Mengistu Haile Mariam

Mengistu Haile Mariam was an Ethiopian military officer and politician who served as the country’s head of state from 1977 to 1991. He was born on May 21, 1937, in Addis Ababa and came from a middle-class family.

Mengistu began his military career in the early 1960s and quickly rose through the ranks. In 1974, he was a leader of the military coup that overthrew Emperor Haile Selassie, the ruler of Ethiopia at the time. Mengistu became the head of the military junta that took power after the coup and quickly consolidated his control over the country.

Under Mengistu’s leadership, Ethiopia saw significant political, economic, and social changes. He implemented a Marxist-Leninist ideology, which he called “scientific socialism,” and began a program of land redistribution and nationalization of industries. He also established a one-party state, with his own party, the Workers’ Party of Ethiopia, as the only legal political organization.

However, Mengistu’s leadership was characterized by human rights abuses and political repression. His government was accused of committing numerous atrocities, including the execution of tens of thousands of suspected opponents, journalists, intellectuals, and ordinary citizens. The Ethiopian Red Terror, a campaign of violence against suspected enemies of the state, was one of the most notorious aspects of his regime.

Mengistu’s regime was also marked by economic mismanagement and famine. His policies of nationalization and collectivization led to a decline in agricultural productivity, which, combined with drought, resulted in a devastating famine that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

In 1991, Mengistu’s government was overthrown by rebel forces led by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), led by Meles Zenawi. Mengistu fled Ethiopia and eventually settled in Zimbabwe, where he was granted asylum by President Robert Mugabe.

Mengistu was tried and convicted in absentia in Ethiopia in 2006 for his role in the Red Terror and sentenced to death. However, he has not been extradited to Ethiopia to serve his sentence. Today, Mengistu remains a controversial figure in Ethiopian history, with some regarding him as a hero of the revolution and others as a brutal dictator responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent people.

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