East Africa

Ethiopia History: From the Socialist to the Federal Republic

A coordination committee of the leaders of the military revolt (DERG) replaced the old imperial power by founding a republic with socialist connotations and appointing general M. Andom as president. But the settlement of the new political summit would only take place in February 1977 with the dismissal of Taferi Banti (who had eliminated Andom in 1974) and the coming to power of Colonel HM Menghistu. The new head of state found himself having to face a particularly serious situation: the intensification of the Eritrean armed resistance had led to the liberation of most of that territory while in July of the same year of his inauguration Somalia had invaded Ogadèn. The accentuation of the socialist character of the Ethiopian Republic, however, allowed Mengistu to win the favor of the USSR, which abandoned its old Somali ally and supplied Ethiopia with large quantities of weapons. With the new armaments and the help of Cuban troops, Menghistu already in February 1978 regained Ogadèn and began to regain control of Eritrea. The victory over the Somalis and the establishment of the “red terror”, with imprisonment and the elimination of thousands of opponents, they allowed Mengistu to strengthen his power and give Ethiopia some stability according to businesscarriers. The dismantling of the old feudal regime showed contradictory results with undoubted social improvements (health, education, agrarian reform) which the poorer classes could particularly benefit from, while the economic situation (aggravated by a severe famine in the 1980s) remained difficult with production far below expectations; on the political level, power remained tied to the small military base. The Eritrean problem remained unsolved. Menghistu in an attempt to broaden the social bases of his power established the Workers’ Party (WEB) in 1984, of which he became general secretary. Permanently abolished the DERG in 1987, the colonel got himself elected head of the People’s Republic for a five-year term. But the growing difficulties and the same repercussions of the renewal started by Gorbačëv in the USSR, an ally of Ethiopia, now marked a process of irreversible disintegration. The never tamed resistance from Eritrea and the other guerrilla movements was an increasingly dangerous thorn in the side also for the progressive disengagement of the Soviet and Cuban allies. Nor would the use of troops previously massed on the border with Somalia with which Ethiopia had resumed diplomatic relations in 1988 served to counter it.

In 1989 Menghistu also had to face an attempted military coup, while the Eritrean guerrilla and Tigrina developed all their activity. It was too late now for the attempts at conciliation and liberalization of the economy. Not even the new weapons provided by Israel in exchange for the expatriation of Ethiopian Jews (Falascià) were sufficient to reverse the situation. While the Popular Front for the Liberation of Eritrea (FPLE) managed to conquer the last strongholds of the region, the Revolutionary People’s Democratic Front (FDPRE), born from the unification of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray (FPLT) with the People’s Democratic Movement (MDPE), with the offensive unleashed in February 1991 advanced towards the capital. On 21 May Menghistu was forced to flee and on 29 of the same month the FDPRE entered Addis Ababa victorious. On 23 July 1991 Melles Zenawi, president of the FDPRE, was elected president of the Council of Representatives, the provisional Parliament, and thus automatically became the head of state. Eritrea. An agreement established the de facto separation and the calling of a special referendum for 1993, while Ethiopia was guaranteed an outlet in the Red Sea (declaration of Assab and Massawa as free ports). When, therefore, the Eritreans voted overwhelmingly for independence, Melles Zenawi hastened to recognize the new Eritrean state (May 1993). The difficult path of the construction of the new Ethiopia continued with the elections called for the formation of a Constituent Assembly (June 1994), largely won by the FDPRE also because the major opposition parties boycotted the consultation. In 1995 the Federal People’s Republic of Ethiopia was proclaimed and the new Parliament elected Negaso Gidada, a member of the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization, as head of the state. one of the movements that helped form the EPRDF. Zenawi, former interim president, was appointed prime minister (1995). But also sensational signs, of intolerance towards a power deemed coercive and accused of systematically resorting to the arrest of opponents, also came in 1997 (February) when the majority of the members of the Ethiopian national football team took advantage of a stay in Italy to request political asylum.. In foreign policy, Ethiopia signed a customs economic agreement with Eritrea, while relations with Sudan deteriorated. With the invasion of the Tigrai by Eritrean troops, in June 1998 a new conflict was opened between the two countries. The incomplete acceptance by the two countries of the negotiations proposed by the OAU, in February 1999,Ethiopian Prime Minister Melles Zenawi and Eritrean President I. Afeworki they signed a peace agreement in Algiers, formally putting an end to the war between the two countries. On the border between the two states in Eritrean territory, a demilitarized band was created in 2001 under the control of the UN; at the same time Ethiopia renounced all claims on the Eritrean port of Assab. always in 2001 Girma Wolde-Giorgis was elected president. Signs of coercive power and the repression of the opposition came again with the 2005 elections which saw the reconfirmation of the EPRDF and the consequent outbreak of unrest in the capital. Attempts to find a solution for the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea continued, but the international commission charged with finding a compromise between the two states in 2007 closed the proceedings with a stalemate. With the legislative elections of 2010, the FDPRE confirmed its majority in parliament, while the leaders of the coalition of opposition parties denounced fraud and irregularities. During 2011, Ethiopia and neighboring countries suffered the consequences of the worst drought of the last sixty years. The elections of 2015 again confirmed the party of Prime Minister Hailé Mariàm Desalegn, which obtained 100% of the seats; intimidation was reported by international observers, while many of the opposition party representatives were arrested. In 2018, Prime Minister Hailé Mariàm Desalegn unexpectedly resigned and the following day the government declared a state of national emergency. Abiy Ahmed Ali, president of the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (ODPO), one of the four parties in the ruling coalition was elected prime minister. Abiy freed thousands of political prisoners, promised free elections for 2019 – which were subsequently suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic and announced sweeping economic reforms. The ruling party in the Tigré region, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray, opposed the postponement, and proceeded to organize an electoral consultation in September 2020. This compromised relations with the federal government and in November 2020 Abiy has ordered a military offensive in response to attacks on army units stationed in that area, causing thousands of refugees to flee to Sudan.

Ethiopia History - From the Socialist to the Federal Republic