By Ewnetu Sime |
I wrote this article after reading two confession documents under the notorious Derg Military Dictatorial regime interrogation of BerhaneMeskael Reda, one of the founder members of Ethiopian Revolutionary Peoples Party (EPRP), and its army wing Ethiopian Revolutionary Peoples Army (EPRA), and Haile Fida also another founder for All Ethiopian Socialist Movement (AESM_ “MEISON”). The documents indicated that it is direct extracted confessions from BerhaneMeskael and Haile Fida that they had deeply involved in Ethiopia political activities pre and during Ethiopia 1974 Revolution period. Also it’s revealed that both of men went underground in different circumstances but caught gave the confession. Ultimately they were charged by the Derg Dictatorial regime on several “criminal counts.”
BerhaneMeskael confession starts by stating his personal detail: age 35, occupation unemployed, and no permanent address. He was known as one of the Haile Selassie I University radical student preaching subversive doctrines to fellow students against Haile Selassie monarchical regime. As the result, he was suspended and finally led to his dismissal from the University. Thereafter, with other friends as indicated on his confession, they highjack an airplane to the Sudan, then they took refuge in Algeria where they formed a political group. During their stay in Algeria they had interacted with Ethiopia Student Movement at home and in Diaspora, also with the Palestine and Eritrea Liberation fronts in desire to overthrow the Haile Selassie‘s government. As one might expect, the fronts provided vital assistance in guerrilla fighting training, and facilitated in the establishment of EPRA in Tigrai province called Assimba, and then continued his confession with detail activities for 98 pages.
Haile’s confession starts, age 38, employed, educated in Ethiopia and Europe, and lived in Addis Ababa. He is a son of carpenter and grew up in Wollega province. He completed his elementary and junior high in Wollega, continued his high school in General Wingate high school in Addis Ababa. After he completed his high school education he was hired as instructor in Harragae province in Deder city for a year and back to Addis to continue his University education, and studied Geology and Physics at Haile Selassie I University. After his graduation, he taught these subjects for a year in the University. Then continued on his background profile in stating that he was awarded a scholarship to continue a higher education in France where he studied Geology, Physic and Sociology. Due his active involvement as a leader in Ethiopian Student Movement in Europe his scholarship program was cancelled and his Ethiopian Passport revoked as reprisal by Haile Selassie regime. He stayed in France and Germany in teaching on those fields. During his stay he established his clandestine organization structure called ASEM with his eighteen friends in 1968 E.C… and continued the details of his story over 70 pages.
As university students both founders had some similar common ground. They were enthusiasm for political reform. They spoke in terms of revolutionary change in Ethiopia. BerhaneMeskael at home and Haile Fida in Europe had organized and led the Ethiopian Student Union Movement. The Student union became a Movement with leftist political culture that challenged the Haile Selassie regime policies. They were voicing for political reforms, such as land to the tiller, civil rights and liberties of Ethiopia’s oppressed people. Unexpectedly, the Student movement emerged into contending major two political forces, i.e. EPRP and AESM, where the two became a founder of their respective parties. According to the confession document, Halie Fida travelled to Algeria to meet The Algeria Group led by BerhaneMeskael to discuss the political and organizational matters. During this meeting, one of the agenda they couldn’t agree was “how to resolve the question of Ethiopia nationalities question”. The difference of the two political forces was theoretical in nature but became quite a sharp difference. This difference is eventually leading in sowing the seed of discord and dissension between the two organizations. However, they were continued to organize and functioned their organizations around a Marxist-Leninist ideology until they disintegrated within themselves into squabbling factions, constantly intriguing and brought to deadly consequences for all.
As we all know, as Ethiopian 1974 popular revolution started, Derg took over state and government by toppling the Haile Selassie Government, and consolidated their power through dictatorship rule. During this period EPRP declared its existence and have started operating in clandestine structure. In the contrary, AESM was operating with Derg regime. Its rationale was providing support is essential to stabilize the country until the condition for free and democratic process established. Both groups organized the students, the labor Union workers, etc. under their party umbrella to be in forefront of the movement. Both groups are multiethnic. Their exact ethnic composition and size are unknown. It is true that EPRP had effective mass mobilization techniques, including an infiltration to senior officials of the Derg, and succeeded inspiring the vast majority of students, trade unions, including farmers. If you are appearing to be unsympathetic to them you will be harassed, intimidated, and in some instance harsh method was used. The success of the EPRP in Addis Ababa city was short lived due to bubbling internal crisis and a daily preoccupation fighting with Derg and its supporters. Also, the party’s ability to maintain internal cohesion becomes impossible due to nature of clandestine structure. As result of this crisis Berhanemeskel and others were expelled from the party due to new strategically policies of the party. Berhanemeskael left the city to begin rural armed struggle in northern Shoa later captured by Derg provided this confession.
At that hot political ASEM leader Haile Fida was aligning his party’s with Derg. It was widespread believe that he was one of the architect of Dreg’s several proclamation including nationalization all rural land, urban houses, followed by radio announcement that Marxist-Leninism had become Ethiopia’s official ideology. According to Haile’s statement, in 1968 G.C ASEM under Civilian Political Bureau made an effort in disseminating revolutionary propaganda work by publishing biweekly magazines called “Revolutionary Ethiopia”, and other publication in variety topics to raise the people level of political consciousness. and also in establishing political association such as Youth Association, Women Associations. He said that during this effort one the main objective was to expose the rival EPRP he called it “anti-Revolutionary deeds” from the mass organizations. He claimed that in September 1969 G.C. EPRP responded in assassination of MEISON and Civilian Political Bureau members. Thereafter, number of ugly incidents happen in attempting to liquidated EPRP member and supporters under the Derg Red Terror campaign. It was a barbaric bloody campaign to anyone. MESION itself also became the next target by Derg Red Terror campaign. Haile Fide and a group of his followers attempted to flee the capital, but were caught and gave this 70 pages plus confession.
Problems of clandestine operations:
The political rumors that originated within the clandestine opposition were the most heart breaking. According to BerhaneMeskael Reda’s confession document the party’s inner circle, (he called them clique) were much less interested in resolving differences in open discussion and genuine debates. Outspoken criticism or dissent was not tolerated by the central command of the party. Any critical argument forwarded by dissent member considers weakening the foundation of the organization. The story in this document makes it clear that democratic process was ignored by one group, instead the secretive process used to silence their opponents. Apparently, large numbers of supporters were inexperienced, idealistic, and have not understood well how a party structured and operate. In addition most members were reluctant to oppose any directives coming from Central Committee due to complete trust on the party’s operation or afraid being branded as traitors. Thus, the operation can be considered as two-edged sword unless handled properly. This testimonial document is a perfect example when clandestine operations become a fallacy. It brought unanticipated consequences because it essentially gave a blanket power for one group. It reasonable to say that BerhaneMeskael action against his party could be seen as survival instinct, and left without option except to fight or flight the situation until caught by regime.
As of to date very limited books are published on history of this generation militancy. It is sad to witness after almost forty years the responsible political organizations (i.e. EPRP or AESM) that has historical knowledge neglected in documenting why the 1974 revolution fell miserably. We have already seen the country lost too many innocent peoples and the best and bright young Ethiopians were vanished. It is no surprise, the current ethno-centric TPLF’s group that used intimidation, harassment often force to organize the Tigrian rural population found the power vacuum and has become as substitute. As consequence, the saga of popular 1974 revolution has made a sharp u turn to the past “Ye Mesafent Zemen”, where ethnicity seen first, and alienated large section of society that has readily embraced nationalism since King Tewodros rule.
Full accounts of historical analysis remain to be done by scholar historian on tragedy of the clandestine movement in Ethiopia. It is a prevailing views that BerhaneMeskael Reda for EPRP and Haile Feda for ASEM and many others were main players in advancing their organization objective by adapting the Marxism and Leninism philosophical theory as a standard guide in their respective organization. Both men were important in their respective organization. Sadly, the common crossroads to work through conflict and differences of “ideological” opinion between the two organizations were thrown out of the window. The clandestine operation outcome in Ethiopia is one of the main causes of failure of 1974 revolution, and in the process it has destroyed the livelihoods and lives of many of its citizens.
The Derg Military Dictatorial regime in known for their’s ruthlessness and irrational acts after taking the confessions from both men, they ordered the execution. Although on their testimony I haven’t noticed any political intrigue or other serious faults against the Derg. They were executed regardless of their attitude toward the regime. These documents should deserve to be seen by all Ethiopia (Documents enclosed).
Reference Materials –