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Ethiopian Civil War

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The Ethiopian Civil War (1974-1991) began on September 12, 1974 when Derg staged a coup d’état against Emperor Haile Selassie, and lasted until the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of rebel groups, overthrew the government in 1991.

The revolutionaries put an end to the monarchy in March of 1975 and Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen settled permanently in London, United Kingdom where several other members of the Imperial family were already based.

The other members of the Imperial family who were still in Ethiopia at the time of the revolution were imprisoned.

This included Amha Selassie’s father the Emperor, his daughter by his first marriage, Princess Ijigayehu, his sister Princess Tenagnework and many of his nephews, nieces, relatives and in-laws.

In 1975, first his daughter Princess Ijigayehu, and then his father Emperor Haile Selassie died in detention. Members of the Imperial family would remain imprisoned until 1988 (for the women) and 1989 (for the men).

The Derg got rid of politics opponents between 1975 and 1977 as a response to the declaration and instigation of an Ethiopian White terror against the Derg by various opposition groups.

Brutal tactics were used by both sides, including executions, assassinations, torture and the imprisonment of tens of thousands without trial, most of whom were innocent.

The Ethiopian Red/White terror was the “urban guerrilla” chapter of the brutal war the government fought with guerrillas fighting for Eritrean independence for its entire period in power, as well as with Marxist Tigrean rebels, and with other rebel groups ranging from the conservative and pro-monarchy Ethiopian Democratic Union (EDU) to the far leftist Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP).

In the mean time, Derg faced an invasion from Somalia in 1977, which sought to annex the eastern parts of Ethiopia, which were predominantly inhabited by Somalis.

The Ethiopian army was able to overcome the Somali army, supported by the Western Somali Liberation Front, only with massive military assistance from the Soviet Union and Cuba.

Ethiopia under the Derg became the Socialist bloc’s closest ally in Africa, and became one of the best-armed nations of the region as a result of massive military aid chiefly from the Soviet Union, GDR, Cuba and North Korea.

Most industries and private urban real-estate holdings were nationalized by the Derg in 1975.

The Derg satisfied its main slogan of “Land to the Tiller” by redistributing land once belonging to landlords to the peasant tilling the land.

The Derg’s violent rule was coupled with the draining effects of constant warfare with the separatist guerilla movements in Eritrea and Tigray resulting in a drastic fall in general productivity of food and cash crops.

Although Ethiopia is prone to chronic droughts, no one was prepared for the scale of drought and famine that struck the country in the mid-1980s, in which up to one million may have died.

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.

Keywords: Prince Asfaw Wossen, Ethiopian Civil War, Marxist Derg, Emperor Haile Selassie, Princess Ijigayehu, White terror,


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