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  • The Genesis and Evolution of the Ethiopian Revolution and the Derg:A Note on Publications by Participants in Events
  • Temesgen Gebeyehu


In 1974 the Ethiopian government of Emperor Haile-Sellasie was overthrown and replaced by the Provisional Military Administrative Council (PMAC). Also known as the Derg, the PMAC adopted socialism, embarked on radical social changes, and retained power for over two decades under its leader, Mengistu Hayle-Maryam, eventually was overthrown in 1991. The Ethiopian Revolution and the Derg are the topics of several authors, including those publishing close to the events, such as Raul Valdes Vivo, Fred Halliday and Maxine Molyneux, and John Markakis and Nega Ayele, and those writing later, such as Christopher Clapham, Edmond Keller, and Bahru Zewde, to name just a few publishing in English.2 But other publications, in Amharic and English, remain the focus of a lively academic and public debate in Ethiopia. Most of these writings were [End Page 321] produced by participants in events, or, in one case, are transcripts of interviews with participants. Some of the raconteurs were revolutionaries, others were their opponents, and still others were members of the imperial regime. Taken together, these publications shed light on the genesis of the Ethiopian Revolution (the February 1974 movements), the consolidation of Derg (in November 1977), and its aftermath. This note examines some of these materials to bring them to the attention of readers of this journal.


Several books were written by (former) revolutionaries. Four prominent authors are Dawit Wolde Giorgis, Kiflu Tadesse, Andargachew Tiruneh and Tefera Hayle-Selasse.

Dawit Wolde Giorgis was one of the original and active participants of the Ethiopian Revolution. He was head of the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission that the Hailie-Selassie regime launched in 1983 and became a member of the Derg until 1985, when he disassociated himself from the regime, moved to the United States and published a book entitled, Red Tears: War, Famine and Revolution in Ethiopia, in 1989.3 Wolde Giorgis based his text on his experiences and memories as well as a few private records.4 He recounts from his memory, for example, the genesis of the famine and the resulting disaster of 1984–1985, a topic to which he dedicates almost one hundred pages. By contrast Wolde Giorgis pays very little attention to the genesis of the Revolution, i.e., political events before 28 June 1974. Red Tears places emphasis on the aftermath of the Revolution and the Derg's consolidation of power.

As a senior member of the Marxist-Leninist Party of Ethiopia, Wolde Giorgis is well placed to comment on the Revolution and the Derg. The book is particularly informative about Mengistu's rise to power and the elimination of (real and potential) challengers. Wolde [End Page 322] Giorgis' perspective on Mengistu and his colleagues is negative, as one might expect from someone who left the regime. For example, Wolde Giorgis notes that Mengistu offers no chance for others to win arguments with him.5 One appreciates these details and others, but Red Tears might have revealed more about the interior contours of the Derg. Wolde Giorgis also might have commented more fully on the genesis of the Ethiopian Revolution.

Another revolutionary who turned against the Revolution is Kiflu Tadesse, who played a central role through his involvement with the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party (EPRP). Following the defeat of the EPRP, in 1977, Tadesse fled to the United States, where he wrote a number of books on the Ethiopian Revolution. His 1983 publication, The Generation, is a history of the EPRP. Part I discusses the formative years, from the late 1960s to 1975, in which Tadesse provides insight into the evolution of this oppositional movement. He is most detailed on the events of 1974. Tadesse adds that the old order was so autocratic and backward that it could not respond effectively to political developments. Part II of The Generation focuses on 1975–1980, one of the most turbulent periods of Ethiopian history. It discusses the conflict that unfolded, detailing the dynamic of forces, political alliances, the EPRP program and its collapse, as well as the consolidation of the Derg.

Tadesse and Wolde Giorgis provide interesting...