What is the Mengistu Era?
The ensuing regime suffered several coups, uprisings, wide-scale drought, and a huge refugee problem. In 1977, the Ogaden War resulted in Somalia capturing part of the Ogaden region. Ethiopia recovered it after receiving massive military aid from the USSR, Cuba, South Yemen, East Germany and North Korea. This included around 15,000 Cuban combat troops.
Hundreds of thousands were killed as a result of the Red Terror, forced deportations, or from the use of hunger as a weapon under Mengistu's rule. The Red Terror was carried out in response to what the government termed "White Terror", supposedly a chain of violent events, assassinations and killings carried out by the opposition.
In 2006, after a trial that lasted 12 years, Ethiopia's Federal High Court in Addis Ababa found Mengistu guilty in absentia of genocide. Numerous other top leaders of his were also found guilty of war crimes. He and others who had fled the country were tried and sentenced in absentia. Numerous former officials received the death sentence and tens of others spent the next 20 years in jail, before being pardoned from life sentences.
In the beginning of the 1980s, a series of famines hit Ethiopia that affected around 8 million people, resulting in 1 million dead. Insurrections against Communist rule sprang up, particularly in the northern regions of Tigray and Eritrea. In 1989, the Tigrayan Peoples' Liberation Front (TPLF) merged with other ethnically based opposition movements to form the coalition known as the Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). Concurrently the Soviet Union began to retreat from building world communism under Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika policies, marking a dramatic reduction in aid to Ethiopia from Socialist Bloc countries. This resulted in more economic hardship and the collapse of the military in the face of determined onslaughts by guerrilla forces in the north. The collapse of communism in general, and in Eastern Europe during the Revolutions of 1989, coincided with the Soviet Union stopping aid to Ethiopia altogether in 1990. The strategic outlook for Mengistu quickly deteriorated.
In May 1991, EPRDF forces advanced on Addis Ababa and the Soviet Union did not intervene to save the government side. Mengistu fled the country to asylum in Zimbabwe, where he still resides. The Transitional Government of Ethiopia, composed of an 87-member Council of Representatives and guided by a national charter that functioned as a transitional constitution, was set up. In June 1992, the Oromo Liberation Front withdrew from the government; in March 1993, members of the Southern Ethiopia Peoples' Democratic Coalition also left the government. In 1994, a new constitution was written that formed a bicameral legislature and a judicial system. The first formally multi-party election took place in May 1995, in which Meles Zenawi was elected the Prime Minister and Negasso Gidada was elected President.
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