The Heritage Foundation

Backgrounder #568 on Middle East

March 11, 1987

March 11, 1987 | Backgrounder on Middle East

Time for Action Against Mengistu's Ethiopia

(Archived document, may contain errors)

568 March 11, 1987 TIME FOR ACTION AGAINST MENGISTU'S ETHIOPIA INTRODUCTION Throughout its history, Ethiopia has been so poor that it would be hard to believe it could be worse off. Yet in the past decade this is p recisely what has happened. Since taking power in February 1977 Ethiopian ruler Mengistu Haile Mariam has imposed on his of the worldls most brutal regimes. He has sought total control over all segments of national life--political, social, and economic--in his drive to turn Ethiopia into Africa's first fully conununist state forced resettlement and agricultural collectivization, turned what would have been a bothersome drought into the horrendous famine of 1984019

85. Despite massive assistance from the West, it claimed the lives.of one million Ethiopians. According to the best estimates three-quarters of those victims died from starvation caused when Mengie*d'F forced resettlement and forced labor interrupted plan ting.

Politically, Ethiopia steadily moves closer%*to the Soviet Union.

Since 1977, Moscow has sold (on credit) some $3.5 billion worth of military assistance to Mengistu. There are currently an estimated 7,000 Cuban combat forces in Ethiopia plus 2,000 S oviet bloc military advisers. Since consolidating power, Mengistu has fulfilled his duty to Ilproletarian internationalism1' by supporting revolutionary movements in Sudan, Somalia, and South Africa, and communist regimes in Angola and Mozambique I' Mengi stu's development scheme, based on the twin pillars of e 1. "Ethiopia's Famine Tax," The Wall Street Journal, November 12, 1986.

U.S. policy toward Ethiopia since 1977 has been based on the hope that cooperation with Mengistu would lead to a reduction in his commitment to Marxism-Leninism and his alliance with the Soviet Union.

Famine aid was provided out of U.S. commitment to humanitarian ideals and a belief that Mengistu would use the aid for humanitarian purposes. Clearly, these beliefs were wrong, and U.S. faith misplaced realities. The Mengistu regime is committed to imposing Marxism-Leninism throughout Ethiopia as quickly as possible neither represents nor cares about the welfare'rof its citizens it will use any assistance from external sources to fu r ther its goals irrespective of donor nations' stipulations U.S. policy must be based on a better understanding of Ethiopian It And Though U.S. officials correctly have sought to ensure that no U.S. famine aid is diverted from its intended destination, the y have not been able to do so. Indeed, sone U.S. aid has been used for the brutal forced resettlement program. The U.S. must pennit this no longer. All U.S. assistance to Ethiopia should be halted, and Washington should impose economic sanctions against Et hiopia until Mengistu ends his forced resettlement and collectivization programsd institutes basic human and civil rights, and allows free elections.

Further, the Reagan Administration should launch a major worldwide public diplomacy campaign to expose the true nature of the Mengistu regime and the 'real causes of the famine. Mengistu should be warned publicly that there will be no U.S. bail-out the next time his policies cause starvation concern-=and thereby elicit positive responses--further steps would b e in order, such as severing diplomatic relations and providing military assistance to Ethiopia's democratic resistance forces If these steps do not convince Mengistu of the gravity of U.S ROOTS OF THE PROBLEM Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie was overthro w n in September 1974 after 33 years in power middle-grade officers who called themselves the "Derg A number of factors'cohtrfkqted to his downfall: pressure from neighboring Somalia, renewed guerriiia activity in the Ethiopian province of Eritrea, disconte n t among Ethiopiass Western-educated elites, a famine He was toppled by a group of junior- and 2. Mengistu's policies have so alienated members of Congress that Congressmen William Gray D-PA) and Toby Roth (R-WI) have recently introduced legislation to imp ose sanctions on Ethiopia 2and the Emperor.Is poor respopse to it, and "the inevitable physical decline of an aged monarch.I Mengistu Haile Mariam, a young member of the Derg, took the first step in his march to power on the night of November 22, 19

74. On his own authority, he ordered the arrest of the former Chairman of the Provis)onal Military Administrative Council (PMAC), General Aman Andom, who was killed whenshe resisted. After.consolidating.his power in the Derg, Mengistu turned to establishing con trol over the civilian population. Ruthless suppression followed in what a fomer State Department official termed an llorgy of killing.ll By Mayg one observer reported that 1,.000 children lay dead in the streets.

From November 1977 through the following March, in what was later called "the Red Terror," governmekt forces massacred some 10,000 civilian opponents of the regime.

MOSCOW MOVES IN From the start, Mengistu and the Derg desired Soviet backing.

First, they were revolutionaries with a radical progr am. According to one former regime official, Mengistuls decision to adhere to Marxist ideology was not the result of any intellectual analysis of ideological and political options, it was a personal choice: a MarxistyLeninist system would give him the pow er to do whatever he wanted. a Second, the PMAC had decided soon after ,coming to power that the solution to the secessionist guerrilla war in Eritrea was military.

To achieve a victory over the guerrillas, the Ethiopian amy would have to be enlarged much more than Washington would permit. Soviet military aid hence became a necessity. Members of the Derg first 3. David A. Korn, EthioDia. the United Sta tes. and the So viet Unioq (Carbondale Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 1986), p. 5 4. The P M AC was the body through which the Derg formally ruled Ethiopia following Selassie's downfall. Aman, who had served the Selassie regime as its last Defense Minister, had been seen by Western observers to be friendly and moderate. Mengistu had disagreed wit h Aman about how to handle the growing insurgency problems in Eritrea 5. See Korn, g~. cit pp. 26-27 6. U.S. Department of State Background Notes: Ethiopia August 1985, p. 3 7. Dawit Wolde Giorgis Power and Famine in Ethiopia The Wall Street Journal, Janua r y 12, 1987 3-asked Moscow for an arms agreement in feptember 1974, long before the U.S. cut off military aid to Ethiopia. The first Moscow-Addis Ababa military agreement was signed in December 1976: the first shipment of tanks arrived in Ethiopia in March 99

77. Clearly, the U.S. did not force Ethiopia into MOSCOW~S hands.

Mengistu has moved Ethiopia steadily into the Soviet orbit satisfied one oft MOSCOW' s strongest demands \\in September. 19.84 by establishing the Worker's Party of Ethiopia (WPE a vangu ard Marxist-Leninist party tied to the Soviet Communist Party official celebration of the WPEIs establishment variously is estimated to have cost the.regime between 100-$250 million as a time when 17 million Ethiopians were threatened with starvation He T he Mengistu apparently has offered himself to the Soviets as the.

Castro of Africa, portraying himself as the leader of the communist movement on the continent.

Libya and the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen) in 1981, Ethippia has supported subversive elements in both Somalia and the Sudan. Ethiopian pilots meanwhile fly combat missions against Jonas Savimbi's democratic resistance forces in Ang o la. Early last year Mengistu offered to train 10,000 guerrillas of the African National Congress (ANC the Soviet-backed opposition movement in South Africa And recent reports from Mozambique indicate that Mengistu may even be sending troops to help bolste r the communist FRELIMO regime against pro-Western RENAMO freedom fighters Since signing a Tripartite Agreement with This February 22, Mengistu edged closer to Moscow by proclaiming establishment of the fivPeoplels Democratic Republic of Ethiopia,'I imposi n g a name on his country that echoes the names Moscow has given to its East European satellites 8. See Fred Halliday and Maxine Molyneux, The EthioDian Revolutioq (London: Verso Editions, 1981), p. 244; Bruce D. Porter, The USS R in Third World Conflicts ( Cambridge University Press, 1984), p. 192 9. Washington maintained cordial, though increasingly strained, relations with Addis Ababa after Selassie's downfall. Washington did not end the military assistance relationship until September 19

77. Between 1974-1977 U.S. military assistance to Ethiopia totaled some 180 million, approximately one and a half times more than it had furnished up to 1974.

Korn, 9 cit, p. 21 10. See Dawit, 90. cit 11. "Background Notes: Ethiopia p. 3 12. See James Brooke Ethiopians Of ficially Joining Ranks of Communist Nations The New York Times, February 23, 1987 4THE DROUGHT AND FAMINE OF 1984-1985 The drought that hit northern Ethiopia in 1984 was not a surprise. It continued a series of droughts that had plagued northern Ethiopia since the early 1970s. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organizatdon*i.(,FAO) f kst-.warned I.of aIpossib2e catastropfie in December 19

83. Yet the FA0 could not take action unless the Ethiopian government requested it.

The Mengistu regime refused to do so. In fact, the Ethiopian army's scorched earth tactics in its struggle with secessionist guerrillas in Eritrea and Tigre contributed to the drought So did the regime's policy of discouraging private agricultural production by restricting agricultu r al prices. Under this system, farmers had no incentive to produce more than their minimal needs drought struck, there were no reserves. The regime also insisted that the farmers attend Marxist-Leninist llpolhtical education classes, giving them less time i n the fields The result: when Through early 1984, even as evidence of impending drought mounted, the regime was concentrating almost solely on preparations for the September celebration of the establishment of the Workers Party of Ethiopia and the tenth a nniversary of the revolution. By September, thousands of starving peasants were walking all the way from the northern provinces to the gates of Addis Ababa.

Dawit Wolde Giorgis, head of Ethiopia's Relief and Rehabilitation Commission, the RRC was instructe d to stop them. Police prevented them from entering the city andlcspoiling the show'l that was being staged for Western journalists According to The Resettlement Proaram Mengistu's solution to the food problem was simple: if there was no food to feed the p eople of the north, they would be resettled in the southwest If they'did-not want to move, they would be resettled forcibly. This callousness was exnosed in'an exchanae between senior Ethiopian officials and a Western journalist: "It is-our duty to move t he peasants," said one Ethiopian, "if they are too stupid to move 13. Dr. Rony Brauman Famine Aid: Were We Duped Reader 's Diaest October 1986, p. 67 14. See Edward W. Desmond Mengistu's Ethiopia: Death by Policy Freedom at Issue.

March/April 1986, p. 19 1 5. See Dawit, OD. cit, themselves Added another Ethiopian: "First we try to persuade people to move If this doesn't work, sometimes we use In fact, Mengistu's aim was to use the famine as an excuse to forcibly uproot 1.5 million peasants and dry up local s upport for insurgentsl,battling the regime in the northern provinces of Eritrea and Tigre. Beginning in early 1985, hundreds of thousands of peasants were moved to southwestern -provinces Famine -ai'd> from Western nations was used as bait to lure peasant s to the resettlement camps. The message was simple: if you want to eat, resettle; if you don't want to be resettled, die. Most shocking was Mengistu's remark to two Western diplomats that only the able-bodied would be resettled the old and young, those wh o were ng threat to the regime, would be left in the drought-stricken areas.

Villauization Mengistu also has initiated a long-term program to restructure As recentlg as 1985 93 percent of Ethiopia's produce came Ethiopia's agricultural production system. C alled "villagization it was in fact an attempt to collectivize Ethiopia's agricultural system from private farms. Yet the regime's latest ten-year plan envisions 53 percent of all peaspts and 50 percent of the land under production 19

94. The eventual goal is to move 33 million peasants-three quarters of the population--onto collective farms The stated purposed of the program is that the government can give the farmers better health and education services once they are congregated But the real purpose apparently is to take direct forcible control of the nation's food supply and to move pzepsants to where they could be more easily watched and indoctrinated.

A wave of'international protest forced Mengistu to halt the resettlement program in December 19

85. By that time, 600,000 peasants had been moved forcibly to the southwestern provinces; 100,000 had died along the way. Some 4.5-million had been moved from their 16. John Greenwald, "Red Star over the Horn of Africa Time August 4, 1986, pp. 31-32 17. See below Ethiopian Opposition Movements 18. See Korn, go. cit, p. 127 19. "Background Notes: Ethiopia," p. 5 20. See Allan Hoben The Origins of Famine," The New Reoublic, January 21, 1985 21. The Editors The Farnine:Next.Time,".The-New Reoublic . December 15, 1986, p. 7 onto state farms officials announced that resettlement would soon begin again.

Early last month, regime22 ETHIOPIAN PRIORITIES Broadly speaking there. twere. twor. responses '4xY.the famine" from the internation al community: the West sent food, and the Soviet bloc sent arms. regime's responses to them reveals his priorities energized constituencies in a score of countries. For fiscal years 1984 and 1985, for example, the U.S. gave Ethiopia $276 million.iri food a id, plus $27 million in such nonfood aid as blankets, medicines and transportation. Offici# Western assistance to Ethiopia during 1985 totalled $667 million A close examination of the two responses and the Mengistu The West's televised scenes of starving E thiopian children By contrast, Moscow sent military transport aircraft helicopters, and 300 trucks, all of which were manned by military crews. Their purpose was to speed the forced resettlement of Ethiopian peasants. Later the Soviets sent a fully equipp e d field hospital to care for wounded Ethiopian soldiers shipment of rice (which highland Ethiopians would not eat Moscow sent no food to the starving Ethiopians. To make matters worse, when Western ships carrying food arrived in Ethiopia's ports, they wer e forced to wait while Soviet bloc ships unloaded their military cargoes. For Mengistu, arms to fight the insurgents were more important than food for the starving waiting to unload; more food spoiled when it sat on the docks for days, waiting for transpor t, while Soviet-provided trucks and planes were used to transport refugees from north to south in the forced resettlement campaign or to take army units to the front.

The regime cynically profited from.the West's concern for starving peasants. Mengistu.forced donor nations to pay for dock unloading, trucking to the interior, and other services. These import fees added up to $139 per ton of food. It had to be paid in ha r d currency and replaced coffee as Ethiopia's biggest money earner Other than a Food rotted.while ships were 22. "Ethiopia to Resume Resettlement The Was hington T imeg February 3, 1987, .p. 6A 23. There was a great deal of unofficial Western assistance as well, best represented by the musical groups BandAid and USA for Africa, and the LiveAid rock concert, all of which raised an estimated $100 million for famine relief. See Brauman, 90. cit, p. 66 24. See "Ethiopia's Famine Tax OD. cit 7ETHIOPIAN OPPOSITIO N MOVEMENTS The various guerrilla movements that flourished in Ethiopia in the mid-1970s for the most part have been reduced to two: those operating in Eritrea (the Ekitrean People s Liberation and Tigre (the I-Tigre People I s.:iLDber~~.ioni;..Frontl1 or TPLF northernmost provinces of Ethiopia or EPLF two I The Eritrean insurgency began in the mid-19608, after Haile Selassie's 1962 decision to assert control over the province, which heretofore he had largely ignored.

Eritrean insurgents received nus and ot her assistance from the Soviets, Cubans, and Chinese. Though the insurgents Marxist-Leninist doctrine gives them no quarrel with Mengistu's communization of Ethiopia, they want to be the rulers of their own land. The EPLF is not fighting a classic guerril l a war. With 24,000 soldiers, backed by thousands of trained militiamen, the EPLF is waging a conventional, set-piece war against the Ethiopian armed forces Through the 1960s and early 1970s Fighting in Tigre erupted in the mid-l970s, after Haile Selassie' s fall. By the late 19708, the TPLF controlled the countryside, which makes up about 90 percent of the province the EPLF, the TPLF employs classic guerrilla methods.

Unlike Since consolidating power in 1977, Mengistu has ordered yearly offensives against t he rebels. In the early 19808, Mengistu's forces assisted by Soviet mklitary advisers, are believed to have used poison gas and other chemicals against rebel-held areas of Eritrea the regime's forces have scorched the earth, and their planes have dropped n apalm on villages and farmlands In Tfgre Less well-known opposition to the Mengistu regime includes the Ethiopian People's Democratic Alliance. Based in Sudan, the EPDA appears to be noncommunist and. nonsecessionist. Its program calls for democratic self - government, respects private property, and guarantees individual freedoms. EPDA leader Dereje Deressa claims that, with 25. A 1980 survey of Ethiopian opposition movements showed at least twelve different groups fighting the Mengistu regime for control of various parts of Ethiopia. The most effective of these groups, the Oromo Liberation Front, the Western Somali Liberation Front, and the Ethiopian Democratic Union, have all seen their activities sharply curtailed over the past several years 26. The Chines e cut off their support for the guerrillas when Selassie accorded Beijing diplomatic recognition. The Soviets ana Cubans cut off support for the guerrillas when Mengistu established his alliance. with Moscow 8 Ipolitical and, the group cou ld field 50,000 fighters within months.

Another opposition'group is headed by Dawit Makonnen, the grandson of Haile Selassie and one of the heirs to the throne.

Ethiopian National Alliance to Advance Democracy is headquartered in Washinston, D.C., and has no soldiers in the field. It is active His diplomatica3Ay working with many of he former .LMenghtu reghe a officials who have defected to the West. The Dawit Makonnen group like the EPDA, claims Sudanese support and that it could field 50,000-80,000 sold i ers, if the U.S. would support it U-S. POLICY OPTIONS U. S . policy toward Ethiopia has shifted dramatically since the rise to power of Mengistu Haile Mariam. During Haile Selassiels reign Ethiopia was a very close friend of the U.S. In response to Mengis t uls hostility in the.past decade, however, Washington has halted all military assistance to Ethiopia, reduced its diplomatic representation to the level of charge dlaffaires, cut off all bilateral development assistance, denied Ethiopia access to the gene r alized system of trade preferences for developing countries, and votgd against loans to Ethiopia from multilateral development banks. Though humanitarian assistance continued through the 19808, reaching the high point of 279 million in 1985, the U.S. Agen cy for International Development has concluded that it is impossible to do useful development work in Ethiopia under current circumstances. As a result, AID has scaled back its program vastly.

Now that Mengistu seems determined to forge ahead with villaaization and forced resettlement. the U.S. should sianal its strong opposition to such policies.

Administration should Specifically, the Reagan o Terminate.al1 humanitarian.assistance. Two years after the famine, it has become clear that Western famine relie f was misused by the regime an accomplice in the slaughter that is taking place in Ethiopia though AID has reduced its commitments to Ethiopia over the last two years, it still is asking Congress for $3.4 million for fiscal year By continuing to send aid t o the regime, the West becomes Even 27. See Orrin Hatch Keep Ethiopia Part ;of the Reagan Doctrine The Wal 1 Street Journal, April 4, 1986 28. These last three measures were taken in accordance with U.S. law, because the Mengistu regime has not paid U.S. citizens for assets lost when the regime expropriated U.S holdings. See "Background Notes: Ethiopia p. 7 919

88. Thisansends the signal that the U.S. still does not believe the worst about the regime. It is time to send a different signal: the U.S. has con cluded that the worst about the Mengistu regime is true and the U.S. will.not be a party to it o Publicly warn Mencristu of the conseuuences of his policies.

Mengistu's current policies in Ethiopia recall the starvation campaign waged by Stalin :againstru the .Ukraineb in 1931"tO 1933 or' Cambadtan dictator Pol Pot's murderous depopulation of Phnom Penh. Mengistu should be warned publicly by Ronald Reagan that his policies are sure to cause more deaths, and if he persists in them, the West will feel no res ponsibility for bailing him out o Launch a public diplomacy campaian. The world.too little understands the true causes of the famine in Ethiopia.

Third World governments recognize the relationship between resettlement, collectivization, and famine, such a disaster could happen elsewhere. To prevent this, the Reagan Administration should launch a high-profile public diplomacy campaign, including international organizations, to educate the global community about the real causes of the famine in Ethiopia and- t he true character of the Mengistu regime Until other o Declare Ethiopia communist. Though the regime signed a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union ten years ago, formally handed control of state power to the Workers Party of Ethiopia in September 1984, and just established the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, the U.S. government has yet to declare the Mengistu regime communist. This statement is not for ideological or propaganda purposes; it has real consequences.

Communist g overnments are not eligible for U.S. Export-Import Bank loans and are subject to other restrictions under the amended Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 o Impose economic sanctions. The U.S. has imposed economic sanctions on a host of governments around the w orld that, in Washington's view, do not meet-minimum standards of human rights.

Most recently, the South African government was added to the list.

Surely EthAopia's deliberate slaughter warrants U.S. condemnation and sanctions. o Consider apnlvincr the Re acran Doctrine. If all else fails to prod Mengistu to halt his resettlement and villagization campaigns the U.S. should consider applying the Reagan Doctrine to Ethiopia 29. Even Rep. William Gray, one of the leaders of the South Africa sanctions campaign , has recognized the horrors of Mengistu's Ethiopia. With Rep. Toby Roth Gray has cosponsored legislation that would ban the importation of Ethiopian coffee, which .provides the regime with 60 percent of its foreign currency earnings 10 This,.means,that th e U.S. would provide supplies and other resources to those groups resisting repressive regimes. Candidates for U.S. aid would include the Ethiopian People's Democratic Alliance and the Ethiopian National Alliance to Advance Democracy I CONCLUSION 4 I I I I I I .4 I I I I I I Since the rise to power of Mengistu Haile Mariam exactly a decade ago, the historically poor people of Ethiopia have become even poorer. Where before they lived under an autocratic emperor and had few political rights, they now live und e r a near-totalitarian system which controls much of their daily lives, which forcibly uproots and resettles them, and which aims to communize their society. -1t'was Ethiopian government policies, more than any natural occurrence, that turned the drought o f 1984 into the great famine which killed one million Ethiopians.

The West's response was typically compassionate and overwhelming. Within weeks of the first news reports, hundreds of thousands of tons of food were on their way to Ethiopia contributions raised the total even higher almost 800 million in just one year. Y et the Ethiopian government exploited the West. Food sent for distribution in drought-stricken provinces was used instead to lure peasants into resettlement camps or to feed Ethiopian soldiers or it was sold to raise hard currency.

Meanwhile, Soviet bloc a id to Mengistu consisted.mostly of help in his resettlement campaign. When Western governments -and charitable organizations complained, they were threatened, and at least one--Doctors Without Borders--was expelled Private All told, the West sent Mengistu has made clear his contempt for Western values and Western counsel. It seems that all he wants from the West is continued humanitarian assistance to be used however he wants.

Knowing what the U.S and the West now know about the Mengistu regime the U.S. in good conscience no longer can aid it to become an accomplice. Instead, the U.S. must signal its readiness to break completely with the regime and take other actions aimed at eventually replacing it To do so would be William Pascoe Policy Analyst 11 - }{ \f1

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