Mengistu, Haile Mariam


Mengistu, Haile Mariam
(1937?– )
   Ethiopian head of state from 1977 until forced to flee to Zimbabwe in the face of rebellion in 1991. Having led a military coup that deposed Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974, he triumphed in a struggle for power, and subsequently oversaw the transition of Ethiopia into a “socialist” state based on Marxist ideology. Born in Addis Ababa he began his military career at the age of 17 as a cadet in the Ethiopian army and by 1974 had attained the rank of lieutenant colonel. He took part in a failed coup against Haile Selassie in 1960, but was pardoned. After the 1974 coup he liquidated his rivals and gained the support of the Soviet Union and Cuba. As early as 1974 the newly formed Provisional Military Administrative Council (Dergue) called for the creation of a socialist Ethiopia, and the Marxist direction of Ethiopia under Mengistu was signaled by the creation of the Union of Ethiopian MarxistLeninist Organizations as the sole legal party in 1977. In 1984 the Workers’ Party of Ethiopia, committed to Marxism–Leninism, was formed with Mengistu at its head.
   Mengistu’s Marxism consisted of a concentration of power in the hands of the state, to be exercised on behalf of the people without the need for democratic structures or procedures. Agricultural land was nationalized and efforts were made to end poverty, with the grander aim of leaping from feudalism to communism. However, Mengistu’s regime was unable to prevent near economic collapse and famine, let alone bring about the communist ideal. At no time did the regime enjoy peace from either civil unrest or external conflict, with wars involving Somalia and the region of Eritrea throughout much of Mengistu’s rule. Civil war eventually led to Mengistu’s flight to Zimbabwe in 1991.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.