2 pt1 Department of State Dispatch 457 (1991)
Political Crisis in Ethiopia

handle is hein.journals/dsptch2 and id is 509 raw text is: Ethiopia

Political Crisis in Ethiopia
Herman J. Cohen, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs
Statement before the Subcommittee on African Affairs of the House Foreign
Affairs Committee, Washington, DC, June 18, 1991

Swelcome the opportunity to appear
before you today to discuss the
recent political developments in
Ethiopia. In the space of one remark-
able week in May, Sub-Saharan
Africa's second most populus country
experienced a watershed in its history.
A dictatorship that had lasted 14 years
was overthrown. Organized fighting
stopped for the first time in 30 years.
These events leave Ethiopia poised
at a historic crossroads. In order to
discuss where the future leads, I would
like to briefly review the events that
have brought us to this point.
The signs of denouement came in
1988. Already at that time, Ethiopia's
economy had been drained by the
Mengistu regime's failed Marxist
policies and by its costly separate wars
against the Eritrean and Tigrayan
insurgents. Repeated droughts and
internal disruption left millions of
people dependent on international
charity for survival. And the Soviets
had started to make it clear that they
were unwilling to continue funding
endless conflict.
In the spring of 1988, and again in
1989, the Mengistu regime suffered a
series of devastating military defeats at
the hands of the insurgents. By 1989,
all of the Province of Tigray, as well as
most of Eritrea was, irretrievably, in
rebel hands. In May 1989, there was an
attempted coup that demonstrated the
depth of unhappiness with the regime.
Addis Ababa's response was to
undertake a series of political acts that
gave the appearance of change and
progress, without committing to real
reforms. The government also ac-
cepted former President [Jimmy]
Carter's offer to serve as a mediator in
the Eritrean conflict. But at the table,
government negotiators showed little
flexibility and offered no significant
concessions. They allowed the talks to

founder on procedural issues. Negotia-
tions with the Tigrayans under Italian
auspices, likewise, never emerged from
procedural questions.
Through all of this period, the
United States used its channels of
communication to all parties for the
purpose of lending our support to
reconciliation. We stressed to all sides
that there was no military solution to
Ethiopia's problems-that only a
negotiated political solution would
bring a durable peace. The Soviets
joined us in that approach.
In the summer of 1990, at the
request of both Addis and the Eritrean
People's Liberation Front (EPLF), the
United States began to explore
whether there was a substantive basis
for further talks between the govern-
ment and the Eritreans. We chaired
two meetings, which, at least, had the
merit of getting into matters of sub-
stance. But both sides put familiar
positions on the table concerning
federalism and self-determination.
Neither showed a disposition to
As the second round of talks was
taking place, events on the ground took
over. In February of this year, a series
of new offensives by the Eritrean
People's Revolutionary Democratic
Front (EPRDF) removed three more
provinces from government control,
and the front began to close in on Addis
itself. Mengistu's government clearly
was powerless to reverse the encroach-
ing tide, or even hold it off more than
briefly. The question was no longer
whether the government would survive
but whether there [would) be a bloody
battle for the capital before the regime
The government admitted as much
in an April statement that called for a
round-table on transitional arrange-
ments, while at the same time appeal-
ing for new mobilization against the

Government officials urged the
United States to help facilitate a
peaceful transition. They affirmed a
keen desire to include rebel groups and
others in a restructured regime.
The United States agreed with this
goal and, after meeting with the EPLF
and EPRDF rebel groups in Khartoum,
invited the government and the groups
to a meeting in London to help bring
about the peaceful transition that all
sides claimed to want. Our goal was to
replace war with peace and find a path
forward to a more broadly based and
democratic political system. We sought
a transitional mechanism that could
produce an interim government made
up of all Ethiopian parties.
Events in late May quickened. On
May 21, Mengistu fled Ethiopia, and a
final unraveling began. By May 27, the
day before the London meeting
formally was to begin, the Ethiopian
government's forces had lost their
ability to offer any organized opposi-
tion, and the only thing keeping the
EPRDF out of the capital was the
insurgents' own decision to hold back
while the London talks were going on.
On the 27th, acting President
Tesfaye Gebre-Kidan told us the
Ethiopian army had virtually disinte-
grated and that he and senior govern-
ment officials were extremely con-
cerned about their ability to provide for
law and order. The acting president
said that the government intended to
broadcast a call for a unilateral cease-
fire and an appeal to the citizens of
Addis to accept the EPRDF when they
entered the capital.
The EPRDF decided to move into
the city that night. The United States
strongly agreed with that decision,
because the EPRDF was now left as
the only disciplined force capable of
keeping order in the capital. At that
point, the Addis regime effectively
ceased to exist, and their delegation in
London dropped out of the talks.
The final part of the London
meeting began with the United States
no longer in a mediation role between
the government and the insurgents but
in a de facto advisory role for the three
opposition groups about to inherit all
military and political power. Our
London meeting, thus, ended without
the appointment of a transitional
government as we had envisaged. But

June 24, iggi                                   US Department of State Dispatch                                         457

US Department of State Dispatch


June 24, 1991

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