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Book Reviews The Ethiopian Revolution 1974-1987: A Transformation from an Aristocratic to a Totalitarian Autocracy Andargachew Tiruneh Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Pp. xv, 435. This book is a chronological survey of the Ethiopian revolution, covering the period preceding its outbreak in 1974 up to the proclamation of the new constitution of 1987. It is the first major study of its kind written by an Ethiopian, and furnishes an important synthesis of the processes of political and social change and power struggle in a period of intense upheaval. The work is descriptive, detailed, and based on relevant contemporary documents, newspaper reports and policy statements. It treats all major political developments of the revolutionary period, from middle-class protests to army intervention to totalitarian state construction, and demonstrates that the seeds of the ultimate failure of Derg policy (especially of its chairman) were sown exceptionally early. In a sense, this book closes (or one hopes that it does) a phase of scholarly political studies of this tragic revolutionary stage in Ethiopian history. In the 1970s and 1980s, several studies, some of them hopeful and supportive of the so-called 'first and real socialist revolution in Africa' appeared (see Markakis and Nega, Ottaway, Holiday and Molyneux, Lefort, Keller, Henze, Harbeson, and Clapham). These well-known works mainly focused on social and economic changes, new political structures and institutions and international relations, but they also assessed factional strife, the emerging dictatorship and ethno-regional conflicts. The development of the revolution, its political and economic impact, and its demise are by now very well-known, and publications about it have become commonplace. For several years now, little new substantive material has been contributed; rather, innumerable articles have content Northeast African Studies (ISSN 0740-9133) Vol. 3, No. 1 (New Series) 1996, pp. 117-136117 118 Book Reviews themselves by evaluating the data in a somewhat different ideological/theoretical light. Along these lines, Andargachew's book closes a chapter in Ethiopian political history by providing a valuable summary of existing studies, while adding some interesting inside details and theoretical analysis that is helped by the benefit of hindsight. As such it is a major achievement and a very welcome reference work, despite occasional sloppy details and repetitive passages, which will be overlooked in this brief review. The book consists of three parts. In Part I, the author seeks to explain the roots of 'King' Haile Sellaste Fs failure, which created the political conditions for the take-over of the state by the only powerful institution in the country, the army. He mentions the relevant (commonly cited) internal and external factors undermining the monarch's power position and his legitimacy. Part II is about the crucial period of the revolutionary changes, initially hopeful, and the political power-struggle within the Derg terminating in the well-prepared, violent coup of Mengistu on 3 February 1977. These chapters offer an excellent survey, even for specialists, of the changing alliances and policy changes. Again, good use is made of newspaper sources and policy documents. Interesting is the reassessment of the EDU as a middle-class party (p. 124f.). Part III is a study of the consolidation of power of the Mengistu-state. First, Andargachew examines the unfolding of the chairman's central power-strategy: the unscrupulous use of force. Such violence demonstrates, yet again, that institutional change was subordinated to the quest for personal power of an absolute dictator convinced of his ideologically correct course. Obviously, there is continuity in the autocratic style of governing and megalomania of the monarch and the dictator, but the amount, nature and use of destructive violence as a political means was perhaps unique to Mengistu. Second, the author gives a point by point overview of the build-up of the WPE/Mengistu state. The great skills of the regime in applying 'organizational operations' is discussed in detail: the pushing through of centrally made 'democratic decisions' through to the lower levels of government and administration (e.g. k'ebeles), hence allowing the people 'to voice their opinion,' of course with the central authorities retaining the last word (cf. p. 271-72). As an example, the author discusses the process of preparing and adopting...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1535-6574
Print ISSN
0740-9133
Pages
pp. 117-121
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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