This Unit is About The Ethiopian Coup of 1974 as a result of Haile Silassie's Downfall and The raise and fall of Mengistu Marriam.


Throughout the 1960’s, the discontent towards Haile Selassie government increased and there was an attempt the overthrow of emperor in 1960, but the coup was suppressed with the help of U.S.A whose forces at Kangrew helped the forces loyal to the Emperor.

In 1974, a group of military organized a successful coup under the leadership of Anom Andom and Mengistu Mariam. The officers overthrow the emperor in September 1974 and they established a revolutionary committee called Dergue which took control of the government affairs.

Reasons for the coup

The nepotism, corruption and tribalism practiced by Haile Selassie government. During Haile Selassie’s reign, the Ahmanic people were favored above all others. They occupied the top government posts, they dominated the top ranks in the army and the police, they were the land owners and they got a lot of benefits from the state so the army men overthrow the emperor to establish a government free of nepotism.

Failure of the emperor to implement the expected land reforms. In 1941, the emperor had got overwhelming support against Italians because he promised to make land reforms which would enable the majority of the people to own land but by 1974, feudalism was still in existence in Ethiopia and the expected reforms had not been realized so the coup markers overthrow the emperor to establish a government which would bring about land reforms to benefit of the peasants.

The autocratic leadership of the emperor: by 1974, the emperor had become increasingly despotic and autocratic. He overruled the decision of the chamber of deputies from time to time and from 1955, he unilaterally made all the important appointments of ministers, ambassadors and other state appointments. He imprisoned political opponents and liberal graduate thinkers. All these made him lose popularity including the coup of 1974.

The constant hunger and famine in Ethiopia. The poor land tenure system, poor soils and constant droughts led to low levels of food production in the country and this contributed to wide spread drought and famine. Between 1962 and 1974, the constant famine was too large for the government to handle effectively and many people died so the coup members overthrew the emperor in order to establish a government which would come for the people’s needs and solve the problem of hunger.

The influence or radical maxism; maxism was a political ideology development by the Germans. Karl Marx and Fredrick Engles who advocated foe the economic policy of socialism where government would control resources for the benefit of the majority. The ideology had spread throughout Europe by 1960 and the top army officers from Ethiopia who had gone to Russia, France and the other European countries for training come back with these Marxist radical ideas. They joined with the intellectuals, students and graduates who believed in the use of force to overthrow Haile Selassie’s capitalistic government in order to establish a government with socialist ideologies for the good of all.

Religious discontent; in Ethiopia, the emperor favored the orthodox Christians at the expense of the Muslims. The Christians occupied most of the high posts in the government. They were the landlords and they oppressed the Muslim tenants and squatters. Only Christians were top army officers and the senior police officers. This religious discrimination annoyed the Moslems who supported the army men in the intrigues of over throwing the emperor in 1974.

The discontent in the army; the soldiers were tired of fighting endless battles and yet they received poor pay and they lived under bad conditions. The junior officers were poorly paid, they lived in poor houses with poor sanitary conditions and as a result, the university graduates joined the students and the army in constant demonstrations against the emperor and in 1974, they joined together to support the coup makers who overthrew the emperor in the hope that they would have a new government which would cater for their interests.

The corruption of Haile Selassie’s government. The top government officials embezzled public funds; they took bribes, evaded taxes and generally lived luxurious lives while the majority of the people lived in extreme poverty. The widening income gap led to wide spread discontent against the emperor and his officials and made the army officers overthrow the emperor to establish a corrupt free government.

The influence of revolutions and coups elsewhere in Africa. By 1974, several coups had occurred in different countries on the continent and had led to positive changes in these countries. In 1963, there was a coup in Togo, 1965 a coup in Congo, in 1966 a coup in Nigeria and Ghana, 1971 a coup in Uganda. These coups acted as inspiration to the Ethiopian army men to overthrow the emperor and his government in order to establish a government which would make reforms to help the country.

The ambitions of the army men. The army men Aman Andom and Mengistu Marian also wanted to occupy the highest points in the government so they overthrow the emperor who seemed the only stumbling block to the realization of their ambitions.

The Eritrean war of succession; from 1962, Eritrea a province of Ethiopia was fighting to succeed from Ethiopia to make an independent.

Eritrean state. The war in Eritrea was taking a lot of resources in terms of finances and manpower and the army men thought that to solve this problem, they had to overthrow the emperor and establish a government which would look for a lasting solution.



After the overthrow of Haile Selassie, a new government, the Dergue headed by Mengistu Marian, Aman Andom was established, the new government carried out some positive reforms that fostered development of Ethiopia although it had some short comings including;

The new government made aggression reforms to benefit the peasants. In march 1975 a land reform decree was issued in which all land was nationalized and individual land holding was fixed at only 10 acres, the land was distributed to the peasants and about 7 million peasants got land which they worked on cooperative basis and this helped to increase output.

The government encouraged peasants to grow cash crops like coffee and cotton by helping the cooperatives to get seeds, pesticides, machinery which helped peasants to increase their output. The government through the cooperatives gave advice to the farmers. It worked closely with foreign investors and multinational institutions like Oxfam to supply essential pesticides and market produce of the farmers. This helped to increase employment and incomes of the farmers and fostered increase in foreign exchange earnings of the country.

The Dergue improved on education system more primary and secondary schools were built and facilities in existing schools were improved as a result the literacy rate increased over 40% by 1980. Literacy campaigns for adults were also carried out in local languages for example Ahmanic, Galla. Tigrinnya and Somali as well as English due to this, there was an improvement in quality and increase in the number of educated manpower.

The Dergue dealt with the problem of famine by encouraging the farmers to grow drought resistant crops like soya beans and those with shorter gestation period and it got foreign aid especially from the Food Agricultural Organization to supplement the domestic supplies of Food.

The government improved on the health services by encouraging construction of new hospitals and clinics. It also extended clean water supplies to the rural population. As a result the access to health services and good sanitation increased from 15% to about 46% of the population.

The Dergue established equality of all cultures including the non Ahmanic. It established freedom of press and mass media and allowed newspapers to be printed in all languages including Almanac, English, Tigrinya and Galla. This promoted unity and nationalism among the Europeans.

The dergue nationalized all the major means of production including urban land, manufacturing industries, banks, insurance companies and it went into joint partnership and ventures with private owners in transport, mining, tourism, supermarkets, distribution of goods and services. This increased the supply of goods and services to the whole population and improved on the peoples standards of living.

The dergue established apple’s militaria in order to improve on the security of the economy. All a bale bodied Ethiopians were trained in local defense and this helped to improve on peace and security and to consolidate the ideals of the revolution.

The Dergue established religious tolerance where even the non-Christians and those who did not belong to the Orthodox Church like the Muslims were allowed freedom of worship. This created freedom and goodwill.

The Dergue temporarily recognized the autonomy of Eritrea and this temporarily brought peace between 1977 enabling Ethiopia to get a lot of wealth from Eritrea.

The Dergue allowed workers to form trade unions and it recognized the Ethiopian trade union party. It also established a commission to ensure that workers get organizational and practical skills. All these helped to improve the working conditions and labor productivity in Ethiopia.

The government of the Dergue adopted socialist policies which attracted a lot of support from China, the Soviet Union and Cuba. The support which was in form of financial and material help accelerated the pace of economic development in Ethiopia.

The government carried out a settlement scheme, where about 600,000 people were moved from the drought stricken north and resettled in the south, the central and east of the country where there was plenty of rain and fertile soils. This resulted into increased productivity and cut down on the population dying from famine.

The Dergue government secured loans from European countries which it used for investment in transport, tourism and the modernization of the economy.

The Dergue put in place a new political setup. It ended the monarchy and changed its name to the provisional military advisory council (PMAC). The council organized for the establishment of the parliamentary and republican constitution. The constitution began to work in 1975 and on the declaration of the republic in that year; Mengistu Mariam became the first president.

The Dergue ensured peace and stability which boasted investment and tourism that helped to increase foreign exchange earnings in the country.


Despite the attempts made by Mengistu Mariam’s government and the Dergue to make changes in Ethiopia, the past 1974 governments had shortcomings which eventually led to the overthrow of Mengistu Mariam in 1991.

These shortcomings included;

The conditions of the workers remained poor because their wages remained low and unemployment continued to prevail.

The government later banned the activities of trade unions. Trade union leaders were imprisoned, strikes, boycotts and demonstrations were made illegal and this suppressed the rights of workers especially in 1975.

The coup resulted into the death of the emperor in prison under mysterious circumstances in 1975.

The revolution marked the beginning of military intervention in Ethiopia as politics. In 1977, Mariam got rid of the advisory council and became a dictator and this led to his overthrow by another military man known as Melessie Zenami in 1991.

The military regime led to antagonism between Ethiopia and her neighbors like Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia and this undermined peace on a long term basis.

It led to the emerging of groups of discontented who disliked military rule like Ethiopian people’s revolution party and the Tigrayvan people’s liberation front which began campaigns of guerilla war fare which led to insecurity, instability and loss of lives.

As a result of the coup, tribalism was once again promoted where Mengistu Mariamone once again favored the Amara against other groups especially after 1977.

Mengistu’s government later revived the military approach to the Eritrean question and this led to the rival of the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea in which Eritrea wanted to succeed from Ethiopia a struggle which continued until 1995.

The policy of nationalism killed the spirit of competition in production. The nationalized industries fell into the hands of corrupt officials some of whom vandalized the industry’s leading to their fall and decline in output.

The Dergue contributed to the refuge problem as a result of the harassment of the people by the military revolutionary committee thousands of people fled the country for the fear of being killed and the former privileged land lords and clergy also fled the country.

The government of Mengistu failed to totally deal with the problem of famine because although the peasants got land, it was segmented and therefore did not yield much and between 1984 and 1985 about one million people died from famine.

It led to the conflicts between Ethiopia and Somalia regarding the province of Ogaden and from 1976 Ethiopia fought against Somalia to recover Ogaden which had been given to Somalia by Italians in 1936. This soured the relations between the two countries and led to loss of lives.


Mengistu ruled Ethiopia first as a chairman of the Dergue 1974-1977 and later as a dictator from 1977-1991 when he was overthrown.

His rule was characterized by;

Conflicts with one of his former supporters especially the Ethiopian socialist movement of MELSON which had supported him against the people’s revolutionary party. Menguistu conflicted with many leaders of MELSON and had many of them killed.

He increased government interference in the activities of the workers party which was prohibited from organizing strikes and demonstrations. Any strikes that occurred were brutally suppressed. As a result, the working condition in Ethiopia deteriorated to a condition which was worse than that of 1974.

Extreme dictatorship where Mengistu Mariam took all the important decisions in the state without consultation, he appointed all state officials and this dictatorship got him into conflict with the democratic and elites in Ethiopia.

Constant clashes and conflicts with the opposition especially those from the Ethiopian democratic union compromising of members of the former ruling classes and the non Marxists who got help from the Sudanese government under president Nimeri and started training guerrilla fighter in western provinces Begemdir in 1977 which created a lot of insecurity..

Mariam’s government was characterized by nepotism where once again he promoted the interests of the Ahmara- Shewan people against the interests of the other groups whom he suspected of being disloyal.

Mariam’s government was characterized by constant religious conflicts between the Muslims and non-muslims as a result of his policy of religious tolerance.

His government was characterized by execution of his political rivals and opponents. In November 1974, he had about 50 officials of the Haile Selassie regime killed, in 1975; Haile Selassie himself was killed in prison. In November 1977, his second in command Atnafu Abate was killed on Mariam’s orders; in the same month general Teferri Bante one of the members of the provisional military advisory council was executed on Mariam’s orders. These extra judicial killings brought a lot of conflicts between Mariam and even his former supporters.

Mengistus government was characterized by wide spread starvation in the countryside. The arid conditions in the country, poor soils and Mariam’s inability to get the necessary economic aid to facilitate agricultural production led to low agricultural output which resulted into acute and wide spread famine on a magnitude that was even greater than the one before 1974.

It was characterized by constant opposition from the students and intellectual who didn’t want military rule and wanted the return of civilian rule.

Large scale unemployment, high inflation rates and unrealistically low wages. The wages were frozen at their 1977 level up to 1991 and the government made no effort to establish a minimum wage.

Mariam’s government was characterized by armed opposition from the Eritrean liberation front, the Eritrean people’s liberation front and the Ethiopian Tigrayian peoples union who wanted to succeed from Ethiopia many was Muslims.

Had constant wars with neighbors especially Somalia in the struggle for the recovery of Ogaden between 1976 and 1978. The war came to an end when the Somali invaders were driven back from Tigiyga by the Ethiopian forces with the help of 16,000 Cuban troops and arms got from the Soviet Union.

His government was characterized by persistent wars with the Eritreans as the Eritreans sought to break away from Ethiopia.

Mengistu Mariam’s government was characterized by healthy military spending. By 1991, the military spending was a quarter of the national budget and about 12million dollars was spent on military equipment and arms between 1977 and 1990 in order to support and Ethiopian army of 250,000 men and 17,000 Cuban troops based at Tatek camp in the outskirts of Addis Ababa.

His government was characterized by corrupt officials who lavishly spent state funds on trips abroad sophiscated cars which led to bankruptcy of Ethiopia by 1991.

Mariam’s government was characterized by increasing socialist and Marxist tendencies and this alienated Ethiopia from America and cut down on the economic aid that Ethiopia used to receive from America.



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