The Derg or Dergue was a Communist
Communism is a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of a classless, moneyless, revolutionary and stateless socialist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production...

 military junta
Military dictatorship
A military dictatorship is a form of government where in the political power resides with the military. It is similar but not identical to a stratocracy, a state ruled directly by the military....

 that came to power in Ethiopia
Ethiopia , officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is the second-most populous nation in Africa, with over 82 million inhabitants, and the tenth-largest by area, occupying 1,100,000 km2...

 following the ousting of Haile Selassie I
Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia
Haile Selassie I , born Tafari Makonnen, was Ethiopia's regent from 1916 to 1930 and Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974...

. Derg, which means "committee" or "council" in Ge'ez
Ge'ez language
Ge'ez is an ancient South Semitic language that developed in the northern region of Ethiopia and southern Eritrea in the Horn of Africa...

, is the short name of the Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces, Police, and Territorial Army, a committee of military officers which ruled the country from 1974 until 1987. The Derg's government was formally known as the Provisional Military Government of Socialist Ethiopia.

Between 1975 and 1987, the Derg executed and imprisoned tens of thousands of its opponents without trial.

Formation and growth

The Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces, Police, and Territorial Army, or the Derg (Ge'ez
Ge'ez language
Ge'ez is an ancient South Semitic language that developed in the northern region of Ethiopia and southern Eritrea in the Horn of Africa...

  "Committee"), was officially announced 28 June 1974 by a group of military officers to maintain law and order due to the powerlessness of the civilian government following widespread mutiny
Mutiny is a conspiracy among members of a group of similarly situated individuals to openly oppose, change or overthrow an authority to which they are subject...

 in the armed forces of Ethiopia earlier that year. Its members were not directly involved in those mutinies (as far as anyone presently knows), nor was this the first military committee organized to support the administration of Prime Minister Endelkachew Makonnen
Endelkachew Makonnen
Lij Endalkachew Makonnen was an Ethiopian politician. Born in Addis Ababa, his father, Ras Betwoded Makonnen Endelkachew served as Prime Minister of Ethiopia in the 1950s. Endalkachew Makonnen was a member of the aristocratic Addisge clan that were very influential in the later part of the...

: Alem Zewde Tessema
Alem Zewde Tessema
Alem Zewde Tessema was an Ethiopian military figure. He was a colonel of the Airborne Corps, Fourth Division. He was active at the beginning of the Ethiopian Revolution, helping to create the "Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces", which originally was intended to support Prime Minister...

 had established the Armed Forces Coordinated Committee 23 March. However, over the following months radicals in the Ethiopian military came to believe he was acting on behalf of the hated aristocracy, and when a group of notables petitioned for the release of a number of government ministers and officials who were under arrest for corruption and other crimes, three days later the Derg was announced.

The Derg, which originally consisted of soldiers at the capital, broadened its membership by including representatives from the 40 units of the Ethiopian Army, Air Force
Ethiopian Air Force
The Ethiopian Air Force is the air arm of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces and is tasked with protecting the air space, providing support to the ground forces as well as assisting during national emergencies.- Early years :...

, Navy
Ethiopian Navy
The Ethiopian Navy was a branch of the Ethiopian National Defense Force that existed from 1955 until 1991. It was disestablished after the independence of Eritrea, which left Ethiopia landlocked.-Founding of the navy:...

, Kebur Zabagna (Imperial Guard), Territorial Army and Police
Law enforcement in Ethiopia
Law enforcement in Ethiopia has been since a reorganization in October 2000, the responsibility of the national police which is overseen by the Federal Police Commission. This commission reports to the Ministry of Federal Affairs, which in turn is responsible to the parliament; however, this...

: each unit was expected to send three representatives, who were supposed to be privates, NCOs and junior officers up to the rank of major. According to Bahru Zewde, "senior officers were deemed too compromised by close association to the regime." It is commonly stated that the Derg consisted of 120 soldiers, a statement which has gained wide acceptance due to the habitual secretiveness of the Derg in its early years; however Bahru Zewde notes that "in actual fact, their number was less than 110", and Aregawi Berhe mentions two different sources which record 109 persons as being members of the Derg. No new members were ever admitted, and the number decreased, especially in the first few years, as some members were expelled or killed.

The committee elected Major Mengistu Haile Mariam
Mengistu Haile Mariam
Mengistu Haile Mariam is a politician who was formerly the most prominent officer of the Derg, the Communist military junta that governed Ethiopia from 1974 to 1987, and the President of the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia from 1987 to 1991...

 as its chairman and Major Atnafu Abate
Atnafu Abate
Lieutenant Colonel Atnafu Abate was an Ethiopian military officer and a leading member of the Derg, the military junta which deposed Emperor Haile Selassie and ruled the country for the next several years....

 as its vice-chairman. The Derg was initially supposed to study the grievances of various military units, and investigate abuses by senior officers and staff, and to root out corruption in the military.

In the months following its founding, the power of the Derg steadily increased. In July the Derg obtained key concessions from the Emperor, Haile Selassie, which included the power to arrest not only military officers, but government officials at every level. Soon both former Prime Ministers Tsehafi Taezaz Aklilu Habte-Wold, and Endelkachew Makonnen
Endelkachew Makonnen
Lij Endalkachew Makonnen was an Ethiopian politician. Born in Addis Ababa, his father, Ras Betwoded Makonnen Endelkachew served as Prime Minister of Ethiopia in the 1950s. Endalkachew Makonnen was a member of the aristocratic Addisge clan that were very influential in the later part of the...

, along with most of their cabinets, most regional governors, many senior military officers and officials of the Imperial court found themselves imprisoned. In August, after a proposed constitution creating a constitutional monarchy was presented to the Emperor, the Derg began a program of dismantling the imperial government in order to forestall further developments in that direction. The Derg deposed and imprisoned the Emperor on September 12, 1974.

On September 15, the committee renamed itself the Provisional Military Administrative Council (PMAC) and took control of the government. The Derg chose Lieutenant General Aman Andom
Aman Andom Mikael Andom was the first post-imperial acting Head of State of Ethiopia. He was Eritrean. He was appointed to this position following the coup d'état that deposed Emperor Haile Selassie on 12 September 1974, and served until his death in...

, a very popular military leader and a Sandhurst
Royal Military Academy Sandhurst
The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst , commonly known simply as Sandhurst, is a British Army officer initial training centre located in Sandhurst, Berkshire, England...

 graduate, to be its chairman and acting head-of-state until the Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen could return from his medical treatment in Europe, and assume the throne as a constitutional monarch. However, General Aman Andom quarreled with the radical elements in the Derg over the issue of a new military offensive in Eritrea
Eritrea , officially the State of Eritrea, is a country in the Horn of Africa. Eritrea derives it's name from the Greek word Erethria, meaning 'red land'. The capital is Asmara. It is bordered by Sudan in the west, Ethiopia in the south, and Djibouti in the southeast...

 and the proposal to execute the high officials of the Emperor's former government. After eliminating units loyal to him -- the Engineers, the Imperial Bodyguard and the Air Force -- the Derg removed General Aman from power and executed him along with some supporters and 60 officials of the previous Imperial government on November 24, 1974. Brigadier General Tafari Benti
Tafari Benti
Brigadier General Tafari Benti was the Head of State of Ethiopia , and chairman of the Derg, the ruling junta. His official title was Chairman of the Provisional Military Administrative Council.- Life :...

 became both the new Chairman of the Derg and head of state, with Mengistu and Atnafu Abate as his two vice-Chairmen with the new ranks of Lieutenant-Colonels. The monarchy was formally abolished in May, 1975, and Marxism-Leninism
Marxism–Leninism is a communist ideology, officially based upon the theories of Marxism and Vladimir Lenin, that promotes the development and creation of a international communist society through the leadership of a vanguard party over a revolutionary socialist state that represents a dictatorship...

 was proclaimed the ideology of the state. Emperor Haile Selassie died on August 22, 1975, while his personal physician was absent. It is commonly believed that Mengistu killed him, either ordering it done or by his own hand.

Mengistu's leadership

After internal conflicts, that resulted in the deaths of General Tafari Benti and several of his supporters by November 1977, and the later elimination and execution of Colonel Atnafu Abate, Mengistu gained undisputed leadership of the Derg. In 1987 the Derg was formally dissolved and the country became the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
The People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia was the official name of Ethiopia from 1987 to 1991, as established by the Communist government of Mengistu Haile Mariam and the Workers' Party of Ethiopia...

 (PDRE) under a new constitution
A constitution is a set of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organization is governed. These rules together make up, i.e. constitute, what the entity is...

. Many of the Derg members remained in key government posts, and remained as the members of the Central Committee and the Politburo of the Workers' Party of Ethiopia
Workers' Party of Ethiopia
The Workers' Party of Ethiopia is a Communist party in Ethiopia that was, from 1984 to 1990, the only legal political party in the country.-The Commission to Organize the Party of the Workers of Ethiopia:...

 (WPE), which became Ethiopia's civilian version of the Eastern bloc Communist parties. Mengistu became Secretary General of the WPE, President of the PDRE, while remaining Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces.

Ethiopian Civil War

The reign of the Derg in Ethiopia is remembered as giving rise to the Ethiopian Civil War
Ethiopian Civil War
The Ethiopian Civil War began on September 12, 1974 when the Marxist Derg staged a coup d'état against Emperor Haile Selassie, and lasted until the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front , a coalition of rebel groups, overthrew the government in 1991. The war overlapped other Cold War...

. This conflict began as extralegal violence between 1975 and 1977, known as the Red Terror
Red Terror (Ethiopia)
The Ethiopian Red Terror, or Qey Shibir , was a violent political campaign in Ethiopia that most visibly took place once Communist Mengistu Haile Mariam achieved control of the Derg, the military junta, 3 February 1977...

, when the Derg struggled for authority, first with various opposition groups, then with a variety of groups jockeying for the role of vanguard party
Vanguard party
A vanguard party is a political party at the forefront of a mass action, movement, or revolution. The idea of a vanguard party has its origins in the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels...

. Though human rights violations were committed by both sides, the great majority of abuses against civilians, and actions leading to famine, were committed by the government.

Once the Derg had gained victory over these groups and successfully fought off an invasion
Ogaden War
The Ogaden War was a conventional conflict between Somalia and Ethiopia in 1977 and 1978 over the Ogaden region of Ethiopia. In a notable illustration of the nature of Cold War alliances, the Soviet Union switched from supplying aid to Somalia to supporting Ethiopia, which had previously been...

 from Somalia
Somalia , officially the Somali Republic and formerly known as the Somali Democratic Republic under Socialist rule, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. Since the outbreak of the Somali Civil War in 1991 there has been no central government control over most of the country's territory...

 in 1977, it engaged in a brutal war between the government and armed groups which included guerrillas fighting for Eritrean independence, rebels based in Tigray (which included the nascent Tigrayan Peoples' Liberation Front), and other groups that ranged from the conservative and pro-monarchy Ethiopian Democratic Union to the far leftist Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party
Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party
Founded in April 1972, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party was a prominent Marxist-Leninist organization in Ethiopia during the 1970s. It is also known as "Ihapa" from the acronym in Amharic...

. Ethiopia under the Derg became the Socialist bloc's closest ally in Africa, and became among the best armed nations of the region as a result of massive military aid chiefly from the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

, East Germany, Cuba
The Republic of Cuba is an island nation in the Caribbean. The nation of Cuba consists of the main island of Cuba, the Isla de la Juventud, and several archipelagos. Havana is the largest city in Cuba and the country's capital. Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city...

 and North Korea
North Korea
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea , , is a country in East Asia, occupying the northern half of the Korean Peninsula. Its capital and largest city is Pyongyang. The Korean Demilitarized Zone serves as the buffer zone between North Korea and South Korea...


During the same period, the Derg fulfilled its main slogan of "Land to the Tiller" by announcing on 4 March 1975 a system of land reform
Land reform in Ethiopia
The problem of Land reform in Ethiopia has hampered that country's economic development throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries. Attempts to modernize land ownership by giving title either to the peasants who till the soil, or to large-scale farming programs, have been tried under imperial...

 that "was unequivocally radical, even in Soviet and Chinese terms; it nationalized all rural land, abolished tenancy, and put peasants in charge of enforcing the whole scheme." Although the Derg had little respect during its rule, this one act resulted in a rare show of support for the junta, as the Ottaways describe: "During a massive demonstration in Addis Ababa
Addis Ababa
Addis Ababa is the capital city of Ethiopia...

 immediately following the announcement, a group of students broke through police and army barriers, climbed the wall and escarpment around Menelik Palace, and embraced major Mengistu as the hero of the reform". Most industries and private urban real-estate holdings were nationalized by the Derg in 1975.

However, mismanagement, corruption, and general hostility to the Derg's violent rule, coupled with the draining effects of constant warfare with the separatist guerrilla movements in Eritrea
Eritrea , officially the State of Eritrea, is a country in the Horn of Africa. Eritrea derives it's name from the Greek word Erethria, meaning 'red land'. The capital is Asmara. It is bordered by Sudan in the west, Ethiopia in the south, and Djibouti in the southeast...

 and Tigray
Tigray Province
Tigray was a province of Ethiopia. The Tigray Region superseded the province with the adoption of the new constitution in 1995. The province of Tigre merged with its neighboring provinces, including Semien, Tembien, Agame and the prominent Enderta province and towards the end of 19th century it...

, led to a drastic fall in general productivity of food and cash crops. In October 1978, the Derg announced the National Revolutionary Development Campaign to mobilize human and material resources to transform the economy, which led to a Ten Year Plan (1984/85-1993/94) to expand agricultural and industrial output, forecasting a 6.5% growth in GDP and a 3.6% rise in per capita income; instead, per capita income declined 0.8% over this period. Famine scholar Alex de Waal
Alex de Waal
Alexander William Lowndes de Waal is a British writer and researcher on African issues. He was a fellow of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative at Harvard University, as well as program director at the Social Science Research Council on AIDS in New York City...

 observes that while the famine that struck the country in the mid-1980s is usually ascribed to drought, "closer investigation shows that widespread drought occurred only some months after the famine was already under way." Hundreds of thousands fled economic misery, conscription, and political repression, and went to live in neighboring countries and all over the Western world
Western world
The Western world, also known as the West and the Occident , is a term referring to the countries of Western Europe , the countries of the Americas, as well all countries of Northern and Central Europe, Australia and New Zealand...

, creating an Ethiopian diaspora
A diaspora is "the movement, migration, or scattering of people away from an established or ancestral homeland" or "people dispersed by whatever cause to more than one location", or "people settled far from their ancestral homelands".The word has come to refer to historical mass-dispersions of...

 for the first time.

Aid and controversy

The famine in the mid 1980s brought the situation in Ethiopia to the attention of the world, and inspired charitable drives in western nations, notably by Oxfam
Oxfam is an international confederation of 15 organizations working in 98 countries worldwide to find lasting solutions to poverty and related injustice around the world. In all Oxfam’s actions, the ultimate goal is to enable people to exercise their rights and manage their own lives...

 and the Live Aid
Live Aid
Live Aid was a dual-venue concert that was held on 13 July 1985. The event was organized by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to raise funds for relief of the ongoing Ethiopian famine. Billed as the "global jukebox", the event was held simultaneously in Wembley Stadium in London, England, United Kingdom ...

 concerts of July 1985. The money they raised was then distributed among NGOs in Ethiopia. A controversy arose when it was revealed that some of these NGOs were under Derg control or influence, and that some Oxfam and Live Aid money had been used to fund the Derg's enforced resettlement programmes
Resettlement and villagization in Ethiopia
Resettlement and villagization in Ethiopia has been an issue since the late nineteenth century, due to the overcrowded population of the Ethiopian highlands...

, under which millions of people were displaced and between 50,000 and 100,000 killed. Accusations were made in a BBC investigation that rebels had also used millions of pounds of aid to buy arms; these were later fully retracted by the Corporation.

End of the Derg

Although the Derg government officially came to an end 22 February 1987, three weeks after a referendum approved
Ethiopian constitutional referendum, 1987
A constitutional referendum was held in Ethiopia on 1 February 1987. The new constitution would make the country a one-party state with the Workers' Party of Ethiopia as the sole legal party. It was approved by 81% of voters, with a 96.3% turnout, and was promulgated on 22 February.-Results:...

 the constitution for the PDRE
1987 Constitution of Ethiopia
The 1987 Constitution of Ethiopia was the third constitution of Ethiopia, and went into effect on 22 February 1987 after a referendum on 1 February of that year. Its adoption inaugurated the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia .-Contents:...

, it was not until that September the new government was fully in place and the Derg formally abolished. So chairman Mengistu remained in power as President of the new government, and surviving individual members, such as Berhanu Bayeh and Legesse Asfaw, were assigned powerful posts under him.

The geopolitical situations turned unfavorable in the late 1980s, with the Soviet Union retreating from World Communism under Mikhail Gorbachev
Mikhail Gorbachev
Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev is a former Soviet statesman, having served as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 until 1991, and as the last head of state of the USSR, having served from 1988 until its dissolution in 1991...

's glasnost
Glasnost was the policy of maximal publicity, openness, and transparency in the activities of all government institutions in the Soviet Union, together with freedom of information, introduced by Mikhail Gorbachev in the second half of the 1980s...

and perestroika
Perestroika was a political movement within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union during 1980s, widely associated with the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev...

, which marked a dramatic reduction in aid from Socialist bloc countries. This resulted in even more economic hardship, and more seriously, the collapse of the military in the face of determined onslaughts by guerrilla forces in the north. The Soviet Union, stopped aiding the PDRE altogether in December 1990, and this along with the collapse of Communism in the Eastern Bloc in the Revolutions of 1989
Revolutions of 1989
The Revolutions of 1989 were the revolutions which overthrew the communist regimes in various Central and Eastern European countries.The events began in Poland in 1989, and continued in Hungary, East Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and...

, proved to be serious blows to the PDRE.

Towards the end of January 1991, a coalition of rebel forces, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front
Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front
The Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front is the ruling political coalition in Ethiopia. It is an alliance of four other groups: the Oromo Peoples' Democratic Organization , the Amhara National Democratic Movement , the South Ethiopian Peoples' Democratic Front The Ethiopian People's...

 (EPRDF), launched Operation Tewodros, which led to their capture of Gondar
Gondar or Gonder is a city in Ethiopia, which was once the old imperial capital and capital of the historic Begemder Province. As a result, the old province of Begemder is sometimes referred to as Gondar...

, the ancient capital city, Bahar Dar and Dessie
Dessie is a city and a woreda in north-central Ethiopia. Located on the Addis Ababa - Asmara highway in the Debub Wollo Zone of the Amhara Region, this city has a latitude and longitude of with an elevation between 2,470 and 2,550 meters above sea level.Dessie has postal service , and telephone...

. Meanwhile, the Eritrean People's Liberation Front
Eritrean People's Liberation Front
The Eritrean People's Liberation Front was an armed organization that fought for the independence of Eritrea from Ethiopia. It emerged in 1970 as an intellectual left-wing group that split from the Eritrean Liberation Front .-Background:...

 had gained control of all of Eritrea except for Asmara
Asmara is the capital city and largest settlement in Eritrea, home to a population of around 579,000 people...

 and Assab
Assab is a port city in the Southern Red Sea Region of Eritrea on the west coast of the Red Sea. In 1989, it had a population of 39,600. Assab possesses an oil refinery, which was shut down in 1997 for economic reasons...

 in the south. The Soviet Union, mired in its internal turmoil, could no longer prop up the Derg; it was clear that the end of the Derg was now a question of when, not if. In the words of the former US diplomat Paul B. Henze, "As his doom became imminent, Mengistu alternated between vowing resistance to the end and hinting that he might follow Emperor Tewodros's
Tewodros II of Ethiopia
Tewodros II was the Emperor of Ethiopia from 1855 until his death....

 example and commit suicide." His actions were frantic: he convened the Shengo, the Ethiopian Parliament, for an emergency session and reorganized his cabinet, but as Henze concludes, "these shifts came too late to be effective." On 21 May, claiming that he was going to inspect troops at a base in southern Ethiopia, Mengistu slipped out of the country to Kenya, then flew with his immediate family to Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe is a landlocked country located in the southern part of the African continent, between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers. It is bordered by South Africa to the south, Botswana to the southwest, Zambia and a tip of Namibia to the northwest and Mozambique to the east. Zimbabwe has three...

, where he was granted asylum and still resides. Upon entering Addis Ababa, the EPRDF immediately disbanded the WPE and arrested almost all of the prominent Derg officials shortly after.

In December 2006, 73 officials of the Derg were found guilty of genocide. 34 people were in court, 14 others had died during the lengthy process, and 25, including Mengistu, were tried in absentia. The trial ended 26 May 2008, and many of the officials were sentenced to death. In December, 2010, the Ethiopian government has commuted the death sentence of 23 Derg officials. On October 4th, 2011, 16 of former Derg officials were freed, after twenty years of incarceration. The Ethiopian government paroled almost all of those Derg officials that have been jailed for 20 years.

PMAC Standing Committee (January 1985)

Mengistu Haile Mariam
Mengistu Haile Mariam
Mengistu Haile Mariam is a politician who was formerly the most prominent officer of the Derg, the Communist military junta that governed Ethiopia from 1974 to 1987, and the President of the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia from 1987 to 1991...

Lt.-Col. Fikre Selassie Wogderess
Fikre Selassie Wogderess
Fikre Selassie Wogderess was the Prime Minister of the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia from 10 September 1987 to 8 November 1989....

Deputy Secretary-General
Fisseha Desta
Military Affairs
Lt.-Gen. Tesfaye Gebre Kidan
Tesfaye Gebre Kidan
Tesfaye Gebre Kidan was an Ethiopian general who was President of Ethiopia for one week in late May 1991.Tesfaye was a student at Holetta Military Academy, where he met Mengistu Haile Mariam; according to Gebru Tareke, along with Legesse Asfaw and Gebreyes Wolde Hana Tesfaye was part of Mengistu's...

Teka Tulu
Development and Planning
Addis Tedla
Party Organization
Legesse Asfaw
Administrative and Legal Affairs
Wubshet Dessie
Other members
Genesse Wolde-Kidan
Endale Tessema
Kassahun Tafesse
Birhanu Bayeh
Birhanu Bayeh
Birhanu Beyeh was a politician in Ethiopia. He was Foreign Minister during the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia . Prior to that, he was chairman of the Derg's committee for legal affairs....

External links

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