Ethiopia has been under military rule since the Emperor Haile Selassie was deposed just five years ago.
Ethiopia has been under military rule since the Emperor Haile Selassie was deposed just five years ago. The Provisional Military Administrative Council, known as the Dergue, which has governed the country since then, has shown strong leanings towards Marxism, and has had the help of Soviet equipment and Cuban troops in two secessionist civil wars. Now, according to Addis Ababa radio, steps are likely to be taken shortly to set up a single Worker's party, as a first move towards reorganising the government on a civilian basis.
SYNOPSIS: The Emperor was overthrown in a military coup on September 12th, 1974, after his government had become highly unpopular. He was hustled from his palace into a small car and driven into captivity. He died eleven months later.
General Aman Andom was the first military ruler; then Brigadier Teferi Benti. Both met violent deaths. Beside Brigadier Benti was his Vice-Chairman, Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam, who emerged in 1977 as the victor in the power struggle.
All this time, the government was contending with two guerrilla wars. In the Ogaden desert, Western Somalis were fighting for autonomy. Helped by the government of neighbouring Somalia, they swept forward to key town of Harar late in 1977, but could not consolidate their gains. After eight months, the Ethiopian government regained the initiative and drove them back with heavy losses in equipment and prisoners. But they were still not subdued; they are still fighting.
By 1977, the other guerilla movement, in Eritrea, had already been fighting for 15 years. That year, at their peak, their forces had a stranglehold on the chief towns. But again in 1978, the government forces were able to mount a major offensive, recapture Keren, and relieve the sieges of the provincial capital, Asmara, and the Red Sea port of Massawa. The transports, aircraft and weapons supplied by the government's Soviet and Cuban allies helped to turn the scale.
This was how Massawa looked early this year: more than 90 per cent destroyed. The guerrillas have withdrawn to the northern tip of Eritrea; but, like the Western Somalis, they are still fighting.
Colonel Mengistu acknowledged the help that his forces had received from Cuban troops by awarding decorations. For many months, government spokesmen had denied that Cubans were directly involved in combat; but Colonel Mengistu publicly thanked them for it. The total number of Cubans in Ethiopia is put at about 17,000.
Ever since the disastrous drought of 1973, Ethiopia has had a major problem with food supplies and distribution. The present government has given it high priority, moving people from the worst affected areas to more fertile land. It has also begun to organise large-scale collective farming; and it is basing its local administration on elected peasant associations. Already more than a quarter of a million of them have been set up.
Colonel Mengistu told a mass audience in Addis Ababa earlier this year that the task for the Ethiopian people was not to consolidate their victories and repair the ravages of war. There has been a long debate about how centralised any new political party should be. If it is formed, Colonel Mengistu himself is expected to become its leader.