Revolution and Military Government
In early 1974, Ethiopia entered a period of profound
political, economic, and social change, frequently
accompanied by violence. Confrontation between traditional
and modern forces erupted and changed the political,
economic, and social nature of the Ethiopian state.
Background to Revolution, 1960-74
The last fourteen years of Haile Selassie's reign witnessed
growing opposition to his regime. After the suppression of
the 1960 coup attempt, the emperor sought to reclaim the
loyalty of coup sympathizers by stepping up reform. Much of
this effort took the form of land grants to military and
police officers, however, and no coherent pattern of
economic and social development appeared.
In 1966 a plan emerged to confront the traditional forces
through the implementation of a modern tax system. Implicit
in the proposal, which required registration of all land,
was the aim of destroying the power of the landed nobility.
But when progressive tax proposals were submitted to
parliament in the late 1960s, they were vigorously opposed
by the members, all of whom were property owners. Parliament
passed a tax on agricultural produce in November 1967, but
in a form vastly altered from the government proposal. Even
this, however, was fiercely resisted by the landed class in
Gojam, and the entire province revolted. In 1969, after two
years of military action, the central government withdrew
its troops, discontinued enforcement of the tax, and
canceled all arrears of taxation going back to 1940.
The emperor's defeat in Gojam encouraged defiance by other
provincial landowners, although not on the same scale. But
legislation calling for property registration and for
modification of landlord-tenant relationships was more
boldly resisted in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.
Debate on these proposals continued until the mid-1970s.
At the same time the emperor was facing opposition to
change, other forces were exerting direct or indirect
pressure in favor of reform. Beginning in 1965, student
demonstrations focused on the need to implement land reform
and to address corruption and rising prices. Peasant
disturbances, although on a small scale, were especially
numerous in the southern provinces, where the imperial
government had traditionally rewarded its supporters with
land grants. Although it allowed labor unions to organize in
1962, the government restricted union activities. Soon, even
the Confederation of Ethiopian Labor Unions (CELU) was
criticized as being too subservient to the government. Faced
with such a multiplicity of problems, the aging emperor
increasingly left domestic issues in the care of his prime
minister, Aklilu Habte Wold (appointed in 1961), and turned
his attention to foreign affairs.
Data as of 1991