Why Ethiopians are nostalgic for a murderous Marxist regime

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The Economist

Why Ethiopians are nostalgic for a murderous Marxist regime


IN AMBO, a town in central Ethiopia, a teenage boy pulls a tatty photo from his wallet. “I love him,” he says of the soldier glaring menacingly at the camera. “And I love socialism,” he adds. In the picture is a young Mengistu Haile Mariam, the dictator whose Marxist regime, the Derg, oversaw the “Red Terror” of the 1970s and the famine-inducing collapse of Ethiopia’s economy in the 1980s. Mr Mengistu was toppled by rebels in 1991 before fleeing to Zimbabwe, where he still lives. He was later sentenced to death, in absentia, for genocide.

But the octogenarian war criminal seems to be growing in popularity back home, especially in towns and among those too young to remember the misery of his rule. When Meles Zenawi, then prime minister, died in 2012, a social-media campaign called for Mr Mengistu to return. In the protests that have swept through towns like Ambo since 2014, chants of “Come, come Mengistu!” have been heard among the demonstrators.

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Asked by Afrobarometer, a pollster, how democratic their country is, Ethiopians give it 7.4 out of 10. They give the Derg regime a 1. Yet even some of those old enough to remember life under Marxism are giving in to nostalgia, admits a middle-aged professor at Addis Ababa University. The coalition that ousted the Derg, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), introduced a system of ethnically based federalism in 1995 that critics say favours the Tigrayan minority. After bouts of ethnic violence, most alarmingly this year, many now look back fondly on Mr Mengistu’s pan-Ethiopian nationalism.

“The general perception is that whatever the Derg did was out of love for the country,” explains Befekadu Hailu, a human-rights activist, who is himself no fan. Mr Mengistu fought a victorious war against Somalia in the 1970s, and waged a homicidal campaign against secessionists in Eritrea, then a region of Ethiopia, for more than a decade. The EPRDF, in contrast, oversaw the loss of Eritrea and with it access to the sea when it allowed an independence referendum in 1993.

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The Derg’s policies were ruinous: nationalising almost every firm; forcing peasants at gunpoint onto collective farms, where they starved. Mr Mengistu was also more brutal than any Ethiopian ruler before or after. But the EPRDF is struggling to win the hearts of ordinary Ethiopians. Its heavy-handed propaganda—which includes ideological “training” for students and civil servants, and an annual celebration of its victory over the Derg—are widely met with contempt.

“When you have no hope for the future you go back and try to find some light in the past,” says Hassen Hussein, an activist who now lives abroad. The country’s most popular musician is Teddy Afro, a 41-year-old whose songs celebrate Ethiopia’s former emperors and its feudal past. The ruling party has yet to come up with such a catchy tune.

This article appeared in the Middle East and Africa section of the print edition under the headline “Nostalgia for the Derg”

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7 Comments

  1. The TPLF implemented dismantle Ethiopia project is highly disguised.
    The design/preparation of dismantling Ethiopia took longer time than its effective implementation. Westerns’ took more than a century to indoctrinate Ethiopians so that they could be used to demolish their own nation and treasures.
    Demolishing the oldest and well established sovereign nation and people which stood against white hegemony was a precondition to the long lasted desire of white re-seizure of the globe (globalization).
    Tilahun Gizaw, Wallelign Mekonnen and other innocent old Ethiopian figures were brain washed and eventually willingly indorsed the crooked ideology of the Westerns regarding how Ethiopia should be reformed ironically for the good of Ethiopians.
    If we consider half a century disguised involvement of Westerns in indoctrinating Ethiopians towards self destructing struggles, in 1968/69, CIA wrote the article which was alleged to be by Wallelign Mekonnen. It was a copy past work of the Nazi Baron Roman Prochazka’s book against Ethiopians. Prochazka overtly advocated for the disintegration of Ethiopia.
    The UK/USA lead indoctrinate Ethiopians towards selfdestruction was widely effected and moved the younger generation nationwide. Including using the socialist revolution of the 1970’s, Ethiopians (unknowingly rather deceived) crushed their own treasures of culture, governance, religion and more.
    That all was not enough for the Westerns. Eventually, they recruited gangsters who descended from families who betrayed Ethiopia/Ethiopians. The gangsters were equipped with fictions of political rhetoric and more.
    Yes, UK/USA are the architects, trainers, consultants and sponsors of TPLF for more than half a century. Eventually they installed it as a government of Ethiopia and continued (in disguise) with their full-fledged support to it.

    Congratulations UK/USA!!Here is Ethiopia at the verge of collapse.

    But, not us but UK/USA and our alien enemies shall face total collapse. Ethiopia/Ethiopians do have the courage and the commission to defeat enemies of humanity.
    We proofed these at Adwa and after that!
    We shall again liberate ourselves and humanity at large.
    No one can plan neither avert this phenomena.
    Watch out!

  2. wow rasdejen, what kind self defeating, immoral, backward, ignorant analysis of Ethiopia and Ethiopians. finger pointing to westerners your own jungle thinking and illiterate mind and try to blame Wallelegne and other student movement pioneers is immoral and unsubstantiated. you see the whites as your masters and intelligent who can brainwash others and do self destruction but to tell the truth you can lick the white peoples ass and worship them. we, ethiopians are our own masters and take responsibility for what ever went wrong and whatever we achieved. the student movement in Ethiopia had been a teaching basket for many democratic movements across the globe. it is sad to see someone like you, an illiterate and backward trying to discredit the Ethiopian student movement. next time read and do some research work, if you have the ability, before appearing on a forum like this

  3. “The country’s most popular musician is Teddy Afro, a 41-year-old whose songs celebrate Ethiopia’s former emperors and its feudal past”
    Who is this Hassen Hussien?

  4. i do respect mr mingustu haile mariam,

    but siyaad barre was stupid.

    how on earth communist country go war against communist country?

    saudi and american project.

  5. whoever wrote this has a screwed up or has a hateful motive to hate on the former President Mengistu Hailemariam and the People of Ethiopia. it didn’t take me two paragraph to notice the write addresses Meles Zenawi as Prime Minister and Mengistu as MR. …

    Duck UOY!!

  6. only sons and daughters of killers are nostalgic .Those who benefited while millions were in hiding are nostalgic .
    Those who were studying abroad while millions were forcefully sent to war fronts are nostalgic .Those who were murdering at will are nostalgic ..

    ONLY OLD DERGUE ORCHESTRA MEMBERS ARE NOSALGIC

    Surely , victims of terror , people who were in continues bombardment see him as a greedy coward !

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