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The Ethiopian Civil War began on September 12, 1974 when the Marxist Derg staged a coup d'├ętat 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 war overlapped other Cold War conflicts in Africa, such as the Angolan Civil War (1975-2002).



The revolutionaries abolished the monarchy in March 1975 and Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen settled permanently in Londonmarker, United Kingdommarker 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, including 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 father Emperor Haile Selassie then in 1977, his daughter Princess Ijigayehu died in detention. Members of the Imperial family would remain imprisoned until 1988 (for the women) and 1989 (for the men).

The Derg eliminated its political opponents between 1975 and 1977 in response to the declaration and instigation of an Ethiopian White terror against the Derg by various opposition groups, primarily the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party which like the Derg was Marxist. 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 Eritreanmarker independence for its entire period in power, as well as 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).

At the same time, the Derg faced an invasion from Somaliamarker in 1977, which sought to annex the eastern parts of Ethiopia, which were predominantly inhabited by Somalis. The Ethiopian army was able to defeat the Somali army, supported by the Western Somali Liberation Front, only with massive military assistance from the Soviet Unionmarker and Cubamarker. 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, GDRmarker, Cuba and North Koreamarker. Most industries and private urban real-estate holdings were nationalized by the Derg in 1975.

During the same period, the Derg fulfilled its main slogan of "Land to the Tiller" by redistributing land once belonging to landlords to the peasant tilling the land. Mismanagement, corruption, and general hostility to the Derg's violent rule was coupled with the draining effects of constant warfare with the separatist guerilla movements in Eritreamarker and Tigraymarker 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 seven 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.


The Derg continued its attempts to end the rebellions with military force. They initiated several campaigns against both internal rebels and the Eritrean People's Liberation Front, 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 15-19 February 1989.


The Mengistu government was finally toppled by his own officials and a coalition of rebel forces, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), in 1991 after their bid for a push on the capital Addis Ababa became successful. There was some fear that Mengistu would fight to the bitter end for the capital, but after diplomatic intervention by the United Statesmarker, Mengistu fled to asylum in Zimbabwemarker, where he still resides to this day. The EPRDF immediately disbanded the WPE and arrested almost all of the prominent Derg officials shortly after. In December 2006, 72 officials of the Derg were found guilty of genocide. Thirty-four people were in court, 14 others have died during the lengthy process and 25, including Mengistu, were tried in absentia.

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