Ethiopian Civil War
Part of the conflicts in the Horn of Africa and the Cold War
Ethiopian Civil War.png

Military situation during the Ethiopian Civil War
Date12 September 1974 – 28 May 1991
(16 years, 8 months, 3 weeks and 2 days)

EPLF/TPLF rebel victory

Independence of Eritrea; Ethiopia becomes a landlocked country.


Logo of the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Party.svg EPRP
MEISON (from 1977)
SLF (1978–1984)[1]
Eritrean separatists:

Supported by:
Egypt Egypt[3]
Libya[4] (1977–1985)

Derg (1974–1987)
PDR Ethiopia (1987–1991)
MEISON (until 1977)

Supported by:
 Soviet Union[6][7][8] (1977–1990)
 North Korea
Libya[4] (1985–1991)
 Israel[9] (from 1990)
 Yugoslavia (1974–1976[10])
Commanders and leaders
Meles Zenawi
Tsadkan Gebretensae
Isaias Afwerki
Elemo Qiltu 
Mengesha Seyoum
Mengistu Haile
Tesfaye Gebre Kidan
141,000 (1991)
110,000 (1990)[11]
13,000 (1991)[12]
230,000 (1991)
Casualties and losses
~400,000–579,000 killed[13][14][15]
~1,200,000 deaths from famine[13][14][16]

The Ethiopian Civil War was a civil war in Ethiopia and present-day Eritrea, fought between the Ethiopian military junta known as the Derg and Ethiopian-Eritrean anti-government rebels from September 1974 to June 1991.

The Derg overthrew the Ethiopian Empire and Emperor Haile Selassie in a coup d'état on 12 September 1974, establishing Ethiopia as a Marxist-Leninist state under a military junta and provisional government. Various opposition groups of ideological affiliations ranging from Communist to anti-Communist, often drawn from ethnic background, began armed resistance to the Soviet-backed Derg, in addition to the Eritrean separatists already fighting in the Eritrean War of Independence. The Derg used military campaigns and the Qey Shibir (Ethiopian Red Terror) to repress the rebels. By the mid-1980s, various issues such as the 1983–1985 famine, economic decline, and other after-effects of Derg policies ravaged Ethiopia, increasing popular support for the rebels. The Derg dissolved itself in 1987, establishing the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (PDRE) under the Workers' Party of Ethiopia (WPE) in an attempt to maintain its rule. The Soviet Union began ending its support for the PDRE in the late-1980s and the government was overwhelmed by the increasingly victorious rebel groups. In May 1991, the PDRE was defeated in Eritrea and President Mengistu Haile Mariam fled the country. The Ethiopian Civil War ended on 28 May 1991 when the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of left-wing ethnic rebel groups, entered the capital Addis Ababa. The PDRE was dissolved and replaced with the Tigray People's Liberation Front-led Transitional Government of Ethiopia.[17]

The Ethiopian Civil War left at least 1.4 million people dead, with 1 million of the deaths being related to famine and the remainder from combat and other violence.


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The Ethiopian Empire became politically unstable beginning in the 1960s under the rule of Emperor Haile Selassie, whose administration was becoming very unpopular among ordinary Ethiopians at all levels of society due to stagnating quality of life, slow economic development and human rights abuses. Although Selassie had been a popular cultural figure with his attempts at modernizing Ethiopia, his reforms were ineffective. His rule was increasingly viewed as maintaining Ethiopia's feudal political system that heavily favored the Ethiopian nobility, who had routinely rejected his reforms. In December 1960, a group of high-ranking politicians and military officers attempted to overthrow Haile Selassie and institute a progressive government under his son, Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen, to solve Ethiopia's economic and political problems. However, the coup was crushed and quickly defeated by the loyalists, thus maintaining the status quo.


Ethiopian Revolution

Areas of operation of the various insurgent groups during the war. The EPRDF drive on Addis Ababa is shown with red arrows.
Areas of operation of the various insurgent groups during the war. The EPRDF drive on Addis Ababa is shown with red arrows.
1974 Ethiopian coup d'état
Part of the Cold War
Date12 September 1974

Coup successful

  • Emperor Haile Selassie is placed under arrest and is taken to the Fourth Division Army headquarters
  • Derg suspends constitution
  • Beginning of the civil war
 Ethiopian Empire Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces, Police and Territorial Army
Imperial Guard
Commanders and leaders
Ethiopian Empire Haile Selassie I
Ethiopian Empire Mikael Imru
Aman Andom
Atnafu Abate
Mengistu Haile

On 12 September 1974, Haile Selassie and his government were overthrown by the Derg, a non-ideological committee of low-ranking officers and enlisted men in the Ethiopian Army who became the ruling military junta. On 21 March 1975, the Derg abolished the monarchy and adopted Marxism–Leninism as their official ideology, establishing themselves as a provisional government for the process of building a socialist state in Ethiopia. The Crown Prince went into exile in London, where several other members of the House of Solomon lived, while other members who were in Ethiopia at the time of the revolution were imprisoned. Haile Selassie, his daughter by his first marriage Princess Ijigayehu, his sister Princess Tenagnework, and many of his nephews, nieces, close relatives, and in-laws were among those detained. On 27 August 1975, Haile Selassie died under mysterious circumstances in detention at the National Palace in Addis Ababa.[18][19] That year, most industries and private urban real estate holdings were nationalized by the Derg regime. The assets of the former royal family were all seized and were nationalized in a program designed to implement the state ideology of socialism.

Ethiopian Red Terror

Main article: Red Terror (Ethiopia)

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The Derg did not fully establish their control over the country, and the subsequent power vacuum led to open challenges from numerous civilian opposition groups. The Ethiopian government had been fighting Eritrean separatists in the Eritrean War of Independence since 1961, and now faced other rebel groups ranging from the conservative and pro-monarchy Ethiopian Democratic Union (EDU), to the rival Marxist-Leninist Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party (EPRP), and the ethnic Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF). In 1976, the Derg instigated the Qey Shibir (Ethiopian Red Terror), a campaign of violent political repression primarily targeting the EPRP and later the All-Ethiopia Socialist Movement (MEISON), in an attempt to consolidate their power. The Qey Shibir was escalated on 3 February 1977 following the appointment of Mengistu Haile Mariam as Chairman of the Derg, who took a hardline stance against opponents. The urban guerrilla warfare saw brutal tactics used on all sides, including summary executions, assassinations, torture and imprisonment without trial. By August 1977, the EPRP and MEISON were devastated, with their leadership either dead or fleeing to the countryside to continue their activities in stronghold areas, but despite this, the Derg did not successfully consolidate their power as much as hoped. Ironically, the majority of the Qey Shibir's estimated 30,000 to 750,000 victims are believed to be innocents, with the violence and collateral damage shocking many Ethiopians into supporting rebel groups. There are currently[when?] many civilians who are still missing who are thought to have been systematically killed by the Derg but are yet unaccounted for.

Ogaden War

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On 13 July 1977, the Ogaden War was triggered when the Somali Democratic Republic invaded Ethiopia to annex the Ogaden and former Reserve area, a predominantly Somali populated border region. A month earlier, Mengistu accused Somalia of infiltrating Somali National Army (SNA) soldiers into the Ogaden to fight alongside the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF), and despite considerable evidence to the contrary, Somalia's leader Siad Barre strongly denied this by stating SNA "volunteers" were being allowed to help the WSLF. Although both countries were Soviet-backed communist states, Barre sought to exploit Ethiopia's weakness since the 1974 revolution to incorporate the Ogaden on a platform of Somali nationalism and pan-Somalism. Under the Derg, Ethiopia became the Warsaw Pact's closest ally in Africa and one of the best-armed nations of the region as a result of military aid, chiefly from the Soviet Union, Libya, East Germany, Israel, Cuba and North Korea. The Ethiopians were able to defeat the Somali army by March 1978, though only with massive military assistance from the Soviet Union and Cuba, but the war used up valuable resources.


The Derg in its attempt to introduce full-fledged socialist ideals, fulfilled its main slogan of "Land to the Tiller", by redistributing land in Ethiopia that once belonged to landlords to the peasants tilling the land. Although this was made to seem like a fair and just redistribution, the mismanagement, corruption, and general hostility to the Derg's violent and harsh rule coupled with the draining effects of constant warfare, separatist guerrilla movements in Eritrea and Tigray, resulted in a drastic decline in general productivity of food and cash crops. Although Ethiopia is often prone to chronic droughts, no one was prepared for the scale of drought and the 1983–1985 famine that struck the country in the mid-1980s, in which 400,000–590,000 people are estimated to have died.[20] 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 community for the first time in its history. Insurrections against the Derg's rule sprang up with ferocity, particularly in the northern regions of Tigray and Eritrea which sought independence and in some regions in the Ogaden. Hundreds of thousands were killed as a result of the Qey Shibir, forced deportations or from the use of hunger as a weapon under Mengistu's rule. The Derg continued its attempts to end rebellions with military force by initiating several campaigns against both internal rebels and the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF), the most important ones being Operation Shiraro, Operation Lash, Operation Red Star, and Operation Adwa, which led to its decisive defeat in the Battle of Shire on 15–19 February 1989 which ultimately led to Eritrean independence. This marked a receding end in power to the Derg.


Main article: Fall of the Derg

In May 1991, Mengistu's government was finally overthrown by its own officials and a coalition of rebel forces, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), after their bid for a push on the capital Addis Ababa became successful. There was some fear that Mengistu would attempt to fight to the bitter end for the capital, but after diplomatic intervention by the United States, he fled to asylum in Zimbabwe, where he still resides.[21] The regime only survived another week after his ousting before the EPRDF poured into the capital and captured Addis Ababa.

The EPRDF immediately disbanded the Workers' Party of Ethiopia and shortly afterward arrested almost all of the most prominent Derg officials that were still in the country. In December 2006, 72 officials of the Derg were found guilty of genocide.[22] Thirty-four people were in court, 14 others died during the lengthy process and 25, including Mengistu, were tried in absentia.[23] These events marked the end of socialist rule in Ethiopia. Ethiopia then embraced a federal democracy to represent the many ethnic groups living in the country.

Peasant revolution in Ethiopia

Senior Derg members Mengistu Haile Mariam, Tafari Benti, and Atnafu Abate.
Senior Derg members Mengistu Haile Mariam, Tafari Benti, and Atnafu Abate.

There is not much in-depth information available about the revolution, but the book Peasant Revolution in Ethiopia by John Young provides detailed information about the revolution, why it started, how the Derg affected the nation, and the role of the peasant population in Tigray and Eritrea.

Challenges and advances

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The Derg recognized and acknowledged that the TPLF was gaining supporters and strength, which was a direct threat to its regime. In an attempt to undermine TPLF support, the Derg began restricting the sale of agricultural implements and machinery to peasants in an effort to cut food production.[24][page needed] However, this plan ended up backfiring which also caused harm to the urban-based military which forced the Derg to abandon the practice entirely. Peasants coming from areas where the TPLF had popular support ran the risk of imprisonment for being suspected supporters and responded largely by avoiding towns altogether.[25]

For those who remained in the Derg manned garrisoned towns, life was difficult, particularly for women who were frequently the victims of sexual assault and rape.[26] Explaining the conditions under the regime, a Maichew resident said:

"People had to be clever or tactical. It was a soldier's government and you had to give soldiers food, tej [mead], whatever they wanted. Parents gave their children to marry Derg soldiers to get security. Rape was common, even of priests' wives. The belongings of the wealthy were taken. If parents were rich enough they would send their children to the area, but if the children were young they had to put up with it. You couldn't even sit outside with two or three people, even with one's family, as they might be employed by Derg security. You could only talk about sex, food and tej".[26]

In the face of such persecution many abandoned their homes and left for Sudan and other neighboring countries, while others, primarily youth, fled to the base areas of the EPRP and TPLF.[26] After an individual's disappearance, the Derg would commonly arrest the person's parents and this often led to the other children leaving and joining the opposition.[26] The Derg imposed new taxes to fund its war in Eritrea and other nationwide conflicts and rebellions.[24][page needed] The Derg closed most rural schools because they believed that teachers were TPLF sympathizers.[24][page needed] The Derg attempted to organize rural administrations, but its methods were harsh and allowed little room for democratic participation.[24][page needed] Peasant associations that had started out as bodies representative of local opinion were reduced to the status of organs responsible to the Derg.[26]

Conditions were particularly difficult under the Derg for traders and merchants.[27] The Derg nationalized illegally acquired goods found in the possession of traders, but they would also occasionally take legally acquired merchandise in the name of development or resettlement.[27] In 1983, the TPLF began a concerted program of promoting the development of commercial enterprise, particularly grain, in the areas under its control.[27] However, the limited purchasing power of the peasants and the insecurity of daytime travel discouraged professional traders and encouraged a harder breed of part-time traders who were able to undercut their larger counterparts.[27]

The merchants built capital and began transporting basic consumer items from Derg-controlled towns to the opposition-held territories and TPLF-controlled towns.[24][page needed] The TPLF also turned to the merchants for consumer items, such as rubber sandals, sugar, canned milk, and grain.[27] The TPLF also made small raids on Derg supply depots in the towns to acquire badly needed items like bullets and petrol.[27] However, even when the Derg was removed from the Tigray region and the urban and rural areas became integrated, the trading economy could not be fully revived.[27]

As far as political and military struggles are concerned, in 1978 REST—an organization largely funded by NGOs in the United States, Canada, Australia, and Europe was established as a humanitarian organization with a mandate to co-ordinate relief programs, rehabilitation, and development both in Tigray and among Tigrayan refugees in neighboring countries[28]). The founding of REST reflected the TPLF's need for a specialized body to handle relief and development efforts, and also to respond to the Derg's efforts to restrict the flow of humanitarian and economic assistance to areas of Tigray that were coming under the control of the Front.[27]

Without REST, the TPLF and its supporters would have failed and the Derg would have still been in power. The stabilization the TPLF received from REST also allowed them to mobilize Tigrayans who lived abroad. TPLF efforts to organize expatriate Tigrayans went on among those employed in the Gulf states and the primary student population of Europe and North America.[29] Such expatriates played a vital role in the war by bringing the struggle to the attention of the international media, lobbying governments, gaining support for refugee relief, providing materials and finances for the Front and as a basis from which to recruit fighters.[29]

Triumph (1985–1991)

The TPLF entered the final period of the war against the Derg who were at this point weakened by the famine that disrupted the peasant economy and diverted energies away from mobilization and military campaigns, to relief and later, reconstruction.[30] At this juncture, the TPLF and peasants were united in struggle and with the passing of the famine many peasants were able to resume their normal livelihoods and continue their support of the opposition fighters in their midst.[30]

The TPLF was soon focused on the key elements of that stage of the struggle: confronting the Derg's plans to forcibly remove its peasant supporters, taking the revolution to the heterogeneous people of southern Tigray, and resolving political disagreements with the EPLF in preparation for the removal of the Derg from Tigray and the entire country.[30] The Derg's war against the liberation movements had many dimensions but were not limited to, military campaigns; reform programs to win the support of civilians; and efforts to isolate peasants from the appeal of dissidents, such as its resettlement program.[30] From 1950 to 1974, an estimated one million peasants voluntarily left the northern highlands and moved to the south and west of the country, and evidence suggests that Tigray had the largest net outflow of any of the provinces.[30]

In early 1978, the Derg launched a resettlement program with the alleged aim of combating drought, averting famine, and increasing agricultural productivity, although it was not until 1984–85 that the program assumed massive proportions.[30] Its objective was to move 1.5 million peasants from the northern provinces, and by the end of 1986, half a million had been moved, most of them forcibly.[30] Although by the mid-1980s the Derg had lost control of virtually all of rural Tigray and the army continued to attack population centers in the liberated territories until the final days of the war.[31]

There are no official statistics that could give an overall assessment of the human and material costs of the war since detailed figures have not been released of the number of fighters killed.[31] The TPLF revealed that approximately 50,000 people died as a direct result of combat, 99 percent of the fighters and militia members, and this number also includes those killed in the Red Terror.[31] Despite the military setback caused by the famine of 1984–85, the vast majority of the peasantry were irrevocably connected to the TPLF and it was clear that the Derg did not have the capacity to defeat its northern-based opposition.[32]

With the stabilization of the rural economy resulting from better harvests and the return of some refugees from Sudan, the TPLF was soon able to re-assert its control and influence in the rural areas and resume the siege of the towns.[32] By 1987 TPLF leadership had concluded that its forces and those of the Derg were roughly in balance and that a stalemate ensued.[32] As a consequence, the Front leadership began preparing plans to break the stalemate.[32] While the TPLF was able to mobilize growing human and material resources, the inability of the Derg to cause serious damage to its fighting forces led to declining morale among its officers.[32] Despite its ability to recruit and field a large number of troops to replace those lost in battle, the Derg was nonetheless singularly unsuccessful in inculcating faith in the regime, or a willingness on the part of its soldiers to keep the fight going.[32]

Meanwhile, growing TPLF inroads into the provinces of Wollo and Gondar led the Derg to plan another major campaign against the Front in the summer and autumn of 1987, a campaign that was aborted after the TPLF launched a three-pronged pre-emptive strike against the communications center of Mugulat outside Adigrat, and the eastern towns of Sinkata and Wukro.[32] The Derg's counterattack failed badly and the stage was set for the TPLF's biggest military victory up to that point in the war, which culminated in the 1988 capture of the towns. The battle for the towns began with an attack on the Derg's communication center of Mugulat in the northeast and after it was destroyed, the TPLF launched offensives against army bases at Axum and Adwa in central Tigray.[33]

So quick was the collapse of these towns that Derg forces sent from Endaselasie to relieve the garrisons found themselves attacked at Selekleka, and instead were forced to retreat before TPLF fighters moving west along the highway.[33] The fighting, which was the heaviest of the Tigrayan war, went on for two days before the army's positions were overrun.[33] The TPLF was also not prepared to hold the towns at this time when it did not have the resources to properly manage them.[34] Government employees and teachers who could not be paid from the TPLF's meager funds were encouraged to move to Derg-held towns.[33] Although it is clear that both the people and the fighters were unhappy at the impending turnover of the towns to the Derg, the TPLF was able to carry out its political work, establish underground cells and prepare for the next stage of the war.[33] As a consequence of its losses in Eritrea and Tigray, the Derg ended its state of belligerence with neighboring Somalia, thus freeing up troops and materials that could be transferred to the northern war zones.[34]

Another mobilization campaign was started and the Derg ordered, for security reasons, the expulsion of all foreign aid workers from Tigray and Eritrea on 6 April 1988, a move interpreted as ensuring that foreign observers would be unable to witness the events that were to unfold.[34] Some of the Derg's most heinous inflictions of atrocities throughout the war on the Tigrayan civilian population took place during the following months.[35] In particular, an all-day attack by helicopter gunships and MiGs resulted in 1,800 civilian deaths, the worst single atrocity of the entire war from the start of the ELF insurrection in 1961.[35] However, with the Derg largely restricted to the towns along the main roads and the TPLF in almost complete control of the countryside, the regime no longer had the capacity to cause the civilian dislocation that was needed if the TPLF was to be seriously weakened.[35]

TPLF and the peasants

It was necessary that the TPLF gain the support of the peasants if it wanted to win the war. A program of reforms that balanced the needs of peasants for land redistribution, effective services, and accountable administration with the needs of the TPLF for growing committed support and the armed struggle became necessary.[36] The objective was to consider the TPLF-peasant relationship in five areas critical to winning their support for the war effort: education and culture, the Church, women, land reform, and local administration.[36]

Much of the TPLF nationalist appeal was predicated on the main point that peasant poverty and lack of infrastructure in the villages were the results of state domination by an Amhara elite that wanted to keep Tigray in subjugation.[36] Peasants responded by asking the TPLF as "sons of Tigray" to supply their communities with the facilities and basic local services they needed, and high on the list were schools and education.[36] The TPLF responded by preparing the curriculum and overseeing construction of "green" (camouflaged) schools that could be hidden from the Derg.[36] Merchants typically supplied blackboards, exercise books and materials from the towns, and maintenance and salaries of 100 Birr a month were paid by the local residents.[36]

Schools were particularly attractive for the TPLF, not only because they advance the cultural awareness of the people but they also served to deepen political and national consciousness and train a future generation of youth who could be utilized in the struggle.[37] Although peasants were involved in all aspects of educational reforms when it was found that there were insufficient funds to meet all the demands for schooling, the TPLF chose to educate mainly those who could be utilized as fighters and administrators.[37]

Thus the initial emphasis on schooling for children aged 6–12 was changed to youth between 12 and 18, a clear reflection of the primacy of the TPLF military objectives.[37] Apart from formal education, throughout the revolution the TPLF placed great emphasis on developing Tigrayan culture as a means to mobilize peasants.[37] In particular, the peasants' oral tradition was put to considerable use and from the earliest days of the revolution the TPLF introduced drama, which although new to the peasants proved highly effective.[37] While the TPLF's organization of schools and clinics in the rural areas advanced the movement's popularity, its Marxist–Leninist sympathies risked opposition from the powerful Ethiopian Orthodox Church and offending the strong religious beliefs of the Tigrayan peasants.[38]


The Derg's approach to the established church was ill-adapted to winning popular support, due to its victimization of students and teachers.[38] Distributing church lands was widely approved, but atheism and attacks on church dogma, practices, and priests were abhorred by the conservative Tigrayan peasants.[38] As church officials acknowledged, "the Derg knew that the Ethiopian people followed their religion and if it opposed the church directly, people would oppose the Derg, but at the same time he [the Derg] undermine the Church and religion indirectly'.[38] Unlike the Derg, the TPLF recognized that although the Ethiopian Orthodox Church was a major component of Ethiopian feudalism, it was not a monolithic institution.[39]

Some priests rejected the church's prohibition against taking up arms and they became TPLF fighters, but most were too old to keep up with the teachers in Front-established schools.[39] With the TPLF's blessing many participated in local administration, although they were never permitted to dominate mass associations.[39] With its doctrinal fixation on the establishment of a Marxist state in Ethiopia, the Derg proved incapable of understanding the peasants' religious attachments and sentiments.[40] Like its attacks on the educated youth in the towns, the Derg's assault on the Church and the mosque and their rural representatives was a major cause of peasant estrangement.[40] The TPLF worked within and through the religiously overlaid society of Tigray; while this placed constraints on its reforms, it also served to preclude Church-based opposition and win the support of peasants.[40]


Overcoming the age-old fetters on the role of women was a major concern of the TPLF from its earliest days in the west, in part because attacking female oppression was consistent with its liberation philosophy, but also because the TPLF needed to use all the human resources of Tigray in the struggle against the Derg.[40] The first Women's Mass Associations were established in 1978 in Sheraro and Zana, which were among the earliest woredas to be liberated and were deemed to have a high level of political consciousness.[40] While the separation of women from men during mobilization drives might suggest that their problems were perceived as being unique, this was not the general philosophy subscribed to by the TPLF.[41]

Although women were not at first welcomed as fighters into the TPLF, by 1983 the Front claimed that one-third of the fighters were women, it was recognized that the term 'fighter' referred to a range of positions and not just those involved in military combat.[41] Despite these measures and the support they had among Tigrayan women, in the mid-1980s it was decided to restrict the number of women recruited as fighters.[41] The TPLF argued that the reasons for this change of policy were that domestic life was being disrupted because so many women became fighters; women could make a valuable contribution to the war effort through activities in their home and villages; the educational levels for becoming a fighter were raised to five years and many women did not meet these criteria; and lastly, the war was moving to a conventional form that placed more emphasis on physical strengths.[41] As TPLF Central Committee member Aregash acknowledged, for peasant women 'being a fighter is such a liberation for them', and as a result, the decision to reduce the number of women fighters 'created resentment among the women in the villages'.[41]

It seems likely that the TPLF's decision to restrict the numbers of women into their ranks was a response to unease in the villages and, more specifically, the appeals of Tigrayan fathers, and the influence of the Church and the Mosque.[42] Two years after it was started, the program was abruptly ended because, according to the TPLF, teaching women how to plow served to increase their already burdensome responsibilities; in addition, it was argued that plowing was too heavy a work for women.[43] As a result, in Zana, which was one of the first woredas where this program was introduced, no women were plowing in 1993.[43] If the official reasons for discontinuing the plowing program can be discounted then the assumption must be that the TPLF feared that encouraging women to plow was offending by challenging the core religious and social beliefs about women in rural Tigrayan society.[43]


In the ritsi-held lands of Ethiopia, which includes Tigray, peasants have always taken a close interest in government measures that could impact their access to land.[43] The extent to which the Derg's land reform was carried out in Tigray is difficult to ascertain. It is clear that land held by the nobility was confiscated, and gulti obligations terminated by the peasants on their own, very quickly after they heard of the Derg's 1975 proclamation. However, formal land redistributions were rarely initiated by peasants, and the Derg's weak presence in the province before 1977-8 meant that they were probably not carried out in most of the province.[43] Unlike some other areas of Ethiopia, highland Tigray had little commercial potential and therefore no state farms were established. A surplus of land in the southern kola lands led the Derg to organize many cooperative farms and move poor peasants from Agame and central Tigray to work on these lands.[44]

After the Derg retreated from the area, the TPLF organized a conference where various systems of land tenure were discussed and voted on, and cooperative farming was overwhelmingly rejected.[44] The Derg also failed to appreciate the different levels of interest in land reform across regions when land reform should have gained the Derg a basis of peasant support in Tigray.[44] Both Derg and TPLF land reforms were designed to restructure the rural political economy and win peasant support, but the regime's reforms proved to be a political failure, and the Front's reforms served as the basis around which they mobilized the peasants of the province.[44] While the Derg's land distribution involved violence and resulted in their friends getting superior shares, the TPLF ensures that their program provided an equitable distribution of land and was carried out by the peasants.[45]

While the demand for equitable and democratically implemented land reform was heard across Tigray, in the less populated and lower lands of the west, Tembien, and the south-east, the major issue for peasants was 'unfair' administration.[46] Peasants from these areas repeatedly expressed their concern over an inadequate and corrupt administration, poor infrastructure, land insecurity, and shiftas who emerged from the forests at night to prey on poor farmers.[46] The lack, or weakness, of imperial government institutions, or the steady decline in the effectiveness of the central state as distance increased from the core, explains the prevalence of shifta in these areas.[46] Shifta groups operated with little threat from established authority and this led many peasants to conclude that the nobility and shiftas worked in conjunction.[46]

To combat this, the establishment of mass associations and local administrations in the liberated territories and lowlands was a critical element in the TPLF's peasant mobilization.[47] Of particular importance in achieving legitimacy of local administration was the establishment of a system of courts.[47] The differences between courts under the imperial regime and those under the TPLF are that the TPLF established courts at all levels of their administration.[48]


The dismissal of the PDRE from Tigray in 1989 marked somewhat of an ending, but the war went on until the overthrow of the PDRE and the EPRDF's capture of the entire country in 1991.[49] Although the overthrow of the PDRE brought a much-desired peace, Tigray's transition from a regime of virtual independence to one of measured autonomy in post-1991 Ethiopia has not always been easy.[49] Not only did Tigrayans resent the roles of central bureaucrats in funding decisions, but they also had little sympathy for their management style that increasingly came to the fore as provincial and national ministries were integrated.[50]

In 1993, transitional problems were still evident, although funding was getting through and some investment was taking place as people repaired damaged buildings and constructed new ones, and Tigrayan entrepreneurs began investing in the province.[50] However, the rural economy was still in limbo and faced a crisis as pressing as when the TPLF launched its revolution eighteen years earlier. Evidence of this was apparent in 1994 when parts of Tigray again suffered a famine.[50]

The TPLF was committed to rehabilitating and developing the rural economy and have long recognized that its land reforms and rehabilitation programs cannot by themselves overcome the contradiction between an ever-increasing population on one hand and a fertile land base which can only be marginally enlarged in the near future, on the other.[51] As a result, in addition to environmental rehabilitation and a vast expansion of infrastructure in the rural areas (albeit from extremely low levels), the TPLF pressed ahead with attempts to establish large-scale commercial agriculture in the lowlands, particularly in the Humera area, where land shortages are not a problem.[51]

Major efforts were also underway to establish and facilitate the establishment of an industrial base in the province. By 1995, private investors had overcome their fears of government policy and instability, and investment was largely restricted to the service sector like hotels, restaurants, and stores proliferated in the towns of Tigray particularly in Mekelle.[51]

Most of these projects can only bear fruit in the medium to long term and in any case, cannot begin to absorb the growing population of peasants without land or sufficient land to support themselves. Moreover, having borne a heavy burden during the years of war peasants are impatient with the pace of development.[52] It is clear that having been repeatedly told that their poverty was largely due to the state being controlled by regimes unsympathetic to their plight, peasants look for support from a government led by those they consider their sons.[52]

Apart from the key concern of Tigray's chronic underdevelopment, the approach to, and outcome of, three other issues will speak forcefully to the evolving character of Tigrayan society. These issues are, first, the challenges and implications of growing economic and regional inequality produced in Tigray in the post-Derg period; secondly, whether local-level populist democratic institutions developed during the revolutionary war to meet the needs of the TPLF's peasant base are still appropriate or can be reformed to meet the needs of a more heterogeneous populace in an area of peace; and lastly the variance between the ethos of revolutionary transformation and peasant traditionalism as reflected in the latter's attachment to the faith of the Orthodox Church.[53]

The TPLF's decision not to redistribute capital, restricted consumption, and the limited availability of consumer goods during the revolution ensured that rural class differentiation had little opportunity to develop.[53] Increasing rural and regional inequality is furthered by TPLF support for plantation agriculture in lowland areas, particularly in the Humera area of western Tigray where booming conditions exist.[53] Even more significant in producing rural inequality, is the growing number of landless peasants, the result of the TPLF decision not to allow any further major land redistribution because of fears that with a limited land base and a growing population, farm plots would quickly become uneconomic.[53]

Changing peasant attitudes to land appear to be based on several factors. First, in 1993, peasants held that with little work in the urban areas any weakening of the existing system of land tenure would produce landlessness and force-land poor-peasants to move to the towns and lives of destitution.[54] Secondly, this buoyant urban economy, together with a more stable rural economy, and the effects of road building and dam construction, created increasing opportunities for commercial agriculture and the establishment of small rural enterprises for a minority of peasants.[54] Thirdly, while government-initiated programs to supply fertilizers and seeds to poor peasants at marginal costs are proving successful at reducing poverty and stabilizing the rural economy, other programs, such as Global 2000, are designed for the limited number of peasants in a position to seriously engage in commercial agriculture.[54]

Another issue of concern is whether a range of administrative institutions created during the revolution to meet the needs of that period can survive or will have to be modified with the advent of peace when the all-consuming objective is no longer the pursuit of victory in the war, but development instead.[55]

List of major battles

See also


  1. ^ De Waal, Alexander (1991). Evil Days: Thirty Years of War and Famine in Ethiopia. Human Rights Watch. p. 82. ISBN 9781564320384.
  2. ^ Ethiopia: Crackdown in East Punishes Civilians (Human Rights Watch, 4-7-2007)
  3. ^ Mekonnen, Teferi (2018). "The Nile issue and the Somali-Ethiopian wars (1960s–78)". Annales d'Éthiopie. 32: 271–291. doi:10.3406/ethio.2018.1657.
  4. ^ a b[bare URL]
  5. ^ Spencer C. Tucker, A Global Chronology of Conflict: From the Ancient World to the Modern Middle East, 2009. page 2402
  6. ^ New York Times
  7. ^ Der Spiegel
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 17 November 2008. Retrieved 15 January 2022.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ "Ethiopia-Israel". Retrieved 26 October 2014.
  10. ^ Milorad Lazic (2021). "Arsenal of the Global South: Yugoslavia's Military Aid to Nonaligned Countries and Liberation Movements". Nationalities Papers. 49 (3): 428–445. doi:10.1017/nps.2020.6. S2CID 233733201.
  11. ^ "Eritrea (01/06)".
  12. ^ Schmid & Jongman, 2005: 538-539.
  13. ^ a b A Victory Tempered By Sorrow, Carlos Sanchez, Washington Post, May 26, 1991
  14. ^ a b Mengistu Leaves Ethiopia in Shambles, Neil Henry, Washington Post, May 22, 1991
  15. ^ Fifty Years of Violent War Deaths from Vietnam to Bosnia. Ziad Obermeyer, British Medical Journal (2008)
  16. ^ Knives Are Out For A Bloodstained Ruler, Louis Rapoport, Sydney Morning Herald (from The New Republic) April 28, 1990.
  17. ^ Valentino, Benjamin A. (2004). Final Solutions: Mass Killing and Genocide in the Twentieth Century. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. p. 196. ISBN 0-8014-3965-5.
  18. ^ Reuters (22 May 1988). "Ethiopia Frees 7 Relatives of Haile Selassie". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 8 January 2017.
  19. ^ Perlez, Jane (3 September 1989). "Ethiopia Releases Prisoners From Haile Selassie's Family". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 8 January 2017.
  20. ^ De Waal, Alexander (1991). Evil Days: Thirty Years of War and Famine in Ethiopia. Human Rights Watch. p. 175. ISBN 9781564320384. Retrieved 20 May 2015.
  21. ^ "Ethiopia: Uncle Sam Steps In", Time 27 May 1991. (accessed 14 May 2009)
  22. ^ Bloomfield, Steve (13 December 2006). "Mengistu found guilty of Ethiopian genocide". The Independent. Retrieved 8 January 2017.
  23. ^ "BBC NEWS | Africa | Mengistu found guilty of genocide". 12 December 2006. Retrieved 8 January 2017.
  24. ^ a b c d e Young,
  25. ^ Young, p. 118
  26. ^ a b c d e Young, p. 119
  27. ^ a b c d e f g h Young, p. 120
  28. ^ Young, p. 121
  29. ^ a b Young, p. 129
  30. ^ a b c d e f g Young, p. 145
  31. ^ a b c Young, p. 147
  32. ^ a b c d e f g Young, p. 159
  33. ^ a b c d e Young, p. 161
  34. ^ a b c Young, p. 162
  35. ^ a b c Young, p. 163
  36. ^ a b c d e f Young, p. 172
  37. ^ a b c d e Young, p. 173
  38. ^ a b c d Young, p. 174
  39. ^ a b c Young, p. 175
  40. ^ a b c d e Young, p. 178
  41. ^ a b c d e Young, p. 179
  42. ^ Young, p. 180
  43. ^ a b c d e Young, p. 181
  44. ^ a b c d Young, p. 182
  45. ^ Young, p. 183
  46. ^ a b c d Young, p. 187
  47. ^ a b Young, p. 189
  48. ^ Young, p. 190
  49. ^ a b Young, p. 197
  50. ^ a b c Young, p. 198
  51. ^ a b c Young, p. 199
  52. ^ a b Young, p. 200
  53. ^ a b c d Young, p. 201
  54. ^ a b c Young, p. 202
  55. ^ Young, p. 203