Colonel Mengistu Hailemariam (born 1937) was the most famous officer of the Derg, the military junta that governed Ethiopia from 1974 to 1987, and the president of the People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.
He oversaw the Ethiopian Red Terror of 1977-1978, a repression campaign against the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party and other anti-Derg factions.
After the downfall of Haile Selassie, Ethiopia was controlled by Communist regimes which shifted the equipment, organization and doctrines away from Western European and American influences towards those of the Soviet Union and other Communist countries, especially Cuba.
During this period, Ethiopian forces were often locked in counter-insurgency campaigns against various guerrilla groups.
They honed both conventional and guerrilla tactics during campaigns in Eritrea, and the Ethiopian Civil War that toppled Ethiopian former military dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991 and also by repelling an invasion launched by Somalia in the 1977–1978 Ogaden War.
The Ethiopian army grew considerably during this time under the regimes of the Derg and the People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia under the dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam, especially during the latter regime. Estimated forces under arms increased dramatically.
Cuba provided a significant influx of military advisors and troops over this period, with the largest escalation during the Ogaden War with Somalia, supported by a Soviet airlift.
Mengistu’s “Dergue” regime was responsible for human rights violations on a massive scale.
Tens of thousands of Ethiopians were tortured, murdered or “disappeared.” Tens of thousands of people were also killed as a result of humanitarian law violations committed during Ethiopia’s many internal armed conflicts.
Many others, perhaps more than 100,000, died as a result of forced relocations ordered by the Mengistu regime.
Mengistu fled to Zimbabwe in 1991 after a violent uprising against his government, and remains there despite an Ethiopian court verdict finding him guilty in absentia of genocide.
Keywords: Derg, Haile Selassie, Red Terror, Ethiopia, Ogaden War,