Provisional Military Government of Socialist Ethiopia

Flag Coat of arms
Capital Addis Ababa
Government Communist military junta
 - 1974 Aman Andom
 - 1974-1977 Tafari Benti
 - 1977-1987 Mengistu Haile Mariam
Historical era Cold War
 - Established 1974
 - Constitution of 1987 1987
Today part of  Eritrea
History of Ethiopia
Coat of Arms of Ethiopia
This article is part of a series
Aksum (1st c. BC–10th c. AD)
Zagwe Dynasty (10th or 11th c.–1268)
First Solomonic period (1270–1527)
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Habesh (1557–17th c.)
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Zemene Mesafint (1755–1855)
Modernization (1855–1936)
Second Italo-Abyssinian War (1935–1936)
Italian East Africa (1936–1941)
East African Campaign (World War II) (1941)
Italian guerrilla war in Ethiopia (1941–1943)
Second Modernization (1941–1974)
Eritrean War of Independence (1961–1991)
Ethiopian Civil War (1974–1991)
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The Derg (Amharic:ደርግ) or Dergue was a Communist military junta that came to power in Ethiopia following the ousting of Haile Selassie I. Derg, which means "committee" or "council" in Ge'ez, is the short name of the Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces, Police, and Territorial Army, a committee of military officers which ruled the country from 1974 until 1987. The Derg's government was formally known as the Provisional Military Government of Socialist Ethiopia[1].

Between 1975 and 1987, the Derg executed and imprisoned tens of thousands of its opponents without trial.[2]


Formation and growth

The Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces, Police, and Territorial Army, or the Derg (Ge'ez "Committee"), was officially announced 28 June 1974 by a group of military officers to maintain law and order due to the powerlessness of the civilian government following widespread mutiny in the armed forces of Ethiopia earlier that year. Its members were not directly involved in those mutinies (as far as anyone presently knows), nor was this the first military committee organized to support the administration of Prime Minister Endelkachew Makonnen: Alem Zewde Tessema had established the Armed Forces Coordinated Committee 23 March. However, over the following months radicals in the Ethiopian military came to believe he was acting on behalf of the hated aristocracy, and when a group of notables petitioned for the release of a number of government ministers and officials who were under arrest for corruption and other crimes, three days later the Derg was announced.[3]

The Derg, which originally consisted of soldiers at the capital, broadened its membership by including representatives from the 40 units of the Ethiopian Army, Air Force, Navy, Kebur Zabagna (Imperial Guard), Territorial Army and Police: each unit was expected to send three representatives, who were supposed to be privates, NCOs and junior officers up to the rank of major. According to Bahru Zewde, "senior officers were deemed too compromised by close association to the regime."[4] It is commonly stated that the Derg consisted of 120 soldiers,[5] a statement which has gained wide acceptance due to the habitual secretiveness of the Derg in its early years; however Bahru Zewde notes that "in actual fact, their number was less than 110",[4] and Aregawi Berhe mentions two different sources which record 109 persons as being members of the Derg.[6] No new members were ever admitted, and the number decreased, especially in the first few years, as some members were expelled or killed.

The committee elected Major Mengistu Haile Mariam as its chairman and Major Atnafu Abate as its vice-chairman. The Derg was initially supposed to study the grievances of various military units, and investigate abuses by senior officers and staff, and to root out corruption in the military.

In the months following its founding, the power of the Derg steadily increased. In July the Derg obtained key concessions from the Emperor, Haile Selassie, which included the power to arrest not only military officers, but government officials at every level. Soon both former Prime Ministers Tsehafi Taezaz Aklilu Habte-Wold, and Endelkachew Makonnen, along with most of their cabinets, most regional governors, many senior military officers and officials of the Imperial court found themselves imprisoned. In August, after a proposed constitution creating a constitutional monarchy was presented to the Emperor, the Derg began a program of dismantling the imperial government in order to forestall further developments in that direction. The Derg deposed and imprisoned the Emperor on September 12, 1974.

On September 15, the committee renamed itself the Provisional Military Administrative Council (PMAC) and took control of the government. The Derg chose Lieutenant General Aman Andom, a very popular military leader and a Sandhurst graduate,[7] to be its chairman and acting head-of-state until the Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen could return from his medical treatment in Europe, and assume the throne as a constitutional monarch. However, General Aman Andom quarreled with the radical elements in the Derg over the issue of a new military offensive in Eritrea and the proposal to execute the high officials of the Emperor's former government. After eliminating units loyal to him -- the Engineers, the Imperial Bodyguard and the Air Force -- the Derg removed General Aman from power and executed him along with some supporters and 60 officials of the previous Imperial government on November 24, 1974.[8] Brigadier General Tafari Benti became both the new Chairman of the Derg and head of state, with Mengistu and Atnafu Abate as his two vice-Chairmen with the new ranks of Lieutenant-Colonels. The monarchy was formally abolished in May, 1975, and Marxism-Leninism was proclaimed the ideology of the state. Emperor Haile Selassie died on August 22, 1975, while his personal physician was absent. It is commonly believed that Mengistu killed him, either ordering it done or by his own hand.[9]

Mengistu's leadership

After internal conflicts, that resulted in the deaths of General Tafari Benti and several of his supporters by November 1977, and the later elimination and execution of Colonel Atnafu Abate, Mengistu gained undisputed leadership of the Derg. In 1987 the Derg was formally dissolved and the country became the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (PDRE) under a new constitution. Many of the Derg members remained in key government posts, and remained as the members of the Central Committee and the Politburo of the Workers' Party of Ethiopia (WPE), which became Ethiopia's civilian version of the Eastern bloc Communist parties. Mengistu became Secretary General of the WPE, President of the PDRE, while remaining Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces.

Ethiopian Civil War

Derg party badge, c. 1979.

The reign of the Derg in Ethiopia is remembered as giving rise to the Ethiopian Civil War. This conflict began as extralegal violence between 1975 and 1977, known as the Red Terror, when the Derg struggled for authority, first with various opposition groups, then with a variety of groups jockeying for the role of vanguard party. Though human rights violations were committed by both sides, the great majority of abuses against civilians, and actions leading to famine, were committed by the government.[10]

Once the Derg had gained victory over these groups and successfully fought off an invasion from Somalia in 1977, it engaged in a brutal war between the government and armed groups which included guerrillas fighting for Eritrean independence, rebels based in Tigray (which included the nascent Tigrayan Peoples' Liberation Front), and other groups that ranged from the conservative and pro-monarchy Ethiopian Democratic Union to the far leftist Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party. Ethiopia under the Derg became the Socialist bloc's closest ally in Africa, and became among the best armed nations of the region as a result of massive military aid chiefly from the Soviet Union, East Germany, Cuba and North Korea.

During the same period, the Derg fulfilled its main slogan of "Land to the Tiller" by announcing on 4 March 1975 a system of land reform that "was unequivocally radical, even in Soviet and Chinese terms; it nationalized all rural land, abolished tenancy, and put peasants in charge of enforcing the whole scheme."[11] Although the Derg had little respect during its rule, this one act resulted in a rare show of support for the junta, as the Ottaways describe: "During a massive demonstration in Addis Ababa immediately following the announcement, a group of students broke through police and army barriers, climbed the wall and escarpment around Menelik Palace, and embraced major Mengistu as the hero of the reform".[12] Most industries and private urban real-estate holdings were nationalized by the Derg in 1975.

However, mismanagement, corruption, and general hostility to the Derg's violent rule, coupled with the draining effects of constant warfare with the separatist guerrilla movements in Eritrea and Tigray, led to a drastic fall in general productivity of food and cash crops. In October 1978, the Derg announced the National Revolutionary Development Campaign to mobilize human and material resources to transform the economy, which led to a Ten Year Plan (1984/85-1993/94) to expand agricultural and industrial output, forecasting a 6.5% growth in GDP and a 3.6% rise in per capita income; instead, per capita income declined 0.8% over this period.[13] Famine scholar Alex de Waal observes that while the famine that struck the country in the mid-1980s is usually ascribed to drought, "closer investigation shows that widespread drought occurred only some months after the famine was already under way."[14] Hundreds of thousands fled economic misery, conscription, and political repression, and went to live in neighboring countries and all over the Western world, creating an Ethiopian diaspora for the first time.

Aid and controversy

The famine in the mid 1980s brought the situation in Ethiopia to the attention of the world, and inspired charitable drives in western nations, notably by Oxfam and the Live Aid concerts of July 1985. The money they raised was then distributed among NGOs in Ethiopia. A controversy arose when it was revealed that some of these NGOs were under Derg control or influence, and that some Oxfam and Live Aid money had been used to fund the Derg's enforced resettlement programmes, under which millions of people were displaced and between 50,000 and 100,000 killed.[15] Accusations were made in a BBC investigation that rebels had also used millions of pounds of aid to buy arms; these were later fully retracted by the Corporation.[16]

End of the Derg

Tanks in the streets of Addis Ababa after rebels seized the capital

Although the Derg government officially came to an end 22 February 1987, three weeks after a referendum approved the constitution for the PDRE, it was not until that September the new government was fully in place and the Derg formally abolished.[17] So chairman Mengistu remained in power as President of the new government, and surviving individual members, such as Berhanu Bayeh and Legesse Asfaw, were assigned powerful posts under him.

The geopolitical situations turned unfavorable in the late 1980s, with the Soviet Union retreating from World Communism under Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika, which marked a dramatic reduction in aid from Socialist bloc countries. This resulted in even more economic hardship, and more seriously, the collapse of the military in the face of determined onslaughts by guerrilla forces in the north. The Soviet Union, stopped aiding the PDRE altogether in December 1990, and this along with the collapse of Communism in the Eastern Bloc in the Revolutions of 1989, proved to be serious blows to the PDRE.

Towards the end of January 1991, a coalition of rebel forces, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), launched Operation Tewodros, which led to their capture of Gondar, the ancient capital city, Bahar Dar and Dessie. Meanwhile, the Eritrean People's Liberation Front had gained control of all of Eritrea except for Asmara and Assab in the south. The Soviet Union, mired in its internal turmoil, could no longer prop up the Derg; it was clear that the end of the Derg was now a question of when, not if.[18] In the words of the former US diplomat Paul B. Henze, "As his doom became imminent, Mengistu alternated between vowing resistance to the end and hinting that he might follow Emperor Tewodros's example and commit suicide." His actions were frantic: he convened the Shengo, the Ethiopian Parliament, for an emergency session and reorganized his cabinet, but as Henze concludes, "these shifts came too late to be effective."[19] On 21 May, claiming that he was going to inspect troops at a base in southern Ethiopia, Mengistu slipped out of the country to Kenya, then flew with his immediate family to Zimbabwe, where he was granted asylum and as of 2010 still resides. Upon entering Addis Ababa, the EPRDF immediately disbanded the WPE and arrested almost all of the prominent Derg officials shortly after.

In December 2006, 73 officials of the Derg were found guilty of genocide. 34 people were in court, 14 others had died during the lengthy process, and 25, including Mengistu, were tried in absentia.[20] The trial ended 26 May 2008, and many of the officials were sentenced to death. In December, 2010, the Ethiopian government has commuted the death sentence of 23 Derg officials. On October 4th, 2011, 16 of former Derg officials were freed, after twenty years of incarceration. The Ethiopian government paroled almost all of those Derg officials that have been jailed for 20 years.

PMAC Standing Committee (January 1985)

Mengistu Haile Mariam
Lt.-Col. Fikre Selassie Wogderess
Deputy Secretary-General
Fisseha Desta
Military Affairs
Lt.-Gen. Tesfaye Gebre Kidan
Teka Tulu
Development and Planning
Addis Tedla
Party Organization
Legesse Asfaw
Administrative and Legal Affairs
Wubshet Dessie
Other members
Genesse Wolde-Kidan
Endale Tessema
Kassahun Tafesse
Birhanu Bayeh

See also


  1. ^ David A. Korn, Ethiopia, the United States and the Soviet Union, Routledge, 1986, page 179
  2. ^ de Waal 1991.
  3. ^ Marina and David Ottaway, Ethiopia: Empire in Revolution (New York: Africana, 1978), p. 52
  4. ^ a b Bahru Zewde, 2000, p. 234
  5. ^ See, for example, Richard Pankhurst, The Ethiopians: A History (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001), p. 269.
  6. ^ Aregawi Berhe, A Political History of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (Los Angeles: Tsehai, 2009), p. 127 and note. The sources he cites are both in Amharic: Zenebe Feleke, Neber (E.C. 1996), and Genet Ayele Anbesie, YeLetena Colonel Mengistu Hailemariam Tizitawoch (E.C. 1994)
  7. ^ Wrong, Micheale (2005). I didn't do it for you. Harper Collins. p. 244. ISBN 006078092-4. 
  8. ^ Bahru Zewde 2001, 237f.
  9. ^ See, for example, Paul Henze, 2000, p. 332n
  10. ^ de Waal 1991, iv.
  11. ^ Ottaway 1978, 67.
  12. ^ Ottaway 1978, 71.
  13. ^ Bahru Zewde 2001, 262f.
  14. ^ de Waal 1991, 4.
  15. ^ David Rieff (24 June 2005). "Cruel to be kind?". The Guardian.,16066,1513359,00.html. Retrieved 9 October 2011. 
  16. ^ BBC Complaints (17 November 2010). "ECU Ruling: Claims that aid intended for famine relief in Ethiopia had been diverted to buy arms". BBC. Retrieved 9 October 2011. "Following a complaint . . . the BBC has investigated these statements and concluded that there was no evidence for them . . . The BBC wishes to apologise unreservedly" .
  17. ^ Edmond J. Keller. "The 1987 Constitution". Ethiopia: A country study (Thomas P. Ofcansky and LaVerle Berry, ed.). Library of Congress Federal Research Division (1991).  This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  18. ^ Henze 2000, 322.
  19. ^ Henze 2000, 327f.
  20. ^ Mengistu is handed life sentence BBC News, 11 January 2007


External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • Derg, Lough — ▪ lake, Ireland Irish  Loch Dearg , or  Deirgeirt        lake on the River Shannon, situated at the boundary of Counties Tipperary, Galway, and Clare, in Ireland. Lough Derg is 24 miles (39 km) long and 0.5 to 8 miles (1 to 13 km) wide. It is 37… …   Universalium

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