The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Book Review - Ethiopia in Mengistu's Final Years - Volume 2, To the Last Bullet

Paul B. Henze

Reviewer - Richard Snailham

Paul Henze continues his enthralling account of the days of the Derg. The first volume (reviewed in the last News File) covered the Revolution and the early story of the 1970s and 80s and this second part traces the Derg's decline as Mengistu Haile Mariam sinks deeper into his own Marxist morass.

The late 1980s and early 90s were heady days for US-Ethiopian relations: the Soviet Russian involvement in Ethiopia was virtually over (although Gorbachev continued to send diminishing amounts of war material), and despite the topmost echelons of the US government being more absorbed in the collapse of the Soviet Empire and the First Gulf War there was a significant group of Horn enthusiasts (spearheaded by Henze) who doggedly pressed the claims of the TPLF/EPRDF and the EPLF and helped in the end to bring about the EPRDF takeover of May 1991. They later expressed their gratitude for Henze's unwavering endorsement of them: "our most critical supporter" they called him. He backed the right horses.

Henze shows up all this by scouring his diaries, in which it seems he recorded every meeting, conference, phone call, lunch, dinner, cocktail party, interview or conversation in any respect pertinent to Ethiopia, and by editing these entries for publication. The result is not chronological: first come his travels within Ethiopia with all his shrewd observations on the economic, political and social state of things; then two important interviews - with Mengistu and Meles Zenawi before he came to power; and later, more recorded talk between Henze and either Ethiopians or other Americans about the political implications of the slow but successful attrition of the Derg by the insurgents.

It all had the painful inevitability of a Shakespearean tragedy: support for Mengistu gradually fell away - the more generals he shot the more people became disenchanted; the rebel forces inched steadily southwards, disdaining until the very last moment to actually take Asmara, Gondar, Bahar Dar, Dessie and Addis Ababa because of the hassle of administering them but dominating all the country in between. It's a thrilling story and the drama of it comes out in Henze's regular and persistent questioning of people. He is a relentless prober and talker and a good judge of men: his assessment of Isaias Afewerki and the EPLF in 1989 and 1990 before the independence of Eritrea was remarkably astute in the light of what has happened in that benighted country since 1993.

Faults? Sometimes Henze gets a bit bogged down in statistics - often of the "quintals of wheat per hectare" sort. It reminded me of all the unmemorable figures I and my group used to scribble down in Chinese communes when I first started leading tours there in 1978. A touch of more stringent editing might have helped. Also there are some acronyms in the glossary, but not all.

Ethiopia in Megistu's Final Years - Volume 2, To the Last Bullet by Paul B. Henze, published by Shama Books, Addis Ababa, 2007.

First Published in News File Winter 2008

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