Table of Contents.....Next Section.....Prev SectionEthiopia: Growth of Secessionist Threats ~a HREF="/et_00_00.html#et_01_06"

Growth of Secessionist Threats

Outside the Amhara-Tigray heartland, the two areas posing the most consistent problems for Ethiopia's rulers were Eritrea and the largely Somali-occupied Ogaden and adjacent regions.

Ethiopia: The Liberation Struggle in Eritrea ~a HREF="/et_00_00.html#et_01_06"

The Liberation Struggle in Eritrea

Eritrea had been placed under British military administration in 1941 after the Italian surrender. In keeping with a 1950 decision of the UN General Assembly, British military administration ended in September 1952 and was replaced by a new autonomous Eritrean government in federal union with Ethiopia. Federation with the former Italian colony restored an unhindered maritime frontier to the country. The new arrangement also enabled the country to gain limited control of a territory that, at least in its inland areas, was more advanced politically and economically.

The Four Power Inquiry Commission established by the World War II Allies (Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States) had failed to agree in its September 1948 report on a future course for Eritrea. Several countries had displayed an active interest in the area. In the immediate postwar years, Italy had requested that Eritrea be returned as a colony or as a trusteeship. This bid was supported initially by the Soviet Union, which anticipated a communist victory at the Italian polls. The Arab states, seeing Eritrea and its large Muslim population as an extension of the Arab world, sought the establishment of an independent state. Some Britons favored a division of the territory, with the Christian areas and the coast from Mitsiwa southward going to Ethiopia and the northwest area going to Sudan.

A UN commission, which arrived in Eritrea in February 1950, eventually approved a plan involving some form of association with Ethiopia. In December the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution affirming the commission's plan, with the provision that Britain, the administering power, should facilitate the UN efforts and depart from the colony no later than September 15, 1952. Faced with this constraint, the British administration held elections on March 16, 1952, for a Representative Assembly of sixty-eight members. This body, made up equally of Christians and Muslims, accepted the draft constitution advanced by the UN commissioner on July 10. The constitution was ratified by the emperor on September 11, and the Representative Assembly, by prearrangement, was transformed into the Eritrean Assembly three days before the federation was proclaimed.

The UN General Assembly resolution of September 15, 1952, adopted by a vote of forty-seven to ten, provided that Eritrea should be linked to Ethiopia through a loose federal structure under the emperor's sovereignty but with a form and organization of internal self-government. The federal government, which for all intents and purposes was the existing imperial government, was to control foreign affairs, defense, foreign and interstate commerce, transportation, and finance. Control over domestic affairs (including police, local administration, and taxation to meet its own budget) was to be exercised by an elected Eritrean assembly on the parliamentary model. The state was to have its own administrative and judicial structure and its own flag.

Almost from the start of federation, the emperor's representative undercut the territory's separate status under the federal system. In August 1955, Tedla Bairu, an Eritrean who was the chief executive elected by the assembly, resigned under pressure from the emperor, who replaced Tedla with his own nominee. He made Amharic the official language in place of Arabic and Tigrinya, terminated the use of the Eritrean flag, and moved many businesses out of Eritrea. In addition, the central government proscribed all political parties, imposed censorship, gave the top administrative positions to Amhara, and abandoned the principle of parity between Christian and Muslim officials. In November 1962, the Eritrean Assembly, many of whose members had been accused of accepting bribes, voted unanimously to change Eritrea's status to that of a province of Ethiopia. Following his appointment of the arch- conservative Ras Asrate Kasa as governor general, the emperor was accused of "refeudalizing" the territory.

The extinction of the federation consolidated internal and external opposition to union (see The Eritrean Movement, ch. 4; The Eritreans, ch. 5). Four years earlier, in 1958, a number of Eritrean exiles had founded the Eritrean Liberation Movement (ELM) in Cairo, under Hamid Idris Awate's leadership. This organization, however, soon was neutralized. A new faction, the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF), emerged in 1960. Initially a Muslim movement, the ELF was nationalist rather than Marxist and received Iraqi and Syrian support. As urban Christians joined, the ELF became more radical and anticapitalist. Beginning in 1961, the ELF turned to armed struggle and by 1966 challenged imperial forces throughout Eritrea.

The rapid growth of the ELF also created internal divisions between urban and rural elements, socialists and nationalists, and Christians and Muslims. Although these divisions did not take any clear form, they were magnified as the ELF extended its operations and won international publicity. In June 1970, Osman Salah Sabbe, former head of the Muslim League, broke away from the ELF and formed the Popular Liberation Forces (PLF), which led directly to the founding of the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) in early 1972. Both organizations initially attracted a large number of urban, intellectual, and leftist Christian youths and projected a strong socialist and nationalist image. By 1975 the EPLF had more than 10,000 members in the field. However, the growth of the EPLF was also accompanied by an intensification of internecine Eritrean conflict, particularly between 1972 and 1974, when casualties were well over 1,200. In 1976 Osman broke with the EPLF and formed the Eritrean Liberation Front-Popular Liberation Front (ELF-PLF), a division that reflected differences between combatants in Eritrea and representatives abroad as well as personal rivalries and basic ideological differences, factors important in earlier splits within the Eritrean separatist movement.

Encouraged by the imperial regime's collapse and attendant confusion, the guerrillas extended their control over the whole region by 1977. Ethiopian forces were largely confined to urban centers and controlled the major roads only by day.

Ethiopia: Discontent in Tigray ~a HREF="/et_00_00.html#et_01_06"

Discontent in Tigray

Overt dissidence in Tigray during Haile Selassie's reign centered on the 1943 resistance to imperial rule known as the Weyane. The movement took advantage of popular discontent against Amhara rule but was primarily a localized resistance to imperial rule that depended on three main sources of support. These were the semipastoralists of eastern Tigray, including the Azebo and Raya, who believed their traditional Oromo social structure to be threatened; the local Tigray nobility, who perceived their position to be endangered by the central government's growth; and the peasantry, who felt victimized by government officials and their militias.

The course of the Weyane was relatively brief, lasting from May 22 to October 14, 1943. Although the rebels made some initial gains, the imperial forces, supported by British aircraft, soon took the offensive. Poor military leadership, combined with disagreements among the rebel leaders, detracted from the effectiveness of their efforts. After the fall of Mekele, capital of Tigray, on October 14, 1943, practically all organized resistance collapsed. The government exiled or imprisoned the leaders of the revolt. The emperor took reprisals against peasants suspected of supporting the Weyane.

Although a military resolution of the Weyane restored imperial authority to Tigray, the harsh measures used by the Ethiopian military to do so created resentment of imperial rule in many quarters. This resentment, coupled with a long- standing feeling that Shewan Amhara rule was of an upstart nature, lasted through the end of Haile Selassie's reign. After Haile Selassie's demise in 1974, separatist feelings again emerged throughout Tigray.

Ethiopia: The Ogaden and the Haud ~a HREF="/et_00_00.html#et_01_06"

The Ogaden and the Haud

Ethiopia's entry into the Somali region in modern times dated from Menelik's conquest of Harer in the late 1890s, the emperor basing his actions on old claims of Ethiopian sovereignty. In 1945 Haile Selassie, fearing the possibility of British support for a separate Somali state that would include the Ogaden, claimed Italian Somaliland as a "lost province." In Italian Somaliland, the Somali Youth League (SYL) resisted this claim and in its turn demanded unification of all Somali areas, including those in Ethiopia.

After the British evacuated the Ogaden in 1948, Ethiopian officers took over administration in the city of Jijiga, at one point suppressing a demonstration led by the SYL, which the government subsequently outlawed. At the same time, Ethiopia renounced its claim to Italian Somaliland in deference to UN calls for self-determination. The Ethiopians, however, maintained that self-determination was not incompatible with eventual union.

Immediately upon the birth of the Republic of Somalia in 1960, which followed the merger of British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland, the new country proclaimed an irredentist policy. Somalia laid claim to Somali-populated regions of French Somaliland (later called the French Territory of the Afars and Issas, and Djibouti after independence in 1977), the northeastern corner of Kenya, and the Ogaden, a vast, ill-defined region occupied by Somali nomads extending southeast from Ethiopia's southern highlands that includes a separate region east of Harer known as the Haud. The uncertainty over the precise location of the frontier between Ethiopia and the former Italian possessions in Somalia further complicated these claims. Despite UN efforts to promote an agreement, none was made in the colonial or the Italian trusteeship period.

In the northeast, an Anglo-Ethiopian treaty determined the frontier's official location. However, Somalia contended that it was unfairly placed so as to exclude the herders resident in Somalia from vital seasonal grazing lands in the Haud. The British had administered the Haud as an integral part of British Somaliland, although Ethiopian sovereignty had been recognized there. After it was disbanded in the rest of Ethiopia, the British military administration continued to supervise the area from Harer eastward and did not withdraw from the Haud until 1955. Even then, the British stressed the region's importance to Somalia by requiring the Ethiopians to guarantee the Somali free access to grazing lands.

Somalia refused to recognize any pre-1960 treaties defining the Somali-Ethiopian borders because colonial governments had concluded the agreements. Despite the need for access to pasturage for local herds, the Somali government even refused to acknowledge the British treaty guaranteeing Somali grazing rights in the Haud because it would have indirectly recognized Ethiopian sovereignty over the area.

Within six months after Somali independence, military incidents occurred between Ethiopian and Somali forces along their mutual border. Confrontations escalated again in 1964, when the Ethiopian air force raided Somali villages and encampments inside the Somali border. Hostilities were ended through mediation by the OAU and Sudan. However, Somalia continued to promote irredentism by supporting the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF), which was active in the Ogaden. Claims of oil discoveries prompted the resurgence of fighting in 1973.

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