Ethiopian Civil War
|Ethiopian Civil War|
|Part of the conflicts in the Horn of Africa and the Cold War|
The situation during the Ethiopian Civil War
Derg (1974-1987) |
People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (1987-1991)
Soviet Union (1974-1990)
East Germany (1974-1989)
|Commanders and leaders|
Berhane Meskel Reda 
Elemo Qiltu †
Mengistu Haile Mariam|
Tesfaye Gebre Kidan
/ 141,000 (1991) |
30,000 (1991) 
25,000 (1977) 
15,000 (1977) 
|Casualties and losses|
The Derg overthrew the Ethiopian Empire and Emperor Haile Selassie in a coup d'état on 12 September 1974, establishing Ethiopia as a Marxist-Leninist communist state with itself as a military junta and provisional government. Various left-wing, ethnic, and anti-communist opposition groups supported by the United States began armed resistance to the Soviet-backed Derg, in addition to the Eritrean separatists already fighting in the Eritrean War of Independence. The Derg used military campaigns and the Qey Shibir (Ethiopian Red Terror) to repress the rebels. By the mid-1980s, various issues such as the 1983–1985 famine, economic decline and other after-effects of Derg policies ravaged Ethiopia, increasing popular support for the rebels. The Derg dissolved itself in 1987, establishing the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (PDRE) under the Workers' Party of Ethiopia (WEP) in an attempt to maintain its rule. The Soviet Union ended its support for the PDRE in the late-1980s and the government was overwhelmed by the increasingly victorious rebel groups. In May 1991, the PDRE was defeated in Eritrea and President Mengistu Haile Mariam fled the country. The Ethiopian Civil War ended on 4 June 1991 when the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of left-wing ethnic rebel groups, entered the capital Addis Ababa and overthrew the WEP. The PDRE was dissolved and replaced with the Tigray People's Liberation Front-led Transitional Government of Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian Empire became politically unstable during the 1950s under the rule of Emperor Haile Selassie, whose administration was becoming unpopular among non-noble Ethiopians at all levels of society, discontented with Ethiopia's perceived backwardness, stagnating quality of life and development, and human rights abuses. Although Haile Selassie was a popular cultural figure, his attempts at modernizing reforms were ineffective, and his rule was increasingly viewed as maintaining Ethiopia's feudal political system that heavily favored the Ethiopian nobility who had routinely rejected his reforms. The 1960 Ethiopian coup attempt in December 1960 saw an attempted overthrow of Haile Selassie by a group of high-ranking politicians and military officers to institute a progressive government under his son, Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen, to solve Ethiopia's economic and political problems. However, the coup was rushed and quickly defeated by loyalists, leading to a return of the status quo.
On 12 September 1974, Haile Selassie and his government were overthrown by the Derg, a non-ideological committee of low-ranking officers and enlisted men in the Ethiopian Army who became as the ruling military junta. On 21 March 1975, the Derg abolished the monarchy and adopted Marxist-Leninist communism as their official ideology, establishing themselves as a provisional government for the process of building a socialist state in Ethiopia. The Crown Prince went into exile in London, where several other members of the House of Solomon lived, while other members who were in Ethiopia at the time of the revolution were imprisoned. Haile Selassie, his daughter by his first marriage Princess Ijigayehu, his sister Princess Tenagnework, and many of his nephews, nieces, close relatives, and in-laws were among those detained. On 27 August 1975, Haile Selassie died under mysterious circumstances in detention at the Jubilee Palace in Addis Ababa. That year, most industries and private urban real-estate holdings were nationalized by the Derg.
Ethiopian Red TerrorEdit
The Derg did not fully establish their control over the country, and the subsequent power vacuum led to open challenges from numerous civilian opposition groups. The Ethiopian government had been fighting Eritrean separatists in the Eritrean War of Independence since 1961, and now faced other rebel groups ranging from the conservative and pro-monarchy Ethiopian Democratic Union (EDU), to the rival Marxist-Leninist Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party (EPRP), and the ethnic Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF). In 1976, the Derg instigated the Qey Shibir (Ethiopian Red Terror), a campaign of violent political repression primarily targeting the EPRP and the All-Ethiopia Socialist Movement (MEISON), in an attempt to consolidate their power. The Qey Shibir was escalated on 3 February 1977 following the appointment of Mengistu Haile Mariam as Chairman of the Derg, who took a hardline stance against opponents. The urban guerrilla warfare saw brutal tactics used on all sides, including executions, assassinations, torture and imprisonment without trial. By August 1977, the EPRP and MEISON were devastated, with their leadership either dead or fleeing to the countryside to continue their activities in stronghold areas, but despite this the Derg did not successfully consolidate their power as much as hoped. Ironically, the majority of the Qey Shibir's estimated 30,000 to 750,000 victims are believed to be innocents, with the violence and collateral damage shocking many Ethiopians into supporting rebel groups.
On 13 July 1977, the Ogaden War was triggered when the Somali Democratic Republic invaded Ethiopia to annex the Ogaden, a predominantly Somali populated border region. A month earlier, Mengistu accused Somalia of infiltrating Somali National Army (SNA) soldiers into the Ogaden to fight alongside the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF), and despite considerable evidence to the contrary, Somalia's leader Siad Barre strongly denied this by stating SNA "volunteers" were being allowed to help the WSLF. Although both countries were Soviet-backed communist states, Barre sought to exploit Ethiopia's weakness since the 1974 revolution to incorporate the Ogaden on a platform of Somali nationalism and pan-Somalism. Under the Derg, Ethiopia became the Warsaw Pact's closest ally in Africa and one of the best-armed nations of the region as a result of military aid, chiefly from the Soviet Union, Libya, East Germany, Israel, Cuba and North Korea. The Ethiopians were able to defeat the Somalians by March 1978, though only with massive military assistance from the Soviet Union and Cuba, but the war used up valuable resources to fight in the civil war.
The Derg fulfilled its main slogan of "Land to the Tiller" by redistributing land in Ethiopia that once belonged to landlords to the peasants tilling the land. However, mismanagement, corruption and general hostility to the Derg's violent rule was coupled with the draining effects of constant warfare and the separatist guerrilla movements in Eritrea and Tigray, resulting in a drastic decline in general productivity of food and cash crops. Although Ethiopia is prone to chronic droughts, no one was prepared for the scale of drought and the 1984-1985 famine that struck the country in the mid-1980s, in which 400,000-590,000 people are estimated to have died. Hundreds of thousands fled economic misery, conscription and political repression, and went to live in neighboring countries and all over the Western world, creating an Ethiopian diaspora for the first time. Insurrections against Derg rule sprang up, particularly in the northern regions of Tigray and Eritrea. Hundreds of thousands were killed as a result of the Qey Shibir, forced deportations or from the use of hunger as a weapon under Mengistu's rule. The Derg continued its attempts to end the rebellions with military force by initiating several campaigns against both internal rebels and the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF), the most important ones being Operation Shiraro, Operation Lash, Operation Red Star and Operation Adwa, which led to its decisive defeat in the Battle of Shire on 15–19 February 1989.
In May 1991, Mengistu's government was finally toppled by its own officials and a coalition of rebel forces, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), after their bid for a push on the capital Addis Ababa became successful. There was some fear that Mengistu would fight to the bitter end for the capital, but after diplomatic intervention by the United States, he fled to asylum in Zimbabwe, where he still resides.
The EPRDF immediately disbanded the Workers' Party of Ethiopia (the political arm of the Derg) and arrested almost all of the prominent Derg officials shortly afterwards. In December 2006, 72 officials of the Derg were found guilty of genocide. Thirty-four people were in court, 14 others died during the lengthy process and 25, including Mengistu, were tried in absentia.
Peasant revolution in EthiopiaEdit
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There is not much in-depth information available about the revolution, but the book Peasant Revolution in Ethiopia by John Young provides detailed information about the revolution, such as why it started, how the Derg affected the nation, and the role of the peasant population in Tigray and Eritrea.
Challenges and advancesEdit
The Derg recognized and acknowledged that the TPLF was gaining supporters and strength, which was a direct threat to its regime. So, in an attempt to undermine TPLF support, the Derg began restricting the sale of agricultural implements to peasants in an effort to cut food production.[page needed] This plan ended up backfiring, causing harm to the urban-based military which forced the Derg to drop the practice and move on to something else. Peasants coming from areas of TPLF strength ran the risk of imprisonment for being suspected Front supporters and responded largely by avoiding towns.
For those who remained in the Derg-garrisoned towns, life was difficult, particularly for women who were frequently the victims of assault and rape. Explaining the conditions under the regime, a Maichew resident said, "People had to be clever or tactical. It was a soldier's government and you had to give soldiers food, tej [mead], whatever they wanted. Parents gave their children to marry Derg soldiers to get security. Rape was common, even of priests' wives. The belongings of the wealthy were taken. If parents were rich enough they would send their children to the area, but if the children were young they had to put up with it. You couldn't even sit outside with two or three people, even with one's family, as they might be employed by Derg security. You could only talk about sex, food and tej".
In the face of such persecution many abandoned their homes and left for Sudan, while others, primarily youth, fled to the base areas of the EPRP and TPLF. After an individual's disappearance the Derg would commonly arrest the person's parents and this often led to the other children leaving and joining the opposition. The Derg was imposing new taxes to fund its war in Eritrea and other nationwide conflicts.[page needed] They closed most rural schools because they believed that teachers were TPLF sympathizers.[page needed] They attempted to organize rural administrations, but its methods were harsh and allowed little room for democratic participation.[page needed] Peasants associations that had started out as bodies representative of local opinion were reduced to the status of organs responsible to the Derg.
Conditions were particularly difficult under the Derg for traders and merchants. The Derg nationalized illegally acquired goods found in the possessions of traders, but they would also on occasion take legally acquired merchandise in the name of development or resettlement. It was not until 1983 that the TPLF began a concerted program of promoting the development of commercial enterprise, particularly grain, in the areas under its control. However, the limited purchasing power of the peasants and the insecurity of daytime travel discouraged professional traders and encouraged a hardier breed of part-time traders who were able to undercut their larger counterparts.
The merchants slowly built capital and began transporting basic consumer items from Derg-controlled towns to the opposition-held territories and TPLF-controlled towns.[page needed] The TPLF also turned to the merchants for consumer items, such as rubber sandals, sugar, canned milk and grain. The TPLF also made small raids on Derg supply depots in the towns to acquire badly needed items like bullets and petrol. However, until the Derg was removed from Tigray and the urban and rural areas integrated, the trading economy could not be fully revived.
As far as political and military struggles, in 1978 REST—an organization largely funded by NGOs in the United States, Canada, Australia and Europe—was established as a humanitarian organization with a mandate to co-ordinate relief programs, rehabilitation and development both in Tigray and among Tigrayan refugees in neighboring Sudan ). The founding of REST reflected the TPLF's need for a specialized body to handle relief and development, and also to respond to the Derg's efforts to restrict the flow of humanitarian and economic assistance to areas of Tigray that were coming under the control of the Front.
Without REST, the TPLF and its supporters would have failed and the Derg would have still been in power. The stabilization the TPLF received from REST also allowed them to mobilize Tigrayans who lived abroad. TPLF efforts to organize expatriate Tigrayans went on among those employed in the Gulf states and the primarily student population of Europe and North America. Such expatriates played a vital role in the war by bringing the struggle to the attention of the international media, lobbying governments, gaining support for refugee relief, providing materials and finances for the Front and as a basis from which to recruit fighters.
The TPLF entered the final period of the war against the Derg weakened by the famine that disrupted the peasant economy and diverted energies away from mobilization and military campaigns, to relief and later reconstruction. However, by this point the TPLF and peasants were united in struggle, and with the passing of the famine many peasants were able to resume their livelihoods and continue their support of the guerrilla fighters in their midst.
Thus the TPLF was soon focused on the key elements of that stage of the struggle: confronting the Derg's plans to forcibly remove its peasant supporters, taking the revolution to the heterogeneous people of southern Tigray and resolving political disagreements with the EPLF in preparation for the removal of the Derg from Tigray and the country. The Derg's war against the liberation movements had many dimensions: military campaigns; reform programs to win the support of civilians; and efforts to isolate peasants from the appeal of dissidents, such as its resettlement program. From 1950-74 an estimated one million peasants voluntarily left the northern highlands and moved to the south and west of the country, and what evidence there is suggests that Tigray had the largest net outflow of any of the provinces.
In early 1978 the Derg launched a resettlement program with, it alleged, the aim of combating drought, averting famine and increasing agricultural productivity, although it was not until 1984–85 that the program assumed massive proportions. Its objective was to move 1.5 million peasants from the northern provinces, and by the end of 1986 half a million had been moved, most of them forcibly. Although by the mid-1980s the Derg had lost control of virtually all of rural Tigray, the army continued to attack population centers in the liberated territories until the final days of the war ).
It is virtually impossible to make an overall assessment of the human and material costs of the war, since detailed figures have not been released of the number of fighters killed. However, the TPLF has recently revealed that approximately 50,000 people died as a direct result of combat, 99% per cent of them fighters and militia members, and this number also includes those killed in the Red Terror. In Spite of the military setback caused by the famine of 1984-85, the vast majority of the peasantry were irrevocably wedded to the TPLF and it was clear that the Derg did not have the capacity to defeat its northern-based opposition.
With the stabilization of the rural economy resulting from better harvests and the return of some refugees from the Sudan, the TPLF was soon able to re-exert its control over the rural areas and resume the siege of the towns. Indeed, by 1987 TPLF leadership had reached the conclusion that its forces and those of the Derg were roughly in balance and that a stalemate existed. As a consequence, the Front leadership began preparing plans to break it. While the TPLF was able to mobilize growing human and material resources, the inability of the Derg to cause serious damage to the Front's fighting forces led to declining morale among its officers and men. In spite of its ability to recruit and field ever larger armies to replace those lost in battle, the Derg was nonetheless singularly unsuccessful in inculcating a faith in the regime, or a willingness on the part of its soldiers to fight.
Meanwhile, growing TPLF inroads into the provinces of Wollo and Gondar led the Derg to plan another major campaign against the Front in the summer and autumn of 1987, a campaign that was aborted after the TPLF launched a three-pronged pre-emptive strike against the communications center of Mugulat outside Adigrat, and the eastern towns of Sinkata and Wukro. The Derg's counterattack failed badly and the stage was set for the TPLF's biggest military triumph up to that point in the war, the 1988 capture of the towns. The battle for the towns began with an attack on the Derg's communication center of Mugulat in the northeast and, after it was destroyed, the TPLF launched offensives against army bases at Axum and Adwa in central Tigray.
So quick was the collapse of these towns that Derg forces sent from Endaselasie to relieve the garrisons found themselves attacked at Selekleka, and instead were forced to retreat before TPLF fighters moving west along the highway. The fighting, which was the heaviest of the Tigrayan war, went on for two days before the army's positions were overrun. The TPLF was also not prepared to hold the towns at this time when it did not have the resources to manage them. Government employees and teachers who could not be paid from the Front's meagre funds were encouraged to move to Derg-held towns. Although it is clear that both the people and the fighters were unhappy at the impending turnover of the towns to the Derg, the TPLF was able to carry out its political work, establish underground cells and prepare for the next stage of the war. As a consequence of its losses in Eritrea and Tigray, the Derg ended its state of belligerence with Somalia, thus freeing up troops and materials that could be transferred to northern war zones.
Another moblilization campaign was started, and the Derg ordered, for security reasons, expulsion of all foreign aid workers from Tigray and Eritrea on 6 April 1988, a move interpreted as ensuring that foreign observers would be unable to witness the events. Some of the Derg's most heinous inflictions of atrocities throughout the war on the Tigrayan civilian population took place during the following months. In particular, an all-day attack by helicopter gunships and MiGs produced 1,800 civilian deaths, the worst single atrocity of the entire war from the start of the ELF insurrection in 1961. However, with the Derg largely restricted to the towns along the main roads and the TPLF in almost complete control of the countryside, the regime no longer had the capacity to cause the civilian dislocation that was needed if the TPLF was to be seriously weakened. Although ideologically driven moments, their reconciliation and joint military efforts demonstrated their pragmatism and laid the basis for the destruction of the Derg.
TPLF and the peasantsEdit
It was necessary that the TPLF gain the support of the peasants if it wanted to win the war. What was necessary, then, was a program of reforms that balanced the needs of peasants for land redistribution, effective services and accountable administration with the needs of the TPLF for growing committed support and armed struggle. The objective was to consider the TPLF-peasant relationship in five areas critical to winning their support for the war effort: education and culture, the Church and religion, women, land reform and local administration.
Much of the TPLF nationalist appeal made the point that peasant poverty and lack of infrastructure in the villages were the result of state domination by an Amhara elite that wanted to keep Tigray in subjugation. Peasants responded by asking the TPLF as "sons of Tigray" to supply their communities with the facilities they needed, and high on the list were schools. The Front responded by preparing the curriculum and overseeing construction of "green" (camouflaged) schools that could be hidden from the Derg. Merchants typically supplied blackboards, exercise books and materials from the towns, and maintenance and salaries of 100 Birr a month were paid by local residents.
Schools were particularly attractive for the TPLF, because not only did they advance the cultural level of the people but they also served to deepen political and national consciousness, and train a future generation of youth who could be utilized in the struggle. Although peasants were involved in all aspects of educational reforms, when it was found that there were insufficient funds to meet all the demands for schooling, the TPLF chose to educate those who could soon be utilized as fighters and administrators in the mass organizations.
Thus the initial emphasis on schooling for children aged 6–12 was changed to youths between 12-18, a clear reflection of the primacy of TPLF military objectives. Apart from formal education, throughout the revolution the TPLF placed great emphasis on developing Tigrayan culture as a means to mobilize peasants. In particular, the peasants' oral tradition was put to considerable use and from the earliest days of revolution the Front introduced drama, which although new to the peasants proved highly effective. While the TPLF's organization of schools and clinics in the rural areas advanced the movement's popularity, its Marxist–Leninist sympathies risked gaining the enmity of the powerful Ethiopian Orthodox Church and offending the strong religious beliefs of the Tigrayan peasants.
The Derg's approach to the established church was ill-adapted to winning popular support, due to its victimization of students and teachers. Distributing church lands was widely approved of, but atheism and attacks on church dogma, practices and priests were abhorred by the conservative Tigrayan peasants. As church officials acknowledged, "the Derg knew that the Ethiopian people followed their religion and if it opposed the church directly, people would oppose the Derg, but at the same time he [the Derg] undermine the Church and religion indirectly'. Unlike the Derg, the TPLF recognized that although the Ethiopian Orthodox Church was a major component of Ethiopian feudalism, it was not a monolithic institution.
Some priests rejected the church's prohibition against taking up arms and they became TPLF fighters, but most were too old to keep up with the teachers in Front-established schools. With the TPLF's blessing many participated in local administration, although they were never permitted to dominate mass associations. With its doctrinaire fixation on the establishment of a Marxist state in Ethiopia, the Derg proved incapable of understanding the peasants' religious attachments. Like its attacks on the educated youth in the towns, the Derg's assault on the Church and the mosque and their rural representatives was a major cause of peasant estrangement. The TPLF worked within and through the religiously overlaid society of Tigray; while this placed constraints on its reforms, it also served to preclude Church-based opposition and win the support of peasants.
Overcoming the age-old fetters on the role of women was a major concern of the TPLF from its earliest days in the west, in part because attacking female oppression was consistent with its liberation philosophy, but also because the TPLF needed to use to the full all the human resources of Tigray in the struggle against the Derg. The first Women's Mass Associations were established in 1978 in Sheraro and Zana, which were among the earliest woredas to be liberated and were deemed to have a high level of political consciousness. While the separation of women from men during mobilization drives might suggest that their problems were perceived as being unique, this was not the general philosophy subscribed to by the TPLF.
Although women were not at first welcomed as fighters into the TPLF, by 1983 the Front claimed that one-third of the fighters were women, it being recognized that the term 'fighter' referred to a range of positions and not just those involved in combat. In spite of these measures and the support they had among Tigrayan women, in the mid-1980s it was decided to restrict the number of women recruited as fighters. The TPLF argued that the reasons for this change of policy were that domestic life was being disrupted because so many women became fighters; women could make a valuable contribution to the war effort through activities in their home and villages; the educational levels for becoming a fighter were raised to five years and many women did not meet these criteria; and lastly, the war was moving to a conventional form that placed more emphasis on physical strengths. As TPLF Central Committee member Aregash acknowledged, for peasant women 'being a fighter is such a liberation for them', and as a result the decision to reduce the number of women fighters 'created resentment among the women in the villages'.
It seems likely that the TPLF's decision to restrict the numbers of women into their ranks was a response to unease in the villages and, more specifically, the appeals of Tigrayan fathers, and the influence of the Church and the mosque. Two years after it was started, the program was abruptly ended because, according to the TPLF, teaching women how to plough served to increase their already burdensome responsibilities; in addition, it was argued that ploughing was too heavy for women. As a result, in Zana, which was one of the first woredas where this program was introduced, no women were ploughing in 1993. If the official reasons for discontinuing the ploughing program can be discounted then the assumption must be that the TPLF feared that by encouraging women to plough it was causing offence by challenging the core religious and social beliefs about women in rural Tigrayan society.
In the ritsi-held lands of Ethiopia, which includes Tigray, peasants have always taken a close interest in government measures that could impact on their access to land. The extent to which the Derg's land reform was carried out in Tigray is difficult to ascertain. It is clear that land held by the nobility was confiscated, and gulti obligations terminated by the peasants on their own, very quickly after they heard of the Derg's 1975 proclamation. However, formal land redistributions were rarely initiated by peasants, and the Derg's weak presence in the province before 1977-8 meant that they were probably not carried out in most of the province. Unlike some other areas of Ethiopia, highland Tigray had little commercial potential and therefore no state farms were established, but a surplus of land in the southern kola lands led the Derg to organize a number of co-operative farms and move poor peasants from Agame and central Tigray to work on them.
After the Derg's retreat from the area, the TPLF organized a conference where various systems of land tenure were discussed and voted on, and co-operative farming was overwhelmingly rejected. The Derg also failed to appreciate the different level of interest in land reform across regions when land reform should have gained the Derg a basis of peasant support in Tigray. Both Derg and TPLF land reforms were designed to restructure the rural political economy and win peasant support, but the regime's reforms proved to be a political failure, and the Front's reforms served as the basis around which they mobilized the peasants of the province. While the Derg's land distribution involved violence and resulted in their friends getting superior shares, the TPLF ensures that their programme provided an equitable distribution of land and was carried out by the peasants.
While the demand for equitable and democratically implemented land reform was heard across Tigray, in the less populated and lower lands of the west, Tembien, and the south-east, the major issue for peasants was 'unfair' administration. Peasants from these areas repeatedly expressed their concern over inadequate and corrupt administration, poor infrastructure, land insecurity, and shiftas who emerged from the forests at night to prey on poor farmers. The lack, or weakness, of imperial government institutions, or the steady decline in effectiveness of the central state as distance increased from the core, explains the prevalence of shifta in these areas. Shifta groups operated with little threat from established authority and this led many peasants to conclude that the nobility and shiftas worked in conjunction.
To combat this, the establishment of mass associations and local administrations in the liberated territories and lowlands was a critical element in the TPLF's peasant mobilization. Of particular importance in achieving legitimacy of local administration was the establishment of a system of courts. The differences between courts under the imperial regime and those under the TPLF are that the TPLF established courts at all levels of their administration.
It is easier to date the beginning of revolutions than their endings. The dismissal of the PDRE from Tigray in 1989 marked an ending of sorts, but the war went on until the overthrow of the PDRE and the EPRDF's capture of the entire country in 1991. Although the overthrow of the PDRE brought much-desired peace, Tigray's transition from a regime of virtual independence to one of measured autonomy in post-1991 Ethiopia has not always been easy. Not only did Tigrayans resent the roles of central bureaucrats in funding decisions, they also had little sympathy for their management style that increasingly came to the fore as provincial and national ministries were integrated.
In 1993, transitional problems were still evident, although funding was getting through and some investment was taking place, as people repaired damaged buildings, constructed new ones, and a minority of Tigrayan entrepreneurs began investing the province. However, the rural economy was still in limbo. The rural economy faced a crisis as pressing as when the TPLF launched its revolution eighteen years earlier. Evidence of this was apparent in 1994 when parts of Tigray again suffered famine conditions.
The TPLF committed to rehabilitating and developing rural economy and they have long recognized that its land reforms and rehabilitation programmes cannot by themselves overcome the contradiction between an ever-increasing population on one hand, and a fertile land base which can only be marginally enlarged in the near future, on the other. As a result, in addition to environmental rehabilitation and a vast expansion of infrastructure in the rural areas (albeit from extremely low levels), the TPLF pressed ahead with attempts to establish large-scale commercial agriculture in the lowlands, particularly in the Humera area, where land shortages are not a problem.
Major efforts are also underway to establish, and facilitate the establishment, of an industrial base in the province. Although by 1995 private investors had overcome their fears of government policy and instability, investment was largely restricted to the service sector as hotels, restaurants, and stores proliferated in the towns of Tigray, particularly Mekelle.
Most of these projects can only bear fruit in the medium to long term and in any case cannot begin to absorb the growing population of peasants without land or sufficient land to support themselves. Moreover, having borne a heavy burden during the years of war peasants are impatient with the pace of development. It is clear that having been repeatedly told that their poverty was largely due to the state being controlled by regimes unsympathetic to their plight, peasants look for support from a government led by those they consider their sons.
Apart from the key concern of Tigray's chronic underdevelopment, the approach to, and outcome of, three other issues will speak forcefully to the evolving character of Tigrayan society. These issues are, first, the challenges and implications of growing economic and regional inequality produced in Tigray in the post-Derg period; secondly, whether local-level populist democratic institutions developed during the revolutionary war to meet the needs of the TPLF's peasant base are still appropriate or can be reformed to meet the needs of a more heterogeneous populace in an area of peace; and lastly the variance between the ethos of revolutionary transformation and peasant traditionalism as reflected in the latter's attachment to the faith of the Orthodox Church.
In spite of the TPLF's decision not to redistribute capital, restricted consumption and the limited availability of consumer goods during the revolution ensured that rural class differentiation had little opportunity to develop. Increasing rural and regional inequality is furthered by TPLF support for plantation agriculture in lowland areas, particularly in the Humera area of western Tigray where boom conditions exist. Even more significant in producing rural inequality, is the growing number of landless peasants, the result of the TPLF decision not to allow any further major land redistribution because of fears that with a limited land base and a growing population, farm plots would quickly become uneconomic.
Changing peasant attitudes to land appear to be based on a number of factors. First, in 1993, peasant held that with little work in the urban areas any weakening of the existing system of land tenure would produce landlessness and force land poor-peasants to move to the towns and lives of destitution. Secondly, this buoyant urban economy, together with a more stable rural economy, and the effects of road building and dam construction, created increasing opportunities for commercial agriculture and the establishment of small rural enterprises for a minority of peasants. Thirdly, while government-initiated programmes to supply fertilizers and seeds to poor peasants at marginal costs are proving successful at reducing poverty and stabilizing the rural economy, other programmes, such as Global 2000, are designed for the limited number of peasants in a position to seriously engage in commercial agriculture.
Another issue of concern is whether a range of administrative institutions created during the revolution to meet the needs of that period can survive or will have to be modified with the advent of peace when the all-consuming objective is no longer the pursuit of revolutionary war, but development. Whether the EPRDF can accomplish that mission remains to be seen, but the fact that this is stated and clearly understood objective means that will be the main criterion by which it will be evaluated as a government.
List of major battlesEdit
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- (Young, p 190)
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