless he explained. I took Jansson to Mengistu on May 6, and Mengistu did in fact admit

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that a mistake had been made by the local officials. Jansson was quick, and asked if he could repeat that to the press. Mengistu agreed. I was as surprised as Jansson was. That same evening Jansson held a press conference and announced that Mengistu had admitted his mistake and apologized. The West was more or less satisfied with that and the incident was over. Mengistu said that the people responsible would be punished, but none ever were. Melaku was sent to Moscow for rest and medical treatment, and many thought he had been dismissed and punished, but he was soon back to resume his harrassment. The Role of the UN

The coordinated efforts of the RRC and the donor community were

successful in famine relief partly because of the role of the UN Emergency Office and its leader, Kurt Jansson. Kurt knew a great deal about relief work from his days as UN coordinator in Kampuchea. He would

always refer to the Kampuchean crisis as a “picnic” compared to the incredibly complex operation in Ethiopia. For myself and my colleagues during the 1984-1985 crisis, this slim, elderly man personified the UN system. But it was not the fact that he carried the authority of the UN that made him impressive, it was hisown

personality. People respected him for who he was, not what he represented. Jansson was nota flamboyant man; he was always very serious, rarely joking or even smiling. He was there to do a job. He was a veteran international civil servant, not in the least officious, but warm and very friendly, a modest individual; in short, everything that senior UN

officials usually were not. Like Mother Theresa, he had his own way of getting things done: gently, but with a firmness that made him difficult to refuse. I felt we complemented each other well. I tended to be very pushy, always quick to react, and outspoken in my views. When I felt pressure I couldn’t waste time with diplomacy. Kurt's calm, deliberate style was invaluable when I pushed too hard. For the RRC, he was in an extremely important position. He had the difficult responsibility of acting as liason between the government and the donors. When I made requests of the Politburo, they might doubt my motives, claim I was trying to embarrass them, or simply say that as a member of Central Committee I knew the political priorities and should not even have asked. But when Kurt Jansson went to them, they took his

demands seriously. Every time Jansson met with Mengistu, the off-take capacity at the ports would go up fora day or two. He enjoyed the respect

of the Head of State, and his requests were always promptly answered.

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He had to manage the donors too. Donor governments—particularly the United States, Great Britain, Germany, and Sweden—tended to

politicize issues with me. Since I represented the government, considered less than credible. Kurt Jansson’s interests were seenas humanitarian and his motives were never questioned. In donor ings, Kurt was always by my side to support our requests. I tended

I was solely meetto talk alot, trying to overcome donors’ suspicions and justify my requests. Kurt Jansson spoke much less and to greater effect. He would check on

allegations of wrongdoing, and if he was convinced the government was right, he would go out of his way to support us. We cherished his support and tried to give him honest reports; he was our safety line and we did not want him tangled in any inconsistencies. Sometimes it was easier for the donors to complain to him about sensitive problems rather than to bring them to my attention and cause us embarrassment. Behind Kurt Jansson there were two important figures at the UN Emergency Office on Africa in New York: Bradford Morse and Maurice Strong. I believe they were given more time to concentrate on other areas of Africa because the Ethiopian crisis was handled so well by Kurt Jansson.

The appointment of Kurt Jansson asa special UN representative and coordinator would have been unnecessary if an existing office, UNDRO (UN Disaster Relief Organization), had had the institutional capacity and the trust of the Secretary-General. The UNDP regional representative in Addis was unhappy about the appointment of Kurt Jansson; he officially complained to me and expressed his anger and disillusionment with the UN system. He believed that he and his agency were fully capable of handling the relief operation. The RRC had to be very careful in dealing with these two UN agencies. During donors’ conferences, I had to be sure that the UNDP representative always got to sit next to me and Kurt Jansson.

It would also have been appropriate for the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UN ECA) to get involved in such an important matter concerning the continent. In November 1983 this agency forecast that 150 million Africans would be in serious need of food for survival, and in

March 1984 the Secretary-General appointed Mr. Adebayo Adedeji, Executive Secretary of the UN ECA, as his special representative for the African crisis. Since I was in charge of the crisis in Ethiopia, expected Mr. Adedeji to meet with me. I never saw him throughout the crisis, nor did anyone else on my staff. The only time he visited the affected areas was when Secretary-General Perez de Cuellar came to Ethiopia. He never asked how his agency could help. Neither he nor his staff attended any of the donors’ conferences in 1984 and 1985. I don’t know what he did in

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other parts of Africa, but his record in Ethiopia left much to be desired.

The RRC Staff

One of the most painful aspects of leaving Ethiopia was leaving behind all the wonderful, dedicated people of the RRC staff. Ican’t say enough about them; they were simply great people to work with. My deputies, Taye Gurmu and Berhane Deressa, were two of the best men Ihave ever known. Taye was a development expert and mostly involved in the rehabilitation projects. Whenever I was away he assumed the total responsibility of the Addis office. Reports from his previous office said he had a bad temper at times, but in the RRC he showed incredible patience throughout the crisis and performed his job with great dedication. Berhane was in charge of coordinating international aid. Having served in the foreign office for over 20 years, he was an accomplished diplomat. He was eloquent and calm, a terrific colleague to have by your side. He handled many of the important visitors and most of the complaints from the donor governments and voluntary agencies. He usually stayed in the office until midnight, but was always fresh in the morning. A true patriot and a distinguished civil servant, he kept his distance from politics. Because of the same pressures I was subjected to, he was forced to leave the country a few months after me. The various department heads and their staffs; the enthusiastic

people in the audio-visual section and in the relief department; the truck drivers from the transportation division; all the regional representatives and their staffs who worked around the clock in the shelters and distribution centers—all are people I will remember and miss for as long as I live. For me, the real heroes of the Ethiopian crisis were the 17,000

employees of the RRC. Notes te Chapter 7 1. The Washington Post, December 1, 1985.

2. UN WHO Document. 3. Stephanie Simmonds, WHO representative in the United Nations Emergency Office. 4. Henze, 87.

A Historical Reflection on Famine in Ethiopia Let us pause here and ask a fundamental question: Why did this famine occur? Why in the 1980s, with all our technological advances, were seven million dying of hunger? Why were people starving when farmers in other parts of the world are paid not to grow more grain? The answer is twofold: the natural environment and government policies. Nature can cause a food shortage, but it is often the reaction of society to that shortage that creates a famine. This chapter examines the

reactions of past rulers to food shortages in Ethiopia. One of the gifts of history is that it can teach us what may happen through what has happened; thus a community can learn from past mistakes. Despite obvious patterns and lessons from the past, however, neither the regime nor the world community were (or are today) prepared to meet the

effects of full-scale famine in Ethiopia. Our history is filled with terrible famines, all comparable to the latest one because life for rural Ethiopians has changed so little over the centuries. To understand famine in Ethiopia, it is necessary to understand how the peasants live; and above all, to bear in mind that in this

part of the world there has always been famine. Life for the Average Ethiopian

Only five percent of the Ethiopian population is urban. The vast majority of Ethiopians have always supported themselves through

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subsistence farming or by raising cattle, sheep, or goats. They live on the edge of survival; their methods and their lives are primitive. Each family grows or raises what it consumes. The chief source of power is the draft ox; in some parts of Ethiopia, the camel is used for plowing. Many farmers have to borrow or rent oxen because they are too poor to possess their own. Wealth in the pastoral regions is measured in cattle, valued not for their meat, but for their potential as a source of oxen.

The daily work is quite strenuous. The peasants expend a great deal of energy, but even in the best of times they never have much to eat;

consequently they are often undernourished. There are many lean years when harvests are poor, and there is always the threat that a crop could fail completely, affecting not just a few scattered individuals as in the Western world, but entire communities or even entire provinces. Severe

famine is, and has always been, within the living memory of every village. The ultimate irony is that even if nature is kind and harvests are good, the peasants’ lives remain unaffected: they gain nothing from their best years because they are not allowed to accumulate wealth, evenin the form of food stores. In times of plenty the state, church, or landlords have always stepped in to seize the surplus, leaving the peasants just enough to scrape by until the next harvest. For the subsistence farmer, regardless of the harshness or benevolence of the physical environment, there are no good years. This has been the pattern of existence in Ethiopia for centuries. The peasants’ survival is so precarious that the least break in the pattern threatens them with shortages and hunger. Once that shortage is upon them, it is the government that will determine the degree of suffering, either helping or hindering the effects of famine. Whether the masses starve or survive depends both on preventive steps before, and effective measures after, the onset of trouble. Early Famines

Ethiopia’s written history dates from the early middle ages, when droughts and plagues of natural pests such locusts, caterpillars, or rats were the most common causes of crop failure. Historical portrayals of famine-stricken regions could easily have been describing the scene in

1984. An observer writing of the northern famine of 1625-6 describes once thriving farmlands left utterly barren, “as if someone had put fire toit” and starving peasants who “looked more like exhumed people than live ones because all their bones showed on them.” In those days Ethiopians who were spared the effects of deprivation

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sold their possessions to aid the starving, and the Emperor gave food and cloth to the refugees on many occasions. The Ethiopian people regarded the Emperor as their natural benefactor. His role, from ancient times until the Revolution, was one of father to his people; he was, in the minds of

the peasants, a sacred personage, the Elect of God by virtue of his descent from King Solomon. This wasa role taken seriously by the Emperors, and by none more so than by Menelik a century ago, during the most devastating famine up to that time. The Famine of 1888-1892

This famine was extraordinary both in its extent and its origins. The recently formed Italian nation, joining the rush for an African empire,

had chosen Ethiopia as a likely prize. They were already wresting ports from the empire along the coast of Eritrea, where in 1887 they landed a shipload of cattle at Massawa. Unknown to anyone, the cattle were

infected with the highly contagious rinderpest (cattle plague) which spread with deadly effect over the entire Horn of Africa. By 1890, fully 90 percent of the cattle and oxen in the country were dead. This disaster multiplied, for deprived of their oxen, peasants were too demoralized or weakened from chronic malnourishment to prepare their fields with hoes. Beginning in 1888, a large percentage of land lay fallow and the famine began. In the pastoral regions, it was even worse. Food had always been obtained by trading animals and hides. Wealth was calculated in herds, which now were exterminated overnight. There were suicides among the once-rich herdsmen. To make matters worse, the rinderpest was coupled with several years of severe drought and devastating invasions of locusts and caterpillars. From 1888 through 1892, grain became scarce, prices rose to astronomical heights, and people began to starve in great numbers. Martini, an Italian who later became Governor of Eritrea, records frightening images which could have been taken from any of the RRC shelters a century later: The dead awaited the hyenas, the living awaiting death. From a thicket issued a thin murmur of voices ... We are acccosted for help, and from their death beds suddenly rises a mob of skeletons whose bones can be seen under the taut skin as in the mummified skeleton of Saint Bernard. They try to follow us, they also crying out meskin, meskin [alms, alms] . . . Istumble on young boys searching in the excre-

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ment of camels to find a grain of durra. I flee, horrified,

hiding my watch chain in shame, ashamed of the breakfast I had eaten, of the dinner which awaited me?

Bandits roamed the countryside looting anyone or anything they could find. Parents sold their children as slaves to the Arabs rather than see them starve. Anything remotely resembling food was eaten: cowhides were ground to powder and baked into cakes; horses, dogs, carrion

or even the carrion-eaters themselves were consumed. Cannibalism broke out, and there were appalling stories of mothers devouring their children. Lions, leopards, jackals, and hyenas became so bold that they

entered even the largest cities to feast on the victims lying in the streets. In some villages they would attack the living who, too weak to defend themselves, were dragged screaming into the night. There were too many corpses to bury. Most were “buried” in the stomachs of hyenas and vultures, as one chronicler put it. The human and animal corpses rotting in the hot climate made efforts at sanitation futile. Smallpox, typhoid fever, dysentery, cholera and influenza swept the country, taking an enormous toll on the undernourished population. Entire villages were wiped out. Reliable figures are impossible to determine, but it is estimated that in parts of the South two thirds of the population was lost. Those strong enough to walk quit their homelands in droves, trekking great distances in search of food. Large tracts of land in the North were depopulated, and in some cases completely abandoned, creating in the minds of the Italians the illusion that the land was ripe for conquest—a political dynamic that would continue for the next 40 years. Refugees headed either for the coast where they hoped grain might be imported, or to the cities. The Italians, in control of Asmara,

were so alarmed by the number of refugees that they closed the gates to the city and turned their backs on the starving people. There are always those who, like the Italians of the time, turn their backs. And there are those who, like Emperor Menelik, behave with the fullest humanity and generosity toward those in need. The record of Menelik’s efforts to aid his people portrays a truly benevolent ruler doing everything in his power to bring relief to his subjects. In the first year of famine he opened his private granaries throughout the country, until they were entirely depleted. Many victims flocked toward the capital, Entoto, as the heart of the empire and home of the father-

protector of whom they had always heard. Menelik, in contrast to the Italians at Asmara, welcomed them and spent part of every day distributing alms to the needy. When Entoto became filled with refugees, Menelik had an additional building erected to shelter them. He imposed

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austerity measures at the palace: beef was forbidden and any meat became a rarity. He unsuccessfully attempted to import grain. Aware of the peasants’ reliance on their oxen, he encouraged them to hoe by hand. He went into the fields himself with a hoe, so the entire country might hear about it and follow his example. Hearing that some chiefs and noblemen were hoarding grain in the provinces, he sent his officials to sieze it and distribute it among the poor. When his own herds had finally been replenished after the famine, he generously gave away hundreds of cattle to restore the provinces to their former productive state. Menelik was, in short, an Emperor who cared about his people and their troubles, a leader who faced problems with resolution and imagi-

nation. Subsequent rulers, including his nephew, Haile Selassie, could have learned a great deal from his example. The 1972-1973 Famine

Haile Selassie was not an evil man, but his priorities were misplaced. He was so concerned with establishing a strong central government and modernizing the country that he failed to meet the challenge of natural disaster. Like Menelik, he viewed himself as the father of the people. He was in fact very religious and was horrified when he learned the true

degree of disaster, but he made the error of relying on an untrustworthy bureaucracy. In its final stages, the 1972-1973 famine reached such

deadly proportions that the Emperor’s image of wisdom and fatherliness was shattered, and the people no longer had faith in him. He then made the mistake of trying to cover up his negligence. He and his ministers took the position that they were not to blame. It was this false pride, this lack of courage to admit mistakes, that brought about his downfall. Most of the facts about the 1972-1973 famine and its coverup were uncovered by a Commission of Inquiry set up at the beginning of the Revolution. Its Chairman was Mesfin Wolde Mariam, professor of geography at the university, whose findings form the basis of this summary. The 1972-1973 famine caused 200,000 deaths from starvation and its attendant diseases, but it will best be remembered for its political

implications: it led directly to the end of the Empire and the rise of Mengistu. Like the 1984-1985 famine itneed never have happened; it was brought about by the indifference and disorganization of the government.

As early as 1964 there were reports of extensive hunger in Wollo province; chronic food deficits continued throughout the decade. Warn-

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ings and urgent requests for food brought very little response. A trickle of relief grain entered the province sporadically, but no measures were taken to stockpile grain from other areas. No attempt was made to improve agricultural yield through technological innovations, even though everyone knew the region was prone to severe natural disasters. Consequently, when after years of poor rainfall in Wollo the 1971 rains did not come at all, the government was completely unprepared. In a nightmare of red tape and bureaucratic incompetence, local authorities languidly exchanged letters of concern. The pace was maddeningly slow. Days would go by before replies were made to requests for more information; months sometimes passed before there were answers to demands for food. Despite sharp warnings from some local administrators, there was no sense of urgency in the central government. Not until five months after the failure of the rains was a committee formed to look into the problem. Not until a year and two months after grain was first requested, did some finally arrive, and that was pathetically inadequate. Thousands were already dead and thousands more would die. In 1972 the rains failed again in Wollo and Tigray; again there would be no harvest for this region. Now two million people were affected. All the horrors of widespread famine were set in motion, as some victims were driven to stealing, and disease spread through the shelters. The governmental committee felt it needed more time to study the situation. Their study eventually showed that a problem did indeed exist—but

only one-tenth of the estimated food requirement was available and even that could not be transported. By the beginning of 1973 the capital was full of whispers of famine in Wollo. Up to this point the ministries had been indifferent to the problem. Now, with rumors sweeping throught the streets and people demanding answers, they resorted to the cover-up: they denied ever having heard of a famine. Through the media they gave assurances that the situation was normal, that there were in fact surpluses. Their lies

were exposed and the rumors were confirmed when bands of ragged, starving peasants arrived at the outskirts of the capital in February 1973. Police were ordered to prevent them from entering the city, butit was too late. Small groups from the city were able to talk with the peasants and obtain the first definite confirmation that famine existed. The government then grew indignant. Like Mengistu a decade later, they claimed that rumor-mongers were fabricating a crisis in order to discredit the government. A high government official appeared on television in February saying that there was no famine, and if there was it was the people’s fault. He reasoned that it was “the obligation of the

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people to inform higher authorities whenever there is drought. Since this was not done by the people, it appeared that they were not aware of their obligations.” * The university was instrumental in unraveling this disinformation campaign, sending a camera team into the famine region and exposing

the true state of the peasants in a continuing exhibition at the geography department. The people of Addis became convinced that the government was lying and could not understand why the Emperor was doing nothing. It is uncertain whether the Emperor knew anything about it. His ministers were deliberately keeping news of the famine from him. In their view, their first duty was to protect the ruler from bad news. To understand their reasoning, one must understand the role of Haile

Selassie for Ethiopians. He was not just a ruler. He was the oldest, most prestigious ruler in Africa. Any claim Ethiopia could make to greatness was embodied in him. He was a world figure who had been féted by Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Nixon. His uncle Menelik had successfully

resisted attempts to colonize Ethiopia, and at the battle of Adwa had led the only African army ever to defeat a colonial power. His father, Ras

Makonen, had been one of the leaders in the battle. Ethiopia’s entire sense of self, the pride that it feltas a nation and a people, were embodied in Haile Selassie. In keeping with that feeling, any blemish, any hint of trouble, could not be contemplated. As far as the officials were concerned, Ethiopia could have no major problems, and the Emperor didn’t

need to hear about the small ones. There was a certain amount of self-survival in the official cover-up as well. Government officials were almost invariably aristocrats, members of the ruling class in a feudal society. Their political, social, and economic well-being depended upon the survival of the Emperor and the system which he perpetuated. Protecting him was protecting their own interests. Another factor was his advanced age. He was over 80 and his mind was not as quick as it once had been. Finally, however, the rumblings reached even the Emperor’s ears and he decided to act. He sent the Minister of Interior on a fact-finding mission to Wollo. When the minister returned in May 1973, he under-

played the severity of the famine in his oral report to the Emperor. Nine days later, in a written report, he described the scene more bleakly: crowds of ragged, famished people were lining the main highway north of Addis Abeba, stopping cars and buses to beg for food. Throughout 1973 the government was sending some relief grain to the stricken areas, but in inadequate amounts even by their own esti-

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mates. At the same time, with grim reports sitting on their desks, the various ministries continued to deny the existence of the famine. In Addis people were so disgusted and distrustful that they took up private collections to aid the starving, and even paid for the own transport to distribute it themselves. Rumors and denials continued throughout the year, and agitation grew. But it was not until a British journalist, Jonathan Dimbleby, went to Wollo in September 1973 and filmed the horrifying scenes of The Unknown Famine (sometimes referred to as The Hidden Hunger) that the

situation exploded. The film aired on television around the world, showing the misery in Wollo in all its ghastly detail. Ethiopian embassies were instructed to deny the validity of the film, a tactic that only added to the revulsion felt by the world community toward the Haile Selassie regime. Ethiopian students in Europe wrote home of what they had seen on television; anti-government feeling grew in the capital. During the civil unrest of 1974, the old regime was discredited by contrasting the sufferings of the people with the opulent lifestyles of the Emperor and his men. Posters appeared showing an emaciated peasant beside a picture of the Emperor feeding meat to his dogs from a silver tray. On the night before the Emperor was deposed, a recut version of Dimbleby’s film was shown, juxtaposing starving peasants against scenes of the Emperor squandering money on banquets. Overnight, the people turned against him. No one thought of standing up for him when he was jailed the next day. In late 1974 I became the Deputy Commissioner of the RRC and was involved in relief and rehabilitation efforts in the affected areas. As an activist, my zeal was due in part to a strong hatred of the Haile Selassie regime. We set out to demystify the Emperor and show the people how ruthless he and his regime had been (and how benevolent and caring the Revolution was). Dimbleby’s film was repeatedly shown around the country, and Dimbleby himself was one of the few foreigners to be honored by the revolutionary government. Then history began to repeat itself. Mengistu gradually became the new monarch. He enveloped himself in an aura of awe and terror. In

England, Dimbleby spoke out against the Red Terror in 1977; he was publicly condemned in Addis and banned from ever returning to Ethiopia. His film was never shown again. The pictures we had been using in exhibits about the revolution started disappearing. The one of the Emperor feeding meat to his dog wasblown up to life size for the opening of the National Pictorial Exhibition. Then it was given a sharp look of disapproval by Mengistu, and it vanished from sight soon after. And indeed, Mengistu was right to ban these images, for now they

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merely generated cynicism. Why hold these past events up to public ridicule when Mengistu was now throwing away more money ona high lifestyle than the Emperor ever had? I met Dimbleby in November of 1984 in London. He had one million pounds he had helped raise for famine relief. He loved Ethiopia and asked permission to go in person to present the donation. I agreed to help him and requested approval from Addis. It had been seven years since he had been banned, and I thought attitudes would have changed. But I was told that the ban was still in effect. Lessons

Which brings us to the present crisis, the third large-scale famine in

one hundred years. What is to be gained from this look at the past? There are several interesting comparisons. One recurring theme is religion. Famines have always brought an upsurge in prayers, masses, and baptisms, anything to provide some ray of hope when all seemed lost. The people claimed that the emperors looked after their bodies, and the priests and monks, their souls. In both respects, people in the old days were more fortunate than the victims of today. The present rulers offer the people no physical relief; and in accordance with their Marxist doctrines, they do everything possible to cut them off from their sources of spiritual comfort. The psychological damage this inflicts was always evident to me in the shelters. By cutting men and women off from spiritual support, we cut them off from the will to live. Another recurring theme in the historical record is that famine causes the relocation of enormous segments of the population. When a region is blighted by famine, people respond by migrating and resettling in areas where food can be found. In the 1984-1985 famine this natural development was warped by the leadership into a program that created additional suffering and death. Another interesting aspect of the historical record is the different reactions of the Western governments in 1974 and in 1984. In 1974 the Western world’s primary concern seemed to be to save Haile Selassie from embarrassment by helping him cover up the famine. In his book,

The Politics of Starvation, Jack Shephard writes: ...while the UNDP officials now spoke openly of the “serious” famine conditions in Ethiopia, the US ambassador in Addis, former Republican Congressman E. Ross Adair, had not bothered to discuss with the Imperial Ethiopian

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Government...while his staff visited the relief camps ... and filed emotional and detailed cables to Washington, Ambas-

sador Adair, a political appointee of the Nixon administration delayed~ Senator Edward Kennedy put his finger on the true reason for the Nixon administration’s behavior: Is not the real reason for our slow response that we did not want to blow the whistle on the Ethiopian government? Is

that notreally the bottom line of it? Asa resulta lot of people starved to death. A decade later, the United States again sat idly by—again, for itsown political purposes. The Wolpe committee and other agencies knew there was famine, but the government was reluctant to send aid because

helping the Ethiopian people would mean helping a Marxist regime. When the news media gave the famine world notoriety, the American and other Western governments did not hesitate to “blow the whistle” on Mengistu, but out of the same political motivation. Anything that would serve to embarrass a communist government was worth shouting about. For some in these governments, the human issues always took second place.

Another interesting historical aspect is that all three major famines happened to coincide with great national celebrations: Menelik’s coronation in 1890, Haile Selassie’s 80th birthday in 1972, and the tenth anni-

versary of the Revolution in 1984. Menelik acted in the manner we might expect from a humane ruler. He called for austerity all through the famine, and observers noted how simple his coronation was. Haile Selassie, however, surrounded himself with all the trappings of royalty. He went on with his birthday celebration, oblivious to the suffering a few hundred miles to the north. He was not a vicious man: once he discovered the true severity of the famine, he was appalled; but whether it was age or pride, he failed to see his people's suffering. It was this blindness that was exploited by us and led to his downfall. But if Haile Selassie was blind, what can be said for the present regime? A hundred thousand colored light bulbs were strung along the city streets for the Emperor, but Mengistu’s anniversary celebration in 1984 made Haile Selassie look like a local chieftain. Compared to the street decorations purchased for the tenth anniversary celebration, 100,000 light bulbs seem laughably insignificant.

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The most recent crisis has shown how little has changed. Far from the benevolence of Menelik, and even worse than the incompetence of Haile Selassie’s regime, Mengistu and his cronies willfully, ruthlessly turned their backs on the suffering of the people. For them the end always justifies the means, and that end is the political metamorphosis of Ethiopia into a structured and regimented society. The faster they arrive

at that goal, the better they will like it, regardless of who falls by the wayside. They are in effect tapping that mystique and aura of divinity that always surrounded the old emperors and rerouting it into a worship of Marx, Lenin, and Mengistu. Even as I was writing this in September 1987, Mengistu declared the creation of a new state structure that made him President of the Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. There was another colorful celebration costing millions of dollars, even as the spectre of famine was hovering again over the northern provinces. People were already abandoning

their farms and searching for food. European and American observers were alerting the international community to prepare for another catastrophe. My successor at the RRC requested 900,000 tons of grain. Meanwhile, in another six-hour speech, Mengistu extolled the glories of the Revolution and its achievements under his leadership. But he and his cronies are deluding themselves. Marxist slogans never sound more hollow than when they resonate on an empty stomach. Notes to Chapter 8 1. Pankhurst, 39-40. 2. Pankhurst, 59,62.

3. Martini, 38-40 (quoted in Pankhurst, 95-96). 4. Mesfin, 44.

5. Shepherd, The Politics of Starvation, 42. 6. Ibid., 44.

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The Causes of the Famine The Ethiopian famine did not occur simply because there was no rain. Drought does not necessarily lead to famine. Proper planning for drought can reduce the devastation to nothing more than a temporary hardship. For years prior to the drought of 1983-1984 there was plenty of water in Ethiopia, either in rainfall or from irrigation, but even those

were years of underproduction and shortage. In his book Africa in Crisis Timberlake states: With population growth constantly outstripping growth in agricultural production; and with virtually no alternative to agriculture as a means of livelihood for the vast majority, the agricultural base of the Ethiopian economy becomes ever more vulnerable to the periodic droughts which are an inescapable part of life in the Horn of Africa, as elsewhere. It can be confidently predicted that the scale of suffering and death will likewise grow.’ The quote from Timberlake cites the population explosion as a cause of the famine, and indeed Ethiopia’s growth has been phenomenal. In 1960 the population was an estimated 20 million; by 1983 it had more than doubled to 42 million. But what needs to be emphasized is that Ethiopia has the potential to feed five times that population. Instead the government has let production fall behind population growth.

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An examination of Mengistu’s agricultural policies reveals a legacy of unforgiveable folly, mismanagement, and neglect. Fertile farmlands

are ill-used and the morale of the peasant farmers has been crushed under revolutionary “innovations.” Land reform has become not a panacea but a poison; collective farms offer not hope for a better life but the threat of displacement and loss of identity; state farms intended to be

showcases of socialist prosperity are models of inefficiency and waste, while natural resources are squandered by both individuals and government. Land Reform and the Revolution

On November 2, 1969, in a speech from his throne, Emperor Haile Selassie summed up the need for land reform: The fundamental obstacle to the realization of Ethiopia’s agricultural potential has been, simply stated, lack of security in the land. The fruits of the farmer’s labour must be enjoyed by him whose toil has produced the crop.

A radical statement indeed, coming from an Emperor whose power rested on the landed aristocracy. His words actually meant nothing; he was simply paying lip service to a problem he could no longer ignore. He

hoped to mollify his critics, but almost certainly never intended to take concrete steps in the direction of land reform. In fact, just two years previously, the Emperor had promulgated the new Civil Code of Ethiopia, legalizing the feudal relationship between the tenant and the landlord. Customary tenant obligations were now formalized into law. The tenant had to pay 75 percent of his produce to the landlord, provide free labor for the landlord’s farm, free transport for

the landlord’s crops, free firewood for his fuel, free service as domestic servants, cooks, and guards, and free construction of his granaries. In

some places where peasants had special skills in pottery, weaving, tanning or metalwork, they were bound by law to provide these services for free as well. The Code further legalized tenant eviction under conditions favorable to the landlord. A 1972 survey showed that 90 percent of all Ethiopians were farmers and 75 percent of them were tenants. The rate of tenancy varied from province to province. In Gojjam and Gondar, where there wasa tradition of communal farming, the tenant population was approximately 10 percent. In Shoa it was higher than 70 percent. Only 90 kilometers southeast of Addis, in Nazareth, the survey indicated that 66 out of 78

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farmers, or 85 percent, were tenants. On the whole, 60 percent of the population was living in semi-slavery. The landed class had everything its own way and was in no hurry to initiate change in the 1970s. Peasants lived under terrible conditions. Besides the burden of their feudal duties, peasant families lived under the perpetual fear of eviction by the landlord or of running out of food to feed themselves. Their farming methods were so primitive that minor irregularities in the pattern of rainfall dramatically affected their production. Severe undernourishment in times of drought was commonplace. Itisno wonder, then, that land reform was of paramount importance

to the peasantry. Throughout the 1960s resentment toward their feudal bondage grew. Rebellions broke out in several parts of the country, and peasants were joined by the intelligentsia whose demands for change also focused on land reform. “Land to the Tiller” was the radicals’ slogan throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s. Asa student I became an active supporter of land reform at this time. My law school thesis argued for nationalization of land, concluding: “Not only do justice and equality demand it, but reform will lead to the psychological, moral, and economic betterment of the peasants.” Some of the landed aristocracy saw the handwriting on the wall and made half-hearted efforts to modify the feudal system. But while the ineffectual Parliament was in the process of bickering over minor changes in the tenant-landlord law, time ran out for the old regime. Unrest became a revolution, and the Empire was swept away. The intelligentsia, the Military Council and every other group that played a role in creating the Revolution quickly realized that the most important issue was land reform. The 1972-1973 famine had brought the class divisions of our society sharply into focus, and it was clear that some sort of redistribution of land was needed. We used every pressure we could bring to bear to urge the Military Council toward sweeping reform. When the Council finally acted, its decree was bolder than any of us had dared dream. According to the revolutionary proclamation of 1975, all private ownership of land by individuals or organizations was outlawed; the transfer of land by sale, lease, or mortgage was henceforth illegal; anyone willing to farm was to be given land; all land was to be held by Peasant Associations which were to give peasants user’s rights based on family size; the maximum plot for each household was not to exceed 10 hectares (25 acres), this being the most land that an individual peasant family could till with typical farm tools and oxen; tenancy was abolished and the peasant was freed from all obligations to the landlord. The announcement of land reform was an unforgettable moment for me and for the entire country. It meant the end of feudalism and

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oppression; it meant freedom, hope, and a new prosperity. The entire

country was swept away with joy. The possibilities seemed limitless. It all happened so fast. Landlordism and its accompanying institutions were abolished with one stroke. Reactions from the landed class were not as strong as expected. Land reform was the single event that endeared the Revolution to the people. A majority of the population now accepted it and placed their hope in it as their protector. The peasant was now guaranteed an equal place in society; but as I had argued in my thesis, this was more than just a question of property. Land reform altered the psychological framework of the nation by changing the way peasants thought of themselves. They were now elevated to the status of human beings. With this tremendous, exhilarating moral boost they believed all obstacles to growth and productivity would vanish. We who had helped make the Revolution also believed this. We believed that this single act would open up a new era of prosperity for farmers. We believed that henceforth there would be no famine, no malnourishment, that the peasants’ standard of living would rise steadily. But Ethiopia was unprepared for such an extensive restructuring of its economic base. The new government was too inexperienced to handle the complex problems that must inevitably arise from such a move. Policy makers focused only on the immediate aspects of social justice; long-term considerations were absent from their decisions. Practical questions like what kind of farm technology to use—traditional or modern—were not answered. Agricultural planning slipped into a chaos of mismanagement and ignorance. Production stalled, then fell. Hopes of prosperity were dashed as farmers lost heart and Ethiopia plunged into yet another era of poverty, destitution, famine and fear. The Failure of the Peasant Associations

After the land reform proclamation over 20,000 Peasant Associations were formed as part of the revolutionary program to group rural and urban populations into “mass organizations.” Cooperation has always been an important aspect of the Ethiopian peasant tradition, and the establishment of Peasant Associations was welcomed by the majority of the rural population. The Associations were to administer the provisions of the land reform proclamation, particularly land distribution. Seven million peasant families in Ethiopia were given land by the Associations, each family obtaining an average holding of one and a half hectares (three acres). The Peasant Associations also served as forums for the airing of economic or social problems. Out of this grew their role of

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educating and politicizing the people; and when necessary, arming and mobilizing them. The Peasant Associations own over 94 percent of the cultivated land in Ethiopia and account for over 93 percent of agricultural production. The local Associations are governed by the central All-Ethiopian Peasants’ Association which gives them guidelines and makes sure their activities are in line with the ideological tenets of the Party. Production on individual peasant holdings under the Peasant Association, though high compared to collective farms, is disastrous. Peasants are reduced to (and sometimes below) a level of self-sufficiency because of five major factors: A Demoralized Peasantry Farmers everywhere in the world are under stress because their lives are tied to the uncertainties of the weather, but Ethiopian peasants live under such strain that they have become completely demoralized. There is no security in their land, their lives, or their families. They live under the shadow of drought and disaster. They don’t trust the regime

or the Peasant Association leaders. Individual peasants have only minimal rights. If they complain they could be evicted, jailed, or executed. They could be drafted into the militia at any moment or forced to resettle hundreds of miles from home. Besides this, there is the problem of

divided loyalties between the regime and the various rebel groups demanding support. Under these pressures it is impossible to produce surpluses or contribute to capital accumulation.

Lack of Farm Supplies The Peasant Associations are intended to help individuals, but are unable to do so because the majority of supplies are given to collective and state farms. Fertilizer is especially scarce for this reason. Any fertilizer that is available to the individual landholder is priced beyond his reach; as a result, the use of fertilizers is decreasing. Improved seeds are not available in needed quantities or are of poor quality. A total of 22,000 tons of improved grain seed was needed in 1982 but less than 40 percent of this was supplied. Even though agricultural extension services were expanded during the revolutionary period to over 460 weredas, their effectiveness is questionable because of financial limitations and a shortage of skilled manpower.

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Low Grain Prices

The prices paid to farmers are determined by the government. The price of grain does nothing to inspire the farmer to greater efforts. He is required to sell a certain quota to the Agricultural Marketing Corporation (AMC) ata fixed, low price. The AMC was established to buy grain for the urban population, but it is hopelessly overburdened and inefficient. Grain piles up where it is not needed and there are always shortages in the cities, driving up demand and prices. But farmers are not allowed to transport their grain to distant cities; they can only sell on the private market within their local area. This means that in big grain producing regions such as Gojjam and Arsi, the local market is glutted, and prices are driven down to a point where the farmers make nothing on their grain.

Lack of Consumer Goods Basics like cloth, sugar, salt, and soap, are always hard to get in rural areas, and in some cases completely unavailable. Prices are consequently high. There is a feeling of helplessness among farmers—why should they

grow more when they cannot profitably sell their grain and there is nothing to buy anyway?

Instability of Private Holdings The land reform provisions contained a self-destructive element. In dividing the land up among the Peasant Associations, there was no allowance for readjustment over the course of time. Land was apportioned to the Peasant Associations which became the de facto owners. In a sort of neo-feudalistic arrangement, peasants held the land only with the blessing of the Association and were not allowed to move outside the territory of their home Association. Now, more than a decade after land reform, the same apportionments exist, even though the demographic picture has changed dramatically with some regions far outstripping others in population growth. This means that when newly eligible young peasants go to the Associations for land, the only way to make new plots is by decreasing the size of those that already exist. The result is a continuous shrinkage in plot sizes and added insecurity for the farmers. In their uncertain existence, the only thing they can count on is that their holdings will be constantly whittled away to make room for newcomers. The effect on production is, again, disastrous.

To complete the picture, peasants are also increasingly burdened by

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obligations to the government and the Peasant Associations: there are taxes, there are “voluntary” public services that hark back to feudal duties, there are contributions to the latest local or national zemecha campaigns, there are endless meetings at which political education and other issues not related to farming are discussed—meetings that peasants are forced to attend, losing valuable hours that could be devoted to production. Both in terms of services and money, peasants give more

than they used to before the Revolution. All these things rob the peasant of his spirit and his possessions. Add to them a minor climatological irregularity, and the formula for famine is complete. The Failure of Collective Farms

The biggest reason for national underproduction has been the imposition of collective farming. Collectivization is the linchpin of Ethiopia’s socialist agricultural policy. The theory is that the sooner individual plots are done away with, the better for the economy. In 1987 there were 5.6 million hectares (94 percent of total farmland) under cultivation by individual families; only 2 percent was collectivized. According to Mengistu’s 10-year plan, by 1994 an incredible 52.1 percent of all farmland will be collectivized—with a simultaneous increase in production by collectives from 2 percent to 49.6.percent of the national total. This is a ridiculous proposition. Collectivization requires a complete change of attitudes and values. It requires massive government investment and planning at the highest level. Above all it requires that peasants be convinced that their lives will be better without the church or mosque, without traditional community life, without owning land or tools— without, in essence, being the persons they are. The government believed it could accomplish all this with the snap of a finger. In the early 1980s there was a sudden rush to collectivize. Competition was fierce among regional administrators and Party representatives to win the honor of creating the largest number for any region. At the height of this push I was in Eritrea, where rebel activity and the antagonism of the people made a collectivization program impossible, at least in my judgment. During Central Committee meetings we heard reports from regional COPWE representatives of the peasants’ remarkable desire to organize into producers’ cooperatives, and to set up the corresponding service cooperatives that would provide them with tools and consumer goods. They would tell how eager the peasants were to join, how smoothly and rapidly the transition was being made, how the peasants felt they couldn’t work hard enough to make Ethiopia prosper. It was what Mengistu wanted to hear. It made him swell with pride at the

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new Ethiopia he was creating. But during our tea breaks I heard the same people whispering appalling stories of the instructions they received from Mengistu and Legesse; of how they were ordered to use any means necessary to force the peasants to join the collective farms; of the repression used to make collectivization successful in the eyes of the regime; of the execution of peasant leaders bold enough to speak out against it; of how dissidents were rounded up and sent to border areas as peasant militias. Many people fled to the Sudan as refugees or joined armed opposition movements during these months. Collectivization has been a terrible disaster in Ethiopia. Demoralization has been the biggest harvest. None of the “collectivized” peasants showed enthusiasm for their land or their work. They felt they had been snatched from their homes and herded into slave camps. Those who were allowed to remain on their individual farms also stopped working: the fear of being forced off their property atany moment made their work seem futile. Despite the energies devoted to propaganda, indoctrination and encouragement, collectivization has created almost universal resentment among the peasants. Both in the South and the North there is bitter opposition to it. Rebellions were suppressed brutally in 1981 in several places, notably Gojjam and Arsi, and hundreds were executed without trial. Even though the number of collectivized farms is small, their effect on nationwide production has been catastrophic. These farms are given more fertilizer per hectare than peasant farms; they are given more land per household, they are given tractors and more draft animals than the rest of the peasants. But for all the attention they get, productivity is extremely low and almost no surplus is produced for market. A 1983 Ministry of Agriculture survey compares the yields in Gojjam, Ethiopia’s most productive region and the province with the most collective farms: TABLE: AVERAGE YIELD IN QUINTALS PER HECTARE IN GOJJAM Private farms | Collective farms

teff

52

barley

6.48

wheat maize

2.38 11.05

sorghum

3.47

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Collectivization is destroying the nation. National unity is an extension of family unity, and collectivization destroys family and community traditions; it rips families out of their communities and forcibly transplants individuals to alien soil. People lose the sense of who they are. They feel exiled in their own country. Collectivization does not unite, it alienates. Nothing is the same on the collectives, there are not even any churches or mosques. New structures, new obligations, and new attitudes are hurriedly substituted for older values, but as the old

ways are outlawed, the new ways find no roots—the peasants are left floundering with no sense of identity at all. The Failure of the State Farms

By the time of the Revolution several large, very productive commercial farms had sprung up in many parts of Ethiopia, particularly in the Rift Valley around Humera, Awash, and Mattemma. The early draft of the land reform plan exempted these farms from nationalization. The experts realized that the government would not be able to successfully manage these farms, and that premature nationalization would destroy

their productivity when it would be needed most. The Military Council, at the urging of its radical mentors, refused to accept the recommendation of the experts and nationalized these farms. They were placed under state management in 1976 and designated the “State Farms,” containing at that time approximately 70,000 hectares. Subsequently they were expanded in an attempt to counter the growing shortages of grain in urban areas, and by 1982 had grown to nearly 250,000 hectares—4 percent of all cultivated land in the country. In 1983

their production was 6 percent of the national total. The performance of the state farms has proven to be a total failure. The cost of production has consistently been far greater than the market price of the produce. Heavy losses are incurred in spite of the fact that the AMC pays as much as 50 percent more for their grain than is paid to private farmers. Yield is also poorer. In 1983 the Ministry of Agriculture compared them to private farms:

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TABLE: YIELD IN QUILTALS PER HECTARE NATIONALLY

national avg. | state farms corn wheat fiber crops fruits vegetables

less than 27 15 21 100 55

Apparently this has been improved somewhat through enormous investment and diversion of resources. Mengistu proudly stated in March 1987:

The productivity of state farms over the last two years has been substantial. Last year’s state farm corn yield was 25 quintals per hectare; this year production it has gone up to

30. Last year’s wheat yield was 15 quintals per hectare, this year it has gone up to 20. This shows that state farms have started solving their problems. But Mengistu made no mention of a cost benefit analysis. This insignificant increase in yield could never counterbalance the money poured into the state farms. The most serious problem of the state farms is the undisciplined and unmotivated workforce. Workers are poorly paid, usually on a daily basis. Managers at all levels have been executed, jailed, or dismissed

because they have failed to motivate their people and bring about an increase in production. Another problem is the farm machinery. Some of the machines are pre-revolutionary, some are gifts, and some were

bought from different suppliers. Spare parts are impossible to buy because of the shortage of foreign exchange, and at any given time up to half of the machinery is waiting for repairs. The acquisition of new land is decided not by agricultural experts, but by the intuition of Mengistu, the self-appointed expert on all matters pertaining to Ethiopia. Management is highly centralized and always subject to the arbitrary decisions of the Head of State. I attended several conferences chaired by Mengistu where the failure of the state farms was discussed. All key planners, including officials from the Ministry of State Farms, advocated abolishing them and reducing them to small-scale enterprises which could serve as demonstration farms for peasant education. Everyone agreed that too

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much attention and too many resources were being diverted to the state farms. Everyone except Mengistu. He insisted that we keep trying. The budget for the state farms continued to grow year after year—resources which, if distributed among the Peasant Associations, could have significantly raised production on individual peasant holdings. But even the Soviet Union has recommended getting rid of the state farms. In a document entitled “Considerations on the Economic Policy of Ethiopia for the Next Few Years,” Soviet advisors proposed a complete overhaul of the 10-year plan, including “state support of the private sector” and “gradual and complete reorientation of the state farms.” They even recommended the reintroduction of private commercial farms growing commodities for export. In September 1985 this proposal was presented to the National Planning Committee. The Soviet proposal was a bombshell for Mengistu; it was a complete reversal of what they had been recommending. The fact that this document was not classified but was openly distributed to members of the international community was very likely an indication that the Soviets wanted to disassociate themselves from the economic disaster which Marxism has brought to Ethiopia. Most members of the Supreme Planning Committee were pleased by the Soviet recommendation, having long supported abolition of the State Farms. Hardliners were stunned by this stab in the back. For them it was a betrayal of Marxism. It was a challenge that Mengistu defied in later public statements, repeating his policies in stronger terms. No changes were made and the state farms still exist. They continue to devour vital resources and energies that could be better used elsewhere. I think Mengistu keeps the state farms to impress foreign visitors. Whenever guests come, he shows them these vast, green expanses; these highly-mechanized, seemingly successful enterprises. The first-time visitor comesaway thinking that Ethiopia’s Revolution may have achieved something after all. The Failure of the Socialized Market

The Agricultural Marketing Corporation (AMC) was established under a different name by Haile Selassie for the storage of grain reserves. Since the Revolution, it has increasingly been transformed into a mechanism to control the market and eliminate private trade. Peasants are forced to sell anywhere from 50 to 100 percent of their produce to the AMC. They can sell the rest on the local private market. The peasants’ AMC quota has been increasing yearly since 1975; consequently, the volume of grain handled by the AMC has expanded rapidly—from

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120,000 tons in 1977 to 570,000 tons in 1983. Unfortunately, the AMC had neither the organizational capacity nor the storage facilities to handle this quantity of grain. They agreed to take on grain but couldn’t handle it once they got it. In some places where grain was on the verge of rotting, the RRC was asked to pick it up and use it however we could. In the midst of 1983-5 crisis 40,000 tons of AMC

grain from the state farm in Humera, Gondar province, rotted because there was nowhere to store it and no way to get it where it was needed. Meanwhile, the government put its resources into the expansion of check points, roadblocks and other methods used to frustrate private

merchants. Sometimes tragedy resulted. In March 1984 a mother of four killed herself at the Addis city gate when she was prevented from bringing in 15 kilos of teff which she had bought from peasants. In July 1984, just before the anniversary celebration, so many similar incidents were occurring that the roadblocks were lifted around Addis, enabling those who had the money to buy from farmers and small traders for the period of celebration. This is one of the reasons the breadlines disappeared in time for the arrival of foreign visitors. With the fall in production, grain prices rose to 10 times what they were before the Revolution. Ethiopia was always a net importer of food, even before the Revolution, but since 1974 the increase in imported food

has been phenomenal. The pre-1983 average was 60,000 tons of grain a year, not including emergency relief assistance. In 1985 it was 250,000 tons. The marketing system has become a serious disincentive to production. It has encouraged corruption and speculation and has contributed to the rampant inflation. Instead of controlling prices, it has had the opposite effect. Meanwhile merchants are reaping unfair profits at both ends. They bring consumer goods to rural areas at very high prices, because the government has failed to provide them; and when they can, they sell grain to urban areas, also at a very high price. Production Failure Caused by Loss of Forests Northern Ethiopia has been very crowded and subject to indiscriminate environmental destruction for centuries. The great majority of Ethiopia’s 42 million people live here in the highland regions, where population density averages 92 persons per square kilometer. Most of the lowlands are sparsely populated with densities not exceeding 30 persons per square kilometer. Not surprisingly, it is the highly populated highlands that have been most severely affected by the famine. Desertification is proceeding at a terrifying rate. It is estimated that

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1.6 billion tons of topsoil are lost every year through wind and water erosion. A 1981 FAO report also indicates that 450 tons of soil per hectare per year is lost.? Reforestation, one of the keys to soil fertility, is still largely ignored today. One hundred years ago 40 percent of Ethiopia was covered by forests; today that figure is less than 4 percent. In my lifetime, I have seen shocking changes in the soil and forests. I remember flying over Northern Ethiopia 20 years ago. As far as you could see it was green, alive and beautiful. Now in the North, all is brown and sere. The South is the only area where you still can see extensive forests. Ethiopia’s forests have been destroyed to get wood for fuel and construction. In the 1980s, out of total wood consumption, 93.4 percent

was for fuel and construction, 2.4 percent was for transport, and 1.4 percent for industry. Wood is often made into charcoal which is easier to transport and has twice the energy content; but traditional methods of preparing charcoal have also contributed to waste. To produce one quintal of charcoal, six quintals of wood are needed.

A person with an average income in Addis Abeba uses 20-25 percent of his income for fuel. A survey in 1980 indicated that for every town of 10,000 families, 3.1 million cubic meters of wood are required annually. As wood becomes more scarce it also becomes more expensive. For example, to transport 20 cubic meters of wood 300 kilometers requires 240 liters of diesel fuel, bringing the price of one cubic meter of wood to anywhere between 40 and 100 birr. Alternative sources of energy have not come into use primarily because of the country’s lack of capital and

the people’s poverty. They cannot afford to pay for natural gas or electricty, so the indiscriminate destruction of the forests continues. Many peasants use animal dung for household fuel which contributes

even more to the degradation of the soil. The dung which once fertilized the land with nitrogen, phosphorous and other nutrients is now burned. There have been some efforts at reforestation. Between 1977 and 1984 peasants planted 500 million seedlings and constructed 700,000 kilometers of terraces. Most of this was done under a program known as Food for Work. The people worked hard, but the program was a failure. The peasants felt no connection to the land; they did it because they were ordered to and because they were being paid. There was no followthrough. The terraces have since crumbled; the seedlings have been eaten by goats or have died. Administrators are not concerned with follow through. Their thinking is: “I won’t be around to see the trees full-grown anyway, I might as well reap whatever credit I can today.” They revel in reports of millions of seedlings being planted and miles of terraces being built. The Party is pleased, it sounds good on the radio, and everyone is satisfied. No one

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bothers about following through. Failure to Exploit Water Resources When the rains fail itinevitably brings starvation to the peasants, yet

Ethiopia is rich in both surface and ground water. Annually 101.5 billion cubic meters of water flows out of the country. Ethiopia has 120,900 square kilometers of surface water including 14 major lakes, yet only 4.3 percent of the rural population can get clean water. Most of our valleys have abundant water for irrigation and drinking. Out of a potential three million hectares that could be irrigated, only 100,000 hectares or three percent has been developed. A recent study by the Central Planning Committee indicates that 740,000 hectares in the seven major valleys, including the Nile, Baro, and Omo, could easily be

developed. Ethiopia also could potentially generate 56 billion killowatt hours of hydro-electric power. It now provides only 1.2 billion, serving less than 10 percent of the population. The squandering of so much energy and time on wars, propaganda, and celebrations is appalling in light of these facts. Our attention ought to have been directed toward tapping our water resources. The Destruction of Pastoral Regions

Ethiopia has the largest number of domestic animals in Africa, and ranks eighthin the world with 27 million cattle, 42 million sheep, and 17

million goats. Only 10 percent of the population lives in the pastoral regions, which account for 61 percent of the land area of Ethiopia. This population raises 21 percent of the cattle, 25 percent of the sheep, 75 percent of the goats, 20 percent of the horses, mules and donkeys, and 100 percent of the camels. Great environmental damage is being done every year in these regions. According to the nomads’ way of thinking, a large herd is a buffer against drought or other calamities that might strike. This economic strategy has resulted in overgrazing and destruction of the natural vegetation in many areas. Every year the desert makes new inroads into once green areas. Conclusion

Few countries in Africa are endowed with the natural wealth and potential of Ethiopia—but our country lies on the road to annihilation.

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Ethiopia used to be called the bread basket of Africa, now it cannot even

support itself. Even with good weather the country produces an average of only 6 to 7 million tons of grain, leaving a 1.5 to 2 million ton deficit that must be made up from foreign imports or donations. Since that amount is never obtained, millions every year are exposed to famine and malnutrition. And when even minor irregularities in the climate occur, the entire country is plunged into famine. No action the government has taken since 1974 has done anything to improve these prospects. Ethiopia will never come out of this tailspin unless policies change and priorities are altered. Politics must be set aside in order to deal with our most rrucial emergency: saving our soil from an irreversible degra-

dation that would leave Ethiopia a desert. Mengistu and his circle are not worried. In meetings he always dismisses the problem, saying that the tide will turn, that Marxism will Overcome nature. Frank discussions have disappeared. Research is seen as an impediment to quick development. The most qualified people in the country are not consulted; instead, it is always that inferior sort of man who makes adherence to ideology or to individuals the highest priority who is called upon. These are the “experts” used to justify Mengistu’s capricious policies. Planning and analysis are disregarded in favor of spontaneous decisions involving millions of dollars. The inevitable results are total failures—failures from which no one can learn because they are immediately hushed up and treated as though they never took place. Of all the failures of the regime, the biggest is their absolute disregard for humanity. Even the Soviet Union is acknowledging this lack in its own system. Mr. Gorbachev has recently stated:

It is essential to change over from predominantly administrative to predominantly economic methods of management at every level, to broad democratization in administration and to activating the human factor in every way...” The new glasnost policy of Gorbachev may have a great effect on all the client states. It is easy for Gorbachev to initiate new programs. Hecan confidently disassociate himself from the policies of past leaders. It is not so easy for other communist leaders to follow his lead—they can’t criticize their own past policies. And it will certainly be difficult for Mengistu, who has just completed the establishment of his rigid MarxistLeninst Party and new state structure based on the old Soviet system; and who believes he has a historical mission to prove that Stalin’s system of control was right, not just in the economic sphere, but in every aspect of

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life. Mengistu’s rigid, doctrinaire policies are only just being implemented. It is unlikely that he would dismantle the machinery by which he manipulates the people and replace his vision of a controlled Ethiopia for Gorbachev's more open society. Notes to Chapter 9 1. Timberlake, Africa in Crisis, 26.

3. “Rehabilitation of Forest, Grazing and Agricultural Lands,” Rome: 1981) 4. Gorbachev, as quoted in a New York Times review of Perestroika.

Resettlement and Villagization Perhaps the cruelest chapter of the entire famine was the resettlement program initiated by Mengistu in late 1984. This program, designed to free the people from the terror of want, became an even greater cause of terror. The program, executed by Legesse Astaw with no compassion or humandecency, was aimed solely at fulfilling callous political objectives. It was another example of the regime ignoring the human factor. It tore families apart and added more senseless deaths to the ongoing tragedy in Ethiopia. Origins of the Resettlement Policy

One of the most important continuing questions for the RRC is rehabilitation: how do we get people who have lost everything back on their feet? How do we get peasants out of the shelters and back to farming, especially in areas where nothing will grow again? Part of the original mandate of the RRC was to resettle such people in underutilized regions as soon as they were able to be moved. The issue of where emergency relief programs ought to end and rehabilitation programs begin has always been one of our biggest bones of contention with international donors. Many donors wanted nothing to do with our regular development programs; they wanted to limit their involvement to “humanitarian activities” because of objections to the regime’s politics. I have always argued that humanitarian assistance

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should be more broadly defined: it should go beyond emergency life saving to making individuals self-sufficient, productive citizens. Aid programs that achieve less than this doom our people to permanent poverty and dependence. The resettlement program envisioned by our office was an attempt to provide those on emergency relief a chance to live a decent life. My baptism into the difficulties of resettlement came in 1975 when I was the Deputy Commissioner of the RRC. In the wake of the 1972-1973 famine I initiated a resettlement program for some 40,000 Somali nomads in the Ogaden region of Harar province. They had been living in shelters for two years; for many it had become a place of permanent settlement. They had lost their cattle herds and could not resume their nomadic life. Some argued that the logical thing to do was to provide them with cattle, a few implements and let them start their nomadic life all over again. I thought that was the wrong way out of the problem. The nomads posed a problem for a country attempting to develop its economic potential. Their wandering way of life made it impossible for us to educate them or to incorporate them into the work force of the nation. They were always on the move with no concept of time or place. They wandered with no sense of border between Somalia and Ethiopia. It was particularly difficult for our young revolutionary government because Somalia claimed sovereignty over the Ogaden. If we were to demand loyalty from the nomads, then Ethiopia had to care for them, educate them, provide them with opportunities for better life. That was impossible in the desert; they would have to settle and abandon their traditional way of life. Our plan was to dismantle the shelters and settle the people on the Wabi Shebelli, a big river that flows southeast through the desert. To me it seemed simple: here was abundant water and permanent grass, a place

where they could be assured of successful harvests through irrigation, where they could own their own land. It would be hard work, but how could anyone prefer to live wandering in desolate, arid lands? Iassumed that they would readily accept the idea as we launched a massive resettlement program for 100,000 people in 23 shelters. I spent six months with my task force going from shelter to shelter in the area of Jijiga Degehabur, Kebri Dehar, Aare, Gashamo, Warrder and the other shelters in between, trying to convince the nomads to move. I went with a translator explaining why they should settle along the river. We told them how they could harvest two cropsa year, and that the government could provide them with public services if they were permanently settled.

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They asked lots of questions, some of them very odd. They asked about the big animals in the river that ate people. They had never seen crocodiles but had heard rumors and were frightened by the thought of them. In fact crocodiles were plentiful in the Wabi Shebelli, but if

precautions were taken there was no need to worry. They asked about other animals, small creatures that crawled out of the ground in the evenings and ate people. These were apparently legendary animals from their ancient fables. They asked about the strange river people who didn’t speak their languages (referring mainly to the Raer Barre tribes living in the Kelafo area). They said they didn’t know how to farm. Some elderly people said they wanted to die and be buried here in the desert. Some young people said that they couldn’t go away without their parents, who were bound so strongly to this desolate wasteland. It was difficult answering all the questions. The nomads wouldn’t take my word for anything, particularly since I was a government official coming from a different culture and background. Though I talked for hours, my words didn’t mean much. I had to try a different way. I asked each shelter to choose a representative who would go with me to the Wabi Shebelli, spend a few nights, and find out for themselves how

beautiful settled life along the river would be. There they would see that the people already settled in these areas lived a better life than they could imagine. The representatives selected were mostly elders. We flew together to Gode, a village and a settlement site along the Wabi Shebelli. For my passengers, flying itself was a new experience, and a horrible one. Their sense of direction was completely lost; they thought they were going up into the heavens. Even when we landed, some of them couldn’t believe we were on the earth again. It took them some time to recuperate. We saw the green fields, the water, the farms, the grain piled up in the warehouses, the well-fed cattle. We met some people who spoke their language. The nomads gazed at the river, and in the evenings they waited sleeplessly for the crawling animals they believed would come out of the ground. Some of the residents—without really knowing the impact it would have on their visitors—naively told them about the crocodiles, about the hard work on the land, and about certain tribes

downstream who were not always friendly. At the end of two days I took the representatives back, feeling that they had seen enough to convince them. The final days for moving the people out of the shelters approached. Back in the shelters rumors had circulated. The representatives had told their people that they had been to a distant place were everything was strange. At the shelter in East Gashamo, where we were caring for 11,000

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people, I spent three nights with the people preparing them for the moving operation. I ordered 100 trucks to report to the shelter to move the first group. The evening before the scheduled departure, the people in the shelter held a meeting on the desolate field outside the shelters. I attended as an observer. The Somalis like speaking in proverbs and parables. You can’t have ameeting without them. One elderly woman who had gone to Gode with me stood up and told the people why, after all that she had seen and heard in Gode, she would not go to the new settlement. She told them a story abouta bird that traveled for days looking for water. Finally she did find water ina distant place. Never had she seen so much water; she was

overwhelmed by its abundance. She drank and drank, and ate and ate. But she was never happy. She had everything that she had been looking for—food, water— but she was never happy. The bird decided to go home. She again traveled for days, and when she arrived there was no water, no food. But she searched in the desert and found drops of water between the rocks. There was not much, but it was sweet. She looked

around and saw other birds looking for water, too. All of them had been where she had been, and all had come home. She lifted her wings, content and satisfied; she soared into the sky and said: “In thirst or in hunger, O Allah, content amI to suffer and diein the land and skies of my ancestors.

There is nothing like home.” I was not very impressed by the parable, but it deeply touched the people listening. Everybody nodded, muttering approval. The meeting broke up after more people had spoken ina similar vein. I could tell there would be problems the next day, so I went to my tent to get some sleep. The trucks were already there. Tomorrow was going to be a long day, loading the nomads’ tukuls* and other belongings; some even had goats. I knew that getting them ready, loading them up, and arguing with them would be a long, gruelling job. Early in the morning, some of the drivers who had been sleeping in their trucks near the shelters came rushing up to me in absolute shock. The camp was deserted. The tukuls had been quickly and silently dismantled and over 10,500 people had vanished, leaving behind only the very old, the very weak, and sick—234 people. There was something eerie in the way they had managed to reach a consensus and disappear unnoticed by any of us. We later learned they had crossed the border into

*

Small, very beautiful oval-shaped portable structures made out of woven straw that are easily dismantled and carried by camel. The nomads are very attached to their tukuls and never left them behind.

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Somalia. It was here in the Ogaden that I learned how difficult it was to alter the lifestyles of traditional societies. It is not something that can be done by official fiat; it can only be accomplished through long-term education and by demonstration—by allowing people to experience the changes gradually. In the case of the Ogaden there was another factor that complicated the project. Somalia did everything possible to disrupt our efforts. If our resettlement policy succeeded and the nomads became attached to a piece of land along the river, they would become organized, educated, and eventually defend their property. That would thwart Somalia’s expansionist policy, so they tried to nip the problem in the bud by circulating rumors to scare the people. Their intrigues played a rolein the failure of the program, but the most important factor was the attitude of the people themselves. This experience was a lesson for me and my colleagues and it very much affected our future approach to resettlement programs. But Mengsitu and others never absorbed these lessons. From the very beginning, resettlement for Mengistu was not a development program but a solution to his social and national security problems. Any dissi-

dents, anyone who created problems or was seen as a security risk, was packed off to a resettlement site. Resettlement programs became our Siberia. As a result, in the minds of the people they were equated with concentration camps.

A number of incidents occurred that reinforced this attitude. In 1975 close to 1,000 troublemakers were rounded up in Addis and sent 300 kilometers to Tedele, a big farm confiscated in the Revolution. They were given implements, shelter, and told to get to work. In spite of a 24-hour watch, their ranks slowly thinned through escapes. Those who were left never became self-sufficient. By 1978 the last of them had escaped, and now the farm has been given to the South Yemen government to develop for agriculture. Throughout the period of 1975-1981 there were resettlement programs of this nature. Not surprisingly, none of them were successful. Some inmates escaped, some joined armed opposition struggles, some were executed for dissension, others were forced to join the peasant militia. Thousands of young men who were politically active (and potential troublemakers for Mengistu) were seized from the streets of Addis and other cities and taken to Humera near the Sudanese border to work on the collective farms and act asa defense force. Most of these men perished from disease. Some managed to drift back into the cities, but were usually rounded up again and sent back to Humera. A few of the

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2500 original settlers are still there. In 1980 the peasants of Tigray, Wollo, and Northern Shoa were told to send a quota of young men to a three-month political education program. Some Peasant Associations did as they were asked. Others refused. Government soldiers and security forces later randomly selected men from the market places, the streets, and the farms. Thousands were rounded up and sent to Tatek, a military training center 30 kilometers from Addis. They had been told they could go back to their homes when their training was over, but instead they were sent to the opposite end of Ethiopia, to Gode and Bale in the southeast, where they were

placed on new settlement sites. The government’s intention was to form a powerful defense force along the border with Somalia, which after its

defeat in 1978 continued to agitate among the border people and conduct guerrilla activites inside our territory. Today the people who were moved to Gode and Bale are totally dependent on rations from the RRC. These sites are basically desert, with the big rivers running through them. It is possible to farm with irrigation, but the settlers from the North and the cities lack the will to work in this climate under forced conditions. Most of the people taken to these areas were adults with deep attachments to their homelands, and they had been forced to leave loved ones, kinsmen and friends behind. The settlements in Bale and Humera were far enough from the borders to make escape difficult; nevertheless, some mananged to get out of Ethiopia, especially into the Sudan. Others attempted to trek hundreds of miles back to their homes. Many were devoured by lions, hyenas, and other wild animals. Others simply perished from exposure in the desert. Some had wives and children who never learned what became of them. During my years as Commissioner of the RRC the problem of these people haunted me. The RRC advocated their return to their homes because their presence at the sites served no purpose. The farms were not productive; they had never been able to rise even to the level of selfsufficiency. They were a burden on the RRC. The people missed their homes, their families, their communities, and would never be able to

work with enthusiasm in what was for them a slave camp. By this time other settlement sites had cropped up, some with genuine volunteers— farmers from the highland relief shelters, from urban areas or from the

overcrowded, overdeveloped and degraded areas of the North. Others were designed to hold political undesirables. By 1983, as the great drought began, 20,840 hectares was under cultivation on settlement sites. The RRC was responsible for over 84 settlement sites, involving 35,520 families or a total of 110,090 people.* The sites were scattered over the southern and southwestern parts of

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Ethiopia and along the rivers Awash and Gode. It was difficult managing the settlements when even those who had originally volunteered for the program had changed their minds and wanted to go back. Because of the low morale, there had been no new resettlement programs between 1979

and 1983. The projects already underway were costing the government millions, with no self-sufficiency in sight. And yet even before the great famine hit, there were thousands in Wollo, Tigray, Northern Shoa and Hararge who, either in relief shelters or on their land, had become

dependent on RRC handouts. They needed to be resettled in productive areas where they could hopefully become self-sufficient. It was a terrible dilemma for us. We couldn’t leave the people in the shelters indefinitely, but we couldn’t make the settlements that we already had going work. People had no incentive to be more productive. In spite of the fact that they were settled on fertile land, they had become dependent on the RRC. In mid-1983 we designed four new strategies to revive resettlement possibilities: 1) Machinery-assisted settlement: This scheme was designed to locate people on land that had never been farmed, but which had development potential. Because the lands were virgin and required heavy clearing, the RRC would provide the needed machinery during the development hase. : 2) Catchment rehabilitation: This program used soil and water conservation techniques to reclaim steep or eroded land. The objective was to enable drought-affected people to rehabilitate themselves on the land they already occupied. This scheme was given special consideration because it avoided moving people to areas where there might be cultural

tensions with the indigenous populations. 3) Spontaneous settlement: These low cost projects mainly involved farmers who were willing to move to new areas with their current means of production and start a new life. No clearing and no machinery would be needed. We would provide families with oxen, seed and medical care for the first year only, assuming that drought victims would be selfsufficient after one year. 4)Integration settlement: Several studies revealed a substantial number

of Peasant Associations, especially in the southern and southwestern regions of the country, with unused and/or underutilized land. This plan was devised to increase their manpower and develop such lands.

*

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Displaced and starving people were to be encouraged to integrate themselves into those Peasant Asociations with excess land. The unsettled nomadic groups remained a problem, with 2.3 million

Ethiopian nomads inhabiting 61 percent of the total area of the country. Nomadism takes two forms: pastoral and hunter-gatherer-cultivator. For these two groups, the RRC designed four types of agriculturallybased development projects: 1) range development; 2) settlement on

irrigated agricultural lands; 3) settlement on marine fisheries; and 4) extension development programs for the hunter-cultivators. These programs were designed to offer the nomads a new economic base, while also giving them a chance to learn improved methods of animal husbandry, agriculture, marine fishery and range management. Each of these four possibilities offered a better, more secure life than nomadism. Even though the programs restricted movement, they gave the nomads

the chance to get social services they were deprived of due to their nomadic way of life. All the RRC resettlement strategies assumed that three basic factors were necessary for success: voluntary entrance into the program; private ownership of land and produce; and allocation of sufficent resources. These strategies were presented to Mengistu at the ten-year plan conference in July 1984. The plan discussed during that July meeting and later approved in September at the Party Congress paid little attention to the drought and famine. It projected that in the next ten years 115,000 people would be resettled—that is an average of only 15,000 people per year. In ten years only 121.8 thousand hectares would be developed, to produce a mere 2,151 thousand quintals, barely enough to maintain the people at a level of self-sufficiency. Considering the extent of the famine and the number of people we had in shelters, I was shocked at how little attention was given to resettlement. It was incompatible with what we in the RRC had envisioned. I opposed the plan’s approach and said so in the meeting. I pointed out that some of the people in the shelters had been on the welfare roles for over ten years alreday. By not giving thema way out, by not resettling and rehabilitating them, we were burdening ourselves with heavier responsibilities for the future. I pointed out that 15,000 people a year was only a drop in the bucket: that we should allocate more resources, more money, and move more people. I was sharply criticized in return. In front of everyone, I was told by Mengistu that settlement and rehabilitation were not a priorities. He contended that with general agricultural improvement, the need to rehabilitate would lessen. The RRC should concentrate on dismantling

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shelters, sending people home, and encouraging them with the regime’s inevitable formula for success: hard work. Mengistu told me I could continue resettlement with whatever funds were available from the international community. In several subsequent meetings between the Central Planning Committee and the Resettlement Department of the RRC, I tried to convince them of the need for more funds, because the international

community was not interested in long-term rehabilitation programs. Again I got nowhere. The irony was that in July, I was the one pushing for an increase in resettlement programs. Within three months the tables would be turned, and I would be trying just as desperately to convince the regime to slow down its resettlement schemes. Mengistu’s Resettlement Campaign

In the beginning of October 1984, before the general donors’ meeting described in Chapter 4, Mengistu called me into his office. He told me,

out of the blue, that he was planning a massive national resettlement campaign. He planned to move 300,000 families, 1.5 million people, from Wollo and Tigray to Southwestern Ethiopia in nine months. I was amazed at these numbers. He said that this was the opportune moment to implement this project, which he claimed to have been considering for a long time, since the people couldn’t refuse. They were helpless. They had no property, no tools. If we moved them now they would be entirely under our control and depend on us for everything. His rationale for the program was: 1) to establish model producers’ cooperatives (collectivized farms); 2) to place people who had accepted the Revolution along sensitive parts of the border; 3) to promote integration of various tribes and nationalities; 4) to develop vast fertile areas that would produce food surpluses; 5) to remove the unemployed and lumpenproletariat from the urban centers; 6) to use the settlement areas as

rehabilitation centers for politically undesirable people from all walks of life; and last but not least, 7) to depopulate rebel areas in order to deprive

the guerrillas of support. It was one of those rare moments when he becomes relatively frank and one gets a glimpse of the real Mengistu. I told him that it would be a fatal mistake to attempt to settle 300,000 families in nine months. I told him the RRC did not have the resources, that land use surveys on new

sites had not been made, that we would not get that many vounteers, and that it would drain our resources from the most pressing problem of the hour—emergency relief. He refused to see my points. He said that he would support my agency with the necessary manpower and financial

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backing. He argued that the RRC could mobilize international support. I was instructed to draw up a tentative operational plan. Mengistu was overflowing with enthusiasm as he told me all this. It was Clear that he considered this project to be the panacea for all the ills of the country. Mengistu loves campaigns, and this was something he could sink his teeth into—creating new committees and agencies, launch-

ing campaigns, emergency measures that would mobilize the entire nation with himself at the top. That is why the country’s direction is haphazard. So much depends on the whim of Mengistu. He gets some bizarre idea, the next morning there is a meeting where he unveils his latest brainchild, and before we know it we are plunged into a campaign with people working 18 to 20 hours a day, ignoring their other duties, prodded on by Chairman Mengistu’s slogans on the importance of this campaign for the Revolution. I knew that this new resettlement scheme would totally sap the energy and resources of the country. It was true that in the ten- year plan conference I had stated that 15,000 people a year would be too little; but

now, barely one month later, he had decided to move 300,000 families, a hundred times as many people, in only nine months. What was worse, he was trusting his own caprice instead of thorough planning. His official reasons for launching the resettlement campaign were given in an interview in December

1986 with German TV reporter, Hannah

Gadatsch: Resettlement and villagization, among other strategies in our ten year plan, belonged to a list of measures conceived with the general aim of countering conditions of underdevelopment and in particular of modernizing and raising productivity in the agricultural sector. The plan was intended to have been carried out later and in stages, but the drought forced us to speed things up. We had to save the lives of people in deadly danger. The resettlement plan had to be implemented very quickly and as an emergency measure.!

This was a lie, as anyone knew who had seen the ten-year plan discussed and approved just two months before. Mengistu’s resettlement plan was the result neither of research nor of long-term planning. It was a spontaneous act designed to take political advantage of the people’s suffering, and a chance for Mengistu to present himself as a

concerned leader. It was an exercise in utter hypocricy. My staff and I worked day and night to come up with a workable

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plan. None of us believed that this huge mass movement could be accomplished in such a short time without serious repercussions on the emergency relief program and on the other national priorities. So, with all due respect to the Chairman, we presented a plan for moving and settling 73,400 families in two years. We indicated in our plan that even if we were successful in moving this many people, ultimate success would depend on a key factor: that the holdings be private and not collectivized. We presented our plan to Mengistu’s aide just before the weekly Politburo meeting. A couple of days later, I had a call from the aide at 10 AM telling me to appear before Mengistu at once with my two deputies. We were apprehensive. When senior officials are summoned “at once” to the Chairman’s office, they usually call their wives or closest relatives and leave a last message, just in case. Several people ordered to his office in this manner were never heard of again. The three of us were ushered into his office with its huge color picture of Lenin, its photos of Mengistu and Castro; its rich red carpet, velvet seats, and gifts and ornaments from various heads of state. Mengistu was all business. We were told to sit. For once he got right to the point. “T have invited you here in the middle of a hot discussion in the Politburo. ordered a break so that I could resolve this problem with you. You will remember that I instructed Comrade Dawit to submit a plan for settling 300,000 families from Wollo and Tigray. Instead, you have based your plan on 50,000 families, saying that 300,000 is an impossible target. The Politburo has found this outrageous. I would like to find out whether you all concur in this opinion?” A terrifying question. Who knew what the consequences would be if we said the wrong thing? I took the floor and tried to explain our recommendations. My senior deputy in charge of rehabilitation, Taye Gurmu, backed me up. Taye was a professional who always knew what was possible and what was not. He was a frank person who has paid the price for his honesty with abuse from Legesse. My other deputy, Colonel Habtemariam, was a hardworking man whose work was clouded by his bureaucratic approach. He contributed a lot to the administrational aspect of the RRC, but when dealing with the Politburo he often proved too timid. Now he was unable to deal with the pressure of the situation and stammered out that there was no reason why 300,000 families could not be moved if it that was what the Chairman wanted. This was exactly what Mengistu wanted to hear. He acted as though it were the seal of approval from an expert; he ordered full preparations to be made at once, telling us that the senior Politburo member Legesse

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would be in charge. No discussion was allowed. Mengistu said he had to go back to reconvene the meeting. Just before he left us, he said, almost as an afterthought: “by the way, plan for 500,000 families, not 300,000.”* It was terrible. There was no way to move that many people in one year. Even worse, Legesse was the head of the operation. Legesse—the most heartless, arrogant man in the government; uninformed, uneducated, and yet inflated with his own ego and self-image. He was the most unsuited of any man in the government to run the program. Confused and shocked, we went to the RRC office to call a meeting of all the department heads, planners, and economists. After prolonged discussion, we were all agreed that Mengistu’s plan was beyond the capacity of the RRC and beyond our mandate. The furthest we could go was the settlement of 73,400 heads of families in two years. This was our estimated figure of displaced people and people in the shelters who would volunteer to be moved, and the maximum that our resources and available land would allow. In an elaborately prepared document which we forwarded to the Supreme Planning Committee, we explained why we would be unable to undertake this task; why in principle it would be wrong to begin such a massive venture while the RRC had other equally urgent priorities. Immediately after, I was informed that the planning and execution of this

massive new resettlement program would be taken over by the Central Planning Committee and the Politburo. Various ministries and agencies were given responsibilities. Those most involved were the Ministry of Construction, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of State Farms, the Water Resources Commission, and the provincial Party secretaries. The RRC was given the job of feeding the settlers and providing relief items, tents, tools, medicine, and seed.

Opening the Gates of the Cities

In September 1984, immediately after the tenth anniversary celebration was over, the gates of Addis were opened and thousands of famine victims flooded into the city. Some were looking for temporary shelter, while others wanted to start life all over again. Streams of ragged pilgrims walked along Jomo Kenyatta Boulevard, past the highly decorated, affluent area around Revolution Square, past the huge statue of

*

The official number we prefered to use was 300,000 ,even though in the Central Committee both figures were used. The idea was that if the first phase of the movement succeeded, the target would be increased to 500,000.

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Lenin thathad recently been inaugurated by the Chairman, past the huge portraits of Marx, Lenin, Engels, and Mengistu. The famine victims were weak, disoriented, clothed in rags. People in the city rushed out of their houses and offered them food, water, and clothing. The RRC built a

shelter in the suburb of Gulale, and the National Red Cross and the City Council cooperated with the RRC in providing relief. Legesse was irritated by these ragged hordes—proof that there was serious famine in the country—and ordered them kept out; but even the police could not, in good conscience, throw these people out of the capital. To pacify Legesse, we showed the refugees a route to the shelters at Gulale that avoided the center of the city. Many government officials came to Gulale to see what was happening and to express their sympathy. None of the Politburo members came. One day I was told that Mengistu had gone to Tatek, a military training center 30 miles from Addis, to review the facilities. On his way he had to pass by the Gulale shelter, where by now we had more than 2000 people. I went io Gulale with a few of my staff, hoping to attract his attention on his way back. I wanted him to see the miserable condition of the people first-hand. I waited for hours until I saw his mile-long motorcade approaching. As always, it was hard to tell which car he was in: for security, he rides in one of 12 identical Land Rovers, all packed

with soldiers. I stood by the roadside hoping that even if I couldn't identify his Land Rover, he would see me. Besides, he couldn't fail to

notice the tents and relief facilities by the roadside. But the motorcade just passed by without slowing. People started coming into all the cities, not just Addis. Dessie in Wollo, Gondar, Makalle in Tigray, and smaller towns along the main roads in Northern Ethiopia were packed with people. By November 1984, we had 14,000 people in Addis and its outskirts. Most of them had

traveled long distances looking for a permanent place to settle. Some intended to got to Wollega, others to Kaffa and Ilubabor, where they had heard there was water and good land. I talked to several such families. Those from Wollo had walked between 30 to 45 days. Some of their people had been eaten by hyenas and lions—they were too weak to run away or protect themselves. Some had been so exhausted that they had laid down and died by the road. Less than 50 percent reached Addis. No one from the leadership wanted to hear these terrible stories, but the people of Addis listened. They expressed their sympathy by comforting the victims with whatever clothes and food they could spare. More importantly, they learned how little the regime was doing for the country. All this was why I defended the resettlement program as I under-

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stood it atthe time. AsI stated to the international donors’ conference, the program

is actually a shift of the relief centers from scorched and arid environments to environments conducive to the eventual complete rehabilitation of the victims...the movement of people from one relief center to another is entirely voluntary and rehabilitation programs all start with the allocation of individual holdings of land ... the government is giving support to and organizing the spontaneous internal migration which is now being observed in many parts of the country. Recently some 2900 people crossed Addis on foot from Wollo region on their way to western Ethiopia ... Therefore by organizing and expediting the movement of people from drought stricken areas to areas that are less prone to drought, the government is taking up and sharing the responsibility for actions which the people have taken by themselves. In time and with the proper agricultural imports, these families should not only be self-sufficient in

food but also producing surplus. My remarks clearly indicated the confusion that prevailed at the time. I thought Mengistu could not be serious about the 300,000 number;

and all of us in the RRC were made to believe that it was going to be voluntary and that the resettlement program would be based on private lands and not collectivization. While discussions were going on in the Party about the intended massive resettlement program, the RRC started helping those who had already left their homes. At the end of October we started with the refugees in Addis. Approximately 3,000 people were transported to Wollegga and placed in already existing settlements which were at the time run by the RRC. These settlers were eager to be moved, making the operation a lot easier than it might have been. While the National Planning Committee was reviewing settlement sites, Mengistu started traveling to around Ethiopia looking for sites on his own. He flew over Kaffa, Wollegga, Ilubabor, and Gabella and was

impressed by the dense forests and abundant water. It was as if he were the first man ever to see these areas. The idea of creating settlements in these places became the driving force in his life. He made on-the-spot decisions on settlement sites without any research. His flock of planners, economists,and agronomists, simply nodded at all his decisions. Soil tests were not made, rainfall data were not gathered, health problems

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were not investigated. Massive preparations were undertaken based on Mengistu’s snap-decisions. I remember one such site very well. It was a place called Gura Farda (“Black Horse” in Oromo) in Kaffa province, a densely forested area, reminiscent of the African jungle in Hollywood’s Tarzan films. It was vast, green and dense—completely virgin and inacccessible. My assignment was to buld a warehouse and have grain ready by the time the settlers arrived. Graders, bulldozers, trucks, tractors, and mobile work-

shops were sent and everyone went to work. I have always admired the efficiency of Ethiopians. In a month, 60 miles of roads were constructed,

vast areas were cleared and my large warehouse was finished. It was an incredible job—and as it turned out, an empty achievement. One discovery followed another. The tse-tse fly was plentiful and brought the sleeping sickness. No cattle could be raised, and the place was infested with malaria. Though it rained all the time, the geology of the area was such that the water was not held in the ground. The jungle was green, but there was no life in it for man. I accompanied Mengistu on his second visit when he was told these depressing findings. True to form, he never admitted his mistakes. He said he had been misled and blamed the Minister of Agriculture. He ordered us to abandon the project after wasting millions of dollars. Asosa in Wollega region, Gambella in Ilubabor region, Pawe in Gojjam region, Mettema in Gondar region—these sites chosen for the new settlers were under intensive preparation. The entire governmental machinery, except the military, ceased to function; all that mattered was resettlement. The meager resources of the nation were diverted toward the settlement sites. The media began a propaganda barrage on rehabilitation, while still refraining from mentioning the famine. Transporting the settlers was a problem. Soviet aircraft were used to transport settlers from Tigray, where the rebels had made ground transport hazardous. In other regions, public buses were pressed into service. Ina country where under 95 percent of public tranportation is by bus, this effectively paralyzed the nation with long-term adverse effects on economic growth. Legesse travelled to Makale and Dessie in the heart of the famine region to begin finding settlers. He gave speeches to the people in the shelters. The weak, the aged, the dying, the children—all were forced to listen. Legesse lectured these emaciated skeletons about Marxism and Leninism, about the establishment of the Party, and about the achieve-

ments of the Revolution. He told them that their salvation lay in the new resettlement program; that the government had made meticulous preparations; that they would be given tools, food, shelter—everything for a

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new and better life. His cadres scattered among the crowd would tell the people to applaud at certain points. The clapping was faint and sickly as the peasants tried to obey the cadres; some could barely move their hands. At the end of each speech Legesse would shout “Down with Imperialism!! Down with Capitalism! We shall overcome nature! We shall go where the government tells us to go!! Long live Mengistu!!” At every slogan, people were expected to raise their fists in the power salute. It was a scene all of us were used to in other contexts, but here in the shelters it was a horrible spectacle. My staff members who accompanied Legesse were overcome with disgust as they watched these exhibitions. Without finding out whether the sites were ready, Legesse ordered the Soviet Antonovs to the airport in Makale to pick up the first group from the shelters. They were the relatively stronger volunteers with fewer than than three family members, forming an initial group of about

200. Government officials in both Tigray and Wollo objected to the insufficient preparations, and the fact that there was no proper registra-

tion of people. In Tigray, an official confided off the record: “People are weak, they cannot endure this long trip, they have never been on the airplane; and besides all the family members aren’t together, some are still back in the villages. Preparations are not complete at the other end, at the settlement site. I think it would be wrong for us to move these people at this stage.” Hundreds of buses were ordered to the shelters in Wollo. Legesse visited the shelters and distribution centers around Dessie. He strutted

through the crowds of starving peasants as if he were reviewing an honor guard. One of my staff who was with him told me of an incident that occurred in one of the shelters near Dessie. Legesse called for the health officer on the site, who had been working around the clock and never had

the time to change his clothes or have his hair cut. Legesse took one look at the exhausted, overworked health officer and began to shout at him that he was a disgrace. Legesse then called his soldiers and the health officer was dragged off and shaved completely bald, then thrown in jail for a few days as punishment—leaving the shelter without a health officer for that period. He was so humiliated that he committed suicide when he was released. While preparations were still being made, the mass movement was ordered to begin with the people from Wollo. The RRC’s responsibility was limited to providing food, water, and shelter for the journey and immediately after the arrival. By November, we had enough food and relief items for the initial groups who went to Kaffa, Ilubabor and Wollega regions.

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The first phase of the plan was to move 50,000 people under the integration program, placing them in existing Peasant Associations of the South and Southwest. The second phase was to move 250,000 people into the undeveloped areas.

The first phase (which ultimately involved 70,000 people) went smoothly enough. Ilubabor was thinly populated and most of the Peasant Associations had room for more people. But Wollega and Kaffa did not have much space to take in more peasants, except for some of the undeveloped areas which were being considered for the second phase of resettlement. However, during this first phase no serious difficulties were encountered. The death rate during the move was low. Of the 70,000 people moved from Wollo and 20,000 from Tigray under this program, about 350 people died along the way or upon arrival at the site. The most serious problem was the failure to properly register the settlers at both points. Families were separated in the rush to get on the planes

and buses. The reason for the enthusiasm of the volunteers was that they had been lied to. Legesse and his cadres had said they had prepared houses, running water, public services, electricity; they told farmers they could harvest three times a year. These lies backfired when the truth began filtering back. The settlers found that the new environment was foreign to them. The insects, the vegetation, and the weather were unfamiliar and disturbing. People were exhausted. Malaria and other diseases caused many deaths. There was never enough medical attention. The only bright spot was that the RRC was providing enough food for everyone. The cruelest aspect of this resettlement was the heartless separation of families that occurred. Some volunteers who wanted to delay leaving until the rest of their family could join them were simply shoved into the

planes or buses by the soldiers. Many families became separated, and because registration had been neglected it was extremely difficult to get them back together again. Peasants in Ilubabor constructed shelters to receive the incoming settlers. 27,000 tukuls were constructed in a few weeks. It was a marvelous achievement, but it was done under duress. In all three provinces the old inhabitants were resentful of the new settlers. They did not share the same language, culture or religion with the newcomers;

even their

physical features were different. These differences still exist today, but I believe that with time the newcomers will be fully integrated into their new environment. This first phase was largely composed of people willing to go. The second phase of the resettlement program was much more destructive

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and complicated. The number of volunteers dwindled as news of conditions at the new sites filtered back into Tigray and Wollo. There were rumors about malaria and other diseases, about the separated families, about the promises that weren’t true. It was the end of February 1985, and the belg rains had begun in some places. These sprinkles of rain brought new hope to the peasants in the North. They became more adamant in their refusal to go. An emergency meeting of the party secretaries and administrators was called with Mengistu presiding, probably for the tenth time since the resettlement program was started. The previous meetings had been to discuss implementation. This meeting was necessary because it was impossible to find any more volunteers.

Mengistu thanked everyone for their wonderful cooperation and for the success so far. But he said that the program must continue: These sites are the core of our socialist rural structure. The future success of collectivization very much depends on their success ...therefore I have been obliged to give you additional quotas particularly for the provinces of Tigray, Wollo, Shoa, and Gondar. This is a mission which you must

perform ... Almost all of you here realize that we have security problems. The guerrillas operating in many of these areas do so with great help from the population. The people are like the sea and the guerrillas are like fish swimming in that sea. Without the sea there will be no fish.

We have to drain the sea, or if we cannot completely drain it we must bring it to a level where they will lack room to move at will, and their movements will be easily restricted. Mengistu’s attitude toward people in the North was that they had brought their troubles on themselves. “Why should people have a right to be fed when they won’t listen to what we tell them is best for them? The people have an obligation to obey programs and policies designed for their own benefit. If they think they have a right to wage war on us, why don’t we have the right to stop it and to move them to areas where they have less chance of rebelling?” His feelings about the people of the North can be summarized by noting that during the entire crisis period he spent a total of 30 minutes in the famine regions. At this meeting I have quoted from, nobody argued with Mengistu’s instructions. My task was relatively easy. I was to provide the food and the relief items between the departure points and the settlement sites. I didn’t argue because I was confident that there weren’t going to be

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enough volunteers. I didn’t guess that coercion would be used by the local officials to fill their quotas. Thus began the massive program of forced resettlement. In Tigray, in Wollo, and in Gondar people from the villages were rounded up and loaded onto planes and trucks. A fresh military offensive was conducted against the Tigray Liberation Movement in order to gain access to people in areas not previously controlled by the government. In the ensuing confusion displaced people could easily be rounded up or lured into the settlement program. Regional administrators and Party secretaries found it a test of their competence and command; it became a task that would prove the loyalty of Party secretaries, cadres, and administrators to

Mengistu and Legesse. Legesse never liked to hear excuses. Now every morning he wanted one thing only: numbers. How many people were at the assembly point? How many were shipped? How many were left? The army and the milita were sent to villages to round up people and load them onto trucks and planes. People who had come to the market place, people who were out to visit friends and relatives would find themselves “volunteering” because they were seen by the soldiers on the roadside. Whole villages would be rounded up, and people between the ages of 18 and 55 made to form a line. They were sometimes registered, but at other times they were simply given a few minutes to pack some belongings and loaded into the trucks. Mothers, fathers, and children were separated, begging and imploring, but the Legesse’s administrators would allow no exceptions; they were under orders. It was a terrible task. I have talked with the Party secretaries and administrators involved, and know they had serious reservations about this program. But they felt the pressure from Legesse to fill their quotas fast, and they followed instructions.

After reaching the settlement sites, many escaped. Some tried to walk all the way back to their homes in the North, a journey of many weeks or months. For others it was easier to cross the border into the Sudan. Many were caught and executed by firing squads, particulary in Arosa and Gambella. Special concentration camps were built both in the North and in the Southwest to detain those who refused to be moved, who tried to escape, or who were caught spreading rumors. It was inhuman beyond what anyone of us could believe and it was all by the order of Legesse. The Gambella Settlement Site

Legesse’s cruelty throughout the resettlement operation was legen-

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dary, but the worst was Gambella. This site was in a fertile area of thick

forests and abundant water that was thinly poplulated by native people who lived by gathering roots and fruit. It was a vast, unexploited virgin land which would have tempted anyone. Mengistu had chosen it for the largest settlement site of all. Roads were bulldozed, forests were cleared, and thousands of peasants were ordered in from the Gore area to build the tukuls that would house the incoming settlers. The first group was scheduled to move in February 1985, at the hottest time of the year. The RRC argued that the move should be delayed. The settlers from Tigray and Wollo were highlanders and Gambella was a lowland area, hot and

humid. Transporting these people in their weakened condition to a place where the temperature was 90 degrees and above was going to cause terrible hardships. However, Legesse ordered the Tigray, Wollo and Northern Shoa people to get ready to move to these areas right away. He never tried to hide his dislike of the Eritreans and Tigrayans. He had this primitive

theory that mixing the Tigrayan settlers with the Amharas from Shoa and Wollo would somehow make the Tigrayans more loyal. The RRC argued that mixing settlers was a bad idea. I maintained that ethnic groups should be allowed to keep their culture and community life intact. This would speed their adjustment to their new homeland. In one instance, Legesse’s hatred of Tigrayans resulted in a brutal criminal act. The people who were to go to Gambella were first transported to Debre Birhan, where we had a transit camp. They couldn’t be flown to Gambella because the airstrip was not yet complete. The number of people waiting in Debre Birhan grew to thousands. To clear out the transit camp, Legesse decided that able-bodied people with small numbers of children should go ahead by bus. Most of us were reluctant; we didn’t know how people would react to the heat. But Legesse insisted, adding that his instructions did not apply to the people from Tigray: every Tigrayan, old or young, sick, weak, or on his deathbed, was ordered onto the buses for the two-day journey. In effect, he condemned the old and sick Tigrayans to death. The Tigrayans and the others were packed into 60 buses with barely room to breathe. In their weakened state, the journey was torture for them. Many died in the buses on the rough, rutted roads, heavily eroded by the rains. There were no statistics on mortality, but our relief workers witnessed the deaths of hundreds: primarily infants, the elderly, and those who were weakened by starvation. At the reception center at Gambella, even though there were some Cuban doctors, many more

died, particularly babies. One of my staff who was there when the buses were being loaded

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came back to Addis and told me the story. He was shocked. He said he could not be a participant in what he termed “genocide of helpless people” and asked me to have him transferred to a place where he would

never have anything to do with Legesse. I was very sorry because he was such a good operative but I did as he requested. Who could blame him? The staff of the RRC worked for low salaries because they believed in what they were doing. The sanctity of life was what we stood for. The calculated brutality of Legesse’s actions was a shock for our entire organization. Contrary to our expectations, most of those who reached Gambella

survived the heat. I went there several times to make sure that the RRC was performing its duty.It was not a pleasant scene. Settlers were advised not to go near the river because of the crocodiles, and several

were seized by them and devoured. Malaria and other diseases were rampant. The settlers begged to be taken home; they felt lost in this strange place with its unfamiliar plant life and the terrible heat. But there was no escape. There was only the jungle, and beyond that the desolate, arid wastes in the Sudan. Settlers caught trying to escape were executed. International Reaction

The resettlement program caused an international uproar. In its defense, I must say that the principle of resettlement is sound. Northern Ethiopia has long been overcrowded and overgrazed, while the more fertile southern and southwestern areas are sparsely populated. Some critics quite rightly made the distinction between the principle of resettlement and the particular way it which it was carried it out. But others condemned the idea based on their general dislike of Marxist governments. They knew that the resettlement scheme was connected with the collectivization program; they suspected that it was an attempt to depopulate the rebel areas; and they could not accept the fact that their humanitarian aid was being used to finance long-term development programs and thereby strengthening a communist government. Since I was de facto the spokesman of the government through the 1984-1985 period (basically because there was no one else willing to answer questions), I made statements defending both the policy, which I supported, and the manner in which it was being implemented, which I abhorred. Addressing the logic of resettlement, I said:

The highlands are barren. Little grows there. They had been cultivated for about 3,000 years and the peasant farmers in their desperate need to eke outa living kept on overworking

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the land. In the end, like the homesteaders in Oklahoma in

the 1930s, they began to notice that dust was an integral part of their lives, that the foundation of agriculture had finally crumbled and was now blowing away in the wind.

And addressing the reaction of the West: It is hypocritical of the West to applaud the resettlement of our Falasha community thousands of miles away in a foreign land, and yet condemn the resettlement within Ethiopia.

The international uproar continued throughout 1985, jeopardizing the RRC’s relations with donors who were supplying our emergency relief. The United States spearheaded the opposition with ceaseless condemnations of resettlement, even though it had supported and financed similar programs during the Haile Selassie era and during the earlier period of the Revolution. Some governments and voluntary agencies guessed Mengistu’s objective of attempting to depopulate rebel areas. This proved impossible due to the sheer magnitude of such a task.

Tigray was inaccessible and people either hid, ran away, or crossed the border. The number of people sent from Wollo or Northern Shoa was far greater than the number taken from Tigray. Not a single person was removed from Eritrea, both because we were so sensitive to outside criticism in this area, and because the Eritreans would have joined the guerrillas rather than become settlers. The international community refused to participate officially in resettlement, but food (except US food) was diverted to the settlers anyway. The international commmunity gave its help to all the hungry and needy in Ethiopia; and we in the RRC had neither the right nor the wish to deny anyone because they had been moved to a different place, often against their will. But US AID was very sensitive on this point. Their auditors strictly controlled the movement of US AID food. It arrived in Ethiopia already designated for certain areas and could only be redistributed after discussions with US AID, which was very suspicious of the RRC. US AID once cut off all food to Ibinet when its representatives learned that refugees were being recruited as settlers, because US AID was strictly forbidden to allow its food to aid resettlement. This was a ridiculous interpretation of a misguided policy. It was one thing to oppose resettlement, but quite another to deny food to the very people whose lives we wanted to save. Joseph O'Neil from the US embassy once called me, furious because

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the head of the RRC’s aid-coordination department had told him off, saying: “Ethiopia is not one of your banana republics. You can’t push us around and pretend that you know everything just because you give us grain.” I understood the sentiment. It was not that our relief staff was not grateful; on the contrary, the great majority of the RRC staff was apolitical and friendly to the West. It was just we were under pressure from all sides. We knew that we were doing a far better job than any other African country: the UN, the voluntary agencies, and the humanitarian organizations all acknowledged it. We had the best relief organization and the best early warning system on the continent. And yet we were more criticized than any other country in Africa. Statistics

By the beginning of 1986, RRC figures showed the following numbers of people had been moved: From Wollo total 367,013 (62.4%) to:

Kaffa Ilubabo Wollegga Gojjam

44,334 72,226 220,636 29,820

From Shoa total 108,241 (18.4%) to:

Kaffa

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Tedele (Shoa region) Wollega Gojjam

6,149 11,279 54,977

From Gondar (1.1 %) to: Mettemma

6,387

(Gondar region) From Tigray total 89,716 (15.3%) to: Kaffa 21,982 Ilubabor 46,367 Wollega 21,367

From Gojjam (2.8%) to: Pawe, in Gojjam

16,425

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A total of 587,785 people were moved in the year Mengistu anticipated moving 1.5 million, even though everything possible was done. In terms of households the total number was 203,065, indicating that the

average settlers family size was less than three (in a country with an average family size of five). This was due both to the heavy mortality rate during the famine and the move, and to the separation of families. The heaviest toll was in Tigray where the average settler family size was only two.

A smaller number of settlers were moved in 1986 because of lack of resources. Emergency supplies had dwindled as the famine crisis subsided, and many of the relief items that had been diverted toward the settlement efforts were not available. By the end of 1986 an estimated 700,000 people had been moved. The refusal of the people to go and limitations of resources made it impossible to go beyond this. International pressure was never a factor in decreasing the momentum of the resettlement program, although Western diplomats tried to take the credit whenever the program lagged because of the rainy season, an upsurge in internal fighting, or a lack of resources. If it has stopped now, it is for these reasons and not because of Western pressure or abandonment of the final objectives. Of the 700,000 people moved by the end of 1986, it is believed that close to 20,000 died either during the movement or at the new settlement

sites. Almost 500 people were executed while trying to escape and an estimated 1,000 were lost attempting to walk back home. Over 5,000

people managed to get back to their homelands and over 10,000 people crossed the border to the Sudan. The rest continue to toil away under great hardships to satisfy the dreams of Mengistu.

Several foreign governments and voluntary agencies condemned the regime for attempting to depopulate the rebel areas, but that goal of Legesse and Mengistu could not be achieved. We did not move any people from Eritrea and the 89,000 moved from Tigray were far fewer than the goal. The Failure of Resettlement

The negative results of the resettlement campaign cannot be measured simply by the number who died; compared to famine deaths, that figure is very small. By far the greatest agony for the settlers was the forced separation from their loved ones. Of the estimated 700,000 settlers (250,000 families) still in the various camps, half are separated from one

or more family members. In the beginning of 1986 the RRC initiated a program of reunification. Social workers went around to all the camps to

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try and locate separated family members. Some were found. But in many cases, with the husband dragged off to a settlement site, whatever was left of the family wandered into cities or villages where they thought they would be safer and were never heard from again. It is hard to imagine what these people went through. The anguish of being torn away from your community ... the indescribable torment of escaping death from famine only to lose your husband, wife, or children forever by such a

senseless act of brutality. I saw it in the faces of the settlers. After the agony, after the tears, a numbness sets in and life becomes meaningless. This is only one of the reasons why the settlement sites will never be self-sufficient. Even those who are with their families are not motivated to work. They cannot relate to forced collectivization programs where nobody owns anything, where a family cannot own land or tools, where the entire produce of their labor goes to the cooperative and families get back only enough to live on. There are no churches or mosques on settlement sites. The whole idea of these settlements was to create the New Society without that

“opium of the masses,” religion. The leadership proclaims mankind’s domination over the God of nature: but in a country where faith is so much a part of the people’s lives, they feel demoralized without it. The peasants will never be productive in the settlements. They are lost souls. They miss their communities, their land and tools, their churches and

mosques, their family members. They will never view the settlement sites as anything more than concentration camps. Ethnic Conflicts

Through 1986 conflicts between ethnic groups occurred in Gambella, Ilubabor, Pawe, Gojjam, Asosa, and Wollega: conflicts between the

indigenous people and the newcomers, and sometimes between the settlers themselves. I believe that these difficulties could be overcome if other problems of adjustment and basic needs could be met. A more serious problem is the attacks now being launched by the various opposition movements on these projects. Recently the EPRP staged an

offensive against the Pawe settlement site in which several people were killed. Later, they kidnapped some Italians working on a multi-million dollar irrigation product near Lake Tana. In Wolleggo region, including Asosa, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) has staged offensives making the area totally unsafe. Because most of the resettlement programs are in areas inhabited predominantly by Oromos, the impact of the guerrillas is expected to grow.

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Villagization

To date, more than 3.5 million people have been moved into new villages under the program known as villagization. At the end of 1986, German reporter Hannelore Gadatch described the villagization sites in her acclaimed TV report: The Prussians themselves could not have made a better job of it. Lined up and grouped like soldiers, transplanted straight from the drawing board into the Ethiopian countryside, these new villages give the impression of having come straight out of the laboratory as synthetic as the expression “villagization”—the magic spell conjured up by the Marxist military government [that is] bringing radical change not only to the countryside but to the very social

structure of Ethiopia. Again, the rationale behind the villagization program makes sense. People in the highland areas, particularly in the drought-prone regions, live in widely scattered homesteads in wooden tukuls. These scattered

groups make modernization very difficult. The lack of good roads slows development, and also hindered the relief effort. An underdeveloped country like Ethiopia simply cannot afford to construct roads and provide services to all these villages. Basic needs like water, education and health can only be provided if these scattered communities are brought together. The objective of villagization is to bring communities together within their own regions. Unlike the resettlement program, people are not taken away from their traditional homelands, but simply moved to more suitable sites in new, and larger, villages of 500 families. Some

regions first attempted villagization schemes in 1983 and 1984, but the full-scale movement began in 1985 in the midst of the crisis. Like many other programs, it started spontaneously. Mengistu had gone to visit Harar in early 1985 and was impressed by their villagization program. Mengistu circulated a letter of congratulations for the successful villagization in Harar and instructed others to follow their example. This set off a competition between the various administrative regions, each trying to earn Mengistu’s praise. No one took time to plan. The Central Planning Committee only started looking into the long-term implications after administrators had already begun forcing people to move to new sites selected by the Peasant Associations. While the principle of the villagization program can be supported,

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the manner in which it was done, again, provoked both domestic and

international protest. The main goal was the control and regimentation of society, not development. Securing the countryside from guerrillas was more important than economic factors. People were forcibly rushed

into sites that had not been selected by experts. Forced to dismantle their old tukuls and build new ones, they cut down trees indiscriminately,

causing great damage to our already depleted forests. Rows of symmetrical tukuls which looked like military barracks were built hurriedly. Again there were no churches or mosques. While it was now more convenient to reach the people and provide them with services, their production dropped. They had less land to till because of the concentration of people sharing the arable land around each site. What was frustrating was that even as we attempted to get the peasants back on their feet again, the villagization program defeated our purpose. As in the settlement sites, the peasants were resentful. They hated having to move. They disliked having all their tools, oxen and other possessions seized by the Peasant Associations for communal use,

and in many cases their new lands were as infertile as their old ones. Their resentment showed in the way they worked, and by their flight to neighboring countries. Thousands from Harar crossed the border to Somalia. Mengistu reported in March 1987 that 11,460 villages were being constructed with a total number of 1,138,265 tukuls . There are 1,082,466

heads of families, making 5.7 million individuals, who have been collectivized in the villages. This, according to Mengistu, constitutes 15.4 % of the total rural population. Mengistu seemed to understand the problems: ...we have learned a lot from our past experience in directing this program. Every effort will be made, from motivating the settlers to selecting suitable areas. Since it is not possible to direct this vast and continuous program through temporary committees and campaigns, a special government institution will be set up next year to lead the program in a coordinated manner.

But by admitting in a very mild way that certain mistakes were made, Mengistu was only appeasing Western donors. For him the solution is never changing policies. He has even incorporated the concepts of resettlement and villagization into the constitution. Chapter II, article 10 states:

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in order to create a situation that is conducive to development, the government will make sure that the settlement of people is related to the distribution of natural resources; iii) in order to free the rural people froma backward way of life and to elevate them to a better social life, the state will

encorage people who live scattered and far apart to come together. Resettlement and villagization, as implemented in Ethiopia, have left only failure in their wake. Between them they have displaced over six million people, most of whom are worse off than before. Resentment,

distrust, fear, and support for rebel groups are the main achievements of these programs. Each has also paved the way for greater agricultural problems in the future because of the deforestation necessary to clear land for the settlement sites and to build homes for the villagization projects. Our forests, which play a key role in combating desertification, are now smaller than ever and a new famine cannot be far away. Notes to Chapter 10 1. Broadcast in Germany, December 16,1986. 2. Ibid.

Rebels and Refugees Relief operations in the northern parts of Ethiopia are complicated enough without security problems. The mountainous terrain, the lack of transportation and communications facilities, the scattered settlements

on slopes, gorges and mountaintops—all make travel extremely difficult. Add to this the danger of guerrilla attacks. Some roads were completely closed because the rebels controlled the surrounding countryside. The various rebel groups might attack supply convoys or warehouses, or even kidnap foreign and local relief workers at any time, creating a mood of uncertainty and fear for both workers and famine victims. Three-quarters of rural Tigray was under TPLF control, limiting our service to only a dozen towns. In Wollo region, EPRP and TPLF raids put the lands along the Tigray border beyond our reach. Those sections of Gondar near Tigray and the Sudan were the scenes of constant attacks by the EPDM and the EDU. No government agencies could get near the lowlands of Eritrea except for the towns of Barentu, Tessenei, Keren, and

Agordat. Highland Eritrea was somewhat more secure but still a risk. Whenever we went into these regions we were always under heavy military escort. The Ogaden had remained unsafe since the Somali War, and the RRC could accomplish little except along the river Wabi Shebelli and in the major towns of Jijiga, Degehabur, Kebridehar, and Gode, because of the Somali-backed Western Somalia Liberation Movement. The eastern highlands of Harar were infested by the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) which had on several occasions opened fire on villages and

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looted our supplies. Western Wollega was also unsafe because of OLF activity. The OLF operated especially in the border areas, but was also known to attack towns and military barracks in the hinterlands of the province. Western Ilubabor, particularly the Gambella area, was off limits because it was here that the Ethiopian army trained and supplied

the Sudanese Liberation Movement. The RRC’s movements were restricted because the military was constantly on the alert for Sudanese reprisals. We estimated that during the height of the crisis there were over 2.5 million people in need of help who neither we nor the voluntary agencies could reach. An international controversy over relief to these areas erupted, which both sides tried to manipulate. We condemned the rebels for preventing relief supplies from reaching the people and for stealing supplies intended for the starving. The rebels accused the govenment of deliberately starving rebel-controlled areas. The great tragedy was that so much energy was devoted to these mutual recriminations that no true

effort was made on either side to solve the problems of keeping people alive. Everyone wanted to take advantage of the situation. Donor goverments, with the United States in the lead, repeatedly accused the Ethiopian government of denying its own people food as a way to deny the rebels their base of support. In London an organization called War on Want headed by a Mr. Galloway unabashedly supported the TPLF and EPLF. War on Want was persistently vicious in its charges against the Ethiopian government, much of the time using fabricated stories in its newsletter: A regime that ignores its starving populace and spends billions of dollars to buy armaments is likely to misuse the relief aid to accomplish what its sophisticated weapons could not: it wants to crush the Eritrean struggle for liberation. The case that Colonel Mengistu is using British taxpayer’s money to starve out rebel areas, indirectly to bomb innocent

civilian targets in pursuit of his war aims and directly to oil the wheels of his bankrupt economy by selling food aid, is overwhelming?

And at other times feeding stories to the press, such as the Boston Globe: Recentreportsconfirming that Ethiopian fighter jetsbombed

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and strafed famine victims fleeing to the Sudan...bolster credibility of rebel claims that the Ethiopian government is using the famine to serve ideological ends. I can now set the record straight. There was no official policy of starvation, it wasall propaganda put out by the rebels to enrage the West. Nor did the RRC or any of the relief agencies withhold food from any group of people. Quite the contrary, we went out of our way to reach every needy person in Ethiopia. The allegations had the ring of truth because there were those in the government, primarily those under Legesse’s influence, who wanted to starve entire populations into submission. Their argument was that by giving food to people not directly under the control of the government, we might be feeding the rebels. But this was never discussed officially, nor was it circulated as instructions to any government officials. We knew that the rebel fighters were affected by the drought and were as much in need of aid as the rest of the population. The problem was that in the war zones there was no way of distinguishing between a rebel and an ordinary peasant. The rebel could hide his gun and pick up his rations from one of our distribution centers and no one would be the wiser. We also knew that the peasants shared their rations with the rebels, either

voluntarily or by force. Sometimes the lack of provisions, or delays in finding military escorts made getting food into rebel areas difficult, but the RRC never had any instructions to stop sending food. Legesse knew we would never do such a thing, even if directly ordered to. So he, Alemu, and their cadres went behind our backs and instructed admin-

istrators in Tigray and Eritrea to discouraging food delivery to suspect populations. Fortunately, this did not happen. The local administrators and Party representatatives would not go along with it. They were for the most part good men who sincerely wanted to help their people. I have already mentioned that they would often submit two reports on conditions in their districts: one to the RRC begging for help, and one to their supervisors covering up the true situation. They understood the realities of political life in Ethiopia: bad news was not looked on with favor. Now, however, they refused to follow Legesse’s orders: it would have weighed too heavily on their consciences. Mengistu, as always, supported Legesse’s policy, but was too afraid of international repercussions to put it into practice. In meetings at the end of 1984 and throughout 1985, Mengistu consistently expressed his regret to me that we were feeding rebels and their civilian collaborators. Heasked why we couldn’t divert food supplies away from enemy areas.

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We had to pretend to agree and dissuade him on technical gounds. We said, quite truthfully, that it would be difficult to deny them food in the presence of so many foreign organizations and relief workers; and if exposed, it would be bad for his international image. This added to his irritation at having so many foreigners in his country. It may have been this frustration that prompted him to launch another offensive in several parts of Tigray while the rebels lacked food and had the least support from the population. The offensive caused even more people to flee their homes; more people crossed the border. Sekota, AbiAdi and other crucial places were freed from rebel control, but only for a few months. They were all reoccupied and Tigray was more in the control of the TPLF than ever. They were in fact able to get into Makale and free 700 prisoners. Reverend Tom Houston’s Initiative

The RRC explored every possible avenue to reach peasants in conflict areas who couldn’t reach our distribution centers. One such avenue appeared on October 1984 when Reverend Tom Houston submitted his proposals for relief operations (see Chapter 6). He realized that a special effort had to be made in the conflict areas. Along with the rest of the contingency plans he submitted to me, he proposed that: ... the government of Ethiopia and the opposition groups agree to this offer of assistance for the international community and both parties refrain from all activities that would impede the delivery of relief supplies to all the people who need them. The plan, subtly and carefully worded by Reverend Houston, allowed the Ethiopian government to demonstrate its genuine concern for all its people—and at the same time, did not imply recognition of the rebel movements.

Reverend Houston offered to act as liason between me, the TPLF and the EPLF to bring about this understanding. It was a very difficult decision for me. Politically, it would have been improper for me to open a dialogue with the rebels, because it would imply recognition of the movements and acknowledgment of the fact that they had seriously hampered government activities. Ihad no mandate to do this and would certainly never have been given one. But in human terms it wasa difficult offer to turn down; I could not in good conscience simply say no. I also had to consider how my refusal would look to the outside

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world. It would add to the image of cruelty which the government and the RRC already had. That was what the rebels wanted. They were the underdogs; they got more sympathy from the Western media, and our refusal to accept such a humane offer would be another victory for them. But here wasa golden opportunity: if we could arrange a ceasefire for the sake of the starving it would improve the government's image. I decided to give it a try in secret. If we could start a dialogue and reach an agreement on humanitarian issues, this might lead to a broader understanding on the political front. I gave a positive signal to Reverend Houston, and he started his shuttles between EPLF and TPLF headquarters in Khartoum and my office in Addis, conveying points of view on how to strike an agreement. Finally he got to the point where he wanted a written statement of the government’s recognition that the rebel movements had hampered relief activites and that we were prepared to take every possible measure to ensure that all the needy would be served. In nine carefully worded paragraphs (which took three days to draft) I submitted to him what we termed a “Statement of Understanding of Drought and Famine Emergency in Ethiopia.” It stated, in part:

5. An important element of the plan is that there be a security situation in the country that enables food to be transported quickly both by land and air to all parts of the country where they are needed. The government will do its utmost towards this end. 6. It is bandits smooth needed

also recognized that the secessionist groups and must refrain from all activities so as to facilitate the delivery of relief supples to all the people who them.

This statement in a very cautious way indicated our desire to conduct peaceful relief operations. Below the surface, it meant that the government wouldn’t be the first to open fire or destroy a peaceful relief effort. Reverend Houston took my statement to the EPLF and TPLF. The EPLF rejected the entire idea; we couldn’t even agree on the term Ethiopia, and no further progress was ever made with them. But the TPLF indicated in a signed three-page document entitled “A Response by the TPLF” that they were willing to go part of the way with us. Now came the hardest, most dangerous part. I was very nervous about broaching this ultra-sensitive issue with Mengistu. My plan was to bring the matter up first with Fikreselassie and others in the inner circle, before mentioning it to Mengistu. But before I had a chance to talk to

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anyone—on November 17, the same day I got the TPLF statement— Mengistu made this astonishing announcement at a press conference:

Weare aware of aconspiracy from ill-intentioned people to take advantage of the drought to force us to make a deal with terrorists and secessionists in the North. Ethiopia will never allow this to happen. We will never negotiate with terrorists.

This statement was carried on the radio and in all the local papers. I was frightened. Few people in Ethiopia knew about our initiative. Ihad no idea whether it was just a coincidence, or if someone had tipped Mengistu off, but it made me look like a conspirator. I didn’t dare bring it up now. I went for advice to Tesfaye, the Minister of Public Security,

who agreed that the whole thing should be hushed up. That was the end of it— our efforts ended dismally. Despite that, I welcome this opportunity to publicly praise the courage, determination and dedication of Reverend Tom Houston, who even after this failure

never stopped trying to bring relief to those unfortunate people in Tigray and Eritrea. Refugees and the Role of the UNHCR

In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of starving people from Tigray, Eritrea, and Gondar crossed the border into the Sudan. Undernourished peasants walked for weeks and sometimes over a month through the wastelands before arriving at Sudanese relief centers. Many didn’t make it through the desert. Eventually there were over 400,000 Ethiopian refugees in the Sudan. Many of the refugees were fleeing from the fighting in the North. Others were famine victims who lived near the border and were seeking food. Others at the beginning of 1985 were fleeing from the horrors of the resettlement program. But many fled because of what they were told by the TPLF. People from Abi Adi, just 30 miles from Makale, walked fora

month to the Sudan because they were frightened by TPLF propaganda. They were told that the government would kill them or would recruit them for military service; or they were simply told that the Sudan was nearer than the Ethiopian relief center. Voluntary agencies and governments were asked to help these refugees in the Sudanese relief camps along the border. Bread for the World, Grass Roots International, the Lutheran World Federation, and

CARE became actively involved. Soon journalists heard about the camps

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and began writing sensational news stories based on rebel propaganda. The cry went up around the world that the government of Ethiopia was starving its own people. More voluntary agencies rushed to set up crossborder relief camps. For some agencies it was a financial opportunity: the sensationalistic news reports were drawing more funds from the Western public. There was an infuriated response from all over the world, withmuch of the anger directed at the RRC. Our office received several letters of condemnation. One from a woman in Ireland said: It has been stated that Government distribution of relief has been selective and discriminatory, in fact that it has been withheld from Tigre and Eritrea provinces. The annihiliation of these people by restriction of aid can only be likened to Adolf Hitler’s extermination of the Jewish peoples. . . These letters wounded us more than I can express. We were doing our best to save nine million people, and the world was comparing us with Hitler. I wrote back thanking her for her concern, assuring her we were feeding everyone we could reach, and added:

You have been a victim of lies and fabricated stories. The comments of the last few lines of your letter are hurtful and do a great disservice to the large numbers of Ethiopians and expatriates who, sometimes under very difficult conditions, are working extrememly hard to alleviate the suffer-

ings of those affected by drought in Tigray and Eritrea. Following close behind this explosion of media attention came suggestions that the entire relief operation should be conducted by the UN or the International Red Cross. Donor governments and agencies refused to understand that famine relief was an internal affair and no outside force was going to take over. Wein the RRC knew that no foreign government or outside agency could do our job better. For the govern-

ment, it would have meant yielding its sovereignty and as much as admitting that it was incapable of governing. No nation would ever allow such a thing to happen. The real tragedy was that many of the needy people who fled the country, sometimes dying in their efforts to reach the border, could easily have been helped from our end. Many who were encouraged to flee to the Sudan were just a short distance from relief centers inside the country. I blame the UNHCR (UN High Commission for Refugees) for

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much of this. It should have played a neutral humanitarian role, but proved to be a political instrument of those seeking to discredit our goverment. The UNHCR called those seeking food within our borders “displaced persons”; only when they crossed the frontiers were they called “refugees” and considered eligible for UNHCR assistance. Then the UNHCR became very interested, providing millions of dollars and sending the relief items that these same people had been denied on our side of the border. The massive influx of people into the Sudan would not have been anywhere near as great without this pull factor. Ihad other criticisms of the UNHCR which I expressed in a seminar in Addis on October 23, 1985, for the Economic Commission for Africa

then celebrating the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the UN: Refugee situations may be prolonged both by host states and their supporters for political reasons, and indeed for economic reasons if a host State thereby has the means to attract much larger amounts of international assistance

than would be forthcoming ... There was evidence that Somalia was gaining a great deal from this influx of outside currency. Somalia’s economy was given an enormous boost by the large-scale relief operation; they were not reluctant to have

our people remain. I don’t think the same was true of the Sudanese. There was definitely more economic activity in the country due to the refugees, but the main advantage for the Sudanese was political. The international attention made the Sudanese look like saints compared to the evil government to the east that preyed on its own people. Another of my criticisms of the UNHCR, expressed at the same time, was: Governments have in the past, and continue this practice now in some circumstances, donated funds to UNHCR not

from motives of humanitarianism, but from wishes to perpetuate refugee camps on the borders of a country which they might feel is hostile, merely in order to embarass the government of that country. I also expressed my concern that the refugee camps run by the UNHCR were becoming indoctrination centers and armed camps of rebel groups, contrary to the OAU convention prohibiting subversive activities of refugees outside their own country:

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In how many refugee camps will you find the free circulation of sophisticated weaponry, training courses for the use of this weaponry and the establishment of political cells for the indoctrination of ordinary men and women in subversive ideas? In how many refugee camps will you find the withholding of material assistance from those who refuse to participate in these kinds of activities, and how much false information will you find being deliberately circulated on conditions in the refugees’ country of origin, in order to

discourage their peaceful and voluntary repatriation? Finally, I was concerned that the UNHCR had deliberately helped set the stage for the Fallasha incident that excited so much world attention around New Years Day of 1985. Operation Moses

Operation Moses, as it was called by the Israelis, took place in the midst of the confused state of affairs among the border refugees. It is my

belief that much of the international outcry against the regime’s alleged persecution in Tigray and Eritrea and the demand for intensive crossborder relief operations took place precisely to facilitate the success of this operation and to divert attention away from what was happening to the Fallashas. For many Ethiopians, Operation Moses was an outrage. It was not

the saving of Jews from persecution, starvation, and death—it was the uprooting of Ethiopians from their native soil through an international conspiracy. The Fallashas, or the Ethiopian Jews, are one of many oppressed national groups. They are not treated any worse or better than the other nationalities which suffered cultural, racial and religious alienation and oppression under the Empire. The Revolution of 1974 took major steps towards equality, and the Fallashas as well as all other groups were better treated than they had been under Haile Selassie. This improvement did not occur by decree but through continuous educa-

tional programs throughout the rural areas. The 60,000 students of the zemacha of 1975, and those who participated in later campaigns, set out

to teach the people the concept of equality. Whatever the Fallashas may have suffered since then, because of the failures of the Revolution, is no different from what the rest of the people

have suffered. To single out the Fallashas because they share the same faith as the Israelis, who can mobilize public sentiment by references to past persecutions in Europe, was improper. There were suggestions that

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in Ethiopia the Fallashas were being persecuted like the Jews under the Nazis. This must be put to rest for good. More than any other country in Africa, we Ethiopians feel we have much in common with the Israelis.

The Amharic, Tigrinya, Tigre and Hebrew languages all have the same semitic origins. Israel has a prominent place in our early history, and many of our people have a deep attachment to the Israeli people. I remember during the Six Day War many Orthodox churches were open for 24 hours praying for an Israeli victory. Since 1974 there has been a greater political awareness, and more Ethiopians understand and support the cause of the Palestinians—but not in exchange for prejudice against the Jews as a people. Very few people even knew that the Fallashas were Jews. They were just a minority group with a different culture and faith. In physical appearance they were no different from any other highlanders. It was known to us in the government that there was a very strong MOSSAD (Israeli Intelligence Agency) structure in the Sudan, a remnant of our joint operation in the 1960s with the Sudanese rebels of the Anyanya. We werealso aware that they were attempting to move the Fallashas out of Gondar. That was why ORT, the Jewish voluntary agency, had been expelled from Ethiopia in 1981. The Israelis would have welcomed the publicity from this sort of operation earlier, and certainly the persecution of the Fallashas was greater under the Empire; but they held back because of Haile Selassie’s international stature and Ethiopia’s alliance with the West. All changed with the Revolution. The world will believe any crime it is told is taking place in a communist country. To make things more convenient, there was the famine and the allegations that Ethiopia was starving its own people. Israel had the support of Khartoum in the plan. MOSSAD agents were sent inside Ethiopia to tell the hungry, uneducated Fallashas that they could go to the Promised Land. MOSSAD gave them rations, slipped them across the border, and put them in a camp financed by international organizations and Western governments, notably the United States. Then they were flown to Israel with the connivance of the Sudanese government. Everything was done in secret, for if the Islamic Sudanese were found working with Israel, their Arab allies would be furious. (When the news leaked out it contributed to the coup that ousted Nimeiry.) In 1984 alone, 7000 Fallashas were airlifted from Eastern

Sudan bringing the Fallasha population in Israel to 15,000. The Western media applauded, even eulogized, the undertaking, but what has not been told is the Ethiopian perspective. Why were these people taken out of their homeland? If the Fallashas were moved because

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they were victims of the political system it was wrong, because all of Ethiopia was in the same danger. I maintain it was wrong to single out one nationality among all the oppressed peoples of Ethiopia, and “rescue” it simply on the basis of a shared religion with an outside state. Would it have been correct to fly the starving Ethiopian Catholics to Rome? Or any of the Protestants? Or the millions of Moslems to one of the Arab states? What renders this argument even more feeble is that there is actually a heated debate in Israel as to whether the Fallashas are properly Jews at all. There are rabbis who do not want to accept them. Israel is alien to the Fallashas and the Fallashas alien to Israel. I would also like to point out the double standard of some Western critics of Ethiopia. The Fallashas are resettled in a foreign country, and the critics applaud. But when our government tries to resettle people within their own country, these critics condemn us. (Again, Iam speaking of the principle of resettlement, not the way it was carried out by the

regime.) Once they arrived in Israel the Fallashas were sent to the more dangerous, occupied territories to act as a buffer against the Arab world. There were many who were not happy in Israel. There were cases of suicide and repeated demonstrations protesting the denial of human rights. In 1987 a British newspaper reported: In mid-May a woman in her early sixties hanged herself, bringing the known Ethiopian suicides since 1980 to 36. The cause cited most often by friends and relatives is the missing of loved ones and depression. Up to 7000 Ethiopians continue to live in temporary housing or absorption centers. Some have been in the cultural and economic ‘ghettos’ for seven years ... Questions are being asked about where more

than 220 million raised for the Ethiopians has gone.‘ Israel launched an appeal to raise funds to move the Fallashas from the Sudan to Israel, and that amount may have been raised— it was the kind of story that makes people part with their money. But witha fraction of that money the Fallashas could have been helped in their homeland. It has been argued that the Fallashas left voluntarily. Iwould say that they were lured out. When hard times hit it is easy to persuade poor, hungry, uneducated people, with no knowledge of life outside their village, to go to the Land of Milk and Honey. My outrage comes from what they were not told. They were not told how different life would be for themin Israel, how hard it would be to fitin, how unhappy they might be.

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To add an even grimmer note, Stephan Kaplan of the Hebrew University notes that during Operation Moses 1,000 lives were lost—the single greatest Jewish Ethiopian loss of life in the century. I think that what has happened to the Fallashas is a tragedy. Traditional societies are complex and their roots are deep. The Fallashas cannot be understood simply by comparing the material benefits of life in Israel with their admittedly poor life in Ethiopia. What must also be taken into account is the sense of belonging toa land and culture, the sense of homeland. It is what the Somali nomads felt so deeply when we tried to move them out of the desert. It is what I have lost here in exile in the United States. This inexplicable feeling is so powerful, so unique, so priceless that nothing the Fallashas could find in Israel could possibly make up for its loss. Many of them are finding this out now. Politicizing Relief in Rebel Areas

The attention given to the famine and the refugee camps helped the rebel movements in putting forward their case ational community. The Reagan administration milked the all it was worth. On February 26 Vice-President Bush

in the Sudan to the intersituation for condemned

Ethiopia and stated: “Famine has been so devastating in Ethiopia in part because the government has used it as an instrument of war in Eritrea and Tigray.” Mr. Bush knew (or should have known) that this was not true. An American agency, CRS, was operating in Eritrea and Tigray and could have verified that we were offering as much relief as possible to both areas. In fact on October 16, 1985, the representative of CRS, William

Schaufle, verified to the House Subcommittee on Human Rights that there was no deliberate withholding of food aid to the North: I think by and large—and certainly there may be exceptions—that our experience has been that any hindrances to the distribution of food are logistical or material in nature

Further politicizing the famine relief operation, the Vice-President called upon the Soviets “to be as serious about the relief of famine in Ethiopia as they were about the conduct of the war there.”* In March 1985 Mr. Bush went to the Sudan where he madea tour of the refugee centers, expressing sympathy, promising more help, and echoing the call which had been reverberating through America and Western Europe since the

last months of 1984: “The situation cries out for safe passage and safe delivery of food for Eritrea and Tigray; and let poltics be put aside.’” Shortly thereafter in March an African Famine Conference was held

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in Geneva with the Vice-President giving the keynote address. Before the conference was inaugurated a secret meeting was held between Mr. Chester Crocker of the US State Department, Mr.McPherson of US AID, Foreign Minister Goshu Wolde and myself. When we arrived in Geneva we expected Vice-President Bush to make a harsh political statement against Ethiopia. Our delegation was instructed to make a strong antiAmerican statement in response to this and to the previous provocative statement Vice-President Bush had made in the Sudan. Goshu and I wanted to avoid this confrontation, particularly now, in the midst of the

food crisis with the United States donating more than half of our entire emergency relief supplies. Our meeting lasted for hours. Several issues were raised, among

them Ethiopia's refusal to discuss improving relations between our two countries at a higher level and the distribution of food to the rebelcontrolled areas. The Foreign Minister agreed to put these matters to the Head of State and find ways to hold high-level meetings. As usual I denied that there were rebel-held areas where people were starving. I said if the United States could give usa list of such places I was prepared to assign a mutually acceptable voluntary agency to operate in those areas. There were last minute arguments but eventually the provocative part of Vice-President Bush’s statement was omitted and distributed to the delegates with the deleted criticism visible to everyone. We felt that this was a great diplomatic success on our part. The next day I met the US AID people who were to tell me the areas they believed were under rebel control. I was nervous, because they were of course right, there were several regions where we couldn’t operate. When they gave me the names I was relieved to find that all the places listed were outside actual conflict areas, and in fact were places where my agency had relief programs already. Their intelligence gathering had not been accurate. I, however, pretended that they were controversial places. Later US AID believed that new distribution centers were opened as a result of their pressure. The meeting with the American officials was reported negatively by Kassa Kebede, the Ethiopian ambassador in Geneva. The entire Party machinery was in turmoil. Mengistu was angry as were the other hardliners in the ruling circle. Goshu tried to explain but Mengistu made it very clear that Ethiopia was not going to ask the United States for an improvementin relations. He was particularly furious about the fact that we had been the ones to request the meeting. Our initiatives were condemned and we were advised never to try sucha thing again without specific instructions from the Head of State. I was never able to understand why Kassa, who organized the

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meeting with the Americans, and was apparently satisfied with its outcome, had to tell lies and endanger the security of both Goshu and

myself. But Kassa is a pathological lier. His special relationship wirh Mengistu has cost many lives. Famine Relief in Tigray and Eritrea

Cargo planes shuttled between Kassala, Khartoum and European and American cities with enormous amounts of food for the refugees. Throughout 1985 ships arrived at Port Sudan with tons of supplies to be carried across the border to the TPLF and EPLF and then moved on to Assab with food for Ethiopia. Once in a while ships docking at Sudanese and Ethiopian ports mixed up cargoes and some relief assistance marked for the EPLF and TPLF ended up in our ports, creating great embarrassment for the governments and agencies found aiding the rebels in this way. An Australian ship was one which made the crucial mistake of

landing at the port of Assab before unloading the cargo it had for the EPLF at Port Sudan. The cargo was impounded at Assab and vigorous protests sent to the Australian representative in Addis. It was quite a substantial amount of assistance: a huge drilling machine for water, a highly sophisticated field vehicle, radio equiprnent and food stuffs. An Australian envoy who had been in Ethiopia for a few weeks and was there to open a new embassy was embarrassed. Since Australia was a major donor which had consistently supplied the RRC with grain for over ten years, we stepped in onits behalf and stopped publiccondemnation of the act. The situation in Tigray was complicated by the guerrilla attacks on the road between the port of Massawa and Makale. The ELF and TPLF attacked the convoys on several occasions, violating their own statements that they would ensure that starving people would not suffer, that everything would be done to facilitate humanitarian activities. Our efforts were disrupted on several occasions by the ambushes and raids the EPLF, TPLF, and EPRP conducted on shelters, distribution centers

and convoys of relief supplies. The RRC organized military escorts from Massawa to Makale but the military commanders had their own priorities and there were several occasions when food would pile upat the port in Massawa or in the warehouses of Asmara waiting for military escorts. There were other occasions when weeks would pass without any grain in any of the warehouses in Tigray. It was this situation that prompted the Western ambassadors to organize the airlift to Makale described in Chapter 6. RAF and the West German aircraft shuttled grain from the port of Assab directly to Makale.

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It was a long flight and only a relatively small amount of food could be carried, the capacity of the aircraft was between 15 and 20 tons, but the crews worked relentlessly and with marvelous dedication.* As the situation in Tigray and Eritrea got more and more publicity donor agencies became more interested in the North. Eventually Tigray and Eritrea were better served than many other areas. As I said earlier, Eritrea was notas badly hit by famine as other areas. There were only two shelters there (used only as a transition point for former guerrillas who had laid down their arms) and 25 distribution centers. In Tigray, where the government controlled only 12 towns, there were 14 shelters, and 20 distribution centers. By comparison Wollo had 3 huge organized shelters and 32 distribution centers. Gondar had 3 shelters and 6 distribution centers. There were also more voluntary agencies operating in Tigray and Eritrea than in any other particular region. In Tigray there were 14 and in Eritrea 8.** Wollo, one of the hardest hit areas, had at the height of the crisis only 12 voluntary agencies. Other areas had very much less. Even if the government had a policy of denying these people food it would have been difficult to implement it under the scrutiny of these foreign agencies which handled 60 percent of the entire international assistance. The effort to rescue the people of Tigray was so great that the shelters in Makale from which Michael Buerk had spoken in despair in November 1984 were by the middle of 1985 well organized and supplied with various medical groups: Ethiopian, Japanese, Red Cross, Italian and

several individual volunteer doctors and medical personnel. In spite of all these efforts I believe that the people of Tigray suffered more than any other population affected by the drought and famine. Their resilence and fortitude were incredible in the face of all these hardships. In spite of the fact that the conflict in Eritrea was more publicized than Tigray’s, the people of Eritrea suffered less. There was never a shortage of grain, no shelters were needed. Distribution in the Eritrean *

To put this in perspective, a big truck could also carry 15 tons, but could travel in convoys of 100 or so, allowing us to supply 1500 tons at a time. The planes had to make lots of shuttles back and forth to equal this amount.

** Ethiopian Orthodox Church Relief Agency, Médecins sans Frontiers, Japan 24 Hour T.V. Charity Committee, Mekane Yesus, Action International Contre La Faim, Austrian Medical Team, Adventist Development and Relief Agency, SOS Kinderdorf International, World Vision International, ICRC, Catholic Relief Service (CRS), National Red Cross, Africare, Catholic Seretariat. In Eritrea Catholic Secretariat, CRS, ICRC, SOS Kinder-

dorf International, Adventist Development and Relief Agency, Lutheran World Federation, National Red Cross Relief Agency, World Vision, Kale Hiwut Church Devel-

opment Service.

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highlands was efficient and rarely hampered by the rebel activities. Most of the victims of famine that crossed over to the Sudan in 1984 and 1985 were from Tigray and Gondar; only a small number were from Eritrea. Relief activities were difficult in the lowlands and extreme northern

regions where practically nothing could be done by the RRC or the voluntary agencies because they were either in rebel hands or vulnerable to guerilla attacks. Tessenei was under the control of the rebels and so was Barentu for a little while. The RRC operated in Barentu, Keren, and Agordat where very few people appeared because they had moved further away into other areas. The government stuck to its position that there was no area out of its

control thus officially blocking all efforts to reach the people trapped in the conflict areas. Publicly I and my staff echoed the government's position, but in our dealings with the agencies and donors we recognized realities and tried to do everything to facilitate access to these areas. We turned a blind eye to agencies conducting relief activities in restricted areas. The RRC knew that there were voluntary agencies in Ethiopia involved in what we considered illegal cross-border operations. However as long as we didn’t officially know about it and as long as their activities didn’t go beyond the limits of humanitarian aid, we didn’t report it. The ICRC (Red Cross) was the only agency that managed to get into the hinterlands of the major conflict areas from the Ethiopian side. Flying from their base in Asmara and Makale, using planes hired from Sweden and Belgium, they airdropped considerable amounts of food in rebel controlled areas. The Belgian crew was an extremely dedicated group, motivated solely by the desire to help those beyond our reach. Officially none of the agencies were permitted to operate in restricted areas but ICRC did anyway. The problem was the ICRC was trying to hide it from us. This was dangerous for them. I confronted them with what they were doing and told them if none of us knew about their activities their motives could be interpreted as subversion if they were ever caught. But if Iknew what they were doing I could back them up if necessary and explain it wasa strictly humanitarian effort. After this we got on well and the RRC and the National Red Cross secretly encouraged them in every way we could. If Mengistu, Legesse or one of the fanatical senior bureacrats had

known about their flights they would surely have been condemned and perhaps expelled. One time there was a rumor that the ICRC was dropping not food but anti-government leaflets. From that point on government security agents were put into their planes (as they were in all other planes flying inside Ethiopia) to make sure that what was being

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transmitted and dropped was food and not armaments or counterrevolutionary leaflets. The security agents did not really care to know where the food was being dropped. The ICRC also used trucks with the red cross flag to transport food into risky areas, again with our tacit agreement. Mention must be made of the job done by REST (Relief Association of Tigray) and ERA (Eritrean Relief Association). Since these extended arms of the two major rebel movements received considerable assistance from the international community it is assumed that quite a large population which otherwise would have perished were saved by them.* A great deal of credit must be given to them for their dedication in saving human lives. *

Itis reported by the Eritrea Relief Committee newsletter (Summer 1986, vol.4,no.2) that in 1983 ERA requested 34,835 tons of supplies for 200,000 people and received 16,113 tons; in 1984 it requested 81,900 tons for 350,000 and got 24,737, and in 1985 requested 171,000 tons for 750,000 and received 88,003.

Notes to Chapter 11 1. War on Want, Nov.13,1984.

2 War on Want, 1984. 3. Boston Globe, December 1984.

4. The Observer, July 5,1987. 5. 99th Congress, 2nd session hearing, 140. 8. Washington Post, Feb.26, 1985. 9 Washington Post, March 6, 1985.

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