2. Telegram From the Embassy in Ethiopia to the Department of State1
764. Subj: The New Ethiopian Government—An Analysis.
Summary: Now that Mengistu has openly taken over PMAC reins, his first tasks will be to reconstitute Dirg2 more nearly in accord with his own wishes and to implement his obvious desire for more drastic measures against Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP). Although Addis Ababa is calm for moment, new wave of arrests and violence is quite possible before long. At same time, Embassy does not anticipate radical policy departures from existing revolutionary program, despite Mengistu’s indications that pace will be accelerated. In foreign policy field, EPMG likely to seek Black African support for Eritrean territorial integrity. For moment, EPMG also soft-pedaling its differences with Somalia for reasons which, though not yet clear, may be related to greater Soviet involvement in Ethiopian domestic and international affairs. End summary.
1. After last week’s purge,3 it seems clear that Mengistu is riding higher than ever before. If there is any leading figure who could form new pole of opposition to him remaining within Dirg, he is not yet apparent to this Embassy. Mengistu’s first order of business is to put Dirg back together and fill in gaps, most prominent of which is that of Chief of State. PMAC meeting scheduled for Feb 7 probably grappled with that very problem. From what we know of his past preferences, it is not at all certain that he will decide to assume PMAC chairman role himself. In that respect Teferi Bante served useful purpose in relieving him of ceremonial duties and public exposure to those (like Western envoys) Mengistu did not particularly want to see. Thus a new titular head of state makes much sense. In any event, what Mengistu decides is certain at this point to be rubber-stamped by remainder of PMAC, since open disagreement has proven clearly unhealthy.
2. While Dirg top ranks have been decimated in last days, and death of POMOA Vice-Chairman Senaye Likke also no doubt gladdened [Page 3] EPRP hearts, EPRP in long run has most to lose from shake-up. Those in PMAC favoring accommodation with EPRP are gone, and Mengistu will surely launch strong crackdown aimed at hard EPRP core possibly sweeping up in process many non-affiliated sympathizers of EPRP goals and some innocent bystanders. On other hand, some were already counting EPRP out late last fall, only to see resurgence over past ten days of EPRP-inspired assassinations, anti-government incidents, and leaflet distribution. Such activities are bound to continue, and Mengistu must realize that, after his actions of past week he is more a marked man than ever, with Haile Fida also high on most wanted list, and not only in eyes of their enemies in EPRP. At a time when summary justice is being dealt out, however, clandestine activity likely to decline for next week or so, while both sides devise new strategies.
3. Some observers view purge in terms of hardliner versus moderate struggle. We have no evidence that leads us to believe that seven killed were any less dedicated than those remaining to carrying out national democratic revolution program, although in proposing one more attempt to bring EPRP back into fold, they may have been casting about for more pragmatic solutions to current Dirg problems. Purge may also have removed some of brakes on decision-making process, but we doubt that EPMG course will be radically changed as result. Mengistu’s first public statements imply that pace of revolution to accelerate, but we do not see national political party emerging any faster for example, and EPMG has no greater means this week than last to step up offensive against its military enemies, despite its brave talk about arming masses and tributes to men in uniform. One likelihood is that Politburo will regain influence it appeared to have lost as result Dec 29 government restructure.4 There are also reports that purge may result in thinning of ranks in Cabinet ministries and elsewhere in bureaucracy, but so far only arrests that seem fairly certain are those of Tesfaye Tadessa, Permanent Secretary in Ministry of Information, and Teferra Shawel, Press Chief at Foreign Ministry, whose crime appears to have been their participation in drafting of Teferi Bante Jan 29 speech, which soft-pedaled EPRP.5
4. Future role of Second Vice-Chairman Atnafu Abate is likewise not clear. Rumors have always abounded of strong animosity between him and Mengistu. Atnafu is considered a potentially dangerous opponent, but he is not known as ambitious man, and he has served useful purpose of organizing peasants’ militia throughout country, a program [Page 4] which appears to figure largely in Mengistu’s thinking on rallying country to oppose enemies of revolution. Fact Atnafu is still alive and going about normal activities indicates that he is obviously not considered in same threatening category as those purged. His presence may thus provide some vestige of respectability to Mengistu’s new government, so long as he toes line.
5. Foreign policy references in Mengistu’s speech6 lead us to believe that he will actively seek Black African solidarity on territorial integrity issue in Eritrea and press Arab conspiracy charges even more actively than heretofore. Mengistu’s statement that “except for PDRY, Mother Ethiopia does not have a single revolutionary friend in the region” adopts belligerent stance towards all neighboring countries, including Kenya. This stance, coupled with OAU site problem and EPMG’s failure to tend to its fences with Sub-Saharan Africa in general, would tend to weaken Ethiopia’s negotiating position. It is also not clear why both Mengistu in his Feb 4 speech and media since have almost entirely eliminated derogatory reference to Somalia and Siad Barre. While this may simply mean recognition on Mengistu’s part that Ethiopia has enough immediate troubles in country and to north, without picking yet another fight with Somalia, this aspect nevertheless bears watching, given growing indications that Soviets may have decided to try to play more active role in Ethiopia without disrupting their close ongoing relationship with Somalia. Some Addis observers are already speculating that apparent downplay of relations with Somalia indicates Soviets are doing just that.
6. Craven procession of Soviet, Cuban, and other East European Ambassadors to praise Mengistu’s actions and offer support for rump government indicates greater degree of commitment by SovBloc to Mengistu one-man show than to collective leadership of past. Ambassadors may also have been in hurry to dispel any suspicions lurking in Mengistu’s mind that they may have had close past contacts with one or another of seven executed PMAC leaders. Although chances of PMAC under Mengistu surviving seem at least questionable, Sovs may have decided that his is kind of government they would like to see in this country and that their support is needed at this juncture if it is to have a chance. On other hand week’s events will be viewed in Arab world as graphic confirmation of growing Soviet involvement in, and impetus behind, Ethiopian policy, thereby enhancing Arab resolve to salvage at least an independent Eritrea from an increasingly hostile and pro-Soviet Ethiopia. From this perspective it is surprising that Soviet Union appears to be willing to risk taking on practically entire [Page 5] Arab world on an issue whose rewards in terms of overall Soviet policy in Horn of Africa are not all that obvious.
7. Recent political events have coincided with relative lull in military operations throughout country. Heavy fighting apparently continues around Elaberet agricultural estates in Eritrea (Asmara 0084),7 and 15th Battalion at Nacfa is as beleaguered as ever, but situation along Sudan border has not worsened since loss of Humera to EDU and Om Hager to ELF in January. Incentives for renewed military push on all dissident fronts will probably be greater than ever, however, if purge is perceived as weakening Dirg and having further adverse effect on morale of Ethiopian armed forces.
- Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770045–0693. Confidential; Priority. Sent for information to Asmara, Cairo, Jidda, Khartoum, Mogadiscio, Moscow, Nairobi, and Sana.↩
- The Derg, which means “the committee” in Amharic, refers to the Provisional Military Administrative Council (PMAC), the group that ruled Ethiopia.↩
- In telegram 656 from Addis Ababa, February 3, the Embassy reported on the official announcement of the deaths of leading PMAC members, including PMAC Chairman Teferi Bante, which left Mengistu Haile Mariam solely in charge of Ethiopia. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770039–0586)↩
- A December 29 proclamation defined the official responsibilities of the PMAC and the Council of Ministers. (Telegram 12642 from Addis Ababa, December 30, 1976; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D760476–0354)↩
- In telegram 535 from Addis Ababa, January 30, the Embassy reported on Teferi Bante’s speech. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770058–0828)↩
- In telegram 686 from Addis Ababa, February 4, the Embassy reported on Mengistu’s speech to rally the Ethiopian public for support for national unity. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770041–0078)↩
- In telegram 84 from Asmara, February 3, the Consulate reported on the status of the Eritrean insurgency. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770039–0097)↩