Mengistu Haile Mariam (Amharic: መንግሥቱ ኀይለ ማርያም, pronunciation: [mənɡɨstu haɪlə marjam]; born 21 May 1937) is an Ethiopian soldier and politician who was the president of Ethiopia from 1977 to 1991 and General Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Ethiopia from 1984 to 1991. He was the chairman of the Derg, the socialist military junta that governed Ethiopia, from 1977 to 1987, and the President of the People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (PDRE) from 1987 to 1991.
The Derg took power in the Ethiopian Revolution following the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie I in 1974, marking the end of the Solomonic dynasty which had ruled Ethiopia since the 13th century. Mengistu purged rivals for power from the Derg and made himself Ethiopia’s dictator, attempting to modernize Ethiopia’s feudal economy through Marxist-Leninist-inspired policies such as nationalization and land redistribution. His bloody consolidation of power in 1977–78 is known as the Ethiopian Red Terror, a brutal crackdown on opposition groups and civilians following a failed assassination attempt by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP) in September 1976, after it had ignored the Derg’s invitation to join the union of socialist parties. The death toll is unknown, but is often estimated as between 30,000 and 750,000.