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Book Review: Mesekerenet from the Authorities

misekerenet
November 17, 2009

The tile of the book is “Mesekerent Kebaleseltanatu Andebet that could be translated in to Testimonies from the authorities”. The authorities include the military derge that overthrew King Haile-Selasse and the civilians who joined the army to rule the country for 17 years. 

“Mesekerenet kebaleseltanatu andebet” is the only thing that comes closer to the personal accounts of the ruling derge, Workers Party of Ethiopia (WPE) officials, and the army leaders. Captain Tesfaye Reste claims to have interviewed the main players of the derge era such as Capitan Fikreselasse Wegderes (the second man to Col. Mengistu), Col. Tesfaye Weldeselasse (the head of security), Captain Legesse Asfaw (derge, WPE CC and governor of Tigray), Col. Debela Dinsa (vise president), Shemeles Mazengia ( the ideologue behind the WPE), Yusuf Ahemed (vice president), Dr. Alemu Abebe (vice president), General Webeshet Dessie (commander of second army) and many more officials who are serving prison terms after the collapse of the military regime.

The book has 348 pages and very easy to read but it is densely packed in smaller fonts which makes it less attractive. However what it lacks in presentation is compensated with the amount of first hand accounts it presents. The choices of Amharic words are concise, informative, and easy to understand.

Though Captain Tesfaye was not among the 120 derge members, he was a police investigator and an intelligent officer who served the regime until its collapse. He was arrested with the derge officials, which gave him the opportunity to spend time, interview the officials, compile and write this book.

I feel it is a must read book for those who want to re-visit our past and learn how things were done, how the King was overthrown, how General Aman Andom was killed, who killed him, who murdered the 84 years old King and the circumstances that lead to the summary execution of the King’s 59 highest government officials. The book also addressed the detail planning of the 1989 attempted coup d’etat by almost all the Generals and how their over confidence lead to its tragic ends. The book is full of first hand information from the inception of the derge to the last day of Colonel Mengistu Haile-Mariam in power.

By and large there are many important national issues objectively raised in the book but I would be focusing on the following points.

1. Who killed who, how and why?

The author has managed to interview various people who knew how the King was dethroned, what the King said when he was told to step down, why the VW was chosen to transport the King to prison, who killed the King, when and how; who dug the ground for the King’s burial, where the King was buried, etc.

The most troubling information is the manner and the reason behind the killings of the King’s 60 higher officials. It seems clear from the book that, but not for the killing of General Aman Andom, the other 59 officials may have not been killed on the day they were killed.

To put a long story short, General Aman resigned and went home. Fearing the repercussion, Colonel Mengistu sent others to General Aman’s home to make him change his mind. The general said no.

Colonel Mengistu then ordered the soldiers to kill the general. The soldiers were unwilling to kill one of their heroes and were unwilling to execute the order. Lastly, Colonel Daniel Asfaw with few of his soldiers went to kill the general and drove the tank over the general’s home. Before his death, the general killed few of Col. Daniel’s soldiers while resisting surrender.

At this time, while Colonel Mengistu was chairing a meeting, he was whispered the death of General Aman by Colonel Daniel Asfaw. As if nothing happened, Colonel Mengistu raised the agenda of the 60’s out of a blue moon and made the other unsuspecting derg members to decide the fate of the 59 Ethiopians. In short, the 59 Ethiopians were murdered to cover the killing of General Aman by Colonel Mengistu.

This was how the Ethiopian giants who championed the cause of Ethiopia for so long, the likes of Dr Aklilu Habtewold, slaughtered by the military thugs in their old ages. This barbaric act will remain a scar to our conscience forever.

Details of the killing of General Teferi Benti also reveals a blood-trusty partnership between Colonel Daniel Asfaw and Colonel Mengistu. Fortunately/unfortunately the day General Teferi was killed also became the last day for Colonel Daniel Asfaw and Dr Senai.

2. Problems within the army:

After addressing all the power struggle and cannibalism that engulfed the self-proclaimed  Ethiopian revolutionary leaders, the author went on to give some insightful clues how the army was driven in to collapse.

Though, for outsiders, the army was portrayed as a big competent force, Captain Tesfaye brought so many evidence to highlight the division and fierce animosity between officers from former Imperial Guard and others; between the elites graduates of Harrar academy and Holeta cadets; between the 2nd and the 3rd Revolutionary Armies, between those who supported and aborted the coup, between political commissars and military strategists and between Mengistu’s security guys and professional soldiers.

There was deep-rooted corruption, political promotion of incompetent yet loyal officers to the rank of general, lack of discipline and rigorous training of the army as expressly argued by General Tariku. The political cadres and the security officials used to have more say and control on the planning and execution of war strategies over and above the experienced and battle-hardened generals.

To make matter worse, the author states that, Colonel Mengistu’s fierce opposition to find a political solution to the war coupled with his insatiable desire to make the army subservient to his personal cult lead to frustration and corruption that went to the level of an open bid auction of the army to EPLF and TPLF by some generals. 

I found the passing of war secrets to EPLF and TPLF by army generals on bribe and the subsequent slaughtering of the army as an act of treason and an unforgivable crime committed against the army and the Ethiopian nation.

3. The 1989 Coup d’état:

The book is very detailed on the unsuccessful May coup d’état. After reading this chapter, one just wonders if it can strictly be called a coup d’état in the traditional sense. There was huge consensus among the Generals which lead to ignoring the basic precautionary measures a coup demands.

Apart from Colonel Mengistu, every other official seems to be a party to the coup. The author says, even the Americans and the Russians were aware of it and probably briefed in advance.  The main man behind the plot seems General Fanta Belay.

The most amazing thing is that, as soon as Colonel Mengistu left the country, while the plotters were having a meeting at Ministry of Defence head office, a parallel meeting comprising security personnel and its civilian commandos was called and chaired at the same time by the ex-interior minister Colonel Tesfaye Woldesellasie at his office.

Colonel Tesfaye Woldesellasie, immediately after briefing and giving instruction to his security personnel, summoned General Mengistu Gemechu, head of the palace army (keleb tor) with full uniform at his office. Then after, Colonel Tesfaye called, chaired a meeting of key derg officials and tried to persuade the officials to send the keleb tor to force the plotters to surrender.

Against the wish of Colonel Tesfaye and most probably to enable the plotters to succeed, the officials won the argument to send elders to negotiate with the plotters. Then, a disaster happened when one of the plotters naively told the elders to forget the negotiation and hinted that they would even be brought to justice for the crime they committed.

When the elders informed the key officials about the naïve remark of one of the plotters, there was a swift rally behind Colonel Tesfaye to crush the plotters!

The book states that Colonel Tesfaye was aware of the coup all along and there is a strong evidence to suggest that he was a party to it at some stage. The author also says General Fanta Belay has told Col. Mengistu that his security man, Col Tesfaye, too was part of the plan when Col. Mengistu visited him in prison. No wonder General Fanta was alone transferred to the notorious and high security central prison and killed on allegation of attempt to escape.

The book leaves a big question as to why General Fanta was murdered? Did Colonel Tesfaye, the spymaster, got him killed to protect himself?

4. On EPRP and Meison:

When it comes to addressing the role of EPRP and Meison, the book also makes an interesting revelation like how it was impossible for the derg to dismantle EPRP’s secret structure without Meison’s active support. As the EPRP leadership was totally unknown to the derg, and even at the time of the heightened search, Dr Tesfaye Debesay (one of EPRP’s leaders) was able to drive freely unspotted at the heart of Addis.

It took the likes of Dr Adanech (one of Meison’s leaders) to accidentally bump into Dr Tesfaye at the traffic light in Addis and inform the near by officials to follow him to a building where he committed suicide.  Even after his death the killers had to bring Dr Negede Gobeze of Meison to formally identify the body.

Obviously the book is highly critical of the EPRP and Meison. It brings some of the crimes committed by EPRP leaders to the forefront. For example, it details how Ato Getachew Maru, one of the then EPRP leaders, was murdered by EPRP and how his body was dismembered and put in sacks  and placed in a boot of a car to be dumped in a quite and remote place. Captain Tesfaye states that, Ato Kiflu Tadesse was nearly caught by the derg while dumping Ato Getachew’s inhumanely dismembered body.

Interestingly the book also begs us to raise very fundamental questions: what was the motive of the Algerian government to help EPRP? Why did the Ethiopian Airlines hijackers chose to go Algeria? Was it ideology, Islam, etc? Was there collusion with some of the West’s spies as alleged in the book?

Lastly, the book is by and large clear, well structured, informative, interesting, and easy to read and understand. Most of all, it is an account of the derge officials the author somehow managed to talk to, discuss with and interview both inside and outside prison.

There are also some candid admissions by the derge officials. For example, some of the derge officials admitted that they had lost the legitimacy and support of the majority of the people when they indulge in killing spree in the early days of the revolution and it was a miracle for most of them that they ruled the country for 17 years.

The down side of the book is that the author seems loosing his objectivity and rationality when addressing the topics of EPRP and Meison probably for obvious reason. He seems dictated by his emotions so much so that the kind of words he used to describe EPRP and Meison is highly inappropriate; thus, the book is unbalanced on this issue. Nevertheless, the public too has the right to listen to the derge’s side of the story.

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17 comments on “Book Review: Mesekerenet from the Authorities

  1. Good that we get firsthand information about those troubled times, and the era of woyanes are even worse in comparison. And that cursed generation,the ones who participated in the student movement of the 60 ies and 70 ies, is to blame for both the derg and the woyane era.They were worshippers of foreign ideologies(marx’s communism and stalin’s ethnic policy) and brought enormous death,suffering and destruction to the country (hopefully they will apologize one day) and were not as smart as the generation before them whose desire was to technologically and economically develop Ethiopia.
    We also have to remind the role of foreign players, for example the USA. Would the Derg have decided for the communist or socialist path if the USA had not encouraged or ordered Somalia to invade Ethiopia in 1977 and at the same time had not blocked arms delivery that Ethiopia had paid for ?
    Did the USA do that with the intention to drive Ethiopia to the communist bloc ? And why ? The USA might have thought that that way it could easily fight Ethiopia,support rebel groups and disintegrate the country.
    Would be nice to find answer to such questions.

    peace

  2. In order to look forward you must see the past I hope we will learn from the past and move to the Future with out repeating the same mistake again and again.

  3. It was long overdue to get such information. However, some of the information is just fiction.

    The truth only known by the key playrs. who is the key playrs time will tell.

  4. This is not a review but an endorsement. The task of reviewing as distorted as our politics to fit our biases. The self-appointed author who was in the thick of Derge’s crimes and atrocities now being applauded by Ethiofacts reviewer(?) as historically accurate testmony. It is not surprssising for ex-intelligent officer to write his version of history. what is amazing is the gross diregard of fact checking by the web page which claims as Ethiofact..you damaged your credibility maybe irreparably..for you are politically motivated..Facts for you are only when they fit your predetermined opinions.Indeed birds if feathers fly together.

  5. I don’t agree with Tito. Although I haven’t read the book, book reviewers are expected to tell just what the book tries to show its readers. If the book reviewer has better information about the subject of the book, he can present his counter argument. But here what I see in the book review is what the book is all about and a summary of its contents. The fact that the reviewer did not tell us his counter argument or opposing view is probably he doesn’t belong to the faction group, i.e. the derg/Meison and EPRP.

  6. How i wished the writer rather used his time to inform us the Human Rights abuse of the TPLF. Eye yem sidela new!

  7. I am very happy that Ethiopians are strating writing their side of the story nowadays. It is a good move. It does not matter to me whether we agree with the book or not. Let them write their version of the story. They should be encouraged.

    I also thank the writer for bringing the book to our attention.

    As i very much liked the book review, I will certainly look for the book and read it.

    Thank you

  8. Much is known about derge’s brutality. But, the book shades some light that EPRP and Meison were as brutal as the brutal derge.

  9. How could the writer in his right mind put the victim (EPRP) at the same level with the persecutors ( derge and Meison ) ? It is pathetic!!

  10. I repet what tassew said at the top of the paje::Birds of the same feather flock together . If you admire this book you were part of the killing machine

  11. The lukewarm endorsement is irreesponsible of the book by a war-crimnal and membert of the inner sanctum of the Dergue/Fascist intelligence(a la Gestapo) eerily resmbles the flurrey of revisionist and Neo-Nazi books in the aftermath of the defeat and wholsome exposition of the Nazi’s and the Third Reich”s crimes against humanity and the holocust.The indeffernce exibited by the reviewer and endorsment of the book to be read so that readers can glean to a new secert information heretofore unknown or yet undiscovered, says a lot about our time and the generation that come of age with in the last days of derge and Woyan/TPLF take over of state power. Again, it is de ja vous ..! VICTORS WRITE THEIR STORIES(?)..The said book was written in full association of the Woyane operatives and former Derge members. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” is the mantra..EPRP..IS THE MAIN TARGET. Derge/Menfistu until its last breadth employed everty available resourse to elimnate EPRP. Now in its foot steps Woyane/Melse is dion the same thing. The cheersleadres on the sideline and some who are among us masqurading as oppostion help by fanning the demonizing. This is one of them
    Until the day of reckoning this falsehood and red-teror denaial will continue unabted. In the mean time we will record who says what who stands for justice and so on..
    GOD BLESS ETHIOPIA!!

  12. Abet-Wushettu:

    Can you deal issues? If you think the book is wrong any where, come up with your own facts. Otherwise,it is pointless to write unrelated thing.

  13. communism saygebachew begulbet endigeban liyaderegu yemokeru sewoch ……..

    min tarik alachew yemitsaf?? kegidiya beker!!!!

  14. I haven’t read the book, but Adanech, referred to as a MEISON leader is in fact Adanech Hailemichael, an EPRP activist and Kiflu Tadesse’s girlfriend/wife. So much for MEISON’s role in the killing of Tesfaye Debessai.

  15. I’ve not read the book either,but we now learn that the killers of Dr.Tesfay Debesay were Kiflu and Adanesh Fessehaye. Above Labader tells us it was Adanesh Hailemichael, but somewhere we find it was Adanesh Fissehaye. Hopefully day one we’ll find the truth.

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