Revolution and Military Government

Ethiopia Table of Contents

In early 1974, Ethiopia entered a period of profound political, economic, and social change, frequently accompanied by violence. Confrontation between traditional and modern forces erupted and changed the political, economic, and social nature of the Ethiopian state.

Background to Revolution, 1960-74

The last fourteen years of Haile Selassie's reign witnessed growing opposition to his regime. After the suppression of the 1960 coup attempt, the emperor sought to reclaim the loyalty of coup sympathizers by stepping up reform. Much of this effort took the form of land grants to military and police officers, however, and no coherent pattern of economic and social development appeared.

In 1966 a plan emerged to confront the traditional forces through the implementation of a modern tax system. Implicit in the proposal, which required registration of all land, was the aim of destroying the power of the landed nobility. But when progressive tax proposals were submitted to parliament in the late 1960s, they were vigorously opposed by the members, all of whom were property owners. Parliament passed a tax on agricultural produce in November 1967, but in a form vastly altered from the government proposal. Even this, however, was fiercely resisted by the landed class in Gojam, and the entire province revolted. In 1969, after two years of military action, the central government withdrew its troops, discontinued enforcement of the tax, and canceled all arrears of taxation going back to 1940.

The emperor's defeat in Gojam encouraged defiance by other provincial landowners, although not on the same scale. But legislation calling for property registration and for modification of landlord-tenant relationships was more boldly resisted in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. Debate on these proposals continued until the mid-1970s.

At the same time the emperor was facing opposition to change, other forces were exerting direct or indirect pressure in favor of reform. Beginning in 1965, student demonstrations focused on the need to implement land reform and to address corruption and rising prices. Peasant disturbances, although on a small scale, were especially numerous in the southern provinces, where the imperial government had traditionally rewarded its supporters with land grants. Although it allowed labor unions to organize in 1962, the government restricted union activities. Soon, even the Confederation of Ethiopian Labor Unions (CELU) was criticized as being too subservient to the government. Faced with such a multiplicity of problems, the aging emperor increasingly left domestic issues in the care of his prime minister, Aklilu Habte Wold (appointed in 1961), and turned his attention to foreign affairs.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress