December 8, 2006

Remembering the Forgotten Victims: What do we Ethiopians know about the Sources that Led to the Abrupt Resignation of Aklilu Habte-Wold’s Cabinet?

By Maru Gubena
As shown by the historical records of the past three decades, the people’s power has not been effective in Ethiopia. It is therefore difficult to consider this power as a source of protection for political leaders who are ready to take risks. In practical terms, the people’s power in Africa, and in Ethiopia in particular, is radically different from the experience in Latin America, Asia and, as seen in recent political events, in many countries of the former East Block.
Looking at political events and developments in my country retrospectively, one sees that Ethiopians have never been to collectively share and enjoy the fruits of political events that have resulted from the people’s action, uprising and power. It is to be remembered that the people outright rejected the forceful imposition of power and rule by the undesired, uninvited military regime of Mengistu Hailemariam – yet he managed to rule my country with an iron hand for a long 17 years, with little or no effective, meaningful challenge from those being ruled. By using viciously crafted mechanisms of destruction to eliminate both intellectuals and the youth of Ethiopia – the future assets of the country – with the cooperation of our own families and relatives, the regime of the Dergue also managed to permanently divide and demoralize the people of Ethiopia, to the point of becoming unable either to rise up and challenge the Dergue itself, or to fight against external enemies such as the TPLF and EPLF. It is indeed depressing to painfully recall and admit that so many, perhaps millions, of Ethiopians were used by the cruel regime as tools to willingly expose their own friends, neighbours and colleagues, and hand them over to the killing machines of the Dergue. It was these actions of the Dergue regime that created permanent wounds and animosities among Ethiopians to the point that it seems difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile and cure. Perhaps because of this, we remain persistently reluctant to talk, write and debate about those painful histories and still fresh memories. Even worse and more painful, in addition to these unhealed wounds and unforgettable scars in our recent history, we also know so little about the sources and causes that contributed to the abrupt resignation of Prime Minster Aklilu Habte-Wold’s entire cabinet on the 26 or 27 (embarrassingly, no exact date of resignation is to be found anywhere) of February 1974. Although this became a fertile ground for the emergence of the people’s enemy, the Dergue, and the subsequent structural crisis within Ethiopian society, this has not been explored and written up. Except through verbal stories and jokes told in family get-togethers and around coffee tables, most, if not all, Ethiopians have had no factual account – for example, based on meeting reports or recorded videos showing when, at which date and time, or indeed the exact reasons that led to the resignation of the late Prime Minister Aklilu Habte-Wold’s cabinet. And who was or were precisely responsible for this resignation of then Prime Minister Aklilu Habte-Wold and his ministers? Many Ethiopians say it was the Dergue that forced the entire cabinet to resign. But surely there was no Dergue or military committee at that time of their resignation? There was not someone in Addis Ababa at that time by the name of Mengistu Hailemariam. I saw him with my own eyes in early March 1974, a simple army officer or an obscure major, together with another officer from the Dire Dewa anti-aircraft division, talking to my uncle and his wife at the Harar Military Hospital while we were visiting my uncle’s wife younger brother, a member of the Ethiopian Air Force who was stationed in Dire Dewa. The Provisional Military Administrative Council had not yet been founded. There was as yet nothing in the compound of the fourth army division which was, and perhaps is still, located in Meshwalekia, Addis Ababa. The political tensions and crises that existed from January to the very day of Aklilu Habte-Wold’s cabinet resignation were nothing compared to the persistent and quite explosive political challenges, combined with armed confrontations – often with deadly results – that have faced and tested the unelected leadership of the TPLF since its arrival in May 1991. In 1974, there were only three or four demonstrations. The last (and a major) one, probably held on 26 or 27 February, is said to have resulted in the culmination of Aklilu Habte-Wold’s cabinet by resignation: it was indeed supported by the various sections and divisions of the Ethiopian armed forces. Can such demonstrations alone be seen as the decisive source and cause of the resignation of Aklilu Habte-Wold’s cabinet? How then? How come measures were not taken by the Emperor himself, as well as by Aklilu’s cabinet, in an attempt to silence the uprising? And why did Emperor Haile Selassie return home from the OAU African Heads of States Summit held in Mogadishu in late June 1974, knowing that the political temperature was heating up so dangerously and irreversibly? Didn’t he have reasonably wise advisors at that time? Other Ethiopians argue that Aklilu Habte-Wold and his ministers were forced by Emperor Haile Selassie himself to give up their responsibilities. But how? Where are the documents, the written and recorded evidence? Does Ethiopia lack all historical records related to such resignations and the subsequent tragedies? What a huge embarrassment and deficiency for Ethiopia and its people! How is it possible that such extremely fascinating tragedies, such historically valuable and important events are not documented? How can they be so neglected, so that they are forgotten by entire generations, even that of my father? How in the world is it possible that the multiple, incalculable contributions to Ethiopia’s political development and political history, including the enormous achievements and respect my country gained from the international community through the hard, devoted work realized by those irreplaceable Ethiopian figures, can be so neglected and forgotten? Why is that? Where is the concern, the respect and the love Ethiopians generally have for the people and the history of Ethiopia, and towards those who played a crucial role in representing our country on the world political stage, who made history for our country? The story surrounding the tragic, untimely and sudden murder of ministers, together with their compatriot army generals and civil servants, by the power hungry and power intoxicated Dergue members under the leadership of the most inhumane, cruel, anti-social animal called Mengistu Hailemariam, has remained buried, in exactly the same way as the story of the resignation of Aklilu Habte-Wold’s cabinet. No books, no films or video recordings based on facts seem to have been produced. It is probably due to our resulting ignorance that most Ethiopians of my generation often feel uncomfortable, even embarrassed, to talk or engage in debates involving these two tragic events. Yes, since there are no written meeting reports or video records that might indicate why and how the members of the Dergue reached their extremely cruel conclusions and decided to murder their own compatriots, most of us know little or nothing about the precise facts behind the killing of those 60 Ethiopian citizens in just a few minutes on the 23rd of November 1974 - we only know that they never faced due process in a court of law for the crimes of which they were accused As time passes, later generations, including that of my daughter, will know even less. What is most remarkable of all is the lack of concern and the disinterest of Ethiopians in boldly confronting, exploring and writing about these painful events, the history of our own crises, which are also our own creations. Isn’t it tragic, even shameful, to realize that we Ethiopians still live without books, professionally produced films or video records of such important, fascinating but painful historical events? I would further be interested in understanding why the Ethiopian Diaspora, including the opposition political parties and the Diaspora media outlets and websites, are so reluctant to provide forums that would bring together individual Ethiopians who have information about those two important historical events, so that they can be widely discussed and more deeply explored? It is to be remembered that in recent times Chapters of Ethiopian political parties and the Ethiopian Diaspora in general have been engaged in exploring and explaining the origins of TPLF and its founding fathers, as well as the later historical developments. How is it then possible that the personalities and immense historical contributions of those 60 or more Dergue victims, the events themselves, the whys and hows of their resignations and murders, can be seen as irrelevant, or less important than the history of the TPLF and its founding figures? Why is that our interest and fascination are more profound with respect to the histories of our enemies than regarding the historical achievements, contributions and personalities of our own people? What kind of Ethiopianess is that?
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(Readers who wish to contact the author can reach him at
Dr. Maru Gubena, from Ethiopia, is a political economist, writer and publisher.)

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