The Heritage Foundation

Executive Memorandum #200 on Africa

May 12, 1988

May 12, 1988 | Executive Memorandum on Africa

In Ethiopia, Mengistu's Final Solution

(Archived document, may contain errors)

5/12/88 200


A catastrophic famine once again threatens Ethiopia. Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile

M ariam's early April decision to expel all foreign relief workers from the drought-stricken

northern provinces of Tigre and Eritrea places three million Ethiopians beyond the reach of

a ny famine relief programs. Without immediate famine assistance, they will die within weeks.

Mengistu's action is widely seen by Western diplomats and relief officials as proof that he now

w ill attempt to settle Ethiopia's civil war in these two provinces by using famine as his ultimate

weapon. As one U.S. official puts it, "It looks like the Ethiopians have decided to solve the

E ritrean problem by eliminating the Eritreans." If so, it would be Mengistu's Final Solution.

Push Moscow, the U.N., and Africans. For several years, the world has watched as the com-

munist Mengistu regime has used food as a weapon in its civil war. Mengistu's latest outrage

a t last should force civilized nations to take the drastic action necessary to prevent the deaths

of those three million Ethiopians. As Ethiopia's largest aid donor, the U.S. should take the

l ead in coordinating effective international action. The Reagan Administration should: push

Moscow to bring to heel its Ethiopian client regime; call for an emergency meeting of the

U nited Nations Security Council to condemn Ethiopia and design a; mechanism for rushing

food into Eritrea and Tigre; and mobilize America's African friends to press for action in the

O rganization of African Unity. Washington also should consider direct military action to bring

in emergency famine assistance from neighboring Sudan, and to overthrow the Mengistu

r egime and replace it with one that cares for the Ethiopian people. ;

The disaster that struck Ethiopia in 1984-1985 - which killed one million people - was

man-made, a direct result of the policies pursued by the Mengistu regime in its war against in-

s urgents in the northern provinces. Forced resettlement, originally designed to move 1.5 mil-

lion peasants from their homes in the north to unsettled lands in the south, actually

t ransported 600,000 before Western pressure succeeded infOTcing Mengistu to halt the

program. In the meantime, however, 100,000 had died on the way. Willagization" was

M engistu's policy of forcing peasants off their lands and onto huge collective farms, akin to

Stalin's early-1930s policy of collectivization in the Ukraine, and with strikingly similar results:

u nproductive farms, no food, and starving people. Together, Mengistu's twin policies are

blamed for 750,000 of the one million dead in the last famine. Following that experience,

W estern governments and relief agencies pressed Mengistu to change his policies.

Brutality Without Witnesses. Though Mengistu in fact did halt the forced resettlement

program temporarily, he reinstated it last November. Then, early this March, Ethiopian troops

s hot and killed 20 peasants who refused to be resettled. Two weeks ilater, Eritrean rebels an-

nounced their greatest victory of the war, claiming to have killed or,captured 18,000 govern-

ment troops. On March 3 1, speaking to the central committee of the ruling communist party,

M engistu admitted the threat posed to his regime by the rebels. It was the first time that he

had ever acknowledged the strength of the insurgents fighting his forces. One week later he

f orced all foreign relief workers to leave the provinces of Eritrea and Tigre. In doing so he

placed up to three million Ethiopians beyond the reach of any relief programs. Relief officials

b elieve the reason for their forced removal was to prevent any foreign witnesses from testify-

ing to the brutality of the actions sure to be taken by Mengistu's forces in the two provinces.

There is no time left for subtle diplomatic persuasion; action is necessary. As Ethiopia's

' largest aid donor, the U.S. should:

* * Pressure Moscow. Since 1977, the Kremlin has given Mengistu $3.5 billion in arms and

other military assistance and 2,000 Soviet military advisers. Cuba has sent 10,000 combat

t roops. Moscow has more influence over Mengistu than any other government. Ronald

Reagan, at this month's Moscow summit, should press Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to

p rove that he is the reformist that he claims by pressuring Mengistu. Ito open up Eritrea and

Tigre to foreign relief workers, and to abandon his policies of forced resettlement and vil-

l agization.

* * Call an emergency U.N. meeting. Washington should request' an emergency meeting of

the United Nations Security Council to discuss the causes of the crisis in Ethiopia and possible

r emedies. The Security Council could threaten Mengistu with mandatory and comprehensive

sanctions if he refuses to allow foreign relief workers back into Eritrea and Tigre.

* * Press for an OAU meeting. The Organization of African Unity is headquartered in

A ddis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital. Washington should ask such African friends as the Sudan,

Kenya, and Zaire to press for an OAU meeting to discuss joint African action to relieve the

s uffering of the Ethiopian people.

* * Plan military action. If these measures do not prevent the loss of innocent lives in

Ethiopia, the Reagan Administration should consider direct military action to ensure that

f amine relief gets through to Eritrea and Tigre. An aid pipeline could be set up through neigh-

boring Sudan, with armed escorts to ensure the safe passage of the food.

Further, the U.S. should press other civilized nations to consider whether or not Mengistu

H aile Mariam and his regime should remain as the government of Ethiopia. Mengistu has

demonstrated repeatedly that he is one of the world's most brutal leaders. The holocaust that

h e is conducting in Ethiopia is clear testament to that fact. The world approved when the Tan-

zaman government in 1979 decided enough was enough and sent itsi: forces into neighboring

U ganda to overthrow Idi Amin. Even ultra-liberal George McGovern called for military ac-

tion to overthrow the bloodthirsty Pol Pot regime and bring an end to the killing fields of Cam-

b odia. And now it is generally recognized that the U.S. should have taken direct military action

early in World War Il to liberate Hitler's death camps before he killed the millions of their in-

m ates. Mengistu is threatening a Final Solution that will lead to a holocaust on the same scale.

William Pascoe

P olicy Analyst

For further information:

Rony Brauman, "Famine Aid: Were We Duped?"Reader's Digest, October 1986.

W iffiam Pascoe, "Time for Action Against Mengistu's Ethiopia," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 568,

March 11, 1987.


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