Book Review: Mesekerenet from the Authorities
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.