Ethiopia Crumbles

April 30, 1991

Another byproduct of the Gorbachev abandonment of Soviet imperialism outside the Soviet Union is starting to take effect. Shorn of Soviet military aid, the Marxist empire of Ethiopia is dissolving. The State Department has ordered non-essential personnel and dependents out of Addis Ababa.

Deprived of Soviet aid or foreign exchange, Ethiopia's army is seizing the available gasoline and food, so that the people starve and farmers cannot bring coffee to market. But that army is nonetheless ceasing to fight. The 30-year old Eritrean rebellion controls all Eritrea except the provincial capital of Asmara, while the 16-year-old Tigre rebellion makes impressive gains deep into the central highlands and is within 65 miles of the national capital.

The 1974 rebellion by army Marxists led by Lieut. Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam was welcomed by many for ending the anachronistic rule of Emperor Haile Selassie, but it liberated no one and exacerbated separatism. The Mengistu regime's downfall now would mean no end of Marxism. The Tigrean People's Liberation Front professes itself to be more Marxist-Leninist than the ruling crowd, which professed to have abandoned Marxism last year.

In fact, ideology means less in the Ethiopian struggle than the hegemony of the Amharic people over all others, which Colonel Mengistu's junta or "Dergue" perpetuated rather than ended. The Eritrean and Tigrean movements have been cooperating for two years, and although each is secessionist, they could find themselves in a vacuum jointly ruling the whole country.

The disintegration of a central dictatorship does not automatically bring liberty or any other blessing, as events from Afghanistan to Iraq to the Soviet Union have made brutally clear. Up to six million of Ethiopia's 50 million people face severe hunger this year caused by war as much as by drought. Ethiopia, like Iraq, is crumbling, and faces a possible blood bath at the center before a new order may be discerned.

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