Analysis of Ethiopia

“Ethiopia, Ethiopia, Ethiopia first” – this is how the Ethiopian national anthem from 1975 to 1992 began. It continued: “Be first in socialism – flourish, be fertile!” Although the GDR maintained close relations with the dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam and provided tractors and textile machinery to the country, not a single German-speaking study exists on the regime. A few examinations of the Red Terror have been published in English.

Credit: Ninaras / CC BY

An Epoch of Permanent Significance

The Red Terror represented a period of intense political and inter-communal violence in revolutionary Ethiopia in the late 1970s. This is the conclusion drawn by the British Africa-historian Jacob Wiebel in his study on the start of the communist military regime at the Horn of Africa.

The violence erupted two years after the revolution of 1974 and was concentrated in the cities of Ethiopia, particularly in Addis Ababa, Gondar, Mekele, Asmara and Dessie. In the struggle over the direction of the revolution, opposition groups of the radical left violently opposed a military regime that itself came to promulgate Marxist-Leninist policies and rely heavily on the use of armed force to stifle dissent. While much of the violence was carried out by security personnel, the delegation of state violence to newly formed militias and to armed citizens was a defining feature of the Red Terror.

The number of victims of the Red Terror remains heavily contested and varies depending on whether the victims of the civil war around the regions of Eritrea and Tigray are included in the count. Plausible figures suggest there were more than 50,000 deaths, in addition to many people who were subjected to torture, exile and other forms of violence.  Even after the period known as the Red Terror, violence in Ethiopia continued until 1991. 

Click here for Jacob Wiebel’s complete analysis (registration required).


Click here to see the profile of the Africa-historian Jacob Wiebel

The Political Scientist Tadesse Simie Metekia about Transitional Justice in Ethiopia 


After the Dictatorship. Instruments of Transitional Justice in Former Authoritarian Systems – An International Comparison

A project at the Department of Modern History at the University of Würzburg

Twitter: @afterdictatorship
Instagram: After the dictatorship

With financial support from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development 


A Missed Opportunity

How can a change of regime take place without leading to despotism and anarchy? The concept of transitional justice was developed for the transition from authoritarian rule to democracy. Jima Dilbo Denbel, director general of the Ethiopian Agency for Civil Society Organizations, examined a case study (published in English) on transitional justice in Ethiopia.

According to the author, during a regime change, instead of focusing solely on the prosecution of perpetrators, it is important to take into consideration both the interests of the victims as well as society as a whole. Criminal trials are not enough to provide reconciliation and healing to the victims. He calls it a “missed opportunity” that having former government officials apologize was not considered. If the new regime had allowed them to tell the truth of their own free will and to the best of their knowledge, instead of adhering to strict prison sentences or the death penalty, this would, in his opinion, have helped the victims heal.  

Click here for the complete analysis of Jima Dilbo Dengel. 

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